Thursday 30 June 2011

Finger Mouse, Schadenfreude and Harry from Spooks

I hope you saw Justin Lee Collins on tele last night? Once more sinking another pint at the damp wake of good drama the west-country comedian sought to reunite the cast of another classic television show, in this case Fingerbobs. When we were children we learned about mass displacement, gravity and what was soft or spiky from this the best of Watch With Mother. Its erudite presenter Yoffy changed his name shortly thereafter and famously became a folk/rock performer called Rick Jones. Rick Jones shook the world, but most loudly with the theme from The Flipside of Dominick Hide*.
But it’s not Rick that the show concentrated on, so much as the ensemble cast that were central to the series. The Friends of its day, Fingerbobs was not afraid to tackle the tough issues. But whilst in Friends we shared the agony of bad hair, chairs, some shit about whoever that annoying one was (the one in all the rom-coms, face like a Star Trek alien? Her) then in Fingerbobs things were more real. It was the zeitgeist of our generation. Like Will Self we smirked, revelling in the schadenfreude of it all. Each of the cast took turn to step forward, each had their own set of shows each dealing with another tough topic of concern to us wee'uns, they being -
Fingermouse: String, Shadow, Shapes, Bricks.
Gullivar: Bumpy, Stones, Feathers.
Scampi: Sounds, Wood, Shiny.
Flash: Guns, Grindhouse, Pornography.
Clint Poppie From Pop Will Eat Itself: Paint, Seeds, House.
I don’t want to spoil the show as it’s doubtless on 4Again (or whatever you kids with sound cards can use to watch things again, doubtless whilst swooning in the throes of consumption) but it was rather shocking. Fingermouse is still trying to crack LA (as most know he did at least play the Witch King of Angmar in Return of the King – the original fight with Arwen is so much better - we see here - than the final print where they over-dubbed him with Andy Serkis). Gullivar died pecking at his own vomit. Scampi makes the best of it but the secret foot6age of him offering up in S&M clubs is a little saddening. I won’t ruin Flash, and Clint Poppie has been scoring for dozens of films since for example Moon, The Wrestler and most recently Black Swan.
If you missed it then next Wednesday they’re doing the same with Bod.   
*A play in which Harry from Spooks travels in time and is amazed when his immediate subordinate betrays him, probably for a girl. And walking into a hippy because in the future people with guitars are holograms. Hell, if you don’t remember Dominick Hide then you won’t have a clue who the Fingerbobs were either.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Lambeth Walk

Speaking to the grey friars of the Sepulcre Watch (*) reminded me of my maternal grandfather. I’ve got a very mixed family that muddies up even more over the last few generations. And two of those lines lie in Lambeth, and maternally that’s with Bill Vose. Bill’s still known to the grey friars, old as they are and they’re all from the same place. Lambeth, and famously the Walk. You’ll be familiar with the song and dance from the musical Me And My Girl. It was tremendously popular and if like the Hokey Cokey something horrible from your childish memory then Joseph Goebbels spoke out against it too. Indeed it was banned in Nazi Germany. So screw you Goebbels, you family-murdering fascist. But the Walk is a place, and certainly was, that whilst back in the C18th was the more salubrious Three Coney Walk (yup, rabbit as bloody Sam Gamgee would also have it) then in the 19th it was a market and a slum. It was bombed and cleared and endured through the war, then developed and frankly now whilst I hardly would wish slums again it’s bloody awful again. Only in its very own pissy-walled and broken-shopped way.
But here my Granda was born and raised. And he was bright because despite the sort of poverty we can scarce begin to imagine now he could read, and write and do his sums. He was a clever bastard, joining up a year before the war and spending the whole of it a corporal that never left England – but he did marry an officer in charge of an ack-ack battery, the weasel. He put off being demobbed until he had stepped up to a clerking job off Covent Garden. He was a Lambeth boy born but he never wanted back to the Walk. Not even dancing. Not even shouting ‘oi’!
But there on Lambeth Walk was the Feathers, a pub and one wherein women drank as well as men. And though Bill was not one to drink nor even to hang around pubs he was known in the Feathers. And the Feathers was notorious because it was where the odder sort of criminal hung out. Indeed it had by writ certain rights regarding them. You must remember that Lambeth was for centuries land held by the Bishopric of Winchester. This meant to a greater extent drinking holes, brothels and theatres. The Feathers slightly off all that but connected, distrusted and a little feared.
In the Feathers you’d once have found thimbles (thieves that stole the flames from candles, lanterns and even towards the end streetlights), nez (from the French for nose, they would swipe the scents of fresh flowers) and whippers (who ransomed the pets of the rich) – the first two to sell on. The women were often picks (magpies), not to be confused with pickpockets but robbers that caused small things to fall, break or otherwise be lost. There were nippers that used scrubbed-up youths up town to entice food and ale out of older men. There were galliards that distracted and caused diversions, commonly said to have been by dancing. These and more and ever watched by the pearlies – what became the charity raising kings and queens not much seen nowadays but then guards and clubmen for the costermongers of the markets, marked by a pearl button on their cap.      
None of which makes it any less and historically too, a right old toilet.       

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Steerpike, Titus Awakes and a Big Shirt

You might recall that Mervyn Peake’s head lives next door, and now it’s pissed off. He wants to know if I swiped the manuscript he showed me, that for Titus Awakes. The lost novel in the series only sketched out before his apparent death that too I mentioned here before now, and then mysteriously we find out it is to be published.
‘Honestly no,’ I say. Mervyn seems to believe me. But someone swiped it as it’s been discovered we hear in the family attic. ‘Truly, I was honoured to read the fourth book so...’
An awkwardness comes between us. I’ve been ignoring Steerpike until now. Not so much for being fictional as rather because he is dead. Titus killed him. Nonetheless there he is by the window with his big head, red eyes and ugly limbs all about that thin little chest. There’s not much of the Rhys Meyers about him. There’s not even much of the Rhys Ifans.  ‘You might as well tell him,’ he says.
‘Tell me what?’ There is another story, two in fact. Both short but more excitingly one of those in a collection, Sometime Never, Three Tales. ‘With whom? Who else is in this collection?’ Oh wonderful, William Golding and John Wyndham, two more of my favourite authors. I ask if they have a copy. Neither of them does. I’ll find out later that thery’re going for two or three hundred quid. I can’t help but think that publishers are missing a trick here. Annoyed I say, ‘Well I hope that which is released is that which you wrote. It’s been a while.’
I hear there’s a plan afoot. For Steerpike to track down the source of this Titus Awakes. Since I had it for a few days it’s been handily marked. Any book that comes into my hands becomes dog-eared, bath curled and as I would put it, loved. Also Bosswell put a lollypop on it. They want to know if I can suggest anyone to accompany Steerpike. I suggest my friend Mme Roux.
I would go of course only I’ve still got a big shirt to iron.  

Monday 27 June 2011

The Professional Middle Class, Apply by October 2012

Here in Tolly Maw we live more rigidly within the class system than most and I hear that the same is to be brought into place more widely across the country. Computer programmers have been annoyed since 1986 that not being an accredited profession they are at best upper working class.  Conversely boho busking-writer types share the pain being as they are big-shirted middle class fops as likely as they are to die immediately of brain-syphilis as they are to shop at Asda.
To ascertain who counts as being a professional, and thus middle class, a new government body is soon to be unveiled. Whilst formerly wearing slightly scuffed brown shoes and not punching people was enough, new guidelines that have been leaked to me here in Tolly Maw suggest that even owning a book will no longer count. From next October a professional is expected to drive a Ford Capri through a plate glass window and only exit the car on the far side before rolling over the bonnet. The new middle classes will now greet the sight of any woman with a creepily raised eyebrow and unless one wishes to wear a brown leather jacket and polo-neck jumper the then current uniform will be for sports jackets and jeans. What this means of course is that being a Top Gear presenter will be officially posher than a high-court judge, in a basque, on the day his hermaphrodite daughter marries Prince Ludo of Jibrovia, her first cousin, on a bed of really old diamonds, wearing a swan, on a peasant shoot, and that not being a typo.
So good luck with that. I’ve got a big shirt to wash.         

Sunday 26 June 2011

Johnny Ball, the Man Booker and 1984

They’ve stripped Johnny Ball of his Liquin Award. Sweeping the votes for his novel Paint Dries one of the judges some weeks later has actually learned from a review that Johnny Ball can make anything interesting, even as here paint drying. The Liquin committee defended criticism that suggested they had not read the novel by pointing out that most of the reviews for Paint Dries came about as a result of the award. This being so they could not possibly have learned as to whether it was worth reading without the use of a time machine. Since time machines aren’t real, the Liquin Award can have nothing to do with them.
Established as recently as 2009, the Liquin Award instantly became the most important literary award in the market due to its prize being twice that of the Man Booker. The Man Booker that does occasionally get granted to novels in which things that happened, might not have, has long been criticised for encouraging genre fiction. Genre fiction writers were heard to scroff into their plates of own-brand baked beans and dry sliced white they stole from the ducks (but no one listens to them). But by ignoring genre fiction the Man Booker at least acknowledged it was there. The Princess on detention with The Criminal.
The Liquin encourages, demands, more realism in fiction. Indeed, more fact and a lot less fiction. Its committee recently commended Stephen King’s most recent works for steering clear of the supernatural and has recommended that Alan Moore’s writing be less comic’y. The Gormenghast trilogy is to be edited to involve less castles, murder and Steerpike. Conversely the Liquin does commend especially bad genre fiction for its role in promoting by contrast proper works of fiction by writers, about writers, having affairs at farmer’s markets, with members of the Liquin committee. Recently both Paris Hilton’s ongoing detective series (the ‘Paris & Hilton’ novels) and Katie Price’s sci-fi best seller (‘Jor’dan In Space, And Stuff’) have been warmly applauded now that the industry only allows ghost-writing, by ghosts. Who must never write about being a ghost. Because there aren’t any, and officially so after the recent and revised edition of the Complete P.D. James that saw only the word ‘James’ remain cover-to-cover.
So enjoy your latest copy of Interzone because from next month on it’s been taken over by New Scientist. We are promised factual snortles, just like The Big Bang Theory (but without the references to comics, science fiction, fantasy, laughs or Penny that just get in the way of a wry quip by Sheldon). Raised hands by those that wished to suggest the good bits in New Scientist have been told to look forward to none of that anymore – but were thanked for pointing them out.
The Liquin committee have denied their actions are in any way Orwellian, especially as regards the re-issue of 1984 in which Winston Smith now enjoys the Sarajevo Winter Olympics and sings along to Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas.

Friday 24 June 2011

Boo! Miss. Brunner


Boo indeed, Miss. Brunner Dictator of Kingstonia 1938. Not pictured, the King. Boo again we say! Rarely will a villain ever be so frightful, so raddled until Madonna. Boo we say a third time, and this to both.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Sapphire & Steel, Catnip and My Dad

They’re back again.
I’ve just got Bosswell down for the night and Catnip’s twitching and heading the same way, only she can’t because Joanna Lumley wants her to remember her parents – and I’m just upstairs. I’d say something but David McCallum’s clearly some sort of murderer. At least (and he’s already made it clear) that I’m going to have to work very hard not to be the unfortunate cost of victory. In the kitchen an enormous and somewhat worrying stereotype is eating the casserole I left in the oven. Sat camply in the corner of my workroom ‘Silver’ is worrying at his hair and discussing quantum physics with himself, in polari. Things I make out are bad, it’s not at all bona.
I wouldn’t mind but they’re not convincing me that My Dad has historical significance, nor that an unnamed horror has used it to snatch me anywhere. I’ve got a lot more clocks than I used to. None of them work. From what I can make out and visually speaking at least my captors seem to be the Mysterons.
It’s all very scary but they’ve not met my Catnip. My eldest daughter could scare for England - only it’s a team event and last time The Midwich Cuckoos burst into tears and Bill Sykes wet himself. She isn’t allowed in to panto because the Wicked Stepmother keeps on apologising. Cats won’t catch her eye. When she enters a room then Tubular Bells comes on the radio, even if you haven’t got a radio. Rosemary Woodhouse on meeting Catnip went on the pill. I think you know where we are here.
Sapphire & Steel was fantastic and if like me you were a kid in the 70s then in later years you probably never enjoyed Kentish Town station at 2am either. There was always never quite a train, and a dead soldier would insist on whistling Pack Up Your Troubles.
When young you knew about as much of the enemy in the show as you knew about the word ‘transuranic’. But you knew a good ghost story when you sat through one, and this one was a ghost story like something out of good British 50s sci-fi.  It was certainly a lot scarier than all the Hammer films you’d watched recently, enjoyed too.
Ah, Sapphire is squealing. Steel’s emerged having enjoyed relations with the fridge. I can hear a heartbeat, the clocks are chiming the hour and everyone is trying to say the Gruffalo backwards.
Good luck with that one. Catnip’s just lost her temper.
Frankly, they’re doomed.
I’ll clear ‘em up in the morning.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Glastonbury, Lord Numb and a Service Revolver

Ah but here I am, not at Glastonbury. There’s a magic to this festival that I’ve not experienced since the turn of the century. Not experiencing it now the excitement of sitting here in what will be the green field is perhaps lost on me. But it’s the 30s and we’ve cycled all the way from Brambley Hedge with only a bag of tomatoes and a single service revolver between us. We’ve pitched up with oars for tent poles and just nearby as the photograph will attest, a sneer* of Swedes has done likewise. And golly, as anyone with shiny knees and a properly tangled jumper knows there’s none such fun as Swedes when there’s drinking to be done.
So here and for some days to come and what then have we learned so far of Glastonbury ’36?
The Green Shirts and their leader White Hawk are an inexhaustible supply of both early morning knee-jumps and important roughage. Free if you have an especially floppy green beret.
German travellers seeking brass rubbings are probably spies.
Judging by the number of confused women of upper middle years wandering about without purpose witches have yet to be invented.
Hawkwind are playing Sunday afternoon.
John Peel is more concerned with fox hunting.
That what you see isn’t the pyramid stage far away, that’s Aleistair Crowley in a hat (now wave hello).
Though up a hill, in a field and far from the nearest river hullabaloos can still plough by at 2am in motor launches loudly playing their gramophones.
Titty really is perfectly acceptable name for a girl.
Roger the boy is a term of address, not an invitation.
The rough young men with frayed collars managing to both call out and whisper to you at the same time are not looking for ‘Lord Numb’.
For the bourgeois of a morning then presently it is the Manchester Guardian.
*That really is the collective noun for the Swedish.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Cricket My Droogs

I love the cricket. They have a pitch here, and pads and bats but these are solely for stalking about the high street in a vague pretence towards A Clockwork Orange. But no my droogs, no cricket is played. Which is fine because whilst cricket is my favourite sport, then also it is not that at all. It is indeed a game I have been reminded (several times). And yes a test match is five days long. Lovely. When I’m painting or drawing, or building and gluing then better even than talky-books is the cricket. I listen and look up twice an over or when something happens. Or more likely nowadays (if it’s actually on Real Tele at all) bound down the stairs in time to catch the replay of a wicket lost that I’ve caught on the radio. I can’t write and look up twice an over.
But this, that or noses for nannies aside then in a high street in South London and many years ago it was unusually quiet, No doubt in that dead time after the bones of lunch and before the zombie walk home from school. And coming in the direction opposite I spy a familiar figure. He looks at me as I look at him and I cannot recall who he is, only that he’s very familiar. This is of course embarrassing and by now I’m finger raised and query-browed. He likewise, and so we stop, confused and awkward reflections.
You’ve had the conversation.
‘Hello there, no-name-used.’
‘Hi yeah, how are you and the same-back-to-you?’
‘Good, good.’
Yeah we definitely know each other and just as much we neither know who the other is. Or one so clearly does that the other can only assume likewise. So as you have done too I say, ‘Busy at the weekend?’
‘Well there’s the game.’
We laugh, oh how jolly we are. Both nervous we both spark up. Only, one of us has to offer second-light. But I’ve got it. Hell I work with games, I play games – games it has to be said is what I do. It’s the game. A game. At the weekend and probably a work game. We laugh again and say something about something else, we nod. We’re stuck here with our fags and if we’re not careful we’ll soon be in the pub catching up. Catching up!
We don’t and we part and with more relaxed laughs. We walk on and I turn and he has too, as puzzled as I. If I were to pat my tummy so would he. It must be like this when evil Spock, or evil Bender, or the evil one from Bros bump into Spock, Bender, or the other one in Bros. I mean you don’t want to say anything do you? And hell, your evil self that you’ve not seen for ten years has probably got a terribly evil girlfriend. Caroline Munro circa 1973 almost certainly.
But home and a few days later and it’s not my evil twin, or one of them from Bros.
It was Phil Tufnell. Now far more famous from A Question Of Sport and Celebrity Tele but then just a neat spin bowler and playing for England.
It was Phil Tufnell and there was no Caroline Munro.
Much as it tickles me I can’t help thinking it might have been nicer the other way around.

Monday 20 June 2011

Scallywags, Michael Foot, and Rabbiting with a Bren Gun

I’m staying inside at the moment and typing very quietly because Billy’s off on one. Back in the war Billy was a scallywag. We can hardly imagine what it was like after Dunkirk and for some (where history is a matter of fate and inevitability) there is no empathy at all for the fear and the reality of facing invasion any day. Had the Axis succeeded in Operation Sealion and taken southern England then the scallywags were officially Home Guard, but actually in no way associated with them. Poachers, gamekeepers, left wing veterans of Spain (and Michael Foot) they were expected to last only weeks, their supplies in their little bunker hides only set for so long. But during which they would assassinate, explode and generally make life miserable for the invader and for collaborators alike – and knowing they were not long for the world an understanding that they would not concern themselves with hostages and reprisals.
Charming.
There are thought to have been upwards of 6000 trained and supplied for the event, some in small cells, many others loners that knew of no more like them. People of whom ‘a minor Police record was not considered a disadvantage’. After the discovery of one Mr Hanscombe creeping about the neighbourhood with a revolver the scallywags came to be supplied with a letter they could produce that in essence told the authorities civil and military to not query why the local poacher was presumably rabbiting with a bren gun. I'd hope they were to get rid of such papers in the event of invasion, but I don’t like to ask Billy who’s fetched up in our chicken coop at the moment with a De Lisle silenced carbine.
I am told he is waiting for Lord Halifax. Or Lord Alliance & Leicester, he’s easily confused.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Father's Day, Onion Sacks and Shears


They slaughtered a piglet this time last year, hung and smoked and now carved for today. For today is father’s day and if there was none of that when I was a boy then now there is, and that’s perfectly fine since now and cooking are fresh muffin and bacon. Catnip and Bosswell are making cards – I am guessing, though my eldest I saw not long ago heading to the shed with her best hamstringing shears. I cannot speak so very much for my own father, he passed away and because he smoked and I’m glad he retired before fifty as he died at sixty-five. Another time, a bigger subject. Though pictured above.
But to be a father, is as precious as it is hard. And no matter how hard it might be – and the more so if one sprout, more or all are challenging tykes – there is this to know. My daughters fill a hole in my soul I did not know I had. Love is that which is reflected back in the eyes of your children, and it is pure and beautiful and when you’re having to watch Kung Fu Panda because the weather is bad (and the reception for the cricket bad because of it), well...
...it means you can sit through bloody Kung Fu Panda. Because there’s a child either side of you on the sofa cuddling close, and one will fall asleep and have to be carried upstairs. And yes then doubtless as many might say ‘wait until they’re teenagers’ then I will do that, wait. For now they are little and wonderful, and as children also mean, and cruel, and funny, and selfish and they suck at and feed on our lives. But they burn so brightly and so well, and so... well!
So if you’ve sent a card, or are visiting or are just thinking of your dad who’s gone now then if you’ve not got children yourself know this: it is we who are honoured, we who are completed by you. And we don’t care what you’ve done, we will always love you.
Even when as now Bosswell has caught next door’s cat in an onion sack, and Catnip is with much laughter sending sparks from the shed with the tinkers wheel. Be grateful you got a card.

Friday 17 June 2011

Gruffalo Poachers

‘It’s poacher,’ said the mouse. ‘There behind that tree!’
Poacher had come for ivory.
Since 1999 the number of Gruffalo in the wild has dropped alarmingly until now there are only estimated to be two remaining. An adult male, and his child. Protected as they are now by conservation laws there is a desperate search to find more as there are thought to be, in the traditional feeding grounds of Hampstead and Belsize Park. Until then the two identified are being watched round the clock but ever and with care so they do not suspect.
Gruffalo ivory fetches tremendous prices, more so as it grow scarce. Poachers shoot an adult (weighing upwards of 500 lbs), leaving all else behind. They have no use for terrible claws. They only take the terrible teeth in their terrible jaws. They leave knobbly knees and turned out toes. They have no use for orange eyes, they leave their tongues black. There is no known use for the purple prickles all over the back. Gruffalo without the poachers were already endangered, living as they do entirely on a diet of mouse, on a slice of bread. And they’ve never mastered how to make bread.
And baby Gruffalo taste like cake.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Miss March Pascal, a Box Brownie and the Forward Defensive Stroke

I was reminded regarding that shot of we brave young men at Glastonbury (here, June) that who is missing is of course she who took the shot. Back then when we were according to each of us windswept, jolly, Bohemian, or pondering a beard (but never I am assured, confused) we thought nothing of hiking three leagues before breakfast with a stout song and a beach offering to Ra. But it was the owner of the box brownie that would see it laid ready. For missing from that and rectified here is Miss March Pascal, who once hunted rabbits with an elephant gun and batted (as did we all from need), against New Zealand at Pewsey in ’38.
Sarah March Pascal did not accompany us as we sang and leap-frogged our way to Spain soon thereafter, she already saw how serious things were to become. In France in ’40 she single-handedly rescued adequate wine and good cheese from the Vichy regime, back in the days as you can see when Britain was still in black-and-white. Later and older you might know her as that icon of the 60s like Twiggy and Noddy, she was famously Arsey. Mike Moorcock based Una Persson on Miss March-Pascal, whom he adored and even today it’s her on the backing vocals for the Stones Gimme Shelter.
Yet here and she’s keeping wicket in that deadly game when our normal safe pair of hands, Captain Lindsay, had been conveyed away having taken four wounds – all to the front. The super keen ‘John’ Thomas made a good hand with the ball but it was left to I and ‘Tinker’ Taylor to hold the line with the bat. Whilst I built up runs by nobly throwing the bat at anything that looked like a ball, Tinker refusing to use anything other than a forward defensive stroke stayed at guard for nine weeks, three days and a spotty bun. ‘Certainly’ Nott kept to his usual position whenever we indulge in sport - which was guarding the cake in the company of less forthright gels than Miss March Pascal. 

Forgotten Ink

I found today a picture I scarce remember drawing, and one that at four foot in length I bloody ought to! This is but a small bit of it, it’s all sort of like this but there’s so much more. It’s not new either, though I can’t place exactly when. It’s not like I draw so much I’d forget doing something, and this isn’t some quick sketch clearly. Pencils still there with the ink and so an unlikely unfinished thing, which is odd too as I never not-finish things, yet now I’ve moved on in style – I will have to accept that one thing I never will. So here it is, evidence I am mortal after all, oh the frailty of our now shared condition.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

As If By Magic (no more Shopkeeper to appear)

After fifty years trading the door shut today for the last time on the Costume Shop in Putney. Made famous in the early 1970s for the scandal involving the-then Chairman of the Labour Party the right-honourable Mr Benn, the Costume Shop has otherwise been one of those stalwarts of London life. Here and very much at the time the centre of a vibrant alternative scene, the News Of The World’s exposure of the so-called ‘seedy underbelly of Putney’ only attracted an outpouring of others who wished to experiment with being a clown, a chef or a knight in red armour. Though almost always a cowboy, or a spaceman.
It was here that that the system arose whereby a man looking for a particular adventure could advertise quietly by the colour and the pocket from which he wore his hanky. Red meaning skin diver, orange a wizard, green for the deep-sea diver, and light blue for a blow job. For example.
“It’s the interweb,” said the Shopkeeper. Indeed, and as is becoming the case the high street suffers from advances in online shopping. They couldn’t package it, the service was personal, “We’re a fucking magic shop. We rode high on the Potter boom, got sloppy. The kids today they don’t want to pay for their costumes, for their magic adventures, for their high energy disco. We got complaints. I mean - course you can’t get Wifi as a fucking caveman."
Or it seems, a muffin.    

New Pencil: Bryant & May


A wartime Bryant & May from Chris Fowler's excellent series (which I'll cover here when the next book is out, oh yes). There's a comic too on the way illustrated rather wonderfully by Keith Page. For more on either, each or both: http://www.peculiarcrimesunit.com/

Tuesday 14 June 2011

The RSC, Blake's 7 (Ages of Man), and Paul Darrow

I’ve been sent tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Blake’s 7 (Ages of Man). It’s not the first time sci-fi has tackled Shakespeare of course. Most famously the classic Forbidden Planet is taken almost entirely from his last play The Tempest, wherein Prospero opens a comic shop in Denmark Street (remade in '91 as Propero's Comics). But now and the favour is being returned, for it is Blake’s 7 that is being taken and given the RSC treatment this summer.
Villa: Paul Darrow, a shot! Of his hand a ruin thou hast made!
Paul Darrow: Alas, t’was his head for which I aimed!
The cast is impressive, with the role of Sir Roger Blake taken by Sir Ian McKellen, Queen Servalina - Dame Judi Dench, with (and most excitingly for fans) Paul Darrow reprising his role of Paul Darrow from the original.
Gan: Where then are these goodly men?
Villa: I think thou look’st at them!
Paul Darrow: Alas!
A long production at eight hours, the interval between Acts III and IV sees Blake vanish entirely. Indeed this foreshadows the final moments when tricked by typical Shakespearian bluff, lies and a certain amount of cross-dressing Dame Paul Darrow executes Blake. The Queen’s Beefeaters arrive, the crew are gunned down and in a moment of true drama the curtain falls on Paul Darrow as stepping over the assassinated Blake he raises his pistol to face them, probably smirking. The lights are snuffed. A shot rings out.
Blake’s 7 (Ages of Man) is set to run from June 7th to August 21st, at the Paul Darrow Theatre, Paul Darrow-On-Avon.
Pictured: Paul Darrow

Monday 13 June 2011

Yateley renamed 'Hilary Dwyer'. Flashers, Glue Sniffers and Oliver

It’s nice when there’s good news and amongst all the war, rampage and crosswords that normally fill us with woe I spied in the paper today that the increasingly grotty town of Yateley (Hampshire) is to be renamed Hilary Dwyer. Hilary Dwyer the star of 1968s The Witchfinder General has long been a place of outstanding natural beauty and it is doubtless hoped that Yateley will follow.
Associated with the Gunpowder plot, Yateley was for centuries a village on the old Reading road whose charm was only partially dented by being adopted as the headquarters of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Named as an associate of Slough on BBCs The Office, Yateley was and overnight forced to become just that. Toyshops, sweet shops and bear-baiting suppliers were all grubbed up in the name of Gervais and replaced with row upon row of shitty little fast food takeaways. None of them any good. Soon and inevitably the high street was swarming with spivs from the last war, thieves from Oliver, and every single rejected contestant from Big Brother (final 100) for every year, ever, having a fight, and standing about fake-tanning studios like they were opium dens. Also, there are opium dens.
Yateley was more recently famous as the retirement hotspot for flashers we were warned about as kids in the 1970s and who a bit muddled now stalk each other a dozen at a time on the village green. I’m told the sound of stiffened macs recalls a tea clipper which long becalmed catches an unexpected trade wind.
Perhaps because of this, and all the glue sniffing that again we were told about but no one ever did, Yateley Town Council has made the bold move to adopt some of the magic of Hilary Dwyer and starting with the town’s major industrial point, the (now) Hilary Dwyer Recycling Centre. The HDRC is Europe’s biggest recycler of poor quality pornography left under hedges and in railway sidings.
So there’s that going for it.   

Extract of Ink

Saturday 11 June 2011

St. Sepulchre's Watch, Nightsoil and the Resurrection Men

It was pointed out to me recently that London’s nightsoil (whom back here in March, in the piece on the old Necropolis Railway, I’d postulated had been killed in the 60s) are not entirely gone from the capital. I confess I’d taken the news from Mike Hodge’s 1971 production of Camberwell, where the last was famously held up for ridicule by the Richardson gang. I knew that they had prospered in the old railway that took the dead to Brookwood Cemetery, and knew they’d been driven out when the station took a hit in the war. I’ve got a lot of family came from round there, Lambeth and especially the music halls so I knew the tales from very young. My Granda indeed used to delight in frightening me as he showed me south London with stories of horror and gruesome gossip, most especially about the nightsoil.
So I was delighted to learn that three at least remain, albeit north of the river.
Pictured is the Watch House for St. Sepulchre’s. This is in Giltspur Street, close on to St. Pauls. It was built to protect the dead from the resurrection men back in the 1700s. Then and you might know that cadavers for dissection could only come from executed murderers and the need far outstripped demand. A good body could fetch £50, and foremost amongst the fiends doing the digging were the nightsoil. The provision for these ‘grey friars’ as the watch were and are commonly called (not from any link to abbey or even vestment but rather because the former method to prevent such robbery were sets of metal bars called mortsafes, and most famously in Grayfriars churchyard, though that distant in Edinburgh) remain still today. Their wages paid from a great many devotions and their duties legal and by ancient charter. Indeed the three grey friars are one of the few private bodies legally able to go armed in the City – albeit with the weapons of the day, and the exact weapons of the day so that blunderbuss and pistol are determinedly maintained.
The irony that the grey friars now are nightsoil, tickles me. I checked in case of an obvious windup but yes, it seems to be true and indeed I’ve an open invite to drop in. This is rather flattering as the Watch House is a haunt for everyone that works the city, and at night. They were hesitant on the phone until I mentioned I was Bill Vose’s grandson, when they warmed perceptively.
I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Tea, Sympathy and Ornella Muti


The vicar came round this afternoon, which was nice, and as we sat and chatted to one another in our best Alan Bennett over milky tea and a nice digestive he tried to recruit me. I don’t mind this sort of thing. I was baptised and confirmed as a youngster, by the Bishop of Winchester no less for the second. I’ve definitely fallen from the path but the more some people slate off Christians the more I feel inclined to dust off the old jumble-sale attending trousers. Nice people in my experience and hey, back when I helped out at the Big Issue it was the local church whose drop-in centre we used whilst they fed the homeless. So you know what, I like the church – and screw you iReason! There, see what you made me do? Exclamation mark. Man...
...But no. And here in Tolly Maw then I was quite excited to find out that the vicar was Roger Delgado. Doubtless keen to tempt me into devilry (the like of which I’d have had to turn down on account of my back). He laughed that off and I thought for one horrifying moment that he was going to suggest Cthulhu, like Petri down the little shop goes in for, with his lisp. No again and much to my surprise he explained that he, the vicar, was also the Emperor of the planet Mongo.
‘The Reverend Ming?’
‘The Merciless.’
Not Roger then. Which was lovely and yes Peter Wyngard was his curate, just like in the film. I’d suggest you must have seen the film. Everyone has. The one where you recall Queen do the soundtrack - unlike Highlander where you never do. So that when Highlander is on tele you think ‘Gosh, the first film was actually jolly good, I’ve not seen it in..?’
Yeah, there you are. Right there. It’s A Kind Of Magic. Brrrrrrhhh.
Reverend Ming goes on and steals all my biscuits and I think I might have to break out the Bourbons, and I can’t for the life of me work out why anyone would want to follow Ming the Merciless?  He’s going on about destroying this world, destroying that world, the shocking state of the tribute from the wet James Bond and Mr Shouty (this one with wings), the organ fund - and I can’t see it. I can see why Peter Wyngard does it. He gets the metal mask and he was looking ropey as Jason King even back in 1972. So much for Mr Winegum. What about the rest of us?

Well there’s always Ornella Muti.
‘Fah lo Suee, she who is as beautiful as she evil. Or is that deadly?’
‘That’s the daughter of the Devil Doctor,’ protests the Reverend Ming. ‘I’m not Fu Manchu.’
We agree to differ.
He’s not Roger Delgado either (and I tell him to come back when he is).  

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Glastonbury, Surveying and the Great Escape

It’s June and so as with most years the excitement is building for another Glastonbury I’m not going to go to. I’ve not been able to go to Glastonbury for ten years now, eleven even which is a shame since I previously went with the same bunch every year, back in the 1930s anyway. Then and before there were walls, security, food stalls, tie-dyed shirts, music or nylon tents we gathered to sing as we hiked with our canvass backpacks in a manner that would later see three out of five of us dead in Spain. Back then and as you can see by the photograph, since this was twenty years before music had been invented we contented ourselves instead with a little light surveying.
I suppose though that it is the festival in later years that you will be more aware of, and indeed which whilst I am excited enough to produce a teaspoon of wee I am as I say – not going. But right now I am as much there as anyone that is going, so for the moment at least I sort of am going.
Ow.
I went for years and back when you could get tickets the week before, and without being inspected by former members of the STASI. Now they use their organisational skills and intensity regarding borders to demand full cavity searches, in advance, and most likely with your own web cam. I usually did pay too. I might have enjoyed any and varied free festivals but this was blinking Glastonbubble and once you’re up on that hill, looking down and breathing that pollen ripe-air nothing bad there lurked.
Admittedly I once caught fire in that top field but people kindly put me out. True in a fitting hat and stick I was teased at by witches with designs upon my youthful limbs – for a soup I have to presume. Again and yes it was on a couple of occasions no more a music festival than the two mile reserve camp for the Somme. Well also and I rarely went anywhere near the main stages. Bit crowded and all that. But it was Glastonbury and I remember Glastonbury - at Glastonbury I’m loads younger and much better looking. There’re less children demanding face painting, or at least they’re not mine. And playing a game where starting in the morning with a full bottle of cider one has to keep it full, from whatever can be scrounged, all day, seemed a tremendously spiffing idea.
I bought a ticket because I was ever unlucky at breaking in. When our first tunnel collapsed Ives went crazy and was shot down on the wire. Of three hundred of us making a single play only about a hundred of us made it – and I was almost to the Tiny Tea Tent before I was caught by replying to two simple words, ‘Good luck’.
So it’s Glastonbury and I’m excited and whilst I’m not going, I’m just as much there as you who are, for the now at least.
Pictured – Glastonbury 1936 (left-to-right), Rob Nott, me, Simon Lindsay, Maurice Thomas and Jerry Taylor. Click for larger picture.   

Monday 6 June 2011

The Sound of Children Laughing

They’re playing outside in Tolly Maw, laughing and chanting which means that someone is having a very bad time of it. I mean to say, but listen -

These are the scissor girls, these are the boys
They cut up your blankets and cut up your toys
They cut as they giggle and cut up that noise
These are the scissor girls, these are the boys

These are the needles and these are the pins
They stitch up your face where the scissors made grins
They hide inside packets, and bags and in tins
These are the needles and these are the pins

These are the old men with old curses and knives
They saw at the stitches urged on by their wives
They thieve at your days to stretch out their lives
These are the old men with old curses and knives

These are the flies slick sticky as tar
They creep and they feed on the puss from your scar
They’ll find out your stink no matter how far
You run from the flies slick sticky as tar

You’ll rot in your room, your fingers fall off
No dancing, no drinking, no sleeping, no scoff
You daren’t cry aloud and you daren’t even cough
You’ll rot in your room, your fingers fall off

You’ll die where you lie ignored on the floor
Unless to the kitchen, unless to the drawer
Unless then the scissors to your stumps you will gnaw
You’ll die where you lie ignored on the floor

You are the scissor girls, you are the boys
You cut up their blankets and cut up their toys
You cut as you giggle and cut up that noise
You are the scissor girls, you are the boys 

Random Pencil

Sunday 5 June 2011

Chas McGill, Cem Jones, Clogger, Nicky, Audrey - and me.

Published in 1975 The Machine Gunners was one of the first books I read for myself, cover to cover. I recall being curled up in the Big Chair at my grandparent’s bungalow in Cowley where I had likely been deposited for a long weekend. Both having been in their forties when they had my Dad they were never sure what to do with a young boy and so were doubtless relieved that I spent the time so deeply absorbed. And absorbed I was.
Commonly regarded as a children’s book, there’s nothing of Enid Blyton here. Set in what could have been the then (to me) foreign land of Tyneside, it is World War II and Chas McGill has the second best collection of war trophies in Garmouth. Shrapnel, nose cones from incendiary bombs and all picked at from fresh bomb sites. For this is not some rural idyll and no matter how the grown-ups try and shelter the wee’uns from the war it’s too immediate, too obvious – with bombing raids and armed trawlers here with so many important ports and of course the North Sea. And this is what makes the book a great book, because this is the war and not some Boy’s Own Adventure. This is a story where from a crashed bomber Chas and his grisly friend Cem manage to thieve the eponymous machine gun. To fight when the inevitable invasion comes. And much as my generation grew up expecting Nuclear War, so too is there no doubt here that the Nazis will come - and any day now.
This is an England where people can disappear, and they do. Whether runaways or simply assumed to have been blown to bits. Where Chas’ own Grandpa still dreams of the ‘Jarmin’ from the first War he killed. And where the adults, bumbling, secretive or useless show different sides when confusion arrives, bells are rung and Garmouth is hit with the expectation of the horror to come.
Robert Westall paints vividly his characters in a story where never speaking down to his presumed audience – what would now be termed Young Adult – shows them a different time, and without speeches and leaders, without dead heroes but where and never unbelievably a small group of early teens prepare to die fighting an invader. What that says is never actually said, rather and like the best of stories it’s there waiting for when the reader grows older and perhaps by chance remembers a long weekend curled up on the Big Chair, in the bungalow of his grandparents (for whom the war was not a story).
It was all a little different from the Warlord and Battle comics I was otherwise reading at the time.     

Saturday 4 June 2011

Reality Show Outrage! Dr Brian Cox in Neil Oliver Lara Croft Battering


Dr Brian Cox

I was woken up at no-such-o-clock this morning by the police, which is all rather hip and London of me only here in Tolly Maw we don’t have any police. We have a sort of militia or thief taker whose name I’ve yet to learn but who carries a stick, a pump torch and from what I hear thinks Batman comics are porn. And it was not he prowling the night as a bat, but proper police with flashing lights and chase-me sirens. All because of a domestic, and all because of reality television.
I honestly did not know that E4’s reality show The Big Bang Theory was filmed here, and up at the old Observatory in the Irritables. Things turned nasty, and from what little I could make out as a concerned citizen shuffling closer in a dressing gown (with others, to get a look at any blood) it was because Dr Brian Cox had said ‘Bazinga’ to Neil Oliver one too many times.

Neil Oliver Off Of Coast

Cox the girl-eyed expert of Magic Things Far Away (and more famously still the former singer with All About Eve in his youth) had just completed his studies into which of them had the most effect on women between the ages of 35-55. Oliver (presenter of Coast, grave robber and fighter for free-eee-eee-dom) on learning it was apparently Cox (famously former singer with The Eurythmics) beat him half wretched with a twelve-inch rubber Lara Croft action figure. Dr Cox (famously former drummer with Lieutenant Pigeon) managed to reveal his joke with his catch phrase ‘Bazinga’, but only through a wealth of broken teeth.
Neil Oliver was cautioned to appear before Tolly Maw assizes on charges of possession of fiery-yet-dead eyes, and bullying.
Housewives across Britain having witnessed live the floppy-haired tussle, tonight ejaculated. 

Friday 3 June 2011

Peter Griff and I, the 'Nam

Mate, the crap piled up so fast in Cheltenham you needed wings to stay above it.

In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refused to shine
People tell me, there ain't no use in tryin'

The sound of the iron butterflies never ceases, Wessex and Westland all whirling blades and the thud-thud-thud as they pass overhead. The lock-ins don’t lock and tarts stand openly in the Regent Arcade, this pirate radio war with the sound right up so that soldiers and time-servers can learn how they’re doing. When it’s not hot, it’s raining. When it’s not raining, it will be soon. The air is the colour of a sputtering valve, the glass sooty. Here in the ‘Nam, Cheltenham, fortified and held against an enemy that owns all the land. Out there and Charles rides and roams, in the green these pleasant pasture seen. In the green, that most unpleasant land Charles watches and Charles hunts. The snort of the horse the baying of hounds. Invisible in their hunting pink and Charles knows the land in a way the corporals never can. The Animals are our backing music. We’re low over the ‘Shire and the streaks from the arrows of desire are painting the night, gold, divine as they ripple from the rocket drums of the iron butterflies.

We gotta get out of this place!
If it's the last thing we ever do ...
We gotta get out of this place,
'cause girl, there's a better life ... for me and you

This colonel? He's barmy, mate! He's worse than bonkers. He's evil. It's bloody' pagan idolatry. Look around you. Strewth! He's barmy... I ain't afraid of all them bloody' skulls and altars and nonsense. I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn't be able to make it to Heaven. But now? Bugger! I mean, I don't care where it goes, as long as it ain't here. So wossit you wanna do? I'll kill the wanker.

The horror, the horror. 

Art: John Wynne Hopkins.