Out Now!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Know when to stay put

 The great Russian adventurer, Nickolai Rezanov, was exploring the South Pacific with the intention of extending Russian influence and power in the still fluid Americas. He was responsible for settlements in the islands of Hawaii and Sonoma County just seventy miles north of San Francisco. But what a surprise he got when his ship Nadezhda approached Nukakhiva, one of the islands of the Marquesas.

A man in a small dugout canoe paddled furiously towards the Russian ship. The canoeist wasn’t a native, but one Edward Roberts who’d deserted from an English whaler in 1798, had settled on the island and married the king’s daughter. Either the king’s daughter was phenomenally ugly or he didn’t recognise his good fortune, for in 1806 he left this paradise, worked his passage to India and died there in poverty.

Another European renegade also lived on the island of Nukakhiva, a Frenchman called Jean Baptiste Cabri. He, too, was married to one of the king’s daughters, had been there so long he’d almost forgotten his own language, and was covered from head to toe in native tattoos. 

The Russians arranged a banquet aboard ship for the king and his immediate family, and were no doubt impressed when the king’s brother, Muhaw, casually punched a hole in the top of a coconut with his knuckle, drained it in a few gulps, and then crushed the empty nut between his knees. I reckon I could do something similar with a can of Budweiser. 

All good thing have a natural end and the Russians set sail on May 18th  1804 - just as a heavy gale grew in strength. Unfortunately for Cabri he was still on board, saying his good-byes and with the wind too strong for him to disembark was forced to go with the Russians, leaving his native wife and children behind. The German officers on the Russian vessal had little time for him. ‘Only his nasty character and the few vulgar ballads he knows show him to be a Frenchman,’ wrote Lowenstern.First Russian Voyage’
Cabri ended up trekking overland from Kamchatka to St Petersburg. For a time he eked out a living teaching naval cadets at Kronsadt to swim and ended up ‘in a travelling freak sow in Britanny showing off his tattoos.’ There was talk of raising money to preserve his skin for a Parisian museum, but nothing came of it and Jean Cabri’s tattoos were buried with him in a pauper’s grave. 

Like my friend, by design or carelessness both men left an island paradise (Okay, my friend’s school was no island paradise nor did he end up in a travelling freak show) and came to an ignominious end. The bottom line is - Britanny in winter, Kronstadt at any time of year - or this?

In 1846, Herman Melville described his experience Nukakhiva in his novel Typee:
"Very often when lost in admiration at its beauty, I have experienced a pang of regret that a scene so enchanting should be hidden from the world in these remote seas, and seldom meet the eyes of devoted lovers of nature."  I bet, in his darker moments, Jean Baptiste Cabri had cause to curse the Russian, Nikolai Rezanov.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Pelmanism casts a long shadow

When I was very young I discovered a set of grey, flimsy booklets offering me the secrets of the universe. Well, not quite, but almost. They offered to train my mind so that, with practice, I could become a cerebral superman. I knew then I’d never be a Charles Atlas, so clearly this was the way to go.  This set of thin books explained the secrets of Pelmanism and they occupied a section of my dad’s book case.

Not wanting to be a writer then but determined on being Liverpool’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, these books seemed like a gift from God - until I started reading them. They promised much, exhorting me to exercise my brain to the full via exercise, after exercise after exercise. Mental press-ups, neuro treadmills, cerebral weights – all heavy stuff for a ten year old, but we didn’t have TV then. Instead I’d wander gloomily around the house like Hamlet’s ghost.

I could no longer simply enter a room.
 I had, in a glance, to absorb and remember everything there, down to the colour of my Uncle John’s shoe laces. That was easy enough. They were usually black. Unless he was wearing brown shoes. Then they were brown. I probably gave up around Lesson Five but by then the damage was done.

The result was people began to suspect the wheel was running but the hamster was dead. How else to explain young Michael entering a room wide eyed and blank and saying nothing to anyone. I was seeing and recording, filing images, sound and smells. It’s not an easy exercise, even with practise and it buggers up social skills, I can tell you.  Autism, Pelmanism. The two are creepily alike. But at least I knew there was fluff on the mantelpiece and a fly on the window.

But I was in good company: Lord Baden Powell, Herbert Asquith, Baroness Orczy, Jerome K Jerome and Rider Haggard all practised Pelmanism. The downside was they were all dead. And so was its founder William Ennever, who died the year I was born. 

As I reached puberty I realised Charles Atlas may have been a better mentor and guide.

Postscript. These below are testimonials from the dead. 
 But Pelmanism isn't. It refuses to give up the ghost. I can't believe it!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Snapshots in time. Misspent days in Swansea

Three glorious years in Swansea many years ago. No names here - to spare the innocent guilty - but you know who you are. The two rather tasteful 'drag' photos are more in the spirit of British pantomime than anything erotic; even so a price was paid. The Pyjama  Ball was held in the Top Rank Llanelli some twenty miles away but the bus left early and left many stranded there. Students in their respective partners' night-gear had a wonderful time hitching back home.















I don' t know who these last two are. Memory fails. Can anyone help?



(Initials refer to the photographer)

Friday, 4 April 2014

See what you want to see

The beauty of being ‘online’ is the ability to dip into a hundred and one newspapers – at least those not behind pay-walls. I can’t count the number of American newspapers I’ve stumbled upon, and then of course there are the British ones, including the Daily Mail. This particular paper is becoming rather like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. ‘Thou shalt taste of every fruit but that one,’ say the ‘great and the good.’ And of course, like a rampant Eve, I feel compelled to read it. Well, the occasional article on the same principle I’ll read the occasional article in the Guardian – if a headline interests me. 

Like most papers the Mail is more a curate’s egg rather than the satanic vomit some would have you believe. I don’t always agree with Peter Hitchens, but he wrote a very fine article on Charles Dickens this week. Similarly one can’t really complain about the Mail's championing of Steven Lawrence and its campaign against corruption in the Metropolitan Police.

What caught my eye however, and what in fact prompted this post was a recent article by the comedian Steve Coogan in Total Politics, and reported in the Huffington Post.

“Well, you know, paedophilia is pretty popular too," he said when asked about The Mail’s huge online traffic. "‘Mailbait’... the website that has all the photographs about 12 and 14 year old girls and talks about their bras and how fast they growing up and all the rest of it, which is on the Mail Online, and clearly has an appeal that goes beyond just the curious. That's hugely popular and all for the wrong reasons. It's at best creepy and at worst sinister." 

Bloody hell I thought, what’s going on here? I’ve never read this so called ‘Mailbait’ – that column to the right of the screen. Two day’s perusal had me scratching my head. What was Steve Coogan seeing that I wasn’t? Was it wish-fulfilment on his part – the desire to see what he wanted to see in order to further blacken a paper he despised?

All I could see were the Kardashians. I didn’t know there were so many of them or who they were, or where they had come from. Then there was Naomi Campbell, Elizabeth Hurley and Kate Moss, all very attractive women but no spring chickens. Not a curvacious pre-teen in sight. Michelle Keegan, the Coronation Street actress, along with Helen Flanagan was the nearest to any twelve year old girl – and they were well into their twenties. Mailbait is trivia, a tribute to Celebratory PR. Paedophilia it is not, but as Joseph Goebbels once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

But why would Steve Coogan exaggerate in this way?

Steve Coogan, like Hugh Grant has a vested interest in controlling the press. It was the press who exposed their propensity to drugs and prostitutes. His defence that all this happened after hours, and behind closed doors, and so was nobody’s business but his is, I think, unviable. The same defence could be made by the disgraced former chairman of the Cooperative Bank Paul Flowers. His addiction to Crystal Meth and rent boys would have done for him even without the financial ineptitude.  

Paul Dacre is the editor of the Daily Mail. Steve Coogan refers to Dacre’s ‘…almost wilful sociopathic arrogance.’ Paul Dacre might well see Coogan as a self serving, self- important twerp. It just means each man dislikes the other. Coogan refers to the Mail’s ‘xenophobic crap.’ Paul Dacre might be equally rude about the Guardian. It doesn’t mean either man is right. It’s just a bitch-fight – a one sided bitch fight because, as Coogan complains, Dacre refuses to give interviews.