Out Now!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Reflections in mirrors

When I was a Catholic I  knew the truth. When I was a Marxist I knew the truth. Now I don’t know the truth and am happier for it. My son knows the truth. My daughter doesn’t. I hope the one loses it, and the other never finds it.

I'm sorry. More a tweet than a post. French food and wine awaits in Lyon, and I am harassed!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

More Than A Game

 When a young man walked into a shop and purchased four footballs, the shopkeeper may have asked why, and Captain Nevill of the 8th East Surrey’s may have told him, or then again not. It was 1916.

Wilfred Percy Nevill was man of strong opinions. He took war seriously, standing up on the fire-step and shouting insults at the Germans across no man’s land. He did this most evenings.
Captain Nevill also had courage; he knew what made a man tick - a man of 1916. I doubt his example would resonate in Iraq or Afghanistan today, though no doubt it would confuse the enemy.

His problem was simple. His men were to lead the assault near Montauban. They had never led an attack before and he was concerned.

Hence the four footballs.

One for each of his four platoons.

He offered a prize to the first platoon to kick its football across all the way up to the German front line. When the whistle blew, they were ready. One platoon painted the following inscription on its ball:
The Great European Cup
The Final
East Surreys v Bavarians
Kick Off at Zero

Captain Nevill was the first to kick off. One eyewitness recorded:

'As the gun-fire died away I saw an infantryman climb onto the parapet into No Man's Land, beckoning others to follow. As he did so he kicked off a football; a good kick, the ball rose and travelled well towards the German line. That seemed to be the signal to advance.' (Pte L.S. Price, 8th Royal Sussex) 

They dribbled their four footballs for a mile and a quarter right into the German trenches. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later reported in The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1916:

‘No sooner had the troops come out from cover than they were met by a staggering fire which held them up in the Breslau Trench. The supports had soon to be pushed up to thicken the ranks of the East Surreys - a battalion which, with the ineradicable sporting instinct and light-heartedness of the Londoner, had dribbled footballs, one for each platoon across No Man's Land and shot their goal in the front-line trench.’

After the battle roll calls were held. 700 names were called. Less than a 100 answered – some of them winners of the football competition; they didn’t receive their prize – for Captain Nevill, too, had been killed.

Just before the battle, in one of his last letters to his wife,  (June 28) Captain Nevill wrote:
‘As I write the shells are fairly haring over; you know one gets just sort of bemused after a few million, still it'll be a great experience to tell one's children about.’

He never did tell his children but he did become a national hero and the subject of a tub-thumping poem.

On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades Fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them
Is but an empty name.
True to the land that bore them-
The SURREYS play the game.

On without check or falter,
They press towards the goal;
Who falls on Freedom's alter,
The Lord shall rest his soul.
But still they charge the living
Into that hell of flame;
Ungrudging in their giving,
Our soldiers play the game.

And now at last is ended
The task so well begun;
Though savagely defended,
The lines of death are won.
In this, their hour of glory,
A deathless place they claim,
In England's splendid story,
The men who played the game.

Post script.
If  I've sound over light-hearted here it’s because otherwise I’d cry. And for those tempted to think that this was a Pythonesque ‘one off,’ an exception, read this and consider. Unlike Captain Nevill, Frank Edwards of the London Irish survived.

 He died in 1964 and may have been aware of the Beatles - or even the Stones.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Downfall Of An Egoist

When I was young I conceived ‘extreme karaoke’ before karaoke even existed – (unless you count the Mitch Miller sing-along as such). This was one hopeful adolescent, mouthing into my mother’s hairbrush and sneering lasciviously at hordes of ecstatic maenads hungering for my flesh. I had long hair. I could be Mick Jagger, couldn’t I? In a virtual world anything was possible though not perhaps desirable. I visualized a machine that seriously amplified “Come on’ and at the same time project an  audience of screaming girls on to my bedroom wall. Oh, and a microphone too. I was sick of getting hairs in my mouth.

Those days are gone. My bedroom wall is pale magenta and I wouldn’t know what to do with a screaming girl other than offer her a strong cup of tea.

But my hips still swing, usually when I’m cutting meat and the radio’s on. I’ve been known to dance in the kitchen – less a ‘dad’s dance’ more a  'twitch,’ and serially mocked for it by my daughter who invariably catches me out.

She though is an affectionate critic, her barbs barely tickling a far deeper scar. The thought of it still brings me out in a light sweat.

It was end of term tidying up in the History Stock Cupboard, which separated two classrooms, sliding doors at either end. It was break. The classrooms should have been empty. I had the radio on and came alive when this song suddenly burst through the dust and books. 

Some demon possessed me. I sang along and then did more. I danced, fingering my shirt suggestively and scraping shelves with even more suggestive hips.

'I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy
For my shirt so sexy it hurts and I'm
Too sexy for Milan (2x) New York and

I was in heaven.

I’d got as far as ‘I’m too sexy for my hat…’ when I heard the first tittering.
Some of my class had stayed behind catching up on late homework. 
I searched for my gravitas, but have since stopped looking.  It will find me when I’m dead.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Shit storm in a tea cup

Earlier this week I let a contributor to the Rack know that her post was up, and hoped she liked it. Just as I was going to bed, I got an email back saying she most definitely didn’t. It offended her. Could we take it down? This puzzled, and I confess, agitated me.

The following day I asked what in particular had offended her, thinking perhaps we could excise the offending line. I then received a second email analyzing what offended her. I explained why I didn’t agree but that her feelings were more important and that we would take the interview down forthwith – which we did.

Matter closed, or so I thought.

Some kind soul pointed me to her website. Before I continue, let me state for the record that when I began The Rack the idea of approaching total strangers for an interview made me want to cringe inside. It still does, even though since then I’ve consistently been knocked out by the generosity of those writers, publishers and agents who’ve contributed.

The early introductions to the interviews that followed were respectful, perhaps a bit worthy, but more significantly looked as though we were marketing a product ie a book or a profile. OFW does neither, nor do we take the advertisers’ shilling.  If OFW has a mission statement it is simply to encourage aspiring writers by making the established and famous more accessible. Yes there is a quid pro quo. Out of courtesy we advertise the author’s new book in the interview and - famous or not - the writer/agent/publisher in turn raises our profile. It seems a fair arrangement, the question is, when there are so many outlets for interviews how to make our interviews stand out.

The Rack is a good headline in itself, but we needed inquisitors. I played with the idea of a Frankenstein and Igor composite, a Black Adder and Baldric duo, but that seemed stale and derivative. In the end I settled on two 1950’s pulp stereotypes Clay Cross and Sheri Lamour. It had the advantage that they could bring their unreconstructed 1950’s attitudes in to the blazing light of the C21st. These are two anachronistic stereotypes impossible to take seriously, or so I thought. So what we have is a comic top and tailing of the interview in question. It’s a verbal cartoon (apparently now as bad as the Danish ones) to be taken as seriously as Tom and Jerry, the Muppets, Popeye, or Sooty and Sweep.

With every invitation to contribute we provide a link so the putative Rack victim can see what’s in store. There is no ambush, malicious or otherwise. Some quietly decline or fail to reply. Most writers however have thick enough skins; they’re able to laugh at themselves, shrug off the absurd. No writer until now has felt violated or been under the delusion that the Rack was anything but a metaphor. We are not talking Fifty Shades of Grey here, more a literary conceit to top and tail a professional interview.

But as I said, someone pointed me to her website:

Do I want to start a shitstorm? She begins before concluding she doesn’t and providing several sensible reasons why having a life is infinitely more preferable. Unfortunately the rest of the post is reminiscent of the ambiguous question ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest’ and a fully formed shit storm is heading our way. The comments (not hers) are quite intemperate some revealing an urge to commit violence, all deeply personal, others wanting to expunge OFW from the net. I suppose we should be grateful we’re not an embassy.
In the words of Stephen Fry:

Or in the words of Renee Miller: “Soo...anyone else find the Rack creepy, disgusting and offensive? Because I was going for funny, original, and offensive.”

I would qualify that. Offence is in the eye of the beholder. The Rack is not malicious and things should have been sorted out in a more mature manner.