Friday, 10 July 2020

The Joy of Montalbano

Recently, I wanted to visit my literary safe space, just fancied that bit of escapism, y'know, as we all do from time to time. For me, this means Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri's food-loving, age-precipice-fearing inspector. I was willfully wallowing in the comfortable procedural plots, happy to revisit the old friends that Montalbano, his detective friends, his girlfriend, and incidental characters had become. It's far from the kind of 'trash' level that most people mean when they talk about 'trash TV', but, yeah, it comes across as a gritty soap opera almost (speaking of which - must remember to get some more of that gritty soap next time I'm shopping for ablutables).

I enjoyed the book this time, as usual (The Patience of the Spider, or, Il Pazienza del Ragno, the eighth novel of the series). Things don't follow a typical 'solve the crime in time, justice done by the book/letter of the law' kind of thing in the inspector's world, and it's the same that here, the sensitive detective discovers the truth of the matter (who the kidnappers are, in this case), but instead of bringing them to justice (having them tried and put in jail), he makes sure that 'justice' is done (a kind of greater good).


I'm not really reviewing or criticising this book (for one, I think a review would best be suited for the series as a whole, looking at things a bit more zoomed out, but anyway, that may be a convo for when I've read them all), but I had a few things I wanted to note. The first was the way chapters are realised. I'd not noticed in the previous stories, but there seems to be a tendency for chapters to not do much, other than mark arbitrary progress. Or rather, a chapter ends 'like chapters should' (I mean, in the sense of most conventional literature), in that they end on a pivotal realisation, or in the immediate pre-math of a heavy scene/action, and as we see the page become blank, we think feverishly forward - what's going to happen? A 'cliffhanger', in other words. But the start of the next chapter usually has some whip about it. Perhaps it starts from a new angle, maybe a bit further forward in time (and in this case I'm speaking only about linear time. One could easily jump about temporally, spatially, consciously (i.e. from another character), etc etc), maybe just with an extra bit of scene-setting description, to keep that feeling of 'what's going to happen next?' on a rolling boil. In Montalbano, tho, I notice that the story just keeps going on exactly as it was, sometimes even with a direct response in dialogue to a question posed, for example, at the end of the preceding chapter. In short, the chapter break could just be a bookmark you've placed in at any point, on any page. So I feel the chapter break 'doesn't matter', because everything carries on with the same momentum and feeling as it did before. I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. I suppose it suits the style of the procedural, you know, in that it's 'getting on with it', going forward. And I wouldn't be so arrogant (not on a Friday, anyway) as to suggest that it could be made better when Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli are on the team, but yet, I just can't help feel they could have made it more contrived, more artful, and maybe let these moments breathe a little bit. I dunno...

Another thing I thought about this particular book was that it really let a couple of clangers of clues drop. The book, as usual, takes a while to really get going (again, not a negative, because Montalbano's style is usually about being a real sponge, letting these seemingly unconnected tributaries of facts flow into him until he is full of the truth), but I feel that it was about halfway through that we learn more about the guy who turns out to be kidnapper, who lets the inspector know that his property used to be a farm that made wine, and we know by his grand book collection that he is well-read, both of which come into the spotlight when, shortly after, we realise that the girl who has been taken is being held in a wine vat, and the kidnapper chooses very specific, apt words on their notes, indicating a certain level of education. When the reveal came, I was not just not surprised, but deflated somewhat. It's not just an entirely personal reaction, but a logical one, too; if I can work it out (if the clues are that obvious), then how did some of the other officers not see it? It seemed a bit of a poorly grounded contrivance that Montalbano would be the only one to notice it. But having said all this, the actual ending was enjoyable to a degree (bittersweet, like the first Aperol spritz of the evening in a warm, placid piazza), and we have to keep in mind that this Italian detective fiction is not like the Poirot or Marple-esque 'gather all the suspects into a room for tea, scones, and revelations. Place an officer on that door for the inevitable escape attempt by a rich dandy who'd struggle to run his way through a wet paper bag.' It's enough to say that there have been more satisfying conclusions (in the sense of the case itself, not the story) in other episodes.

I know these sound like nit-picks. I could go on about all the things I liked a lot, but ultimately these things are what I like about the series as a whole, hence why they'd be more suited to a dedicated 'retrospective' kind of post (in my mind, anyway. You, my dear, cherished audience, you may disagree. Please tell me if you do. Everyone's entitled to be wrong).

Time for me to go. Until next time, un abbraccio :) Arrivederci amici etc xox

Friday, 5 June 2020

As a Sign of the Changing Tiimes

Today, whilst I was reading, I had to do a double take on a word. What I first read as 'lockdown' was, in fact, 'knockdown'.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Just Checking In, Really

I struggle to believe that it's been nearly a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I had a quiet aim to post once a week, and clearly that's not happened. Things in life have overtaken me somewhat. I don't write this in a 'woe is me' kind of way - I know there are always people worse off - but I suppose I'm trying to come to some understanding of it myself. If this first step is possible (or even when it isn't!), it's always the aim to (probably inadvertently) pass on some kind of wisdom along the way, so here's hoping.

I suppose the last time I wrote anything on here (rather than just linking) was before a fire that happened in my house. I was using an old laptop and the battery in it exploded. First of all, it's worth pointing out that, apart from happening at all, I was very lucky that a) I wasn't seriously hurt (I burnt my foot a bit, but that's all), b) that the damage was very localised (when you consider how quickly whole houses can go up, you know, this hadn't got anywhere near devastation level), c) the fire services were very quick to respond (I wasn't sure if I'd completely put the fire out before I had to leave the room due to smoke, so I was understandably nervous until they arrived). The worst thing about the whole episode was the loss of some of my writing (lots of papers were on my desk, especially newer drafts that I hadn't typed up yet) and, now that I think about it, the shock of it, and the interruption to what I was doing at the time, and the momentum I had built up (I was doing well sorting out possessions in my room, doing more reading and writing etc). As I say, tho, these are very minor concerns relatively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to tell you this like I am.

Daniele Pantano's Mass Graves: City of Now and Maya Angelou's And Still I Rise are two books the cosmos deemed worthy by trial of fire.
I've gone 'a bit mad' (I won't bother unpacking that one, or we'll be here all night...) since then trying to make some eBay money. The constant scrolling through auctions and all that jazz has taken up lots of time and energy (all my choice, yes), and I've eased off that. Because I'm buying and selling (go to my shop for a bargain!) games, that means I've been playing on a few, too, and though I don't see that time as completely wasted (it's been fun, after all), I sometimes feel it is because it doesn't tie in with my, and other people's, definitions of 'productivity' - of which blogging is only a small part ('SMALL!?' I hear you shriek. 'But your blog's contribution to the world is so unfathomably large - how, pray tell, could it ever be described as a 'small part' of anything, unless in a crude, jokey sort of a way?' Well, I say stop being so sarcy).

Jazmin Linklater's Toward Passion According and Zarf: Issue 11 are two more works that have passed through the fire and come out victorious.
These are two selected flash-points in a general 'up and down-ness' that I think we're all going through at the moment (for those of us for whom life is already like that, then it's more pronounced, I think). There have been other frustrations and niggles that have got me down and fucked me up a bit, but c'est la vie. What did I do to help myself? Well, read on...

I have just written a bit of a diary, and felt my head was a little clearer afterwards. These days, my diaries aren't so angsty and dripping with soul torture juices (TM), they tend to be more about what I'm going to do to change (I suppose the seeds of this were sown in Robert Sheppard's focus on poetics as a speculative writerly discourse - when I write poetics, it is often to find a way forward. But anyway, I'm not the guy to broach that subject. And if I was, I'd do it in a post that isn't already huge, unwieldy, and generally rather inane), as this one was. Then I wrote a bit of poetry - first time in too long. Some of the drafts I mentioned before that were damaged in the fire, I made into a new poem by combining the words that were left behind, the ones that survived, and suddenly felt great (yes, probably a bit of mania before another drop, but I'm using it to write this! Strike while the iron's hot, etc. Dunno what you do when the iron's cold. Put it back in the cupboard, I suppose).

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and fire abhors unworthy poetry," says the aphorism as old as time. So it was that some of my work has completely perished. Some of it, however, fought back.
Is that the wisdomful nugget of this post? Writing cures all? Haha, I don't think so. I mean, I think it can help all of us in some way or another, but I think this deeper feeling of contentedness, perhaps (if it even is that...), is due to paying attention to one's own 'higher power', which for me I think is writing. To put that into a soundbite thing, maybe it's a case of you 'getting out of it what you put in'? Other things that I'm doing to combat the shit mental health are growing chilli peppers (thanks for the seeds, Ann!), and I'm working on making an effort to hopefully get my outdoor exercise levels back up to the point they were at before Covid-19 had me looking at people out the window like 'Unwashed doom-bringer! Stay out of my sight, lest you infect my eyes! The eyes are the windows to the soul, and I want my soul to be healthy. Yes, healthy soul, healthy soul... All the outside air is bad for the soul - Devil air, yes it is!' (this said as I rock back and forth on the floor, slowly clawing at my face until it starts to bleed).

And that, I think, is it (I have to legally add "for now" after saying that, because people's Blogtastic-based disappointment translates to a lot of litigation). Let's re-cap; it's all about moving forward. I'm not dwelling on the bad stuff in the past, or the bad stuff now. I am happy that I'm doing good stuff (self-defined), that there are people that I love and that love me, and that life is (at least potentially) rich and wonderful again.

Peace, love, and light, folks :)

Friday, 17 April 2020

Rakhshan Rizwan reads from Paisley

Whilst aimlessly Facebooking this evening, I happened upon an event in swing (well, it had already swung by the time I saw it, but it had 'gone live' to the world recently), and I'm so glad I did. Rakhshan Rizwan was reading from her debut collection Paisley from The Emma Press, and chatting to her host Emma Wright, founder of said press. You can (I think...) view the reading by clicking here:

First off, I want to say a bit about the reading as a concept. In this time of lockdown, the gig was held over an online conference call facility, but, put simply, it detracted from nothing. The poems sparkled with the same jewell-light that they would do had they been coming in live, over radio, or whatever. You still got that 'extra magic' of seeing the author interacting with their own work and the audience - which is always the great privilege at readings - and even, thanks to the generosity of the participants, some questions and answers, too. In some ways, I actually preferred it being online. Sometimes while traveling to events, especially in a big city, I can tend to arrive there fatigued and nervous, and can't always give the artists one-hundred per cent concentration. Not so when I'm watching it at home! I did miss chatting to other people who were enjoying the evening, tho, especially one person who I often get to chat to on the train back from Manchester after Peter Barlow's Cigarette extravaganzas... Anyway, this isn't a 'compare and contrast' of reading types - it's just to say that I felt all the wonderful buzz and inspiration I normally do when I go to a reading, that everyone did a bloomin' good job, and how lucky I am :)

I enjoyed the poetry, too. It started off with a poem about time, which is my favourite philosophical preoccupation (just reading that phrase will do strange things to your temporal perception, so I'd call a doctor if I were you...), that conveys such an important truth about 'organisation' - of society and therefore our lives.

When I hear a 'broad title' (i.e. a title that's named after a topic/issue/concept, so as to give it an expansive gaze) such as 'Migrant', I often worry that it's going to take on a kind of polemic tone, be very preachy and flat, but Rizwan absolutely avoided this in her poem of that name. Her work instead found new, touching ways of exploring ideas surrounding migration. One 'cheesy' line gives us an essential, immediate image ("Leerdammer cheese sits on a slice of toast," making me think of the things that unite us all in humanhood), whilst the next one zooms out to the wider injustices played out by many in a society that is, unfortunately, more divided than it should be - "I shed pounds working two jobs in hopes of securing a paper-thin ticket home." For context, this last line brings together much of the poems tangible quality, the idea of the length of grass, the movement of turbine blades in air, of snow's weight - it really holds you tight into its being, so you feel it, and hear what it's saying.

Next I want to say how repetition is used well in many of the works she read out tonight (indeed, repetition is discussed in her QnA at the end, so do watch 'til the end to gain the benefit of insight). In 'Eve', the speaker 'carries' and 'brings' with her many visceral things ("fragments of pain," as Rizwan calls them in her preamble), and the repetition of the act of toting terrors adds it up, like a physical weight, in the mind of the listener, and if it makes us feel uneasy to hear the poem, just remember back to the first lines, and how "the misplaced smiles of acid-corroded faces" are not just words, but realities. Also, in 'Urdu/Hindi' and 'Paisley', there is a significant amount of repetition - of the titular words themselves. As you will know if you read my blog, I have a weird quirk where I don't like repetition very much usually, and I think Rizwan just balances on the tight rope over 'Too Much Chasm' (it's a real place, look it up). It helps one focus on these concepts, I felt in a meditative way (not in the sense of 'drift off to music' meditation, but 'intense, re-centring' meditation), and the repetition served as a kind of 'Om', a primordial calling, getting us to listen and be there with her as she speaks.

So, yeah, I definitely have another book to add to my Emma Press wish list :)

Hope you folks are all staying well under lockdown, and I urge you to take my life advice (suitable both in and out of a crisis); find what brings you joy, and do it (barring things that cause harm to others!). In my case, poetry readings bring me joy, and I just want to again say how lucky I have been to listen to this one, and thank you for reading!

Peace, love, and light.

[a link to some of Rizwan's work:]

Monday, 13 April 2020

This Should Be A Happy Day

You're probably too young to remember, but I can recall the day when the launch of a new YouTube channel and its videos was a glorious thing, greeted with tumultuous applause, a veritable orgasm of emotional outpouring. Officials from the towns and cities would break a bottle of special reserve Champagne over the channel title - drips and drops of the drink dribbling down onto the sidebars and the videos themselves - and they'd have, oh, at least three cheers, but sometimes more. Maybe that was more a regional thing... My point is that they used to love it. Oh, yes, telegrams were sent, guns fired into the air, bunting put up, flags waved, you get the picture.

As the years passed, though, there were warning signs. Some of the officials that came to cut the tape and Champerschristen the budding vlog saplings started turning up late to the launches. Some of them yawned. Some of them, in remarkable displays of disrespect, drank the Champagne and smashed the empty bottle over the channel. All of a sudden, the police were "too overstretched" to clamp down on such breaches, and, little by little, our fine, upstanding traditions were whittled down to the attendance of a few die-hard fans, who might still bring a party-popper or two along, just to try and hark back to the grandeur of those halcyon days. Which brings us to

TODAY. You are now more likely to be punched in the nose, shot, or blacklisted from your local Screwfix for daring to impugn the sovereign nature of the internet with a new, upstart channel. Such besmirchments are clamped down on with a kind of 'negative vigour' that is the direct opposite of the joyous exulatations we used to see in support. 'Those were days', says this writer in a grim and ultimately pointless muttering into the void.

This writer is also launching his own channel. There's a video, anyway. Come what may, here it is:

Monday, 30 March 2020

[Written 27.3.2020]

My photo of a chalk-written message on the side of a kid's play area near Heysham village.
It's a day where the death toll rises sharply in Britain, BoJo gets Coro, and, perhaps as a crumb of comfort, the 'crest of the wave' is predicted by some experts to become apparent in two or three weeks' time. I know this doesn't say anything about timescales for returning to normalcy, but it's another important step on that journey.

I've not been feeling sorry for myself, but my anxieties and whatnot have reached something of a spike. This depression lately has been properly trying to kick my butt. My sleeping is fucked, and that has such a knock-on with my stomach, many things in my head (concentration, that 'fish bowl feeling' etc), what I get done in the day etc... I went shopping today for the first time in over a week (as I've followed the self-isolation guidelines since discovering I had a fever - but I'm aaalright now), and I so desperately wanted to go, to get out the house, to do useful things (compounded for sure by being a carer in various different strengths of responsibility for the past six-ish years, and spending a recent seven months living alone, which fostered in me that sense of knowing exactly what was going on around the house, and being in control of a lot of it), to see the sunlight, see a couple of humans etc. On the other hand, my head was making completely unreasonable scenarios seem likely. I was scared of the idea of the shop 'guards' meeting you outside the shop, standing in a line for who knows how long (and how long would the line be, us all standing two metres apart?), for some reason, I guess the sensation of being 'on display'. Also, there's a big shame thing going round my head at the moment, which centres around the idea of necessity. Yes it's necessary to have food to survive, but I have both the responsibility not to spread Covid-19, and the idea that homeless people don't have the luxury to pop into Tesco with their savings and get things in, which makes me feel guilty. As for the former issue, I have been worried about police patrols stopping me, questioning why I'm out. And I'm not saying I feel so dramatically paranoid that they'd arrest me, seeing something ulterior in my statement about a trip to get some bread and milk, but the emotional impact of being asked, at this time where I'm surprised how bloody fragile I'm feeling, is action-smotheringly looming large at me... Add to that little concerns like, for example, if I was looking at toilet roll - coul I do without it? Are you taking it out the hands of a poor old pensioner? I know, it's comic, but that's how it appears in my head, with the laugh track edited out...

As it happened, the shop was pretty good. A few people decided to walk shoulder to shouler along a pavement, forcing me right out into the road, but other than that everyone was just doing normal things, in pairs at most. The shop still had lots of empty spaces, but I got fruit, bread, even a couple of packets of crisps (hang me! I know they're not necessary and I went and got them anyway), so it felt pretty ok. I saw they were out of pasta, but managed to re-stock on beans, and honestly I forgot to check toilet roll, but that's thankfully not an issue for us at the minute. I self-checked-out, which I always find a shame because I like to talk to the cashiers, but I was happy that I was limiting their exposure (for what it's worth, when they go and serve someone else! But hey, every little helps, right? Or was that Asda?). The biggest difference was all the yellow and black tape all over the floor, marking out 'squares of safety', like we shoppers are counters in a board game. Well, we are in a vast, global strategy game of sorts... Cosmic, in fact. There was a slightly awkward moment on my way out as a person, I don't know, tried to guess which way I was walking, I slowed down to let them past, they sort of stopped so I powered forward, only for them to suddenly change direction and nearly walk into me, potentially unleashing huge plumes of virus-ridden droplets over Heysham, but it never happened.

I don't know why I'm writing this flippantly. Nervous energy, maybe? I really did feel like I was wound up tight before. I felt a little bit better having come back from the shops, but then felt absolutely compelled to get this down, which is unusual. I'm under no illusions that it's just trivial blather about my experiences, and normally I'd say 'hey, maybe some time in the evening get your thoughts down', but I'm a bit frantic, giddy even. It's so weird. I have that NHS advert off the telly in my head, and the red 'x' beside 'visit family or friends' makes me think how hopeless I feel. I've not seen friends in ages, and now it doesn't seem safe to... I feel compelled to try and keep abreast of the news, too, but, as I should bloody well know (maybe my depression is trying to feed itself, keep itself strong while I am weak?), some of it has depressed me, stories of people in cities around the world told not to leave their house at all, not even to get food, walk dogs or whatever. Then someone said, in a very hurt tone, Britain should count itself lucky they can leave the house at all, and I thought 'yeah, absolutely, every day like that is a gift', but then I think, 'but then aren't we part of the problem if we do go outside'? Every point has its obverse... Where am I going with all this...

I don't know whether it's good news or not (oh go on, be positive!), but I've decided to enter this BBC call for scripts (5-10 minutes, involving 2-4 characters in isolation who communicate via video call). I'd apologise for not giving you much notice, but, to be fair, the call only started a week ago, so no-one's had a great deal. Anyway, I'm not moaning, I'm just saying that's the way it is. I'm getting a decent idea together. I want to give them something. A little part of it is 'practice' mentality, but also I want to get my words out there, urgently so at the moment (hence this blog, I guess). I don't know. Am I thinking I'm dying soon? Do I feel dead already?

Hmm... It's a day like this where I could really do with a drink. Again, this is not a joke. I could use one to calm me down, stop feeling the discomfort of existence, and, maybe, to help me get actual sleep tonight. But I won't. Sorry for bringing that up. Anyone out there struggling with substance misuse problems, please stay strong. I know at the moment, nerves are jangling for everyone, and it could seem like a good reason to self-medicate - but honestly, life is still there to be lived, and you can only do that by being here in the present (which substances take you away from). Think of your strength now as a sober person - it's wonderful.

Right, I'm going to 'foxtrot oscar', as one of my colleagues would say :)

Stay safe everyone. Please don't be alone - get in touch with people. They won't mind.

P.S. Tim Martin's an asshole. He's seen some sense - but how much? It stuns me that he even considered fucking over his staff like that.