Sunday, 28 December 2008

As an addendum to the below, I just watched the BBC and Rupert 'Adam from Spooks' Penry-Jones make a complete hyperexpository (yet wildly unfaithful) hash of John Buchan's The 39 Steps. Speaking as a massive, massive Hitchcock fan, I thought the Robert Donat version was bad enough, but this little travesty was up there with that woeful Dracula the Beeb did a couple of years ago.

2009 - The End of the (Literary) Affair

So, I noticed that my good friends at the Guardian Guide gave David Peace, longtime head whippet of contemporary British fiction as far as I'm concerned, the entire 'D' section in their 'things to watch 2009' listings, only they were talking less about the writing itself than forthcoming film and TV adaptations of 'factive' football parable The Damned United and Doomsday-by-white-dogshit crime sequence the Red Riding quartet. In protest, I'm re-reading TDU so I can be especially pernickety and cranky when the big screen version comes, but I think it's RR I'm dreading more. I just know that this will go one of two types of terrible: Scenario 'A' see it hammered into the Prime Suspect slot, with the result that it solicits thousands upon thousands of complaints from the Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells demographic and any aesthetic merit of the programme will go undiscussed due to the resultant controversy. Scenario 'B', which is, now I come to think about it, the more likely, will see the writers doing everything in their power to turn it into Prime Suspect, only set in the 1970s and in Leeds, so it'll be more like Prime Suspect with additional Life on Mars.

The third scenario is that it is absolutely brilliant and everyone responds to it with the same gusto that has hitherto been reserved for The Wire, only I won't be able to see it, with the result that my totally puerile 'I liked it first' gene will kick in. If this is the case, I apologise inadvance...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

(post 200)

The formula for the good contemporary (British) poem is, perhaps, that which switches on the massively developed circuitry of serious intellectual effort and the quicksilver infantile play circuitry of pleasure simultaneously and at the same time.

- Andrew Duncan

Thursday, 18 December 2008


I have passed my viva, and only have to correct one or two typos. It hasn't quite sunk in yet, and I'm sorry if the title of this post comes across as triumphalist.

Thanks to everyone whose support and advice made this possible.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Three sleeps... my Mum would say. The only thing is, when she says that, she usually means 'until we go on holiday/ it's Christmas/ your birthday'. Not 'until you have to sit down in a room with two very intelligent people who are going to ask you searching questions about your last four year's worth of work for three bloody hours'.

And I have to fly tomorrow morning, too.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

In lieu of another angry rant about poetics...'s Andrea Brady's brilliant riposte to Don Paterson's Sheriff of Nottingham-like rant about the 'dangers' of non-mainstream poetry. Warning: contains extreme erudition, common-sense, and amusing, yet measured, responses to a very angry Scottish man.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Safran Foer-Phobia

What's with it, asks the 'Manchester' Guardian in a predictably anti-academic blog post.

As I've said, time and time and time again on here, to the point where the blog probably makes me unemployable in the non-academic literary world, the Zadie Smith - Dave Eggers - 'mini Delillo (Frantzen, Safran Foer, Foster Wallace (RIP)' axis of post-postmodernist fiction effectively admits that the novel must be nothing more than a teabag of tried and tested 'experimental devices' - unreliable narrators, self-conscious authorial interjections - dipped, ever so briefly, into the soft water of nineteenth-century realism.

The problem is, however, that the likes of Smith have also colonised contemporary critical discourse about the experimental novel. The first lady of 'Young British Forsterian Humanism' has just published a piece in - I think, don't shoot me - the New York Review of Books in which her lineage of 'experimental' goes, well, Joyce - Beckett - Robbe-Grillet. Sideways could have told me as much. Not even a tokenistic reference to a 'being-rediscovered' figure like Green or Ann Quin. Here, Zadie manages a sideswipe against 'professors and critics' whilst co-opting Roland Barthes - Roland Barthes! - to her cause, because he was a 'practitioner' who understood the writerly agon. Who all these 'professors and critics' who don't write are is a moot point: it reminds me of Don Paterson's paranoid ranting about the 'postmodern' poets who are throttling his craft with their trendy anti-verse (I'll seek this reference out soon). Or not, as the case may be.

On that note, just to bang one more nail in about my frustration regarding the anti-thinking tendency in British literary culture, I'd never before known the frankly weird remarks (see start of article) made by Hugo Williams about John Ashbery and J.H. Prynne before I came upon this review of the (utterly excellent, page-turning) Don't start me talking - Interviews with contemporary poets, edited by the inspiring Tim Allen and Andrew Duncan. On what possible plane is it acceptable to consider Prynne, or Denise Riley, poets who do what they do as a result of exhaustive aesthetic and political deliberation, a 'hipster', while at the same time soliciting applause for young London-based writers whose work is a mottle of pop-cultural reference and unstudied (and Safran Foer-esque) emotional and social generalisation? I say this while laying myself open to allegations of hypocrisy, of course, but still...I find the notion of Prynne endlessly striving (and always failing, but aesthetically) for new forms which might slough off the sullying of language in the third machine age more inspiring, and less 'hip', than the likes of certain poets whose work manifests no formal progression from Four Quartets but invokes modernity via what (I think are) rather desperate references to their time spent as a punk. The difference is, I think, that the likes of Out to Lunch or Sean Bonney keep to their guns, un-hipsterishly, whilst the figure I have in mind dines out on h** ability to view those heady times with a measure of unearned sagacity seemingly inherited from the likes of the (hateful) Larkin. 'I was a punk, now I'm not, now I write blithe landscape poetry'. Etcetera.

Fucking hell. It really does make me mad.

Been reading a biog of Mass Observation founder and all-round oddball Tom Harrisson today, picked up in the Red Bus bookshop for 1000 forints. Inspiring and frightening.

Viva less than a week...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Starting to sound my age...

...but my teachers used to do these kinds of things all the time, and we never thought it was weird. Actually, we used to think it was kind of funny. Some of our best teachers were dedicated chalk-throwing ranters who thought nothing of making you look like a fool if you weren't willing to work hard, or at least shut up and let other people get on with working.

This isn't a 'political correctness gone mad' argument, by the way...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

On the subject of pervy links...

Here's one for the Hungarian equivalent of football-porn Gomorrah Pyramid Passion. It isn't quite as easy to navigate as the procastinator's paradise of PP, but it seems to be similarly exhaustive.

Racy Hungarian Art: Part 3

Reclining Nude, by Lajos Pandy, 1930-1933, Hungarian National Gallery.

I picked this one because it seems to represent an aesthetic that has about a cigarette paper's distance from Green's. Like I said about surrealism a few posts back, it's very often not very far away from what one might take for 'realism' at all. For me, this picture could be the illustration for 'Surrealism 101': the half-open (or opening?) door to the parquetted Alice-world, the preoccupation with sleep, the wanton gratuitousness of its subject, the embodied tension between the fantasy of the painting and the fantasy that we are led to believe is being entertained in the painting, the open book which restages the tension between 'reality' and 'imagination' in mise-en-abyme. If Elizabeth Bowen's novels, which exemplify a literature at the ultimate breaking-point of realist style (somewhere out beyond Henry James), described 'life with the lid on', this is representation just to the other side of the looking-glass. It's an obvious allusion, perhaps, but the (Pandora's) box in the foreground has begun to lose its lid.

Less high-mindedly, that's a really comfortable-looking pillow she's resting on.

Don't know a lot about Hungarian surrealism yet. I'd be interested to find out if, like the English or Czech sub-strains, it differs significantly from its Francophone origins. I'm getting all of these pictures from the excellent Fine Arts in Hungary website, by the way, so feel free to go and inform yourself of Magyar art subjects that are less racy, or more to your own tastes in raciness...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Down, Benczúr, Down

I thought we'd best not have Cleopatra at the top of the page any longer. Never fear, I have a large selection of Hungarian nudity to disseminate yet. I'm currently mustering my reserves to tattle something out about parquet floors and surrealism.

Today, though, has largely been about viva prep. Why did I make some of those mistakes? This morning was better: a massive walk through Buda, including jaunts up Gellert Hill and the Rószadomb and an exorcistic sally past the scene of 2006's Great Missed Aiport Bus and Subsequent Expensive Taxi Disaster. From Gellert, it becomes clear just how massive Budapest is. In each direction - south to Csepel, west to Kelenföld, north-east to Angyalföld, north to Óbuda and Békásmegyer - one can see vast post-1945 linear development, pre-fabbed mid-rises in grey, grey, grey. It was a beautiful morning as well, to the extent that the light coming back off the Danube burnt my eyes.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Today's vaguely racy Hungarian painting...

Is Gyula Benczúr's sort-of-Symbolist Cleopatra, from 1911:

It's a bit 'groogh', isn't it?

Did Proust write a PhD?

Because one of his psychopathologies of Swann sounds awfully like a description of the writing-up year...

But most of all, - since in every one of his actions and thoughts which had reference to Odette, Swann was constantly obsessed and influenced by the unavowed feeling that he was, perhaps not less dear, but less welcome to her than anyone, even the most tedious of the Verdurin 'faithful,' - when he betook himself to a world in which he was the paragon of taste, a man whom no pains were spared to attract, whom people were genuinely sorry not to see, he began once again to believe in the existence of a happier life, almost to feel an appetite for it, as an invalid may feel who has been bedridden for months, on a strict diet, when he picks up a newspaper and reads the account of an official banquet or an advertisement for a cruise round Sicily.

That sounds remarkably like me over the summer!

Re-reading Proust has venn-diagrammed with my viva preparation: it seems to be teaching me the value of patience, and helping me to become reconciled with the idea of potential rewrites (obviously I'd rather not). I genuinely think A la Recherche should be on the secondary school literature syllabus and, if I ever get to write my dream undergraduate unit about the inherent strangeness of literature, Swann's Way would be the Week One text.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Károly Lotz, Hungarian National Gallery

Sorry for the shortage of updates this week. I've been scribbling notes in the margins of my thesis in advance of the viva, walking around a lot, and reading Proust in the bath. I've been looking up calls for papers in order to figure out who is going to be the unfortunate recipients of my thesis chapters. I've been getting rained on. I've been to see Ridley Scott's Body of Lies at a multiplex in the mall next to Nyugati Station (B+, Ridders), eating falafels and burritos and pastries, conceiving of articles for which I might plausibly be paid, fidgeting with a poem, and trying to muster the energy to sort my CV out properly. Mostly, though, I've been visiting museums. Yesterday we took in the National Museum, which helped fill in some of the gaps in my (fairly rudimentary) narrative of Magyar history, and on Tuesday I made a solo jaunt over the Erzsébet Híd (returning, incidentally, by the beautifiul Lánchíd at rush hour) to explore the dauntingly vast Hungarian National Gallery.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who suffers 'art fatigue' in big museums. Let's get things straight: as I've got older, I've fallen more and more in love with gallery-traipsing and, to my surprise, my preferences have shifted away from modernist painting (which isn't to say I don't enjoy and value it) to older works. I like battle scenes, Giotto frescoes, Piero della Francesca, apocalytpic Dutch paintings, Cotman, Turner, and - in particular - stuff from the latter half of the nineteenth century. It's the way realism shimmers on the edge of itself, not quite kitsch yet, but riddled with self-doubt. And yet it's also, truculently, not Cubism or Futurism.

Academic painting strikes me as particularly interesting because its techniques were adapted by figures who I'm perhaps more familiar with in my day-to-day interests, namely the surrealists. You find that Classicism in Dali, but for my own work, I've followed it more closely in Tristram Hillier and Paul Nash. Classicism's usefulness to the Surrealists is perhaps obvious: it has, precisely, an 'unrealistic' quality to the twentieth century mind when measured against the hurly-burly of Balla or Modigliani or Braque. When Clement Greenberg talks about academic painting as being kitsch, he is gesturing towards the unreality, even the archetypicality, that the surrealists found in it. Its 'life' had come to represent the dream-world.

So, via that digression...I do get art fatigue. By the 5th or 6th room of a big institution like the NPG or the Tate I'm looking without seeing, and my walking pace increases. So it's often something in the very first batch that grabs me. In this case, it was the work of Károly Lotz, a German-Magyar academic painter and muralist who died in 1904. What fascinated me is that each of his works seemed to have been created in the very last moment, art-historically speaking, in which they could not be entirely kitsch. He seemed to pass from Romantic-Naturalist themes that performed the characteristic early-nineteenth century gesture of ennobling the land and people of an imperially-subordinate country (see Stud in a Thunderstorm, of 1862, above) to quasi-decadent depictions of beautiful women lazing around naked in Hellenistic surrounds (see Bathing Woman, of 1901, below). Both strike we as rather wonderful examples of compromised realism; both would be amenable to a surrealist cannibilisation.

Anyway, that was Lotz. After that, I played an exciting game of grandmother's footsteps with the museum attendants (they love following me: why?) and gave the nineteenth century section another hour or so. By the time I staggered upstairs to look at Hungarian modernism, I was pretty much out of appreciation, so I'll start there next time. My problem with modernist art is its susceptibility to becoming derivative very quickly, and much I saw in there seemed at first to be in imitation of the 'big' interwar painters. Of course, this can be interesting in itself - so next time I'll have to avoid becoming sidetracked by Lotz's women (I'll forego the pun this time).

Anyway, I'll get more on here soon. Back in England for a fortnight on the 15th, to face THE VIVA.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Working to spec...

Spent the weekend writing two articles for an online magazine, and, when I type them up, I discover that they're both 500 words over wordcount.

Does anyone else have as much difficulty following simple instructions as me?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Shock-experience? I'll give you shock experience...

A message for the Benjaminians amongst you, really...I've just realised that, in a moment of supreme carelessness, I used two different renderings of Benjamin's term for 'that which is lived through' in the thesis. In one place, I have it down as erlebnis, whilst in another I seem to be calling it erleben.

Does anyone know if this is down to a difference between editions? Google is coming up with both words in connection with WB.

This really is an idiotic mistake to make...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Juvenile Angst Regarding Self-Revelation, Commence...

New feature, then, and one that I've ummed and aaahed about for a (very) long time. I've been planning on getting some of my poetry up on here for a long time, but I've kept holding it back for reasons that I'm sure are too obvious to need explaining. Anyway, what I think I'm going to do is post one a week, beginning with a few week's worth of old stuff that isn't going to appear anywhere else. In theory, my first published poem should be arriving over the winter in the third S/S/Y/K anthology, so I'll start with something which belongs more or less to the vintage of the one they're going to print.

I won't explicate every week, but I usually have a little preamble which goes with the following poem when I do readings. I've never really gone in for high-concept poetry (it's a bit whimsical for my liking), but this piece is an exception. When I wrote 'A Treasure Hunt Book', I'd just read Peter Davison's travelogue-cum-literary history-cum-cultural analysis The Idea of North, which got me thinking about the mythopoetics of northern England: this was before I'd come into contact with the novels of David Peace and M. John Harrison, and all I really had to go on was David Storey and a few Michael Haslam poems. Now, of course, I've read round my subject a bit more and I have a first edition of Basil Bunting's Objectivistic 'northern Waste Land' Briggflatts sitting, well-thumbed, on a shelf.

Anyway - there was a long ramble about my gripes with the ongoing promotion of antimodernist northern poets at the expense of experimentalists like Barry MacSweeney, but I've excised it - I remembered the books that came out in the 1980s where the text was a series of cryptic clues pertaining to a real treasure trove that was secreted somewhere in the UK. All place names were removed: you had to work out the location through poetic riddles and some lovely, but artistically-licensed, illustration. The most fantastic things about these books were that the better ones worked as stand-alone texts for children whose parents had better things to do than spending every weekend shuttling up and down the M1 looking for a distinctively-shaped tree.

This, then, is the first poem I have to offer, and it's loosely inspired by those books, and by the North, and it was written in the first flush of my discovery of the British Poetry Revival. I've edited some of the more portentous bits; I still don't love it (it's rather fey).

Don't beat me up next time you see me...

A Treasure-Hunt Book

Beards of cloud clot the last strand of sky,
over the apex of the terrace, patronyms vaporised; poised.

It has been dark in Tromsø since noon:
you might know the experiment

(a tusk plied with spiders,
the thesis pre-Columbine.)

So - what is finally given up?
What's there to chuck at feet?

Even the humanities
still demand evidence that we don't act
on whim and, in a pirate town,

a bench adheres to its esplanade
with pathetic dedication. Enjoy the view, I did.

This was The Other Town.
I stepped onto the ashen platform and knew

that a cane-hilt once showered sparks
as fists unclenched, alleviated

when a callused palm brushed, accidentally at first,
the waistband of a landlocked wife.

Yes, that platform is scored
by parasols dropped for many reasons,
but how can we guess all of them

when we have fixtures, over the spine,
and must hurtle along culvert road, no article,

over the seeping dam of the reservoir,
and forfeit breath at the chicanes

of the obstinate crofter(s)
ennobled in M-way digressions. Anyhow.

This roseate melt of emblems
bleeds south like icing

until it ceases to count in the midshires.
Spa towns reek past their function
and are ignored, we must resort

to an under-framed sandstone castle,
its littoral the lair of a family worm

whose coils might be unwound to
demarcate what we have, rising in arches

from alliterating estuaries. Dunes there crumple,
the excursion is spoilt, and seahoused fishwives

are carried, put out, to the cheaper saloons
on a saline updraft of dialect.

We watch them insist on making
the best of a day in which they
won’t strain their eyes at every sail

reporting rumours, almost from the frigid zone,
almost from the shrouded nub.

Mileage of currents is figured in
thousands, drowning is radial

but its effect is not dispersed in time.
Cold contracts, chaffing our local disparity,

and it only pulls up at the now-known fault-line,
the true point, I think, of submersion.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Utterly Butterly

Apparently Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes want to make an 'intense sex film' together, and are contemplating a remake of legendary, and much mythologised, Marlon Brando vehicle Last Tango in Paris. Holding the groos and groans about the prospect of Tom & Katie getting sweaty on the big screen for a second, does anyone remember what happened to Cruise's career - and, more pertinently, marriage - last time he attempted to go down the 'intense sex film' road to gravitas?

Disclaimer - I actually really like Eyes Wide Shut, mostly because the emotional car crash that's so obviously occurring in the Cruise-Kidman orbit during it has rarely been captured so pertinently (if inadvertently) on camera before. Also, it's all elliptical and psychoanalytic and self-referential (but not in an annoying, Sophia Coppola-esque way), thus tickling my innate pretension gland.

Snow, outside our flat...

Rákóczi út, evening rush hour.

Statue and Castle Hill.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snow day, Budapest

Yes, it's snowing here today, although not with the same spectacular effects as I've heard England is party to at the moment. Last night we went to see excellent French garage rock groups The Magnetix (goggle-eyed man hanging his guitar from the ceiling; tired-but-still-game lady drummer) and Jack of Heart (naughty little boys; tall moustachioed male singer who looked like the young Donald Sutherland, even though he was wearing hotpants and tights). They played on a boat moored just under the Erzsébet Bridge, making my first gig ever in a foreign country also my first ever on a boat. Although there haven't been many contenders, this probably shares my 'show of the year' title with The Fall. Incidentally, the French garage rock thing: surely this was always meant to be a French genre? The brazen rejection of self-consciousness, the campy, Baudelairean deaths-head imagery, the skinny sweaters, the chain-smoking? It certainly makes the woeful British appropriation (well, reappropriation) of garage, with its depressing blokishness and latent conservatism, seem pretty silly. If you want to hear it done with Make-Upesque soul tinges and Gainsbourgian lover-lovering, by the way, there's a link to the marvellous (now London-based, more fool them) John et Jehn at the bottom of the page.

Anyway, today. We went for a long walk, again, and saw the following three 'archetypically capital city things'...Item 'A': policemen putting chalk on the road and interviewing excitable bystanders after an RTA just outside the synagogue. Item 'B': a motorcade and 13-car police escort for Canadian governor-general Michaëlle Jean. Item 'C', my personal favourite: a man carrying a kestrel on the underground at Moszkva Tér. I hypothesised that he'd been out for some early morning hunting in the Buda Hills, though he didn't seem to have much of a catch with him.

Right. Photos soon. I believe I should be 'preparing for my viva' now...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

I'll put some more Budapest notes and pictures up in the next couple of days. It snowed today, by the way, and the staff in Muvesz allowed me half an hour before turning off the unintrusive jazz in favour of some undoubtedly very chic off-the-shelf trip hop. Music, too: I'm writing a little piece about the Velvet Underground's White Light/ White Heat, for no reason other than I want to.

But right now I'm sitting on my sofa, soaking my brown rice and lentils, and indulging in my favoured Saturday evening pursuit of checking the football results. My, oh my, what is going on in the Premiership? In list form, then, the things which have made this the best Premiership season since the glorious, surreal escapades of 95/96.

1 - Liverpool playing with some mettle. I doubt they'll win it (and actually hope they won't, preferably failing in a manner that involves last-day capitulation allowing United to overtake them and causing Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson to turn into human teardrops in the MOTD studio), but their revitalisation gives me a touch of Match of the Eighties style nostalgia.

2 - Hull City, a side who have sashayed straight out of Roy of the Rovers. Dean Windass - hard man local hero with the proverbial pugilist's face. Geovanni - maverick Brazilian who scores banana free kicks almost routinely. Ian Ashbee - lower league grafter who has crept to the top virtually unnoticed. Marlon King - flashy bad-boy striker who has spent time at Her Majesty's Pleasure and - you couldn't make it up - gets in a brawl with local hero Windass. In a casino. In Scarbrough. The art-life continuum is right out of joint in the East Riding these days (delete the final two words as appropriate.)

3 - Stoke's employment of the similarly if-he-didn't-exist-we'd-have-to-invent-him Rory Delap, a professional footballer whose playing style is largely grounded in his ability to use his hands. Sorry, I know Delap-mania is a bit Football Focus, but he's a one-man Eagle strip.

4 - Arsenal. They're imploding, but doing so whilst employing a cast of improbably talented kids who no-one has ever heard of. William Gallas displays the leadership capabilities of Tom Berenger's character in Platoon and Wenger presides over the whole affair like a miffed but ultimately powerless head teacher. The 'whole side consisting of unknown foreign teenagers' ploy has aesthetic merit, for sure, but it seems to me to be a strategy that works best - and even then, only in a limited way - in the psychedelic utopia of Championship Manager.

5 - Manchester United's decision to not only play with fourteen forwards, but to sign a pair of identical twin full-backs, thus employing a tactic not seen since Cobra Command's dastardly fielding of Tomax and Xamot in Action Force. Incidentally, does anyone have any idea why that article on Cobra Command is hosted on the website of some nightmarishly useless Goth metal band?

6 - Newcastle. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

7 - Stephen Ireland's highly unlikely maturation into the new, arguable improved, Steven Gerrard.

8 - Gabriel Agbonlahor apparenly growing half a foot, thus putting himself forward as a candidate to become England's best all-round centre forward since Alan Shearer. Feel free to laugh at me if this doesn't occur.

Anyway, that's enough frivolous football-chat for now. Off to see some French garage rock bands on a boat tomorrow night: intriguing.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Possibility of an Island...

Margitsziget, between the Margit and Arpád Bridges, is two and a half kilometres long, an insular pleasure ground for Budapesters from March until September. There are two thermal baths, one attached to an Olympic-sized pool and sporting complex designed by the Hungarian Olympian, and modernist architect, Alfréd Hajós.

In addition to this, there is a neat football and athletics stadium, bicycles to hire, food stalls, ponds, fountains, and a variety of picturesque ruins (follies, perhaps) secreted in woods. During autumn and winter, though, the trees are bare, and the leaf-fall makes usage of the outdoor pools unviable. Rooks congregate in the branches and pelt nuts to the roadways below with their beaks - a hazard for the runners who lend a semblance of vitality to the island at this time of year - to expose the edible core.The debris of autumn is piled against walls; occasionally, a flaking bus disturbs the quiet.

At the northern tip of the island a few ducks shuttle aimlessly about on green water and pairs of old women amble beside drained pools (evocative of Ballard, Borges, and Bioy Casares), their hoods pulled up. Maybe they're discussing ailments. Behind another thicket is a tramp sleeping on a bench, his face turned away from anyone who might happen to pass by. Underneath the slip road onto the Arpád Bridge, however, a communist-era hotel remains open throughout the year: it is now part of the 'Danubius' chain, whose logo feels ubiquitous in Budapest.
The Arpád Bridge carries a six lane highway and tramline 1A over the Danube, linking the hills and apartments of Obuda to the high-rise office blocks of the XIIIth District. It is the mosth northerly road bridge in the city centre and from it one can see the lights of trains crossing the steel box-frame of the North Rail Bridge about a kilometre upstream. The Arpád is probably the least conventionally attractive of all the city's river crossings, but to walk across it during evening rush hour (and hour or so earlier than in the UK) is perhaps one of the best ways to gauge both the scale of Budapest and the dynamic that exists between its two mismatched components. One might presume that a car travelling westwards at this time belonds to a well-paid businessman, leaving the financial district to return to a house in the Buda Hills (if Budapest is of similar size to Greater Manchester, the Hills are its Saddleworth or Alderley Edge.) I wonder who makes the opposite journey.

We walk back towards the Nagykorut through the postwar tower blocks which comprise the residential elements of the XIIIth, joining the Great Boulevard and its after-work shoppers just above Nyugati Station, buzzing in the dusk with Eliotic commuters. It feels odd, even improper, to walk on and off an island, especially by different bridges, thus making it one half of a route's ellipse.

My New House! You Should See My New House!

Yes, it's as it appears. The bath is in the bedroom!

Maradona! Butcher! Marguerite Duras!

So, Diego Maradona is the new Argentina manager, then. And the first game of his tenure is a friendly away to Scotland at Hampden.

Even into the 1980s, when Maradona was at his freewheeling best, this would still have been a Grade 'A' humdinger of a fixture. At that point, Argentina, with a Michel Platini-inspired France, had taken on the mantle of the best footballing side in the world from the similarly improvisatory Brazil team of 1982. And the Scots? Well, Scotland have historically been the flair side of the British Isles, with a record of maverick playmakers, firebrand strikers and gifted schemers stretching from Hughie Gallacher and Alex James to Charlie Nicholas and Davie Cooper. Between those points, of course, one finds players like Jim Baxter, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone, all of whom could categorically be said to be players who, like Maradona, operated within the true spirit of the game.

'Ah,' I hear you say. 'But Maradona didn't play within the spirit of the game. His second most famous goal was....a handball!!'

That handball is at the root of the current fuss. Terry Butcher, the technically-limited but appealingly (if you're into that kind of thing) 'man at Harfleur' centre-half who was on the receiving end of Maradona's single-handed demolition job in that 1986 game, is now Scotland's assistant coach, and he's planning to 'snub' the Argentinian coach at Hampden tonight. The fact that the incident in question happened 22 years ago notwithstanding, I'm more than a little uncomfortable that Butcher and the media seem prepared to turn Scotland's meeting with Maradona into a revisiting of an issue that specifically affected England: indeed, I'm sure that there were more than one or two 'dancing in the streets of Raith' the night the English were punched out of the World Cup. It's as if Scotland are considered a side-show to what always seems to be the main event, namely the circus of inanity that is the England football team and it's ongoing failure to succeed at international tournaments. I would have thought, even hoped, that Scotland wouldn't be too enamoured with Butcher's annexing of their fixture for a restaging of a vendetta which is either personal or Anglo-Argentine, but of little importance for those north of the border.

Revisiting a notoriously weird interview between the theologically-questioning French novelist Marguerite Duras and Platini - the key extract of which is here - the Nietzscheans among us might see Maradona as drifting into those hinterlands of the 'démoniaque et divin' (or, the handball and the dribble) which are the playgrounds of the truly free. Others, and I'm probably one of them, are simply prepared to forgive Diego his moment of supreme naughtiness. Let's face it, if Theo Walcott did that to win a World Cup Quarter Final, the English would see it more as Dennis the Menace mischief than a piece of international incident-prompting blackguardery.

Many of Scotland's greatest players were dogged by similar problems of temperament and intemperance which were to prove the end of Maradona's career. Unlike Argentina, Scotland's reserve of footballing mavericks has more or less dried up: the latest archetypically Caledonian playmaker, Aiden McGeady, has opted to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than the country of his birth. In terms of its population, Scotland was punching above its weight (if you'll pardon the pun) in terms of the quality of player it was producing up until the 1980s. Butcher's attitude seems to me to represent the trajectories of football on either side of the border since that period: the English falling back on their well-prepared hard luck stories, and the Scots having ceased to be a major story in their own right. In an ideal world, we'd see the return of evenly-matched home internationals, a Scottish footballer as talented as Dennis Law or Baxter (even an Archie Gemmell or Pat Nevin would do!), and English players with the composed magnanimity of Bobby Moore or Gordon Banks. Unfortunately, I can't see that state of affairs coming about any time soon.


And, while still on the football theme, isn't it good to know that Arsenal fans are still as myopic as ever? See the first question in this week's update of the Guardian's brilliant footie triv series 'The Knowledge': as Ernesto has reported, young Carlos Vela is a very special talent indeed, but fourteen (!) career goals probably doesn't make him the 'most prolific teenage striker ever'!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Big Proj Update

15 pages in the 'novel' notebook today. 15 pages that I'm sure will need rewriting, but better than a kick in the teeth.

Some photos of flats and Magyar stationery tomorrow.

Monday, 17 November 2008


Painting and decorating, Hungarian style

This morning, at eight o'clock, the painter and decorator came to finish the work he started yesterday. Now I come to think about it, I don't know his name, and he doesn't know mine. What I have established is that he supports AC Milan, and that he conforms to the universal code of tradesmen by taking two sugars in his coffee. For all I know, he called me 'luv' as well, but the conversation took place in German. I think he was hoping to tap into the universal language of football but even this usually reliable mode of interlinguistic parley floundered on the rocks when I was reduced to writing on my hands to articulate Darlington's lowly status. Anyway, he seems like a nice man, which I suppose is the least one can ask for from people one leaves in the house to go and write about in cafés.

Seriously, though, Hungarian is as difficult as its reputation claims. Most people know a little English, such is Budapest's investment in the Anglophone tourist-and-stag industry, and those who don't tend to have some German instead. We get by, and we're acquiring more Magyar words and phrases by the day, but it isn't the sort of language that an English speaker can improvise a conversation in, as one can with Italian or Spanish.

Right, I think the painter will almost be done by now. I'd best go and let him out (unsure if this is mauvais foi or not, but I'm handwriting my blog entries before typing them up.)

A Slice of Nostalgia*

Muvesz is different now. Two years ago, when I was last in Budapest, the café, which occupies a prime position on the non-more-Habsburgian Andrássy Út, was dim, smoky, and snug. It might well have been Ilkley Bettys back in the Major years, perhaps, except with the Hungarian dailies, the Suddeutsche Zeitung, and the International Guardian on the newspaper hangers rather than the Daily Express and a 'Nidderdale Special' of Yorkshire Life. In other words, Muvesz belonged properly to last century, or at least to my image of the last century, which posits it as somehow alienating and homely, exotic and familiar, all at once.

I was in there this afternoon, following the flea market in the old communist community centre on the far side of the City Park. At the market, British boys in slim-fit jeans were fondling Lomo cameras and trying to craic with the stallholders. All young westerners visit the this place on the trail of dictator kitsch, and I'll freely (if shamefacedly) admit that such a pilgrimage would have appealed to me five or six years ago. What I suppose I mean by this is that I still find the market, the traders, and particularly the goods on sale - deactivated AKs, obsolete night sights, badges advertising membership of communist sports clubs, fall-of-the-wall vintage Bulgarian porn - fascinating, but I'm distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of picking up such items in an accumulation of ironic bounty. At best, I can credit such behaviour as concealing a nostalgia for a past in the west in which the junk-sifters did not participate; a nostalgia where communist-era Europe becomes a cipher for clearer, more comforting political demarcations than those we presently are asked to contend with. I suspect, somehow, that this isn't the case, and there's an element of jockish antagonism to this souveniring.

But am I really describing myself? In Muvesz, the coffee was still excellent, and the staff turned out to an almost parodic level of smartness, but the lights have been turned up and the fittings glint with flashes of a Slug & Lettuce. Most painfully, for me, the café bustle of two years ago has been masked with a too-loud soundtrack of limp breakbeats and acid jazz. I don't want this. I want to be in The Third Man; I want to be Stanley Ipcress eavesdropping on the neighbouring table while composing a shopping list for the ingredients of Bableves Jókai. I sat and ate my strudel - which was delicious, of course - and drank my coffee, and read Joseph Roth for its aptness, but it wasn't quite right.

Who am I, though, to make such demands? Perhaps the people of Budapest don't want to provide the stage setting for feelings which, I suppose, have much more to do with my own country than with theirs. Although, for me, the correlation between Roth's protestations for a more civilised, humane world and Kavehaz culture seem more than implicit, and that being assaulted by Jamiroquai while reading a passage like -

I always enjoyed reading about spiders, and about prisoners who wiled away the grim solitude of their cells with pet spiders. They stirred my imagination, which was a thing I had in abundance. I have always dreamed vividly, but with an alert mind. I never mistook my dreams for reality. And yet I can sometimes immerse myself in them so far that they become a second, an alternative reality -

is manifestly incongruous, I find it impossible to slough off an anxiety about my stake in or right to these essentially romantic images of eastern and central Europe.

I have mentioned her work often on here before, but Svetlana Boym's The Future of Nostalgia perhaps opens the way for a politics of what I'll facetiously call 'object relations' here. I'm currently writing a pair of reviews (one of Henry Green's Back, the other of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude) for Albion, an online magazine which advocates 'exploring Englishness'. Both novels, I argue, entertain Boym's 'reflective' nostalgia - a Proustian elegy for pastness - while rejecting the 'restorative' nostalgia of reactionary politics. Both play through the significations which are the currency of 'Englishness', and frame them as partially desirable, but refuse exclusive versions of 'national identity' (the idea which Roth became more and more hostile to as 1939 approached.) I might be talking about another country here, but I can't help but feel that the same questions are never far away when I touch upon topics such as the 'renovation' of Muvesz. What it was is something I would not equate with kitsch, but rather with a past which was worth preserving for its transnational values: a magic lantern in which one might glimpse various snapshots of European history.

* Pardon the pun. It was unavoidable.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Now that I've moved here, and because I haven't opened a Hungarian bank account, I've had to take an active interest in exchange rates. I can tell you, for instance, that the people who run the exchanges at Luton airport are absolute crooks (278 HUF to the pound!) or that Sterling seems to have dropped by about 4% against the Forint in the last week. So, imagine my joy and surprise this morning when I logged onto BBC News and discovered George Osborne, the Old Etonian shadow chancellor who looks like nothing so much as one of the actors who play 'inept, corrupt, nepotistically-advanced politician #3' on Spooks*, is attempting to cash in politically on the economic crisis at the same time as collapsing the pound against every other currency in the world! As it seems to me, looking to make party-political headway by talking about a run on the pound is precisely the kind of thing which would cause a run on the pound.

You have to wonder just how many of the people who are responsible for the current crisis are personal (school) friends of Mr. Osborne. One might also think that the shadow chancellor would want to steer clear of stories about soiled banknotes after certain articles that were published during David Cameron's leadership candidacy...

* The ones who always try and stop what MI5 are attempting to do until Harry whips out a file containing pictures of them on yachts with prostitutes. Or Russian oligarchs.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


A hard lad cat, near Batthyany Ter....

Workman renovating the Szabadsag Hid...

Me, looking towards Deli Station.

(Jenny's pictures, by the way. Mine would never be so good.)

Notes from District VII

Hello there. To paraphrase a famous scene from Queer as Folk, we've done it, we've really done it, and I'm currently sitting in my new flat on Kazinscy Utca in Budapest's Erzebetvaros (apologies for a lack of diacritical marks here, by the way: I'll teach myself how to add them soon). We're about two minutes walk from the central synagogue which is absolutely enormous, and our street is the hub of the city's orthodox Jewish population. Rather different from Rupert Street, then.

I'll post properly soon - right now I'm trying to assimilate the experience of living in a city where two cups of coffee, a salami sandwich and two enormous pastries can only cost £3.10.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

I Spy...

'north-western non-league team at home in the FA Cup 1st Round'

For five points:

- Jovial, optimistic pensioners looking for a bus.

- Former league striker with a point to prove.

- Man dressed as a viking in the bar before the game, honking a klaxon.

For ten points:

- Uncannily identical middle-aged couple who have chosen vigorous support of a footballing minnow in preference to having children. Because of this, they treat away games in the cup as particularly important parents evening or nativity plays.

- Home fans singing disparaging songs about visiting team's lowly/ semi-professional status (ie. 'Sunday league, Sunday league, Sunday league'/ 'Come in a taxi/ you could have come in a taxi'/ 'What's it like to see a seat'.)

- Overly confident home team wasting first half hour on Cruyff turns and fifty yard volleys.

- Home team becoming frustrated and forgetting how to play football.

For twenty points:

- Dawning realisation on part of home fans that lowly visitors have plundered a replay.

- Celebrating vikings, pensioners and childless superfans who know that the replay is likely to yield an upset.

I love English football.

Friday, 7 November 2008

'Academia', 2008

I'm sure I'm not the only one in this circle of bloggers who thinks students should waste their time going to Bauhaus concerts, holding increasingly irrelevant debates about the precise alignment of their crypto-Marxist 'factions' in the students union, and quoting Heidegger loudly - and incorrectly - on the bus.* That isn't how they waste their time, though. They waste their time visiting incredibly tawdry city centre bars and 'posing like porn stars'...

Students, 2008.

* AKA 'I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes they had taught in the years between 1977-1990'.

23 KG (Plus hand baggage)

1 Chelsea boot - 1 KG

1 lemon yellow t-shirt (small) - 150G

Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood Around 1900 - 225G

Belt (black, not karate) - 140G

One University of East Anglia PhD thesis, pending viva - 1.6KG

Stewart Lee, Scourge of Plagiarists

Take that, Joe Pasquale!

A few vids for 1990s indie pervs...

The Auteurs, Light Aircraft on Fire

Lush, Hypocrite

Dubstar, Stars

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Report: Last three weeks

Lists are so often my way back into writing after a period of block and my head is all lists at the moment: things to read lists, things to pack lists, people to call lists. In a nod to my imminent destination, I might punningly add Franz Liszt, or 'Liszt Ferenc',* to this list of lists. Anyway, here's a list of things I've been up to since finishing.

- Neatened up, as per the wish expressed in this post. I have bought new shoes and trousers, all from charity shops, and so the combination of Primark jeans/ ragged trainers can be forgotten for a while.
- Danced in a nightclub, albeit briefly.
- Been to three football matches. Darlo v. Bradford (won 2-1), Darlo v. Dagenham (won 3-0) and Grimsby v. Darlo (won 2-1). Grimsby was a frightening, apocalyptic-seeming place, where I was very hungover and cold. Naturally, this made the whole afternoon memorable.
- Been to Manchester and visited the Imperial War Museum North. Here, I had a horrible attack of vertigo on the viewing gallery.
- Made my second trip of the year to the cosy environs of Saddleworth to drink lots of real ale. Saw my first gritter of the year.
- Watched the fireworks at Richmond Castle (they caused a huge onset of nostalgia).
- Visited the Steve McQueen exhibit at the Baltic (review to come, one day).
- Reminded myself what Yorkshire rain is like. See also: Yorkshire bitter.

Budapest in four days...

* Although my efforts to acquaint myself with Hungarian music have been limited to Bartok and ersatz Britpop bands on Myspace.

Of Time and the City

I admit I'm hijacking Attic Fantasist's theme here, but I can't wait to see Terence Davies's Merseyside cine-Proust Of Time and the City. It looks very special indeed. That said, I shouldn't think there'll be too many screenings of it in Budapest, where the market for autumnal reflection is pretty much saturated.

Pre-trip reading (and re-reading) list:

Back through Vol. I of A la Recherche...
Peter Nadas, The Book of Memories.
Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood Around 1900 (I actually read some of this last time I was there).
Some Thomas Mann, certainly encompassing a re-engagement with The Magic Mountain.
Something more light-hearted than the above...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

In the waiting room...

I haven't posted on here for far too long. This is almost certainly because I have no thesis to write and, consequently, no need for a displacement activity. Anyway, I'm sitting up watching what I hope is the world changing - at least a little - on the BBC website and contemplating our (very) imminent move to Budapest and how I might set about finishing the post about Steve McQueen (of Britart, rather than Papillon, fame) that I began almost a fortnight ago. I also want to comment on an excellently composed review of a new Smiths compilation by Taylor Parkes which I think addresses the fundamental failure of people to actually listen to said band, but I don't feel like shuffling words right now.

I'm clinging to the hope that an Obama victory will be one in the eye for my writer's block, amongst other things.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


...there's never that much cause to whinge when the internet lets us watch stuff like the following 24/7...

How cool is Phil Lynott? Also, why are all the audience just bumbling around like they were watching Leo Sayer or something? Don't they know how lucky they are?

An elegy in lieu of composition

I feel like I have so many things to say about Norwich as I prepare to leave it that I might as well say none of them. And I'd love to pretend that I've spent the week since handing in dancing on tables in all the bars I never went to, but I haven't, because I've been packing my boxes and feeling autumnal and pensive. This time doesn't seem to lend itself to words.

There were around fourteen cases of books in the end.

Hmmm. This is all a little 'I can't go on, I'll go on'. I blame this on reading Milan Kundera stories, an act which uncannily precipitated the furore over his alleged denunciation of an (again alleged) acquaintance in the 1950s. In keeping with my usual ambivalent stance,* Kundera has baffled me ever since I first read him as a precocious schoolkid. I say 'precocious', but this was a performance of precocity more than anything else: going to Richmond's library, which had 10,000 Wilbur Smith and Catherine Cookson novels and precisely four books by writers I considered 'literary' at the time,** and taking Kundera out seemed to be what a precocious person would do. Oddly, I now understand that this is precisely the kind of thing that Kundera seems to be writing about. What tends to confuse me about him, getting back to the original point, is that his manifest Existentialism seems to be so sweetened by erotic payoffs. If I was to pick one writer who exemplified the way that European postwar philosophical fiction talks clever to get girls (I say this with my tongue firmly in my cheek, but that doesn't mean I don't mean it) then Kundera would be my main man.

Modern European fiction is great, though, isn't it? I love it when you read one of those memoirs by newspaper columnists when they're going on about how they 'used to be' punks and have loads of sex with people who had the entirety of Sein und Zeit tattooed on their perineums. All those colossally meaningful references to an Existentialism that has, how shall we put it, not exactly been carried through into their Bodenised present-day. I want to give them a hug and tell them that it's alright, that they should just admit that the philosophy meant nothing and the bits they really dug in Sartre were where all the characters were being excessively attractive and smoking Gauloise. Everyone should dig books about people who sit in cafes all day, drinking alcohol for countless hours without ever being Englishman-at-European-Cup-Final-drunk, before tootling off to have an affair with their student/ piano teacher/ best friend's wife/ sister! They should dig them even more if there's a vaguely alluded-to sense of historical crisis, or if the principal character is being stalked by a doppelganger, or it could be adapted into a movie with a ten-minute panning shot of an auto wreck. Alienation is well cool, like.

Whenever I try and talk seriously about a book it seems to descend into a maelstrom of self-referential silliness. Oh well.

Right, back to them darned boxes.

* Which I waive 'positively' for Henry Green, William Sansom, David Peace, James Joyce, Patrick Hamilton, Kafka, Chekhov, M. John Harrison et al and 'negatively' for...well, let's give them a break, eh?

** For the record, they were Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ulysses, Doctor Demar by Paul Theroux (!!), and something entirely depressing by Phillip Roth about divorce and the Arab-Israeli conflict. It might well have been Deception, but feel free to correct me. All I remember was that it felt like a big let-down after American Pastoral, which made me feel very grown-up indeed.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Back to Reality


I feel like I need a debriefing session now, AKA this scene from Red Dwarf:

Thankyou very much to everyone who supported/ encouraged me. Many of you are in the ack's by name, you're all there in spirit.


Rapid-fire second shock stat

From the same article:

Truculent Ryanair kingpin Michael O'Leary (practicing journalese there, I hope you notice) went to the same school as James Joyce.

Joyce would have found researching Ulysses a hell of a lot easier in the age of cheap Europe-wide air travel, and Stanislaus would have been saved an awful lot of quibbling letters about (for example) the number of railings outside certain Dublin police stations.

Wouldn't have thought this was the case but...

...apparently Ryanair only have 166 planes. I would have guessed about three times that.

Well, you learn something new ever day.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Update #2

Lopped off around six thousand and written bits to make two chapters less zany. One more big chapter edit to do tomorrow (although I have started with this), plus little 100-word bits here and there. Nearly there now.

Boastful aside: I took an hour off last night for seven-a-side. Five goals. Mint.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Final supervision update

Very positive, but I need to hack about seven thousand words out! Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement over the last few months (or years), and I'll see or speak to you after Friday when I hand in!


Ruins, modernism, Baudelaire and utopias...

...these are a few of my favourite things.

Just realised that I'd never put up a link to the website of contemporary cultural/ architectural/ political critic and playwright Svetlana Boym, whose resuscitation of modernism and polemical defence of what Jean Starobinski calls 'reflective nostalgia' have played an important role in my thesis: please read her 'off-modernist' manifesto, which might be particularly interesting for any of you whose work involves readings of Jacques Derrida's account of 'hauntology'. I'll add it to the sidebar later. Anyway, she has a new book out, which I look forward to reading when the dust has settled.

Final supervision in forty minutes, when I'm going to be told how to cram a week's work into forty-eight hours.

Mogwai: Are Free

Well, not to download. But they have put the whole of their new album The Hawk is Howling up on MySpace, where I presume it shall remain for a few more weeks.

First impressions are that it's better than Rock Action and Happy Songs for Happy People and about equivalent to Mr. Beast (with plenty of 'grower' potential).


As I said a few posts down, I've been re-reading Joyce's Dubliners for the nth time in the last few days. Before leaving the house (okay, before leaving my bed) today I read 'A Little Cloud', which was always - along with 'Araby' and 'Two Gallants' - my favourite story in it. The combined forces of Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Bowen could have tried for as long as those monkeys have been attempting to write Timon of Athens and they wouldn't have come up with anything as good as 'A Little Cloud'. I'll do it little justice with a single quote, but here is one anyway:

Little Chandler sat in the room off the hall, holding a child in his arms. To save money they kept no servant, but Annie's young sister Monica came for an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so in the evening to help. But Monica had gone home long ago. It was a quarter to nine. Little Chandler had come home late for his tea and, moreover, he had forgotten to bring Annie home the parcel of coffee from Bewley's. Of course she was in a bad humour and gave him short answers. She said she would do without any tea, but when it came near the time at which the shop at the corner closed she decided to go out herself for a quarter of a pound of tea and two pounds of sugar.

Ernesto has been remixing poetry over at Never Neutral lately. If you haven't read this story, what might you do with this fragment? Where does it come? Is it a beginning, or an ending? The true measure of Joyce's stories in Dubliners is that, however small a fragment you select, it's always as though you're left with something that has the air of poetic autonomy in itself. Not self-satisfaction, or even narcissism, but a kind of self-reliance which is testament to the wroughtness of the stories: rivets and bolts that testify to, but also compete with, the aesthetic worth of the bridge itself.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A surefire winner...

...if it induces a sense of extreme morbidity combined with a frisson of retrofuturist apocalypticism:

BBC release script to be used in the event of a nuclear attack.




I'm fascinated by the 'you cannot see it, you cannot feel it, but it is there' line. It contextualises the sixties-through-eighties preoccupation with the 'scientific' supernatural (Doctor Who, Hammer House of Horrors, The Stone Tape). I guess this line also sums up the remit of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: 'it has no sensory presence, but how might one go about symbolising the absence of sensory presence in sound? If the nuclear age presents a kind of unrepresentable Real for language, how might sound narrate that crisis in representation?'

Well, Delia Derbyshire was either thinking that, or 'that would sound cool.'

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Worth a listen, at least

While admiring the second-generation music player on MySpace (that has to be the most, or only, web-familiar phrase I've ever composed) I noticed that My Bloody Valentine have their AMAZING cover of Wire's AMAZING song 'Map Ref 41N 93W' up at the moment. You shouldn't still be reading; that link should be open by now.



I need to advertise my teaching/ writing/ amateur football 'prowess' online. Can any of the tech-minded, new media savvy types who occasionally read this blog furnish me with tips for establishing a good-looking website without having to pay any money (or the least money possible) or write any HTML?

All advice to the comments box, please, where it will be very gratefully received.



Friday, 3 October 2008

That perilous activity, reading in the bath.

Photo by Jenny. Novel by Paul Auster.

Sorry if any of you were eating when you saw this.

Monday, 22 September 2008

A Modern Myth of Sisyphus...

...would feature the protagonist trying to paste documents that are already long into a massive Microsoft Word file whilst trying to preserve the formatting.

I would prefer the big fucking stone myself.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Urusei Yatsura/ The Delgados

One of the plus points of spending eons in front of a computer as I finish up is that it's given me time to rediscover my love of Scottish boy - girl indie bands. Here's two more from the surprisingly rich seam of Central Belt noise pop:

Urusei Yatsura - 'Hello Tiger'

The Delgados (Of 'Alan, show us yir watch' fame' - 'Everything Goes Around the Water'

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A brief, CAMRA-ish aside

PhD-completion stress has caused a bit of a loss of momentum on here recently, but I am currently trying to conceive of some more focussed articles to put up on here. I'm currently writing a piece about Ian Rankin which keeps stalling.

Anyway, I thought I'd do one of the customary 'hell in a handcart' articles. Now, I find real ale marketing quite embarassing usually. Problematically for someone who tends to prefer a pint of Frigging in the Rigging or Bishop's Finger over Carling or Strongbow, my tolerance for zany product names cooked-up by the marketing staff at independent breweries is not enormously high. When I used to work at a bar, we once did a weekend of real ale and folk dancing where the 'catch-up' strong beer was Granny Wouldn't Like It from Attleborough's almost unsurpassable Wolf Brewery. Now, the first time some Monty Python-quoting Environmental Sciences student asks you for a pint of that it's quite funny. When the seven hundredth Red Dwarf teeshirt-wearing, 'I'm mad, me!' individual does the same, however, it isn't quite so endearing (you know, it's all a bit 'aren't I naughty, ordering the marginally stronger beer with the ever-so-slightly risque name'). I usually preface my own bar orders of said products with a look that says 'if I were to take relish in asking for this drink, I'd be a wanker, and I'm not altogether cool with the fact that I'm buying a product whose marketers are intentionally trying to make me look like a wanker.' Then the barstaff look at me and know that I'm just a regular guy, a non-scener who just happens to like drinking real ale and doesn't feel the need to get into the paraphenalia of Queen records.*

I really am that cool.

Anyway, I'm cavorting off topic. What I meant to say is that the Portman Group (who I think have nothing to do with Ipswich Town's ground or Miranda Raison's character on Spooks) have criticised the Orkney Brewery for marketing a rather strong ale with the name 'Skull Splitter'. Now, notwithstanding the fact that the logo is a cartoon viking that would be unlikely to incite violence in even the most impressionable of those dead-eyed feral teenagers Eden Lake has got the chattering classes, er, chattering about, precisely how many real ale drinkers do you know who frequently indulge in booze-related violence? In my experience, people who go on holidays which involve attempting to visit as many microbreweries (and, let's face it, non-league football grounds) in a week as possible are not the same as those who loon out onto the pavement at eleven thirty trying to kick seven bells out of all and sundry. In all honesty, they're probably making putatively 'witty' remarks at the exhausted bartenders who are trying to remove them from their beery comfort zone, but violence doesn't tend to enter the equation.

Oh, shit. I sound like Jeremy Clarkson. Can I add a qualificatory note about my heartfelt belief in integrated mass transit and my enthusiasm for speed camera/ traffic management schemes? Hopefully that makes it all a little better.

* But maybe I do fulfill the criteria: non-league football; long walks; dilletantish inquisitiveness about archaeology and history. Hold on, this is turning into one of my famous 'Simon from Teachers' male anxiety attacks.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Latest compulsive detective thing

Hi. I've still not done a decent-length post for a while. That's because I'm up in Yorkshire, where I have access to my Mum's extensive collection of Ian Rankin novels, to which I have now become utterly addicted. Seeing as I have to work while I'm up here, my spare time is consumed with acquainting myself with Inspector Rebus, or dragging myself away from books and going to look at the Burkean-sublime waterfall in full flood.

Oh, and scribbling fragments of fiction. It's begun.

Saturday, 6 September 2008


Hello, from the sanctity of a rainswept North Yorkshire.

I have a bound copy of the PhD and three weeks left to sort out the rubbish bits, so I've come home with a bagful of hard literary theory (Kristeva; Brooke-Rose; Abraham/ Torok; not to mention The Interpretation of Dreams.) The panic might explain why I haven't written anything on here for a week. I'm meaning to do a sweeping football post at some time, seeing as all of my cultural cathexes have been, erm, already allocated.

Hopefully whack something proper on over the weekend.


Saturday, 30 August 2008

Love for football restored in one fell swoop

The main reason that I wish I was not sat in front of a computer right now trying to write chapter summaries for my introduction.

Still, if I'd gone they'd have lost one-nil.

By way of making up...

...for tipsy late-night rambling about Manchester United, here's a new Sons & Daughters clip (where they're being introduced by Steve Jones, who bears an uncanny facial/ vocal similarity to my old flatmate.)

Real Ale: stronger than you think!

Hence the 'staccato' sentences in the last post. I hadn't even been watching the game; I'd merely read that report as I was eating my late-night chicken in black bean sauce and it had wound me up...

To clarify, the 'I work bloody hard' referred to when I play football, obviously not to the PhD/ teaching/ editing (which generally gets deferred in favour of blogging and, well, playing football.)

Straw Dogs is still pretty much as delicious as a weisse beer can get though...

Football is now wrong, but structurally

And this paragraph says all you need to know:

The defeat, though, will not be too hard to take for United, who not only had Cristiano Ronaldo watching from the stands, but who will also be hoping to add a striker - most notably Dimitar Berbatov - to their ranks before the close of the transfer window on Monday.

It's the final of the European Super Cup. I'm not a professional footballer (obviously), and I still spilled my guts to handball a shot off the line in 6-a-side training last night. I play three times a week in top of everything else, and I work bloody hard when I do. Football's a laugh, but I still want to win every time I play. Unfortunately, I find it entirely plasuible that United just didn't care tonight. I remember being proud when Darlo won the Durham Senior Cup final in 1991, even though they only had to beat Bishop Auckland and Billingham Synthonia to do it (though we did get to beat Hartlepool 4-2 in the final). The idea that defeat in a competitive final would not be 'too hard to take' takes the piss out of anyone who bothered spending cash on going to that game.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Arach attack

I don't love spiders, not by any means, but why is this one of the first non-Norfolk stories the Norwich Evening News has covered this year?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Les Blooze

So, the French are cultivating their own binge-drinking problem, are they? And Nicholas Sarkozy is their president now? Coincidence, non?

Come to think of it, the cosy myth held by the British middle classes that the inhabitants of southern European countries are much 'better' drinkers than us shivering Celts, Angles, Vikings and Teutons overlooks several factors:

1 - You're more likely to see a French family drinking sensibly with a meal if your primary point of encounter with French families is in family restaurants.

2 - The French, Italians and Spanish make vast quantities of 'transcendent' wine and, now I come to think of it, some pretty fine beer as well. One suspects that they don't merely do this to feed the appetites of the English and Germans.

3 - Walk down a street in any large French town after seven in the evening. You will see drunk people.

It seems to me to be true that the culture of drinking is different over there - no 'six shots for a pound' style offers, fewer huge gangs of lads spending all weekend between the bar and the toilet cubicles (though I have noticed this a few times in Spain) - but that doesn't mean that Europeans don't get drunk, or that they only let themselves go a bit in idyllic mealtime settings with with their entire family in an olive grove.

Oh, I've just remembered. What about all the binge-drinking scenes in Emile Zola's novels?

Culturally-diminished Proustianism

I'm sitting at home having a nice cold bottle of Grolsch and listening to The Late Junction on Radio 3. They've just played this piece and it has synaesthetically churned up the essential qualities of a three-day spell I spent playing Sid Meier's Civilization II when I was about fourteen. This has made up for the fact that they were playing some god-awful 'Americana' earlier.

Actually, that was a damn good few days. Civilization II is great.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Tunnel Vision Time #1

I really really really miss football at the moment. It's almost September and I'm still to hear the reassuring click of a turnstile or catch the Bovril on the wind.

The 'writing-up period', also known as 'the period of borderline insanity when you write for hours and hours every day and spend the rest of your time chewing your nails and not being able to get to sleep.' Every day I think about the things I used to do before this state of affairs descended:

1 - Wear clothes that made me look neat.
2 - Play in a band; a band that were actually not that bad.
3 - Go to nightclubs, occasionally, and have a dance.
4 - Go to football. Not just play it (though I'm glad I have that to fall back on.)

I came back to football hard at the beginning of my PhD. It wasn't that I hadn't watched it or played a bit in the years following my leaving home. I think I just felt at the time that it was a bit hokey to be spending half your life indulging your love for a middling-to-awful side from the north-east. The jump-start back into obsession began when I went to visit my brother, Thom, in Manchester just before I went back to university: I was working for a stationery suppliers, was on the verge of being (temporarily) 'removed' from the band for personal reasons, was in a state that can best be described as 'relationship chaos', was not really writing or even reading very much. I had just been awarded a prize for my Masters dissertation, which somehow managed to contribute to a sense of identity crisis.

Anyway, Thom was living in Manchester at the time, as I say, and Darlington - in their woeful, post-George Reynolds downturn - were away at Bury that weekend. So after a lovely, if famished, journey over, and a preposterously Britpop-heavy night in (we did this again in January after going to see Spurs: after a few cans T. 'djs' and thinks that listening to Ultrasound
would be a good idea), we got the Metrolink up to Bury to go to Gigg Lane. I had actually been to a home game a couple of weeks before, but this was something else: bloody freezing, booze-veined and participating in the cameraderie of the awayday charabanc. In a non-Danny Dyer way, I was buzzing. I think I decided then and there to embrace my provinciality once and for all.

Anyway, since then, it's been pretty good, in a 'isn't my harmless obsession amusing' kind of way. There was the spontaneous, three in the morning decision to go all the way to Macclesfield the next morning (Thom tried to make me go and see The Wedding Present in Sheffield that night. I was not having it. I believe that was also the week I taught a lesson on Bertolt Brecht, despite the fact that the most complicated thing I've ever seen in a theatre is The Hound of the Baskervilles starring the affable, anxious tax collector from The Darling Buds of May.) There was the visit to the Millerntor Stadion to see St. Pauli take on Wattenscheid, the fulcrum of a marvellous boozy weekend in Hamburg. There was, most notoriously, the day that I dragged Jenny to deepest Cambridgeshire to see Histon lose 1-0 to Carshalton Athletic in subzero temperatures on the grounds that it was the kind of thing Bill Brandt would have done.

The thing is that, although there are many serious academics who like nothing better than listening to the Fall on the train en route to see AFC Fylde or Whitby Town or Saltash United, they are still in the minority. Footie is a kind of conversational no-go most of the time. It is often automatically assumed that 'liking football' means going to a bar and talking ill-informed nonsense while watching the team you 'support' on Sky Sports. I often want to round on these people and say that no-one seriously 'likes football' unless they have done the following things:

1 - Been to watch an FA Cup game in one of the rounds prior to the Conference National teams entering.
2 - Have seen a Blyth Spartans fans threaten to murder the referee if he abandoned the game, despite the fact that half the floodlights had stopped working.
3 - Owned a copy of the Non-League yearbook and read it in the bath. Aged 12.
4 - Chatted to a player from a team you support and told them that they'd had a 'good game'. Through gritted teeth, naturally.
5 - Performed the 'naming all the grounds in the football league' party piece.

As you might expect, this can cause some friction. Anyway, the problem is that I feel like I don't get to games even a quarter as much as I should: I compulsively read the When Saturday Comes forums and it seems to be packed with people like me (ie PhD-writing, krautrock-loving types) who seem to be getting to games all the time. I partially blame Norwich, a city where the non-league options are relatively limited. Anyway, I've promised that Budapest shall feature plenty of football, though I'm still open to offers regarding which team I'm going to support.

Whinges about clothes and nightclubs still to come...

Ha ha ha ha. Funny because true.

The real reason to hate the poet Philip Larkin is not that he was a racist and a masturbator (I find it amazing that these two "sins" were somehow equated in the so-called liberal press), but that he sat as jazz reviewer for the Daily Telegraph and denounced every development since Benny Goodman as scandal and degeneracy. Philip Larkin - in his hidebound, parochial, British way - has nothing remotely useful to say about jazz. Adorno, using his highly developed vision of modernity, had an extraordinary sensitivity to the way that marketing and mass production effected art. His analysis of jazz and television is not a conservative critique, but a revolutionary one.

Ben Watson, 'Theodor Adorno and Mass Culture'


What would Lacan make of someone talking on their phone in the library while someone else was trying to think about Lacan?

I suspect that only Adam Phillips could answer this, although I feel titillatingly Phillipsian for having been able to formulate the question in the first place.

It's going to be shite

Voodoo Lounge: Update

Having gorged myself at tremendous 'northside'* South Indian eatery Spice Paradise this eveing, I've come home to discover that, if you type 'sharks will cry' into Google, this blog comes up third. That's a bronze in our current hyperolympian imaginary.

* AKA Norwich beyond the river, also - inspirationally - known as 'Norwich ultra aquam'. In practical terms, Magdalen Street, St. Augustines, Silver Road etc.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Yet another new occasional series with little potential for longevity

This one is called 'crap albums you listened to on your Walkman on holiday because you were too young to buy your own tapes and your parents couldn't be relied upon to always listen to good records even if they are (like mine) respectably pop-savvy'

Today's contender: Voodoo Lounge by the Rolling Stones (on the MV Bretagne in 1993). This record is so bad it can only be described by one of those words people use in PG-R family comedies like Beethoven or Honey I Shrunk the Kids. You know, words like 'crapola'. There is something curiously abject about this record which I am still haunted by to this day and, trust me, it's been fifteen years since I last heard it. Not a day goes past when I don't find myself humming a tune and thinking 'that sounds familiar' only to have my intimate mental space violated by an image of Mick Jagger singing the following delightful lines:
Sparks will fly
When I finally get myself
back on you, baby
Sparks will fly
When I finally get myself
back on you, baby
I'm gonna step on the gas
I want to get there really fast
I want to fuck your sweet ass
Sparks will fly
Sharks will cry
Sparks will fly
So many things are wrong with this verse, not least the fact that 'gas' and 'ass' is, to put it mildly, an unfortunate rhyme within the erotic context Jagger is trying to create here. I'd love to perform an incisive critique of the line 'sharks will cry' but every time I think about it I break down in hysterics. Does he have the Crap Sharks from Viz in mind here or is it just his (oh-so-coincidentaly rhyming) idea of an event that would be really exciting and sexual?
Him: Will the sharks be crying tonight, darling?
Her: Not tonight luv, I've got a headache.
In fact, I'm thinking of sending a letter to the advertising people who make commercials for Bacardi or Disarrono or another spirit which requires a sexually-charged brand image and suggest that the next time their sales pitch involves a nightclub full of scantily-dressed beautfiul people dancing to funky house they should add a couple of sharks weeping in the corner.
NEXT: Fleetwood Mac, Tango in the Night (Hold on, can't do that one, it's actually quite good.)