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.