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