Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Kingsholme

Dunwich may have fallen off the edge of a cliff, but that wasn't why the town died. Buildings can be rebuilt, but economics is fatal.

The Kingsholme was a shingle spur a mile offshore, and the waters behind it formed the harbour which made Dunwich. Over the centuries, the sea ate the land underneath Dunwich and simultaneously pushed the Kingsholme onshore. Eventually, the river Blyth broke through the Kingsholme three kilometres north of Dunwich, Dunwich's harbour was blocked and its river reversed its flow, emptying northwards into the Blyth at Westleton.

There was no reason for Dunwich to be there any more, so it died.

The Kingsholme, though, survived as a shingle barrier keeping the sea from the silted-up harbour, which became a freshwater marsh.

Picture a three kilometre line of pebble and sand, three metres high by fifteen wide, cutting between marsh and sea. Beautiful in summer, and absolutely desolate in winter.

I've always had in mind that this would be a good setting for a novel, not least because it's one of England's most sad and haunting places. And it's transitory: not a generation has passed without Dunwich changing its form. How can you not make something of a setting where the landscape can change faster than the characters?

I imagined the Kingsholme as a processional way by which the main character would symbolically return back to the village of his birth. But in one of those rather unsettling coincidences, the same night I started writing about it, the sea annihilated the Kingsholme. A swell simply pushed much of the shingle ridge away, leaving a very low beach between sea and the now-tidal marsh. At low tide, you can now stand to the rear of the beach and see the waves at head height. It is disconcerting to see a familiar landscape so utterly changed.

An old tree, polished with age, now lies on the sand. I can only guess that it must have been buried in the shingle and liberated during the storm. It must have originally grown on one of the eroding cliffs, perhaps at Pakefield or Dunwich itself. I like to think that it might have been part of the East Wood, the oak forest which once stood between Dunwich and the sea, but was lost at a time when the land was eroding at ten metres a year.

The shingle had been artificially maintained for decades, and apparently they're going to rebuild the shingle one last time, but the next time the sea comes in, that'll be it. Which just about sums up the last thousand years at Dunwich.

Puff the Blubbing Dragon

A comment from Marionnette strikes a chord: isn't Puff the Magic Dragon the saddest song you ever heard? Even if did reach the age of twenty-five thinking the little boy was called "Baccy Paper".

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

It's strange that you don't notice when childhood leaves you. It just gets up and tramps away and doesn't even say goodbye.

Steely Dan's A Little With Sugar is another one:

All the years that she was with us
You could count them on one hand
I was taken with her showboat style
But too young to understand

But if you want an unsettling poem, Our Mothers Depart by Yevgeny Yevtushenko is top of the list.  

Our mothers depart from us,
gently depart
On tiptoe,
but we sleep soundly,
stuffed with food,
and fail to notice this dread hour.
Our mothers do not leave us suddenly,
no —
it only seems so 'sudden.'

Slowly they depart, and strangely,
with short steps down the stairs of years.
One year, remembering nervously,
we make a fuss to mark their birthday,
but this belated zeal
will save neither their souls
nor ours.

They withdraw ever further,
withdraw even further.
Roused from sleep,
we stretch toward them,
but our hands suddenly beat the air —
a wall of glass has grown up there!
We were too late.
The dread hour had struck,
Suppressing tears, we watch our mothers,
in columns quiet and austere,
departing from us.

And don't get me started on Coz I Love You by Slade.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

National Novel Writing Month

Nanowrimo: It's November 28, 42500 words written. So I have 7500 left to write in two and a half days, but somehow I can't quite motivate myself to finish it.

Still, disappointing yourself is character-building.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Julie Andrews knew what she was doing

One of my many "should get around to doing" tasks is to acquire perfect pitch, and in a fit of optimism, I find Good-ear.

A couple of hours of listening to pinging piano noises later, I'm getting quite good at it. So I go to the toilet, and when a drip of water hits the sink, I hear a distinct A sound. When I rap with my knuckle, the door makes an F.

It's all extremely weird. Like one of those Star Trek episodes where they discover that strange out-of-phase beings have been walking around on the bridge without anyone noticing. Perhaps I should give up this analogy before I sound too much like a geek.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Just a thought

Which is worse:

Having your team play horrifically badly against their bitter enemies before creeping off the turf humiliated?


Having your team play well against their bitter enemies before collapsing ignominiously and slinking off the field humiliated?

Is this a funny way of putting it?

"Roger Lancelyn Green

author spotlight

Roger Lancelyn Green (1918-1987) was a biographer of children’s writers and a reteller of myths, legends and fairy tales. He was a member of the Oxford literary group the Inklings, along with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Random House will alert you to new works by author Roger Lancelyn Green! Enter your email address below to enroll.

Surely new works by a nineteen-year dead author are unlikely?

Though, come to think of it, passing over hasn't even slowed Tupac Shakur's productivity.

Friday, November 17, 2006

This house believes in Dylan over the Beatles

Over a A Trout in the Milk, Plok is eulogising the Beatles, bringing back one of the great schisms to hit our Sixth Form.

Now when I was twelve, you weren't allowed to like any record issued before the Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict, and the charts were full of croonily-challenged nylon-fizzing boybands like Sailor and Slik (no, Midge Ure, that hasn't been forgotten).

Especially detested was older-brother music like Queen and David Bowie or even-older-sister music like Barclay James Harvest. To this day, I can't listen to Seven Seas of Rhye without being gripped by the unquenchable fear that my mates might be watching.

Anyway, Year Zero lasted about three years, brutally put down when hard-core indie favourite Adam Ant (heard about only in rumours, because Radio One didn't play it and I wasn't about to spunk out three quid at Robin's Records on Richard Mayes' say-so) turned out to be a media floozy and vacuous, lipsticky fop. Disillusionment hit and we were forced to delve back into pre-history to find something listenable.

Obviously, sibling tunes were still out, though Led Zeppelin were OK because they never released singles and could there never become associated with plesiosaur DJ's like Dave Lee Travis. But it was the wretched Sixties that we started to discover.

A quick shuffle through, say, the 1965 charts will show that the Sixties produced as much unlistenable ear-belch as anything concocted since, and any decade which spawned Freddie and the Dreamers without throat-punching them out of the studio must have been, to some extent, lacking critical judgement.

But after some initial crude fumblings (the Strawbs: why, Lord, why?), our peer group split into three hostile factions. The Rolling Stones fans all eventually moved on to umlauted horrorshows like Motorhead and Motley Crue and are now living on crystal meths in squats in Tower Hamlets. Heavily outnumbered, we Bob Dylan fans specialised in alienation, profundity-mining, and heavy sarcasm. You'd never guess to listen to me now, though, would you?

And those who listened to the Beatles? They never gave their parents a moment's worry and are now running the country.

No, I just never got the Beatles. I'm not going to diss them because, well, what's the point? They've sold about eighty-five billion records, so I'm obviously in the rejected minority. But I've never, ever been moved by a Beatles song. Well, maybe Norwegian Wood if you substitute the words for a football chant.

And just hearing the first half bar of Imagine makes me want to slap John Lennon across the face with an outsized chequebook.

We're all friends, here, right, so no-one's going to laugh if I say my favourite Paul McCartney song is crashingly-twee Wings' ballad London Town.

London Town, for god's sake. The horrible Dick Van Dyke-ness of it all. But stick it on the stereo and I'll be blubbing like a D-lister facing a plate of Witchetty-grubs.

Dylan may have had a voice which emitted from a hole in his abdomen, and he may have been (I admit this reluctantly) a strum-along-and-blow merchant, but his work was untouchable. The week I bought Blood on the Tracks, I listened to it for ninety-eight hours non-stop until a timely intervention by Social Services.

This house still believes in Dylan. It's inescapable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hallelulah! It's a truce

For the second month running, no Civil War plops onto my doormat. Now I'm no expert on the comic book industry, but I reckon if your entire year's comics are based around one storyline in a seven-part mini-series, you're probably going to make a considerable effort to put them out on time.

Obviously, out come all the usual excuses about artists being overstretched ("Shit, Joe, I'm sorry, I'd clean forgotten the eight week hols in Torremelinos I'd booked for the wife"). Now Joe, being Joe, commendably comes up with the old "The Watchmen was thirty-nine months late and nobody complains about it now" line, conveniently overlooking that The Watchmen was fantastic, while Civil War is feebly flipping over and over like an oxygen-starved haddock.

Now, this being the internet, we have a duty to introduce as many evidence-starved conspiracy theories as we can dream up, so can I point out that Marvel's behaviour is exactly what you'd expect if they'd suddenly realised their flagship story was a steaming mound of excrescence that made half their products (does that sound too commercial? How about "intellectual property"?) behave like lunatic right-wing kidnapper-torturers and that if they didn't sort it out their company would be up Scheissestrasse?

What do you do in these circumstances? You suspend printing, get all the relevant editors and writers together, draw down the blinds and throw a panicky "what the fuck do we do now?" all-nighter while resisting the temptation to chuck your possessions into the back of a truck and hightail off to Montana. Consequently, the schedule ends up slipping a little.

In support of my theory (not that I need evidence, obviously, this being a conspiracy theory and all), at the time of the Clone Saga, Marvel seemed to throw these meetings approximately twice a week for two whole years, and the result was the single worst comic book series ever written. Sorry about that, Ben Reilly fans, but it's true.

(Strangely, Marvel were advertising the Ultimate Clone Saga the other month, and now Peter David's threatening to bring Ben Reilly back. Is this comic books' version of the fashion industry, where some nightmarish trend, like 747-wing shirt collars or thick jumpers with leggings are yanked from the grave purely to inflict trauma on the minds of those who were scarred first time round? Has it come to this? as Mike Skinner would whinge.)

And yet I find myself drawn to Civil War. Not because it's good, but because of the sheer scale of the impending disaster. It's a grand folly, a Millennium Dome in four colours, a pen and ink England rugby team. Whether you like it or not, you have to concede that it is, as promised on every single damn cover, a comic book event.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I haven't been tagged...

...but then I never am. Not that that's going to stop me from pretending Dave tagged me for 'Five Things About Me'.

'Remember that it isn't always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you, if you know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it.'

1) I've been rejected a few times, but I've never been dumped.

2) I sometimes get out of bed at three in the morning, put my contact lenses in, and then stare at the stars until my extremities freeze.

3) I adore being alive. It's just fantastic.

4) I have a terrible habit of yod dropping. Stoodent. Toolip. Hooman. Noo.

That make me sound loik a yookel, doon't ut?

5) I once got threatened with arrest in the away end at Newcastle United for making an offensive "wanker" hand signal

at Peter Beardsley

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I know I shouldn't whinge about "Civil War", it'll only damage my digestive system...

...but I'm going to anyway.

Civil War has no quest. We've had the trigger - reality TV show goes horribly wrong (something of an oxymoron because all reality TV is horribly wrong) - Nitro explodes some suburbanites and then the US government passes Stalinist legislation in a hundredth of the time it would normally take to get a Municipal Dog-Crapping Ordinance passed.

So we're triggered. Typically, after that comes the quest, that infinitely stretchable section of narrative which takes us from the beginnings all the way to the climax itself.

"Frodo has to get to Mordor to chuck the ring down the Cracks of Doom" was a quest.

"We have to get the secret plans to the rebel base and then blow up the Death star" was another.

"Let's stop Jean Grey from going bonkers and blowing up star systems" was a good one.

So what is Civil War's version of the quest? Captain America and his pals sitting around in moody disused factories dabbing antiseptic on each other's lacerations before bouncing off to free another batch of spandexes from Tony Stark Chokey so that they, too, can flounce onto cardboard boxes in semi-darkness?

It's just stasis. A quest needs a goal, a hint of how things might be resolved. If Cap and co had a big meeting and concluded that they themselves didn't have a clue what to do, but they charged dynamic teenage hero Wesley Smuggins with finding a way, that would be a quest. We could follow Wesley for an issue or two as he finds out the President has been replaced by a loathsome, slime-pulsating alien (this may actually have happened in real life).

If they decided to replace the US Congress with a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, that'd be another. It'd be worth reading, as well.

But there is no hint of a way forward, and so it's horribly bogged down - which is, as it happens, the way most Civil Wars turn out.

Now you're all ahead of me in your reading, and maybe by now Civil War has taken off and is fabulous, but at the moment, my problem with it is that, after thirty issues or so, this narrative hasn't got round the first lap.

I started reading "Lolita" last night

OK, granted Nabokov writes like honey gushes from his fingertips, but is it all going to be such rank, odious garbage? Is there a valedictory, life-affirming ending where Humbert Humbert accidentally slices his own face off?

I'm tempted to quit now, but I'm worried I might miss something.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Am I the wrong person to be running my own business?

You Are 12% Capitalist, 88% Socialist

You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed.
As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power.
You're strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.