Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Top-up fees

Just a quick morning gripe: why do the students who (rightfully) protest against the exorbitant nature of top-up-fees never turn up to class? I had four out of sixteen for my nine o' clock session this morning and it's an examination module, which is to say that it really might be a good idea for them to turn up and familiarise themselves with what they will be tested on. Garg.

I'd promised that I was only going to write about "things" on this blog, so I could turn this into a post about the distinctly unexciting supermarket claret I had last night (I ended up chucking half of it into the cooking pan). Maybe I should mention that I'm currently reading Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson's How to be Free, a kind of acceptable self-help book for those who are sick of being interefered with by the cappucino-toting ne'er-do-wells of the Blairocracy ("Chill! Spend! Work harder! Be more anxious! Chill!") I'll post up a proper review when I finished it (though I'm planning a bizarre work-related session with Agatha Christie when I've got the morning's teaching out of the way). Suffice to say that Hodgkinson's book, while a little wearing in places (he pushes it a bit far by offering up "free-wheeling actor Keith Allen" as a paradigm of the resistance to buereacracy) is a heartening read in a time in which people have to deal with the TV licence inspector on a daily basis because he refuses to believe that you don't own a TV. I figure that next time he comes round he'll start taking the books of the shelf trying to locate "my" phantom idiot-box in a kind of Fahrenheit 451*-style scenario. The less said about the Byzantine institution that is Powergen the better...

* This isn't a mistake, Michael Moore fans.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Male sentimentality corner

I found a link today for the Youtube vid of my team, Darlington, winning the Fourth Division championship today. Here it is. My family and I are just off camera when the portly David Cork opens the scoring. I can't believe how quickly the fans are on the pitch at the end: I seem to recall a lot of people being clustered around the away goalmouth before the referee had blown the whistle and the announcer telling everyone to calm down. I think I devoted that whole period of my life to football- I was converted by the twin spectacles of the 1990 FA Cup Final and Italia '90- instead of doing productive things like reading books or learning the flute. When interviewed, most writers claim to have spent their formative years in a vaguely Proustean manner, devouring the works of Dickens/ Balzac/ Goethe. I didn't. I spent them getting into scraps with the kid from across the road, collecting stickers of St Mirren players, and thinking that Hearts played in Watford or Hemel Hempstead (I'm glad my Dad put me right on that count). As a result, vast swathes of literary realism have passed over my head, which is probably why I've developed an essentially apolitical, hedonistic taste in writers and a serious antipathy towards the contemporary humanist novel. I'd like, therefore, to lay the blame for my belligerence towards Zadie Smith and her ilk squarely at the feet of the 1990/1991 Darlington side. Corky!

Friday, 9 March 2007

Wine review

moNegro Amaro (Puglia, 2005, £4.59)

Bottles of this have been turning up in Le Chateau, my local vintners, for some time now. There's never a price tag for it on the shelf and the staff always have to go through to the back room to do a check even when you say "it's four fifty-nine, mate". I keep on buying bottles of it, slightly against my better judgement because it isn't particularly nice and gives you a head the next morning even if you've only had 3 or 4 glasses (cf. me, last night). Why do I keep on buying it? While, the bottle is a slightly different shape to the other wines and it is particularly dark looking. As a good Henry Green reader, I tend to associate dark comestibles (plums, red wine and some other things I can't quite recall, oh yeah, Christmas dates and plum duff) with unreserved sexual epiphanies:

At that he came out with the story of Christopher's abduction. She was so interested that she forgot to slide her glass forward to be filled. At the end of his tale he leant over to pour more of the dark, tale-telling liquid in. (Caught, 102)
What actually happened was that I ate a bacon sandwich and nearly fell asleep on the sofa. Books, why do you lie to me so? More to the point, why must the wine also lie? My friend Tom and I once attempted to "method watch" Sideways, the amusing (if a little smug) story of a neurotic author and his-soon-to-be-married friend spending a week in the winegrowing areas of North California and getting up to all sorts of alcoholic and sexual misadventures. We thought we would match Paul Giamatti and co glass for glass (obviously, there's a problem of "the time of the story" v. "the time in the story" there, but that's for the stomach pumper to decide) but we utterly failed. Halfway through the film, we were clutching our stomachs, rather than our sides, and demanding the salvic effects of an entire series of Transformers.
In conclusion, all this wine proved was that drinking wine without any food more exciting than the aforementioned bacon sandwich during winter in the United Kingdom is a dead loss and I should either have stuck to tea or gone down the pub.

Praham Preene

I'm currently reading Graham Greene's England Made Me, which I acquired in a bookshop in Hull for 99p. This in itself would not be particularly exciting- well, I suppose it would be reasonably exciting in one of those glorious moments where you and an acquaintance get mutually delirious over any kind of shared experience*- were it not for the fact that it appears to be, well, signed. It's a 1947 uniform edition, with a "Graham Greene" shaped squiggle just inside the dust jacket. Presuming that it isn't a forgery (I once scrawled fake signatures all over the player photos in the 1990 Football League yearbook to "impress" my friends), I'd really like to know how a signed Graham Greene ended up in a 99p bin.

In other news, I re-read David Storey's This Sporting Life over the weekend (I was teaching it in midweek). I find it incredibly sad that the Monty Python "Yorkshireman" sketch has become metonymic for a whole generation of English writing: as those of you who know me will be aware, I'm not an enormous enthusiast of literary realism, but I think "kitchen sink" writing has, at times, been badly undersold by "grim up north" cliches and the recalcitrant positions of critical antimodernists. TSL is, for my money, so much more than the average novel of the working-class hero (if there was ever really such a thing). It was nice for one of my (decidedly Southern) colleagues to grace the book with a comparison to Camus but I think its possible to go further still. Storey, like Henry Green, uses ellipsis to the point at which the idea of narrative itself stumbles on the edge of some (presumably appropriately Brontean) precipice. Every page reveals a new satisfyingly dark area which obscures the very promise of resolution itself. The unimaginative will put this down to the lack of narratorial self-knowledge- a hunch that would appear to be justified by Lindsay Anderson's film adaptation- but I think there's always more happening with Storey than critics have hitherto been willing to allow. Of course, only about 3 of my students (out of, erm, 46) had read the thing but I was able to take satisfaction in informing them of what they were missing out on.

Also, I want to go and watch football this weekend. Diss Town v. Wroxham appears to be the only even vaguely local (aka cheap) option: I'll post a report if I make it.

* These moments typically occur to me when I find out that someone I know has a second cousin in North Yorkshire/ South Durham. The acquaintance usually doesn't find this as strange as I do.