Thursday, 30 June 2016

You don't know Jack

'Jack Robinson' is a - well what? Nom de plume? Nom de guerre? Pseudonym? Alias? I shall respect the author's anonymity, except to say that he is a fine poet who, under the name of Jenny Robinson, once won a literary prize for women, which caused quite a stir at the ceremony when he stood up  to accept the award.

Robinson has to date published three books of prose - Days and Nights in W12 (2011), Recessional (2015) and by the same author (2016). They are slim volumes and richly satisfying, thoroughly achieved exercises in style and content, bright and generous and (rare enough, this) they prompt and reward regular re-reading.  



Days and Nights in W12 adopts - or rather adapts - a Sebaldian approach to the west London district of Shepherds Bush, where the author lives. Robinson is an attentive flaneur/topographer. There are more than one hundred entries, alphabetically arranged from A ('A & E', 'allotment', 'ape' 'Austin A35') to Z ('z') an each one-page entry is accompanied by a black and white photograph (taken by the author), accompanied by a short text. Sebaldian, but without that author's detached Eeeyoreish quality. (You know the sort of thing: 'I arrived in the centre of Great Yarmouth on Saturday afternoon and there was not a living soul to be seen'.) Robinson is lighter and more engaging and more plausible. Unlike Sebald's sometimes neurasthenic perspective we can see and share the world Robinson sees. We co-habit.

Some of the locations were immediately familiar to me as a former resident of the Bush - the covered market, local businesses along the Uxbridge Road, the old and new libraries and (improbable as it may seem) the 'village hall;  These are wonderfully evocative fragments of a modest urban epic, an English take on Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project. Geoff Dyer (clearly a fan) says that ‘It’s like the best moments  from a novel – minus the padding’ and he's right; these are also (to mix metaphors) dark caffeine shots in a world of milky lattes.

Recessional is a scathing polemic prompted by the banking crisis, a ferociously funny denunciation of the bastards who screwed things up for us all, and the oligarch beneficiaries of their crimes. It's especially worth reading now that things have really fallen apart. You can read it online here.





















Published earlier this year is the lower-cased by the same author. This was prompted by an inconsequential event: a book left behind on a cafe table, a waiter chasing after the customer to return it. On this modest premise Robinson builds a dazzling succession of reflections and meditations on - well, everything under the sun from bonfires to book covers. (I'm reminded of Raymond Queneau's matchless Exercices de style  (1947), prompted by a  comparably humdrum urban episode). It's a book about reading and what being a reader involves these days. It also proves that less is more, and that the best things come in small packages. 




If you don't read these you don't know Jack, so look sharp and order all three books from the publisher here.

Cover images © CB editions

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Hello sailor

I'm all for book-length poems and pleased to see that there seems to be a revival under way, led by J. O. Morgan who has to date published five long poems, the last two of which I've just reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement.

Matelot by Michael Cullup is 'a poem in twenty-four sections', published recently by Greenwich Exchange. Despite the cover ('Stoker Andrew Martin' by Eric Kennington) we are not in the dreamy homoerotic world of Jean Cocteau and Fassbinder but that of The Cruel Sea with its below decks profanity. 


© Greenwich Exchange

Matelot (pronounced 'matlow') is about life as it used to be in the Royal Navy. The author, in an unnecessary apologia, admits that much of the language is 'salty'. It certainly is and I wouldn't have it any other way - this is the sweariest collection of poetry you'll ever read. There is a useful glossary, although I felt my age to see that 'bob' merited explanation as slang for a shilling - shouldn't the shilling be further defined for those under forty?)

What Cullup depicts, and vividly, is a lost world both recent and remote in which (up to a point, and post-Suez), Britannia still ruled the waves, or at least had a big navy. This navy - the 'Senior Service' - had lengthy traditions of which it was justly proud, and was a rather glamorous entity. Today's navy is a shadow of that.

Cullup excels at the depiction of the rough male sodality below decks, the tangy banter, the grudging pride in 'the Andrew' (as the RN is known to insiders). He has a wonderful store of resonant, often obscene slang, an ear for tough vernacular rhythm and an eye for the moment:

     I am in the West Indies bar
     in Plymouth, Union Street,
     and I see this matelot -
     a huge bloke with a red beard -
     start eating a wine glass.

The language throughout is tough and simple, the feelings beneath more complex, because the poet is a shrewd and detached observer of his fellow tars. Cullup (known to his crew mates as 'Lofts') did his National Service as a lowly Stoker:

     Why did you want to be a fuckin' Stokes, Lofts?
     You're the only fucker here can spell his name.
     You should've been an officer.

Fortunately he wasn't, as I can't see such boisterous and life-affirming poetry prompted by life on the bridge or the officers' mess.

Poets who served in the Andrew include Alan Ross, Roy Fuller, Donald Davie and Charles Causley - all cited in the publisher's blurb - and Michael Cullup is equal to the best of them.

Buy Matelot from the publisher's website



Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Henry Hall, lighthouse keeper

It's hard to imagine a more bizarre and horrible death than that of Henry Hall, a 94-year-old lighthouse keeper.

This was the second lighthouse to be constructed on the treacherous reef nine miles off the south coast of Cornwall, The first had been destroyed in a storm, with the loss of all five keepers, and the second, completed in 1709, was a wooden structure built around a brick and concrete core. It looked like this:




On the night of 2 December 1755 the top of the lantern caught fire, probably from sparks rising from the candles that illuminated the lantern. The three lighthouse keepers tackled the blaze with buckets of water, thrown upwards, but were driven out of the structure and onto the rocks. What happened to poor Henry Hall is the stuff of nightmare. 




Monday, 27 June 2016

Euchred


Exchanging emails with a friend in Canada and, inevitably, Britain's withdrawal from the European Union came up. I made a feeble pun by suggesting that the divided nation be re-named Sunderland, which explains the reference in this extract from his reply:

So Sunderland etc. simply went for Farage, and there's a lot of Sunderland in England still, far more indeed than Londoners or foreigners or Britain's 20 year olds who've been euchred,  ever imagined.  

He's right, of course, about that large part of the population - a majority who respond to Farage - the non-metropolitan, the excluded, the not-young (75% of Remain voters were 18-24 year olds).  

"Euchred"? This was new to me. My friend moved to rural Canada from England some years ago, which is where he first heard the word and he tells me he didn't know whether it came form a card game, or some other kind of game, but it apparently involves a manoeuvre "which traps an opponent by bypassing his defences, when he is said to have been euchred".

Hmmm. Apart from the misleading echo of "eucharist" I wonder if it isn't likely to be a Canadian version of "snookered", a phrase much in use in Britain still, and equivalent to the less-common "stymied", both suggesting a position in which no movement is possible without consequent loss. Not to be confused with "up shit creek without a paddle", but that seems to fit the current situation admirably. Nobody in our political establishment understands what's going on orwhat's likely to happen. The Parliamentary Labour Party has imploded with the resignation of most of the shadow cabinet. Nobody has a clue what to do. We're all euchred.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Unhealthy obsessions - a first checklist

I'm sure I have nothing as interesting as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but I do have certain traits, or tendencies if you will, that strike me as unusual. Here are some of them:

a) I have a log-standing obsession with the last meals (hearty or otherwise) served to inmates on death row, to the extent that several times a week when I sit down to eat, whether at home or in a restaurant, I momentarily brood on whatever is on the plate in front of me as if it were my own last meal before I take the long walk. It makes me crave a cigarette. This happens in the evenings only - never at breakfast or lunch time;

b) whenever I see a motorist in a car with any kind of personalised numberplate (and these are very commonplace these days) I always imagine they are cruel to their children (or perhaps to other people's children);

c) the sight of a aeroplane flying overhead frequently prompts thoughts of time travel;

d) I find myself irregularly, but with increasing frequency, wondering whether how many, if any, of the boys I went to school with are now dead; 

e) Likewise old schoolmasters, although I assume they're all long since gathered;

f) I mentally insert apostrophes into correctly-punctuated shop names,  John Lewi's, say;  

g) I tend to pronounce 'skeleton' as 'skellington' for reasons that escape me;

h) Whenever I hear (or even think of) Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' I also hear the phrase 'Soham killer Ian Huntley's former girl-friend Maxine Carr';

i) On filling a kettle with cold water from the tap I invariably wonder whether it would save time and energy to fill it with warm water.

j) I tend to make lists of things in order to figure out what I think of them . . .

There are more, for a later date.



Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Fall of Rome

I write this in the gloomiest of moods. This week Britain voted in a Referendum to leave the European Union, with immediate and horrible results - £350 billion wiped off the economy within hours. There's a nasty nationalist mood brewing, the future of Europe is uncertain, and we have no good leaders with a plan. The dish-faced dullard David Cameron has resigned and will go down in history as the man who broke the country (and put his membrum virilis in a pig's head). The unspeakable Nigel Farage is honking his bilious saloon bar creed and what's left of the Left is in disarray. This will take a generation to resolve, or longer. My country is divided and there are bad times ahead for us all.
'Write me a poem that will make me cry,' was Cyril Connolly's challenge to Auden in 1940. The result was this:
The Fall of Rome
(for Cyril Connolly)
The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.


© The Estate of W. H. Auden / Faber and Faber
Were it not for the date I'd suspect that, in the second verse was prompted by a viewing of Carol Reed's masterpiece The Third Man (1949), although it's possible that Graham Greene read the poem before he came up with Harry Lime. In fact the whole poem has a cinematic feel in its montage effects - like a storyboard.
'Cerebrotonic' means "relating to or resembling a personality type characterized by shyness, introspection, and emotional restraint". Stiff upper lip? I'm unsure what Cato is doing here - a contract with the butch Potemkin-like marines? Auden's double-focus on the ancient world and contemporary malaise is masterful, culminating in one of the greatest poetic images I can think of - herds of reindeer, that are more than herds, and much more than reindeer.







Friday, 24 June 2016

On leaving Europe

Five predictions:

1. Other EU members states will hold similar referenda - France, Italy, Spain and Portugal'

2. Europe will no longer be a coherent and peaceful entity.

3. There will be a rise of far-right anti-immigrant nationalist groups.

4. Political discourse will become cruder and nastier.

5. We shall as a nation lose any residual underlying unity of purpose.

6. There's trouble ahead, and no good leaders.








Thursday, 23 June 2016

On the Referendum, sort of


More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre to be sacked over the newspaper’s coverage of migration and the EU referendum. I've signed it and perhaps you will too. But the Daily Mail print edition, nauseating as it is, takes second place to the website.

If you tell me you've never once visited the Daily Mail website I shan't believe you. It's reportedly the world's most popular - perfectly horrible, of course, and highly addictive. It's an amalgam of medical horror stories, xenophobia, misogyny, prurience, philistinism and witless jocularity. Here's a brief checklist of what makes it what it is, whatever it is:

a) WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT is a no-doubt legal requirement when it comes to the website's relentless depiction of medical anomalies and catastrophes - exploding cysts, for instance, or facial trauma. Likewise dead people. Likewise birth deformities, traumatic injuries, ghastly accidents and the aftermath of acid attacks. A typical headline:

Watch the revolting moment doctor drags a huge cyst from a man's nose - after burning a hole in his face with a LASER

If you want a vision of the future forget Orwell's boot stamping on a face. It's medical videos.

b) Punctuating such disgusting footage there's always something 'heartwarming' that involves 'adorable' animals or small children, although pensioners getting married or long-lost siblings reunited or US soldiers coming home to their dog/wife/daughter are all good. Mail readers are, one assumes, in a constant state of arousal but veering between states of abject horror, speechless fury, disgust and sentimental consolation.

c) When it comes to art. Daily Mail journalists assume their readers have no time at all for anything at all unless it is:

          - produced by somebody with arresting disabilities, physical or mental
          - any kind of photorealism, which is simply astonishing
          - anything produced by a small child, or ape, that is 'as good as anything by Picasso'
          - anything forged (especially when it fools 'so-called experts')
          - anything stolen in a heist (worth millions)
          - anything discovered in a skip or boot fair which turns out to be worth 'a small fortune'

The Turner Prize? Well it really isn't art, is it? All that?  It's a  classic case of 'Emperor's New Clothes' if you ask me. A child of five could do it. They're fooling nobody except the so-called experts.

d) Attractive young women (or 'starlets', in the Mail's quaint lexicon) are prone to 'putting on a busty display', flaunting their assets, or curves, often to show some ex-boyfriend exactly what it is he's missing. These young women often sport (yes, 'sport) VERY low cut dresses, which are invariably 'eye-popping' and 'leave little to the imagination'.

Samantha Barks flashes her ample cleavage in a skimpy black swimsuit as she enjoys a quick dip; Peek-a-boob;

Kim Kardashian flaunts sizable cleavage in a low-cut vest but keeps her post-baby body hidden under bulky coat;

e) Hacks leap upon any occasion on which 'the air turns blue' thanks to an actor (invariably a left wing 'luvvie') swearing in a live telly broadcast;

f) Politics. The Daily Mail infamously ran an editorial by its proprietor Lord Rothermere in January 1934 under the headline Hurrah for the Blackshirts. But that was a long time ago and you can't continue to score easy points by reminding the world of the Fascist allegiances of a former Mail owner, who was a close friends of Hiter, Mussolini and the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosely. That would be grossly unfair. Just as it was unfair of The Spectator magazine to claim at the time that "… the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made. When Lord Rothermere tells his clientele to go and join the Fascists some of them pretty certainly will." (The Spectator 19 January 1934 p.6). All water under the bridge. Forgive and forget.

g) There's a particular form of smug mockery reserved for anything complex, nuanced, challenging or worthwhile that is beyond their understanding and doesn't meet with the Editor's approval;

h) Respect though, for the inexplicable and supernatural , because scientists don't know everything. Look at these unexplained lights / proof of temples on Mars / pyramids / startling evidence of cro-magnon cell phones;

i) Respect also for the ineffable. Christ's face appears on a  tortilla in Mexico; a coma victim wakes up speaking fluent Russian (having had no knowledge of the language beforehand). Such 'miracles' are reported though never critiqued;

j) Who could keep a straight face when presented with the simply hilarious? Brides falling over / attacked by swans / blown over by whirlwinds etc. Key words are 'adorable', 'fury', 'horrifying', 'reckless'. The Mail has an unwavering commitment to slapstick.

k) Animals can be so human! (Heartbreaking video shows a mother sea lion crying as she mourns the loss of her baby) And humans can behave like animals  when drunk, or when scrounging benefits, or when being 'neighbours from hell';

l) The trivial slip that becomes on closer inspection the tragic. 'Doctors thought cancer was whitlow'. If this can be a covert attack on NHS negligence so much the better;

m) The National Enquirer story, which combines the exotic, the grotesque and the off-beat detail: 'Husband, 69, 'blocked his toilet as he tried to flush away pieces of his wife's head after decapitating her with a kitchen knife because she flashed her breasts at other men on Skype'.  The husband was called Dempsey Nibbs.

Or how about Ex-wife 'tried to kill her ex-husband with a pepper grinder before stabbing him with a carving knife and attempting to pull out his intestines after they had sex' (the inverted commas working hard there);

n) Foreigners. Nearly half of university jobs go to Europeans: Proportion of lecturers from abroad doubles over ten years as numbers of Britons falls; 

o) Craven deference to all Royals disguised as a chummy familiarity.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are happiest in Balmoral where there is 'room to breathe and run', says Eugenie as she describes Prince Philip as 'the rock for all of us;

p) A gratingly bonhomous saloon bar jocularity of a kind embraced and relentlessly exemplified by the UKIP leader Nigel Farage; a leaning towards the chortling infantilism of such 'internet phenomena' as

Here we go again! Can YOU find the potato in this sea of adorable hamsters?

q) A bilious loathing of all things metropolitan, non-suburban, sophisticated, aspirational and (by definition) 'pretentious': 

The children who NEVER watch TV: And why not having a screen in the house has become the latest status symbol for pushy, middle class parents;

Mail hacks hate, really hate, anyone smarter or more successful than they are.

r) Uncritical approval of oligarch values expressed through ostentatious luxury commodities - yachts and super cars and palatial residences;

s) A low tolerance for paedophiles (which, to be sure, is perfectly reasonable), and a particular fascination in their well-earned comeuppance;

Michael Jackson's twisted pornography collection is revealed: The images of bondage and bizarre erotica that were found in his secret underage sex closet (images the Daily Mail website helpfully reproduces)

t) A bandwagon-jumping approval of whatever seems to appeal to a Mail demographic, and this occasionally requires an uneasy admission that the BBC has an enduring role in public life;

u) A common-sense loathing of 'so-called political correctness' which, in the hands of a mysterious 'brigade', has 'gone mad'. The Mail has a particular hatred of those it dubs 'celebrity luvvies' - actors who support liberal causes;

v) A giddy celebration of property values (as well as paranoid fear that any change to the status quo will lead directly to a fall in same), and especially the kind of properties that Mail readers would buy but for the footling issue of cost: 'Want to be king of your own haunted castle? Medieval property on sale for £925,000 complete with an orchard and a PHANTOM'; 

w) A throwback adherence to the type of poignant 'human interest' stories nailed by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop with the Daily Beast headline 'Ex-Beauty Queen's Pauper Funeral';

x) A vicious prurience coupled with a cowardly reluctance to break the law when it comes to being downright nasty about (e.g) gay marriages, transgender issues and racial matters;

y) A howlingly sexist and ageist treatment of women's appearances, and especially of women 'of a certain age' coupled with an elaborate and deferential courtliness when it comes to Dame Helen Mirren;

z) A corrosively nihilistic view of British society as it is currently constituted, with its hard-won freedoms and tolerances. Of course, the selfsame hard-won tolerances and freedoms are exactly what the terrorists are hell-bent on destroying;

What Daily Mail hacks especially despise is intelligence, equivocation, insight and reflection. They are presumably not born this way but appear to arrive at the state in stages. They are  prone to a creeping tendency towards the blimpish and thoughtlessly prejudicial. Perhaps they are, in private, decent and charming bien-pensants with liberal democratic values and a high-minded commitment to the truth. But I doubt it.

There is one thing, however, that the Daily Mail website does extremely well: photojournalism: Grace of the giants of the deep: Stunning pictures show 40-tonne humpback whales gliding through the ocean.) I suppose this stuff is bought in from agencies - but the mail has a budget for this sort of thing, damn it.


All headlines © Associated Newspapers

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

On the back of a napkin


Brazilian poet Pedro Gabriel began writing poems on napkins when he ran out of paper. Two books later he has millions of online followers and, we are told, is 'set for international recognition'. Click on that link and, predictably, you'll see that these aren't poems at all, simply Hallmark Card feelgood one-liners, more Paolo Coelho than Keats.

But this non-story made me stop and ponder the napkin thing. In a world of spreadsheets, of micro-management, of outcomes and risk assessment it remains a popular and durable myth, that some of history's greatest achievements have their origins on the back of a napkin.

I've always assumed such accounts to be metaphorical, suggesting as they do an informal and convivial gathering over lunch (always lunch, never dinner) after which the conversation moves from the abstract to the practical via serendipitous improvisation - what will the bridge look like? How will this 'large hadron collider' work? Where shall we put the aerodromes?

There's an implied combination of the expert (Lutyens sketching the noble war memorial at Thiepval) and the casual (grabbing whatever comes to hand and improvising - like those moments in films when some old buffer re-creates a Don Bradman innings at Lords using table-top cruet). More, the off-hand sketch or list or description is always enough upon which to base some colossally ambitiousl project, the realisation of which, by lesser talents, is merely a painstaking afterthought, simply finesse.

But whoa, nelly. Have you ever tried writing on a napkin? Pencils are no good, fountain pens leave a blobby residue. Ballpoints aren't especially stylish.  

'Back of an envelope' makes more sense, although the implied restaurant setting is absent (and surely a restaurant with napkins would also be able to come up with paper. You'd just ask the waiter.)

On the same day I read of the Brazilian napkin poet my eye was caught by a headline on the Daily Mail website in which the unlikeable journalist Piers Morgan praised the even-more-unlikeable telly producer Simon Cowell thus:

'He took me out for lunch once and he told me that he'd had an idea for a talent show. He mapped it out on a napkin.'

This was a show called America's Got Talent, a franchise started in America in 2006 that would later become a global hit in over 60 other countries. 

Why on earth did Cowell do such a thing, if he did such a thing? Was he temporarily deprived of the power of speech? Or so inarticulate that he had to communicate the simplest ideas with words and images scrawled (with some difficulty) on fabric? Or was it a paper napkin? In which case perhaps it wasn't the classiest of restaurants. Or perhaps - and this seems likely - Morgan wants to suggest the kind of chumminess he enjoys with this cultural giant and that, given Cowell's genius a mere whim, something simple enough to inscribe on whatever comes to hand, can become, in time, and thanks to his tremendous talent and energy and will, an international phenomenon.

What, come to that, did Cowell actually write, if he wrote (or 'mapped out') anything on this alleged napkin? Perhaps nothing more than "Re-make Opportunity Knocks", the talent show fronted by the very horrible Hughie Green back in the 1970s. Because that's what Cowell did, and it's all that he did. I could, the next time I'm dining out in the kind of restaurant that has napkins and find myself in the company of a gullible hack, grab whatever comes to hand and write on it "Complete great novel" or "Make lots of money" or "Discover new thing" and sit back and wait for it to happen, after which at some point in the future said hack can knock out an article about being privy to that watershed moment.

'Privy' makes me ponder further. Why are such things never roughed out out on lavatory paper? That would better suit the Cowells of this world, surely?







Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Thatcher statue

Note: Some technical glitch meant that I posted a draft of this blog prematurely on 19th June.. Apologies 


Here is a picture of a statue of Margaret Thatcher.

© Public Memorials Appeals Trust

Reportedly Thatcher's twin offspring Carol and Mark have blocked plans for its erection in Parliament Square, where it would take its place beside Churchill, Lincoln and other political giants.

Ivan Saxton, co-founder of the Public Memorials Appeal Trust which raised the £300,000 for the commission and installation, told The Mail on Sunday: “There was talk that she didn’t like it because it isn’t made of iron, but she doesn’t mind that it’s not made of iron. Carol’s upset that there’s no handbag.”

Saxton fancies himself as something of an art connoisseur. In a letter to London mayor Boris Johnson (quoted in the Mail on Sunday) he writes: '"Carol Thatcher is a philistine in the truest sense of the word because she does not recognise a wonderful work of art when she sees one."

A philistine "in the truest sense of the word" would be a member of a pentapolis in southwestern Levant comprising the five city-states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, from Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north. But never mind that. It seems to me that Saxton is a philistine in the modern sense of the word, having execrable aesthetic judgement and a shameless belief in his own taste.

Look at the thing. It conforms to the Franklin Mint aesthetic that applies to practically all public sttatuary in the capital: the gargantuan snoggers at St Pancras, the kitsch kinder transport memorial at Liverpool Street station; the nasty Whitehall 'cloakroom' commemorating women in war, the tacky Bomber Command relief on the Embankment and the Animals at War monument in Park Lane (for my money the worst of the lot). There are many others - too many.

The identity of the Thatcher statute sculptor has for some reason not been disclosed by the trust. But look at it  again. It's really Michael Heseltine, isn't it?




Monday, 20 June 2016

On Barry Humphries

I'm a great admirer of Barry Humphries but (dare I say it?) his most famous creation, Dame Edna Everage, Housewife Superstar, leaves me cold.  

As far as I'm concerned the palm (slick with ghastly ointment) goes to another Humphries avatar, Dr Sir Lesley Colin Patterson, Australia's  cultural attaché  to the Court of St James. This fabulously repulsive lecherous drunk with a donkey-like membrum virilis, rotting teeth and stained powder blue suit is among the immortals.

Sir Les is breathtakingly crude, sexist, homophobic and racist and would not be allowed near a telly station today. Yet - and this is the point - he's weirdly endearing. It's partly the lopsided grin, partly the fact that he doesn't always enjoy the best of health, but above all it's his indomitable that's hard to resist. Wherever he is, no matter how jet lagged or hungover, Les is on top of things (are you with me?). He's the main character in the drama of his life. He is also, and hilariously, an innocent:: 'Not so many moons ago they thought we were a bunch of rough diamonds' he belches, swigging from a pint of Chardonnay. His depravity is absolute and perfectly-judged, adapting the Cocteau principle that 'too much is never enough for me'.

Here he is, briefly, on the Parkinson show, and you'll savour the first moments in which he shakes hands with his normally imperturbable host and . . .   oh God.


If you can go the distance here's a recording of the one-man show from 1996, a superb performance that leaves his audience breathless, writhing, and aghast.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

On Paolo Coelho

Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.                                 

                                                                                    Paolo Coelho The Alchemist (1986). 



Oh, Paolo, Paolo, Paolo - just think about what you've said here, for a moment.

Before anything can happen twice it first has to happen once, doesn't it? I mean, things can't happen twice once, can they?  But if, as you insist, things that happen once 'can never happen again' how can anything ever happen twice? And there's no evidence to support your claim that simply because things happen twice they will necessarily happen a third time. Paolo - you're an idiot.

I take this random example of the author's writing because he is (I've decided) the living writer I loathe above all others. (Jealous, much? Of course I am. If I could earn a fraction of his millions by churning out such piffle I'd be laughing all the way to one of my many banks.) I have a particular dislike for Coelho because of something unforgivably stupid and arrogant that he once said about James Joyce:

"One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce's Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit."

Perhaps he meant 'tweet'? But what does he know? Stripped down, The Alchemist is a piece of shit.

Nobody serious takes Coelho seriously, and he knows it, and it rattles him because he thinks he a serious writer. He isn't. He's an idiot and his millions of admirers are undiscriminating dupes. This article nails it.

The Alchemist has been translated into more than 60 languages and has sold more than 83 million copies, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. I can't muster the will to tell you what a depressingly tacky and stupid book it is, a nasty mash-up of Ayn Rand and Kahil Gibran. It's jaw-droppingly shallow, smug, infantile, pious and silly. What's it about?

Briefly: a young shepherd named Santiago (and he's lost me already) travels from Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried - where else? - in the Pyramids. Yeah. But I really can't be bothered to summarise this witless farrago. From the ever-reliable Wikipedia:


No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. 

Ah! So - this thing that you seek, this thing for which your are looking  . . . may have been inside you all along!!!  Eliot said this intelligently in some noble lines from Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

But for any novelist such a bull reveal is a cop-out on the level of saying "He woke up to realise it had all been a dream". It's really not worth attacking Coelho for his world-conquering, colossally profitable and utterly ridiculous bromides. You can judge for yourself by reading some more choice quotes from The Alchemist, including this ineffable insight:

If you start by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work towards getting it.

I'll leave you with that thought.


Extract from 'Little Gidding' © Faber and Faber / The Estate of T. S. Eliot

Saturday, 18 June 2016

On Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, is younger than I am. This I find hard to believe, and hard to stomach.

He has been a racist and a fascist since his schooldays at Dulwich College, as a widely-circulated letter from one of his teachers vividly confirms. He has not changed his views but, convinced he has 'the common touch', has matured - if that's the word - into a bilious, beer-swilling saloon bar foghorn bigot. He has debased political discourse throughout the run-up to the forthcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, an agenda he and his colleagues have cynically engineered. He has tirelessly traded on fears of Britain being 'swamped' by migrants - fears stoked by the right-wing press (and especially the Daily Mail). There has been little reasoned debate around the respective merits of 'Brexit' and 'Bremain', simply rancorous and unfounded assertions batted back and forth. The public is confused, and fearful. 

This week a 52-year-old man named Tommy Mair brutally murdered Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, as she arrived at her surgery on Thursday afternoon. Mair has a history of mental health problems and (not that I wish to imply any direct connection between mental illness and affiliation to extreme right-wing causes) has links to American and South African nationalist groups. He appears to have made the murder weapon hinself following instructions obtained from some such organisation. He was, inevitably 'a quiet loner'.

An aberration? Yes and no - these things happen in a context. The context is the political climate cultivated by Nigel Farage, his UKIP followers and the many small and nasty nationalist groups who feel their time has come. If voters favour Britain's exit from the European Union we can face decades of this - a generation will grow up without any broad sense of history, geography or community, with fewer links to the wider world. This is where the post-Suez orderly management of decline leads us: to Nigel Farage and his blinkered, ignorant hate-fuelled nationalist priorities. He is a threat to our social fabric and to democracy.

Nigel Farage should reflect on the weeks' events, on his launch of UKIP's disgusting Nazi-inspired anti-immigration advertisement, then examine his conscience, if he has one. Then he might take the time to read the following statement from Brendan, Jo Cox's husband and the father of their two young children:

Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love.
I and Jo's friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.
Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it everyday of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.
She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.
Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.
Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.





Friday, 17 June 2016

The day after Bloomsday

My proposal earlier this week for an annual nocturnal celebration dedicated to Finnegans Wake is gathering support on both sides of the snotgreen Sea.

The inaugural Finneganight ™ will take place on Saturday March 18th 2017.  There will be drink taken although the obvious venue -  the Mullingar House in Chapelizod, Dublin - is, alas, no longer in business. There will be drink taken. 

(Correction - my Dublin correposndent assures me that the place is still open. Website here. Am investigating.)

The date is not chosen at random, but taken from a magnificent essay by the Joyce scholar Nathan Halper which appeared in Twelve and a Tilly: Essays on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Finnegans Wake (Faber and Faber, 1966). In it Halper proves, in a formidably erudite and wide-ranging investigation, that the night on which Finnegans Wake is set, or rather the night during which the dream of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (the Chapelizod publican) takes place, must be that of Saturday March 18th 1922. This was of course the year in which Ulysses was published.

Joyce admirers have to to reclaim the author's legacy from those hucksters who make big bucks from Bloomsday. This annual shindig is all very well, and any pretext for a glorious drunk to astonish the druid druids is fine by me - but we need to raise the cultural bar and aim to meet the author's high expectations of us, his readers.

My thoughts on the need for a Finneganight to reflect the novel's cultural status were originally prompted by the publication of this novel, by Charlene Goldschmidt, in December 2015:


© Charlene Goldschmidt / Xlibris

Nobody is likely to confuse this with the modernist masterpiece that is Finnegans Wake, and I respect Charlene Goldschmidt who no doubt has good reasons for adapting another author's title for her book (it has happened before: Kathy Acker's Great Expectations and  - appropriately - The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky and José Saramago). I haven't read Finnegan's Wake, which appears to have a medical theme, but there's an interesting online review which doesn't give much away:

Finnegan's Wake By Charlene Goldschmidt is comfort to read because the layout of each page is in good arrangement. This online book is different, reader sometime find the online book one-two or more page are in different size even different layout but Finnegan's Wake By Charlene Goldschmidt is in well arrange that why this book really suit for everyone. 

The author clearly - and to her credit - thought twice about calling her novel Dubliner's or Ulysse's. I wonder whether she is aware that Joyce's death, at the age of 59, was reportedly hastened by the incorrect use of an apostrophe in the title of his own last work. That, at least, is what Myles na gCopaleen once claimed, and I see no reason to doubt him. Perhaps Charlene Goldschmidt decided that, by inserting the apostrophe into the title of her book she could avoid any accusation of plagiarism while still benefitting from the aura of prestige surrounding Joyce's novel. Or perhaps she took her title form the folk song Finnegan's Wake (which does require the apostrophe). And quite possibly she's never heard either of the folk song or of Joyce's Finnegans Wake and arrived at the title independently, in which case who knows what delights are in store for the unsuspecting reader. Has she, like Borges' Pierre Menard who managed to duplicate Cervantes' Don Quixote in every detail, pulled off the same trick with her take on the Wake?

Here's the Borges: eight sublime pages which - apart from anything else - manage to pre-empt everything post-modernsim once stood for.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Bloomsday blog


If you're looking for some small plastic figurines to commemorate Bloomsday look no further than the Little Giants Mini-Figures Boxed Set of Writers produced by a company called Jailbreak Collective. The set consists of Shakespeare, Joyce,Twain and Poe. Here they are:




Of the Mark Twain figurine a breathless copywriter says: 'Few American writers have influenced the world as much as Twain! With his trademark hair and moustache, the Tom Sawyer scribe comes to life as a 3-inch plastic figure with a cigar in one hand and a book in the other.'

With a thick black moustache, bow tie and glasses; the Joyce figurine bears a striking resemblance to Groucho Marx, a fact that would have tickled both men. Speaking of Groucho I came across this exchange recently, starting with a letter from Leonard Lyons of The New York Post

October 26 1960 

Dear Groucho,

You may remember that when I introduced you to Brendan Beham at the Algonquin you spoke of "Finnegans Wake". Behan said that in the Algonquin at the time was a man who really understood the Joyce book - Thornton Wilder.

I mentioned this to Wilder. Yesterday, after he evidently did some research, Wilder wrote me:

Re Groucho and "Finnegans Wake" - I have long thought he was in the book. Weren't the Marx Brothers once in a skit about Napoleon? I seem to remember them wearing tricornes, etc. Anyway on pages 8 and 9 there is a visit to the Wellington Museum at Waterloo, and I read . . .  'This is the three linoleum Coyne Grouching down in the living fdtch."

Wilder once tried to explain to me the key to "Finnegans Wake" - involving his constant use of puns. The three linoleum Coyne must be a reference to the Napoleon-style hats. And Grouching makes you a verb.

On the authority of Thornton Wilder, the foremost Joyce scholar of the world, you can be assured  that you are in "Finnegans Wake".

Congratulations and Mazel-tov

With best regards,

Leonard Lyons


To which Groucho replied, a week later:


There's no reason I shouldn't appear in "Finnegans Wake". I'm certainly as bewildered about life as Joyce was. Well, let Joyce be unconfined.


A good phrase to sign off with. Happy Bloomsday.






Wednesday, 15 June 2016

'Twas the night before Bloomsday . . .


In a spectacularly erudite line of reasoning Nathan Halper, in Twelve and a Tilly: Essays on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Finnegans Wake (Faber and Faber, 1966), proves that the night on which Finnegans Wake is set, or rather the night during which the dream of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker takes place, must be that of Saturday March 18th 1922 (the year in which Ulysses was published).

So why are there not appropriate celebrations each year, a nocturnal and protean anti-Bloomsday? What booze-drenched and musical form would an annual Finneganight take?

I can see this catching on.

As to what happens before stately, plump Buck Mulligan begins his morning ablutions on June 16th, we know from Ulysses itself what happened the previous night, at least in the Martello tower in Sandycove. There were alarms and excursions, and shrieking nightmares for a visiting Englishman from Oxford named Haines, an incident which in real-life led to Joyce's abrupt departure from the temporary address that would become part of literary history.

Joyce based Haines on a chap called Dermot Chenevix Trench. An illuminating article about him by one C. E. F. Trench appeared in James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 13, No. 1 (Fall, 1975) and can be read here..

More Joyce tomorrow, of course.



Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Favourite snatches (20)


It's been a very long time - more than 18 months - since I last included a favourite snatch, so here  are two poems by Yeats (who was born yesterday, in 1865) that I particularly admire:


Crazy Jane Taks with the Bishop


I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'


 'Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement'.  What a couple of lines - practically a pitch for a Channel 4 reality show.

The second poem is as different as can be:


The Fascination of What’s Difficult

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There's something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.


Yeats is. I think, best read when one is young or no longer young. He's not a poet for all ages. I read very little of Yeats when I was younger and am catching up belatedly, and gratefully, now. He can be preposterous, but never dull or predictable.



Monday, 13 June 2016

Orlando

Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man, murdered fifty people and injured another 53, many seriously, in the early hours of yesterday morning. He entered a gay night club in Orlando, Florida armed with a rifle and a handgun, and started shooting. Hostages were taken and, following a three-hour standoff, he was shot and killed by police. 
A ghastly event, and one that has shocked the world. One feels only pity and sadness for the families of the many victims, and for the community in Orlando. What to make of all this?
Mateen was a US citizen, born in New York to parents who had immigrated there from Afghanistan. Some commentators have helpfully pointed out that his abominable actions are only to be expected from a radicalised Muslim whose homophobia is endorsed by the Koran.

If that's the case then Christians also have a lot of explaining to do. Religion, as Christopher Hitchens eloquently argued, spoils everything. Religious beliefs (and, worse, religious convictions) have been the cause of limitless human suffering over the past two thousand years (and, to be sure, the source of consolation to many). Homophobia - and intolerance in general - is legitimised by holy books held in high regard by Christians and Muslims  and it's fruitless to argue the case with zealots who hold to the prohibitions of iron age tribes,
Mateen's crime, his father is reported as saying, was prompted by his rage at seeing two men kiss in public in Miami. I think on closer examination his motives may prove to be more complex, personal and deep-rooted. His actions have reportedly been praised by ISIS and will no doubt prompt many Americans to advocate the use of the kind of deadly weapons so easily obtained and deployed by Mateen. 

This is really about guns, not religion. And it's about mental health. Look, if you can bear to, at this Wikipedia page listing rampage killings worldwide, arranged by continent and then by type ('grenade amok', vehicular killings' and so on). It makes for the grimmest reading. There's no sense in any of it, no reason, although recurring factors are mental illness and alcohol, and practically all the perpetrators are hopeless inadequates with some kind of grudge against society. Some of these dreadful crimes inevitably have a political and/or religious context or motivation but most are the work of mad, dangerous people with access to weaponry or a way of starting fires.

We need to know about forgotten nonentities such as William Unek, an African police constable who in 1957 killed a total of 57 people in two separate spree killings three years apart. We need to know about Woo Bum-kon, a South Korean policeman who killed 56 people and wounded 35 others during the night of April 26/27, 1982. This was the deadliest known mass murder committed by a lone gunman in modern history, until the Norway attacks of July 22, 2011, in which the white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people by detonating a van bomb in Oslo, then shot dead 69 young people at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. Breivik did this to promote his anti-Islamist manifesto (which, I was startled to learn, quoted our public intellectuals Jeremy Clarkson and Melanie Phillips).

Andrew Philip Kehoe, an American farmer, murderd his wife and 43 other people (including 38 children), and injured 58 others by setting off bombs in the Bath School disaster in 1927. 

Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., a retired US Air Force master sergeant, killed 16 people over a week-long period in 1987, fourteen victims were close members of his family - his wife, three sons, six daughters and three grand-children.

Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos, a Colombian rapist and serial killed admitted to the rape, torture and murder of 147 young boys although the final tally is likely to be in excess of 300.  Colombian law limits imprisonment to 40 years but as he confessed and assisted the police in their enquiries his sentence was reduced to 22 years.  Pedro Alonso López also Columbian, was sentenced for killing 80 girls, but claims to have raped and killed more than 300 other girls in Columbia, Peru and Ecuador He released in 1998 from a psychiatric hospital on good behaviour. His present whereabouts is unknown. Can you believe that?


What can we learn from all this? That Muslim zealots have no monopoly on mass murder. That the world has some very frightening nut cases in it. That Catholic Columbia appears to be a safe haven for child killers. That guns kill people. 


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Zadie Smith on the novel

In 2008 Zadie Smith wrote a much-discussed piece for the New York Review of Books, claiming that  the Anglophone novel would in the future take one of two routes exemplified by the two books she was reviewing: Tom McCarthy's Remainder and Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. She saw these two novels as 'antipodal' (i.e. diametrically opposed) and symptomatic of 'our ailing literary culture'. 

What she found dispiriting in O'Neill's novel was what she described as 'a breed of lyrical Realism' - she disparaged Netherland as efficient, bland and unremarkable. She admired Remainder because it seemed to her to stand in lonely opposition to the heavyweight middlebrow fictions that to this day dominate publishers' lists. 

Now as arguments go this is fair enough, but over familiar - about as compelling as those people who complain there isn't enough good news on the telly. There has never been a time in literary history during which a mainstream readership will show allegiance to the kind of writing she prefers. It's always been a minority and always will. And I feel her binary view excludes many novels that (for good or ill) combine the best features of Netherland and Remainder - a recent example being Mike McCormack's remarkable Solar Bones.

Reading Smith's piece again I was struck by some of the other things she had to say:

All novels attempt to cut neural routes through the brain, to convince us that down this road the true future of the novel lies. 

All novels? Really? I'd say that most novels neither set out to do this nor, if they do, ever achieve that aim. Most novels - the kind of 'page-turners' that you'll find in W. H. Smith bookstores - do not lay claim to being the future of the form. They tend to be more-or-less efficient genre stuff from the likes of Jo Nesbo and James Patterson. A tiny fraction of novels do cut neural routes through to the brain (whatever that means) - most people never read them.

For Netherland, our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition. 

I think she means her receptive pathways. Although she seems to suggest that there was a point then the type of novels she disparages were capable of cutting fresh neural pathways, now so solidly established. Is that the case? Was there a time when, say, Sebastian Faulkes was a trailblazer? I don't think so. The heavyweight middlebrow novel has plenty to offer the sort of reader who likes that sort of thing and Smith (and I hasten to add I'm on her side) is simply jaded. 

She is well-read, and discriminating (as are readers of the NYRB). Readers of Netherland may well be too, of course, but perhaps not. I certainly experience 'a dispiriting sense of recognition' (or deja lu) when faced with many works of fiction (and they tend to be written in the modish present tense,, which is a giveaway), and my response is to stop reading. I no longer review novels I don't admire, or love, because what's the point? My Damascene moment occurred when I sat down to write a review of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See for the TLS. This novel went on to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. I loathed it, and all it stood for. I was polite enough about it and my scepticism made no difference to the book's enormous success. 

Things have changed since 2008 and Zadie Smith's glum prognostications are now looking rather unfounded. A watershed moment came with the publication in 2013 of Eimear McBride's debut novel A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. Since then there seems to me to be a revival of small presses and uncommercial fiction (see blogs passim), as well as greater coverage in the press and online. I certainly haven't cornered the market when it comes to reviewing new and 'difficult' novels, although I was amused to be invited by no fewer than three different literary organs to write about Jack Cox's Dodge Rose. (What Zadie Smith would make of this I can't imagine - it makes Remainder look like Netherlands.) Over the past twelve months I've read more good novels than at any time in the past two decades - most of them from small independent publishers. I've been knocked for six by books from Claire-Louise Bennett, Will Eaves, Sara Baume, Mathias Enard, the aforementioned Mike McCormack and a dozen others. All of them confirm the truth of Cyril Connolly's dictum: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."    

Our literary culture is not ailing - or no more than usual. I've just read Eimear McBride's second novel, The Lesser Bohemianswhich will be published in Britian by Faber on 1st September. I'll have more to say about this later in the year (and will be writing about it for the September Literary Review). Things are looking up.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

John Claridge's East End

For my money the best photography book of the year so far is East End by John Claridge. More than two hundred images taken in the 1960s of a community and culture that has now largely disappeared. The images are compelling, absorbing and in many cases very moving.

The book opens with a series of painterly shots of the Thames and misty atmospheric images of the docklands  that could easily have been taken in the early 19th century. Atget comes to mind. Cranes loom above the still waters like herons.

He captures better than any photographer I know the textures of old buildings before the demolition or (worse) botoxing effects of gentrification. His shopfronts are mouldy, encrusted, peeling and scabby, paving stones are cracked and you can smell the dank cellars, the musty back rooms. Old shops are sheeted with corrugated iron and a few small sole-trader businesses barely holding on. And the faces! Weather-beaten market traders, boxers, bouncers, old dears, tough girls, street drinkers and derelicts. Many of them must have lived through the Blitz.

Much of what John Claridge photographed has long since been swept away as the old East End is purged, the communities dispersed and property developers plunder the district. Aldgate, which Ian Nairn said was the portal to the East End, is now a bleak simulacrum of Dubai. Farewell, Tubby Isaacs.

It's hard to muster adequate superlatives for this collection. Diane Arbus comes to  mind, and the great New York street photographer Garry Winogramd. What I especially admire about Claridge is his unabashed affection for the East End, his keen eye and compete lack of condescension or sentimentality. There a current exhibition (click on the link to see some images). You can buy the book from the publisher here.

In connection with the exhibition I'll be contributing to an evening of East End documentary films on Tuesday 14th June at a club called Vout-O-Reenees. The films have been selected by The Gentle Author no less, and I'm delighted and honoured to have been asked to say a few words about The London Nobody Knows, an extraordinary film released in 1967 and directed by Norman Cohen. Invited to write a few words in advance I came up with the following:

Look up The London Nobody Knows on the International Movie Database and in the section devoted to ‘plot keywords’ you’ll find the following: River Thames, chains, whip, pub, dancing, lavatory, haggling, catacombs and (somewhat more respectably) ‘reference to Christopher Wren’. That last reference is – we shall discover at the screening on 14th June – wrong in every detail. But the other words give an idea of what a very very strange documentary this is.

I know of nothing remotely like it – imagine Ian Nairn’s topographical excursions directed by Ken Loach. Presented by the Huddersfield-born Hollywood leading man James Mason, this 1967 short was briefly circulated as a support feature to the big screen version of the BBC television comedy Till Death Us Do Part. What audiences keen to hear Alf Garnett’s bilious rants made of it at the time is hard to imagine. Apart from a couple of heavy-handed slapstick sequences what we get, for much of the time, is harrowing reportage: we encounter the buskers and dossers and meths drinkers of Spitalfields, we enter the squalid slums around Fournier St and meet the inmates of the Salvation Army hostel. It's heartbreaking, and instructive.

The spectacle of Mason strolling through street markets as heads turn, or loitering in a dank Holborn urinal, or uttering a fastidious ‘yick’ at some modern blot on the skyline is one that will stay with you. He is brilliantly empathetic when sharing a mug of tea with hostel inmates, wonderfully sad in the wreck of the mouldering Bedford Theatre. How he came to be involved in the project – well, you’ll find out at the screening. That the film today has something of a cult following is hardly surprising.
Other plot keywords for The London Nobody Knows are ‘decay’ and ‘Camden Town’ – if Withnail and I had been shot as a documentary it might have looked something like this.

Stop Press: Thanks to OVERWHELMING PUBLIC DEMAND there will be a second screening at the same venue on Tuesday June 21st . . .