Friday, 28 November 2008
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
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
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.
Monday, 24 November 2008
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Monday, 17 November 2008
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.)
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.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
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
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
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
* AKA 'I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes they had taught in the years between 1977-1990'.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
- 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.
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
I'm clinging to the hope that an Obama victory will be one in the eye for my writer's block, amongst other things.