Monthly Archives: November 2015

More Raw Material

MRMMy career as a writer was preceded by a (more successful) career as a drinker and a (considerably less successful) stab at gambling. That lack of success increased exponentially when I combined the two. I’ve often wondered if there was a correlation. But I digress.

The point is, is that during those earlier incarnations I first encountered the work of Alan Sillitoe. I’d been hammered mercilessly in a brutal game of three-card brag, in a dive, somewhere on the outskirts of Nottingham. For those who don’t know the game, imagine, if you will, cards as close-quarter combat. This would make poker the graceful pinnacle of Shaolin Kung Fu and three card brag a pub brawl. With broken bottles and sawn-off pool cues. Especially if you play the insane can’t-see-a-blindman rule. But again, you’ll notice, I digress.

I’d suffered the bad beat from hell. Three aces running into a prile of threes. You’ll play your entire life and never even see one of those hands, never mind two, head-to-head, in the same game. Rigged? Aye, it crossed my mind.

Anyway, the aftermath of that sorry event saw me swaying under the impact of much whisky, in front of the piss-trough, ineffectually fumbling and scrabbling for my tackle. During my exertions I closed one eye and attempted to focus on the graffiti, virtually filling the entire wall above the urinal. “All I’m out for is a good time – all the rest is propaganda” was the message that caught my eye. It was signed A. Seaton. So now you know.

That was the start. Aged sixteen, in 1983, still smarting, five years down the line from our overnight flit from Alloa in Scotland to Nottinghamshire in England. Maybe it was the way Sillitoe made the Nottinghamshire towns important characters in their own right that chimed with my teenage angst; resentful, alienated and exiled, trying to make sense of this strange land in which I was a stranger. Sillitoe gave me a map; of the places, the people, their characters and the things that shaped them. It was the start of my peace with Nottinghamshire and, eventually, my love affair with that most contradictory of places. Literary giants sharing their history with working class heroes like the tiny band of striking Notts miners who braved scorn and brutality. Their opposite numbers who sold their children’s birthright for the hollow promises of Tory ministers and the class enemy’s shilling. The pitiless drug dealers and gunmen that saw ‘Scab City’ renamed ‘Shottingham.’ Aye, if it’s contrast, diversity and opposites you want, Nottingham has them in abundance.

Yes, Alan and I go back a long way and so it was with great pride I accepted the invitation of co-editors Neil Fullwood and Alan’s son, David, to contribute to More Raw Material: Work Inspired By Alan Sillitoe.

Like most writers, I have The Stuff That I Do and…other stuff. Stuff that never sees the light of day. My usual gig of music journalism and political commentary seemed a poor fit for the book. And I’d always laboured under an inferiority complex anyway. Oh sure, non-fiction – which is what pays my bills – is noble and intellectual and valid. But as someone who constantly battles my inner reader to pipe down and let my outer writer get on with the job of keeping a roof over my family’s head, I’d always held the sneaking suspicion that fiction writers, novelists, poets (like Neil), people who told stories, were proper writers. So I had a go and sent it in. A short story. Not brilliant, but, I believe, one that does chime nicely with the spirits of More Raw Material and of David’s father. I’d never deny the influence of Alan and where better than in such a volume to let that influence take me where it may? So I did.

It’s a marvellous volume. Rich, diverse and eclectic. It contains photography, illustrations, poetry, travelogue, memoir, short fiction and much else. It’s a fitting tribute to a writer who knew no limits to his art and whose work covered all the above and more.

At the launch of the book, hosted by Five Leaves Bookshop, I was asked to read my contribution and it was an honour and a privilege. A full house enjoyed readings from talented poets Maria Taylor, Harry Gallagher and Henry Normal, non-fiction from Robert Kenchington and more. David concluded the evening in a moving tribute to his late father by reading a selection of his most powerful poems.

Published by Lucifer Press, More Raw Material is available from Five Leaves Bookshop, The Music Exchange, Rough Trade, the Tourism Centre, The Sparrow’s Nest in St Anns and The Bookcase in Lowdham and directly from co-editors Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe. Tweet @lucifer_press

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An Idiot’s Guide to Bombing Syria

anti-isis-coalition

So the Free Syrian Army are fighting Assad but also Daesh.

Assad loyalists are also fighting both the FSA and Daesh.

Meanwhile, just about everyone is trying to kill the Kurds. Who, ironically, are probably the most effective force currently fighting Daesh.

Turkey, a NATO ally and, therefore, a de facto pal of Cameron’s are supporting Daesh while claiming they aren’t. When they aren’t busy shooting down Russian planes, of course. Russia actually are fighting Daesh but also the FSA, who oppose Russia’s mate Assad.

Saudi Arabia, big pals of Cameron and the UK government, are supporting Daesh while buying Brit arms. While beheading more people in a month than Daesh do in a year. Yet the UK supports Saudi Arabia but not Daesh and not Asad, either. Who it did support last year.

The French, of course, are on a revenge mission and don’t give a fuck who dies as long as they are Seen To Be Doing Something. And the USA, as always, is clusterfucking its way to yet another Vietnam.

Whatever and whoever is killing who, the overwhelming majority of the dead are Muslims. Killed by Daesh. While getting blamed for… Daesh.

This is the crude and simplified idiot’s guide.

Now if you can grasp that and still think that yet another party joining in the bombing of the remaining unbombed bits of Syria is going to improve the situation in any way at all, then you truly are an absolute moron.

Paris

nzphotoReason and Nuance walked into a bar. Well, it was a café, actually. But how many sick jokes start with anyone walking into a café?

It was the morning of Saturday, 14th November 2015. Somewhere on the  19th arrondissement. Reason took a deep breath and muttered to Nuance, “Tough shift today, mate.”

Nuance nodded grimly. “We coulda really done with Perspective on this one.”
“Quite, the poor fucker got the English job, though,” replied Reason. Nuance shuddered. “Poor bastard. And I thought we’d got a shit gig, today!”

As they moved toward the bar, the patrons therein stared in amazement.

Pitchfork, working himself furiously over a signed photograph of Marine Le Pen, paused in his ministrations and was first to react. “You two have a got fucking nerve showing yourselves around here, today!”

Reason responded reasonably. “Au contraire, mon ami. My good friend Nuance and I are needed today more than ever.

Racism, sipping a freshly-ground coffee in the corner – white, natch – shouted, “Just fuck off! There’s nothing for you wankers here!”

Hatred nearly turned over the table at which he was sitting, in his haste to join Racism’s chorus of denigration. “Go on, piss off! No one wants to hear your bullshit!”

Islamophobia had just returned from the toilet. He’d declined to wash his hands and was, on sight of Reason and Nuance, momentarily distracted from his bacon baguette. He smiled cruelly. Triumphant and approaching tumescence. “Told you so, didn’t I? Seal the borders, let ‘em drown, nuke the filth!” he crowed.

Pitchfork, reassured now the back-up was functioning as it should, returned to his photograph and the polishing of his tines. Fast approaching release.

At that moment Bigotry stepped in through the door. His eyes widened in anger as he saw Reason and Nuance. “The fucking nerve! In here, condoning…”

Nuance interrupted. “Woah, fuck’s sake, mate! No one’s condoning anything but…”

“Always a ‘but’ with you fuckers, isn’t there?” retorted Bigotry.

Reason muttered sadly to himself, “Always a ‘who?’ always a ‘where?’ always a ‘when.’ But never a ‘why?’

The noise was becoming unbearable. The shouting, the hysteria, the anger smothered everything.

Nuance turned to Reason and asked, “Why do we always get drowned out?”

Reason replied, sadly: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Le sigh.