Saturday, 30 August 2008

Arsenal 3 Newcastle 0

I daresay I should take the bloody rough with the smooth and resolve to note down each of this season's league results, be they good or ill. (Though I skipped the Coventry game midweek just because it never helps to get lathered about any early Toon progress in the League Cup - it can't last.) Typical of Arsenal to rediscover their groove today but, again, 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, so the manager might as well get him off the bench. If mugs like that can do it, Robin Van Persie can do it in his sleep, which is kind of how he did it today. Next up, Hull at SJP. Wigan put 5 past them today. But come next Saturday will we have any strikers fit to start? Or is Nicky Butt expected to bang 'em in, on top of everything else?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Obama v McCain: somewhat more interesting...

However snarky by nature I may be, I'm still wont to use words like 'maverick' and 'outsider' when it comes to describing John McCain; so why should I have been surprised by his VP pick? I wasn't, not hugely, though I know of Governor Palin about as much as you do if you aren't from Alaska and don't work for McCain 08. But anyhow, the deed is now done, so let's get it on, the last 8 weeks of this interminable campaign are now morally obligated to be lively at least.

Ten Bad Dates quiz #3 @ Curzon Soho 16.09.08

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Crusaders writLOUD/RADA Write-Up

At least for the time being there's an amusing little account online here of the reading I and three other writers gave at writLOUD a fortnight or so ago. My reading itself can still be listened to if you follow the link that is the writLOUD logo in the right hand margin below. And the photo herewith finds me (right) alongside writLOUD's James Vincent, who was MC/Q&A facilitator for the evening.

Nice review of Crusaders in the Irish Tribune by Tom Widger

I'm pleased to have featured in the Tribune's paperbacks round-up of last Sunday 24th, possibly the first mention the book's really had over in Eire. Tom Widger describes Crusaders as 'a state-of-the-nation's-soul novel, Russian in tone, certainly nodding in the direction of Dostoyevsky, and Russian in bulk, 10 years in the making and highly rewarding.' Grand so, say I. On paper I could maybe be mistaken for a Russophile, perhaps, but then I've never been there, and these days I find myself deferring that long-promised trip to St Petersburg onto a very far-distant To Do list...
Then again, I suppose if someone made me an offer...

The Story and the Truth: a new blog

An interesting new blog can be found here courtesy of Dan Hartland and Anna French, promising to feature "novels, history, education, politics, football, fashion and travel". The first substantive post is a very smart one on Obama's 'issues', with heavy reference to David Cameron and the grounds of his starting-to-look-unassailable poll lead over Labour.
I couldn't agree more with TS&TT's general critique of the Democrats' sanctimonious and rather slack-jawed campaigns of recent vintage: 'Dedicated to a rationalism that expects voters to respond to debating rhetoric, they have ceded term after term to the Republicans, allowing their opponents to define the rules of the game.'
I should say that the blog also has some kind words for Crusaders in a sidebar books feature called 'Words We Like': to wit, "A state of the nation novel without the po-faced worthiness, this has everything - gangsters, Parliament, Anglicanism and council estate soap opera. A formidable - and wryly written - treat."
In all, one to watch, as they say.

James Milner: Divvint Gan, Man!

When you watch your team these days do you have moments (while they're losing, or otherwise performing substandardly) when you count on your hands those players on the park whom you consider Fit to Wear The Shirt? I've had that feeling a fair bit with NUFC over the last 10 years, barring a couple of Bobby Robson seasons where nearly all of the first-choice XI were either canny-gifted or triers at the very least. But part of the reason I cheered when Kevin Keegan returned to SJP back in February ('Third, actually, I came as a player...') was because here in the midst of a bit of a shower was a man who was Worthy and Proud to Wear the Shirt, even if he'd only be doing so figuratively, kicking every ball from the touchline.
James Milner hasn't got the greatest pair of shooting boots and his delivery from wide can be erratic, but at 22 he's hardly the finished article, and still he's absolutely the sort of player I want to see in black-and-white. But it looks like he's on his way to Martin O'Neill's Villa, so epitomising the very vexatious one-step-up two-steps-back culture of the Barrack Road.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Saw the BBC News today, oh boy...

On BBC2's Newsnight earlier Kirsty Wark succeeded in giving George Bush’s edgy press secretary Dana Perino a much stiffer and ruder talking-to than she handed out to the seasoned (male) charge d’affaire of the Russian Embassy in London. Manners and predispositions, I guess... As part of the same lead item Newsnight gobsmackingly gave airspace to some young Russian twerp of a journalist, in a shiny jacket and shinier t-shirt, who tried to sound a lot bigger than he looks in dismissing the views of the British government as Washington’s poodle, etc, yawn.
Miliband did well today. The Telegraph reports his saying that "the sight of Russian tanks in a neighbouring country on the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain." But check out the Telegraph readers’ posted comments (scroll down) if you want to get yourself massively dispirited: thin streaks of would-be testicular contempt for Miliband and ‘Bliar’-‘Nu’ Labour/pseudo-sophisticated hatred for the faltering US imperium/veiled admiration for far-flung Russian ‘toughness’.
Cameron has applauded Miliband for going to the Ukraine but tried to up the ante in talking to BBC News: "I think the only language a bully understands is when somebody stands up and says, 'Look, what you've done is wrong...' Prime ministerial, do you think? Sky News further report him as saying “Having Russia as member of the G8 at a time when her troops are still on the sovereign soil of another country I think is inappropriate.”
The 10 O’Clock BBC News decided to follow David Davis and 'shadow immigration minister' Damian Green in giving Neighbourhood Wardens a hard time, soberly repeating the Tory allegations of ‘cheap policing’, with a slight implication of the advancing horrors of the so-called surveillance state. The focus seemed entirely upon the punitive potential of wardens, not on their value to those local people who might know them as individuals, trust them and welcome them. Personally I have observed these Wardens to be of plenty good use to the deprived wards of Scotswood and Benwell in West Newcastle. (One Stewart Carse from Co Durham was the Warden the BBC hit upon to make his case in less than ten seconds.) Online I see the BBC reporting Damian Green to the effect that ‘the government should be freeing up regular police to tackle serious crime.’ Okay then, if you’re running on a law and order auction, you Tories, I look forward to your bids.
Having cast doubt on the government’s concern for our ailing urban 'communities', the 10 O’Clock News then offered some plaintive noises about people who invested in buy-to-rent barely-built second properties in Spain – now suffering from the catastrophe in the building trade which has followed the credit crunch as night follows day. For sure, I hope these punters get out of the hole they dug for themselves, just for their own sakes, but honestly, how many of us – in turning on the nightly national/world news at a time of geopolitical turmoil, only to hear about such essentially private misfortune – could give an effing toss?

Hang the DJ and YouTube's great video jukebox

I've just been looking through a finished copy of the previously mentioned music lists book Hang The DJ (Faber, ed. Angus Cargill), and it's been giving me great pleasure, along with the inevitable individual pang of regret for how much more I could have said were there the space, time, or interest on anybody's part in what very little music I listen to these days. Thankfully I have this blog...
On which note, here in no real order are ten tunes that I don't actually own on either vinyl, cassette, CD or MP3, but which I find myself looking at quite regularly on YouTube. Some are obvious gems, others are what connoisseurs might tactfully describe as guilty pleasures, whereas I am far too old for that sort of nonsense now:
Richard Thompson, Needle and Thread: In my mind I did buy his last album and yet I find no evidence about the house.
Stewart Copeland & Stan Ridgeway, Don't Box Me In: From the soundtrack of my favourite movie c. 1984, amazed I never bought it.
Sinead O’Connor, Jealous: before she took the veil, a characteristically Beautiful Love Song
Gerry Rafferty, Baker Street: where did he get it from? And where has he taken it to?
Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio: Shaky Stan Ridgway again (pictured) - and he should have been in pictures.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kiss Them For Me: I know she's a legend and that, but who knew she'd scrub up like so, and move so sinuously to boot?
Lou Gramm, Midnight Blue: If you want to feel like Bret Ellis's Patrick Bateman... REM used to cover this tune, in naked envy.
The Blue Nile, Tinseltown in the Rain: A fine singer who's got better and also sorted out his hair and shirts.
Black Uhuru, Great Train Robbery: the matchless power of Sly and Robbie.
Level 42, Something About You: to be viewed alongside its diptych 'Leaving Me Now' in which Mark King also plays a crying-on-the-inside clown.
I will play this game again...

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Russia, and a fresh fight for the anti-imperialists

Having lured Georgia’s foolish President into a little war he couldn’t afford, Russia are now playing Stage II of this great game and recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with its plucky 70,000 populace. ‘If you hate us’, Russia says (in effect) to the UN, the US and EU, ‘we’re glad, and we don’t care. What are you going to do about it?’ Well, I hear Bush is sending Vice-President Cheney to the region, so that will doubtless raise the tone of the debate…
You will have seen/heard that Russia currently does have some really angry is-anyone-listening?-type Western apologists, who didn’t like the Kosovo war of 1999 and didn’t think Milosevic was unusually despicable, and do think that NATO sewed dragon’s teeth with that military action. An FT leader makes what I think is a (perhaps ‘the’) salient distinction: “The Abkhaz and Ossetian populations have not been threatened with anything remotely approaching “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide” by the Georgians. If anything, the danger is in the other direction, with ethnic Georgians fleeing both regions to escape the Russians and the Russian-armed secessionists.”
As the FT suggests, this flawed and dishonest logic of Russia’s might yet bite her back or otherwise embarrass her, encoraging “the restive republics of the north Caucasus, such as Ingushetia and Dagestan, as well as Chechnya, to determine their own destiny.” As books by Bob Woodward and Alistair Campbell have shown us, it was over his attempted crushing of Chechnya that Putin really reached out to the Western powers, in search of common cause against what he called as an Islamic menace; then after 9/11 Putin shook his head, reckoned he’d told ‘em so, and decided to focus his efforts entirely on never having to seek common cause with anyone ever again. As Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate, “overt Russian imperialism is back, after a very short absence from the scene, and it is no more amiable or benign from the many toxic resentments it acquired during its period of decline and impotence and eclipse.” Any statesman who quite fancies being a hated pariah - would indeed wear such status like a crown - is a tough opponent to weather.

Made in Heaven (US 1987, dir. Alan Rudolph)

Following on from my lament of a few nights ago about having failed to squeeze an entry on Tourneur's Build My Gallows High into Ten Bad Dates, I've been reminded of a commensurate failure to build a spot in the book for Made In Heaven, one of the movies I really love from the mid-1980s: an affection possibly enhanced by its unavailability on DVD, which left me clinging to vague, fond memories - until, that is, I found some lovely clips on YouTube, such as this trailer...
At the final reckoning Alan Rudolph's career will probably come to be seen as one founded on the cultiest of cult movies (obviously, with Dorothy Parker and Gordon Liddy among his diverse interests, and Keith Carradine and Kris Kristofferson his favoured leading men.) And bittersweet romance has always been one of Rudolph's strongest suits. So Choose Me (1984) may end up getting counted as his masterpiece. Whereas Made in Heaven is one of those movies that most critics considered a would-be-commercial misfire, and the release version was chopped about without Rudolph's consent. But it's definitely the picture of his that I'd take to my Crusoe island.
It's a celestial Love Story that moves from funny/rueful to unashamedly cute/winsome - and then abruptly becomes a Loss Story, with terribly wrenching effect. The excellence of the narrative and its structure is the power of its metaphor.
Lovelorn Tim Hutton dies before his time saving some kids from drowning and goes to an oddball but charming Heaven, where God is Debra Winger in drag (we might indeed all find this to be the case one day...) In Heaven Hutton meets and falls in love with Kelly McGillis, and she with him. Natural justice, the viewer might say. But McGillis was 'made in heaven' and is there only to be gone from there, en route to earth: 'I'm going to be somebody's baby.' Hutton appeals to God/Winger, and is told that's his hard luck: such is life, and death. (You can watch this bit actually.)
But, the rules have one loophole - Hutton can be sent back after McGillis, reborn as a babe himself. The catch is that he won't know where in the world he's going, or anything of why he willed this to be: he'll just be an average Schmo like we all are, stumbling around in the dark. If he can find (or rather, run into) McGillis within 30 years, their fine feelings for one another will be restored like magic - 'love at first sight', you might say. If not, then love will never find either of them: the rest of their lives will be doomed to sadness, and unfulfillable ache.
Now then - did you spot the metaphor? The sense in which this obvious whimsy actually throws a sharply slanting, possibly painful light onto what is a crushingly familiar romantic preoccupation to a great many human beings? That's the wonder of this lovely movie. And YouTube preservation aside I hope it's reincarnated in a proper home format one day.
This is the ending, and if it seems especially to make no sense I believe that's because it was one of the passages most aggressively recut against Rudolph's wishes so as to sweeten an otherwise downbeat end. Still quite gorgeous, though. Contains for me the most fabulous focus-pull-plus-slight-pan in any movie. The score is Mark Isham and the final song is Neil Young's 'We Never Danced', again laid on thick as they did in the 1980s, but such is the way to High Emotional Content.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Good Crusaders review in today's Observer by Robert Collins

Another good notice for the Crusaders paperback today, I'm very happy to report. The Observer's Robert Collins describes Crusaders as "big, boisterous and brazenly old-fashioned", likens me to "a Balzac of the pre-Blair era" (a nice touch that I will take in the spirit doubtless intended) and ends by saying that "for sheer scope and rambunctiousness, it's irresistible." Those are terrifically generous sentiments.
As have others (passim), Collins does point out my "hijacking the antiquated prose of the Victorian social novel", and says that he finds this has "mixed results." And as previous, I've absolutely no quarrel with that view: one makes one's choices in this manner at the outset, and lives with 'em thereafter, and I respect the way Robert Collins has expressed his opinion of same.