Thursday, 28 April 2016

I Yam What I Yam.

I loves my Popeye, I does. Grammar aside, i think I does. Whilst shifting some comic boxes in a wee spare room at my home I came across a pile of popeye comics and related stuff which had been thoughtlessly set aside some time back. Oh so many comics and books yet only one brain and one set of eyes. Forgetting I was supposed to be tidying(Why?What for?Who cares?) I ended up sitting on the stairs rereading some old issues of Popeye I aint seen in some time. I do like the cast of his title, The easy familiarity of the loveably grotestque characters who populate the world of the hardy  and irascible sea-man. The down at heelness of them all. I feel kinship with them.
             One story I particularly enjoyed was one called "shame on You" or "Gentlemen do not Fight" or You're a ruffian,Sir" in one of the IDW Classics.It is a funny wee story,longer than usual, which pokes fun at notions of masculinity, the trouble that can be caused by the male need to be seen to be brave.Olive is still trying to get Popeye to change his ways, even though she truly likes him exactly as he is, and she becomes the head of the Anti-Fisticuff Society.Poor Olive finds her noble aspirations confused and manipulated resulting in a misunderstanding involving a bully boy named Kid Kabbage. The script is great, the art is fantastic and the whole thing is funny and endearing.
              Here is my old popeye doll. I bought it many years ago (in a different world) when Leisure World was closing down and they were having a toy sale which is something of a legend amongst collectors of a certain age who grew up in Belfast. I am from a generation that remembers that old toy store with much affection. I recall being brought to it as a boy and being told I could pick one thing and that I would get it for Christmas. It was one thing and one thing only so that choice had to made with care. When it was closing down they sold off all the odd bits and pieces that had been cluttering up their stock and store rooms. Stuff which had not been seen for many years and have not been seen since. Everything from battling robots to Godzilla monsters which they had been unable to sell( "Who's going to buy a giant moth?" one of the staff said tossing Mothra into a sale basket.
              So today I blew the dust of Popeye and introduced him to the only human being I know who has a bigger forearm than he does(And I know for a fact he does not eat spinach.Make of that what you will.) The cast and the characters of the Popeye comics must seem pretty ugly and even freakish to the present generation and I do not imagine that he himself has any of the working class cultural associations previous generations may have seen in his world. i found myself in the kitchen at work feverishly enjoying a hornpipe gig from the port of Amsterdam as I sang out the old Popeye theme tune. A workmate thought it was some mad wee poem I had made up or had been sung to me by my nanny Lizzie Borden in some distant Nantucket Nursery populated by sock monkeys and teddy bears stitched from sail canvas and stuffed with sawdust and grit. Hardy toys for hardy boys. I felt a tad melancholy that there are so many people who will not know the joys of getting to know Popeye the Sailorman or appreciating the wild abandon of a sailors horn pipe jig.
              He is a terrific role model you know. Popeye might be a scrapper and a fightet and a tattooed sailor but he is also a lover and even a poet at heart. As he once said;
              "They is nuthin' like pickin' Lil wild flowers fer yer sweetie ta make
                                                              ye feel beautious."

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Stories Of The Sunken Ships.

(From my sketchbook.) This the Danish singer Asbjorn as he looks in his video for his song The Criminal. Asbjorn is a very handsome young man with a haunting and quite powerful voice. Imagine Aphex Twin had a wee rascal of a brother.who was much more cerebral than people credited him for. If you have a pop soul but also have a fondness for Bowie's Berlin period.(Low, Heroes and Lodger) and also like sounds by the likes of Kraftwerk, Jean Michelle Jarre, Human League and Tubeway Army you might appreciate Asbjorn as the natural progression to those wonderful artistes.
              He sings like an angel but dances like a Gogo Boy.
              He just seems to revel in his time and that joy for life is infectious.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Harvest Of Time.

Years ago, when I was a boy, I remember sitting in Dundalk Railway Station rereading Doctor Who And The Sea-Devils and thought it was just about the best book I had ever read.(Until the next book I read; Doctor Who And The Deamons which I also thought was the best book I had ever read. Then I read Doctor Who And The Green Death and thought..well, you get the picture..) and that place has always exerted a familiar feeling of deep nostalgia. I associate that open railway platform with its MR James decor with a sense of holidays ending and holidays beginning. I think it has won awards for best kept small station or station most likely to be haunted by a phantom signal man.Just last week I felt that wave of emotion in a particularly strong fashion as I sat on the platform waiting for the Belfast train rereading Doctor Who And The Harvest Of Time by Alastair Reynolds. It is not a novelization of a transmitted story. It is a story set during the same era of the novelizations I just mentioned. And what a rich addition it is to that era.
              The Third Doctor and his friend Jo Grant square off against The Sild as well as wrestling with the bonkers machinations of The Doctor's old pal and arch nemesis The Master. UNIT are tasked with investigating a series of bizarre incidents involving attacks on oil rigs. A situation not unfamiliar in Doctor Who Scenarios but one that provides for some very exciting base under siege moments. I thought this book nailed all the aspects of what makes this era such a fondly remembered one .(Cripes, are'nt they all.) with all the main characters given opportunities to shine with the complex relationship between The Doctor and The Master given a right kick up the arse; In that the stakes are raised in a fantastic way but one that does not feel anachronistic for this era of Who. Secrets are revealed. Ones we did not even know about and heroes are given the chance to do what they do so well. The author is not just ticking fanboy boxes either he is playing with the notes of a song we used to know so well. like a cool remix.
                When I was a boy reading those stories and watching the stories as they aired I had no way of knowing this would come to be regarded as a classic period. All the stories were new to me and I had no reason to think it would not always be this good. I did not suspect that in a few years it was going to get even better as Tom Bakers first couple of seasons would prove to do so. I suppose what I am trying to say is that those were not in truth simpler days I was just a simpler person.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Kitchen Kojira.

My amazing wee nephew Ryan lays eyes on the only monster to seriously threaten King Kong for the title King of the monsters. Personally my money is always on Kong. I love me a big monkey and they do not come any bigger or monkier than Kong. I did see a movie when I was about Ryan's age when Kong and Godzilla fought. Only I did not believe in that scrap. That did not look like Kong. That looked like a man in a suit. A giant monkey suit not a tailored Jean-Paul Gaultier.
            Ryan is not fooled either.This is but a finless Facsimile.
            But a great toy for fights.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Joseph Merrick.

(From my sketch book.)"As a specimen of humanity, Merrick was ignoble and repulsive; but the spirit of Merrick, if it could be seen in the form of the living, would assume the figure of an upstanding and heroic man, smooth browed and clean of limb, and with eyes that flashed undaunted courage.""
                                                    Extract from "The Elephant Man" by Sir Frederick Treves.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Dog Star.

Read Nick Abadiz's fictionalised story of the life of Laika the space dog and the early days of the Sputnik experiments of man's fledgling steps in space travel. Russian man's to be specific. It is that and so much more. Nick Abadzis's grpahic storytelling and entiely human blend of words and pictures gives the story a sweep and grandeur you do not even see in modern film making. It felt like one of those amazing epic movies by David Lean like Lawrence Of Arabia or Dr Zhivago. A big human tale of ambition and desire and drive as well as a deeply moving account of the probable life of a little dog that was sacrificed on the alter of political and scientific ambition. A little stray that was plucked from the mean streets and transfered to a research facility where survival was an experimental lottery. It is a fantastic story fantastically realised using the very strengths of the graphic medium. It is great storytelling done with great skill and charm.ll the characters seem so fully rounded and real including the dog star itself.
              The understated but very strong emotions at play amongst the central characters are very engaging and believable. As are the vast egos and ambitions at play driving the space program. Wrestling support in the space program from the communist party and leaders by tugging the jingoistic threads that bind Russia's and America's space ambitions together is a clever move that buys breathing space,time and encouragement. Yet we never lose sight of the hard working and basically decent figures at the support level who succeed at pushing their ideas forward without hope of receiving the recognition and respect their efforts deserve, tiny cogs in the Soviet state machine.
               Always the story returns to Laika(Or Kudryavka which was her actual name. )The patience and dignity with which she endures the many lab tests on her constitution fueled by her affection and respect for her handlers and her infectious good nature and playful optimism as demonstrated by Nick Abadzis finely honed craft as a storyteller.
                A terrific read and a real keeper.

Do Ye Kin Malky?

It was just over a year ago from now that my dear dear old chum Anthony Captain passed away. Dear Mercurial Anthony who back in the day woke me up to the wider world beyond the limits of Ardoyne and the idea of illuminated beings who made the music that changed the world and made it a tolerable place to live in. People like Bowie or bands like The Sex Pistols and so many other musical treasures which have enriched my time on this planet ever since. He lived in Old Ardoyne then and I lived in Newer Ardoyne.
             Now it is all Old Ardoyne.
             I crossed the Berwick through the alleyway in Brompton Park and made my way to his old house in Herbert Street where I heard Diamond Dogs for the first time. (Those hungry peopleloids really haunted me that first night as they looked down from Hunger Hill).Got chased back through that opening by some other kids from Old Ardoyne who were going to kick my head in for daring to cross into their streets. Seemed to happen to me a lot back then. Getting a kicking.
              I was thinking the other night about one of our get togethers a few years later at the height of The Hunger Strikes. There had been quite a bit of civil unrest on the streets and I suppose for those living outside it that the Catholic Republican Ghetto of Ardoyne never seemed to be at peace. It could be something of a tinder box and one had to be careful of sparks.Some nights dandering around its tightly packed maze of back to back working class housing it could feel like the forest where the wild things ran.On that particular night the wolves were running and they came in the shape of a new regiment of Scottish troops who patrolled the streets stopping, searching and questioning. The Scotch troops always were the worst in terms of lack of respect for the "peace" they were keeping. They could be aggressive and quite frightening in the blink of an eye and there was a natural fierceness in their speech patterns. I think they believed all Catholics were republicans or their sympathisers (me and my mates were barely Catholic much less political.)I used to think that most of them came from the same kind of backgrounds as we did so they had to prove themselves by being extra mean. Their very presence on the streets and the way they actually treated people was adding to the tension in the area  which was bubbling like steam beneath a sauce pan lid. At any moment of the day or night the news of the death of another hunger striker would break with the sounds of whistles blowing and bin lids being hammered on pavements. A sound like the end of the world.A sign to batten down the hatches and sit tight cause anything could happen and frequently did.
                 Anyway one night me and my chums were getting together in my house in Etna Drive and they were making their way there from different parts of the district and in different streets they were stopped by the same Scottish foot patrol.Paul was stopped on  the way over from Mountainview, searched and questioned. "And where are you heading now?"
               "Malachy Coneys in Etna Drive", he answered.
              "Malky Coey" they wrote down in their wee black note book.
               Jimmy was stopped on his way down Estorial Par.Same thing happened to him and he replied in the same way. Heading to Malachy Coney's in Etna Drive.
               Anthony was stopped on his way from Farringdon Gardens and received the same treatment. They wrote down in pencil his destination;Malachy Coney's in Etna Drive.
               Then they also stopped poor Willy on his way round from Brompton. They searched him and before he could answer where he was going they asked him;
               "Do ye kin Malky?" which startled him no end. "Tell him we will be callin round later" they promised in what could only be described as a joyfully threatening and sinister way.Willy was quite pale when he got to my ma's house"No messin' lads", he stressed"I think they are goin' to kill us all and say we are provos or somethin'". We considered the possibility of this happening and laughed our heads off. We would between us make the worst terrorist cell in Irish history. Even in retrospect it stretches credulity.
                 Yes it is true to say there were many dark days growing up in that troubled part of Belfast but I had the good fortune to have a very loving family and a group of friends I loved very much. Anthony and Willy are no longer with us but I think of them all the time. I have heard many people describe the future and the days yet to come as the Undiscovered Country but the past also requires its maps. The memory plays tricks and at times that vast and changing landscape become some where to get lost.
                  Sometimes it is like digging for treasure on a beach you used to know so well.
                  In fact that is how some one once described me and my mates;
                  Beach Bums without a beach.



Me as an Malopus or some other deep sea aquatic nightmare as drawn by Young Scottie. Well as they said in the Little Mermaid "Lifes so much better Down where its Wetter." And if its good enough for Ariel...