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H is for Hawk. Book review

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H is for Help.

H is for Haunting.

Either could have been the title, but the fundamental of this book is the hawk that occupies it’s central plot.

Mabel is a young goshawk bought by Helen MacDonald in the wake of her father’s death.  She sets herself a distraction from her profound grief to train this wild beast to the exclusion of everything else in her life.

It’s a return to her childhood where she had a fascination for hawking, partly fuelled by a 1950’s treatise on the subject written by closet homosexual T.H. White and author of what became both Camelot and The Sword in the Stone.  It’s a book she disliked intensely at the time but that she has come around to as she sets out to make Mabel a controllable accomplice (she’ll never be a pet).

I’ve never read a book even remotely like this.  Macdonald is a poet and that certainly comes through in some of the long descriptive chapters that capture her state of mind (not healthy) and the world she is drawn into.

Rarely can anyone have written such a loving description of the English countryside with its unwritten rules, its foibles and its power.

In fact rarely can a book like this have been written.

It operates on three levels.  An unburdening of Macdonald’s grief for the death of her beloved father.  An unsympathetic biography of T.H. White and a rip-roaring coaching manual on goshawk rearing.

It’s not an easy read but it’s a profound one and it threatens to become a modern classic in a category all of its own.

I would highly recommend it.



Dreams of a Life

Carol Morley has come up with a really interesting idea.

She’s written and directed a documentary about the mysterious death of a beautiful West Indian 39 year old girl (Joyce Vincent) who was a major hit with the lads “People said she was as good looking as Whitney Houston; I thought she was more attractive than that.” and had hundreds of friends and admirers and a huge family to boot; four sisters.

The film is not so much about how she died but the fact that it took three years for her body to be discovered.  In her flat.  Watching her TV which was still on.

No Electricity company shut her utilities off; the council never chased the rent; no one complained about the smell; none of her friends visited; none of doting ex’s; none of her family.  Nobody.

Carol Morley builds a documentary mixing dramatised re-enactments of her life and “Touching the Void” type real life storytelling to get closer to the truth than the police ever did.

It’s a fascinating idea and in places nicely shot with some interesting music (although hardly a career high for ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson).

Why then is it so unengaging emotionally?  Why do we not really care about poor Joyce Vincent?

I think because the story is dragged 30 – 40 minutes past is tell by date.  It’s just far too long.

It’s a shame because I really wanted to like it and applaud almost everything about it; including the fact that it was funded (in part by the Irish Film Board!?) and the incredible detective work that Carol Morley did to unearth so many of the people in Joyce Vincent’s life when the police found not one of them.

In the end, it just makes the police look ridiculous.

And poor old Martin, the batchelor who lost the love of his life.

Bless him.



I think I would like to take part in this

Zombieism is an art form.

Let’s face it.  Making a zombie movie is so easy on the face of it that you’d die laughing.  Until you try. Then you might DIE.

There is some utter zombie shit out there and the genre needs protection as much as it needs celebration.

So, this initiative, to live the (un)life must be applauded, albeit with hands that break up on contact.

Be there or be alive.



Every One by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company

So much that excites in theatre and cinema is ultimately down to the writing and Mark Thomson has mounted (and brilliantly directed) a show that is, in parts, written with such skill and sophistication, and humour, that it takes the breath away.  However, at others it seems to go AWOL.

The first act of this new play, written by Jo Clifford, is very convincing, moving and utterly absorbing.  It is staged imaginatively and it’s all going in the right direction.  In act 2, however, the show seems to hit choppy creative waters as it steps up its ambition.  But it left me, and my wife, confused.

It’s about death.  Full frontal, no holds barred death.  The great universal.  If we all die let’s not pussyfoot about the issue, let’s just play it straight and that’s exactly how Clifford tackles the subject.

A 50 year old wife and mother suffers a massive stroke and dies soon thereafter.  How it affects her nearest and dearest is one aspect of the show but the greater one (and a less often visited side of the equation) is how it affects the cadaver.  And that makes for great theatre in act one as we build the back story (often hilariously) and reach the momento mori.

The cast is led by the peerless and stunning Kath Howden and ably supported by her “late” husband Jonathon Hackett and death himself in the guise of Liam Brennan.  But they get most of the great lines and all of the power plays.  Less satisfactory for me were the parts for the son and daughter and trickiest of all is the role in the play of the family matriarch, Howden’s mother, who is suffering from senility.  Her part takes us down the most confusing plot alleyways and do not, in my view, always help the narrative.  What I expected was to see Act 2 focus more on grief, instead it becomes more and more obtuse, before coming together in a satisfying climax.

The staging is magnificent.  Philip Pinsky, yet again, pops in with musical magic. ( The point of death being captured in a single electrifying piano chord; once in each act.) And the whole is, overall, very satisfying.  I just wish act 2 had a bit more narrative conviction and storytelling.

Should you go?  You bet.



Kate McGarrigle RIP

I was sorry to hear that Kate McGarrigle, sister of Anna, wife of Loudon Wainwright and mother of Martha and Rufus, passed away at the age of only 63 yesterday.  The family’s Christmas Hour album is a festive cracker and she and her sister brought respectability and beauty to folk music for a very wide audience.



Carol ann duffy poem

I saw this article in the Times today.  It’s a remarkable photo and a remarkable poem.  Carol Ann Duffy was asked to select a photograph from The Barbican’s War show of photos by Robert Capa, and write a poem to capture the ‘capture’.

I love the way the poem interprets the photo in paradox.  It counterpoints the face value interpretation(s) that one might reach with the harsh reality that this is a man captured at his moment of death.

I like the way that it disses the youth culture of today, a culture that is not encouraged to stop and reflect, merely to observe, glance, half consider, dismiss.

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1576 Advertising RIP

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On the 1st of September 1994 David Reid, Adrian Jeffery and myself put the last touch of paint onto the basement wall of our basement home in Tweeddale Court on Edinburgh’s prestigious Royal Mile (we always used Royal Mile in our address because it sounded better than High Street, which was the official postal address). I stood there, resplendent in green and white Y Fronts (I always painted in my Y fronts because it was easier to clean your skin than your trousers) and took a deep breath. This was it. It wasnt a dream or an adventure anymore. It was our livelihood.

At 9.23 the phone rang. Our only client, Spectacles, who one day become 20 20 Opticians.

“Oh Hi John ” I said ” I expect you’re phoning to set up a meeting…”

“No, I’m phoning to fire you.”

I’d never even met him. He was a complete twat as this, and future history (if there is such a thing) went on to prove.

We’d now gone from a prospective income of £12,000 pa to zip; nada; fuck all.

Eight days later Jeana gave birth to our second and third child (the third conception and pregnancy was not some form of record – we had twins).

We were right in the shit then.

Better get some business.

As luck, some would say talent, would have it though we did get some business (Holywood Bowl) and some more (The Blood Transfusion Service) and some more (Smiths Menswear) and some more (Sinclairs Criminal Lawyers) so that by Christmas we had our first six commercials on air. We made a handsome profit in year one and paid off our personal debts. We never drew down the start up capital and things just went from good to better.

One year, I can’t remember exactly when, we had nine nominations at the Scottish Ad Awards and every single one of them won a Gold, meaning that we tied with The Lieth Agency as the top award winners. They were lucky to escape with a tie because we were better.

At times we were cocky bastards. At times we weren’t. (I can’t remember when though.)

But gradually we got bigger and bigger. We won multi-million pound accounts that sucked the energy and, to be honest, the creativity out of us. We became like the establishment that we felt so superior about.

I got bored.

I left in 2003.

But, you know what, those times were, on the whole, the best. I made my bravest, and most foolish, clientesque decisions.

Picture the scene. David and Adrian, having been briefed by me to write a series of commercial virals selling 1576, present me with five scripts with a man dressed up as a six foot penis trying to perform office and day-to-day functions in the guise of a rubbish marketing director (most obscene of all was the penis going for a piss) and I said

“Fabulous, hilarious, it will really stand out!”

It did.

Not for good reasons.

Ruth’s Bar, the Friday night swalley, was a hoot – because it was a “free” night out with your mates – and believe me, 1576 were my mates. Every last bloody one of them.

I loved, really loved, the people I worked with. We all cried when I left. Many of us cried last night too (I’m sure) when we learned that cocky, creative, amazing, get it up ya, 1576 was no more.

A very sad day and my heart goes out to David and all the team that were there at the end.

In an ironic, but wonderful, postscript one of the undoubted heroes of 1576, Mimi, gave birth to a baby girl, her first, yesterday afternoon, almost to the second that 1576 shut its doors for the last time.

Life’s an odd thing is it not?

1576

1/9/94 – 7/2/08