Saturday, 23 August 2008

Newcastle United 1 (Owen 71) Bolton Wanderers 0

Paul Newman in The Color of Money remarks that money won is twice as sweet as money earned. Why aye Paul, and 3 points stolen are twice as nice as 3 won at a stroll. 'Steal' sounds like how it went at St James's today, even if it's doubtful that Bolton oozed class and attacking verve, since Given had to save a Bolton penalty and Owen's winner (another header!) came in the final quarter. But they all count, lads and lasses... I look forward to assessing what was the balance of play when we get shown, last as usual I expect, on Match on the Day.

Crusaders nicely reviewed in today's Times by Christina Koning

I'm really gratifying by this paperback review of Crusaders in today's Times by Christina Koning: she refers to "Kelly's accomplished debut", says the book is "intensely gripping" and "particularly good on the internecine wrangles of the Labour Party." (Hope that point proves sufficiently alluring to Times readers...)
And the one or two reservations she expresses are all perfectly reasoned too. To note that Crusaders "reads, at times, like a piece of sociological analysis, rather than a work of fiction" is more than fair in relation to a novel of this length, with so many leisurely digressions from the main dramatic through-line. There seems to have been a critical consensus from the get-go that Crusaders has a good strong plot, especially for an allegedly 'literary novel' - the main issue for individual taste is whether that plot is too much swaddled within reams and reams of big-canvas socio-political realism etc. As usual, I just think these arguments are well worth having, and frankly I can see both sides.
Having named Christina Koning I should also cite the other reviewers who have done me a good turn with considerate reviews of the Crusaders paperback: James Smart in the Guardian, Sally Cousins in the Sunday Telegraph, and Nick Rennison in the Sunday Times (not online, alas).

Obama v McCain: increasingly less interesting...

When America goes to the polls for a President, Europe quite properly doesn't have any say in the matter (despite the fact that we Euros generally end up getting 'taxed' for America's choice in some way or other...): that's why the Guardian were so foolish in trying to influence the voters of Cook County back in 2004. It's possible, though, that some supposedly sophisticated Democrats think that having a few cheerleaders for their candidate across the Atlantic is a big deal; and that may be a dangerous delusion, just as Willie Whitelaw used to warn Margaret Thatcher that electorally it was no good her being adored and feted in Washington while the streets of London were boiling with Poll Tax rioters.
I'm still not sure what Barack Obama thought he was doing grandstanding in Berlin earlier this summer, and in my eyes he certainly extended his record of not having said anything interesting in his candidancy other than a few well-aimed shots at Mrs Clinton. On the whole the Euro tour looked to me like his version of the standard Democrat delusion, last displayed by that Boston brahmin John Kerry, who started off on the stump touting his admirable grasp of foreign languages (indeed of American-English, compared to the incumbent), then wound up being photographed out duck-hunting with buddies, while promising to 'fight and kill' the 'terrorists' overseas. Americans don't find these flip-flops too convincing on the whole.
Has Obama said anything useful lately about Russia, or Iran? I've only hearsay of what McCain's been saying, but the impression I have is that he says more of what a majority of swing-state American voters want to hear, and says it quicker and without palaver. So that's a problem for Obama right there. This is looking like a tight election, which I always imagined it would be, but the final calculus could be very boring and predictable indeed.
Oh, and now Obama has picked Joe Biden for VP. I really hope Biden's reputation in the US is based on a good deal more than the main reason why we know of him in the UK: a reason intimately related to the oratory skills of Neil Kinnock, a man who realised too late that, when in search of the highest political office, you can't afford to change your mind in public on a host of key issues and burning convictions.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Larn Yer'sel Geordie (Man): Volume XIII

Earlier tonight I got wrong off my 2½ year-old daughter after I – abruptly, because a bit irritated – called her ‘man’: to wit, ‘Aw pack it in, Cordi man.’
‘I’m not a man, Daddy’ is (roughly) how Cordelia replied to me, in her 2½ year-old way, a bit vexed and perplexed. And she was quite in the right. After all, what did I think I was doing passing down to my daughter a slovenly colloquial habit, liable to obscure for her the very concept of gender difference?
The simple answer is, of course, that it’s a Geordie thing: one to which I paid no real mind until about 6 years ago when Dick Clement’s and Ian LaFrenais’s Auf Weidersehen Pet came back on the BBC, and I persuaded My Darling Wife to watch it with me. In an early episode Neville (Kevin Whateley) was arguing with his wife Brenda (Julia Tobin) in their patented manner; and when, exasperated, he addressed her as ‘Brenda, man’, my Darling Wife seemed to find this one of the oddest and funniest things she’d heard all week. And, suddenly, I saw it in the same light, even though beforehand it had seemed to me as natural as rain.
Such stuff is on my mind because this week I happen to be writing about the north-east and its literary lineage, at the invitation of the excellent New Writing North. Consequently I’m thinking again about the linguistic habits and rich and varied dialects of the region – or what Alan Plater calls ‘the notoriously tricky accents of the north-east, where speech patterns change almost street by street.’
For a different part of the same purpose I’ve also been revisiting the north-east bits of coverage of Crusaders, including this very early interview for the Journal, which suffers from a few mis-transcribed errors of fact but was a great boon to get at the time, and got me off to a good start in trying to express my particular debt to “this fantastically rich and dynamic region that has nevertheless suffered economically, so it has this grandeur to it but also this background of problems…”

Ten Bad Dates with De Niro in Flak magazine

Very interesting and eloquently engaged response to the film list book just posted here by Matt Hanson for Flak. Really enters into the spirit of the enterprise. And I will have to tell Nev Pierce that he has a fan.
I don't know if I've had a single film-list-related thought since the book was completed 18 months ago, but maybe that just means it's time to get started again. Only this morning I found myself scouring YouTube for clips from Out of the Past a.k.a. Build My Gallows High (1947, dir. Jacques Tourneur)... And now I think of it, I can't believe nobody managed to smuggle a single mention of that film noir beauty into Ten Bad Dates.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Edinburgh Book Festival: Richard T Kelly & Nick Harkaway

I had a splendid time up in Edinburgh, thanks for asking. The Book Festival's set-up in Charlotte Square is really handsome and well-organised, the team first-rate, the hospitality lovely (streams of single malt...), and they draw great big crowds of curious book lovers.

I did my event with Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World, who is a top man and also blogs here. Festival director Catherine Lockerbie took the time to greet Nick and I before we went onstage, on a Saturday when a lot was going on for her, which was a touch of class. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Stuart Kelly, literary editor of Scotland on Sunday, who chairs various EIBF events and wrote very generously (not to say wittily) of Crusaders here.

On the Friday night I took in an LRB panel on The Novel wherein Andrew O'Hagan made some perfectly familiar and reasoned critical comments about our literary culture and its commercial obsessions, comments that were then reported Everywhere.

Archived Richard T Kelly film reviews for Sight & Sound

I first started reviewing movies for Sight & Sound magazine in the Autumn of 1998, just after my first book Alan Clarke was published. Actually I'd never much fancied the idea of reviewing: I just wanted to write a long piece about Warren Beatty's movie Bulworth which was due for release around then too. In order to do so at S&S (no other outlet would have me at that point) I had to first earn my spurs by synopsizing and commenting on a few other new releases that I was less keen on. So I did that, got to do my Bulworth piece (it was less than I hoped...), and carried on reviewing duties there for a further 9 years. As they say on CBBC's Me Too, where did the time go?
I see that some of those old reviews have been archived at the BFI site, and some of them still read ok. I include links as follows so you can decide for yourself. I speak of ones I did on the Brad Pitt version of The Iliad, Troy, Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday, Michael Winterbottom's In This World, Le Fils by the Dardenne brothers, and Like Father by Newcastle's Amber collective. Above all I'm glad I got to write about The Darkest Light by Simon Beaufoy and Bille Eltringham, which is an absolute treasure of a movie that ought to be far better known and celebrated.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Newcastle United: Full of Surprises

YouTube is a great platform for enthusiasms and I see many of my own reflected in this black-and-white compendium that was evidently put together after Sunday's massively unlikely point at Old Trafford. Keegan may be onto something if he signs more Argentines with hairdos akin to his own c.1978. That year, after all, was when a pretty good Argentina side won the World Cup.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Review of From A To X (Berger) in Financial Times

Yup, I filed this review of John Berger's new and Booker-longlisted novel for the Financial Times this weekend past. I had the pleasure of picking up a gratis copy of said FT on Saturday morning as I checked into the excellent Channings Hotel of Edinburgh. You have to respect an establishment for which the FT is the staple side-table giveaway. For some the FT will always be the paper that serves as the punchline to the immortal quip, 'What's pink and hard in the morning?' For others, me included, it is the only newsheet of this day and age where everything therein feels truly serious - even the bits that happen to be funny.