Sunday, June 28, 2015

midsummer merthyr

My excuse for largely ignoring Father's Day up to now has been: well, its falling on the third Sunday in June means it's never more than a week or so from my own father's birthday, so a card and some minor celebration for that pretty much takes care of it.

Obviously now I am a father twice over I'm all over Father's Day like a rash. To the accompanying charge of hypocrisy I say: guilty as charged. Now bring on the cards, and have my adoring children scrubbed and set before me at a respectful distance.

Since my lovely wife had bought the girls a couple of matching T-shirts this year we decided to go and take some impromptu photos in the garden, which I think came out rather well. We also did a quick jaunt over to the RSPB reserve at Nash (one of our regular haunts) for some fresh air and a short walk punctuated by a couple of impressive threenager-style tantrums from Nia.

Only a few days later it was our fourth wedding anniversary - apparently the occasion for gifts themed around linen, silk, fruit, flowers, or electrical appliances, depending on whose bullshit list of stuff you adhere to. I suppose if you bought your spouse a juicer wrapped in a floral-patterned linen bag that would tick most of the boxes. Anyway, rather than get sidetracked by any of that nonsense, and since the weather forecast was good, we decided to have a day at the beach. As we hadn't been there before and it looked interesting, we went over to Merthyr Mawr between Ogmore and Porthcawl. What you'll discover if you visit is that even if you park up in the car park below Candleston Castle, the nearest point of access, you've still got a walk of a mile or so across some steep sand dunes to get to the beach - no joke if you've got a three-year-old, a twelve-week-old and a load of gear with you. Additionally, since the Ordnance Survey apparently consider the well-established dunes to be a transient coastal feature, they don't bother putting any contour info on the maps, so you really just have to pick your way along whatever looks like the best path as you go along.

The upside of all that effort, though, is that when you get to the beach the likelihood is that it'll be largely deserted - we had the mile-and-a-half stretch to ourselves apart from a couple of horse-riders and a couple of joggers. We managed to find a flatter way back later by walking south-east down the beach, finding a path upstream along the banks of the River Ogmore, and then cutting inland back to the car park.

It was a hot and breezy day, so as a responsible parent I urge you to remember to get plenty of sunblock on your kids. I do also urge you, however, not to do what we did and be so preoccupied with doing this that you forget to put any on yourself. Both Hazel and I were sporting some pretty spectacular sunburn by the time we got home.

Photos can be found here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

what, your hairy tube?

Here's a Headline Of The Day for you, on the face of it an utterly inconsequential showbiz story about two people who may once have been C-list celebs a decade or so ago, but the Daily Mail have managed to slip a bit of innuendo in just to spice things up a bit:

To be fair, I've trimmed a few extraneous words off the end of the headline just to focus the reader's mind a bit, but those are the words as they appear in the headline. I expect he then went on to kiss her in the Shepherd's Bush area, and then took her up the Arsenal, at which point they probably both got off.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

book now to avoid disappointment

You'll have been wondering, after the last post documenting the senseless slaughter of another author, how potent the juju I evidently wield is. Well, that answer seems to be: it varies. While my first victim, Michael Dibdin, lived less than two months after first featuring in the list, others have survived for over seven-and-a-half years, although there does seem to be a cluster of deaths between there and eight years; Gabriel García Márquez at seven years and 284 days is the current longevity record-holder. Doris Lessing is the oldest victim at 94, but there is a cluster of six authors between 85 and 90. Michael Dibdin and Iain Banks are the only two who could really be said to have been taken "before their time".

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 2y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 7y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 7y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 7y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d

So the message seems to be: if you featured in a book review in this blog between seven and eight years ago, and you are now over 80, you are probably fucked. Surveying the book reviews between the middle of 2007 and the middle of 2008 suggests the most likely candidates are Joyce Carol Oates (age 77), David Lodge (age 80) and Milan Kundera (age 86). Keep an eye on the obituaries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

proper bo

I caught most of episode 3 (of 3 - episodes 1 and 2 are here and here) of How To Be Bohemian on BBC Four last night, presented by the lovely Victoria Coren Mitchell, with just the occasional knowingly foxy look to camera as if to say: yeah, I've done a bit of the old boheeming in my time, let me tell you. I concede that I could have imagined that last bit. Anyway, as if to mirror my reaction to people who self-identify as "bohemian", the programme was a mixture of fascinating, amusing and irritating. A couple of things that caught my eye and/or ear:
  • Seasoned stalkers of Victoria Coren Mitchell will have clocked that there would have been a good possibility of her being pregnant at the time the programme was made - it was hard to tell based on the segment I saw as she was spending a lot of time in (presumably chilly) artists' garrets in a selection of large coats. The tiniest amount of research reveals that yes, she was.
  • The programme provided the second recent-ish instance I've spotted of Led Zeppelin's Good Times Bad Times being used as incidental/soundtrack music, this time as backdrop to a bit about the 1950s turning into the 1960s and rock and roll providing a whole new series of more raucous outlets for people's creativity. Presumably it was chosen for its bracingly abrupt opening, representing in some way the shift in the prevailing cultural Zeitgeist, rather than its being specifically representative of the time, since the timing would have been a bit off if so - Led Zeppelin's first album was released in 1969.
  • A moment of annoyance was provided when the lovely Vicky was interviewing everyone's favourite groovy vicar and ex-Communard Richard Coles - Coles seemed to be suggesting that perhaps he could call himself bohemian these days just by virtue of being a Christian, since it's practically ILLEGAL these days what with radical atheism pretty much taking over the world, and seemed to get at least nodding agreement to this utterly absurd claim. Come back when we've got atheist bishops getting seats in the House of Lords, Richard, and then you can have a go at telling me you're doing some radical swimming against the tide. Until then, no bohemian points for you, Jesus boy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

the last book I read

The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban.

Herman Orff is a writer. Of novels, in theory, but having published two to very little in the way of critical acclaim or sales he's been making a living lately writing material for comics. He's planning a third crack at making it as a novelist, but seems to be suffering from a nasty case of writer's block.

Providentially, at this point Orff receives a leaflet advertising a sort of electronic sound therapy which can supposedly lube up the artistic faculties and get the creative juices flowing again. It turns out that this operation is run by a bloke called Istvan Fallok, who it further turns out is an ex-lover of Orff's ex-lover Luise. Orff undergoes the treatment, which prompts an extended waking dream involving Persephone and the girl from Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Well, so far so freaky, but basically not out of the normal run of stuff, you might say. OK, well how about this: on his way home Orff hears a plaintive voice coming from the muddy banks of the Thames, and finds the severed and decomposed head of Orpheus, which he picks up and has a lengthy conversation with, as you would.

Strange things continue to happen as Orff tries to decide how best to cure his writer's block: he starts up a tentative relationship with Istvan Fallok's assistant (and ex-lover) Melanie Falsepercy (false percy -> percy phoney -> Persephone, you see?), he travels to The Hague to try to see the Vermeer painting (but finds it's been loaned to a museum in America) and finds everyday objects (a cabbage, a children's football, half a grapefruit) transforming into the head of Orpheus and talking to him. Hardly surprisingly after all this he suffers an attack of angina and ends up in hospital. Eventually, via his computer, Orff has a conversation with the legendary Kraken, gives up his ideas of trying to re-tell Orpheus' story and decides to pursue something stranger instead.

This is the fifth Hoban to appear in this list and certain common themes do start to emerge, just as they do for regular readers of, say, John Irving. In Hoban's case this seems to include Orpheus (who also featured in Kleinzeit), hospitals (Kleinzeit again), Odilon Redon (briefly mentioned here, also features more centrally in Come Dance With Me), and the idea that reality is like a moving picture, a series of still images that, if it could be slowed down enough, would reveal an underlying reality in the gaps between frames - "the moment under the moment" as it's referred to here, made more concrete as the basis for the "flicker drive" in Fremder.

What The Medusa Frequency is "about" is harder to pin down - it seems to be mostly about the creative impulse, its mysterious origins and the difficulty of recapturing it once it's slipped away. It's also about lost love, the difficulty of hanging on to a reliable memory of something that seemed overwhelmingly important at the time, and the jarring effect of meeting someone else who has a whole separate set of similar memories involving the same person. There's also some serious metafictional shit going on, as it appears that the whole text of the novel is actually the text of the third novel that Herman Orff has been trying to write.

Anyway, I'd urge anyone to get into reading some Hoban - they're smart (but wear their erudition lightly), funny and short (The Medusa Frequency is a skinny 143 pages).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

it's in the trees; it's coming

It is now increasingly obvious that having one of your books featured in what I obviously should have been calling The Electric Halibrary for the last eight-and-a-half years is a curse akin to being slipped the runes, watching a cursed video, or crossing some stereotypical gypsy type and being given the evil eye. and after a mystically-determined period of time has elapsed being duly dragged off to hell.

So you can chalk up another for that list today, as James Salter, whose A Sport And A Pastime featured here just over a year ago, has died. To be fair, he was 90, so if you didn't know better you could just say, well, that's a coincidence

Anyway, the full list now reads:
  • Michael Didbin
  • Beryl Bainbridge
  • Russell Hoban
  • Richard Matheson
  • Elmore Leonard
  • Iain Banks
  • Doris Lessing
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Ruth Rendell
  • James Salter
I haven't read any of his other books, but there are those who speak highly of The Hunters and Light Years, and he published All That Is, his first novel in over 30 years, in 2013, just before getting a fatal dose of bad karma. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

headline of the day

My recollection of my drinking exploits on my own wedding day are mainly of being bought a succession of pints - mainly of the excellent Kingstone Gold which I'd specifically organised a few barrels of after a rigorous vetting and tasting process - by various people, having a couple of sips, and then putting them down somewhere in order to attend to some official duty or other or have some photographs taken, and then never picking them up again. All of which meant that I was commendably sober for all of the important stuff up to and including the first dance, although once my official duties were discharged I did get my head down and do some serious quaffing.

An approach which the young (and I do mean young - bride and groom appear to be about twelve) man here might have been well-advised to take, given the spectacle he made of himself. Still, judging by the headline, his new family didn't hold a grudge and did their best to make him feel welcomed into the family afterwards.

I am reminded of the popular (but probably apocryphal) story involving former footballer Rodney Marsh and legendary England manager Alf Ramsey, supposedly during what turned out to be the last of Marsh's nine appearances for England:
He played a mere nine times for England. There was a reason for that, too. When Alf Ramsey told him, "If you don't work harder I'll pull you off at half time," Marsh replied: "Crikey, Alf, at Manchester City all we get is an orange and a cup of tea." He was never picked again.