Tuesday, 15 September 2020

"Handles" with Care.

                                      A Timely Timey Whimey message from The Good Doctor....

                                     (Thank you , Joanne, all that regenerating must be exhausting.)
 

Mr Foote's Other Leg.


 Oh my giddy aunt, what a life. You could not make it up. Well, actually, I suppose you could but you would have a tough time convincing anyone reading it it was a true tale. Yet, like the legends of The Force, it is all true and almost entirely forgotten. All the more astonishing when you consider that for a brief time the name of Samuel Foote was known wherever the English language was spoken. Mind you, in fairness, that brief time was way back in 1776 and quite a lot has happened in the world since...ahem.

              Samuel Foote's rise to fame and tumble into shame and infamy is a tale worth telling and the writer Ian Kelly does an admirable job of it. The details of this man's bizarre and complex life would stretch credulity despite the best efforts of any writer. his brief but brilliant flame burning all too brightly all too briefly. In that way that certain luminous beings do. Oddly, his life story holds a warped mirror to the times we are presently trying to navigate. It should act as a cautionary tale to those who seek to traverse the hazardous waters that are the way to success and fame based wealth. This was a man who defied the strict conventions of his age, performing in female attire, a successful trans entertainer in an age when gender roles were rigidly defined and reinforced. And, most astonishingly of all, he wrote and performed a series of roles for the stage created specifically for one legged actors, following a practical joke which went disastrously wrong, resulting in the loss of one of his legs. A terrible experience he narrowly survived to become a successful performer and a much loved national personality, although in the end it was a combination of the mores of his age which served to bring him down. 

               The eighteenth century had never seen anything like him, his career a perplexing mix of the real and the imagined. Real life actually bled into his performances, as he made the ups and downs of his life the very stuff of his act.His life experiences and the details of them served as an inspiration for his act. These details being well known thanks primarily to his own writing as he reasoned he might as well be the author of his woes as opposed to someone else doing it. Becoming a player in his own play rather than a cog in the life plans of someone else. Fame and infamy both sides of the same sword weilded to progress in the fashion of the ultimte rake of his time and the night must have its rakes, after all. 

               The characters who populated Samuel Foote's life reads like a whos who of the Georgian Era. If you were in Samuel Foote's little black book you were worth knowing, from the cream of the acting profession (in this era that profession was viewed as the home of wastrels and jackanapes.)although some of his fellow thespians were less than enamored by this one-man spitting image machine. He would write and perform satirical sketches based on events of the day, lampooning pomposity and class based entitlement making him the darling of the baying galleries who mercilessly wolfed down his razor sharp and precise witticisms.  Playful and wicked, bizzarrely heroic, he was loathed and admired, castigated and feted. A scandal generating "celebrity" who was giving birth to the nationally accepted notion of celebrity. his first truly major success being a detailed account of a murder which took place within his own extended family.A fratricide, a date with the gallows, the poor and the rich lapped it up in much the same way that todays red tops and scandal sheets masquerading as newspapers continue to do. 

                The misjudged and truthfully regretted practical joke which cost him his leg lifted him, after a hard won recovery, to even more success and a semi-protected status, in a truly mind boggling series of events.  It really is the most amazing story, this tale of a mercurial man living through the Georgian era of social and political upheaval.  He was eventually to be brought down by a sex scandal , when a surly ex-footman...re,footeman?..accused him of a lewd act, which resulted in a public trial that dominated the newsprint of the age, throwing shade on the then current dtails of the American War of Independence, which off course was not as interesting as a celebrity sex scandal...

               ..the more things change the more they stay the same...




Andy The Furniture Maker.


Many years ago, in the golden years of Channel Four's formative years, I saw this amazing documentary about andy, Andy the furniture maker of the title. A complete rascal of a fella, a cheeky hedonistic young vagabond, who would steal the eye out of your head and break your heart. i had not thought about it for decades and finding it on Youtube was a real joy. The years seemed to flashback, rewinding to a time I lived in my folks attic, drifting through my life, rudderless, directionless and happily stress free. Despite all the madness of those days, and I saw quite a bit of it, I never knew any better.

               I thought "well, this is what life is like."
               Which indeed it was.
              Its a great documentary about a cheekily free spirit who demonstrates surprising depths. There was something special about Andy. He had a touch of Ariel about him. A faerie sprite with a dirty mind and a dirty laugh. He was like a walking talking Smiths record sleeve, working class, witty and sexy, and not one to be nailed down by anyone. An absolute hand full off course but you had to love him.
                 Its a great piece of work by documentary film maker Paul Oremland. Quite bold for its day and a perfect little time capsule for days now long passed.
                 I wonder what became of Andy. Did he grew from a young bespoke furniture maker to a business man owning his own firm. With paperwork, employees and taxes to pay? its hard to picture him in such a scenario. Mind you, I suppose the younger me could not reconcile his older self being me.
                Not when that young man dreamed of trips to the moon.


Austerlitz.

Found this book on a post lockdown book ramble. Thought it had a very haunting cover, with this otherworldly child in a curious costume, looking like he was passing through our world on his way to some lost kingdom. Some photographs have that phenomenal aura a about them, particularly some older black and white prints. the title also caught my eye.  I vaguely remembered it from a  Youtube video by John Rogers, the London Perambulator man, who likes to take long walks in and about London, discovering lost or forgotten corners and sharing insights and stories, past histories and urban legends. The back catalogue of his recordings take up many, many hours on Youtube and are a remarkable archive, which are never a chore to watch. In fact they often feel like the ramblings of an old friend, as he shares his stories (his walks with Iain Sinclair are particularly interesting.) I remembered the name Austerlitz as having some connection to an old Jewish cemetery in London but could not remember the context. Anyway I picked up this copy of the book and it sat in a carrier bag next to a copy of Michael Moorcock's King Of The City which seem to yield a curious symmetry. 

              I am now so glad I did pick this very special book up. it is so beautifully written, with long rambling passages, the train of thought of a beautiful thinker. The book is not broken up into chapters which serves to make it a long continuous read. A recollection of conversations shared. Years and years of friendship and a search for a life not lived. 

              As a boy Austerlitz was smuggled out of Europe to escape the advancing Nazi horde. As a lonely snowy haired child he was adopted by a Welsh minister and his wife and brought up in a remote house by two equally remote adults. I do not know if smuggled is the right word,  evacuated or rescued would be more accurate, given shelter by a childless couple who were perhaps not suited for such a situation, though one cannot fault them for trying to provide a shelter for a lost boy. His previous identity was stripped away, reduced to a blank, with no one making a substantive effort to create a new one. Too young to form memories that would act as a foundation for what was to come Austerlitz grew unaware off all that had come before, as surely as if he had landed in a cornfield in Kansas after a long journey through space from the lost world of Krypton. The ghost of the person he might have been, dislocated, disconnected, cut asunder from those who birthed him, who might best have cared for him. The trauma of that seperation becomes the invisible ghostly companion that dogs the steps taken in his new life, whatever that might be, as he grew.

              And grow that child did indeed do, but really into a larger version of that boy in the costume. A brilliant scholar, filling his life with books and the observations of others. Offering him a life time of learning and reflection, everything from classical architecture to the life of silk worms and their relation to the construction and organisation of internment camps (Really....)His was a luminous intelligence, locked the a fragile human cage, gasping for understanding and at times paralysed by revelation.

               The book is illustrated by seemingly random pictures which are always pertinent to the dialogue. Like the fingerprints of a life lost and looked for, ghostly proof of the scene of a crime. The crime being man's inhumanity to man, the cruel indifference of man made systems. 

               Yet Austerlitz is also brave enough to ask other questions, one being was this life of academia actually a wasted life. Consider the many years of study by Austerlitz, filling notebooks with learned information, note books he eventually threw on a bonfire, lit during a breakdown. As if to eraze another lifetime the accumulated knowledge of a live not quite lived. Austerlitz seemed the embodiment of the lonely academic, the sad and distant face of the lonely scholar. Using knowledge as a shield to all the random collisions and casual brutalities of daily life the world over.

                He does manage to discover who he was born as, where he came from, and that knowledge comes as a fracturing collision, plummeting him into a lengthy state of ill health. His early life experiences do not prepare him with the ability to absorb that knowledge. Even personalities require foundations to carry the crushing weight of life. It needs something to rest upon. Childhood seeds the years and can bear a bounty of strange fruit. For a while he crashes and burns , a mental breakdown follows and his meandering recovery does take time. The undercurrents of this old life off ours can be treacherous and unpredictable and can ruin a person. mind you, it helps to have a few good friends along the way for times like this. 

             I would not wish to suggest to a possible reader that this book is simply dipped in melancholia,there is so much more going on in it. For me the only stretch in credulity was the detail of the vast stories recounted, the way in which the stories are remembered and relayed in quite beautiful detail. A court stenographer would have had his work cut out with Austerlitz's ramblings. Especially as there is no pausing for chapter breaks, barely a moment to draw a breath before recounting more. A prodigious memory, or perhaps the real storyteller.

              Find a space somewhere on your shelves for a copy of Austerlitz. find a home for his words, a place for him to be. something he searched for all is life. 

              Both of them. The boy he was and the man he almost became.



Jokers Wild.




 

Spirited Conversations.


 Sir John Dee and Edward Kelley invoke an otherworldly being, a spirit to act as an advisor or guide. The danger of such attempts in manifold. The most obvious one being the difficulty in telling the differerence between a sublime angelic being and a sly demon of ye olde schoole. 

                                      Tread warily, there are adders in the darke.

Elizabeth; Apprenticeship.


 Having sampled something of the life of the grizzly old lion I decided to have a look at the early years of The Lion's Cub. i thought i was fairly familiar with the details of the young queen's life having recently re-watched the seventies BBC production with Glenda Jackson in a career best. Yet this detailed book tells me there is always more to learn. The thing is, looking back on historical events is a done deal, all outcomes have been worked out, for good or ill. It is what it was.  And with a figure like Elizabeth the First, there were so many twists and turns, so many possible outcomes, one could fill a shelf with biographies, but it is David Starkey's which is in front of me. 
            As I said, looking back on events and thinking we understand all possible outcomes is a gift of hindsight. given the circumstances of Elizabeth's birth, the complicated nature of her parents relationship, it was by no means certain that she would ascend to the throne of England. It all seems so obvious now, that Elizabeth was to become the Faerie Queene, the most famous of all the kings and queens of england, rivalled in reverence only by Arthur the fictional king. 
             Hazardous is the word which springs to mind most readily upon learning of the early years of this young woman, a princess decreed illigitimate by virtue of her mother's fall from favour. Henry's passion for her mother tore the medieval world apart, but it was a passion that ended in bloody execution. Setting the template for how history would remember her father. Imagine growing up in the shade thrown by two such figures. Imagine the force of will it took to step out from that shadow. 
             Most of the book takes place before Elizabeth becomes queen. oh my giddy aunt, talk about your early years of struggle.  Always the focus of other peoples plans and schemes, the offsping of Henry Tudor and Anne Boleyn had to circumnavigate most treacherous waters. There were so many who just wished to use her as a stepping stone in their own ascent to power. This was the real game of thrones, played for real. The young Elizabeth had to use every ounce of her prodigious intelligence just to stay alive, to not go down in bloody complicity with those who schemed their way to the throne. 
             Who to trust?
              The great question of Elizabeth's life. 
              It is a great life story. One even more interesting than her own fathers. Perhaps it is because she had so many forces alligned against her. I suspect even in her early years, "weak and feeble" as she was percieved to be, every now and again a flash of Henry in her eyes would have reminded all she was the cub of a lion. As Hilary Mantel once mused through an observation by Thomas Cromwell "you can rub and stroke the royal fur 
but just imagine what those claws would do."
               I tried to imagine the suppressed rage of a young woman who would be reminded every day that her father had caused the death of her mother, that she had been unjustly disinherited and declared a bastard, who had been taken in and then abused by her uncle, who had been sent to the Tower of London, within walking distance of the very spot her mother had been beheaded. Then factor in a thousand daily sleights as she moved through her early years, treated as little more than a means to an end, and at the end of the day to sit upon the throne of England, Glorianna...
               Why her claws would give Shere Khan pause...




Henry Virtuous Prince.


 It was supposed to be Arthur the first born. It was in Arthur his father the king had invested the bulk of his hopes, to anchor the Tudor dynasty, to cement its in the shaky foundations. Named after the most famed ruler of Great Britain and destined to rule through a new golden age, an echo to a legendary time passed...

            Alas, the best laid schemes of mice, men and kings, gang aft-a-gley....

            And yet, for good or ill, Henry V!!! is one of the most enduring and iconic figures in the history of the monarchy and I also suppose, for good or ill, David Starkey is one of the most enduring writers on the subject of monarchy. He is possessed of a vast knowledge on the subject of the history of the rulers of the British Isles with seemingly a particular fascination for the Tudor dynasty and it is certainly understandable as it is an inexhaustible subject.The impact and the influence of this breath takingly dysfunctional family and their religion and politics continue to reverberate the generations that followed. Henry was not born to rule, that honor had been intended for his older sibling who died but five months in his marriage to Catherine Of Aragon, throwing his father's plans into disarray. He not only loved his eldest son but he needed him to cement the hard won and delicately balanced union between the empires of Spain and Great Britain. Its how they did things in those days. Shared blood lines were the very best form of contract, keeping the hoi poloi on top. David Starkey manfully grapples with the early years of Henry's kingship, an attempt to resurrect a golden era of heraldry and the more romantic and idealised notions of monarchy, a new Arthur indeed. The young Henry was the envy of Europe, a ruler the many kingdoms of that troubled continent would have been proud to lead them, an upright, powerful and virtuous prince., before the corruption set in, which would warp this promising prince into a disease filled pyscopath. Here was a living breathing example of the time worn trope that ultimate power will corrupt ultimately, as one charts his journey from aspiring rightful ruler to selfish despotic and sadistic brute. 

              I cannot help but come to the conclusion that there was a pathologically murderous streak of insecurity running like a ripe vein through the blood stream of the Tudors. i suppose their claim to the throne was so tenuous that it could be rightfully said that many of those who hung like ermine draped vultures about the throne had stronger claims to that position. most interestingly about this book is also the rise of Cardinal Wolsey, friend and mentor to the young king, the man who would serve him most loyally and be abandoned most profoundly. Henry killed a lot of his friends and indeed his lovers. Literally mad, bad and dangerous to know.The Tudor's throw shade on anyone else's claim to courtly infamy. And by all accounts David Starkey knows his stuff, he even acted as a special advisor on the television series The Tudors, although that struck me a bit of a mix of bawdy carry on movie and Dawson's Creek. Perhaps Carry On Dawson's Creek. 

             Really dis enjoy this book and learning the details of the earlier period of Henry VIII's life. When you spring from a family tree like The Tudors it is usually the people you know who will be the death of you. Yet it was Henry who made everyone else a pawn on the board of his life, not a man to be checkmated. 

              Henry was no pawn in anyone else's game.

              A game he sought to win by flipping the board.




Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Mister Foote's Other Leg.

                                                               (From my Sketch book.)

Elder God in The Waterworks.

                                                            (From my Sketchbook.)

War Master; Anti-Genesis.

Off all the incarnations of The Master this itteration is the one most likely to take that step, to do something even The Daleks in all their marinated malice shied back from doing.And there are things too terrible even for them...Which is where this story just begins. It was off course The Time Lords who fired the first shot in what was to become known as The Time War. Sending The Doctor back in time , snatching him, Harry and sarah Jane mid trans mat between Nerva Beacon and the future Earth, to deposit them on the edge of a minefield on war ravaged Skaro.  in doing so they probably made the Daleks even more demented in their hatred for all things other than Dalek. Because of this misguided attempt to make the universe a safer place they set in motion events which would shake the very firmament.
              The best laid plans of mice, men and Timelords Gang aft agley, as they say.
              This is a bold story decision by Big Finish. Not just to revisit a classic story , which for many was the very high point of the original series. only The Master would take things this far. Not just to affect the genetic evolution of The Daleks but to steer them in a particular way, to tame the beast and direct it. And while at first things do indeed appear to be going the way he desired things do indeed go pretty disastrously awry. The hubris on display is satanic.
               Pluck at the threads of any vast tapestry and no matter how intrically woven it might appear it will begin to unravel. Derek Jacobi's interpretation is so arch, so spot on in Machivellian terms that he often dominates any scene he is in to the point where his is the only voice in the room, quite magnificent actually. A true fallen angel with all the terrifying connotations that implies. Narvin has also become one of the very best supporting characters, easily holding his own.
               There has been a long standing tradition in the canon of Doctor Who when a incarnation of The Doctor turns up he can expect a helping hand. When it happens to The Master, when two of his own incarnations find themselves in the same room, he better watch his back.
               Both of them.

Strange Angel; The Otherworldly Life Of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons.

Talk about starting off with a bang. "ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN EXPLOSION." ran the leader headline on the cover of The Los Angeles Times for june 18th 1952. Reporting that American rocket engineer Jack Parsons had died after the explosion at his home that was most likely an accident at his home laboratory.he was only 37 years old...
             "Jack" Parsons was a born Rocket Boy. A pioneer in his field, inspired by the Science Fiction writers of his youth, he would grow to adulthood an inveterate exploder; constantly combining the most combustible of chemicals and ingredients, never always safe to be around but always interesting. He applied this doctrine to his personal life as much as his working and scientific one. As a young rebellious man he dabbled in Marxism and the shadow of this period was to be thrown over his search for work in the Mc Carthy Witch Hunt era. Yet it was his political leanings which were to lead him to a period of estrangement from The Powers That Be. Odd, considering how he was drawn to occultism and strange faiths. Even converting to Thelema, a new religous movement created by Aleister Crowley himself.the Big Bad; The wickedest Man In The World, ahem. Jack Parsons prospered in this new faith as he moved to live in their temple /lodge to assume leadership of its californian branch. There were even those who suggested something of a conspiracy theory linking his death to his Black magic exploits. Ah well, how could such a life be led without the odd, er,odd rumour.
              That period of american history is a particularly interesting one, swept along with an ever expanding wave of optimism. It was a great opening up period, with many maverick scientists, pioneering engineers and writers broadening genres across the board. Jack Parsons got to meet, mix and work with many luminous minds of the location and era; Le Sprague deCamp, Robert Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard and Forest J Ackerman. Doc Savage and his chums spring to mind. . If you, as a reader, are interested in Outre Americanna or are perhaps lured into picking this book up thanks to an eye catching Howard Stark like scientist on the cover, then you will most likely enjoy this book. If you long for the days with "proper" scientists wearing bow ties and starched white lab coats who smoked pipes, then this is also for yourself.
              Jack Parsons, the Strange Angel, fell brutally to earth in the end, but for a while he flew..
              If only in short rocket propelled bursts.


The Brothel In Rosenstrasse; an Extravagant Tale.

The aristocatic Von Bek looks back on his hedonistic days living in a brothel during the siege of the city of Mirenberg, a beautiful fairy tale city that only ever existed in the mind of Michael Moorcock.(Surely an alternative reality if ever there was one.) The Count and his fellow travelers find a temporary refuge there as the siege canons pound the city to dust and rubble. It becomes a microcosm of the later conflicts to come as hedonism and self reverence prove no armour to fascistic designs. While not quite the hedonistic hell of Salo, 120 Days Of Sodom, it does feel like a passport stamp along the way. It is not for the faint hearted or the easily offended but then what would such a person be doing in a brothel.
             I understand that the character of The Count Von Bek is a recurring character but not having read any other books with him in it, this is the only one by which I may judge him. He does not emerge as an entirely likeable man but he does come out feeling like a real one. He certainly is driven by the contrariness of masculine identity. and fueled by the lies we tell ourselves. The self reverence that masquerades as "virtue" when they are just excuses for wanting our own way, and our compulsions for getting it. Stew that in a heady cauldron of eighteenth century class politics and the Green Card of wealth and you end up with a lusty man boy used to getting his own way. This is a full on erotic memoir, very "A Remembrance Of Things Shagged." as the aged and most likely dying Count looks back on this period of his life. Spending his days and nights reveling, and to a degree unraveling, in the lost splendor of a pulverised fantasy city that is all Renaissance art, architecture, statues and fountains, like a European city sleeping restlessly and dreaming of its youth. Before it got stamped on by the boot of the bully boys.
            Within the walls of the brothel there are many walking wounded and innocence is a commodity, to be  bargained and priced, bought and paid for. There are some very complex relationships at play within the pages of the book, with history and hindsight as seen through the prism of what the Count wanted and what and who The Count got. lovers betray lovers, it is a cruel game. And yet one of the most lingering impressions is that of the notion of forgiveness being possible as one of the characters is let down, almost abandoned, yet still finds the capacity, the grace to forgive. Not that it is even called that, nor sadly even accepted, the very concept being so extraordinary, and in this case, socially extravagant.
            I was reminded

The Ballad Of Halo Jones.

I could not resist these three volumes of The Ballad Of Halo Jones despite still having the three large format Titan Editions (Still sitting next to a couple of Titan's Charley's War. They look fantastic in stark black and white in that format even after all these years.) These new editions are so tastefully reproduced and the smell is of newness while the stories within remain timeless.
             Halo's stories are so engaging  and the world of 50th century Earth is so convincingly realised by its creative team, from the way people talk, to the clothing, architecture and vechile design, it feels as close to a magic spell bringing a new world to life as you can get with pen, ink and paper. Alan moores writing needs no introduction but the sublime Ian Gibson warrents one. His vision of the future, from the squalor of The Hoop to the startling alien quality of the planet Moab, we go on a journey across Gibson's reality, full on proper universe building. The combination of tight script and awesome visuals weaves a spell over the reader that will go some way to confirming the existance and power of Mages. speaking of "weaving", i still get shudders when I think of the heavily webbed cover of 2000AD prog#466, with Halo and her dead friends struggling in a nightmare web with a terrifying Tarantula creeping towards them. The stuff of nightmares, arachnophobic or otherwise.
            You know, generally when I read someone waxing nostagically about a comic strip they have read and remember fondly, it usually comes with the memory of staying with a beloved grand parent, or perhaps enjoyed at a holiday home where they felt safe. its all fish fingers, beans and The Generation Game, you follow me? And I mean that kindly, memory palaces should be good places to visit.  When I read the run of 2000ADs where Halo enlisted, fighting gravity as much as Tarantulan sympathisers, alongside Life Sentence and poor doomed Toy, it was a late weekday night, there were riots in the streets outside my house. I could hear the roar of mobs, rioters who were throwing petrol bombs and rocks and any kind of bottle that might break, all proceeded by the unforgettable sound of bin-lids being bashed against pavements (the real reason plastic wheelie bins were invented!) which were a street warning of army raids and a call to the barricades. A horrible sound like the end of the world. Maybe that is why the covers featuring Halo are so memorable to me. Maybe not, they would in any case remain memorable as they said so much and were so craftily rendered, witty, dark and poignant.
            The Halo Jones saga was never completed. Of the proposed nine volumes only three were finished, some creative ownership differences I have heard. Knowing the integrity of the creative team I am sure they had their reasons. At the end of volume three Halo sailed out into the great unknown in a stolen starship, out there into the vastness of unspoken imagination.
             Those stories will never be told, but the ones we know will last forever.

Fury From The Deep.

Delighted to this image at last. I have been waiting expectantly to see how they were going to package this story. I have been looking forward to it for all kinds of reasons, mostly since it only exists in my head as a mix of the old Target novelization and an audio reading of it by Tom Baker which I own on cassette.(Remember that old format?) As such I have imagined it on a grand scale which is odd for me as I usually try to imagine lost stories with budget restrictions in mind... Even remembering in black and white.
        And was gifted one of these beautiful second Doctor sets, with a ragged doctor and a War Games era Tardis.  The kind of serendipity which constantly surrounds the worlds of Doctor Who.

Making Oscar Wilde.

                      "..Youth, there is nothing like youth. Youth is the lord of life. Youth has a kingdom
                                        waiting for it." Oscar Wilde. A Woman Of No Importance.
Oscar Wilde wrote these words and they were first heard during the performance of his play a Woman Of No Importance. It  might well have served as a rallying cry for the whole aesthetic movement and their obsession with all things beautiful.Certainly it may well have gone some way to inspiring a young a vital Oscar Wilde to take a trip to the Americas in search of a destiny still taking shape in his imagination. Not entirely sure what it was he was seeking, only that it would be beautiful, no matter how transient. Oscar sets off on a journey that spawns continents and in many ways centuries, or at least the period leading up to the end of one century and the beginning of another. The centuries turn, stumbling on calf legs into a new age of wonders, tumbling towards modernity or at least a semblance of such.
              I have read other biographies of Wilde, looking at the course of his life from different perspectives and this one took me down a road I had not known off. Certainly not in this detail, examining in exquisite detail the gestation period in a foreign landscape of the artiste, of the Wildean figure self conjured and ready for the ages. Michelle Mendelsshon has indeed researched this detailed and beautifully crafted biography and in so doing unearths a treasure trove of lost and forgotten and probably deliberately neglected moments in the glittering foundations of his career, bits that twinkle and shine, buried beneath the weight of what was to follow. The Great British empire is beginning to totter while the new , and getting newer all the time, world of America is really coming into its own. The Babel like firmament being laid for a new empire with Oscar looking for a place in the court of the King.
               Paradigms shift and change, Class and colour, old and new, the common and the unique, its a moveable feast on a star spangled table cloth. Wilde sensed it, sensed the potential of this new age and was determined to put a stamp on it. He just had not decided what that stamp would look like. Ever a work in progress, inventing himself as he went along, holding a mirror up to america, but only seeing his own face reflected back at him(Quite his favourite view, truth be told.) Michelle Mendelssohn has found a perspective, a way of looking back that does great honor to its neglected sources. wait til you see some of the truly provocative pieces of art she found, to better convey the complexity, and at times brute ignorance, of the times. They were harsh, judgemental, brutal and unforgiving. Guess the wheel has turned full circle. Its this area where the dream of the aesthetics always falls down for me. A hungry person standing in the gutter staring at the stars still has an empty belly. Every view of the world is vastly improved on a full stomach.
               Some of the illustrations she has unearthed in this biography are truly eye popping, startling to me that I had never seen them before. they make for uncomfortable viewing and as such they should not be forgotten, . Some of the advertising artwork and posters for performances and products convey an unsubtle and unashamed racism and homophobia, quite hideously so. Such were the times. The continent may well have been re-inventing itself but old prejudices die hard and their death throes can last decades. 
               Wilde found a worldly nobility in the ordinary, elevating things to an unreaslistic level. He might well have have been sincere in his aspirations , but what place has sincerity in the hallowed arts of the aesthetes...
                A great book though, travelling along the roads less traveled but in such company...

              

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Caravagio.

Caravagio; a Novel by Robert Payne is an ex-library book I picked up from one of their sales oh so long ago. well thumbed and a little dog eared it suited me just fine. i do not think it had been borrowed for quite some time before it ended up in the sale, or else it was returned to them by some one who was really, really tardy. Anyway, the unspoken journey of books is all up in the air, it could have come from anywhere, could have belonged to anyone. Like the great gifts that make an artist what he, or she, is.
              Caravagio's real name was Michelangelo Menisi, but he took the name of the town he was born into.I suppose there was no point being another Michaelangelo in much the same way few new artists call themselves Bowie. The fame of the other person bearing those names is unrepeatable. It would be like trying to catch a lightning bolt in a butterfly net.
              At nineteen years old it is said Caravagio opined that a painter at that age knows all he needs to know. By the time he had reached the end of his apprenticeship he had escaped from the murderous attack of robbers, survived the plague and any number of daily hardships which are a person's lot in life, then and now.. then much more so than now. Life was hard and short for rich and poor alike, apprentice, painter or Pope, everyone got it hard. Caravagio understood this and learned to live with it, enjoying the fleeting moments of pleasure, again and again. Talk about mad, bad and dangerous to know. He possessed a quick fire temper and also the swordsmanship to do something other than threaten. yet he was also possessed of an incredible talent, a masterful grasp of  painting. froman early age he displayed prodigious talent. over time his genius brought him admiration ,and for intervals,the lavish patronage of nobles and churchmen. but his recklessness and volatile personality would also bring him great suffering and eventually exile, before an untimely death far from his birth place and those who perhaps understood his passion's best. Yet he led a life of extraordinary adventure, creating legendary works of art that would outlive Empires. He was a stand out personality in a great city blossoming through a renaissance of art and culture.
             Robert Payne's novel captures the spirit of that age with alacrity. some chapters of the painter's life feel breathlessly delivered, with almost any possibly being his last, such were some of the adversaties he was forced to overcome, not all off which he was able to. Commiting terrible offences, including murder, he was forced on different occasions to uproot and flee. Even escaping from a prison in a fashion that would not have seemed out of place in Dumas. the Devil of course, is in the details and Caravagio is the very devil. robert Payne evokes the setting masterfully, with an almost audible clatter of wagon wheels on cobblestones and the lively tumult of the Italian Renaisance crowds, capturing the beauty, pain and complexity of the era.
              I saw one of his paintings once, long ago in a gallery in Dublin. I was struck by its size and the black, black, blackness that people seemed to bob in, like a sentient ink. Caravagio understood perfectly how to use that darkness to draw the gaze, to focus the eye in whichever way he wished.
             Born to darkness, he had no fear off it.

Mother London.

It has been some time since i have been so affected on an emotional level by a novel as I was by this wonderful book by Michael Moorcock. While reading it, and enjoying doing so, I found there were chapters I just did not want to end. The prose was so compelling, the characterization so strong, it felt like a series of unfolding memoirs. Michael Moorcock has so masterfully constructed (If that is not to workmanlike a description for such humane poetry at play) a sprawling and complicated work of fiction that feels almost alchemical in its immensity. as I neared the end of the book I found myself wanting it to go on just a bit longer so that I might spend some more time in the company of these wonderful creations, these endearing people and these interesting places.
            There is a feeling I get sometimes when i read Shakespeare, or William Blake, when I roll the text over in my head. It feels like the touch of the warm sun on ones upturned face, catching the rays between the clouds. When it is possible to put aside the worries of the day, to appreciate the complexities for the sum of what they are, to believe just for a moment in the sublime mysteries, that it might be possible to speak into being a way of living at peace with the world. i have no wish to diminish the extraordinary gift of some of Michael Moorcock's prose by clunkily describing its effect, and boy, I am as clunky as The Iron Giant.
             Much like the city this novel is set in, and about, this isa vast undertaking. As the reader finds oneself buffeted through time as much as space. Although it is quite a complex piece of work it flutters with all the enthusiasm of a Silver Jubilee bunting, dancing with all the unfettered joie de vivre of a blizt blown kerchief, dancing in the incendiary winds of the past.
             And London is a city with one hell of a past. Perhaps more Hells and Heavens than most major cities. If one is interested at all in the psychogeography of any major city then this is a book for your shelf. A city like London is off course a work in progress, one that never ends as its inhabitants and its many eras pass. But it is in the unearthing, the great joy of the undertaking, when it comes into its own. the joy of the dance as much as the joy of the music, Take a long dander in the company of Michael Moorcock into the eco system of a great city, feel its pulse, know that it is alive, never more so than when it is sleeping, when it dreams. With so vast a living organism as London surely it is not too much to believe that occasionally a great city dreams its fictional inhabitants into becoming reality. It is not an common thing for a reader like myself, prone to sprnding long periods alone but always intrigues by the lives of others, can come across a character or a person we wish were not fictional. such is the case with the characters in this novel, as well rounded and believable as anything in Charles Dicken's.work. Their creation so mired in our own humane fallibility and bitter sweet fragility they are surely real on some familiar plain of existence, at least something like our own.
              It was on another level a really interesting way to experience the novel as seen through the various POVs of people who hear voices as they try to get through their days. Three hyper perceptive telepaths who in turn are forced to meditate and even medicate to have some semblance of a rational existence. As the reader you actually have a taste of what this must be like for them. The narrative is broken up so we jump back and fourth along their timeline we sometimes experience their outcomes before they do. it is not always pleasant and adds a fission of melancholy to unfolding events.
             A wonderful work. i feel enriched just having finished it.
             Also felt like laughing and crying at the same time.
             It is that sort of experience.

Rain.

Yet another ground breaking and entertaining graphic novel by living legend Bryan Talbot, another superb piece that would grace any bookshelf it sits upon. This one written by his wife Mary. The second time the couple have cooperated on a comic book work, the other being the highly regarded and rather special  The Dotter of Her Father's Eyes. Bryan Talbot is something of a national treasure (a notion that would probably make an artist of his stature and regard  cringe but I speak on an emotional level. He just is.)
          Take the opening pages of Rain as an example of that;you flip open the book to see a two page spread, a view of a distant moorland, a beautifully understated piece of art where one can almost feel the wild wind come off the page accompanied by the pitter patter of heavy raindrops on scattered moorland boulders. three pages later we are dislocated, for narrative reasons, through time and space to a valley in southern america , only to move past those pages two centuries later to be confronted with an enviromental disaster that were the 2015 floods in northern England. it is ambitious but handled delicately with Mary Talbot's scripting. what a bittersweet thing it is then to watch the love blossom between the two women as nature itself buckles and twists in artificially induced spasms. go look up some of the photographs of destruction caused by the flooding, the sight of small towns and villages, rural homes, engulfed in flood water. they are just heart breaking.
            Rain centres on one relatively, in the world wide scheme of natural mismanagement, example of moorland ownership by an "elite" , for want of a more user friendly and simple euphemism, group that impacts catastrophically on those people living under the surrounding hills. the whole ecosystem of the surrounding landscape thrown a googlie by clay shooters greedily hellbent on riddling the wildlife with undiscriminating abandon. its class based and idiot driven, the last vestiges of a cultural tradition as crustily bourgeoisie as it is unpleasant.
             It is a non linear tale but never over complicated, nor is it preachy. it gently unfolds and we learn as we go along the simple fact that while things are rarely simply they are neither too complex to fix or understand. There a nice group of friends at the heart of this tale, a little kooky, but then lovers often are.
             The sea, sun and sky that surround us are all that we have.
             We need to learn to love them a bit more.
             Even though they will never truly love us back.
             Appreciation and coexistence is enough for now and always.
       
   

Body Alchemy.

I have a new short story in issue#14 of Phatasmagoria magazine. A story about a young man from Belfast who returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a changed man, in some worse ways than others. As always this magazine is chock full of enough stuff to make it worth picking up, regardless of my yarn.

Pop Poe.

Poor old Efgar Allen Poe, he did not have the happiest of lives. Life put him through the wringer, sharpening and refining his genius, filling his ink well with as much sorrow as ink. and now, all these years later. he has been reborn for a new generation as a Pop figure.
            I think they have ended up making him look like a teacher from The Umbrella academy.

Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem (Revisited.)

In his day, on top of his game, Dan Leno was described as "The funniest Man alive", probably by himself, such was his impish self promotion, although in all honesty was no more than a self fulfilling projection of the esteem, love and affection his audiences felt for him.And such affection was hard won. These people led exceptionally hard lives, day to day existance in Victoria's London for those near the bottom of the rigidly class based social hierarchy. Life expectancy was short, people played hard any opportunity they got.
            Yet a performer of Dan Leno's many abilities, who constantly grafted to improve and refine his act, had the power to lift them from the brutal niches they were forced to live in. For a short spell he could distract them from the grim daily grind. He had the power to make them laugh, to make them cry, but with joy.  His mimicry of the many characters who would have filled their lives made him one of their own, in a sense, all off their own. Gifting them the joy of the moment, a relief from casual brutality.
            But off course, there was brutality to go back to and sometimes even the most hardened of Victorians could be shocked by the scale of such brutality. Almost a decade before the more infamous Jack The Ripper Whitechapel murders there were a series of equally shocking crimes, attributed in this era to the mysterious and inexplicable "Limehouse Golem." in this book Peter Ackroyd takes us into the world of the Victorian music hall, gas lit and gin soaked, bawdy, bad and beautiful. He blends fiction and reality, the dreamscape and nightmare country of the age, in a way most peculiar to historical storytelling. Peter Ackroyd navigates the dark waters of the East End, mustering affection but not shy of its horrors. he recreates an extraordinary city scape, bringing it alive as one turns the pages. It is not at all always a pleasant journey to go on, this is not some touristy Ripper Walking Tour where one can pop into a bar along the way for some beery relief. We are drawn on and on and down and dirty into a nightscape more From Hell than Oliver The Musical. Peter Ackroyd introduces us to this gas light and flickering music hall world of Victorian clowns and performers, peeling off the make up to reveal the many grinning and gurning skulls beneath. It is not for the faint-hearted...
             That is history for you.Where did a faint heart ever get anybody?



The House Of Doctor Dee (Revisited.)

Reread a couple of Peter Ackroyd books recently. He has a very nice section of books in the room where I keep them. His work is always rewarding and more than bears up to rereading ,with layers of information like rich seams never quite worked out, so to speak. I discovered this with his books Hawksmoor and Chatterton when revisited.( But not so much with The Last Will And Testament Of Oscar Wilde, which of all his really work I would have expected to reward most.. Tra lal la...perhaps third time lucky, one does not like to give up even on the ghost of Oscar Wilde.)
             Love the cover of this edition of the book. It is a copy of the portrait of John Dee which hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. I do not know who painted it. He has the sort of face I would have imagined of one hanging around on the fringe of the Elizabethan Court, or a Tiger Lillies gig ( a gig is a live musical presentation that involves a gathering of people, yes, I know, who have come together to listen to music they like to listen to. People used to do this frequently in Olden Times.) John Dee looks most august, he has the eyes of a man who knows things one probably should not, as though he has peaked behind the curtain of creation. this was after all a man who conversed with angels, possibly demons. using an Irishman, Edward Kelly, as his medium, his scryer, communicating with angels through a dark mirror.
              John Dee was once imprisoned in The Tower Of London, sent there by the will of Queen Mary, the original Bloody Mary., Queen Elizabeth's older sister, daughter to Henry Vlll. Imprisoned there around the same time as Elizabeth herself, for daring to project a horoscope, detailing the passing of the former and the ascent of the latter.These were dangerous times to be a royal, with family members being the main threat to ones future.
             The novel straddles centuries, from the london of the sixteenth century to the London of the present day. As a young man takes ownership of the house of his deceased father, an old house in Clerkenwell. The house of Doctor John Dee. A house filled with secrets now owned by a man made of secrets. This is dark stuff, with dark magicks soaked into the very foundations.
              Much like the city of London itself.

Flea in Yer Ear.

                                 ..Really missed you. Please, c'mon in, sit down, lets catch up...

Thursday, 5 March 2020

At Childhoods End.


Just finished Sophie Aldred's book and i have to say I think she did a fantastic, or should that be brilliant , job of bringing two very different eras of Doctor Who, especially in terms of being a novel, a book, rather than an audio adventure or a television series. As it was in this medium that kept the show alive during its "wilderness" years. Certainly the spirit of the show, its drive to reinvent itself, exploring pastures new but remaining true, all the while, to its beloved roots. that is a hell of a lot of continuity to juggle and yet sophie Aldred pulls it all off with a lightness of touch that allows readers unfamiliar with it all to enjoy the read with the information supplied. you do not have to be a Big Finish collector or a full on Who expert to jump into this big adventure unfettered by a slavish devotion to an ever changing ever evolving narrative.
              At Childhood's end tells a huge story, bridging time and space, how could Dorothy's story do any less? Ace's journey from a mad eyed, and frequently annoying, teen side kick, to a mature real world heroine was a long and winding road that she was lucky to survive. Her yellow brick road through the canyons of time did not lead to an emerald city but not so very far from the Gherkin...so to speak. In the end, which is no where in sight, her life has been a series of stops and goes, hard endings and new beginnings.This is the doctor's companion with the longest and most complicated histories, ranging across all mediums The Doctor has existed in. Television, books and comic strips, audio adventures on tape and Dd and now onto Bluray. always running, dodging death at every turn, leaping over cancellation and onto the launch of a medium into which some of The Doctor's greatest tales were told: Big Finish. riding the coat tails of the greatest fictional character of them all. Which is not to diminish her own character arc in any way, her own fictional life being more than the shadowplay thrown by the brightest star.
              At Childhood's end shows a great understanding of the character and history of Ace and the unsettling nature of the Seventh's Doctors Machievellen relationship with her. He was a master, a grand master, so to speak, of fifth dimensional chess and tended to treat everyone as a pawn in a very dangerous and seemingly never ending game. Especially those he cared for. As if this was the price he paid for having the temerity to have "friends." That little umbrella twirling trickster could be cruel.. Ace took as much of it as she could before being pushed too far, amidst a heap of centaur corpses. Not being a creature of infinite regeneration there was only so much she could take. She ran far away and started a new life for herself. One in which she could assert some control of her own life. But the past has a way of catching up with her and the past and present eventually collide with a boom,
            Like Nitro-9.
            Hats off to Sophie Aldred, for although the bulk of the story is set up and seen through the prism of Ace she does not neglect the other characters in her story. Even injecting the character of present telly incarnation Yaz with some much needed character development. Yaz finds herself in much the same  place as Rose did with Sarah-Jane in School Renion as old companion meets new. Micky Smith would have a right laugh at this pairs expense. Ryan still carries on as though he were in an episode of Hollyoaks that happens to have aliens in it. The Ratts are very Ogron like, foot soldiers for a more maelevolent intelligence.
            Oh Sarah-Jane, felt such a twinge of missing an old friend as I typed that...
            This book is a very enjoyable read, full of subtle classic Doctor Who references. I particularly liked the location of Deavesham Village, the epitome of quaint English villages that hide extraterrestrial secrets. Arthur Dent might have lived here, John Steed might have had a cottage there, Bernard Quatermass could have retired there. None of them did, of course. but allow me that. Yet the book is self contained enough to function in its own right. A fast, engaging read by an actress who has added another arrow to her quiver..                 One that belongs to Sophie Aldred and not Lady Peinforte...ahem.