Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The King & Us

It’s an oddish name, Chadwin, and one much given to misspelling and simply getting wrong. For years family tradition had it that it meant ‘man of the village’ but one of my sisters-in-law who studies such things reckons we were originally the servants of St Chad, Bishop of Mercia. I’m sure she’s right. It would explain, after all, why we of the Chadwin diaspora, before our sabbath meal, turn to face the midlands and give the ancient toast of ‘Next year in Lichfield’.

Having a mildly off-beat name has its ups and down. The ups are that it’s different and off-beat. The downs tend to be people persistently getting it wrong. For some reason an awful lot of the populace insist of spelling it with a ‘y’ instead of ‘i’ and I once had a sports teacher who could not grasp that I wasn’t called ‘Chadwick’. And don’t get me started on my first name. Even one of my aunts gets that one wrong. Then there’s the nickname by which I am generally known which, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be shared by a prominent female singer in the late ‘60s as I found out the hard way when I introduced myself at primary school. Don't talk to me about the sweet sound of childish laughter. She faded somewhat into memory and I began to relax, but then a startlingly popular film was released in the ‘70s which, inter alia, featured a heroine with self-same name to whom John Travolta sang a song. Despite having carefully avoided said film I know all the lyrics as said song has been sung at me on many occasions. And people wonder why I sometimes get tetchy.

The Chadwin name is from the paternal side. Meanwhile, on the distaff side, my mother’s forebears once kidnapped the king of Scotland during of a series of rows with the landlord. They were part of the ‘invite your enemies round for a big meal, get them drunk and then slaughter them all’ school of dispute resolution which makes for tense family get-togethers I can tell you. And their name is a right bugger to spell but you really need to make the effort if you want to survive the entree.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

A Correction

Glancing back over my previous post I notice that the last sentence appears to be saying that the best memorial a novelist can hope for is to be read by me. Modesty does rather demand that I clarify this. What I meant, of course, and as those of you who are paying proper attention would have realised, is that the finest memorial a writer can have is to be read at all once the fleeting caprices of contemporary criticism have moved on. It's a fun game to play. In a century, who will be the Dickens of his or her day? Who will be the Shakespeare* of the 21st century. It is of course impossible to tell but I like to think that in the twelfth circle of hell there is a nineteenth century equivalent of Mark Lawson screaming "Don't they realise that James Thomson's The Seasons is the defining work of the century and Mrs Gaskell is just respectableladylit?"

*Oh all right, Allan really

Thursday, 21 January 2010

R I P Robert B Parker

Certain people who like to parade their moral superiority and sensitivity complain if someone mourns the death of a person they have never met but who may have effected their life in some way, said person normally being in the public eye. The hell with such people I say. I was saddened by the deaths of John Lennon, Alan Hull, George Mackay Brown and Ian Dury for example. And I am saddened by the death of Robert B Parker:

Mr Parker was one of these authors who was very successful in his own country but not so much here and I’m one of the few people I know who actually read him. If you’ve looked at the above obituary, you will see that he was best known for the Spenser novels. I’m not really that fond of private eye stories and I (whispering this carefully) don’t entirely care for Raymond Chandler – funny but too nihilistic for my taste. Parker’s hero, on the other hand, was rather good humoured which makes for a pleasing change in contemporary crime fiction. He also had friends and a girlfriend and a dog and it is the description of these relationships which made the books stand out, for me anyway. I was aware that the books were written in a single draft with Parker rarely taking more than three months over each one and it does occasionally show. There is a certain sameness that creeps in but the intelligence and the genuine anger at complacent hypocrisy that permeates the Spenser novels goes to forgive a lot. I’ll read one tonight, if not two, and if there’s a better memorial to a writer I cannot think of it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Now We Has Blog

A cold wet dreary day. A day for – as Snoopy has it – sitting indoors, looking out of the window with a cup of tea while sad songs play on the stereo.

So I did that.

Alright, being of a more Mediterranean disposition than the Lutheran Charles Schultz I had a glass of wine rather than a cup of tea and I was listening to favourite songs from the musicals courtesy of Spotify rather than sad songs on the stereo, but the theory remains sound.

I’m fond of songs from musicals though I have to careful as I grew up with the original cast soundtrack on album of a few which means that they can induce an intense nostalgia that is almost a tangible pain. Of course, only certain ones. No Sound of Music which I have neither heard all the way through or ever seen, an omission I take a certain pride in, nor West Side Story which for some reason irritates me. No the musicals that get me going are, in no particular order, Guys & Dolls, High Society, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady and Oklahoma!. The last has one of the great songs of dark comedy, ‘Poor Jud Is Dead’. Have a listen, it’s horrible:

I grew up singing this in an unpretty piping voice! No wonder I developed a taste for the macabre in later years and have many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. My father loved it, along with ‘True Love’ from High Society, an altogether nicer song which he adored for its sea-faring rhythm:

So, off to wallow for a while in the past. You don’t get wet and you don’t get wrinkles, or at least not for a while.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

We'll keep the strawberry blond flag flying here

Gave blood the other day. This is not an attempt to garner praise unto myself, the last time I did so was a shame-making quarter of a century ago. No, the reason I mention it is that although I had an appointment, I had to wait fifteen minutes because of the number of other donors. I am not complaining. Au contraire, as the man said on the Bay of Biscay when asked if he had dined*. I am saying that this was great. After all, unlike other countries, you get nothing beyond a cup of tea and the possibility of a biscuit for your time and mild discomfort. Furthermore, it was a cold and slippery Monday in January during the worst snow in fifteen years. As a society this is something we can all be proud of and it is a snowball with a stone hidden in its core in the face of those who insist that humans only operate out of selfishness. You know the ones, they pop up on the radio and television and saying how they have to be paid a vast sum of money with a guaranteed bonus on top in order to keep the top talent. I refer, of course, to the bankers. It is a truism to the point of a cliché that people do not need or want a lot of money to do the right thing. Sorry, most people do not. Greedy stupid people do. And I think we can all agree (at least those of us outside of the greedy stupid community) that giving a lot of money to greedy stupid people is not a good idea. Bit stupid really. Not an original thought, I grant you, but an important one which needs to be repeated to ourselves and others again and again until they get it.

Anyway, onto more important issues. Those of us who are members of what I suppose should now be referred to as the red-haired community have finally come of age as a political force. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a schism! Yay! Old veterans of the wilder edges of the left wing of the tail end of the last century will know well that no movement has truly come of age until it has split. Being another century, this is of course a very media-friendly split over alleged gingerism in Dr Who. Apparently the BBC received 100 complaints about the last episode and no, not about David Tennant’s apparent inability to end a line of dialogue at the same speed with which he started it, but about the new bug’s apparent approval of the fact that he isn’t a red head. Others of the auburn ascendency however agree that the character was in fact lamenting the fact that he had yet again failed to regenerate with red hair which is a running joke in the series. Only one hundred complaints mind, doesn’t seem very many to me. I’m sure there were more about the violence or the bad grammar or the gay characters. That’s the kind of dreary Mary Whitehouseisms that normally sets the ‘phone lines buzzing and e-mails doing whatever e-mails do when they’re busy – guggling? Anyway, not important, the main thing is that we of the copper tendency are split on this matter, and that, in the end, is all that is really important.

*Stolen from The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Is this a topless tower I see before me jesting Pilate?

Saw the new Sherlock Holmes film yesterday. I enjoyed it, my companion was more lukewarm (if you can be more lukewarm) and we discussed it amiably over a pint afterwards. Today having several other things I needed to do as a matter of some urgency, I had a look at some of the responses to the film on-line and in the forums.

Golly, as a girlfriend I used to have would say at inappropriate moments.

The anger, the loathing, the darkness, the horror, the horror. I was quite startled at the depths of feeling this film has produced. I shouldn’t have been of course. I remember the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine/Babylon 5 war in the ‘90s. For those of you who had a life at the time, this concerned the rivalry between the fans of those two science fiction television programmes. Both series were set on futuristic space stations and each side was convinced that the other was a spoiler attempt or outrageous rip-off. It is said that there were death threats, it got so bad. In the end the widow of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had to step in and appear as a guest star on the other show to try and get everyone to calm down. Odd.

The Holmes army seems to fall into three basic categories: only Basil Rathbone will do; only Jeremy Brett will do; they’ll both do but no-one else or we’ll start killing the hostages. These people, as my mother (silver hair for the use of) says, do not have enough to worry about. On The Guardian forum there’s a good solid dose of snobbery as well.

It is of course very peculiar to watch these violent disagreements going on if you have no strong feelings on the matter. When the aforementioned Guardian placed The Wire at number 14 of their fifty best TV series list the other day, one poster was unable to even type coherently he was so angry. As it happens, I haven’t seen that series and no longer intend to. After the hysterical praise given to it, it can only be a crushing disappointment, like Withnail & I.

Where else may one find such sound and fury? Dr Who? No, though some Tennant fans get a tad shirty if you gently point out that he didn’t so much act in his last episodes as swivel his eyes and hair in random directions as the mood took him. Liked his Hamlet though. James Bond? No, though there was some promising skirmishing when Daniel Craig was cast. Dracula? Nary a squeak to my knowledge. Incidentally, the best vampire film out there is the appealingly named Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. No, honest, it was written and directed by the people who made The Avengers.

So where and what is my ignition point? What sets me off into incandescent fury? I’m not a football fan so nothing there. With a superior air that I like to feel I can carry off rather nicely, I assumed I was above such things and could look and laugh at all that.

I was wrong.

If you’re bored and you wish to reduce me to the kind of gibbering fury that so convulsed that Wire fan mentioned above, then suggest to me that Shakespeare did not write his plays. Suggest that Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe (current favourite with these braindead morons) did instead. I had intended to blog on this subject a month or so ago after some correspondent to The Times trotted out the Marlowe theory in the letters page but found I was actually unable to do so as I was so angry. I’m having difficulty now. I’ve no idea why this one so infuriates me, but it does. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a forum I need to add to…

Friday, 8 January 2010

Mine's An Opinion, If You're Asking

David Yallop, lately editor of the Sun tabloid and author of a book about being a recovering alcoholic, was on a radio ‘phone-in the other day getting very outraged with a caller who questioned his authority to make proposals about the law concerning alcohol sales. Now I naturally wish Mr Yallop all the best in his continuing struggle against alcoholism and hope the book sells well but I do wonder about the validity of his comments about the law. The harsh fact is that Mr Yallop’s relationship with alcohol has failed catastrophically and so his suggestions may be as useful as a boy racer’s proposals on traffic calming. Kindly do not misunderstand me. It was his insistence that his personal experience trumped all other input that was worrying. My concern is with the idea that personal experience gives total understanding of that experience. I suffer from depression which means that I can describe how it effected me and correct some of the misconceptions that abound about the condition, but I am no authority on the correct treatment of it. I prefer the talking therapy to anti-depressants, but that’s only because it seemed that the former worked for me and the latter did not. My opinion is not sacrosanct, I may have grossly underestimated the effect of the drugs, and others are welcome to disagree and my experience does not make me a counsellor. After all, if I broke a leg I would rather have it set by a qualified doctor who has never broken anything than by a journalist who has had a broken leg and who has written Crutches of Shame: My Broken Leg Hell.