Wednesday 31 May 2023

Of Brexit and my breakdown - a cashed eye closes

 This Monday marked a year since the death of my mother. A year ago, it seemed unlikely I would write the preceding sentence: I had always assumed, honestly, that I would also be destroyed by my mother's passing; had always told therapists that one of the few things which kept me from taking the final step towards ending my own life was my unwillingness to inflict that level of grief on her. In a way, the rightness of that instinct was only strengthened by the raw, eviscerating grief that I felt in those first weeks following her loss. The days and nights of crying almost constantly, the shrieks and moans of real deep grief, the almost physical pain of it: how could I have inflicted this on her?

So to say that I'm still alive a year later is genuinely unexpected. In large part, that has been due to the support of my friends and family, particularly the latter. In its way, depression, which I fell heavily back into towards the end of 2022, has also been a protector: that malaise robs you of the initiative to carry out the final act even as it makes you long for it more and more powerfully. Ask a professional, and they'll tell you: the real dangerous time for suicides among depressives is when we start turning the corner, when the right pills and therapy unlock our capacity to act ahead of our capacity to make peace with the world. But the factor in keeping me alive that has been most relevant to this blog in the past year has, of course, been my writing, and in particular finishing off what became Albian Dreams, itself the third instalment of a thematic trilogy of books which, themselves, formed the culmination of a process begun in the aftermath of the two catastrophic events of 2016 - of Brexit and my breakdown. 

So it's that, mainly, that I'm going to write about here. There will be more, much more, to write about my mother (and some of you will, I hope, have noticed the sly way in which Albian Dreams concludes with a nod towards her). I have a number of ideas for things rattling around in my head at the moment and while some of the smaller ones will probably need to be pushed out first just to clear the decks, probably the main one of those projects will be, of all things, a memoir. Yes, finally, after years of creating frames to try and slip the taint of the confessional, I kind of want to tell it straight for once. 

Well, ...ish.  I can already tell, even at this nebulous stage, that the memoir is going to involve a number of major digressions, mainly involving pro wrestling and the works of Wes Anderson, with particular reference to The Darjeeling Limited, but it will mainly, just be a memoir. No autofiction gimmicks, no placing in a larger political context, no alternate realities: just me writing about being me, and particularly being the me I've been since the end of 2019, when it became apparent that one of the things I inherited from mum was the debilitating, disfiguring and humiliating skin disease that ultimately developed into the cancer that killed her. That's quite a thing to deal with, and I don't think anyone can blame me for avoiding facing it head on in favour of taking psychic revenge for Brexit and carrying out an astral hit job on the Windsors, but these things must be faced up to eventually. And they will be. 

But before we go forward, it might be worth looking back over the cycle that we've reached the end of. So that's what we're going to do in the next few entries. 2016-2023 - what were all that about? 

In the meantime, though, please enjoy this reading of 'Not In Any Way That Matters', as recorded by James Whitman for King Ink: 

Friday 19 May 2023

Dave Clark should have said to wear sunscreen

 Normally I listen to classical or ambient music when I'm writing one of these entries; today, however, I am listening to Cliff Richard declaring that he 'was born to rock and roll', a lyric which only avoids prosecution under the trades descriptions act on grounds of being so utterly unconvincing. Cliff makes this declaration at the start of the only remaining artefact of the 1986 musical Dave Clark's Time, an album of songs from the show which, for 25 years, was only available on vinyl due to Clark's famously protective approach to his masters, and distrust of CDs as a medium. And Time is, well, odd. 

In a bonus article in the ebook edition of the Davison/Baker volume of her mammoth Tardis Eruditorum series, Elizabeth Sandifer describes Time as 'a bad 80s rock opera' which 'consists of trite statements about the nature of love and warmed over New Age blather about mind over matter' or, more memorably, as 'recycled Maharishi Mahesh Yogi [spouted] from an overly expensive hydraulic platform'. That's a good description, but in my opinion if anything it's too fair to the source material. I'm just going to come out and say it: Dave Clark's Time sounds like a musical made by a cult. 

And yet, as the personnel listing on the album sleeve (reproduced in the video above) shows, this wasn't just the cult leader and half a dozen of his best mates noodling about on acoustical guitars: this was a big project. While only Richard took the stage in the actual musical (Larry Olivier's turn as a floating head was pre-recorded), for the album Clark was able to call on the assistance of the likes of Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick and Freddie Mercury. The musical itself required the gutting of the Dominion Theatre in order to install the aforementioned hydraulic lift. And how did it do? Well, the fact that this article is probably the first you've heard about it might provide you with a clue. It ran for two years - which isn't nothing, sure, but is very much cutting bait in West End terms. And it has never been revived. To quote Olivier's Akash 'these facts do not inspire confidence, do they?'

But, as readers of this blog will know, I have a tendency to want to find these things out for myself. So I listened to the entire album. And, having done so, I can report pretty much mostly sucks. The performers, Mercury especially, give it socks, but there isn't all that much you can do with lyrics like 'if these facts cannot be proved, the planet Earth will be removed'. The best songs in the show are the easiest to take out of context: 'In My Defence', with Mercury's vocals, becomes an anthem worthy of Queen's later albums, while 'We Are the U.F.O.', with vocals by the actor Murray Head, is a fun glam jam with an agreeably psychedelic chorus, Overall, though, the best the songs manage is not being offensively bad, though God knows the New Age bullshit about how we create our own realities skirts close enough. And how exactly this kind of Law of Attraction bobbins is supposed to achieve the diegetic purpose of exonerating the human race in its trial before the Lords of Time is never satisfactorily explained. Frankly if this is the best mankind can come up with, I'd be donning my black cap. 

Despite that, I think the show has one, somewhat ironic legacy. One of the few tracks from the show to be released as a single was, improbably, the spoken word track 'Theme from Time', in which Olivier lays the play's New Age message on the listener. Somewhat inexplicably, this track became a minor hit in Australia, peaking at number 27 in their singles chart. A spoken word track, narrated by an artist more familiar from another context, consisting largely of bland, bathetic platitudes, which becomes an improbable hit? Where have we seen that before...or should I say again

Obviously I have no hard evidence that Baz Luhrmann was thinking of Dear Larry wittering on about 'The Law of Probenation' when he found the essay that 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' would be based on in his email inbox (remember when things used to spread by email?). It's just one of them weird coinkydinks. But I can prove I would never have even been thinking about the question at all if it weren't for Elizabeth Sandifer's newly relaunched Patreon, via which I acquired my copy of the book containing her essay on Time. If you're not already subscribed to it, I would highly recommend doing so: the rewards are a great deal even just in terms of Sandifer's extant material, never mind the stuff she's currently producing, like her no-holds-barred essays on the horrors of the Chibnall Era, or the exclusive subscriber-only collections like the recent ebook of her Star Wars-related essays. And it means you're at least 25% more likely to be able to work out what I'm going to write about next. Which, sometimes, is more of an idea than I have...

Sunday 7 May 2023

Epilogue: Gansevoort, 2009


‘Well, would you look at that,’ says Angel McKenna, looking up from the corner of West 13th and Washington. ‘These people really do be fucking.’

‘I know!’ Chuckles Cyn. ‘That’s the Meatpacking District for you. They try to gentrify, but folks just come and fuck against the windows.’

‘Rich folks,’ Angel sighs. ‘They’ve driven all the hookers out and made the place respectable. Apparently we’re all supposed to call it Gansevoort now?’

‘Yeah, just like they call Hell’s Kitchen Clinton. Well, for a while, at least. Until…you know…’

Angel grins. ‘It must have been a blow to Slick Willy’s confidence to realise he was real-estate poison compared to the goddam Inferno.’

‘Yeah, well, fuck him,’ says Cyn. ‘You know who would have loved this? Iain.’

Angel sighs. ‘Yeah. He sure would. This was his beat. As a writer, I mean. Not…you know. All the…other stuff.’

‘The stuff he was training you up for when we met? Albia’s little Batgirl?’

‘What is it with people and comparing me to characters from comics? At least Batgirl’s the right gender, I guess.’

‘Ah, I’m just giving you shit.’ She smirks. ‘Unless you want to make something of it?’

‘Oh what, you reckon you can still go, huh? That what you wanna do?’

She laughs. ‘Hey, you got lucky last time…’

‘Oh, that’s what you think? Well we can test that hypothesis later. Right now I’m hungry.’

Cyn nods. ‘If you want a blast from the past, the Hellfire’s a bougie restaurant now. We can eat fillet mignon and look at the wall I bashed your head against that time.’

Angel shakes her head. ‘I’m not one for nostalgia. Especially for concussions.’

‘I did not concuss you!’ 

‘Any blow to the head is a concussion, it’s the severity that matters.’

‘Okay then, I did not concuss you severely.’

‘Whoa, sounds kinda like you’re dismissing my lived experience there Cyn.’

Now it’s Cyn’s head shaking. ‘Oh fuck you - ’

‘I’m just giving you shit,’ Angel smirks. ‘How about Hector’s? They’re open til ten.’

Once they’re sat down, tucking into sandwiches, Cyn asks. ‘So. Ten years, huh?’

‘Yeah. I still remember the morning I found out. I’d been back in Washington - the original and best -’ Cyn flips her the bird ‘- and so I slept at my parents. I came down about ten in the morning, went to make some coffee, my mum comes into the kitchen and says Did you hear King Charlie died in a chip pan fire?’

Cyn laughs. ‘So stupid…’

‘And I’m like Good set-up, what’s the punchline? And she goes no,  there is no punchline, it’s the news. I was gobsmacked. Especially because I’d sent the RI, through Iain, a detailed proposal for how we could take out the fucker. I looked at maps of the island, the old Nazi fortifications and alterations to Mont Orgeuil…I worked out exactly where you’d need to plot up to put one right through the old nonce’s head at his moment of crowning glory. And then Iain’s like current thinking is such action would be needlessly inflammatory. So of course one of the first things I did after seeing the news was ask if they’d already had their own plan going and this was it…’


‘Well, you know Iain and his poker face. I never got much beyond neither confirm nor deny. For what it’s worth though, I don’t think that it was us. Who knows what it was? Nostalgia? Pique? Whatever - Chuckie Seven Eggs decides he can cook chips. And didn’t remember the safety films…’

‘Maybe one of your people put the thought in his head…’

‘What, someone from Dee Division? Maybe. I’ve never been one for that stuff, though. I can’t be arsed fucking with rituals. I gotta tussle. As you know…’

Cyn smiles slyly. ‘Really? Oh, I never would’ve guessed…’

‘Yeah, well, you know, maybe it was a Dee Division joint. Outrageous success if so, mind. Which, of course, they can never take credit for, what with them not officially existing and all.’

‘Well, officially you’re just a poet.’

‘True. Though I am writing a memoir now.’


‘Well, turning one over. Truth is I feel kinda burned out on poems. Hell, I felt that way ten years ago. So much of what I wrote was written out of vitriol against the fucking Windsors and then, after Jersey, they just…petered out, really. Relinquished their titles, became like those Austro-Hungarian relics you see. Or just became citizens, like Harry.’

‘Ten years on fumes? That must have been rough.’

‘Ah, stuff came up that I got poems out of. But the big target, the Great Satan if you want to use a needlessly inflammatory term, it wasn’t there anymore. I think my work fell off a bit.’

‘Really? A Guttersnipe’s Talent won awards…’

‘Set not thy sweet heart on proud array. Awards make no difference when you feel like a fraud.’

‘A fraud?’

‘I’m exaggerating. But you know, I feel like I’m at some kind of impasse…’

‘Well, I’m-a-pass out if I don’t go to the bathroom. If the waitress comes by, order some more fries, will ya? I still feel kinda peckish.’

‘Okay. Will do.’

‘Oh yeah - speaking of fries, did you see the news last night? Apparently they’re working on some kind of machine that’ll use much less oil cooking them. You know, health food stuff.’

‘Well, fancy that.’

‘Yep. Hey, if those things had been around in ‘99, maybe Charles wouldn’t have caught fire and you’d have got to snipe him after all! Anyway, gotta pee. See ya in a few!’

As Cynnamon heads to the bathroom, Angel rubs her chin and stares a thousand yards ahead. She doesn’t catch the waitress. But, after a few minutes, she grabs a handful of napkins and pulls out a pen.

Saturday 6 May 2023

A Midnight Feast

Yes, he’s still up. But how is he supposed to feel? It was humiliating. The whole thing. He should have been processing down the Mall, preceded by a display of military might, not making the short walk from the Castle to the Hermitage, jeered at by these ghastly indigenes, inbred, not even bloody French, pressing against the police cordon or volleying dross from their boats…

He hates it here. He hates the smaller roads, the smaller life; hates that even in Grouville the exiled faithful hold their kids when he’s around them. How can it be evil? The touch of a King is a blessing. They should be honoured!

He hates watching the news, seeing their grotesque ‘DeCoronation’ unfold, the mass parade to Westminster, the Service of Thanksgiving for Deliverance. Deliverance! Giving away all the jewels they hadn’t yet returned, and breaking down the Royal Regalia. His! HIS! HIS Regalia! They have no right. They call them stolen. Stolen! They were given by a grateful people, as a token of their love, like Uncle Louis’ sweet brown boys in India. They sneer at Louis now. They aren’t grateful now, these people, these Albians. Something got into them. He blames council housing, pop music, modern buildings, poetry that dwells on filth and gossip and political envy and does nothing to ennoble the soul of the reader…He fulminates against them all in his weekly broadcasts, for all the good it does. He knows his pronouncements are mocked in the Albian press, along with lurid speculation on his family dynamics. They compare his dear boys to monstrous catamites from science fiction fantasies. How horrid! How dare they? Don’t they know he is the King? Is. He doesn’t become King after the Anointing with Chrism, he became King when his mother died. Hence vivat

Oh, he wishes for the Scholars. The choir from La Preference are lovely kids, of course, delightful, but not up to Hubert Parry. And a brass band instead of the organ? As if he were some miner? It’s insulting. How dare they reduce him to this? 

And the guests…all those washed-up remnants of old European monarchies, diminished or still spinning harebrained schemes, lending their imprimatur to get-rich-quick schemes, far right agitation, or what-have-you - are they his future? Is that what he is destined to become? They killed Sir James, they blew up Louis, but some days he feels like they got off easy, went out fast and noisy, not this death by a thousand cuts of cloth. Even Andrew’s American friends have stayed away. Some ‘special relationship’! Still, the Americans have their own situation, ever since the Albians played hardball, hung out a bit of what they dredged up from the private files and threatened to leak more unless the Yanks pulled out their nukes and didn’t treat us as an airstrip. They were supposed to be Utopian idealists. They weren’t supposed to learn the ropes so fast. Those damn Intelligencers…

It’s late now. Most of the servants are asleep. But he doesn’t feel like coddled eggs now anyway. He wants…what is it the people eat? One night, he remembers sitting up late with Sir James, cooking as a very special treat, young Mr Windsor, frying bits…chunks…chips of potato in bubbling fat…Chips! That’s what they called them. So coarse. So barbarian. But that’s what he wants now. Chips and vinegar. He can cook that. They call him helpless and pampered in their papers and web pages but he can do that, he remembers watching Sir James, being told how long to leave the spuds in. Spuds! Delightful word. 

He sets the pan heating as he peels and chops the spuds. If they could see him now, those scoffers! Not like Diana, that bitch, creeping into the kitchen just to stuff her face with cake, a self-reliant man, unbowed by the humiliation they have forced upon him. A King! A true King, deep down in the soul, distinguished by a birthright they can never take away. Let this bubbling chip pan be to him as Robert Bruce’s spider! Here begins - 

A whoooooosh. The fat is burning! That’s no problem though. The Sovereign need have no fear of fire. He fills another pan with water, then swings it like a tennis racket. 

Game. Set. Match. 

‘Maybe Savile should have done fire safety after all, not seatbelts.’ - Angel McKenna,  ‘Good Morning Albia’, 02/5/1999

Monday 1 May 2023

A Birthright of Distinction

I walked your coronation route today, Charles: not
the one you’ll have to step, a few dozen guests and
jeering J√®rriais watching on boats and up the incline. 
I walked on the red carpet that your Cinderella carriage
was supposed to process down. I walked with crowds
of absolutely ordinary Albians, and every one deserved
to walk that ritual pathway more than you, because

it wasn’t mice that you turned into footmen
but lads eager to advance, some all too keen to
exercise the blindness you expect from those who serve you,
to cook a hebdomad of eggs each breakfast time
and claim, straight-faced, that actually
you just like one egg, coddled, and you know what Lenin 
said. And they maintain that poker face because

you like them coddled: but we don’t mean eggs.
You like them smart, and proper, not necessarily
in uniform, as Louis did, but clean and cute, the way
you like to think you were before you went to Gordonstoun
and got worked over in the Bash Camp way. You learned
from Louis, and your best friend, Mr Savile,
that men like you deserve the crowns and coaches

and the exercise of uncommon prerogatives
in caravan or stateroom, by a birthright of distinction
from the herd, a right inherited or seized but most importantly
enjoyed: the right of Lordly Ones to choose a lucky morsel
from the crowd. How easy do you come by them
in Jersey, Charles? I understand that causeway
keeps you safe, but we both know you’re under

siege there. I don’t see you going masked, in deference
to local custom, though even in the camps
they watch their kids when you come visiting. 
Are you as skilled at reading eyes as Andrew’s 
Yankee friend, to find the hunger that regards a child
as fungible? I doubt that, Charles. I worry for your boys.