The Infinite Jukebox: Pete Atkin’s ‘Canoe’


There are few enough songs by Pete Atkin and Clive James that are known outside the charmed circle of we privileged fans as it is, and sometimes it feels that the later ones, the Twenty-First Century additions to that rich but obscure canon are known even less well. At least the likes of ‘The Master of the Revels’, or ‘The Flowers and the Wine’, or ‘Thirty-Year Man’, or ‘The Faded Mansion on the Hill’ have the advantage of history, the resonance of time.
‘Canoe’ comes somewhere between the old and the new. It was written in the Seventies, in that time when Atkin and James were so prolific that the songs outran the albums on which they could be recorded. Listening to it, you wonder how on earth it could have been ignored then, but the same thing happened to ‘History and Geography’, and other classics known only to those lucky few who got to gigs, before the contract with RCA was used up by the jokey Live Libel at the same time that the music business exploded, destroying the expectation of a seventh album.
The song finally saw daylight twenty years later, in the unexpected second act made possible by an Internet to connect the dots between the memories of the fans from then, and the later arrivals who found something that made complete sense to them.
A new wave of interest. An interest on Atkin’s part in dealing with that backlog. Sessions in his local studio, laying down demos, until he realised that these were not demos after all, but the basis of a seventh album, aye, and an eighth simultaneously. The ground being cleared before the reinvigorated urge to write anew.
‘Canoe’ is a dazzlingly simple song, played on on electric piano with minimal percussion: rich, calm notes and Atkin’s voice, clear in its Englishness. The melody is delicate yet rounded, framing a story that, once you begin to understand it, is immense in its implications. The song was inspired by the Apollo 13 mission, the one that went wrong, the one where the world held its breath over the days it took before the Bird could be negotiated back to Earth, its crew alive and well.
Clive James built the song upon the recognition that so modern a story was nevertheless one of the oldest stories of all. What, in essence, was the difference between Apollo 13’s venture into that terrifying, empty, trackless place, and the journeys of the canoes of Pacific islanders, guided only by the skies as they sought routes across the pathless water to their trading islands?
It’s the gift of this simplicity, and James’ refusal to wrap his story in the ornate language he was proud of, that introduces us to the three in the canoe, the lucky three who, under a perfect moon, on easy seas, slide across the reef in search of the island where they trade the shells their island holds for feathers.
But they are not the lucky three. They don’t find the island, they never return, they row under the sun’s reflected glare.
And imperceptibly the song crosses vast gulfs and times, as the singer tells his friends the time has come for all of them to die. But now the singer is one of Lovell, Swigert and Haise, checking navigation readouts and warning they are out a whole degree.
The same fate awaits them, death by frying. But the astronauts are the lucky three, flying the mission with their hands, and on a path for home. The astronauts returned, where their earlier counterparts were lost, drifting down in silence to the ocean the missions shared.
Clive James found the words to bring these two far-separated things together, and Pete Atkin the melody to bind them in your thoughts as the piano plays out. They produced a song that, like so many of their other creations, yet for far bigger reasons, ought to be far better known than it is. No other writer, I believe, of either words or music, could have told that story without the elaboration to dull it, in a way that would make us feel less for the ones who went out there for all of us, for the ones who returned with gifts and giving, and the ones who remained in their unknowingness.
And though this aspect of the Apollo 13 is little known, no other humans have travelled further away from our planet than Lovell, Swigert and Haise. They are the ones who truly went where no man has been before. ‘Canoe’ is a worthy token of their safe return from that distance.

Film 2019: Black Narcissus


As brilliant as last week’s They’re a Weird Mob was awful, Black Narcissus, adapted pretty faithfully from Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel, was inexplicaably omitted from the original Powell and Pressburger box-set when this was first released as a nine-disc set. I bought that first, and willingly bought up when this was re-issued as an eleven-disc set, just to have this film.

Black Narcissus is a landmark film, justly celebrated for its amazing cinematography, which won Jack Cardiff an Oscar. It’s also a marvel of filming and use of effects, given that the film is set in India, high in the mountains, with multiple outside scenes, yet not a minute of footage was shot outside England. Split screen shots of a technical standard astonishing for the present day, let alone 1948, and matte shots using highly detailed, massively convincing paintings on glass complete the illusion that the film has been shot on location.

But the film is more than just a miracle of technique. Right from the beginning, the story establishes a knot of tension that only grows tauter as the film progresses. It’s a shifting psychological drama composed of many elements within its simple plot – a small group of nuns are sent to establish a convent at Mopu: as predicted, they fail – as each of the central characters find themselves undergoing unexpected tests.

The film stars Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, a firm, somewhat authoritarian Nun who, despite her young age, is sent to take charge at the Convent of Sister Faith. Four others go with her: Sister Phillippa (Flora Robson) to take charge of the gardens, Sister Briony (Judith Furse) the dispensary, Sister Blanche, known as Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), the school, and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) as…well, it’s not entirely clear what part Sister Ruth is going to play, except as the most highly-strung and unstable amongst the Nuns: she is included by Mother Dorothea for, outwardly, her own good, although one cannot but suspect a certain buck-passing in the decision, as well as a test for Sister Clodagh’s leadership abilities.

These are the Nuns, but they are not the only characters in the story. Esmond Knight, an Archers stock-player, browns up to play the Old General, the ruler of the province, gifter of the Convent, a former seraglio. David Farrar, tall, lean, mostly seen in shorts that emphasise his hairy legs, rude, practical, unbelieving, plays the General’s Agent, Mr Dean, responsible for everything the Nun’s need, and deeply offensive to Sister Clodagh just by showing the merest scepticism. Jean Simmons plays the 17 year old Kanchi, a native girl taken in by the Nuns: Simmons, also browned up, has no words to speak, she just exudes sexuality in every smouldering fibre of her body without once being explicit, a sexuality that is at once knowing and naive. And Sabu, the only native actor in the film, plays the Young General, heir to the Province, young, noble, proud and thunderously naive about everything around him: Kanchi sets her cap and everything else at him and you just know he’s not going to be able to resist.

And there’s May Hallatt as Angu Ayah, former housemaid to the seraglio, a chattering, skipping bundle of shrieking contempt for the Nuns, playing wonderfully OTT.

Throw these characters in and a story will come out of it, but both  Godden and the Archers are set upon a developing inevitability. From the first, the Nuns find things hard, the isolation, the thin air, the clear and distant views that exaggerate the world in which they are alone with only their own resources – and God – to rely upon. Dean gives them until the rains break.

Each loses their way. We see it quickly when Sister Clodagh starts to call Sister Blanche by her nick-name. Clodagh has joined the Order, in which vows have to be renewed annually, to escape a failed love-affair in a small Irish community. She has gone through bitterness and pain from her abandonment: for the first time in years she remembers the handsome, but ultimately faithless, Con.

Sister Phillipa remembers things she thought she had forgotten, things unnamed: she has planted an English garden of flowers rather than the vegetables that were to sustain the community. Sister Honey becomes so overwhelmed by the children. Only Sister Briony remains stable.

As for Sister Ruth, who was made intense and unstable by the mere casting of Kathleen Byron, it is quickly easy to see that here is a woman eaten up by sexual frustration. The lean Mr Dean sets her hormones buzzing from the moment he is gentle to her, recognising her desire to do well, immmediately after Sister Clodagh has reprimanded her for trying herself to save a woman bleeding to death instead of fetching Sister Briony.

Like Kanchi, Sister Ruth exudes sexuality, but Kanchi even as a ten year old could never be as naive as Ruth, who’s got it but doesn’t know what to do with it.

As the crisis develops, Ruth chooses not to renew her vows. She orders a smouldering maroon dress from Darjeeling, changes, makes up. She goes to Dean, throws herself at him, is repelled. She accuses Dean of being in love with Sister Clodagh. Angrily, he denies being in love with anyone. In saying this, he’s probably being truthful to his own understanding, but at the ennd we will see that something is within him: he has not escaped being changed.

Dean’s refusal sends Ruth over the edge. Denied expression in love, her emotions find their only other outlet, in jealousy, a pathological jealousy of Sister Clodagh. When the latter goes to ring the Morning Bell, situated on the edge of a precipice, a wild-eyed, pale-faced Ruth tries to push her off but falls herself into the Abyss.

This, then, is the end. The Nuns arrange to depart. At the last, Dean approaches Sister Clodagh. Despite his denial, he is going to very much miss her. But though their relationship has become decidedly more amicable, Sister Clodagh – who will go to another Convent where she will not be in charge, is nowhere near ro any thought of giving up her vows. She asks him to tend to the grave, and teases him that the rains have not yet come.

But as both ride away, in opposite directions, the rains begin, soft and then fierce. Dean mops his slightly-too-long hair and looks back, until the increasng rain dissolves any last sight of the Nuns.

Originally, the Archers had planned to end tthe movie with a scene back in Calcutta, Sister Clodagh confessing her failure to Mother Dorothea and bursting into tears. The scene was filmed, though it sems it was never printed, as Powell, seeing the rain scene, chose that as a better ending. Rightly so.

This is a magnificent film, full of subtleties that, if I were to describe them all, would take all day to discuss. Remember that Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron spend most of the film in their habits, full habits, head-dresses, ankle length white robes. Only their faces are visible, made pale by the lack of (visible) make-up and the billowing white habits. Deprived even of body-language, they perform with only their faces. And there are subtleties of word and thought in nearly every line.

In the end, the film may be seen as one about defeat. Indeed, filmed only a few months before India’s Independence, it has been compared symbollically to the end of the Raj. Whether this was intentional, or merely a subconscious reflection of the Zeitgeist, I can’t say, but in a film with these layers, I wouldn’t dount anything.

And then there was three:  three box-sets, one outstanding fiilm in each.

Film 2019: Ill-Met by Moonlight


Ill-Met by Moonlight was the last film made together by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as The Archers. Like its predecessor, it’s a war story, a true story, treated with faithfulness and respect, emotionally underplayed. It’s about a daring 1944 mission to capture the German Commander-in-Chief on Crete, General Kreipe, and bring him back captive to Cairo. The film was a success, the seventh most popular picture in Britain that year.

Unless it was something I sat and watched one of thoseSunday afternoons a very long time ago, this is only the second time I have seen this film. For a long time, I didn’t bother with it: the Powell/Pressburger boxset is a big one, as you will by now realise, and as long as I had the majorfilms I wanted, I didn’t necessarily have to see the minor ones.

I’m afraid that, to me, Ill-Met by Moonlight is a minor film. The Fifties was not a good time for the Archers, the years of their creative flair sadly diminished, and given the riches they showed themselves capable of in the preceding decade, it’s disappointing to see their partnership end on a pair of true-life stories in which they are required to do no more than follow the facts.

The film stars Dirk Bogarde as Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, nicknamed Paddy but most often referred to as Philidem, his Cretan name, Marius Goring in his fourth and final Archers film as Kreipe and David Oxley as Captain W Stanley Moss, known as Bill, on whose wartime diaries the book of the same name was based.

Ironically, though much of the film was shot on location, and in glorious mountain countryside of powerful beauty, and in deep, twisty ravines along roads that barely squeeze into the valley bottom, not one moment of the film takes place on Crete. Instead, shooting was in France and Italy. No matter, except for authenticity, for the mountains are magnificent and the urge to ascend them compelling. Of course, I’d have much preferred to see them in colour instead of black and white, though the lushness of colour might have overwhelmed so much, it could have squeezed the story out of consideration.

As it is, the story never rises above the level of a competent war story, made at a time when the War was still the central experience of every audience member’s life. It’s entirely respectful, as it might when using the names of real war heroes, who were still there to see their experiences recorded on screen (Leigh Fermor was presentfor the mountain location shooting and, according to Wikipedia, “expressed great satisfaction with Bogarde’s representation of him.”

As well he might. By all accounts, Leigh Fermor was exactly what Bogarde portrays, handsome, intelligent, self-confident, a perfect romantic hero who combined the reticence of the English gentleman with the lust for life of the Hellenic spirit. The type is summrised immaculately in an early exchange in the film: Paddy and his Cretan Intelligence Chief, Micky, are sat in a cafe overlooking the General’s villa and plotting his abduction. Micky points out that the Villa is heavily defended, with ‘barbed wire, many dogs, many sentries’, to which Paddy replies, ‘Cut the wire, dope the dogs, kill the sentries’, calm and casual.

The actual plot involved abducting the General and his car, driving it through all the checkpoints and taking to the mountains to eventually rendezvous with a naval vessel at an undefended south coast beach. The plan works, but between the stiff upper lip conversation between Paddy and Bill, the officer and a gentleman conversation between Paddy and the General, and the two officer’s self-image as Amateurs, evoking the atmosphere of Buchan’s Richard Hannay, Sandy Arbuthnot and their crowd, or Dornford Yates’ Richrd Chandos, Jonah Mansell and Co., clubland heroes, the film forfeits any attempt at emotional depth and instead feeds only an idealisation of Britain’s victory as an expression of a superior national character. Frankly, I’d like more.

So far as the action is concerned, the filmdoes the best with what it has, lacking the money or the facilities or maybe the energy to go for the spectacular. The only really expansive moment of violence comes when a German company, drawn out of the position that could destroy the whole mission, are slaughtered by Cretan Resistance fighters, and this takes place unseen, at the bottom of a deep gorges, represented only by the echoing of rifle and machine gun fire.

Not, for me, a fitting send-off for The Archers, lcking even the veraching sense of impending tragedy that permeates the final third of Battle of the River Plate. Powell and Pressburger, who rattled Churchill’s cage so thoroughly with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp‘s stuffy Englishmen and good Germans, ending their partnership with a straight, rah-rah War film. Life never lacks for ironies.

 

 

Some Books: Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’


This is an occasional series, about books I read many years ago, usually from Didsbury Library, that I seek out to re-experience, to see if the things that appealed still affect me the same way, and to measure the change in myself between then and now.
The latest of these is The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
Back in the late Seventies, in the days before the Tories destroyed the Net Book Agreement and every newsagents/confectioners had their own spinner racks or a couple of shelves full of cheap paperbacks, you literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the brightly coloured and esoteric symbol heavy covers of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, or rather of the three individual volumes, The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan.
I’d read about them in the New Musical Express, the only place I’d heard of them, and they’d given the books a glorious reception, both welcoming and cynical at once, enough to intrigue me. I looked at them, and I looked at them, and I kept looking at them, with curiosity and reserve. I wanted to read them, and I wanted to like them, but I was very unsure of them, and unwilling to commit the money when there were so many certainties available.
Eventually I read them, and it must have been from the Library, and I know this because I read them out of order, second, third and first, not that it made much difference to my understanding. This was no Lord of the Rings, and starting with The Two Towers. What I thought of the books when I was in my early twenties I have not the faintest idea, except that I didn’t go on to buy the books to re-read.
That re-reading has only now come, something like forty years later, an intense spell of three days reading of a collected volume (the form the book has taken since 1984), bought in 2018, struggled through and lost less than halfway, and now forced through continuously. What do I think of it now?
Actually, I’m going to quote an opinion on the trilogy that expresses my responses in language I can’t surpass. There are two quotes:
“It’s a dreadfully long monster of a book… The authors are utterly incompetent – no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, and the authors… have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy.”

“… it’s absurdly long… ‘If The Lord of the Rings is a fairy tale for adults, sophisticated readers will quickly recognise this monumental miscarriage as a fairy tale for paranoids.’ That refers to the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the plot, if there is one, seems to revolve around.”
And who is it that has anatomised the book thus succinctly? The authors of those quotes are the authors, Shea and Wilson themselves, on pages 238-9 and 381 respectively of my copy. But whilst they are exaggerating for comic effect, taking themselves as little seriously as a book of this nature should do, or else are cynically exposing themselves as the ultimate put-on merchants (that’s a vintage term now, isn’t it?), they aren’t saying anything that isn’t true.
I’m at a loss as to how to describe The Illuminatus! Trilogy without expanding this post to something like the dimensions of the book. The narrative flicks erratically between viewpoints and multiple characters, along an achronological timescale, and between first and third person. It throws in every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard of and dozens more you haven’t come across, seeking to bind them into an over-arching structure that is paradoxically only capable of being united by a complete lack of structure, and underneath all the head-trip obfuscation, it’s about foiling a resurgent Nazi world takeover plot, deep into the third act.
As for the experience of reading the book, well, I have never dropped acid, smoked grass, or partaken of any hallucinogenic substance stronger than a bloody good book, but the whole thing reads like the meanderings of a room of potheads whose brains have been fried, and the only reason this book didn’t get written in 1967 might well be because the writers were too stoned to come far enough down for nearly a decade.
Actually, Shea and Wilson were associate editors at Playboy magazine and wrote the trilogy between 1969 and 1971 and it took several years before a publisher would touch it, and then only after 500 pages of cuts! It was conceived as a complete work and, just as with Lord of the Rings, was split into three volumes for commercial reasons.
The book is incredibly hard to read due to its diffuse structure. I’m not unused to books that use, for example, non-linear timelines, but whereas these can be incredibly effective from an author who has worked out what he is doing and maintains a rigid control, there’s never any sense of this here, but rather that the authors are making it up as they go along, which might not be that far from the truth, given that there is apparently very little collaboration in the trilogy, but rather the authors writing different sections, and out to one-up each other all the time.
Considered as individual books, The Eye in the Pyramid has the benefit of some form of narrative propulsion, and Leviathan of a double-climax, completing the ‘story’, but The Golden Apple is a classic middle book, solving nothing, answering nothing, just a haze of incomprehensibility, although that may have been my over-tired mindset when reading that part of the trilogy. I shalln’t be going back to give it a fairer hearing.
There are books that you do not like but that you nevertheless go on to finish, ‘to see what happens’. This wasn’t the case with The Illuminatus! Trilogy but there was an element of that to my determination to read until the final page, and that itself was not even the urge to finish ‘to see if there was any point to this’, but simply to read and end, because it was there. I will finish this. I can’t even say that I disliked the book: in the end it was something that was not for me, not now, nor probably for the younger me, who does not seem to have been influenced by it one way or another.
One for the Charity Shop.

Nottingham Expedition


It’s been five and a half months since my last Expedition, the ill-fated one that didn’t get me anywhere near Patterdale. Today’s Easter Saturday, the sun is up, the skies are flat blue and I’m awarding myself a day out. This one is to a rather more prosaic destination: I’m going to Nottingham.

Nottingham? Why? The East Midlands is not high on anyone’s list of outings, especially in this sort of weather. Couldn’t I find somewhere better?

Put in those terms, the answer is obviously yes. But I spent two years of my early Twenties living in Nottingham, I’ve written a novel rooted in those experiences, and I’m currently working on the second of two sequels, which includes scenes in Nottingham, so the Expedition is split down the middle between nostalgia and research. I wonder if I could claim the train fare back against my taxes?

The plan is to catch the 9.54am train from Stockport to take advantage of the much-reduced Off-Peak fares. My paranoia about missing trains is under reasonable control these days, but I was on Platform 0 with no mishaps or panics with fifteen minutes to spare. Which is just as well, for what arrives is the Norwich train, which is two coaches only and most of the seats reserved. I quickly found one that wasn’t and stuck to it like glue.

But the train was crowded, and chaotic, and I was on the aisle with no possibility of looking at the green scenery. No room for anything but my mp3 player, my book and the occasional swallow of Diet Coke.

There was a real shock at Sheffield when, having debouched some of the passengers and taken on thankfully fewer, the train backed out the way it had come in. Nobody seemed fussed and the next stop was still Chesterfield, when the crowds thinned out enough to lose the standing passengers. I was grateful of that: I’d already spent more time with a bloke’s arse rubbing up against my upper arm than I’d budgeted for my whole lifetime.

This was only the third time I’d gone to Nottingham by train. The first was for my interviews (two, at different firms, both of which I flunked) of which I can remember nothing but the excellent instructions on getting there from the station. The other was New Year’s Day 1979, when snow and ice had made the roads too dangerous to risk, and I needed two trains, change at Sheffield, and my Principal was stunned to find me there when I was supposed to be because of the travel problems.

Now, there are direct trains, when once it was nothing but changes.

I’d been travelling backwards since Sheffield, and I  wish I could say I was doing so mentally or emotionally. It would be neat, appropriate, literary but it would also be untrue, not just a mere exaggeration. But though I used to make regular trips down here, in my car, I haven’t been to Nottingham since the last century, and I have had no contact with anyone here in all that time. Several of them have died, which is understandable: my contemporaries are all in their sixties by now. No, this is not a pilgrimage.

There was not a thing I remembered about Nottingham Station, though it marked the first place that I needed to research. I exited onto Carrington Street and immediately turned left, assuming this road would, at some extension, take me to Trent Bridge, Forest’s ground, the Cricket ground and the road to West Bridgeford. But I was wrong. Proving that irony still runs rampant in my life, this was where I was asked for directions by a pretty young woman in a car and a very short skirt.

My primitive bump of location worked better in the opposite direction, leading me to and through the Broadmarsh Centre and into Lister Gate. I emerged into my memories, knowing where I was, and that forty years hadn’t wrought enough change for me to possible lose myself.

Out of the Broadmarsh Centre

From that point on, I felt as if I was walking an invisible maze, it’s walls defined by recollection. Names that used to be the network of Saturday afternoon shopping trips. Up Low Pavement, into Bridlesmith Gate, where the original Selectadisc used to be, though I couldn’t spot where exactly. The heat, exacerbated by the jacket I’d insisted on wearing because, you know, drove me into Waterstones, a source of temptations. But I had a list of second hand bookshops I wanted to visit, and I was determined only to buy from any of these.

The Market Square was not too far away on my left but ahead was dear old Clumber Street, where our offices were. I gently weaved through the tide of people, but try as I might I couldn’t work out where we’d been, we being Hunt, Dickins & Willatt, Solicitors, which hasn’t existed for a long time.

I moved on, just as I used to at 5.00pm, when I could go home, but I turned left into Upper Parliament Street, circling the Market Square. What used to be merely the Nottingham Building Society – and how many mortgages did my customers take out with them? – was still there, recalling to me their fantastic window displays, one of which was endless Sunday pages devoted to Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland that I would study for ages.

Selectadisc has also gone the way of all things. I passed the front of the Theatre Royal, scene of my third of only three gigs – The Chieftains – in Nottingham in that whole forty-eight months (I saw more in Manchester during that period) and turned down Market Street. I picked up a cheap DVD in Oxfam that’ll soon be appearing in my Film 2019, then visited the legendary Page 45 independent comics shop, where I bought a Lynda Barry hardback, which had my taste applauded. Worryingly, I was one of only three people in there all the time I looked round.

No more shilly-shallying. I made my way down to the Market Square and turned to the narrow end of it. Needless to say, the ABC is gone, a great old-fashioned massive screen cinema where I took my ‘special friend’ to see the first Christopher Reeve Superman, and where I first saw 2001 – A Space Odyssey as it really should be seen.

Across the Market Square

The main part of the Square was home to a big tent advertising performances by the Lady Boys of Bangkok: yes, well. Instead, I turned up Friar Gate (which has a memory all of it’s own that has my right knee throbbing in sympathy as I write this), into Spaniel Row to St Nicholas Street, where stands my favourite pub, Ye Olde Salutation Inn, est. 1240 AD. Mind you, it was crowded, and full of Heavy Metal music, so the cool atmosphere of the ages had a bit of trouble getting through.

A pint, a burger and a half hour studying the streetmap I’d bought in W.H.Smith’s and I was ready for another go.

I found one of the bookshops I’d marked out the night before, whose address I’d written out then left behind, but it was small, cramped and didn’t have anyting I wanted. I re-emerged on Upper Parliament Street and walked down to the Victoria Centre, which used to be my favourite Shopping Centre for its high ceilings and wide interior, a sense of space that, yes, you’ve guessed it, no longer exists. The Indoor Market’s gone, as has the space it used to occupy. Do I have any tangible memories left?

At least the exit onto Mansfield Road hasn’t been bricked up or anything like that. That was my way home, but I wasn’t going to go up to Woodborough Road or Alexandra Court: that’s a nostalgia that needs no refreshing. Instead, I wandered back to Clumber Street where, after consulting the streetmap, I worked out where the firm used to be.

I used to work above there

I also found the second of the bookshops, down a long, quiet alley, but again nothing.

For a while I sat in the sun in the Market Square. There was a Revolutionary Communist haranguing the crowd, starting off on Climate Change but transitioning to a denouncement of Capitalism (and Imperialism, don’t forget Imperialism) with a rapidity that didn’t betoken much real enthusiasm for Climate Change, and then a long and hagiographic spiel holding up Cuba as the world’s ideal. Frankly, he bored the arse off me, and he wasn’t convincing anyone else, so I moved on.

But I’d seen what I’d come to see, more or less. My next attempt at an extended sit down, with a triple replenishment of my liquid supplies, was disturbed by another Saturday afternoon ranter, this one a God-botherer. Then he was replaced by a blues singer/guitarist busker. Sigh.

When I lived here, they used to say, and may still do, that Nottingham girls were the prettiest in all England. And whilst I am and always will be a chauvinist for my home city, on today’s evidence, the 2019 crop aren’t letting their forerunners down in any respect.

It was all over by now. I’d had the refreshers I wanted, but on top of that I’d demonstrated that there is no continuity to this slice of my past. Nottingham was a city in which I lived for two years, two vital, engaging, educational and essential years, but only the City remains and that’s the lesser part. Simon, Heather, Liz, Richard, Sharon, Jeremy, Alison, Roger, Anne, Gary, Jill, Graham, Rose, Ken, Jane, Murray, Sandy: we will never be in each other’s company again and without the people, Nottingham is only lines in brick.

Town Hall, looking round the Lady Boys

So I headed back down Lister Gate, and through the Broadmarsh. There was time enough to hunt for London Road and the way to Trent Bridge, to see what Steve and Lottie see when they walk along there, but it had been hot too long and my feet were starting to ache so, like the route round the Boulevards that Steve navigated for Lucy and Pam, it’ll have to come from the streetmap, and the memories that are closer to what I need than the streets now.

I was on the 15.47 Liverpool Lime Street train with time and space to spare, a table seat, facing the way I’m going. Except that for the second time today, we set off backwards. At least, it seemed backwards to me, but the ticket-inspector assured me we were going the only way the train through Stockport goes, but I still can’t work out how I got 180 degree arse about face.

Never mind, I just switched to the other side of the table, then again when we re-reversed out of Sheffield. This latter cost me sight of two attractive young woman (whose collective age was still much too young for me) but enabled me to enjoy the hills as we motor through Edale (which has four separate memories of four separate women). They haven’t distinctive shapes, nor nearly enough rock, but they form a skyline, and they rouse the hunger to walk it. One ridge has two arcs of para-gliders above it.

I was back at Stockport for 5.30pm, straight onto a 203 home when I got down to the Bus Station, and in for six o’clock. It’s not like going to the Lakes, and that’s going to be the next expedition, before too much longer, but a day out is a day out and this was a good enough one.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Trapped 2 – episode 6


This is not fair. Once you get past the halfway episode, the Scandi series are supposed to start laying trails towards a wrap-up, start drawing things together, instead of putting up new questions. Not only did episode 6 not take the slightest step towards elucidating just what Elin saw, but it reintroduced, and further complicated, an entire strand that didn’t even get memtioned in episode 5, and it hung itself up on one stinker of a cliffhanger. I have at least one thing next week that I’m looking forward to with great pleasure and anticipation and this makes me want to skip straight past that to find out.

If we’re actually going to find anything out, that soon.

After the relatively static first episode today, the show did at least start to twist the knife. Andri and Hinrika go back to re-examine Finnur’s house, only to find the seal broken by Aron and Thorhildur, the place a fucking mess and yes, Forensics haven’t been inside yet, so who knows what’s been lost. Andri is contemplating the malevolence of the universe with particular regard to 15 year old daughters when Hinrika finds a roll of Euros under the cushion next to him…

Next stop, Aron and Thorhildur are quasi-arrested. Andri can’t believe how all-fired stupid they are, taking 80,000 Euros from the house of someone who’s just been brutally murdered, without imagining any consequences (but the ones who think they’re unbelievably more clever than the stodgy old adults around them always lack that vital bit of cleverness that’s needed to recognise that you might not know everything after all). Even in the Police Station, Aron’s texting Thorhildur to hide the money so that they can keep it, and she’s hiding it so cleverly that it takes her Dad all of twenty seconds to find it (can you tell that this prize pair of muffins rub me up the wrong way?)

But there were two other things in the bag. One was the mobile phone that Thorhildur used to contact a mystery person, that she’s still hanging onto, lying about having found nothing else and only agreeing a meeting with him. At which he doesn’t turn up, not to meet her anyway, but to identify her, and tell her he knows who she is…

The other thing was a sheaf of papers, including a geothermic map of Gisli’s farm, prepared by the Ministry of Industries, and a blank purchase agreement. Theory: Finnur, knowing Gisli’s bankrupt, and that his land is a geothermic gold-mine, wants to buy it cheap, but with enough money to save Gisli. But then Gisli heads straight for Reykjavik and tries to immolate his sister, the Minister for Industries.

Who, if you believe her, and is there anybody here who actually does, didn’t know her Ministry was surveying Gisli’s land and has never seen her Ministry’s Survey Map.

Halla’s staying at the hotel now, meeting with Hafdis and Kolbrun, staying on a bit. Whilst Elin’s telling Oli that Halla’s already gone back south.

Add in the open, Ketill on a horse, up in the mountains, searching by the Lake. The one his poisoned son Sulji drank from. The one with drainage pipes emitting into it. The one with long streams of white scum on its surfaces. The one with a profusion of dead ducks on its shore, several of whom have been foaming at the beak. Ketill was right: he said the plant would pollute the land.

And lastly, Ebo has done a side-job for a Polish worker, one who’s forging a spear. Ebo wants his money, and he wants it now, but the Pole is playing silly beggars about him, knows abut Ebo and Vikingur (and assumes Vikingur is paying for it, so he wants a cut or he’ll make it public). Ebo’s getting deep into the brown stuff. His brother-in-law will keep his secret, for the sister’s sake, but he has to cut Vikingur out, now.

But the Poles get violent and Ebo runs, to Vikingur, for help. Only Vikingur’s angry and pissed again and heads for the plant. Where the power suddenly goes down. All’s blind. Hjortur, the night security, goes hunting. He finds the Pole down and bloody, from what looks like a bolt-gun to the head, just like Finnur. There’s an intruder. Hjortur pursues him. It’s Vikingur. And his face and shirt are just covered in blood…

Apart from the fact I’m confident Vikingur hasn’t done this latest, and hardly regrettable murder, I have no idea where this is going. Like today’s earlier episode, some shapes are discernible: the plant is a pollutant, Halla and Hafdis know, there’s a cover-up. But again, that’s too predictable. I’m relying on Trapped to be fooling me. I’m relying on it coming up with satisfactory answers to the near two dozen outstanding questions that are neat, logical, consistent and completly unpredictable. I’m not asking for too much, I hope.

Farewell Andrew Preview


The conductor Andre Previn, former husband of singer-songwriter Dory, former husband of Mia Farrow, and one of the most respected and popular pianists and conductors of our age has died aged 89.

It is no disrespect to his memory or his talent to pinpoint the most famous moment of his life, in Britain, as beiing his first appearance on the Morecambe & Wise Show, as a conductor conned into conducting Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Eric Morecambe as the soloist.

No matter how often I watch it – and I was lucky enough to see it go out the first time – there is no part of this which has gotten old or dimmed. Previn was a natural, and he lives with Eric and Ernie as  their equal, not just their patsy.

Watch it again, cherish how much of a good sport he was, and how bloody funny the whole thing is and forever will be.