Wednesday, 25 May 2016

CHOOSY CHILD

Relentlessly angry men who hate and fear women, blacks, Asians, Muslims, Jews, gays, difference, change, the future: following George's Bernard Shaw's sage advice about not wrestling with a pig, I only rarely bother to engage with these guys. As Shaw has it, you get dirty and, besides, the pig likes it.

I went on about all this at some length back in March, mentioning the destructive, malicious (but ultimately tragicomic) jailbird Joshua Bonehill-Paine along the way. Prior to his current incarceration, I did lower myself to the point of reacting to his horrible nonsense once or twice. Not an edifying experience. Left an unpleasant taste. So much so, in fact, that by and large I continue to stay out of the discussions about this notorious troublemaker which continue to simmer on months after Bonehill-Paine got locked up. A good number of people clearly find the guy fascinating, both from the perspective of support and approval and from positions of antipathy. Car crash stuff. Can't quite look away. The story of Bonehill-Paine might even provide good material for a fictional treatment in words or on film: a much sillier, lonelier version of the character played by Edward Furlong in American History X, perhaps.

Anyway, my occasional monitoring of the fizzling chitchat about this odd cat sometimes yields evidence of further angry, disappointed young(-ish) men at least as deluded, hubristic and bitter as Bonehill-Paine himself. One such is a poor chap named David Child who once allowed himself to be cheated out of £500 by Bonehill-Paine. Styling himself a nationalist and champion of "white rights", Child ticks all the boxes when it comes to whom he hates and fears. It wouldn't do you much good to look at a large quantity of his output. But I offer one gem for your consideration. 



In conversation with some like-minded souls, Child contends that he "won't" consider sexual relations with any woman who has previously joined in coitus with "a non-white". His prerogative, of course. But when one sees a photograph of Mr Child (pictured below, on the right, shaking hands with Bonehill-Paine), it becomes difficult to imagine that he often finds himself in the position of turning down offers of sex, even on the grounds stated in his above tweet. But maybe I'm being unkind. There's someone for everyone, I guess. Maybe even this guy.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

LIVING ABROAD

Life lived abroad can be lived more vividly, more intensely and more memorably than life lived at home. I think this is especially true of time spent in a country where the language is wholly unfamiliar at first. Handling the new lingo while carrying out every simple task can be daunting if you want it to be. Or you can go the other way and treat it as an endless set of pleasurable challenges, stretching the brain and enabling new ways of thinking about meaning and communication. The latter has been my experience.

I spent just four years living, working and learning in Poland. Almost twenty years have passed since I returned to the UK with mixed feelings and great memories.  A relatively short chunk of my life spent there, then, and a stint which ran its course quite a while ago. But the memories remain vivid, usually recalled with fondness and often with a distinct pang of longing.

I am sometimes surprised by the continued sharpness and brightness of those recollections of that time spent as a foreigner living away from home. After all, I have relatively few photos taken in that period and no electronic archive of anecdotes written at the time. This is all rather hard to imagine, perhaps, for youngsters growing up in this age of online, mobile, social and always-on. But around the time I returned to England, while I did know of the existence of Internet browsing and email, I had used neither myself. I had seen people using mobile phones but had never owned one myself. I had heard of digital cameras but was still committing my memories to 35mm film. So it's all pretty much in the old noggin: a store of remembered pleasures. 

It is not my intention today to write a long piece about those pleasures or about the many ways in which adapting to a foreign country informed my view of myself and my views about the world. But one pleasing element of my Polish stint in the 1990s has been on my mind rather a lot lately, namely the way in which I was able to decide how much I wanted to care about the politics and society of the country in which I was a guest.

The best example of this that I can think of now concerns the Polish Presidential election of 1995, the final round of which was contested by the incumbent Lech Wałęsa and the eventual winner, Aleksander Kwaśniewski. I looked on with interest at the increasing liveliness and rancour of the debates between the candidates themselves, between some of my Polish friends and between the young people to whom it was my task to teach English. I did find myself picking a side to some extent. But I cared far less deeply about that election than I had about previous elections back home in the UK. I was an interested outsider, sure. But still an outsider. A guest. A visitor. Not too much skin in the game.

This is on my mind again now, as is the whole wider business of living away from this sceptr'd isle because of an escape plan being hatched here at this is my england HQ. It's too early to say whether it will work out, and there are good reasons to suppose that it may not, but the intention here is to relocate to an attractive corner of Spain before this year is over. Should it all play out as hoped, we look forward to both the obviously pleasant business of adjusting to better weather and lower costs and to the many tricky little challenges likely to crop up. The idea with regard to the latter is to consider them as brain food, as opportunities to stimulate the ageing grey matter. Along the way, I would expect to experience once again the pleasing business of taking a cool, academic interest in the local politics, free from the hot, helpless anger that grips me pretty much every time I watch the news here at home. But perhaps I can be even more optimistic than that, partly because of what I took from a recent New York Times article about the electoral success of populist, nationalist and far-right neofascist political parties across Europe, an issue brought into sharp focus this week by the closeness of the Austrian Presidential election lost so narrowly by the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. The graphic below (which is interactive and rather more informative on the page of the article itself) reveals a striking fact: that of the twenty countries examined in the piece, only those on the Iberian peninsula have not seen some level of parliamentary representation for these populist, nationalist and neofascist forces. So maybe that warm corner of Spain is precisely where I should be right now, retreating from events happening further to the north and east. Fingers crossed, then. 




THUDTHUDTHUD

more treadmill. more music. fitness improving but hunks of fat around the midriff proving stubborn. urged to reapply discipline in matter of food intake. I should, I guess. anyway, shuffled today were:

  • Eric Burdon & War: Spill the Wine [1970]
  • Parov Stelar: Kisskiss [2004]
  • CSS: Alala [2005]
  • Marva Whitney: It's My Thing (You Can't Tell Me Who to Sock it To) [1969]
  • King: Love and Pride [1984]
  • The Sahara All Stars: Take Your Soul [1976]

Thursday, 19 May 2016

WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY

more running. more lifting. more pushing. more other stuff. musical stylings today were:

  • The Magic Disco Machine: Scratchin' [1988]
  • James Brown: Funky Drummer [1970]
  • The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds: 2001 [1973]
  • Joe Smooth: Promised Land [1989]
  • The Crusaders: The Well's Gone Dry [1974]
  • The Knack: My Sharona [1979]
  • Smif-N-Wesun: Wreckonize [1995]
  • Jean-Jacques Perrey: E.V.A. [1970]
  • The Blackbyrds: Rock Creek Park [1975]

Monday, 16 May 2016

RUNNING JUMPING

MORE OF IT. faster. faster. shorter gaps. then, unusually, able to keep my own playlist shuffling at me even when box jumping. accompaniment today =

  • Ronnie Laws: Tell Me Something Good [1975]
  • Brass Construction: Get Up to Get Down [1979]
  • Morgan Heritage: One Bingi Man [1997?]
  • Sir Guy: Funky Virginia [1969?]
  • The Jam: Going Underground [1982]
  • Babyshambles: Delivery [2007]
  • Talking Heads: Psycho Killer [1977]
  • Ripple: The Beat Goes On & On [1977]
  • The Meters: Hey Pocky A-Way [1974]
  • Alphonze Mouzon: Funky Snakefoot [1974]

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

STAYING ALIVE

Closer now to my death than my birth. Preferring not to crumble, crinkle, stiffen and rot at a noticeably alarming rate. PT, then. Jerks, then. Buying, if nothing else, at least a feeling of keeping the doctor, the undertaker and the reaper at bay. So, the treadmill whirs, the feet slam, the weights clank. I suck my gut in and start to think that I now resemble a barrel-chested little fuck rather than a sagging sack of shit. Today's progress was made easier by:

  • Tower of Power: Ebony Jam [1975]
  • Cameo: Word Up! [1986]
  • Sly & The Family Stone: Loose Booty [1974]
  • Anita Ward: Ring My Bell [1979]
  • Odyssey: Going Back to My Roots [1981]
  • Gwen McRae: All This Love That I'm Giving [1979]
  • Róisín Murphy: Overpowered [2007]

Sunday, 8 May 2016

TUNES/JERKS ETC.

DATELINE TREADMILL: 3km run thereon, followed by bench pressing and assorted jerks. only the bonkers box jumps were done without the jumbo headphones ('cos they wouldn't have stayed in place). musical stylings were:

  • Go Lem System: Calle Go Lem [2006]
  • Public Image Ltd: This is Not a Love Song [1983]
  • The Commodores: I'm Ready [1975]
  • Public Image Ltd: Rise [1986]
  • Gary Numan: Cars [1979]
  • The Brothers Johnson: Stomp! [1980]
  • Parliament: Flash Light [1978]
  • The Teardrop Explodes: Reward [1981]
  • The Undertones: Teenage Kicks [1978]
  • MGMT: Time to Pretend [2007]

Thursday, 5 May 2016

NAN

a sometime barmaid,
a sometime payroll clerk,
a sometime supermarket cashier,
and once something of a hard-faced and cold-eyed beauty,
my grandmother stuffed the unlovely rooms of her underheated boarding house
with friendless flotsam,
with horrible knick-knacks:

a stuffed, glass-eyed crocodile forever frozen in a hostile pose;
a crude wooden rendering of some cannibal's shrunken head;
a  cigarette lighter contained within a china ornament:
a drunk tramp leaning against a lamppost.

"How Dry I Am"
tinkled metallically into the strained silence of the living room
when the thing was lifted,
the cogs and tines of the mechanism inside plinking
and plonking
the notes
of the dipsomaniac's refrain.

she was a working class Tory,
and she was flattered to be spoken to by the local M.P.,
a louche, saturnine rogue.
"he's so polite," she said,
"so charming,"
"so well spoken,"
"such nice teeth."
I didn't say anything
but I must have looked at her the wrong way
because she glared icily through the tobacco smoke seething
from between
her tightly pursed lips.
"ooh, go away you make me sick," she said.

(I've written this before, haven't I?)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

FUCK IT

Perhaps I should check my privilege. I live in an affluent part of an affluent country and for years I've managed to make an above-average amount of money by doing nothing harder than speaking words, writing words and pretending to be someone else. My physical health is generally good. Between the four walls of my house, I am coddled with real love. I've not long come back from two expensive weeks of warm sunshine, pleasant idleness and fun activities in the United States. But I am restless, discontented and brittle. I pass from brief, inexplicable highs to longer periods of morbid introspection. I rarely escape the clutches of a mental state which involves feeling like an imposter in one's own skin, always close to palpable paranoia, rattled by the prospect of finally being found out at any moment. I grapple daily with a self-destructive urge to drive away even the closest and most trusted of my few friends. So I turn my gaze away from myself and out towards the squabbling, mediocre cunts cheapening and coarsening public life in this country. It makes me feel sick. So I turn to hobbies or pursuits and I find them pointless, childish and dull. I turn to books and paintings and ideas and they rarely move me. So I wonder if I'm no longer capable of being buoyed up by beauty. So I consider big, complicated changes to how, where and why I live this life. Maybe an answer lies there. But it's not like I understand what kind of question it is that I am seeking to have answered anyway. There are moments of respite, though. Putting one foot in front of the other where the air is a little fresher and where a city full of shit is within sight yet somehow out of mind. Looking, still none the wiser about what (if anything) it might mean, at big piles of Henry Moore. Then it seems as though I might feel alright for a while. But then I have to make a phone call. Or get on a train. Or tie my shoelaces. Or load the dishwasher. Or look at a human being. Or tell a guy that I don't want to buy what he's selling. Or live with the fact that I don't get to walk around in another body. Those two most dangerous words are never far from my lips: "fuck it".  


YET MORE TREADMILL [PLUS JERKS] TUNES

Another set of 7 x the 500m treadmill run, taking the speed back towards the what I was capable of before heading to Florida  (via New York) for two weeks of ballgames, beers, burgers and less effective exercise. Shortening the rests between the runs. Doing further physical jerks immediately thereafter. Musical accompanied included:

  • N.W.A.: Express Yourself [1988]
  • Del the Funky Homosapien: Mistadobalina [1991]
  • Jean Knight: Mr. Big Stuff [1971]
  • Ramones: Sheena Is a Punk Rocker [1977]
  • The Style Council: Shout to the Top! [1984]
  • Goran Bregović: Mesecina [1995?]
  • Fat Freddy's Drop: Blackbird [2013]
  • Blancmange: Living on the Ceiling [1982]
  • Level 42: Lessons in Love [1986]
  • Apollo 100: Joy [1972]
  • The Clash: London Calling [1979]

Monday, 2 May 2016

INVITING US NOT TO CARE

More stuff from the remaindered books outlet which yielded the tiny Jon Ronson gem praised here last week. Another slimline volume. History this time. A short account of the Vietnam War. Not a subject I usually think about a lot. But it came up here quite recently when considering remarks made by Charles Bukowski in 1973 in response to television coverage of freed POWs returning from Indochina: 
"The POW propaganda plant is still grinding against all sensibilities. We lost the war, got our asses kicked out by starving men and women half our size. We couldn't bomb, con or beg them into submission so we got out and while getting out, somebody had to come up with a smokescreen to make the populace forget we got our asses kicked." 
Bukowski reminds us of how US media outlets focus so sharply on the American casualties of the conflicts into which that great nation so often wades, while saying far less about the vastly more numerous deaths of local civilians caught in the crossfire. These thoughts led me to the discovery of a 2012 article in which John Tirman discusses the question of why US citizens appear inclined to ignore the civilians killed in "American wars". Tirman notes that  "the lack of concern about those who die in U.S. wars is... shown by these civilians' absence, in large part, from our films, novels and documentaries" and that "the entertainment industry portrays these wars... almost always with a focus on Americans."

I don't think it's fair to single out the USA as the only nation where this approach to describing armed conflict is the norm. My sense is that here in the UK, for example, the media and entertainment industries similarly combine to create narratives in which foreign civilians and enemy combatants are pushed towards the margins and the background.

One would hope, though, that history books authored in the countries on one side of a conflict would pay more attention to the civilian casualties sustained by the other side, as well as attempting to explore the perspectives of the people living on that other side. I'd like to keep nursing that hope, notwithstanding old warnings about there being no such thing as a truly neutral, objective or even-handed historian. At first sight, though, this recently acquired book about the Vietnam War seemed to suggest that its account of the conflict would be in keeping with John Tirman's observations about a lack of concern for the civilian victims of wars contested by the USA: the cover is illustrated with a photo of an American soldier's helmet; the blurb on the back of the book speaks of 58,220 American dead and 300,000 American wounded, without mentioning equivalent figures for the Vietnamese population. True, the middle paragraph of that blurb does suggest that the author has attempted to tell the story of the war from the Vietnamese perspective, noting that for "the people of North Vietnam is was just another in a long line of foreign invaders" and observing that "for two thousand years they had struggled for self-determination". But that insistence on citing the numbers of American casualties only does create the impression that this book is yet another predominantly US-centric account of the conflict. It is a pity that the publisher's people felt the need to take this approach, and they have done the Scottish author of the book a disservice, I feel, because the opening chapters do say rather more about the Vietnamese perspective than the blurb and the cover image had led me to expect. I feel, then, that the publisher's marketing people decided that they needed to sideline Indochinese civilians, combatants, history and politics in order to package a palatable product for an audience endlessly invited not to care about dead foreigners. The disservice done by this approach, then, is done not only to the author but also to those of us with the capacity to feel for the fallen on both sides of a conflict.


TUNEAGE: MORE RUNNING AND THAT

Dateline BLOODY BLIGHTY: As the twisted ankle recovers and as the physical condition begins to pick up after the blissful blunting of incautious eating and reduced exercise in now much-missed NYC and now yearned-for Florida, more poundingpounding of treadmill and further jerkyjerk-phyzikal jerx. Today: reintroduction of bastard bench-pressing and blooming box jumps, the latter causing prickling stings of familiarness, such is the affection for this particular form of movement. All movements not unconducive to the wearing of big-ass headphones (i.e. just those box jumps, really), were bounced onwards by musical accompaniment thus:

  • Delegation: You and I [1979]
  • Bad Manners: Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu [1980]
  • Audio Deluxe: 60 Seconds [1992]
  • The Stranglers: No More Heroes [1979]
  • Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Pump It Up [1978]
  • Talking Heads: Once In a Lifetime [1981]
  • Sex Pistols: Pretty Vacant [1977]
  • Baby Huey: Hard Times [1971]
  • Symarip: Skinhead Moon Stomp [1970]
  • The Rakes: The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect [2007]*
  • Gary Toms Empire: 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle) [1975]
  • George Benson: Give Me the Night [1980]
  • Chicken y Sus Comandos: Caminando Despacito [1969?]
  • Azymuth: Jazz Carnival [1979]
--------
*note:

As my current preference is, demonstrably, for music recorded, for the most part, in the 1970s and 1980s, this tune by defunct UK indie-rockers The Rakes stands out like a sore thumb: a rare example of young(er) people's music entering the radar screen of this ageing, dessicated husk. It's a song which 95% satisfies me but which contains a single irritating flaw, to my mind. Music, musicianship, craft, whatever: fine; lyrics: MOSTLY fine, being an unpretentious take on the worries of an imperfect night out in the 21st Century (ten new messages on my phone; danger of eye contact with male stranger leading to fighting and disturbance of carefully crafted hairstyle...). But there is a seriously dud pair of lines:
You slag off America in the pub
Saying the war was shite
The in the club drink some Buds
And smoke some Marlboro Lights
I'm not sure whether the narrative voice is addressing itself (himself) or a third party. Either way, a critical observation is made, namely that it is hypocritical to speak negatively about American foreign policy while consuming products made by American companies. This seems an entirely juvenile and fatuous position, reminding me of the time when Louise Mensch thought it was terribly clever to suggest that protesters who oppose some iniquitous elements of capitalist societies cannot use mobile phones or drink coffee without undermining their arguments. But this is a minor gripe, I guess. The song is pretty good otherwise.