Monday, 29 December 2008

The Observer's literary map of Britain: Includes me!

Kate Kellaway filed this very interesting piece on the contemporary English novel and its vexed relation to place and 'region' in the Observer last Sunday. As I recall, I talked to Kate on the phone for this very purpose about six months ago, so it's nice to see the finished piece finally appear, especially since it's so packed with good discursive meat. More generally I'm also glad of the consideration, of course, and that my efforts should be considered in such distinguished literary company; and, just as last week, I appreciate the Observer's continued support of Crusaders (and it brings particular amusement since their main book critic had one of his deeply characteristic hissy fits about the novel when it first appeared back in January 2008.)
It's looking like bedtime now, but I hope to write a bit more in respect of the various issues raised in the Kellaway piece tomorrow. But these are the quotes concerning me and my stuff:
"At a south London all-blokes bookclub, [Blake Morrison's] South of the River was read with territorial interest. "Would they have read a book called 'North of the River'?" Morrison wonders. It is his belief that people feel a "strange gratitude", that they are "validated" when they are put on the map through fiction. Richard T Kelly, author of Crusaders, an epic first novel set in Newcastle, has had a similar reaction from readers who have felt energised by "a long and detailed book about their locality and recent history".
Crusaders is set in the 1990s and describes the changing face of north-east England - a time of urban regeneration. Newcastle was natural terrain for Kelly because he grew up in the region but also because he feels there is "something epic, magisterial about the North-East in general and Newcastle in particular". It is "a love letter to the North-East", he says, reflecting that he is glad to have had a positive response because "love letters are often returned to sender". Kelly is also quick to say that he would be "hanged from a tree" if he tried to pose as the sole Newcastle novelist - mentioning Julia Darling, Andrea Badenoch, Jonathan Tulloch, David Almond.
Kelly makes the point that "regional literature" is often treated with "condescension" and the literary map is far too London-centric. It is hardly a new complaint. But I am not sure that he is right. Irish and Scottish voices often seem to have more clout than their southern counterparts. Think of James Kelman writing about Glasgow. Think of Roddy Doyle, or of Anne Enright's Dublin-based novel,
The Gathering, which won last year's Man Booker Prize.
Yet Scottish novelist AL Kennedy, who was born in Dundee, agrees with Kelly. She implies writers outside London need to try and resist feeling marginalised..."

BTW I'm very pleased to find that Alison Kennedy agrees with me. She's the sort of person whose side you want to be on.

Crusaders blogged in style on Kauderstuff

This blog commentary on Crusaders, by an "English/cultural studies professor", has come to my attention belatedly, and is one of the most interesting and considered that I've seen. Obviously that means he hasn't said anything I'm mortally offended by...
The author is very attentive to the novel's intended marriage of 'classic realism' and 'the modern thriller', and seems not unsympathetic to it, though he echoes Sean O'Brien's TLS review in proposing that Crusaders resorts "increasingly as it goes on, to genre-fiction conventions, and excitements provide it with formal constraint (and perhaps a readership) in lieu of more experimental or literary devices."
That said, he's also very alert to a problem I've encountered in the novel's reception and the general lit-crit debate around it, namely that of "how to represent characters and a social sector with little or no connection to the literary and intellectual world that the novel and its readers belong to." In other words, to those people who thought it risible that a yob like Stevie Coulson could experience a feeling of tristesse.
The author has certainly got a handle on the novel's view of the governmental War on Poverty, a topic that just gets sadder even as the Tories make an undertaking to continue the waging of that war if returned to office. As he puts it: "The novel is especially insightful about black-market/crim capitalism and its deep connections into the economic life of poor communities. At the end, it becomes clear that neither New Labour nor the Church have the capacity to reach into communities such as this."
And I certainly wouldn't take issue with the measured but generous final analysis: "Perhaps this is not one of the great literary novels, although its dialogue is stunning and its characterization wonderfully unsentimental and finely tuned to its major argument (it's a novel which does have an argument). But then to write a great literary novel about the lives of the poor has not so far been possible in the capitalist epoch."
Fair dinkum. One point I can correct the author on, happily: he reckons it's "not available in Australian bookshops", but even as of May it ought to have been. Indeed I think it was reviewed in one Australian paper of note. But then I suppose it depends on the individual bookshop...

Michael Owen's gaff in Portugal: I suppose he's earned it...

He plays off 8, I understand, if you're interested. Golf handicap, that is. And this is his place in the Algarve, overlooking one of Portugal's prime courses. Still needs a lick and a promise to the exterior as far as I can see. Can't speak for the insides, as I refrained from shinning over the perimeter fence. But I decided to inspect the place from a distance on the day it transpired that Mr Owen wouldn't be signing his newly offered Newcastle contract. He's been at pains to say he's not a disloyal sort, and frankly I believe him: the whole issue of his loyalty to NUFC was threadbare from Day 1 when he admitted (and it was generally accepted) that he ought to have been at a different club. So we can't say we weren't warned. Any road, I hope he finishes his house one day and stays fit enough to play the occasional 18 holes, because history will certainly record that he was fettled for the greater part of his NUFC career.

Wigan 2 Newcastle 1; Newcastle 1 Liverpool 5: Happy Bloody Xmas

Sunday was the wrong day for several papers to run their 'Black and Whites United Under JFK' interview pieces; and a pretty poor one for Mike Ashley to make another of his man-of-the-people bids in taking the For Sale sign off the club. God, but when Newcastle are bad they're the worst in the league. They simply can't take the loss of Bassong and Beye as was inflicted by the Wigan game, with a measure of blame falling on the referee. Coloccini had one of his stinkers against Liverpool, and Taylor nearly succeeded in getting himself sent off for nowt - this a lad who once seemed to think the club captaincy was his by birthright. And they can't do without Martins in the forward line either - Ameobi and Carroll aren't going to do it, and Viduka seems to be wanting his bed again. A suitably rotten note on which to end an amazingly rotten NUFC yearbook.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Crusaders in the Observer's top paperbacks of 2008

I'm delighted and grateful today to see Crusaders feature among the Observer's paperback picks of 2008, with a citation taken from Robert Collins' review earlier in the year:
"Big, boisterous and brazenly old-fashioned, Kelly's debut is a sweeping Tyneside epic set in the decades leading to New Labour's accession to power. For sheer scope and rambunctiousness, it's irresistible."
Always loved that "brazenly old-fashioned": a label to be worn with honour, I feel...

Newcastle 2 Spurs 1: the joy of mid-table

My old mate Duane has been proved correct, then - it only takes a couple of wins... Fatalistic Mags of my acquaintance had money on Jermaine Jenas inflicting a last-minute points-stealer on us today, a la old boys Bramble and Faye in weeks gone by. But wouldn't you know with that Lady Luck? It was Damian Duff of all people who pinched the full quota for us in injury time. Duff has been Missing in Action for pretty much as long as he's worn black-and-white, so it's nice to see him finally repaying the faith. Roll on the mighty Wigan, then - they're still ahead of us in the table, just as a reality-check.

Ten Bad Dates blogs on...

This 20-something Kiwi blogger rates Ten Bad Dates among 2008's top reads, which is nice in itself, but especially delightful for me is to appear on this list alongside a writer who was key to my formative-years discovery of reading for pleasure - and that writer's not Naomi Klein or Jon Stewart, but rather Terrance Dicks, the author of seemingly hundreds of novelisations of Doctor Who episodes, and presumably still going too...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

NUFC: Cup Winners, in black and white...

NUFC.com has been running its customary top-notch advent calendar since December 1, and this year it's been devoted to classic team photos (the 'classic' not always reflecting the actual playing quality of the ensemble, you understand...)
But it's hard not to get a bit misty about the 1951 line-up pictured here: them 'uns who brought home the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Blackpool.
Front and centre in this picture, of course, the scorer of a brace at Wembley: Jackie Milburn. At the start of his Toon career Jackie was also a part-time employee of Hazelrigg Colliery, who generally took the bus to games from Ashington having done his pit shift on Saturday morning. Eventually, I think, he got himself a motorbike; then trouble in one ear led him to quit the pit and throw in his lot with the Toon for £12 a week.
To Milburn's left is another canny goalscorer, George Robledo; the 'gangling' Tommy Walker on the far right had goals in him too. In general you look at these 11 lads and you just wouldn't mess with them, would you? Of course one could say the same of Joey Barton today; and yet the sentiment would be -how can I say it? - different.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

'The Double Life of Tony Blair'

It sounds like a high-concept literary novel, doesn't it? In fact it's just the title Newsweek have stuck on this interesting interview-based report by Lisa Miller on the course in 'Faith and Globalisation' that Blair has now begun to teach at Yale. Therein Miller neatly rehearses all the contortions of Blair's public and private positions on what he believed while PM. Her best moment is the assertion that 'in a way, Blair's foundation is the culmination of his life as a double agent' - so making him sound rather like a character out of Kipling or Conrad.
Blair is certainly a character in my Crusaders, for which he also furnishes an epigraph, and he also has a 'double' in the figure of the book's young Anglican priest John Gore - though Gore resists the imputation, as in the following edgy exchanges with Labour MP Martin Pallister:

‘One thing you should know, John – he’s sincere is Tony. His faith is solid, really, it’s what he’s all about.’
Gore was pondering. ‘His wife, she’s Catholic, right?’
‘Cherie? Aye, I think so. What of it?’
‘Just, I don’t know if I recognise his particular brand. Of the faith. And I should say, I don’t know that the public care for politicians who wear that stuff on their
sleeve.’
‘Oh no, not a bit. That’s your job. And that’s what Tony says and all.’ Pallister wore his own thoughtful look. ‘You know what, you’d put me in mind of him a bit. Tony.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘Don’t blow a gasket there. No, I think you’d get on, the two of you. What with the faith in common. And you’re both Durham lads, right...?


Anyhow... back to Lisa Miller's interview, Blair's main quotes are humdrum, indeed they might make jaundiced students of Labour history groan and try to amuse themselves by substituting 'The Labour Party' for the 'spiritual faith'/'faith area' bits in the following:
"We have an obligation to present spiritual faith as something that is positive and progressive and solves problems and does good, rather than something that people only read about because people are killing in the name of it."
"To me what is important is that the whole faith area gets some what I would call muscularity, and certainly strategy."
Dullsville, eh? But as usual with Blair the interesting part is trying to figure out what he actually thinks and means, (and intends to do), under the polished patter.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Portsmouth 0 Newcastle 3: We're watching MoTD II then...

'All it takes is a couple of wins', remarked Duane Hopkins, rather too nonchalantly I felt, when he and I and Samm Haillay were picking over the grim 2-2 capitulation at home to Stoke last Saturday. An inspired time, then, for The Lads to lodge the first away win of the season; and at Pompey, where the epic journey for travelling fans is usually worsened by on-the-pitch cruelties to boot.
An open game, by most accounts, and their lively strike duo could have put them clean away in the first half. Instead it was Owen and Martins who registered again, plus a late strike from young Guthrie. I slightly wish the mighty Oba's had been the one from 30 yards that thumped back off the post, rather than a tap past a floundering David James, as Oba is by nature a born scorer of smacking great goals. And Owen is clearly doing his best for us in advance of the long goodbye...
But it's all still so sticky in that league, what with the Irons getting a point at Chelsea and Sun'lun's flabbergasting result yesterday. No-one is acting like the drop is their designated lot, though as of tonight, for the first time this season, there's a couple of sides falling slightly adrift; one of them, inevitably, already came away from SJP with 3 points...

Hey! 10 Bad Dates fan spotted.

The film lists book finds itself amid some intriguing company on this reader's list. But then it was always my intention to try to tap the Jane Austen-admiring/Zoe Heller-querying demographic.
In fact I bumped into another 10 Bad Dates fan, a filmmaker, at the bar of the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle last weekend. It was 2am at the time so I may be remembering this over-fondly, but I think this chap keeps the book in his bathroom and finds it a great laugh - the book, that is - but as I say, the ales may have meant I got this wrong...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Davy Hammond 1928-2008

David Hammond passed away near the end of August. I heard so a few weeks after the event, and it's only today that I was properly put in mind to have a look about at some of the obituaries. I see the BBC ran a good obituary and a collection of tributes, and at the foot of both of those pages is a lovely little video that offers glimpses of his singing and filmmaking and a remembrance from Seamus Heaney. Another of the friends remembering him therein comments that essentially Davy was all about taking time when time otherwise moved too fast: this is why Hammond was such a great man for noticing things, seeing their value, passing that on.
I was introduced to Davy by his friend the great Matthew Evans, subsequently Lord Evans of Temple-Guiting - the kind of distinction in life about which Davy was very wry. The one occasion Davy and I spent good time together in Belfast, round 2000, we managed to drink a bottle of Irish whiskey right down to 'the heel', as he called it, and I've used that fine expression of good near-drunk bottles in honour of him even since.
Anyone can look at film or recordings of Davy Hammond and see that he was beautifully gifted and wise and a life-affirming presence in this world. He could pick up a guitar very casually and charm a packed room, but in that charm he was instructive - he was incredibly canny under the avuncular exterior, could cut to the core of things with a slight remark, which must be part of why the likes of Seamus Deane and Tom Paulin treasured his friendship - and the sharpness under the warmth didn't seem to me any kind of a ruse on his part, in fact it's a quality intrinsic to the very best of Belfastmen, as Davy Hammond was and will always be.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Esquire (January) now on stands: includes RTK on HST

Plenty good meat inside the new issue. (BTW there's also a female on the cover this month, which is always welcome, periodically.) I'm looking forward to settling down with a long piece about the so-called 'Natwest Three'. Elsewhere my own contribution is a review of the previously mentioned Hunter Thompson documentary Gonzo by Alex Gibney, which I recommend wholeheartedly. I suppose my chief feeling about it is in the following extracts:
'Gibney shows great footage of Thompson on the stump [during his run for sheriff of Pitkin County], repaying his debt of love to the ‘long fine flash’ of generational energy he’d found in the 1960s; also living out his profound conviction that if one has a serious beef with politicians then one has to get actively involved in politics...'
And yet...:
'In a way, Thompson was too pure for workaday politics. (Gary Hart dismisses him as ‘infantile’.) His drug intake too, however awe-inspiring, clearly generated stores of fear and loathing in him that he couldn’t wholly process...'

Monday, 8 December 2008

Northern Lights Film Festival 2008

Had a good laugh and a decent drink on Tyneside last Saturday, at my favourite festival in the whole wide world, where I've done a turn every year since its inception back in 2003. In the afternoon I conducted what felt like an interesting public discussion with Steven Sheil, the smart and talented director of the deeply unsettling low-budget horror film Mum and Dad, which gets an all-windows release on Boxing Day. Also on the panel, a great guy called David Pope who makes inspired horror/comedy shorts, including Gasoline Blood. In the evening at the closing do hosted in some style by the Baltic Gallery I handed over a Script Development Award, the jury of which I had been part, to a clearly outstanding young writer/director, Deola Folarin. The runner-up Simon Fellowes was also on hand, and I had the pleasure of telling Simon I own a few 'records' he made back when he recorded as Intaferon. Other good, good people it was great to see up there by the broad majestic Tyne included the Better Things team of Samm Haillay and Duane Hopkins, the playwright Fiona Evans, critic Jason Solomons, distributor Eve Gabereau, and the festival's stalwarts Patrick Collerton, Mark Dobson and Melanie Iredale. To 2009, then...

Sean Penn's 'Mountain of Snakes'



Sean Penn's reportage of visits to Venezuela and Cuba, and encounters there with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, was published in two parts a fortnight ago on the Huffington Post under the title 'Mountain of Snakes': here are Part 1 and Part 2. I'm rather surprised there hasn't been more media attention paid to these, though the blogosphere seems to have been buzzing at a low level. For a while I had the impression that Sean was minded to make this material into the stuff of something larger, between covers, but I'm glad they've surfaced now for our attention in any case.

Hang the DJ: some Willie on Willie action

Over on Hang the DJ's blog they just began a week of guest entries devoted to Musical Moments of 2008, with one post a day from five of the book's esteemed contributors: Peter Murphy, Richard Milward, Willy Vlautin, Laura Barton and Tom McRae. The justly celebrated Mr Vlautin is first up today, talking about Willie Nelson, dontcha know?

Newcastle United 2 Stoke City 2: living the nightmare still...

How long, o Lord, how long? As nufc.com notes quite rightly, "the Stoke fans captured the true story of the game when they sang, "2-0 and you f***ed it up.""

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Richard T. Kelly's 'Lucie Gunn' - Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You...

...in my dreams. And yet there have been crazier notions, and this one at least is acquiring a certain substance. For one thing, today I made it into the industry bible Variety for the first time in relation to the fiction-writing side of my activities - in this case, an original screenplay of mine that's just been earmarked for Film Council backing, much to my delight and all-round gratitude:
"Public funding body the U.K. Film Council has unveiled 18 debut pics that will receive a total of £297,750 ($445,000) from its development fund. Pics include scribe Bola Agbaje’s bigscreen adaptation of her coming-of-age play Gone Too Far!... Other projects include Catherine Shepherd's Like a Virgin, Natasha Wood’s Rolling With Laughter, Richard Milward's Apples and Richard T. Kelly’s Lucie Gunn."
The still herewith is from Looking For Mr Goodbar (1977), a whimsical choice but not totally inapposite, given that Lucie Gunn is described in the UKFC's press notes as "an intense and seductive drama exploring the power games that men and women play in and out of the bedroom."
Here's to Lucie then. A hell of a girl.

Crusaders finds more readers at The Rotters Club

I note an interesting online write-up from a book club who (cf. Jonathan Coe) rejoice in the name of 'The Rotters Club': lately it seems the group have been mulling over both Crusaders and Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, in tandem. That's a whole lotta pages - must have been their 'state-of-the-nation' month. I gather that the readers much preferred Faulks; they thought Crusaders was 'wide in scope and ambition, but loose in having too many characters: its central one, The Reverend Gore, not having enough magnetism.' Still, I'm interested in the judicious closing remarks:
'We all agreed that it was refreshing to read a novel set elsewhere than London and would work well as a TV mini series.'
(Well, they might yet speak truer than they know.)
'It would be interesting to read the novelist's second novel to evaluate any development.'
(Said novel is still at least 18 months away from stores. But it'll mark a change of tack, for sure.)
'Harry Airborne', presumably the group's chief blogger/spokesperson, is frank and rather gracious: 'I probably would not have got past the first 100 pages of Crusaders -it reminded me of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth with its proliferation of characters and unwieldiness - but another member urged me to persevere and I am pleased I did. More JF, who advocated it, had a mastery of the text and clarified the motive of Steve Coulson’s support for the church, whilst another countered my view that the denouement was not too coincidental.'
Obviously I wouldn't have wanted to earwig every last bit of this debate, some of it would probably have stung a bit, but clearly I'd have been pleased to hear those staunch defenders of mine near the end. As I've said before, readers' groups are a great thing in our society, and I'm really pleased to have found my way onto another reading list of this kind.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Aston Martin: Hard Times

For the November issue of Esquire I interviewed the formidable and admirable James Bond producer/gatekeeper Barbara Broccoli, mainly on the fairly rich topic of marketing of and product placement within the Bond movies. Naturally we talked a fair bit about Aston Martin; that firm’s long and fruitful relations with the Bond franchise; and the special enthusiasm for Bond of its current CEO Dr Ulrich Bez, himself a keen connoisseur of speed and gadgetry. The blue-chip, look-and-dream-but-don't-touch lustre of the Aston Martin brand is what has made it such a useful partner to the Bond enterprise. ‘Aston Martin don’t have a huge advertising spend’, Broccoli told me, ‘because they sell every car they make before it’s made, people are so desperate to buy.’
It seems that last year Aston Martin sold 7,300 vehicles. This year they expect to shift 'only' 6,500. Thus today the firm announced it was cutting 300 full-time and 300 temporary jobs, around one-third of its UK staff. ‘Like other premium car brands’, said Dr Bez, ‘Aston Martin has been forced to take action to respond to the unprecedented downturn in the global economy.’ Christmas break had already been extended a fortnight, which was rather a black crow of an omen. Unite has, naturally, pointed out that this spells ‘a bleak Christmas’ for those laid-off.
Is it worse to lose one’s job right before Christmas, or first thing in the New Year? Which has the most piercing effect on one’s personal and familial morale and the management of one’s household finances? I fear a lot of us are about to be told, if not to find out very directly.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: she was right all along...

... as it turns out Barack Obama doesn't know what he was talking about on the great matter of foreign policy, and so has appointed Mrs Clinton as his Secretary of State. This irony is not entirely at the President-Elect's expense. But on the mundane personal level, sad to say, all the mental energy I (and many others?) expended in willing Mr Obama to the Democrat nomination - thus (I, or we, imagined) to break the Clintonian dynastic hold over this unprincipled shambles of a Party - was a waste, and a culpably naive one at that. I don't know who Obama thought he was fooling in welcoming his 'dear friend' HRC to the microphone today, and I hope he knew how silly and calculating he looked. The biggest problem to start considering as of now is exactly how practically ill-qualified is the self-proclaimed Superwoman of the 3AM Phonecall for the job in front of her. On a level beyond argument, in his thorough and consistent trashing of her application at Slate, Christopher Hitchens argues that 'it's difficult to see Sen. Clinton achieving confirmation unless our elected representatives are ready to ask a few questions about conflict of interest.' But then Reuters simply reports that 'all the nominees are expected to win quick confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate.' This the end of that, then?

The Internet Archive: a work in progress



Last week a friend introduced me to the Internet Archive, a 'digital library' which looks a bit like an inchoate history of the Web and a bit similar to a tried-and-tested paper archive in terms of its non-judgemental gathering of interesting bits of stuff that future generations might care to rummage. First and obvious thing to strike the eye last I looked - the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Middlesbrough 0 Newcastle 0: Not the champagne stuff, then

It's another point on wor travels but clearly our generally bottom-six standard of form continues, even if tonight we sit one spot above the bottom three just on goal difference, as Sunderland took one of their more peculiar spankings at home to Bolton.
I’m glad we have Viduka back – he’ll be sluggish for a game or two, and will need his shooting boots re-heeled, but given a run of games the big man (if arsed, that is) worries defenders and gets goals. Will Kinnear have the wit to follow Keegan and play Marco, Martins and Michael in the sort of attacking triangle that skinned Spurs (away) near the end of last season? Otherwise choosing an attack duo is a bother. The traveling fans at Burra booed when Viduka came off the bench for Martins, who’d looked pacier and livelier than Owen. Oba himself was down the tunnel like a shot, which is a worry.
In other news Big Sebastien Bassong is winning big props – may he abide. But Jose Enrique would probably be on his way in January were it not for our problems on the left.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Crusaders review on Bookgeeks: New URL

Purely for the purpose of one's private web archiving.

Mumbai: Patrick Cockburn's not soft on Pakistan

Looking over the early analysis of the Mumbai atrocity I might have been overly keen to hear something original, in the hope that it would prove more discerning. But in today's Independent the very reputable Patrick Cockburn weighs in to argue that the truth, banal and horrible, is that Pakistan is to blame, and that the Western powers and media are deliberately "downplaying foreign involvement. Indian allegations about "external linkages" of the terrorists is wearily reported as an unfortunate resumption of Pakistani-Indian finger pointing."
Backing Cockburn's contention, Sky continues to report that 'a number of Indian officials' place the blame on Lashkar-e-Taiba. Cockburn raises the spectre of Bush's long and forlorn courtship of Musharraf, and presumably believes the West is still trying to make an ally of a scorpion. He goes on to take issue with what we might call the Tariq Ali position of a few days ago: "… supposed experts now emphasise the alienation of Indian Muslims and suggesting that the origin of the terrorist assault on Mumbai is home grown, the fruit of the radicalisation of Indian Muslims by systematic discrimination against them by the Indian state."
He concludes: "…It is self-defeating hypocrisy for the West to lecture the Indian government now about not over-reacting and not automatically blaming the Pakistani government or some part of its security apparatus for Mumbai… It may be that the monster the ISI created is no long under its control, but it is ultimately responsible for what has happened."
I wonder if Cockburn thinks there is any negotiating with Pakistan on these matters - by India or Western powers? He suggests a big headache is on its way for President Obama. But we already know from the campaign how Obama feels about Pakistan's terror-by-proxy, don't we?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Crusaders noted in the Independent's choice of 2008 fiction

The Independent was very good to my debut novel on more than one occasion in 2008, and literary editor Boyd Tonkin's generous mention in the paper's year-end round-up gives me a spot in the midst of more distinguished company:
"In Crusaders (Faber, £8.99), Richard T Kelly used Newcastle politics on the eve of the New Labour landslide as the action and ideas-packed stage for a chronicle of change."

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai: another day for the jackals

The ever more resonant image of India as a 21st century superpower has also had its attendant shadows and ghosts: such as the off-putting strangeness of India's systems of class, caste and religion, and the grim disparities of wealth so evident in Mumbai (which provide the premise and backdrop to the new hit movie Slumdog Millionaire.) Moreover, BBC Newsnight reported tonight that India has been taking its share of the pain of the global economic crisis – the stock market 50% down on the year, the rupee down 20%, £13 billion worth of investment pulled out - even before yesterday’s atrocity, and the loathsome CCTV pictures from Mumbai of those ghouls in sweatshirts and jeans, their backpacks heaving with grenades and spare magazines for the AK-47, stalking the softest of soft targets in hotels and train stations.
If, as they liked to say in the 1970s, 'political terror' is a form of 'communication', what are these ratbags trying to tell us? The rumoured hunting down of British and American passport-holders proposes one horrible interpretation – that these were Islamist jackals, unleashed from Pakistan or Kashmir or recruited by al-Qaeda, taking their glorious stand against the glaring evils of modernity and pluralist poly-ethnic democracy.
Tariq Ali, characteristically, and in Counterpunch, has countered the rush to this judgement: ‘The Lashkar-e-Taiba, not usually shy of claiming its hits, has strongly denied any involvement with the Mumbai attacks.’ Ali also sets out a list of grievances among Indian Muslims – ‘the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in shining Gujarat… supported by the Chief Minister of the State and the local state apparatuses’ and ‘the continuing sore of Kashmir.’ In short, Ali is warning India to get ready for the national angst of learning that these were homegrown murdering scum.
Shuja Nawaz draws a similar conclusion in the Huffington Post: ‘Chances are that this is a homegrown outfit’, and that they are "communicating" on behalf of ‘the Muslims of India, who despite being close to 150 million strong have a disproportionately tiny share of India's burgeoning wealth.’ But the real message Nawaz believes is being sent out is one designed to throttle some promising political progress, by the arousal of hatred: ‘This incident may spell danger for India-Pakistan relations at a time when a much-needed thaw seems to be emerging… Just one day before the attack, at a meeting in Islamabad of the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan, an agreement was reached on a wide range of measures aimed at combating terrorism.’
Here's to that spirit and those measures, then, and let's be having them.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Recession: Hitting You Where You Live

The excellent nufc.com today reports that Newcastle will be passing on the imminent reduction in the VAT rate to supporters buying match tickets. Cheapest adult admission now £29 - alright, it's not back to what your Da used to pay, but it's summat. Meanwhile, my bittersweet experience of buying the Guns n' Roses album at Woolies on Monday, reported at extravagant length below, has got a bit more bitter, with Woolworths today entering administration - presumably the end for 100s of stores and 1000s of jobs. My local store is 50 yards away, has been a huge boon for me and my family, and I'm really sad about what I fear will be its fate.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Chinese Democracy: one more for the old record collection, then

I went into a record shop today and bought a newly released record: a treat I used to give myself about three or four times a week back in my adolescence, and which I now do roughly once a year. To be strictly accurate, I went into Woolworth's (still there, at time of writing...) and bought a compact disc - that increasingly forlorn and discredited format that even in 1987 was being slated as 'the rich man's eight-track tape.'
Given this was my once-a-year musical treat, and the 'record' in question a much-anticipated collection by a bestselling artist, I was rather hoping to pluck a gleaming shrink-wrapped CD from some conspicuous cardboard tower right at front of store, then join a lively queue at the counter while the instore stereo blared out the opening track... But, no, I had to really search to find a display copy of Chinese Democracy in the humdrum racks of the CD section, a long way behind the top sellers from Pink and Dido, and the new one from the girl who won Strictly Come Dancing last year. Still, the 50-ish lady at the counter gave me a friendly smile: 'Guns and Roses', she murmured uncomprehendingly as she went to exchange my dummy case for the real goods.
Funnily enough, if I'd been listening to the Today programme this morning (though frankly I'd rather give myself an Axl-esque tattoo with a razor blade) I could have heard a discussion of the merits of said record by two 'rock critics' (scroll down) - no doubt some light sandwich filler between keen anticipation of the PBR (see entries passim).
Instead, when the time permitted, I had a look round the web and found quite a few droll and touching testimonies from American rock writers/fans who had wistful experiences much like my own Woolies moment at branches of the US retailer Best Buy, where Chinese Democracy went on sale exclusively on Sunday. Best Buy doesn't go in for 'midnight madness', so no excited queues there either... I've lost track of the funniest bit of writing I read in that vein, but this MTV report captures the general mood.
It should be said that Chuck Klosterman's review for The Onion has done the hard thinking for all of us oldsters on the preceding issue: "Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album... the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file. This is the end of that."
How many more trips to Woolies for this old stager then? In the meantime, I like my new record a great deal and look forward to that all-important second play. Today I think the track I liked best was 'Better'.

Pre-Budget Report: Mark the Sequel

How do you like that fine old Tory campaigning poster (left) c. 1929?
Meanwhile, curious... Looking around the news sites this evening I learn that the BBC's online 'live text' coverage of the PBR was punctuated by citations of assorted bloggers, and that at 15:26 they edited together (rather sloppily) a chunk from my earlier post of today and stuck it up, amid comments from MPs and more regular/zealous political bloggers.
It's curious, too, to see the way this BBC coverage has since been combed by blogosphere invigilators, conspicuously Conservative (and calling their soul their own, one hopes) - one of whom I take to be the Mike Rouse who added a comment to that earlier post of mine, asserting that Cameron's 'bashing' in the polls was actually no such thing. It just goes to show that Cameron's Tories really boss the web these days when it comes to its coverage of politics.
I daresay it also goes to show why I'm not to be counted as a regular/zealous political blogger in the modern-day manner: namely, I don't belong to any party and I don't look at polls every day. I understand the latest from ICM has the Tories back up to 11 points in front? Over the last week I saw other polls had them variously in front by 3 or 5. But back at the start of October, weren't there Tory leads of 19 or 20?
Yeah, so I think I'll stand by my story - Cameron's lead has, on the whole, taken a bit of a bashing in the last eight weeks, so disturbing his composure somewhat, and hastened the striking of a few postures that he surely wouldn't have struck if matters had kept proceeding effortlessly in his favour post-Conference.
Meanwhile, the FT's sad verdict on the day's Big Question: "The route back to financial sustainability was unconvincing – both as individual measures and taken as a whole."
The FT also offers some succour for all those Tory watchmen who fear the slightest misunderstanding of their Party's no-doubt coherent, principled and undyingly popular (cf. ICM) stand in opposition to that shower of Scots taxers-and-spenders in government: "It is clear that the current strangeness in British politics of Labour proposing tax cuts while the Tories oppose them will be short-lived. The battle lines for the next election will again see Labour accused of increasing taxes to pay for its profligacy, despite the restraint implied in yesterday’s figures, while the Conservatives will face charges of slashing public services."
There you go then - business as usual. Now I'm just going to write a quick something about Guns n' Roses, which - with a bit of luck - might even provoke some Heavy Metal blogger/master of blogs out there to stick up a Comment in rebuttal, insisting that the best track on the album is actually 'Shackler's Revenge'...

Hey Hey, it’s Pre-Budget Report Day!

I have a distinctive recollection of what I felt, sitting in the big auditorium at last month’s Tory Conference, as George Osborne made that indigestive ‘grave’ face of his and asserted that Cameron’s (and his) Tory Party was committed to the principle of ‘sound money.’ I was thinking this was a very old-fashioned tune for a moderniser to be singing, but that presumably its cadences would delight the Tory faithful, and also play well on the news during a week when money, like many other allegedly solid objects, looked to be melting into air.
This week that tune is sounding creakier still, and yet at the same time no more ancient than the regime of John Major, when any weakness in sterling was held to be a mortal sin and a national disgrace. Today the present weakness of sterling is generally reckoned to be a necessary evil, per the Bank of England’s swingeing rate cuts. A weak pound offers a road to salvation. The Tories as a party seem to find this proposition terminally indigestible.
That Conference week, of course, was the last encouraging one (to date) that the Tories have enjoyed this Autumn, and even that was a rather nervy and rain-soaked affair that got pushed off the front pages by other Events. Today, incredibly, finds Brown and Darling riding a (shaky, treacherous) wave of momentum. ‘It is all very odd’, says today’s FT leader. ‘Here is a Labour government wanting to cut taxes, and a Conservative opposition braying nay… The government is taking a gamble but, on the face of it, it looks like the Tory gambit is riskier.’
I don’t believe Cameron believed any of this before his poll lead took a bashing… but it seems he’s now prepared to argue only for ‘fully funded’ tax cuts. Who can afford to wait around for that day that never comes? Meanwhile the Darling/Brown prescription seems to be a short, sharp fiscal stimulus to boost consumption (a cut in VAT, more income tax ‘allowance’ for the lower paid.) The sceptics will naturally ask what provisions this newly whizkid-like PM and Chancellor are making for our pathway back to fiscal prudence. As the Sun and many others are warning today, we the people are going to pay for all of this, fairly soon too. It’s all a bit too dramatic, really; a good job that it’s only our lives and livelihoods that are at risk here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Paddy Considine: Winshill's Finest

Effin' top-of-the-range man, that Paddy Considine. I really, really enjoyed the onstage interview I did with him at the Encounters Festival in Bristol on Friday night - enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I rather messed up the running time of the evening by letting the conversation gan on a bit too long in-between the copious clips. But I don't think anybody really minded: you can get a drink in Bristol until quite late, after all.
Perhaps my only real infringement was to suggest to the audience near the end that, in light of the late finish, we needn't bother to look at a prepared clip of Paddy's work in Hot Fuzz... Well, they shouted that suggestion right down, so up went the clip and they laughed like gurgling drains all the way through it, followed by a huge ovation. There's a lesson for me, then: Never underestimate the size of the Pegg/Frost/Wright cult.
Paddy's own cult, of which I suppose I'm a keen member now, is pretty considerable too - lots of very young mad-keen people in the audience, all wanting autographs and arm-round-the-shoulder photos at the end, which is great, and Paddy was extremely gracious on that score. He was already up in the pantheon for me, having taken the time over dinner to say that he'd read my book on Alan Clarke a couple of times. That was exactly the purpose it was intended for.

Chelsea 0 Newcastle 0: Cakes all round!

The Telegraph subs are rather looking at matters through blue goggles to be titling their match report "Newcastle United cause Chelsea to lose two points with spoiling tactics", but then 'Paddy' Barclay's actual write-up is an even-handed affair that probably sums up what Toon fans will have taken from the game by way of encouragement. I can't agree with Barclay that "Newcastle’s 10th point in eight matches" constitutes grounds to say that "the threat of relegation, though still present, has receded." Stoke and Bolton won yesterday, Fulham drew with Liverpool. So, a nice and welcome point for NUFC then, but sadly worth no more than the one taken at home against Wigan, and it'll be fast forgotten should we get turned over at the Burra next weekend.
But this is what I like, as noted by Barclay: "What a player (Jose) Bosingwa is; with (Habib) Beye on the other side, it was arguable that we were watching the top two right-backs in the country. Beye’s display was described as ‘’magnificent’’ by Kinnear, who also lauded the centre-backs Sebastien Bassong (Taylor’s replacement) and Fabricio Coloccini."
Could this be the makings of a proper solid NUFC back-four? I've also liked Jose Enrique on the left, at times... though some say he's not got the grit for England's first division. But Bassong is looking pretty good, and Coloccini's really good games make you forget his occasional lapses. As for the man known as 'Whitley' Beye, it was my dream that he would boss it for the Toon as he used to do for Marseilles, and maybe now the hour hath come.

Penn biog sighted/cited in San Francisco

A short piece on Sean in relation to Milk appeared in the San Fran Chronicle this weekend, by one Steven Winn, and it made nice reference to my authorised biography of SJP, the US publication of which passed away like breath off a razor-blade back in 2005. "I guess if there's any responsibility that anybody in film or any of the arts has," Penn told Kelly, "it's being aware of the times you live in and making things that address them, whether you're making a statement or just shining a light on it. Or questioning it for yourself." I did always rather hope that the book would serve as a database for journalists looking to profile Sean without the usual cliches and hearsays and inconsistencies - though inevitably a lot of 'entertainment journalists' would rather persist with that mouldy old stuff than to try getting at the truth.
Steven Winn also quotes the following: "Sean has no limitations as an actor," Jack Nicholson once said of his friend and colleague (they worked together on the 2001 film "The Pledge"). "I always say, 'Really good actors, if the time came, they could play their own grandmother.' And Sean's one of those."" Were I a pedantic sort of a sod I would point out that in fact Nicholson said that to me, and it's just one of many such jewels of insight contained in Sean Penn: His Life and Times, blah blah, etc...

Monday, 17 November 2008

Carbon/Silicon: "The News" (Caroline Records)



I was just a shade too young to have an opinion on The Clash in their active heyday, though I was just in time for the hit-laden Combat Rock (1982). Subsequently a good friend of mine who’d actually spent a lot of time On the Road with the Boys c. 1977 (kipping on the floors of their hotel rooms with a zillion other fans etc) always tried to urge the impress of their mythic status on me. I liked a good few Clash tunes, and was impressed by the way Strummer/Jones/Simonon looked when photographed slouching around in alleyways, but I remained largely agnostic on the bigger issue.
Still, by 1985, having got my basic diploma in Clash Studies, I was sufficiently interested in hip-hop, sampling, and quotable cult movies to be quite excited by the idea of the first album by Mick Jones’ successor outfit, Big Audio Dynamite. Aforementioned Clash-Fan-Mate swiftly declared it piss-poor, and indeed I could see it was patchy: one of those 8-track LPs with 4 or 5 duff ones. But like a lot of people (not all of them into Nic Roeg or Sergio Leone) I was keen on ‘E=MC2’ and ‘Medicine Show’ , and those tunes still sound dandy to me today.
Twice I saw B.A.D. play live in Belfast – the first time in 1986 supported by Schooly D, when they encored with Prince’s ‘1999’. Jones always seemed to need his B.A.D. baseball hat so as to cover his male pattern baldness, but the band made a good lively noise. It was the spirit of the age: white ex-punks embracing DIY urban dance music, the new demotic of beats and rhymes.
That same 1986, however, I couldn’t see anything appealing about Sigue Sigue Sputnik, a painfully strained effort at a second wind by Generation X guitarist Tony James. Fair enough, he conned some big wedge of a deal out of EMI, and got himself and his band tarted up like pineapple-head Bladerunner extras, but the music sounded like it was programmed on and played out of an Atari game system, and the singer was a terrible po-faced ponce who made Mick Jones's strangled-cat vocal stylings sound like Scott Walker.
Anyhow, time goes by. I wasn’t paying attention, but recently I learned that Mick and Tony have got another combo together and are doing it all by download, bless 'em. Thankfully (1) they’ve both quit trying to wear street fashion, and look more like a pair of 50-year-olds suited and booted for a night out down the Dog ‘n’ Duck. Thankfully (2) Carbon/Silicon sound more like B.A.D. than Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and the lyrics of ‘The News’ also exhibit the same kind of cheerful lefty/party spirit that led Jones to title B.A.D.’s second album Number 10 Upping Street.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Haringey: what is to be done

Steve Richards’ piece in the Independent on the dismal PMQs that followed this week’s dreadful news from Haringey at least raised one or two interesting points about politics - which are worth thinking about insofar as they propose some scope for useful endeavour, whereas thinking too much about the depravity of troglodytic child-killers can leave you in misery about more or less everything. Anyhow, those comments by Richards:
1. ‘Even those that despair the two parties are very similar must accept they have a choice between two incomparably different leaders who loathe each other.’
2. ‘The instant reaction from political bloggers and from parts of the BBC was that Brown had shown a tin ear in relation to the tragedy… The influence of some Conservative bloggers on the tactics of the Tory leadership is particularly interesting, worthy of a longer study.’
3. ‘The political fashion is for localism, especially in the Conservative Party. Central government should keep out of local matters even if things go wrong! ... [Here] Cameron leapt in and demanded that the government acted. Within hours the government did act.’

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Newcastle United: No use taking 1 from a 6-pointer...

It was unglamorous Wigan Athletic who burst the brief bubble of Graeme Souness's tenure at St James's Park, beating us in both league and league cup at their JJB stadium during 2004-05, and proving that the long tail-off of Bobby Robson's final season was about far more than Bobby's declining energies. Such quality players as we had didn't perform when they had to; the poor ones (including one Titus Bramble) were too numerous as well as generally not up to it; and the truculent, tactically backward Souness wouldn't be digging us out of that hole. All of this, Wigan served to made clear: NUFC were back firmly among the mediocre, and looking behind them nervously.
Still, Souness didn't take us down, and nor did Glenn Roeder. Allardyce and Keegan didn't last as long as a full season. We'd never have guessed at that succession back in 2004-05, much less that Joe Kinnear would be in charge at the point this evening when we simply have to be a bookmaker's favourite to go down as one of three set for the old League Division Two come 2009-2010.
And what was the crowning misery of today's 2-2 draw with Wigan at SJP? I refer you to what I wrote back on August 30 after Arsenal (0-3 away), what now seems like halcyon days: 'That's the Toon for you, forever freely handing out good vibes to opposing teams and their fans - e.g. your ropiest striker who hasn't scored in two-dozen starts is nailed on for a brace against Newcastle, as is that hamstrung ex-NUFC player you have on your books...'
Titus Bramble, though? Last minute equaliser? Titus effing Bramble? This can only be the Devil's work. I see His dreadful handiwork all over it.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

UK Recession: Escape Routes Sealed

My paper of choice, the Financial Times, has undertaken a region-by-region prognosis of how old England is faring or liable to fare in this recession of ours. By the by, it serves to remind one of what we actually do for our livings in this country now – or rather, what we soon might not be doing.
This week, 1.82 million British people are officially unemployed. I’m old enough to remember two lurches past the 3 million mark, in 1981 and 1991. But it’s no time for complacency. One David Frost from the Chamber of Commerce recalls what the devastation of the early 1980s claimed on a more or less weekly basis (“It was 4,000 jobs here, 5,000 there”): this because those losses were in manufacturing, where there was so much to be lost. As the Tory economist Ruth Lea said elsewhere today, we don’t do so much of that anymore. The impact this time will be more – how shall I say it? – generously spread around the occupations. Still, you have to worry in particular about the car-makers. As of today even Germany is in recession, even though most people like a Mercedes when they see it. So one can foresee the English making do with whatever is their current ride for a while longer, maybe just giving the old banger a slightly more regular lather-and-vacuum.
London, where I live, ‘has the grimmest prospects of all’ based on its ‘heavy exposure to financial services and to the troubled property market.’ And without a regular diet of property transactions, what do accountants and lawyers and bankers do for their gravy? Clearly London bankers have already stopped buying great swathes of all that flashy shit that they base their lives around, with the inevitable knock-on effect. Meanwhile, Londoners are feeling less enthused – is that possible? – about the 2012 Olympics.
What of the two regions I know best: the North East of England and Northern Ireland? Both essentially sustained by the public sector, as it happens, ‘which gives them a degree of insulation from the turmoil’ according to Alan Wilson, senior man at the Oxford Economics consultancy. ‘That protection may, however, be short-term, as pressure on public spending grows...’ And a lot of ticky-tacky ‘luxury waterside’ box-flats in Newcastle and in Belfast are going to stay eerily empty for a good while longer.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Good Vibration: Now Postponed...

... contra to yesterday's posting, as I've just been telt. So ye's'll need to find summat else cultural to dee in Newcastle come November 27. Unavoidable circumstances, apparently, but happily the whole shebang and the same billing will all just move to a date TBC in the new year. Which is great.
In the meantime, for those seeking alternative cultural entertainment of a North Eastern variety, on that evening or indeed any other, may I recommend the recorded output of Mr Robert Thompson, known in certain quarters as The Little Waster, no less?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Newcastle, City of Culture: The Good Vibration / The Northern Lights Film Festival

When Mike Hodges made Get Carter in 1971, he could have been reasonably sure the watching world would believe that the 'cultural offer' of Newcastle upon Tyne extended not much further than the Pelaw Hussars Juvenile Jazz Band. Of course, even then, NE1 had Morden Tower, the Hatton Gallery, Alan Plater, Sid Chaplin, Lindisfarne, and plenty more besides - though Sting still hadn't quite got himself going, career-wise, and the Sage and Baltic were not quite conceivable.
But, any road... a bit like that Jack Carter (only in fondness, mind you - nowt bitter), I've got a spot or two of business in Newcastle over the next couple of weeks: business that will see us on the train from King's Cross to Central Station and back more than once. (Used to be my very favourite journey, that, until National Express succeeded in making me miss Great North Eastern Railways... Still, unlike Carter, I trust at least that I'll make it back hyem okay.)
Them spots of business, then: I'm reading, (from wuh buke, Crusaders, y'knaa) - and alongside the Burra's Richard Milward and Hartlepool's Michael Smith - at a charitable music/books event called The Good Vibration on Thursday November 27 (large-file PDF flyer here); these literary bits being scheduled between performances by various popular beat combos. A new challenge for me, this - quite a thrill, and I hope I can manage to charm the popular-music-loving crowd without getting plastic bottles of urine tossed at wor head, or otherwise going down about as well as old man Lawrence Ferlinghetti at The Last Waltz.
And then on Saturday December 6 I'm doing a bit for the Northern Lights Film Festival, which I've been pleased to use and endorse since its founding in 2003. In that case I'll be chairing a panel called Shock Horror: How to make a low-budget genre film (3.30 – 4.30pm, Tyneside Cinema), the key text under discussion being the movie Mum & Dad, represented by Steven Sheil and Lisa Trnovski, its director and producer.
All welcome, as they say.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Harvey Milk, Sean Penn, politics and good practice

This blog has an unalloyed positive view of the life and works of Sean Justin Penn, based on wisdom dearly bought. So there’s not much point in my discussing the quality of performance, say, in Gus Van Sant’s new bio-pic of the slain San Francisco gay activist/politician Harvey Milk, which I saw last week, and in which SJP plays the lead. I would say, though, that you learn a lot about Harvey Milk and about San Francisco, and Milk is also very interesting about politics in general, and the issue of what political power could do for homosexuals in particular.
Milk was a true grassroots pol: he helped make the Castro ‘the Castro’, and made the pink pound work for the gay community there and not for anti-gay business. He was militant about the issue of being unabashedly ‘out’. Once Milk had consolidated San Francisco’s gay vote and got himself elected supervisor, the city mayor Moscone really needed him, and he could then make things happen. But he also positioned the gay movement as part of a broader progressive cause.
He was nice to lesbians. He was a passionate but unfussy and inclusive speaker. He had a good eye for a public interest photo-op, evinced by an unlikely campaign against dogs fouling pavements (which would get him elected in London too). And he got the Teamsters behind him – this stunned me, actually – by aiding a boycott of the non-union Coors beer company, and persuaded Coors to hire gay truckers in return. This is what you might call audaciously hopeful stuff. So you can see the usefulness of this movie getting itself released this month…

Sunday, 9 November 2008

December Esquire on sale. Includes David Peace, Gordon Burn, Lewis Hamilton, your humble servant

This month's Esquire is now available, and includes the long interview that I did earlier this year with David Peace and Gordon Burn, to which I have alluded previously, and in which I ask these two great English writers whether or not they believe in evil. (Can you anticipate what were their - markedly different - responses?) Elsewhere, my monthly film column is about La Silence de Lorna by the Dardenne brothers, Julia by Erick Zonca, and the previously mentioned Better Things by Duane Hopkins - three pictures that are worth anyone's time.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Indonesia executes Bali bombers by shooting

BBC News reports that "since they were sentenced, the bombers made several appeals for leniency. However, they also said they were keen to be "martyrs" for their dream of creating a South East Asian caliphate." By any standards of the faith that they professed, they ought to have made up their minds before their minds were made up (or rather, used up) for them. Isn't it often claimed that the suicide-murderer generally believes that s/he part-atones for the carnage they inflict by the righteous exchange of their own demise? Not that the wretched rat-bag life of a suicide-murderer amounts to the worth of one hair on the head of any of their victims - 202 individuals, in the case of the Kuta bombings for which these 3 have been duly despatched, under Indonesian law, to that same sorry hole in the ground to which, alas, we will all one day return.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Not today though, Alex.

Andy McSmith in an Independent blog notes that Gordon Brown "has good reason to cheer this morning. But there is a proviso. This is Scotland, where the main opposition is the SNP, whose leader, Alex Salmond, was until recently promising to take his country into an "arc of prosperity" with Iceland, fuelled largely by the apparent success of Scotland's two banks. The result is as much a setback for the SNP as an advance for the government."

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

5 wholly predictable things that got me a bit misty today

I went to bed last night around 1am, after Pennsylvania was called and Christopher Hitchens' just-vacated chair at the BBC roundtable looked to be filled by a slash of hair that I feared was Maureen Dowd. It wasn't just the deja vu aspect: I'd had a fair bit of wine to drink at a party earlier in the evening (not an election party neither). But as of this morning, I was ready to enjoy a little bit of the drama and mood music in immediate retrospect; and the slight vino-induced fug, added to my creeping sentimental middle years, made me prone to one or two watery-eyed moments, such as:
1. The cover of the Daily Mirror, much the best out of all the papers' choices, in getting not just Obama and his wife walking across the victory-night platform, but also their daughters Sasha and Malia, 10 and 7, who are now going to go live in the White House. There's never been any getting away from arguments about the n├ęgritude of any black man (or woman) seeking high office in America: the arguments have usually started, understandably, among African-Americans themselves. That Obama is not the descendent of slaves was, inevitably, soon remarked upon; and some who did not support him wondered nonetheless why he didn't make more of the white half of his parentage. But Obama's daughters are unquestionably two lovely little black-skinned girls.
2. The BBC evening rehash/highlights show replaying that money snippet of the 'I Have A Dream' speech: "... that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
3. Jesse Jackson's face, stricken, after the declaration from the networks came in. I don't think people remember too well the number of primaries he won in 1984 and 1988. Those were big deals. He wasn't up to it, finally, and he's said and done a load of stupid things since; Jeremy Paxman had a crack at him on Monday's night's Newsnight for the infamous off-mic 'cut his nuts off' remark. But Jackson replied sensibly, about the way Obama had at times 'talked down' to blacks, urging responsibility upon them as if everyone else in America was a paragon of austere propriety. Paxman didn't listen to the answer, just asked the question again, obviously interested only in the stuff about 'nuts', which, in fairness, is partly Jackson's own fault. But one suspects he sees his own faults a bit more clearly now, and surely did last night.
4. McCain tamping down the crowd when they booed Obama’s name during his concession speech. He's had to do a lot of that lately, and did it well. No wonder Obama described his phone call as 'extraordinarily gracious.'
5. McCain again, referring to 'the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.' That's McCain's gift, no question. The last six weeks were a long leavetaking for him, but he was at least prepped and ready to strike his plangent valedictory notes.

Where do politicians come from, daddy?

In other news today - Hazel Blears is going to tell the Hansard Society that all the wrong sort of people go into politics these days. I wonder if Hazel reckons she herself is on the side of the angels? Lower middle-class background, I suppose; Poly Law graduate, solicitor, local council lawyer, then local councillor, eventually the MP for Salford, from whence she comes.
It's an old saw for Blears to lament politics as "a career move rather than call to public service", and a political class "drawn from narrowing social base and range of experience." However she's obviously damning the PLP when she slags the idea of "a 'transmission belt' from university activist, MP's researcher, think-tank staffer, special adviser, to Member of Parliament and ultimately to the front bench." Apparently her clarion call is for future MPS to arise "from a range of backgrounds - business, the armed forces, scientists, teachers, the NHS, shopworkers..."
What's not to agree with? Sure, did the best and brightest and most honourable people you know go into politics? Or decide to do something more worthy, or that remunerated more handsomely? (If indeed they found work.)
BTW Blears also has a go at bloggers who ‘spreading corrosive cynicism’ in political discourse. Not me, Haze. But of course she’s actually referring to the newly prominent types whose updates run across the masthead of PoliticsHome. And - forgive my cynicism - I don’t think she has a clue what she’s talking about, but is cheerfully reading off the autocue prepared by some younger and doubtless blog-mad researcher.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Obama vs McCain: stick a fork in it - it's done?

When Frank Luntz called it for Obama in yesterday's News of the World, I mentally closed the book too. "I cannot foresee a scenario that John McCain is elected the President of the United States," Luntz told another source, using what Brits would call the Heseltine manner of hedged betting.
Pollsters with bigger ambitions such as Luntz (who made his name in the UK by predicting - and probably half-assisting - David Cameron's election from underdog as Tory leader) have reputations to defend. That said, John Zogby is still around and he was disastrously wrong in 2004, so it just goes to show how badly we seem to need polling, if only for conversational purposes rather than persuasive evidence of anyone's true feelings.
John Dickerson sounds a bit nervous too in the hugely pro-Obama Slate: "If he loses... it would mark the biggest collective error in the history of the media and political establishment." Apparently Springsteen opened for Obama in Cleveland last week. The Boss will be nervous too: the cheque he wrote for John Kerry through his vigorous efforts last time turned out to be a drop in the ocean.
The Slate blogger Mickey Kaus is a funny fish: he favoured Clinton for the Democrat pick, and has been trying to dampen the Obama-enthusiasms of flakier souls ever since. I was struck last week when Kaus chided the various Republicans who've endorsed Obama, for the sin of misstating McCain's actual positions ("Nor has McCain "spent the past four months running away" from his longstanding immigration position. He's spent the past two months reasserting it.") Kaus also thinks these turncoats have fallen prey to "some unstated, perhaps unconscious, pro-Obama imperative" encouraging them to depict the GOP candidate as a deteriorating disgrace.
BTW Kaus himself opposes "McCain's campaigns for illegal immigrant legalization--sorry, "comprehensive reform"" - that's not the problem - it's just all those flakes in the media from whom he defends his scrupulous distance.
Kaus also has one more try at raising the ill omen of the "Bradley effect", to wit, that the polls never favoured black businessman Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative-action drive Proposition 209 until the actual results were in - and then by some distance. "Barack Obama", says Kaus, "was one of those campaigning (in radio spots) for the respectable PC side that lost."
I don't know, and I haven't got a vote anyway. I'll finish with Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, who employs the ringing euphonious prose voice she once loaned to President Reagan in order to say that "something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment." But, like Mickey Kaus, she's worried, about the prospect of "a Democratic House with a bigger, more fervent Democratic majority; a Democratic Senate with the same, and possibly with a filibuster-breaking 60 seats". And she wants us to know about a chat she had with two former U.S. senators who had tangled with McCain before yet found him a marvellous man nonetheless: "He wants to help the country." The other added, with almost an air of wonder, "He wants to make America stronger, he really does." And then they spoke, these two men who'd been bruised by him, of John McCain's honest patriotism."
One last throw then, Peggy?

That's Better, then!

Yesterday's posting on Duane Hopkin's Better Things has brought some good news to my inbox, namely that the film (distributed by the estimable Soda Pictures) is now to get its much-deserved London outing, with a 2-week residence at the ICA from Friday January 23, and a split-screen booking from the same date at the Renoir in Bloomsbury. It's possible that the Screen International editorial and the strong quote therein from the film's lead producer Samm Haillay added some effective polemical energy to the case. At any rate, a fine result for Hopkins and his comrades. Mark that date and keep a look-out for screening times in your neighbourhood, all you cinephiles.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Better Things by Duane Hopkins: where's it on, then?

I'm a keen fan of the young British writer-director Duane Hopkins, whose excellent debut feature Better Things was selected for the Critics' Week at this year's Cannes Festival. Hopkins is a true picture-maker, equally skilled in his use of sound and editing, with immaculate taste in filmic influences (Bresson, Alan Clarke, Bruno Dumont), and a clear commitment to taking the artistic hard road of trying to capture and illuminate our everyday lives (as evinced by his gift and facility for casting his pictures with non-professional performers: a familiar hallmark of a first-rate filmmaker.)
So I'm vexed - if not nearly so much as Hopkins' producers - by the difficulty that Better Things seems to be having in getting itself before audiences in this country. Specifically: the last I heard rumoured, the film was not even slated to play on general release in a London cinema, only getting a tour of the regional theatres. Well, lucky old regions, then - and there's no more sworn enemy of the tired old Metropolitan Bias than your correspondent. But a lot happens in London arts-wise, and a lot of movie fans live there, so I can't see why a British film that played with honour in Cannes, and was the deserved recipient of production funding from the public purse, can't then enjoy the benefit of a week's engagement in some enlightened picture-house somewhere in the capital.
This article in Screen International laments the market conditions and perceptions that have made the question of exhibition such a depressing quandary for Better Things. Samm Haillay, lead producer of the picture, gives good quote therein: 'It's not that my film deserves an audience, but its audience deserves to see it." The Screen writer doesn't propose any practical alternative to the presenting problem of how Better Things can 'aggregate' a 'customer base', simply citing some of the underlying causes that beset the film industry - the great crushing race toward the mainstream, the fruitless chasing of commercial bandwagons already gone by.
I know a few exhibitors, discerning souls film-wise for sure, and I can see their side of things - it doesn't feel like anybody gets to elude the bottom-line in the cultural industries these days. Nonetheless: cultural production in this country is the recipient of generous public funding, and, as far as I'm aware, part of that funding is intended so that the work produced is then served up before an audience. I don't see why that process has been failing Better Things. And since the British press are so keen to report on the presence (or absence) of British films in the Official Selection at Cannes (and they are), I assume they're unhappy too about the subsequent struggles of Better Things - so I trust we'll be reading plenty more on this matter.

Friday, 31 October 2008

A Crusaders memento from New Writing North


I see that New Writing North have posted a lot of photos on Flickr related to their various events and stagings, and amid the general interest it's nice for me to see a selection of shots taken at the Crusaders reading group sessions they ran back in early March at the Living Room bar in Newcastle. A lot of useful conversations come flooding back to me now...
Reading groups are, of course, a big deal these days, and their ubiquity reflects not only the British public's commingled fondness for books, chat, an easy chair and a drink; but also, I think, the problem of how hard it is for working people to make time for recreational reading these days. The group creates a platform for same, a shared social duty and pleasure, and I guess the choice of book has to be carefully calibrated so as not to waste any member's time too egregiously.
It was a fascinating experience for me to get so many direct and varied readers' responses to Crusaders at the Living Room. I was also well aware that, ordinarily, per the aforementioned issue of time management, such groups would tend to be engaged with the likes of The Gathering or The Corrections, or No Country For Old Men or Revolutionary Road, i.e. best-selling or award-winning novels of proven interest; and that Crusaders was on the menu essentially because of the element of local interest and the generous patronage of New Writing North. But I was made to feel nothing but welcome by those groups, as the NWN photos remind me, and by god they had all dauntlessly made their way through Crusaders, even before they gave their informed responses, so in a sense I owed them all a big drink.
I don't remember what was going on in the 'pointing' shot though it's quite possible I was referring to some incident in Crusaders that took place in a real location about 50 yards from the pub door...

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Joey Barton's long road to rehabilitation, starting when?

The text from my mate at St James's came in at 19:58. One word: 'Joey!'
Barton had just converted the early penalty that, one might say, made the difference tonight in Newcastle's first win since August, a shaky 2-1 over West Brom.
A non-football-following friend who was a guest at ours for dinner last Saturday night couldn't quite recall 'Joey''s name, but he did want reminding of who was that awful thug at NUFC who had just crept out of prison and had form for horrendously beating up teenagers and stubbing out cigars in people's faces.
My season-ticket mate at SJP has a keen sense of irony, so I'm not losing any sleep over that 'Joey!'. It's possible I have cheered on worse people who have worn black-and-white shirts - cheered them on after the fact, that is - after they've done the business for the Toon. Until then I reserve the right to stick wor nose in the air and say it's all going to hell in a handcart - football, manners, morals, you name it. But then I'm just your common-or-garden breed of English hypocrite.
Tonight was 'Joey''s second successfully converted penalty for NUFC, so who's to say how I'd react if, one fine day, he scored from open play - at Wembley, for example, against Man United, after 89 minutes of dogged stalemate...