Bill Withers: Ain’t No Sunshine


They’re talking about him in the context of ‘Lean on Me’, his only British hit and a fine song, but Bill Withers, who has left us aged 81, also wrote ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’, which gave Michael Jackson one of his earliest hit singles over here, but his original was infinitely superior (not that Jackson’s fans will ever agree).

But Withers was a veteran, with a deep voice and one in which a wealth of experience lay, audible in every syllable. Jackson sung a song, but Withers felt it, in every dark second of the loss it portrayed.

By one more degree we who are left move deeper into that dark for which there is no sunshine.

Felicitations: Farewell Julie Felix


Two deaths in a day brings back uncomfortable reminders of 2016, when the gifted seemed to be dying in batches. As well as Albert Uderzo, I now learn that we have lost the gentle and lovely Julie Felix, at the age if 81.

Julie’s chart career cnsisted of two singles, only one of which, a cover of a Paul Simon song from Bridge over Troubled Water got as high as no. 19. But I never associated her with pop, nor did she. The lady sang folk, with long dark hair, a flashing smile and an acoustic guitar. I saw more of her, perhaps, in those last days before I finally started listening to the radio, on TV shows like David Frost and her own BBC series.

And Ed Stewart would regularly play ‘Goin’ to the Zoo’, her most well-known song, on Junior Choice at weekends.

To be truthful, I know and remember very little of her music, but I remember her so well from those last days of musical ignorance. She was pretty and bright and you enjoyed her songs because she was full of a joyful energy of which there’s been a dearth for oh so very long, and now it’s a world with no Julie Felix in it and that brngs me nothing but sorrow.

Ave Albert


It’s just been announced that Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Asterix and Obelix with the late Rene Goscinny, has died at the age of 92. He’d long since passed the reins on Asterix to other hands, for good or ill. No matter that the strip was never as fiunny or sharp again after Goscinny, Uderzo had the absolute right to continue their creation, and his art never lost the confidence and seemingly effortless grace he brought to the Gauls. Quite simply, he was a genius and once again the world is colder and darker place without him.

I’m trying to think of a way to work a “These Romans are crazy” line in, but i can’t. It is us who are crazy, but no amount of tapping a finger against your head will make it funny.

A Manchester Expedition


I don’t usually categorise my monthly trips into Manchester City Centre as Expeditions but, in the current climate, they feel like the exception rather than the rule: I doubt I’ll be going further afield for some time. Buttermere in July or thereabouts might be over-optimistic.

There isn’t much to go out for anyway. I’m seldom there more than a couple of hours. It’s a for-once stress free ride in on the 203, whose driver was kind enough to wait at the stop for me as I struggled to ‘run’ with my right knee gypping me badly.

Town was still crowded but the crowds were much thinned out from the normal. My inexpert eye suggested maybe a third down, but I got to a cashpoint with no queuing, and I walked unhindered through the normal squash-points on Oldham street

There are usually three stops. There’s the big Oxfam Shop pn Oldham Street where I comb the second-hand DVDs, which are now 99p or two for £1.49. They had the complete Third Season of Breaking Bad which, for all its reputation, I have never seen. I wouldn’t (and won’t) start with Season 3 (right now I haven’t got the free time to start season 1), but for 99p it’s the basis to start a collection.

The main reason for my visit was going to Forbidden Planet. They had two of my regular order reserved for me, but I’d hoped to pick up the first issue of a new, 12-issue series by Tom King that appeared last week. Hoever, it’s sold out both at Planet and its nearer, newer rival, Travelling Light.

So I went acrss the road to Pizza Hut where I was seated immediately, though that proved nothing about the crowds or otherwise, because the times I go, it’s very rare I have to wait. A leisurely tuna and red onion pizza later, I set off back. Incidentally, for the first time in years, I was not offered a free salad bowl. Is this a sign of the times, or a slip by a young and sweet-faced server?

There was a disturbing and disgusting gathering in Piccadilly Gardens, some white thugs ‘exposing’ Muslim Grooming Predators. I bet they werebn’t saying anything about the far more prevalent White Grooming Predators, but then truth and reality have never played any part in racism. Bastards.

On the way home, I stopped off at the Gorton Tescos. I didn’t need much and i didn’t venture among the pasta and toilet rolls but i didn’t see any soigns of locusts stripping shelves where I shopped and I had to go almost all the way round the store.

Waiting at the bus stop outside, I noticed a group of children playing silly buggers at the traffic lights, on a busy four-lane traffic artery, with one boy, who can’t have been more than ten years old deliberately running across in front of traffic. It’s at times like that that some of the forgotten practices of the Fifties that we don’t usually endorse, because back then, half a dozen blokes and houeswives would have grabbed them, given them a swift belt round the ear and told them to bugger off hme before they got themselves killed.

Thirty seconds later, I’m gathering my bag when there’s a cry from two of the other people in the queue, blokes who would have been ear-belting when I was that age. The boy had come within two seconds of being knocked down and kill and I was not looking, which in its way is the best things that happened during this ‘Expedition’. I shalln’t be going out again until Sunday.

An Incredible Temptation


As a long term Dan Dare fan, an unbelievable opportunity has come up. In 2017, B7 Media recorded and released six audio adventures, freely adapted and modernised from Dan Dare’s adventures in ‘Eagle’. They’re now trying to crowdfund a third set of three via Indigogo, the first of which is my favourite Dare story, All Treens Must Die.

There is an opportunity for one person – just one person – to actually play a role in ‘All Treens Must Die’.

Though the synopsis makes it plain that this story bears very little resemblance to the 20 episode story by David Motton and Keith Watson, this is All Treens Must Die. All Treens Must Die. The desire to be a part of this, in however small a role, be actually enter the world and Universe of Dan Dare: i literally cannot say how much that would mean to me.

No-one’s taken it up. No-one’s beaten me to the punch. I could grab that now. If I could afford to spend £500 for the privilege.

There have been times in my life when I could have done that. If anyone ut there wants a complete collection of Dave Sim’s Cerebus 1-300 plus extras, several (including no. 1) signed by Sim and, where relevant, Gerhard, you can have the lot for £500 (and postage).

But I don’t have the money now. Just an incredible temptation.

Sometimes, smart ideas…


…don’t make you feel inspired, they make you feel dumb, as in, how dumb am I not to have thought of that before? I had one of those today. Fortunately, for my wounded feelings of smartness, it turned out the idea was impractical in the first place.

It’s all about a day out. Last summer, I got from Manchester to Glenridding and back, including trips each way on the Ullswater Steamer, in a day. I started thinking about whether I could get even further afield. It appeared that Buttermere was possible, and would even be very easy if I were to go up one afternoon and stay in either Penrith or Keswick overnight.

At the moment, it looks like being something that I can’t free up time for until July and the start of the new holiday year.

Then, thinking about it this morning, I suddenly thought: You Idiot! The mainline through Ambleside and Penrith isn’t the only railway line through the Lakes, there’s the coast line, through places like Whitehaven and Workington: the bus journeys from there to Buttermere will be so much shorter and easier (if not quite so appealing in terms of the countryside you pass through).

What a maroon. What an ultra-maroon.

This was a brilliant idea. Until I checked Cumbria County Council’s Bus Timetables and learned there are NO bus services from Whitehaven or Workington into Buttermere. As far as I can tell, the only bus service to Buttermere comes from Keswick over Honister Pass.

Back to Square one, people.

The Three Aspects of Roman Polanski


Polish-born Film Director Roman Polanski, aged 86, is once again the subject of controversy in respect of his nomination for, and subsequent award of a prestigious Cesar Award for his latest film, J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy). Polanski was given Best Director at the French equivalent of the Oscars for a film about the Dreyfuss affair, in which he has in interviews compared himself to the film’s leading character, stating an affinity with a man falsely accused of crime and punished for it for long years.

I’m not here to comment on the validity of the award. It may be perfectly right and only fair to give Polanski the Director due recognition. But Polanski the Director is inseperable from Polanski the Man. And Polanski the Man comes with an indelible history.

To state the facts: in 1977 Polanski formed a friendship with a 13 year iold girl, in which he was encouraged by her mother. Polanski then took the girl to his home, without a chaperone, and gave her both drinks and drugs. He then had sexual intercourse with the girl, vaginally, orally and anally. The girl protested throughout, saying No several times and asking him to stop. Less clinically, Polanski raped a girl he knew to be substantially under the age of consent, in all orifices.

Polanski was charged with five serious charges, including rape, sodomy and furnishing a minor with drugs, to which he pleaded not guilty. Eventually, he agreed a plea-bargain in which the charges would be dropped, and he would plead to unlawful sexual intercourse in exchange for probation.

On the eve of the hearing, Polanski was informed that the Judge was considering refusing to accept the plea-bargain, as he was legally entitled to do, on the grounds that the punishment was not in proportion to the offences. Fearing imprisonment and subsequent deportation, Polanski fled the country. Subsequently, he has very rarely entered a country from which he could be extradited to America.

This took place ver forty years ago, during which Polanski has continued his chosen prfession with few, if any, restrictions on his ability to make films, and has continued to live a life unhindered by any monetary problems. He has had several prominent figures from the artistic community defending him, suggesting he should not be pursued in this manner, that his actions should be forgotten. One such defender was the late Clive James, and i think very carefully about disagreeing with him.

So far, the arguments for Polanski being relieved of the outstanding charges against him appear to amount to, on the one hand, his status as a great artist and, on the other the truly terrible tragedies he hasalready experienced, the loss of one family to the Concentration Camps and the loss of another, his heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, to mass murder by the Charles Manson Family. To these are t be added longevity: what is the point after all these years?

The first of these has always seemed to me to be an extension of George Orwell’s arguments about Salvador Dali, the famous ‘Benefit of Clergy’. Orwell stated that it should be perfectly possible for a thinking mind to accept that one person can be both a great artist and a terrible human being. Polanski can be both: genius is not a guarantee of humanity. The argument seems to be a claim that because of Polanski’s talents he should be granted some form of pass for his actions as a person. The Director is not merely separated from the Man but placed on a pedestal that causes his actions to receive absolution.

As for Polanski’s history, it is truly horrible. Were I still a Solicitor engaged in defending criminals, I would certainly plead it in mitigation, but that would be in relation to my client’s level of punishment, not in relation to his culpability. To claim Polanski should not be charged with crimes is an insult to all those survivors of Auschwitz et al, of murdered relations, who did not themselves go on to inflict damage and pain on others, ‘because of their experiences.

So far as I am aware Polanski has never expressed any public remorse for his actions. Indeed, in at least one interview he has stated that all men want to fuck underage girls. Speaking as a man who hasn’t wanted to fuck an underage girl since he was an underage boy, I take that as a personal insult. I believe it is a characteristic of peodophiles that they are cionvinced everyone thinks like them and they are being persecuted by being punished.

So let us return to Polanski’s Cesar Award. There is an argument to say that artistic merit should be regarded in complete isolation, divorced entirely from any other concerns. That is to separate Polanski the Artist from Polanki the Man. Can we do that? Should we do that? I believe, as Orwell put it, that it’s possible to recognise that those such as Polanski can be great artists and terrible human beings at the same time. Others refute this, saying that a person’s artistic ability, his themes, their execution, stem from their person, and thus art cannot be divorced from their life.

In that there are things of great artistic achievement that I like/enjoy/love that have come from what you might call unclean persons, I do lean to the former. But the position becomes more complicated when we ask if we should honour such creations. Should praise them, extol them, reward them. There, I move into the other camp.

In Polanski’ case, things are complicted by the introduction of another, unavoidable aspect: Polanski the Symbol.

Polanski the Director may be entitled to recognitio in exclusion of Polanski the Man, the criminal. But Polanski is also the Symbol. He is the unrepentant criminal, who refuses to acknowledge the existence of his crimes. He is the fugitive from Justice, who ran away from the Court established to try his actions, and who has fled justice ever since. And Polanski the Symbol is the Man who Got Away With It. The supporters who say he should no longer be pursued are arguing that all you have to do is wait long enough and, no matter what you’ve done, the slate should be wiped clean. Allow me a moment’s cynicism by suggesting that they wouldn’t be so forgiving to the man who robbed their house and stolen all their most cherished property.

Besides, it’s a very dangerous precedent to set, especuially when you can’t agree how long enough is long enough.

It may be possible to separate Polanski the Director from Polanski the Man, vut you can’t do that from Polanski the Symbol. Reward the Director and you reward, and justify, the man who told Justice to fuck off, the man’s who’s played I’m alright Jack half his life, the man who’s pulgging the very film you have honoured by saying he knows what it feels like to be accused and imprisoned falsely.

As it stands, Polanski will never answer for his crimes. his words will justify those who think that it’s ok to have sex with a thirteen year old who’s saying no, who’s still asking you to stop even though you’ve got her pissed and you’ve given her drugs and you’re giving it her up the bum, no, there’s no need to listen to her, wghat right has she got to stop you? This may be a fact of life in this corrupted world that we have to live with, but don’t go around applauding him for his achievements. The award and the nomination was an horrific mistAKE.