Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Image result for it's all over now baby blue
It’s a line# from Its All Over Now Baby Blue [By Bob Dylan].

I have been thinking about the nature of friendship recently. An old friend from work, about ten years ago, recently came back into my life and we got on well. I was kind of surprised to tell the truth: our lives and the bonds and shared interests that drew us together in the first place have altered so much in the intervening years and I couldn’t see what we would have to say to one another. In fact, I was reluctant when it was suggested. How many friends have I got? Do I want more? What would the price be for having more? Are the ones that I do have genuine friends or just blabber-mouths who in fact are parasites happy to unburden themselves on my wise and [fairly] genuine interest but start fiddling with their phones when I start to talk about something that is actually of concern to me?

I think at my age it is hard to maintain a lot of friendships; I don’t want to anyway. I haven’t made any effort to stay in touch with old work colleagues and I used to know at least forty individuals either pretty well or very well. I don’t want to know. We had business and doors in common, sometimes one or two additional interests like music or walking but we had to put aside our private lives, our politics, our troubles because business was what brought us together and we had to have a working relationship. Of course, some people I had to accommodate I disliked and for sure, they disliked me but there weren’t many I simply couldn’t work with or work for. Now that I am free from those constraints and I don’t have to talk to Alan X, I don’t.

It leaves me with fewer friends and acquaintances but if the relationship is only good for oiling the many wheels of the working environment, what does it provide on any other level? Lots of unanswered questions today. And . . . contrary as ever . . . the guy who recently got in touch used to be my accountant when I ran the business. Anyway it is early days for all that and we shall see how we get on.

You can join groups or attend Education classes: meet people. I was invited to join an all-male Investment Group that meets once a month. There are 11 of them and I knew about half of them already, two or three quite well so it wasn’t a challenge. I must say, they were good when I was ill recently. Unexpectedly so since our meetings don’t usually touch on the personal.

The friends that I do have I have known for forty+ years and are none of them, work-related. My best friend if that is still an acceptable term, is a woman . . .  a divorcee, Susan Gray. Her ex, Brian and I were very close but when they divorced, I went with Susan who I liked much more. I think he thought I was the one she was having an affair with, but I wasn’t and wouldn’t. I never fancied her, still don’t our friendship is about mutual respect, many, many mutual interests . . . in the face of a true friend we see a second self . . . [Cicero] . . . and when we meet up, we just talk and talk which to my mind is the very definition of friendship.

It isn’t easy for a married man to have a close friendship with a divorcee.

And yet, sometimes it doesn’t work. Eddie Gainford, who designed my book covers should be a friend. We share many interests, are of similar age/class, both ran in my case, running in Eddie’s, their own intense, high-tech businesses and he seems to genuinely like me a lot. But. Whenever I have reached out beyond the current issue engaging us, he hides. Do I seem needy, Eddie? I do not care that much to be honest, I’ve just dumped forty work-related friends so I suspect needy is the wrong adjective. These are only my observations; I am just saying you only get one life, one chance but if you don’t want to reach back, then that’s your choice. There are people who want me to be more friendly with them, who believe we could have a closer relationship but for whatever reason, I don’t want to. Usually, probably because I know it would be all on their terms.


 #In a way, it is a kindly gentle thing to say. He could have shrieked eff-off at Joannie who simply wouldn’t accept that it was over but instead, he composed this song.

Monday, 27 February 2017


Image result for comic strip marvel
Stan Lee is 94 I am surprised to learn. I met him once, way, way back in the late sixties when he came to London and did a personal appearance. Too long ago to remember where but if memory serves correct, it was in a tiny room with a tiny stage and there was less than a hundred people there and not every seat was taken. I saw it advertised, probably in Time Out and trekked across to West London to hear him speak. He would have been in his mid-thirties then . . . does that sound right? . . . if he is ninety-four now; not tall, quite stocky with brown hair swept back and a bushy moustache. Very genial guy, smiling and outgoing. Can’t remember what he talked about, comics one assumes but which particular aspect is beyond my recall. He hung around to sign autographs and chat and that was how I came to meet him.

At that time I wanted very much to make my living as a professional artist; ideally as a strip-cartoonist and I spent every night drawing layouts and story-boards, making up my own tales not of Superheroes but of everyday people in alarming circumstances. ‘No guns; no police’ the same blurb for Riccarton Junction, forty-years later. I sent some stuff off to Marvel and I think, DC in New York but really it wasn’t good enough and they sent me a couple of lines of rejection. I later learned that they were pretty much one-man operations so there was never ever a workforce, a team of artists to join. Although I had A-Level Art from school, I was untrained. My friend and close neighbour, Paul Leith did attend Sunderland Art College which had a terrific reputation, I believe Brian ferry went there, and he was trained. But they made him do experimental sculpture and textiles and pottery and other stuff that I didn’t consider to be ‘Art’ and I didn’t want to be diverted from what I wanted to do; draw comic strips.

I should have applied.

Strangely, there were and perhaps still are diverging schools of comic drawing. It isn’t the uniquely American Artform everyone thinks it is. Spain was where the leading artists practiced, sexy drawings of half-naked girls fighting off weird creatures with swords. Some of the work was tremendous, every panel carefully sketched, head and shoulders above what Marvel was doing which to me then appeared production line, with little elegance. Yeah, yeah, I know Jack Kirby is venerated now but back then the imaginative Spanish and Italian geniuses ruled for me and many, many others.

Eventually, I had to choose whether to starve in an attic in Golders Green or stick with the day-job of doors and hardware.

Stan Lee was a big influence, it must be said, on everyone who was interested in the art-form. What he did apart from turning the American Comic Book Industry into the multi-million dollar media monster it is today was to root his characters in reality. Spiderman was a real guy with special powers; he didn’t live in Gotham City and flew over tall buildings, he lived in New York and part, indeed the main part of their attraction was how conflicted the heroes were about using their Superpowers.

Not a lot to add, I saw a little article about him recently praising his maverick genius and I thought I would write up my memories of him. Marvel almost went bust in the sixties and again in the mid-eighties post-Star Wars so his present heroic status didn’t come easy at all.

And . . . he was a liberal leftie.


Image result for computer scammer

We have just managed to fight off two scams; one on the 25th January when they claimed to be from BT, offering to speed up the Broadband connection and the other last Wednesday when they said they were from Microsoft. Despite all the anti-virus, scam and security software I have on here, they just waltzed in and took over the computer. How do they do that?

First virus took a week to clean and I still had to restore literally everything after that myself. Everything, every single thing. Second virus also took a week to clean and I am still restoring all my websites as we speak.

Obviously they were trying to get our account details and God did they try but unfortunately for them, I don’t do Internet Banking. Then they tried to get me to open an account with Bitcoin and I would have done it too because I still thought it was a genuine call at that stage [stupidly, on reflection] but again, I don’t have my phone Internet-enabled precisely because of scams/hackers so I couldn’t connect to Bitcoin.

So they had to give up [or ask me directly for my Visa card details].

Subsequently I spoke to my bank and to the police and neither of them could explain how scammers can just seize someone’s computer . . . ‘They’re very clever’ . . . unquote. They are the scourge of our times.

What a way to make a living: stealing, lying, scamming, thieving, I don’t know how they live with themselves but I have no doubt that they will try again. Trust me guys, when you think back to how you made your money, how you fed your children when you examine your life, I am sure you will find that it wasn’t worth living.

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Image result for ricki and the flash


Not really my thing . . . a CGI-heavy Christmas Fantasy film but we wanted a Boxing Day family outing so this was what we did. It has terrific reviews from even serious film reviewers [5* from the Guardian] but it seemed sprawling to me; trying to pack too much in to two-hours fifteen minutes. The CGI is effective and the beasts are imaginatively realised; acting is good, particularly the two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston and if you like this kind of thing I think you would find little to criticise: so I’m not going to criticise it.

I was thinking this morning that it is probably at the peak of cultural influence alongside Strictly Come Dancing and Bake-Off on TV and the likes of Lee Child in books. J K Rowling has found the formula. Well, good luck to her not resting on her Harry Potter laurels but pushing open new doors and taking on new challenges: a one-woman Disney Studios. How does she not get crushed by it? The depth of character required to mount something like this must be remarkable.
This one cost $180m and according to the Internet has already taken $610m at the worldwide box office.

There are five more films in the pipeline which should see Eddie Redmayne through to the end of his working life.


Liked this a lot. Not a massive amount of depth but the story of making good in Hollywood after trying for years to hang on to your dreams is something almost everyone can identify with. I really liked the fact that they managed to accomplish their hearts desire at the end. At a price.
Dancing: great. Songs: great. Acting: couldn’t fault it. I thought Ryan Gosling was perfect for the part. I tend to blow hot and cold about him but he was in one of my all-time favourite films, Blue Valentine so I am generally well-disposed toward him.

I very much liked the ongoing theme of Jazz and its place in the contemporary music scene.


This is an old-ish film [2016] that I didn’t see at the time but was on on Saturday afternoon [yesterday]. I had always liked the concept but was foolishly put off by the poor reviews, so I didn’t go at the time. Then a couple of months ago I read a list of ‘most overlooked films of 2016’ and there it was, redeemed and receiving belated appreciation. It’s written by the great Diablo Cody who was responsible for Young Adult with Charlize Theron and Juno, both of which I enjoyed. It stars Meryl and is directed by Jonathan Demme, who appears to have been working in television for most of the last decade; Silence of the Lambs seems like a long time ago.
It is billed as a comedy but didn’t get many laughs from me although that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Meryl Streep plays a kind of ageing rock-chick in a bar-blues band who left her husband and family several decades earlier to pursue her dreams as a musician and singer. The film revolves around the events of her overdue return home to her re-married, wealthy husband, recently divorced daughter and gay son. Streep [or Diablo Cody one suspects] plays her as world-wise but not particularly deep; someone who didn’t examine her choices much, just followed her heart. The live band bits are extremely well done not relegated to thirty perfunctory seconds: they are given their due weight.
Although it is light, it has some heft and all in all is warm and engaging and poignant. There is a short and under-emphasised scene where Ricki is alone at home in her grungy apartment in which she strips off her make-up to reveal the fifty-plus woman behind the gutsy rocker public image that tells the audience everything they need to know; that the most hopeless loss is the absence of even the sense of loss.   

I haven’t seen Jackie or Denial, only these three good but fairly lightweight films, this year. I may visit Loving if only to see the beautiful Ruth. I did despite my illness last year see the cream of the crop: Our Little Sister; The Assassin, although in retrospect, Victoria seems like a major omission. I will catch up.
It’s partly because I don’t want to upset my new-found equilibrium that I don’t want to be reminded of the evil in the world which both Denial and Jackie will confront me with but and this is going to sound like a contradiction, I still haven’t got over Son of Saul which transcended its subject matter to such a degree that it became a work of art. True art, up there with Monet and Joni Mitchell and Johann Cruyff.

It raised the bar to such an extent, everything else pales before its power.

Friday, 10 February 2017


Image result for barber shop sign

Big write-up in the Travel section of today’s newspaper about Kuching: says it is the next big thing [‘cos it’s so unspoiled!]. Right, well there’s a terrific reason for recommending it to a couple of million rich European tourists.

I had a haircut there once. I always try to have a haircut wherever I go in the world: I have had haircuts in tiny, remote Scottish Highland villages; in Northern Norway and in Stockholm; in El Paso, Texas; in East Berlin when it was East Berlin and quite a few all over Italy. Italian hairdressers make the most ostentatious fuss and bother, hot towels, half-an-hour to lay-out all their scissors and towels. They also charge the most, presumably to justify the prices. And best not be in a rush. If the guy in front of you is a regular customer, you can reckon on a minimum one-hour wait before you get any attention.
The hairdresser in Kuching [it’s in Sarawak, by the way] was an ancient Chinese guy, definitely not a local Malaysian Dyak. We saw his shop while aimlessly wandering around the backstreets and I spotted his red & white barber’s pole. They are always red and white poles no matter where you go: even in Kabul; even in East Germany. He first of all put a pudding bowl over my head . . . honestly . . . then shaved everything up to the bowl with a pair of hundred-year old mechanical hair clippers, then he took the bowl off and held up his mirror. That was it. Finished. The hair that I wanted cut, the long stuff on top of my head was completely ignored.

Actually, one other very quick recollection: I once had my hair cut in Glasgow’s tough East End by a guy who didn’t use scissors at all . . . he worked only with an electric shaver. Honest. Couldn’t believe it. But . . . it was a pretty good cut. Incidentally, they all use mirrors held up to the back of your head for approval. The regimen varies; towels in Venice; bowls in Kuching but every one without fail, has a barbers pole outside; never asks you how you want it; chats incessantly . . . yep, even in Pashtun and holds up a mirror to the back of your head and waits until you have deliberated.
Just how this universal practice became universal beats me; you certainly can’t attribute it to the Empire