David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Year Ends with Kindle Chart Jaunt

Due to the incapacity of the DG Books Technical Department, it was not possible to publish the kindle edition of Last of the Great Dancers. Plans for a kindle Daisy & Davey's Christmas Annual, that much-vaunted jamboree of inane hilarity, were also postponed but DG Books would like to point out that we are not the publishers of that under any circumstances. It is a different thing entirely.
Instead, the four available kindle editions were made free to download for 5 days, which finishes tomorrow, I think, so go there and help yourself via the Amazon Author Page link. But great excitement was had by watching those titles chase each other round the lower reaches of the Amazon Free Kindle Poetry Chart, recalling the heady days of The Beatles having more than one release at a time in the Hit Parade.
On Sunday, we had all 4 titles in the Top 35 but then somehow, Walter the Worm disappeared from the Poetry chart and only appeared in the Children's Humourous list but, as ever, Walter performed as well as, if not better than, the poetry back catalogue.
The BBC Music Magazine continues to disappoint with its dubious name-dropping and reviews only slightly less fatuous than my own. But the CD this month is Rostropovich playing three of the Bach Suites and so one gives it another chance.
This time I was at first disappointed in the BBC, once a fine bastion of English language usage, and then grimly fascinated by this piece in which Kathryn Tickell (surely not in words she transcribed herself) describes the Northumbrian pipes - well, I'm not sure how I'd feel about air coming from bellows strapped around my waste.

But in similarly pedantic form, I e-mailed the Observer about the identification of Bach music in the ITV drama about Christopher Jefferies,
At the risk of sounding too schoolteacherly, I feel I must point out that the music that Christopher Jefferies was listening to (Euan Ferguson, TV Review, 14/12) was not a Bach cello concerto but one of the Cello Suites.
but, sadly, the following week's Review was a review of the year and carried no responses to the previous week's issue.
I wouldn't want to be a full-time pedant but I enjoy the occasional foray.
And I have also been enjoying a year's worth of holding Amazon to their word when they advertised the paperback of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life at £3.50. They have been e-mailing regularly to say they can't supply the title and would I like to cancel the order while ostensibly now selling it for £5.59. Well, no, I didn't want to cancel, thank you very much, I can read other things while I wait, and have. But, on my way to Christmas, I found a copy for £2 in the Heart Foundation Charity Shop and so, after 12 months of Amazon reneging on promises, I'll let them off.
Kate Atkinson is a tremendous writer and a joy to read even when, or perhaps even better when, not much seems to be happening. When anything does happen, perhaps Life After Life will be another masterpiece but I have only just started it.
This Side of Paradise built to a great final 20 or 30 pages as the gauche Amory Blaine grew out of the excesses of his vainglorious youth and was a further example of how little I appreciated so many of the books I read 35 years ago at University and showed again how worthwhile it is to re-read some of the things I thought I had known all about then.
On the train home today, I made a list of the projected subjects for the forthcoming series here, Why I Like..., due to begin on a Friday evening soon with Why I Like James Joyce. The other nine little essays, subject to alteration, could be- Vermeer, Handel, Horse Racing, Pop Music, Books, Poetry, Shakespeare Biography, 1971 and Gin & Tonic. But, we will see.
And, finally, another series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue ends all too soon but, even though now without Humph and with an almost entirely new cast, it is as good as ever, and I'll leave you with this masterpiece of a joke, which is a beautiful thing within the genre,
A woman walks into a bar.
The barman says, What can I get you.
She says she'd like a double entendre.
So he gave her one.

And, By Jove, Missus, By Jove, wasn't it good to see 87 year old Ken Dodd do quite well on Celebrity Mastermind.
What a beautiful day, I thought. What a beautiful day to go on Mastermind and be asked What do they call a road that goes over a mountain.

Monday, 22 December 2014

View from the Boundary

15 Across in yesterday's Observer was ' Awfully ostentatious name for a railway terminus (6,7)'. It is an example of when crossword clues become art, and one of those occasional moments when one re-reads it to admire. 'Euston Station' is an anagram of 'ostentatious' with the n represented by 'name' thrown in. But I hardly need explain that to the erudite readership of DG Books, do I.
Crosswords just occasionally suggest poetry. And perhaps, poetry of a certain sort. In between big, proper books, I have been reading not only Don Paterson's book on Michael Donaghy (which I think I might have mentioned before) and Clair Wills' Reading Paul Muldoon. Brilliant though they are, it is offputting to a very ordinary poet like me who can only be daunted that such depth is to be discovered in major poetry. I am never going to write anything that requires such reading or can deliver such complex ideas. I might not even produce the usual 4 finished poems in the next twelve months, so overawed by such other work have I become. It shouldn't be like that. I've always been happy enough with the poems I've published before- although heaven knows how insufficient some of the rejects were- and so it should remain. It's only a matter of getting over any anxiety that one was never Donaghy or Muldoon and was never meant to be.
I don't order books in December. If they won't go through the letterbox, I can't risk having to queue at the Amazon distribution point, otherwise known as the Post Office. And so I recently picked a book of stories and essays by Fitzgerald out of the upstairs library room, otherwise known as the chaotic detritus of my life. I was impressed enough by those to decide to read This Side of Paradise in any spare time that happens over Christmas. And I'm 100 pages in already.
My other project will be to write an introduction to Francois Villon for a February meeting of the Portsmouth Poetry Society, and then I'll order some titles to begin 2015 with, including the Clive James poetry essays and the new biography of Jeremy Thorpe.
The first few months of a new year are a quiet time for new titles and this website tends to get off to a slow start. The Saturday Nap feature finishes with the piece below and so my Friday night slot might be a new feature, perhaps a series of 10, under the title Why I Like...which could begin with Why I Like James Joyce, and continue with Vermeer and Handel and then we will see.
But my favourite radio or TV programme these days is Bells on Sunday, Radio 4, 5.43 a.m., repeated 00.45 a.m. Except that those two times seem to be the only two times I am hardly ever awake. I can wake up at 5 a.m. on Sunday, think, it's not long until Bells on Sunday, stay awake for 20 minutes and then find myself having missed it by 5 minutes, and the same in the middle of the night.
The simple premise of the two or three minute show is that we are going to hear some church bells being rung. The introduction is a formulaic, Radio 4 set piece, a little more varied than the Shipping Forecast but equally arcane, like,
St. Jezebel of the Snows in Dancecraze-on -the-Wash has a peal of eight bells, the tenor tuned to B flat. The trumpet bell weighs 58 hundredweight and was cast by Wilfred Thorogood in Grantham in 1752. Here they are heard in the Leamington Centenary Triples Bob Major.
And then you get a couple of minutes of,

and you don't want it to stop but you know it's going to shortly so you concentrate quite hard but it fades out soon enough. And there is an arcane piece of England. I wondered if there might be a book that explains about Grandiose Morton Thrice Tripled Bob Major and went from the Bells on Sunday on Wikipedia to finding that, yes, someone has made it their work to have a website about it even if he hasn't managed to be awake for all of them. But what a great piece of work it is and I'm grateful that it will retrieve me at an early stage from any potential obsession because I wouldn't want to know quite that much about it.
Otherwise, I'm very interested in how many prospective parliamentary candidates for the UK Independance Party are having to resign for saying the unsayable even when we know full well that they think the unthinkable. But they can't be trained not to say what they are thinking.
Most politicians are like that, I'm sure, but any that are going to be successful manage to get away with it somehow for a while at least.
The difference with UKIP is that they don't even get under orders before having to be withdrawn by the stable. And these were some of the best ones, selected to run in target constituencies, the best candidates they can find. Blimey, if they were the best they could find, what are the rest of them like.
So, Christmas comes round a little too often these days to make it an occasion for seismic reflection or revelation. I'm sure it's only about six weeks since last Christmas.  I'm glad I asked for a watch this year. I rarely wear one but thought a respectable one might be nice. And, just in time, I can't find the one I've been using for the last several years.
I will try to bear in mind in 2015 that this was intended to be a poetry website but it has necessarily expanded into other areas. There just isn't enough to do being a poet all the time. And one day, I suppose, I will suddenly decide that the world doesn't need to know what I think and then it will stop but, in the meantime, have a nice holiday and I'll see you next year.
Best, D.

The Boxing Day Nap

I probably missed a trick on Saturday, tipping Houblon des Obeaux having said The Young Master was 'too obvious' to back. Had I thought it through, Houblon was available at 5/2 without the favourite with Paddy and that would have been a shrewd move. It happened to make a little yankee a minor success which would have become a more significant one had Garde la Victoire (each way) been able to do any better than 5th, or even win, at 16/1. But that's racing.
However, Reve de Sivola's miraculous win over Zarkandar, when the 4/6 favourite had traded for plenty of big money at 1/100 in running in the closing stages, was the sort of result that makes it all worthwhile. It might have only really kept me afloat in strictly monetary terms but was worth much more in entertainment value.
Some of the big ante-post races on Boxing Day are reduced to small fields with odds-on favourites and might not be more than mid-season trials for major Cheltenham players. They probably shouldn't be opposed but can't really be backed either. There are races of interest in Ireland but we know all there is to know about the runners in the King George and one has to have a go at that.
Some rain, perhaps a bit more than is forecast, would be ideal for the top staying chaser, Silvianiaco Conti, a big favourite here, but he is the defending champion and is the obvious choice while being well aware that this 3 miles is one of the more suitable courses for horses of not quite such proven stamina. And that is why we can still have 9/4 about the favourite when Al Ferof, Cue Card and others might just do him for a turn of foot. However, Menorah (each way) at 8/1 is the most tempting alternative, having taken time to become a genuine top class chaser but indisputably is close to the top in the right race now.
I've been considering the options for a couple of days, trying to balance the fact that a little bit more rain would convince me with how daft I'll feel if I go the wrong way. In the end, I don't mind stating the gormlessly obvious if it pays 9/4 and that price would just about balance the books for the 2014 Saturday Nap, which is incredible when you look at my string of losers but it would be based on a level ten pound stake each week and a one pound yankee for that week when we landed 3 out of 4.
And so, Silviniaco Conti is taken to add to his impressive CV, and one might bear in mind that he won't be 8/1 for the Gold Cup if he does win at Kempton and so have a bit of that while you are at it.
And, in the meantime, have a nice holiday and don't forget to come back in early March for the 2015 Cheltenham Preview.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Saturday Nap

I am ready to oppse Irish Saint until he has improved on his most recent effort, at Sandown, and Puffin Billy is the obvious one to do so with.
Zarkandar is another who I would generally go against which is very unfair as he continues to run well while usually chasing home some big names. Aubusson is tempting to take a chance on to see if he progresses further from the win in Haydock's competitive fixed brush race but Reve de Sivola on soft ground is fairly priced at 7/2 or 4/1 to confirm all we know about him.
In the 3.00 it seems to obvious to take The Young Master to gain compensation for his disqualification at Wincanton when he was not his fault that he wasn't qualified to run and that is what I was going to do until I looked a bit longer and thought the ground and recent running in the Hennessey were too much in Houblon des Obeaux's favour to overlook at 4/1.
I'm surprised how Silviniaco Conti is available at 8/1 for the Gold Cup. He was going well when falling behind Bobsworth two years ago and led over the last last year before veering across the course, which has been explained by an abcess in his foot. I would be glad to take 7/2 for next year's race and so some long term speculations involving him are worth hasving to small stakes. With King's Palace (RSA Chase), Peace and Co (Triumph Hurdle) and The New One, impressive last week (Champion Hurdle), the yankee pays about 300/1.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Specials at Loftus Road

I don't know. Do Queen's Park Rangers still play at Loftus Road.

I am indebted to my nephew, Chris, for this football-related contribution which, if he signs a guarantee that it is his own work, we might submit to tomorrow's Danny Baker Show.

And, also, I recently checked to see if I've posted as many items here as I did last year and it's not far off and so I'm trying to add anything worthwhile I can get.

QPR at the weekend could have had the commentary "Dunne to Mutch, Mutch to Yun".

And your Christmas Quiz this year, which I have no doubt will be answered correctly in one house in Ealing, is, Another player called Mutch holds a particular place in football history. Who was that and why.

The Saturday Nap

Kings Palace is reported to have been impressive again at Cheltenham today. He ensured that my day wasn't a losing one although it's a shame Big Easy came second again. He could have made it more of a pay day.
And so Kings Palace is a real prospect for the RSA Chase in March except to point out that he went to the long distance novice hurdle similarly unbeaten in that sphere and was off the pace when he fell. So, just a little bit wary of a long term investment there.
Tomorrow serves up another fine programme at the greatest sporting venue on Earth. I see that our new friend, Binge Drinker, has been backed for the 2.35, in spite of a hard race only 7 days ago. McCoy is riding for Rebecca, which is always good to see, and Blaklion lost some of his early claims to be the best novice hurdler seen so far this season last time out.
Also, I'm glad to see Daryl Jacob getting some good rides from top stables after his ill-fated season as number one jockey for Paul Nicholls. Nicky Henderson's French import, Peace and Co, could be one to hold a treble or yankee together in the 2.15 at Doncaster but odds against should be available about Virak in the 2.50 so that is the preferred option for the best bet.
I've said before that these days I will always oppose Rock On Ruby, which is no mark of disrespect, I just think it is now hard to find good races for him to win as younger pretenders are always likely to have the potential to improve past him. He runs in the Relkeel Hurdle (3.45) and the one I would oppose him with, Garde la Victoire, isn't there. However, Volnay de Thaix is and so although Rock On Ruby has every right to go off favourite, he makes it possible to find some value elsewhere.
That's 4 for a yankee but at 4/1, 5/4, 4/5 and 2/1, it isn't going to be the most exciting multiple bet ever and so it might be 4 trebles and the accumulator but Virak is the genuine suggestion.
The New One is available at 1/2 for his latest reconnaissance visit to Cheltenham. He has a worthy opponent in Vaniteux although it would come as more than a shock if any of the others beat him on merit. He put in a pleasing enough round in his latest outing but, on the same day, one probably had to admit that, at this early stage, Faugheen's performance at the other meeting was more impressive. It will be a terrible shame if it turns out that The New One's year was due to be last season when he - and, more importantly, me- were robbed.
Despite the dismal record of The Saturday Nap this year, the three out of four that won in the yankee recommended the other week means we are not without chances of a late rally puting us in front by Boxing Day. It is, however, going to take a miracle to get my balance sheet for 2014 into the black. Luckily, it is only money and I think we all know deep down that the only way to make a small fortune from horse racing is to begin with a large one.  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

How to Spot a Weirdo

And so tonight to part 2 of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies. ITV are suddenly purveyors of top television drama with this being good but not quite as good, perhaps, as Cilla.
It's like Midsomer Murders in reverse because you know the police are wrong already and that D.I. Barnaby isn't just going to realize the answer about twenty minutes before the end. But it's interesting to show their approach, plus that of the headmaster, where Jefferies had taught for 34 years, trying to distance the college as far as he could from any connection to him.
But most monstrous (sic) was a reminder of the newspaper headlines at the time. I remember reading The Times and thinking, the Prayer Society, interested in poetry, oh dear. But one sub headline beneath the overly presumptuous trial by innuendo big headline did say,

Loves culture, poetry.

as if that were admissable evidence.
I don't know in how many other countries that could even be thought of, never mind put into print. Certainly not in France. And by 'other countries', I mean Scotland, Wales and Ireland, too. It could be an English peculiarity. So if there ever is a murder in your neighbourhood, hide the poetry books.
I have nearly 500 of them here ready to implicate me.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Best Poem and Best Collection 2014

The shortlists have been duly considered, there are no late entrants to be supplemented, and so I can now award my own very personal endorsements for the categories of Best Poem and Best Poetry Collection of 2014, plus the other equally unremunerative and thus uncoveted titles that are added as afterthoughts.

David Harsent read Fire: a song for Mistress Askew more gently than the poem might be asking for on The Echo Chamber yesterday afternoon but that is his way and it gave the poem a somewhat different aspect to how it seems to come off the page. That didn't affect my decision in either direction in making it the best poem of 2014 for me because the horror and the horror of its voyeurism had already made it an unforgettable poem from his Fire Songs.
The shortlisted Roddy Lumsden poem, considered at slightly greater length somewhere below here, might thus be considered a bit of an unlucky loser but the best poem of 2013 is included in his collection, Not All Honey, and that, along with several other tremendous poems is enough to make it my best collection of 2014. It's a generous book and has plenty in it where the linguistic artfulness is possibly beyond my appreciation but I much prefer to celebrate the good rather than worry too much about how much it's me that is holding me back in enjoying it even more than I do already.
The most deliberation was required in deciding which of the shortlist of two was my favourite novel. I thought Murakami must be a racing certainty at the time but anybody who has been reading The Saturday Nap will understand how uncertain racing certainties can be. Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests was such an impressively detailed account of psychology and period detail, a thriller and pot-boiler of such plausible accuracy, that I could hardly wait to get back to it. And I'm grateful that I was
lent a copy and glad that I found the time to read it when I had several other books to read in a busy, busy autumn. To be preferred ahead of one of Murakami's best is a tribute in itself.
The biggest field lined up for the best event category, in contrast to 2013 when I eventually chose Chic at Glastonbury which I only saw on telly and so really shouldn't have been admissable. The shortlist was brought down to four, all of which would have made worthy winners, but in the end, with a special mention for the Southern Countertenors, it does really have to be The Tallis Scholars in Portsmouth Cathedral with, amomg other things, their Song for Athene, the Jean Mouton and the pre-concert talk with the engaging Peter Phillips.
And, finally, perhaps the easiest decision is to make Cuarteto Casals, Haydn, Seven Last Words from the Cross (Harmonia Mundi) the best CD of the year. I have a lot of time for Haydn but not quite enough when there are many composers from earlier periods whose music I turn to before his but this disc was special from the first time I played it and it remains luminous and extraordinary every time I've played it since. It must be mainly in the musicianship, which I am not the least bit qualified to comment on, but possibly also in the acoustic of the recording or even in Haydn's insistence on bringing light, or defying darkness.
It has been a very good year. Thanks to all those mentioned above for making it so.

Stradella, Alkan

Alkan, Solo Piano Music, Constantino Mastroprimiano (Brilliant Classics); Stradella, La forza delle stelle, Ensemble Mare Nostrum/Andrea de Carlo (Arcana)

Perhaps it's right that sleeve notes concern themselves with the music rather than the composer but in these two cases I'd like to have known something about Charles-Valentin Alkan becoming a recluse and any available speculation about why Stradella might have been murdered but we get nothing of the sort. I like a good recluse but no mention is made of Alkan's social withdrawal and it is left that Stradella was murdered at the age of 42,
for reasons that are still unclear.
The authors of such notes are more circumspect about what they say than some intrusive types might like them to be.
The piece I heard by Alkan that led me to order this disc was immediately identifiable as related to Chopin and so I was gratified to find out that they were friends. I don't know if I've bought the wrong disc- I thought I'd get a recent recording- but it hasn't quite delivered the same rapture and sumptuous melodic invention that I was expecting. It opens with a Cappriccio alla soldatesca from 1859 that is understandably military in style, brisk and marchable. The rest is minuets, nocturnes and a sonatina, the most memorable being the Menuet no.3 tempo nobile in G, which is instantly appealing and returns to its main theme often enough to make itself known. The rest is either more subtle and needs more time to state its case or it is the reason why Alkan is not remembered as well as Chopin but had I not been following my sometimes wayward instinct in search of lesser known composers, I could have availed myself of some extra Chopin and I would probably have been better off.
The disc will get a couple more chances yet but will need to impress soon or it might find itself filed for longer than it wants to be.
Stradella was born just before Monteverdi died and died just before Bach was born. This serenata for 7 voices and 2 concertino ensembles sounds fittingly somewhere between the two but, being Italian, is closer to a less decorous Monteverdi than a thoroughly contrapuntal, Protestant Bach.
Cristina, daughter of the King of Sweden, was being educated as heir to the war-like and scholarly king but took more to music than she was intended to, took herself off to Rome and converted to Catholicism, where she wrote the scenario for this piece.
Stradella set the text by the poet, Baldini, and here it is recorded for the first time.
Damone and Clori take some time expressing, relishing and even overdoing the joys of their love. We might nowadays think they lacked a sense of irony that might give their self-indulgence some perspective but they are undoubtedly devoted to each other. They hear some passersby talking of the power of the stars, 'la forza delle stelle', to decide the fate of love and so they put their faith in invocations to the heavens.
The translation into English inevitably might not quite capture the 'poetry' of the writing in,
Even insensate objects can arouse passions;
both stone and iron wield their attractions.
But in loving man suffers both pain and grief!
ah, Cupid's empire is a dire labyrinth.

But the piece is a vehicle for the elegant performance of the singers, best enjoyed in the ensemble passages from duets, trios and four-parts until all seven singers are together for the finale.  It is very much art for art's sake, and none the worse for that, where nothing at all is allowed to hinder the pursuit of the sublimely beautiful. It's just that its ambition stops there and one might think there could be more to it than that. On this occasion, there isn't. Fair enough.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Saturday Nap

Sprinter Sacre looked like becoming the best horse, or at least the best jump racing horse, I had ever seen in the flesh when my train journey to Newbury a few years ago just got me there in time to see him break the track record. But I don't know if we are ever going to see him run again.
And then Sire de Grugy took over as a very repectable two-mile chase champion until he became temporarily unavailable to continue his dominance of that event. And so the field for the Tingle Creek chase at Sandown are, through no fault of their own, playing in the first heat of this season's set of races for who might be best at two miles over fences in 2014/15 but thus possibly only a gallant third to the other two had they been able to run. And that is also betting without Simonsig.
Put your hand up if you remember Tingle Creek. I do. What a great big lump of jumping muscle he was. But forgive me. I'll be writing about Pendil, Bula, Lanzarote, Comedy of Errors and Night Nurse if you'd let me. And some others, too.
It is a great shame how some sports have to make do without their finest talent. It makes one grateful for how Ronnie O'Sullivan stuck to the task and still turns up, by now among the very oldest of the professional snooker players but still in a class of his own, pulling faces but all the time knowing that he can take candy from those babies. I forgot to begin my tribute to Gillian Rimmer (below) with a mention of Ronnie's latest 147. Watching it was like feeling time escape from beneath you. Watch it, believe in it. Ronnie is not going to be doing this forever. These precious moments that are disappearing as you watch are unlikely to visit this sport, or any other, again.
But I ought to be writing about horse racing, God help me with this demonic Chateau David.
Sandown, Aintree, Chepstow, Wetherby. Will there be enough jockeys to go round. Can I sweat enough overnight to lose about four stone and then learn to ride a horse in the morning. I did once dream that I was sitting on a horse at the start of a race at Fontwell, thinking 'this is fine' before realizing that I had no idea how to ride a horse and I was soon going to be badly embarrassed.
And then, years later, the dream turned up again on concurrent nights but in each of the other sports I have had sometime involvement in.
I dreamt that I was on the bench for an England football match that was taking place on a council-type pitch like old Plock Court in Gloucester, where I used to turn out for FC Spartak from the age of 15 to 17, which is, of course, all now houses. But England were 2-0 up and the manager, probably Roy, was saying he was going to take Rooney off and put me on. And I could only think, please don't put me on, I'm incredibly unfit, I'll be off the pace, I can't do it.
Then I dreamed a dream in which I and some other amateur racing cyclists that I knew had been signed up by SKY to ride the first few stages of the Tour de France because Bradley Wiggins and the other big stars couldn't get there in time. And so we were in the hotel being given all this flash SKY equipment and my main worry was whether the shoes they had given me would fit the pedals on my bike. It was all fine, with lots of free kit available, until I realized it was very unlikely that I could even stay in the peloton for more than a couple of miles and I would finish hours after the main field and be disqualified.
And then I was in the changing room of an England one-day international cricket side, due to bat at number 4, as I obviously would. I wasn't too worried until one of the openers got out and then so did Dennis Amiss, which shows when it would have been, and so I had to get my kit on and go out to bat. But none of the kit fitted me. I couldn't find any two pads that made a pair. I couldn't find a box and so I took a transistor radio apart and put half of the casing of that into my trousers and it was only as I went out to bat, to face Michael Holding or Denis Lillee or somesuch nightmare that I woke up.
I woke up from all those dreams of sport before any sport had to happen.
There is nothing worse than hearing about other people's dreams. It is only your own neuroses giving you a hard time when you only want to be asleep.

So, anyway, on a day when there is, if anything, too much jump racing, maybe the safe option is to nap Irish Saint (Sandown 1.50, pictured).
But then I'll try a yankee with him, who is the only recommended bet, along with Doing Fine (Chepstow 12.55), Beast of Burden (Aintree, 12.00) and Balder Succes (Sandown 3.00) because you only ever land 4 out of 4 by luck and not good judgement and so you can include one of Rebecca's, one of the Rolling Stones' best records and the favourite for the big race if you can't see anything that can beat it on its best form.
And then what I did was, I put the last bit of cash in my account on all of those plus Binge Drinker (Chepstow, 1.25) in a Canadian. I don't know why I did that. Oh, yes, it is trained by Rebecca Curtis.

Fatty Just Misses Out

Having published two photographs from Paris by Angie Fisher recently, it seems appropriate to follow up and feature these pictures of Gill 'Fatty' Rimmer playing pool. They were officially the last two people I went on any sort of holiday with when we rode some awful rented mountain bikes from coast to coast in the vicinity of Hadrian's Wall several years ago. The talented twosome were more mischief than a sackful of monkeys. Gill is the best pool player I ever played and any result against her was worth having. She has just been beaten in the final of her office competition.
One classic match was in The Royal pub, Portsmouth, in which I needed to pot a black the full length of the fairly short table to level it at 3-3 except the white was lodged against the top cushion. I had just had to clear up 5 colours to get that far. Having studied it for some time, I cued down as required, rattled the black in the jaws of the corner pocket three or four times and then it decided to come out rather than go down, thus, 4-2 to Gillian but a tremendous encounter.
Most of the action took place in the Old Vic but we would play anywhere, including a Saturday afternoon after watching a Merseyside derby, when I was in the neverland of being 2-1 up when a hiatus in play was caused by the arrival of her friend, Emily, and after the resumption, I went on to lose 3-2.
Oh, those were the days, or some of them. My Friday nights have been quieter since she left Portsmouth. I was glad when our last encounter on National Poetry Day a few years ago was left at 1-1.
In the position pictured, I think she wants to pot the red into the top corner with just enough on it to being the white off the top cushion to leave the awkward red on into the bottom right corner. She can stun that to leave the red across the table to the middle left pocket after which the last red can be knocked into this corner over here, hopefully with the angle to screw back to put the black in the other corner. Easy.
If I'd been playing the yellows against her in this position in olden days I wouldn't have been expecting to get another shot.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Catheters of Liverwort

I would never want to be one of those that simply opposes for the sake of opposing that in the 1970's might have been labelled 'doctrinaire', as those in the Tribune Group were often said to be. I have all the time in the world for the avant garde, all the time in the world. Nobody was more interested in it than me in 1973 when one of my main objectives was to discover the weirdest music I could find. Unfortunately, things like Tonto's Expanding Hand Band sound incredibly dull now and it is no wonder that the Dooleys wiped them off the board with classics like A Rose has to Die.
My main objection to those that still profess even now to some 'difference' or radical agenda is that they deliberately set out to be odd and then express grievances against some perceived 'mainstream' that they are treated as outsiders. Well, there is no point locking yourself out if you want to come in. Plus, of course, all the other reasons explained so cogently by Don Paterson in his essay on Michael Donaghy's poem, Hazards, in his book on the subject (somewhere below on here).
In that essay, we are told of a method in which the avant garde obfuscate for obfuscation's sake,

you take a poem, or write a poem, and then you substitute every content word for the next one in the OED.

I don't actually have the OED immediately to hand but I have a dictionary that will serve the purpose. And I have a poem, that old standard The Cathedrals of Liverpool. So, what happens.
I can see it being a parlour game. I can see it causing some amusement for a while. But I can also see it becoming a bit tiresome sooner rather than later. It is a one-trick sort of act. And that, I suppose, is what the avant garde has been ever since I was fascinated by it as a teenager and whereas it still is, I no longer am.
But I've done the first few lines of The Cathedrals of Liverpool, allowing just the most necessary bits of licence, and while I can see the potential of the project, I will need to have much more time on my hands or be much, much further into the Chateau David to complete the assignment.

The Catheters of Liverwort 

That newborn yearn dayak eventuates
the drogue changeling to rainbow and backbencher
and justice in timekeeper we camel across
Scotland Yard, protestation catheter
-a vaunt of airborne that brooks upon
its sing, 

But, really, with all due respect to Stanley Unwin, what is the point.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

View from the Boundary

Marc Bolan was one of the specialist subjects on Mastermind last night. I didn't treat it like an exam by doing any revision, I just turned up to see how I could do. He wouldn't exactly be my 'specialist subject'- Stuart Maconie has already narrowly beaten me at C20th British Poetry on a Celebrity Mastermind - but it's a subject I'm not too bad on.
In the event I lost 8-6 to the contestant, who was well off the pace and sadly came fourth out of four. But how agonizing is it to know exactly where your copy of Bolan's book of poems is on your shelf but you can't quite remember what it's called and, to be honest, you haven't looked at it for years. But it's called Warlock of Love. I won't ever forget that again but it has to be said that the words to his songs like Hot Love and Get It On are far better than his poems anyway.
I named Herbie Flowers as the 'legendary' ('legendary'?) bass player in the late incarnation of T. Rex when yer man offered Dino Dines but what I didn't know- and perhaps you do learn something new everyday and I definitely did yesterday- was that Marc played on three tracks by ELO, including the single Ma Ma Ma Belle. And now that I know that, I'm that much happier.
But in the end I wonder how much value there is in knowing stuff, if instant recall of arcane information is anything to be admired and what is the worth of winning a quiz. It becomes more pertinent as one was once regarded as something of a lion of the quiz game (if only, realistically, the arts questions) but then those brain cells that contained the information about what order The Human League's singles were released in and what chart position they achieved might have died off.
Is it more important to know when, where or why Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Klavier or just enjoy listening to it.


Later last night I was listening to Radio 5, as habit dictates until it becomes necessary to see if Radio 3 are playing any Buxtehude, when Stephen Nolan announced that his 11.30 interview was to be with Maddy Paxman.
I know who Maddy Paxman is. And so I stayed with R5 almost as faithfully as if His Majesty the Rt. Hon. D. Baker had arrived to talk fairly aimlessly with Pat Nevin.
Stephen Nolan is a broadcaster of some bombast. He is not a Shock Jock but he does relish some suffering, the opportunity to leave the airwaves silent for a few moments while someone bereaved or perhaps with a terminal illness struggles to come to terms with his quietly sensitive but intrusive interviewing technique. It's a mixture of The National Enquirer, Jeremy Kyle and Esther Rantzen.
Maddy Paxman has written an account of bereavement ten years after the loss of her extraordinary husband, who was only 50 years old at the time. We heard some first-hand reportage of her husband's sudden and untimely demise but all you knew, if you didn't know any better, was that he was a poet, he was called Michael and Maddy first saw him when he was playing tin whistle in a folk band and he looked like trouble, and she married him and he was trouble. But he was Michael Donaghy, just about the greatest poet of his generation and either Stephen Nolan didn't know that or he is so much taken up with the issue of grief that it doesn't matter who you are grieving over, ten years after.
It was remarkable to stumble across such an item. I wonder if the deceased had been, say, George Best, and the memoir writer been one of his partners, if George would have been referred to as 'someone who was prominent in his field' or 'he could be difficult but, then again, he was unforgettable' (and those are not verbatim quotations) but the parallels between Best as a footballer and Donaghy as a poet are not entirely forlorn. They were, in their discrete sullen arts, the spectacular superstars of their age.
Maddy Paxman wasn't remotely phased by Stephen Nolan's interest in the grief. No, it was awful to lose Michael at such an age when the son was only 8. But she wasn't going to give him the sought-for moments of radio drama where he will wait until the interviewee can gather themselves for further insights into their loss. No, Maddy is up for it. Yes, she could love again. Mind you, she is hard to please and anyone taking the place of Michael Donaghy has a tough act to follow so if you are, for example, Stephen Nolan, then it might be best not to apply.
It was quite some time ago that I ventured into wine reviewing as a one-off and singular event here.
I was sceptical about Chateau David, a Bordeaux Superieur, but said it was just about alright.
The 2012 seems fine to me. At six pounds and fifty pence of her majesty's coinage for each bottle that you take away from Mr. Sainsbury's local grocery shop, I'd say you could do far worse.

Maggi Hambling - Walls of Water

Maggi Hambling, Walls of Water, National Gallery, Nov 29th and to Feb 15th.

These days I'm not quite the honorary Londoner I almost became a few years ago with my quite regular visits, my own Oyster card and my belief that I knew where I was and knew where I was going (until I got lost). It can be a trial for the visitor of advancing years who is more accustomed to the sedate provinces and so it needs to be something worth coming for to entice me into the maelstrom of activity. Vibrant it might be but the enjoyment is entirely in arriving at one's destination and not in getting there. But new paintings by Maggi Hambling are an event worth investigating, with her being such a star in my firmament.
One might say it's more of the same after the sea paintings and waterfalls but these 'walls' might be fountains, some of them, and they are mostly the frayed edges of jostling water rather than the walls of the long, narrower canvasses of the waterfalls. (In fact they are the spray as waves hit the sea wall which explains the lines near the bottom of them). There is more or less white canvas in each of them, with no attempt to put in the skies that informed the sea paintings with the possibility of a moon. These are only the water and if one thinks to mention Jackson Pollock it might be best to think again because whereas Jack was about the paint and some 'energy' in his abstraction, these are figurative paintings.
They are the tops of waves, perhaps the tops of fountains where we get not only the surging power of water caught in different ranges of tone but the loose threads of spray where water fades into air. And, as with Maggi's previous such exhibitions, a lot of time looking at them is spent finding the animals, faces and figures that have occurred. I noted druids, shrouded figures, eyes, crying faces, pelican, serpent, razorbill (or cormorant or some such sea bird), seals, orchids and ghosts without trying too hard and I'm no ornithologist. But this is only a game suggested as you stare into the paint when the overall effect is surely of frantic power and coruscating nature, if you want to use words like 'coruscating'.
The paintings are dated 2011 and move into 2012 and are numbered and exhibited in roughly that order. Some reds, maroon, pink and orange come into the later pictures where the earlier had more blue/grey, black and any amount of hints of other shades on closer inspection. But whereas the titles are simply Wall of water plus a roman numeral and one finds in them almost whatever one wants to find, there is the smaller canvas entitled Wall of water, Amy Winehouse (above) in which you might find Amy represented a number of times or not at all. Or you might Russell Brand. Oh, yes, that is certainly a black bee-hive hairdo, there's a face, there's a profile and there might be a leg and possibly even some blood but, there again, there might not be. The last thing you should ever do is actually say anything definitive about art, you just suggest things, like the art does, if you feel like it. There is nothing to be gained from making such wooden observations as that Love is a Losing Game and here is the bleary, smeared, dripping evidence. I don't think it means that at all. Not even that Amy is a ghost lost in the savage, overwhelming forces of unrelenting despair. No, honestly, it isn't that either.
Downstairs in the Espresso Bar (oh, no, I don't think I've ever been in an espresso bar before) are the monotypes, 'zinc plates covered in black printing ink' that Maggi removed with fingers, brushes, solvent,
drawing with light into dark,
she says and that's fine but Maggi herself has said in my hearing that a painting is finished 'when it is sold'; I heard Peter Phillips (The Tallis Scholars) in the summer speaking about the economic necessities - rather than niceties- of touring Renaissance choral music and so it's a shame but professional artists have their bills to pay like we do and work like this, one regrets even thinking, is done to sell to those who can't afford an oil painting but want a Hambling. Well, I want a Hambling all of my own (Broken Moon, to be specific) but I wouldn't buy one of these. And neither, really, would I want the responsibility of looking after one or the guilt of depriving the public of it by having it on my front room wall. The monotypes are quite brilliantly done when you consider how they have been produced- it's just that they are nowhere near as interesting to look at as the 'real thing'.
And so I used the rest of my time paying homage to the Vermeer, to Carel Fabritius, and very much enjoyed coming across Two Tax Gatherers, probably 1540's, Workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale. To think that the genius who produced that is only remembered thus.
And then, I happened to be passing a betting office and noticed that it was time for the Hennessey Gold Cup to be finishing and so I saw the last mile (with absolutely no sight of Rocky Creek) but checked and found that Irving had won the Fighting Fifth hurdle at Newcastle and so, whatever else happened, I had made a few bob while I'd been absent from my enormously comfortable settee.


Friday, 28 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

Irving was probably going to win at Wincanton when he fell at the last but his impressive run before Cheltenham earlier this year will begin to fade from the memory if he doesn't win at Newcastle tomorrow.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle has been somewhat undermined by the introduction of new Grade 1 hurdle races in November and so if Irving is to live up to his promise it needs to be soon but I missed the 7/4 available earlier in the week and so, at 5/6, he plays the holding role in a couple of yankees that include things like Chelsea winning 2-0 at Sunderland.
I suggested Rocky Creek for the Hennessey at 12/1 last week and even though he is still available at 11/1, I won't desert him. I guess that the ground has dried out and so perhaps the money for him has too. But our long descent into penury was stalled last week with three out of four of our modest yankee obliging. I should have had more confidence in Silvianiaco Conti but when one's confidence is out, nothing seems obvious. If only Katkeau had been able to get properly involved in the finish, we might have been in dreamland with four out of four. However, if the doubles and trebles don't get our level stake quite into profit at the starting prices, they would do at the prices I took the night before which was 7/2, 11/4 and 15/8 compared to 10/3, 5/2 and 11/10. So, always, always take a price (especially with Paddy's Best Price Guarantee) because I reckon the money comes for a winner and it doesn't matter if the SP is better if you don't win.
And I forgot to say last week how Sam Twiston-Davies had been so entirely convincing on Sam Winner and astonishing winner Caid du Berlais at Cheltenham previously. I had been a bit of a doubter but am more than happy to sing his praises where they are due.
And so, I won't actually be stretched out on the settee with the paper, the crossword, a book and the racing on Saturday afternoon. It will seem such a waste of a weekend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Next General Election

The next General Election, due in the Spring, is the most open and unpredictable certainly in my lifetime and almost of all time, one might imagine.
Sadly this is not because the British public are going to be spoilt for choice among so many attractive candidates but, as last time, it will be decided on who does the least badly and it's quite likely that nobody will win this time either.
Last time, the Conservatives should have thrashed Gordon Brown out of sight but they weren't convincing enough to win outright. Labour look like a similarly ill-prepared opposition this time. But whereas once the two major parties gained 98% of the popular vote, that figure is now struggling in the 65% area.
So, what impact will UKIP have on a General Election rather than a couple of convenient By Elections. Still quite a bit, one would think, but not necessarily turning that into a large wedge of seats. And Labour look set to collapse in Scotland on which they depend if they are to form a Westminster government, the referendum having done the SNP a whole lot of good apart from delivering the one thing that they stand for.
The Lib Dem vote is due to be wiped off the result board in all but a few constituencies. All those years building up seats since the six we, I mean they, had in the 1960's will be set back to the level of those dark days when they were the radical alternative and not briefly a party of government. I'm afraid it was inevitable, taking the blame for going in with Cameron but what else could they do.  Even with Labour there weren't really enough seats to form an administration and there wasn't a will. Gordon didn't even look like someone who wanted to go on. But we should be more grateful to the Lib Dems for seeing out five years and surely acting as some restraint on a Conservative government that would have got away with far worse without them. It seems most unreasonable to me to berate them for not delivering manifesto promises when they were only awarded very junior partner status in the government that the election put in place
I can see a Conservative majority government being returned in six months' time and the next move, apart from some English devolution which could provide an almost permanent Conservative majority in England, will be the succession to follow Cameron which might be a gory Boris v. Osborne bout which will make many of us look back on the Cameron-Clegg era as a much-missed and undervalued Golden Age.
In Portsmouth North here, there is only Labour to vote for as an alternative to the Splashing Penny Mordaunt and one is hardly convinced by Ed. Andy Burnham is the leftist choice but what, exactly, can he be expected to achieve. And so, there might be a Green to vote for but I might just turn up and vote Lib Dem because there's not much I like more than underdogs, lost causes and long-held affinities.
But what does Paddy Power think. He makes a good living out of the fact that the likes of me don't know what will happen in horse races, football matches and even politics.

On the subject of the Government after the Next Election, he goes,
7/2 Labour majority
9/2 Con/Lib Dem
9/2 Conservative majority
9/2 Lab/Lib Dem
6/1 Conservative minority
13/2 Labour minority

and selected others include-
Coalition involving SNP 10/1 (how ironic),
Coalition involving UKIP 10/1
Lab/SNP 12/1
Con/Lib Dem/Green 66/1
Con/Lib/UKIP 100/1 (I can't see that but I did see Norton's Coin win the Gold Cup at that price)
UKIP 150/1

Whereas the odds on 'Prime Minister after Cameron' make most entertaining reading,
Evens, Ed Miliband
7/1 Boris
8 Andy Burnham
14 Theresa May
16 Yvette Cooper
20 Osborne

and selected other include-
Michael Gove 25/1 ( !!!!!)
Nigel Farage 50/1
Nick Clegg 66/1, which is the worst value 66/1 bet I have ever seen.

It is intriguing as a spectacle if not as a political debate. We know by now that principles and the good of the people are nowhere among most of these participants' motives and that their careers are what matter to them. As I heard said, 90% of what David Cameron wanted to do as Prime Minister was achieved when he first went through the door of no. 10.
I think the 9/2 about a Conservative majority government is worth a few bob at this stage and the tip for the next Prime Minister could be found when there is both enough of a Stop Boris campaign combined with a Stop Osborne campaign and Theresa May wins it in the same way that very few favourites have won Conservative leadership elections in recent decades.
One could hope that there will be sufficient further defections from Conservative to UKIP to make enough pro-European Conservatives re-align with whatever they can find among the remains of an old centre and we could go through the process of the Roy Jenkins SDP from the 1970's again. But what did become of that. And we have hoped in vain before.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Best Poem and Best Collection Shortlists 2014

It is time for the shortlists for my Best Poem and Best Collection of 2014. These awards, which are worthless and bring with them no prize, should really be re-named something like The Year in Review since some other categories have crept in since their inception when the website was intended to be poetry-based.
As has been explained previously, the qualification process is a rigorous one because any work first of all needs to be something I've been aware of and then decided to read/listen to/attend. I'm not a committee, there is only me and it's me that decides (which, I think, is a good thing) but there are, of course, sometimes things that I'm not aware of or don't see until later.
It is time for the shortlists- and the winners will be announced here in mid-December- but in a year packed with wonderful things, there are still more things to come.
I'm not expecting any further poetry titles to be candidates but in the Best Event category, Maggi Hambling's Walls of Water exhibition in the National Gallery might be added after Saturday's visit there. And there are two discs on their way here, either or both of which one always hopes might come into contention. One would hardly have been ordering them otherwise. And it has to be noted that Ton Koopman's boxed set of Buxtehude's Opera Omnia would be a massive favourite had I been sufficiently profligate to spend 300 pounds on it and find the required 60 hours to play it all but, as yet, I haven't.
Some categories are more competitive than others. Best Novel would be a longer list if The Goldfinch had been published in 2014, and, by the same token, I suppose, Middlemarch.
The best two poetry books of the year, for me, were not of new poems and so are similarly inadmissable. I can't set up a whole new category for them. Perhaps I could but I'm not going to. But Neil Astley's edition of the Collected Poems of Rosemary Tonks and Don Paterson's exemplary commentary on Michael Donaghy, in Smith, are both worthy of glorious mentions without portfolio.
But it is the Best Event shortlist that could easily be twice as long, with a number of great concerts left out in the process of making a first step towards deciding which was actually 'best' (which is when one really begins to wonder if and why it matters). It might even have included the Portsmouth Poetry's Society's National Poetry Day reading but it would have to had to come with a salutory 'apart from me' in brackets and one can hardly nominate something that one had a hand in organizing and took part in.
And so, with all those provisos in mind, the shortlists as they stand, are-

Best Poem 

Colette Bryce, Your Grandmother’s House
David Harsent, Fire: a song for Mistress Askew
Michael Longley, Amelia’s Poem
Roddy Lumsden, For Charlotte 

Best Collection 

Colette Bryce, The Whole and Rain-domed Universe (Picador)
John Burnside, All One Breath (Cape)
Roddy Lumsden, Not All Honey (Bloodaxe) 

Best Novel 

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Harvill Secker)
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests (Virago)

Best Event 

Florilegium, Portsmouth Third Floor Arts Centre
Alexander Romanovsky/BSO, Shostakovich Piano Concerto no. 2, Portsmouth Guildhall
Southern Countertenors, Portsmouth Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars, Portsmouth Cathedral 

Best CD 

Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss, Carolyn Sampson, Poulenc, Stabat Mater (Harmonia Mundi)
Cuarteto Casals, Haydn, Seven Last Words from the Cross (Harmonia Mundi)
The Sixteen, Handel, Jephtha (Coro)

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

It is tempting to give Silviniaco Conti the opportunity to get me back the money he owes me from a few weeks ago but with so many great horses against in the race, any of them could run well and finish fourth and so even an each way bet is by no means a conservative option.
Faugheen at Ascot and The New One at Haydock will be earning prize money to pay the vet's bills on their way to meeting in the Champion Hurdle in March but neither, at odds like 2/7, are realistic betting propositions. I would like to see The New One jump better and if either are going to get beaten before Cheltenham, it might be tomorrow but unless Melodic Rendezvous gets a lucky break or runs a lifetime best, one can't see what by.
The Amlin Chase at Ascot is another competitive affair that would be hard to pick from except to notice that Ruby Walsh is not presumably coming over specifically to ride in the bumper. So Al Ferof must be worth a thought.
I think today we will play with what small change we have and try a yankee on Fletchers Flyer (Ascot 12.25), Al Ferof (2.30), Katkeau, (Haydock 2.25, where we inevitably dread Big Easy from last week) and Silvinaco Conti (3.00).
The right horse at the wrong time is a theme that recurs too often and Garde La Victoire, tipped here and an unlucky loser last month, won at 10/1 last week.
But while there is 12/1 available about Rocky Creek for next week's Hennessey, let's have some of that in advance because that is likely to be the word then.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

View from the Boundary

I was writing a piece on last weekend's telly programme, It was Alright in the 1970's, the other night. I couldn't let it stand, though, because one has difficulty saying much without it looking as if you are either trying to defend the sexism and racism the period was accused of or sounding like the same pious ponitificators who came on as talking heads to say how shocking it all was, in hindsight.
But, yes, it was alright in the 1970's, especially as one's teenage years are inevitably more interesting than being in your 50's and the 70's contributed the work of Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music and Lou Reed, for examples, whose gender ambiguity and bohemian chic was a coherent alternative to Les Dawson, Miss World and Bernard Manning.
In twenty years time there might well be a show revealing that,
In 2014 there were a lot of television programmes made on the cheap by stringing together old clips and inviting dull commentators to say a few bland words about them which were supposed to be astute observations by those who knew better than , and for the benefit of, a gullible public.
Well, there is no need to wait twenty years, there it is, I've done it now.
Derek Mahon's recent book,  Red Sails, arrived this week. Perhaps I should be more careful. I opened it to find a page of prose, turned to another page and that was prose, too. It is a book of essays. I was expecting a book of poems and was disappointed at first but, reading a few, it is perhaps a good thing I didn't know that because I might not have ordered it if I had and it looks very worthwhile indeed.
The final paragraph of the book includes this,
'Postmodernism' is or was the literary and artistic face of that induced chaos in its repletion and vacuity, its deceitful appropriation of the 'counter-cultural' idea.
It is a long paragraph and a magnificent one and I look forward to arriving at it having read the rest of the essay that leads up to it. The above quoted sentence is very much the sort of sentence I like to find in books. Postmodernism, the whole of Postmodernism, was, and presumably still is, apparently a relativist tool for the dumbing down of the highbrow and noble elitism for the benefit of marketing strategies and even the TLS is implicated.
It might turn out to be an even better book than a book of Mahon's poetry and he remains hugely admired in this house.
And I'm looking out for a wildlife photography competition to enter so that I can sweep up the prize money with my study of a barn owl taken in Southwick, Hants, on a recent walk. Here it is, both the original panoramic shot and the close up detail. It is rare, I understand, to see such as thing and so I feel privileged to have caught it digitally in all its glory. I was a bit slow on the uptake, actually, I didn't realize soon enough what had gained the attention of my friends. Otherwise, I might have got an even better picture. It was right over this side of the field when it was first spotted.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Donaghy's Hazard

Don Paterson's book on Michael Donaghy continues to be a joy. Donaghy was a poet of rare quality and Paterson is the consummate guide to his work. The book is an essential contribution to contemporary poetry and likely to remain the main place to go for readers of Donaghy for as long as he is read.
There are more compelling poems than Hazard discussed, and there are none that are not worthy of our attention, but Paterson's commentary on Hazard is as much as one needs to know on the subject at issue very succinctly put. Not only that but it condenses so much of what I return here to say about the 'avant garde' from time to time that I may not feel the need to so often in future once I've endorsed all of what it says.
I'm glad to note, firstly, that,
In the ten years since his death, things have become considerably less tribal, mainly owing to the wider influence of a younger generation who just can't see or care what we were all fighting about.

And thank heavens for that. It was the case that the avant garde wanted to flaunt their novelty, revolutionary instincts and unconventional approach and the rest of us who had lost interest. They would write difficult, obtuse and supposedly elitist poems so that only their mates could understand them and then complain when others didn't. I am perfectly happy with such a broad 'mainstream' that everything is included, difficult or easy, rhymed, unrhymed, allusive, literal, lower case, upper case and whether it said 'and' or used the ampersand. Of course there will be innovation or else all poetry in English would still be like Caedmon but this self-regarding little sideshow of puny newfangledness was never going anywhere. As Paterson notes, attributing to Auden, Valery or A.N. Other,
everything changes but the avant garde.

And Donaghy, by no means a conservative poet, provides four stanzas of satire on the subject, elucidated for us quite authoritatively by Paterson.
The first stanza is a retelling of the story of the king's new clothes and that is familiar enough, while acknowledging also that some who consider themselves less deceived by such confidence tricks might not be quite so smart either.
There is then reference to the fable of dancing monkeys who immediately return to their monkey state when thrown some nuts and a favourite avant device of transposing a sentence by replacing every content word with the next word in the OED. Potentially amusing the first time one does it, if you're lucky, but the 'harmless fun' would soon wear off for most of us.
Next, Donaghy takes his text from Acts 2, in which,
and they began to speak with other tongues
in order to confound the multitude.

rather than enlighten them. And the poem finishes with,
Which part of Noh did you not understand?

Poets as distinguished as Geoffrey Hill have said that poetry should not be easy and many of us appreciate all the help we can get with Paul Muldoon, but there is more to them than obscurity or the contrived method being the only point. Such art is necessarily still-born, especially compared to the rich poetry of Donaghy, to which one can return endlessly. As Paterson says,
A flash new suit of novel strategies maybe, but with no poem inside.

All that this sort of poem does is advertise the poet's vanity, their attention-seeking neediness and their hollowness and redundancy. The medium is the message, the message is that there is no other message and it doesn't come any more recondite than that. And so we just should leave them to it, welcome whatever they do that is worthwhile but otherwise there is no need to accept that there is a divide between 'mainstream' and 'other', only between good, bad and indifferent. We are all in a minority of one, no group can usefullly set themselves up as outsiders and then claim outsider status and deride everybody else for not being.
The message of the whole poem, however, is a defiant 'You can keep it.'

It just sounds better coming from Michael Donaghy than it does from me.

And then I seem to remember something and I go and look it up. Yes, here it is. Ahren Warner's poem in the Salt Best British Poetry 2011 was called Hasard. a chance observation, with some random element to it, one might think. Warner's is a highly allusive piece in need of considerable elucidation for most of us. He was presumably aware of Donaghy's poem because he is an erudite and well-read man and so, was he consciously referring to Donaghy, is hazard just such an ultra-modern concept that is a recurrent theme for them or is it 'merely a coincidence'. Well, I don't believe in coincidences and so here we go again.
Or perhaps not. One can have enough of such arcane splendidness.


Too Late

Too Late 

We knew ourselves by a few different names.
You once called yourself mistress and explained
why it was neither an affair or fling
but where the future lay, I never knew.
You were better at playing grown-up games
whereas I thought it was teen age regained
-it meant so much, didn’t mean anything
like the pop records I would play to you. 

But now it is too late for all of that
and all there is is what you left behind.
If there were any need to make amends
(something we didn’t need to be good at),
we can’t, except to say, if you don’t mind,
that what we really were was such good friends.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Saturday Nap

is Big Easy (Cheltenham 3.00).

It is hard to believe that after nearly two years of holding my own against the bookmakers, it all fell apart so badly over the last couple of months.
But it's worse than that. Having launched such ill-advised money at such abject losers as Silviniaco Conti, I did, on Sunday and Monday, have a sequence of five consecutive winners. I couldn't look at a card without picking them out with a gimlet eye but when your confidence is shot to pieces, you just play with small change and even landing a treble on Monday only thus paid out larger amounts of change.
But one doesn't completely surrender. It's a tough game. I wouldn't like it if it was easy. Which reminds me how little I had on Big Easy when he won the Cesarewich. It would be awful if Katkeau were to win tomorrow because I did follow him with some faith to no effect over his last three races a couple of years ago.
As Amy Winehouse sang, most poignantly, Love is a Losing Game. And, yes, gambling can be, too. But the inglorious wonder of the decadent slide into self-pity can feel almost as glamorous and, heaven knows, one day we might get it right. 

Friday, 14 November 2014


Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kuerti/Alexander Romanovsky, piano, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Portsmouth Guildhall, November 14th.

I don't know if there is a new way for an orchestra to tune up but the BSO spent several minutes fingering and plucking at their instruments before beginning tonight. It's probably a new warm-up routine instigated by a mad svengali. Have none of it. Look what Felix Magath did to Fulham.
The one who most needed to warm his fingers up was Alexander Romanovsky, in preparation for his launch into Shostakovich. Bryan Ferry isn't due in the Guildhall until next June but I think they sent Alexander on ahead to get an idea of what it will look like.
Borodin's Prince Igor Overture was a pleasant enough opener but, as we know, the overture is what happens before the music starts. And then it most certainly did.
The Shostakovich Concerto no.2 is the one with the lush middle, slow movement, not the one with the trumpet part. The slow movement was what some of us mainly went in anticipation of and if the opening phrase sounded almost lifted from Richard Clayderman then it soon raised itself to finer raptures and greater emotional range in music more clean-lined and untroubled than any other Shostakvich I know of. But, as often happens, what one goes in anticipation of and what one comes away with can be two different things. The first movement (rather undersold as Allegro) was a magnificent bombardment of ideas and bravura playing. It was always likely to be better in the concert hall than coming through the inevitably reductive medium of stereo speakers, but nonetheless, with a view of Romanovsky's enormous span negotiating the keyboard so energetically and not always only powerfully, it was a stunning piece. It thus comes as some surprise to find that his three discs released so far cover Schumann, Brahms and Rachmanninov but not this except, of course, Shos Pno Conc 2 might not be a work to begin one's recording career with and I'm sure it is something that will come and is to be anticipated with some relish.
The third movement returns to Allegro to similar effect, with some of the most ecstatic passages the immensely versatile Dmitri ever wrote. And then Alexander wasn't given much option but to return for an encore, which was a picturesque Chopin Etude, very different in mood but also very much to be treasured.
And what was Tchaikovsky going to do about that in the second half. How many times has the soloist in a concerto left the symphony with too much of a challenge to follow. Quite a few, I'd say. Tchai 5 put up a good show, particularly in the immense Andante Cantabile, the horn in a beautifully phrased first appearance quite serenely introducing the theme before it is passed on to other parts of the orchestra. Some might say there is something akin to Sibelius going on in Tchaikovsky like this but, apparently, others wouldn't. There are plenty of great moments in Tchaikovsky, who represents a fair proportion of the acceptable face of Late Romanticism and on other evenings this performance would have made for a genuinely worthwhile show.
Romanovsky was born in 1984 and so there should be an enormous amount to look forward to from him. Shostakovich died in 1975 and even though I think I know a fair amount about him, I reckon there will always be lots more to find out about.
Thanks, as ever, to the BSO for keeping Portsmouth on their itinerary. It has been for as long as I can remember. I hope it stays like that while I'm still here. It is much appreciated.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Martha Argerich/Daniel Barenboim Piano Duos

Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Piano Duos (Deutsche Grammophon)

Yes, there are a few spare moments remaining in between my devotions to the music from, say, 1720 to 1740, when I venture outside of that comfort zone and, of course, listen to Monteverdi, Buxtehude or even Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. It makes me shudder sometimes at such unwary boldness but one has to give it a go from time to time.
Mozart was my first love and, to misquote the worst pop record of all time, will be among my last. It was an LP of Daniel Barenboim playing two concertos that I spent so much time on in those days. I would have loved to be the sort of person who could buy whatever DG recordings they wanted then. And now, a few decades later, I suppose I am. And let me say straight away, I'm very pleased to be. One can see such a thing as this reviewed and it is soon on its way here. If it had been like that from day one, I might not appreciate it so much now.
Proper afficiandos will have known, but I didn't, that Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim knew each other as children in Buenos Aires, first meeting in 1949. Not because they lived round the corner from each other but because their parents took them to the musical evenings held by Ernesto Rosenthal, 'a Viennese Jewish refugee businessman and amateur violinist'. And perhaps it is nearly time for me to stop merely copying out the notes from the booklet. Their careers haven't crossed paths as often as they might in the 60-odd years between then and now but, both now with reputations only just visible from the stratosphere, here is an occasion to put at least on a par with the Argerich recording with Claudio Abbado from earlier this year.
So, what would Mozart have made of the dexterity, expression and sheer bravura of the playing in the K.448. The only problem I have with it is the fact it is on CD here and not DVD. You can't see who is doing what. They play the Mozart on two pianos but then Martha plays the lower part on the Schubert D 813, and Barenboim says that she is a fine accompanist, as if Bobby Charlton or Denis Law could say that George Best was 'quite helpful' to play alongside. In both Mozart and Schubert it is a matter of gentleness and exuberant lyricism. There is no need to be torn between who is doing what or even who composed it, music is quite surprisingly more often a team effort than the product of one genius and the sum is more than the contributing parts.
The real 'clincher' to this partnership, however, was, it says, when Martha learnt the part for the piano duo arrangement that Stravinsky had made of Le Sacre du Printemps, 'The Rite of Spring'. I don't know what I was expecting from that. I have very long been more of a fan of Mussorgsky's piano original of Pictures at an Exhibition than Ravel's orchestration notwithstanding how great the Bournemouth's rendition of the full score was last year. And I also owe it to the BSO how much I enjoyed the Firebird, and I am sincerely not anti-Modernist in the way that Larkin stated his anathema to Pound, Parker and Picasso, not necessarily in that order. But, however much our teacher at school impressed on us the revolutionary energy of Stravinsky's time signatures, the primal energy and mould-breaking significance of The Rite, I'm afraid I'm old enough now to be able to admit that I don't, or no longer, get it. There are any number of great technical achievements going on, I'm sure, but, as with so much jazz, it is not much use to me if I'm not enjoying it. It will be the whole point of the disc to those who appreciate it and the Mozart and Schubert, for them, will have been perhaps no more than introductory exercises. There are marvellous moments in this performance but this is one bit of Stravinsky that, unfortunately, when Ton Koopman is just about to give the world his Opera Omnia of Dietrich Buxtehude, I'm not convinced I have enough time for and I know that is my fault.
I feel like Kenneth Williams or Julian Clary trapped in Pan's People's dressing room. I just don't know what it is I'm supposed to be appreciating.
It is still clearly tremendous, if you like that sort of thing, but the Mozart and Schubert are worth the price for me, as well as the historic duet partnership.

John Cleese - So, Anyway

John Cleese, So, Anyway (Random House)

John Cleese's memoir is an eminently sensible book. Perhaps one needs to be very sensible underneath to be very funny on the surface. His method is to recount tales from childhood, through school, Cambridge and the early part of his TV, radio, writing, acting and stage career and extrapolate from them some general truths in a series of intermittent digressions.
School and schoolmasters are an inevitable source of some fascination and public school stories are all the more exotic for those of us who didn't go and JC is soon back at Clifton College teaching, and wily enough to pick up some essential tricks of the trade very quickly.
In the same way that Danny Baker's career just seemed to be one enormous stroke of luck after another, Cleese is rarely far from the next job offer but whereas the devil-may-care Baker rides the crest of any wave so jauntily, Cleese doubts himself regularly and appears to work much harder at it. Who would think that a day's writing would produce only four minutes worth of screenplay time and yet one could thus write a film in six weeks. But the main point, for those of us who don't quite have it, is that it is natural talent in abundance that causes these opportunities to arise, not mere flukes of good fortune.
Bankers and The Daily Mail are inevitable targets whenever a comparison for some evil-doing is required but, by and large, Cleese sees the best in most people. He has great admiration for Ronnie Corbett and Tim Brooke-Taylor, whose careers went on to be equally as successful as his without earning quite so much critical acclaim; David Frost is an enormous benefactor, a busy and generous sponsor of the early work but my favourite sub-plot is the emergence of Marty Feldman, surely the under-rated and too easily overlooked genius of the period. But nobody gets a better report than Harry Secombe, a hugely bottomless source of bonhomie, kindness and intelligence.
There is no denying that the creative friction in Monty Python was between John and Terry Jones but there is no malice in it. The one figure singled out for a few pages of well-directed spleen is actually...the late Ned Sherrin. But apart from that, Cleese is an amiable raconteur. Of course, there are plenty of observations of various absurdities but they are not the most abiding memories one comes away from the book with.
We are told about the origins of the classic Python sketches and how they evolved into the timeless texts that have now passed into the language and no apology is quite specifically made for filling a few pages with the scripts from some favourite sketches as Cleese aims towards 45000 words for the book.
And presumably a second volume is being written now so that Christmas 2015 becomes another pay day when we all want to read about the full Python story, Fawlty Towers, the films, divorces and subsequent marriages. This volume jumps from the inception of Python to some feelgood reflections on the recent live shows at O2. Perhaps the end came sooner than he thought, just like it did in many of his sketches.
Having seen Patrick Moore bowling in a brief clip on Brian Cox's programme last night, all we could really ask for is old footage of the Cleese leg break with an off break action. Apparently, he was a footballer and a very respectable cricketer in his day.   

Friday, 7 November 2014

Paterson on Donaghy

Don Paterson, Smith, A Reader's Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy (Picador)

It is ten years since the death of Michael Donaghy at the age of 50. He was already regarded as a star of his generation, the darling of those who know, a practitioner and commentator widely admired and only due to be more so. Don Paterson was a friend as well as one of those contemporary admirers and, as a proven critic, is the ideal author for this first full-length study. The book he has produced might serve to deter many others from trying to add more to it.
After an introduction of personal memoir, biographical detail and a summary of the poems themselves, Paterson takes 50 poems from Donaghy's four published volumes and provides essays on each, full of interpretation, relevant connections to Donaghy's life and thought to fill in many of the gaps in our appreciation we might come away from the poems with. Donaghy was clearly a fine poet and wrote poems that were easy to like but many of us perhaps suspected that there was more to it than we thought. One is grateful for Paterson's guide through them and the poems are further enhanced for the greater insight it offers.
The poems have a sureness of touch, and linguistic facility, that can almost disguise the predominantly dark themes. He could be called 'metaphysical' in his treatment of ideas, use of conceits and the shifting, elusive way he engages with the fallen, debased world and, it has to be said, in the best poems and throughout, mortality is a recurrent theme never too far from the surface.
In The Tuning,
The angel of death came in the form of a moth
And landed on the lute I was repairing.

He leaves his workshop with the angel who turns from a moth into a woman and sings,
               inhuman intervals through her human throat,
The notes at impossible angles justified.

The lute man realizes that, having heard such music, he can't go back and, as Paterson explains, 'all human sound is ruined for him', and commits suicide by bashing himself repeatedly over the head with a rock and becomes 'safe', because,
For Donaghy, 'alive' implied a zone of pain and of constant threat.

Paterson's introduction explains how Michael Donaghy was so immediately liked by everyone he met, with a charm that was almost irresistible, but possibly this was by a sustained, conscious effort. (Only last week, I was talking to someone who met Donaghy, years ago, not knowing who he was at first, and he didn't disagree with that). He returns regularly to Donaghy's image of 'white noise' and radio interference as a symbol of the beyond. In 'Smith', which Paterson has made the title poem of this annotated selection,
The poet believes that who we are to one another is far more important than who we are to ourselves.

All of these examples look like attempts to escape from the real, deceptions to evade something worse. Smith is, of course, the standard name that a couple might use to sign into a hotel if their presence together there is best left untraced. It sounds like 'myth', and Donaghy explores the profound necessity of the lie, the false signature and Smith forges a thing 'unalterable as iron'. But, furthermore, Paterson once asked Donaghy if the poem was true and was told,
' For Chrissake- of course it wasn't!'

Paterson's method in this book, taking a poem at a time in the same way that his book on Shakespeare's Sonnets does, is that used by Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin and Ruth Padel twice, to name only four very successful books of commentary. Where once it might have been thought preferable to take the opposite view and bring poems together in thematic essays, taking a bit from one and then from another, or trawl through them chronologically, this attention to one poem at a time is surely how the reading of poems works and, in the hands of an expert or even merely competent critic, the themes emerge quite naturally anyway.
In a more than ideal world, every book of poems could be published complete with a pundit's annotation but not so many poets are worthy of it and it isn't always worth doing. We can do it for ourselves most of the time. It is only when work is established and complex enough to warrant such treatment that a book like this justifiable.
Privacy is a rare enough poem in which Paterson unearths a political edge in Donaghy where he considers the grandiose burial sites of some affluent Victorians, and from other ages. Some had a bell fitted in the coffin so that if, as did happen, some were buried before being completely brain dead they could ring for attention and be dug up again if they happened to wake up, but,
Sadly, these have snapped.

as has any connection with the impressively but disregarded long dead, any sympathy with the death penalty (for the poet) and, Paterson suggests, the credibility of the old Conservative 'Back to Basics' campaign which we all saw all too quickly go back to the basics of politicians themselves being corrupt and hypocritical.
There is a double advantage in this book in having some wonderful poems with the added insight of a sympathetic, and brilliant, interpreter. As soon as I saw it was due, it became longingly awaited and luckily that wasn't for too long. It has delivered much already, up to and beyond expectations, and there is plenty more to find and re-read. It will be hard to follow in the area of Donaghy Studies but there are enough poems left for Paterson or anybody else who feels up to it to work on. Among poetry books of the last few decades, not many are as essential as this.

The Saturday Nap

There has been one tremendous success so far this jumping season. A couple of weeks ago on the quiz show, Pointless, one of the categories for the final round was 'Cheltenham Gold Cup winners', since 1964, I think. And with my treble of Norton's Coin, Charter Party and Garrison Savannah, I landed a clean sweep of pointless answers.
A similar treble at 100/1 and two at about 10/1 is roughly what is required to set 2014 back on track. In the space of a disastrous few weeks, nearly all my profit from 2013 has been given back and The Saturday Nap is four-nil down.
I'm not really selling this week's tip, am I. But it is hard to believe I can make it to Boxing Day without stumbling across a winner and so each loser makes the next selection more of a certainty. See if you can find a flaw in that logic.
I'll be happy to oppose ex-Champion Hurdle winner, Rock On Ruby, every time he runs whether over hurdles or fences, I'm sure he was flattered by his immediate proximity to The New One at Aintree but at Wincanton tomorrow, I'm not sure what to oppose him with.
I'm going to back Benvolio (Wincanton, 2.40) and, although I usually go for the outright win myself, at 9/1 or even 10/1 the tip will have to be each way so that we can try to retrieve the parlous position of The Saturday Nap's current exchange rate.
I can see Le Vent D'Antan screaming to be backed at Naas at 2.10. But when one's confidence is a thing one has precious little memory of, then staking large amounts on horse races is suddenly not as good a prospect as when, earlier this year, I had 7 winners out of 8 runners for pointlessly, absolutely pointlessly, small money. Oh, how I wish I was back there again.