Friday, 30 October 2009

A Tale for Hallowe'en

THE lost traveller said: ‘I must say, it’s very good of you to take me in, a complete stranger.’

His host smiled at him over the candles that stood sentry on the long dining table.

‘It is nothing, I assure you,’ he said. ‘I am grateful that I can be of service. May I press you to some more stilton?’

‘Thank you,’ the other replied, ‘you certainly may. Despite your marvellous supper I am still hungry. The fright I suppose.’

‘It is indeed highly alarming to be lost on the moors, at night and in such weather. Worse on this particular night I imagine.’

He chuckled at his guest’s nonplussed expression.

‘All Hallow’s Eve,’ he explained.

The traveller laughed.

‘I had forgotten the date,’ he confessed, ‘especially after your fine meal. Though I must confess that even in this constantly changing century I have never before dined without a scrap of meat. Vegetables only. I would not have believed it possible, yet it was one of the finest meals I have eaten in many a day.’

‘You flatter me. Doubtless your ordeal has sharpened your hunger. We do not often eat meat here. We cannot often get it you see. I think that this is perhaps right. Meat should be rare. Some more of this rather disappointing port? Or would you prefer brandy perhaps. I do not drink wine, for the gout you know.’

‘Thank you, but your port is excellent. I must say again how grateful I am that you took me in. After all I just turn up on your doorstep with some story about being thrown from my horse while taking a short-cut and this place so isolated. I expected to have the dogs set on me.’

‘That would have been a waste.’

This last was spoken in an unheard murmur. The host smiled again at his guest.

‘Again you flatter me. The pleasure is entirely mine. Here we are starved…’ he poured some brandy into his balloon glass not having tasted a drop of the port, ‘…of pleasant conversation.’

The guest took a deep draught from his glass and then felt suddenly drowsy, more drowsy than he had ever felt before. He could not speak and the remains of his port wine splashed to the floor. He could not lift his head, nor could he respond as his host, now testing the edge of the cheese knife against his thumb said pleasantly:

‘No, as I said, the pleasure is entirely mine.’

He stood and it seemed to the traveller that he loomed in darkness. As unconsciousness overcame him he just heard and just comprehended his host’s final words:

‘The thing is, I always like to have a guest for breakfast.’

With apologies to the late great Vivian Stanshall.

And then there’s what I suppose is the shortest ghost story ever. I first heard it as a young teenager. It went something like this:

THE last surviving human sat alone in the room. There was a knock at the door.

Finally have a listen and, as it is said, be careful for there may be some walking this night that should not:

An innovative examination of art, engines, fascism and sexuality. Well, a bit

I went to a one-off piece of performance/installation art last night. I was planning to tell you all about it but found that doing so was as dull and irritating as attending it. Wrecked cars, young women in basques and stockings, motorbikes and a porn film featuring one of the ‘artists’ were the main ingredients. High points included a botched entrance of motorbikes which more wheeled into the ‘creative space’* rather than speeding in with a transgressive roar. One of the easy riders panicked and started wardering the others like a father at a daughter’s first teenage party. There weren’t really any other high points. And the beer was lousy. Quite a good fire-juggler though.

I really do try and support contemporary art and then it goes and does something like this. It was derivative, boring, sexist, old-fashioned and trite. It was 'chocolate-boxy'.

You may gather that I didn’t really like it, not much.

It was also distinctly disconcerting to have a comedy stereotype confirmed. This was the kind of thing that pops up in lazy smug sitcoms. Maybe that was the idea. Maybe it was all meant to be ironic.

Now that really would be depressing.

*their words, not mine

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Spoiler Alert

A minor coincidence today. Mark Lawson wrote in The Guardian today about trailers/articles etc giving away the contents of TV documentaries and just after I'd finished reading that, 50% of my brothers contacted me about a film he’d just seen. It so happens that I knew more than I wanted about that film because Philip French had given a lot away in his Observer crit of it.

As it happens, the self-same Mark Lawson wrote a piece earlier this year bemoaning the fact that he found it hard to discuss a work of fiction without spoiling the ending to which the most common response on-line was along the lines of ‘well if your pleasure in this piece relies on knowing that the butler did it, then it can’t be very good’ which is a slightly odd attitude when you come to think about it.

It seems to date from E M Forster who found the fact that novels have to have a story so irksome that you wonder why he didn’t write something else, poetry or just essays or even perhaps nothing at all. Part of his objection seems to have been that people of a lower social class than him liked a story which only goes to show that there is no area of life whatsoever that the English can’t drag class into. It reminded me of the artist who had a working toilet installed in the middle of the floor in an art gallery and was delighted that the plumbers who’d done the work were totally mystified. So apparently that while beauty is truth and truth beauty, the really important thing in art is to mystify skilled artisans.

There is also arrogance here, I feel. Bear with me. Let us say that I decide to write a story in which Lord Carmody is found hideously burnt to death in his locked study killed by an invisible dragon secreted in the fireplace by his love rival Sir Duncan Duggleby.* Now, as the author of this meretricious piece, it is my decision how the story should be told. In the form of a locked room mystery a la John Dickson Carr and Jonathon Creek? A Tolkienesque high fantasy about dragons? A satirical take on English social mores using the magic realist device of an invisible dragon? These are some of the options available to me.

I decide on the locked room mystery option

Now let us say that I publish the book on vellum with a calfskin cover and because you have offended me, I send you a copy. Now it’s you who has the options. You may read the story the way I wrote it. You may look at the ending first. You may start in the middle and work backwards and forwards as the mood takes you. You may leave it aside and wait for the film adaptation. These are some of the options available to you.

Finally, it being a slow day in the arts world, let us say that a Serious Critic wishes to discuss the piece on Radio 4. Said Serious Critic introduces his (and the offenders here are almost invariably men in my experience) opinion of the whole sorry affair with the words: “By using the invisible dragon as weapon motif and deciding to have Sir Duncan Duggleby as the murderer, A J Chadwin shows that he has totally failed…” and so on.

The Serious Critic has removed without so much a by-your-leave all the options that the writer had considered and the reader had to chose from. And for what? Just so he can talk about it. Just so he can make his point about it. I trust you see why I find it a touch arrogant. It seems such a small return.

*I never said it was going to be a good story

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Frying Tonight

E-mailing a friend the other night to warn him about this blog, he asked if I was on Twitter. I’m not. Partly because I don’t see the point* but also out of an unfocused irritation with Stephen Fry.

This bothers me.

Can you be mildly irritated by Stephen Fry? Is it ethical? Is it even legal?

A quandary to obfuscate the most perspicacious of us.

*But then I didn’t see the point of having a computer, being on-line, joining Facebook and writing a blog, in that order

Saturday, 24 October 2009

What Time Do You Call This Then?

The clocks go back tonight. Just thought I’d remind you.

According to a piece in today’s Guardian BST was introduced in 1916 because of the perceived benefits Germany obtained when they introduced it in 1915. The Germans introduced it in response to a campaign by William Willett who liked horse riding before breakfast and golf in the late afternoon and disliked doing either in the dark.

Good grief as they say in Peanuts. So all that minor inconvenience and slight dislocation and hysterical editorials in afore-mentioned Guardian saying that if Scotland wants lighter evenings it should have its own time zones.* All for the pleasures of one man.

Mind you, you have to admit, it is rather impressive. One man changed in a fundamental way the lives of the peoples of two countries. One man. And his first success was in a foreign country. A country that his own country was at war with.

I bet that took more than a couple of facebook petitions.

Which leads me nicely to the subject of monomaniacs. I was reading an MR James story the other night and a character is described thus. It wouldn’t be used in a contemporary story. The word seems to have disappeared. When? Why? It’s not as if there’s no call for it anymore, there are still plenty of obsessive people out there. I once knew a lad who could get any conversation round to fishing in about ten sentences. It was quite fun to set him tests. Start with, say, the Schleswig-Holstein Question and see how he get from there to rod and line. Mind you, he must have thought I was a tad odd, what with starting conversations about the Schleswig-Holstein Question or whatever. I should have sold this to Radio 4 as the format for a panel show. David Mitchell could host it.

Anyway, the word seems to have gone. Was there a campaign I missed? Rock Against Monomania? Posters reading: Are You A Monomaniac? You’d Have A Wider Diversity Of Interests If You Weren’t! Was there a counter-campaign? Tee-shirts saying: Monomania. One Thing At A Time.

And ironically of course, both run by single-issue fanatics.

*I’m not making this up. It was about twenty years ago.

Friday, 23 October 2009

It's Competition Time!

There seems to be some confusion as to what the photograph to the right is of. So in the name of interaction etc I hereby announce that a crisp fiver will be awarded to the first person to correctly identify it.

NB This competition is not open to members of the Chadwin family or anyone who gets the right answer.

Well I thought it was odd

A young woman wearing pyjamas gave me a train ticket to Hartlepool the other day. I thanked her with the comment that I’d never been there but she told me I wasn’t missing much. She also said Middlesbrough wasn't up to much either. Then in a low confidential voice she said: “I do know I have a penis drawn on my face.” Sure enough, there it was, just by her ear, partly covered by her hair, in green felt tip.

Now this is one of those situations I find difficult to respond to. “Good” didn’t seem quite the right thing to say so I relied on the truth and said that I hadn’t actually noticed.

Well I hadn’t. You might say it’s a hard thing to miss but it’s not something you watch out for either. Not in the circles I move in anyway.

“Well, nice meeting you,” I said and wandered off. I think she may have had a drink or two. Possibly it was her birthday.

I’ve rarely felt so middle class and English.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Solzhenitsyn and me

I’ve been censored! They cannot stop me so they try to silence me! Well it shall not happen! None shall pass! No Pasaran! Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer! Exclamation marks for all!

Actually, all that’s happened is that I’ve found out that you can’t access this blog through the NHS computer system. It’s more likely that they block Google mail through which my maunderings are brought to you rather than a conspiracy of terrified members of the A A Milne estate and manufacturers of airport security monitors combining to ensure that no worker in socialised medicine should hear my invective.

Still, for a few moments I relived the exhilaration of the left wing teenager where all is possible and the world will become free and fair just as soon as I’ve finished shouting at a few people. Being left wing in your mid-forties is a different matter. The cynicism that breeds obedience is seeping into your soul and you start worrying more about the noise than what the noise is about. Once I had the fire of protest and socialism that comes from being sent to a private school and then, as the cliché has it, I drifted towards gradualism and then to apathy.

But I drifted back again.

Many reasons. Mark Steel’s history of the French Revolution – Vive La Revolution – and the current Government loom large among them. Ten years working for a large philanthropic organisation helped as well, though perhaps not in the way the large philanthropic organisation wished or expected. And finally the creeping realisation that what with ID cards and blanket surveillance and political corruption and toadying to big business and lying about the reasons for going to war and all that, the old comfort of ‘such things don’t happen here’ has become ‘such things have not happened here yet’.

A la lanterne citoyens!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

That'll have to come out...

Off to the dentists’ today because my teeth hurt, and also, as I discovered to my intense embarrassment when filling in the registration form, that I haven’t had them checked for about nineteen years.


If you’d asked me in the pub when I’d last had a check up I’d have said “Oh, a few years back, you know.”

Nineteen years.

I didn’t know where to put myself.

They operate in packs now dentists. There were about five of them hovering around the treatment room, each poised and ready to do their bit. No idea who they were as the only person who said anything apart from myself was the actual dentist. She occasionally barked instructions at one of them but other than that they might have been performance artists down on their luck.

At least the dentist didn’t have bad breath like one I saw in Ireland. That’s a three in the morning memory.

Looks like an extraction is called for. Perhaps they’ll spring into action then.

I mentioned the fact that I was off to see the dentist to a friend and mentioned also that I thought it might be something to do with my wisdom teeth. I received an apocalyptic warning about those many years ago from another dentist, you know the kind of warning that appears in flashback with doomy music on the soundtrack. This friend then told me about another friend who had had her wisdom teeth out and how I’d better demand a general anaesthetic.

You don’t get this with other illnesses. You tell someone you’re off to the doctors’ with a cough most people don’t start chatting about tuberculosis wards or wasting diseases that their aunt had. If someone tells me their a bit worried about their eldest going off to university I don’t counter with “Yeah, I knew a lad who did that. Tried to kill himself. Still stammers.”

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Winnie the Franchised

Last year it was James Bond. This month it’s Winnie the Pooh and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (together at last!). Of what do I sing? Of authorised sequels as any fule kno. So we’ve had Sebastian ‘literary writer’* Faulks commissioned to continue the Bond saga with Devil May Care. Now we have Eoin Colfer’s officially sanctioned continuation of Hitchhiker and Don’t Know Don’t Care’s Return to the Hundred Acre Wood which picks up some eighty-one years after The House on Pooh Corner was published. Now I am prepared to admit under extreme interrogation by an intelligence organisation that feeds its results to MI5 that there is a modicum of justification for the Bond and Adams resurrections. But I cannot with Winnie the Pooh. Alright, there’s the Disney films and books but they’ve already branched off into a universe of their own. I saw one of the DVDs in the shops yesterday and the cover had Pooh wearing a sweatband a la Mark Knopfler which is the oddest thing I’ve seen since I came across the head of Buddha in a cage outside a restaurant in central Newcastle last summer.

No the problem with Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is that it is the official sequel, or continuation, as authorised by the Milne estate to the Pooh stories. They’ve even commissioned an artist who seems to have done rather a good pastiche of E H Shepherd’s illustrations. I heard on the radio some bod from the Milne estate explain that it was felt that the coming generation needed more stories in order to discover the bear of little brain. He admitted however that Winnie the Pooh and The House on Pooh Corner have never left the top ten list of best-selling children’s books since their publication which, unless there’s a crazed solitary collector somewhere hoarding them, would seem to suggest that the coming generation is being made aware of Pooh whether it likes it or not. He also stated that Milne himself only wrote the second collection because he was bored during a dull holiday and seemed to be hinting that he would have written more if he’d had more unsuccessful holidays. And here’s the problem.

The rather big problem.

This rather big problem is the last Winnie the Pooh story that A A Milne wrote: In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There.

Even the soul dead cold critics who dislike Milne admit that this story is something else. And the something it is, is the end of childhood. If you haven’t read it I will pause a moment while you get hold of a copy and have a shufti.

There you are. See what I mean? This story is an ending. Milne intended the stories to stop here. It’s about growing up and moving on. It’s about putting aside childish things.

It is not a sequel hook.

Often the best of children’s literature has a melancholy running gently through or underneath it. This will pass. Puff the magic dragon is doomed to be alone as we all move onto salaries, mortgages and worrying about the neighbours. An Enchanted Place is one of the most touching evocations of this and I defy anyone to read it and still have a dry eye at the end.

And yet it is a happy ending, an optimistic ending because we can all take comfort in the fact that:

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

*well that’s how he kept describing himself on Desert Island Discs earlier this year and who am I to argue

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Oh Matron, No!!


Save for certain specific and, on the whole, private conditions I’m against it. Where, when and to whom I expose my unlovely carcass is my affair and, I feel, should be under my control. Furthermore I believe that one of the sure signs of civilised living is that there are legal and social limits and conditions on my being obliged to gaze upon other’s bodies. Save for those blokes in summertime* and rugby players, we get this right on the whole, I feel.

After all, the first thing any torturer with an eye to promotion does is to get his or her victim to strip. It’s the first thing they teach you at Guantanamo after where to find the toilets and the jump leads.

You will therefore share my surprise at the reaction to the news that a security scanner at Manchester Airport apparently shows the naked body under the clothing in order to ascertain whether there is a bomb concealed there.

Now it is not this in itself that surprises me. Nothing the current administration does in the name of security and safety surprises me these days. No, my raised eyebrows have been caused by the public response, or at least as reported by the local Metro free sheet and the Guardian on line.

The people have spoken and the people are in favour of an underpaid security officer gazing upon their nudity in order to speed up the queues, save the embarrassment of being frisked and to reduce the chances of being blown up.

Really? Can this be right? Are we prepared for these paltry reasons** to let a bored guard gaze upon that which should be reserved for the sight of our doctor and loved ones?

Apparently so.

Curiously enough the being blown up reason (a goodish if cowardly one, we’d never have beaten jerry with that kind of attitude) seems to be fairly low down the list. Convenience is higher.

Now I know we as a society are besotted with flying, but are we truly that desperate? Already we’ve accepted delays, pollution, inconvenience, a curious definition of ‘near’ in the case of Ryan Air and an extra fee if we want to sit next to our children in the case of BA. Now we are ready, nay eager, to bare all for the privilege of going to visit places whose indefinable magic has been spoiled by all the putative nudists who have flown there with us.

Ah well.

Incidentally, a massive round of applause to the anonymous poster in the Guardian who responded to the comment: I don’t care. I have a six pack and 12” with the brilliant: I think you’ll find that’s a foot

*Chadwin’s First Law of Male Clothing: No male over the age of thirteen years should be seen wearing shorts unless engaged in a legitimate sporting activity or is, in extreme cases, Austrian.

**Yes alright, being blown up is maybe not all that paltry.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Terrible news!

I have written a children's book.

Sorry to spring that hideous intelligence upon you without warning. After all, you may have been eating, in which case, sorry for the mess.

Anyway I have written it and I do not wish to write it any more. I now wish for it to be published and make me money and therefore power beyond the dreams of man. A small gentle hope, but my own.

So how does a chap go about getting a children's book published? Do you need a criminal records check? An NVQ even? Where to start? To this end I have purchased a copy of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2010 which I am sure will answer all my queries.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Back in the early days of this Government when the Fox Hunting Bill was plodding its way through Parliament, an apocryphal story was doing the rounds. Says the hunt saboteur to the huntsman: 'Enjoy this while you can. It'll soon be illegal." Replies the huntsman: "Foolish little man. We do not obey the law, we make it."

I don't know why but this tale popped back in my mind while listening to a Radio 4 news report on the expenses scandal and the fact that MPs are being asked to pay back some of the expenses they claimed, even though these expenses were at the time of claiming legitimate, but it did. An MP who had a startlingly posh voice (think the Colonel's wife in any given British WW2 propaganda film and then some) was complaining bitterly about how unfair it was and how they hadn't actually broken the law and had she mentioned how unfair it was.

It struck me that this was not, for want of a better phrase, not very, well, politic. Indeed, was it not in fact, impolitic? Earlier this year MPs received the worse battering they've had in my lifetime and the details of some of the expenses claimed still have the power to make me step back and blink. Forget moats and duck houses, fun as they are, and consider instead the state of mind that claims for the expense of the wreath for Remembrance Sunday or for a kit-kat given as a thank you present to an (unpaid) researcher. Now you may argue that compared to other countries, our expenses scandal is, frankly, embarrassingly minor. But is this not like an estate agent assuring you that while you will get mugged in this neighbourhood, if you bought over the other side of the park you'd be murdered, possibly even in your bed?

Politicians are paid (and paid well, let us put that canard to roost) to be politic and by making a fuss now and thereby keeping the expenses scandal in the public eye they are not doing what they are paid for. Keep shtum, pay up, nurse your revenge and pray that a terrible thing happens before the election to make us forget the whole business.