Monday, 27 April 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
I Don't Want To Hear It Any More - Shelby Lynne

The Vexed Kvestion of Names

I have a fault – just the one - & that is a singular lack of tolerance for people getting my name wrong.  I don’t mind if they go completely off piste and call me Brunhilda or Salome, but if they call me ‘Lisa’, as in Leessa, they are straight onto a 3 strikes count ie., if they do it twice more any chance of friendship, possibly even civility, vanishes.   
I know it’s not rational & Liza & Lisa are close in look if not sound, but it’s the very ease of error that makes the blood pressure go haywire. Do I look like a Leessa? No, I do not. Do I think Leessa is a nice name? No, I do not.  Do I understand that other people might not be exercised by similar thoughts? No, I do not.
I have irrational dislikes to other ostensibly normal names too.  I can’t tell you what they are because I have friends who are burdened with them.
Oh, alright then: Rupert, Hugo & Simon too - but Hugo & Rupert for different reasons to Simon.  Obviously. Also Paul.  Struggle a bit with David.  Also Sophie.  Ann is a burned out house at Christmas.  Anna is a single bauble hanging in the wreck, Anne: the bauble got damaged & HannaH is just Anna with a stile at each end.  
I have to remind myself often and sternly that they didn’t chose their names; these things were foisted upon them.

I am struck by the strange names that people do chose – watching those Channel 5 ‘caring insight into a transgender’s journey’ shockumentaries - the guys go from being Karls and Richards to super-cautious Elspeths and Patricias, when they could go for something to match the exoticism of chopping off their own genitalia to achieve fulfillment.

Quietly, the name thing is a bit of an obsession, especially when writing fiction.  Naming characters is a strange, superstition-plagued process: odd names imply comedy, alliterative names are not convincing, a minor character must have a dullish name, unless what they do is pivotal - & then it’s got to be a bit strange in order to be memorable blah de blah. It’s all different degrees of nonsense. To avoid endless time-wasting of this nature, I now just go to Junk Mail and heave a name out of the Porn Spam and offer them liberation. Taking a glance at my Junk Mail I currently have Mabel Edwards, Terry Gillespie and Roma Chattaway [see holiday snap] all waiting to be released from bad scripts, heavy viagra usage and short-lived, self-esteem mangling careers.

A friend of mine - a Hugo actually – went with his friend Justin to do one of those Iron John courses where they were taken into a wood for a weekend of enlightenment and clean-love mandating. After Hugo had the raisins he’d hidden in his socks confiscated, they were taken to a large room where they were each given a number.  Until they had completed a series of insight inducing tasks, they were no longer Hugo & Justin, but mere numerals. After a while, they graduated off the numerals, but not back to Hugo & Justin – they had to chose an animal identity, so Hugo became known as Horse & Justin as Leopard. The other men chose similar names. They were all noble beasts: eagles, tigers and wolves and one man - by general consensus, a smug and arrogant git - was a panther. No one was Goldfish or Termite.  On the last night, they sat naked round a campfire in the woods, their oiled bodies draped in rough blankets, their war-painted cheeks streaked with manly tears; their hearts full of greatness.
Here, the leaders amongst them performed the final of ceremony, awarding them their full titles by adding an adjective to their self-selected noun. They went round the group until they reached Hugo, who became Powerful Horse, then Justin, who became Ballsy Leopard and finally to the git, who became Ordinary Panther.
My brother is called Colin, a strange name & not in a good way, but not his choice, not his choice we shout and one we are so used to in the family as to be almost oblivious. However, my poor brother’s life is about to be plunged into confusion, a confusion of an unexpectedly piscatorial nature.

Two weeks ago, Sainsbury’s announced that they are renaming the cod-like Pollack for a 'relaunch'.  Their more sensitive shoppers, they suspect, have hesitated to buy this tasty and reasonably-priced food due to its problematic name.   You know the types - search as you might, these folks ' baskets, will never contain Coquilles Saint Jacques, bazooka bubblegum, fresh breast, meatballs, ripe melons, butt plugs. We've all seen them, going bright red when the checkout girl picks out the vibrator they have been attempting to conceal beneath their asparagus spears and then waves it in the air shouting to a colleague, 'Wayne? Wayne! Are the 12 inchers still half price?'
After 'a significant amount’ of market research Sainsburys - in what may only be the start of an avalanche of genteel change they went with…colin. Yes, Colin.
But wait up, not Colin as we know it, we must pronounce it ‘colan’.

How is all this going to affect the wider world? Its impact can only begin to be guessed at. Have Colins Montgomerie, Cowdrey, Firth and Powell been asked if they are happy having their names hijacked as cheap cover for a fish? Are Pollack immigrants now Colanders?
Will Jackson Pollock become known as Jackson Colin? Was the runner Colin Jackson secretly once Pollack Jackson? And what about the poor singer-songwriter Colin Pollack – where the colining hell does that leave him? And when exactly did supermarkets get to rewrite the dictionary? Did I miss the small print on a packet of Bran Flakes? Pollack is a marvelous name. If I had another son, I'd probably call him Pollack. That, or Denis. 
[illustration - a typical splatter by Jackson Pollock, or possibly a counterfeit executed by a tame chimp]

Monday, 20 April 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
Mr E's Beautiful Blues - Eels

Poets, Emperors & Apple Fools

The Blake exhibition at Tate Britain opened today. His pictures convey his strange inner world & his watercolours still have a great freshness today. His first show two centuries ago, was mostly ignored & comprehensively trashed in its only review. He painted his dreams, giving his images a psychotropic quality that was utterly different from his contemporaries; like a Yes album cover turning up in postcard rack.
[above Jacob's Ladder, below Ghost of a Flea]

While walking through the exhibition, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently. We were comparing gallows notes about our depressive natures and how our nights at the time were being attacked by nameless fears, and worse, named ones. My friend forwarded me a poem that he finds helpful & I in return, decided to send him A Poison Tree by Blake.
Written out on a scrap of paper, for years it has been pinned to a board above my desk. If depression is anger turned inward, then this poem draws a picture of the internal damage brought of slow-roasting a resentment, especially the last line:

I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe.
I told it not my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night & morning with my tears.
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day & night
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine
And he knew that it was mine.

Rather than transcribe into an email, I thought I’d paste it from a poetry website, and there I found to my surprise that I had been a verse short all this time. The last verse changes the meaning entirely:

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Well hang on a tick - far from being about the dangers of poisoning oneself with bitter thoughts, it turns out to be a poem about revenge & an enemy brought down by his own cupidity.
For the past six years I have had the great good luck to work in a wonderful, converted warehouse [soon to be demolished] that houses over a hundred artists. At ground level are sculptors and stonecutters. On the
upper floors are painters, cabinetmakers, photographers, jewelers, graphic artists, plus a recording studio, a potter, an architect, a hatter and a fetishmaker. The nicest thing about working there is the way it is run with an ethos devoid of greed - not just a rarity, but a freakish anomaly in West London.

Twice a year we have Open Studios, when we invite the public in. If you make things in isolation, it is a necessary discipline to push them out into the world; it is also a bi-annual opportunity to give the floor a wash. Mess gets tidied away, flowers are bought & pictures are hung out in the passages.

One time, one the cabinetmakers hung up an old cutting board outside his studio. It was a thick piece of cheap hardboard criss-crossed with a lattice of saw cuts from its job as an extra buffer between his worktable and his cutting tools. In a sarcastic poke at the current state of the art world, he had labeled it 'Metropolis Cantata III'. It hung outside his studio for months; a small joke, gathering dust.
During the course of the Open Studios weekend I was approached by a wealthy acquaintance who wanted help with his art teacher -training at a local school. It seemed unlikely that someone with so much money - more of an art collector than educator - would have the patience to be confined to terms and timetables, but he was giving it a try.
My input started as advice on the layout of the portfolio he was planning to use, but soon turned into me creating some of the pages. Every time he came to collect, he would commission further pages, until it was my portfolio in all but name. Somewhere towards the end he let slip that this portfolio was not for his work experience, but for his finals. I felt compromised and angry to have been sucked into a fraud, but I told him not – so my wrath did grow.

I finished the last pages, which he asked me to drop off at his flat. I trudged round
there wondering if I would raise the subject of being used as an accomplice. I was still rehearsing what I might say as I pressed the bell. As an avid art buyer, the hallway of his flat was cluttered with new pictures awaiting hanging. His latest acquisition was so big I could to barely pass.
‘Sorry about the squeeze, it only arrived this morning. I’m very excited, let me show it to you.’ & he slid it into sitting room, stripped off the wrapping and swung it round with a flourish.
I was thinking either over the Martin Creed in my study, or instead of the Rachel Whiteread in the dining room’ he said.
‘How much did you pay for it?’ I asked.
He mentioned a ridiculous sum – any sum would have
been ridiculous.
It was Metropolis Cantata III.
I nodded, pretended to study this visual atrocity and then took my
leave. There was no need to say anything. My wrath was still not told, but now it fizzled in the face of such marvelous silliness.
Fate, had presented me a foe stretched out beneath the tree.
[Martin Creed's crumpled paper]

In Boston they have started a Museum of Bad Art. It has been described as ‘a monument to creative ecstasy that has resulted in glorious failure…freeing the art-loving community to point and laugh at art everywhere.’ It’s about time someone started one here. I would like to be called the Yeraven Olaf Collection.
Metropolis Cantata III could be loaned for the inaugural show, along with crumpled paper balls, mass-produced circlets of house paint and the entire gruesome oeuvre of Tracey Eminem…

As a postscript...
let us marvel at the gentle rise of a counter-balancing art form: rural rather than urban, egoless, rather than the prevailing
personality cults. Let us say thank you to the generosity of those who meticulously plan & anonymously create arresting & beautiful images for all to see, but none to buy. Wave your night vision goggles in the air & shout Hosanna for crop circles.

[above, Moses dreams of a gigantic crop circle in the promised land]

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Musical Recommendation of the Week:
Jesus, Etc - Wilco

That Sinking Feeling

A cold Easter in Norfolk with friends, everything looking beautiful and green; blossom every- where. We ate from the garden: cockerel korma with salad & far too much chocolate.
[Pictured, Wiveton church]
I got home to find the robin - which I believe has mental problems- behaving in his weird, Phil Spectorish way in my garden, as usual. He’s such a freak, I worry that he has seen off my wren. Ok, not my wren, but the wren that graces my messy flower border. I was standing there, a bit paranoid, thinking why has such a deranged bird chosen my garden, when it struck me that like the wren, this garden is not mine, I just share it with whichever wonky-brained creatures choose to come.... And which of us is really the fool here? It might just be the chump who parted with all the money she had in the world for this tiny patch of land (with handy brick attachment). *

[get help you nutter] I am being lightly stalked by an Austrian who, having read my book, has come to a unilateral arrangement as my new best friend. After the third hectoring call on my landline, he is now demanding I host a lunch of 'literary heavyweights' for him to meet when he next comes to town.
Little does he know, all my friends are at the inky, rather than at the bonus end of the industry and we are all eyeing up earthworms in the garden as we panic about how we to feed our children while writing without advances.
[This could explain why the robin and I are not getting on.]
I was going to wriggle out of it, but maybe I should just invite my hungriest writer friends. Does it matter if they pump iron with verbs & clauses rather than publicity & connections? Starving writers, please add your name to the comment column & I will find you a place at the table.
On the news tonight: Phil Spector in his fright wig, looking like a terrifying am-dram version of Marge Simpson, at last convicted of murder of poor Lana Clarkson. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Dominck Dunne, one night last summer. He had covered the original trial that had resulted in a hung jury & lead to this recent re-trial. If I recall correctly, Mr Dunne said that talking to the mad producer's exes, he learned that at the very heart of the matter lay a teeny tiny cock. Maddened & frustrated by its inadequacies, Spector had long ago made a habit of employing a gun as his phallic proxy.... Not who killed cock robin, but who cock robin killed.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
Pinball - Brian Protheroe

Is This The Handcart Going To Hell?

Last night I had completely delicious Thai dinner in the No.1 Cafe with two friends: one a city lawyer, the other, a teacher who had been part of the G20 march on April 1st. She threatened to go ‘capitalist on his sorry ass’ and they really tried to have an argument, but it was pitiful to watch, because they just get on too damn well.
The teacher told us he only realised that he had been ‘kettled’ outside the Bank Of England when he decided he had had enough & wanted to go off for a bite of lunch. Only when he got to the edge of the crowd did he see  that the normal bobbies had been magically replaced by tight ring of riot police. 
Trapped and hungry, the teacher  
wandered into a Leon’s cafĂ© that had bravely stayed open, although the manager was regretting the move. His corporate lunchtime trade had evaporated & the anti-capitalists had no time for Moroccan meatballs or lemon & ginger quenchers.  
I scanned the news footage for the teacher, but it may well have been the moment he abandoned the struggle for the sake of his stomach - although was nice to see Shirley Williams talking to reporters, saying that compared to 1968, there was a much gentler class of rioter these days.  The Filth weren't taking any chances however. 
One reason for their hardline approach was the incendiary announcements made by voice-of- the-militants, 66 year old Professor Chris Knight.  He threatened that 'thousands' would 'fan out across the city' and was quoted in the Guardian: 'inciting criminal action, specifically violence against policemen and women and damage to banking institutions'.  
Yes, women. Cunning to slip the ladies in there Prof.
It is easy to dismiss him out of hand as a barmy, bitter show-off, which is a shame, because his attempt to get big business to shut off their pointlessly blazing lights at night is pretty sensible. It is bizarre that businesses don't just do it. 
While some marchers were held for eight hours, famous faces were allowed out of the kettle spout. Billy Bragg was one.  I have a theory that the police were motivated by selfishness [rather than celeb-loving mercy], seeking to avoid an endless medley of his protest songs. 
It’s so upsetting - America has had Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Marvin Gaye & Gil Scott Heron and we have this dreary one-note droner who wouldn’t know a good tune if it baton charged him. The worst of it is that in some quarters, they are trying to pitch Bragg as a national treasure. The man is bric-a-brac. [see below. Bragg back row, 2nd right]
Prof Knight’s thousands failed to materialise.  Surely, this cannot have been due to lack of riotous will  - but might be down to them getting a little bit tired after a day on their feet & a little bit hungry, due to a failure to avail themselves of a Leon’s Moroccan Meatballs & ignoring Prof Knight's placard bearing the legend, ‘Eat The Bankers’. 

At our supper, food was not so much meatball, as a political football.  The lawyer absolutely insisted on paying, just so that she could have the pleasure of calling the teacher a fair-weather anarchist with his nose in the enemy's feedbag.  He was sanguine about this arrangement, although his conscience made him draw the line at drinking coca cola, pronouncing it a capitalist bevvy and ordering instead…bottled water.…
Meanwhile, Obama, Medvedev, Berlusconi & tippy toe Sarkozy etc search for – in the words of Gordo - a sub..stahntial global sol..ew..tion.  [Obviously, the leaders Angela Merkel & Cristina Kerchner are women, so they’ll be following their own agenda; bent on planetary destruction.]