Sunday, January 28, 2007

Room to Live (Remainder by Tom McCarthy)

I've finally got round to reading the much lauded "Remainder" by Tom McCarthy, (Alma Books). After an accident, its narrator wins 8 and a half million pounds compensation; yet this narrow premise is really just a jumping off point for what comes next. The book is one packed with detail, often mundane, as we see the recreation of episode upon episode. In many ways, the book could have been called Deja Vu, since its this physical recreation of past (and not so past) scenes that creates the narrative. I had my own sense of deja vu, in parts, since its set in almost the exact same locale, Brixton, as my London novel, and this mundane sense of place gives an extra dimension to what is otherwise in every sense rootless. You always got the sense that the existential writings of Beckett, Camus and others was at least partly a response to the diaspora of post-war Europe, where everything from country borders to national identity had been ripped up - it seems that a new generation of writers (McCarthy is under 40), are faced with a world that is so unknowable, that the fictional response to it can only be through this kind of fascinated ennui. Whereas McEwan and Amis might use their London backdrops as credible settings for high drama, McCarthy is surely writing a more grounded and at the same time a more elevated kind of fiction. The writing is both taut, and unshowy, and it will be interesting to see if that "style" is just that of his coma-victim narrator or a constant for him. The flat, plainness will appeal to fans of Magnus Mills (of which I'm one), almost obsessively non-showy writing, yet you get the sense that McCarthy is holding in or holding back. When he releases his "bombs" they are never predictable even if you have half guessed what is coming. I read the book slowly, since I think the slow build up of non-events can be a little difficult to digest, even boring, and it might be this "ennui" rather than the forward tension of the latter quarter of the novel which kept it away from the prizes - yet its far better at doing this than Ishiguro's misfiring "Never Let you go." There's a modernity to the cultural references that is both thrillingly now, and, a bit like Mills, slightly off centre. You kind of think that McCarthy might be using "remembered" experiences rather than anything more real. The Dogstar, a Brixton institution; Psion organisers; "History Repeating" by the Propellorheads, speak of a gestation period that goes back to the last century - and, indeed the crash post-millennium also is an important plot point, that is there from the moment the narrator puts his money in the speculative area of "technology" shares. Precedents for the book must include John Fowles' iconic "The Collector" where a similarly ordinary man comes into money and uses it for less than orthodox purpose, or the re-staged car crashes of Ballard's "Crash". Here, as in "The Collector", we are drawn in by our unreliable narrator. He prods us - we like him - his fictional precedents will go back as far as Knut Hamsun's early modernist classic "Hunger". Yet, the subject matter here is far from any "brutalist" or "new puritan" manifesto. The things that our narrator wants are the stuff of reality tv shows; of "through the keyhole"; of "the Truman show". It is almost all men who have praised this novel, and I can see why in some way. The novel is about an extreme form of Obesessive Compulsiveness. There is a short ride from the narrator's obsessive recreations to the listmaking tendency of a certain kind of male; or even all the way back to the mad wall-hangings of John Nash in "A Brilliant Mind." At some point, he complains about how all his actions - even those before the accident - seem inauthentic or learnt. I don't think many women would recognise that awkwardness, but it seems almost endemic in the modern male psyche. The female characters are nearly non-existent, useless cutouts, there for only formulaic purpose. It is the men - the old friend who thinks he should spend his money on hookers; the various faceless professionals - lawyer, broker, logistics specialist, doctor, bankrobber - he calls in at various points, who are complicit in the "game" that he is involved in. Here it almost fits into that "greed literature" genre that gave us "Money" and "Bonfire of the Vanities", but it seems to only do this in fits and starts. We are in a recognisable world, which is rendered ever more mundanely, but in doing so becomes a more frightening plot. He is not creating Frankenstein's monster so much as Gatsby recreation of a dream. I'm reminded of when Gatsby's parties end, when the house is no longer anything other than an empty stage where these things were once put on. Inevitably, the book gets darker; it would not survive its own ennui, if McCarthy wasn't willing to draw us further in. Yet he does not seem particularly interested in a logically drawing back into his characters' past; more in an exploration of what horrors we are capable of when so single-mindedly following a pyrrhic objective. Like Saramago's wonderful "Blindness", allegory can only go so far; "Remainder" has to survive according to its own internal logic. That it does this, is its triumph. I'm not sure whether it has the wider canvas required to be a masterpiece; but as a first novel of a driven, if circumscribed, ambition, it succeeds admirably.

I read it bookending a weekend in London, where, despite now having an Oyster card, the travel still takes its toll. Everywhere was so busy! I remember a few years ago how empty London sometimes seemed in January, but not any more it seemed. My once favoured bookshop, in Balham, was overpriced and understocked - I fear for its health - and fear that the internet may have added interesting secondhand bookshops to its list of approved kills. Never mind; its always a little reassuring to know that London's both still there, and, at the same time, so impossible (house prices, the tube, the tired faces).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Time Enough at Last

Dear Guardian readers, I occasionally buy the Times, so that you don't have to. Only joking, but their books section is often far better than the Julian Barnes Supplement that is the Guardian's. Where do I start? A feature on the Paris Review interviews, which Canongate, obviously anticipating my birthday, is making available in book form. Then, Elaine Feinstein's article on the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of my favourite poets, Louis Macneice. My favourite poem is "Meeting Point" from 1939, effortless in its language, beautifully lyrical, both solemn and serene. He died a few months after Sylvia Plath, but is lodged in the memory as a "thirties poet." Time enough at last, to uncouple him from that and read him for himself. Faber have got a new collected out now, and its already in my shopping basket. All this, and a poem from Margaret Atwood which will be of immense help, I would think, to anyone seeing an aged loved one fade away. There was also an article, elsewhere in yesterday's paper about Mark E. Smith of the Fall, confirming yesterday's post of it being "the year of the Fall." I went to see "The Last King of Scotland" last night, about Idi Amin, and its a powerful, intense movie, that only occasionally falls into cliche. What it lacks in visual literacy, it makes up for, as you might expect from Kevin "Touching the Void" Macdonald, is a ratcheting up of the tension, as sat inside the court of Amin, we get the glimpses of a regime turning from popular acclaim to terror, in small glimpses, whilst always being equally affronted/charmed by Forrest Whittaker's brilliant portrayal of the dictator.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hit the North

Not sure if the Fall have ever written a boxing song to go along with their various football ones, but Manchester's favourite son, Ricky Hatton, fights in Las Vegas for the first time tonight against the Colombian Juan Urango. It's a long way from Tameside to Vegas, yet one can only hope that Hatton's preparation is good enough to win this one. Boxing has long lost its lustre, with too many titles, too much politics, but it remains essentially the same sport as it's always been, whatever the showbiz vagaries that surrounded it. I saw Hatton at the M.E.N. a few years ago and it was a very knowledgeable crowd, all dressed up to nines, like a convention of gangsters and their molls. The theatrics of the M.E.N. is taken straight from Vegas, of course, so I think Hatton will feel at home, though when he comes out to "Blue Moon" will the Americans realise its for his beloved Manchester City? In the week that a 60 year old Sylvester Stallone is re-selling his imaginary Rocky franchise one more time, its worth remembering that a real fight is going on across the ocean.

Perverted by Language

Odd to think that 2007 could be the year of "The Fall." Last year was bereft of new Fall product, though the band changed again and again, and live gigs showed a wealth of new material. The lack of an equivalent of the "Peel Sessions" has meant that new material doesn't get roadtested on the radio like it did. Despite Myspace and XFM and 6Music, its fair to say that we've not really replaced John Peel's show. In fact, like literature, music seems to be a well-trodden path these days, where even surprising stuff is telegraphed well in advance. But the literary and music worlds collide, with a book of stories inspired by the Fall and Mark E. Smith's biography. I'm disappointed that its called "Renegade: the Gospel According to Mark E. Smith". Surely it should be "How I wrote Elastic Man?" for real? Some readers of this blog will be Fall fans no doubt, but others will probably have never heard a single song. A new album, the wonderfully titled Reformation Post TLC, is out in February and intrigued readers could do worse than spending their 40 Free downloads at eMusic on their extensive Fall collection - 458489 - the A sides, and "Palace of Swords Reversed" would be 2 good places to start, and "Extricate" is perhaps there most diverse and commercial album.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Racism Returns

(Courtesy of the Lancashire Telegraph)

THE chief executive of an agency charged with regenerating the North West has admitted sending a racist joke in a text message.

Steven Broomhead, who heads the North West Development Agency, apologised after it emerged he had sent a joke about a Pakistani shopkeeper via text.

He said: "I received an inappropriate text message to my mobile.

"Without thinking, I forwarded the message on to the mobile phone of an individual outside the NWDA.

"Forwarding this message was an error of judgment on my part and is something that I deeply regret.

"It was inappropriate and thoughtless and does not reflect my personal opinions in any way.
Advertisement continued...

"There was no intention on my part to cause offence and I would like to apologise unreservedly."

The NWDA is responsible for supporting businesses, encouraging investment, lobbying for better infastructure and promoting the region's quality of life.


Many Local Government employees have been sacked or reprimanded for similar offences, so I do hope that the investigation comes down heavy on Mr. Broomhead. Ignorance, in this instance, is no excuse; particularly given the furore this week over racism on Big Brother. It is worth considering that Mr. Broomhead is on a salary of over £170,000. I like that "Without thinking, I forwarded a message...." I received loads of text messages over Christmas asking me to "forward" them and "not break the chain". It is impossible to "forward" a message "without thinking" after all you have to first of all work out who you are going to forward it to.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Lot of Wind

I'm sitting there watching the BBC news, wondering why it's going on about severe weather throughout the country when it seems quite a nice morning here, and then whoosh!, here it comes. Its like its just arrived, on cue with the TV broadcast. For not the first time this week, I've got a lot of rushing around to do, lets just hope I'm rushing in the right direction.

As comebacks go...

The new issue of The Rialto popped through my letterbox this morning, and it includes a short poem of mine, "Because the Beach Needs Sweeping." I had a couple of poems in this magazine about 5 years ago, and they were strange, experimental one-offs, so it's nice that I've had a lyric poem published by them! The editor, Michael Mackmin, wonders why established poets don't send poems to magazines that often - unlike the American ones - unless they have a book coming out. Its a good point, really. I'm not likely to buy the books on the T.S. Eliot shortlist without reading a poem or two from them first. Seamus Heaney won that prize, for "District and Circle." This poem doesn't really make me want to read it anymore than his other books; I just read nostalgia and violence in his poems, more often than not, and neither are my favourite subjects. Mackmin also makes the point that he'd like more political poems - or more poets engaging politically. Its sometimes part of what I do, but I don't think it ever follows immediately from an event. "Was the sequence unknown?" from my last pamphlet, "The Question", was a direct response to the London bombing in both when I wrote it, and its subject, but other poems were more obliquely political.

Monday, January 15, 2007

So that's why I'm poor

I've for a long time wondered how inflation can be so low, when prices seem to be going up. Yes, my CDs and books get cheaper (but only when I buy them secondhand or from a discounter - just look at the RRP of an average novel that's NOT in the 2-for-1), but since most of my income goes on must-haves, (fuel, transport, food), and would-miss (wine, meals, cinema), its not surprising that I've consistently had a personal inflation rate of 2 per cent above the national. Consumer goods, it seems, feature very low in my life, despite the aforementioned books and CDs, and as for air flights, holidays etc. hmmm, chance would be a fine thing.

The red line is me; the green line is inflation. is where you need to look, check the button on the right hand side of the page.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Alice as Alice saw it...

Wow is the only word to describe the British Library's pageturning facsimiles. I've been looking at William Blake's notebook, and Lewis Carroll's original hand-written/hand-drawn Alice. I've been always a wee bit sceptical of e-Books and the like, but here, for once, is something where the web can genuinely give us an experience, whether at home or in a museum, that wasn't available before. I always love seeing the "behind glass" orginal manuscripts in places like the Haworth parsonage etc. but obviously you never get to feel the book or even to really gaze at what they contain. This is more than "scholarship" - it seems to allow a connection with the very heart of the original writer. More Please!

Brave Writers

I am heartened that there seems to be, finally, a little literary rumbling of the complacency of so much published fiction. Here is Rod Liddle, in the Sunday Times, not, admittedly, a journalist whose opinion counts for much, asking "has fiction lost its power?" - that had literature had "started being like every other form of mass entertainment, aiming wide and broad, hoping to alienate nobody." In yesterday's Guardian, Zadie Smith was making a similar point; another writer has emailed her in response to "how would you define literary failure?" as being "so eager to please." It would be interesting to see how Smith sees her own work there - my criticism of "On Beauty" was related very much to this; or at least Smith's obvious love of the cloistered privilege of top-end universities, and the fact that for the middle classes, even failure is only relative, it allows them to return to their pathway, perhaps a little wiser. Expanding on this lack of "bravery" - and I guess its publishers and audiences as well as writers who can create a culture of temerity - it's surely what characterised so much of the post-war British novel. Characters started at a certain point - by the end of the novel they had returned back there - or the status quo had been restored. There is no looking into the abyss; none of the total failure of the social system to look after them that you find in, say, "Mill on the Floss" when the Tulliver's court case is lost. Circularity - implicit in "On Beauty" (and its model "Howard's End") is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to some complacency. Things have happened; but the status quo is returned to. You find it in Kingsley Amis; in Iris Murdoch; rarely, in Doris Lessing or Martin Amis. Of course, it can be as powerful as novelstic tool as any other - a troubled marriage at the start of the novel might be the status quo that is returned to - in itself a knowing tragedy. Liddle is also talking about brave writing; where style as well as content is vital to making a novel matter as more than entertainment. I've long been of the view that a certain kind of "talking point" novel - can be little more than a drama-documentary; not leaving a psychological scar or an emotional revealing. The difficulty, of course, is that if everyone's looking for a "happy ending" (and even in the saddest novel, that "happy ending" can simply be a return to the status quo, after the devastation has taken place), then that will be more what gets written, what gets published. Is it just me, or is there far more complacency in the domestic horror of McEwan's "Saturday" than in "Enduring Love" or "The Innocent", where actions most definitely had costs - not for the peripheral characters - but for the mains?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yee-Haw, a bit of a Round-up

A friend has invited me over to Sheffield to see an intriguing sounding play, "Talking to Space Hoppers." Any other week I'd have happily gone - I've only been to Sheffield twice in my life, and yet its not far by train. Interesting that the unknown (to me at least) poet John Haynes has won the Costa (nee Whitbread) poetry prize for his book "Letters to Patience." Like David Harsent's "Legion" and Alice Oswald's "Dart", these "thematic" books of poetry have really taken all the prizes in the last few years, and yet this development has - to my mind - never really been mentioned. All 3 poets have simply come up with a book that has overturned more favoured names - and it does make me wonder whether the "beauty contest" of contemporary poetry ever really knows what its doing? Perhaps the book length poem, presumed dead since "The Dynasts", has made a quiet recovery? Writing poetry can be hard, and hard-fought (Haynes' book took him 13 years). We tried to find room for longer poems in "Lamport Court," and a new issue, the 2nd solely edited by Neil Campbell, is out shortly. His own first book - a short story collection - follows in March. Magazines remain the lifeblood of a literary scene and 2nd issues should be more celebrated than 1st issues (they're usually far better as well, casting their net further), so I'm sure there will be plenty of people at Manchester Central Library on Friday for the new issue of "Libertine Magazine." In the non-literary world people have been literally falling over in amazement at the launch of Apple's new iPhone. Didn't Speak and Spell used to make something that looked a bit similar?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ziggy is Sixty

Of all the draw-droppingly unbelievable birthdays, surely David Bowie being 60 is the most astonishing? He remains one of the critical influences on my life. I probably first heard him when "Space Oddity" was unexpectedly reissued to become a number one in 1975. I remember getting "The very best of Bowie" (probably the worst of a whole range of compilations he's released over the years) when I was about 13 or 14, and that probably presaged the amazement of hearing (and seeing the video for) "Ashes to Ashes." Already past his prime - its parent album, "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" is generally seen as the last great album of a run that goes back to his second "The Man Who Sold the World" a decade earlier - I was turned into a Bowie fan more by the prescience of RCA records to cheaply re-sell his back catalogue, at £2.99 each, so that every few weeks I'd add "Low", "Hunky Dory" or "Ziggy Stardust" to my collection. A good time to catch up with Bowie, if not that great a time to be a manic fan (oddities like "Alabama Song", his debatable movie career), I know I'd heard Bauhaus's note perfect version of "Ziggy Stardust" before I'd heard Bowie's. I've therefore got quite a skewed view of his back catalogue - I heard things in the wrong order, and some not till years later. Therefore I'm not a particular fan of "Young Americans" "Aladdin Sane" or "Lodger", since they seemed weak compared with "Station to Station", "Diamond Dogs" and "Low" respectively.

"Let's Dance", of course, was his biggest success - the title track following "Ashes to Ashes" and his Queen collaboration "Under Pressure" to number one - yet outside the singles I've probably not played it for a decade. After that, it was a Bowie that had, after being the ultimate outsider artist (albeit a massive selling one), embraced the mainstream. "Blue Jean", off "Tonight" was probably his last truly great single for a decade or so. Yet every album - even the "Tin Machine" ones - offered hope of a return to form. It's strange, how, in retrospect, the partial renaissance - perhaps since "Black Tie, White Noise" onwards - has made his eighties "blip" seem just that. The musician who'd experimented with electronics, plastic soul and artifice in the 70s was unable to survive the artifice, plastic soul and electronics of the 80s. Somewhere, sometime I've a massive essay unfinished on Bowie - why he means so much to so many, yet is still mistrusted by others. I've seen him twice - both in massive venues and in the last decade - and I'm not sure that I quite believed it was him. I prefer him as the alien he played in the masterful "The Man Who Fell to Earth." Yet, as rock stars go, he's never stopped being what rock stars should be... interesting. I realised, that with his recent heart problem, the gap since "Heathen" is one of the longest in his career. Bowie the businessman is always problematic -, Bowie bonds, endless, endless reissues and greatest hits, which have never quite tempted me to replace my RCA £2.99ers.

A great singer, but a poor interpreter (except where the songs are obscure - like his Pixies and Pop covers); and almost uninterpretable himself. Considering how great the songs often are, they generally defy anyone to do another version (I like the Bauhaus cover, Lulu's "The Man Who Sold the world" and Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" but that's about it - but have a look here!); and what is often forgotten in the torrent of "Best ofs" and the ubiquitous footage of "Changes" or "Starman", is how rich that back catalogue is. "Quicksand" from "Hunky Dory", "Five Years" from "Ziggy Stardust", "Be My Wife" from "Low" and "Teenage Wildlife" from "Scary Monsters" would all squeeze into my "best of." He's experimented with different bands; different styles; but its only music that aspires to be glamorous - and yes, alien - that has really worked for him. Faced with an r&b, folk or pop backing, his vocal mannerisms sit awkwardly. It is the driving, drama of his glam rock backing; or the glacial avant gardeism of Eno that suits him best. His supporting of those keystones of the alternative - the Velvets, Iggy in particular - would deserve praise whatever else he's done. I hope there's many more albums, however, bad, misconceived, odd or inspirational (on every record there's been a track or two that deserves the latter epithet, "Never Let Me Down" and "Tin Machine II" apart!). For me, he's not the bisexual icon that appealed to Jake Arnott or Anthony and the Johnsons, nor is he the global rock star of "Live Aid" and "Dancing in the Streets", or the elder statesman of "mature" Q awards and live webcasts. Rather, he's the avant garde-ner extraordinary, tending that garden even when at its most barren - making a strangely powerful alchemy of rock and roll, pop, experiment and theatre work time and again.

Happy Birthday, Ziggy.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Going Back

I've been leafing through a few old books; anthologies and the like - you don't always read them in full when they come out. Conjunctions is one of my favourite magazines, though its issues are often the size of encyclopedias. Its 25th anniversary issue is just out, but before ordering it, I decided to have a re-read of a couple of issues that it published a few years ago, collecting together a snapshot of current American poetry in one and fiction in another. I say a snapshot, but Conjunctions, as lot of the better magazines with a web presence are, is about the American avant garde. Interesting that a couple of British writers, Jim Crace and Will Self, make the 25th anniversary edition. Anyway, re-reading their "American poetry: state of the art" collection from a few years ago I came across a brilliant poet I'd not read before, C.D. Wright. It appears she's never been published in England, but the prose poems I read - from "One Big Self" a collaboration with a photographer about Louisana prisoners - were rich in language, invention and emotion. She's got a "new and selected" "Steal Away", so I'll hopefully find out more. Going back to the point I made a few posts ago, about the difficulty of keeping up with American poetry, Conjunctions is one way.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I'm still delaying my new poetry pamphlet, "Loosely", from seeing light o' day. A number of the poems needs tweaks, small changes. I'm shedding commas, semi colons and hyphens - I must have been given a job-lot in the summer when I wrote most of these poems. I'm having to replace "reflect in a window" with "reflected in a window" and I don't like either. I'm excising prose-words like "that" and "only". Stripping the engine, putting it back in the poem. It will purr better. Which reminds me, suddenly, of a pseudo-poem (actually a "chapter" of my 250 chapter experimental novel).


I have a wax cat, she purrs like a candle.

I still like that one. Delays are extending to my latest short story, which needs a clear head (I'm not talking alcohol here, I'm talking all the other detritus) to complete. I'm a little absent at the moment (not from my blog, here I seem very present), waiting for something to happen. I'm like one of the weevil's in Torchwood. They sense something... (Torchwood's been a pleasure, guilty or not, and despite some episodes not cutting it. It's interesting as well to work out what they've ripped off. There's a little of "Don't Look Now" in the last episode of the first series. Oh, and Jack "came out", I guess, though him being gay seems somewhat irrelevant when HE CAN'T BE KILLED.)

See, I can do paragraphs? All that white space. Might have to try a poem...

In other news, just read about this intriguing collaboration between Scottish musicians and poets/novelists.
Idlewild and Edwin Morgan, now there's a thought.

Stop, already

I'm getting distinctly tired of "guilty pleasures" and now, "guilty reads." Not sure that Stephen King should be anyone's guilty read. If you like someone, stand up for their writing/music, and if you think they're not that great a writer/singer etc. don't be embarassed to admit it. Stephen King's always been a great writer - probably one of the best writers about childhood in the last thirty years or so, as readers of "Firestarter", "Carrie", "The Body" (made into the film "Stand by Me") and "It" can attest. I've not read any for a while - but seem to recall either "The Dark Half" or "Pet Semetary" as my favourites. I also like "Bridges of Madison County," so sue me - I think its structurally clever, and I like its sentimentality and its morality. I know - as surely everyone does - that we're no better judge today of what contemporary books will stand the test of time than anyone in the past. From Shakespeare to Donne, from "Wuthering Heights" to "The Great Gatsby", the current judgement is more often flawed. I've heard so many people tell me that "Da Vinci Code" is badly written (even people who wouldn't notice such a thing) that I've no desire to read it; but so's "Moo" by Jane Smiley, "Larry's Party" by Carol Shields, and "Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje; exceptionally terrible novels all. Remember, when Oasis's "(What's the story) Morning Glory" came out, dumb critics preferred Blur's "The Great Escape." Stick by your guns; like what you like; defend your choices; and don't ever call them guilty ones.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

That was This Life

Just watched the 10 year reunion episode of "This Life." So, don't read on if you've videod it, or watching it on play-again or are going to bit torrent it from somewhere. Yes, "This life - ten years on" was probably the most hypertextual piece of television we've seen since Dennis Potter's swansong pieces appeared simultaneously on the Beeb and Channel 4. The soundtrack was conveniently loaded into Eg's iPod, so we got Everything but the Girl and Massive Attack for the quiet bits, and Manic Street Preachers "Design for Life" for when they were dancing. Music was always an important part of this life, mainly because it was both dashed off (i.e. it was playing incidentally at all moments) and candid (yes, they knew what they were doing.) In a sense it was a rare occasion when tele gets it right - rather than retrospectively adding window dressing (like the tele version of "The Line of Beauty.") Eg, much liked by most of my female friends, remains the most annoying man in television history - soppy, useless, like a pet dog that's none too bright - and he's STILL like that. Only thing is, he's written a bestselling novel about, yes, "This life" the first time round. God, this gets complex. Originally conceived by Amy Jenkins, about her own housesharing experience, is Eg Amy then? And what happened to Amy after that much hyped first bestseller? Never mind, everyone admits the series got better when other writers got involved, which always seemed a little unfair (and I liked the first series alot, just took everyone else a time to get back into it.) A shame that Ramon Tikaram never made the cut (he's the excuse for the get together) but he's tried to be a serious actor ever since and maybe's glad of the let off. This life was always less comfortable when it had characters outside of the main set - and so it is here, where Miles' Vietnamese bride, and Claire, the young northern film maker, are dismissed as soon as they possibly can. The reunion show was ace - because it concentrated on the verbal sparring between the 5 remaining characters. Millie, never the least bit sexy in the original, looked great, whilst Anna was looking a little worse for wear - though not as bad as Miles' long backpackers hair. (And this guy was supposed to be running a chain of hotels?) They were always a bit posh the people in This Life, and in the reunion the Beeb and the writers can't resist a bit of the Richard Curtis treatment. And its not a bad idea - arriving at the hotel, sorry, Miles' palatial home - they're like an Agatha Christie dinner party, and we're left waiting for the first body to turn up. And the body here, of course, is the past. Like a 5-person marriage, what was always so great about the show is how they're all best friends who bring out the very worst in each other. Eg gets turned into a child by sensible Millie (and she really likes that as well - smiling when her real child beats her with a toy teddy to wake her up, when Eg's been up and doing childcare for all of 5 seconds) - the book, remember, was always a bit of a laugh for him, a kind of "I'm not working, I'm an author" schtick that has never worked that well for me! Anna hates Millie's conformity but really wishes she had a proper boyfriend/baby/house etc. whilst Millie would like to be a bit more devilish. Anna's devilishness was always a little overplayed of course - she's a topdog lawyer, as always, and still smokes like a chimney. (Good job they didn't do it next year.) Whilst Warren was always the bit of grease between the other relationships, helping them all rub along together - glad to not be worrying about himself for once. In one of many clever little touches, he's replaced his old therapy sessions with, yes, being a life coach. Though its always been touch and go whether him or Little Britain's Dafydd, the only other Welsh gay in the village, perhaps?, was the least self aware. I guess, the only thing wrong with the show was the speed at which it zoomed through things - like a Noel Coward on steroids (and Amy's first novel was a Coward-filch if I remember rightly). So a good piece of nostalgia for once, and my head's spinning like the tracks on an iPod keeping up with all the subtexts, which is as it should be. Don't know where you'd come back from here? After all, getting back together, like any old group of friends, they eventually fall back to what they were - Milly girly, Eg daft, Miles still trying not to turn into his dad, Warren coming to terms with whatever he needs to come to terms with and Anna being Anna. I can see them again in another decade - yet it would be like being in aspic, their characters unchanging, just life changing around them. If anything they'd all be a bit young to be going all middle aged on us. I wrote my own state-of-the-nineties novel about my year in London in 1996-7, and yet by moving out of there, I missed out on the prosperity of the Blair years. There's a few friends, older than that lot, who'd kind of fit the cliches, but it probably takes a bit longer, and then again, quite a few of them have either not yet made it (still waiting, like Anna, for the house, the partner, the baby...) or simply fled the city for the countryside. As the Manic Street Preachers would have it, "We don't talk about love, we only want to get drunk." That song, of course, could even make the charts next week - since for the first time - ALL downloads will count, they don't need a physical reissue accompanying the song. So, anyone plugging in their iPod tonight for a bit of nostalgia might just be tempted to flash 79p!

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year

If my blog could have new year's resolutions it would probably be to have a makeover - a new template is probably due, or even a move to Wordpress, we'll see if it finds the time. The post-Xmas period has seen me out late 4 nights in a row. Seeing the Runaways meets AC/DC of Crewe based the Tommys at Night and Day made me feel distinctly old. I'd say they're going to be massive, they're ridiculously good at their instruments, but the music's a bit on the heavy side for the charts. I bumped into my friend who runs the occasional arts and music night, Beat Your Art Out, their next one is in Hebden Bridge of all places. That night saw us come foul of the lack of 24 hour drinking in Manchester, Via Fossa closing at 1.00 and us having to gamely go to the place of no return (the New Union.) The village doesn't change, Italo-house classic "Keep Warm" by Armando was playing as we left Via Fossa. Tune! The following day saw us end up in Common in the Northern Quarter, where I can definitely say that "New Rave" is real and not just a media invention. Though nobody was dancing cos its a bar! Didn't stop them when they put Michael Jackson's "Beat it" on. A friend's birthday the day-before NYE, and then a pleasant meal for New Year itself where we got all competitive with the 1996 "Pub Quiz Book" and the game Taboo. (We were rubbish.) Somehow all these hangovers have helped a little with my creativity: namely I wrote a first draft of a new story that I'm wildly excited about. Before I return to work tomorrow I've been doing a bit of "housekeeping" finding old stories I wrote pre-computer days, which I really should type in one of these days. I even found my "author" photograph that I got done for City Life's Manchester Stories back in the day; good job really, since the publishers lost it as well. Realise I've been writing pretty seriously for about 20 years now - which seems a long, long time; but also, weirdly, could just seem like an apprenticeship. I've been looking through the ragged entrails of my past writings, finding connections, repeated motifs, failed and successful attempts at the same thing. Mostly, remarkably, there's some consistency. Unlike my record collection which flies all over the place. I picked up a rare Captain Beefheart yesterday, but the record player is attached to the computer as I dither about digitising stuff, so haven't listened to it yet. The Waterstones gift vouchers my sister gave me have already been spent: Jeffrey Wainwright's "Poetry: the basics" is something I've been meaning to get for ages, I've never had a poetry lesson/class in my life, and so when people talk about ceasuras and sestinas and the like, I go all schtum. Its a joy to read, and you'll come away from it knowing much more than you did before. Very catholic choice of poets he chooses from as well. That, and Tom McCarthy's heavily recommended "Remainder" should keep me going well into January. I was looking for a decent anthology of contemporary (even post-60s) American poetry and it doesn't seem that one exists. There's a few wide surveys of the more avant garde end of things, which stretch into the present day, but as far as I can see there's no decent "primer" for contemporary American poetry, made available for British readers. It makes you wonder what the Fabers, Carcanets etc. of the world are thinking of? And it may explain this essay in Poetry Review from John Burnside. In brief, Burnside finds himself in a conversation about the American poet Jorie Graham, and from this discovers that almost none of the UK poets at the event have read any contemporary American poetry, or like any of it. Even Ashbery was dismissed by this myopic crowd. I'm not a fan of Burnside's poetry, but this is a brave and important essay that should be a rallying cry. "You don't know what you're missing," he said to them, and he's right, but there's no easy way in to the contemporary American scene. I wish Burnside had named names, surely if that's their view they wouldn't be unhappy to make it publicly known? I think Fiona Sampson, the new editor of Poetry Review, should insist! Happy New Year.