Tuesday 31 July 2012

Yeah, Thanks London

Bloody ha, ha London. Yeah, I know it was you.
Living right out in the country now, the sort of proper rural setting where we don’t tell you ‘not to stray from the road’ because there aren’t any bloody roads, you can imagine our surprise at the events that have probably been nicely covered over by your Olympics. There we were doing the usual rural things; leaning on a gate, wearing smocks, with a cow, whilst the morris dancers capered for beer, milkmaids in bonnets, all murdering hikers. We all had west-country accents. On a hill Kate Bush was calling to Heathcliff. Eating curly kale, with a spoon, made out of a turnip, with shit on us, on a warm day, whilst poets flew here and there buoyed up by their big shirts.
Poor Kate was tumbled down the slope as the bloody hill split only to go and disgorge great lines of townies with smudged faces and caps on! Before we knew it the arseholes were pulling back the primeval grass and dragging off our ancient hedgerows so as to reveal the urban sprawl beneath. If that wasn’t bad enough all these chimneys slowly rose from the ground whilst already-molten iron was swimming about us without so much as an ‘excuse me’.
And the drumming, the constant, bloody drumming.
Before we knew it there was Voldemort, looming around like some colossal puppet.
Which is when all the Mary Poppins turned up.
You’d have thought that would have made the news? But oh no, the bloody Olympics. If it doesn’t happen in London it doesn’t happen at all.
Bloody typical.        

Saturday 28 July 2012

Christopher Fowler Interview

Keith Page draws 'em so much better...

Christopher Fowler is a fine crime writer, and so he ought to be as one of the judges for the yearly Golden Dagger Award. It’s been more than twenty years since I first came upon his books where with a little money in my pocket I bought Roofworld and spent a fine summer day reading it. At the time in the Elephant and living the counter-culture lifestyle it was a book that appealed to many of us, what with me and mine being rather the dregs of the city but surviving rather well – and living as I did at the time on the fifth floor. So too for the love of London, a hobby horse of my own going back to my Lambeth roots and my granda Bill showing me the city inside and out.
I was pleased to find a couple of years later another book by the same author, this one Rune. Then onwards to Calabash towards Bryant & May, the elderly detectives of the Peculiar Crimes Unit who had appeared in the background on a number of occasions and now are about to see the tenth novel in their own series where the crimes step in and out of a London both contemporary and folkloric.
A year ago I spoke to Chris on the phone whilst passing through London, to be told ‘I’m in a meeting with Patrick Stewart, but I can’t really talk about it.’ Shortly thereafter and in one of his many decent London pubs he said, ‘So this project with Patrick Stewart,’ followed by, ‘Now where did I put my wallet?’
I went to the bar…   
More recently and Chris kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the Slide. This is rather apt as in many ways the Slide is here because of Chris. I was one of the winners of his Campaign For Real Fear and his fellow judge Maura McHugh seemed rather surprised I had no web presence when gathering up our details. Meanwhile Chris had a blog. And if he could produce regularly I thought, why not I?
So then.
You were born in Greenwich and it’s fair to say that you are very much the London-boy. Much of your work is centered upon London, the city you know so well – but what is the romance of it, what is London to you?
It hasn’t been preserved, with old and new towns, so it has mythologized parts of itself, with just enough left to show hints of what once was. My father remembered Paternoster Row, the street of bookshops behind St Paul’s that was bombed flat in the Blitz, and my aunts recalled waiting for the drawbridges around the Isle Of Dogs to rise (actually I remember those too) but they’re gone now, and I find myself going back to try and reboot this amorphous city of memories.
Would London be a sibling, a parent or a lover?
A stern, patrician, unforgiving parent.
Comparing your memoir Paper Boy with Psychoville the parallels are clear. Whilst of course you draw on what you know, how much was Psychoville an exorcism of that period in your life? And dare I ask, given the similarities how did your family take the story?
Actually, ‘Psychoville’ is a melding of my story and my younger brother’s. In a way it was a dry run for ‘Paperboy’,but I loved the idea of visiting unstoppable revenge on the soulless commuter towns that sprang up in the 70s/80s. I’m not sure what my family thought; they were a bit blasé about my writing career by this time; ‘Oh, he makes things up. It’s not a proper job.’ Etc.
Another work that concerns childhood is Calabash, or if not childhood, then youth certainly. At sixteen Kay is another with an unhappy life but here he escapes into an exotic land of the mythical east. I confess Calabash is my favourite of your novels, but it does stand aside from the rest of your stories. The escape is gentler here than in Psychoville, warmer perhaps, and whilst it is hardly children’s-fiction would it be fair to say it shares or draws something from that genre? Calabash is what I would recommend to those grown but who enjoyed Philip Pullman, to clarify.
It’s my favourite too, and I’m gutted that it flopped; it was wrongly sold at existing fans of my work and is the odd volume out (apart from my children’s novel ‘The Curse of Snakes’). I tend to return to the Calabash theme; the moment when you must put away your imagination and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, a break-point that appears in coming-of-age novels. I was thinking specifically of ‘Billy Liar’,the UK equivalent of ‘Catcher In The Rye’ and one of my favourite books. What I like best about the book is its central paradox; the more time hero Kay spends lost in his imagination, which heals him, the more he loses his ability to survive as an adult. I’d love to get it republished and read by teens, as it’s a timeless subject.
What then did you read as a boy, that which would be considered children’s literature?
I’m not sure I ever did read specifically children’s literature, although certainly books like ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea’ were standard works for British kids. Jules Verne featured heavily for boys born in the 1950s.
In Paperboy much is rightly made of the library. Whereas I grew up buried in books the library was still my first and easiest place-away-from-home. Up here certainly it’s a social place, a meeting hall almost and especially for parents. A chum of mine would have it though that libraries are little more than dinosaur zoos set up as a sop for Edwardian philanthropy.
Libraries are under threat in many places, yet with the growth of the virtual ability for people to own every book, ever, and then some, what place do you believe libraries hold in these more modern times?
A huge place, if they are reinvented properly. A few weeks ago I gigged at two libraries, one in Deptford (a deprived, predominantly black neighborhood) the other in Islington (wealthy middle class and bookish).
The Islington gig was a disaster – hardly anyone there, an old-school library in a rundown Victorian edifice that virtually defies you to enter it. Deptford’s new library is a blinging golden box in the middle of its main shopping street, and was full of kids reading and using its multi-media facilities – this is the much derided ‘Idea Store’ rebrand and clearly works.
You finished school on the Friday, started work on the Monday. Eschewing university or polytechnic you went straight into (I believe) marketing or advertising? As an avowed film freak (and indeed the title of the second as-yet unreleased part of your memoir) was this a particular role, or a route to your later working as part of the British film industry?
No, it was my route to being a writer. I had Oxford-level grades but I wanted to start learning the craft of writing, not its classical history, which I felt I could go back to later. So it proved; a great many of my heroes had trained in advertising and journalism, and it gave me an invaluable five years of understanding precision.
I left when I’d learned enough, and set up a company.
Since there still was a British film industry at the time what was it then that led to its subsequent demise?
It had already fallen to its knees, the victim of targeted destruction from the US, where vertical integration meant they were able to buy up all exhibition outlets and own the entire production chain. Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous dumping of the tax break for shooting in British studios was the final nail in the coffin.
What was there at that time, what genius or madness that no longer flourishes?
We had a profoundly eccentric view of the world that started in the 1950s with the Ealing comedies (watch ‘Passport to Pimlico’) and blossomed spectacularly in the 1960s with everything from ‘Oh What A Lovely War!’ to ‘The Devils’.
As a part of The Creative Partnership which film do you recall most fondly as having worked on?
I have happy memories of working with John Cleese on ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, and being on set almost every day of the Bond film ‘Goldeneye’.
And naturally enough, which with the most shaking of hands about the tumbler late at night?
The latter, drinking late with the stunt team in Monte Carlo.
When I first saw shots of free-running and parkour the first novel of yours I read, Roofworld, jumped to mind. I’ve seen shots of scripts developed from the novel sufficient in combined weight to brain a small rhino yet it’s lived in development hell long enough to have paid off the mortgage there and now rent out rooms to younger scripts. How close did we actually come to seeing (what is arguably) your most cinematic work on the big screen?
Very close indeed. We had a director, start date and cast from Paramount. To this day I have no idea why it was pulled from schedules. I’ve been astoundingly unlucky on that front.
I say ‘arguably’ since this year’s Hell Train is openly the film that Hammer or Amicus never made. As a writer you’re a grafter. It’s a job and you don’t seem to spend much time in a big shirt decrying the elusive muse. Hell Train is a fun book – and I mean that as a compliment – so how much of it was a chance for you too to change gear? To just plain enjoy writing something almost for your own enjoyment?
All my books are honestly written for me to enjoy, with the exception of ‘Snakes’, which I hated every second of. Hell Train actually had a tortuous not-at-all-fun birth as a screenplay. I’m glad it doesn’t show!
Spanky, your novel with the cover (and you know which one) set to make nice straight guys more interesting to interesting women – concerns a Faustian pact made by the protagonist Martyn with the eponymous demon. Now, is Spanky Martyn?
Of course! Almost filmed – again – by Guillermo del Toro, it was pipped to the post by ‘Fight Club’, a much better film than a book.
Let’s turn to Bryant & May.
August sees the release of the latest book in the series featuring elderly detectives John May and Arthur Bryant utterly failing to find bodies by riverbanks or to waffle on about their alcoholism or broken marriages. There are no running gun battles but rather mysteries ranging from both traditional locked-room to more modern urban fears- balanced by the two protagonists themselves being between them something of both the old and the new. Bryant & May have been in the background to your novels for some time now (Rune, Soho Black, and Disturbia) before with the Water Room realising their own series. The Invisible Code now the tenth you’ve said that you’re now working on a more conventional airport brick. My question is, won’t that piss off Arthur?
Not really, because the airport brick inevitably has turned out to be deeply quirkly, hinging on an outrageous slight-of-hand. But there’s no humour in it, something I consciously planned for this.
Fans often like to read more of the same. You’re fortunate that you’ve been able to skip about the genres a fair bit and the fans of John and Arthur are likely to be happy enough to sit with a pint whilst the blockbuster takes wings knowing they’ll be back soon enough, but do you envision a time when John or Arthur pass away? There’ve been a couple of scares, and they’re getting on a bit now (bless)?
I answered this in a panel yesterday. It’s fiction; they can live forever. Although I love playing with the idea of age, which comes up again in the new book.
The Leicester Square Vampire was first mentioned (to my knowledge) in Roofworld. There a former case for the more conventional DCI Hargreaves, but later one of B&M’s before they rose to act as the pin for the Fowler milieu. I admit I was a little surprised by what came of that in Ten Second Staircase, always thinking it would be their last case, or the one ever unsolved. Was this a time when Ten Second Staircase might well have been the last B&M novel?
Short answer; no. I just wanted to put the bloody case out of the way, and it was useful as a back-story.
What I like about the novels is that the relationship between John and Arthur is not laboured. Touches like their habit of walking the river and John’s estranged family are present but there’s no lengthy inner voice worrying about feelings and drinking problems, no needy characters being more important than the story (despite the story in many ways being them). Nonetheless, and between you and I, is Arthur gay?
No, he follows the classic Golden Age line of having once been in love (I think I pushed her off a bridge) and now dedicated to nothing but work.
A number of people have asked about earlier cases for John and Arthur. I’m not sure how reluctant you are with this since their age and perspective is fundamental to the theme of the cases. Full Dark House was as much to do with the beginnings of what later books portray so much as the pair, but do you worry that stories concerning the 1960s and 70s will be a bit like finding out your grandparents were raving hedonists and not just nice old people that came up with the Airfix of a birthday? That a reader might not quite look at them the same way again?
Good point – I don’t think they’d fit very comfortably in the B&M timeline because they would have to do very sixties things. There are a few short stories featuring them in different time periods (I may do a collection eventually) and the graphic novel features a 1968 story.
The Casebook for Bryant & May is out in October, a graphic novel from what little I’ve seen lovingly illustrated by Keith Page. You’re a comic fan, and there was Menz Insana back in the 90s, what was it about this format that you found to be particularly useful for a B&M case that you could not perhaps have realised as pure prose?
That’s precisely it – comics require a totally different approach, and ‘Casebook’ allowed me to produce a pitch-perfect parody, if you like, of the kind of very British comics I had as a child. The tone is completely different, much whackier.
And speaking of comics, and that photo of them all around you – Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen?
Come on – there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Lois Lane in ‘Paperboy’!
Peter O’Donnell is said to have joked that he was in love with Modesty (Blaise) and friends with Willie (Garvin). They live and work fairly close to you, so how would you describe your relationship with each when you meet up for a fictional pint?
Bryant and May are me and Jim Sturgeon, my business partner, whom I miss dreadfully (he died of lung cancer). For a while it became a way of staying in touch with him, but the stories grew away as I let him go. Still, I’m May and my ramshackle, rude side would be Bryant.
Lastly, living as you do in a glass lair atop and overlooking King’s Cross where even the carpets are transparent and your cat invisible – where the hell do you put the bodies?
I used to think they were at my house in France, where all my other stuff went, but I sold that. I’ve bought a very dark, cluttered place in Barcelona now, so I’ll ship the corpses there.
My thanks to Chris Fowler for the interview. Bryant & May and the Invisible Code is out on August 2nd. The Casebook of Bryant & May in mid-October.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Seb! Baby!

From the desk of his Infinite Loathliness
Snapwrist, Excitable Lord Infernal
Fourth Circle of Hell
Above the chip shop

Seb! Baby! Love what you’re doing!
The boss was delighted to read of the flag furore. He passed comment on it this morning, or at least we are assuming such since he was passing a stool it was about you. We thought you’d done well enough what with no one having any tickets (and those that do paying through the ring for the tickets there aren’t) but your work on the whole security thing has already been framed up as an example to us all. Well, you’re framing up anyone that hasn’t ducked slimily enough yet. Having all those troops sent in has left half Britain convinced it is all part of a coup, and most of those hoping it’s true. All we need is for them to come out on strike and its pissy pants from laughing down here! What with the only person with a gun in twelve miles of the opening ceremony not facing redundancy being the guy with the starting pistol it should be quite the promised spectacle.
We’re all looking forward to what you’ve got planned next. The ceremonial flag-burning ceremony is a master stroke, and the compulsory arm bands in the swimming just sets the scene for all the other health and safety shenanigans you sent us the memo about. Tennis balls for the shot put, stabilisers in the cycling. The relay replaced with the egg and spoon, and the decathlon being reduced to eight disciplines due to austerity – genius!
McDonalds winning the case to make sure that even the athletes have to live solely on their muck is only rivalled by your plans to nick all the Americans shorts and make them compete in their pants. Nice balance there.
Seb, you’re doing a great job. Everyone here is terrifically proud of you and in view of this I’m pleased to inform you that we’ve managed to pull all the right strings for the announcement at the end of the games that rather than Rio for 2016 it’s going to be London again after all.
Love to Steve Ovett,


P.S. I don’t like to make a big thing out of this but when can I have Boris back? I know it’s only a Boris, but it was meant to be a loan and things don’t just get hilariously walked into by themselves you know.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

News Of The World 'Kitten Bagging'

More spanners...

The Crown Prosecution Service (Britain’s legal body responsible for the decision as to whether a case has sufficient substance to face trial – or something – all I know is that their spokesman is tedious once-children’s favourite Noddy, in a Judge Dredd uniform) has decided that the News of the World does indeed have charges to face in the never-ending kitten-bagging scandal.
As you doubtless know (and how could you have missed it) early evidence that reporters on the former Sunday rag had indulged in kitten-bagging was soon revealed to extend right to the nearly-top. Former senior-executives Andy Brooks and Rebekah Coulson were as rightly outraged as they were surprised that a bunch of hacks (paid to peddle errant nonsense and demonstrate the sort of honour normally only found in men with thin moustaches standing over a railway line when given the task of looking after an heiress) far from nobly taking the bullet in return for their being sacked instead grassed them up. Indeed everyone up, anyone at all, for anything. And this case for the media lovesuck that was kitten-bagging.
For those of you for whom ‘news’ was only ever found in that ‘of the world’ kitten-bagging is the technique whereby a reporter follows a story with the aid of a pillow case containing two kittens and four spanners. The kitten-bag thus made is used to chase children about Great Ormond Street Hospital to the sound of an ice-cream van’s melodic chimes. On Christmas Day. When the Dr. Who special is on. Dressed only in a necklace made from decapitated dollies, Peppa Pig wellies, a flying helmet, and an overlarge Frankie Says t-shirt. Coughing violently whilst demanding to know in a pirate-voice ‘where are the peados’.
Charges are said to relate to allegations of kitten-bagging between October 2000 and August 2006, with the CPS stating that more than six hundred people were victims, some of whom were almost certainly celebrities. To bring charges the CPS must be satisfied that prosecution is in the public interest, and that there is some reasonable expectation of a jury being convinced of the evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. Also whether kitten-bagging is actually a criminal act, and which crime exactly that might be.
Contention rests on the interpretation of instructions foolishly committed to email by the defendants whereby they allegedly told reporters to ‘find out the dirt using kitten-bagging, with the spanners, and Peppa Pig wellies, and don’t forget the pirate voice. We love that bit.’ Rather, that just as might be issued by some creepy villain in a volcano lair the phrase was meant to only convey intent, not process.
Already the RSPCS has come out to forcefully demand that the law is changed to protect spanners from needless scratching at the paws of tiny kittens; however briefly.

Sunday 22 July 2012

London 2012 Alan Games

My coercion into participation in the nearly-here nearly-here Olympics has already been documented but after a dig down the back on the easy chair today I’ve just found out that a throwaway comment following it has had serious repercussions. Involved as I am I’ve been getting the round-robin tweets being used to develop ideas and solve any problems in less than 140 characters, and this morning I learned that we were exactly £3.12 short. I rather mockingly offered to cover that, only to be electronically jumped upon for an immediate payment! Not only a payment, but one made in cash. I found it, handed it over to the courier already suspiciously revving up outside the window and thought nothing of it other than to fire back an answer jokingly demanding that the whole event now had to be renamed in my honour.
So sorry, but welcome to the London 2012 Alan Games.
I should have thought that one through, eh?
I’ve never been too sure about the name ‘Alan’. If you type a bit too fast and loose it becomes ‘Aslan’, but even without the implication of lionhood it remains the sort of name that comes with a pipe and a cardigan proud of its leather buttons. Now Morgan I’ve got no problem with. Morgan is a straight up sort of name. It’s a name with a decent jaw and in Berlin makes one sound like a noir detective or one half of a fallen angel. Captain Morgan might never come home, but Major Morgan could put out a good tune. You’ll rarely find a character called Morgan being anything other than upright and competent. Alan is at best a mythological winged serpent in Tinguian folklore (but more famously one half ending with ‘Partridge’). It doesn’t even shorten well, being either the sort of lane where bad things happen or the sound you make when hitting your thumb with a hammer.
If you think that’s being too flippant then firstly – you’re on the wrong site, but more importantly it’s a name you’ll soon grow sick of. Because as I say, welcome to the London 2012 Alan Games. And to make sure it sticks it’s being retro-fitted to myth and history, to the original Alan Games held in honour of the gods at Mount Alan. No longer will there be Olympians, but a series of dedicated sports women and men who will hereafter be Alans. The plural, not the possessive. The sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic will have been the RMS Alan. The 1950s do-wop band will always have been The Alans. Maplin's Holiday Camp will boast of its Alan-size swimming pool. You will go and see exhibitions at the Kensington (Alan) 
Sadly for me this means I no longer actually own the name. And not wanting to pay for the privilege of using a moniker (or cheekily taking instead ‘Monica’) that I never really liked all that much anyway it’s been decided that I have to adopt whatever I’m more commonly called instead. Which is ‘Daddy’, which is a bit creepy on thinking about it. It’s worse for others than I, and to whom I hereby apologise. Especially to Canadian songstress and advocate of the term ironic, the now Is Morrisette.
So, I hope you’re all looking forward to formal opening of Alan?     

Saturday 21 July 2012

Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga, And Goldfish

Tilda Swinton is picking at the corpse of this year’s parade.
They have one every year here. The village is old, and the traditions follow, where by ancient folklore most of the village breakfast wetly in the Supreme Being & Templar to sit till lunch in modern pantomime finery laughing and shouting and throwing stones at crows. Tractors and drays pull carts whose wheels drop half the local farm in clods along the road, taking the children to the green to the sound of Lady Gaga. Three men without any sense of irony are blacked-up. One has lost his trousers. A woman left outside the pub cackles, crouched, knickers about her shoes, heels in a puddle of her own piss. Someone is a Spice Girl, he doesn’t seem sure as to which. And where a Rover drove into Michael Praed’s wall the engine is still turning whilst Tilda Swinton picks at a brain that just won’t be missed. There’s ignorance and anger all sticky about her chin.
It’s dreadful, awful, embarrassing and it will only get worse because those floats that have made the green are a part of the fair whose travelling stalls and too-bright lights won’t be missed. People throw wonky darts for prizes they don’t want. The lucky dip isn’t; everyone a winner and every winning a Meercat dolly given out free with online insurance, knocked off, nibbled at, but with a catchphrase. The head of Leslie Philips is pecked at by goldfish. Terry Thomas bloody but exhilarated sneers at the body; there can be only one.
There’ll be candyfloss and tasteless doughy buns for tea, the last hiding a single tinned frankfurter, both wet.
I’m locking the doors and closing the curtains.
Because today Tilda Swinton is picking at the corpse of this year’s parade.   

Friday 20 July 2012

The Kids Are All Right

Yeah, we were cool. Melvyn Hayes cool...

The first day of the summer holidays and the clouds clearly part of the same education system have packed in too for six weeks. They’re sitting there resting about the mountains to our south and with the kids out the sprouts too have been playing. Because that’s what sprouts do.
On a popular social network site this week I saw the same message a number of times as people I know shared it over from other friends I know, and again, and so forth. It mocked the current culture for children not taking risks and never playing outside. One of those that shared it with me then blathered on about his Xbox. Because in our day we crossed bomb sites and navigated the Limpopo, fought albino crododiles, and solved devilish mysteries before enjoying a slap up feed. Or at least we played outside a lot, and contrary to received wisdom so too do kids today. Kids are still kids. They still get muddy and don’t carry Tec9s. They have imagination, and verve, and believe me – far too much courage. Teenage girls still hang around bus stops and if teenage boys spend all day in their rooms with the curtains drawn they’re only telling you that they’re playing console games. There are doubtless still tearaways hoiking cars, but then so too did my late brother.
If we put down the young then we become our parents. And we’re not. My parents were bang on the right age to have seen Zeppelin, a lot, in their twenties – they didn’t. They went to cheese and wine dances and watched the news, and shouted at me to turn the bloody music down.
Grumpy old people now were probably grumpy middle-aged people then.
So don’t belittle the young, who have a lot of fun – just like we did. And don’t sneer at teenagers for being a bunch of wankers; because (without the comforting cotton wool of selective memory) so were we.
I’m being called. The sprouts want the jelly they made earlier in the tent they put up in the garden. Which is also a space ship, and a tunnel, and there are dinosaurs.
And it’s the summer holidays.
Lucky, lucky bastards.

Thursday 19 July 2012

By Jiminy!

And my axe!

I have to applaud the MCC today as they announce new rules to be imposed ahead of the next test series. It’s frankly a bit embarrassing to be an England supporter what with all this winning we’re doing in the cricket, no matter who we field. What (with at last count) just short of a thousand bowlers capable of winning matches and just about anyone to bat all day, the years of nodding gamely and showing what a good sport I am by applauding the better team seem all but over.
Cricket is the only sport I even half follow, and admittedly the internationals. I get too distracted when it’s on the radio and generally internationals are all that are shown on the highlights. I like spending the day just plain chilling right the hell down to cricket, I even like the stats and the history. But when they can cram a day into fifty odd minutes it’s actually rather exciting. Or rather, I find it so – and feel free to disagree because I’m not making you watch it.
But of late we’re winning all the time, in every form of the game. And I can’t remember much of a solid winning streak since dim memories as a youth (and that couched in the dust of memory that rarely recalls the bad bits of anything). And England are doing it... rather easily. It’s not right, it’s showing off, it’s not... it’s not cricket damn it!
Now of course I’m happy. It’s jolly nice to see the team win, please don’t get me wrong. But it’s not even close. Even in the short form of the game it feels like we’re not taking quite every wicket out of a sense of fair play whilst in return our batsmen go out and gamely knock up the runs whilst taking turns to be the one, possibly two men out. I feel like I ought to say sorry to someone because other teams come such a long way to play. It feels cruel that Strauss, Cook or Broad (because we of course have plenty of capable captains too) just saunter out there and taking hold of the other teams wrist slap them about the chops saying ‘why are you hitting yourself, why are you hitting yourself’. I’m not convinced the England team needs the other team’s dinner money, but Australia had to pay by cheque.
So new rules are coming into play. For the next six months every England team has to include at least three mythical characters and, in time for the Olympics, W. G. Grace with his yard wide bat. We have to bowl ten overs a day underhand, and the one-bounce one-catch rule is being brought in for the benefit of the visitors. Oh, and England have to bowl with a tennis ball.
And England will still win. Sort of squirming, and apologising, and being a bit ashamed about stealing their rival’s trousers (so they’ll have to play in their pants).

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Typing With Dinosaurs

Alf found my old typewriter this lunchtime.
He’d been digging about amongst the boxes, clutter and cobwebs that hide in terrified corners of my little house hoping for a rope-lighter and some plum jam he swore he’d put away for better days (and presumably for the next time he happened to find me livinh somewhere near Ypres). Alf found it very funny, because Alf is always very modern; albeit very modern in 1976. At best.
The stained little Olivetti portable still had the same ribbon so many times wound back and with me grabbing no more than a heel of bread and a pot of worried humus for lunch he tried to read back what had been written on it all those years ago. I learned to type on my dad’s big old typewriter and later a little Olivetti. I typed because thirty years ago there were fanzines and postal games, and turn reports to write – and how little then things have changed. The original laptop whose keys I’d pound, and probably because of which the keyboard I use now infuriates my family because almost all the keys are blank from constant use. Back then we’d sort of have the internet – letter columns in fanzines so a reply to a discussion would come every few months and the simple things we take for granted now, formatting and stuff-looking-nice would have been high science-fiction indeed. The very idea of this, this blog for example, would have been thought something that might be around with hover cars and skin-suits. Hell, they didn’t have anything like this in Logan’s Run or The Stainless Steel Rat so it would have been pretty alien technology at best.
But we forget how long ago that was. Thirty years. Thirty years before that and rock and roll was a devilish new invention. Thirty years ago when typing was something girls did in school (when girls learned how to be secretaries), and we sent things by post. But my, that was exciting! I used to bundle back from school at lunchtime to see if my turn report had turned up. Or if Jerry and others had written to plot and gossip, or to arrange meeting up – and which we still do to this day. Just more quickly, but somehow with more faff. The post was exciting. And of course it’s better now, obviously, but in some ways it’s a little too easy?
I learned to type on a manual typewriter and all my bad habits come from that.
And it’s a right bugger scraping the Tippex off my monitor every night.            

Monday 16 July 2012

Simon 'Pepper' Mint

Another quick sketch, it’s quite the testing challenge (and again from the same source).
G. D. Holbourne’s Simon ‘Pepper’ Mint is a curious fellow. The tropes that would then and later become the very mockery of the genre (the smart threads, the alcoholism, the middle-aged hero seducing much younger women) were in Holbourne’s stories played absolutely straight. Indeed, in common with almost all his protagonists Pepper Mint is rather a damaged character. The drink and the womanising is rarely fulfilling (and never rewarding) though Pepper is not some maudlin creature, and perhaps it is through his appearances that much of the attitude of those that work, are conned, or just are sent by the mysterious ‘Garden’ into horror and peril are most honestly presented. More of the milieu is hinted at through the Pepper stories than elsewhere – in Marking Time For Master where a girl (Miss. Tix) lives each second stolen from another we see the clearest indication of the otherwise unspoken-of catastrophe that is eating up the world. And more so, where that battle fought and lost decades before there is no victory to be had, where Pepper fights its manifestation not for some eventual victory, but simply for the joy of it perhaps?
From his first appearance in One More Dance; ‘A rake and a scoundrel, he dressed well in that way a man of younger years could not imitate (and so rejected). Everything was an accessory to everything else. Here was a man that dressed with care but without vanity; it was all a mask. The smile, the heavy moustaches and the hair Bohemian to the collar still there was that badly broken nose. He had the eyes of a suicide with too much to live for.’     

Sunday 15 July 2012

Martin 'Fucking' Luther

Another ten-minute challenge, that in this case took nearer to fifteen.
One of G. D. Holbourne’s less palatable protagonists Martin Fucking Luther was nonetheless arguably his most popular. First appearing in the short story Why, If Not Now and in a number of pieces that followed it was in The Wild Flowers that chronologically he first appears as a somewhat younger man. 60s magician and a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work Martin Fucking Luther nonetheless still fought (such as that might be said) against the always-nameless horror that had already been victorious some thirty years previous to the story’s publication.
And I quote from The Wild Flowers: ‘He did not look down, as did those others stood about the memorial. Like they one of the curiosities, a boy-girl, and not more than seventeen in blouse and leather britches, in a jacket marked with Angel rockers and trophies. It was apt; with his halo of hair and petulant stance it was not difficult to imagine him, having been cast down from somewhere quite divine, to have interrupted his journey here in Abney Park.'

Saturday 14 July 2012

Crossing The Congo By Motorboat

The inland Land Tanganyika extends for more than four hundred miles in Africa where during the Great War it was dominated by the German Navy, mostly in the shape of the Graf Von Gotzen. There was no way the British could putt-putt-putt all the way up the river from the ocean as the said Von Gotzen was sat there all big and armed and probably captained by Gert Frobe beat-boxing the tuba like he did in Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. So what would you do?
Well Lt. Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson considered the only feasible plan was to launch a surprise attack on Gert Frobe from landward, and by water. Taking a pair of motor gunboats the Mimi and the Toutou (French for miaow and woof-woof) – originally intended for the Greek Air Force, of course, because it has to be that odd – he shipped them to Cape Town. But that wasn’t especially convenient for Lake Tanganyika. So the boats were put on a train to the Belgian Congo, which was the easy bit. Sort of since they had to make the railway go a bit further, a hundred miles further. So with ships, oxen and hundreds of locals (oh, and two steam engines) they built over a hundred bridges and where mere bridges would do it and invented whole new crane and winch systems when they would not Which got them within 500 miles of the Lake. Whereupon it was mountainous jungle. So they humped the two gunboats the rest of the way. Or they humped the gunboats and then built a railway. Either way...
It’s a lovely sort of madness and it should be no surprise that, yes, Gert Frobe was indeed surprised. The expedition is that which inspired The African Queen, though that story was only mildly difficult compared to the real thing.
What sort of madman engaged on this expedition? Who was Spicer-Simson? As it happens the Royal Navy’s oldest Lt. Commander on account of any time he was ever given command of a ship he would collide it with another one. It’s generally bad for the promotion board when you do that with the odd destroyer or two. But he knew the land, or more than anyone else and though it was risky putting him in charge of two little gunboats (give that with that many his record showed he’d ram one with the other) the task was his. Spicer-Simson smoked only monogrammed cigarettes, wore a khaki kilt, and insisted on an Admiral’s colour being raised outside his tent each day. It’s recorded nowhere but I’m pretty sure he would have gone to battle to loud gramophone music whilst reciting A. A. Milne through a speaking trumpet.
I suppose it takes that sort of personality to look at a map of Africa and decide that to outflank the enemy Navy it is best to surprise them by crossing the Congo. Spicer-Simson saw out the Great War as the Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence.
They had proper spies back then.
And I’m making none of this up.