Friday, 23 December 2011

A Tale for the Season and the Dying Year

The BBC letting us down for ghost stories this yuletide, here's a sorry substitute in the form of another meretricious solstice tale:


A Fable

Once upon a time, well, Christmas Eve to be precise, but many centuries ago, a knight and his servant were preparing their nightly camp at the fringes of a great wood. Of course, strictly speaking, the servant was preparing the camp while the knight looked on in a vaguely supervisory capacity. He did not offer to help, it would not have occurred to him to do so and even if he could, there would have little he could have done to help save find some wood though that would have been help enough. He had few skills outside of fighting and courtesy.

The knights had been the guardians of the kingdom for many years. It was their job to dispense justice, swiftly and coldly if necessary, for the common weal. It was for them to set the example that others could follow, the example of chivalry and courtesy and gentleness.

But that was long before and now the knights had mostly forgotten their purpose and instead saw themselves as not guardians of the kingdom and its people, but rather guardians of their fellow knights and they had grown jealous of their privileges. And courtesy they defined as being deferential to those richer than themselves.

Sir Peregrin (for that was his name) was a typical knight of that time and he watched his servant with a kind of detached contempt. After all, the man could only be a servant because his blood was thinner and of a lesser vintage than Sir Peregrin’s. His mental acuity was doubtless equally lacking otherwise he would not be servant. For Sir Peregrin success was a lifestyle option and he held little sympathy for those who, for reasons he could not fathom, chose to be failures.

At last a fire was blazing, the horse groomed, the armour polished and a hare that the servant had caught earlier was stewing in a small pot. Sir Peregrin had not been able to kill any meat as no meat worthy of his blade or spear had been apparent for the last few days so he had been dining off what the servant could catch or snare. Peasant food, but surprisingly pleasant in some ways. Sir Peregrin debated with himself about serving some at his next banquet. It might be amusing. He lay back in an attempt to relax, but…

‘Cobb,’ he cried in irritation, ‘fetch something to soften this ground. Every pebble and stone inEngland seems to be digging into me. Find some moss or brush will you.’

‘Very well my lord,’ said Cobb and slipped away out of the circle of light given by the fire.

Now as it happens Sir Peregrin was not entitled to the honorific of ‘my lord’ but it pleased him mightily to pretend to it and as it also happens the servant was not called Cobb but Sir Peregrin had had many servants and he really could not be expected to remember their names. He found that Cobb answered nicely to all of them and as long as they answered nicely to him, well that was sufficient.

Cobb returned with an armful of brush and moss for Sir Peregrin’s bed with pine cones balanced on top.

‘What are those for Cobb?’ asked Sir Peregrin, ‘not my mattress I trust for they will not make a comfy bed.’

Sir Peregrin prided himself on his wit.

‘For the fire, my lord,’ replied the servant who wasn’t called Cobb. ‘They make a good crackle and shout when they burst and it is the solstice. We have the dark so we must have the noise.’

‘Really?’ said Sir Peregrin, slightly petulantly. ‘Must we?’

‘Yes,’ said Cobb. ‘It’s the turning of the year and the longest night. Many things walk abroad that should not.’

‘As long as they stay abroad,’ said Sir Peregrin with a chuckle, pleased with the opportunity to show off his wit once more.

And so they settled. Sir Peregrin in his robe and blankets, Cobb in his blanket, stew and stale bread before the knight which he doled out to the servant when he remembered to and the fire crackling. Every now and then Cobb would throw on another cone which snapped out sparks that arced through the dark to die on the frosty ground.

Sir Peregrin was just about to doze off when he noticed the final cone in Cobb’s hand. It looked strangely green and unripe.

‘Wouldn’t put that one on the fire Cobb,’ he said sleepily, ‘too green to burn. It will just smoulder and do nothing.’

‘Oh I don’t know about that sir knight,’ said Cobb quietly and threw the unripe pine cone into the heart of the dying fire.

And smoke it did not. Instead it crackled, it hissed, what smoke there was were sudden violent ventings of greenish steam that hissed before suddenly collapsing to be replaced with a constant crickling.

Then at last a sudden spark that arced from the flames to land spitting before the two men, a spark that turned curiously and inevitably into a something.

At first Sir Peregrin thought it was some animal as it scuttled, then he thought it was some child as it walked, then he thought it some devil as it stood showing horns silhouetted against the soft light and then he saw that it was a smallish furry figure with long hair and whiskers and pointy ears that stood proud of its head and eyes that gleamed like a cat’s.

‘Merry meet good hobgoblin,’ said Cobb with a calmness that Sir Peregrin vaguely guessed came from having frequent conversations with hobgoblins. He decided that this was one of things that peasants often did. Or was possibly some kind of elaborate joke.

‘Merry met mortal man,’ said the figure. ‘Why bring me here on the solstice night. I would be dancing with my fair Titania for this is our winter time.’

‘I thought you might find something for your humour here,’ said Cobb.

‘You surprise me,’ replied what Sir Peregrin had reluctantly decided was a actual hobgoblin even though only peasants believed in them.

The hobgoblin stepped forwards towards the knight and servant and bowed.

‘Good,’ it continued. ‘You may call me Puck, or Robin Goodfellow or Jack in the Green so long as you call me for breakfast. What brings you to the edge of the wildwood?’

‘We travel to Earl Ranulf,’ explained Cobb. ‘My lord Peregrin would aid him in his war against his people.’

‘My lord Peregrin?’ the hobgoblin seemed puzzled. ‘Sir knight, you wear a cloth not woven for you.’

Sir Peregrin was totally mystified by that so ignored it.

The hobgoblin continued with an air of academic interest.

‘Earl Ranulf makes war upon his people? I would not thought it possible to make war upon yourself for the earl is of his people and the people make the earl so why bring warfare into it? Odd.’

Sir Peregrin was not going to let that one go.

‘Here we go,’ he said with the theatrical sigh of one who has had to explain this so often and the arrogance of one for whom coherence is for little people: ‘This is the real world young Goodfellow or Green and in that world a man has one name and sticks with it. And it is dangerously naïve to pretend that an earl who works damn hard I would have you remember and it is he who provides for the serfs who choose not to be free but prefer to laze about working on the land and we need people like the earl and if you had read of what they did, the violence and the uproar and the damage to property – oh and the loss of life – well the sheriffs had no choice in the face of anarchy and those who say the earl should stand for his actions, well we’ll lose him to France where they don’t have such idiotic ideas and appreciate the hard work that men like him do and I am proud to be going to aid him against those ungrateful peasants who dare try to stand against him and it’s not even as if I’m not feeling the pinch as well, I mean have you seen the price of myrrh these days.’

Puck and Cobb looked at Sir Peregrin with a degree of admiration and Sir Peregrin looked back in the firm belief that he had baffled all their arguments.

‘I see,’ grinned the hobgoblin. ‘A very, parfit gentil knight. Here is sport indeed. Lord, what fools these mortals be.’

‘Fools and ungrateful inefficient scroungers,’ stated Sir Peregrin, ‘furthermore, I think you’ll find it’s pronounced gentle,’ his voice ringing with the certainty of one who has completely misread his audience. ‘And what does parfit mean anyway?’ he added to himself, uncertainly

‘So my sir knight goes for on a quest to aid his fellows against those of the land?’ asked Robin Goodfellow in the tones of one who is interested in your problems but wants to make sure he’s got all the details absolutely correct.

‘He does,’ replied the servant not called Cobb. ‘And so I brought him here on Christmas Eve and made a fire in this glade and burned a green fir cone. I couldn’t think what else to do.’

‘And Sir Peregrin and Earl Ranulf are old friends?’ Jack in the Green enquired in the same tones.

‘No. They have corresponded but never actually met,’ said Cobb, meaningfully.

‘Our course seems clear then,’ said the hobgoblin cheerfully, ‘and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief.’

At that Sir Peregrin fell into a deep sleep wearing nothing but an old shift and Cobb found himself all in his master’s armour.

Cobb smiled.

‘My thanks good Sir Peregrin,’ he said, ‘but that was not my thinking. I do not wish to go to Earl Ranulf’s and ape my one-time master and dance and eat and drink and be merry in his halls. But I have served Sir Peregrin for many years and been his butt and practice man and I know now the way of weaponry, fighting and strategy. No, by your will, good Robin, I would to those people who stand against the Earl. I think I might be able to teach them something.’

‘And will you resume your true name?’ asked Jack in the Green.

The man considered. ‘No,’ he said finally. ‘Cobb has served well enough and will serve longer. I’ll save my true christening for another time.

‘As you wish,’ said Puck cheerfully and with a wave of his paw he deposited Cobb into a meeting of those who had decided to stand against the Earl and had slowly realised that they had no idea how to do so. Sir Peregrin he placed in Earl Ranulf’s courtyard where he was immediately taken up as a spy for the peasants on account of his poor clothing and confused manner.

And a merry Christmas Day was had by all, except Sir Peregrin, who was in the dungeon.

And Earl Ranulf was in his castle.

But the next day, the poor men were at his gate and this time they were being advised by someone with a good working knowledge of siege warfare.

But maybe Earl Ranulf remembered poor Sir Peregrin languishing in his dungeon and ordered clean clothing and good food for him. He must have. After all, it was Christmas.

And a happy new year to us all.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

You Don't Get Me

What might The Strawbs’ Part of the Union,

Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA

and Show of Hands’ Roots

have in common?

Well, curiously enough, they’ve all been used as propaganda for causes directly opposite to the beliefs of the writers/performers.

Part of the Union became the unofficial anthem of the TUC despite it being intended as an anti-union satire. Bruce Springsteen had to ask Ronald Reagan to stop playing Born in the USA at Republican party events and the BNP put Roots onto a CD it issued of British music. That last led to the creation of Folk Against Fascism.

With Part of the Union you can see how the mistake has arisen and with Born in the USA it was obvious that no-one in the Republican party had actually listened to the lyrics with any real attention. I have a touch more sympathy with Roots (and that is the most sympathy by a spectacular margin I will ever have with the those racist prats) as it contains the lines ‘we lost St George in the union jack/It’s my flag too and I want it back’ though that does refer to the Act of Union, not nationalism. But to those of us who have wandered through the folk clubs of this land, the idea that folk music is sympathetic to the right wing is truly startling. For it is a great truth that where four or more unreconstructed lefties are together, one of them will be singing an 18th century ballad about sheep stealing. To be certain, Ewan MacColl, one of the godfathers of the folk music scene, went through a phase when he insisted that you could only sing songs from your own country but that’s a far cry from forced repatriation.

The Guardian ran a column at the time written by some metropolitan exquisite who reacted to folk music much as Ronald Firbank may have reacted to a ferret with artistic pretensions and who made the patronising assumption that because folk music is associated with the countryside and the past it was therefore right wing and insular.

Roots was inspired by the actions of the last Government who wanted to change the licensing laws concerning live music performances which would have effectively ended all live music in pubs. When it was put to one of their ministers the disastrous effect this would have on the folk music scene, he sneered in reply that his idea of hell was two folk singers in a pub in Bristol. Roots is Show of Hands’ response to this.

Oh, and if you think it is an angry song, then try this which really lets us now what they’re thinking:

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Tale for Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en approaches and so here to dismay you is a hopefully appropriate story:


THE brief was simple and I was a special effects man, working in theatre rather than films or TV which would be why Dr Thorne approached me. I’m good too, which will be why he offered me enough of a fee that I quickly agreed despite it being the oddest job I’d ever been offered.

Basically, it was one of Thorne’s patients. Thorne was a Harley Street man so this patient, Mr Marlowe, was not short of the readies. I hadn’t heard of him myself, but Thorne reckoned he was one of the richest men in Britain, in Europe maybe, even richer than those Russians who buy football clubs. Mr Marlowe had two.

So what was the problem and why did the richest man in London want the help of a special effects wizard. Well, not for his daughter’s wedding which was what I had assumed. In fact, he didn’t want me at all. He didn’t know I existed. No, it was Thorne that wanted me.

What it was see, was that this Marlowe had had some kind of breakdown and was convinced that his success was down to his selling his soul to the devil and the problem was the devil was due to collect the next week. Nothing Thorne could do would persuade him otherwise and he had brought in other doctors, scientists and priests even. Nothing would persuade Marlowe that he was not going to Hell at midnight the next Wednesday.

So what was the problem? I asked. Just wait until then and when nothing happens, result. Thorne wasn’t having it. No, Marlowe so much believed this idea that Thorne was scared that he would actually hallucinate seeing the devil and would believe that his soul was gone. At worse he might give himself a heart attack, at best he would be completely mad.

So this was Thorne’s bright idea. Marlowe was off flying round the world for a last look round and so his family would let me into his house, I would put up my gizmos and bits and bobs (no, you’re not getting any of my trade secrets) so that come Wednesday I would make an image of the devil appear and tell him that the deal was off and he could keep his soul. Then Mr Marlowe could relax and Thorne could get on with charging, I mean, curing him.

Like I said. Odd.

But the money was more than good and it would a story to tell the kids so I agreed.

And it all went to plan. I put in my bits and bods in the library, which was where the devil was going to appear apparently, and with a hidden CCTV link I was in the kitchen able to watch and operate what needed to be operated.

WELL you probably remember what happened, it was all over the news for long enough. Thorne got struck off, tried to make out that it was practical joke gone wrong, then when that didn’t work, started hinting that it was a murder plot put together by the family. So they sued and with the help of the recordings I had made of our conversations when he had been briefing me (I’m not so green…) they pretty much took him for every penny.

And what about me? Not as bad as you’d think. Legit theatre wouldn’t touch me, Cameron McIntosh didn’t want to know. Can’t say I’m surprised. Who’d want to employ an FX man who’d scared someone to death? Turns out those ‘death metal’ bands do. Looks great on the posters for their gigs. Pays well enough and the perks are brilliant. So I’m all right.

EXCEPT, well, except that sometimes I can’t sleep and all I can see is Mr Marlowe on his knees, horror struck, and all I can hear is his last scream. And sometimes it sounds like what he’s screaming could be:

‘Dear God, there are two of them!’

And for those who seem to think that disneyfy is a synonym for sweeten, from Fantasia:

And once again, if you are abroad on Monday e'en, beware for there are things that will be walking that night that should not.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A Good Read?

Well, congratulations to Julian Barnes for winning the Booker this year though commiserations for winning it in a year when the literati have deemed the contenders as very poor. The last time I can remember there being such a kerfuffle was when Martin Amis wasn’t nominated for London Fields. If you missed it, the starting point was the alleged poor quality of the shortlist, though we tend to get that every year, but what set the whole thing ablaze was the judges’ statement that their main criteria for making an award would be ‘readability’. Well, with all the fuss this caused they might have well said ‘font used’ or ‘number of chapters’ or whether there’s character called Elspeth or not or how many paragraphs had ‘Ineffably’ as the first word. Not since Caesar burned the library at Alexandria has a cultural elite been so put about.

And the curious thing, of course, is that apparently ‘readable’ has become synonymous with ‘shallow’ or, according to a piece in today’s Guardian, ‘marketable’. We have been here before. One of the reason why Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads made such a stir was that they aimed for readability and accessibility against the high stylisation of 18th century poetry*. George Herbert went to some difficulty to ensure that his poetry would be comprehensible to all of his congregation and Jonathon Swift read out bits of Gulliver’s Travels to passing workmen to ensure that his writing was not too high-falutin’.

*discuss with diagrams, all workings must be shown and the examiners’ articles cited

I blame the Bloomsbury set*. Or maybe the Modernists. Perhaps James Joyce. But it’s become very common to assume that acknowledged classic novels are hard to read and it very often isn’t the case. I shot through Joyce’s Dubliners and found what I’ve read so far of Ulysses easy enough, the fact I didn’t finish it had nothing to do with its alleged difficultness. War & Peace, the ‘hard to read’ poster child of fiction is perfectly easy to read once you get past the first chapter which introduces about every character in a couple of pages and just about all said characters have, of course, Russian names. Meanwhile, my friend and fellow blogger, o**, is currently shooting through Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. For those who are waiting for the film to come out, Clarissa is a breathtakingly long book (1, 500 pages in the current penguin edition) which has the reputation of being unreadable. When the BBC commissioned a couple of Oxbridge academics to do the television adaptation, the joke went round that they were the only people in the country who had actually read it. Well, o is loving it and would find it impossible to put down if only it were possible to lift it in the first place.

*but then I blame the Bloomsbury set for most things up to and including the fact that the 306 bus is almost invariably late on a Sunday. I also blame Brideshead Revisited for most of what’s wrong in early 21st century England. But I digress.

**there’s a story there, I’m sure of it

Alas and alack, I perceive an odour of snobbery here, an assumption that great writing can only be appreciated by a select and if a novel becomes too popular then it cannot logically be much good. Sometimes that may be the case, but I think it is sad that a major criterion on which we designate ‘good writing’ is its failure to readable.

Never mind, Terry Pratchett’s got a new one out, so I’m happy.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Is It About A Bicycle?

This week (yesterday to be fearsomely precise) saw the centenary of the birth of Brian O’Nolan, Irish civil servant. Here’s a photograph of him:

He is better known, and has appeared as such in this very blog, as Flann O’Brien under which name he wrote novels. Specifically he wrote At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. It is sometimes said that Evelyn Waugh’s Decline & Fall is the novel most undergraduates would wish to write which is true if said undergraduates were self-loathing misanthropes who could only live with themselves by insisting on their unproven superiority to the working class. For the rest, it has to be At Swim-Two-Birds. After all, it is a novel about a student who is writing a novel about a man who is writing a novel. It is also about a demon; Finn MacCool, legendary hero of old Ireland; the various effects of drinking porter; a poem about beer and according to a brother who knows about such things, an excellent translation of the Madness of Sweeney.

I actually prefer The Third Policeman. Not read it? Do so. Now. Find a copy by any means at your disposal. I care not if you lose your job and/or your family and/or loved ones. Published in 1967 but completed in 1940 it is a brilliantly funny work which will delight you and for a brief but gloriously happy period, you will be unable to look at a bicycle without giggling.

Under the name of Myles na nCopaleen he wrote regularly for the Irish Times and here as a taster is his Catechism of Cliché:

Catechism of Cliché

What is a bad thing worse than?

What can one do with fierce resistance?
Offer it.

But if one puts fierce resistance, in what direction does one put it?

In which hood is a person who expects money to fall out of the sky?
Second child.

If a thing is fraught, with what is it fraught?
The gravest consequences.

What does one sometimes have it on?
The most unimpeachable authority.

What is the only thing one can wax?

Yes, More of It

What happens to blows at a council meeting?
It looks as if they might be exchanged.

What does pandemonium do?
It breaks loose.

Describe its subsequent dominion.
It reigns.

How are allegations dealt with?
They are denied.

Yes, but then you are weakening, Sir. Come now, how are they denied?

What is the behaviour of a heated altercation?
It follows.

What happens to order?
It is restored.

Alternatively, in what does the meeting break up?

What does the meeting do in disorder?
Breaks up.

In what direction does the meeting break in disorder?

In what direction should I shut?

Dead English

When things are few, what also are they?
Far between.

What are stocks of fuel doing when they are low?

How low are they running?

What does one do with a suggestion?
One throws it out.

For what does one throw a suggestion out?
For what it may be worth.

What else can be thrown out?
A hint.

In addition to hurling a hint on such lateral trajectory, what other not unviolent action can be taken with it?
It can be dropped.

What else is sometimes dropped?
The subject.

A pint of plain is your only man.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

I'll Tell Thee Everything I Can...

Watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film the other night and it confirmed for me once again what odd books Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are. The film, as you probably know, is actually a sort of sequel with a teenaged Alice being bullied into marriage and escaping down the rabbit hole. According to Burton disliked the original stories as they had no plot. It was just Alice meeting various odd people/animals/chess pieces and then waking up*. This, apparently, was not acceptable to young Burton so he provides us with a story involving the Red Queen ruling Wonderland as a capricious tyrant and Alice has to find the vorpal sword in order to slay the jabberwocky and so free the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat et al.


All this goes to confirm to me once again what deeply odd books these two Lewis Carroll classics are. Tim Burton is meant to be one of the most imaginative and ‘off-the-wall’ film directors operating at the moment yet when faced with adapting these books to film, he had to impose a, let’s face it, rather standard to the point of clichéd storyline involving a quest, a wicked queen and a good queen (the White Queen in this case) and heroic helpers to aid in said quest (the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse and so on). He also gives everyone names apparently unhappy that all of Carroll’s characters are known only by their title with the only exceptions of Alice herself, Dinah (her cat), Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I don’t think anyone else is named in either book but feel free to correct me, preferably without too much smug superiority, thanks. My point however stands. Tim Burton seemed to have thought that these were books that needed to be tamed. Certainly they are deeply subversive, more so than is initially apparent. After all, Looking Glass must be one of the few children’s classics to have a joke about child murder in it.Honest, it’s in the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ chapter after he’s asked Alice’s age:

‘Seven years and six months!’ Humpty Dumpty repeated thoughtfully. ‘An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you’d asked my advice I’d have said “Leave off at seven” – but it’s too late now.’

‘I never ask advice about growing,’ Alice said indignantly.

‘Too proud?’ the other inquired.

Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. ‘I mean,’ she said, ‘that one can’t help growing older.’

One can’t, perhaps,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.

As I said. Odd.

The last word though, goes to Charles Lamb who made this helpful observation in a letter he wrote in 1808:

Why do cats grin in Cheshire? Because it was once a county palatine and the cats cannot help laughing whenever they think of it, though I see no great joke in it.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Most Haunted

Just what is the difference between a ghost story and a horror story? This is a question that has vexed me, if no one else, for over twenty-five years. It was raised when, while an eager undergraduate reading English Literature,* I asked if I could do a dissertation on the ghost stories of M R James. Having established, with some difficulty, that I did not mean Henry James, doubts were raised over the academic value of studying horror stories to which I retorted that, no, these were ghost stories. And what, pray, was the difference? I was asked over a light sherry.** To this day I still cannot provide an answer to my, or anyone else’s satisfaction. The best I have ever been able to manage is that horror stories strive to gain their effect by describing something physically horrific while ghost stories strive to gain their effect by not doing so, I suppose, I don’t know. All I do know is that ghost stories do have to have a supernatural element. Lacking that means that they are stories only. Good ones, maybe, even touched by transcendent genius perhaps, but not ghost stories by definition. No, ghost stories need, not necessarily ghosts, but the supernatural. Beyond that, I am stymied.

*as we used to say on University Challenge when it was proper with Bamber Gascoigne not that Paxman fellow, now there’s a chap who looks like he had to buy his furniture

**well, it would have been a light sherry had I gone to Oxbridge rather than the concrete slab university which suffered my presence for three years, cheap instant coffee if memory serves

And if you haven’t read M R James, you really should, or listen to Michael Hordern reading them as he was born to do. You won’t regret it, though you may never sleep quite so well.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

An Obligatory Blog

In this time of fear and uncertainty it is beholden on the blogging community to make some judgmental and ill-informed contributions. Never let it be said that I shirk my duty.

No, I am not going to share my pet, and indeed pat, theories, save only to note that riots happen for a reason or reasons and to attempt to discover those reasons is not to condone the rioters’ behavior as some commentators would have it.

But thankfully we have incisive political leadership at this hour. David Cameron returned with the illuminating announcement that the rioters were criminals which was helpful as I was under the misapprehension that they were mormons. And as today’s Guardian reminds us, certain prominent tories know of where they speak when it comes to the wanton destruction of small businesses:

It is a sobering thought that if Angus Deayton had tied a knot in it, London wouldn’t have that clown as mayor.

At time of writing, the north east remains calm. I was in the city centre on Tuesday night and passed a group of about fifty young people, mainly in hoods on a warm sunny evening, and there was a mood of nervous anticipation but nothing seems to have come of it. There were not enough and the mood had not hit that twitchy tipping moment when a group become a mob. Why not? No idea. There were a couple of police officers but no more than that. The council was doing an open air showing of The King’s Speech just up the road and maybe Geordies don’t riot when superior and slightly smug British cinema is playing in the vicinity. Thank God it wasn’t Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The consequences could have been awful.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I Quite Liked It Actually...

A friend and fellow blogger has had a somewhat severe reaction to Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory as you may read here: (warning: spoilers).

While I was not greatly enamoured of Mr Banks’ gothic effort, I can’t say I disliked it that much but I do appreciate the concept of the polluting book, the novel whose very presence on your shelves can even corrupt your other books so that you become scared to read them again in case Mrs Gaskell has mutated into the Marchioness de Sade. I do not, and have never had, any such book with the possible exception of a self-published fantasy which chunters along for about forty pages until the author gets bored and then breaks off with a note informing the reader that what you have just read actually belongs in a later unwritten novel and now he’s going to start the story proper. As far as this reader was concerned, he was on his own there. While I agree with Flann O’Brien that ‘one beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with’ I felt this was taking things a touch too far. But I do not loathe nor yet fear that book.

No, the only novel that I’ve had such a major reaction to was Martin Amis’ Dead Babies which gave me an intense distaste for Amis fils both as a writer and a human that nothing he has written or said since has dispelled. A milder reaction was provoked by D H Lawrence’s Women In Love which I was required to attempt to read as a student. At the subsequent seminar, it was revealed that everyone in the room had hurled the book at the most convenient wall at the same point in the narrative, the famous nude wrestling scene, so I suppose that can be classed as an achievement. Also, an excellent performance of The Three Sisters that I saw as a depressed teenager upset me so much that I still cannot bear to watch another Chekov play. But that last was down to the skill of the then RSC ensemble and that of young Anton and the translator.

As to young Iain, the only other thing of his I’ve read is The Crow Road which I recommend to just about anyone. He also writes science fiction under the not very mysterious pseudonym of Iain M Banks. This is, I suppose, to ensure that no reader of serious contemporary fiction should find himself reading about spaceships portrayed non-ironically, which I think we all agree is a kind act on behalf of the author.

Having expunged the early Banks oeuvre from her life, my friend contacted me this morning to inform me of a startling thematic link she had discovered between Trainspotting and The Wind in the Willows. She's not wrong.

Poop! Poop!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Crime and Bureaucracy

As part and parcel of the application process for a new job I was recently required to undergo a CRB or criminal records bureau check. This, for the uninitiated, is to confirm that you have no criminal convictions and certain jobs demand it as a condition of employment. Certain voluntary roles do also and I had to have one a couple of years back when I applied to help out at a children’s centre.

It is, with the best will in the world, a somewhat nerve-wracking procedure. The form is simple enough but the wait can be bloody. Now, I do not have a criminal record but I still find myself distinctly tense until a bureaucrat confirms this. Apart from the fact that mistakes and errors do occur even in the most perfect of systems, and this is not one of those, I still have the vague and worrying feeling that I have, at some point, been arrested, charged, prosecuted and convicted for something and then forgotten about it. Unlikely I know, but like Douglas Adams when posting an important letter, I fret that the post box might be, in some obscure way, ‘broken’.

Well, I passed, and even better, this time I passed an Enhanced Disclosure which, I think, is rather more impressive than passing a standard (or vanilla, as we enhanceds like to call them) one.

Of course, all this proves is simply that I have not been caught doing anything wrong and the whole apparatus exists, I suspect, for the protection not of vulnerable people but of the organizations that work with them. But the fact remains that I did pass and I am childishly proud of that.

So, if anyone wishes me to look after any money or valuables they may have, please contact me below. After all, I am as honest as the day is long and I have the paperwork to prove it.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Passing by the Other Side, a Beginner's Guide

Summer's here and with summer comes the chugger (a portmanteau word derived from 'charity' and 'mugger' and one of the best neologisms of the last decade). It is possible your area is not effected by this modern phenomenon in which case you are blesséd indeed. For your information they are young people who approach you in the street on behalf of charity and are remarkably persistent. They're not volunteers and they're not employed by the charity in question. They work for agencies paid for by said charity and they are very irritating. They've spread to the telephone now. Just the other day I had a call from a well known national help and advice charity wanting a direct debit off me. So I am now in the position of being able to say that the Samaritans have called me wanting help.

The flesh and blood ones have calmed down a bit this year, or at least they have in this part of the world. Last summer it was impossible to make your way down Northumberland Street without being pursued by one or more of them. They would even approach you if you were sitting down and deep in conversation and you had to be distinctly rude to them to get them to go away which I dislike doing.

I did however find one foolproof method of getting shot of them. The theory was as follows. I was frequently approached while returning from a shop at the supermarket and at the top of my bag would be a loaf of their cheapest bread. On being approached I would invite the chugger to regard my somewhat scruffy attire, elderly shoes and finally the cheap dry bread and invite them to conclude that I do not have any disposable income to put to their convenience. Abashed and confused, I reckoned, they would fall away sadder but wiser chuggers.

That was the theory.

You see, I'd had a bad day and so when I was approached by an earnest young man my carefully worked out plan collapsed and instead of calmly taking him to task I whipped the loaf out of the bag and waved it at him while saying 'Cheap bread! Cheap bread!' in an urgent voice.

Well, it worked, I'll say that, but on the whole I'd rather not discuss the incident any more.

Friday, 10 June 2011

I Want to Know What the Words Are

Here’s a thing, 47 years old and never seen stadium rock. This was not deliberate as such, it just never occurred to me to do so. In fact, going to see three ‘80s bands at Newcastle’s arena the other day turned out to be the first gig outside of a pub that I’d been to in something like fifteen years if not more. It was like realising how long it is since you last saw a dentist.

Anyway, thanks to the generosity of an old friend, I found myself at said arena to watch the rock stylings of the bands Styx, Foreigner and Journey in that order. It was all a bit odd as I could not bring to mind a single song any of them had done. I listened to bit of Styx and Foreigner on spotify but never got round to Journey so that was going to be a new discovery for me. People I mentioned this to would say ‘Journey? They’re the ones who did…’ and sing a few bars which, I’m sorry to say, was not as helpful as they intended but did leave me in a state of pleasurable uncertainty.

So what was it like? Well, Styx were on first and it quickly became apparent that either they had not seen This Is Spinal Tap, or – and this is my hope – they had but were damned if they were going to change their act as a result. We had the three guitarists lined up front stage phallicly sticking the necks of their guitars at us while they grimaced musically. We had a plethora of ‘Hullo Newcastle’ and ‘Whoo Newcastle’ shouted at random. The keyboardist had a habit of showing off by playing solos with one arm held up in the air behind him thereby demonstrating that there are at least two things he can do one-handedly. Every now and again a slightly shy bookish looking man with a bass guitar would come on and join in. Much was made of this and it turned out that he was the bassist from the original band which raised the question of how authentic were this lot? How many original members were left or were we getting some kind of homeopathic Styx? My companion noted that the difference between the original and the tribute bands is becoming increasingly blurred. But all in all, they were good fun, got the audience on their side and did what they had been paid to do. I thought they were rather sweet.

Next were Foreigner who endeared themselves to the audience after a couple of songs by stating bluntly that they didn’t have much time so from now on in they were going to be only doing their big hits. Which they did. And the crowd loved it, even if the lead singer did over-estimate the geordie audience's capacity for remembering the lyrics to the chorus of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ and ended up having to shout out the line in advance like a rock pantomime*. Again, highly professional and like Styx, pronounced Newcastle correctly with the short ‘a’ and the stress on the second syllable.

*A cheap and cheerful form of rock opera which I for one would pay good money to see

Finally we had Journey, the headline act and as such on for 90 minutes as opposed to the mere hour the other two had been granted each. Their arrival on stage was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience which slowly dribbled away as the lead singer kept announcing those words nostalgia soaked concert goers of a certain age both loath and fear: ‘And here’s one from our new album.’ One of these appeared to be called 'Spunky Love' though I really hope it wasn't. We left before the end and so I never did get to hear their version of that song people sang at me. Never shall now I suppose.

My companion, who was stopping off in the North East of England on her way to somewhere else, had obtained the tickets because a Foreigner tribute band are playing at her holiday destination. I must ask her which was better.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Give me Eeyore, or Give Me Proust

Chatting to a friend the other day, I commented that I occasionally get into trouble for putting milk in espresso coffee. Apparently you’re not meant to do that. My friend fiercely defended my right to put milk, or indeed anything else that took my fancy, into anything I wished to drink. I was grateful for her support. As it happens I drink espresso not only because the espresso maker I have is one of those that you place directly on the hob and therefore guarantees piping hot coffee, something which cafetiéres and percolators cannot, but also that said espresso maker looks ever so slightly like a dalek.

I was reminded of all the above while perusing the Guardian on-line and yet again coming across someone getting remarkably tetchy about adults reading Harry Potter. This is a bit of a King Charles’ Head with CP Scott’s mob*. They have that curious irritation bordering on real anger about the Harry Potter books which I genuinely do not understand. Some of it seems to be down to snobbery, some of it down to jealousy and a lot down to the fact that adults read them too. And this seems to be the real irritant. But what, pray, is so appallingly wrong with adults reading children’s books? Especially that some extremely fun and interesting writing is currently coming from that corner.

*And with me as a quick glance shows I have written about three blogs on this subject over the last six months

The answer, at least for some people, seems to be a sense of propriety. Adults should not read books intended for some other group. It makes a mockery of the whole terribly serious business of being a reader. After all, how can you hold your head up at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival when your bibliophilic superiority is undermined by someone reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which scores doubly badly as it is not only a YA** book but science fiction as well but which remains one the very few literary responses to the banking crisis that I have come across).

Well the hell with them. I will continue to put milk in my espresso and read what I damn well want to read. It’s just such a terrible shame that I have to assert my right to do so.

**Young Adult as teenagers and children who dislike being called children are now referred to by the publishing industry. As I now have discovered, calling a teenager an old child does not go down well.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

All I Ask Is A Comfort Break...

I recently undertook an eight hour coach journey. Irritatingly, it was not one of those that people on Radio 4 or The Guardian witter on about, travelling in some far flung part of the globe in order to go and patronise some poor people and make their lives in a small, and yet significant, way ever so slightly worse. No, this was a journey from Newcastle to Birmingham (insert own joke here) via Leicester and Nottingham. I was obliged to go this longer way owing to the increasingly insane cost of rail travel in this fair and royalist land. £100 Richard Branson wanted from me and for that amount I expect luxury on a scale that would Louis XIV of France, the Sun King himself, mutter ‘Steady on old boy.’.

Actually, it was a rather pleasant journey. Certainly nicer than the overcrowded hell that is Virgin cross-country these days. Not only was there room for your luggage, there was even room to stretch out your legs and even turn a page of your book without nudging your neighbour, none of which is possible on Beardie’s trains.

It’s not the longest single journey I’ve undertaken in my time. That would be the thirty-two hour ferry crossing from Ireland to France I undertook in 1985 during which I tasted frogs’ legs for the only time, found out that members of the US Marine Corps are obliged to shave their legs* and saw the first Police Academy film.

Those were the golden days of travel.

Incidentally, I will not divulge the name of the coach company with which I travelled. This blog is not for hire. Meanwhile, here’s a song for you:

*’You want waxing? You can’t handle waxing!’

Saturday, 23 April 2011

All Hail a Glover's Son

Another 23rd of April, another Shakespeare’s birth/deathday celebration. Another piece about whether Shakespeare did actually write the plays or whether someone else did and if so, does it actually matter(

It does, but only because of the argument put forward by those who cannot bear the idea that a glover’s son from Stratford could be England’s greatest writer. Once you strip away the glitter of their argument it comes down to simple snobbery and as such needs to be resisted rather than ignored. The idea that a provincial with a reasonable but not amazing education could achieve what Shakespeare achieved has to be celebrated, not furiously denied. Interestingly, so angry are the Shakespeare sceptics at the effrontery of the man’s persistent refusal to be well-born, they rarely even use his name, preferring to refer to him as ‘the glover’s son’ or ‘a Stratford actor’. They even call themselves anti-Stratfordians, which does rather reveal the wellspring of their denial. Refute and then ignore is my humble advice. You can find the facts you need in Bill Bryson’s excellent biography, Shakespeare, though doubtless the sceptics would refuse to accept his arguments because he’s American or too popular or whatever. As Macbeth says:

…it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

On a better note, once again here’s the reason why we should celebrate this day with, as it is also St George’s Day, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt in Richard II stating why he rather likes England but is a bit upset about recent events. He shouldn’t worry, it will all turn out for the best a couple of plays down the line, well, for England anyway, not so much for France:

Have fun.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Reading Maketh Something I've Read

So, Michael Gove thinks children should read 50 books a year. Seems a lot to me, that’s one a week with a fortnight off at Christmas presumably, but what do I know? Reactions were as to be expected. Some people boasting that fifty was not nearly enough, one on-line commentator threatening violence if any of the fifty were Harry Potter or Twilight books, which seemed hard, and most agreeing that quality not quantity was the issue. I have to say, I’m not so sure.

Reading is many things. At its basis, it’s a way of sharing information with others. It’s a form of pleasure for some. For others it is a kind of moral duty and there are some for whom it is a way to parade their superiority to others. Each, save the last, seems valid. But it is the idea that there are books that should be read (and by serious and worrying implication, books that should not be read) that I find truly troublesome. I know I failed that test badly as a child by spending a year obsessively reading Enid Blyton (the Famous 5 and the Adventure stories to be precise) which confession casts me into the outer darkness as far as some are concerned. In the pre-video/i-player days I read novelisations of my favourite television series, Dr Who and Space: 1999 in particular. As a teenager, or Young Adult as they are now designated by the publishing industry, it was Alistair MacLean and science fiction. Then as an older Young Adult (if that makes sense) I discovered Penguin Modern Classics and dismayed my friends and family by always having one in my pocket, green spine to the fore so that it could be seen, identified and admired. And of all of them, I cannot think of a single book that I have ever regretted reading and that, surely is the important thing. The act of reading is neutral and to attempt to indoctrinate children into thinking otherwise is as dubious as not allowing them to read at all.

Anyway, must dash, got a DVD I want to watch.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Goodbye, Mr Bond

I don’t like the James Bond novels anymore.

I’m a bit sad about that as for most of my life I did and it’s a bit like an old toy finally falling irrevocably apart. I also no longer enjoy the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser, but I’m not sad about that. Tastes change over a life and it’s curious, to me anyway, which are mourned and which are not. Like Mr Banks, I feel a surge of great satisfaction, though for me it is the knowledge that I shall never again read The Lord of the Rings, that burden has been taken from me. On the other hand, I was upset to discover that I now find T H White’s The Once And Future King almost unreadable. That was the first book that I read after my university final exams and as I studied Eng Lit, was therefore the first book I had read out of choice for three years. I loved it. Tried it again just before Christmas, didn’t like it and felt a pang of loss. But the Bond novels are a special case. I partly defined myself as a reader of Bond books, defending them from criticisms that seemed to mainly arise from snobbery or ignorance. Furthermore, I am now nervous about the films. What if I no longer enjoy them? After all, the reason I write is because of the James Bond films. I adored them as a child and was horrified to discover that Ian Fleming was dead and so no longer writing which, I reasoned, meant that there would come a day when there would be no more Bond films, a horrifying prospect. Then I noticed that someone else had written a Bond novel, one Robert Markham (a pseudonym for Kingsley Amis, no honestly). The relief was overwhelming and with a prelapsarian ignorance of the laws of copyright, I wrote a Bond story myself. It was the first thing I ever wrote because I wanted to as opposed to being told to by school. It was called One By One, had a Russian villain called Ivan (after consultation with my brother had elicited the information that Ivan was what most Russians are called, and him a Man From U.N.C.L.E. fan) and featured a cunning plan to kidnap scientists. I then wrote a Bond screenplay, I forget the title, which was set on a cross-channel ferry and had 007 thwarting a hi-jack attempt. Sadly, both manuscripts are lost, but I’m sure if Barbara Broccoli calls, I could put something together.

And of course I may return to the written Bond, because, as every fan of the films knows as a certainty:

James Bond Will Return.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Vote for Me is a Vote for Something Else

Another by-election, another small turn out and doubtless soon to follow we will have the usual laments about voter apathy which always seem to have the sinister undercurrent that the whole system should be abolished and we should resign ourselves to autocratic rule by those who know best. There may well be laments about how more people vote in X Factor or whatever than vote in elections. But as Mark Steel has pointed out more than once, people don’t bother to vote because they can’t be bothered with democracy, they don’t vote because they can’t see the point. Their votes have no concrete effect. He may be right. On a local level, Tesco recently failed to get permission to build a new shop near where my mother lives, said permission turned down by the democratically voted local council. Tesco then trotted off to London to get that decision over-ruled by a government made up of two parties who failed to win the last election. David Cameron wants to privatise just about the entire state which I don’t remember being mentioned in the TV debates and Nick Clegg justifies breaking his university fees pledge on the grounds that not enough people voted for him which is not so much realpolitik as petulance. ‘Manifestos are poetry, policies are prose’ says a character in The West Wing. Maybe, but I reserve the right to get annoyed if I am sold a book which is advertised as being by Oscar Wilde but is in fact written by Jeffrey Archer.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Play nicely Martin

There must, as they say, be something in the water. First we have two football bods being rude about female match officials, then Jeremy Clarkson and his droogs mocking Mexicans and now Martin ‘son of Kingsley’ Amis has had a go at children’s authors. You may have missed the last. It was in a TV interview with Sebastian ‘literary writer’ Faulks in the course of which Amis fils stated that he would require to be ‘brain-damaged’ before he could write a book for children.

What is it about children’s books that so irritate Britain’s intelligentsia? I assume it has something to do with Harry Potter being so successful but I don’t remember Roald Dahl getting it in the neck in this way. He would be criticised for being too dark or otherwise unsuitable, but I cannot recall anyone saying that he must have suffered some kind of mental collapse between writing all those ‘tales of the much as we expected’ (as Peter Cook called them) and James & The Giant Peach.

As always when one of these attacks on children’s books pops up, I am reminded of Philip Pullman, a writer who, as a friend once said about Derek Jarman’s films, I don’t really like but I’m very glad he’s there. His reply to someone’s query as to when he was going to start writing grown-up books was to comment that an equivalent was to ask a paediatrician when they were going to start doing grown-up medicine. He also once smugly noted that when the Dark Materials trilogy, which deals with the existence of God and the role of religion amongst other things, was top of the children’s best-selling charts, the best-selling adult’s novel was Does My Bum Look Big In This?.

Which is nice.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Make Room! Make Room!

During the debates over healthcare in the United States recently, it was interesting to see the misconceptions that young nation has about the NHS. Remember all that talk about ‘death panels’ deciding who lives and who dies? It got to the point where one was required to point out that Dr Shipman was the exception, not the norm. But we in dear old Blighty should restrain from mocking too much. We too have our own fiercely held beliefs that must seem peculiar to those not blessed to dwell among us. This was borne out recently by a survey that Radio 4’s been burbling on about concerning immigration. Apparently we don’t want any more immigrants on the grounds that the country is, in some way that I for one have not noticed, ‘full’ and furthermore we don’t want the immigrants we have got to receive any care or attention from the aforementioned NHS. So far, so Daily Mail. Then it gets weird because it turns out that we do want immigrants after all, but only if they are doctors or carers for the elderly.

Is this really a good idea? Maybe I’m a wuss in these things, but I am leery of being treated by someone who is denied the very care and treatment that s/he is giving me. I can see there being ‘potential issues’, as a manager I once had used to call foreseeable consequences, arising.

And then there’s this business of the country being ‘full’. This one’s been doing the rounds for as long as I can remember but it seems to be peaking at the moment. A lot of this, I suspect, is a result of the disgraceful scaremongering during the last government by the party previously known as Labour, but it seems to be also driven by all those southern shandypants who can’t tell the difference between the United Kingdom and South East England who get into a tizzy every time they can’t get a seat on the tube. Fret not my little metropolitan friends, once the housing benefit caps come in there’ll be loads of room. Curiously Holland does not think it's full despite having a higher percentage of immigrants and being smaller than us and, indeed flatter. Must be the waffles.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Undead? Moi?

At a book sale today, I commented to my companion that I was a bit bored with vampires. I had found a copy of the first book in the True Blood/Sookie Stackhousen(?) series by Charlaine Harris and had decided not to buy it. My companion disagreed and spent the next minute rhapsodising about vampires. ‘They bite,’ she crooned, a touch too loudly and sensuously for a church hall on a Saturday morning in my personal opinion. But that is by the by. Apart from my friend and assorted Ron Pattison groupies, I get the impression that we’re all a bit bored by vampires. There’s a lot of them about and I can’t help but feel that a moratorium is called for. So far, so uncontroversial.

However, if we are to move, slowly, to zombies, things are different. Zombies are great, zombies are cool, zombies are going to medical school.

Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this whole zombies thing at all. They are the dullest and dreariest supernatural menace to stalk the cinema since I can’t think when. Yet they seem to be adored by many. I mean, all they do is moan, lurch and eat people alive and even that palls after a few times. The website ran an article which posited the theory that we like them so much because they are so pathetic. They are ‘schlupps’ the article suggested which I take to mean that we are meant to feel a certain sympathy for them. I don’t get it myself. I mean to say, with a vampire there’s a chance of some decent conversation, with a ghost you might be given a great revelation and some cool special effects but all you ever get from a zombie is a moan and some anthropophagy for your trouble. Where’s the pleasure in that?

I suppose that if ghosts represent our fear of personality annihilation after death and vampires our fear of predatory sexuality and STDs, then zombies channel our fear of pre and post mortem decay and loss of facilities. Oddly enough, that was what folkloric vampires seemed to have represented before Bram Stoker and then Bela Lugosi got their fangs into them. Perhaps a similar arc awaits the poor shambling zombie? Already they can run, which they never used to be able to so it’s not such a leap for them to become sophisticated, stylishly dressed and Hungarian as opposed to hungry.

‘I do not eat…snacks.’

Friday, 21 January 2011

Burns Notice

It’s Burns Night soon, the 25th to be precise, and this is a thing worthy of celebrating. Oh avoid the neeps and tatties by all means, especially the neeps in my humble opinion, and no one’s forcing you to eat haggis, although these days I think it’s rather good, especially the vegetarian version. Now I come to think of it, is there another poet who’s reputation has suffered from the vague belief that the reader has to eat certain foodstuffs before s/he can be appreciated? Not that I’m aware of, though it may be de riguer in certain circles to turn on the gas oven before reading Sylvia Plath for all I know.

No, forget all the toast to the haggis and piping the damn thing in nonsense, unless that’s the kind of thing you go in for in which case indulge yourself by all means, but instead consider the poetry itself.

All right, that can be a bit of a reach for those not up on lallands, aka the lowland Scots dialect, in which a number of the poems are written but it should not be too much of a problem for those used to picking their way through, say, T S Eliot’s The Wasteland. It’s really just a question of getting your ear in and not being shy to use a glossary if one is provided.

One of the more famous Burns’ poems is commonly known as Scots Wha Hae, which actually comes out in standard English as ‘Scots who have’ which is a compelling reason why it should not be Scotland’s national anthem. God Save the Queen may be a dreary anthem to have but at least it’s title doesn’t leave the listener hanging in suspense. Not that I’m a fan of God Save The Queen, it’s one of the duller anthems, especially when compared with The Marseillaise which is great fun. For the record, my vote’s with Jerusalem.

No, let us celebrate Burns because in the month that has seen Bob Diamond of Barclays tell Parliament that he believes that the banks no longer need to show remorse while the cabinet is made up almost exclusively of millionaires, this following poem is rather apposite:

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

And here’s the Corries doing a rather fine version of it:

Saturday, 15 January 2011

There Will Be Platelets

It comes of having a Y chromosome I suppose, but I am inordinately pleased to discover that I have enough platelets in my blood stream to be a possible platelet donor. Not everyone has. And it’s better than that, not only do you have to have enough platelets to spare, you have to have the right blood type and furthermore have ‘rigid and raised’ veins. The latter sadly really does bring out the Jeremy Clarkson in me as a friend discovered when I boasted loudly of having them while she was browsing in Topshop. Mind you, she ought to be used to this. I once announced loudly in Fenwicks that I’m partial to Polish sausage. Well, in these hard times you have to carry on, don’t you.

Actually, I’m not there yet. While my veins are ready and willing and my platelets are so numerous they’re in danger of seceding from the red corpuscles, I still on the day have to have a high enough pulse and a low enough blood pressure. So I may yet have to endure the ignominy and blow to my self-esteem of not actually being able to give away any of the teeming platelets however much I may wish to.

Wish me luck.