Saturday, 27 February 2010

Marina Lewycka

Great excitement at London Acres. I've just learned Marina Lewycka's third novel, 'We Are All Made Of Glue', has been released in paperback. This means I can afford to buy it.

Lewycka is an inspiration. Her first book was rejected thirty-six times b
efore she finally found a publisher at the age of fifty-eight. Now, her novel, 'A Short History of Tractors in Unkrainian', is a world-wide hit. She's the daughter of two Ukrainians, and 'Tractors' draws heavily on her life - conflict with her sister; the loss of her mother; an eccentric, selectively senile engineer father who married again to a much younger woman; and his daughter's schemes to oust the gold-digging interloper. Serious themes, but treated in a comic, at times slapstick way. Life is hell, but hellishly funny.

As a mature student Lewycka (pronounced Lewitzka) did a creative writing course, and never looked back. Her second novel, 'Two Caravans', has the same blend of comedy and desperation as her first, and is an indictment of imigrant labour exploitation. Both books have been tremendously well-received. I love them.

I went to listen to Marina while sh
e was promoting 'Two Caravans'; she gave a talk at a local library. A funny, vibrant lady, candid about herself, her writing and her family. I'd taken a copy of 'Two Caravans' with me which I asked her to sign, explaining that I was just about to start a writing course myself; another mature student off to have a go. We beamed at each other; she raised her eyebrows, I struck a faux literary pose, she kindly wrote her good-luck message.

Tonight, I'll settle down with 'We Are All Made Of Glue'. There it is, pristine on my tabletop. I'll savour it.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Pro Bono Publico

Every time I pick up a newspaper, or for that matter the Daily Mail, on page fourteen there's a small column reporting the latest law being introduced by the Labour government. Usually, this legislation is to do with interference in our everyday lives, an attempt at restriction of our freedom.

A case in point. London Acres needs slight attention. At the top of my stairs is an electric light which no longer works. I've changed the bulb: no good. The socket will have to be replaced. But I'm told I'm no longer entrusted by the goverment with this simple job. Instead, a qualified (oh yeah) socket replacement engineer must come and do it for me. Then, a local authority inspector will call at an hour to suit him, and verify successful project completion. I'm forbidden to do anything, except pay. On top of this, I believe I'm no longer permitted to fiddle with three-pin plugs, mend a window, or cut the grass.

How long will it be before we're not allowed to drive a car that emits exhaust, or send Christmas cards with religeous connotations, or use a cellphone while walking? All food will carry government health warnings, alcohol will be banned in pubs. Basil Brush will appear on television only after the watershed, in case minors are distressed by his dangerous, violent world.

Of course, some of these commandments are hopelessly unenforceable. If I flout the law and take a screwdriver to the errant landing light, no-one will ever know unless I go up in a shower of sparks and London Acres burns to the ground. It's just that the passing of such demented legislation requires heaps of public money. Well spent? You decide.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

VD Again

It's here. The first of the year's Megacorp manipulations, as we're induced to demonstrate love and affection for our partners by purchasing hopeless junk.

Valentine's Day - To Do List


Petrol for shopping expedition.
Bunch of flowers.


Card with badge, song and arse-clenchingly embarrassing message.

Useless doll.
Fluffy four-foot tall toy animal in lurid pink.

Book table for two (early-bird). Not Indian.

Or instead, maybe the thing to do is have a competition to see which of you can find the most pathetic or stupid VD gift. You'll still have to spend a bit of money on rubbish, but you'll have a great laugh presenting each other with the item you've chosen. I guess it's important to get agreement
on this wheeze with your loved one .

Friday, 12 February 2010

Peace Off

Yesterday I visited Poltesco, a cove on the eastern side of Cornwall's Lizard peninsula. During the nineteenth century, the tiny bay had been home to a factory processing serpentine.

Serpentine is a beautiful rock found almost uniquely on the Lizard. Dark green or grey, with blue and red veins, it polishes like marble to a wonderful deep sheen. The Victorians loved serpentine and used it widely for architectural features, monumental masonry, and ornaments; the Lizard became famous for its serpentine production. Though the wider uses of the rock died out, today Lizard Village still has several serpentine turners, producing decorative objects keenly sought-after by the summer visitors.

Here's a feature to be written, I thought. So I went to take some photographs of the old site, where the factory's remains still stand. The sun shone from an azure sky, a sprinkling of puffy white clouds overhead. Placid twinkly sea, a warm wind, gentle walking down to the shore. Peacefully, I took my photos.

As I prepared to leave, a man appeared at the other side of the bay, a large camera at the ready. He stopped and stood motionless, staring. Then the camera swung up. As I watched him, my foot slipped on loose pebbles; I went skittering over, cried out, and clattered down a little gradient.

The man hurried toward me. Good job he's around, I thought; if I'd hurt myself, I might have been in trouble. The bay is gorgeous, but isolated.

'You've frightened it off, thanks very fucking much', he shouted.

I think he meant a bird. As best I could, I tried to tell him I hadn't meant to fling myself across the shale or disturb his labours, that I was OK thanks. But to no effect. I wasn't sufficiently injured to foster any sympathy; I'm not sure death would have done it. As he continued to rail, it occurred to me that he was a spindly little weed.

For a moment I considered following the man for the rest of the day; whenever he tried taking any more photos, I'd yell things out. But instead I exchanged a few pleasantries, and left.

At the top of the cove, in the car park were two cars. Mine and his. And - oh joy - beside my Focus was parked, at the correct distance and relative attitude, a Smart Car. A vehicle for somebody with only one friend. I'd say that was pushing it.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Mr Bouz's Love Rival

I've blogged previously about my beloved Mr Bouz, the Fylde bouzouki with whom I've played over twelve hundred gigs over the years. He's battered and scarred, but still going strong. For the last year or so, I've been using him to wrestle with some new tunes: Irish diddle-de-de, Eastern European kopanitsas and horas. But though I've put a lot of hours into these pieces, my progress with them has been pretty slow. No talent, you say - don't shatter my dreams. The thing is, Mr Bouz's neck is long-scale, not ideally suited for playing such complicated rhythms and melodies.

However, just before Christmas, while browsing at Hobgoblin Music's shop in Wadebridge, epiphany arrived. I came across the most gorgeous Buchanan octave mandola. Hand-built by luthier Thomas Buchanan, this little beauty is similar to Mr Bouz but has a slim, shorter neck grafted to a small neat body. I picked it up, and took it home. The smaller size means it's a lot easier to move around the fretboard, great for melody playing. The action's gentle, all the strings ring out with strong sustain, and there are no dead spots up the neck - which is more than can be said for many similar instruments.

So these days, the Buchanan rarely leaves my side. Of course, Mr Bouz hasn't become unloved, or been abandoned in a dusty corner. That could never happen. But he does have a love rival.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Unique Holiday Experience

Just returned from shopping at Matalan's 'All You can Wear For Six Quid' promotion. A horrible episode. But when I let myself in, safely back at London Acres, what did I find on my front door mat? Something to cheer and enliven me.

A sales leaflet, thoughtfully passed on by my friend Brian. In a world of opportunities to experience mad recreational activities, the leaflet advertises the most bizarre holiday idea I've ever come across. The Titanic Memorial Cruise.

Brian's sent a second copy to Sandi Toksvig at the Radio 4 satirical panel show, The News Quiz. I do hope she picks up on it. Roll on tomorrow night's broadcast at 6.30 pm.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Crystal Palace Hero

I've never liked football as much as rugby union. That said, as a youngster sometimes my Uncle Tom would take me to Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace Football Club - 'The Eagles'. Win or lose we always had a great time, Uncle's enthusiasm fuelled by pre-match refreshments at the nearby Robin Hood public house, while I was given coke. In those days, just the drink.

Over the years I've kept an eye on Palace. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Promotion, relegation, changes of ownership, bankruptcy, they've had it all in London SE25.

But last night, as I watched on telly, a new hero emerged. Danny Butterfield scored three times in six minutes against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Palace made the final sixteen of the FA Cup. Butterfield's not a striker, he's a defender 'who likes to get forward'. Evidently. That said,
in his previous six seasons he's scored one goal.

He looked as if he could hardly believe what had happened. The result cheered me, but even more his banana grin, the almost nonplussed shake of the head after his third goal went skating in. Understandably, when he was rested a few minutes from time Butterfield received a huge send-off from the crowd.

Three more on Saturday then?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Iraq Enquiry: Clare Short

At the Chilcott Enquiry today, Clare Short was amazing. If only all politicians were as honest, opinionated and candid. Short has some real class. It was good to watch an MP with style.

As International Development Secretary in 2003, Short reluctantly voted in favour of the war. But she resigned in May that year; she felt Tony Blair had broken the promise he had given her over securing international support for post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Her testimony today strengthens the feeling that the decision to go to war with Iraq was forced through the Cabinet by Bliar.

Sir John Chilcott cross-examined Short. No-one else who's appeared before the Enquiry has been treated in that way, particularly Bliar; after a jumpy start, he was allowed to get into his comfortable, rhetorical stride, complete with practised hand-gestures .
What does this tell us about Chilcott's imperative?

To some, Short is a trouble-maker, a crank whose evidence should be taken with a pinch of salt. Her hesitation over resigning in 2003, and her subsequent hostility to Bliar, may tempt us to interpret her anger over the war as bitterness. But she didn't use the Enquiry merely as a self-serving platform. She was asked challenging questions, and was entitled - indeed, obliged - to respond from her own point of view.

Nor did she mince her words in any attempt to limit damage to those involved in the decisions leading to war - including herself. Her disagreement with the recall of events by other members of the Cabinet does not confirm her as a rogue, or a loose cannon to be lampooned. She's flawed, she's not a saint, but she's honest.

I would like to see Bliar recalled to the Enquiry once more evidence has been given, further knowledge and views gleaned and recorded. I'd also like to see him examined with the degree of enthusiasm afforded Clare Short.

And oh to have been able to hear Robin Cook's evidence.