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Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Get Out of Jail Card

I was in Waitrose cafĂ©, reading the Times newspaper, drinking my ‘free’ latte, and eating my 35p banana – just gone up from 25p! Hmmf and double hmmf—40% inflation or what? But that’s bye-the-bye. What caught my eye was an article by Danny Finkelstein. He was warning against the dangers of criticising George Soros, because George Soros is a Jew, and by criticising him we are consciously or unconsciously contributing to a groundswell of anti-semitism.

I read on, my 35p banana hovering uncertainly between table and chin. Was the guy serious? It seemed that he was. In four carefully written columns was a blatent ‘Get out of Jail’ card. I’ve read elsewhere that one shouldn’t criticise Israeli actions on the West Bank for that too stokes the flames of anti Semitism. And, to show that stupidity is impartial there are those who argue that one shouldn’t express undue anger at the latest Islamist horror – or even have an opinion on the hijab for fear of inflaming anti-muslim feeling.

Unless he’s been bought and paid for, I truly think Danny Finkelstein is missing the point. You judge men by their actions, not their religion or race. If you followed the logic of the article, you’d be wary of criticising Bolshevism for precisely the same reason. Though constituting only 5% of the population, Jews dominated the higher echelons of the early Soviet governments. In Lenin’s words: ‘An intelligent Russian is almost always a Jew or someone with Jewish blood in his veins.’ Are we not to criticise Bolshevism because so many of them happened to be Jews; are we not to criticise Goldman Sachs? 

George Soros is an amoral speculator, a naturalised American who meddles in British, European and East Asian politics.  He made millions destabilising sterling in the 1993 ERM crisis, is now funding anti Brexit organisations in Britain. (Russian interference bad. Soros gets a free pass). He meddles in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, using his wealth to undermine the wealth and stability of countries of which he is not a citizen. In Hungary, the counter-attack against Soros is tinged with anti-semitism, and that is deplorable. At the same time, because Hungary retains a tradition of anti-semitism doesn’t of itself legitimise Soros’s interference there.

This conflation of those critical of George Soros with anti Semitism is essentially false, unless you accuse Benjamin Netanyahu of anti-semitism too. There is no love lost between these two unlovely men, and Netanyahu is fiercely critical of Soros, Jewish or not.

 The bottom line is that Soros specialises in destabilisation in the interests of ideology and profit and bugger the consequences. The fact that he is Jewish is as relevant as my banana.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Clay Cross and #Metoo

I’ve recently been working on a screenplay of Clay Cross – in fact I’ve just sent a sample off to a production company. I believe they’re called Spec scripts. Two things emerged from the process, one good, the other problematic. On the positive side, because a script focuses so much on dialogue, it highlights where the dialogue in the book could be sharper. The problem lies in the visual especially in the present climate of #MeToo.

Clay Cross is a turbo-charged version of ‘Life on Mars’ and Alf Garnett, Micky Spillane and every Noir pulp/B movie rolled into one. 

Clay Cross then  is a comic composite—comic because he is out of his time – no longer operating in late 1940’s LA but Newport Wales in the Nineties.  In this context, his misogyny, homophobia and racism – ramped up to an almost psychotic degree —are seen as laughable as opposed to something to emulate or admire. Cross—a monster in his world is comic in ours. 

That is the theory, but does it work in his treatment of women, the saint or the whore syndrome. In the book, I think it does, because to noir afficianados the tropes are fairly recognisable, and words, too, allow the reader to distance themselves from the real thing. Words allow subtext and mockery.

A film though. There is the problem. The two passages below for example. The words are taking the piss out of Cross. But seeing it on screen? Some have issue with this classic Lauren Bacall song in the Big Sleep, and she is just singing about it. So the issue is: do I cut those two scenes completely? Should I cut them, or is there a visual compromise?
Any ideas or feedback?

Source A
   “I’m no good for you, Clay, honey. Della Peach has a heart of stone.”
     What the hell, I thought. Prinz has taught her mind-reading!
     “She’s nothing but a good time gal, Clay. She’s not your type - kind, straight, honest…decent. Never was. But you knew that, Clay. Guess that’s why, mebbee, you found me interesting.”  She closed her eyes and exhaled a perfectly executed smoke ring that hovered momentarily between us.
So now I knew. Della became part of the greyness. Dead. Finished. But Prinz was still out there. This much Della owed me, and I gave it to her straight.
            “I want the low down on Prinz, baby!” I snarled. “And while you’re at it, what can you tell me about some punk brother of a one-time singer that worked here- name of April Dawn?”
            Della smiled, sphinx-like. “And if I open my mouth too much, someone a little less wholesome than you will be down it like a shot, asking me other questions -like where I want to be buried?”
            Time for the old Clay Cross treatment. I took her hands, warm, pale and smelling nice in mine. We stayed like that for some time. Somewhere in the distance music played. I gazed into Della’s eyes, wondering if they saw a world different from mine, gazed at her lips, warm red and lascivious with the untamed sensuality that dominated every treacherous ounce of her 36-22-35 inch frame. I studied a face that still shone with the unearthly beauty of a pale rose seen at dusk. My fingers ached to stroke once again the fine dusk of her hair which framed in wanton ringlets her poisoned pulchritude. Behind her beauty lurked the insatiable serpent that gorged on the desires of man.
            “It’s your eyes, Clay.” Della breathed. “When you look at me it makes me realise that I’m not only a lady, but…a woman.”  Long, dead, wasted years in the pen with just hardened hoods to practise on and the old C. Cross magic seemed as potent as ever it was. I smiled.
            And I punched her straight and hard in the face. Knuckles, teeth and lip coalesced in one cataclysmic sensation that meant one thing. Satisfaction. She staggered back out of her chair and into the corner where I wanted her.  She raised a wondering hand to ruined lips. Her eyes blazed.
            “You bastard!” she breathed. “You great, big, beautiful bastard!” I punched her again, keeping in time to the crazy music swirling around inside my head. As far as anyone else was concerned this was just part of the cabaret. I wanted to punch her for every stinking year I’d spent in nothingness, but I still needed Della’s mouth, intact and in working order.
            “Play it straight, baby.”  I snarled. “You know me. This is Clayton Z. Cross. We grew up together. Play it straight for once, Della. Play it smart.”  I was angry.
Della was learning the hard way. The way she liked it. She nodded, smiling faintly in the gloom.

Source B
I guess I owe the army for three things; like for training a killer; for giving me a partner in the form of a screwy left eyeball with a mind of its own, and finally for leaving me enough severance pay to set myself up in business as the best Private Eye in L.A.. And just now I was in business again.
            There I was reading the obituary column for fun, and then I guess my friendly eyeball came over slightly bored. It wandered... knowing my taste in dames... and struck gold. 36 . 23 . 36 carat gold. She was beautiful. She was woman. Hell she was dynamite on a very short fuse. My fingers made for the matchbox and squeezed tightly.
            Then I saw the dame was in trouble. Leastwise, some crazy ape was slugging her, and slugging her good. She was moaning, small soft animal noises that meant pain. And her head spun from side to side with every bestial punch he laid into her.
Something inside of me burned. Hell she was beautiful still, despite the savage red weals showing up like traffic lights on an otherwise rose soft complexion; lips split and bloodied and one eye slowly closing. Migawd ! She was beautiful! And the punk doing the damage was as versatile as hell.
            A fist had grasped a bundle of her soft and darkly perfumed tawny hair, with flecks of gold, and now in wanton disarray. He was jerking, and jerking hard, forcing her head farther and farther back. Her lips writhed, foam-flecked and taut in understated agony; veins stood out on a delicately sculptured neck that seemed on the point of breaking.
            I eased a finger around my collar that had become just a little too tight, and I put the paper down and drooled. Her body was built for action... and it was getting plenty. I said the ape was versatile. He was a real bundle of tricks. A trouser clad knee jerked brutally upwards and honey-pie collapsed like just the most beautiful rag doll in the whole goddamned world.

Hell! That was no way to treat a lady, I thought.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Unspeakable Parrot

William Cross, ardent chronicler of dead aristocrats, noble, depraved and some mildly mad, has struck a rich seam of gold with his latest book: Sketches ofEvan, Viscount Tredegar, ‘Lord of the Lies. I read it in one sitting and found myself once more in the rarified air of interwar decadence. The great strength of this book is its carefully curated first hand accounts of Evan Morgan from friends and enemies alike, all of whom captured different aspects of a highly complex man: sexual predator, Satanist, raconteur, generous and funny, loyal to his friends and spendthrift. An aesthetic composite of Harvey Weinstein and Oscar Wilde with more money than sense might be stretching it, which is why it is probably better to read the book and judge from those who knew him.

What you will get are some beautifully evocative memories of a man and his world. It is a book of wonderful anecdotes.
I fell in love at once with Lady Helena Carnegie, Evan Morgan’s aunt, with  a foible that has much to recommend:
‘Lady Helena had one peculiar habit which always fascinated me. She rarely drank anything but whisky, and would always have three glasses by her plate containing mixtures of various strengths, one being practically neat whisky, one practically all water, and the third and largest of normal strength. I have never discovered whether this was a common practice of in Scotland or just a personal foible of Lady Helena’s.’ Cyril Hughes Hartmann.

Lady Helena Carnegie

Cecil Roberts offers a wonderful example of dinner party chatter:
‘On the day of Ethiopia’s surrender, I went to Tredegar House for the weekend and as before, the company was large and festive. After all, Addis Ababa was a long way from Wales. “Poor little man, (meaning Emperor Haile Selassie) . .. He’s rather sweet, isn’t he, but why did he take on the Italians?” asked a bejewelled lady at dinner. Everyone agreed he was rather sweet, and the subject lapsed with the soufflĂ©.’

Among Evan’s large menagerie, including a boxing kangaroo, were two parrots, one named Peter, the other Blue Boy. It is hard to distinguish a favourite. Certainly Peter had the foulest tongue, once telling a high ranking prelate to Fuck Off. According to Robin Bryans, a long standing lover of Evan, Peter’s favourite words were: ‘Titty titty, Cunty cunty, Show a cock, show a cock, and Nice big cocky, nice big cocky.’ Blue Boy on the other hand was more physical, prowling the floor and biting ladies’ ankles.

All the accounts pay tribute to Evan’s lavish hospitality, his insistence that every room be stocked with every kind of drink. Mind you, nothing comes free in life.

Desmond Leslie recounts: ‘Later, should the party bore him, Evan would liven things up a bit by setting his ‘gorilla’ (monkey) loose indoors. A great stampede would follow. Everyone fled to their rooms and barricaded their doors. Silence descended upon the great house, broken only by the padding of anthropoidal feet along corridors.
When this palled, Evan would send it a powdered footman bearing a doped tit-bit on a George II silver salver. The trembling flunkey would enter, bow, toss the morsel at the monkey, bow again and run like hell. Soon a resounding thud told us the creature had keeled over’ It awoke in its cage the following day with the mother of all hangovers.

A rare picture of young Evan observing the royal posterior. It went downhill after that.

Prince George 1905 (later George V) and young Evan Morgan. 

Just how do you reconcile, a Papal Knight, a Satanist, a sexual predator with a penchant for boys and Desmond Leslie’s summing up?

‘I think he was one of the kindest men I ever met. Immensely generous and trusting. He was deeply hurt when those he loved robbed or betrayed him. The po-faced condemned his eccentric lifestyle. But I feel that heaven would be a very dull place without him.’

It makes one wonder whether Desmond knew everything.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Impulse control of a Bonobo monkey

I sense a ‘clear-out’ looming, and yes we have a great many things we don’t really need. In such instances ‘stuff’ which may once have cost a pretty penny becomes less important than space. I am hopeful though that one battle has already been won.


I have rooms full of them and the main accusation – that there are books I will never again read—misses the point entirely.

You may as well argue the case for recycling  a Dorset cliff-face for road building, and stuff the palaeontological record. Fossils? Who needs them? We have living breathing animals. Archeology? Waste of time. Why preserve long forgotten Roman mosaics when there’s a housing estate to be built?

Yes, I can appreciate a flaw in the argument. My book collection may appear small beer compared to a major palaeontological find, or an exquisite floor mosaic from 200 AD. But it is not small beer to me.
Every one of these books has a memory or story behind it – even those books I’ve barely read or skimmed.

When I was a student in Swansea, I scoured second hand book shops and built up a good ‘Everyman’ library of some pretty obscure books: The Letters of Lady Mary Montague 1709 – 1762, The letters of Oliver Cromwell, The speechs of William Pitt the Younger, Selected Speechs on Public Questions by John Bright (now that is a dull book) Holinshed’s Chronicles, The Sermons of Hugh Latimer, The Speeches of Disraeli, Ruskin – I could go on to list all fifty-two I eventually bought during my time in Swansea but I’ll spare myself and you from the misery.

Now, I have read some of the more interesting letters from Cromwell, I’ve even, to my shame and in private, read aloud one or two of William Pitt’s war time speeches. They taught me one thing; the man had fantastic breath control with his sentences in search of an ending.  I’ve sampled Hugh Latimer’s sermons, and enjoyed the robust cadance of C16th speech. But I’ve read none of those books from end to end,(other than Lady Montague’s letters – she’s a star)  and it’s likely I’ll never open their pages again. The point is those fifty-two books bring back memories of Swansea and the aspirations of an earnest student.

If I go back further in the geological record, you’re looking at my childhood and early teenage years, pulp scavenged from church bazars, and books I actually bought. No way could I get rid of my James Bond paperbacks, my Michael Moorcock, Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft collections, or my complete set of ‘The Saint’ (yellow paperbacks) by Leslie Charteris.

With regard to the latter, I cheated. I ended my childhood with about a third of ‘The Saint’ books, but Heaven took pity on me. God is a bibliophile. Harewood House has a wonderful second hand bookshop close to the stables. They had every ‘Saint’ book, and I was in heaven. Now was I buying them with the intent of sitting down and reading them all from cover to cover? Quite obviously not.  I was buying back a fragment of childhood. I’d do the same if I ever found a complete set of Biggles!

For those lucky enough to have been born in great Northern Cities like Liverpool, you lived and breathed magnificent Victorian buildings that uplifted the spirit without you always being aware of it. You never felt obliged to explore every floor of those buildings to appreciate them as monuments. Only years later you realise how privileged you were. Much the same is true of books.  Every closed book is a world waiting to come to life. Now I am richer I can afford (and so can a generous wife) fine folio editions of the works of Anthony Trollope. I feel privileged to have them – not because I feel obliged to re-read every one of them.

Memories again.

I did my M. A. on Anthony Trollope and English Landed Society, and in the process read about thirty of his forty-seven books. Paperbacks, heavily annotated and most of them lost. In this respect my Folio editions of Trollope’s Barchester and Palliser series are monuments to a wonderful time in my life. Yes, I will re-read many of them – but I don’t have to. That is the point – other than the fact I’d need another life to read all the books I’ve acquired over the years. And have I mentioned my kindle yet – 900 books or more? What with the daily Kindle deal offering books for 99 pence and a click, the temptation is often irresistible, especially for one with the impulse control of a bonobo monkey: Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum, London, New York, and Ruska at 99 pence each? I may never read them, but they’re there, and it gives me great comfort. I guess I’m a glorified squirrel, but at least my nuts are neatly shelved; an unfortunate image.