Sunday, April 29, 2012

This Artistic Life by Barry Hines (Pomona Books 2009)

One day, when we were playing in the sand outside the prefabs, we became aware of the large numbers of miners walking up Tinker Lane from the pit. Usually, there was a lot of laughter and banter when they were coming home from work, but this time they were unusually quiet and serious, and the only sound was the clatter of their clogs on the roadway. Instinctively, we knew something was wrong.

"What's happened?" I shouted.

"Doug Westerman's been killed!" one of the miners replied.

The name meant nothing to me or to any of my pals, so after watching the silent procession for a minute or two, we resumed messing about in the sand.

Later, when I went home for tea, my mother was sitting in the armchair by the fire, sobbing into her hands. My dad, still wearing his pit clothes and unwashed, had his arm round her shoulders, trying to comfort her.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Your grandad's been killed," she sobbed.

I stared at her. Then the penny dropped and I realised that Doug Westerman, the dead miner, was my grandfather. I hadn't made the connection because I didn't know his name. I only knew him as grandad.

After the death of her father, I was always aware of my mother's uneasy glances at the clock when my dad was late home from work.

"Go and see if your dad's coming," she would say, and I would go outside and look down the lane towards the pit, praying that he was, so that I didn't have to go back inside and disappoint her.
(from 'Tinker Lane')

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The delicious escape by Ian Walker (New Society 8 January 1981)

Has it really been that long since I posted one of Ian Walker's New Society on the blog? What the hell was I doing? Let's get that anomaly corrected without further ado.
It's hard to believe - post June '82 - but once upon a time Spandau Ballet were the most fashionable boys on the pop corner, loved by the music press and the emerging style bibles alike. Ask Robert Elms, he knows. He wrote the script. When this article was originally published in January '81 they'd already had their first top ten hit in the UK, but were not yet the teen fodder in the tailored suits. It took the second and third singles off their sophomore album to bomb for them to scurry down that well worn path with Trevor Horn towards chart salvation and Saturday morning kids tv.
I'm being a bit cheeky, to be honest. They were never a favourite band of mine but they had their moments. Just don't mention 'Through the Barricades'.
The delicious escape by Ian Walker
He has a face as white as sugar, lips painted black, and he is wearing a clown's tunic in sequined purple silk beneath a Greta Garbo black hat and veil. He sips a glass of Pils, looks not a bit out of place in this bar crowded out with Tudor lords, Scottish chieftains, Draculas, 1920s lounge lizards, bell boys, call girls, priests and gangsters. I'm in the pub round the corner from Heaven, at Charing Cross, venue for tonight's Spandau Ballet gig.

Life is a fancy dress party? The high fashion rock movement mobilised around Spandau Ballet doesn't hold with slogans, or advertising. Eight hundred tickets, £3 a shot, have been sold by word of mouth and there's rumours drifting round this bar that people are paying up to twenty quid on the black market. Spandau Ballet have only played six times and they're famous already.

"I like dressing up," says Margaret, who makes clothes, and does a bit of writing, and is tonight wearing a tartan two-piece with black beret. Her friend has a fluffy ginger moptop which turns out to be a hat and not her hair. She doesn't mind if you stroke it for its softness. "It's all feathers," she says.

There are two kinds of people here, according to Brian, who's in a Humphrey Bogart pinstripe: "The one kind who have got money dripping out the ears and the other kind haven't got a bean, make all the clothes themselves." Brian, an English and Drama student, places himself in the latter category, as does his girlfriend, who's just got a job dancing at Billy Smart's circus.

"Bloody Spanish Inquisition over there," Brian is pointing at a man in a black three-cornered hat and bellowing smock. There is no Look, just a range of glamour jokes, clipped from historical dramas and Hollywood films. Some of the Spandau fans call themselves the New Romantics, but Brian says that's only because they don't know what romantics are. I say they're romantic because they iron their shirts.

Smiling, for punks and skins, is not the way to dress your face (times are hard, look hard) but the Spandau fans here in this pub have thrown out the Presley sneer, replaced it with the early Cliff Richard smile: "I can think of nothing better than dancing on the beach."

Malcolm McLaren knows which way the wind is blowing. Self-appointed ideologist of punk, he made an art-form out of PR through his management of the Sex Pistols and has now given his new proteges, the Bow Wow Wows (daddy wouldn't buy you one), this recession romantic look, urging youth to flash round on yellow roller skates, chiffon blouson flapping in the wind, listening to illegally recorded tapes and pretend they aren't on the dole. Why make out you're posing for a 1930s unemployment poster when you can make out you're a Hollywood extra?

At 11.15 all the extras traipse round the corner to join the queue under the railway arch which leads to the front door of Heaven, this gay disco which Spandau have hired for the night. Down the stairs, past someone selling the second edition of a fashion magazine called ID, check the coat with a man who's painted a scar on his cheek, and on into the bar. All six barmen wear identical black T-shirts, white zippered jeans, and the military moustache that has been a gay badge in Greenwich Village for some years now. A row of five white construction hats, lit in green, hang on the wall.

"I just want to be happy and do what I want," says Susie, an ex-computer operator, aged 22, who is now doing A-levels. After that she'll make clothes, maybe, and get a stall, whatever. I say she looks quite normal - black shoulderless top and 1950s skirt - compared to some of her friends, and she says she usually wears a white fur mini-skirt and a white fur hat, but it got boring.

Spandau aren't due on till 12.30 and, meantime, everyone drinks, or dances under the red, blue and green neon to the alienated disco of Talking Heads: "And the heat goes on . . . where the hand has been . . . and the heat goes on . . . "

Upstairs, past the diner where they serve hamburgers, Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door is playing in the Star Bar. Pass the time here on the pool tables or the pinball or watch the videos of Coronation Street and Batman on TV screens round the bar. Sitting down without a drink are caroline and Sheila, both 20, who grew up together in Darlington and left home together, went to the south of France. "But it didn't work out," says Caroline. "Kept getting chased by Algerians. It was horrible." Caroline now works at Bibas and Sheila is on the dole.

"You can do what you want, wear what you like, you know, and you don't feel out of place," says Caroline, whose black feather flat hat conceals the top half of her face. Sheila is in a tight yellow dress. They both make their own clothes. "It's not fashion like what you see in the shops . . .

But we're a lot of posers, yeah. I suppose that's the idea," says Caroline, the Garbo with the Darlington accent. Sheila, who looks like Monroe, smiles.

Fashion, for these two, is not an ID but a fake passport: in a society dominated by appearances you can appear to be famous two or three nights a week. The other three nights Sheila works behind a bar to supplement her giro.

Downstairs, Spandau Ballet take the stage and there's a surge from the bars. The four boys in the band have abandoned the Rob Roy tartans they wore on Top of the Pops. The lead singer is about six foot three and dressed like a pirate ("No. Navvie," he claimed later) in a wide black belt with big buckle tight round baggy trousers, a white vest, sunglasses, three days' growth of beard. He takes cigarettes out of a gold case, smokes while he sings, very Frank Sinatra.

The lead guitarist, who also plays the synthesisers, wears a sort of black smock with kimono sleeves. The rhythm guitarist looks like a conscripted Gatsby and the bass guitarist has a ted haircut and sweats a lot, you can see it dripping from his chin.

They play synthesiser dance music, fin de siècle good-time. "Fabulous. Fabulous," says Jenny Runacre, an actress, when they've finished. She's just had a baby, but tonight's her night off. Disco music is back on the turntable. Susie, the ex-computer operator, says that dancing is the most important thing, after dress. Music must come in third.

Mac, who is 22, has been friends with the boys in the band for years. He lives in a council flat in Bethnal Green, was a windowdresser till he got made redundant, but he still goes to Le Beat Route and Le Kilt and the other clubs which Spandau fans frequent. He also, recently, travelled up to Birmingham with the band.

"The kids up there, they'd never seen anything like it," he says. "I mean, they've got a lot of suss and all that, but they all surged to the front of the stage, went mad. It was just like the old punk days again, you know." It's 2am. Mac isn't sure how he's getting home: a night bus if it comes, or walk, maybe.

I go past a line of foppish young men in dinner jackets leaning on the bar, have a dance with the ex-computer operator. The 1920s bell boy, in his gold braid tunic, is on the dance floor too, along with all the other extras.

And when the stroboscope lights up, the whole thing disintegrates into a dreamy pantomime of black and white, nuns and surfers, veils and tartan, clowns and crooners, the characters flashing on and off with the bursts from the strobe, freezing the action, and there's nothing much else to do but to succumb to it all, to the delicious escape from whatever it is.

Spandau Ballet. Dance night at the prison. Japanese silks, Scottish tartans, American mohairs, French cottons. It's immaterial, style without content, world without end.
8 January 1981

Friday, April 27, 2012

Provided You Don't Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough by Duncan Hamilton (Harper Perennial 2007)

He wasn't satisfied with the eulogies written about Taylor. Not because each one did not describe him generously, but because in Clough's eyes none did Taylor sufficient justice or apportioned enough credit for the work he had done in the partnership. It was as if he'd become the guardian of Taylor's posthumous reputation.

'Your obit on my mate was crap, utter crap,' he yelled at me, his face flushed, the voice rising in protest. 'You're all the same, you journalists - crap. Every paper missed the point, the real story. No one showed him the way he was. No one managed to give him the send-off he deserved. He was funny - you know that. He was intelligent - you know that too. He had a football brain - everybody could see it. And he was my mate. And we had some great times. And now . . .'

Clough slumped into a chair. He seemed to be stringing together in his mind all the bright days he had shared with Taylor.

'What a waste,' he said after a long pause. 'All those years when we could have been sitting together having a beer. All those years when he could have come, as an honoured guest, to watch us play. All those years without the laughter he was capable of providing. No one - absolutely no one - has made me laugh like him. I always missed that, and now . . . he's gone. I can hear his voice . . . telling joke after joke. But all we did at the end was slag one another off. Oh, fuck.' He shook his head slowly, his eyes staring at the floor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cold in Hand by John Harvey (Harcourt Books 2008)

For the first time in a long while, Resnick's heart failed to lift as he neared the ground, Graham Millington and himself part of the small crowd turning off London Road and crossing the canal, a bright sky but the air suddenly cold enough to catch their breath. Once inside, Millington, more a creature of habit even than Resnick himself, stood in line for cups of Bovril and a brace of meat-and-potato pies. Their seats were close to the halfway line, some ten or twelve rows back, the grass an almost luminous green promising something special, something magical.

The first fifteen minutes of mistimed tackles and misplaced passes soon gave lie to that, the crowd saving most of their invective - officials aside - for the perceived shortcomings of their own team. Never bad enough to occasion a chorus of "You're Not Fit to Wear the Shirt," but close. Not that the visitors were a whole lot better, a mixture of superannuated cloggers and earnest youngsters, none of them showing much wit or ambition, until, the interval not far off, they went close with a twenty-five yard volley which the Notts goalkeeper did well to tip over the bar.

"Bloody hell!" Millington said. "That was a near thing." And then, glancing sideways, "Come on, Charlie, they're not playing that badly."

Resnick was sitting there, shoulders hunched, tears running soundlessly down his face.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Any Chance of a Game? by Barney Ronay (Ebury Press 2005)

We line up for kick-off and I look at the opposition for the first time. From a distance all teams look the same, a collection of figures yet to separate out into recognisable types. You make the calculations of weight, height and speed. You look for weak links and familiar giveaways. Just for a moment football feels a bit like fighting.

Today there are no obvious signs of weakness in the opposition, no pale camel-like figures fretting in the unaccustomed strip. You get a good idea from the boots (worn in?), the amount of faded white strapping on knees (sign of the seasoned player), and even from the nicknames. Beware of the bantering team. This lot look as though they've shared the same playground, clubhouse, family Christmases and shrinking gene pool for the last thirty years. Proper pub teams are rare these days. When you do meet one you know you're going to get a game.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beautiful Thing (1996)

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina (Orion Books 2011)

Thomas was watching a wasp die on the window ledge when Goering came for him. The sun burned hot through the windows, a shaft of yellow like a pathway to heaven, lying low over the long lawn in front of the old house, burning in through the glass that gravity had warped and two hundred years had tinged yellow. The wasp was struggling to get onto its stomach, antennae writhing, the little comma body contracting, the essential shape of it the trap that killed it.

End of the wasp season.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson (Arbor House 1988)

Maybe I'm just homesick, Yasmin thought. She was flooded with a sudden desire, almost frightening in its intensity, to see her little wood-frame ochre house on the canal in Charleston.

They stopped to top off the battery, and Grissom phoned the old lady's house. Yasmin noticed that people down here talked a little more like Grissom and a little less like her mother-in-law. The African-softened accent of the border was noticeably beginning to give way to the harsh Northern twang.

But Laura May Hunter still lived on the border. The first thing Yasmin saw when the uniformed day nurse let her and Grissom into the little house was a tinted picture of Abraham Lincoln on the wall.

Lincoln was a Whig, backed by U.S. capital, who had organised a fifth column of Southern whites to support an invasion of Nova Africa in 1870, right after the Independence War. If the whites couldn't keep the slaves, they at least wanted the land back. Though the invaders had been routed at the Battle of Shoat's Bend without crossing the Cumberland River, "One nation indivisible" had become a rallying cry for white nationalists on both sides of the border. The next five years, 1870-75, were as close to a civil war as Nova Africa was to see. When it began, the new nation south of the Tennessee River was 42 percent white; when it ended, it was 81 percent black. In the U.S., veterans and descendants of the "Exitus" formed the racist backbone of the rightist movements for years: in the Bible Wars of the 1920s, the Homestead Rebellion, even in the Second Revolutionary War of '48. In Nova Africa the whites who embraced (or made their peace with) socialism were called "comebacks" - even if they had never left - and Lincoln was no hero to them; but before his body had even been cut down in 1871, he had become a legend among the border whites in Kentucky, Virginia and parts of Missouri.

Apparently he still was.

Yasmin pointed the picture out to Grissom, who nodded, then shrugged. "The Lost Cause," he whispered.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Head-on: Memories of the Liverpool Punk Scene and the Story of the "Teardrop Explodes", 1976-82 by Julian Cope (Thorsons 1994)

A bunch of guys I'd seen loads were going crazy about Subway Sect. Actually, most of them were standing looking at just this one guy, who was going crazy on his own. This guy was a bit of a loudmouth. I'd noticed him in Probe before. But his face was so animated, I stood and gazed at him. He wore a black leather jacket and black combat pants. He had a Clash T-shirt under the jacket, which was zipped halfway. His hair was a natural black and gelled into a boyish quiff. In fact, everything about him was boyish. He was the most enthusiastic person I had ever seen. Beautiful. On his leather was a home-made badge. It said: "Rebel Without a Degree".

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

If Facebook existed thru' history.

Darwin . . . Lincoln . . . Franklin . . . Glenn Hoddle but no Ricky Villa? That can't be right.

East Fifth Bliss by Douglas Light (Behler Publications 2006)

There are two theories.

The first:

After brothing up a world with water and soil and fish and plants and beasts that stand on two feet and talk and would eventually want credit cards and cell phones and satellite TV, God dipped his finger in the wetness between New Jersey and Long Island and summoned forth the rock called Manhattan. By doing so, He set in motion His austere plan: one day, there'd be an island replete with towering steel buildings and shabby brick tenements, dying trees, and co-ops with monthly maintenances more than most Americans' mortgage payments. It'd be a paradise filled with hundreds of concrete parks littered with losing lotto tickets and fried chicken bones. Rats would frolic on doorsteps. Dogs would defecate on the sidewalks. Squirrels would charge at the passing people, having no fear.

His plan called for a place where bulimic make-up salesclerks, who hide their cold sores with dark lipstick, would fit in. Myopic Midwesterners who swear they've read Ulysses when they haven't, would have a home. The Hasidim would feel comfortable hanging their beaver fur hats there. It'd be a place for all, even Italian restauranteurs who claim that stale toast with a little tomato and a spot of olive oil is bruschetta and charge twelve dollars a plate. Even obese Hispanics in tight stretch pants who wave their nation's flag while screaming that they're being stereotyped. All would be welcomed with open arms. All would be embraced. His plan called for an island of everything. An island the world turned to.

The second theory has to do with strange gray and green and purple gases, tiny jumping particles, a spark, and then a Big Bang. Presto! Earth's formed: Manhattan's made. Then some slimy being flopped from the waters onto the land, gasped for air, and has since raged for millions of years to become mankind today.

Following either school of thought, this fact stands: Morris Bliss is thirty-five years old. He's lived his entire life in Apartment 8 in a weathered, red brick tenement on East Fifth Street near the corner of First Avenue. Has lived his entire life with his father.

But Morris has plans, big plans. Life altering plans. He's starting them today, or this week. This month. He's starting them very soon.

Morris Bliss has never left home.