Thursday, 23 May 2019

Bodies

Rob (Max Beesley) and Donna (Neve McIntosh)

If, like me, you are missing Line of Duty, fear not. For whilst AC-12 might not return to our screens for at least twelve months ("Mother of God!"), help is at hand. The Beeb, in their infinite wisdom, have dug up Bodies, one of Jed Mercurio's earlier forays into television, and stuck both series on the iPlayer here. And you should take a look.

Made in 2004-6, Bodies is set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictionalised acute hospital. Max Beesley stars as new registrar Rob, who quickly becomes concerned about the competence of his consultant, Dr Hurley (Mercurio favourite Patrick Baladi, who'll LOD fans will recognise as the Huntley's slippery lawyer friend Jimmy, from series four). So there's a pressurised acute hospital setting, with patients dying or being left with brain damage all over the place, backroom machinations, intrigue, plotting, double-crossing... plenty of dramatic mileage.

However, if you're hung up on Mercurio's more recent work, like LOD and Bodyguard, well, you might initially be a little disappointed with Bodies. It shows its age a little, I think, amazing given that it is a 21st Century piece of television. I guess things move pretty fast. But in our hi-def, colour-saturated 2019, Bodies feels a bit ... there's no other word for it, grainy. And hurried too. There were only six episodes in series one; stories and sub-plots move along so quickly, occasionally unrealistically quickly, it feels. Plus, and I mean no disrespect, I don't think Max Beesley's acting chops are quite up to snuff, here at least. Lucky for us then that the wider cast (and it really is an ensemble piece) are excellent - the aforementioned Patrick Baladi, Tamzin Malleson as Polly, Susan Lynch as whistle-blowing anaesthetist Maria and, most of all, Keith Allen, who seems to be having a great time as senior consultant Mr Whitman (Keith and Tamzin are partners in real life - I don't know if they met before Bodies, or on set, but it certainly helps their on-screen chemistry). Best of all is Neve McIntosh as ward sister Donna, who would go on to appear in Dr Who occasionally as Madame Vastra - she's excellent in Bodies, even if her role is a little under-developed at times.

I think it's also worth reminding ourselves that, whilst Bodies also plays fast and loose with NHS management processes and structures (hard to believe, for example, that hospital manager and all-round bad guy Paul Tennant would be involved in every staff discipline case and suspension, as well as the hospital's inspection, departmental monthly reporting, clinical trial panjandrums and more) it only does this to serve the story - to keep the world of the acute hospital, behind the scenes, understandable for the viewer. This works, for the most part; as someone who's worked in the NHS, and comes from a family of people who've worked in the NHS, I can tell you it still feels real, despite these shortcuts. And so it should, when you realise that Jed Mercurio went to medical school and spent time working as a doctor in a hospital. He's been there, done that. Makes you wonder how much of what you see is (semi-) autobiographical... The same is true for his first TV output, the somewhat lighter mid-Nineties satirical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest.

Also worth remembering that this was (and still is) pretty ground-breaking television in what it was prepared to show - stillborn babies, premature babies being given CPR, graphic surgery, botched tracheostomies and horrible deaths. Oh, and plenty of sex too. I don't know what time of day this was on, or channel (I'd guess 10pm on BBC Three, as was) but Holby this most definitely was not.

It's not perfect but there's plenty to admire in Bodies. You can catch all seventeen episodes over on iPlayer for another ten months, or pick it up on DVD if you prefer. Either way, you might never look at a hospital in the same way again... Here's the opening moments from series one, episode one, to whet your appetite.

And oh, The Guardian agree with me...

Monday, 20 May 2019

Sdrawkcab

I was lucky enough to experience Belgian artist Johannes Bellinkx's Reverse at the weekend, as part of an annual arts festival. And I'm not quite sure how to describe it... immersive walking tour? Performance piece, where you are the performer? Neither/both?

Maybe I should just describe how it works and you can decide for yourself. Basically it is a walking tour, of sorts, but you walk backwards, following a white line on the floor (not by looking down, but by keeping an awareness of it on the periphery of your vision). All the while, you're wearing headphones which are Bluetooth-connected at various points along the route to provide appropriate ambient noise.

Sound weird? Well, it is a bit weird, to be honest. Weird in that you quickly place utmost faith in the white line (at no point did I have the urge to look over my shoulder). Weird in that it is not easy to distinguish ambient noises filtering in from the real world with those from the headphones (most notable with conversations going on behind me by the market). Weird in that passers-by, oblivious to what you are doing, seem genuinely perplexed by the sight of someone walking backwards (one bloke filmed me on his phone, at some point). And most weird of all, how the whole experience starts to mess with your senses... or rather, how the brain tries to reinterpret the stimuli it is receiving, to make some sort of sense of them. This last point most of all, for me - after a while, I started to feel that everyone else was going backwards and that I was the only one moving conventionally.

At the end of the route, 50 minutes later, the artist himself was on hand to talk to participants. He was particularly pleased to hear of my "reversal"; apparently his original inspiration was another artist who had filmed someone walking backwards through Tokyo for nine hours and then reversed the film, to give the impression that the rest of the world was running backwards. Bellinkx's intention with Reverse was to attempt to create that sensation in a live setting. For me, it sort of worked. There's quite a moment too, when the white line the participant has been so reliant on, is suddenly removed from view - I won't say how (no spoilers), but this is just one of many sensory tricks Reverse plays on the participant. Others (like a different appreciation of gradient) are picked up in this review, if you're interested. Reverse has moved on now (next stop, Copenhagen, I think) but if you get a chance to have a go at this somewhere, sometime, you really should.

Of course, The Stone Roses famously transposed some of their songs to make others, and I was going to embed Don't Stop as an example, until I saw this. Imagine creating a song by backmasking another song, but then trying to play the new, backwards song live - playing forwards something that is the artificial backwards version of something else? Here's a clip of the band rehearsing to do just that (and a reminder of just how vital Reni was to The Roses' sound...)

Friday, 17 May 2019

Blue Friday - While She Waits

For my 800th post, some Smiths-lite. No bad thing. And 800 might sound like a lot, but it's not when you spread it out over 14 years.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Nineteen in '19: The House of Rumour

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

8/19: The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott

The blurb: In 1941, Larry Zagorski was a naïve young writer of science-fiction. Seven decades on, he looks back on that crucial year and traces his place in a mysterious web - one that connects the Second World War with the Space Age, stretches from London to Cuba and Southern California, and links Ian Fleming with Rudolf Hess in a conspiracy that reverberates in the present.

Could this be the secret history of the 20th century? In a mesmerising novel peopled by spies and propagandists, the conned and the heartbroken, dreamers and fanatics, the question is: who will you believe?

The review: where to start? Arnott has woven together multiple stories that entwine a cast of fictional and fictionalised characters, centred on SF novelist Zagorski. The real-life characters include Ian Fleming, Rudolph Hess, Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, L Ron Hubbard, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick, and more. On occasion, I had to check with Wikipedia as to the reality of some of the protagonists, such is the breadth (and skilful blend) of fiction and fact. There's a real spotter's fun to be had for the reader here too, most notably in the scenes with Ian Fleming, spotting references to events that later turn up in Bond novels: a boss called M, a character called Trevelyan, conceiving of a spy breaking a crime syndicate by bankrupting them in a casino, and more...

But what of the actual story? There are so many sub-plots here, and so many narrators, it's not always clear what the underlying story is. That fiction can inspire real events? That is certainly a recurring theme, notably that a (fictional) story might have been the inspiration for Hess's trip to Scotland. Or have foretold, as is often alluded here, as there is a recurrent motif in this novel of cults and the occult, tarot, the supernatural, the alien. Plenty of the protagonists buy into one or many of these schools of thought... but the real theme, to this reviewer at least, is disinformation - the black art of seeding just enough credible nonsense to divert or misinform. This recurs throughout the book, from pre-war paranoia, through Hess's flight to Eaglesham Moor, to UFOs and Area 51, goings on in Cuba, McCarthyism, Dianetics and Scientology, the Jonestown Massacre and secret service agents who could make or break people on one hand but be caught out by sexual predilection and a petty chancer on the other. So yes, there's a lot going on. Sometimes it's hard to keep up. And you might gather from the amount of time since my last review in this series, I've hardly raced through The House of Rumour. But it's works, ultimately, even if the story sometimes pays second fiddle to the storytelling. Not one for dipping in and out of, but a book that rewards your attention.

The bottom line: a decent slice of meta-fiction that succeeds because the real and the imagined are blended so well, you cannot see the join.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Something for the weekend...

...a cherished song, a cherished film, some art... what better way to start your weekend?

And a parody because, well, why not?

Proper blog posts will return soon, I hope.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Blue Friday - Skin and Bones

Oh, Harriet (obligatory sigh). "We're just flesh and blood, and we're nothing much more..."

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Seren-gig-ity

I know that title makes me sound like Quagmire, but hear me out.

I went to see The Wedding Present on Sunday. Not once, but twice. Firstly, I went to a screening of the excellent and long-overdue documentary about the band and, more specifically, their debut album, George Best. Entitled Something Left Behind, the film was crowdfunded (including by me - my name is in the [very long] list of backers at the end of the credits) and has been doing the rounds of film festivals and special screenings. Now it seems to be following the band around on tour, allowing for the screening to be followed by a Q&A with the film's director Andrew Jezard and Mr Wedding Present himself, David Gedge.

Later the same day I squeezed into a small, sold-out venue to see Gedge and his bandmates do their excellent thing, as part of their Bizarro 30 tour.

But, to paraphrase Chris Tarrant, I don't want to write about that. You all know about The Wedding Present already. You probably all own George Best and Bizarro (with the exception of C, who has yet to be won over). In short, you don't need me to enthuse about Gedge et al - I would literally be preaching to the converted. So instead, I'm going to talk about the occasional luck of seeing a support band that bowl you over.

Now, you might remember The Flatmates from their first spin around the block, in the late Eighties. Indeed, Jez over at A History of Dubious Taste was blogging about them at the weekend. Here's what they sounded like back in the day:

Wikipedia tells us that the band split in 1989 and reconvened in 2013. As is often the case, not all the original members are back on board though. Whilst they've seemingly been through a lot of bassists, more notably absent is original vocalist Debbie Haynes... but they have recruited a remarkable frontwoman in her place, in the shape of Lisa Bouvier who is, well, there's no other way to describe her, a force of nature. A whirling, swirling, whooping force of nature. Delivering high energy vocals whilst bouncing and dancing around in a gold tinsel jacket throughout their 30 minute support set, all I can say is that the Swede must be very fit. Also quite a contrast to the rest of the band who, it must be said, look exactly like what they actually are - a bunch of middle-aged men. Still, so was most of the audience on Sunday night, so at least they were at home.

There aren't many videos of the current line-up to show you, but here's something from earlier in the tour - the current line-up's live take of Shimmer.

Anyway, The Flatmates are recording new material, and have a couple of 7-inchers you can buy. One has a Cinerama cover on the B-side, if that adds to the interest. Also, they have a Facebook page, if that's your thing. And finally, here's Lisa and the crowd from Sunday night. +100 kudos points to anyone who correctly identifies me... [Edit: points offer rescinded, you can just hover your mouse over the picture to ID me...]

P.S. Something Left Behind is really very, very good. Catch it at a screening if you can. Alternatively, the director assures us it will be out on DVD before Christmas...

P.P.S. No, Bouvier isn't a very Swedish sounding surname. In the unlikely event you should ever need to know for a pub quiz question, the singer was born Lisa Westerlund.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

How to do a comeback

Last September, I wondered which, if any, of the feeble videos on my excuse for a YouTube channel would be first to 500 views. Eight months later and one of those feebles is honing in on 4,500 views. And it's Sleeper, performing Sale of the Century at Latitude.

Sleeper's comeback seems complete. After a few tentative gigs in 2017, they ramped it all up in 2018 and got back on the festival circuit. They recorded a new album, with Stephen Street at the helm, and, despite problems with PledgeMusic, it has not only seen the light of day but has troubled the charts too. More importantly, The Modern Age is also pretty good; early days, I know, but it will be in the running for my album of the year.

I did start to wonder if the Sleeper revival has been so successful because, back in the day, not only did people like the music but they all fancied Louise too. Seeing Sleeper live now is a double whammy of nostalgia, then - not just the music but the imaginary girlfriend too. It's like looking up your childhood sweetheart on Facebook. But even allowing for that, I don't think the comeback would have been successful or gratifying if the music was no good (and I include the new tunes in that). And it has been successful, so much so that I even sold a couple of Sleeperbloke t-shirts off the back of it...

Anyway. Enough poorly structured blog posting. After all, it's just a thinly veiled excuse to embed some Louise Wener. Happy Thursday, everyone.


Then...


...and now

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The trouble with Record Store Day...

Finger on the pulse as ever, I'm writing about Record Store Day three weeks after the event. At least that's given me time to calm down.

I've moaned written about RSD before, to wit:

  • it's record shop, not record store;
  • the aims of RSD when it started are very different to the needs of record shops now;
  • Ebay profiteering; and
  • "Where were you bastards then?"

So I don't need to revisit those bug bears, do I? (Though I might).

Instead, let's add some new gripes. Although largely underwhelmed by this year's offerings, I did want one record - the Morrissey 7-inch of Lover To Be, on red vinyl and with an excellent picture sleeve of the late Donnelly Rhodes. Slight snag - I would be on holiday, and far away from home, on RSD19.

Naturally, part of my vacation planning involved identifying participating record shops near to my holiday home. There were three, and I targeted the one in the biggest town, thinking that my greatest chance of success would be there. And that's where my problems began.

I arrived at the shop, or more precisely the queue for the shop, at 7.20am, in readiness for an 8am opening. Which meant lots of time to listen to other people in the queue talking or, as I shall henceforth refer to them, RSDW.

Immediately in front of me, two RSDW were deep in discussion. One was wearing blue-framed Ray-Bans. At 7.20am. In a street that was shaded on both sides. Beneath a sky that threatened (but didn't deliver) showers. The other was a 40-something aspirant hipster, wearing trousers that did him no favours and a hounds-tooth trilby that definitely was not being worn the right way. They were discussing a box of records that Trilby had bought from a classified ad: "200 records for 30 quid!" Ray-Bans made some too-cool-for-school noises at this, until Trilby threw in the additional "...but there's some Miles Davis in there and I've had a look on Discogs and some of them are worth 30 quid on their own!" "Sweet," said Ray-Bans, which was odd, as I had a sour taste in my mouth.

A couple of places behind me in the queue, a loud RSDW bemoaned the notion of queues, thus: "I don't do queues. I fucking hate queues." This, despite the fact that he very clearly was doing a queue. And what's more, who doesn't hate them? And I could go on, there were plenty of RSDW in the queue, but I don't want to sound too much like the intolerant curmudgeon that I am.

Bang on 8, the shop opened, and the queue began to inch forward. Like many shops on RSD, this one was operating a one in, one out policy. I got to the front door by 8.30, by which time I had glimpsed an Ebay profiteer with an arm full of records through the shop window... and one of those records was Lover To Be. I began to hope the shop had more than one copy and they surely would, right? At the front door, one of the co-owners was on hand to say hello. He asked what I was after and, when I told him, he said, "Oh, no-one else has said that so you should be alright." Except when I finally got my foot over the threshold I was staggered to see that there was only one small box of 7" RSD releases. Rack after rack of 12" but hardly any 7". And no Morrissey red vinyl to be seen. Beaten to the punch by an Ebay profiteer.

I left in a huff, and marched back to the car. After quickly consulting Google Maps on my phone, I set off for another of the local participating record shops, this one in a much smaller market town. Maybe it would be less popular, I tried to convince myself. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

After a cross-country dash that was entirely within the speed limit, I arrived in the queue for my second chance at five to nine ... and immediately wished I had gone there first. For whilst there was still a queue and a one in, one out policy, there was also a member of staff going up and down the queue with an arm full of clipboards, getting people to highlight the releases they were after. Periodically, he would head into the shop and then come back out to break the news to people who were after records that had sold out. In other words, there was organisation, and an attempt at fairness. And there didn't seem to be anything like as many RSDW.

I dutifully ticked the Morrissey box on a clipboard and awaited my fate, inching forward all the time. When the shop worker reappeared, he looked genuinely sad to tell me that "we've sold them all, sorry." All! All! Implying multiple copies. Gah! If only I'd been there an hour earlier. Hell damn fart. This was enough for me - I was supposed to be on holiday, after all. I didn't try the third shop, but went for a nice walk with my family, and tried not to fume.

Of course, by the end of the day Ebay was full of listings for Lover To Be, all around the £27-£28 mark, compared to the RSD list price of £9.99. I did fume a bit then.

Enough. Here's the song I was after, and the B-side: the tunes without the queues.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Fantasy Cover Version #17 - if Kacey Musgraves covered "Does This Train Stop on Merseyside?"...

The seventeenth contributor to this series is C, from the always-excellent Sun Dried Sparrows, and is written with all the thought and detail that makes her blog so compelling, plus it introduces me to artists and songs with which I am not familiar. Here we go...

It was during the coverage of the 6 Music Festival from Liverpool a few weeks ago when a certain track, a very apt one, received a fair bit of airplay and I immediately fell in love with it. I'm not even sure if I already knew it – I felt as if I should, but I couldn’t recall. Whatever - it's up there now with my favourite examples of what I consider as "perfect pop", alongside such classics as Big Star's September Gurls and Lucky You by the Lightning Seeds. I've got a thing for that lightness of touch and a particular type of hook, especially if there's a wistfulness to it, a heart. And a slow-ish pace, that kind of lazy beat, with a voice that means every word.


Amsterdamage

I let it seep in, take me with it all the way to Merseyside, and I love it as it is. But I found myself thinking of another song too, it reminded me of... of what? There was something in the crafting and the chord sequence which brought me to an altogether different artist and I started to imagine a different, but equally effective, beautiful take.

I know who could do the perfect cover version of this, and she would give it a new, feminine, country-tinged spin.


What a world, indeed

Play them side by side and hopefully you'll know what I mean.

Hey, does this train stop at Nashville?

So what do you reckon? Would Kacey covering Amsterdam work for you?

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Monday, 8 April 2019

The cycle-path test

After years of not doing any, I've done a lot of cycling recently. More than 2,200 miles in the last ten months, apparently. And I'm not going to lie to you, it has transformed my fitness and general health. In that time I've lost nearly a stone and a half in weight, and my cholesterol level is now so low the nurse had to double check her machine. Not only that, but about 60% of those miles would have been clocked up in the car previously, so I've saved money and reduced my CO2 footprint too.

So far, so smug, right?

It hasn't all been sweetness and light, of course. I've got wet quite a lot, such are the vagaries of the British weather (and the inaccuracies of domestic weather forecasts). There have been three punctures and a broken chain. I came off my bike early in February too, and banged my knee up pretty good. That's still not fully better yet either - one of the joys of getting old, everything takes longer to heal. And I'm currently getting a bit of lower back pain on longer (>25mi) rides. Yet another joy of getting old, I expect.

But on the whole, it's been pretty good. The thing is, brilliant though cycling has been for me, it's not the cycling per sé that's been pushing my buttons, oh no. It's Strava. Or, more specifically, the statistics, segment records, club leaderboards, trophy challenges and personal bests that Strava offers. I should probably confess to being quite competitive (and also to the fact that you can probably remove that "quite" too). Competitive with colleagues who use Strava too, sure, but most of all, competitive with myself: I want a faster time, a personal best, a top-10 segment record, a KOM.

Don't worry, I haven't turned into a MAMIL... but I am thinking of buying a new bike... and I have reviewed the Highway Code for the first time in many a year to check the law about cycle paths. No, I don't have to use one if it's there, it is neither compulsory nor mandated (see rules 61 and 63). If the cycle path is well thought out and benefits the cyclist, I'll use it; if it's a poorly conceived afterthought that inconveniences me and/or is full of detritus that gives me punctures, I won't, simple as that. It's no good you honking your horn or shouting out of your window at me either - I'm a road user, just like you, and have just as much right to be on the road as you.

Sorry, ranting there for a sec'. Anyway, all of this is all the excuse I need to wheel out (see what I did there?) this spectacular slice of 70s inappropriateness from Queen. "On your marks, get set, go!"

If you're on Strava, let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

"Simplest but most complicated"

From a pack of playing cards, imported from an unspecified country...

The Big Wizard and Little Wizard are the jokers, by the way. And I should add that the jokers are just regular, traditional jester figures, not depicted as wizards.

So, poker: the simplest but most complicated game in the cultural history of the human being. Who knew?

Still, the happiness in every day is a nice sentiment...

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

News of the world

After yesterday's latest instalment of Brexit shambles, today's front pages make for interesting reading.

One of these papers is pro-Tory, one isn't. See if you can discern which...

 

Whilst the i paper nails it with their appraisal of our elected representatives:

So many ways to spin to the same story. Still, in these dark days of Brexit, at least The Daily Star has cleared up the thorny issue we've all been troubled by recently:

A song, then, and a lesson, as true today as it was 40 years ago. "Don't believe it all. Find out for yourself. Check before you spread..."

Footnote: for a summary of the day's front pages, try Kiosko.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Monday long song: That Spiritual Feeling

Post-Council, pre-Modfather reinvention, this is a Weller B-side from when he was a Movement, with a leftover from the rejected final Style Council album...

Friday, 29 March 2019

Blue Friday - I Spy

More dark than blue but squeezes in here on account of a terrific performance - peak Pulp.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

“Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh?”

I've been trying to write this post for a long time. Ever since the first Blue Friday post, in fact, and that was way back in November, last year. Every now and then, I open the draft and write a few more words, but mostly I just wonder how I can fashion this into something that people might want to read. That's what this blog used to be, mainly: opinion pieces. Not too many people read it back then, certainly not as many as drop by these days to see what YouTube video I've embedded.

I tried to touch on it recently. Well, I say recently, it was September 2017, but I tried to explain my pet theory of Earth as a spring, and how I feel this particular spring was reaching its inelastic point. I should add that I'm not an environmental scientist, and my theory hasn't appeared in any journals, nor has it been peer-reviewed. In fact, the only places it has appeared are here and in the pub. But that doesn't make it any less valid, does it? Maybe, maybe not.

Either way, I need to drag all this up again, sorry. It's just that the pace of change seems to be accelerating, beyond even the more pessimistic estimates. The spring is being stretched, further and faster. Something's got to give. Don't believe me? Here are some notable recent(ish) news stories that you may have noticed:

So. Let's have some sort of recap. There is undeniable climate change occurring. Whether you believe it is man-made or not, I don't care, just so long as you accept that it's happening, that's a start. Sea levels will rise. The population is spiralling. But the ecosystem is filling up with plastic, everywhere. An insect apocalypse is coming. There'll be no pollinators left. In other words... there will be more people than ever, with less land for them to live on and less to grow crops on (if we can even pollinate), let alone raise cattle, and drinking water will be a precious resource. It's not hard to imagine that the final roll of humanity's dice will be going to war over food and water, is it?

There is a school of thought that mankind is smart, and that we can invent or innovate our way out of this - the old idiom that necessity is the mother of invention seems to fit, doesn't it? But I can't help but feel that we're waking up too late, and that there are too many vested interests amongst the ruling classes for the kind of action and decisions that need to be taken to actually happen. When you have a political class whose prime objective isn't the national (or global) interest but self-interest, when being populist enough to stay in power is their key driver, what chance is there? And when policy and investment decisions are made to line the pockets of associates and backers... well, that's when the leader of the free world backs increased investment in coal. Heaven help us.

I'm a parent, like many of you, no doubt. I used to think that crunch time would come, not in my life time and hopefully not in that of my child, but I envisaged a difficult life for any grandchildren I might have. But with every new story I read, every new piece of peer-reviewed climate science that is published, the more I start to worry for this generation, the current crop of kids. We talk, at home, about our child's future, how we can ensure the best education, what skills to equip New Amusements Minor with. But on top of the traditional, scholarly pursuits, we've also talked about how we teach skills around growing food, building shelter and self-defence. And that's not because I'm turning into some kind of evangelical prepper, with an "End is nigh" placard and a cupboard full of tinned food, but I do think life is going to have to change, radically, for everyone if anyone is to survive.

So what can we do?

I mean, it's easy to think that we, as individuals, can't affect an impact on a system with 7.7 billion others in it. And maybe that's true. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And it doesn't mean we shouldn't spread the word about it too. I expect we've all got low-energy light bulbs and loft insulation, bags for life and reusable coffee cups. That's great. Fuel-efficient, low-emissions cars too. Also great. But none of this is going to be enough. We have to reduce consumption of everything. Recycle and repurpose more. Have fewer children. Use less power, and source what power we do use from renewable sources. We need to grow food, encourage wildlife, pick up litter, don't ask our GPs for antibiotics when we've got the sniffles, cycle more, burn less, actively seek alternatives to single-use plastics, choose biodegradable detergents... Hell, we need to choose life!

All of us. All the time.

It isn't easy. We are all part of the problem, but all must do our best to be some small part of a solution. Otherwise, there is no solution.

Here are some charities that you might want to get behind: GreenpeacePopulation MattersWorld Land TrustWWF

I'm also acutely aware that most of you don't come here for a lecture, or even a rallying cry. It's music, books, TV, film, all the usual. So here's a new song, Armatopia, from Johnny Marr, which he described on Radio 2 this morning as being "about ecology". Bright and breezy sounding but it sort of fits - check the lyrics. Oh, and +10 kudos points for anyone who can ID, without Googling, the quote that gives this post its title...

What's going on?

Ranking Roger, just 56. Bloody hell. 2019 is turning into 2016...

R.I.P. Rude Boy

Friday, 22 March 2019

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The place I love

The plan was to take in two gigs this week: The Wedding Present (for what will be the ninth time) and From The Jam (for what would have been the seventh). But bad news - due the the unspecified illness of an unidentified band member, the From The Jam gig will not be happening, re-arranged instead for December, apparently.

Since the FTJ gig would have seen them performing All Mod Cons in full, here's an appropriate song. Doubly so, in fact, as I'll be back on my old stamping ground, seeing family and friends. This is for The Man Of Cheese - see you soon, mate.


Still it's always in the back of my mind...

Friday, 15 March 2019

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Shock of the Fall

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

7/19: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The blurb: "I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that."

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man's descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

The review: Before finding fame as an author, Nathan Filer was, amongst other things, a psychiatric nurse. This is important, as The Shock of the Fall tells the tale of a mental health service user; Filer's CV adds an authenticity that other writers might strain to reach but ultimately fall short of. And there are big themes bouncing around here, on top of the mental illness - how about the death of a child, depression, self-harm, suicide? No, it's not a comedy. But it's not misery-porn either. Filer's trick here is to tell the story in a genuinely engaging, likeable and occasionally humourous first-person narrative, and it really works, not just at making difficult subject matter palatable but also at keeping the pages turning.

There's more to it than that, of course, as you might expect from a debut novel that was, incredibly, subject to an eleven-way bidding war between publishers. Yes, our narrator Matt is, like all the best narrators, unreliable. But more than that, he is also, for want of a better word, affected. His mental health, and its evolution, is as much a character in its own right as Matt himself. And because that character is unusual, different in fundamental ways from the average reader, it makes the story immediately more engaging. more gripping. This style, and this story-telling device, reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, in which an Asperger's syndrome-like condition affects the narrator. Also of Elizabeth is Missing, by the wonderful Emma Healey, in which a form of dementia affects the narrator. Those are two fine, fine books, and The Shock of the Fall is every bit as good. My only minor quibble is an important coincidence in the book's final act that I felt was a bit of a stretch - I can't say what (no spoilers!) - but other than that, I devoured this 300+ page book in five lunch breaks. I guess that makes it un-put-down-able. Also, it may be a comparatively quick read but it lingers long in the mind afterwards. That's usually a good sign.

The bottom line: authentic first-person account of a troubled young life, hard to put down, full of subtle pathos and with a memorable narrative voice.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Who are you?

I'm having a bit of time off here but you may be interested to know that JC over at The New Vinyl Villain has kindly published my "imaginary compilation album" piece on The Who today. It's here if you fancy a read.

Cheers, and thanks again to JC.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Another R.I.P.

Magenta Devine has died, aged 61. She is remembered fondly, by me at least, for Channel 4's Network 7 (which seemed groundbreaking at the time) and especially BBC Two's Rough Guides to the World. Here's a great YouTube find from the former, of Magenta interviewing John Lydon.

Feels like every year now requires an updated version of Endless Art - "Mark Hollis, Keith Flint, Magenta Devine - R.I.P."

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Hats

I saw a bloke this morning, going about his business on the school run, wearing a trilby. And not in an ironic way, or to be a hipster. Just wearing a trilby, as a trilby, because it was a bit cold and a bit drizzly. This pleased me no end.

When I was a kid, my dad had a trilby. He never wore it, it just hung on the coat rack in the hall. The only time it would ever come down would be for me to dress up as this guy:

I don't know whether Dad still has that hat, but I'll ask him next time I visit. Maybe I can purloin it. I won't wear it (it'll clash with my Jeff Goldblum glasses, obviously) but I would like to have it, I think, to remind me of times past.

You might be expecting me to post something from much-lauded Blue Nile album Hats, to go with this, but no - partly because that's too obvious, partly because I've never really rated it. But I'm thinking of those past times, the 1970s, and Albion. This seems better suited.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Twisted animator

Jesus, only 49. That's no age, is it? R.I.P. Keith. Everyone will be posting this today but here's a tune, perhaps his finest moment, that I have heard an unhealthy number of times due to its inclusion in a computer game of my youth. I have a very clear memory of being in a club with my mate Tim, and asking the DJ if he'd play this. He replied that he wasn't allowed to. Would Keith have railed against the club management, or been pleased to have crossed their line, I wonder?

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Living in another world

Very sad indeed to hear, late last night, of Mark Hollis's passing. Talk Talk were a massive part of my musical world and of the development of my appreciation of music during the 1980s.

I was going to post a series of songs from Mark's career to show how rapidly his songcraft developed, with an exemplar from each album. But Ed over at 17 Seconds has already done that. And I was going to close with Mark's great two notes/one note quote, but Swiss Adam over at Bagging Area has already done that too.

I'll just post my favourite Talk Talk song instead. Most people today will probably go with Life's What You Make It but, for me, this just edges it. R.I.P. Mark.

BBC obit

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Graduate

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

6/19: The Graduate by Charles Webb

The blurb: As far as Benjamin Braddock's parents are concerned, his future is sewn up. Now he has graduated from college, he will go to Yale or Harvard, get a good job and enjoy a life of money, cocktails and pool parties in the suburbs, just like them. For Benjamin, however, this isn't quite enough. When his parents' friend Mrs Robinson, a formidable older woman, strips naked in front of him and they begin an affair, it seems he might have found a way out. That is, until her daughter Elaine comes into the picture, and things get far more complicated.

The review: you all know the story already, of course, such is the film adaptation's deserved fame, longevity and cultural impact. So what can I tell you about the source material, Charles Webb's debut novel, published in 1963? First of the bat, I can tell you how closely the film version sticks to the novel, especially the first half, and why shouldn't it when the novel in question is written so well? It seems incredible to me, as an aspiring writer, that this was Webb's first novel - it is so assured, so confident, so fully-formed. To quote fan Nick Hornby, Webb "writes with this lovely, spare style" and that's exactly right - he uses exactly as many words as are necessary and no more. As you may have gathered from earlier reviews in this series, that bare, concise style very much appeals to me. So sparse is Webb's style that the opening scene, which begins with our (anti-)hero Benjamin the reluctant star of a family party and ends with him being propositioned by Mrs Robinson, almost reads like a screenplay.

What else? The improbable yet oh-so-plausible dialogue the film's scriptwriters took a lot of credit for, well, a good proportion of that seems to have been lifted wholesale from the book. Yes, there are lines that aren't here and if, like me, you've seen the film more times than is healthy you'll look out for these variations and omissions (there's no "Plastics", there's no "You'll pardon me if I don't shake your hand"). But the book, and especially its dialogue, is a rich experience, and would be even for someone who hadn't seen the film.

Even for the aforementioned unhealthy cinephiles, there are elements of the book's story over and above what was shown on the big screen. For a start, whilst still painfully funny, the book has less humour than the film. More specifically, the character of Ben is a bit harder to like; as I mentioned earlier, he's more of an anti-hero in the book, a conventional hero in the film. In the book, he seems more petulant at times, and is a little harder to empathise with as a result. That you do still empathise is testament to Webb's storytelling, I think. There are other changes too - Ben is in Berkeley for much longer in the book, wearing Elaine down, and sells his sports car to finance that (so whilst he still gets to dash to the church in the final act, he doesn't do it in a Simon and Garfunkel powered red Alfa). And the final, final scene, which you all know so well from the film - well, I won't spoil it for you but the book's last page, last line pay-off is even better.

Webb's career as a novelist never really took off in the way this book suggested it might, though he did write other novels, including New Cardiff, which was adapted for film as Hope Springs. In 2007, Home School, the long-awaited sequel to The Graduate, was finally published, after much copyright wrangling. There is some suggestion that Webb only wrote this because he was in financial difficulties, which casts doubt on how good it may or may not be. Maybe I'll track down a copy and let you know. But for now, though, let's revel in the perfect, concise fiction of his debut.

The bottom line: I was prepared to be disappointed by this, such is my love of the film, but it is superbly written, lean, precise and insightful, with enviable dialogue and a page-turning narrative. Very highly recommended.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Bonus!
Any excuse for a clip from Mike Nichols' film version, this scene is one of a number that remains very close to the book.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Nineteen in '19: I Am Spock

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

5/19: I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy

The blurb: Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of the ever-logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, is one of the most recognisable, loved, and pervasive characterisations in popular culture. He had been closer to the phenomenon of Star Trek than anyone, having played the pivotal role of Spock in the original series, in six motion pictures, and in a special two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I Am Spock gives us Nimoy's unique perspective on the beginnings of the Star Trek phenomenon, on his relationship with his costars and particularly on the reaction of the pointed-eared alien that Nimoy knew best.

The review: I bought this last year for a pound in a charity shop, in mint-condition hardback form, and it's been sat in my eternally-expanding "to-read" pile ever since. Well, I finally made time and, what do you know, it's okay. I should point out that I love a good autobiography (especially when not ghostwritten) and I love Star Trek, so I was predisposed to love this book. That I only liked it (and I genuinely did enjoy reading it) tells you something, or things. For starters, it tells you that this was not Nimoy's first autobiog: the first, written in the early 70s and entitled I Am Not Spock, did not go down too well with Trek fans at the time, who saw it as a snub to a beloved character. Without going into that too much (or how Nimoy's coming to terms with his most famous characterisation is the vehicle that drives this second biog), it's perhaps understandable that the author's early life and career, including the three years of classic Trek in the 60s, are covered relatively briefly - he's covered them before, after all. Still, there are titbits, anecdotes, Leonard's relationships with Bill Shatner (good) and Gene Roddenberry (not as good) from those times. But far more of the book is devoted to Nimoy's big screen outings as Spock, particularly STII (in which Spock dies, of course), STIII (in which Nimoy directs Spock's resurrection) and STIV (in which Nimoy directs again and brings fun back to the franchise).

You also learn that whilst Nimoy's prose is perfectly serviceable, it seldom reached the "let's have a chat, you and I" tone that he seemed to be aiming for. And the "conversations with Spock" device he used, at first interesting and occasionally amusing, becomes increasingly intrusive as the book goes on.

But aside from all this, you have to read I Am Spock, like every autobiography, with your cynical head on - how reliable is our narrator? Has truth been omitted? How self-serving are the anecdotes? And the answer, from this reviewer at least, is that this seems a balanced account of the episodes described: it isn't all one-way traffic, and Nimoy holds his hands up to things at times. The only minor variation on this score is the slight overplaying of his stage and screen accomplishments outside of Trek...but that's quite logical, isn't it?

The bottom line: a decent but not great autobiography, but you'll enjoy it if you are a fan of Star Trek and Nimoy's famous alter-ego, Spock.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★☆☆☆ as a book, ★★★★☆☆ as a book for ST fans

Bonus!
This scene from STVI, Shatner and Nimoy's big-screen swansong as co-stars, has extra poignancy after reading I Am Spock.

Blue Friday - Avalanche

Few musicians are as Marmite as Leonard Cohen. This is the tone-setting opening track from Songs of Love and Hate.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Blue Friday - Tank Park Salute (live)

More from the peerless Uncle Bill, a song for parents everywhere. Prepare to get something in your eye...

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The obvious post

I've checked back through the February posts for the last fourteen years (yes, that really is how long this tired little blog has been stumbling on) and it seems that, somehow, I've never posted this obvious song for today.

So now, at 11.59... Valentine's Day Is Over. A great early-Bragg-era song, with wonderful between-the-lines storytelling, laid even more bare than usual in this Peel Session version.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Dirty Mac

I love that this happened. I love that it was recorded and that a recording was kept. And most of all, I love the minute of banter between John and Mick at the intro, particularly the moment 50 seconds in when Mick turns directly to the camera and says, "Dirty".

Here's Winston Legthigh on vocals and rhythm guitar, Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums ("Are you really, experienced?" "Oh very, very. You've read my file."), Eric Clapton "from the late, great Cream" on lead guitar and "your own soul brother" Keith Richards on bass. In other words, The Dirty Mac performing Beatles vocal-shredder Yer Blues, from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus TV special.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

On looking like


Apparently it is possible for the same person to look like all of these people...

About twelve years ago, when I had a bit more hair, kept my stubble trimmed and was running three times a week (i.e. was a lot slimmer), I quite often got told I looked like Simon Pegg. At one friend's 40th birthday party, I was told this by three different people, separately. One of them even said, "I'm sure you hear this all the time but you look just like..." Now for the record, I didn't really look like Simon Pegg, though I can see where they were coming from, I guess.

Prior to the age of Pegg comparison, I was told on more than one occasion that I looked like a young Tony Blair in certain photographs. Since the Pegg years, I've most often been told I look like Dave Gorman. More accurately, Dave looks like me (I am older). But again, neither of those is really accurate, both simplistic comparisons based on a single feature (hair for Blair, beard for Dave G).

Today I had the most unexpected "you look like" yet. I have new glasses. Not only that, I'm having to wear my glasses more of the time, so I guess they are more noticeable, especially to people I don't see that often. And today, from a colleague at work, this: "I've been talking with XXXX and we've decided your new glasses make you look like Jeff Goldblum."

Now, by no stretch of even the most fertile imagination do I look anything remotely like Jeff Goldblum.

What XXXX and YYYY mean is that my new glasses look a little bit like Jeff Goldblum's glasses.

Whatever, I'll take that as a win, because Jeff rules.

More tees, vicar?

I should probably grow up. No-one buys these (yet, at least), but I had fun designing them.

All this and more, available to buy, here.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not

Sad to hear of Albert Finney's passing - Mark at the reliably excellent So It Goes has a nice obit here.

Top pub quiz trivia for you: the title of the debut Arctic Monkeys album comes from this internal monologue, delivered by Finney in his breakthrough film role, the adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Here, see for yourselves.

R.I.P. Albert.

Blue Friday - Lua

Courtesy of Bright Eyes, aka singer-songwriter Conor Oberst.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Underappreciated: Adventureland

A very occasional series, the purpose of which is to highlight films that are really underappreciated, and that you might get a kick out of viewing. Today, a 2009 vehicle for then rising star Jesse Eisenberg: Adventureland.

"One of the year's coolest comedies!" opines the review quote, because that's what the kids want, isn't it? A cool comedy? But you might guess, by dint of the fact that I'm featuring it here, that there's a bit more to it than that... although you wouldn't know it from IDMB's plot summary for Adventureland, which reads:

In the summer of 1987, a college graduate takes a 'nowhere' job at his local amusement park, only to find it's the perfect course to get him prepared for the real world.

Let's flesh that out a little, shall we? More specifically, college graduate James (Eisenberg) is expecting to set off on a European road-trip, bankrolled by his father, but when his dad suffers a massive pay cut our poor hero is faced with a dose of reality. Over-educated, smart-talking James then takes a job at the eponymous, somewhat down-on-its-luck amusement park, in the hope of raising some capital. And wouldn't you just know it, in the process, he learns more about life than he ever did in college. Here's the predictable trailer:

So what, right?

But there are lots of things that elevate this above the standard teen comedy / coming-of-age fare. First of all, there's the dialogue, which is whip-smart throughout, and a credit to writer and director Greg Mottola (who cut his teeth on Arrested Development and would later direct Pegg/Frost vehicle Paul). Here's a great scene illustrating precisely that. In it, Eisenberg plays the same sort of character that Hugh Grant portrays in virtually every Richard Curtis romcom, if that character were half the age and American, but don't hold that against him. Also, note his precise delivery of at-times complex, at-times rapid dialogue, a feat he would showcase to even greater effect in The Social Network. Enough - here's the clip:

Yes, that's Kristen Stewart as the girl James gets on with. There's also a girl he fancies, so sure, there's a love triangle to predict the outcome of too. Or two triangles, if you factor in James's colleague and sort-of friend, the older, wiser Mike (Ryan Reynolds). But I don't want to give any spoilers, so... so, what else elevates the film? Well, it's timeless. No, really. Made in 2009 but set in 1987, it just doesn't age, in the same way that Back To The Future doesn't. It is as much about 1987 as it is about coming-of-age or romance or comedy. So you get to wallow in nostalgia for a simpler, happier time: a time before mainstream access to the Internet, a time before widespread use of mobile phones, a time before celebrity culture ran amok... in short, you get to remember how life used to be. How the things that were important in your life were different, and simpler. How work was once just about a pay check and trying to get through it the best you could, with the people that circumstance had thrown you together with (plus ça change... right?). And you get all this with a great soundtrack to boot, and a lot of laughs.

I have yet to meet anyone who has actually watched this and not loved it. So what are you waiting for? Go and watch it!

Monday, 4 February 2019

Nineteen in '19: Cathedral

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

4/19: Cathedral by Raymond Carver

The blurb: Raymond Carver said it was possible 'to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language and endow these things - a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring - with immense, even startling power'. Nowhere is this alchemy more striking than in the title story of Cathedral in which a blind man guides the hand of a sighted man as together they draw the cathedral the blind man can never see. Many view this story, and indeed this collection, as a watershed in the maturing of Carver's work to a more confidently poetic style.

The review: well, this collection is certainly a watershed. Carver's earlier work, the stories that had made him famous like What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, had been sparse and unsentimental. The tales in Cathedral are less concise and more overtly emotional. At the time, reviewers credited this change to a more confident, mature writer but in hindsight it's easier to see this as a result of editor Gordon Lish no longer having such a tight rein. The impact of Lish's editorial style is well documented in the Carver Chronicles and, more concisely, in this article from the Standard. So do Carver's much-lauded short stories stand up without Lish cutting and rewriting swathes? Well, for the most part, yes. Cathedral comprises bleak tales of alcoholics, the unemployed, cheaters and adulterers, and who doesn't like to read about characters like that? And even if these tales are not subject to Lish's editorial magic, they still work, with tales like Vitamins, Where I'm Calling From and Fever particularly standing out, for me. And then, most interestingly, there's A Small, Good Thing, the tale of a boy who is knocked down in a hit and run on his eighth birthday and subsequently falls into a coma. In the Lish-edited version, the reader doesn't know whether the boy ultimately lives or dies, but in the unexpurgated Carver version, included here, it is spelled out. Is it a better story for that? Maybe, maybe not. It's certainly longer, and more obvious in its story telling. You'll have a preference, no doubt. Critics at the time praised Carver's more expansive style, but was Carver ever as good as Carver/Lish? I'm not so sure.

The bottom line: bleak but real, these short stories are well crafted, however edited, and especially recommended as an object lesson for aspiring writers.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Friday, 1 February 2019

Blue Friday - Love Song No.7

Yes, that really is Chas Smash of Madness fame. More about this excellent track, and the album whence it came, in this old post.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Quite proud of this one

This, and other t-shirts, available here.

There are two inspirations for this shirt: the first is Berghaus outdoor gear, a lot of which I've worn up various mountains; the other's a band I owe any knowledge of to my brother. Here's their most famous track, in all its nine and a half minute glory:

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

A.I., eh?

Just got one of those Amazon Echo Dots, here at New Amusements Towers. I don't know why but I feel the need to emphasise that it wasn't bought, but was a freebie with something else. Still, it's quite a neat bit of kit I suppose, if you like that sort of thing.

This morning, as I made my sandwiches for the day ahead, I asked it (and it is an it, despite the name and female vocals) to play Vauxhall and I, by Morrissey. I'd been thinking about having a listen ever since including it in the first batch of Every Home Should Have One album posts. Alexa duly complied. All was going swimmingly until it got to Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself, and specifically the line "Well, you just sit there - I've been stabbed in the back, so many, many times". No sooner had Alexa played the word "stabbed" than the song abruptly stopped, and then skipped straight ahead to I Am Hated For Loving.

Might this, I wonder, be over-zealous precautionary programming on the part of Amazon, saving me from exposure to the word "stabbed"? After all, social media companies are rightly being given a hard time at the moment for not doing enough to prevent the vulnerable from exposure to "content" that may harm them. Or is it because I've got Alexa's explicit content filter turned on, and it associates "stabbed" with knife culture and, by extension, is something that needs to be filtered out? Without emailing Amazon to ask, I guess I'll never know... or, if you prefer, I'll never find out for myself... (thank you, I'm here all week)

Whatever, here's the song in full, from a time when Mozzer was still more revered than reviled.

If any readers have an Echo, and don't have the explicit content filter turned on, try playing this song and let me know how you get on... cheers.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Every home should have one V

In which I continue to remember, or am reminded of, albums that I missed from these. Mopping up some obvious essentials, with a bunch of compilations and some career highs:

Friday, 25 January 2019

Blue Friday - More Fool Me

Is this blue or not? You tell me. Anyway, for the spotters amongst you, this was the first track released with Phil on lead vocals, way back in '73 and long before Peter left.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Nineteen in '19: No Country For Old Men

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

3/19: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The blurb: Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles upon a transaction gone horribly wrong. Finding bullet-ridden bodies, several kilos of heroin, and a caseload of cash, he faces a choice - leave the scene as he found it, or cut the money and run. Choosing the latter, he knows, will change everything. And so begins a terrifying chain of events, in which each participant seems determined to answer the question that one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

The review: I've been wanting to read this for a long time; not only do I love the Coen brothers' film adaptation of same, I have also studied excerpts from this book on various creative writing courses. Add to this the fact that the only other novel by McCarthy that I've read, The Road, is cemented in my notional "top ten books of all time" list, and you can see why I was keen to read No Country. And I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. I guess you are either a fan of McCarthy's pared-down, direct prose or you're not, but either way it's perfectly suited to this modern (-ish - it's set in 1980) Western. Ostensibly about a drugs transaction gone horribly wrong, with psychopathic gun-for-hire Anton Chigurh wearing the black hat to Vietnam-vet everyman Llewelyn Moss's white, No Country cracks along at a riveting pace, as good a crime or chase thriller as you could ask for. The subtext, about the change in America, in people, in morals, moves along at a slightly slower but equally rewarding speed, mostly told through italicised flashbacks and reminiscences from the real white hat, Sheriff Bell. Yes, there's a sheriff - I told you this was a Western. If, like me, you've already watched the film you'll find some scenes on screen are so close to the source material, and McCarthy's prose so bare, that it's almost like reading a screenplay - I'm thinking of Chigurgh's coin toss challenge in the petrol station, and Moss's border crossing back into America. As I've said, this might not be for you, you may prefer more florid text. But for me, this is fantastic, an object lesson in how to write. Similarly, you might find McCarthy's habit of not quote-marking speech to be annoying or confusing; again, not me - I like it, and find it concentrates the mind on the scene. Indeed, I did the same thing in my novel, mostly for storytelling reasons but partly in homage. And as is often the case, there's more to the book, story-wise, than the film adaptation, but I'll let you find that out for yourselves. You can revel in McCarthy's ear for dialogue too.

The bottom line: compelling chase novel, late-20th Century Western and elegy for a way of life, No Country for Old Men is all three, beautifully written in McCarthy's trademark sparse prose. Oh, to write like this!

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Bonus treat for you all... those scenes I mentioned