Sunday, 30 March 2008

Goodbye, Yorkshire

And so my nine-day sojourn to the North comes to an end. Back I go to sad old flat Norfolk, deadlines, essay marking, accountability. Excuse me while I feel sorry for myself.

Cunningly, I've contrived to bring some of Yorkshire back with me. I went for one last walk along the banks of the Swale and got my Levis caked in the mud churned up by yesterday's torrential rain. The river was brimming, the waterfall almost invisible due to the sheer volume of water coming down from the dale. I walked along past my old school- I'll have to find the Pevsner entry for it- and went for a coffee in the new arts centre housed in the former station buildings. Even Richmond has been cappucinoted. There is another new cafe (in what used to be the sandwich shop we fattened ourselves up in during lunch hour) called 'Sip'. Teesside and the North Riding currently seems very committed to the 'aesthetics of chill-out': I fear that speakers concealed on street corners might start thrumming out Groove Armada at passers by. I personally don't understand the need to create a patina of faux-classiness for an area that is almost universally admired for its rugged edges. All the new latte bars and hair salons- nearly all of which seem to be run by people who've been overexcited by a weekend in London or, even worse, Leeds- have an incongruous, trying-too-hard feel about them. That said, I didn't mind the new arts centre so much. They seemed to be making an effort to stay 'Yorkshire'.

Forthcoming topics:

- A short visit to London to look at some art and, regrettably, watch another Darlington match.
- Strikers and the right to write/ writers and the right to strike.
- Thoughts on setting in fiction (a thesis-writing warm-up).
- W.S. Graham

Okay. That's enough. Train to catch. Thanks North.


Saturday, 29 March 2008



Friday, 28 March 2008

A Trawl through the Annals of the Televisually Terrifying

A few clips from Youtube to watch alone in a thunderstorm...

Firstly, from Jonathan Miller's Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad:

Next, from the BBC production of A Warning to the Curious:

Thirdly, an exercise in abject terror with TV's most pant-shittingly* fearsome revenant:

* CF the Viz Hallowe'en special, 2006. I would never use so base a phrase as this without it being made acceptable by such an august publication.


Richmond looks good in it, better than Norwich at least.

I've spent the last two nights watching a programme in which Michael Palin wanders non-plussedly around the 'New Europe', AKA those countries east of Vienna which never featured in an Only Fools and Horses 'holiday' plotline (though 'Cassandra gets kidnapped by the Ingushetian mafia' would have put Del and Rodders in a scrape with undoubtedly hilarious consequences.) Interesting things I've learnt so far:

- Now the bridge in Mostar (written 'Mocrap' in Cyrillic, according to Wikipedia) has been rebuilt, people use it for a diving competition.
- Croatians don't like to be hurried, especially when cooking Michael Palin elaborate cuttlefish-based meals.
- 'Enver Hoxha' is pronounced 'Enver Hodger'.
- The BBC have got so into showing programmes portraying the painful deaths of farm animals that they need neither Jamie Oliver nor a cookery show to do so. In this case, Palin finds himself halfway up a mountain with some Raki-sipping Sufis as they sacrifice a sheep.
- The mayor of Tirana doodles on his minutes in council meetings, which possibly explains the fact that Tirana has the most inefficient traffic management system in Europe.
- If you sit alone at a restaurant table in Istanbul, musicians will sit down and serenade you to cheer you up, even if you weren't miserable in the first place.
- How to stun the biggest Monty Python fan in Bulgaria: send Michael Palin around his house to ask about distillation techniques for plum brandies.
- Michael Palin seems to spend an awful lot of time chatting to attractive women.
- The only available journalist to show Michael around Chisinau (Moldova) was a twenty-something blonde called Tatiana.
- The military costumes in the breakaway republic of Transnistria look like Jean-Paul Gaultier designs.

More as discovered. I'm of to get wet now.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Prisoner Of War Fiction and Poetry

A work-based request for information here, on the off-chance that anybody with the right know-how is reading. Could anyone furnish me with information about any fiction or poetry published in England up to and including early 1948 that deals specifically with the experience of the POW camps? It doesn't need to have been written by someone with insider knowledge- in fact, it would probably be more helpful if the literature was imaginative rather than experiential. It would also be interesting to know if British, American, Canadian or Australian novelists were writing about the camps on their own soil in this period.



And on that note...

Why can't modern football be more like this?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Why can't modern music be more like this?

Or this?

Or this?


On another note, I think that there is an individual in Richmond who shares my (fairly particular) tastes in literature. I think this person is probably more generous than I am, though. In Oxfam's window is a first-edition of B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates, priced at just under fifty pounds, and looking absolutely exquisite. More importantly, and pleasingly, I picked up a copy of Basil Bunting's Briggflatts for one ninety-nine, meaning I now have a copy that I can write on.

In other literary news, I finished Snow, read David Peace's 1974, snoozed my way through J.G. Ballard's Kingdom Come and am now tackling some early W.S. Graham poems before some more Derek Raymond. Once again, I'll address these matters with more erudition when I'm feeling less grumpy about the idea of writing.

Yet Again, Hull Freezeth Over...

I'm up in Yorkshire at the moment, spending a few nights in bucolic Richmond after a weekend in the slightly edgier environs of (Kingston-upon-) Hull. I've only ever been to Hull in the sliver of December that falls between Boxing Day and New Years, those ambiguous days of belt-burst lethargy, and it has always been absolutely freezing on these occasions. I thought I'd surprise the gods of Hull and Holderness (William Wilberforce? Clive Sullivan?) by coming at a different time of year, but they were one step ahead of me and laid on a White Easter of 'sharp snow' and gritter wagons.

On Easter Monday, we went to Withernsea, Hull's coastal annex, where we froze on the beach and ate fish and chips. I haven't Flickred my photos yet: soon. After doing the obligatory tour of the amusements- Withernsea amusements are an exercise in psychopathology- we went to the lighthouse which is, unusually, inland. Rather than being enclosed in its own stairwell, the staircase to the light wound around the inside wall of the tower, allowing me to experience a higher threshold of vertiginous anxiety than any I've previously known. I felt like I was trapped in a Borges story. It didn't help that the people I was visiting the lighthouse with weren't so cowed by the drop and kept on leaning over the rail with their cameras. I thought I was going to throw my own over the bannister.

We went back to Hull in time to catch a gig by The Fall, who I've never seen before. This probably deserves its own write-up when I'm feeling less logophobic, but I'm willing to say that I was both delighted and surprised by the show.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Prolapse, 'TCR'

Been meaning to post something about Prolapse for a while. Their Wikipedia biog tells the story of these Leicester-based chancers better than I ever could, so I guess my only remaining option is to be subjective. For me, they somehow distil everything that's seductive about 1990s independent music, and also embody everything that the genre has been lambasted for since the Chinese walls of stardom were breached in favour of guitar bands. As is to be expected, the male members of the band wear out-of-date, too-tight football tops bearing the insignia of obscure European sides rather than the smart-scruffy attire favoured in the wake of The Strokes and Pete Doherty. Somehow, this gesture seems to subvert the lad culture which prevailed at the time (think Euro '96, Teddy Sheringham, Chris Evans) whilst not being dismissing the average man in the street as an uncultured lout: it's a simultaneous repudiation of, and identification with, a very particular strand of maleness. Musically, Prolapse eschewed lofty ambitions towards paradigm shifting in favour of thudding bass riffs, metronomic drumming, abrasive Keith Levine-style guitars and rapidly interchanging boy-girl vocals. Their debts are obvious: Can, Neu, Joy Division, Stereolab, Spacemen 3, PiL and My Bloody Valentine. From that jumble they contrive a sound of their own which is never less than breakneck. For all of their smart atonal reference points, their songs are built around nagging hooks which defy the listener to nod along.

I think the real beauty of this band, though, is connected to nostalgia. Although their lyrics are largely oblique, as should be expected of all good indie bands, one detects a ring of student politics in the mix. There's an air of cheap cornflakes and student grants, old polytechnics and the Poll Tax Riots about Prolapse, a je ne sais quois that you'd be hard-pressed to find on any university campus nowadays. This is indie pre- internet saturation, when small bands did not become massive overnight on the back of MySpace. Having grown up in North Yorkshire with this perception- struggling idealists playing in depopulated, sticky-floored cellars- of the independent music scene, it was a huge surprise to me to finally play gigs in London after years of wanting to and finding that the queues for the toilet cubicles were longer than those at the bar or merch stands. Clubs like White Heat and even the Guided Missile night at the Buffalo Bar seem to be used by A&R men as staging-grounds for the next breakthrough act rather than ambitions in themselves. While the bands play, shady-looking management types in Stone Island jackets pick at their nostrils, or start aggro with the organisers. It all feels tawdry and auto-consuming.

Anyway, here is Prolapse's 'TCR', from a time before it all got that bad...

Monday, 17 March 2008

St Kilda Mail

Yet another contribution to an occasional series of vaguely spooky photographs. Spectracular! Please look at these whilst listening to the output of any artist of Ghostbox and expounding (with extravagant melancholy) on Derrida's later works...

Architectural Fragment #1

From Pevsner's Buildings of England (Yorkshire- The North Riding)

HIGH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, Darlington Road. By Denis Clarke-Hall. Built in 1938-9, the designs based on one of 1937. A pioneer job in school architecture, even internationally speaking. Loose, comfortable grouping, functionally highly intelligent. The materials are random rubble, i.e. local stone for solid walls, concrete framing with glass infill for others. Stone walling had been introduced into modern building by Le Corbusier (Cite Universitaire, 1930-32). Access is from the SW. The entrance has a concrete canopy of a free shape (another Corbusier feature). To the l. is the assembly hall with its glass wall, to the r. the bare wall of the staff common room. Through the entrance hall one looks into an intimate landscaped courtyard and beyond that across glazed passages into others. It is all nicely intricate, unexpected and curiosity-inspiring. These courtyards in fact lie between a spine corridor leading SW-NE and the classrooms. The classrooms are arranged in pavilions all facing SE, and the glazed passages between the courtyards of course connect the spine corridor with them. To the NW and NE projecting appendages, notably the gymnasium.

That later became the school that I attended, though I had no idea at the time that I was being educated in a building with international architectural significance.

Cambridge City, not Canonicity...

...and so another of my proleptic postings fails to herald its analytic fruit. Well, my promise will eventually hold good.

As term drew to a close I canned the writing for a week and went on what I like to call a 'book binge'. Selected highlights include:

James Kelman- A Disaffection

Malcontent high-school teacher in late-1980s Glasgow worries about Holderlin whilst driving aimlessly up and down the A74. I enjoyed this. In fact, I enjoy most novelists who make a whole-hearted commitment to staging existential malaise in a contemporary (or at least familiar) setting. I also harbour a strange bias towards Scottish fiction in general, and a less ambigous one for Kelman in particular. Firstly, he's a pretty 'righteous' guy (I've been impressed by some of his writings on apartheid from the bad old days). Secondly, he made one of the Booker judges throw an almighty tantrum when he won said award for How Late it Was, How Late. Apparently the judge in question felt that novels which contain obscene language aren't proper literature. Of course, this is the same Booker Prize which is freqently awarded to 'literary', southern English safe bets like the ghastly McEwan. I'm guessing the line 'I'm going to take you home and fuck you all afternoon' from McEwan's Enduring Love (a choice line given to the narrator's middle-class literary critic girlfriend on the occasion of her acquisition of an old volume of Keats) constituted a judicious, mimetically necessary employment of obscene language, whereas Kelman's subject matter (an angry Glaswegian in the drunk tank) could easily have been articulated without recourse to profanity.

Actually, this does seem to have turned into a post about canonicity, but I'm not making the point I wanted to make so I'll stop!

Mary Keene- Mrs Donald

I picked this up dahn Charing Cross Road last year purely on the basis that its author was one of Henry Green's many lovers. The blurb seems to think that the novel reads quite like Green: I'd say this argument only holds water if one reads Green very selectively. Though I enjoyed the portrayal of a self-pitying, gratuitously melancholic poet (I sense a composite of Green and Louis MacNeice here), this wasn't particularly good. It wasn't published until after Keene's death and its release seems to me like yet another attempt at Fitzrovian hagiography: yes, everyone has a novel in them, but it's the carousers of Greek Street who are most likely to have the social wherewithal to get one published.

Adam Phillips- Promises, Promises

Another collection of essays in which the likeably whimsical Phillips divulges all of the intimate details of his consultations before coming to the conclusion that you'd probably reached about ten pages previously. It's his literary and theoretical writing that really work here, mostly because of his optimistic commitment to open-endedness and ability to make very difficult things sound manageable (there's a review of Prynne's Collected Poems in here that makes 'High Pink on Chrome' seem as straightforward as Doctor Seuss).

A.L. Kennedy- Day

Another Scottish author- two in one week. I bought this rather reluctantly, feeling that I had to read it because it had a similar plot (returning POWs) to Green's Back. I had a hunch that it would be gauche and badly-written, a feeling that I'll admit came about more or less due to a broadly favourable review for the novel in the Guardian, which tends to plump the cause of most glib, woolly books that come its way. That's the thing with the Guardian. Its book reviews tend to operate on the principle that works of literature are good if they A) exhibit a generally humanistic political stance (a decaf-Leavisitism, if you like) or B) correspond thematically more or less to what the editorial board think 18-35s want to read about. There is a bizarre twenty-something implied reader that the Guardian have in mind when they're reviewing. They're urban, reasonably well-off, and they go clubbing a few times a month. They drink and drug moderately, but this doesn't relieve them of a certain gravitas-bestowing melancholia. They watch films by Michel Gondry and listen to records by Antony & the Johnsons. They visit the V&A rather than the Tate Modern and a new Almodovar vehicle is a major event. Though they would like to consider themselves culturally worldly, their tastes fit easily on the same humanistic spectrum that (for example) Zadie Smith occupies. The literary 'experiments'- if they can be named as such- with which they are familiar are more likely to be by Dave Eggers than Ezra Pound. Though they champion the reading of poetry, their taste in the medium is formally conservative, as they tend to confuse supposedly 'edgy' content with stylistic or structural radicalism.

Okay. That was an inset, a purposefully-induced tangent. I'd been aiming to nail that (true) stereotype for a while. Anyway, Day was a pleasant surprise. It isn't brilliant, but Kennedy handles her materials extremely well and manages to convincingly evoke the feelings involved in a sleepless night over the Ruhr. She doesn't skirt the moral questions raised by the Allied bombing of Germany (addressed in W.G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction and- more controversially- in Jorg Friedrich's Der Brand), but does manage to address them in a way which doesn't oversimplify the ethical economies involved. Most importantly, from a literary perspective, I didn't feel- as I do in the case of Sarah Waters and Chris Paling amongst others- that I was reading a collection of out-takes from Henry Green, Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and Julian Maclaren-Ross. Kennedy finds her own voice to deal with the war without resorting to cliche. Apparently, she spent the best part of the year prior to the publiation of Day in the Imperial War Museum, so it looks as though the research paid off.

Derek Raymond- How the Dead Live

I'd been meaning to read Derek Raymond, the supposed father of English noir, for some time. It was worth the wait: this was like an Agatha Christie derailed by a Socrates-spewing Taggart. More seriously, I felt like this was an insightful penetration of some of the darker corners of the English psyche in the Thatcher years: it reminded me of Dennis Potter, in fact. I can certainly see the validity of the comparisons that are often made between Raymond and David Peace, although I'd venture the opinion that Peace is probably a technically better writer.

Orham Pamuk- Snow

Haven't finished this yet. Again, I'd been meaning to read this for a while (ever since I read Pamuk's 'city biography' Istanbul). This is, I think, only the second Nobel-winning novel I've ever read. I've learnt that the Nobel stipulations are like an elevated version of the Guardian's, which is to say that a BIG THEME is a must if one is to be considered a SERIOUS WRITER. Pamuk's big theme is the biggest of all, namely the so-called 'Clash of Civilizations', but he also manages to incorporate that other Nobel favourite, namely the nature of Art (darling) and creativity. This is probably in the John Banville category of late, late, late, Late Modernism (note the capitals). Though I sound a little cynical here, I'm actually really enjoying Snow.

Anyway, that's my reading report. I used this blog title because I didn't write about Sean O'Brien writing about canonicity, but I did go to watch Cambridge City play Bognor Regis Town in the Blue Square South on Saturday afternoon. It's many a year since I watched a game from beside the dugout and, my oh my, do you hear some colourful language down there. I can affirm right now that there would be some very dramatic hissy fits were the coaching staff of the Milton Road outfit to win the Booker. That said, on crowds of less than 300 and with two teams from the same city (Cambridge United and upstart minnows Histon) playing at the level immediately above them, the Booker is probably the only trophy that the Lilywhites are likely to win anytime soon.

Okay. Disorganised ramble over. Next projected football match is Darlington-Bradford on March 29th, next projected event is The Fall live in Hull in a week's time. With Pawel Abbott hitting form for the Quakers right now, I'd say that Mark E. is the star least likely to turn up.


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

More Canonicity

And also, as a bonus, an article from Jacket magazine about women and experimental poetry which I found interesting this morning:

Prynneglettes (sorry for the facetious link title...)

As an addendum to that, I noticed this rather snidey sweeping statement (third paragraph down) about the 'Cambridge School' that Craig Raine made in his introduction to the Guardian's Eliot giveaway this morning. Firstly, I don't think that 'postmodern' is an adequate term for dealing with poetry by Prynne, or Denise Riley, or Ian Patterson, or whoever else (on second thoughts, maybe it does for Tom Raworth) Raine is trying to tar with the brush of faddishness here. Secondly, does 'Not difficult to difficult, actually' mean what I think it does? Was 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home' really more difficult to write than 'High Pink on Chrome'? Of course, I might have got this completely wrong and Raine might be being generous and implying that Prynne et al aren't 'just' being wantonly or gratuitously difficult. You decide.

Right, I'm off to play football in the unpredictable weather.



Due to my sensible decision to spend most of last week writing my thesis, I haven't posted for a bit. I intend to respond to this commendable, if provocative article by Sean O'Brien soon, but, in the interim, I'll post a link to it:

Read Poetry: it's quite hard

In summary, O'Brien performs a neat deconstruction of the idea of 'relevance' as it pertains to the engagement between young people (perhaps I'm still one of his implied constituents, and my students certainly are) and the reading of poetry. I don't think his examples of poets we should read are great- Plath, for example, seems to be taught in schools only in light of her 'relevance' to a contemporary trauma culture- but the essential sentiment is bang on the money. More to follow.


Sunday, 2 March 2008

Happy Mother's Day...

Just a quick note on here to wish my mum a good Mother's Day...yes, I pulled off a characteristic bumble on the card 'detail'. So here is a picture of her holding a huge bundle of sticks on the spot where her living room will (eventually) be.

A quick appreciative anecdote. When I was seven and had just started playing football at school, I used to play in plimsolls. I think schools were a lot more laissez-faire about forcing parents to shell out hundreds of quid on ludicrously specialized items of sports equipment in those days. Anyway, the second time I played, I scored a goal. I told mum this when she picked me up from school and, apropos of nothing, drove me straight into town to buy a pair of boots from Woolies. That was a good day.

So, thanks for the football boots, and for all the other stuff. I did contemplate putting one of your jokes up on here but I couldn't remember any of them...

Joe x