Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Lowlife by Alexander Baron (Black Spring Press 1963)

To this, I added afternoons reading on my bed, and visits to the library. There is a branch library two blocks from where I live, a noisy place. At one end kids scamper round the shelves of their section, shrieking with laughter till the librarian hushes them, uncomfortably quiet for a while, then soon shrieking again.At the other end the housewives chatter, waiting to rush at the librarian like gabbling hens at a fistful of seed every time she comes to the shelves with another armful of 'romances'.

At the end of one afternoon I went in to look for some thriller. I like these books, the way they scratch on the nerves as I lie in bed. Chandler and Hammett are my favourites. You don't get writing like theirs nowadays. I've read all Mickey Spillane, but he lacks class.

I was looking along the shelves when a fellow came round the end of a bookcase. It was Deaner, the husband. He said, 'Hallo. Seen anything good?'

I said no, and he held a couple of books out. He said, 'I've got these.' Two new novels, fashionable names, the kind that are praised in the highbrow Sunday papers. Every week these papers find another writer who has 'earned his place in the front rank of contemporary writing'. This front rank must be miles long by now. There must be a lot of poor nits like this Vic who are so busy keeping up with this front rank lark that they never have time to read a real book. He said, 'Do you read much?'

I said, 'Not much.'

I knew that tone in his voice. The sentry's challenge of the book-lonely. He stood there waiting for me to give the right password. Among the uneducated (which frankly is what you would call the general population where I live) the serious reader is a lonely person. He goes about among the crowds with his thoughts stuffed inside him. He probably dare not even mention them to his nearest pals for fear of being thought a schmo. There's a hunger in his eyes for someone to talk to. He watches, and from time to time when he sees someone likely, he makes his signals. His situation is very much like that of the nancyboy. I spoke to discourage him. I didn't want him falling on my neck. This Soul Mates idea doesn't appeal to me.

He said, 'I read a lot. When I have time. I sometimes wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew with this exam. I work at nights till I can't see the figures any more, and I'm still behind the syllabus.'

We looked along the shelves in silence. He said, 'Do you like Upton Sinclair?'

I should have given him the brush-off again, but too quickly I answered him. 'Not all that Lanny Budd stuff. But the early ones are terrific.'

The lights came on in his face and he was gabbling to me like a boy.

So there it was. I never have the sense to keep aloof. The semaphore blinks and I answer it. We moved on along the shelves in silence again, but Vic had a kind of relaxed look, satisfied, like a girl you've assured with a squeeze of the arm. In front of the H. G. Wells shelf we began to talk quite naturally. Wells is an old favourite of mine. This Vic for all his Sunday-paper tastes spoke like an intelligent boy.

I picked up a couple of Simenons, and we walked home together . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Eighth Day of the Week by Marek Hlasko (Secker & Warburg 1956)

The waiter snatched up the empty bottle as he passed the table. Light - windows had filled with dirty light. A drunken party entered noisily. Agnieszka quickly took stock of the them: all of them were well dressed and cheerful.

'It's closing time for the night-clubs,' Grzegorz said. He jerked his head towards the new arrivals. 'Architects. They've come here for the last tankful. It's essential to preserve contact with the masses.'

The waiter came up, put the bottle on the table. 'When will you pay?'

'In a couple of days,' Grzegorz said. The waiter walked away. 'Look at them,' Grzegorz said, 'it may make you feel better.'

Agnieszka turned her head. There was a throng at the bar, the mood was that of a joyful morning. A tall greying man with noble features, dressed in a magnificently tailored suit of English cloth, was slapping the shoulder of a youngster who looked like an apprentice thief and talking loudly: 'I'm not a stranger, I was a boy just like you. From Wola. Before the war I used to go to the Roxy. I loved cowboy pictures. They played that kind at Wola. Do you know Stasiek Malinowski from Wola?'

'No,' the other said, wrinkling his low forehead.

The greying man beamed. 'You see, you see. God, those were terrible times. There was hunger, misery. You couldn't even dream of getting a job.' He raised his hand in a magnificent sweeping gesture. 'Waitress!' he said to the girl behind the counter. 'Princess! One round for all. We'll all drink to the working class of Wola.' He added in Russian, 'It's on me.' And, turning to the boy, 'My name's Andrzej, and yours?'


'Well, good for you.' He handed a glass to the boy. 'Here's to you, Kazik. And to Wola!'

Grzegorz rose from his seat. He poured the entire contents of the bottle into a mug, and walked up to the counter. He bowed to a lady in a low-cut gown. 'May I join in the toast, gentlemen?' he said.

'Make yourself at home, make yourself at home,; several voices said.

'To the working class of Wola,' said Grzegorz. He splashed the vodka into the face of the greying man and jumped back. A knife gleamed in the hand of the boy with the low forehead. Grzegorz drew out a gun. He raised his left hand. 'Quiet,' he said. 'Don't move. I won't fight the peasant way. I'll shoot.'

They walked out. Outside, Agnieszka said, 'Feel better?'

'A little,' he said. He put the gun back in his pocket. She gave him a sideways glance.

'I can't say you lack Polish characteristics.'

He shrugged his shoulders, then smiled weakly. 'He said himself he liked cowboy pictures,' he said. 'We must penetrate into the dreams and aspirations of the working class, understand its strivings . . . ' He paused. After a while he asked, 'Will she come on Sunday?' 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Going Off Alarming: The Autobiography: Vol 2 by Danny Baker (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014)

Yet, despite the regularity of the work, in the mid-eighties I still felt as if it was all a larky distraction before I would return to writing of some sort. Or something. Fact was, I hoped I would never have to confront this dilemma – at least not in the next hundred and fifty years. This nebulous career plan was brought into clearer focus one day when I read a description of myself in a newspaper as ‘an old person’s young person’. That’ll give you pause, I can tell you. Another phrase that seemed to routinely be tagged to any press I got was ‘professional cockney’. I genuinely never understood what that was supposed to mean. I might concede to it if I were, like so many in the media, hiding some kind of public school background or an upbringing in one of the leafier parts of Surrey, but that not being the case I recognized it for what it was: the superior sneering of a relentlessly privileged middle-class industry. It’s a form of control, pure and simple. What they meant by ‘professional cockney’ was actually just ‘cockney’, and they really didn’t like the uppity working classes anywhere in their game unless they were in the canteen, post rooms or maintenance. I’m not sure if it has changed that much today. Even the most liberal university types go on the back foot when they meet someone who has simply got by on their wits, and they tend to feel threatened if that person is actually brighter than they are. So they resort to suspicion and the curled lip, attempting to denigrate this intruder by suggesting the whole ‘working class’ thing is an act and, really, all these ‘chavs’ have to offer is an accent. Thus even now you will read that someone is a ‘professional Geordie’ or ‘professional Scouser’; back in the eighties, you’d even come across a ‘professional black person’. Nobody who has come through the correct middle-class upbringing with the benefit of a few quid in their family coffers will ever be so disparagingly described. No, you’ll find they will simply be ‘professionals’.

While we’re here, I may add that, far from being a typical working-class ‘bloke’, I could never claim to be even marginally competent in the traditionally masculine field of home improvements. Away from a typewriter, latterly the computer keyboard, I am not only a disaster at DIY, I fancy I rather stand alone as the most clueless exponent of the handyman’s skills. This is another area where I am totally my father’s son. Though Dad was a terrifically hard worker, whether in the docks, clearing railway arches of rubble, or as part of an early morning office-cleaning gang, he could not for the life of him build, repair, install or decorate anything. Despite this, during the sixties he was given little choice in the matter, being required by Mum to wallpaper the front room in our maisonette roughly once a year. The rest of the family soon learned that it was absolutely essential for us to retire to another part of the house and cower in safety until it was all over. Like me, Dad had no finesse, no patience and genuinely believed you could inflict pain on any particularly finicky inanimate object that pushed you too far. I’ve no idea how many rolls of wallpaper it took to cover our small living room. Let’s say it was six. Dad, knowing how these affairs went, would order ten. This was because when a patterned section he was holding folded in on itself or refused to match up with one already in position, he could only achieve catharsis by furiously mashing it up into a ball, screaming ‘You dirty bastard!’ at it and throwing it across the room. Sometimes Mum would hear this happen four times in as many minutes and call out from the other side of the door, ‘You all right, Fred?’ to which he would explode, ‘No, I’m fucking not!’

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Original Stan The Man by Stanley Bowles with Ralph Allen and John Iona (Paper Plane Publishing 1996)

Malcolm thought I was hanging around with the wrong type of people, and resented the company that I was keeping. He was hearing reports from all quarters that I had been seen in the seedy places in town, and there was an ongoing argument between us. Malcolm frequented night-clubs such as the Cabaret Club, and was known as Champagne Charlie. He had a bee in his bonnet about me and wherever he went the conversation would, at some point, come around to me. People would always say to me: "Oh, Malcolm's just been in, slagging you off." Wherever I went, it seemed that Malcolm had already been there.

He was an excellent coach; very creative and passionate and not afraid to take chances in a game, or use innovative tactics. But, at the same time, he was very flamboyant, bold and abrasive, and found it difficult to handle people  - unlike Joe Mercer, who everyone regarded as a sort-of uncle. You certainly wouldn't go to Malcolm with any personal problems, because he might fly into a temper at the slightest provocation. Despite this, he thought of himself as the manager of the club; and didn't like it when anyone questioned that view.

When I broke into the first team in 69/70, our outside-left, Tony Coleman, used to say: "Do you want to come out for the night?" So I would go out with Tony and we became very friendly. In the end I was staying with him a couple of nights a week. We used to go round everywhere together. Tony was a great one for the birds, but I wasn't — because I was already heavily into horse racing and was happily married. Everybody went to discotheques at the weekends, this being the heyday of soul music, but I would just be at the bar, not dancing.

One night I was drinking at the Cabaret Club with Tony, when Malcolm came to our table. A row started between the two of them. Tony was a lot older than me, and Malcolm was trying to accuse Tony of leading me astray, saying: "What are doing bringing a young player into a club like this?" Tony kept quiet, but I couldn't: "Why don't you shut up?" I said.

There was a huge silence, then Malcolm threw a punch at me. So I threw one back, and it all started again. Tony jumped up and smashed a pint glass on the table.

It could have become very nasty, because Tony was a real handful in those days, but the brawl was broken up by the guy who owned the club. That was to be my last battle with the Manchester City establishment.

Soon afterwards, I went into training one day and Dave Ewing said: "Malcolm wants to see you and, unfortunately, he's going to get rid of you." So I picked my boots up and left. I knew I was walking away from one of the biggest clubs in England, but I wasn't bothered either way. At the time I was too reckless to care. I'd half expected it anyway, so I just got on with life as usual.

The official version was that City had decided to release me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Morning's Toonage

The Sleaford Mods and their plea for global harmony, 'Jolly Fucker'.

Must be played LOUD  . . .  but not in front of the kids:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Jack Carter and the Law by Ted Lewis (Alfred A. Knopf 1974)

Jimmy is wearing a neat red satin dressing gown but there's nothing neat about his face, foreshortened and distorted in my sights; he looks like an astronaut experiencing twenty Gs. The filth who's shepherding him out is superfluous. Jimmy really doesn't need any guidance, and as he hurries down the garden path away from the flames, to safety, I steady the rifle so that the cross is resting perfectly on the middle of Jimmy's furrowed forehead, and then I pull the trigger three times, and immediately the last bullet leaves the barrel I turn away and run back down the side of the house, and as I pass the open door I glance into the house but there is no sign of the man who'd been putting out the milk bottles. That's the trouble with the world today, I reflect. A lack of public spirit. Nobody seems to be prepared to have a go these days.