Monthly Archives: May 2010
The ghost solidified, swirling in a brown mist; like a mixture of a pure white soul and gravy granules. Betty told me he got like this sometimes, when his temper was up. Perhaps he’d heard something on the radio about youth crime or a neighbour started mowing the lawn on a sunny day. I mean, it’s not on, is it? On the few days you can catch a bit of sun in the garden, you can’t hear yourself think for bloody lawnmowers. Those were the kinds of things that set him off. Mind you, that’s not to say he was an angry ghost, just like he’d never been that angry when alive.
“So, Betty, what is it this time?”
“Dunno, Joe. He did hear them MPs talking about standards. That can rub him up the wrong way… Should have seen him yesterday when they was talking about immigration. Went bright purple he did!”
“Purple like UKIP?”
“Ooh, yes! Hadn’t thought of that. Do they have politics on the other side, Joe?”
“Don’t think so. Politics don’t usually bother people after they’ve passed on.”
“No. But you never know, do you? In that Ghost Whisper program the ghosts are all trying to say sorry. My Bert wouldn’t say sorry for nowt, more’s the pity. A right bighead he was.”
Betty took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. Her chin was beginning to quiver. Joe put a protective arm around his client.
“There, there, love.”
“Ooh, I do miss him, Joe!”
“I know, love. I know.”
Joe patted down his overalls as he tried to locate the Customer Order Sheet. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard, love. He’s company for you, like. But you do want me to send him on? So he finds proper rest?”
Betty sighed, looking up with a resigned smile on her (remarkably well preserved) face. “Yes… I do think it’s best. But it’s best to wait until the raspberry canes are down. If you exorcised him before then, I’d never hear the end of it.”
Joe made an appointment for the following month. He hoped to see Bert off before the football season started. That was his busiest time, as widows wanted rid of their dead husbands so they could watch the telly in peace.
My fourth guest-post by Nicola J Vincent; an amazing wordsmith and member of Wrekin Writers. We first met at the LOROS bash at the Guildhall and I was really impressed by her writing. Historic, atmospheric, alive. Here she reports back from a poetry festival attended by a gaggle of laureates past and present. A better place for poets is hard to imagine.
In Close-Up: The Wenlock Poetry Festival
Call me shallow but it was shoes, rather than more literary interests, that lured me to the Wenlock Poetry Festival one weekend in April. A workshop entitled ‘In Close-up: Shoes’, led by the poet Gill McEvoy, intrigued me from the moment I noticed it in the programme of events. After all, if shopping for shoes figures among my preferred pastimes, then surely writing about them must come a close second?
I wasn’t disappointed. Gill was knowledgeable (about poetry and shoes, revealing a personal passion – perhaps that should read obsession? – for red boots), enthusiastic and, importantly, encouraging. By the end of the two-hour session, I had produced a couple of half-decent poems and learnt rather a lot about the history of shoes.
The workshop was the highlight for me in a weekend that delivered what it promised: a celebration of the brightest and best of today’s poetry scene, to paraphrase the words of the festival founder, Anna Dreda, the owner of the award-winning Wenlock Books. With Carol Ann Duffy as patron, it was clear that the first Wenlock Poetry Festival would be something special.
The programme featured a range of workshops and events (for young and old), including readings by Roger McGough, Daljit Nagra and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales. Clearly, much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t attend every event. I decided to focus largely on the poets with whose work I am personally less familiar.
So, on the morning of Saturday 10th April, I found myself at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock for a reading by Imtiaz Dharker. Inspiring, uplifting and thought-provoking, the event set the standard for the rest of the festival. Next on my schedule was Daljit Nagra who read from his acclaimed Look We Have Coming to Dover! I was fascinated to learn that, despite his success and growing reputation, he still works part-time as a teacher.
The following morning, in the perhaps unlikely (but actually rather perfect) setting of the Methodist Hall, I had the pleasure of listening to a mix of poetry and music by the Welsh poet, Paul Henry. This was followed by a reading by Philip Gross, winner of the 2009 T S Eliot Prize. His work I Spy Pinhole Eye, a collaboration with the photographer Simon Denison, has changed forever the way I will look at electricity pylons!
The festival ended with a powerful dramatisation of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife by Linda Marlow. When Anna Dreda took to the stage afterwards to announce exciting plans for the future of the Wenlock Poetry Festival, I already knew that, for me, it will be an unmissable date on next year’s calendar.
I don’t usually write about politics. After all, I know sod-all about it and nobody cares what I think anyway. There has, however, been an election recently that has made me ponder a few things. As the results have emerged, I think the UK electorate also have a lot to reflect about. Here’s four of them for starters.
I. A total screw-up at the polls. Hundreds, if not thousands of people were denied the vote all over the country as polling stations did not have enough staff/voting papers/gumption to make the election run smoothly. It is unforgivable to deny the vote to so many and I hope that Returning Officers get their marching orders over this. In a former life I was an observer at Mexican elections. Mexican voters, used to many and varied attempts at ballot rigging, would have not taken the situation so lightly. At the very least they would have prevented the ballot boxes from leaving the polling station until the problem was sorted. My advice: if this happens again, voters should write a list of all those unable to vote (with contact details) to be countersigned by the election officials at the polling station. This would create a permanent record of the numbers involved. As it is, nobody knows exactly how many people were denied their vote or if those numbers were significant enough to alter results.
II. Hung Parliament. There are two options now. A Lib-Dem Conservative coalition or a Lib-Dem Conservative informal agreement. For a coalition the Lib-Dems would require some movement on proportional representation. The Conservatives, just short of an overall majority, will not offer more than cosmetic changes to the voting system. Whilst a coalition would be preferable, in terms of political stability and allowing the Cameron government to concentrate on the rather tricky debt problem, it might not be possible in practice. An ad-hoc arrangement would be more realistic. Both parties would collaborate on areas of agreement, the Lib-Dems would vote with/abstain on the budget to make sure the debt is dealt with and they would be free to disagree on matters of principle (Europe, Trident and PR).
III. Labour. The maths would allow a Labour/Lib-Dem/SNP/Plaid Cymru (Green?) coalition to take power. Of course Nick Clegg won’t dismiss this possibility now, as he negotiates with the Tories, but it cannot be taken seriously. To begin with, the Lib-Dems won’t want to help keep Gordon Brown in, especially given his pivotal role in the Iraq war. Gordon Brown, whatever else he is, is as much a war criminal as Tony Blair. “Call-Me-Dave” might be an unctuous, elitist toff, but he has no blood on his hands. In any event, A Lib/Lab coalition would be equally difficult to sustain. It will be pulling in all directions as the nationalists try to exempt their countries from cuts that will hit England hard – and cause widespread resentment among English voters. Brown’s promise of a referendum on PR may also be as elusive in the end as Tory offers of commissions of inquiry. No. Labour lost the election, they should be consigned to the opposition. Brown should resign and the fatuous, right-wing New Labour project wrapped up. If Brown goes and Labour emerges with a clear new vision, perhaps they would be an attractive option for a coalition. They are a long way from that now.
IV. The UKIP factor. Poor Nigel Farright! His plane crashed and, despite garnering 900,000 votes, got no seats (by contrast the scandal-ridden DUP got 8 MPs with only 160.000 votes). There is a case to be made that if UKIP had not contested this election, Cameron would have won the election (most UKIP voters are ex-Tories or natural Conservatives). Would UKIP votes have tipped Cameron over the winning post? I’m sure that UKIP supporters would be kicking themselves if they thought their votes had helped to bring the Europhile Lib-Dems into government. Such are the quirks of the first-past-the-post system.
Anthropomorphic characters (that’s animals behaving like humans) have long been a staple of the comic book, like Biffo the Bear, Donald Duck and Babar the Elephant. I have just returned from a fine evening at Leicester Central Library where I went to hear Bryan Talbot talk about his latest project, Grandville, which takes an a more adult perspective on this type of thing. It is a sub-genre that has recently been revitalised by a number of great works (Talbot’s included), but the one I want to talk about today is Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad.
Blacksad, named after its eponymous hero, the P.I. John Blacksad, is a hybrid of American and European comic book traditions. Both the artists/writers worked in Disney’s Paris office, conceiving their masterwork in their spare time. One thing that you have to be good at when working as a Disney animator, is cute, expressive animals. You either know how to do this or they make sure you learn. Canales and Guarnido (both Spanish –another ingredient in this multinational soup), exploit this to the full in their treatment. On top of this expertise they add the BD values of quality, breathtakingly good design and painstaking attention to background and detail. The result is one of the finest comic books available. A true work of art.
Blacksad is in essence a classic noir thriller (again that French/American mix), set in a non-specific American past hovering between Dashiel Hammett and Mad Men. All the characters are animals. John is a cat, the police commissioner is a chain-smoking Alsatian dog called Smirnov, villains include a frog and a polar bear. The stories are typical of the genre: the first album deals with a murder covered up by a rich industrialist, seemingly powerful enough to remain beyond the law. The second explores the world of white supremacist movements. The plotting is tight, the hero hard-bitten and cynical and the whole story is told extremely well.
A device that works well in this context is the use of anthropomorphism to highlight character. For example; a vulnerable woman may be portrayed as a deer or a lamb sitting at a bar with a predatory (male) lion buying her a drink with a grin that displays his many serrated teeth. Police informers are invariably rats. While not as rigid as the system employed with Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Blacksad plays with our expectations through this use of animal ‘types’.
The ultimate point is a sobering one: the society portrayed is all too human with its violence, corruption and hatred there for all to see. Using animals as a device to distance ourselves from these excesses also serves to make an overarching point. They are not “behaving like animals” but as humans do. We look from pig to man and man to pig and cannot tell which is which.