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:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Days Like These by Nigel Fountain (Ink Monkey Books 1985)

Ferret wasn't on the phone. His real name is Jack Murray, but he is always known as Ferret; a friend of the old mole, the revolution, he said. I reckoned it was because of his pointed nose and scuttling manner. He is thirty-four, small and dark. He had left Glasgow six years ago to continue a disastrous liaison with a woman who had come down to seek her fortune, and, I suspect, to escape from Ferret. It took her two years to lose Ferret and three to find the pot of gold in every TV researcher's knapsack.

I'd met him at a party and we had got on. He took to me, I suspected, because he liked to have someone to flagellate politically. He was a walking anthology of the left, having tried Labour, the Communists, the Nats for two days, the Socialist Workers, a short-lived Maoist group, the International Marxists, and had finally settled down with a cosy little group of Trotskyists who were apparently based in Stockport and were attempting to Bolshevise that town. This had the double advantage of allowing him to spin romantic stories of the proletarian upsurge there, whilst ensuring that he and the mass base of the organisation were kept at a safe distance from each other. The group were called Workers for Revolutionary Change, or 'those creeps the Wircs'. It was an unwieldy title, but this was common in such groups and represented a satisfactory permutation of the key syntax of red vocabulary. Ferret was effectively the London branch.

He lived in Stoke Newington. It took me an hour to get there.

He blinked at me from behind his door.

'Christ, haven't you had enough?'

His room was in a house of reds of varying shades, who met to abuse one another on the stairway on their way to work, the duplicator and the pub. Ferret had made a marriage of convenience with that section of the radical lower middle classes questing timidly for the proletariat. Occasionally he would go and ham up his days in the Gorbals, particularly when drunk, but otherwise would happily sneak off to the National Film Theatre. He was a sharp man, and a good organiser when he could be bothered.
I followed him upstairs, past a Paris May 1968 'REFORMES CHLOROFORME' poster. It was held in place by a flightless dart.

He paused on the landing to cough. I was vaguely nauseated to see that he was swallowing the phlegm, but that was preferable to spraying me with it, I supposed.

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.