Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Totentanz (Death-Dance) -FridayFlash

The hooded figure was whistling up a storm with his four skinless gone-gone dancers. His skeletal show-all girls. What with the metro-nomic clicktrack of his arthritic hips; the kerching of the metal scythe cutting through the air; and the susurration of his cloak wafting out in his wide berthed wake. The Reaper was a veritable beatbox, his four uber-gaunt companions gyrating along to his stroke.

For all the wear and tear of his chronic osteoporosis, there was most definitely a spring in his wintry step these days. For not only was death still in fashion, possibly even more elevated by various doomsday cults and apocalyptic religions, but dance too was undergoing something of a renaissance (abominable word, but you get the drift). Indeed, if he'd had anything but writhing maggots for a face, as sure as eggs is eggs, he himself would have employed a smidgeon of eye liner to match the billowing cape. For in this day and age, even the mentor has to catch the judges' gaze. It was no longer just down to the charms of the corpses de ballet.

Besides, they say the cameras put 10lbs on you.

There was no shortage of willing dance partners. The pert tenacity of tripping the light fantastic in life, now elided into imagining they were auditioning for the great dance-off in the sky. Movement in time, two manifestations the Reaper actually brought the curtain down on in point of fact. He was just relieved that after centuries of being met with horrified disbelief, once again sufficient numbers of the perishers were actually content to follow him. Even though this time they knew there was no prolonged fluffy cloud dancefloor. More the misconception that for as long as they kept on with the rhythm, they could postpone that final bow.

But it's not quite like it was back in St Vitus' choreomanic heyday. There selection was limited to a couple of courtly dances like the galliard and the cinq-pas, with the odd folk dance like the gavotte thrown in for good measure. Even the tarantella wasn't so contentious back then. Not like now, when some opportunists have got the hairy spiders all up in arms, or legs anyway, over their branding and image rights being infringed. Hells bells, as if those furry fiends weren't toxic enough already, now they've got litigation lawyers in their corner? Death for one was treading very carefully in that particular minefield.

The troupe strutting their stuff in his slipstream always numbered four. But the exact compliment of which four could change at the drop of a hat. Or an ulna or femur for that matter. Take the body popper who occupied one of the slots only yesterday for example. Body popping sans body is quite a tough ask and the strain imposed on the skeleton is just too grievous. As for the bump and grinders, well the impact and friction of bone upon bone certainly sends up excitation sparks but inevitably brings both parties to collapse in an unholy mess. Flamenco always seemingly offers itself up as a good choice, with ready-made phalange castanets. But all that foot stamping soon irrevocably loosens the metatarsals and they begin to snap off.

You'd imagine gentle square dances or quadrilles to have the advantage in this respect, but with self-respect to maintain, the Reaper has to draw the dance line somewhere. So who were the ideal coryphee to accompany his non-stop world tour? Indonesian bedhaya was no good, they insisted on coming as a job lot of nine. Besides the dancers were so refined and elegant, they barely seemed to be moving at all and he needed life and energy, or the illusion of both at the very least. The Indian temple dancers more fit the bill, but like horses that slipped their shoes, the unfleshed bones of the Kathakali were too slender to support their bells and the dancers toppled by the wayside, feet severed by the jangling anklets serving as a mantrap. The Brazilian martial art dances were impressive enough, but they tended to frighten his potential clientele to death. The whole thing was so damned tricky.

The current crop were a bit thrown together at the last minute, but that was the fault of the body popper going to pieces the previous day. Rehearsal on the hoof had been minimal, but that was the nature of the beast. Here goes everything and nothing thought Reaper, as his name was announced and the audience's pantomime screams filled the air.

"Ah, Reaper, didn't think we'd be seeing you back here this week" intoned the Panel Chair, "but appears you have your supporters out there trying to keep on your good side".

"Friends in low places" quipped a lady judge with an ugly relish and an anorexic body that made Reaper look plump by comparison.

"Which is his good side?" smirked the male judge, with a rictus more foreboding than Death's own permanently distended jaw.

Reaper merely pulled his hood tighter around the squirm of his face.

"Well we know what you're all about, so why don't we just crack on and let you take it away?" And with that Simon Cowell beckoned for the music to strike up and rolled his eyes at his fellow judges beside him. Reaper caught the gesture and apprehended that tonight his card had been marked. The jig was up, for the phone vote would not matter a jot. Dance was about to pass from favour once again. Cowell, the Lord of The Dance topside, had wearied of the unending diet of streetdance posses with gold teeth and pitted skin. Perpetual motion was no longer sufficient to sway people towards specious notions of eternity. Reaper and his skeleton crew were being cut loose. They would have to find some other method of drumming up support.

His slumped bony shoulders tensed as the first note ascended. Cowell hit his reject button immediately and turned to ham a stagey whisper into the ear of his fellow judge.

"Tod, er hat einfach keinen Rhythmus" ("Death, he ain't got no rhythm")

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fabio Capello - J'accuse

I blame Fabio Capello pure and simple. Not Robert Green, though he shouldn't be in the squad let alone starting (see below). Even without Green's mistake, we never looked like scoring a crucial second goal. What follows is a list of errors in selection and system.

1) Goalies - we have selected two keepers from the bottom four teams in the Premiership, teams with the worst defences in front of them. It's true we're not exactly blessed with many quality keepers to select from, long gone are the days of Shilton, Clemence and Corrigan, but Paul Robinson has rebuilt his career in a defensively solid mid-table Blackburn side and merited inclusion. But Joe Hart should have been blooded in England friendlies so there was no excuse about throwing him in. After all he was the in-form keeper, with more clean sheets than the others put together and voted in the Premiership team of the season.

2) Glen Johnson was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from last night, though he still troubles me defensively. I want to know where was Ashley Cole bombing forward on the other side? Ashley is arguably one of the few world class players we have in his position, for there aren't many in other teams who are better than him. But he was very quiet last night. Seems Steve Cherondolo of the US not only managed to silence our left wingers, but also our surging left back.

3) And while we're on wingers, Wright-Phillips looks so lightweight and Lennon didn't do enough. I can't believe we didn't take Adam Johnson and possibly Theo Walcott as well, although that is more debatable. The one time Lennon got his afterburners on in the second half, he pulled it behind the two strikers, which can happen, but the midfield couldn't get up there in time to latch on to it. If you're going to play two conventional wingers, then you need two out and out speedsters. The one cutting in from his wing to feed on the production of the other, only someone with the same pace can keep up. I know why Capello rejected Johnson & Walcott, they don't track back enough. Well he played Milner for that very reason and had to pull him off before half-time because he was getting so roasted. Two out and out speedsters tear teams apart (assuming both are on their games). One speedster can be doubled up on and nullified.

4) Central defence, Terry was fine, but with Carragher next to him they are so vulnerable against pace. If King is injured, then Dawson, another man in form for his club but left untried by Capello, must come in to counterbalance Terry's lack of pace. Ledley King, as much as I respect him as a quality player, lasted 45 minutes. Shock horror.

5) Which leads me to Capello himself. The criticism levelled at Ericsson and Mclaren was that they had no plan B. Last night Capello hamstrung himself by having to make 2 early substitutions, neither which were to change our attacking options, meaning he only had 1 substitution left to change things. He had no flexibility to put in any Plan B. But that was his own fault for his initial team selections.

6) Central midfield. Gerrard started immensely, but once America equalised he lost the stranglehold on the centre of midfield he had. But more of an indictment was yet again he and Lampard failed to mesh in midfield. Shock horror. See Ericcson and McLaren passim. I can't believe we haven't moved on and evolved our team. America are a kick and rush team much like England. Lots of pressing, ball in the air more than any of the previous 4 games. So the fact that we couldn't retain the ball against a mirror image team of ourselves is the biggest indictment of many here. We can't blame the weather, we think we can press and play our natural blood and thunder game that we see every match in the Premiership. Well against America we failed to, so god knows what it will be like against a team who protect the ball like Spain or Argentina. This is a football culture thing, even if our clubs can't do it, Capello should have instituted such a culture through his training methods. Anyone who had watched the Mexico, Argentina or France games, even allowing for the misplaced passes in evidence in all 3, were watching a totally different game from the helter-skelter England V USA match. The first 20 minutes zipped by in a flash, but you simply cannot sustain that pace for 90 minutes which is why England never ever give a 90 minute performance at a World Cup game.

7) I absolve Heskey from criticism, I thought he had an excellent game. I'm still not sure I'd set my team up in such a way that would include him, but he certainly justified his inclusion in THAT team playing that way; ie flick ons and fight ball. Where the justification for him is that it brings out the best in Rooney. Well no fault of Heskey's, but it didn't yesterday. Rooney was only slightly less anonymous than Lampard. Messi is labelled world class and stamped his authority on Argentina's game yesterday. Rooney didn't. You need clever players around Rooney to play him in, or to be on his wavelength when he sees a pass mere mortals don't. This is calling out for Joe Cole. Capello was thinking so defensively by bringing Wright-Phillips on for Milner rather than Joe Cole. When we substituted Heskey, we brought on the same, but less effective in the air Crouch. What was the point of that?

What distresses me is that Capello was brought in to do three things that his predecessors failed and has achieved none of them. He was supposed to take away the fear factor in England players, but they looked so inhibited last night. He was supposed to have Plans B,C & D as a tactical genius. Well last night he managed to back himself into a corner with no options left to change things. And he was supposed to change our playing style into tournament-winning football, which means keeping hold of the ball. We didn't have a holding/defensive central midfield player on the pitch last night, possibly the only one of the 32 teams in the competition not to. Some like Argentina have two.

I blame Capello

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Plato's Cave - Friday Flash

My nose is pressed to the windows of an old haunt of mine. The Marathon, all night Greek eatery, and more germane, small hours watering hole. Merely order pitta bread with some humus and you circumnavigated the licensing laws. Or drove a bloody great bus through them in point of fact.

Such a bill of fare delivered up a motley clientele. Those dedicated drinkers keen to preserve their pleasant pub buzz. Salted olives instead of peanuts and stuffed vine leaves in place of pork scratchings. A better class of well-oiled sclerosis. Students stoking up fuel for their through-the-nighter assignments. Only for the misfit camaraderie on offer to keep them from their desks and knuckling down. Some forlorn lonely hearts eclipsed from life and a sprinkling of nocturnal lunatics, drawn by the flames licking from the rotisserie like solar flares. Me, I just went to people watch. The closest drizzled and grizzled London gets to a café society.

Every night there, was an awake surreal dream. With the faces of men melting under the atmosphere of gas-fired heat and light. We were each marked with a sheen of perspiration. Absconding beads of sweat ran down the flesh of us absconders from purposefulness, aping the grease globules dribbling along the spit meat. Under the willful striplights we conversed with visages blanched and blotchy. Mottled like the herbs sprinkled on the raw meat under glass. Each of us skewered and merely awaiting searing on life's lattice grill. Extemporisers all, we were gathered in order to be beyond time. To while away small, inconsequential hours, stretching them to ludicrous brittleness. Tempus fugit for its very life, here in the sweat-puddled well of deep stasis.

For where men are drawn together under the influence of alcohol, great mystical discussions take place, with improbable leaps of logic beyond reconstruction the bleary eyed morning after. Some men discovered God under the fluorescence. Others imagined themselves to be roasting in Lucifer's gaudily glinting Hell. Single night conversions only. Off the cuff marriage proposals were made to the few intrepid female souls who ventured along. Fights broke out, since such women inevitably came in accompanied. There has even been a murder, where the blood ran free into the drains along with the meat juices sluicing from the grill.

Folk danced, sung showtunes, even put on a striptease. A low rent "Britain's Got Talent" without the disingenuousness brought about by a TV camera, boring with future performing contract drillbit. Though I always stood with the video function poised on my phone. Fingers able to swiftly slide along to the speed dial number of a taxi firm. Lest my purpose be rumbled among these impromptu improvisers keen to retain the one night only aspect of their star turn under the stars.

Now that so many premises have all-night licensing, The Marathon has forsaken its elliptical lunar charms. Economic retrenchment means it only opens during the day, through some strange moonlit metamorphosis becoming a burger bar for the post-clubbing crowd at night. In daylight's muting of overhead garishness, the congealed grease on the tiles is clear to see. The dirt under the counterman's fingernails as he wields the tarnished long knife in his bespattered apron. The threadbare ambience unravelled, transmuted into the reek of cheap stale beer, charred meat and grease. The scratch and sniff aromatherapy of our former frivolity. Tempus started its engine once again and tapped its foot impatiently. I moved on.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

My Topography

Here is a podcast of me reading a psychogeography tone poem about my relationship to London, based around the Northern Line on the Underground System. In all I have lived for a while at nine different stops on this line and as I have never driven, it's significance to my life runs through me like the writing through a stick of rock.

Please feel free to download it. I hope you enjoy and please come back and leave a comment.

The text version can be found at Year Zero Writers


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tuning Up For Life - FridayFlash

Do you recollect, how we signed you up to play a musical instrument on getting into your prep school ? Without consulting you. More fool us, as we fell hook, line and sinker for the clarion to achievement of the school’s mission statement. Since we misconstrued their rubric, as embodying a compulsory insistence on extra-curricular enlisting in the fine arts. The real cultural accessories of civilisation, rather than Pop Idol and air guitar through a console.

With her passion for opera, I tacitly let your mother pluck which particular box of wind, or strung catgut would best match your constitution. Tacet would have hit the mark more accurately. For you resolved from day one never to attend a single lesson didn’t you? On orientation day, a quick raised arm count and you calculated that only a smattering of your new peers had been suckered by the school’s lettereheaded legerdemain and you were not disposed to join their ranks of speciousness. When quizzed why we never saw you with tommy gun case for the purpose of practice at home, you smartly rejoindered that you hadn’t much taken to the viola, but had swapped over to the cello. Even embroidering that the school deemed it too unwieldy to be transported to and from school on a weekly basis. We took this on trust and vaguely dreamed ahead to solo recitals given in school halls. You, sat on a lone chair among the polished wooden floorboards, spotlighted sawing back and forth.

And what of the school’s attitude? Surely they would pick up on the hiatus in their timetabled regimen. Yet, you’d uncannily trained right in on the institutional inertia. As a new boy, you were afforded time and space to find your feet. You’d turn up when you were ready. When you’d navigated your way over to the music block. When they finally did deign to launch a search party, a Prefect approached you in the playground and you misdirected him effortlessly, pointing him in the direction of that ‘other’ Malcolm Bridges. What a coincidence, two Malcolm Bridges at the same exclusive public school. Who would have thought? Apart from a dim-witted, eleven year old eager-to-please, take everything on trust, nincompoop that is. Head boy material undoubtedly. Where did you conjure such an artifice up from? You’re a natural dissimulator.

Sharp at on the hoof ploys you may be, but I find the inexperienced tend to fall down on the long-game. The follow-through of knock-on effects. Did you honestly imagine you could perpetuate the illusion indefinitely? That someone wouldn’t have caught up to you in the end? Perhaps it was because you were all too aware of the consequences, that you just shut your eyes to having to face them. I wonder who you feared more, your teacher or your parents? Fobbing us off when we inquired what new tunes you had mastered. Is it even possible to render “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on a cello? That should have clued us in, your complete and utter lack of exposure to any musical sophistication beyond a nursery rhyme. But it didn’t. We wanted to believe almost as much as that Prefect.

Two years was a heck of a period to eke out the shadowplay, I’ll grant. But at the final reckoning, whatever the pique and disappointment of your music teacher, nothing could match my outrage. Nonetheless, in stepped your mother nimbly to whip you away from the immanent conflagration. Swiftly assimilating the lessons to be drawn, she did not linger over the episode any more than you did and a veil was hastily draped over your tenderfoot musical career. Yet I could not let it go. I was like a dog with a bone. Only there’s no marrow left to be had.

For I didn’t just fix on you as the mainspring, but raged at all agents in this extortion. Since I had paid for two years of empty-handed tuition, dutifully appended to each term’s bill. I wasn't entitled to any kind of rebate, since the music master had made himself available to teach you and hadn’t reallocated his time to another student. Well bully for Mr C. Sharp-Practice! I challenged him as to how he had spent the duration. Presumably with his feet up on a desk, since it beggared belief and my wallet, that at no stage had he himself ventured out to track down his errant pupil. The sum total of effort devoted to the reclamation task, was to depute a snot-nosed proxy fetch, with all the wit and charisma of someone commended to display their name and job title on a badge. My eight year old outflanked a boy three years his senior without breaking sweat. A misplaced sense of pride on my part? More a case of having co-opted accomplices in incompetence, whom I was so busy railing at, I pretty much let you off the hook by default. Yet further misdirection. Smart, smart boy. A virtuoso after all.