Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Maigret and the Death of a Harbor-Master by Georges Simenon (Harcourt, Brace and Company 1932)

“How’s your investigation getting on?” the mayor inquired.

Maigret made an evasive gesture. He was keeping a hold on himself to prevent his eyes from straying to the door leading into the next room, the drawing-room. The door was vibrating in a most peculiar manner.

“No results, eh?” the mayor continued.

“Nothing, so far.”

“Like to have my opinion? It was a mistake treating this as a complicated case.”

“Obviously,” Maigret grunted. “Clear as daylight, isn’t it? One night a man disappears, and his movements for a month and more cannot be traced. Six weeks later he turns up in Paris. He’s been shot through the head and had his skull patched up. His memory’s gone. He is brought home and poisoned that very night. Meanwhile three hundred thousand francs have been paid into his account, from Hamburg… A simple case! Nothing complicated about it!”

The tone was mild, but now there was no mistaking the Inspector’s meaning.

“Yes, yes… But all the same, it may be simpler than you think. And even supposing there’s some mystery behind it, in my opinion it’s a great mistake to go about creating—deliberately creating—feelings of uneasiness in the village. You know how those men are; they drink like fish, their nerves are none too steady at the best of times. If one keeps harping on such matters in the local bars, it may throw them altogether off their balance.”

He had spoken slowly, emphatically, with a stern look on his face and in the tone of a committing magistrate.

“On the other hand, no attempt has been made to cooperate with the proper authorities. I, the mayor of the town, haven’t a notion what you’re up to, down in the harbor.”

Fun and (word) games

2013 ended on a high:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Elf Life

There isn't a bandwagon that I won't jump on. However shameless.

Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get The Christmas Present That I Want

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's class war, people

Via the Portraits of Boston Facebook Page which is currently posting from New Orleans:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Viking 2005)

. . . And then we couldn't agree on where we'd meet. I wanted to go to Starbucks, because I like frappuccinos and all that, but JJ said he wasn't into global franchises, and Martin had read in some posey magazine about a snooty little coffee bar in between Essex Road and Upper Street where they grow their own beans while you waited or something. So to keep him happy, we met up there.

Anyway, this place had just changed its name and its vibe. The snootiness hadn't worked out, so it wasn't snooty any more. It used to be called Tres Marias, which is the name of a dam in Brazil, but the guy who ran it thought the name confused people, because what did one Mary have to do with coffee, let alone three? And he didn't even have one Mary. So now it was called Captain Coffee, and everyone knew what it sold, but it didn't seem to make much difference. It was still empty. We walked in, and the guy that ran it was wearing this old army uniform, and he saluted us, and said, Captain Coffee at your service. I thought he was funny, but Martin was like, Jesus Christ, and he tried to leave, but Captain Coffee wouldn't let us, he was that desperate. He told us we could have our coffee for free on our first visit, and a cake, if we wanted. So we didn't walk out, but the next problem was that the place was tiny. There were like three tables, and each table was six inches away from the counter, which meant that Captain Coffee was leaning on the counter listening to everything we said.

And because of who we were and what had happened to us, we wanted to talk about personal things, so it was embarrassing him standing there. Martin was like, Let's drink up and go, and he stood up. But Captain Coffee went, What's the matter now? So I said, The thing is, we need to have a private conversation, and he said he understood completely, and he'd go outside until we'd finished. And I said, But really, everything we say is private, for reasons I can't go into. And he said it didn't matter, he'd still wait outside unless anyone else came. And that's what he did, and that's why we ended up going to Starbucks for our coffee meetings. It was hard to concentrate on how miserable we were, with this berk in an army uniform leaning against the window outside checking that we weren't stealing his biscuits, or biscotties as he called them. People go on about places like Starbucks being unpersonal and all that, but what if that's what you want?

I'd be lost, if JJ and people like that got their way, and there was nothing unpersonal in the world. I like to know that there are big places without windows where no one gives a shit. You need confidence to go into small places with regular customers, small bookshops and small music shops and small restaurants and cafes. I'm happiest in the Virgin Megastore and Borders and Starbucks and Pizza Express, where no one gives a shit, and no one knows who you are. My mum and dad are always going on about how soulless those places are, and I'm like, Der. That's the point. The book group thing was JJ's idea. He said people do it a lot in America, read books and talk about them; Martin reckoned it was becoming fashionable here, too, but I'd never heard of it, so it can't be that fashionable, or I'd have read about it in Dazed and Confused. The point of it was to talk about Something Else, sort of thing, and not get into rows about who was a berk and who was a prat, which was how the afternoons in Starbucks usually ended up. And what we decided was, we were going to read books by people who'd killed themselves. They were, like, our people, and so we thought we ought to find out what was going on in their heads. Martin said he thought we might learn more from people who hadn't killed themselves - we should be reading up on what was so great about staying alive, not what was so great about topping yourself. But it turned out there were like a billion writers who hadn't killed themselves, and three or four who had, so we took the easy option, and went for the smaller pile. We voted on using funds from our media appearances to buy ourselves the books.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Toonage #11

Nine days before Christmas means I have to go with something seasonal for this week's Monday Toonage, and it's a toss up between the usual suspects (sorry but the download links are long dead). It could be either of them. They are both majestic. However, this day . . . this week . . . this year, it's Graham Parker's 'Christmas is for Mugs':

Monday, December 09, 2013

Monday Toonage #10

As soon as I heard this song on Urban 75 the other day - via this viralling video - I always knew this was going to be this week's Monday Toonage, but a few silly spats on Facebook about nothing - politics, since you're wondering - and Fusspot and Drama taking turns at being sick and taking time off school, means that I need this joyous song more than ever. Monday Toonage turning into everyday of the week Toonage. (Neither Kara, nor the kids, approve.)

Maybe it was because of the above linked video, but I did initially think it was some lost Northern Soul classic from back in the day but a google search put me right, and I once again realised how out of touch I am with music released in the last five years. Usually me wallowing in back catalogues doesn't distress me too much, but the thought that I'm missing out on wonderful music like this because I'm not going out of my way to listen to newish music makes me rather miserable. Relying on occasionally stumbling across  good new music via a 30 second snippet of a good song on a quality tv drama is really not going to help me if I spend 2014 catching up on Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and the 217 tv adaptations of Jane Austen novels in the last 15 years. I need a plan of action and, yet, why I think out of that I immediately think of the mod revivalists Secret Affair from thirty-five years ago. I need a hip nephew and niece somewhere, anywhere, to make me mixtapes but first I'll have to explain to them what a mixtape is.

Back to the toonage . . . the spurious point of this post. The song selected - which you'll already know if you clicked on the link above - is Pharrell Williams' Happy. Joyous and wonderful, and I still feel that despite the fact that apparently it's from a kids film. The gimmick is that he made a 24 hour video of the song, which involves hourly segments on YouTube kicking off with Pharrell performing the song for four and a bit minutes and then it being given over to various people shaking their stuff to the song on loop. From what I've seen, it works, but that's because it's one of those songs that when you first hear it, you want to play it over and over again. Get back to me six months from now to see if I'm still waxing lyrically about it.

The video embedded below is the official cut version of the video, which is a selection of various Pharrell performances, and sundry others lip-synching away like good ones, strutting their stuff and Jimmy Kimmel doing a brilliant impersonation of the stiffest white guy on this planet and a thousand other undiscovered planets peppered across the universe:

As it is a 24 hour video, another wee link for your consideration. Of course, I haven't watched all 24 hours but this particular performance/interpretation caught my eye of those that I have seen. Some great moves in the clip . . . and wee boy's good as well.

And the aforementioned "silly spats on Facebook about nothing", well, as long as I remind myself of this cartoon everyday that I choose to venture on the internet, then I'll be ok. Fine and beano, in fact:

Friday, December 06, 2013

Roddy Doyle, two pints and Nelson Mandela

Further to these two blokes, and just found on Facebook:

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela has passed away

95 was a good innings and he outlived Thatcher. Rest in Peace.

And, I'll be honest; I was part of that generation who only first heard of him because of this great song:

Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs by D. D. Johnston (AK Press 2011)

This is how the Anarchist Bookfair goes. At midday, you want to celebrate the libertarian tradition in all its diversity. After half an hour, you remember that anarcho-primitivists are mental. At one o'clock, you tell your mate, "if it's not class struggle, it can fuck off play in the traffic." At three o'clock, you remember that Situationists are annoying, autonomist Marxists are boring, and platformists are Trotskyists in disguise. By five o'clock, it's only your old mates Dave and Jim who are even worth talking to. And at seven o'clock, you remember that Jim sprays everywhere after he's had a few, and Dave has an annoying habit of quoting Malatesta.

Fuck the lot of them.

There are weird people everywhere: girls with bullrings through their noses and dreadlocks thick as anchor ropes; boys with tall, flopping Mohicans; bookish men in raincoats; the Spartacist League—even crazier than the year before. People are reluctant to lower their political guard, so they ignore your leaflets, or they pause, suspicious, as if you're a circus performer who might squirt them with water.

No Way are you coming back next year.

"Fuck this," I said, "let's go for a pint."

"That's a poor level of commitment," said Lucy—no, if you're wondering, she hadn't fallen in love with me and we weren't now a couple. She had left Dundule as planned, and though she she sent me e-mails with her news and smiley faces and exclamation marks to point out the jokes, this was the first time I'd seen her since that night.

Buzz waved his leaflets. "Aye, fuck this."

It has to be said that Spocky, who had escaped into the council communism meeting, was the only one of us with an activist work ethic. We probably would have left then had someone not crept up on me. She put her hands over my eyes and said, "Police, freeze!" I spun round, pushing her away—it was her. She said, "You do not recognise me?"

Of course I did.

"You manage to stay off the railway tracks then?"

Her hair was in a black bob with a dyed red fringe and her voice was different—almost London sounding—but the little nose, the eyes like melted chocolate!

"You do not talk any more?"

"Fuck, it's good to see you. Why—How come you're here?"
"I live in London now."

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Toonage #9

This Monday's toonage is this great version of 'Please Stay' by Love Affair.

I write 'this version' 'cos until I stumbled across the Love Affair's version on Spotify I had no idea that it was originally recorded by The Drifters, and that it was co-written by Burt Bacharach. I'm muttering to myself, 'why wasn't this a single? It's magic'. More fool me for missing out on another sixties classic, and isn't Steve Ellis's voice absolutely fantastic?


Now, I'll have to hunt down the other versions by the likes of Lulu, Bay City Rollers and Marc Almond. I bet they don't even come close. I know this version's better than The Drifters original.

Okay, I've just had a quick sweep of the other versions. I couldn't find Lulu's version but the Bay City Rollers, Dave Clark Five, Duffy, Mister Costello, Marc Almond - what were you thinking?, Aaron Neville. None of you even come close to the Love Affair version. It's all down to Mr Ellis's rendition. Stunning.

A mention in dispatches to Seven Letters for their reggae version of 'Please Stay'. A nice version but still not close enough.

The weight is over

Well, further to this, this and this, I'm once again claiming that I'm finally back on track. Yesterday was Sunday - yes that day - and it was also the first of December, so I really have no excuses this time.  No excuses except Christmas, Kwanzaa and Mōdraniht.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Heaven can weight

Even if I live to the ripe old age of 97, I'll still insist that life is too short to do ironing.

In fact, those will be my final words . . . those and 'What the hell were the Socialist Standard editors thinking with that Elvis Presley animal rights front cover?'

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A weighting game

So much for yesterday being a new start.

What will today bring, and will there be an added side of Onion Rings?

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Orion Books 2013)

‘The time you phoned him, did you try a bribe?’

‘Didn’t think it would work. I mean, he’d have taken the cash but then come back for more.’

‘In other words, you’d never have been free of him?’


‘An admission that doesn’t really help your case.’ Rebus paused. ‘What is it he had, Stefan? What could he tell Macari and her team? I’ve been through the custody ledger and there’s half a page missing from the week before Saunders killed Merchant. It got me thinking – could there be something Saunders knew? He comes to you, tells you he’ll do a deal – forget all about it if you get him off next time he’s arrested. You couldn’t know he was going to bludgeon some poor sod to death, so you shook hands on it.’

‘The hearse is arriving,’ Gilmour said, nodding in the direction of the gates. A slow-moving procession of vehicles, the engines almost silent. Wreaths shrouding the coffin, allowing only glimpses of gleaming brass handles, varnished pale wood. In the car behind, the Justice Minister’s widow and son. The First Minister and his deputy had re-emerged from the chapel and were flanking the door, hands clasped as if in prayer, heads bowed.

‘Nothing to say, Stefan?’ Rebus whispered into his neighbour’s ear. Gilmour’s jaw was jutting as he watched the vehicles pull to a halt. The First Minister offered his condolences to the widow, along with a peck on the cheek. She was dressed in black, and wore sunglasses which obscured half her face.

‘Only that you’re making a mistake, John. Sounds very much as if you’ve decided you’re not part of the Saints any more.’

‘Let me tell you something, Stefan. I spoke to Porkbelly and he was all for letting Frazer take the rap for that gun, same as you just did. Seems to me you’ll shit on anyone to save your own necks.’

‘Maybe you think you’re clean, but you’re not,’ Gilmour retorted. ‘You knew we hung on to that gun – why didn’t you take it to the bosses at the time? Remember Interview Room B, that time I walked in and you had your hands around a suspect’s throat? I forget the name now, but it’ll come back to me if necessary. The drugs we planted on that barman we didn’t like? The prossies we let off after an hour in the holding cell, once they’d slipped us a few quid or a promise? The restaurant tabs that never arrived at the end of a meal? Two hundred cigarettes here, a case of malt there . . . The stories we could tell, eh?’

Gilmour’s eyes were boring into Rebus’s.

‘I took the fall, John,’ he went on. ‘And I did it for all of us. Remember that, when you’ve got the tin-opener poised above the can marked “worms”.’

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Toonage #8

Still sounds great after all these years. I think I first heard this through Big Sis having it on single. If only Big Sis hadn't taken that wrong turning and started buying those Luther Vandross albums:

Monday Toonage update

Well, that's the bugger of YouTube, I guess.

That rather sweet video of Roddy Frame performing an acoustic version of 'Spanish Horses' on - I think - Japanese TV has been deleted. I've tried to find it on other video sharing sites but no luck so far.

However, I was able to update Monday Toonage #1 with a link to the official video for 'Spanish Horses' which, now that I come to think about it, wasn't on YouTube when I originally posted a link to Roddy performing 'Spanish Horses' acoustically. 

I hope the disappearance of the acoustic version and the sudden appearance of the official video are not connected. That would be an arsey thing to do.

Weightier matters

Monday morning . . . three days before the annual Thanksforovereating  . . . yep, it's time to get back on board the five Socialist Standard articles a day and a half diet. Pass me a Between the Lines but go easy on the Running Commentary.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Toonage #7

With regards to my on/off relationship with Maximo Park, I'm currently ON because of this rather nifty track from their 2007 album, Our Earthly Pleasures:

No idea what the rest of the album is like. I can't get past this track.


Friday, November 15, 2013

He's *cough* living on something

I don't care if it's a set up. I never got Bon Jovi until this moment, this moment here:

As much as I love Prefab Sprout, I don't think you could do this to Lions In My Own Gardens (Exit Someone). Not even Walter White has made that drug yet.

eta: and, of course, it's from three or four years ago. I have to occasionally take my nose out of a book to see what's going on around me. Bear with me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape 2013)

—It wasn't too bad so?

—No, said Jimmy.—No.


—Not so far anyway.

—Fingers crossed so.

—Yeah, said Jimmy.—Yeah. When were yeh born?

—Jesus, said his da.—1941. I think. Yeah, 1941. Why?

—Was there much talk about the Eucharistic Congress when you were a kid?

—God, yeah - Jesus. Big time.

—Wha' was it?

—Big mass, all sorts of processions.

—No pope.

—No, said Jimmy Sr.—No. A raft o' fuckin' cardinals. My parents talked about it all the time. I think it was kind o' like 1990, for their generation.

—Wha' d'yeh mean?

—Well, 1990 was unbelievable - remember?

—I do, yeah.

—It was just the football to start with. But then, when it took off. The penalty shoot-out an' tha'. The country was never the same again. It was the beginnin' of the boom.

—D'yeh think?

—Yeah - I do. I mean, I had tha' chipper van at the time. With Bimbo, d'you remember?


—An' it was a bit of a disaster, tha'. But I was never unemployed again - after Italia '90. I wouldn't let myself be. I was always doin' somethin', even before the buildin' took off. Because - an' this is true. We felt great about ourselves. For years after. An' tha' only changed a few years back. Now we're useless cunts again.

—Thanks for the analysis.

—Fuck off. You asked.

—An' 1932 was like tha', was it?

—Yeah, said Jimmy's da.—A bit. The country was only ten years old, remember. An' dirt poor. Then, like, the man in the flat next door to my mother's gets a radio - a big fuckin' deal. An' everyone bails in to hear it. She always spoke about hearin' your man, John McCormack, singin' live on the wireless. At the mass. Like he was Sinatra or - I don't know - some huge star today. The Bublé fucker or someone. My father said it was like the whole world was listenin' to somethin' tha' was happenin' here in Dublin. An' it probably was as well. Why did you ask

Jimmy told him.

—An' you came up with that idea, did yeh?

—I did, said Jimmy.—Yeah.

—It's a winner.

—D'yeh think?

—Fuckin' sure. If you do it properly.

—I will.

—Oh, I know, said his da.—D'you remember my cousin Norman?

—No, said Jimmy.—I don't think so.

—He'd be your cousin as well, I suppose. Second cousin, or first cousin twice removed or tha' shite. Anyway, he has a huge collection of old 78s an' stuff.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Morbid Symptoms by Gillian Slovo (Dembner Books 1984)

Sam and I had originally been matchmade by some shared friends and had spent a pleasant enough evening flirting over a laden dinner table. Nothing else might have happened if we hadn't bumped into each other at one of those CSE conferences where half the people are there to catch up on a year's theory and the other half to recuperate from a year's monogamy. I'd been trying to escape from an over-zealous and badly informed acquaintance, who was giving me a lecture on the mistakes of the Portuguese left. Sam had been so busy choosing between two workshops on widely differing subjects that he'd missed them both. Indecision seemed an underlying theme in Sam's life. A mathematician on the point of getting his PhD he'd got side-tracked down an alley of algebraic topology and couldn't figure out what to do about it. His solution had been - still was - to spend more time in writing poetry than in finishing his thesis.

'Be careful out there'

Liam's scared of his halloween costume. He refuses to put it on. We've scarred him for life.

I'm scared if I don't stock up with any treats today this will be the year when I'll finally get a barrage of kids banging on the door demanding mini almond mounds.

The witches of Salem had it easy by comparison.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Autobiography by Morrissey (Penguin Classics 2013)

Johnny Marr was born in Ardwick in a Victorian dwelling not dissimilar to my own. Blocked in by dye works and engineering works, timber yards and iron foundries, the Ardwick of the Avis Bunnage era was an area of seasoned street fighters such as the Little Forty Gang, whose dapper style was well known when there was nothing nice to rest the eye on. Johnny was also of Irish parents, who would eventually inch their way south of the city center (for north is not the road that anyone ever travels). In 1982, Johnny appears at Kings Road immaculately be-quiffed and almost carried away by his own zest to make meaningful music. He reminds me of Tom Bell in Payroll, an early 1960s film set in Newcastle yet minus one single Geordie accent. Johnny despairs of things as they are and wants to change them, even if, beneath the grit and growl, his favorite group of all-time is Pentangle.

‘We’ve met before, y’know,’ he says, ‘I’m glad you don’t remember.’

Ooh, but I do.

It had been in the foyer of the Ardwick Apollo, where Patti Smith had displayed her radiant stallions gradually lapping into seahorses nervousness. I stood in conversation with Philip Towman (another Wythenshawe musicologist), when Johnny first shoved his face in, and he said, ‘You’ve got a funny voice.’ The comment contained an oblique confession, which said: you don’t talk as shockingly bad as I do. In fact, Johnny later confessed that prior to meeting me he had pronounced the word ‘guitar’ without the t, so Ardwick-mangled the parlance. I couldn’t imagine how this would be possible, or how he could be understood. I am shaken when I hear Johnny play guitar, because he is quite obviously gifted and almost unnaturally multi-talented. Since he shows an exact perspective on all things, I can’t help but wonder: What is he doing here with me? Formulating writing systems and mapping out how best to blend our dual natures – here, against the hiss of the paraffin lamp, and me wrapped in the sanctity of an enormous overcoat acquired in a Denver charity shop for $5. Why has Johnny not already sprayed his mark – elsewhere, with others less scarred and less complicated than I am? It seemed to me that Johnny had enough spark and determination to push his way in amongst Manchester’s headhunters – yet here he was, with someone whose natural bearing discouraged openness. Stranger still, we get on very well. It is a matter of finding yourself in possession of the one vital facet that the other lacks, but needs.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Toonage #6

If you put me on the spot about what my favourite Bowie album is, I'd probably plump for his 1990  compilation album Changesbowie.

I'm not trying to be a cheeky swine. For me, Bowie, more than anything else, was a great singles artist. And the reason I pidgeon-holed in such a limiting fashion? The honest answer is that I never properly checked out his albums . . . for reasons which currently escape me. That's my loss (and possible future gain) because it means that it's only now that I discover great album tracks like 'Blackout' from his '77 Heroes album:

That's where Billy and Alan got their soundscape from. Now I understand.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rusholme Ruffle Bars

A hundred pages into Morrissey's autobiography and I'm enjoying it so far. It's more Tony Warren than Mick Farren at the moment but I'm sure the sex, drugs and rock n roll will eventually kick in at some point. (Maybe when Vini Reilly enters the story?) 

But that's not what this post is about. I now not only have to thank Morrissey for the pop bliss that is 'This Charming Man' but also for his mention of ruffle bars in his autobiography. Christ, I'd totally forgotten about ruffle bars. I need ruffle bars.

firstworldproblems hashtag

That moment when you're walking out the door and there's a Joan Armatrading song buzzing through your head but you don't have it on your ipod. THAT.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lording it up like Jerry and Margo two days of the week

It's my usual line: I don't normally do poetry . . . unless it's got a tune behind it but Tracey K. Smith's The Good Life poem caught my eye last night when I was trying to avoid eye contact on the F Train. (If you knew the F Train, you'd understand that statement.)

Click to enlarge.

It's part of the Poetry in Motion series undertaken by the MTA to bring a bit of culture to those of us on the subway who've forgotten their book or their mp3 listening device or their knitted balaclava and who need somewhere to stare whilst their five year old proclaims in a loud voice: 'That seat's not orange, it's yellow. I want the orange seat'. (I'm paraphrasing but you get the gist.)

Monday Toonage #5

The wonders of discovering a cracking song via an acclaimed American television drama about two meth manufacturers in New Mexico. From episode six of the first season of Breaking Bad, The Silver Seas 'Catch Yer Own Train':

Downton Abbey doesn't deliver the goods like this.

The video? Looks like a student project. Talented swines.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sicknote #2

Following on from this post, the Derry Pele's wonder goal for Barnsley against Middlesbrough:

Paddy McCourt, I think I love you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Paddy McCourt scores for Barnsley  . . . and then goes off injured three minutes later. I think that's his career in a nutshell.

90 Minute Zombie

Thank christ all that International guff is done and dusted for a few months. Any fool knows that Internationals are only good for the Summer months, and only then to help a helpless spectator get by without his or her fix of club football.

Brother Kemal by Jakob Arjouni (Melville International Crime 2012)

The Book Fair wasn't hell, it just smelled a bit like it. Huge halls over several stories, each with a floor area about the size of two football fields, were filled partition after partition with the stands of millions of publishing houses, right to the last corner. A sweating, unwashed, perfumed crowd of humanity, drenched in alcohol, hungover and smeared with hair gel, pushed its way along aisles and past stands, up and down escalators, into toilets and through entrance doors, never stopping. The greasy vapours of sausages, pizza, Chinese food, Thai curry and chips wafted overhead, invisible radiators seemed to be turned up to maximum - or maybe it was just all those bodies producing such heat - and only the few doors opening and closing brought any fresh air into the place.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Flemish Shop by Georges Simenon (Beadley Brothers 1932)

She cut the tart and handed Maigret a slice with such authority that there was no question of his refusing. Madame Peeters entered the room, her hands clasped in front of her, greeting the guest with a timid smile, a smile full of sadness and resignation.

“Anna told me you were coming. It’s very kind of you…”

She was more Flemish than her daughter, and she spoke with a decided accent. Her features, however, were of considerable refinement, and her strikingly white hair invested her with a certain distinction. She sat on the edge of her chair, like a woman who never sits for more than a few minutes at a time.

“You must be hungry after your journey. For my part, I’ve lost all appetite since…”

Maigret thought of the old man by the kitchen stove. Why didn’t he come for a cup of coffee and a slice of tart? At the same moment Madame Peeters said to her daughter:

“Take a slice to your father.”

And to the inspector:

“He hardly ever leaves his chair. In fact, he doesn’t realize…”

The atmosphere was so far from being dramatic that it was hard to believe that anything could disturb it. The impression one had on entering was that even the most fearsome events outside could make little headway against the peace and quiet of this Flemish house, where there was not a particle of dust, not a breath of air, and no sound but the gentle snoring of the stove.

And Maigret, while starting on his thick slice of tart, began asking questions.

“When did it happen, exactly?”

“On January 3rd.”

“And it’s now the 20th.”

“Yes. They didn’t think of accusing us at the beginning.”

“This girl—what do you call her? Germaine…”

“Germaine Piedbœuf,” answered Anna, who was now back in the room. “She came about eight in the evening. My mother went into the shop to see what she wanted.”

“What did she want?”

Madame Peeters brushed away a tear as she answered:

“The same as usual… She complained that Joseph never came to see her or even sent her a word… And to think of all the work he has to do! It’s wonderful how he does it, with all this trouble hanging over our heads…”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Two Pints by Roddy Doyle (Alfred A. Knopf 2012)


— Did she?
— Yeah.
— That’s bad. Wha’ was it?
— Cancer.
— Ah well. Cancer of the disco. It gets us all in the end.
— I met the wife durin’ ‘Love To Love You Baby’.
— You asked her up.
— No.
— No?
— I asked another young one an’ she said, Fuck off an’ ask me friend.
— An’ tha’ was the wife.
— Her sister. An’ she told me to fuck off as well. So. Annyway. Here we are.
— Grand. She’d a few good songs, but – Donna.
— ‘MacArthur Park’. That was me favourite.
— A classic. Until Richard fuckin’ Harris took it an’ wrecked it.
— It’s all it takes, isn’t it? Some cunt from Limerick takes a certified disco classic an’ turns it into some sort o’ bogger lament.
— Someone left the cake out in the rain.
— They wouldn’t know wha’ cake was in Limerick. They’d be puttin’ it in their fuckin’ hair.
— An’anyway, they’d’ve robbed the fuckin’ cake long before it started rainin’.
— Is she upset about Donna – the wife?
— Stop. Jesus, man, we were just gettin’ over Whitney. An’ now this.
— Will she go over for the funeral?
— She’s headin’ down to the fuckin’ credit union.

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard1952)

He glanced up into the rear-view mirror, then squinted ahead through the windshield. He spat and rubbed his hand against his pants, wiped it slowly against the soiled black cloth. "Still got quite a little ride ahead of us, Mr. Ford. About thirty miles isn't it?"

"About that. Maybe a little more."

"I wonder if you'd like to tell me about it. You don't need to, you understand, but it might be helpful. I might be able to help someone else."

"Do you think I could--that I'm able to tell you?"

"Why not?" he said. "I had a client years ago, Mr. Ford, a very able doctor. One of the most pleasant men you'd want to meet, and he had more money than he knew what to do with. But he'd performed about fifty abortions before they moved in on him, and so far as the authorities could find out every one of the abortion patients had died. He'd deliberately seen that they did die of peritonitis about a month after the operation. And he told me why--and he could've told anyone else why, when he finally faced up to the facts--he'd done it. He had a younger brother who was 'unfinished,' a prematurely born monstrosity, as the result of an attempted late-pregnancy abortion. He saw that terrible half-child die in agony for years. He never recovered from the experience--and neither did the women he aborted... Insane? Well, the only legal definition we have for insanity is the condition which necessitates the confinement of a person. So, since he hadn't been confined when he killed those women, I reckon he was sane. He made pretty good sense to me, anyhow."

He shifted the cud in his jaw, chewed a moment and went on. "I never had any legal schooling, Mr. Ford; picked up my law by reading in an attorney's office. All I ever had in the way of higher education was a couple years in agricultural college, and that was pretty much a plain waste of time. Crop rotation? Well, how're you going to do it when the banks only make crop loans on cotton? Soil conservation? How're you going to do terracing and draining and contour plowing when you're cropping on shares? Purebred stock? Sure. Maybe you can trade your razorbacks for Poland Chinas.... I just learned two things there at that college, Mr. Ford, that was ever of any use to me. One was that I couldn't do any worse than the people that were in the saddle, so maybe I'd better try pulling 'em down and riding myself. The other was a definition I got out of the agronomy books, and I reckon it was even more important than the first. It did more to revise my thinking, if I'd really done any thinking up until that time. Before that I'd seen everything in black and white, good and bad. But after I was set straight I saw that the name you put to a thing depended on where you stood and where it stood. And... and here's the definition, right out of the agronomy books: 'A weed is a plant out of place.' Let me repeat that. 'A weed is a plant out of place.' I find a hollyhock in my cornfield, and it's a weed. I find it in my yard, and it's a flower.

"You're in my yard, Mr. Ford."

... So I told him how it had been while he nodded and spat and drove, a funny pot-bellied shrimp of a guy who really had just one thing, understanding, but so much of it that you never missed anything else. He understood me better'n I understood myself.

"Yes, yes," he'd say, "you had to like people. You had to keep telling yourself you liked them. You needed to offset the deep, subconscious feelings of guilt." Or, he'd say, he'd interrupt, "and, of course, you knew you'd never leave Central City. Overprotection had made you terrified of the outside world. 

More important, it was part of the burden you had to carry to stay here and suffer."

He sure understood.

I reckon Billy Boy Walker's been cussed more in high places than any man in the country. But I never met a man I liked more.

I guess the way you felt about him depended on where you stood.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1939)

‘I was idle at the time, Mr Latimer; idle and a little restless. I had my books, it is true, but one wearies of books, the ideas, the affectations of other men. It might be interesting, I thought, to find Dimitrios for myself and share in Visser’s good fortune. It was not greed that prompted me, Mr Latimer; I should not like you to think that. I was interested. Besides, I felt that Dimitrios owed me something for the discomforts and indignities I had experienced because of him. For two days I played with the idea. Then, on the third day, I made up my mind. I set out for Rome.

‘As you may imagine, Mr Latimer, I had a difficult time and many disappointments. I had the initials, which Visser, in his eagerness to convince me, had revealed, but the only thing I knew about the hotel was that it was expensive. There are, unfortunately, a great many expensive hotels in Rome. I began to investigate them one after the other, but when, at the fifth hotel, they refused, for some reason, to let me see the bills for 1932, I abandoned the attempt. Instead, I went to an Italian friend of mine in one of the Ministries. He was able to use his influence on my behalf and, after a lot of chi-chi and expense, I was permitted to inspect the Ministry of Interior archives for 1932. I found out the name Dimitrios was using, and I also found out what Visser had not found out – that Dimitrios had taken the course, which I myself took in 1932, of purchasing the citizenship of a certain South American republic which is sympathetic in such matters if one’s pocketbook is fat enough. Dimitrios and I had become fellow citizens.

‘I must confess, Mr Latimer, that I went back to Paris with hope in my heart. I was to be bitterly disappointed. Our consul was not helpful. He said that he had never heard of Señor C. K. and that even if I were Señor C. K.’s dearest and oldest friend he could not tell me where he was. He was offensive, which was unpleasant, but also I could tell that he was lying when he said that he had no knowledge of Dimitrios. That was tantalizing. And yet another disappointment awaited me. The house of Madame la Comtesse off the Avenue Hoche had been empty for two years.

‘You would think, would you not, that it would be easy to find out where a chic and wealthy woman was? It was most difficult. The Bottin gave nothing. Apparently she had no house in Paris. I was, I will confess, about to abandon the search when I found a way out of my difficulty. I reflected that a fashionable woman like Madame la Comtesse would be certain to have gone somewhere for the winter sports season that was just over. Accordingly, I commissioned Hachettes to purchase for me a copy of every French, Swiss, German and Italian winter sports and social magazine which had been published during the previous three months.

‘It was a desperate idea, but it yielded results. You have no idea how many such magazines there are, Mr Latimer. It took me a little over a week to go through them all carefully, and I can assure you that by the middle of that week I was very nearly a social-democrat. By the end of it, however, I had recovered my sense of humour. If repetition makes nonsense of words it makes even more fantastic nonsense of smiling faces, even if their owners are rich. Besides, I had found what I wanted. In one of the German magazines for February there was a small paragraph which said that Madame la Comtesse was at St Anton for the winter sports. In a French magazine there was a couturier’s picture of her in skating clothes. I went to St Anton. There are not many hotels there, and I soon found that Monsieur C. K. had been in St Anton at the same time. He had given an address in Cannes.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Toonage #4

I'm currently plowing through a doorstep of an e-book that purports to be the definitive oral history of punk so, in light of that wee morsel of literary information, for Monday's Toonage I have to plump for  'Nobody's Scared', the Subway Sect's debut single from 1978:

One of the great lost punk bands from that era. And Mr Godard and assorted friends are still doing the business 35 years on. First class!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Maigret Goes Home by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1932)

It was a bank like any other in a small country town: a long oak counter, five clerks bent over desks. Maigret made for the section of the counter marked Current Accounts, and one of the clerks stood up to serve him.

Maigret wanted to inquire about the exact state of the Saint-Fiacres’ fortune, and, above all about any deposits or withdrawals in the last few weeks, or even the last few days, which might provide him with a clue.

But for a moment he said nothing, simply looked at the young man, who maintained a respectful attitude, showing no sign of impatience.

“Emile Gautier, I suppose?”

He had seen him go past twice on a motorcycle, but he had been unable to distinguish his features. What revealed the bank clerk’s identity to him was a striking resemblance to the steward of the château. Not so much a detailed resemblance as a resemblance to the same peasant origins: clear-cut features and big bones.

The same degree of evolution, more or less, revealed by skin rather better cared for than that of the farm workers, by intelligent eyes, and by the self-assurance of an “educated man.”

But Emile was not yet a real city person.

His hair, although covered with brilliantine, remained rebellious; it stood up in a point on top of his head. His cheeks were pink, with that well-scrubbed look of country yokels on Sunday morning.

“That is correct,” he said.

He was not at all flustered. Maigret was sure that he was a model employee, in whom his steward had complete trust, and who would soon obtain promotion.

His black suit was made to measure, but by a local tailor, in a serge that would never wear out. His father wore a celluloid collar, but he wore a soft collar, with a ready-tied tie.

“Do you know me?” Maigret asked.

“No. I suppose you are the police officer … ”

“I would like some information about the state of the Saint-Fiacre account.”

“That’s a simple matter. I am in charge of that account, as well as all the others.”

He was polite, well mannered. At school, he must have been the teachers’ favorite.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall by Luke Haines (William Heinemann Ltd 2009)

Colonel Klutz

December 1993. End-of-year round-ups in the music press. American bands still holding up – all polls feature Nirvana, Lemonheads, Belly and the Juliana Hatfield Three. Tindersticks by the Tindersticks is album of the year in Melody Maker. New Wave is at number 19. In the NME Writers' Top Fifty Albums of the Year Bjork's Debut is number one, and New Wave comes in at 18. In Select magazine New Wave is voted the seventh-best album of the year. And the best album of 1993 as voted for by the writers of Select: Giant Steps by the Boo Radleys. Suede lurk around the top three of most critics' polls, and Mr Blobby gets the Christmas number one in the singles chart.

The singer – who could now pass for an East End villain – has me pinned against the wall. After our, ahem, early-evening opening slot there had been an ominous knock on the dressing-room door.

'Can I have a word – outside?' says the singer, gesturing grimly towards me. Drunk and stoned post-gig, I follow obediently. I know what's coming. I orchestrated it so I'm looking forward to it. Quick as a flash the headline act pulls off some nifty pugilistic footwork and squares up to me. Jesus, what a knucklehead. I hadn't imagined his reaction to my onstage comments would be quite as physical. True, last night, with righteous anger and adrenalin raging through my veins I had been spoiling for a fight, but now I just wanted to be sacked – minus pasting.

'How much of a fucking prick are you gonna look when I kick the shit out of you onstage?' the singer asks unreasonably. It's a good question, and one that I assume is rhetorical. I drift off into a vision of myself being chased around the stage by a man in a gorilla suit, the gorilla's clumsy paws finally managing to grab me by the scruff of the neck before drop-kicking me high into the air to the whooping delight of the audience. Oh man, that would be entertainment.

'Well, answer me, you fucking cunt.' Not rhetorical then. I snap out of my reverie and slump back against the wall. I'm back in the playground about to take a hiding from a dim bully. There's nothing to do but let the scene play out. Shouldn't take long.

. . .

On paper it was unpromising. In real life it looked even worse. The Auteurs are booked to support Matt Johnson's band The The on a UK tour. All of this organised months in advance, before the recent setbacks, when life was a breeze and I would skip over lawns of freshly mown grass without a care in my head, laughing and doffing my hat to a cartoon bluebird as I bent down to pick a buttercup.

Tour with The The? Sure, if it keeps everyone happy and it sells some more records, why not? My levity lasts for about a day and a half. Reality dawns. The truth is, I don't care too much for Matt Johnson. He's some guy who sold a ton of records in the 80s, and now he's got some new dreck he's trying to flog. Coincidentally, some of the work on the new Auteurs album has been done at a recording studio owned by one Matt Johnson. The studio walls are covered in terrible paintings: some recognisable originals of The The album sleeves, others perhaps specially commissioned. The theme of the paintings seems to be ghastly men and ghastly women giving in to all manner of bodily functions with grim abandon. Oh, and imminent nuclear destruction. A clear indication of Johnson's faultless yet simplistic world view. Human race: awful. Never mind, will probably be extinguished in some sort of self-inflicted Armageddon. Told you so. The bastards deserved it. As I said, sold a lot of records in the 80s.

On no account attempt to tour the UK in December. Your limbs will become brittle with cold as you trundle up and down the country in a freezing tour bus and no one will come to your gigs as they are attending Christmas parties. Christmas parties in your hotel. Oh yes, the late-night bars of the Holiday Inn, Ibis and Radisson hotels – the après-gig drinking stations of the lower- to mid-level rock band. Every nook and cranny of these corporate flophouses taken over by drunken reps and violent drones from the frightening world of real honest work. Civvy Street – pissed up, embittered, trying to get over another empty year and on your fucking case.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dr. Yes by (Colin) Bateman (Headline 2010)

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

Spring was in the air, which was depressing enough, what with pollen, and bees, and bats, but my on/off girlfriend was also making my life miserable because of her pregnancy, which she continued to accuse me of being responsible for, despite repeatedly failing to produce DNA evidence. She whined and she moaned and she criticised. It was all part of a bizarre attempt to make me a better man. Meanwhile she seemed content to pile on the beef. She now had a small double chin, which she blamed on her conditions and I blamed on Maltesers. There was clearly no future for us. In other news, the great reading public of Belfast continued to embrace the internet for their purchases rather than No Alibis, this city's finest mystery bookshop, while my part-time criminal investigations, which might have been relied upon to provide a little light relief, had recently taken a sordid turn, leaving a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth, although some of that may have been Pot Noodle.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nine Inches: Stories by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's Press 2013)

Sixth period was endless. Vicki stood by the Smart Board, listening to herself drone on about the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder, but all she could think about was Jessica Grasso, the heavy girl sitting near the back right corner of the room, watching her with a polite, seemingly neutral expression. It was almost as if Jessica grew larger with each passing moment, as if she ­were being inflated by some invisible pump, expanding like a parade float until she filled the entire room. 

She hates me, Vicki thought, and this knowledge was somehow both sickening and exciting at the same time. But you ­wouldn’t know it from looking at her.

Vicki hadn’t known it herself until last night, when she read what the girl had written about her on grademyteacher.com. She had stumbled upon the post while conducting a routine self-­google, exercising a little due diligence so she didn’t get blindsided like her old friend and former colleague Anna Shamsky, a happily married mother of three who’d lost her job over some twenty-­year-­old topless photos that had appeared without her knowledge on a website called Memoirs-­of-­a-Stud.com. The site was the brainchild of an ex-­boyfriend of hers — ­a guy she hadn’t thought about since college — ­who had decided in a fit of midlife bravado that the world needed to know a little bit about every woman he’d ever slept with”

(From 'Grade My Teacher'.) 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Maigret Mystified by Georges Simenon (Penguin Crime 1932)

The most disturbing thing, perhaps, was to see Monsieur Martin flung like an unconscious spinning-top into this labyrinth. He was still wearing gloves. His buff overcoat in itself implied a respectable and orderly existence. And his uneasy gaze was trying to settle somewhere, without success.

'I came to tell Roger . . .' he stammered.


Maigret looked him in the eyes, calmly and penetratingly, and he almost expected to see his interlocutor shrivel up with anguish.

'My wife suggested, you see, that it would be better if we should . . .'

'I understand!'

'Roger is very . . .'

'Very sensitive!' Maigret finished off. 'A highly-strung creature!'

The young man, who was now drinking his third glass of water, glared at him resentfully. He must have been about twenty-five, but his features were already worn, his eyelids withered.

He was still handsome, nevertheless, with the sort of good looks that some women find irresistible. His skin was smooth, and even his weary, somewhat disillusioned expression had a certain romantic quality.

'Tell me, Roger Couchet, did you often see your father?'

'From time to time!'

'Where?' And Maigret looked at him sternly.

'In his office . . . Or else at a restaurant . . . '

'When did you see him last?'

'I don't know . . . Some weeks ago . . . '

'And you asked him for money?'

'As usual!"

'In short, you sponged on him?'

'He was rich enough to . . . '

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Busconductor Hines by James Kelman (Phoenix 1984)

On the platform the two entertainers in red trousers, tartan waistcoats and red bowties, singing a song and accompanying themselves on accordion and rhythm guitar. At the next table Sandra was smiling at something being said by McCulloch's wife; and she smiled at Hines when she noticed him watching. He prised the lid off the tin. The waitress had arrived again, her face perspired; quickly she transferred the drinks from tray to table and collected the empties. Why don't you join the Foreign Legion, he grinned. Either she failed to hear or she ignored him. He reached for the water jug and added a measure to his whisky.

Reilly was talking. He was saying. No chance, they'll never give in without a fight. Look at that last bother we had over the rise; I mean after the autumn agreement it was supposed to be a formality, but was it? was it fuck?

Aye and we're still waiting for the backpay, said Colin.

What they'll do is toss it into us at Christmas week then every cunt'll think they've had a bonus!

Hines laughed with the others.

McCulloch shook his head at Stewart. You're just encouraging them.

Ah you cant escape politics.

Dead right Stewart, but it's no good telling this yin.

What you want to do is get a transfer down to our garage, said Hines, then you'll find out: bunch of fucking houdinis so they are.

They laughed again. Rab's right but, continued Reilly. It's murder polis. You've just got to mention the word strike and no cunt'll speak to you for six months.

No wonder. Union union union, muttered McCulloch.

See what I mean?

Aye well fuck sake if I started talking about the job yous mob'd soon be shooting me down in flames.

Hines frowned. That's actually true.

I know it's fucking true!