Thursday, August 30, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Dragster

The Lord never did buy Janis Joplin that Mercedes Benz...

So she bought her own goddam Porsche and customised it so...

Consider amends made Janis...

Janis Joplin sticking it to the man - big style

Check out the official website

Sunday, August 26, 2007

An Unreliable Witness

Last Saturday, one’s beloved Guardian published an interview with the Australian novelist Kate Grenville in which this strange statement and quote appeared,

Grenville, who was born in 1950 and giggles about growing up reading Biggles in a "deeply colonial culture", believes Australians are in a profound state of denial about their history. She describes the bicentenary celebrations in 1988 as a revelation: "I had been brought up with this idea that Aboriginal people were a thing of the past, they were museum pieces; I'd never knowingly met an Aboriginal person. So I joined this reconciliation march, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I realised how many Aboriginal people there were. I was surrounded by people who'd been invisible to me my whole life."

I know I’ve lived away from Australia for the last twenty-five years and have therefore missed out on the reconciliation process between white and Aboriginal Australians, much of which seems to have involved a good deal of rather anal soul sifting by white Australians that tended to move relations sideways rather than forwards and did not materially redress the long history of injustice against the Aboriginal people. I understand that making tangible and meaningful reparations is no easy business and that a certain amount of ‘guilt’ is an inevitable by-product of owning the catalogue of atrocities that were committed against Aboriginal people regardless of whether guilt by association serves any useful purpose. I even think that there is a certain validity to Grenville’s assertion that many white Australians were in a ‘state of denial about their history’. These are difficult truths.

The bit I don’t get is her claimed experience of growing up reading Biggles and being taught that Aboriginal people were ‘museum pieces’. I’m only a few years younger than Grenville. Surely she’s describing an Australia of the 1930s rather than the 1960s. Did she not read Blinky Bill, The Magic Pudding or Snugglepot and Cuddlepie? The first of the Ainslie Roberts and Charles Mountford books interpreting The Dreamtime came out in 1969. There is obviously an issue about the appropriation of Aboriginal lore by white artists for commercial purposes, but these books were bestsellers and they certainly did germinate an interested awareness in white Australia of the cultural life of Aboriginal people. It may have been patronising and naive but it was an undeniable phenomenon.

None of this rings true at all to me. Had Grenville never heard of Evonne (Goolagong) Cawley MBE, holder of fourteen Tennis Grand Slam titles beginning with her 1971 Wimbledon win? She won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open four times and she was born the year after Grenville. Cawley was named Australian of the Year in 1972, the year she got her MBE and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1982.

What about Lionel Rose, born two years before Grenville who became world bantam weight boxing champion in 1968, the same year he was named Australian of the Year? He beat Fighting Harada? That one rings no bells either?

Albert Namatjira? The world-renowned painter and subject of the Archibald Prize winner in 1956? Never seen any of his frequently reproduced paintings, even on postage stamps like the one above? Queen Elizabeth II was a fan. She awarded him a Coronation Medal in 1953. He was the first Aboriginal to be granted full Australian citizenship in 1957. Vile as the concept of Australia’s original inhabitants being denied citizenship rights in their own country may be to contemplate now, it was a landmark event and no big secret.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal MBE (formerly Kath Walker) the prize winning poet and leading civil rights campaigner? A poem from her 1964 collection We Are Going was on my school's syllabus - and I went to an ordinary girls’ school in surburban Sydney. Regular readers will recall that I was very lucky to have known Oodgeroo and to have stayed at Moongalba on a number of memorable occasions. By the time I met her in the 1970s she was a figure of considerable importance and influence in both the arts and politics.

Oodgeroo's son Bejam Kunmunara Jarlow Nunukel Kabool (formerly Dennis Walker) - founder of the Australian Black Panther movement and leading campaigner at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1970s? Not heard of him either?

What about Charles Perkins, the first Aboriginal permanent head of a government department – appointed in 1981? He got his Order of Australia in 1987.

And Neville Bonner? First Aboriginal to be elected to the Australian Parliament where he served as a senator from 1971 -1983. He was named Australian of the Year in 1979 and received his Order of Australia in 1984.

David Gulpilil? The actor who shot to world fame in Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout 1971. He may have led a troubled life but has been perfectly visible ever since his first film appearance. He was also the subject of an Archibald Prize winner (2004).

And then there is my personal hero Artie Beetson, rugby league legend of the 1960s and 70s. Artie was the first Aboriginal to captain the country in any sport, and he played for my local team, The Balmain Tigers.

So what’s going on here? All of these people were household names during my youth. Of course we could have a whole big conversation about how they faced incredible odds to reach the level of success in life that they attained and were often caught between a cultural rock and hard place, dealing with continuing prejudice from white society and resentment within their own communities but that’s not the issue. Grenville said that Aboriginal people had been invisible to her until 1988. I’m saying that can’t have been possible unless she was living in some Amish settlement without TV, radio or newspapers.

Is it possible that the considerable individual achievements of the people above-mentioned have been suppressed by the national consciousness? If so, to what purpose? Will someone please put this ex-pat out of her misery and let her know what gives here...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pants Does Lubitsch

Elegantly Dressed Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

Woody Allen has been eulogising Bergman, Scorsese crooning for Antonioni so now I’m nailing my colours to the mast for a filmmaker who brought joy to many a lousy rainy afternoon when I was a child. Between 1939 and 1942 (not that I was even thought of then, obviously), Ernst Lubitsch made three classic comedies that were virtually on continuous television rotation along with the Ma & Pa Kettle films and My Little Chickadee during school holidays when I was wee. Now that’s what I call a classical education!

Lubitsch’s light touch and layers of characterisation created a lovely contrast to the soft-focused, simple-plotted romantic comedy star vehicles that were pouring out of Hollywood after the Great Depression and before the US involvement in World War 2. Mistake me not; I judge the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee sublime. The sophisticated Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant couplings The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby demand sublime up its game. The comic support turns in some of these films are wonderful. Roland Young say, as Uncle Willie in The Philadelphia Story responding to an early morning pony trap ride wearing a raging hangover with an imploring, ‘wouldn’t we be more comfortable on pogo sticks?’ And Edward Everett Horton was like a one man Three Stooges in black tie, creating chaos whenever lovers and destiny were in the same orbit. But these were ultimately escapist comedies.

There is nothing and no-one to match the sheer genius of Lubitsch for marrying the public taste for sophisticated comedy with his own desire to bring some understanding of the impending and subsequent meltdown in Europe to the general public without all the baggage of politics; which they were almost certain to reject.

Berlin-born Lubitsch was not a refugee like so many of his fellow European directors. He’d arrived in Hollywood in 1922, at the invitation of silent screen star Mary Pickford. He directed a string of silent films and successful musicals but it wasn’t until the release of the incredible Ninotchka in 1939 with Greta Garbo (strap line - Greta laughs!), that he really hit his stride and established the Lubitsch template through a dashing trilogy of political comedies.

Ninotchka had a jolly good laugh at Communism in that deliriously innocent moment in time before the cold war and grave events like the executions of the Rosenbergs in the US brought a rather different curtain down.

‘The show trials were a great success,’ announces Commisar Nina Ivanovna Yakushova as she arrives to curb the persuasion of her three erstwhile comrades to the seductions of Paris,'we are going to have fewer but better Russians.’ Ninotchka introduced the classic Lubitsch staples. The ‘stars’ would invariably appear shabbily dressed for a large part of the film, due either to permanent or subsequent circumstances; and they would play ensemble. The star turn in a Lubitsch film of this era was the comic trio, invariably led by Felix Bressart.

Lubitsch followed Ninotchka up in 1940 with The Shop Around the Corner featuring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as squabbling co-workers who are secret affectionate pen-pals. The tension in this film, as with all Lubitsch’s romantic comedies is that Subject A (Male) and Subject B (Female) may or may not end up as Objective C (Marriage). Running interference, as always, is the bumbling supporting cast who may or may not be capable of screwing the whole deal up at any moment. The Shop Around The Corner was remade as the lacklustre You’ve Got Mail in 1998. Nora Ephron, sadly, just didn’t get Lubitsch. She couldn't live with the tension and the movie was the poorer for it.

My all time favourite Lubitsch film is the pinnacle of the classic trio, To Be or Not to Be (1942). You’re going to think – she would say that wouldn’t she, but honestly it’s so funny not even Mel Brooks could improve on it. His 1983 remake wasn’t a patch on the original. But he did redeem himself with The Producers – which owes a huge amount to the central conceit of this film which is that the Nazis are comic figures. More seriously, it’s difficult to reconcile the claims I’ve heard all my life about the world being totally unaware of the atrocities occurring in Nazi Germany with my very early understanding of what this mainstream entertainment was telling us. ‘So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?’ is the secondary running joke in this film, which is basically about the necessity to hide either Jews or Jewishness, on threat of death.

When Spielberg’s The Terminal came out, I got incredibly excited about it because it’s a film made exactly in the Lubitsch mould. The mandatory political revolution is accompanied by an improbable romance, supported by a bumbling comic trio who may or may not screw the whole thing up. I thought this was a brilliant film, not least of all because of the lovely and very simple premise that someone who spends their whole life under an oppressive regime claiming to set individuals free might well want to connect with an individual whose suffering is similar despite their being not aware of just how parallel their lives are run. That was Lubitsch. Spielberg understood. My mum didn't though. I got the DVD out last time I visited and I've never known her to go to the toilet so many times during a film. She wasn't even roused by the superb cameo by Benny Golson which I thrill to every time, even though I know it's coming. Everything about this film that I loved because it was pure Lubitsch , she hated because she found it unrealistic. In some ways that makes a lot of sense because when I was sitting on the mustard vinyl sofa on a rainy afternoon mainlining Lubitsch, my mum was out working, and not in a Lubitsch type place. Sometimes you get so lucky that you end up with a secret that will last for ever. I think Lubitsch is mine...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pantaloon Toons 2

With all that's been going on here at House of Pants, I completely forgot our first blog birthday, which occurred on Friday. Oh Silly Mio! I've been in a total panic, not knowing what to do to mark the occasion. And then I remembered I have friends in moist places. I had but to ask and

With the classic thespian aplomb for which they are famed, the acclaimed

Theatre of Australian Native Animals

Offered to give a special performance of their celebrated


For one blog only!

But only if I would agree to eat Beirut and leave with them - I think that's what they said anyway. It actually wasn't a problem, especially as my friend Kangaroo offered to put her pouch on reverse cycle in order to keep my bottle of Sauvignon Blanc ice cold.

So, without further mange tout!

I give you

The Company in



NEXT - if we can all muster the will to live!

A Streetcar Named Desire

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ancestral Tomes

I simply can’t type the ‘H’ word at the moment. It’s too painful. Incredibly, House of Pants has been passed over once again – the outer shell I mean. The man I formally described as nice and sensible for agreeing to purchase House of Pants is now a stupid arsehole and a fuckwit for changing his mind. Why can’t people just stay the same? As much as it’s against my principles… oh what the fuck – does anyone know a buy-to-let landlord? They’re not actually people so there’s no risk of them changing, and if they did, it could only be for the better. E-me yeah?

To take my mind off the impending implosion of my whole entire life – like I so knew that there was going to be a major economic collapse which is why I, duh, decided to sell up this time last year and secure myself a mortgage-free bolthole in the wilderness and start an organic vege patch – I’ve decided to spend the time between now and my imminent return to wage slavery in the British Library. I guess none of you really saw that one coming. Join the club of which I am president!

I have mentioned several times in the past my convict ancestor who virtually exhausts the anti-personality gamut by encompassing every known scoundrel in one lovable rogue. I have previously mentioned my intention to write my G-G-Grandfather’s story as soon as I’ve consigned my current novel to its preordained posting in my bottom drawer where it will battle it out with the first two for the supreme position of worst novel yet by she who thinks she knows better than anyone else what makes a good novel. So, I’m now spending my days in the incredible British Library with four books dating from 1791 to 1806 in order to unlock something of this enigmatic man about whom I knew nothing until a few years ago.

Firstly, a little about the British Library. Since it reopened in King’s Cross as a major national resource a couple of years ago, it’s made its incomparable collection available to the general public virtually on demand. Provided you can furnish a signature and a utility bill, you can get access to some of the rarest books in the world. But it’s not in the least bit stuffy. In fact, a lot of people seem to be using it as an office. With free electricity and internet access and relatively cheap coffee, who could blame them? You can take your laptop in and set up at one of the generously spacious work stations. It’s the quietest place you’ll ever be in. You can’t use your phone in there obviously and that takes all the people who would annoy you out of the equation.

I discovered that the British Library held four books in which GGG is represented. Two are books of sermons. GGG was a preacher, initially as bogus as Mr love/hate hands in Night of the Hunter, but eventually attaining a Doctorate in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen. He had one sermon in each volume. He was quite young at this stage but the oratory was already showing signs that he would turn into a major ranter. Eventually, after his transportation to Australia and a briefly illustrious career as the founder and original headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, his life ended in financial ruin after he started a radical newspaper in Sydney and persistently libelled seriously important people. All that’s to come.

The other two volumes are his poetry. Poems on Various Occasions is dated 1791. It must have been a very limited edition or his own copy as corrections to the script have been made in his own hand. I know he was thought to be a mediocre poet at the time, but reading some of these verses I have to say he totally came alive for me on the page. There are two Odes to His Majesty on the Occasion of his Birthday (1790 and 1791) which must have been considered seditious at the time. I can see why he spent so much time in gaol (as it was then). There are translations of Horace and even a couple of Sapphic Odes and a very strange dramatic farce – difficult to know what amused in the eighteenth century. There's one poem that made me tearful. It’s called Extempore Effusion – To the Memory of an Infant Son. Reproduced below is a little bit of this, (faithfully in the original script – replace the ‘f’ with ‘s’ when it makes sense to do so.)

Still hopes thy mother’s pangs deride,

Still does fhe seem to hear thy breath!

Ah ! no ! Tho’ med’cine’s aid was tried,

Art vainly combated with Death !

Still from her forrow-ftreaming eye

The glift’ning tear bedews thy cheeks:

Still fans thy face the balmy figh,

Still Nature’s filent language fpeaks !

Lovely and illuminating as this book of verse is, the major draw is GGG’s personal account of The Battle of Trafalgar. He served as a Naval Chaplain and Secretary to Rear Admiral Northesk onboard the Britannia for about four years. His epic poem The Battle of Trafalgar is 870 lines long. I typed each one out by hand today. Here’s how it begins,

WHILE Gaul’s proud Despot, with insatiate hands

Wastes prostrate Europe’s subjugated lands;

And bids his blood-stain’d hordes, thro’ realms afar

“Cry Havoc, and let slip the Dogs of War;”

The last line’s Shakespeare – from Julius Caesar if I’m not mistaken. He’s a naval chaplain and this is something of an official account, so most of it’s very patriotic. I imagine they felt that way in the heat of battle. The description of Nelson’s death is not only timely in the long narrative but genuinely moving. There’s a very interesting introduction to the published poem (it came out as part of a larger collection of poems ‘written at sea’ in 1806 – a year after the battle), in which he commends Rear Admiral Eliab Harvery Esq MP, to whom the poem is dedicated,

At the various Courts-martial, which I have attended, and upon which you have sate, as a Member of the Court, I have been no inattentive Observer of your Judgment, and Discrimination, in investigating the Truth : - nor have I been unaffected by the Mildness, and Humanity :- you have invariably exhibited towards the unfortunate Prisoners! On such Occasions my Heart has again suggested, “This is truly a benevolent, good Man!”

Was this a portent of things to come? GGG became a supporter of the Emancipist movement in Sydney, even though he was freed on arrival. There is much more to unearth here and now it appears I have the opportunity to do it. Whose glass is half full then? Not bloody mine, I finished off the bottle of wine I had in the fridge and forgot to get more, arrrrgghhh that's a rum deal…

Picture : The Battle of Trafalgar by J.M. Turner

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Women of Substance

Elegantly Dressed Poly Styrene.

I was recently contacted by a bumptious idiot boy of whom I’ve never heard asking all sorts of reductive and revisionist questions in relation to a musical ensemble of which I used to be a member. He was, he explained, planning a major retrospective. Not of me, and the band I was in, obviously. Said ensemble was part of a larger group of very interesting young people doing even more interesting young things. You’ve heard of the sum of the parts thing right? This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s; a time that now appears to me a Utopian blip that snuck in under the udder of glorious mudder feminism and created a power paradigm in the arts where alpha male egos, for one brief shattering moment, didn’t rule the agenda as if it were their own personal Masai Mara. Believe me, we all had big fun when that happened.

After laborious correspondence with my former male colleagues in this ensemble in which we all served very much on an equal footing, we agreed on what we thought was going on here – a commercially driven rewriting of history to retrospectively place importance on a couple of individuals who didn’t intellectually dominate at the time but subsequently attained success. The question that came up most often in this correspondence was why? The place in musical history that the individuals we are talking about now hold isn't dependent on what any of their contemporaries thought of them then or thinks of them now, surely. They've been verified by record sales. Is that not what they wanted? Why were we being asked to affirm a situation that so very obviously wasn’t a reality? The reason is that society now demands successful people to have back story that qualifies their success; much like ordinary people have CVs that chart a progress of personal development. It can't cope with leaderlessness, much less accept it as a melting pot for a successful artistic movement. That would be anarchy. Gasp! Who doesn't know their history then?

The values by which we as artists lived then were built on equality and trust and the only power struggle that you ever had to have was whether it was your song that got worked on. You won if you had the most together bit of a song. Believe me, it wasn’t a question of whether or not commercial radio would pick it up. This was an environment in which bands comprising nihilistic punks, twee philosophy and architecture students, separatist dikes on bikes, straight men wearing eyeliner, gay men playing drums, disabled people in beautiful clothes and beautiful people in disabled clothes could and would form bands together and fucking get on. I sometimes feel like I’m in the prequel to a George Miller film here but I come from that moment in time when the world wasn't divided into male decision makers and female functionaries.

The point is a long time coming, even for me but last Wednesday, one’s beloved Guardian kicked in with the very timely publication of a piece on the ‘forgotten women of punk’. Not that I’d ever forgotten The Slits or The Raincoats or today’s elegantly dressed and entirely wonderful Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. These were the women who inspired me when I joined a band and these bands were what all of us, not just women, listened to all the time. They demanded recognition as musicians. There had been women dominating in popular music before, and they’d been acclaimed, but they and their music had always been defined by men. As much as they were rebels: Billie Holiday, Dusty Springfield, Patsy Cline, The Supremes and every other Motown female artist, even Suzi Quatro were never really their own women. They were moulded, polished and packaged; much as women are today. Joni Mitchell was easily side-lined as folk, Chaka Khan made freak by novelties. Worst of all, the most influential woman in music of the last twenty-five years - Madonna has done everything in her power to make women appear trivial, submissive and obsessed with personal gain. It so fucking ain’t pretty. Much as I love Debbie Harry, it was her lesser celebrated soul sister Patti Smith who was the true Boudicca of the CBGBs era. I'm sure Debbie would agree.

Ours was a very different time. I’ve seen the equality that I took for granted snatched from me and the illusion that it was never there in the first place emailed to me in the form of a demand to provide a pointless corroboration of a fantasy. I’m not too old to say ‘fuck off’. I am, fortunately mature enough to know a stupid fight when I see one. Let history work it out. I will say this – you’ve missed something amazing if you insist on redefining the punk years by today’s values – i.e. there has to be some male mega-ego in the driving seat for it be a successful cultural experience and wouldn't it make a nice ring-tone. Everything has to be entrepreneured to fucking death now. I could say loads more on this but I've had a horrible day, even for me. Another time...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pantaloon Toons

One of the fun things
about preparing to depart for the far side of the world - not that there are many believe me, is finding long forgotten doodles in the loft. I'm sure I've mentioned that amongst my many follies is fabricating extremely bad art. I do know good art when I see it and I occasionally showcase at House of Pants the work of brilliant artists of my acquaintance, so you can be assured I have no aspirations in that direction. I know my place.

However, I once had what I thought was an outstanding idea for a community project which aspired to high (in the purest sense) art. Naturally my enthusiasm wasn't shared by anyone else. In the early 1990s, I created The Theatre of Australian Native Animals, a classical theatre troupe in homage to Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh's immortal Old Vic (Sydney) company of 1948. Our Company would bring to the stage drama from all spheres and, for the very first time, provide opportunities for marsupials to participate in mainstream theatre. Previously they'd been shamelessly ghettoised in puppetry and, at best, could aspire to hop on parts in Skippy The Bush Kangaroo.

I storyboarded four in all - The Illiad, Hamlet, The Cherry Orchard and the great Australian classic Summer of the Seventeen Doll. Sadly, I can only find two full drafts, although I'm sure I saw a watercolour of 'Up there Cazaly' from Doll kicking around fairly recently. I would like to present the Company's first production for your entertainment in case you haven't made it to Edinburgh. From Behind the Fringe (as you know, Australian Native Animals are by nature quite shy), I give you a little later than planned and with apologies for the faded and jaded appearance of the stars,

The Iliad

© Noosa Lee 1992

Next time on

The Theatre of Australian Native Animals Presents


Friday, August 10, 2007

Draft Codger

Silk Screen Print by Peter Loveday

Today I finished Draft 4 of my new novel The Full English, a racy tale of ex-pat shenanigans on the Costa del Sol (breakfast not included).

Pause for congratulations.

But it ain’t over yet. It’s good that I’ve finished my first non-rubbish draft but there is still a long way to go. I’ve previously talked about how I rewrite each draft from scratch until I have one that doesn’t need to have every single sentence completely redrafted. I don’t mind so much as I enjoy typing and doing it all again several times is a good way of reminding myself of what is happening over the 100,000 wordscape. My memory isn’t what it was.

I’d forgotten for instance that in Drafts 1-3, I had actually left out three quite important set pieces. I had glossed over the responsibility by glibly inserting things like ‘put bullfight in here’. I knew what the purpose of the set pieces was so the plot advanced as it was supposed to but I still had thirty new pages to write from scratch as well as 250 others to rewrite. In writer terms I’m both a ‘putter inner’ and a ‘taker outer’, so it still ended up 100,000 words long.

Last month Chip Dale wrote an excellent guest piece on Baroque in Hackney on the occasion of completing a first draft of his fourth book. There’s a lot in it I agree with, like this,

‘This is the first thing I think I discovered after years of trying to work out how to write a novel: forget about writing a novel. Forget about the big indistinct Goliath you’re going to create. Just begin to write. Write out a scene, then develop another scene. Create some original characters, some exciting/funny/romantic scenes and play around with the world. Do odd things. Do clichéd things. Do things that you didn’t expect. Surprise yourself. Be crazy. Be serious. Do whatever you think fits the moment.’

You’ll never read better advice than that. Chip also thinks you shouldn’t write more than two drafts. He hasn’t seen my early drafts. For me, writing is a joy. I love making up stories and even if they don’t get published, and mine invariably don’t, the pleasure of completion still exists. Plots are better when they unfold and its certainly more fun for the writer to have an open mind about what is going to happen. When I started writing The Full English three and a half years ago, I had no intention of shooting my narrator, but shoot him I did.

Like me, Chip hasn’t found a publisher for his books. It’s not the end of the world but it does mean that the completion cycle is never fully realised and that means that when you approach the end of a book, you brace yourself for the inevitable rejections and marshalling of the mettle to start another one. Like Chip I have neither the ability nor stomach for the long years of writing letters to agents and then publishers. I do it because it must be done. I politely thank people who suggest I self-publish and endure the embarrassment of friends and family who all think I am hopeless. My mother whimpers if I mention that I’m writing. Whimpers! You just have to ignore it and keep going.

I finished my first book A Republic of Angels in 1992 and sent a sample chapter off to Sheba Feminist Press on the recommendation of a friend who had just signed with them. I wrongly assumed since it was about an anarchic young woman playing in an indy pop band and obeying few rules of conventional society that they might be interested. This is how it was rejected,

‘We are unable to accept your work for publication. Possibly a publisher of more Romantic Fiction.’

I think we can safely say it was misunderstood and I can assure you it contained proper sentences, unlike the above extract of my rejection letter. I didn’t bother to try Mills & Boon.

None of the rejections for The Way of the Pear were quite as bizarre although one agent was clearly affronted and informed me very grumpily that the work was not what she was expecting. Sorry dear. Pear is a ‘love it or hate it book’. What more can I say? Quite a lot of people who’ve read it all, including a published writer of my acquaintance, advised turning it into a much more conventional book. I didn’t want to and that could have been to my cost. These are not easy decisions to make but I do think that sometimes the right advice is not necessarily the best advice. There's not much point in writing if you can't trust your own instincts.

Having said that, The Full English is that conventional book so I did take my friend's advice, just with a different book. It's much easier to apply it before you start writing than after. With Pear I wanted to play with language and I wanted an anti-heroine, one who wasn’t predisposed to play by any rules except her own. I prefer my women rebellious. I wanted to write a literary book. I’m over myself now. The Full English is more or less a straight-up thriller cum love story. I like those too. I’ve mentioned before that the next one is going to be a fictionalised account of the life of my garrulous convict ancestor. I like historical fiction also.

I’ll have a few days rest now; perhaps do some washing up or go back to fretting about moving. Then I’ll start on Draft 5. It’s not going to be a rewrite. I’ll just go through it, paragraph by paragraph; a nip here, a tuck there. When that’s done, I’ll post the first chapter here and see how we go.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sean of the (soon to be) dead

Sean Slater's innocent, idyllic childhood

When they start rolling their eyes like that and stop talking altogether, it can only mean one thing – a time bomb has started ticking somewhere in Albert Squareland and it has the name of Sean Slater smeared on it in bulk bought ketchup from the café.

Traditionally in EastEnders there are only four ways of dying. You can either be run down by one of the many cars constantly circling the square specifically for that purpose; you can fall, usually from a height but Pauline Fowler managed to achieve death by merely toppling from her orthopaedic shoes; you can be hit over the head with something quite heavy or you can be shot. In some cases (notably that of Den Watts), you can have more than one of these, together or separately.

Whatever the method, it is ordained somewhere in scriptland that an EastEnder may only die by the hand of another character. The Mitchells are obviously the front runners virtually taking on the sole responsibility of retiring characters that everyone’s tired of, although there is hardly a Slater who hasn’t caused someone’s demise either deliberately or accidentally.

There have been some rather cosy husband and wife homicide teams. Frank and Pat Butcher both ran over people and killed them and, in a touching twist, Martin and Sonia Fowler managed to despatch each other’s nearest and dearests to the hereafter - in Eastenders terms, Openauditionland. In the long term it strengthened their bond.

The disinherited lovebirds headed off to ‘Manchester’, by train naturally. This is the place where Eastenders wait for a big cull in current characters when their hideous breakout series set in a hotel bombs. If they want to go on an actual holiday, they go to Spain, or Brazil if the holiday is not exactly their idea. If they are on the run from the Mitchells, they are usually advised to prepare themselves for a location shoot, literally. In Eastendersland, deaths by natural causes are as rare as washing machines.

So now it’s the turn of pointless Sean Slater to meet his programme maker and pick up his final salary cheque. In the best Grant Mitchell ‘ex-army’ tradition, the mugging of shopkeeper Patrick Trueman, for which he is very obviously not responsible, escalates him from the merely odious into a fully shell-shocked psychopath. Let’s hope he takes whining Carly Wicks with him and that the idiotic duo of Deano Wicks and Chelsea Fox get caught in the crossfire. Maybe the 'Manchester' express will bring back Bianca and Ricky, Martin and Sonia and their rag doll of a child.

Why are all the children in EastEnders ridiculous? And why are there so few of them? And are we ever going to get another Asian family? They’re even rarer than washing machines in Albert Square. And how am I ever going to tie this post into Elegantly Dressed Wednesday?

My only excuse is that I’ve had to channel all my skill for connecting things into my novel – now in its fourth glorious draft. I still can’t believe how crap draft three was. I’ve worked on this thing for over three years. I’ve devoted almost all of the past year to it. It’s only now starting to not be rubbish. I can’t believe what a hopelessly bad writer I am. What is wrong with me and why, oh why, did I steal that bottle of Brigadoon whisky from the Minute Mart and clout one of the few black characters in EastEnders over the head? My only consolation is I probably didn’t kill him because I’m not actually a character. My money’s on Bradley to do Sean in and thereby immediately win the undying love of Stacey who will later sell Lauren a ‘drop dead gorgeous’ frock in which she will, literally drop dead, from gorgeousness. It’s tradition, innit?

Picture of child with hand grenades by DIANE ARBUS

Monday, August 06, 2007

Blackberry Parade

I love summer and Shostakovich, not necessarily in that order.

At last in dreary old London, we’ve had a weekend where I can finally dispense with my ubiquitous fleece and run free, albeit not naked – that would be too scary. As I huffed and puffed my way around the secluded section of Hackney Marshes this afternoon, I was passed rather menacingly and several times by a young man on a bicycle who took ages to work out whether or not I was worth harassing. What is that? Finally he passed me for the fourth time and muttered, ‘you look like you could use...’ He was so illiterate he wasn’t able to finish the sentence but I think I know what he meant. I admit my matronly bum is not so grand these days as it has been in the past but I’m not running for anyone but myself.

I did not, however, allow the slight to deter my enjoyment of my daily exercise shuffle, nor the side joy of collecting wild blackberries for tomorrow’s breakfast. This year’s crop has been crap because of the rubbish weather and it’s not that easy to find blackberries at their ultimate ripeness late in the afternoon. Sunday’s not a great day because everyone else has the same idea. The picture offered above shows how desolate the season has been this year. You're thinking that everything you used to count on in Britain lets you down.

And then you get a sunny weekend and all is forgiven.

Summer in London for me has always meant Reggae. It’s a Hackney thing I guess, but when you smell barbeque and the neighbourhood reverberates with lovers’ rock at sunset, you know the season has well and truly begun. I will miss this so much.


And Shostakovich?

Last night after spending the day working industriously, if I say so myself – although I did take a bit of a breakette to catch for about the fiftieth time The Red Shoes over a longish lunch, I settled down to watch The Proms (regular readers - beloved BBC, no questions asked; new people - look here).

Despite my nominal devotion to both classical music and the Royal Albert Hall, I have to say that, for the most part, I’ve had little interest in watching The Proms on television for the same reasons as everyone else – because it’s mostly about Elgar and fucking boring.

But, the National Youth Orchestra’s programme for last night was intriguing enough to draw me in. They began with the contemporary New Era Dance by Aaron Jay Kernis, a six minute masterpiece written in 1992. It crashes its way through the entire menu of urban musical myth, via Gershwin and Bernstein to present day New York; the yellow cab, the subway, clang, clang, clang went the trolley, and all manner of spiritual transportation beyond. It was stunning.

During Prokofiev’s witty and bright Piano Concerto No. 1, led with flirtatious dexterity by gifted young pianist Alexander Kobrin, I began to notice that most of Prokofiev’s generous quota of minor instrumental solos was being taken up by girls. The flautists were spectacular and the girls were all over the brass too.

And then came the finale; Shostakovich’s beautiful seventh symphony, The Leningrad. Almost twenty years ago I visited the Leningrad (as it was still called then) Siege Museum and heard this extraordinary music playing as I filed with other bewildered ‘Intourists’ through the maze of black and white photographs of people who had withstood that horrific time. It was a poignant moment and not one I’ll soon forget. Shostakovich completed this symphony in 1942 and it was even played by a scratch orchestra and broadcast on radio from the besieged city before being transferred via microfilm where it was played publicly for the first time outside Shostakovich’s homeland at the The Proms of 1942.

Poor Shostakovich has been almost as unkindly revised by history as Wagner so it did my heart no end of good to hear this glorious and dignified piece of music played with such controlled youthful passion by young musicians totally engaged with it. You never got the sense that this was earnest, good-for-you music. Sorry but even I think The Proms sometimes comes across that way. If you love harmony, you can’t help but love Shostakovich.

The Leningrad is short on whistles and bells and long on… er… length. I loved seeing the faces of kids aged thirteen to seventeen totally focused on it, despite its lack of obvious dramatic payoffs. It was great to see that the orchestra leader, traditionally the first violinist first chair, was a girl. Less gratifying was that the makeup of our National Youth Orchestra is visibly composed solely of white and ethnic Chinese with a glaring absence of young people from either a black or Asian background.


As you ponder that question I’ll be washing my freshly culled blackberries. Be grateful I could not find a suitable segue to the handheld computer of the same name. I guess I’m losing my touch. You wish….

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Struggle in Paradise

Noosa Heads on an Elegantly Dressed Wednesday

A heartfelt SOS has reached me from my spiritual homeland Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia. Regulars will know that I keep a residential retreat there which I call Mum’s House. Disaster has befallen gentle Noosa in the shape a meddling Labor (Australian spelling) State Government that’s been sitting in the same place for far too long without any decent opposition. In its dotage, it finds itself capable only of sourcing creative ways to order new stationery. Sound familiar?

Those versed in Australian politics will know that there is one layer of bureaucracy for every hundred or so people yet a growing trend towards a hefty democratic deficit in terms of elected representation. The origin of my namesake’s ire is that the State Government of Queensland proposes an amalgamation of Noosa with two neighbouring councils to create one ‘Super Council’, which it claims will,

‘provide optimum outcome for the future delivery of services and the overall sustainability of local government in the region, by removing structural inefficiencies.’

By ‘structural inefficiencies’, the State Government undoubtedly means the good burghers of Noosa Council who have stood as David against Goliath International, an infinite consortium of developers who would build sky-scraping pleasure palaces for Saudi princes and Michael Jackson where scrub turkeys and black cockatoos harmoniously coexist with local residents and holiday makers. While Noosa’s neighbours Maroochy and Caloundra have squandered their shoreline on soul-free system-builts, Noosa has developed a unique domestic architectural style with a palette reminiscent of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, most of the world has now bought into the rehabilitation of what we in the UK used to call ‘tower blocks’ with a snort of derision, and now sees hundred-storey Dubai Dick Sticks as the pinnacle of architectural achievement. Tiresome.

A tick-box ‘Commission’ was set up to ‘review’ the State Government’s proposals and has recently published its ‘recommendations’. I would offer a prize for guessing the outcome but, as you know, all competitions have been suspended in sympathy with one’s beloved BBC’s current plight. The flimsiest of arguments are offered for the pro-amalgamation case like this for example,

‘The region currently has a hierarchy of well defined commercial and retail centres with a regional local government being better able to maintain this hierarchy so as to avoid duplication of facilities, and oversupply of functions which leads to urban blight.’

What? WHAT! And most if it is that incoherent. There’s rubbish about people having to ‘cross boundaries’ to go to work and do their shopping and rather a lot of mention of expanding the capacity of the local airport. If you’re looking for the plum in this pie, direct your thumb to that.

You can read the whole thing here if all your hair shirts are in the wash.

You’d think, that with such a compelling case for sustaining the present stewardship of the human-scale village habitat and exemplary record of protecting the natural environment for which Noosa is justifiably renowned and the expertise gleaned from forty years of successfully defending public good over private interest, this would be a piece of piss to Noosa Council. Not a bit of it I’m afraid.

Instead of using its acquired acumen to calmly dissect the paltry case put forward by the State Government and draw up a credible proposal for alternative arrangements for joint service delivery that don't involve getting all the garbage trucks repainted, Noosa hit the panic button and managed to come across as a bunch of hysterical Nimbys about to be invaded by the hoi polloi. ‘We’re a niche market’, Noosa Council informed the Commission. ‘Do you need any help constructing the electric fence?’ the Commission helpfully replied – NOT.

The council has headed its campaign Keep Noosa Special. Why not just say No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs? As if that isn’t bad enough, they’ve subtitled it 'It’s Ours!!' Two explanation marks – wow, someone means business. Even worse, they’ve got a picture of pariah for hire ‘Sir’ Richard Branson in a prominent position on the publicity material. Yes, the patron saint of self-interest himself is the visible figurehead of this campaign. Was Rupert Murdoch not available? Do I need to point out that Branson owns one of the airlines that use the local airport? Did no one think that a billionaire foreign businessman fronting a campaign on behalf of a community of ordinary, caring Australians might seem a tad incongruous? I could weep.

But that’s not all. The top line is not the only aspect of all this that makes me cringe. Get into the body of the ‘argument’ and you find howlers so crude, they’d even laugh about them in Hackney. Noosa makes the case for itself as an ‘iconic brand’. Whatever happened to ‘village community’? In a rare moment of clarity, the Commission tore this one to shreds.

‘The notion that Noosa is a tourism icon is not disputed by the Commission. However, the Noosa Shire Council is not iconic and it is unlikely that any visitors to the shire would have any interest in or contact with, the council in the normal course of their holiday visit.’

Ouch! Who’s image managing this, Britney Spears?

Worse still, someone hasn’t fully understood the Government’s proposal as one of the objections put forward by Noosa is,

‘Noosa’s autonomy would be lost in a combined Sunshine Coast Council. We would represent only 1/6 of the population therefore we would have limited ability to influence decisions.’

Did no one read the guidance before putting finger to keyboard? What is this ring-fenced ‘we’? Are we to believe that all the residents of neighbouring Maroochy and Caloundra are pro high-rise? The proposal is for 12 councillors and one mayor on an undivided basis. Your ability to influence decisions is most certainly under threat dears, but not for that reason, for this reason. Currently the three areas have a combined population of 290,000 with a total of 34 elected representatives between them. In twenty years time the projected population of 474,000 will be represented by just 13. That’s what you need to be worrying about.

Noosa Council is very proud of the mass support it’s been able to generate with nearly 32,000 form letters and postcards being despatched from a population of just over 48,000. That equals the number of people who are registered to vote but it’s not to say the protests all came from individuals or Noosa residents. The report makes it very clear that the Commission was unimpressed, dismissing the deluge as orchestrated – which it very obviously is.

True democracy is based on individual participation and not mass mailing. Whilst we’re on the subject of a moral high ground, UK readers might be interested to know that, unlike here, councillors in Australia get a proper wage. I’m not suggesting for one minute that Noosa councillors are concerned only for their future employment but the pro-activity of both councillors and officers in this campaign does compromise it to some extent. And there is certainly no excuse for doing a Dennis Denuto and expecting the Commission to pick up on the vibe of the thing.

So – what have I been asked to do? Plead with you to deliver more of the same to an already pissed-off government in the next few days. If the cause appeals to you, please do so. I’m going to, not because it makes sense, but because I know what the people of Noosa are trying to achieve, no matter how clumsily it’s being executed.

I will say this to Noosa – you have ballsed up rather royally so I suggest you stop panicking and start making friends with your fellow citizens along the coast if you want to galvanise people power against the developers camped on your doorstep waiting for the axe to fall. And for effsake, learn how to mount an argument without sounding like you’re running a Park Avenue apartment block…