Tuesday 3 September 2013

Just for a change, I'm going to like something...

Obviously you are at complete liberty to hold your own personal tastes and views.  I am not going to shout at you for detesting raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens or similar.  However, plenty of people seem to believe that their tastes are somehow superior tastes to those of others.  I learned this week that apparently clever people shouldn't like reality tv. I joined in a conversation about Celebrity Big Brother, and was told "I expected better of you", by someone who knows I have two degrees and was presumably imagining I spend my evenings memorising pi and gazing at my Simon Schama pinups.  

Others have assumed I watch in some kind of "ironic" way, perhaps picturing some sort of post-modern leisure movement of doing things one doesn't enjoy, then moaning about them, for the amusement of one's online acquaintances.  Well guess what, I know full well that Celebrity Big Brother contains neither anyone much celebrated nor any Orwell references, and I still like it.  It's funny ("Jedward are running a bubble bath into which they have emptied a whole bottle of washing up liquid" remaining one of my all-time favourite commentaries).  It makes you think (would anyone with that upbringing have ended up like Lauren Harries, or is she just a natural eccentric who, lacking friends, sees the public as substitutes?).  It gives you an insight into the "celebrity" world (Mark Owen's genuine overwhelmed tears at winning, while mum-aged Take That fans wait outside with a banner saying "we never forgot").  It gives our own prejudices a workover (at the height of the Jade Goody/Shilpa Shetty controversy, a nation somehow found itself looking to Jermaine Jackson and H from Steps as the voice of reason).

Moreover, along with the "civilian" Big Brother, it tells us something important.  It takes people we would not usually get to know in the normal course of life, and tells us something about what they are like.  Generally, they are not like us.  And that's why I like them, and it.  It's a window (albeit a tinted and distorted one) into the lives and minds of people I don't know and don't have much in common with.

X Factor is harder to defend because the music is, almost uniformly, terrible, and the voting predictable, but it's an interesting and fun way to find out what constitutes popular music these days - certainly more fun than listening to Radio 1 (I say this as a person whose listening habits tend firmly towards the direction of unpopular music).  My favourite last year was Jahmene Douglas, a man whose singing was the audio equivalent of a Per Una top* - really nice, but disfigured with pointless frills and embroidery.  I can't say I'll be buying, or even knowingly listening to, his album, but I enjoyed watching his progression through the show, and it was fun to talk about him  - and intriguingly creepy Chris Maloney and meta-celebrity Rylan Clarke - with my colleagues.  I work in a supermarket, and while conversations about literature, history and science are as regular as those about who isn't really "off sick" and who's going for the management job, it feels good to have an interest in common with co-workers who prefer to chat about Saturday night television (it's also useful to steer the conversation into safer waters when I fear someone might be about to launch into praise for Boris Johnson or similar).  

I am barely restraining my impulse to say that the disdain for reality shows and the people who watch them is simply snobbery.  I think that would be unfair of me - it's not as unpleasant as that, it's more a need to compartmentalise people and things so we can process them more easily - "I'm the sort of person who likes X Factor" "I'm the sort of person who votes in X Factor"  "I'm the sort of person who auditions for X Factor" "I'm the sort of person who pops up every fifth or sixth comment after an article on X Factor to ask why the journalist is covering this crap".

So like what you like, and I'll like what I like.  Just don't try and interfere with other people's preferences, or you will sound as delusional and self-obsessed as someone you've never heard of (but was once married to someone you have) having an argument about sausages with a weatherman.

*or, indeed, four tops

Wednesday 14 August 2013

What we did on our Holidays

98% of the people I work with have never heard of the Edinburgh festival, much less the Fringe.  The remaining 2% have heard of the Edinburgh Festival, but think it is formed entirely of kilted soldiers playing bagpipes at the Queen.  Most of my colleagues have never been to Scotland, and some have the same attitude as the staff member at Dalston Jobcentre, who once berated me for "going on holiday to"* what he seemed to believe was a mythical country.  It is a mystery, then, why most of the population of the world is clogging the Royal Mile  when we arrive.  They've never heard of the Fringe, but they know a 2-for-1 ticket offer when they see it.

Our Travelodge doesn't have a working lift, but does offer 24-hour porridge service (just-add-boiling-water stuff in pots; like wallpaper paste but without the appetite appeal).  It is magnificently cheap and outrageously central though, and much better than any of the performers get, if one goes by each year's many hollow-eyed routines about vermin and the vomit of strangers.

We didn't veer off into uncharted territory much this year.  Even acts we'd never seen before (specifically Robin Ince and John Lloyd) were chosen because of our absolute certainty we'd get good comedy value with something genuinely new and interesting to think about thrown in.

Arthur Smith was even doing a sequel to a show I'd already seen.  It could have been repetitive, but the subject matter (loosely connected by the themes of personality and aging) and the framework (the songs of Leonard Cohen) in the hands of someone like Smith could never really have been boring.  Reliably unreliable, Smith is able to engage conversationally with an audience to the extent that we think we're listening to a friend - till he tips us into a place we weren't expecting and laughs at our confusion.  Never maliciously, though, and always entertaining, whether serenading us, sharing with us or surprising us.  The Lovely Paul didn't enjoy it as much as I, but then he doesn't really care for Leonard Cohen, does he?  Knowing the songs does enhance the show nicely.  And as a little bonus, with a trilby garnish, Arthur Smith not only sings but also spookily resembles Leonard Cohen.

Susan Calman is funny whatever she does, and though her current show is a work in progress, it's a show to relax into, knowing you're in safe hands.  I was briefly dubious when she whipped out a guitar, but at least one of her songs was a highlight and a delight - outlining the differences and worrying similarities between her Radio 4 fans and those who see her at late-night club gigs.  Observations about relationships can be tiresome in the wrong hands, but Calman truly makes me giggle and cringe as I recognise myself and the other half in her caricatures.  Whether that's because discussing a same-sex partner frees her from the creaky "differences between men and women" format or it's simply down to skill is not terribly relevant.  The Venn diagram of "people who are great" and "people who refer to themselves as their cats' parents" contains just one person at its intersection, and it is Susan Calman.

Jon Bennett is the "Pretending Things are a Cock" guy, this year doing a show called "My Dad's Deaths".  Last year's was a powerpoint presentation about pretend cocks, coming of age and the search for self.  This year's is a powerpoint presentation about the many eccentricities of his father, coming of age, and the search for self.  We fell in love with him last year because he is simply extremely likeable, as well as being an excellent storyteller. And the story is a great one, universal enough to be recognised (all dads can be pompous, ubiquitious and strangely vulnerable), odd enough to be worth telling (very few dads shout words describing their emotions in lieu of swearing, or manhandle pregnant wives onto roofs).  Because of Bennett's empathy and likeability, this really does feel like an hour in the pub with a favourite friend (I will even let him off the unnecessary and rather shoehorned-in audience participation bit, purely because of the delightful costume).

Normally, I avoid improvisational comedy.  If I am paying money for something, I want it to be properly thought out, professionally written, and rehearsed.  Having been to Troy Conrad and Paul Provenza's Set List (twice) I now have to take issue with myself over this prejudiced and thoughtless attitude.  The beauty of it - and what makes the difference - between this and other improv formats - is the nicely-crafted setlist of subjects created for each performer. "I  give weapons to blind children" "Masturbation Pride" "I covet moths".  Some, like Susan Calman, manage to bind these surprises into parts of their existing sets.  Others, like Tim Fitzhigham and Robin Ince, spin off into whole new worlds of humour.  The unsinkable Mitch Benn actually creates a new little song for each subject, people are so impressed they almost forget to laugh.  It was a great way to discover new (to us) enjoyments like Yannis Pappas and Graham Clark (I can't find his website, but here's one for his beard), and a huge privilege to see stars like Dylan Moran at their on-edge best.

The Islanders feels like a much bigger idea than a 50-minute 2-person musical.  A touchingly honest account of a weekend away from the differing viewpoints of both people involved.  It's lived, written and acted by the gorgeously charming Amy Mason, who is soundtracked and contradicted by Art Brut's Eddie Argos, deftly trampling the line between showing off and showmanship.  What he finds funny, she finds sad, and the whole thing will resonate with anyone who suffers from depression and anxiety - when they go away it's too close to home.  The "postcard" props for telling the story are a perfect idea, but they mean Amy's story ends when she says goodbye to Eddie, and the show might have gained an extra dimension with a little more about what she did next and how she became the person who's telling us the story now. 

Comedy about bereavement and anorexia?  Big tick.  A fabulous way of making something positive from overwhelming great negatives, while giving the audience new perspective on issues that are too often hidden away.
Over It is two shows that happen to sit perfectly together - two nice, funny and interesting people (Dave Chawner and Robyn Perkins) who have had terrible things happen to them (anorexia and death of a partner, respectively).  This is not self-help comedy - rather it's helping the rest of us.  We don't know what to say to people who are suffering, so they say it for us.  No-one knows what to do with the lingerie they bought with their beloved in mind once he's gone.  This must happen all the time, but no-one but Robyn Perkins talks about it.  There must be a lingerie mountain somewhere.  Handing someone a packet of crisps will not cure an eating disorder (my actual GP once suggested I "go on a nice holiday" as a substitute for taking medication for severe and lifelong depression, so I, for one, am convinced that this sort of thing does need saying aloud as much as possible, however obvious it seems). I'm glad these two people are working together, their heartbreaking stories and upbeat styles really complement each other well and remind us that while illness and death are always among us, so is friendship, ridiculousness and laughter.

Yay, more death, this time with Richard Herring.  It's sort of incongruous, because while previous shows have played on Herring's persona as rather an overgrown schoolboy (penises, Hitler, Jesus, not uncommon pre-adolescent obsessions), death is contrastingly... grown up.  In his awkward suit, standing amid dry-ice-swirled prop gravestones, he looks like the cover of a quietly-forgotten Jennings Fears the Reaper or Just William's Grieving Relatives.  It's a funny and thoughtful show though, not academically researched like some of his others, but pulled out from a dark place, carefully examined, and then laughed at.

Robin Ince is another one who gives good powerpoint.  I was hoping for some Infinite-Monkeys-style science for the tired of brain, but of course Ince is more than that.  His claim that he is trying to fit a two hour show into fifty minutes sounds at first like comedy hyperbole, but as the facts and diagrams skitter past, we see that he really is trying to give us the full value of the longer show, condensed.  Of course there are tangents, that is half the fun, after all science is literally about everything. Sometimes I wonder if it's him who's the star, or the information he's presenting, but really who else could hold the Assembly Rooms Music Hall enthralled with anecdotes about Darwin's worms, or a rant at people who aren't looking at a rhino properly?  

John Lloyd is like the after-dinner speaker who would rescue the dullest corporate event in the whole field of toothpaste technology or soil science.  Presumably he is here to sell the book Afterliff (and does), but apart from giving us moments of deliciousness from the book and telling us a little about the original Meaning of Liff and Douglas Adams, he is charming and twinkly, laughing at his own jokes, and dropping in lots of fun gossip about all the much-loved and hugely influential British comedy he's been part of, from Blackadder to Spitting Image to QI.  As we leave, I hear a small boy tell his dad off for laughing at the swearing.

I've only talked about stuff we liked, so if you're in Edinburgh, or you get a chance to see these shows somewhere else, I promise they are good.  Here are links from the online programme - (Over It is a free show where you put some cash in at the end if you like it, a bit like church, only you come out feeling better, so you can't actually buy tickets).


*= attending a funeral in

Thursday 1 August 2013

Everybody shut up for a bit.

User-generated content - better or worse than no content at all?  I know what I think.  Even if, by some slim chance, there are new and interesting things the world has yet to hear, I want to hear them from an author or a journalist or an expert of some sort, not from some tool from Rotherham who thinks he's the first person ever to have thought of toilet paper.

You know when you're reading a discussion on something, and someone jumps in after fifty or sixty posts, not having read any of them, and asks a question that was answered days ago, thus triggering a whole new cycle of subquestions and suggestions, and sometimes enquiring after the health of a cat that died six months ago on page eight of the comments?  The whole internet is now, basically, that.  No-one is actually reading.  No-one is consuming.  We are all about output, and none of us is absorbing any input.  

Sometimes, if I'm out in the garden, I can hear a small child attempting tunes of varying levels of atrocity on the recorder.  Let's think about the recorder.  Has anyone ever said: "You know, I'd really like to listen to some recorder music"?  Has anyone ever bought a "Now That's What I Call Primary School Music Class" cd?  No, and the reason is that everyone wants to play the recorder, but no-one wants to listen to it.  It's an instrument solely for the pleasure of the person playing it.

Does that sound like it might have something in common with your keyboard?  Honestly? Because I, for one, am tolerably well educated, well travelled and well read, but there are a billion people on the internet who know more about any one subject than I do.  If I chip in an opinion on, say, dentistry, doesn't that run the risk of someone assuming I know better than the actual dentist, and thus doing something that makes all their teeth fall out?

And that's why I don't participate in forums much any more.  I have simply run out of useful things to say.  Of course, I'm still contributing to the problem by posting this.  And making matters worse every day - I'm writing a novel, and every word that I coax out is haunted by the fact that there are probably already enough novels in the world.  Look at all the remaindered book shops - full of perfectly interesting stuff that no-one bought.  Because everyone's writing their own books, they don't have time to read everyone else's verbal excretions.

So what sounds like a rant here is actually an apology.  I am incontinent, and I am pissing into the flood.  Sorry.  

I'll be quiet now.

Thursday 30 May 2013

I'm so sorry, lovely Esme dog.

We chose you because you seemed so relaxed and happy in your kennel, but curious, gentle and friendly when we took you outside.  We knew you were going to need loads of exercise, but we were happy to take you out for two or three hours of walks a day, longer on our days off.  And you'd have the garden to run around in between.

On the journey home, I was impressed with your trust, constantly looking to me for reassurance as I held you safe on the back seat. You must have been so bewildered and scared, but you didn't cry or bark or wee.

We did tons of research and listened intently to the good advice the trainer gave us on our introductory talk, but we still probably did everything wrong that first day.  We did our best to leave you to discover your new home at your own pace, We tried to see whether you knew any commands.  You didn't know "sit" or "here", you didn't even know your name. We tried to get you to play, you didn't seem to know how.  But you seemed to forgive us, and you were so good when we put you to bed.

We knew as soon as we got you home that you were a chewer.  Still, all dogs chew things, and we were prepared for a level of destruction.  The howling that first night was understandable, it was obviously going to take you a while to settle in.  We were sad about the wooden window blinds you ate through, but knew it wasn't your fault, so instead of telling you off we went out and bought a huge crate to put your bed in.  It was the only way the room would be safe from you and vice versa while we weren't in the room.

We knew you were going to be hard work, Esme, but you are one of the sweetest natured dogs I have ever met, and you deserved the effort.  After the first 24 hours, though, you were miserable and we were exhausted.  The only time you were happy was out on walks.  The rest of the time, you paced the house, crying and chewing things.  We could distract you for a few moments with a toy or a chew, but within seconds, you'd be chewing again.  We would have called it separation anxiety, except you did it when we were both there.  I've known big and powerful dogs, but I've never seen one bite great chunks out of solid wood furniture before.  Esme, how could we keep you safe?  You would have eaten everything made of wood or plastic if we took our eyes off you for long enough to go to the toilet, and you didn't care if a bottle you were chewing contained milk or washing-up liquid.  We very quickly ran out of high places to put things on.

Paul and I were down to one meal a day by day three, to spare us the difficulty of coaxing you into your crate several times a day, and to stop you from thinking the crate was a punishment or a torture.  A cup of tea became more trouble than it was worth because you don't yet understand that not everything is for dogs, and would knock it from our hands.

Every waking moment was spent following you around saying no.  What kind of life is that for us or for you?  I know you will learn, but we simply don't have the experience or resources to look after you till you are trained.

It became clear how wrong we were for you the first time you were confident enough to play in the garden.  You raced up and down, but seeing you at full tilt made me realise that an ordinary suburban garden is nowhere near enough space for you.  And that if you saw a squirrel, you would be over our six foot fences in a flash.  So I let you dig up all our vegetables, because at least you seemed happy when you were digging.

The next day I rang the charity you came from, and they were good enough to agree to let us bring you back there on Friday.  I'm telling myself what the charity's vet said - that we have helped you by finding out things about you that no-one could have ever known when you were in kennels.  I'll be recommending that the next people who fall in love with you take you to a home with a very large, very secure garden. And that you need to be with other dogs.  I think that's what you're looking for when you pace around crying.  I found myself telling the vet that you seemed much happier in the kennels than you ever have since we brought you home, and it breaks my heart to realise it's true.

I don't feel sad for you, Esme, because I know we're taking you back to a much better chance than you'll have with us.  I don't think you'll miss us anywhere near as much as you've been missing the company of other dogs.

I am sad that we will miss your company and the pleasure of seeing you gradually grow into the happy well-trained dog you have so much potential to be.  We will donate all your belongings to the rescue when we take you back, and eventually we'll repair the hundreds of pounds worth of damage you did to our house. But I would swap any amount of furniture for the ability to be the owner that you need.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

And back to local matters...

this is my other Coventry poem.  It's not terribly highbrow, but it made me laugh.

How The Statues of Coventry Get Around When We're Not Looking

Frank Whittle
Goes for a little walk
around Millennium Square

Lady Godiva
's not a bad driver
But does it still completely bare

Saint Mike
Has a secret bike
And rides it till he gets a stitch

Jimmy Hill
Can't keep still
And cartwheels on the Ricoh pitch

Things I Have Learned From Masterchef India

Thanks to the Lovely Paul's predilection for cooking shows, I have watched Masterchef UK (foams), Australia (cakes), South Africa (meat), New Zealand (things people have shot) and Ireland (cream on everything).  The one I was really looking forward to though, was Masterchef India, and when I discovered it on StarPlus (somewhere up in the 700s on Sky; purveyor of soap operas and talent shows), it did not disappoint.

It took a few episodes to absorb the differences between the Indian show and some of the others in the franchise.  In India, Masterchef is firmly a game show.  The celebrity guests aren't chefs, they're tv presenters and comedians.  The team challenges aren't focussed on scallop-fed fine diners, but snack-hungry passers-by.  The contestants are not let loose in Michelin-starred restaurant kitchens, but are taken to different parts of India to learn about local specialities.

This last is interesting, as, compared to other Mastercheffy countries, India has such a vast geographical, ethnic and cultural spread that it's hard to pinpoint a "national" cuisine.  So it makes sense that they choose the contestants via a series of regional public cook-offs.  Of course, this gives a slightly higher than average proportion of people who just want to be on the telly, but even the most persistent of squeaking, hopping drama queens on the show at present can at least cook.

The challenges are much more compelling than the ones on UK Masterchef, having been devised with a cackling insanity worthy of the Generation Game.  Challenge one: here is a sumptuous platter of fruits, vegetables and dairy for all the contestants to coo and marvel at.  Before they've finished plotting their spectacular dishes, the goodies are whipped away and replaced with the real ingredients for their invention test: the stems, rinds, whey and other leavings from what they thought they were getting.  They're cooking with a compost heap.  Now that's a challenge, sod the "ooh, whatever am I going to make with just a jar of larks' tongues, an ox and a fistful of razor clams" vapours that tend to overcome the UK contestants.

You'll notice, as well, that there was no meat or fish in that challenge.  It is genuinely not an issue.  The vegetarian is not a second class citizen in India, and it's the first cooking show I've seen, from anywhere in the world, that takes vegetarian cooking seriously.  One of the best cooks in the competition (a young man named Happy Singh who was eliminated shockingly early) had recently become vegetarian, and this was hardly remarked upon.  When he was required to cook chicken, a team-mate tasted it for him with the same casual air that the presenters assumed when helping the talented, popular and illiterate Kokhu with written recipes.  The participants seem to automatically adjust the competition to be fair.

Compare this with the New Zealand  Masterchef-before-last, when the unlovable presenters made some poor vegetarian bastard force down a sausage in front of them before they'd let him progress to the next round.  Surely a good chef should be able to make an excellent meal without using meat?  (and don't get me started on how the Aussies call meat and fish "protein", as if vegetarians somehow magically survive on just carbohydrates and fat.)  Anyway, even Ishrat - who went out first and always had sauce in her hair - is a better bet to make a good veggie dinner than most meat-obsessed Michelin starred chefs (with the exception of Angela Hartnett, whose vegetarian food I have enjoyed as she seems to regard it as a challenge rather than a nuisance).

It's endlessly fascinating to watch, but obviously a culture shift for the average Brit viewer.  As a non-Hindi speaker, I'm reliant on subtitles, and though they're generally excellent, now and again one finds oneself derailed by a "terrain of dedicated coconut".  Health and safety appears rather casual (here, have a feel of this dry ice), though I haven't noticed many fingers seemingly stuck back on with blue plasters, a look UK Masterchef contestants seem to favour. The Indian judges, to me, seem to enjoy playing god a little bit too much, but then most Masterchefs tend to try and convince viewers that they hold much more drama than any meringue-based situation actually deserves.

A big difference is the AMOUNT of food cooked.  In one challenge Doyel and Devyani each had to fill a metre-high sundae glass with some kind of multilayered falooda pudding.  What happened to it afterwards?  Was all that food simply wasted?  It wasn't the sort of thing that could easily be packaged up for the crew to take home for their kids, or given to homeless people.  It would be bad enough being homeless, you wouldn't want to be sticky as well.  In other Masterchefs, quantities are so tiny that the question is never raised.  Saira, highly placed in the UK version recently, defined fine dining as "food that there isn't enough of".  This caused John Torode to raise his eyebrows in what he imagined was a wry fashion, and me to applaud.  Is the difference because most of the Indian kitchen superstars have learned their craft cooking for family, so are used to making in bulk?  Or is Western dining over-dainty?  It's something that hasn't come up in any other Masterchef I've watched, so while I can't say huge quantities are peculiar to India, there must be something going on that I haven't understood.

Now approaching the end of the series, the producers, in one of their beloved "twists" have brought back contestants who were previously eliminated, so at this stage it is anyone's game (my favourite is Yasmin, who seems to know enough about food to be confidently experimental, but tends to just quietly get on with producing excellent dishes).  The "real-time" aspect of the show means that we genuinely can't guess the outcome, unlike the UK version, filmed months before it is shown, and also means that the programme can exist in the real world - it's Holi: create a celebration dish!, it's Chef Sanjeev's birthday: bake him a cake!

I will be sad to see the series end, as the gameshow format allows us to get to know the contestants (as does the Australian one, which makes them all live in a big house together, and once threw someone out for having a mobile phone).  However, once I'm not spending my time actually watching it, I'll be able to try out all the new recipes and techniques I've learned, with the aid of subtitles and search engines.  What does holy basil taste like?  How do I use jaggery?  This is going to be fun.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Bad Cover Version

Just in case anyone was in any doubt, this is what Into the Valley is supposed to sound like.  If you prefer it tweely tapped out on a glockenfuckingspiel, then that is up to you, but personally, it makes me want to shout incredibly loudly into the face of the marketing director of Halford's for about twenty minutes.  
Why is the world now full of weedy covers?  I am guessing it's the same trend that started at the turn of the century with the likes of Nouvelle Vague, and even the Mike Flowers Pops offering a fresh new take on the punk and electronica that had become our classics.  It was an interesting diversion, and made us pause for a second to consider the inherent structures and melodies of the music we loved, and see that while, say, Teenage Kicks as performed by the Undertones was ours, the song itself was universal.  It was a fleeting reflective moment in pop history.  SO WHY IS IT STILL GOING ON?  The weedy cover is actually starting to proliferate and choke anything original.  We now have acts like Ed Sheeran whose entire ouvre sounds like a series of weedy covers of something much better.  
Why are people making and buying this stuff?  Is it spite?  Is it possible that my generation had all the best tunes, and so modern artists have set out to ruin them?  Is it subversion?  Are the weedy coverists trashing the past like the Sex Pistols did when they thrashed Stepping Stone into noisy unrecognisability?  Or is it simply the reduction of art to the lowest common denominator?  One of the most terrifying examples of a weedy cover came in a recent car ad (as so many do), in which some wispy Euromodel was juxtaposed with a weedy cover (possibly Nouvelle Vague's, come to think of it) of the Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen in Love.  At the end of the commercial, the model was shown on a stage with a full band playing their hearts out, sweatlessly punching the air and miming to this faint echo of a tune, AS IF THIS WAS THE MOST FUN POP MUSIC COULD EVER POSSIBLY BE.  
I have been made aware, via Asda FM, of a cover version of Soft Cell's Say Hello Wave Goodbye (the internet is inconclusive, but the perpetrator is possibly David Gray) which not only scrubs the original up so brutally that all the beautiful patina is lost, but to add insult to injury changes the excellent noun "sleeparound" to "runaround", whatever that may mean.  Is it really the case that modern listeners cannot cope with noisy instruments or faintly mucky words?  Are we all now eight year old puritans constantly trying to take a nap?  And why is the weedy cover synonymous with the car advert?  (that's not a hard one actually - manufacturers are presumably keener to identify their product with soppy wistful young women than with screaming death metal, but even so...)  One hopes and believes that this can all only be the lull before some incredibly noisy and impolite storm.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

A Visitor's Guide to Coventry

(probably a poem but putting line breaks in is hard...)

Look up: they don't look up in this city any more.  Up there is where the trouble started, where the burning bones came from, the splinters of fire, the drownbreath of bereavement. But that was old when Death was a baby, and still they fear it, even their granddaughters don't look up.  Let's look up.  There's another city in the canopy, hotels of hope and brave tower blocks.  Aspirational Ikea.  Well, it is round here - this isn't Birmingham you know.  They pulled all the blue from the sky; we can see it every day now.  No need to look up.  But if you look up there are the spires.  See, the roads aren't the only way out of the city.  The saints are up there stained and waiting.  Air ghosts.  And peregrines, they lift tiny lives in pigeons to their exalted nest, like angels, like bombs.  Look up and there's a plaque for rude heroes and a towering Godiva.  Look up, an ancient and haunted kebab shop.  Look up: a space where an elephant once was.  Look up if you can, history holds down your eyes but still you can.  Look up.