Tuesday, 31 May 2011

30 Days Music Challenge

With thanks to my friend and literary fencing partner Dan Holloway, here is my 30 day music challenge to give you a little insight into me and my likes and dislikes. Each song has a link to a YouTube video.

Day 1 Favourite song - "I Wanna Be Adored" - Stone Roses. Undoubtedly a great song, managing to suggest both rampant egoism and yet a tentative self-doubt in his voice. I'll probably have a new favourite song next week. Pop's fickle like that.

Day 2 Least favourite song - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Paul Jones or "She's Lost Control" by Grace Jones. Such abominations of the original Joy Division meisterwerks that I can't bring myself to link to them.

Day 3 Song that makes you happy - "Come Down Easy - Spacemen 3. I've never taken recreational drugs and have little tolerance for those who do. However, Spacemen 3 made some of the most sublime stoner music ever and this track so joyously surrenders itself to ecstatic bliss that I am suffused in it too. Maybe this should be a guilty pleasure song (see day 13)?

Day 4 Song that makes you sad - "Love In Vain" - The Ruts Lead singer Malcolm Owen pledges his determination never to return to the heroin needle in a voice that drips emotion. He died of a heroin overdose

Day 5 Song that reminds you of someone - Toss up between "Kerosene" by Big Black and "Cry Me A River" by Julie London, somewhat divergent styles of music I'm sure you'll agree. Both remind me of my first girlfriend who turned me on to both artists. She had pretty eclectic tastes and I will always honour her for that. Oh yes and for being the first of course...

Day 6 Song that reminds you of somewhere - "Fire Spirit" - Gun Club. I'd gone to see these guys on the recommendation of The Fall's Mark E Smith via John Peel's radio show. I'd never heard any of their songs and turned up at the venue to find it was a sit down place with waitress service, but boy did they blow the stage away that night. I'll always remember that venue though, sadly no longer with us, but hopefully to be immortalised in my WIP...

Day 7 Song that reminds you of an event - "Decades" - Joy Division. My second ever play was performed at the Edinburgh Festival and was about a Joy Division fan still trapped in denial 5 years after his hero has committed suicide {not autobiographical in the least there ;-)} This song was the inspiration behind the play. "Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders". The play was about urban alienation and we were performing in a bus depot so periodically through the play there would be tannoy announcements about buses pulling out. Very apt.

Day 8 Song you know all the words to - "Bankrobber" - The Clash, but then there aren't all that many words in it! I do love singing along to it though much to my sons' chagrin. "My daddy was a bankrobber" - at such moments they probably wish I was and accordingly languishing behind bars...

Day 9 Song you can dance to - "Nothing Can Go Wrong" - South Central. I've never been big on dance music or rave, but this is quite catchy and besides I'm sure you're all bored with me posting 23 Skidoo's "IY" on every other music blog post I do...

Day 10 Song that helps you fall to sleep - I don't believe I possess any music that puts me to sleep. Music is supposed to reach out through the speakers, grab the top of your spine and make you want to MOOOOVE. I would imagine any Prog Rock group like Yes or Ozric Tentacles to put me to sleep, but I've never tried them. An oversight on my part perhaps, since I am actually an insomniac. Wonder if I can get hold of their CDs on an NHS prescription?

Day 11 Song from your favourite band - "Kalte Sterne" by Einsturzende Neubauten. God I loved this band. German is THE language for pop music.

Day 12 Song from a band you hate - Anything by Oasis. I'm not posting a link, I believe you can find some of their stuff on the internet somewhere... Why do I hate them? This isn't a Blur V Oasis thing, cos I was never a fan of Blur either. Actually it sort of is in an inverse way. Blur were seen as the London cool and Oasis the Northern lads' band (hence the rivalry), but even though I'm a Londoner, I acknowledge that Manchester has been the rock and roll capital of the UK for the last 35 years, yet Oasis a band from Manchester always wanted to sound like The Beatles, a band from Liverpool and that pop pickers, is tantamount to TREASON. Manchester and Liverpool hate each other more than either hates London. I think it had something to do with Liverpool charging Manchester rent to ship Manchester's manufactured textiles out to the world. Petty. Bit like my dislike of Oasis really...

Day 13 Song that is a guilty pleasure - "Jump Around" - House Of Pain, a really dumb song, from a band with a really crass Plastic Paddyness, yet that groove just gets me. Soz.

Day 14 Song that no one would expect you to love - "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" - St Etienne. I dunno, I normally like a bit of edge to my music, but Sarah Cracknell's voice on this wins me over. Mind you she's got more edge than Neil Young's reedy original.

Day 15 Song that describes you - "You've Got My Number, Why Don't You Use It" - The Undertones. Hey I'm a struggling writer, what more can I say?

Day 16 Song that you used to love but now hate - "The Knife" - Genesis. Peter Gabriel Genesis, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, I used to be into them during my formative musical years, but when punk came along I just couldn't listen to them any more because they just sounded SO SLOOOWWW. I mean this song even has a flautist on stage, what was I thinking? Seriously, I'm impressed there is actual footage of this up on YouTube. I wanted a decent live version of Pink Floyd's "Dogs" but there didn't seem to be one.

Day 17 Song that you hear often on the radio - "Can't Live Without My Radio" - World Domination Enterprises. Bit of a cheat this one as since DJ John Peel died, I don't listen to the radio for my tunes. World Dom do a marvellously OTT version of "Funkytown". Check it out.

Day 18 Song that you wish you heard on the radio - "Politicians And Paedophiles" - The Bug. The clue is in the title really, and you won't hear many more angry songs than this. Having said that, I bet there's some pirate radio station broadcasting out of a garret in a South London crack house that is playing this on the airwaves.

Day 19 Song from your favourite album - "Ghetto Of The City" - Misty In Roots. I don't really have a favourite album, but Misty In Roots "Live At The Counter Eurovision" is about as perfect an album as you can get with not one duff track on it. Thing is I no longer own it as some ex-housemate waltzed off with my vinyl copy many moons ago. Not that I would have a record player to play it on anyway.

Day 20 Song you listen to when you're angry - "To Hell With Poverty" - Gang Of Four

Day 21 Song you listen to when you're happy - "Groovy Situation" - Keith Rowe. Oh man that voice, that voice!

Day 22 Song you listen to when you're sad - "Let There Be Light" - Nas. Ugh, crushing.

Day 23 Song you want to play at your wedding - "Don't Touch Me There" - The Tubes. Hey I've had my wedding, so what's the problem? There was an outside chance, a real long shot, that The Beastie Boys could have been induced to play at my wedding as they were playing a set in Rough Trade Record Shop where I was working. But the inlaws nixed the idea... No Klezmer band either.

Day 24 Song you want played at your funeral - "Paper Planes" - MIA seems a fitting send off... "If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name". Let's hope so eh St Peter?

Day 25 Song that makes you laugh - "Art Bitch" - CSS Being funny in a second language, nuff respec'. Check out those lyrics in the box below the vid.

Day 26 Song you can play on an instrument - "Gdansk" - Test Department. I like doing guerilla art stunts. It started at college when we played a midnight concert on the croquet lawn outside the halls of residence, running the amp cables into the basement. I couldn't and can't actually play any instruments, so I hit a beer keg with a sledgehammer in tribute to Test Dept. The problem was the rest of the band were playing "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus. Still it was all good fun until someone threatened to report us. Swot. I went on to hit an oil drum with the same sledgehammer in a play wot I wrote for the 1985 Edinburgh Festival, where we met some striking Kent miners who were performing a play about mining and de-industrialisation which Test Dept had backed. Funny that this vid has a cello piece so prominent, since I was supposed to learn the instrument at school, but I handed mine back in two pieces and the music department didn't ask me back again next term.

Day 27 Song you wish you could play - "Nice'N' Sleazy" - The Stranglers. I was always dreaming of being the bassist in a band, but couldn't even master 4 strings. There are so many low down and dirty bass riffs, but JJ.Burnel was maybe the king of them all. Did you know The Stranglers were reputed to have 3 men who were all draft dodgers in their respective countries?

Day 28 Song that makes you feel guilty - "Bombastic" - Shaggy. One isn't supposed to approve of Shaggy, or the sentiments on this song, but again, you find the right sound and I roll over and let you tickle my tummy.

Day 29 Song from your childhood - "Rhubarb And Custard" Theme Tune. Can't remember watching the show particularly, but the theme was simply awesome. Of course a bloody Rave DJ got hold of it and remixed it and it was horrible... Though I did like the version of the Rainbow theme tune by Crazed Mr Bungle.

Day 30 Your favourite song this time last year - "It Doesn't Make It Alright" - The Specials. I rediscovered the Specials last year and the plaint in Terry Hall's voice here makes me want to cry and rage all at the same time.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Bittersweet - Fridayflash

The soft-centred moo has just presented me with some chocolates. Well I 'spose you can't give a fellah flowers now can you? And she bought me a drill last Christmas, but that was a thinly veiled hint. I mean, I don't buy her darning thread and needles do I? Besides, if my heart has hardened, she's the sclerotic

"What have I done to deserve these?"

These in particular? A whole confection of sins for which I seek your absolution

"Mmm, these are good. I do love a good fondant"

Fond rather than fondant. Or fondle even. Melt me please. Melt my soft centre once again

"Umm, I love the way the two tastes and textures constantly swirl around the old tastebuds"

Like we used to do round one another

"No, don't tell me, let me work it out"

So you're prepared to work that out, but not the mystery ingredients in our marriage? You'll never guess it in a thousand years. Stake your life on it

"Okay, definitely something nutty there. Slightly bitter, would I be right in saying almonds?"

My almond eyes were one of the things you fell deeply in love with. You used to say you could stare into them forever, but I've twigged you were looking at the homunculus reflection of yourself

"And what's that subtle sweet undertaste? Vying hard not to be overwhelmed by the bitterness"

Not the taste of my skin that's for sure

"It's on the tip of my tongue. Peaches? Could that be it?"

My peachy complexion. Only darkening at cheeks, chin and nipples at your touch. When we made love

"Thanks love. These are divine. Are they Belgian?"

Yeah, I'm Lady Godiva and I am undressed for you

"Where did you buy them?"

The naive, the innocent, the unwary buy lies, but these choccies have taken in something equally toxic


"Another box of chocolates? I'll be piling on the calories!"

Your body has fully held its shape from our courtship days. Mine however, having produced our own soft centres with hard heads, has lost its chewy elasticity. I have become your vanilla wife. You have become saturated with me, yet I have not nearly had my fill of you

"No, thanks. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. Just, what's the occasion?"

Whatever you select it to be. Three months since you last made me a cup of tea, having boiled the kettle for your own coffee. Nine months since you put the children to bed or read them a story. Fifteen months since you last filled my hollow centre with your nozzle. I've got as many anniversaries as it's going to take boxes of chocolates to make you come round to appreciating

"Are they the same as the last lot? They were so very moreish"

More, more, always wanting more. Whore, whore, whore, always wanting whore

"Yummy, thanks. Gotta be careful, last time I must have really pigged out cos I found some melted chocolate fused with my sock. Ruined it was, had to chuck the pair away"

Life's truffle hunter that you are, that would have been down to me. Need to be more careful with the darning needles then. After I've finished injecting my homemade fondant fancy inside, I have to ensure I've removed every last trace

"Wow, these have got a real bitter kick on them? Did you change the recipe?"

Last time you retired to bed and I watched you in your sleep. In the twilight, your skin had a pink tinge to it, like a salmon. But that was the extent of it. I realised you needed a bigger dose. I had originally considered using arsenic. I know it accretes in the hair and fingernails. It must also be excreted through the body's fluids. I did wonder if we chanced make love again, whether you would be reinjecting the arsenic back into me. So we could succumb together. A fanciful notion of course, since you'd never unpack that flesh drill of yours and bore deep into me. So I plumped for potassium cyanide. Did you know butterfly collectors use it to kill their prey in such a way so as to preserve their beauty? So the needle pinning them to the cork doesn't despoil them

"Ooh, I feel a bit light headed. Suddenly my breathing seems very... rapid?

Yes, my research reported that to be a symptom. But it's actually only the perception of your breath quickening. See the delight with this venom, is that it embodies a certain piquancy

"I'm chilled to the bone. I can't feel-"

The cold-blooded reptile. Again a mere sensation, but an apt one. Dentists are always saying too much chocolate is bad for your teeth. That's why they have to drill and fill. Just desserts.

Caritas - friday flash

It was for charity. A good cause. The best.

The award winning author had donated his renown to raise money and I had snaffled up the chance to be immortalised by him in print. Cost me a pretty penny, but everyone, including the charity was a winner right?

Though it had all been pretty tense in the auction. I tried to keep my powder dry, but my excitement had got the better of me and I'd declared my hand early. Turned into who could piss highest up the wall contest. All in the name of literature. And charity of course.

After the auction I met the great man himself. He was inordinately charming and witty as you'd expect, but I was a tad disappointed that he didn't seem to be taking me in head to foot with those intelligent dancing eyes of his. Sizing me up, getting a sense of my physical being for my character. But hey, he was the creative genius not me. I was just giving, lending him my name. He would do what he would with it.

But it was established that I would appear in a sex scene in his new novel. Nothing wrong with that at all. Way better than being a nameless stiff bumped off by a serial killer. A quick, disposable death does nothing for one's chances of immortality. Besides, we're talking about a man of letters here. He didn't write tawdry thrillers. He was an artist.

Then the great waiting period ensued. While the man composed his opus. I was dying to know how he was getting on, but I would have to wait for publication day like everyone else. No sneak previews. No proof copies. Idly I checked my e-mail daily, just to see if he'd contacted me wanting to raise a question of detail with me. But of course he never did. He was a professional and any plot or character lacuna, could be magicked away just through the prodigious power of his imagination.

Yet during the interminable hiatus my own imagination set to work. Of course I tried to picture all sorts of sexy scenarios the fictional me might be indulging in. But that threw up the occasional anxiety. What if it the sexual act was unutterably perverse? What would my work colleagues think? What would my mother think? I would be in for some merciless teasing. By my work mates that is, not my mother, she would just be appalled. Yet it was likely to be entirely manageable, after all it was just fiction and I would still be a character in an award winning writer's work and they wouldn't.

Worse perhaps would be if my character suffered from performance anxiety on the printed page. That would entail a more unflagging ribbing and might be harder to salvage any prestige. But the illustrious writer wouldn't do that to me surely? I had given the money to a good cause, a cause we both shared in and one neither of us would want to sully. There could be no doubting of anyone's motives.

My life and my reputation in his hands. I had ceded them so recklessly.

So my unbounded imagination continued to run wild. What if he was struggling with the pressure of his deadline? I was a contractual obligation, or a moral one anyway. Yet what if this book too was a contractual obligation with a publisher he was desperate to escape from? That he would just deliver up the most cursory of novels, then fly the coop and disown it as his parting shot? Consigning me to obscurity and a treatment within his pages that was little superior to a tabloid newspaper's salacious kiss and tell. The ones when you examined them, actually said nothing at all and only insinuated lewd acts because they were careful to avoid being sued for libel. I had to pull myself together. I had to banish all the nightmarish scenarios and trust to his professionalism.

Time to reassert the glorying in the scenarios I might actually be playing a part in. The sexy scenarios. I wondered about my female partner. Not to put too fine a point on it, I fantasised about her. Then I worried about the practicalities of doing just that. Here were my fantasies, only they were being conjured by somebody else's imagination. That made them more akin to his turn ons not mine. His fantasies involving me. I felt dirty. I tried to reason that there was nothing but dispassionate exercising of craft involved on his part.

Then I became troubled by the notion of paying for the privilege and pleasure of such fantasising. How close was that to an unorthodox (to say the least) form of prostitution? Without even a real flesh and blood body for my pains. Had I just paid a Charity to commission some personal pornography for me? I was beginning to regret the whole endeavour however nobly intended.

But then the day arrived. Notification of the publication date on the publisher's website. All my original enthusiasms were rekindled at a stroke. I scrutinised the thumbnail of the book's cover for a clue, but of course there was no reason to expect that it gave any indication as to my depiction within the pages (page? maybe I would be only granted a single paragraph). Expectation built.

At least the critical noises coming out about the book dispelled my crazy notions of contract filler and the like. The writing appeared up to his usual splendiferous standards.

Except in one respect. The annual Bad Sex in Literature awards had nominated the book for its lone sex scene. I couldn't understand it. I went out and bought his previous novel. Read it cover to cover. It was true. As good a writer as he was of the human condition, he couldn't write about sex for shit.

He could survive it by being a great artist. Me, I'm a laughing stock.

All in a good cause.


Etymology from www.dictionary.com

1125–75; Middle English charite < Old French < Latin cāritāt- (stem of cāritās ),

equivalent to cār ( us ) dear (akin to caress,cherish, Kama, whore) + -itāt- -ity

Saturday, 21 May 2011

30 day Book Challenge Part 2

With continued props to Becky (@stupidgirl45 on Twitter) who supplied me this idea - you can read her version here

Day 15: First "chapter"book you can remember reading as a child. Not sure of this was the first, since they probably gave us something to read at school which I now can't remember for the life of me, but I was the lucky recipient of a bit of a family heirloom. My father's original hardback editions of Richmal Crompton's "Just William" books, the editions dating back to the 1930s. They were a delight and I handed them on to my cousin, now a famous kids' author in his own right. He gave them back to me a few years ago for my own son to glory in and he reads them over and over, which suggests they haven't dated. "Horrid Henry" eat your heart out.

Day 16: Longest book ever read. Bolano's "2666" and having read it I ask myself why. Definitely a case of Emperor's New Clothes to my mind. The first chapter is okay in a David Lodge sort of way and the last chapter ties some of the things together in a historical fiction sort of way. But the bits in the middle, including the relentless chapter about women murders just go on for ever and to no good purpose that I can see. Looking forward to finding a block of time to read "House Of Leaves" and "The Infinite Jest". Hope they come partially clothed at least...

Day 17: Shortest book read. "The Outsider" weighs in at 102 pages. Jenny Erpenbeck's "The Book Of Words" is a small pocketbook edition of 112 pages, so not sure how that compares, but is a very good little book about the family of a regime's chief torturer. I also enjoyed a pamphlet-like book at 80 pages called "Mr Overby Is Falling" by Nathan Tyree, but it's quite troubling as it's from the point of view of a serial killer, so it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Day 18: Book you're most embarrassed to say you like. I'm not really embarrassed as I'll defend anything I give my personal thumbs up to, but Jonathan Safran Foer seems to get plenty of clog for his novel "Everything Is Illuminated" which I enjoyed. Its tricksiness seems to have bothered people, but I revelled in that. It's not a great book and in truth I preferred his follow up about 9/11 narrated by a 10 year old boy "Up Close And Incredibly Loud", which no one else seemed to like either.

Day 19: Book that turned you on. Nicholson Baker's "The Fermata" has the premise a man can stop time for everyone else but him and as predictable as the information superhighway has coalesced around the twin pillars of sex and commerce, so the hero of the novel uses his gift to ogle women who are unaware of what he is up to. Baker also wrote a novel entirely about phone sex called "Vox", but that didn't quite do it for me. Guess that makes me more of the voyeur type... The best book about desire is Neil Bartlett's "Skin Lane". God I love this book and its sensuousness in inanimate objects.

Day 20: Book you've read the most number of times. See "The Outsider" in previous post. Once a year for ten years.

Day 21: Favourite picture book from childhood. I can't recall any of my primer books, so am going to skip straight to "Asterix and The Roman Agent". The Romans infiltrate an agent provocateur who causes strife and arguments among the redoubtable Gauls. It's really quite sophisticated.

Day 22: Book you plan on reading next. Well "House Of Leaves" may just have to wait until I've got a head space clear of my own writing. So I fancy I may just read "The Master and The Margarita" by Bulgakov. Supposed to be very funny and in the favourite comedic books in part 1 I forgot to mention Gogol's "Dead Souls". Victor Pelevin can be funny too, who said the Russians were miserablists? Not me!

Day 23: Book you tell people you've read but haven't or at least haven't finished. Probably "Ulysses". I do own up to never having read Hardy or Dickens!

Day 24: Book that contains your favourite scene. The opening to Don Delillo's "Underworld" is quite exemplary atmospheric writing, even though it's about the subject few would be that moved by. It tells the tale of a boy who bunks off school and sneaks into an important knock-out baseball game, which actually happened in history and has some endlessly played back radio commentary (much like the 1966 World Cup Final). A key hit by a batter was described as 'a shot heard around the world' in the newspapers of the time. In "Mao II" Delillo describes a mass Moonie wedding with similar breathtaking scope, balancing the mass with the individual emotion. Wonderful stuff. I'll also credit Ian McEwan for his nailing of the competitive thoughts and feelings pulsing through two squash players in "Saturday", even though the book as a whole is not so great, while the retreat from Dunkirk he describes in "Atonement" is astounding war writing.

Day 25: Favourite book read in school. Milton's "Paradise Lost", but up against Sylvia Plath poems, Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers" and Jane Austen's "Emma" I feel it didn't have a great deal of competition given my proclivities. There are some wonderful images in Milton and the character of Mammon building a counterfeit Heaven in Hell that just can't cut it has echoes even today.

Day 26: Favourite non-fiction book. "The Alphabet" by David Sacks, a history of the source of each of the 26 letters and a consideration of some of their associations and imagery. A theme elaborated on in "26 Letters" a collaboration between 26 writers and 26 designers, taking one letter per pair and designing a poster for an exhibition to bring out the life in each of their letters. Superb stuff that probably launched my interest in typography being a significant part of fiction writing.

Day 27: Favourite Fiction Book. Well, apart from the Murakami listed in part 1, it's probably Roth's "American Pastoral". Although I don't really buy into the Americans' fixation with "The Great American Novel", this truly is an epic that encapsulates all of post-war America, with its psychic splits in the 60s. I'm not a huge fan of Roth, seeing him as self-absorbed and self-obsessed, but this is a strikingly brilliant and complete novel.

Day 28: Last book you read. "Bad Intentions" by Norwegian writer Karin Fossum. I watched a BBC4 programme on Norse Noir and off the back of it the next day marched into a bookstore and bought this and the book in Day 29. The Fossum was so so. I was attracted to the claim that it concentrates on motive for the crime through the criminal's eyes, but I wasn't entirely convinced by the portrait on offer. Some of the language was a bit ropy too, but that may just be the translation, since Fossum has also written poetry.

Day 29: Book you're currently reading. The second Norse Noir I was tipped to and this one is far more satisfying. "The Snowman" by Jo Nesbo. Someone tweeted me yesterday that they'd seen Nesbo read livee and thatthe scene had stayed with her in her nightmares and I can see why. I think I'll read all his ouevre. So from the programme I discovered one out of the two authors to my tastes, a pretty fair strike rate I'd say.

Day 30: Favourite coffee table book. Huh? I have neither a coffee table, nor do I drink tea or coffee while idly browsing a book. However a very kind friend sent me "Joy Division" by Kevin Cummins which I have promised myself to read as a treat when I've finished my current work in progress. Joy Division were my favourite band and Cummins was the photographer there from the beginning so I'm anticipating a great artbook. The band certainly lent themselves to great imagery, being very associated with the de-industrialisation of Northern England in the early 1980's.

So thank you for indulging me in my personal favourites. There were plenty I would have liked to include on here but couldn't. Honourable mentions must go to Dubravka Ugresic, Jeanette Winterson, William Burroughs, David Peace, David Mitchell, Imre Kertesz, Craig Cleveneger, Kate Atkinson, Jonathan Lethem, Scarlet Thomas.

Peace and Lethem are my two favourite contemporary authors, I can't believe I couldn't get them into the 30 books!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge

I'd like to credit Becky (@stupidgirl45 on Twitter) for this idea which I have nicked and adapted for my own. You can read her original here

Day 1: Favourite Book: "Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of the World" by Murakami. An extraordinary book unlike no other I've read, in that it has two entirely different narrative worlds winding down to meet one another. One is a fairly straight forward Japanese noir thriller, the other a semi-mystical dystopia. Mind-expanding

Day 2: Least favourite book: Oh man too many to mention. But probably "Demo" by Alison Miller which is seemingly about political protest to the Iraq War, but actually is about a couple of Trustafarians slumming it for a bit

Day 3: Book that makes me laugh out loud: quite a competitive little category this one, but the late Steve Tesich's "Karoo" narrowly edges out Steve Toltz's "A Fraction Of The Whole". Both have a laugh on almost every page, but Saul Karoo is a more satisfying character to guide us through the laughs

Day 4: Book that makes you cry: I'm a geezer so I don't cry period. Can honestly say I don't think I've cried at a book, though I've moistened at the odd film or so. My father however claims that as a young child I laughed at the death of Bambi's mother. I have no way of verifying this

Day 5: Book you wish you could live in: "Sum - 40 Tales of the Afterlife" a wonderful small book positing 40 imaginative scenarios for life and post-life. Not only does it give the brain endless food for thought, but I'm rather taken with its notion that there is life after death, so yes please I'd like to reside there...

Day 6: Favourite young adult book: I'm sure they weren't called YA books when I was a lad. I didn't read books as a boy anyway except Asterix and Tintin. I'm a bit out of my depth here, but I'd recommend "Watchman" though it's not really about YA themes

Day 7: Book that you can quote/recite: Even though I have a good memory that got me through my exams by memorising stuff by rote, I would actually have to apply myself to learn quotes which I don't tend to do with my reading for pleasure. I never remember jokes either. But I did use to religiously (sic) read Camus "The Outsider" once a year for about ten years, so after repeated readings I managed to commit the first line to memory "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday I can't be sure"

Day 8: Book that scares you: What in a treehouse of terror sort of way, or the horror of knowing that it ever got published? Let's go with the former shall we? I don't scare that easily just through the power of art - I rarely surrender my disbelief, but the Jo Nesbo crime thriller "The Snowman" which I'm reading now is pretty neat on that front. For non-fiction, FBI Profiler Robert Ressler's "Whoever Fights Monsters" is pretty chilling in parts

Day 9: Book that makes me sick: Again, an extreme reaction I'm not really given to. I can tell you a film that I've tried to watch on several occasions and never made it past the first third and that's Polanski's "Repulsion". I think if I picked up any reality TV star's autobiography, penned at the tender age of 20 for the Tv tie in, that would make me upchuck. But this is supposition. Same thing Kenneth Branagh's autobiography (age 24), but I never read that either

Day 10: Book that changed your life: Okay, I don't do self-help right! But returning to Camus' "The Outsider", it was the first proper book that I read of my own volition and set me on my devouring course of literature. I'd been tipped off to it by a cooler older cousin who said check out the song "Killing An Arab" by the Cure and then read the Camus book, both of which I dutifully did and have never looked back

Day 11: Book from your favourite author: Kafka's "The Castle" sadly incomplete as Kafka ordered all his work to be destroyed on his death, but a tantalising piece of writing all the same. The author's control of both the fates of his characters and the journey undertaken by the reader are so deft and light. Mesmerising

Day 12: Book that is most like your life: Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground". I'm saying no more...

Day 13: Book who's main character is like you: I know how Meursault feels in "The Outsider" but I'd stop short of killing someone, plus I stay out of the sun... Probably one of Michel Houllebeq's misanthropes. #lowselfesteem

Day 14: Book whose main characters you want to marry: Actually I'd have to say my own character Karen Dash from "A,B&E". She is the strongest woman I know and she would keelhaul me every single day of our married life and I would be eternally grateful to her for doing so

Saturday, 14 May 2011

When Two is Better Than One?

When is two better than one? Yes you can have twin vocals or two or more lead guitars, but I like bands with twin drummers or even better, twin bassists. Here's 10 that don't include Rick Wakeman's Yes or Phil Collins Genesis.

1) Cop Shoot Cop
The best of the lot, with their hi and low end basses, their music was menacing, confrontational and chock-full of power. Tod A once slammed his bass into me at the front of the stage in a pub venue in Kentish Town. Like I say, confrontational. "Burn Your Bridges"

2) The Birthday Party
Before drummer Phil Calvert left the band, Mick Harvey who took over the drums in his absence would for certain songs go to a secondary kit and there was nothing quite as exciting as seeing the two of them thumping away, as usually the drummer in any group is concealed behind his kit. Did I prefer the early 2- drum BP from the latter? Live I did, but the songs were maybe stronger on their latter output. Harvey himself is a multi-instrumentalist maven. "Dead Joe"

3) Adam And The Ants
Another band forced to rejig after line-up changes, but unlike BP, The Ants scaled up to two drummers when their original "Dirk Wears White Socks" line up left to form Bow Wow Wow. This is the classic example of two drummers working in tandem, rather than against one another like BP. Very tribal, but despite the bombast and bloated phenomenon that The Ants became for a brief while, they still produced great songs - both incarnations though very different, were equally worthwhile in my humble opinion. "Kings Of The Wild Frontier"

4) The Fall
Perhaps inevitable that The Fall who have had more line up changes than any other band, would have dabbled with a twin drummer phase. With somewhat mixed results I feel. "KIcker Conspiracy"

5) Ned's Atomic Dustbin
I was never a big fan of Neds, even though they had twin basses. Too poppy and tuneful to my ears. Still, they were pretty big for a while. "Happy"

6) Royal Trux
A great band, but depressing to see them framed by that abomination that was "The Word". But everything else on YouTube seems to be their post-twin drummer incarnation, so whad'ya'gonna do? "Night To Remember"

7) Pere Ubu
Another twin instrument that maybe didn't best serve them, seeing as all their best songs came within their fertile first few years at the end of the 70s. "Waiting For Mary"

8) Palehorse
All right, I'll admit it. I'm a frustrated bassist. Two bassists in a band would have given cover for the fact that I couldn't play. But they say Dave Greenfield the Stranglers' keyboardist used to play all JJ Burnel's bass licks for him... Bassists have their backs to the audience way more than lead guitarists who like to show the audience their doodling and noodling. Two basses does lend itself to a certain type of music I'm sure you'll agree. Not many harmonies to be had.

9) Dos
What could be more pure than a band made up solely of two bass guitars? Bassist extraodinaire Mike Watt (Minutemen and Firehose) teams up with Kira Roessler (Black Flag). I'm not sure I'd pay to go and see it live, but hey respect to them anyway.

10) Glenn Branca
Okay I suggested at the outset that twin lead guitars was a bit clichéd. But how about when you've got 30 of them? Branca is orchestral in how he builds and layers the music and when I saw them, each guitarist on stage had a music stand which lent a touch of genius to proceedings. Here it's the orchestra nodding their heads to the music rather than the audience, but hey that's guitarists for you. "Symphony No 13"

11) Boredoms
Not to be outdone, Boredoms invite some mates round to the park. Kodo drumming it ain't.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Trespass - Fridayflash

The credit card statement had been folded inside its envelope in such a way as his name and the opening part of each line of his address, including the house number, had been sliced off. They nestled behind the manilla frame cradling the transparent window. Hats off to the postman, or woman, for ensuring delivery. He or she didn't seem to have torn back the manilla in order to unshutter the full window. But he himself did so just then, so as to reveal his full name and address and ensure all was in order. It was indeed his bill.

He removed the statement and could see that it had been folded out of kilter. The edges of the pages didn't sit flush with one another, but formed small terraced strata. He idly wondered whether a machine or a human being was responsible for the folding and enveloping. He looked at the total due for the month, (paid automatically by direct debit so as to avoid incurring interest). That's odd he thought to himself.

For the total was about three times his normal monthly spend. He unfolded the statement and smoothed it flat with his hand. His eye alighted to scan the spending summary. He looked at the amounts and totted them up in his head. The arithmetic was correct. Each category, Entertainment, Household, Food And Drink, Hotels, Motoring, Other Retailers and Cash Advances, were above his carefully budgeted amounts. He never usually had anything but a zero in Hotels and for Motoring, He didn't own a car, nor did he travel anywhere. His carbon footprint was very small, though not from any ideological commitment. He had a sinking feeling. He had been cloned. Stolen. Thieved from. Defrauded.

He marched over to his jacket hanging on the peg on the back of the front door. He fumbled for his wallet from the inside pocket, but the credit card was comfortably nestled there. So the card itself hadn't been stolen, but seemingly his identity had been. He returned to the statement to peruse the detail of the individual transaction lines themselves.

The earliest listed items were recognisably his. His mobile phone account. His weekly trip to the supermarket of a Saturday. His monthly train season ticket. The £2 donation he made to sponsor an animal in the zoo, whose photo lovingly adorned a frame on his bedside table. The renewal of his annual membership to the Ramblers Association, even though he hadn't been on a country walk for some considerable time.

But then from here it all went a bit skew whiff. The first alien entry was for a restaurant and not a cheap one either, unless it was for a medium sized party of diners. He went over to his desk and looked up the restaurant on the internet. It was a seafood restaurant and he never touched seafood. He didn't trust its hygiene, coming from the polluted sea and a seabed rippling with bacteria. And yes, calling up a sample menu he could see that this was indeed a most expensive eaterie.

Though it was hard to be certain, one thing was for sure, it wasn't a single person dining out on their own. But he himself could never imagine sitting alone in a restaurant, which is why the category for dining was always followed by a zero. But not today. He gauged that the meal must have been for two people. He tried to conceive who the two could have been. The most likely was a lothario trying to impress a woman. But could he be so self-possessed as to do this with a forged credit card? He wondered if they'd had oysters.

The next item was petrol. Since the Motoring total had been quite high, he skipped down the list and found several other petrol entries. This man, or woman - no he felt that it was almost certainly a man - evidently drove a lot. He did wonder if the car was for business trips, which might then amend his supposition about the expensive meal. Maybe that was a business entertaining (which was taxable). Dipping into a finger bowl to clean off the shellfish flesh, prior to shaking hands on a deal.

He returned to the petrol stops. Each in a different location. He wrote down the names of the towns and began to plot them on a map he had of the whole country on the wall of his study. Never the same location twice. Perhaps he was a travelling salesman. He was intrigued to know whether the man would double back on any of these places within the next month. What was he saying? He had to nip this in the bud now.

Another item on the list caught his eye. Some establishment called "The Flagstaff", which after a quick mental calculation rated under Other Retailer. This category had been particularly inflated, so he returned to the internet and discovered it was a pole dancing establishment. Whatever one of those was. He delved further and became acquainted with the nature of such a venue. Ah, that explained the cash withdrawal on the same night then. The location of the enterprise also matched to one of the garage towns. As did other garage towns to "Club Wraparound" and "Perpendicular" and "Wet Gravity".

He really should... He looked at the stated credit limit. The total of the bill was two-thirds of the way to the maximum, but he figured that was not too bad a value. Not for the purchasing of vicarious pleasures. the chance to let his own imagination run amok. Maybe tomorrow he would contact the credit card company and ask them to lower the limit to what he was prepared to invest in his new proxy identity. And he would buy some pins for his wall map to keep track of his progress.

He was rather taken with his new self.

Many thanks to ian firth @mashie1964 for info on credit card summary categories

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls 'House'

Time For Fun, 41 - There are 41 paving stones from your gate to the front door
Key of the Door, 21 - Your wallet has a combined total of twenty-one credit, debit and identity cards
Clickety-Click, 66 - As usual, there will be a total of 66 prizes given out by you down at the bingo tonight. Everyone's a winner, of sorts
Gateway to Heaven, 27 - Twenty-seven stairs up to the bedroom
Dancing Queen, 17 - The seventeenth step is loose and groans, so take pains to avoid it
One More Time, 79 - There are seventy-nine books in your bookshelf on the landing
Naughty, 40 - All your lightbulbs are 40 Watt energy savers
Knock at the Door, 4 - In her sleep, your wife snores four times before a whistle
Pick and Mix, 26 - The bedroom door is twenty-six inches wide, I have to turn side on to squeeze in through it
Ghandi's Breakfast, 80 - Your wife has eighty, yes eighty count 'em, dresses in the wardrobe
Coming of Age, 18 - She has eighteen different beauty creams, ointments and salves on her bedside table
The Lord is my Shepherd, 23 - William Burroughs and other occultists attribute strong magic significance behind this number. It happens to be my lucky one
Up to Tricks, 46 - There is forty-six minutes until the last game and the end of your shift
You and Me, number 3 - Your wife sleeps propped up on three pillows, one fringed
On it's Own, 1 - Now that I'm here, she can no longer be said to be all alone
Dirty Gertie, Number 30 - We all know your wife isn't called Gertie
Candy Store, 74 - She ain't called Candy either, she's not American
Rise And Shine, 29
Thee and Me, 23
Down on your Knees, 43
Droopy Drawers, 44
Ask for More, 34
Red Raw, 64
Staying Alive, 85
Get up and Run, 31
Eyes down...
Clean the Floor, 54...

* * *

Okay, your wish is my control C button - here's a podcast version you can ddownload http://www.box.net/shared/ddc6ec6u0q

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Hobbling Of The Foot Soldier

It might seem churlish to question the narrative voice in what is after all only another brutal, grimey British gangster movie (Film Gris?), but hey I'm a writer and such things niggle me.

The movie fuses the autobiography of Carlton Leach, erstwhile football hooligan, club bouncer, drug dealer and gangster, with a portrayal of a true crime where three drug dealers who were our Carl's mates, are executed in their land rover in remote rural Essex. The movie starts off from Carlton's point of view, his rise through the ranks from terrace hoolie all the way up to serious player in the Essex underworld. But two-thirds of the way in, his voice and pov is marginalised, in favour of the three guys who eventually decorate the car's interior upholstery with their grey matter. One of these characters only appears in the film half-way through, since up until then he has been in prison. A second is shoehorned (crowbarred?) even later and yet we are sidetracked off into his story as the perspective becomes multiple, representing each of them together and apart, while Carlton remains on the fringes, bound by loyalty and friendship, but distancing himself from their drug-fuelled self-destructive path.

And even though I regard myself as a reasonably sophisticated movie watcher, this shift didn't work for me. Throughout the film are almost subliminal images of 'what if' scenarios, of members of Carlton's family and Carlton himself facing execution if he undertook a certain course of action. This makes the whole film seem to pivot entirely around his fate. And yet he backs off from action of any kind in the last third of the film and these scenarios really ought to apply to the three who did end up dead. Maybe it's supposed to embody the switch from the individual to the gang, but it veers the film wholly over from where it started into something else and ultimately serves neither.

I haven't read Leach's book "Muscle", but assume it is a straight-forward biographical narrative of events and influences in his life. For a scriptwriter to try and graft this on to a multi-perspective take on a hotly disputed crime open to many different theories as to what actually happened, suggests to me a failure of craft. It possibly could work in a book, to switch pov so radically, but in a film I think it exposes the diversity of its sources and how poorly spliced together they were.

The thing is that we actually already have films aplenty dealing with both of these subjects. "Cass" a book and film by Cass Pennant another West Ham hooligan, replicates a life very similar to that of Leach's and contains some of the same set piece events that both were present at. "Essex Boys" is a film devoted to the entire story that ends up with the land rover shootings.

And here I think, is the dispiriting truth that emerges out of all of this. There are probably more films about this ten-a-penny criminal gang than there were made about the Krays. I can count 5, yes 5, films portraying the hooligan battles between West Ham's "Inter City Firm" and Millwall's "Treatment" - "Green Street 1 & 2", "Football Factory" "Rise Of The Foot Soldier", "Cass", not to mention two fictioonalised West Hams in "ID" (Shadwell FC) and "The Firm" (The Inter-City Crew). In this parochial, navel-gazing, dire Danny-Dyered world, of glorified violence and (man-on-man) torture porn, is it any wonder that the British film industry can't revive its fortunes?

But hell I'm as guilty as the next guy of a voyeuristic pleasure in these types of movies. I've even published a novel set around a gangster premise, but I would hope that mine attempts to show the other side of this gangsterism; not the consequences for the geezer slumped in a car with a hole in his head, but for those others in his orbit - since my novel is from the view of his wife, or ex-wife as she is on one level and under the threat of it being extended to a second, permanent one. It's a novel about pain, exclusion and self-deception. It's a book about terror, but does not dwell on the actual violence that underpins it. I trust it doesn't glorify anything about the lifestyle, but explores the contours of the husks of the people consumed by it.

"So you are either with them or you are against them. Thus states the primordial credo of the thick-set men with non-surgical scars. Handed down to us priestesses with porcelain skin and fine features, to tend the everlasting flame. Dimly aware that our Prometheus had nicked and then ring-fenced it with us human shields in the first place. But Jesus, we weren’t vestal virgins, we knew why we had been chosen. I mean they weren’t going to fuck women with hips as wide as those of their mothers now were they? No, and for our part we knew that our temple was erected upon the gains of pillage, tythe, tribute and forfeiture. Tipped to the wink by the sudden swelling of numbers in our houses, of men slightly too large for their clothes. The tumescence of their cars parked in the drive. The phone ringing off the hook. All that would clue us in. But we were shrouded from the ways of their world once they left our midst. Aware of where the riches were emanating, but not the details. Whose spoils became our bejewelling. We perceived what our high priests of crime did for a living, yet we couldn’t pen a job description".
From " A,B&E"