Thursday, April 28, 2005

Notes from the Alternative History of Everything

*** From a piece I am doing for Tomazi ***

There is a huge chunk of history missing.

I refer to this time as The Barefoot Years. It lasted about five million years, give or take a month. Now, the essential character of this time was that the human foot proceeded around and about in a state that was simply speaking, unshod. Neither the shoe, the garter, the sock, or the pinstripe suit had yet come into existence. Life was tough, life was hard. There was not a lot of stuff and what there was was insufficient. Now, the First Shoe, that's a tricky business. It used to be thought that the first shoes were constructed of banana skins, but this is most likely a myth circulated during the 1960s, when everyone in America finally admitted to being a drug addict.

It is my contention that the First Shoe was not a shoe at all, but a mutation in the species. It is my contention that one Male was born with An Extra Hairy Foot that Suffered Less in the Cold. From here, it is but a small leap of the imagination to contemplate sixty centuries of venerating HairyFoot, before one bright spark actually set about a replication and came up with the First Shoe for the mass market. At this time, the mass market consisted of about 20-30 shaggy-haired Hairyfoot worshippers, all of them broke. The product was mothballed (presuming that mothballs existed way back when).

So, money arises, exchanges are made, an Ice Age arrives. Suddenly, worshipping HairyFoot is no longer a means to anything but frostbite. The cold, the blue toes, and the diminution of beasties to hunt, all this takes a toll on faith - it is time for the Second Coming. The Shoe is adopted.

Now, the discovery of Stone Age Sneakers in the Neanderthal Valley has rightly caused much excitement and academic debate. As Professor Winesburg proclaimed, “This is the single greatest discovery in palaentology since the unearthing of a Neolithic Gay Nightclub in Capodica in 1986.” As ever, there is dissent. Professor Gingham disputes the origin of the Sneakers. “To my mind, a single question remains unanswered, how can a pair of Stone Age Sneakers be emblazoned with the face of Iggy Pop, it simply doesn't make sense. Are we going to posit that Iggy Pop has access to a time machine?” This question, in turn, inspired a wonderful symposium that convened in the swamps of Louisiana – Iggy Pop and Time Travel: Practical Considerations, Teleological Objections, and Good Old-Fashioned Southerned Cooking.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Then say hello... to the killer inside me...

I don't usually read a novel in one day anymore. That was for the time when my job involved endless rail journeys and the occasional flight. I remember reading Speak, Memory on a 14 hour rail journey from Peterhead to Totnes, almost the entire length of Britain. It was the end of the Glastonbury festival, I remembering changing trains at Bristol and there was mud all over the platforms. And, of course, many many hippies boarded the train to head back into Devon and Cornwall, two counties where the hippie is still free to roam, more of less unmaligned (the hippie hunting season in the SouthWest being both short and generally well-observed, it runs from October through the first week of December. During this time, it's a common sight to see someone struggling home having "bagged" a couple of rainbow people).


Somehow, the memoirs of an ultra-privileged high-born Russian, his flight from tyranny, his student days whacking tennis balls and fannying around on boats, all this was a perfect way to withdraw from hippies doing all the things that hippies will do - on this particular occasion, moaning about "fascist ticket inspectors" and "why can't we smoke?"

Today was another escape, but it was hippie-free. Today I read Jim Thompson's 1952 crime classic, The Killer Inside Me, and experienced a great rush of euphoria, not for the grisly goings-on, but that great feeling when you find a new cultural worker who has turned out top-notch material for the world to enjoy.

For anyone who has not heard of Jim Thompson or this particular book, and who has a liking for noir, I recommend it with all my heart and brain. It put me in mind of the similarly excellent and compelling early novels of James Ellroy. I won't bang on about the story or attempt to say anything penetrating. But, thanks Jim, I don't believe in people being "up there, looking down", but you just made my day.

(There is also a tune inspired by Thompson's book, Killer Inside Me by MC 900 ft Jesus, on the brilliant Welcome to My Dream album)

*** Apologies to any hippies who may read this *** While I thrill to Storming Heaven and the action going on in San Francisco in the 60s, and yes, I love Jefferson Airplane, I fail to see how pushing the envelope of consciousness has resolved into having dreddlocks and being covered in mud and juggling... send explanations to!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Disparate House-Lives

Is it me? Is it the summer? Is it the world?
I am struggling to find continuity in my blog, but this is not because of a lack of continuity in my daily life. Perhaps there's too much continuity, too much walking up and down the apartment, and then, freezing, looking down at the carpet and wondering how long before I've worn a furrow.

And it's not that things are boring, because they're not. I've learned an awful lot of stuff, researching my novel and following the various names and places and titles that pop up. In no particular order (as ever), here are some of the things I've covered:

Thimble-riggers, prod-in-the-hoop, rake's, mountebanks, etc, all manner of 18th and 19th century conmen
The forensic pathology of lying and swindling - a book of case histories of people who lied their sweet heads off
Houdini's investigations of people claiming psychic powers and his wonderful unmasking of the techniques employed
Thackeray's "A notch in the axe" and Lytton's "The Haunted and the Haunter"
Jim Thomspon's 1952 crime classic - The Kiler Inside Me, along with a biography of Jim, Savage Art
Too Many Magicians - a bizarre locked-room mystery at a sorcerer's convention in a world where science is forsaken in favour of magic
Storming Heaven - a social history of the 60s and how LSD, the field of psychiatry, and artists came together to unleash that most demeaned of social types - the hippie
Fairy chimneys - towers of volcanic rock in Turkey, Capodica, that emit strange noises at night (for wind poetry section of my novel)
Sonic scupltures (more wind poetry)
Stalkers and madmen from the news, including "Fan Man", James Miller, who fell from the sky into a Riddick Bowe fight, and later landed naked on top of Buckingham Palace. Barry George, aka Barry Bulsara, the "killer" of Jill Dando, who among other things, performed a stunt in Derby where he sped down a ramp on rollerskates and leaped four double-decker buses (he succeeded, but incurred injuries)
James Harries, the late 70s/80s antique expert, who was a boy star with an odd monkey face and golden curls who burned brightly, then disintegrated. Now he is a transexual and prefers to be called Lauren
Realism and Naturalism in literature, with one funny person defining naturalism as "Realism when it focuses on the poor." This was in reference to Nelson Algren and Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis
Rereading Jack Black (not the actor dummy) You Can't Win, an account of a thief and hobo at the end of the 19th century
Heathcote Williams - The Speakers, brilliant reportage of the madmen who preached and deliver talk on Hyde Park Corner in London in the 60s
The works of Herbert Huncke, like the ideas of naturalism applied to the artist's own life...

So there we are, if I'm boring, then this is WHY!

Why I left Britain, part X (an occasional series)

This from today's Guardian:

Children born to poor families in Britain are less likely to fulfil their potential than in other developed countries, according to a report published today.

Researchers at the London School of Economics found that Britain appeared to have one of the worst records for social mobility in the developed world.

They also concluded that Britons were less likely to break free of their backgrounds than in the past.

"The results show that social mobility in Britain is much lower than in other advanced countries and that it is declining."

The report focused on how education affected the life chances of British children compared with those in other countries. It put the UK and the US at the bottom of a social mobility league table of eight European and North American countries, with Norway at the top followed by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Canada.

It concluded that wealth was more clearly linked to educational attainment in the UK than in the other countries, with children from poor backgrounds trapped in the worst schools and less likely to continue their studies.


Extreme Unction emerged victorious over his supposed destiny. Extreme Unction worked in those awful low-paid jobs, full of frustration. Extreme Unction helped to make sandwiches as they zoomed past on a conveyor belt. Extreme Unction washed dishes in a hotel. Extreme Unction packed milk into crates. I have served my time and I have escaped.

Let every day be a celebration of my glorious victory!


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Like I was never here

See, I didn't post much at all this week. No-one appears to have noticed. The site visitors still streamed through from The Jayhawks bulletin board, along with my Google visitors who remain gripped by the Dasani commercial. And they were here to look at that past.

This is the blogosphere. I feel like putting up a message announcing my own demise.

"A sad coming together of ice cream truck and Extreme Unction... no-one quite sure where the blood ended and the raspberry syrup began..."

Or the old Northern club joke. "There was an ice cream man lying on the floor, covered in nuts and syrup. He topped himself."

(Pulls back curtain and says, "Start the car" - yet another Northern club joke)

I remember now why I am here, let me tell you about an uncomfortable afternoon in the 80s, on this theme. There was a kid at school, Christopher Hancock, that's his intro. Blonde hair, large bones, moptop. After leaving school, we were both about 17, he drove past my house and saw me outside. I went back to his house for having nothing better to do. There was straw on the floor of his car, farm mud, empty beercans. "I get my money shovelling cowshit," he said, enthusiastically. He was more enthusiastic about cowshit than most people are about winning the lottery.

"I can get you a job shovelling cowshit, too..."
This surprised me. I'd always thought cowshit shovelling was hard to break into and now I had a direct line to fame and riches. I saw myself being crowned World Cowshit Shovelling Champion in a packed arena, everyone cheering.
He kept pestering me. I cited old war wounds.
"The Falklands War? You were at school with me..."
"No, past life, The Crimean... a bayonet missed my heart by centimetres, or inches, as it was back then."

We got to his house, believe me, this story does relate somehow to earlier parts of this post. We sat in his room and drank beer.
"Listen to this," he said, but I couldn't hear anything.
Then I realised he'd said "Listen to this," pre-emptively, as he was now going through a box of cassettes.
"You've always been funny," said Chris. He said it in a way that made me think he might have tattoos of me hiding under his shirt. "Listen to this..."
I listened. The tape was of some Northern club comedian, only with the racism jammed in the red zone, up at that point on the dial where the needle doesn't even wiggle anymore, it just stays locked as far right as it will go.
"It's funny, isn't it?"
I agreed it was funny as I was in the bedroom of someone I hadn't seen for a few years. Maybe he'd been in prison or refining his strangeness by never leaving the house and doing weird things to his genitals. Maybe he drank lots of cough syrup, smoked dope, smeared himself in Vaseline, and drove around town at night at excessive speed. Was he that sort of guy?
On and on went the tape. "Let's hear another one," I said. He put in another tape, it was the same guy again, the same kind of jokes.
I finished my beer and said I would walk home.
He didn't seem that disappointed.
As I walked away from his house, Chris shouted after me, "Remember, I can get you a job shovelling shit!"
I never saw him again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Remote Control Elephant part three

We return to the subject of Remote Control elephants today, as there has been a development, a major development.

SIX elephants escaped and rampaged through Seoul, the capital of South Korea. While these elephants were NOT Remote Controlled, they do show that my idea has potential, that runaway elephants are both exciting for those caught in their path and thrilling for the watching news audience.

Read all about it here

Monday, April 18, 2005

Someone has been a naughty boy...

Best Google search so far to find Extreme Unction?

How about this:

Ways to disable testicles

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Short story - I, Beastie

I went to the store. I needed some things and so I made the big decision to leave the house. I was wearing, you know, clothes, a full set of clothes. I'd never leave the house without clothes... unless... fire, earthquake, nuclear war... it'd take a disaster. The day was a disaster, already, I'm not kidding, but I didn't make it any worse by walking around naked. Let other people walk around naked and get arrested and have disasters, not me.

I get to thinking this way, as I walk past the bookshop. The books sit in the window of the second hand bookshop gathering dust. They were doing work in here, refitting the bookshop, and they put the books on the shelves first. Then they did a heap of work, chopping, sawing, stuff that required ladders and men to stand at the top of the ladders doing stuff. And the result, well, one result was that the bookshop got itself a makeover. But the other thing, and I don't know if it was deliberate or not, the books all received a thick coating of dust, sawdust. And there they are, in the window, looking out at me, covered in sawdust. And I wonder if this was some weird scheme, to make the books look aged. “Hey, look! This book is dusty! Hmmm, could be old, could be valuable...” that sort of thing.

The books have stopped me to look at them. The people on the covers, beneath fresh dust, they look bored, stopped in their tracks. This is all happening in Dublin, and I should maybe have mentioned that, for the sake of what I am about to say. That's not very clever, the way I've just mentioned that, it's like when you tell a joke and halfway through you remember that it's important to say that one of the people in the joke is dressed in a gorilla suit or has wooden legs. You're a minute in and about to deliver the punchline, and then you think, “Oh god! I never mentioned that X was wearing a gorilla suit.” So you add this fact and apologise. And then the person says, “I've heard it! I just thought it was a different joke. Because you never mentioned X was wearing a gorilla suit.” That's what I've just done. I am going to press on anyway, and say that I am in Dublin, and in the window is a book about the marriage of Charles and Diana. And I think it must be there as a joke, because who in Ireland would ever want to read about those two? It'd have made more sense if the Irish version of that book had featured the Prince and Princess in gorilla suits on the dustjacket, and inside, well, the text, I don't want to think about the text right now. I am supposedly on my way to the store.

The store I go to is called Dunnes, it's right here, right here in Rathmines, and Rathmines is a part of the city of Dublin. And I live here. And Dunnes is close by and sells what I need. What I need! Ha! As if there is any store selling what I need right now. I picture all the children of the world, stood in a huge field, singing a song to me that goes like this,
“What do you need, Jason / tell us now, WHAT do you need? Jason...”
At the end, the children all join hands and sing, “Is there anything we can do?”
The colour drains away, the picture fades, and I'm seen, strapped to a gurney, being pushed down an endless gray corridor. I'm released and asked to stand next to 4 plastic dummies that all look just like me, but with different expressions; Happy, Angry, Astonished, Grief-Stricken. I go and stand on the end. I hear a voice through loudspeakers, “Why are there two grief-stricken dummies?”
Another voice says, “That's the real one, on the end. He looks grief-stricken, too.”
“Well, we can't start until we have five different expressions, ask him to snap out of it. Or wheel on a substitute.”
The helper looks at me and thinks better of it, he heads off to get a substitute, I suppose. I feel bemused. A few minutes later, the helper wheels in a dummy that looks Bemused. He sees my expression has changed.
The voice says, “Well, that wasn't very clever.”
This goes on for a long time. Eventually, the helper loses their patience and I'm pushed out of a side door.

The place where I picture myself emerging is close to where I am now. It's near O'Briens, a sandwich bar I pass on the way to Dunnes, where I am going, provided nothing intervenes. Possible interventions include; being hit by a bus, being kidnapped, being shot, having a heart attack, going insane and not knowing where I am, being stopped and invited to a party by 1) someone I know, or 2) someone I don't know, but who seems trustworthy enough, being recruited by secret agents to complete a mission. These are some of the ways of being waylaid.
I am also assuming that Dunnes is still there. The last time I went there was yesterday, so it's a safe assumption, as far as any assumption is safe. I suppose I could've phoned before I set out, checked that the store is still there. But then, if you go down that route, what else do you have to do? Do you have to phone the council and ask if the road is still there? That no impenetrable walls have been erected in Rathmines (where I live), since the last time I called. “Hello, could you put me through to the Overnight Construction of Impenetrable Walls Department, please...” A man comes on the line.
“Hi there. I'm in Rathmines and thinking of going to Dunnes.”
“What for?”
“For a bit of food.”
“What for?”
“Well, I'm hungry.”
“So hungry it can't wait? Is that your game?”
“It could wait. But what I'm interested...”
“Then wait. You see, this office has now been split. Not only am I responsible for the Overnight Construction of Impenetrable Walls, but I'm also running a new scheme called Encouraging People to Stay Inside. It's in this capacity that I recommend you tough it out, my friend. Now, goodbye.”
The conversation runs like that. Then I remember. There are many other departments, none of them capable of recognising one another, that handle variations on the basic theme of Overnight Construction of Walls. There's the Overnight Construction of Walls, that while not strictly speaking, Impenetrable, would require a Hell of a Lot of Effort to Scale, for example. I phone them up.
“Hi there.”
“Hello, you're through to OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS. There's no-one here right now to take your call. Here is some general information on the current siting of OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS for tonight. There will be an OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS completely encircling the 567 Student Travel Agency on Duke Street. This OCOWTWNSSIWRAHOALOETS will remain for a period of three days. We thank you for calling. Goodbye.”

This is the road you would walk down if you tried to take everything into account. The planning stage would overwhelm you, and with the situation always being fluid, you'd be back to the start, going over the original information you were supplied with. To deal with this, you need a HQ, a nerve center, a bank of phones and people sat there, all acquiring the information simultaneously. And myself, or someone with my interests at heart. And I don't think this person really exists. I don't even think I am this person. Okay, then, it would be myself. I'm the best of a bad bunch, I guess. And I'd look over the data and make a decision. But then, if I could afford all these resources, why not just give some of these people a list of things to find and then send them out into Dublin and see who comes back. Then I think, why should they ever come back? I'll go old and grey, waiting for some bread and cheese to arrive. I'll keep phoning them up.
“Hi! It's Jason. Have you got the bread?”
“Yes, certainly, I have. I'm just starting back now, be five minutes or so.”
Ten minutes pass.
“Hi! Jason again, you're not back yet... just wondering...”
I can hear the sounds of glasses clinking, people laughing.
“Are you in a pub?”
The line goes dead.

Finally, when I've outlined some of the scenarios here, you should understand more clearly why I am clothed and completing this trip to the store myself. Because, finally, no-one else can be trusted with this task. And it's surely one of the most simple tasks anyone was ever tasked with. Waiting to cross the road, I ponder what this means for civilization. It can't be good. Buses pass by, people on bicycles, there are people in line, waiting to use cash machines, people walking along, people coming out of shops, people going into shops. There's all those kinds of things going on as I cross the road. I'm closing in on where Dunnes is, and then I have another feeling as I come closer. I worry about this, and I know it will sound stupid. Well, first, something else, I look at myself in the window of a shop, checking that my clothes haven't disintegrated or my head changed colour. All seems fine. What I worry about is that I have become a strange magnet, and that all the things in the store will fly off the shelves and stick to me. I will walk past the fruit and vegetables, and they will be flying off the shelves and attaching themselves. In just a few seconds, I'll be this agglomeration of apples, oranges, potatoes, and cabbages. I will look like some mad beastie, perhaps radioactive, that's escaped from a sewer or a laboratory. I try shouting to the terrified staff and customers. But all that comes out is a huge roar of primal unpleasantness. An old lady slumps to the floor in a dead faint. Alarms are sounding. I start running for the exit and am tackled by a security guard. The oranges on my legs are exploding, juice squirts in his eyes and he falls away, screaming.
“My god!” shouts a cashier, “He's only gone and poked out Ian's eyes...”
I try to say, “No, it's just orange juice that squirted out,” but once again, all that comes out is a terrible roar.
The doors are closing now and people have scattered, seeking places to hide. I can hear the rumble of tanks in the distance... My time's up.

Well, this is the fantasy to end all my hopes of buying anything from Dunnes today. It doesn't afflict me every time I come out, but it certainly complicates my shopping habits. I take it as a sign, to think of doing something else with what little energy I have. I spin gently in the street, almost dislodging a Chinaman from his bicylce. I think, “You shouldn't ride on the pavement,” but then I think, well, maybe in China they do, and I'm the one at fault. The Chinese guy has turned his shoulder and shouted something incomprehensible, but plainly insulting.
It's time to walk away from this, back to that room with the cupboards and the wardrobe. I think it over and pick a route that may lead home.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Let me talk about the heat.

Now, by Memphis standards, yes, maybe it isn't all that hot. But, and maybe I need more emphasis here, B-U-T, for someone who came here from Ireland, where summer is the 2 weeks when it doesn't rain quite as much, this weather is proving damn hot. I lay on the futon today in a godawful sweat, feeling like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, "The horror! The horror!" and then, rather un-Kurtz-like, I issued a plaintive cry pointed in another direction, "The air-con! The air-con!"

But no Joy. No air-con.

The apartment block is full of old people. There's nothing wrong with that, we're all growing old, supposedly (Philip K Dick believed that The Great Secret is that we're actually moving backwards in Time), and Lord knows, these old people have done nothing to harm me. BUT, it seems to be that the risk of upsetting their frail bodies with a quick switch from BAKING HOT to PLEASINGLY COOL is causing Extreme Unction to thrash around like a madman. I'll be hallucinating by tomorrow, and, being six floors up, I hope none of them feature rope ladders hanging from the balcony.

So, in the gathering twilight, and with the last of my strength, I now appeal to the Higher Powers

Prayer for the Air-con to be switched on

Oh! Lord! Hear me!
Hear my prayer!
As the sweat glistens on my forehead
So the pain gathers in my heart
For I wish to complete my good works
And win your favour
But I cannot move
O! Wise creator
Due to the searing conditions
And my absent landlord
Please! O fabulous One
whose very Will moves mountains
and makes worlds crack
who designed the beasties
and let them loose
in sea
in air
and on the land
Take pity as I roast
and spare me the Infernal Fate
of being a Human Baked Potato
and wave your divine arm as only you can
and do something to the Landlord's mind
give it a jolt
nothing too heavy
that he shall throw the switch
and save me from Heat Death
O Lord!
Grant me this
and I promise
I will try and stop swearing and sinning
as much
as usual

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Hunt for Killer Monkeys

Last night was spent in deep concentration, going through ebay listings. I'm searching for something that has a powerful resonance for me, a single image that has haunted me since I first sighted it a few years ago. I was living in England at the time, and one Sunday I went to a car boot sale at a racecourse (for readers not familiar with car boot sales, people turn up in a field and load stuff out of their cars onto tables and sell it).

On this day, I picked up a pile of old men's magazines, what I'd guess would be called "pulp" magazines, with titles like Men, For Men Only, and Real (I would take my time machine back to 1950 and launch Unreal). The covers were all lurid drawings of tense wartime scenes, usually involving a hero under pressure, some Nazis, and some damsels awaiting rescue (oftentimes in bikinis).

Anyway, the cover that made such an impression on me, and which, goddammit, I've managed to misplace, featured a hero on a beach, fighting off an angry horde of killer monkeys! It looked a little like these choice examples, below (courtesy of ebay trader, topnotch13) - please note the detail of the turtle biting the man's right ear!

These are superb examples of the desperate scenarios that seem to motivate me, but they are not MY Killer Monkeys. The search continues...

(The "Weasels ripped my flesh" album by Frank Zappa was named after this magazine)


I discovered that someone found my blog via a Google Search for "Baboon's Bum" today, guess I'm really starting to connect with my target audience.

Remote Control Elephant part two

Having received prompt feedback, it gives me great pleasure to reveal the upgraded Remote Control Elephant, the dream tool for those tired of their fellow man, people who ponder the merits of food riots, flash floods, and out of control forest fires over their morning milk.

Ian noted that the elephant's hide was not sufficiently resilient to protect against gunfire. This has been remedied by the addition of armour, as per his suggestion.

Moral Turpitude also brought up the idea of making the elephant more hip. The Remote Control Elephant is stomping cars and spreading panic, why can't he look butched out at the same time? MT proposed that the elephant be smoking a cigar, so I've taken this idea and run with it. In my opinion, it made sound sense to Scale Up the cigar. The finished Havana would be five feet long, have a 30 inch circumference, and weigh in at over 25 pounds.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your delight - Remote Control Elephant 2

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Remote Control Elephant

This is something I very much wish I had. It'd be wonderful to sit as a passenger in a helicopter and guide my remote control elephant on an urban rampage.

"Look! There he goes through the window of McDonalds!"

"Watch him stomp those cars!"

"Now he's chasing people! Watch them run for their lives!"

The elephant could have a camera mounted on its head, so you could see what was going on at ground level. When the rampage was winding down, I'd lower a cage on a rope, the elephant would climb in, and we'd swing off again, over the city, headed back to my secret underground base (oops, I shouldn't have mentioned my secret underground base).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Here's a poem Jean-Luc didn't write


MY head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading "Keep Off."

My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.

Carl Sandburg

I'm reading through Bettina Drew's book on Nelson Algren, picking up on the references to individuals. There are a wealth of American writers and political figures that I know nothing about, and slowly, slowly, I'm starting to learn a thing or two. That's what led me to Carl Sandburg. It doesn't worry me that many of the poems sound like something from Communist Russia, idealised visions of the noble fisherman, the rugged workman, hammer dangling from his belt after a day of toil, the sun setting over a heap of rubbish, that sort of thing. There is even a celebration of the Mob! as the seeding ground of great men... (hmmm, mobs, wonderful! how about a line from EU, something like, "From the heart of the mob, murder, at the end of a lyncher's rope...")

I suppose the only surprise about this poem about truth is that Sandburg doesn't manage to mention union membership, but it's still kind of good.

I hate Star Trek

I have been wandering around on the web. One of the most irksome things I've seen are idiots attributing quotes to the writers of Star Trek, or even worse, to Star Trek characters. One lemming had attributed a quote to Captain Jean-Luc Picard that is, in fact, wholly the work of William Shakespeare.

This leads me to today's distressing Thought for the Day.

In a thousand years, the bulk of the great works of literature will be attributed to Jean-Luc Picard.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Speakers - an extract

This is the words of MacGuinness, from The Speakers, his article is called Smokes Are Where I Find Them

In the nick I've smoked the fibre dust from my prison mattress. During the war I've smoked dried tea leaves and I once attempted to smoke turf. But how low can a man stoop? To the gutter! But to pick up dog-ends on a busy street without people knowing what you are doing is one of the lesser known arts. The man with the bowler hat would say,"I'd starve first." To this I would say, "You are not a real smoker, sir.'"

No matter how high in life you are at the moment, it's only your wage packet and your pride that keep you from the gutter. And it's so easy to get there. I was born in one; since then I've descended and arose from many, and I know that with a few bad breaks I may tomorrow in the coldness of an English dawn drone down London's Oxford Street on a wing and a prayer and divebomb for, perhaps, your castaway dog-end, sir. Or you for mine.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Book Day

Today revolved around books once again. We went to Target and bought a 4-shelf bookcase (60 dollars), self-assembly thing. I also satisfied a life ambition with the purchase of a King of the Hill t-shirt for 9.99. I can now wander round with Dale Gribble staring proudly from my chest.

I constructed the bookcase, with some help from Hannah. It looks good and is now loaded with the books I've accumulated since December (about 70), I keep looking at it, admiring it. And while I'm admiring the bookcase and the books, a part of my mind is admonishing me, saying, "Jason! You are looking at a bookcase! Stop it!" But the other part of my mind just says, "Jason! You're not doing anyone any harm and you're having fun..." After a while, I stop.

Now, a tale of two books. One, The Speakers, by Heathcote Williams has arrived. This is a really essential book, it's an account of the group of people who gathered at Hyde Park Corner in the 60s, to stand on their platforms and address the crowds, espousing their crackpot religious and conspiracy theories, etc. This tradition goes back many years, just one of those small parts of London life. Hyde Park Corner is still a site of unfettered public oratory, although the police video and make audio tapes of people these days, as society cannot tolerate divergent thinking under the shadow of 9/11 and Al-Qaida, it would seem (and incitement to religious hatred is watched for, too).

Book two, A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. This book has infuriated me for years. Hannah insisted on giving it a try, perhaps tempted by the Pulitzer Prize and the high praise of the dustjacket. She found it to be as wretched as I found it all those years ago, and since then it has lingered like a bad smell in a corner of the bedroom. This evening, we finally got decisive, and ceremonially sent it down the garbage chute in our apartment block, off to occupy a landfill site somewhere. This book is so awful, we would not want anyone else to suffer to read so much as a word from it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Book Thing

This post is in response to an invitation from Jim at Meat of the Matter

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book would you want to be?

A book of matches.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?


The last book you bought is:

Look at the Harlequins, by Vladimir Nabokov. I've been buying on ebay. The last book to actually arrive here was Jack Black, You Can't Win, biography of a criminal of the late 1800s.

The last book you read: I read a few at a time. Last novel I finished is A walk on the Wild Side, Nelson Algren, one of the best five novels I've read.

What are you currently reading?

Like I say, I read a few books at a time. Presently, two by James Purdy, Moe's Villa, Malcolm. The Herbert Huncke Reader (this is brilliant), and my copy of the American Mercury.

Five books you would take on a desert island:

Firstly, I'm not sure I'd take any books. I mean, why? I'd rather have a solar-powered stereo and some Gram Parsons CDs.

Ideally, I'd be happy to sit there with a full encyclopaedia, I think forms the start of each writing day in terms of inspiration. Okay, I'll choose five and they would all be novels.

My favourite novel is William S Burroughs, The Ticket that Exploded.
My other choices would be ->
Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
Ada, Vladimir Nabokov
The Crystal World, J G Ballard
A Walk on the Wild Side, Nelson Algren

I'm not going to worry myself with saying why, other than the blindingly obvious, that I feel them to be works of quality and distinction.

What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven't read?

All the books written in languages other than English that have yet to be translated, wish I was a linguist.

I am not going to pass this meme on, as that's not my style. Anyone who wants to take it forward themselves, and is motivated to do so by this blog post, then, okay, good luck.

American Mercury part two

Flipping through the 1928 Mercury, I thought this summary of a new novel was excellent,

THE SON, by Hildur Dixelius

Sequel to "The Minister's Daughter."
A strange story of the Swedish people and their superstitions. $2.50


Okay, I have to try and write a section.

Extract from The Son, by Jason Kennedy/Hildur Dixelius

In the valley stood a small wooden hut. A plume of grey smoke rose from the roof and drifted away into the Swedish sky, where the moon lay frozen, a baleful, unblinking eye, full of foreboding. And through the valley, fresh from the Ritual where We Dance and Dance until Our Legs Ache so Much, came Benny, the young woodcutter, a dead rabbit slung over each shoulder. Benny whistled a tune that was non-Christian, the sort of tune a mole might whistle, if the mole ever began to whistle, as in the Great Legend of Gottmund, where the whistling of a giant mole presaged the end of the world, and was cause for much dancing naked and touching the hairs together with womenfolk.

Benny hummed, for his day was over. Inside his humble hut, Anna would be waiting, her face hidden behind a mask. But what mask would it be in this place of madness and superstition, where even the raising of an arm was preceded by six weeks of intricate ceremony, and was never attempted within a stone's throw of a Great Tree Spirit. Would it be the Otter Mask? Or the Hamster Mask? Or worse, the Bat Mask, that meant 3 days hanging together in a cave, followed by the chasing of wild beasties across the untarnished Swedish landscape, through grottoes where gnomes cut merry jigs and the fairies watched, their gossamer wings shot through by the light from Obon, the Great Yellow Eye Up There.

Benny opened the door. His wife was lying in bed with Bjorn, his best friend. They were touching the hairs together.

"Hello! Hello wife! Hello Bjorn!"
"Hello!" cried his wife and Bjorn, who was making the hammer fall on the rock and was groaning. Bjorn finished and tucked away his hammer of love.
"I enjoy touching the hairs of your wife," said Bjorn.
"Well, friend! In this land of weirdness and superstition, we can't be seen to be possessive. What is mine is yours. Now, bring in your wife, I want to make my hammer ring out so loud that its mighty clanging shall be heard in the Land of the Dead..."


My apologies to the people of Sweden.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

American Mercury

A piece of American publishing history arrived for me today, a 1928 issue of the American Mercury. The Mercury was edited by H L Mencken, a giant figure in American journalism, and a man who famously definted Puritanism as,

"The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Mencken also regarded most men as fools, and was not shy about trumpeting this fact. Here is the quote on the form for subscribing to the Mercury!

"The dead hand of the yokelry on the instinct for beauty cannot be so heavy if the handsome green and black cover of THE AMERICAN MERCURY exists." - Simeon Strunsky in the New York Times.

I may adapt this as a description for Extreme Unction. (update: - I have indeed modified this and added it as a frame for EU! please remember that it's just a joke, but i have to admit, the word "yokelry" has tickled my fancy)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saul Bellow is Dead

Tributes came in from Bellow's contemporaries in that post-war set of writers yesterday.

"The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists - William Faulkner and Saul Bellow," Philip Roth said. "Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century."

Utter rubbish, really, from Philip Roth, who is a great writer, and surely, someone who could be expected to be more careful with his words.

Saul Bellow's novels are interminably dull accounts of Jewish academics or Jewish explorers or Jewish whatever. You can read the whole of Henderson the Rain King or Herzog and never really enjoy yourself. I remember one terrible joke, about an MD saying he "couldn't be specific" about a sexually transmitted disease (ha ha, non-specific urethritis it is, then) and some bad puns about Chapman's Homer. Admittedly, Herzog has some funny moments with his petty letter-writing, but it is undermined by constant harking on about how everyone has a proud Jewish nose. Please, please, please! can we have a story and not The Nose Report. I don't want to hear about everyone's damn nose.

Rest in peace, Saul, but please, please, don't write any novels wherever you've gotten to. And don't listen to Roth, you're not one of America's two most important 20th century novelists. Are you really better than Hemingway or Nelson Algren, more of a mythographer than William Burroughs, more lyrical than Henry Miller, more visionary than Thomas Pynchon - even John Fante could seriously claim to have made more impact than you.

The only major writer as BAD as you is John Updike, and he'll be along soon enough. Oh, and Saul, remember, you're nothing to do with Melville, Twain (there are no flaming jokes in your writing, for heaven's sake), or Hawthorne (hmmm, closer, you're both humorless and boring), you were Saul Bellow, that funny-looking guy who couldn't stop writing and going on about noses.

I bet the first thing you'll do when you see Moses is tell him what a great big beautiful nose he has.

For anyone who thinks I'm being too harsh here, I do have a problem with eulogising over the dead, praising them to the skies. If Saul Bellow was a great friend and companion, if he always picked up the tab, if he was always ready to lend a hand, say that instead, tell us what a great man he was. But don't try to tell intelligent people that Saul Bellow was one of the two most important American writers of the 20th century, because he simply wasn't.

Voltaire said it best for me,

"To the living, one owe's respect. To the dead, one owes only the truth."

(p.s. Nabokov, if you count him as an American writer, is also someone who offers more, so much more, than Saul Bellow)

Five things that mean a lot to me part three

People - that's what means a lot to me, that's item #3 on the list of things. Human contact. Meaningful human contact. Because, of course, People also carry many minus points. One of the worst hours of 2004 was fighting through the incredible shopping crowds in Dublin, with Leo. We were so tired of waiting in line to buy things that we shoplifted most of our Christmas purchases purely to save time.

So, that's one downside of people, that they can move in a mass way and form crowds. Some crowds are okay, though, I remember dancing away at trance and techno nights with up to 2000 other people, back in 1995, in Birmingham, and it certainly wouldn't have been the same without that Weight of Number. I remember a Hallowe'en (Samhain) where I took LSD and dancd all night at Spacehopper with people in alien costumes, pirate outfits, fright masks, UV paint on their faces, colored contact lenses, flashing lights in their teeth, a whole range of silly adornments. And the energy, the positive energy of being alive and belonging in a certain place. That was a good crowd, an unpretentious, vital, positive section of the people of Birmingham, an industrial city of England, coming together once a month to go wild and crazy.

Then there is the simple human contact of people being around. Like in Dublin, I didn't know lots of people, but I always felt fine going to places on my own, not worrying, you're never really made to feel isolated or marginalised in Ireland, people are not turf-crazy and as tribal as in England, where a different accent can be the cue for some aggressive treatment from the barely evolved locals. I would go out and watch the soccer matches on plasma screens, big beautiful crystal clear plasma screens, supping on a perfect Guinness and enjoying just having relaxed people around and being free and in charge of my destiny, even if my destiny was simply to defraud the Irish government, the British tax system, and live in a small room and eat salads. There was my first really powerful blast of freedom.

Then there is people - friends, people who have detached themselves from the mass of seething humanity and acquired Names, Histories, the whole shebang. And I miss them, too. I miss Tom, Leo, Alasdair, Patrick, Holly, Scarlett, Andrew, Jenny, Sean, Heiko, Clive, Alice, Martin, Simon, I miss them all.

Now my friends are far away. I have love, I am married, but I don't have freedom in America and I suppose it's guaranteed to be driving me crazy. The prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have a wider social circle than myself, than I have had since December. I've adopted the cast of CSI:Las Vegas as surrogate friends, for gossip I have Court TV and the Michael Jackson trial, for laughs, King of the Hill.

So, people, with certain qualifications, are one of the Five things that mean a lot to me

Monday, April 04, 2005

Chrestomathy - doesn't it make you wanna smile?

I've been surrounded by words today, and I thought I'd use one I enjoy for the title of this post. It's mentioned in a biography of American newsman, H L Mencken, that I am slowly reading (as in, reading it slowly, a few pages at a time, because of work constraints, not because I have to read slowly due to my being retarded. I am not, to the best of my knowledge, retarded.)

The other words were jumping out from The Garden of Eden, the last work of Ernest Hemingway. It's vapid, it's more irritating than Hannah's hives, but was more easily cured. I simply took it into the back bedroom and added it to the infant pile of rejected works - this currently stood at a grand total of ONE - John Kennedy O'Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, surely one of the worst books ever subjected to widespread praise. I've found funnier things stuck to my pants after a train journey. Anyway, there are now two books in the pile.

The way the lights are switched out so quickly when Hannah is ready for bed, I wonder if it's a simulation of how Londoners behaved during The Blitz. My glowing monitor is now the brightest thing in the room, and will soon be attracting the opprobrium/verbal Doodlebugs that drag me into bed. Who can say?

I was going to expand on dismissing Hemingway's last novel. Well, let me put it the other way, if you want to read about a female character so vacuous she has a panic attack over whether her writer husband will like her new haircut (with no jokes included), who has some tedious issue over being a boy or a girl, and who is on a mission to have a very dark suntan, then, well, this is the book for you. Similarly tedious is the inordinate attention lavished on food and drink in this book. You get the whole sodding menu regurgitated. It's a relief when the character of The Colonel comes along, at least he has slightly different food tastes (he demands some anchovies).

Okay, I can hear the drone of Doodlebugs. Bed.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Short story - All about Gary

I met this guy Gary, he was a writer. He had already written a number of words.
“I just write individual words at this point,” he confided. “Such as 'coffee' or 'papier-mache', that sort of thing. I'm learning, you see.”
I knew Gary had been locked up for some of the things he'd done, he'd thrown some stones and one of them had hit someone on the head. Unintentionally, he insisted. I used the idea myself, and I wrote a story about someone who gets hit on the head with a stone. It was a sensation.
I met Gary again a few months later in a bar. I'd had my hair cut and was wearing an overcoat.
“That's quite an effect, your haircut and your overcoat, you're starting to look like a writer. What can I get you?” He came back with some beers. “You know, I know the idea for your story, the story that has been a success, I know the idea for that story comes from me, from the rock I threw that hit someone. Unintentionally.”
“I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
Gary sat still for a few seconds.
“I want you to have something,” he said, and placed a parcel on the table. “Open it later.”
I put the parcel in a pocket of my overcoat.
“So, how is your own writing coming along? Still single words, or are you making combinations now?”
“I've stopped writing altogether, actually. I found something i enjoy more.”
“What's that?”
“You climb rocks? Sounds exciting, how did that come about?”
“I haven't started it yet, you know, actual climbing. I'm still researching it. I climb in my thoughts, small rocks. Dry. Always dry...”
“I see. Where's it headed?”
“Who knows? Can I get you another beer?”
We had more beers, I had to pull off my jersey, it was getting hot inside that pub.
“Nice shirt,” commented Gary. “You should have a pen design printed on it, now that you're writing is going so well. Or a typewriter. Do you use a typewriter?”
“Word processor.”
“Oh, a computer,” he frowned. “It's not very noble, is it, it's so secretarial... It's a nice shirt, though, lovely material.”
He reached over and stroked it.
“You don't mind me stroking it, do you? Hell, without my story about throwing the stone, you wouldn't even be wearing this shirt. I mean, I'm not saying you'd be sat here without a shirt on, no, you'd have a shirt, but it wouldn't be made of beautiful material like this.”
I sat there.
“And your hair, too. Your hair would still be long. Now it's neat. And this transformation is partly due to myself. It's good. It's really good. It makes me think that throwing that stone wasn't such a bad thing, it had some positive consequences. Can I get you another beer?”
“No. I'm going in a second.”
Gary got himself another beer.

At home, I unwrapped the parcel. It was a small stone with “Hate you” written on it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Five things that mean a lot to me part two

The postal service.

Strange choice? Aren't all postal workers fools? People who go out of their way, sometimes quite literally, to lose anything someone took care to send you? Except for your quota of junk mail; they never lose your junk mail. And don't many people raise their dogs quite deliberately to traumatise the mailman/mailwoman, they obviously hold to a different view.

But, for EU, the thought of putting something in a box, watching it disappear, and then having it, hopefully, arrive somewhere else, it really is something. One of the best things about getting married was all the gifts and cards arriving from various parts of the world.

I would print my address here and advocate that anyone who wants to swap postcards sends me their details, but no, because, of course, in the Age of the Internet, people are paranoid about letting on just where they live. In case someone or other goes well past sending a letter or a parcel, and turns up in person, demanding things. And there are still letter bombs, anthrax, etc, that someone could send.

Now, letters and parcels are lost all the time, but letter bombs always seem to reach their target.Mail workers are notorious for kicking around and throwing mail in the sky and shouting, but you never hear of letter bombs blowing up in the post office. I can only conclude that the post office is perhaps more conscientous when a parcel is an exploding one. It certainly beats writing "fragile" or "do not bend" on the side.

"Careful with that one, Dan, we don't want it exploding before it reaches its intended recipient..."

You can also send drugs through the post. I don't know why more people don't send huge consignments to people they don't like.

"Let's see how half a kilo of heroin complicates his day!" (evil laughter)

Sometimes people post themselves. A man in England did this and was unrepentant when he was caught crawling out of his box in a parcel warehouse. He claimed he agreed to be mailed for a bet he made in a pub. "It was either this or the kids would get no Christmas presents" he snarled.

And in the US, a man mailed himself home via Federal Express. Sweet move. Shame he wasn't misdelivered... "Anything there for me, honey?" "No, Donald, but a guy in a box has arrived for me..." "Jeez, Edna, what have I told you about buying crap off of the Home Shopping Channel..."

It makes you wonder how many people are struggling to survive in boxes that have been lost by the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and the rest. Maybe they've formed a community and come out and hold dances, late at night, when the warehouse is quiet... and survive by stealing the chocolate from birthday parcels.

But for all this, I still love the mail system, and love receiving letters and packages, even if they are only cheap-o books from ebay. Bliss.