Wednesday, 29 March 2017


Image result for lord of the rings
Today is the day the fascists have finally taken over our beloved country; Theresa has signed her letter to the EU. Who to blame? Cameron? The Telegraph? Murdoch? Perhaps it was Don James, his son.

The Ft has published an article today about Sunderland which apparently voted 62% to Leave. At last! seems to still be the majority view. ‘We’ve lost our way. There used to be a ship going out of Sunderland every day’, says John Fothergill from nearby Seaham. ‘We made things’. But there is, John in fact there are probably ten ships a day coming in or out every single day, half at least loaded with brand-new Nissan Leafs headed for progressive high-tech economies in Scandinavia and Switzerland. Or perhaps he is referring to new ships, newly built in the Yards, for export. Even I don’t remember those days John and I have lived within a twenty-minute drive of Sunderland for more than half my life. And anyway are those the sort of jobs you still hanker after? Spot-welding, hanging from a gantry 30-meters above the River Wear in a blizzard. The Hard Life? No, definitely not the soft life in a heated factory in Washington with free meals thrown in and real workers rights and protections, just a short drive from home in your company-subsidised Nissan. You and 120000 others in well-paid, clean manufacturing jobs: but not making things?

Was this was why you voted out?

Another interview, with Maureen Houghton a cook in the canteen at BIC claims, that she doesn’t believe the company will turn its back on the City, ‘They could move jobs away but a lot of money has been invested here’. Is she familiar with the term Future Investment? The sunk costs are already amortised. After Brexit she hopes there will be more job prospects in the Construction Industry where, ‘They have employed people from eastern Europe on cheaper rates’. Really? I worked in Construction for more than forty years and if I met two people a month from ‘eastern Europe’ I would be astonished.

So are we are leaving the world’s most successful trading block because of people like Maureen? Meself, I think Nissan will relocate the manufacturing facility to Slovakia as early as 2018, perhaps keeping the R&D here [but not necessarily in Sunderland]. HMG are pumping £100m into an industrial park nr Nissan to bring overseas [European] suppliers and manufacturers to Sunderland to feed the factory. An insurance policy? Perhaps. It’s all to play for and I have no idea if anyone has asked Michelin for example, if they want to build a facility in NE England.

I believe that we live in a society of specialists where individuals have discrete sets of proficiencies and are not good at doing anything else because other specialists manage that: yes, even Maureen. I can't install a gas boiler for example. I'd kill myself. I'm not corgi certified and all I know about gas boilers is what I've overheard or absorbed passively. Even in the fields I'm proficient in, there are whole areas I am ignorant of; I can tell you a lot about doors, windows, security, hardware, remote electronic access systems, but if you asked me say, about glass then I'd only be able to say ‘My knowledge is limited’ and give you some conjecture based on assumptions as I've never studied the properties of glass specifically.

There are, however, others who can fit gas boilers and yet others who will be able to provide you with full and detailed information about glass and glazing and their weather-resistant properties why in a car you can press a button and the window goes down while at home you have to struggle with a stiff handle system to open the bloody thing just an inch.

But they can't do what I happen to specialise in.

The problem we have is when big things that are complicated are debated in public, a huge majority of people have never actually thought about it or studied it, or even cared about it before. Which is to say . . . we should really listen to experts. Real ones. If I get a nasty purple rash on my leg I'd probably be better off seeing a dermatologist than polling a thousand strangers on what it is. If I need to know about the life and politics of Ho Chi Min, I should probably read a book on him by an academic historian, rather than 1000 random internet comments about Vietnam.

Democracy is still the best form of government we've devised, but we need to respect that with sovereignty of the people comes a duty for the people to choose their governors well. I think we would benefit from being more modest about the limits of our own knowledge and more assiduous in making sure we make well-informed decisions.  And know that we do not know and seek the best advice possible.



Tuesday, 28 March 2017


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Long Meg and her Daughters is a Neolithic stone circle in the Northern Lake District; we went there on Sunday.

There are reckoned to be around sixty stone circles in Cumbria, the most in any one county not of course that counties had any meaning in 2000BC. Why so many? Actually the relevant question is why so many still extant? Might be something to do with the relatively stable agricultural landscape: no mining, just one railway line, few roads little industry away from the coast in other words, no good reasons over the centuries to dig up or push over the stones. Long Meg is the third or fourth largest [by diameter] circle in the UK. Only Stanton Drew and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney are larger. It is located in a slightly bowl-shaped depression on top of a high hill that you can take the car to and park. It has views to both the east and the west and careful measurements indicate that it is aligned to the rise of the Winter Solstice [21st December]. There is evidence that Long Meg itself, a 3-meter high megalith of sandstone as opposed to the slate of all the other stones, was a later addition. Long Meg has a number of cut circles and carved cup & ring marks on one face suggesting [in my opinion] that that was why it was chosen. They weren’t carved in-situ . . .  they dragged the extant stone up the mountain because of its previous [2500-years?] of religious significance.

It is like most of these circles in that it was built as a predictive calendar; when was the best time to sow; what is the right time to harvest? Plus probably, various rites took place. Something I read, sorry forgotten where said only that it was a meeting place; they have found thousands of flints and axe heads there from as far away as Langdale, the only local source. Perhaps that’s true but later. No society would construct something like this to trade in flints.

There are two double entrances at north and south which add weight to the theory of a large crowd congregating in an enclosed space. I was interested in the acoustics. There was a guy there with a small camera team presumably making some kind of video and you could hear him speaking right across from him on the other side. In a normal voice.

Not the best or most interesting circle I have ever been to that award will always go to Callanish, but it and Castlerigg across the valley make up an almost unique pairing of Neolithic monuments that we are fortunate to have.



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This is a nice recipe for crab pies. I like crab but you need to use it sparingly, it has a subtle taste and can quickly dominate if you fill the pies with too much. First of all, the ingredients:

Olive oil

375g Ready-made shortcrust pastry [actually, I make it myself but no problem with ready-made]

190g crabmeat [just buy one dressed crab] should cost about £6

2xspring onions

200ml single cream

3xmedium eggs

1xheaped tsp dry English mustard

Grated lemon rind

2xtbsp Parmesan

Paper Muffin cases

Salt & pepper

I have tried all sorts of variations in quantities over the years but honestly these are correct.

Set oven to about 200C. Roll out the pastry sufficient to make 12xpies and line the Muffin cases. Bake blind 5-mins at the most. Remove from oven. Spoon crab meat equally into bottom of each Muffin case. Chop spring onions quite fine and spoon equal amount into each pie case.

Mix together eggs, cream, mustard, salt and pepper, lemon rind and then pour over crab + onions. Add grated Parmesan. Bake approx. 15-20 minutes. Stand for 5-10 mins before serving.

Sunday, 19 March 2017


Image result for chuck berry duck walk
So, Chuck Berry died today. Ninety, Gawd, bet he never thought he would reach such an old age.

One thing that is seldom said about Chuck Berry is that he had a direct appeal to young men who really found nothing appealing about the middle-of-the-road pop drivel that was marketed to teenage girls [and to a large extent their parents] in the 1950s and early 60s. Songs about cars, girls and guitars were things boys understood. I must have read dozens of articles and listened to just as many BBC docs about him, across the years. Was I a fan? Absolutely. And I was there at the time . . . this is first-hand nostalgia talking . . .

I was just a kid in 1956 but can vividly recall my friend Paul Leith and I running down to the fairground on a Saturday morning and pumping all of our weekly pocket-money into the best Juke-box in town. We had to change the three-shillings and sixpence we got into sixpences and then we would pump the whole lot in and listen to Schoolday seven-times in a row. Our weekly fix.  ‘If you tried to give rock-and-roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’. Indeed.

For us not-quite-teenagers yet, in those days everything American was glitzy and so, so, different to our own experience. It was unthinkable that kids drove their own cars to school; burgers and Coke were unearthly, outrageous treats let alone the everyday parlance of the classroom. Tucson? Route 66? Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico? I mean what kind of place is Amarillo? It would be forty years before I found out.

His career faltered fairly quickly. We moved on . . . to what? The Stones and then Dylan and the West Coast sound of Jefferson Airplane I suppose and then we moved on again. Genius though the lyrics of Little Queenie were, that wasn’t where we were at any more. We had jobs and girlfriends; fiancés in some cases and the imperative was to get away . . . the world’s ever-changing substance.

I never saw him live. He toured a lot when My Ding-a-Ling was a hit but I hated that song so much and hated what it represented . . . The Day the Music Died? . . . that I gave his tours and live appearances a miss. Never saw any of them: Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee. Seemed pointless. The Internet is full of tributes to him today and the Tweeters are out in force; God knows how one can say anything meaningful about Chuck Berry in 140-characters.

‘. . . pushing through the crowd trying to get to where she's at/I was campaign shouting like a Southern diplomat . . .’ Brilliant, on any level.


Saturday, 18 March 2017


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Liked this. Its difficult material but awfully well executed.
I haven’t read many reviews funnily enough. I think in part because I didn’t want to read a spoiler of any kind but also, I wouldn’t consider myself part of the target audience for a film about young black homosexuality. But it’s good, in fact it is magnetic and worth two-hours of anyone’s time.  


Saw this last weekend; very mixed audience, couples with kids and a scattering of oldies. They programmed it for 11.30am on a Sunday morning. Taking pot-luck I suppose.
I liked it, loved the scenery and the close-up shots of the eagle. It’s a drama-doc I think: there are no actors in it but it isn’t a pure ethnographic documentary such as you might see on BBC 4. If you don’t know, it’s set in Outer Mongolia, about 300-miles from China’s southern border; the remotest region of the remotest country in the world, according to the director and producer. I could be wrong ‘cos its years since I read it but I have a feeling that is where Murakami sets Wind-up Bird: at the bottom of a well in the remotest region of the remotest &tc. . . . or perhaps that’s Manchuria? Sorry. However, this is about the nomadic people who live there, in winter temperatures of - 40c and is a concocted tale about a 13-year old tribal girl who is mentored by her father, himself a renowned eagle-hunter, to train a Golden Eagle of her own. She wins the Eagle Hunter competition at her first attempt against an all-male field.
As I say, I liked it. The scene where the sixty or-so competitor eagle-hunters arrive in the bowl of the mountains where the contest will take place, one by one, on horseback, on camels and on motorcycles is terrific and authentic. Some of them have travelled hundreds of miles to get there. Reviewers have placed a big but here because there is no way on earth a thirteen-year old novice . . . male or female . . . could beat these gunslingers and of course the audience’s realisation that this isn’t what they thought it was, a documentary with real people with real commitment in the wilds of nowhere are confounding and disappointing. But they are being disingenuous: who did they think was filming that dangerous ascent of the rocky crag? Or that wonderful deep long shot of them riding across the desert Steppe? Of course there are professionals involved! The Guardian however, handing it 2* calls it manipulative filming.
Disagree. Disagree pretty strongly in fact. There is an interview on YouTube with the Director, Otto somebody in which he says that he got the idea for the film from images he had seen in a BBC Documentary about something else entirely and wondered to himself about making a film concerning a Mongolian girl struggling to get to grips with the fortitude required to be an eagle huntress in a patriarchal society. He pitched his idea then tried to find out whether the naturally conservative and closed society of indigenous nomads would work with him and to his surprise, found exactly what he was looking for: a father who had been a five-times champion eagle-hunter himself, with a thirteen-year old daughter who secretly wanted to try it. His elder son had joined the army and would never therefore want to stay on the Steppe never mind train as an eagle hunter in – 40c temperatures. These two are the father-daughter couple we see in the film. And probably the rest of the family and the animals and the Yurts and the solar panels are the same stuff that they own. So no, I didn’t feel particularly manipulated.


I finally caught up with Sicario which was on at a strange time, half-five on a Friday evening, just a completely one-off showing. Me plus a couple of couples. It’s about the Mexican Cartels, maybe I should be interested in this but honestly, I’m not. I read a good book about them once, fiction, can’t remember the title; was it Power of the Dog? Doesn’t matter, I spent the whole time reading it the same way I spent my time watching this: WTF don’t they just legalise the stuff? Guns, men, guns, noise, guns, American hard-wired brutal thugs and poverty-stricken Mexicans carrying out even worse atrocities than the devils, Isis.
It won an Oscar. For Cinematography [the great man, Roger Deakins] and reviewers think it should have won another one for the score which is tremendous. There is definitely a lot of craft and care; superb performances from leads, Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and really all the way down to even the smallest most insignificant actor. Some lovely set-pieces . . . the director has a particular affection for framing devices; in a mirror; in a doorway; through a gunsight; at the exit from a mules tunnel but I didn’t in the end feel I had been watching anything informative: just a very well made and sorry to say this, a rather too slow-burning cop procedural in which you are never sure who the real bad guys are.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017


Image result for paul leith

I have just been watching a BBC documentary about the American actor, composer, singer and artist, Tom Waits. Although Waits and I are of a similar age and generation, he and his music have completely passed me by.
All of the contributors were men, except Lucinda Williams: real men. Men like Guy Garvey of Elbow and Terry Gilliam and Iain Rankin. He has a voice like it was soaked in a vat of Bourbon, apparently. 

This is the lyric to Drunk on the Moon: 

 Tight-slacked clad girls on the graveyard shift

 'Neath the cement stroll

 Catch the midnight drift

 Cigar chewing Charlie

 In that newspaper nest

 grifting hot horse tips

 On who's running the best 


 And I'm blinded by the neon

 Don't try and change my tune

 'Cause I thought I heard a saxophone

 I'm drunk on the moon

 And the moon's a silver slipper

 It's pouring champagne stars

 Broadway's like a serpent

 Pulling shiny top-down cars

 Laramer is teeming

 With that undulating beat

 And some Bonneville is screaming

 It's way wilder down the street



 Hearts flutter and race

 The moon's on the wane

 Tarts mutter their dream hopes

 The night will ordain

 Come schemers and dancers

 Cherry delight

 As a Cleveland-bound Greyhound

 And it cuts through the night

 And I've hawked all my yesterdays

 Don't try and change my tune

 'Cause I thought I heard a saxophone

 I'm drunk on the moon 

I selected that at random but whatever, it is meaningless to me. I have never lived in that uniquely American world of excess and booze and lighting another cigarette just as you stamp the other one out; of dossing in a shabby room above a Las Vegas brothel and sleeping in your clothes; of starting your day at 4.00am.

But clearly the real men are quite taken with it all.

He is an artist and what can often seem contrived to ordinary people like me, is in fact a very original and affecting act. The real Tom Waits is presumably a perfectly ordinary person who takes his daughter to school, pays his electricity bill on time and does a mean Chilli Con Carne. God, I hope so ‘cos this wasted American hobo persona would drive me to distraction in about six minutes if I was anywhere within twenty-miles of him.

It’s a funny thing art and artists; people, particularly in the media seem willing to extend great goodwill and licence to these hard-living thespian artistes. I don’t know if you have ever read any of the dark stuff on Robert Zimmerman when he is not playing the part of Bob Dylan but some of it is very dark indeed. But we forgive because he is such a terrific artist, indeed an icon.

Maybe J M W Turner had his dark side, well he did if the recent film about him is true but again it doesn’t do to draw attention to his cruelties.

I think perhaps that all of these guys, Waits, Turner, Dylan, win our respect at least because they didn’t achieve what they had without remarkable diligence, hard work and talent. Yes, some luck, some outright stealing of other’s ideas and being in the right place at the right time but we find ways of coming to terms with all that . . . and we certainly are in no position to judge . . . and take what they give us and cherish it.

It is interesting to see what his own inspirations are/were: Tout Mask Replica is number 3 in his all-time top twenty, which is I don’t know, doubtful; Beefheart wasn’t popular in 70’s America. He has Exile on Main Street as his No.4; very strange, it’s hard to see what the influences are.

There seemed to be a slight suggestion in the documentary that he now has regrets about wrapping his genuine song-writing talents around this late-night semi-alcoholic loner caricature he has become [or created]. Can’t find anything anywhere about a drug habit and there was nothing mentioned in the television piece; cynical me thinks booze and brothels are much more acceptable to the real men in his audience.



Monday, 13 March 2017


Image result for moonlight
My daughter has reached that age when she is thinking more seriously about her career path. She is HR Manager for a fairly large company [400 employees] and has held similar positions in businesses such as P&G and WSP. She attends high-powered business courses and was telling us yesterday about one held in Manchester where the session was about bias in the workplace:

‘We were split into three groups. They showed us a film of someone playing a piano concerto; one group could hear the music but were unable to see the pianist; the next group could see the pianist but couldn’t hear the music; the third group could both hear and see the music and the musician. Then we were asked to rate the quality of the piece; this was the result:


Ø  People who could both hear and see: 56% liked the music.

Ø  People who could only hear the music: 51% liked it.

Ø  People who could only see the pianist: 68% liked the music’


A fairly amazing outcome and the facilitator said she got the same result every time.

Speaks volumes about bias. Isn’t this the USP of television shows like The Voice? When the judge turns round and sees that the contestant is 99-years old or of Asian heritage, it is as good as over for them.

I once attended a course run by the Dale Carnegie Management Consultancy. I’m not, you know embarrassed by that; I didn’t go to Uni so I had to use the tools available to me to run a business. We needed training and they offered the right package at the right price. It came about like this: we wanted to achieve a business qualification called Investors in People which a lot of Construction Industry sub-contractors were applying for, particularly in London but couldn’t think how to go about it. There was no shortage of ‘Management Consultants’ in Newcastle but were they right for us? An awful lot of them seemed to be man & wife set-ups who seemed superficially to be a good fit for our relatively small company [14 employees] but all of our employees were highly skilled and we weren’t at all sure they would take kindly to being lectured to by people with, frankly rather less intellectual weight than they had themselves. Plus, my people worked incredibly hard and efficiently. On any given day we might have someone in London, someone in Glasgow and someone in Liverpool all of whom would not get home until after ten at night. They didn’t need motivating but perhaps they did need help with strategic thinking.

So, my accountant and I were in a bar, a very unique event, discussing how we might go about getting this qualification when a thin woman in a suit approached us from out of a group of about ten, sitting together at another table. She apologised for interrupting, introduced herself and said she had overheard us talking about Investors in People and thought she could help. She turned out to be the area manager for the Dale Carnegie organisation, up from Manchester just for the day.

Felt like fate. God, the number of times that has happened to me in my life; just as I am scratching my head about how to resolve some intractable problem, the answer walks up and taps me on the shoulder. I had never been in that bar before. She had come up from Manchester for that one day.

I was so, so impressed with her; walking up to a complete stranger in a bar like that.

We signed up.

On her course, I learned:

Ø  Public speaking

Ø  Leadership

Ø  Interviewing

Ø  Communicating concepts to  others

To be honest, at that point in my largely successful life I thought I knew enough about leadership and communication but it turned out I knew nowt. I certainly knew nowt about public speaking before I went on the course and I came out the other end really quite confident about getting up in front of an audience. I remember having to talk in front of about thirty people and teach them how to swim, without props.

After that I sent four of my senior staff on the same course [£2000ea] which may have been a mistake because they all left for better jobs, within two-years. The super-training meant that they were suddenly ambitious for other opportunities. Speaking to my daughter last night about what a waste of money it seemed to be she said they would have moved on anyway if you didn’t give them any training: it was a lose-lose situation. If you didn’t put them on a high level training course they would go elsewhere because they would feel stunted and restricted, if you did put them on a quality training course they would move on as soon as it seemed ethically acceptable to do so. What about loyalty? ‘Business is different now, there is a great deal of churn; most people move jobs every two years’.

It’s a glass ceiling in a way; everybody thinks it looks easy but out by themselves in the harsh, cold reality of cut+thrust business life, it is a great deal harder than it looks.


Sunday, 5 March 2017


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That is a headline I never thought to see in my lifetime. It goes on to declare that employees are more likely to respond to commands from humanoid androids.

So, where are these humanoid androids? Answer: Japan, which unlike the US for example, actually has a shortage of workers and as a result, are way ahead of the rest of the world in AI and robotic technology.

Why? Partly because they don’t allow immigration. You can get a 90-day visa to visit but are not allowed to work; the percentage of immigrants in a country with a population of 123 million, is 2% compared for example to the UK [65m] where the percentage of residents not born in Britain is 13%  most of which incidentally, are non-EU. In Japan, the majority of non-Japanese residents are overwhelmingly either Chinese [45%] or South Korean [35%]. You can’t even up sticks and move to another city without a permit.

As everyone knows, the birth-rate is falling and as has recently been reported, they don’t have sex anymore [unless they are underage, where it is getting out of hand and becoming a serious social issue]. As a consequence, the population is in decline and the Japanese government is pouring cash into robotics to keep production-lines running. That has raised the unexpected social difficulty of taking orders from a robot.

And it’s coming down the line. In 2015 [a long time ago] companies spent £11 billion on robotics and as they become increasingly sophisticated, the day really is approaching when a work-based robot gives you instruction. The thing I was reading [in the FT] states that people, workers, will more happily take that instruction from a robot that resembles a human being than one which actually resembles a machine, like the devices we see on motor car production lines or even voices that speak to you from a computer screen, ‘you made an error there. Fix it!’

Of course they’re not there to make the medicine go down . . . already, they have identified other problems with robot bosses; where for example is the social interaction most people need and receive in the workplace?  ‘Listen, robot, you know what my boyfriend and me did last night? Well, first of all, we took off . . . ‘ You can see how employees are going to become just as disenchanted as the Rustbelt redundant are in Ohio and elsewhere and it is a strange twist of the screw that at a time when Trump is trying to safeguard jobs and keep them in the country, Japan is enthusiastically throwing money into labour-saving technologies.

You don’t often get real glimpses of the way society might evolve in the future but this seems very plausible.   




Friday, 3 March 2017


Image result for the friends of eddie coyle
BLACKLANDS [By Belinda Bauer]. Pretty dark, this. It’s about a serial killer, a child killer like Ian Brady who falls into correspondence with the 12-year old nephew of one of his murdered victims, whose buried body has never been found. Written from the twelve year old nephew’s POV it illuminates extremely well the impact the killing has had on the surviving family through the years: his Gran, Poor Mrs Peters who stands immobile, looking out of the window all day every day for twenty years; his mum, abandoned and struggling to cope with two young boys and her grim, morose mother while trying to hold down two jobs and still be home when they return from school. The twelve-year old himself, teased and bullied in class because of his impoverished, blighted situation, without either a dad or a decent pair of shoes. It’s very much the sort of thing I might have written myself; not a psychological thriller exactly more of a family saga with very dark deeds playing out underneath. It won a CWA Dagger Award so clearly the publisher and author regard it as Crime Fiction but although I liked it I am not sure that say a reader of Jack Reacher or Iain Rankin would find a great deal to interest them. It’s too slow and there is no violence and no sex and no police. All ticks in my boxes but these are usually the essentials of Crime Fiction.

What actually sets it apart is the genius of the actual correspondence: what a brilliant literary device it is. This is the reason she won the Dagger Award.


UPROOTED [By Naomi Novik]. This is a compelling, plot-driven American Fantasy novel re-translated for a European audience: Autumn not Fall; trousers not pants and is aimed at female teens, I would guess. Not me, anyway. It is a bit like Earthsea insofar as it concerns itself with sorcery and a sorcerer’s apprentice who turns out to be even more powerful than the wizard himself.

The blurb claims that the author, Mrs Novik is of Polish heritage and that she has used ancient Polish fairy tales to tell her story. We believe her.

I found it a little indigestible rather as though Ursula Le Guin had combined Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Furthest Shore all into one long narrative. Great as the trilogy is, it would be too much to take in in one book. As this is. There are some terrific ideas in it and she [almost never] runs out of different ways to describe the latest spell or the new horror about to befall them but many of the crises are propelled by lines like this one:

‘I only stood there, too angry to even find my voice . . .’

The writing isn’t bad although I can’t understand her need to spell everything out at great length. She does have some nice similes however; here’s one:

‘I carefully drew my magic back, carefully, carefully, like tipping up a bottle without letting it drip down the neck . . .’

It’s kind of feminist. There is no ambiguity or anxiety about female power. She is intelligent and demanding she has substance even before she is chosen to be the sorcerer’s apprentice; spirit chutzpah personality, character. A bit of a moxie.

I haven’t read the Goodreads reviews but I expect there will be the same ‘reviewers’ who think it is ‘hoary’ [see Lament for the Fallen, last month]. It has 150 5* reviews on Amazon and that is pretty impressive. I liked it, I liked it, I don’t want to seem like a Moany old Groany; on page 173, after yet another clever revelation I thought to myself, ‘this is superb . . . as good as anything I’ve read recently’. But she simply overwrites it and after a while, it becomes as I say indigestible.


EDDIES WORLD [By Charlie Stella]. Someone’s been reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle and probably the rest of George’s canon; dialogue, dialogue pages and pages of dialogue. Submit that to an Agent in the UK today and you won’t have to wait a long time for your, ‘Not for me’ rejection letter. In fact, it isn’t published in the UK, this is an American copy.

But it radiates authority. It is about a man, Eddie, on the fringes of the New York Mafia who lends money to people who need it short-term. He inadvertently gets caught up in an FBI sting and comes under pressure from the mob, the cops, his wife and his acquaintances all of whom need him to do something. Charlie Stella relies almost entirely upon dialogue to tell his tale and he does a great job; doesn’t waste a word. No lyrical descriptions of scene or character: they drive along Rockaway Parkway and turn left into Seaview. Nothing about the weather, time of day, the streets outside, the dappled shadows, the orange sunset; it’s all in the conversation between the driver and his passenger. Loved it.

It is linear, there are no flashbacks or gimmicks: this happens then that happens and we follow the action as it spills out. Never loses pace and he avoids inserting a host of unnecessary dramatic conflicts into the story and focuses instead on the multi-dimensional characters he has created. More than that it has backbone, you really believe in these bumbling cops, the mercilessly pragmatic FBI and the even more pragmatic Mob. His dialogue is terrific; he pulls off the difficult trick of differentiating characters by the way they speak, making everyone sound different: none of the women talk the same way; the cops speak quite differently to one another. In fact even Eddie isn’t particularly articulate.

Super book, recommended on the Not New for Long blog.





Thursday, 2 March 2017


Image result for its all over now baby blue
I wanted to say another thing about friendship and about schadenfreude in personal relationships. Way, way back I met a guy called Rick Taylor. We had hooked up with Rick and his friend Harry in Germany and they were going East, the same as we were, in the general direction of Nepal. He was a little older than me; big but with short legs so that all his bigness was concentrated in the upper-half of his body. Bald and bearded with a loud American voice and loud American manner, from inappropriate brightly patterned shirts to expressing opinions about every society we passed through in derogatory language. The Ugly American. I wasn’t irritated: that was why I went, to meet and interact with the rest of the world.

Turned out he was Canadian, a teacher by profession, lived in Toronto, a city I had visited quite a few times; I think I have mentioned before, I saw Jefferson Airplane plus the Grateful Dead and their incredible light-show there in ‘67. So, we had something in common, I suppose. We kept our distance. Probably, I was too intense and as always, kept myself to myself and he wouldn’t approve of that: we were there to have a good time. Smoke weed chase girls, all those manly things that manly men do. No introverts here buddy.

Eventually he got bored with everyone else and somewhere in Northern Pakistan sought me out and attempted normal conversation. And as we got nearer to Nepal we became close friends.

In Kashmir, they found what he and Harry came for, hand-carved walnut chests and artefacts and stayed behind in Sri Nagar to do deals and arrange shipments back to Toronto. We carried on to Kathmandu.

But he wanted to stay in touch and months later after I was released from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and finally returned home, amongst the piles and piles of post and unpaid bills were three or four Airmail letters from him. I hadn’t realised that I had made that much impact on him, although he must have known what had happened to me because every passenger on the Iraq Airways 747 was checked over by the health authority and there were people on that jet who would have reported back to him what had happened. Of course, he couldn’t know if I was dead or alive.

Anyway, anyway, anyway he came over to Newcastle about a year later with Mike, another friend, another teacher in his school. Mike was a really nice guy, like normal Canadians. They helped us move house; it just so happened that the weekend they arrived was the weekend we were moving and they were amazingly helpful; two brawny Canadians humping washing machines up and down the stairs. Never forgotten it and eternally grateful, despite what happened next.

They stayed, I don’t know, a week? Can’t remember and we all got on great. Harry was still running the shop they had started [Harricks], still importing timber furniture from Kashmir. Then they went off to London for their second week. He asked me to visit them; I think he and his [brand new] wife were living in Mississauga with their two kids. He had gone back into teaching.

We went the following year. Took our then ten year old daughter with us. They were so, so pleased to see us. They had made-up a couple of rooms for us, one of which had a view of the lake.

Their daughter was cute, a little too cute, a daddy’s girl with her blonde hair done up in elaborate ringlets [4-years old]. Their son who as I remember was about twelve, was a quiet, reserved child that Rick almost never addressed except to chastise him for doing something ‘wrong’. Okay, we were only staying three nights and we were their guests and, and  . . .

First night, the boy was sent to his room about 7.30pm and off he trudged upstairs.

We watched TV and chatted about old-times and drank a little wine then retired for the night. It seemed a strange relationship: the wife was a bit dense, four steps below Rick on the social scale. But each to his own. Maybe they were having great sex; it really matters to some people. Having said which, I have lost count over the years of the men I have known who seek intelligent conversation amongst other guys down at the gym or the club and don’t even consider that they might get it at home.

Next day the boy just wasn’t around: he was still in his room. Well, he was almost an archetypical American Teenager and couldn’t surely be expected to have any interest in us so we thought nothing of it. Rick took us out and about, into the City and out on the lake. We went to dinner that night with friendly Mike and his latest girlfriend and some others; had a lovely time. Everyone brought their offspring and we had a balmy North American evening, with North American food and intelligent North American conversation. Rick’s son stayed in his room at home.

My wife thought there was something amiss but . . . and perhaps I didn’t want to dig too deep . . . I shrugged it off; anyway we were leaving the next day. The atmosphere changed later the following day however, Louise . . . I have just remembered his wife’s name . . . was getting ratty. Rick did nothing. He was actually a fantastic cook, probably the best non-professional I have ever met: give him say, an orange, two carrots and a chicken breast and he would produce the most mouthwatering meal from just those three ingredients. But he didn’t clean or help make the beds; didn’t even run the dishwasher which even the most shiftless men usually do. I think she was sick of us, complete strangers to her, hanging around, not contributing while she was left to clear up after us. Rick didn’t do nothing: he played and interacted with the child: his child. It turned out that the boy was her son from a previous marriage and it turned out that Rick wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him which is why he was effectively a lodger. Extraordinary on almost every level you can think of: that Louise stood for it, that the boy seemed relatively well-balanced, that an intelligent man like Rick could inflict such cruelty on another human being, let alone his wife’s son. That he couldn’t empathise with his wife’s anguish. On and on. There wasn’t any attempt to hide or cover-up the situation just because we were there that I could see but we both strongly suspected there was actual violence when we weren’t. The kid was terrified of him.  

God, were we glad to get away that afternoon.

She suffered and I am being unkind in suggesting she was dense, she must have been in constant torment. Once, we saw a flash of regret not only for things she longed for in the present but for things she had longed for in the past but even if she had wanted to talk, it wouldn’t have been us she would have talked to.

Perhaps the prism of nostalgia really does eclipse all . . . when it comes to relationships. Perhaps it would have been better to try and get him on his own and hear his side. At the evening drinks party, nice-guy Mike whispered that despite everything he loved the guy and he adored Louise and didn’t want to lose their friendship.

But, how did I get this guy and the subsequent friendship so wrong? Opposites attract? Or ‘a friend complements us for qualities we lack?’ Or again, is there always an inherent inequality in friendship?

Nothing much to add to this. Needless to say, we lost contact.