Michael Fleisher R.I.P.: A Study in Notoriety

Sometimes, when someone famous dies, it overshadows the passing of someone else who deserves attention. The day Sir Laurence Olivier died was also the day Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and many more, died, which was a much more personal loss for me, and one that, understandably, went virtually unnoticed.

Stephen Hawking’s death today has coincided with that of a figure who is much less deserving of attention than Mel Blanc, a former comic book writer who has not been involved with the field for decades, but who once achieved an unwelcome form of notoriety that played out when I was fully involved with comics.

This was Michael Fleisher. He left behind him a reputation that, for a time, he seemed to revel in, but which ultimately did him no good. Fleisher got his start in writing comics in the mid-Seventies. He had been installed at DC’s offices to research a proposed six volume history of comics, and from there started to get story assignments.

His first regular series became one of the most notorious of all time in mainstream comics, the revival of DC’s Forties character, The Spectre, in Adventure Comics.

Adventure was being edited by Joe Orlando, who had recently undergone a street mugging at gunpoint that left him furious and frustrated. The Spectre was the spirit of murdered Police Detective, Jim Corrigan, sent back by (impliedly) God, to fight evils with vast supernatural power.

The Spectre had been revived in the Sixties, as part of the Golden Age revival spearheaded by editor Julius Schwartz, where he had been treated as an almost God-like being. Fleisher proposed to go back to the root of the character, as a ruthless dispatcher of criminals. Orlando was just in the mood for that.

Fleisher played around a bit with The Spectre, taking him back to the original state, where Corrigan and The Spectre were the same being and both a ghost, ignoring the development that had seen Corrigan’s body restored to life and become a host for The Spectre. He introduced a new girlfriend in heiress Gwen Sterling (replacing original girlfriend Clarice Winston) and allowed her, unlike Clarice, to know that Jim was a ghost. And he thoroughly confused which Earth this was all taking place on by having a rookie cop respond to a sarcastic reference to ‘Clark Kent’ with a ‘Gee! Are you really Superman?’

But these were peripherals. Fleisher’s series was about one thing, and one thing only: how the Spectre slaughtered the villains. There was a formula to the series: sadistic and brutal crooks would prey on ordinary people without conscience: the Spectre would come along and kill them. The game was in what twisted manner, wonderfully illustrated by the great Jim Aparo, the Spectre would act. These included expanding a hairdresser’s scissors to massive size and cutting him in half, turning a fake crystal ball merchant into crystal an knocking him over to shatter and, most sickening of all, turning a man into wood and feeding him through a woodcutter.

The series was selling, but it was also arousing a lot of fan opposition. Apparently, Publisher Carmine Infantino, after taking a lot of heat for the series, looked for an excuse to end it and the moment the sales dipped, it was gone.

The series ran 10 issues. Twelve scripts had been purchased and two were left undrawn, which was exceptional behaviour for DC Comics in that era. They wanted The Spectre dead, which he had been all along, to be fair. Actually, the series ended appropriately with a two-parter in which Corrigan pleaded with God to restore his humanity, God did so without telling him, Corrigan promptly got shot, believing he was still a ghost (in this series, even God was a sadistic bastard), and then he got killed and went back to being The Spectre.

Fleisher was upset about the criticism of his work on this series, protesting that he had done nothing that The Spectre hadn’t done in the Golden Age. That may be so, but there is a world of difference between that being done in primitive, stiff art by Bernard Bailey and high-detail, polished slick art from Aparo.

And I am moderately confident that Bailey and co-creator Jerry Seigel never wrote a scene in which the Spectre chops a woman into seven separate parts in a single panel.

I’d bought and enjoyed the series, which appeared in the first year I came back to reading comics. I didn’t make a point of following Fleisher’s later career, though I was aware that he had acquired a high reputation after taking over DC’s scar-faced western bounty-hunter, Jonah Hex. I never read any of this series, but Fleisher was again noted for the twisted aspects of a Special he wrote, featuring Hex in his sixties, being killed by being shot in the back, like Wild Bill Hickock at the poker table, and his body being stuffed for an exhibition at a Wild West Fair. Not exactly John Wayne, nor even Clint Eastwood.

Then there was the matter of Fleisher’s (only?) novel, Chasing Hairy. Yes, from the dubious title onwards, this appears to have been a pretty repellent thing. I have never seen the book, let alone read it, but I have read a summary of its plot, and seen many quotes, and there seems to be general consensus that this is a pretty repulsive piece of misogyny, including sexual violence towards women.

What I do know is that Fleisher bought advertising space to promote his book, in which he received permission to feature several of the comics characters he had written at that point. These included Jonah Hex, acting scared by its contents, and Spider-Woman, relishing how super-sexy it made her feel, and that Fleisher certainly knew how to turn a woman on. By forcing her to perform a blow job and them setting her alight? Kinky.

And like Charles Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, Fleisher seemed to have something of a bondage fetish, allegedly constantly trying to introduce bound women into his stories, and having been complained about by more than one Editor, technically responsible for the content of the comic, for this tendency.

This was Michael Fleisher’s career, up to that point in 1983 when Gary Goth interviewed Harlan Ellison for The Comics Journal 53. This was a free-ranging talk, with Ellison offering unbridled opinion about multiple subjects. When it came to Fleisher, Ellison was enthusiastic about his work, saying that “there’s a genuinely twisted imagination at work” and describing it as “Bugfuck”. You might not agree with the actual wording, but it’s clear from context that Ellison is praising Fleisher, even to the extent to comparing him with H P Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, Fleisher did not see it that way. His immediate response was to demand an apology and retraction from TCJ. This would have been considered, but Fleisher went so far as to writ his own multi-page apology and retraction, including demands for banner front page headlines, in terms deliberately intended to be as humiliating as possible to the Journal. No magazine would have conceded that, and the editors determined to investigate the aggrandising claims Fleisher was making, but were halted when he issued proceedings against _TCJ_ and Ellison.

The Journal based their defence on their First Amendment rights.

The case ran for years, and polarised much of the comics industry, based mostly on individuals’ reactions to the abrasive Journal and its provocative stance. Journal publishers, Fantagraphics, published several fundraiser comics, featuring material donated by writers and artists, to pay legal bills, and at one time were accused by one of their enemies of taking everyone for a ride and that they were spending the money on cars etc.

Some less publicised efforts were made to raise money for Fleisher, but his main supporter in the action appeared to be Marvel Editor-in-Chief, who gave up prodigious amounts of time to give evidence in Court about the damage the interview had done to Fleisher’s reputation in the market, and thus his income (which increased during the time it took to get the case to Court and was accordingly argued to have risen less than it would have without the defamation).

Eventually, the case went to Court with hearings lasting for weeks, after which the jury took ninety minutes to find for the Journal and Ellison. The word went around at the time that a juror had been overheard saying that they none of them believed a word of Shooter’s testimony.

The verdict came in just in time for a very short note to appear in TCJ issue 114. Gary Groth’s victory speech to the fan press was a reading of the First Amendment. But TCJ 115 went to town, with a cover dominated by Jim Shooter giving testimony and practically the whole issue given over to the course of the case and Trial transcripts. Fleisher’s ‘demanded’ apology was printed, as was the aborted refutation of his claims therein. Fleisher’s testimony didn’t arrive but Shooter’s was there in full, and it was not pretty reading, especially for those writers and artists at Marvel who suddenly found themselves officially reduced to puppets of the editor…

Shooter was growing increasingly unpopular for his dictatorial ways around Marvel, and the hostility around what was seen by many as an attempt to crush a magazine that constantly railed against him and Marvel was at one time cited as contributing to Shooter’s sacking as Editor-in-Chief not so many moons later.

It did for Fleisher’s career as a comic book writer. After this debacle, he disappeared from the industry, cut all ties with his former colleagues, and was believed to have been living in Ontario when word was passed that he’d died.

I doubt it would have made much of a splash anyway, but today it’s not even ephemera.

And there doesn’t seem to be much reaction in comics circles Stateside either. Fleisher actually died as far back as February 2, aged 75. He was a good writer, technically, but from all I read of his work, his imagination took him into dark and dubious areas that I personally would not want to navigate. His biggest, and self-induced problem was that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t see that Harlan Ellison was praising him for that, and he started a lawsuit that blew up spectacularly in his face. Conspiracy theorists even contended that Fleisher was under the influence of Jim Shooter, who saw him as a means to crush The Comics Journal: certainly, that self-composed apology is more of an attempt at humiliation than apology and reparation.

Whether there’s any truth in that, I have no idea. Jim Shooter’s attempt to use Fleisher’s lawsuit for exactly that purpose sure blew up in his face.

Whatever the truths, Fleisher has gone into the dark. The legacy he leaves is minimal and corrupted. Even if the news had not coincided with Stephen Hawking, his passing would probably only been of interest to a few of us, who remember the saga. Not a legacy worth leaving.

If you can’t go wildly OTT at a time like this, when can you?



Dunblane: 22 Years

Some things never go away.

It took a mention on a Social forum to clue me in that today is the 22nd Anniversary of the school massacre at Dunblane, and it took less than an instant to take me back.

I was working in North Manchester then, Sedgley Park, near Prestwich, and going to Manchester United games. It was possible, without straining the speed limit, to drive from Sedgley Park to Old Trafford, visit the Ticket Office and be back within my lunch hour. We were on the run-in to overhauling Newcastle United, on the road to the Double Double. I was going to Old Trafford.

It was a bright, sunny day. I hadn’t popped in a cassette player, instead I was listening to the radio. I’ve no idea what channel it might be: certainly not Radio 1, probably Five Live. I was about ten minutes out and driving alongside a park-like area when they announced shootings at a Scottish school.

There were further bulletins, there, and back. Flat updates, delivered from a studio nowhere near Dunblane. It maintained a distance in those early minutes, for which I’m grateful. I switched on a car radio midway through Hillsborough: no-one was speaking but the background sound was enough to tell me that something horrible was taking/had taken place. I don’t think I could have coped with an update directly from Dunblane, not with the atmosphere that would have penetrated.

I got back to the office, in a dilemma as to what to say. This was an age before the Internet, and social media. We don’t realise now how slow news could spread, when there weren’t a million sources diseminating information from the middle of things. I could easily have been the only person in that office who knew what was going on.

It was strange to be like that. It could have been something I’d imagined, misunderstood, got wrong. No such luck. The television that night confirmed everything, made it all horribly real.

But mention Dunblane, and I can see what I saw out of the car, sun in the sky, empty parkland, all things of peace and quiet and this news coming over the radio that no-one wanted to believe.

And I have another indelible memory. A group of local musicians recorded a charity single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, with which I was familiar from its 19070’s chart run. I no longer listened to Radio 1, I hadn’t heard it. I no longer watched Top of the Pops but I watched it the night they were to appear.

It wasn’t the song itself but the occasion. The sincerity in the faces and the voices. I began to cry. I wasn’t so sentimental, and prone to emotion then, when I’m having to repress tears just at the memory.

The song was received in silence, and at its end, the camera panned across the studio, to a young man beginning a song with an acoustic guitar intro. Was this part of it? Was it a segue? The song, pure and sweet, with a refrain of ‘Child, beautiful child’ couldn’t have been more faultlessly chosen. My heart split even further apart.

Later, I found that this was Mark Owen, ex of Take That, a long time before I found myself finding out more about Take That than I dreamed I’d ever need to. It was his first solo single. It was a fortuitous release, for although the juxtaposition sounds cheap, mechanical and manipulative, in that moment it was perfect for squeezing out even more sobbing.

And now it’s 22 years. It was many of those years before I learned that Jamie Murray was one of the children, cowering under the Headmaster’s desk, trying to shelter his little brother Andy in case that murderous bastard should come in. I cannot begin to conceive what it would be like to go through that experience, at that age, and if Andy Murray is ever something of a grump, he has a free pass on that from me.

But 22 years is as nothing to those memories. The sinking feeling, rendering everything else, including the ticket I was going to buy, utterly meaningless in the face of what had happened. The impact of those two songs, presented in silence (I didn’t watch the rest of the show: how could you have a Top of the Pops after that opening?). Some things never go away, no matter how much you might wish to find them sinking into the back of your memory. Say Dunblane, and I am there again. I always will be. And I wasn’t even involved.


When you’re a writer – and it doesn’t matter if you’re published, it’s down to the internal obligation to yourself to write (being any good at it is not a factor, either) – the worst moments come when you’re blocked. When there’s a great gaping whole in your head that’s usually filled with words, only now it’s just an absence. A very palpable absence. Something has been removed, and it’s that instinctive drive to think about what you’re writing, about things you can and should be working on, the ongoing mental activity that’s part of the iceberg whose tip is the words you put on paper or pixel.

You can always tell: when else are you driven to write about Block than when it’s the only thing in your head?

Somewhere in my pokey little flat is a book about Writer’s Block. It was the first book by Donald E Westlake that I ever read, it’s still my favourite of all his works, the Dortmunder Gang series notwithstanding, and it’s one of the few works I have ever read/seen that balances laughter and pain so completely. It’s called ‘Adios Scheherezade’.

The book, which appeared in 1967, is being told, or rather typed, by Ed Topliss. It is told in a series of chapters, each of fifteen pages in length, the majority of which are headed Chapter 1. Ed is a writer, officially, that is. Actually, Ed is a schlub.

You see, for the last thirty months, Ed has written dirty books for a living. Real, honest-to-god, cheap soft porn paperbacks, under the pen-name of Dirk Smuff (which encapsulates the entire, low-rent, cheesy milieu of the whole endeavour). To be frank, Dirk Smuff isn’t even Ed’s pen-name, it belongs to and was established by his college friend Paul. Now Paul is a writer. He wrote the first ten Dirk Smuffs for the money, to keep himself afloat whilst he pursued serious options, and now Paul has a career.

Ed, on the other hand, has no options open to him. He majored in English at college, emerged with no plans, no career, and married to Betty, his long-term girlfriend at college who never went all the way until it was nearly the end, and, guess what, she went and got pregnant. So Paul offered Ed an opportunity: take over the Dirk Smuff name, write a dirty book each month, collect $900 every month (Paul keeps 10%). And bear in mind: nobody can write this shit forever.

Ed wasn’t listening to that bit. Ed had his mind on Paul’s shit-hot girlfriend, or rather the thighs being unconcealed by her mini-skirt. As far as Ed’s concerned, it’s easy money, something to keep him going whilst he sorts out a real career for himself.

You see, there’s a formula to these things. There’s a limited number of plots, which you rotate, the books are 150 pages long, and consist of ten chapters, each fifteen pages long, one sex scene per chapter. Oh, and no dirty words: no f’s or c’s. Or even v’s.

And it’s easy work for easy money. One chapter a day for ten days, hammer it out, first draft only, you wouldn’t want to re-read this crap and then nearly three weeks to hang around. Once you learn the tricks of the trade to spin out those pages – and Westlake knows them all, having been in Paul’s position in the Fifties, when he was building his own career – the conveyor belt can roll.

So what if you’re just wasting those days off each month? So what if your wife and daughter are spending about 10% more than you’re bringing in every months? Ed’ll get down to doing something serious. Sometime soon.

But there was that thing Paul said, that Ed wasn’t listening to then. You can’t write this shit forever. Ed’s last three books have been delivered late. Progressively later each month. Ed daren’t deliver the next one late or he’ll be out on his ear. No income, no way of getting an income. Only, Ed needs those days off between writing sex scenes. And he’s ony just delivered the last one. He’s got something like twelve days to write the next one, or the house of cards collapses, not just himself but for his wife and his daughter too.

And Ed can’t do it.

All he can do is sit down at his typewriter and type, hoping to god that something, anything, will unlock that block, will turn into a publishable soft porn novel. And we’re reading what he is writing, as everything goes down the pan.

Because the first half of the book is funny but not yet tragic. Ed’s floundering around, splashing the water, equal parts telling us his life-story and spilling the secrets to writing cheap softcore porn, even to the extent of managing a complete opening chapter so we can tick off all the little tricks and tropes for ourselves.

But following Chapter 1 with Chapter 2 proves impossible, even before a casual lie cuts Ed’s life out from underneath himself, and there is a moment of extreme anguish as everything breaks down, as Ed tries to write a simple line but cannot get through it to the next set of words beyond, but it’s no longer possible.

And from that point on, we are following the tragedy, second-rate though it may be, of a man’s life spiraling out of all control, in which the only possible structure he has left is his compulsion to record things in chapters exactly fifteen pages long, though the need to supply a sex scene in every chapter has disappeared, along with the life he’s been leading all the time he could still write this shit.

There isn’t really an ending. Schlubs like Ed don’t get endings. His last chapter is typed in sections, fifteen pages built up on different typewriters in different places, before he vanishes, on something that you could maybe characterise as a quest. His last words are a variation on the title, adios and a word he can’t use in his books and that I don’t intend to use here. And he’s gone, and his story is essentially incomplete, we have to make up the ending for ourselves, and I don’t think any of us imagine good endings.

Adios Scheherezade is a fabulous formal experiment, and an incredibly successful one, despite its lack of any defined ending. Indeed, the nebulousness of it is a part of the book’s artistic success. It’s also virtually impossible to get hold of now.

It’s a book about Block, and doing what you can to get out of it, and it’s exactly what I’ve done: to write I’ve found something to write about, and the muscles are eased up, and the cavern inside feels less cavernous. I think I’m ahead of Ed right now. The proof will come later.

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was one of those days. Before you spend too much time on what category of ‘those days’ it was, I am talking about when, long before it is over, you aware that the only thing you can do is just to get to its end. Yes, I am run down. I am still unable to shift the cold that I have been carrying since the week before Xmas, which has seen me off work twice and fretting about my Absence Record. And thanks to having had my Working Sunday, yesterday was also my ninth shift in ten days.

But it was also one of those days that offer no relief from the grind, from Openreach Engineers who don’t turn up when they should, to customers who demand you do things you’ve already told them are impossible to do, to Managers who are never there when their authority is needed, to systems that tell you what steps to take (and for once you agree with them) then refuse to allow you to raise that resolution, to senior technical experts who are not there to help you get round this.

All you can do is get to the end. And this was Wednesday, the day I get out at 7.00pm, not 9.00pm, when the supermarket is still open, and more importantly so is the chippy, and you eat and you try to relax, but the head doesn’t work, it can’t focus on anything for as much as ten minutes at a time, and you end up grinding through YouTube videos because they don’t last so long that you can’t last with them.

Until midnight, when, counter-intuitively, you then start to transfer e-mailed sequences into the current Working Draft, blending sequences into a continuous scene, writing brief bridges, until it’s 12.40 am, and when you turn out the light, your head won’t shut down, so you end up reading more from Ursula Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales (the expanded version of which, containing the novel, Malafrena, and all the later stories and songs, you bought off Amazon that night) until your brain twitches enough to suggest sleep.

A  Working Sunday is followed by Thursday off which, when there’s enough Availability, is followed by Friday Holiday. But I had plans for today.

First, a Doctor’s Appointment about this bloody cold/cough/sore throat/whatever it may mutate into next. The problem was that, on Tuesday they told me it was 10.40 but yesterday, the text confirmation was 11.40. I phoned as soon as I woke: 11.40.

That enabled me to watch this week’s The Flash. I’d acquired it last night, but after last week’s debacle I was reluctant to watch it. But it was better than last week, and for more reasons than the return of Corinne Behrer as Prank. Ms Behrer played Prank, the henchwoman to Mark Hammill’s Trickster, in the 1990 series, looking more than fine in her multi-coloured leotard, and twenty-seven years on she still looked hot to me, and wonderfully, gigglily kooky and homicidal: she can return whenever she wants.

But not enough time for Thursday’s episode of American Gothic, not yet. The big reveal: I watch and blog one week, but the post appears the next, making sure that I never have any scheduling issues. There will be no non-post next Thursday.

Because my Doctor’s lies on the 203 bus route which is, as I have previously mentioned, the most unreliable bus service in the whole of Greater Manchester. In my paranoia about lateness, I reached the surgery at 11.20. I planned to go on from there and had put Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven in my bag to read on the bus.

My Doctor is good, very good. He doesn’t abide by the ten minute appointment slot, but gives me the time I need. He does that with everybody. It’s been getting much better recently, but today was a reversion to old times: I finally got in to see him at 1.10, having finished The Lathe of Heaven. Of course it’s frustrating, but I’m not a hypocrite, I can’t begrudge other patients receiving the level of care I get, no matter how it inconveniences me.

What I got was; anti-biotics to shift the bloody cold; an increase in dosage for one of my diabetes medication, because my bloodsugar’s up a little bit; and ibuprofen gel for the erratic muscle pain I’ve been getting in the upper back ribs this past four weeks – on both sides!

The prescription is e-mailed to the Pharmacy next door. I follow it, but the new Pharmacist is due for an appointment with the Doctor himself, meaning he has to close up, meaning nowhere for me to hang around out of the rain. So I said I’d return, walked back to the main road and got the bus into Manchester for my monthly visit to Forbidden Planet.

Usually, I would do this on a Saturday, this coming Saturday, but I was feeling impatient to get at Doomsday Clock 3, before I learned to much about it, so I could rip it to shreds in a very-shortly forthcoming blog. And I had a third stop that would, in a back-handed way, be more convenient to make on the way back from Manchester.

Before Forbidden Planet, I slipped into both the big Oxfam shop and Vinyl Exchange. In the latter, I found a 7 disc DVD box set of Victoria Wood at the BBC: all of As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques, Presents, Pat & Margaret, and stuff I’ve never seen, for £14; I get paid tomorrow. Then Planet, with the month’s titles, as the latest Astro City collection’s now in softback so I nabbed that too.

I also put in an order for a comic coming up later this year: Action comics 1,000. It’s the 1,000th Anniversary of Superman’s debut. It’s a ‘comic’ but it’s going to be published as a 384p hardback book, including a never-published Jerry Siegel/Joe Schuster story from, they reckon, 1942. It’s a landmark: the first comic to reach its 1,000th issue. Imagine that for a disposable, ephemeral things. Alright, it’s taken 80 years to get there, but that’s 80 years: 80 years of consistent publication. I figure I’d better buy it when it arrives rather than pay the inflated price eBay will no doubt exact.

And if I don’t want to keep it, why, there’s eBay!

I came home last night to a red card: my eBay acquisition of two Luck of the Legion collections undelivered because a signature was required. So from Manchester, I tool a 197 back, to get to the Collections Office in Heaton Mersey. Yes, it was a long way round, and a long ride, the 197 being one of those buses that go all round the houses and take forever to do so: it certainly stopped forever on Stockport Road, on the Longsight/Levenshulme border. But it meant not back-tracking and doubling over my tracks. And, amazingly, there was no queue: I mean, no queue. One lady, being served. No being stuck outside the office, inching forward in the rain.

That completed all my planned tasks, but it was early enough and light enough so back to the 203 I went, not to return home but to travel onwards further, to the Fir Tree and the Pharmacy and my latest prescription and then backtracking for home. From leaving the house at about 10.55 to returning at 5.20, I’d spent a bloody big proportion of that time doing nothing, in the waiting room or on the bus.

But it was so much more relaxing than yesterday, because it involved the feeling of doing something. It didn’t matter that none of these achievements were significant to anyone but myself, nor that they involved wasting vastly more periods of time tan the actual achievements, they were things that were done, that had outcomes I can see, and they were done under no pressure.

And day is done. Time for a vegetarian pizza to go into the oven, and the unwinding to go on. Yesterday and today. As different as yesterday and today. I have reading to do, and more writing. And another coffee won’t go amiss.


I’ve already been awake for more than six hours and I no more know what to do with myself now than I did in the dark hours before 5.00am when I knew that I wan’t going to get to go back to sleep. It’s Xmas but it’s not yet Xmas and I’m restless over the fact that I have nothing really to do except wait out the last couple of days.

The cold I’ve been suffering the last week has taken its toll, mainly on spirit and purpose. It’s denied me the concentration to do things in more than small bashes, especially writing, for which I’ve had ample opportunity. I’ve blown out gallons of mucus, coughed incessantly, sniffled and snuffled and when I have absolutely had to do something, the least amount of effort has exhausted me.

But, weirdly, there was this moment on Thursday evening when, as if with the throwing of an actual switch, my head came back on and I was suddenly clear and lucid. I was still dead on my feet, going back into work yesterday, and not at my most active.

It didn’t turn out to be a Retro Xmas after all. It’s Ed bloody Sheeran at no 1, with Wham! at 3, Mariah Carey at 4 and the Pogues and Kirsty at 7, with none of the others moving more than one position or two. We talked about Xmas songs at work yesterday, and about the nest eggs they’ve been. I remember that first year, 1973, Slade and Wizzard and Elton, when the idea of pop groups doing Xmas songs caught on with a vengeance. Before that, it was bloody novelty songs, like ‘Grandad’ and ‘Ernie’ and ‘Two Little Boys’, which used to set my teeth on edge when I was fourteen, let alone now.

But that was forty-four years ago. Forty-four years I’ve been listening to ‘I wish it could be Xmas Every Day’, and Lord knows I loved it and it’s massive fun but if I never hear it, or Slade, again I won’t feel deprived, because I’ve just heard them too many times now.

I’ve got to go out, before long, to complete the Xmas shopping. That’s carrots, brussells, an apple pie and a tin of Quality Street, plus whatever other chocolate I decide. I’ve worked it out in my head and on e-mail too many times. I’ve got everything else, I am prepared, I am efficient, I shall get the turkey out of the freezer tonight, but I am still desperately worried that I have forgotten something that I won’t remember until I’m in the middle of cooking on Monday. I must have forgotten something. Only what?

On Xmas Eve I’ve one more final day of working and I really don’t want to contemplate that, finishing at 9.00pm, technically, when the buses stop running at 6.00pm, and the way home is all uphill. In the meantime, there’s time that only can be killed, slowly, painfully, one second at a time, because it’s all about waiting until the Day, when all those things bought can be removed from their packaging, their suspension, my suspension.

Two more packages have been delivered today. I have no idea what they are, I have lost track, I have been assembling that pile all month. I need to ensure I don’t run out of electricity in the meter whilst it can’t be topped up. I can’t concentrate, I don’t know what to do, I’m restless.


Me and the Royal Wedding

Well, shucks, here we go again, there’s gonna be a Wedding! Bread and circuses are once again being served to the proletariat, as hard and heavy as the Press and TVF can shovel it down their throats, as welcome relief/calculated distraction from the state of this dismal country and the even more dismal state of its so-called Government. As I seem to remember David Byrne once saying, same as it ever was.

Now don’t get me wrong. Insofar as this involves a young man and a young woman who are in love and who wish to marry and spend their lives together, then good luck to them, I’ll wish them well. But as I know neither of the couples, in the same way that I do not know either of John Smith or Alison Jones who also announced their engagement today, I do not feel any need to know about it, and especially not any of the details.

But I’m going to be bombarded with them from now until next spring, aren’t I? No matter how reclusive I am, how hermit-like I have become, I am destined to know more about the bloody thing than any sane human being could want to know, short of going on strike and camping out in Loughrigg Cave for the duration. If it wasn’t so effing cold at the moment, I would be tempted.

The thing is, I have been here before, I have form for this. Like any person of my generation, we have walked the walk multiple times.

The first one was Anne and Mark in 1973. I really don’t remember the roots of my aversion to the Royal Family and the sycophancy that we’re supposed to display towards them, but it firmly was in place by that time. I was three days past my eighteenth birthday, I was at University, it was a Wednesday, and I remember that detail because we had no lectures, ever, on Wednesday afternoon, so I headed home, let myself in, shouted a hello to those in the lounge, glued to the affair, and bounded upstairs, not to come down until everything was long since over.

This got me in trouble from my mother, not because of my deliberate insult to the Royal Family, which was already firmly established and accepted as just one of the many ways in which her elder child was irredeemably weird. No, I got into trouble, and on this occasion rightly so, because she had earlier that day driven across to Hulme to collect my Nanna, her mother, to enable her to watch the Wedding in colour.

In my urge to have nothing to do with proceedings, I did not even pop my head round the door to say hello to Nanna, though in my marginal defence, I was not called when Mam left to take her home. This one I acknowledge, and am ashamed about. On the other hand, I have no regrets about boycotting the event.

The next one was the biggie, Chas and Di in 1981, the source of the New Sycophancy that is with us to today, having survived the wobble induced by Diana’s death. This time, avoiding the television broadcast brought no complaints from my mother, and I pushed off into Manchester, on the bus, which was still running despite the country having come to a standstill for the nuptials of the Heir to the Throne. I mean, this was the big one, patriotism-wise, the necessary first step towards ensuring the continuation of the Line (actually, it’s legally necessary for Heirs to be borne within wedlock).

Frankly, the only thing I genuinely do remember about the day was going with a mate to an evening festival, eating lots of sausage barms and feeling completely out of place among people who had loved the day and been seriously enthralled about everything. It felt very lonely.

Next one was Andrew and Fergie, which takes us to 1986. There was no shutting the country down for the day on this occasion, which was a Wednesday again. I had plans for this one. I was working for a big firm, in the centre of Manchester. Everybody knew me, and understood where I came from, especially when it came to my antic sense of humour, so I was looking forward for weeks in advance to a morning of stomping up and down the corridor and roaring out “Vive la Republique!” and “A la Lanterne!”.

I got shafted. About three weeks before the Glorious Day, I was approached by the Partners in Manchester. An Articled Clerk was qualifying in London and leaving, but his successor wasn’t able to start for one month. London desperately needed someone to fill in, to manage and run down his workload so that the replacement could start with a clean desk: I was asked to be that rescuer.

I wasn’t being asked because I was the best Assistant Solicitor we had but because I was the most flexible. Everybody else had houses (and mortgages) and would have found a shift to London incredibly difficult to manage. I would travel to London on Monday morning, return Friday evening (at the firm’s expense), and during the week I would live in a small flat above the office, which was usually provided for the benefit of partners who wanted to stay overnight to go the the Theatre, the Opera or a Show. All my food would be found for me (even if I nipped out for a KFC in the evening, provided I kept the receipt) and I was paid a London Allowance of £100.00 per week on top of my regular salary.

Plus one of my Manchester partners privately warned me that if there wasn’t enough work for me to do, I should have a private word with him and he’d get me pulled out.

The only time there was not really work to do was the last week, by which time I’d got the workload down to three files, and was exhausting myself badgering the same three opposite numbers every day, for updates. I never did get those files done, but my efforts were still very much appreciated, and I got on well with all those Londoners down there for the month I was intruded into their working lives.

The problem was, exactly in the middle of my London exile, on the Wednesday of the third week, was the Royal Wedding. Taking place in the very city where I was currently temporarily resident. I had some of the secretaries coming up to me, willing to slip upstairs to my little room (with its bed), not because of a sudden overwhelming lust for my Mancunian body (as if) but because they assumed I would have been supplied with a TV (the firm weren’t going to buy one, no matter how small and cheap for one month’s use) and they could catch glimpses of the proceedings.

Now there were one or two of them, and I don’t just mean the ones of my age, who I would have prepared to bear with some of the ceremony if we were sat on my bed, but that was no go.

And sadly, so was my plan to roar Republican slogans half the day. I didn’t know them well enough to know if they knew me well enough to take my intended sloganeering in the spirit in which it was intended, namely, that I meant every word of it, but, well, it was only Martin being Martin, ignore him.

Actually, that’s the last one I can remember having any significance. Anne and her second, the one we never hear anything of, Chas and Camilla, these were all quiet affairs as befits divorcees trying again. Eddy and thingummybob was also quiet I think (I can’t bear the idea of looking it up to see if there was massive public fuss and I’ve just forgotten about it completely).

Of course, William and Kate-with-the-bum-everyone-slathered-over-except-me was another big deal, but that didn’t take place until 2011, and as I no longer had a television by that time, ignoring it wasn’t anything like as big a deal. And the same will go for Harry the ginger and Meaghan. Indeed, by this point, I’ve forgotten just how many Royal Weddings I’ve ignored down the last forty-odd years. It’s no longer a protest, but a force of habit.

Still, at least I get the chance to flex old muscles again. It’s an ill wind that blows no Republican any good.


Kenny Dalglish

I have never liked him. A lot of it is that he played for and managed Liverpool, but at least half of it is that I just don’t like him. It happens like that sometimes.

There was an interview with him in the Guardian yesterday, on the eve of the premiere of a film about him, a film I won’t be going to see. In many ways, responding to the questions, he was the Dalglish I simply don’t like. But the subject came to Hillsborough. I learned, for the first time, that his then-15 year old son Paul was on the Leppings Lane End, though thankfully he was unhurt. Then they asked him about ‘closure’, in the light of the long-overdue exoneration of the fans from the decades of lies by the Scum newspaper. And he said this:

“I don’t know what closure would be for us,(…) As long as we’re living we will support the families. So … we wouldn’t have a closure. I wouldn’t have a closure. At least the families have been totally exonerated. The families have been punished doubly by losing their loved ones and by spending the rest of their lives trying to get justice and solace.”

I am still not going to like him. But the responsibility he took when that happened was unflinchingly to be admired, and this admission that there can never be a point at which he can put this behind him… I am relieved to admit that I cannot imagine what that must be like. But it changes and enhances my respect for Kenny Dalglish, and I can only hope that one day he can discover a kind of piece that comes without leaving this life behind.

And my implacable hatred for all the bastards responsible, and those who still wriggle to avoid the consequences of that responsibility, grows even hotter.