What I’m Reading This Week (29/10/16)

Another week, another batch of books (although most have only been part read).

Last week I wrote a bit about Flann O’Brien; I had started rereading The Hard Life and was reminiscing about a long-ago holiday in Ireland. Well, I finished the book, enjoyed it and, as is my wont, immediately looked for something else to read. I did what I generally tend to do when looking for something to read – scroll through the books on my Kobo to see what strikes my fancy.

I started several books but, at first, couldn’t find anything that I wanted to spend a day or two reading; My Booky Wook by  Russell Brand (might be fun but not what I was looking for), Wounds to Bind by Jerry Burgan (about the birth of folk-rock in the US, focusing on the group that Burgan was in, We Five, who I’ve never heard of. Interesting but, again, not quite what was needed), The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (the first novel about Inspector Montalbano. My wife and I enjoyed watching these on TV and the novel seems promising but, again, not just now).

Then I came across a book that seemed as though it would satisfy my needs, Selling the Sixties: the pirates and pop music radio by Robert Chapman. 

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I remember the pirates. When I was at school, Morecambe Grammar in the early to mid-sixties, I used to listen to Radio Caroline on a transistor radio while on my way to school on the bus. There was little else to listen to, the BBC was rubbish if you wanted to hear pop music, and Radio Luxembourg was better but the reception was lousy. So Radio Caroline was the answer to a prayer. It started broadcasting from Ramsey Bay in the Isle of Man on 6th July 1964, a year before I finished school.

I can remember some of the music that was played; Tobacco Road by The Nashville Teens was definitely one, and a song I still think is fantastic, The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams, an Irish singer-songwriter who, I believe, should have been better known.

All in all an fascinating book, but probably only to those who have an interest in the pirates. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books! (even more)

Continuing the list of books which have made an impression over the last ten years(ish).

Until I Find You by John Irving

coverI’m not sure if this was the first book by Irving I had read and I’m not sure if it’s my very favourite as I have read all of them over the last few years and enjoyed them all. I suppose it was a toss-up between this, The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp.

Until I Find You is a book about memory, the memories of the adult Jack of his childhood. The novel follows Jack from childhood, as the son of a tattoo-artist mother in Toronto, through to adulthood, taking in themes of abandonment by his father, abuse and the search for a family. Geographically it moves from Canada through parts of Europe to the United States. I found it rich and evocative with memorable characters and an engaging storyline.

If you like a good story well written I would recommend any of Irving’s novels.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

wehavealwayslivedinthecastleThis is the story of the Blackwood sisters, Mary Katherine (‘Merricat’) and Constance, who live with their uncle, Julian, in a rambling house with extensive grounds near a village. The rest of the family died six years earlier, poisoned at dinner and, since then, Constance has not left the house. Constance was charged with the murder as she was the only one at the meal who wasn’t poisoned (the poison was in the sugar and she didn’t have sugar on her blackberries), but was acquitted at trial. Uncle Julian was poisoned though he survived, although his wife was one of the victims. Merricat wasn’t at the dinner as she had been sent to bed as a punishment.

Bit by bit the story comes out, partly through the notes uncle Julian is constantly making for his proposed autobiography. A cousin, Charles, arrives and begins to get close to Constance, although Merricat is suspicious of him. I won’t say any more about the plot as I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a strongly atmospheric story giving a strong and sinister sense of the house, the grounds and the two sisters. Jackson is a terrific writer and deserves to be much better known. She was an influence on, among others, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.

I would also recommend her novel The Haunting of Hill House and short story The Lottery. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books! (continued)

Following on from my last post (which you can read here), in which I started listing the books that had made the most impression on me over about the last 10 years, here are a few more.

The Winshaw Legacy: Or, What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (1994)

coverThis novel is the story of the Winshaws, a nasty, disfunctional, aristocratic family, and takes place in the 1980s. It’s a book about Thatcherism and the greed that went along with it. And it’s very funny.

It’s a bit like a cross between Dickens and Wodehouse and centres on a writer, Michael Owen, who is hired to write the history of the Winshaws. In undertaking this he uncovers lots of skeletons in lots of cupboards.

Coe is a terrific writer and I’ve also read some of his other books which I can also recommend: The House of Sleep and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (1959)

coverThe book is set near the end of the 1950s (as I’ve said before, a decade I love reading about), and is about the birth of teen culture as a distinct thing. It’s set in London and is about a group of teenagers as they discover sex, drugs and music. There’s a sort of innocence about it, probably caused by knowing what came after. But it’s very evocative of the time and place, a few years before youth culture really took off.

It’s the second book in The London Trilogy and follows on from City of Spades, about the emergent black culture in London. It is followed by Mr. Love and Justice, which focuses on prostitution and was published the year after Absolute Beginners.
I haven’t read either of these but intend to eventually. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books!

I was trawling through my Calibre book catalogue earlier today (and if you have an ebook reader then you really should check out Calibre – it’s free, it’s fabulous and it’s fun, and that’s enough fs for now), looking through the books read column. This started me thinking about which books, out of the who-knows-how-many-thousand I’ve read, had either given me the most pleasure and/or had made the biggest impression.

That’s a difficult one; there’s something about books you read when you are young, the vividness, the intensity, that no book read today can match (at least that’s how it is for me, but perhaps that’s just because I am a stilted, diminished old man). So, to remove that problem, and to make the list more contemporary, I’ll keep it to books and authors I have encountered in, say, the last ten years. Of course, being the untogether, disorganised person I am, that ten years is a fairly flexible period. Much as I try to keep lists of books I have read, together with the dates I finished them, plus a short review, I never manage to keep it up. I did buy a reading journal a couple of years ago, wrote lots in it for a couple of weeks, and now can’t even find it. Recently I decided to have another go, so looked on Amazon and saw that they were selling an A4 Moleskine© A-Z book for £6 (reduced from £24.38, and who can resist a bargain!) The book came and it’s now sitting on top of a cupboard, unused.

Anyway, here goes. I don’t know how many there are, but if there are too many for one post I’ll do more.

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss  (1958)

coverI think this was published in the U.S. as Starship, which is a bit of a cheat as it gives away an important element of the book.

It’s Science Fiction, which is probably the genre I’ve read most in. It’s also a book I had read before, more than once. But it’s a great story, atmospheric, claustrophobic and, ultimately, a book about the indomitable nature of the human spirit. And Aldiss is a terrific writer.

I read it again, a couple of years ago, to see if it was as good as I had thought it was in my late teens. It was; I loved it.

At some point I will reread other books by him that I really enjoyed all those years ago; Hothouse, Greybeard, The Saliva Tree. Continue reading

What I’m Reading This Week (22/10/16)

K has been given a short sabbatical to ponder the error of his ways. That gives me a chance to write about some of the things I have been reading over the past week. In fact I’ll try to make this a weekly entry.

I finished reading Harriet Says by Beryl Bainbridge a few days ago and, as is my wont, I then started scrolling through the titles on my Kobo to see what struck my fancy (a fancy which is sometimes difficult to strike). I spent a few minutes reading the first few pages of The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter Thompson but, no, it was fiction I wanted.

A bit more scrolling and I came across a book by Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I’ve read one novel by Tartt, The Little Friend, which I loved. It’s the story of a murder, of a little boy found hanging in a tree, and of his sister’s efforts to unmask the murderer. Now it’s a few years since I read it but I remember being struck by its richness and depth and, like many of the books I love, I’ll read it again at some point. I did start one of her other books, The Secret History, but struggled to get into it. That doesn’t mean I won’t read it eventually; I remember starting Catch 22 a number of times before it clicked. So, The Goldfinch? I’ve read about 50 pages (it’s a longish book), and it’s gripping. But I realised that, after Beryl Bainbridge, I wanted something more familiar, something nearer to home.

So I’m rereading The Hard Life by Flann O’Brien. If you’ve never heard of him, he was an Irish author who wrote some of the strangest, funniest, most post-modern novels you could wish to read. The Hard Life is funny, but it’s more conventional; it’s the story of two boys growing up in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s very Irish and very funny and pokes fun at the Irish society of the time. Influenced by James Joyce, it is semi-autobiographical, taking place in parts of Dublin which O’Brien (or to give him his real name Brian O’Nolan) , knew well, with characters in the book based on real people (Mr. Collopy, for example, is based on his former master in the civil service, Sean MacEntee). O’Brien himself believed that The Hard Life was “a very important book and very funny. Its apparently pedestrian style is delusive”. It’s many years since I last read any of his books and I think, now that I’ve started, I’ll reread the rest.

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Google Doodle for 5th October 2012 celebrating what would have been O’Brien’s 101st birthday

Thinking about O’Brien, about thirty years ago my wife and I were on a camping holiday in Ireland and, one day, we decided to drive up into the hills somewhere between Dublin and the West Coast (I can’t be any more precise because it’s a long time ago and my memory only holds shadows and glimpses before about Thursday last). We were in a borrowed minivan and broke down at the top of a hill near a café and gift shop. Stranded there, waiting for a breakdown lorry, we went to look round the gift shop. They had some books, and in amongst them I found Flann O’Brien: an illustrated biography by Peter Costello and Peter van de Kamp (I just looked on Amazon and you can get a copy for 1p).

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Its well worth getting hold of if you are interested in O’Brien, especially because of the many photos, drawings etc. (there’s even a copy of his application for a place at University College, Dublin in 1929).

James Joyce said of O’Brien, with reference to At Swim Two Birds, “That’s a real writer with a true comic spirit,” and who could argue with that?

Rules of the Blog

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His blogness (the administrator) posted (as in stuck through the letterbox) the following document earlier today. It was discovered by our hero (look, we all know that when it says ‘our hero’ or ‘the blogger’, we’re talking about the same person. So from now on he will be referred to as ‘K’ – not to be confused with Kafka’s ‘K’ – OK?) when he stumbled downstairs to make his first mug of coffee of the day, and to see if anyone had sent him anything interesting – Lakeland catalogue, party invitation, OBE. This document was not what he expected and quite put him off his morning exercise routine (bend down, pat dog, look at exercise bike, drink coffee), leaving him feeling somewhat irritable and out-of-sorts.

Here is reproduced faithfully the text of the document.

Rules and Regulations of the Blog Commonly Known As ‘Dive for your Memory’

To be read and agreed to by all those who contribute to the aforementioned blog

  1. All posts shall abide by the blog remit inasmuch as the topics discussed shall fall under one (or more) of the following headings: Books, Music, Addiction and Recovery.
  2. Any posts which do not abide by the above remit, insofar as it refers to the permitted headings, will be adjudged by the blog administrator (hereinafter referred to as the blog admin), to be outside the terms of these rules and regulations and will be dealt with appropriately.
  3. In the event of any dispute, contretemps or disagreement the blog admin’s decision will be final.
  4. There will be no exemptions for bloggers who believe they are above the law.
  5. These rules to take effect immediately.

Continue reading

A Chat With the Administrator

Our hero (We call him that not because he is particularly heroic, but rather due to him being the focus of these posts – I think there’s some vanity in there as well, after all he is the one writing this), has been called in by the Blog Administrator to deal with problems raised by his last post (which you can read here), where he went completely outside the remit of the blog. The meeting is taking place in the Blog Administrator’s office, which is not as luxurious as you might think, and does smell slightly of old blankets.

Blog Administrator: I take it you know why I’ve called you in?

Blogger: Something to do with your rules, wasn’t it?

Blog Administrator: Not my rules, the rules of the blog. If you look at the masthead it states quite clearly, ‘A lifetime of music, books, addiction and recovery’. Agreed?

Blogger: I suppose so. But I was ……

Blog Administrator: You suppose so! Does it, or does it not, state at the top of the blog what the blog is about?

Blogger: Yes. But ….

Blog Administrator: And does it say anything about cars and parking?

Blogger: No, but it was just something I ….. Continue reading

Parking on Pavement (Rant)

Blogger: My street is reasonably wide, at least wide enough for cars to park on both sides of the road leaving enough room for other vehicles to get through. So why do some of the drivers insist on parking partly on the pavement?

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Blog Moderator: Can I just stop you there. This blog is supposed to be about music, books, addiction and recovery, so why are you writing about cars?

Blogger: Because it’s important! What if I decided I wanted to put my chair in the road because I thought it was a nicer place to sit?

Blog Moderator: You’d probably get run over.

Blogger: Well, yes, I see what you mean. But it’s the principle of the thing. Don’t cars take up enough space in our world already? Aren’t pavements meant for pedestrians? Continue reading

Scenes From a Misunderstood Life (Part 1)

Scene: A 3-storey Victorian terraced house in Lancaster, in the North West of England, looking towards Lancaster Castle and with the hills of the Lake District visible in the distance to the North.

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Lancaster Castle with the Lake District behind

Our hero (why not?), balding, slim, spectacled (Aldi £2.49) sits at a pineish dining table in the living room, fingers poised over a tiny netbook. Sitting on an old Ikea bentwood chair to the side of him is the interviewer. Taking a notebook and pen from a large and serious-looking leather bag the interviewer turns towards our hero and says:

Interviewer: So, tell me Kevin, what are you reading at the moment?

Our Hero: (turning and removing spectacles) Well, Michael, I’ve just finished reading …..

Interviewer: Let me stop you there, Kevin. You just called me Michael.

OH: That’s right, Michael.

I: But my name isn’t Michael.

OH: (Puzzled) Sorry. I thought all interviewers were called Michael.

I: Not this one.

OH: So what is your name? Continue reading

Writing Songs

I wrote my first song when I was about seventeen, fifty years ago. It was called Gardens and Steve recorded it on a borrowed Revox reel-to-reel in his mother’s wool shop in Heysham Village. We recorded another song I had written called Morning Into….. We took the tape along to a local studio in Hest Bank called, I think, De Lane Lea, and asked them to make a 7″ single from the two songs. They did, but maybe because we played it too soon, or because the quality of the materials wasn’t too good, it soon got very scratchy and almost unlistenable. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here it is.

 

And here’s the B-side (as we used to call them, back in the day).

I didn’t write anything else for years after this, mainly because I had no confidence in either my songwriting, my singing or my guitar playing. Thinking about it now I did write a couple of things while I was drinking and living in the caravan at Meadowfield (and I must write something about Meadowfield at some point. It was a very unusual caravan site!). I remember writing a song called It’s in the Wires, a sort of paranoid view of the world, unsurprisingly considering my state at the time. I think I wrote a couple of other things but I can’t remember what they are now – with all the alcohol related brain damage it’s a wonder I can remember yesterday!

I carried on playing and trying to sing, but just at home, and eventually, for some reason, I was asked to join a local band, AKA-Bats, as rhythm guitarist. I don’t remember why they asked me, I don’t even know how they knew I could play, but anyway ask me they did. Continue reading