Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Beiderbecke Tapes by Alan Plater (Mandarin 1986)

Whenever Jill felt the need to recharge her campaigning batteries, she sought out Sylvia. Like many such friendships, it had started on the Aldermaston road, a road that had doubled for Damascus in many people's lives.

They loved to talk about the great heroines, yes, and about the occasional hero too, of their own and earlier times: trading tales of Red Emma Goldman, Annie Besant, Sylvia Pankhurst, the one member of the family who never deviated and whose name Sylvia herself had inherited. On seeing any hostile element, Sylvia would cry out 'No Pasarán' - the famous Republican slogan from the Spanish Civil War, coined by a woman, and translated meaning: 'They shall not pass.' They very rarely did. Sylvia was no phoney. She had gone to Spain in the 1930s and had paid her dues.

Her view of the world was clear-cut: people were marvellous and politicians were shit. Asked for evidence she would say: read a history book. In her younger days, when her activities were more public and noisy, and she occasionally went to prison, the newspapers frequently claimed she was in the pay of Moscow.

'Alas,' she said, ' would that it were so.'

She had written to the Kremlin several times, suggesting that they might slip her the odd bar of gold, if only to add substance to the allegations, and ease her later years; nothing ever arrived - not even a nominal kopek. She suspected her mistake was to add a regular PS about sending dissidents to mental institutions. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Hour of the Innocents by Robert Paston (Forge Books 2014)

The Army gave him a last fuck-you haircut on the way out. It made him look out of place even in the American Legion.

The vets who returned that year were different. I witnessed the change from the bandstand, week after week, from midnight on Saturday until three on Sunday morning. Their predecessors had come home from Nam, drained their GI savings to buy a Chevy Super Sport or a Plymouth Barracuda, and plunged into doomed marriages with high school sweethearts. Those former soldiers and Marines kept their hair as short as their tempers, got union cards through family connections, and shrugged off their years in uniform. When they came out to get drunk, the music was just background noise.

The Tet Offensive divided the past from the future. The vets who came home after that were as apt to buy a Harley as an Olds 442. They grew their hair—not hippie long, but defiant. Drugs arrived. And the new returnees asked us to play different songs. Instead of “Louie Louie,” they wanted numbers from the Doors or the Stones or Cream. The fights that spilled outside onto the sidewalk continued, but these weren’t the old collisions of tomcat pride. These fights were sullen. As if the vets were following orders they hated.

Matty Tomczik looked like a barroom brawler when he walked in.

He was defensive-lineman big, and that last military scalping had cut so close to his skull, you couldn’t be sure of the color of his hair. With a wide Polish face and a fist-stopper nose, he came across as one more dumb-ass coalcracker unsure of what to do with his limbs in public. Later, I learned that what 1 read as oafishness was a shyness so deep, it crippled him around women.

Matty was surrounded by women that night. Angela, the wife of our bass player and front man, led Matty in with a pack of her giggling friends, beauticians and candv-stripe nurses who recently had discovered marijuana. Angela’s long blond hair shone. A year before, when 1 first joined the band, she had worn a beehive and toreador pants. Now she had a San Francisco look, copied from magazines and complete with purple-lensed glasses she didn’t need.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Beiderbecke Affair by Alan Plater (Mandarin 1985)

The Adult Education Institute was built in the nineteenth century by a paternalistic mill-owner with the stated aim of bringing a spiritual uplift to the artisans of the area. A hundred years later, it still had not succeeded. The building, designed in the Gothic Inspirational manner, was now a hive of small rooms in which groups of predominately earnest people discussed D. H. Lawrence, watched The Battleship Potemkin or threw pots. It was not unusual for six people to be plotting revolution in Room 5, while across the corridor in Room 6, another six people were plotting counter-revolution. All twelve would meet in The Bells afterwards for a pint.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (Liveright 1933)

Miss Lonelyhearts, help me, help me

THE Miss Lonelyhearts of The New York Post-Dispatch (Are-you-in-trouble? - Do-you-need-advice? - Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. On it a prayer had been printed by Shrike, the feature editor.

Soul of Miss L, glorify me. Body of Miss L, nourish me. Blood of Miss L, intoxicate me. Tears of Miss L, wash me.

Oh good Miss L, excuse my plea, And hide me in your heart, And defend me from mine enemies. Help me, Miss L, help me, help me. In saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Although the deadline was less than a quarter of an hour away, he was still working on his leader. He had gone as far as: 'Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.' But he found it impossible to continue. The letters were no longer funny. He could not go on finding the same joke funny thirty times a day for months on end. And on most days he received more than thirty letters, all of them alike, stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife.

On his desk were piled those he had received this morning. He started through them again, searching for some due to a sincere answer.

The One I Love (2014)

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The In Between Time by Alexander Baron (Panther 1971)

And so he listened to all the street-corner politicians. He was most drawn to the saddest of them all, the Independent Labour Party, the diehard remnant of a force once great in Britain. He had a mind split without discomfort between commonsense and fantasy, and he knew that they talked nonsense. But their nonsense set him on fire because it corresponded with his fantasies. He knew they were a hopeless little sect but they appealed to a quixotic streak in him. They were the most fiery, dirty and hairy among an array of groups by no mean deficient in these qualities, and he, the neat schoolboy, was a secret romantic who knew Murger's Scènes de la Vie de Bohème almost by heart. 

Yet he did not join them. For the real force that impelled him to the meetings, of which he was at least vaguely aware, must be revealed. Among the I.L.P. fanatics he saw only one woman, and she was of advanced years: at least thirty-five. She wore a sort of floral nightgown, very dirty, down to her ankles and sandals upon dirty feet. She looked out from a tangle of tarnished, unshorn hair that spread upon her shoulders. There was no place for her in Victor's dreams. The truth was that although his frowning attention to social problems was sincere, he was looking for something more attainable than the millennium. He was looking for girls.

In this there was nothing remarkable. It has been true for the last hundred years, and it applies as much to the notoriously wild youth of today as it did in Victor's time, that the most powerful of all the magnets drawing young men to radical politics is not the Oedipus Complex but the idea of radical girls.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Another soul-sucking year on Facebook

In what has now become an annual tradition on the blog, My 2014 Year in Status from Facebook:

Football, kids driving me up the wall and strange dreams which make me seem more interesting than I actually am. That sounds about right.