The girl looks at us. "Are any of you over 65?" she says.
Brighton. Roedean pitch and putt. We are buying tickets.
The girl looks at us. "Are any of you over 65?" she says.
Tall tales, songs and nursery rhymes – they all gave me a love for words, for the story, and for the joy of rhythm and pleasing word combinations. And so it was, I became a lover of books and a student of literature and a wannabe poet and a sometime writer and eventually even a published novelist.
And I do like a novel. A grand story. But on the whole, I like them clean. Not too grandiose. Genre novels, and yes, by that I mainly mean crime novels, which have rules and parameters and the joy of the great ones is how they find the space to thrive within their limits. Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, Patricia Highsmith, James Crumley, Gillian Flynn.
Most literary novels, in contrast, aren’t my bag. Oh sure, there’s plenty of exceptions, but that’s not for now – just to say I’ve never found them the apotheosis of writing, certainly not in the way our culture generally tends towards. Great novels – meh.
Poetry, on the other hand. No-one likes poetry. It’s unfathomable. Or terrible. Maybe, but poetry comes closest to answering the big stuff, for me anyway. At its best, and this is how I like my literature, it’s a glimpse of something out of the corner of one’s eye, which hints at something huge and otherwise unfathomable and, just for a moment of two, tames it, brings it into focus, suggests that the world as we know it, mundane and mediocre, is actually something else.
You don’t have to be a poet, of course, to do this as a writer, but you do need to have something of that sensibility, but with an originality most of us would-be poets lack. So, who does that include, for me, in the pantheon of great writers, as a suggestion for those who sometimes like something more than a good story, well told? Well, obviously, there’s the eponymous heroine of this piece who, in her first two novels, subsumed the vastness of mother earth in the most unrelenting poetic terms that I’ve ever read. Plus…
TS Eliot, William Carlos Williams, ee cummings, Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson all fairly obvious, but no less rewarding for all that. Dylan, Dylan also does this. But then, also, John Cheever in his journals, DH Lawrence in his travel jottings, Annie Dillard in her short pieces, Dostoevsky in his madder moments, Nietzsche in his saner ones, and Camus, whose teachings one is supposed to grow out of, but who has remained my philosophical touchstone all my life – I should definitely sue Penguin books.
I doubt it’s an accident that most of these, apart from, or because of, their talent, were essentially troubled to the verge of insanity, and often beyond...
This is something I’ve been giving a lot of though to, recently.
My generation which, let’s say for the purposes of this argument, stretches from people aged between 50 and 60, I have a theory about us. And it is this. We are the most fucking useless generation ever. Seriously. I’m talking the UK, but for all I know it’s a worldwide phenomenon.
OK, name one of us who is a colossus. Someone who is indisputably the sine qua non of their field of expertise. I’ve spent six months thinking about it and can’t come up with anyone. I’ve challenged friends when drunk and they’ve been unable to either. They’ve gone away and asked other people and other people have been unable to either.
Not artists, nor writers. Not musicians, nor actors. Not scientists, nor politicians – holy fuck, not politicians. Not gamechangers, innovators, philosophers or truth tellers. The best – and I really do mean this – we’ve been able to come up with is Paul Weller and Hugh Grant. And they’re not exactly Paul Simon or Cary Grant, are they?
In the paper they have a daily birthday list and for six months I’ve perused it waiting for the day when the greatest name on the list is one of my own. It’s a bit like looking for Fulham results. So far, nothing. No-one. Nada.
We do boast some right cunts though. We own half the FTSE 100 directors and similar who have gold-plated their own nests, despite their share prices being god-fucking awful, and them being so grey and mediocre, all the while leaving the proles to eat cake.
And of course, there’s our full set of aces, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage – the four cunts of the apocalypse. God it makes you proud.
Here’s my suggestion. Us, my generation. We suck. We’re a busted flush. At our best we’re incompetent. At our worst we’re evil. (And apologies to all the normal fiftysomethings just trying to do their best, to get by, to be nice, good, decent, honest people – please carry on.)
But power? No, I think we’ve proved ourselves incapable. Before we totally fuck up the country - or the world – enough’s enough. Time to step aside. Time to give youth a go. They can hardly do any worse.
We were in Rome, maybe twenty -five years ago, and had a salad to accompany something tasty. "Oh, so that's what a tomato's supposed to taste like" I said, in astonishment. I honestly hadn't properly savoured one before. I'm not saying my own homegrown versions quite hit that spot but, with Anne's touch our current greenhouse glut received the tender loving they deserve...
Brushchetta, goat's cheese salad with slow-roatsed toms, a tart of caramelised tomatoes and mascarpone, and a tomato jelly with creamed cheese and basil. (The latter was the best).
Follow Anne on instagram for more...!
Those nice folk at Strix have once again chosen a poem of mine, this time for the 4th issue of their cutting-edge, brilliantly-designed volume of wonder, easily the best poetry magazine in the world right now. Possibly.
And you can buy your copy here, for a mere fiver, including postage.
I also helped out on the drums for that tricky third album, so why not pick up Issue Three whilst you're there..?.
I’ve just read The Siege of Krishnapour by JG Farrell – a sort of Flashman meets Carry on up the Khyber – and it contains the most incredible Brexit parable, not least considering it was written in 1970.
The English camp is under siege by ‘mutinous sepoys’ in deepest and darkest India. There is an outbreak of cholera. There are two doctors still alive in the camp. As people start dying of cholera the rest of the camp takes to carrying around cards saying which doctor they want to be treated by should they be afflicted. Each doctor believes they know what causes cholera and from that have deduced a cure. One of them – let’s call him Doctor Boris – is sure that the cause of cholera is poisonous vapours in the air. He is flamboyant and eloquent and does a very good job of convincing all of those around him that he must be right and that his cure must be the way forward. The majority of people in the camp have his name written on their card. The only problem is that his patients mainly die.
The other doctor is more of an expert – let’s call him the Good Doctor – and has been reading up on the latest studies, especially that of Jon Snow, and believes that cholera is a water-borne disease. He shares with the camp lots of dull and dry statistics, and all but bores them to death with his considered suggestion that probably the best way to treat the disease is through rehydration. Many of his patients recover, though not all. Plus, you know, boring.
They even have an evening where both are allowed to present their ideas to the camp – dashing Boris thundering and showboating, evangelical and proselytising, whilst the dry Doctor mumbles and suggests and doubts. Boris has the numbers against him, but he’s a showman, and a charlatan, and people prefer that despite the evidence. Plus, he knows the importance of a grand finale. One, where to prove his case, he drinks the “squits” of a cholera patient. Brings the house down. And his pants shortly after, as he catches cholera.
He orders his daughter to treat him by his own sure-fire method. Grows delirious. Unconscious. Dying. In despair, the daughter calls for the Good Doctor, who changes the treatment to his own method. Boris recovers. Wakes up and praises his daughter for following out his instructions.
The daughter admits that it was the Good Doctor who saved him. Boris is furious, demands that his daughter goes back to the leeches and the juju and whatever else make up Boris’s own treatment. The daughter complies. Boris falls again into a coma. The daughter again calls on the Good Doctor. His treatment again leads to Boris’s recovery. Boris is furious. Calls his daughter a traitor and forbids her to go against his words again. She doesn’t. Boris dies. (At this point, it should be said, I stood up and cheered.)
And the rest of the camp? They still can’t decide. Perhaps, if the daughter had stuck to Boris’s path for longer, then perhaps he’d have recovered. Perhaps the Good Doctor’s ministrations were the real cause of Boris’s demise. Perhaps, they fancied themselves as amateur experts and found themselves on the wrong side of science. Maybe they had taken sides based on a hunch and couldn’t bear to admit they’d been horribly, horribly wrong.
Or possibly, just possibly, humans are fucking idiots.
For our 30th anniversary Anne and I headed off to the Elan Valley for a wee break. The Elan Valley is in Wales and I had never heard of it, despite it being not far from us and only an hour from Lampeter. It’s a piece of Victorian colonialism – Birmingham needed water – Wales could provide. All that was needed was to dam up a couple of rivers and flood the valleys and then, using gravity alone, build a pipeline to Birmingham. A system which still exists and works. Damn them Victorians.
We stayed in a re-built Long House – of the kind the Welsh used to build length-on into the hillside, with the living quarters at the top and the animals at the bottom – surrounded by sheep and birds. Bobby was quite beside himself.
The Elan Valley leads up to the Cambrian Mountains. We drove over them to Aberystwyth on a day trip back to Lampeter and Aberaeron. I have to say, I’m with George Monbiot when it comes to the Cambrian Mountains. There is little beauty here. It’s a monoculture. Of sheep. Stretching over bare hillsides for miles and miles. But I’ve just re-read his (brilliant) anti-sheep polemic “Feral” and notice it doesn’t mention the Elan Valley at all. Which strikes me as one-eyed accountancy. It probably didn’t fit into his story. Which is, of course, the problem with stories.
Because the Elan Valley strikes me as the opposite to everything he’s talking about. It’s affected by man-made solutions for problems a hundred miles away, but it is also a perfectly acceptable marriage of sheep and wildlife, in exactly the same place as he says there isn’t one.
The woodland is exactly what he mourns the passing of. Oaks and ferns and mosses and – um woodland. And I’ve never been anywhere with so many birds. Not least so many birds of prey; buzzards, red kites, ospreys, sparrowhawks, cuckoos all over the shop. Our Long House was basically alive. Swifts and swallows in the eaves, redstarts a-plenty, hundreds of birds I couldn’t begin to name. Luckily the cottage had a huge Book of World Birds, so I can say with some confidence that nesting under our bedroom window was an African Stella Blue Puffball Warbler. Probably. Plus, bats and mice. No, I can’t say we slept well.
But I can say it was a bit special, and highly recommended.
Despite having perfectly balanced chips on both shoulders, I think it is fair to say I’ve had as easy a life as anyone can reasonably expect. But, amongst all my blessings, there’s one I’ve taken for granted, and have never hitherto thought of as an advantage, mainly because, for most of my life, it hasn’t been. But in this new golden digital age my name alone has significant value. Who’d have thunk that. That’s really something. Considering I’m called Gary. A name so redolent of a certain time and class that even now it’s the go-to name in gritty period drama about losers and simpletons.
But, the thing is, I just Googled my name. Don’t ask me why – we all know I’m solipsistic enough already, as this posting itself proves, but I promise you it’s not something I’m in the habit of doing, as indeed this post also proves, because what awaited me there was amazing. The thing is, there’s just me there. In the Google world I am unique. A one-off. Original.
(It is true there is a Gary Twynham – an ex professional footballer who sometimes clutters up my searches. An old schoolfriend emailed me a decade or so ago to say he had always assumed I had played for Darlington. I wrote back to say ‘wrong Gary’, but that I was flattered that he had imagined me as a professional footballer – my friend being so much better than me back in the day. He wrote back to say that, to be fair, it was only because it had just been Darlington. But enough about him.)
My Google search is magnificent. Seriously, try it. For on Google I am an author. Totally bona fide. Even though I really ain’t. I’m an established author with a whole series of books for sale and some of them even with pretty covers. Plus, some poems. What I wrote. The key thing is there is no competition. Just me. No need for refined searches or scrolling downwards. Just me (and Karin).
And that makes this an important lesson in life. Me, I just got lucky, long after I stopped rolling the dice or hoping for an inside draw to a straight. Having carried the name Gary around with me like a dark unfathomable class crime all these years. Having burdened my wife with an unspellable surname for nigh on thirty years. Having failed to come up with a plausible anagram for the best part of 56 years. I have stumbled upon a modern truth.
You can be anyone you wanna be. As long as no-one else has bagged it first.
Or some such nonsense, which is trotted out without shame or scrutiny, each and evey year. The FA Cup also.
Well move aside, also-rans. Apparently - or at least according to my mum - THREE billion people watched the latest royal wedding. Or, to put it another way, 40% of the world's population.
Extraordinary, really, considering only 25% of people in the UK watched it...
Golden Jubilee (or Harry's Wedding).
(because I couldn't be arsed to write a new poem)
I am a monarchist
I am a royalist
I know what I want
And I know how to get it
I wannna enjoy the royal fly-by
'Cause I wanna see the monarchy.
Monarchy in the UK
It's been here some time and praise be
She's gonna outlive you and me
Which spares us all from King Charles Three
Cause I wanna see the monarchy
It's in the city.
Be careful not to get what you want
I want the best, I fear the rest
I was the enemy
Now I cheer on Prince Will-E
Cause I wanna see the monarchy
It's the only way to be.
What's this I hear you say,
So, we get a holiday,
What the F-U-C-K?
Though Pippa's arse is okay
And I wanna see the monarchy
Another gaffe by Prince Harry.
2. One Dog and His Man. Out now in paperback.
3. Farewell Trip.
Published by Carina UK.
4. Silly Verse for Grown Ups