Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

Painted between 1970 and 1971, it depicts the fashion designer Ossie Clark and the textile designer Celia Birtwell shortly after their wedding at which Hockney was Clark's best man.  Hockney and Clark had been friends since the early 1960s. One of their cats sits on Ossie's knee (the cat in the painting was not in fact Percy; this was the name of one of their other cats but Hockney thought Percy made a better title than Blanche, the cat he painted). The work is in acrylic on canvas, and measures 2170 x 3084mm. It hangs in The Tate Gallery.

Hockney drew on both The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyckand A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth in the symbolism and composition of the painting. A copy of Hockney's own interpretation of A Rake's Progress is seen on the wall. The positions of the two figures are reversed from The Arnolfini Portrait with the implication that Birtwell is the dominant partner. The lilies near Birtwell, a symbol of female purity are also associated with depictions of the Annunciation (at the time of the portrait Birtwell was pregnant). The cat on Clark's lap is a symbol of infidelity and envy. In this case Clark, who was bisexual, continued to have affairs which contributed to the breakdown of the marriage in 1974.

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Vintage trailers for two medical dramas, two of my favourite TV shows in fact. The divine satirical A Very Peculiar Practice and the very first series of Casualty. Remember when trailers were like this?

A Spot Of Tiffin

Pamela Tiffin to be exact

Thursday, 27 September 2012

My 90s Girl

Helen Baxendale is the definitive, to use that decade's terminology, 'totty' of the 1990s. I was completely crushing on her back then in my teens and late teens thanks to such shows as Cold Feet and her epic turn as the no nonsense Dr Claire Maitland in Cardiac Arrest

And she was certainly the fittest in Friends!

So it's great to see her in the new BBC3 comedy Cuckoo starring alongside one of my favourite comics Greg Davies. It started this week and whilst not laugh out loud hilarious had a real likeable quality to it that will make me tune in again. Well, that and Helen of course ;)

A Book At Bedtime

And so it occurs again.

Every time I read a Jonathan Coe novel I am bowled over. And each time I reach the final page and close the book, I find myself saying 'that is his best book', only to pick another one up some way down the line and on reaching the end, conclude with 'No, that is his best book'

The last Coe novel I read earlier this year was one of his earliest offerings, A Touch Of Love (which I blogged about HERE) I polished that one off in just one day, so bewitched was I by the story, the dialogue and the sheer craftmanship evident upon the page. In that previous blog post I expressed surprise that the novel was considered one of his lesser works because I found it so good and on a par quality wise with his later works such as the delightful The Rotters Club or that book's sequel, The Closed Circle. I didn't feel that the novel, only his second, showed an author still trying to find his style, it seemed to already be there fully formed and perfect. A charity shop hunt later and I found myself another Coe, the critically applauded What A Carve Up! a book which remains still on my 'to read' pile (Why? Perhaps I'm scared of books that are so revered, preferring the pleasant surprise instead?)

A further charity shop hint recently gave me The House Of Sleep for just 50p, a book that my dear friend Jo (who has recently quite the blogosphere) recommended highly. I was immediately attracted to the premise and decided to place this further up the 'to read' pile than some of my other books, What A Carve Up! included.

I started The House Of Sleep last week. I tried to savour it, really I did, but Coe's wonderful storytelling ability and prose meant a good deal of the reading was done in just one day earlier this week. It's a truly brilliant novel detailing, in alternate chapters, the lives of a disparate group of people at University in 1984 and in their professional lives in 1996 (the book was released in '97) The majority of the characters find themselves together sharing a house as students in a town on an unspecified British coastline, but from there, the twelve years that pass and the current day events depicted continue to reverberate back to their student days and fleeting at first glance seemingly insignificant moments that occur thanks to a unique and amazing mass of consequences (and misunderstandings) that thankfully, remain satisfyingly clever and never stretch believability too much. The core of the story which these fascinating character scenarios hang off concerns itself with the issues of sleeping such as narcolepsy, catoplexy and insomnia. It is in turn a tale rich with drama, emotion and a rich seam of very English humour in keeping with Coe's vision and work. I howled with laughter at the misunderstanding that arises between one character whose dreams are preoccupied with mundane and all too believable yet so vivid to believe that what occurred within them actually happened, that she convinces herself that her new friend has just learnt that his sister has died and not, as has actually happened, his cat. His comments about how much his father despised her because she would wee on the carpet and the reaction this gets is hilarious. Ditto the reworking Coe employs of the humour within the old Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch to a set of footnotes a character fails to edit successfully will have you laughing out loud.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at the novel it's that some of the plot points seem a little hazy and rushed. There's a whole subplot concerning the suspicious demise of a student following a sleep deprivation exercise that never convincingly fits in with the rest of the story and seems to hurry its way to a conclusion on the final pages. It's a shame as the principal character this subplot concerns itself with, the sniffy self important Scot Dr Gregory Dudden is a glorious monster, at once both hilarious and unnerving. I could easily imagine a young Peter Capaldi when reading him.

It's nice to spot a recurring motif in Coe's work too; that of the next generation providing the key to a satisfying conclusion for the generation the story concerns itself with. It's something he would go on to use to greater effect in both The Rotters Club and The Closed Circle

In short, I cannot recommend this book highly enough and I look forward to another Coe novel very soon. Who knows, maybe that one will be 'his best'?

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name?

Gideon Stargrave by Grant Morrison

RIP Herbert Lom and RIP Andy Williams

Veteran actor, star of The Pink Panther series and The Ladykillers to name just a fraction of his work, has passed away aged 95. RIP

Easy Listening legend Andy Williams also passed away this week, aged 84. RIP

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Story Time : There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

There Is A Light 
That Never Goes Out

I’ve been waiting for her for an hour now. Seems I’ve spent my whole life waiting for her. But I don’t care. Because I love her.

It’s raining hard tonight. I’ve got the windscreen wipers on permanently and the car heater on full, but it’s mugging up the air and so I switch it off. I watch the sheet of rain like beaded curtains sweep across the neon light street ahead as the fatter drops bounce onto my windscreen unforgiving. They distort my vision, the lights outside streak across my view like rippled streaks of orange and then, they’ve gone as the wipers brush it clean and all is clear once more. I watch people as they dash giggling into the pub, every time the door opens I move up into my seat expecting it to be her, but it never seems to be.

Finally the pub door opens with a blast of some dreadful karaoke from within, predictably it’s the inevitable Robbie Williams wannabe, escaping into the night air and I look up and there she is. I jump up and turn the ignition suddenly all my senses are alive; this is what I have been waiting for. I swing the car round and watch her every move as she dithers on the doorstep, presumably cursing that she hasn’t had the sense to bring an umbrella with her.

I pass her, inching slowly but try to make a show that I’m on my way somewhere and have just quite by accident spotted her. I stop the car and wind down the window; “Jane!”

She smiles, the usual sweet smile and suddenly it’s like the rain has stopped and the sun has somehow broken through. When she smiles she smiles not only with her pearly white immaculate teeth but with her eyes. She radiates warmth and happiness and it’s infectious, so much so that I smile back, but obviously nowhere near as charming as she does. For her it’s natural, she’s predisposed to being happy and bringing happiness wherever she goes, for me it’s forced. I’ve never been happy; unless I’m with here. 

“Andy!” she says through that gleaming smile, her eyes bright, but then a cloud of uncertainty creeps in to the features, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Never mind that, get in” I say “We can talk in the dry” I chuckle and she pulls open my car door and steps in. Her aroma fills the muggy car and it’s magical. I breathe in her perfume, her scent and the cool night air that has accompanied her. 

“I was just out for some supplies; I use the Spar round the corner. You been out for a drink?” I ask innocently.

“Yeah it was Francine’s leaving do. Where were you?” she asks equally innocently.

“Oh right yeah, sorry I completely forgot” I lie, Francine never invited me, she hates me “I was too shagged out for it anyway, quite a day in work”

“Tell me about it!” She enthuses. “It’s very kind of you giving me a lift”

Finally. “Oh you know me, anything for a damsel in distress” I laugh and she joins in. “You’re my knight in shining armour” she says and it touches me deeply, even though it’s just a throwaway remark. I am her knight, if only she’s let me. I’d protect her, look after her, lavish her and never ever let anyone harm her, if only she’d notice me.

“So why was your day a pig?” I ask momentarily looking away from the road at her as she sweeps her damp blonde locks behind her ear. 

She groans “Oh it just was you know, the usual, I’m really starting to hate that place, If I have to deal with one more dickhead member of the public shouting and screaming for what they want I’ll be doing the shouting and screaming”

“That bad huh?” 

“Believe me. I don’t know how you’ve coped there so long, you must be a saint not to let it get to you and you work so well with them”

I like this, I like it when she acknowledges me, praises me. It’s good that she notices me.  “Magic touch” I shrug as if her compliments mean little.

“Well I wish you could pass some my way; I need all the help I can get in that bloody circus” she sighs.

I lose it a little here, come on too strong; “Hey seriously Jane, anytime you need a hand in work, you just ask yeah? I mean, I know I’m not your supervisor or on your team as such but like you say I’ve been there a while now, I can turn my hand to stuff. I’ve a knack for sorting the tough stuff out. It’s funny you call it a circus, look on me as your fellow trapeze artist, just grab on I won’t let you fall” Shit. That’s naff.

There’s a pause and I know I’ve said too much, blurting it all out and talking nonsense. Finally she says; “Aw thanks Andy you’re so sweet”

I hit the CD to try and swamp the audio memory of all that crap I’ve just said. The Smiths start to play.

“I love The Smiths” Jane says.

I know this, because I looked in her drawer at work once when I was working late and she’d clocked off. She had a couple of their CD’s in there. I always liked them myself, but not as much as she clearly did, though having said that, once I found that she liked them, I have really started to get into them again.

“I had an ex who got me into them, he was older than me, he actually saw them back in the 80s”

I turn the CD up louder. I hate it when she talks about her boyfriends, and the fact that they are all older than her makes me sick. I’m the same age as her, twenty-six, why can’t she see sense and go with someone her age. I sense her uneasiness at the volume and turn it back a little, muttering a swift “Sorry” which she quickly leap upon and adds “Oh no, hey your car, your music, turn it up all you want, not like I don’t like it”

She’s lying of course, but she’s being polite. It’s one of her best traits; she was brought up well clearly and doesn’t believe in offending people. Yet it offends me that she doesn’t see how much I care about her. Easy Andy, I think, it’s not her fault, she’ll see sense eventually. She has to, she’s lovely. She has to be mine.

“Do you go out for drinks often after work?” I ask innocently. I already know the answer. Virtually every other evening she’s out with one of the girls from work for a quick drink before heading home. I know this because I occasionally follow them, like I did tonight.

“Only when the day has been as bad as this, which means quite a lot yes!” she laughs. I nod and laugh appreciatively too. She’s fond of nights out and a drink; that will have to change if we ever get together, when we get together. I like my quiet nights in, and when she realises how much love I have for her, she’ll want to be with me every night I’m sure. We wouldn’t need anyone else, just me and her and our love. 

“You don’t come out for works do’s much do you Andy?” she asks

“No” Wish she’d change the subject now.

“Why is that?”

Damn. “Erm, I dunno, I feel like I see enough of people in work eight hours a day, going for a drink with them would be like overkill” I laugh but it’s unconvincing, hollow.

“I see” she says in a blunt kind of way. Have I upset her? I quickly try to make amends “I mean, that’s not to say I wouldn’t go out if I felt like it, Mum always said I was a home bird really, I mean if you ever wanted to go for a drink, that would, you know, that would be cool”

She nods her head, a smile on her lips, she sucks her teeth before saying “Yeah course, we should do sometime, in fact I owe you a drink from the Xmas party, that was the last time you was out with us all from work”

Oh yes, the Xmas party, made a fool of myself there I think, just buying her a drink and no one else. I’m not stupid I could hear the sniggers of the rest of them, blokes and girls alike. The cliques that I hate so much, but I do remember fondly hearing Jane say to Sharon, the fat bitch from the switchboard, that whilst she knew I was a bit odd and it was weird of me in a way, it was also a very gentlemanly thing to do to get the new girl like her a drink. I remember those words so well, and as my heart filled then with hope it does so again now. So much so that I have to capitalise on this moment, I have to ask; “Ok cool. When would you like?”

“Sorry?” She had been humming along to Morrissey’s warbling, maybe she just didn’t catch it, maybe she was avoiding it, finding it embarrassing, putting her on the spot, no, she probably just didn’t catch it, I decide to repeat myself; “This drink, when do you fancy it?”

“Erm, Andy you’ve missed my turn off?” she says hesitantly, her finger hovering in the air as her head twitches back to the rear. She’s right I have, I let the moment take over I’d missed the turning and was now heading out of the city onto the link road and the motorway ahead. 

“Bollocks, sorry Jane” I laugh, but again it’s hollow, inside I’m cursing myself. “I’ll have to go down onto the motorway now sorry, we can take switch back though don’t fret, just twenty minutes out of the journey”

“I was hoping I’d get home early tonight” she said, somewhat ungratefully in my view, I mean anyone can make a mistake right? I was her knight in shining armour, I could have left her to get soaked but I didn’t.

“Look I’m sorry Jane, not to worry though, I’ll get you back before the pumpkin turns back” another attempt at a laugh from me, “It’s not like you’ve got a family to get back to you live alone right?”

“Well yeah” I sense uneasiness in her voice, “But I kinda made an arrangement to speak to someone that’s all”

“Who?” I ask a bit too loudly and abruptly. Damn got to keep this in check.

“Andy” she blurts out a laugh of disbelief “No it’s ok, erm no secrets between mates eh? It’s a guy I met the other week, I added him to hotmail and I said I’d be back to speak to him for ten”

“I see” except I didn’t, I mean was she fooling around with someone, why ask me for a drink if she’s getting herself fixed up with some other man, some other dirty old man in his forties too I bet. Jesus she could be a right daddy’s girl at times. I hit the speed and turned the CD up again. Sweat forming on my brow I continue; “So what about this drink then?” I have to keep my chances open.

“Drink?” she asks, as if it’s the first time I have mentioned it.

“Yeah” Impatience setting in now, every nerve of my body alert and on fire “Come one Jane, we only just stopped talking about it silly.” Silly Jane, silly, silly bitch. “You said we should go for a drink one night”

“Oh yeah course” She said, moving in her seat. “I love this one” she says pointing to the CD, its There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. I love it too, but I’m not concerned with the music at the moment.  “How about tomorrow night? Sorry no I mean the day after right, two nights in a row isn’t right is it, bit too much? So yeah, erm that would be Thursday, how about Thursday night?”

“Oh right, I can’t do Thursday Andy, it’s as much as I can afford one night a week for a drink”

She’s lying. I know she’s lying. I know her pattern; she’s out at least three times a week.  “Oh come on, one drink is not going to break the bank! Besides, I’ll pay, perfect gentleman remember?”

“I can’t Andy, not this week sorry, a girl needs her rest. One night a week is enough and that was tonight. It’s a shame you weren’t with us”

Take Me Out Tonight,  Morrissey is singing

“Come off it” My head feels white hot, she’s lying to me, I know she is. “None of those b*tches would invite me, and anyway you’re out more than once a week!”

“Andy, what, what’s got into you?” She’s worried now, her voice has rose in pitch just as the speedometer has rose.

“Last week right, straight from work Monday you were out with Christine, then Sam on Wednesday and on Friday you went out with a whole gang of them, including Dave, Dave? He’s horrible yet you were happy for him to dance in the street with you at closing time!” Why am I saying this, it’s all going wrong. This is the girl of my dreams and instead of wooing her I’m shouting at her.

“How do you know?” she’s stock still in the seat now, looking dead ahead, the occasional nervous glance to the speedo and me, her eyes widen at my knuckles as they tense and go white at the wheel. “Have you…Andy, have you been spying on me?” 

“No!” I laugh it’s so absurd. “Spying? Of course not! I’ve been out in my car, there’s no law against that, if you happen to walk past on your way to The Feathers then that’s not my fault”

“Andy I want to get out” 

What? The silly cow, we are on a motorway.

Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home

“Jane, sweetness, you can’t get out, we are on a motorway” God is she dense? “You stupid, stupid bitch, can’t you see that?!” I’m losing it, I’m really losing it.

“Andy, stop this! You’re being mean, I don’t like this, please stop!”

This is it, she’s scared, I’ve scared her, she’s fidgeting in her seat, uncertain of who I am, what I am, what I want. I’ve got to try and reassure her. I swallow hard and bite the bullet.

“Ok Jane I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry. Thing is Jane I love you. I have done ever since you joined us in October. Jane you’re my ideal girl, what I’ve always dreamt of. You are beautiful, so beautiful and I know I could make you happy, given the chance. I do ok you know, I’ve got savings and I’d let you do your own thing within reason, I just want you to want me as much as I want you, I want you to see that I am right for you, much better than all those other losers you’ve had, please Jane, please? I didn’t mean to scare you, I’d never want that, I just want to be by your side forever, to take care of you, to love you, please Jane, please let me do that”

“Andy-I-I- no I don’t think of you like that, I can’t be your girlfriend, I just don’t feel for you in that way” She’s struggling to fight back tears now, as am I, but my tears are of upset, of loss for something I’ve never even had, her love. Her tears are of confusion and borne out of fear.

I swallow back the tears “I love you Jane” I’ve reached hundred on the clock.

She wails and thickly tries to say “Please, please Andy, stop this, slow down, I want to go home” She’s even wet herself I think, I can smell urine in the car.

“I want you, I want to be with you forever” I moan

“I can’t I can’t Andy please no”

Then it’s decided, she doesn’t want me, and I’ll never get to be by her side forever like I have always dreamt and longed for. Not willingly anyway. My whole world has fallen apart down the speeding motorway. I hit the brake release and the car swings violently to its side until we shudder to a sickening grinding halt sideways on to oncoming traffic.

She keeps repeating please over and over again between sobs.

I look into her deep blue eyes; they are filled with tears which spill out like water from an overfilled bath and scurry down her cheek like the rain outside.

Time seems to stop still as I look into her eyes. I’ve never had a perfect moment in my sad pathetic life, never shared one with anyone, and this is it, the closest I’ll get to one. I can hear the traffic approaching us fast irrevocably. Horns are blaring at us. But that isn’t the sound that matters, the only things I hear, the only things I want to hear is the sound of our heartbeats, beating fast together as Morrissey sings….

And if a double decker bus crashes into us 
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine

I’m crying now and I smile at her as she shuts her tear brimmed eyes tight and we both clutch each others hands.

This is it, together forever in a shared instant, my perfect moment, and then I feel nothing.

The End

(c) Mark Cunliffe. Story 2009 (first appeared in 'Eternal Lines')  Artwork 2012