London Stone

stone

The best thing about the internet – apart from making career-destroying comments on twitter – is winning books! I added another victory to my tally (one day Gollancz, one day) and I now have a copy of London Stone by Nick Bydwyn.

It’s a fine sharp romp through the capital in search of an ancient artifact that involves conspiracy and murder, and sits well with the British Library Crime Classics and Collins Detective Club books I’ve been devouring lately.

I thoroughly recommended it & you can buy it here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Stone-Nick-Bydwyn/dp/1785891847

& you can buy British Library Crime Classic’s here (they’re all brilliant):

https://shop.bl.uk/mall/departmentpage.cfm/BritishLibrary/_488718/1/British-Library-crime-classics

& you can seek out The Detective Club here – although HarperCollins have missed a trick by not having a dedicated section of their website:

https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/

 

Gorey Story

EDWARDGOREY

http://www.edwardgoreyhouse.org/

Edward Gorey is one of my favourite illustrators and an inspiration for everything I write – even if I can’t quite pull off his magnificently fey high camp violent tragedy.

Amazingly he doesn’t belong in my pantheon of Fin de Siecle Decadents that includes Oscar Wilde, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, E. F. Benson, Saki, Walter de la Mare, and Ronald Firbank – despite perfectly capturing their Edwardian spirit of hedonistic uncanny dismay – he was born in 1925 and died in 2000.

He’s probably best remembered for designing a 1977 Broadway production of Dracula and for The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an illustrated alphabet book about the unfortunate deaths of small children.

Scandinavian Easter Witches

I had no idea that Scandinavia has a tradition of Easter witches… apparently – like Halloween – Easter is time when bad witches are thought to consort with the devil.

Somehow – from that – has sprung a tradition of young girls dressing as witches (in mainly quite pretty ‘peasant’ clothes) and people often send greetings cards with witches in the picture.

Here are a few:

 

Hamster Language

tiny hammy 1b

My beloved hamster Endeavour really did communicate through these noises & actions – and because I was impressed – I’m recording them here for future Ethologists:

ack ack ack = my bedding is in disarray, I am unhappy.

ACK! = I was arranging my bedding, put me back in my cage.

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK = the roof of my bed has come off, do something!

Filling bed with sawdust = my bed is stinky, I require fresh bedding…

Squeak, Squeak, Squeak = the slide has fallen off my platform, assist me to put it back up.

Banging a food bowl = I’m a free animal, remove me from this prison.

Hanging from the bars at the top of the cage – if you don’t immediately remove me from this cage I will fall & die & guilt will haunt your every waking hour.

Climbing into an exercise ball = I want to be in my exercise ball, close the lid.

Banging into things while in an exercise ball = I’m bored of this exercise ball, open the lid.

Falling asleep = put me back in my bed.

A desperate look while climbing = assist me to climb this item of furniture.

Head stuck in bedding or sofa, back legs waggling = I’m in a predicament, remove me at once.

Furious face, using back legs to kick bedding over her bed – I’m cold, put the heating on.

Look of alarm, then slowly moving away = AAAARRRRGGGHHHHH, it’s Scuttler, the spider!

Banging sandpit = these conditions are unacceptable, clean my sandpit.

Grooming = it will take me half an hour to prepare to leave my cage, do not shut the door.

sniffing along the open cage door – I might be going to bed, or I might not be, don’t close the door until I’ve made up my mind.

Darting = I will chew that wire & nothing will stop me.

Scenting = what are these non-me smells I keep encountering?

Paw on hand = who are you? You haven’t fed me for at least 10 minutes.

Squeaky Squeak Squeaky Squeak = unhand me, I wish to go in this direction.

Fast Waddling = I think I saw a crumb fall on the carpet, I will reach it before the hoover.

SQUEAK! = I’m missing, retrieve me.

Frantic scratching – I’m trapped in a box, let me out.

Banging food bowl, then reversing away from hand = I’m still sleepy, but require more food.

Throwing food out of cage = this is boring, I need variety.

Sitting on table = BRING ME A SNACK!

Climbing into cage & going into bed = that’s enough activity for today, please put the light out & be quiet.

Furious face with screwed up eyes (while in bed) = STOP THIS RELENTLESS NOISE!

Furious face (while in bed) = it’s morning, where is my toast?

And tons of other things – she was ALWAYS saying something.

1981

BBC4 are showing all of Top of the Pops 1981 and as this is the year my memory properly works for the first time – it’s going to be a joy.

In honour of that – here are 2 of my girl crushes of the early 80s.

Cleo Rocos!

Cleo was a teenage wannabe actress when she was plucked from background obscurity to be the saucy butt of D.J. Kenny Everett’s zany jokes on The Kenny Everett Television Show which started in 81… She would pop up and out to pout at random moments with big hair, bright lip-gloss and I’ll leave the rest to the picture – I absolutely adored her.

cleo

Jay Aston! 

Jay was one of the four singers in pop group Bucks Fizz – the others being two blonde blokes and your big sister. They won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 to euphoria reminiscent of V-E Day and were virtually inescapable until 1984 when a serious tour bus crash left them unable to work for 6 months. By mid-1985 Jay had quit the band after having an affair with her manager’s husband and labeling the others bitchy. After that her career floats off and I have no idea what she did until she resurfaced in cheap Living TV reality shows in the Naughties.

jay

From this we can conclude that tiny tot me loved glamour girls in trashy outfits from the pop world.

 

Blackstar

bowie

I love David Bowie’s new single Blackstar – it seems mysterious and cosmic – so it’s a little disappointing to dig further into the lyrics and realise that it’s probably just about being a cult famous person as opposed to a mainstream famous person.

And that reminded me of the way Bowie’s generation saturated my 1980s childhood.

The films with 1960s soundtracks.

T.V. shows about middle-aged women making it in the boardroom.

And the Rock God Behemoths – Elton, Jaggar, Bowie, Stewart, Queen, Sting – churning out over-produced power ballads and tastefully shot videos with young backing dancers and the occasional urchin.

Every Saturday morning a guy in his late 30s/early 40s in a causal suit would be awkwardly sitting on a sofa trying to talk to a studio full of hyper children’s presenters, bored real children and a puppet… or his latest release would be reviewed by envious younger stars and a proper journalist who thought it wasn’t as good the one he released in that MYTHICAL AND POSSIBLY FICTIONAL LAND OF FLARES AND PLATFORMS the 1970s. *

*no decade is weirder than the one you were born at the end of – no adult ever explains something they watched a few years previously to a kid who was too small or unborn to remember it.

Bowie – is one of those huge 80s OLD stars – who isn’t really a huge 80s OLD star. His sales have never matched The Beatles or The Rolling Stones & his profile is more about fashion than it is about music. He’s a cult star commenting on Stardom as if he was a mainstream star and it makes less sense now than it did then.

Then being a Rock Star was so important to the culture that it was mocked by The Ruttles, Spinal Tap and The Comic Strip Presents, the way Jane Austen felt she had to kill Gothick with snark before her realistic romances could take-off.

It was so important that they Shot John Lennon.

It was so important that Every New Star Was The New King – until he wasn’t.

It was so important that MADONNA and MICHAEL JACKSON were treated like corporations.

It was so important that Indie and Grunge felt they had to shun it or agonize about it.

It was so important that Comedy Was The New Rock’n’Roll.

It was so important that the massive youth culture shift into Clubbing and Gaming went entirely unreported beyond a few ecstasy deaths.

It was so important that Brit Pop tried to entirely recreate it from its Beat beginning to its Hippy Heavy Metal slide past Disco into Synth into over-produced power ballads.

It was so important that The 1990s ruined its life trying to hold on to a moment in Youth Culture that couldn’t exist emotionally beyond the post-war boom, and couldn’t exist economically beyond the world wide web; and that was mainly because the super-rich superstars were still there – flying from stadium gig to stadium gig in their private jets, living with their ex-model wives, in their stately homes or L.A. mansions.

It was visible but unattainable.

Modern stars push product or fill reality vehicles. No one expects them to front political change or lead us into a new lifestyle. No one thinks the puritan young will march past the corruption of the old into Utopia – the way they thought/feared they would in the 1960s.

We expect their charisma, talent or good timing to sell perfume or ghost-written novels, or franchise movies or phone votes.

Fame is dead. It’s not important. It’s an ephemeral chimera. It belongs in the 20th Century and the 21st would be wise to find a Newstar to sing about.

 

Mid-20th Century Realism

I was going to be cruel and entitle this blog plodding melodrama but that implies a lack of affection. I find the language of serious, realistic books on the dull side – but the world they conjure up is the only one I truly feel at home in.

It goes like this:

Pre-history. Ancients: Greek, Roman, Pagan, Biblical.

Dark Ages. Renaissance. Reformation. Elizabethans. Jacobeans.

Enlightenment.

Gothicks. Romantics. Regency. Georgians. Victorians. Edwardians.

Ist World War.

Roaring 20s. Depression 30s.

2nd World War.

50s Austerity. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mrs Thatcher. Brit Pop. Reality T.V. Social Media.

These are the great European landmarks I think by and in a quiet, and methodical way they were set in stone by the realist novels of the mid-20th Century… Three of my favourite examples being: Winston Graham, Howard Spring and R.F. Delderfield.

Graham (1908 – 2003) is famous for the Poldark saga set in Cornwall in the late 18th Century. The plots centre on love triangles, banking, mining, politics, and business rivalries. He also wrote suspense novels that explore sex and crime, and seem more old-fashioned than his historical works.

Spring (1889 – 1965) was a Welsh journalist who wrote about idealistic young socialists bumping up against establishment forces. He’s most famous for Fame Is The Spur, Shabby Tiger and My Son! My Son! (filmed as O Absalom).

Delderfield (1912 – 1972) also centred the rise of socialism in his works. His sprawling tales of school masters (To Serve Them All My Days), journalists turned spies (Diana), and nouveau local squires (A Horseman Riding By) typically take decades to unfold, most often starting before the 1st world war and ending after the 2nd.

There were angrier writers like Alan Sillitoe, more satirical writers like Kingsley Amis, darker writers like Patrick Hamilton, and deeper writers like Graham Greene, whose work will last longer… but the sheer humane normality of these three writers as they pieced together epic historical events with small lives lived as best they can creates our social history even as their books slip from our collective memory.