Saturday, 7 March 2009

Miners Strike Redux: David Jenkins & The People

If it's more recall and analysis of the Miners Strike you're after, then there's plenty to read this morning. The Daily Mail is jumping up and down on the corpse of Scargill's 'legacy', assisted by reference to a new book from Francis Beckett and David Hencke, though the sneering eventually winds round to a few critical comments about the Government of the day.

The Guardian have given Scargill space to claim once more that he actually won the thing, at least on principle, and that his hitherto unheralded efforts to reach consensus were spurned. In an editorial far too drab too link to, the Guardian asserts that neither side deserved to win the Strike - this presumably a conscious echo of the famous enthronement sermon of 1984 delivered by David Jenkins as he was became Bishop of Durham, his point being that neither side should lose.

Jenkins was interviewed the other day by the Northern Echo and sounded much like his old self: “I was a friend of the miners and a champion of their families, but I was by no means an uncritical supporter of the NUM. I’d been landed with this, so I had to do something about it. I’m a simple believer and I think God is in favour of people.” If only that last bit were true in any respect, then we'd all be a lot better off, I daresay.

I don't think anybody wanted Crusaders to be longer than it is, even those critics who liked it (though the man at the TLS rather kindly seemed to fancy a few more chapters.) But it does make people laugh (or else groan) when I say that the last few months' work I did on the book was to cut 35,000 words out of it... Among the non-vital stuff that I snipped a good deal sooner, from the midst of the book's revisiting of the Miners Strike, was a bit about the figure of Jenkins, who is the kind of priest that the young John Gore really aspires to be. This is his reaction to hearing that enthronement speech:

"It was good as cracking open a book of an evening to find one's inchoate thoughts of that very afternoon emblazoned on a page in best prose. ‘We are all concerned’, Durham had stressed. He had spoken of communities. He had been most specific about affluence, material gain, how the fortunes of some should not inflict misery on many. And he had lashed the government for its intransigence. For his troubles he had been pelted with calumny ever since... But he seemed to be a fellow ready to stand up in the market square and suffer a stoning. And that, John respected."

Jenkins' own book The Calling of a Cuckoo is worth a read for any interested parties.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

David Peace: Cometh the Hour

If you want to feel a bit sick before bedtime, take a look at this skimpy nonsense that the BBC News site has posted up to mark the 25th anniversary of the walkouts that began the last Miners' Strike. Maybe one wouldn't feel so scornful if they hadn't decided to pour a skipload of rubbishy period pop music over the still images; but the effect of same is trivialising at best, and actively loathesome at worst - after all, somebody picked and sequenced that execrable music, just as they picked and sequenced the still photos and the newsreel soundbites, which culminate ('Everything Must Change') in Margaret Thatcher's characteristically deranged, myopic and evil comments on the subject of industrial relations.
But if you turn the sound off and just look at the photos, I daresay one visual element, one creeping stain across all things, will strike you hardest, and that's Uniformed Police, legion upon legion, outnumbering striking miners, any hour of day or night, yes sir. What can one think, but that these officers must have been sorely committed to that cause, or else were being handsomely paid for their pains?
Tonight I was originally minded to pen a few words about the TV adaptation of David Peace's Red Riding which has just begun its run on Channel 4; but thankfully there's plenty more to come on that score. I imagine anyone who watched Episode 1 this evening has come away with somewhat charged feelings about the 'thin blue line' and where it cuts through our body politic. And since all those writers who are truly worth the candle are plugged into currents that run deep and fierce under the endless banalised surface of our society, so it seems fitting that Red Riding is airing to coincide with the miners' unhappy anniversary, since David's novel GB84 is also lying out there in wait for anyone who fancies an account of the Strike that is free of the customary image repertoire (or the strains of the Style Council) and who cares to give some serious thought to the question of who or what is our nation's Enemy Within.

Monday, 2 March 2009

On Digging That Cat Bob Dylan...

It was my friend the massively erudite and prolific author/journalist Kevin Jackson who first introduced me to the technical term 'BobCat', maybe 2-3 years ago now? As I recall, it was while we were dining with the polymathic filmmaker Paul Schrader, a hero to this Blog, and himself a conspicuous BobCat. But the very fact that the whole BobCat business was all news to me as recently as then is testimony to the truth that I'm only a very amateur and third-rate sort of a Bob Dylan Fan.
I do have most of his long-playing records, and I dabble on the fringes of Dylan scholarship, albeit far removed (even alienated) from the serious esoterica and apocrypha. Moreover, like a whole bunch of practising novelists, be they good, bad, or mediocre, I often write with music on for the purpose of mood and glancing inspiration; and so I can say that a fair bit of Crusaders was written to the soundtrack of Dylan's so-called 'Christian' albums (Slow Train Coming, admittedly, much the favourite of these.) But that's about the size of my Bobcatness. (Actually, hang on, for what it's worth there are a few hommages to Dylan lyrics in my The Name of this Book is Dogme 95, which were astutely spotted and thrown back to me by the Copenhagen-based scholar and Bobcat Carsten Jensen.)
So why are these selective Visions of Bob now keeping me up past the dawn? Well, for one thing, the aforementioned K. Jackson recently dropped me a line to let me know he was ploughing 'through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books', and I was slow enough to ask him why... It so happens that Kevin is writing another of his daunting scholarly works, this one on the modernist literature of the 1920s. But still, honestly... No BobCat, I, to have missed that glaring reference. Nonetheless, however weakly, I managed to shoot back to Kevin that I 'couldn't even touch the books he'd read', in point of numbers at least... And we had a good exchange about the particularly Dylanesque love/hate of lists of learned reading, a matter on which Bob expounded further in the little-read Tarantula, which is as near as I get to his esoterica.
Furthermore, me and this Blog are pleased to have received another commendation from the excellent and previously cited The Story and The Truth maintained by Anna French and Dan Hartland; and while rooting round that site I just read this fine essay by Hartland on the 'great late trilogy' formed by Dylan's most recently released trio of albums. Again, like a heretic, I must admit that of the three in question only Time Out of Mind gets much play round my house. But then I played it just the other day, during novel-writing hours... See, I'm tryin' to get to heaven, before they close the door...
On which topic, I must just squeeze in this morsel from Ian Parker's assiduous observational New Yorker profile of Christopher Hitchens, published back in 2006 - one of those journalistic snapshots that just sticks with you, both the story and the telling of it:
"Hitchens went into the house and put on Bob Dylan's 'Tryin' to Get to Heaven'; he stood in the doorway and sung quietly along. He quoted Philip Larkin on Dylan: a 'cawing, derisive voice.' He repeated Larkin's words a few times, approvingly. His daughter got out of the pool, and said, pleasantly, 'Can we close this door, so nobody else has to hear this?'... She went back to her friends. 'Look,' Hitchens said happily. 'They're waiting for us to die.'"

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nicolas Roeg @ BAFTA, March 27, w/ RTK

On Friday March 27 BAFTA will host a tribute evening to Nic Roeg under the banner 'The Magician With A Movie Camera.' And I will have the privilege and fun of being emcee for the night. Here as a refresher is the piece I wrote on the maestro last year for Film In Focus. And the BAFTA site trailers the event with the following text (in which you may note the prominent and valued endorsement of Danny Boyle, a director currently enjoying the best of times):
"Visionary director Nicolas Roeg has created some classics of modern cinema as well as inspiring several generations of world-class filmmakers by virtue of his poetic eye and iconoclastic approach to storytelling. Danny Boyle considers Roeg to be as important as David Lean in the history of British cinema, and it's impossible to keep track of the number of contemporary filmmakers who cite Don't Look Now as among their key influences. With Performance, Bad Timing, The Man Who Fell To Earth and Walkabout, Roeg cemented his place in the modernist canon - but his influence owes as much to his uncompromising approach as to the detail of his personal creative vision. Join us for this evening where some extraordinarily special filmmakers pay tribute to a cinematic hero."
Hero, indeed. Join us, indeed. (The photo of Roeg above is by Dave Sidaway for the Montreal Gazette.)

Bolton 1 Newcastle 0: Are those bells I hear tolling?

Earlier in this awful season Shola Ameobi narrowly missed his chance to play in the old Division 2, for, I think, Ipswich. But, again if I recall right, he failed the medical. No worries, though - Newcastle kept him and also rewarded him with a new contract, clearly keen that he continue to lope on, giving Toon fans a few more years of unfulfilled 'promise', the occasional goal, but very consistent displays of a temperament suggesting that he thinks himself a bit too good for the hectic heat of a contest, and boring stuff like tackling and tracking back.
Anyhow, the raveous maws of Division 2 are yawning wide for Shola once more, just as the bell tolls for NUFC, after today's latest dismal defeat in a season of dismal defeats. I hear the fans booed Mark Viduka's appearance as substitute for Martins, not just at seeing Oba disappear down the tunnel but also because Shola remained on the park. Shola may puzzle over all this, just as he might wonder why he's the only Toon player in living memory not to be newly idolised after scoring a seemingly crucial goal against Sunderland (the reason, I reckon, being that no-one really feels the point won by that equalising penalty at SJP is going to end up amounting to a hill of beans.)
So is this the promised end? 11 games remain. Nobody reckons we'll get any points home to Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal, or at Liverpool or Villa. That leaves the visits to SJP of Fulham, Boro and Pompey, and the trips to Stoke, Hull and Spurs. Six cup ties, eh? (Shame we were garbage in the cups this year too.) Probably at least 12 more points needed - maybe a couple less but you wouldn't count on it. It's bad. But then you have to say that if there aren't 3 or 4 wins left in this team from those fixtures, then Division 2 is indeed their rightful home.