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.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Souls to the Devil, Did You Think I Was Dead?

I have to admit being somewhat impressed when a friend mentioned en passant on facebook that finding James Joyce’s Ulysses heavy going, she had instead picked up Finnegans Wake. Now, as you doubtless all know, Finnegans Wake is the difficult book’s difficult book. Even people who read Thomas Mann or The Glass Bead Game for fun find it hardish. Based on the Irish song about a man in a coma who is awoken when whiskey is accidently thrown in his face during the wake held in the mistaken belief that he is dead, Finnegans Wake describes the dreams he has while unconscious. Or so I’m told. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story based with a similar story but which does not end so happily though it is somewhat shorter.

I’ve not read Finnegans Wake and to be blunt, don’t really intend to. I’m having a go at Ulysses and quite enjoyed the first 49 pages (Wordsworth Classics Edition, £2:00), certainly beats all that ‘once upon a time there was a cow it was a moo cow’ stuff that blights the first sentence of A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, but I just cannot foresee a time when I will want to read the later work. Apart from anything else, I don’t have a copy and Wordsworth Classics don’t do one. Now I come to think of it, I’ve not actually even seen many copies of it. I worked for ten years in an Oxfam book shop and never once was a copy donated which might mean that it is such a loved book that it is never parted with or that there’s damn all copies in circulation.

Apparently either Pozzo or Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is based on Joyce, I wouldn’t know. Beckett of course was Joyce’s compatriot and fellow allegedly ‘difficult’ writer, the main difference being that the latter killed Germans and played cricket, one in his capacity as a member of the French Resistance and the other in his pursuit of a loved sport, though I can never remember which.

Oh and there isn’t meant to an apostrophe in the title, I believe. The great Flann O’Brien maintained that it was assorted editors insistence in adding one that contributed to Joyce’s early death.

Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake.