Saturday, 7 October 2017

write up! speak up! sun 15th october

I'll be doing two poems at Write Up! Speak Up! (a Wells Festival of Literature event) - the cormorant in South London one, and the Moby/ Oort cloud one. Meg and I get to meet Simon Parkin off of the telly. Sun 15th October, 7:00pm; Bishop's Palace, Wells.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

twenty-seven words about helicopters and rainbows

I’m noticing helicopters, rainbows lately. Helicopters salient because militarism, war; rainbows because Genesis 9:11-17 = God undertakes never to destroy world again; I’m, like, Lord, you *say* that… 

To see helicopters, visit Fleet Air Arm Museum; to learn more about rainbows, read text by BBC Weather reporter Cecilia Daly; to investigate how Christianity can help modulate existential dread, go to church. Other helicopter-themed museums, weather presenters, faiths also available. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

david foster wallace: where i was when i heard

If a public figure has been an inspiration to you, you’ll remember how and when you learned of their death, particularly if that death was sudden and/or premature.

This obituary for David Foster Wallace, who died nine years ago this month, was originally published in November 2008 in Banana Wings, the long-running Nova- and FAAN-winning science fiction fanzine edited by Claire Briarley and Mark Plummer. Its original title was Where I Was When I Heard That David Foster Wallace, An American Writer Some of Whose Short Fiction I’ve Read, Had Died and How The News Sits Within My Overall Life Matrix Right Now.

I learned the news that David Foster Wallace had died when a friend of a friend who’d become just, a friend, joined a group called ‘RIP David Foster Wallace’ on Facebook two days after new Facebook became the only Facebook. A change for the worse IMHO but what would I know, I’m still bitter that (pace Tomorrow’s World) I can’t spread jam on CDs. I’d spent the evening chasing paperwork in order to send off my job acceptance. I’d spent the day shopping for new suits as the last time I wore a suit on consecutive days I was also the owner of a ex-Soviet Army greatcoat, a Sony Walkman and a subscription to the Modern Review, ed. Toby Young; the Inspiral Carpets were in the charts; I lived in Leeds, which still exists. It was 1991. I’ll be wearing a suit on approximately 227 days during the twelve months beginning 6th October 2008, officially my start date for the purposes of possible future redundancy.  To be honest, it’s about time.

To tell the narcissistic truth, at least one of the sentences in this obituary started life earlier this afternoon in my mind at Suits You or perhaps Debenhams as a potential Facebook status update before I heard about DFW’s death; I hope that I’ve now set the potential ‘look at me’ nugget in a broader context (if nuggets have a context) which hat-tips grief and fulfils the vow I renewed at last week’s Southampton Writers’ Circle, which meets at Crusader House in a room full of Bibles and whose (i) sweaty desperation (ii) biscuity pheromones and (iii) ‘non-respect of persons’ - in the Authorised Version sense - puts me in mind of Narcotics Anonymous of which, oddly and it would be erroneously, I want to suggest membership (all that doomed outsider bullshit; all that heroic self-restraint). This vow which I first made a decade ago is to write for at least fifteen minutes a day “even if it’s gibberish.” [Pheromone = a chemical that triggers a natural behavioral response in another member of the same species].

The last writer’s death I thought a lot about was Douglas Adams’s. He died on a Sunday newspaper hoarding as I stepped off the Isle of Wight ferry; it was a sunny spring day, Sarah and I had just started seeing each other, and I’d only just formed the idea of leaving London and moving to Jane Austen Country (Isaac Watts Country, Benny Hill Country). It’s a shame that David Foster Wallace died as American literature needed his intelligence and ambition; British literature more so but, crap, he wasn’t born here. I mean, I may be talking out of my arse having only read his short fiction but for my money ‘The Depressed Person’ is up there with anything that Swift wrote. Now someone whose critical judgement I respect very much dislikes DFW enough that she once wrote a long LiveJournal entry about it...  but I’ve borrowed Portswood Library’s big blue copy of Infinite Jest twice now, once when I first moved here and once recently, renewing it a couple of times on each occasion; television, paperwork and involved parenthood keep me away from it presently but not having read it’s one of the smaller reasons not to die yet. Bigger reasons include wanting to grow old with Sarah, hope of career success and/or adulation, intermittent sense of personal mission (faith-based) and a strong continuing emotional investment in parenting.

Talking of parenting: when I put Megan my small daughter to bed the other night, she looked at the family photos on the stairs and asked when her teenage brother would be a little boy again. “Sam’s never going to be a little boy again,” I said. “That happened in the past.” At around three years, our minds reorganise all their categories, executing a kind of slow reboot and burying memories previously available to consciousness in substrate. It’s as though we have to leave an infantile world behind in order to join the consensus reality that older children and adults inhabit. The Eden archetype is fertile with this awareness; the sense of a lost paradise has haunted poets (Coleridge?). It’s only after this unplanned garden expulsion event that the human mind can model the fact that (i) no sibling or parent ever gets younger (ii) no investment bank goes unbust with the instant restoration of tens of thousands of jobs in the financial sector (iii) it’s never going to be 2008 or 1991 or 1666 again (iv) no colossus of American fiction ever unhangs himself but, heck, at least no-one unwrites books.

Postscript: time continues to pass. ‘Small daughter Megan’ prefers to be called Meg now and starts secondary school in a few days. Sam has a Master’s degree, lives in London; we see plenty of him but not enough. Leeds still exists. I’ve since seen Tom Hingley (frontman) perform Inspiral Carpets material: it was at the Watchet Music Festival in 2012 where Sarah, Meg and I and a thousand others singing along with “this is how it feels to be lonely” certainly felt like a moment. Once in a while, I still find myself missing that greatcoat [‘that greatcoat’ = synecdoche]. Have I read ‘Infinite Jest’ yet? Well, it’s a long story…. 

 it's bleak out on those moors

summer is over...

...and we are not yet saved (Jeremiah 8:20).

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

twenty-seven word reviews of films seen since April

The Way Ahead (1945, dir. Carol Reed, starring David Niven, Stanley Holloway, William Hartnell).   Romanticised but open-ended portrait of a range of conscripts – training, then into action: North Africa. Prompts reflections on, inter alia, stories that we told ourselves in 1945.

Passionate Friends (1949, dir. David Lean, starring Ann Todd, Trevor Howard). Less of a chamber piece than Brief Encounter (longer time-frames; Switzerland); same emotional acuity and restraint (WW2 represented as a cold wind through an open window); spell-binding.

Robocop (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven). Hadn’t seen; overdue. Enjoyed; popcorn movie; special effects still credible; satire broad but sharp (war risks; corporate ethics; privatisation; identity vs machine). Also, Leland Palmer’s in it. 

Factotum (2005, dir. Bent Hamer, starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor). Bar-dwelling old-timer to hard-drinking protagonist: “I’ve probably been asleep for longer than you’ve been alive.” Watchable, funny, necessarily downbeat biopic of writer, drunk, occasional misogynist Charles Bukowski.

Twilight (2008, dir. Catherine Hardwicke, starring  Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson). Bella: How old are you? Edward: Seventeen. Bella: How long have you been seventeen? Edward: A while. Daughter understands she shouldn’t date vampires in high school. Fun.

Potiche (2010, dir. Francois Ozon, starring  Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu). Brightly-coloured movie starring Depardieu and Deneuve in a sitcom-like plot involving an umbrella factory, la guerre des sexes, strike action, and disco. What more do you need?

Hunger Games (2012, dir. Gary Ross, starring Jennifer Lawrence). Wife and daughter both into the Hunger Games series. Meant to be the dystopia de nos jours, but I dozed partly; didn’t connect; unthrilled. Is that terrible?

London: The Modern Babylon (2012, dir. Julien Temple). Interesting, unexpected about, e.g. Battle of Cable Street but some sections glib, overfamiliar, music choices disrespectful (e.g. Fall’s Leave the Capitol vs WW2 evacuees). Not his best.

Saving Mr Banks (2013, dir. John Lee Hancock, starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks). Platonic romcom (film rights =consummation); Travers (‘Mary Poppins’ author), Disney as protagonists. Nice, bright-looking film, uninvolving though. Just say no, Mrs T; Julie Andrews’ll still get work.

twenty-seven word reviews of books read since March

Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon.  Liked incursion of Nigerian folktale into Lagos-set SF; wanted to like more; found ‘putdownable’; polyphonic, magic-realist approach versus narrative drive, perhaps. Keen to read more by author.

C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Theologically, philosophically well-grounded ‘core Christianity’ explication in clear-sighted, plain prose. Helps me recommit. Good. BUT race, gender, LGBT attitudes range from dated through jaw-dropping to WTF. Hmmm.

Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: Facing The Complexities of Marriage with the Wisdom of God. Sane, non-liberal (e.g. "headship") Christian thought and insight re-presented in full awareness of today’s context (so no WTF moments). Not scintillating but pragmatic. Religion speaks to culture.

H.G. Wells’ Ann Veronica.   Ann, adrift in London, stalked, mistaken for a prostitute, in same existential predicament as Wells’ Time Traveller in 802,701. Clammy horror good but quasi-Nietzschean sexual politics bad.

Karl-Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1 (tr. Don Bartlett).   Had to get around to; compulsory (for a certain middle-aged male ‘literary’ demographic). Boring and intensely absorbing by turns (like life – good mimesis). Alcoholism, girls, father-son stuff.

John Gottman & Joan DeClaire’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting. Useful if working with families (or in one); categorisation of parenting styles as dismissing, emotion-coaching etc. is illuminating without being – as with some parenting texts - reductive.  
Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. Literary sensibilities and experience of fatherhood inform author’s (i) researches into transhumanism (ii) road trip across America with Zoltan Istvar, running for President in a coffin-shaped bus.

Alex Evans’ The Myth Gap: What Happens when Evidence and Arguments aren’t Enough?. We must reconnect with our various religious/ cultural myths, esp. atonement, coming of age, to reach both inwards and outwards on climate. Mindfulness is non-trivial. Brief, recommended.

twenty-seven word review of a noticeboard outside where the home-care agency used to be; empty for a while, this unit's since been redeveloped as an antique shop called 'Presence of the Past'

Walking past homecare office for years: glossy staff photos yellowing and faded. 

Office closed, now – workers elderly, infirm themselves, perhaps. 

NVQ3-qualified, though – no-one can take that away.

Why not visit Presence of the Past if you're in town today?

we need to judge widths all the time

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

twenty-seven word reviews of 'Britain in Focus' exhibition (Science & Media Museum, Bradford; with BBC4) and of photography collections by featured artists

Peter Mitchell, Mr and Mrs Hudson in Seacroft Green. Leeds, 1974. 

'Britain in Focus' (Science & Media Museum, Bradford) - absorbing, manageable (!) exhibition: Victorian pioneers (landscapes; tough industrial lives); Edwardians invented fun and donkey-rides, our grandparents read Picture Post, Jane Bown photographed the Beatles. Now we’ve Instagram.
(Exhibition open until 25th June 2017)

The Rural Dean of Stepney with some of his flock (1940s).

Bert Hardy's Britain, ed. Colin Wilkinson. Originally ‘fun’, Picture Post developed a humanitarian agenda during and after WWII. Hardy was a leading talent, photographing London blitz firefighters, Gorbals slum children, etc. Passionate; engaged.

John Bulmer, 'The North'Moving images (ha! Intentional pun) which also ‘back light’ two cultural moments – kitchen sink drama (1960s); punk (1970s). Text documents “worries North’ll keep us out of Europe.” 

Martin Parr, photograph from The Last Resort' 

Martin Parr, 'The Last Resort'. Foreword attempts rescue from charges of condescension; Parr was “humorous, fond”...? Unsure myself; this sometimes looks cold, distanced - laughter ‘at’, not ‘with’. Loved 'Boring Postcards' though.

Vanley Burke, Boys on a See-Saw. Handsworth Park, Birmingham, 1984.

'Britain in Focus: A Photographic History' (BBC4 series). Those books available to view at gallery - but associated BBC4 series also features Vanley Burke (British Afro-Carribean experience); Fay Godwin (politics of landscape), instagrammer Molly Boniface etc.

(Available online until 20th April 2017).

twenty-seven word review of Martin's Parr's 'Boring Postcards' (London: Phaidon, 1999)

Butlins, Filey; M6 motorway; Cross Gates Arndale Centre, Leeds. Boring’s a misnomer; these are 1950s/ early 1960s dreams of modernity and mass affluence. Literally hours of fun.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

twenty-seven word reviews of films watched during March 2017

House of Mirth (2000; dir. Terence Davies; starring Gillian Anderson)  - original novel’s probably good; film felt like a somewhat routine costume drama, though; S. dozed; I kept forgetting who, whom; starts Austen-esque but ends up about drugs.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2011, dir. Edgar Wright) – witty, hyperactive, glorious mess;  references superhero comics, martial arts gaming, garage/ grunge music. I too became tough at vegan academy; dropped out though, completed pescaterian technical college.

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014, dir. Lasse Hallstrom; starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri) –  rival restaurants; French countryside; pro-diversity message;  you’ll see this film’s denouement coming from a hundred miles away; good, heartwarming fun though. Who doesn’t enjoy watching food, TBH?

Still the Enemy Within (2014, dir. Owen Gower) – documentary: how the 1984-5 U.K. miners’ strike was fought and policed; inspiring and moving; also discusses how ‘supportive others’ were mobilised – students, musicians, LGBT activists (seen ‘Pride’?).  

The Student and Mr Henri (L’etudiante et M. Henri) (2015, dir. Ivan Calberac) –  charming, genuinely funny; the kind of intelligent, interestingly morally ambiguous, romantic comedy about grown-up people that you have to be French in order to make (it seems)

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016; dir. Ron Howard) – film about the Beatles live (Hamburg, Cavern Club, Shea Stadium), because whatever the hell happened between ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ happened on tour; essential.

'Still the Enemy Within' and 'Scott Pilgrim' were the joint winners. 'The Student and Mr Henri' came third. 'House of Mirth' came last. It was several dozen times better than the worst film I've ever seen. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

twenty-seven word reviews of books read during January and February 2017

Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea“Not many girls,” say daughter. True – wizards are all boys, girls do housework. “Female author though; strong feminist by repute.” Discussion ensues. Both enjoyed but daughter preferred...

Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Bit chatty sometimes IMHO; daughter and I loved unexpected breakthrough from fantasy world into contemporary (1980s) Wales = ‘Wizard of Oz’ b&w to colour moment. Calcifer rocks.

Tessa Hadley’s Married Love. Short stories. Mutedness; unspoken conversations, unacted desires. One story: female undergraduate, 20 marries composer, 60; has babies. Choices cannot be unchosen; families comment, react; things work out.

Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future. Early torment in South Africa, braininess, 1980s tech, mobile phones, solar power, electric cars, moral compass. Bit driven; cold fish sometimes. Like Tony Stark but not. Enjoyed.

Viv Albertine's Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Eventful narrative: childhood, punk (the Slits), cancer, suburban ‘afterwards’, comeback. Told through vignettes – like a concept album or song cycle.  Researching novella; protagonist= musician; bit stuck though.

John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Book-length elaboration of C.S. Lewis quote, “God finds our desires too weak...”; willed emotionlessness is Stoic, not Christian. Thought-provoking; ‘conservative’ (so you know); must read Pascal now.