Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Review – Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet I have been meaning to investigate for some time. He seems an interesting character, to have intriguing politics and I admire his rejection of a disreputable OBE and also making a fuss about it.

So I was surprised, when reading a few of his poems, at the disappointment setting in. I found many of them somewhat heavy handed and, above all, many of the rhymes jarring, disrupting the flow of the poem.

Fortunately I did not completely give up at that point and did indulge in a number of YouTube videos. Watching Zephaniah perform and some of the poems I had doubts about came across as more entertaining. He can certainly keep a room of schoolkids enthralled – not an easy task. If fact it's curious that in Zephaniah's performances he does not stress the rhymes, more often playing them down, avoiding the emphasis, so there whole effect is less jarring.

I don't see the above as my definitive view on Zephaniah; far from it; just questioning, just a few incoherent thoughts. And as entertaining as his performances are I still have lingering doubts about poems that do not work when being read.

Two Walks in Arrowe Park

we'll collect it later
when we're done
the little plastic wrapped package
the delicate perfumed draped bouquet

autumn fades, trees undress
the stark cold bark revealed
there dangling, petite summer gifts
dog shit left hanging from the tree

Monday, 30 January 2012


Mask of
disorder, the
disguise of

Iron Men, Crosby Beach

Men, scattered, standing on the forlorn shore, looking out, solitary, seaward, never speaking, never moving.

Some completely submersed at high tide, others knee deep in the shifting turbulent sands; all glimpsing, longing for, the occasional ship that passes them by.

Each facing away from the fading town; a wannabe tourist destination that never was; these men the last gloomy attraction.

Men that have never lived, never loved, never worked, never screamed, never grown up.

But like all, decaying; and eventually, when we've all perished, washed away on those turbulent sands.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


You should live the way you expect other people to live.

You pay minimum wage,
You should survive on minimum wage.

You profit from a third world sweat shops,
You should stitch trainers eighteen hours a day.

You send others off to fight in a useless war,
You should be crippled, maimed, terrorised in war.

You condemn people to beg on the streets,
You should have a cardboard box, a doorway, for a home.

You should live the way you expect others to live.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Interesting Behaviour

The first:
The short red hair, cascading; the glossy tattoos, like tribal scars; purple metallic bangles, jangling, jangling.
Interesting behaviour.

The other:
The cropped black hair, slender; a yellow t-shirt, short, tight; snug jeans, sparkling, designer distressed and beautifully torn; the oval face, sun tanned, smiling; the delicate bulge on the lips, moaning, moaning.
Interesting behaviour.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Review – The Wilfred Owen Story

Yesterday I visited the Wilfred Owen Story a small exhibition dedicated to the life of possibly the greatest of the WW1 poets. A few weeks ago I had planned a similar visit; then on the morning of going to Birkenhead city centre I looked on the web site for opening times and found it closed for refurbishment. Fortunately it was open yesterday.

The material is displayed in a single room of what once had been a smallish shop. A shop now a little off the beaten track for the more mainstream shopper. Something that may also discourage the more casual visitor to this exhibition – but then, it probably means the rent is lower. The displays are well presented; however the lack of space means there's not that much on display: photographs, a curious drawing by Owen's brother, the paraphernalia of school days, world war 1 memorabilia. Most interesting are some photocopies of Owen's manuscripts and early editions of his poems.

As I left I grabbed a few leaflets, just out of interest. One of these gave directions for the Wilfred Owen Treasure Trail – basically a walk just on the outskirts of Birkenhead city centre which passed some places of interest associated with Wilfred Owen. I only read this leaflet upon returning home. With this benefit of hindsight it would be worth getting the leaflet and adding it to your itinerary – if the weather's fine. Also I intend to give this walk a try sometime.

This exhibition is well worth a visit if you are already in the centre of Birkenhead or you have a special interest in Wilfred Owen. Otherwise there's not quite enough material to warrant a special journey.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

basic social skills

Training Event Log: social interchange training android

13:11:05 event log: start[Wednesday, 19 February 2098] type[summery] level[normal]

13:11:05 starting device: ID[1642.134.1823.100.0.192] type[sexual training android, female]

13:11:05 loading module: android-control

13:11:05 loading module: android-control simulation[human emotion]

13:11:05 loading module: android-control monitoring[environment]

13:11:05 loading module: vision-services

13:11:05 loading module: audio-services

13:11:05 loading module: android-control monitoring[human emotion]

13:11:05 loading module: android-control personality-simulation[default]

13:11:05 loading module: android-control speech[default]

13:11:05 loading module: training

13:11:05 training: setting-rules-from[/etc/sexconfig/training]

13:11:05 training: training-rules-successfully-set

13:11:05 monitoring: location-ID[d432cae92b78f5b2a98580043f18da56] location-description[1246255815:0s6x, Took Building, training booth 9686, third floor]

13:11:06 speech control: start task: request-personality

13:11:13 personality: load configuration: name[Sasha] type[school teacher, female, late-twenties]

13:11:16 speech control: start task: request-student-ID

13:11:25 training: student: ID[9fdb87cc0047d72b54e2012ee4bc2b76] surname[Castelluccio] forename[Christopher] sex[male] age[17.4]

13:11:25 training: course: ID[18ad0b41a87afbb2a65471dc7c2607ef] title[introduction to basic sexual skills] lesson[15] lesson-title[first steps with cunnilingus]

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Coastal Scene with Crab Catchers, about 1658

By Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem (1620 – 1683)
I often stand here, looking out, out over the misty bay at low tide. Watching the tall ships glide in, watching them risking the tall rocks and watching as they unloading their catch. Looking at the men scurrying along the shoreline, there movements hazy in the spray. I stand for hours watching these catchers. Waiting, waiting for nothing.

No one gives me a second look now, not these days, not now after all these years. I'm a usual fixture, best ignored, best forgotten. But a long ago, a long time ago I was the gayest girl around here. Everyone wanted me and I had the pick of the town.

It was all ruined by some boys fumbling one Saturday night. Hadn't a clue had I, how could I? Not a clue what he was up to down there. Fumbling away down there. Then it was all over. I wasn't sure what had happened. That Saturday after the fair, after he'd been drinking all day, after he'd caught me on the way home, after he'd told me he loved me. He seemed happy enough, at the time, tell the next day.

I was never that fond of him, not really, seemed nice enough, but there was always something about him, not right, not trustworthy. We had to marry, that's what they say around here. For the sake of the child, so they said, for the sake of his dirty doings. Our dirty doing they all said, as if I had a choice. The poor wretch was stillborn; I don't know if I was thankful or relieved. Whatever, I was now trapped in a loveless marriage. With him.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Book Review – Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time by Ian Birchall

I Joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1977. The first properly socialist book I read (as opposed to newspaper or journal article) was Ian Birchall's Workers Against the Monolith. This book, written in 1973, was a discussion of the Communist Parties, primarily European, since the Second World War. A couple of years ago I reread this work to see how well it stood up to the intervening years. Of course much has changed within the CPs over this period. Some have all but disappeared; for example the British CP where all that remains are a few squabbling fragments. All have seriously declined and what little remains is largely indistinguishable from labour or social democratic parties. So I was pleasantly surprised to find much of Birchall's thesis stood up reasonably well to the test of time; albeit on a vanishing issue for socialists.

In practical terms I drifted away from the SWP in the mid 1990s. There was no grand haemorrhage or bickering, simply inactivity. Though I still pretty much agree with these politics, read their publications, and contemplate getting involved again – in the near future but not right now. So it was of interest to read Birchall's latest book on the principle founder of this tradition.

Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time is so much more than a celebrity biography; the kind stacked high on supermarket shelves and disposed of alongside the remnants of that ready meal. It takes on many big issues. From the class nature of Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, through the post war boom and subsequent decline, along the sixties rising tide of rebellion and its subsequent downturn. In fact much of post war history is touched upon in some way.

During the early period Cliff and the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party – IS/SWP) got three big questions, broadly speaking, right. Three questions that developed Marxism and updated its power in explaining the world. The first issue was the State Capitalist nature of Russia and the other so called 'communist' states. Most critics of the theory view it in ahistorical terms. But it only makes sense when you view capitalism as a world system, a system of interconnecting rivalries, and this system had developed to a certain point. The theory explained the how state could act as a unit of capitalist development. So a strangled revolution, as in Russia by Stalin, or a military takeover, as in Eastern Europe, could lead to state economies competing on the world stage. In turn this explained the internal workings of these systems. This understanding made sense of events like the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the Prague Spring, and later, the collapse of 'communism'.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Film Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I was not expecting much from the 2011 film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The original 1974 John le Carré book; what can you say? Simply magnificent. The 1979 BBC TV version staring Alec Guinness as George Smiley: triumphant. Then there was the 1988 BBC Radio 4 version staring Rene Basilico: brilliant. How could anyone top that pedigree?

Well, maybe, the film didn't top that pedigree but it was certainly enjoyable. Unlike previous versions they went for a moody, bleak telling of the story. So there were long scenes with little in the way of dialogue. Inevitably this resulted in much of the story detail being left out. This along with the unavoidable constraint of film, that it has to be briefer, the story more compact, does worry me slightly. If you do not already know the story will you follow along? Somehow I have my doubts. Being so familiar with the story it is hard for me to tell; but I kept finding myself thinking, 'oh, that refers to…' or 'oh, that's the result of…' and referring back to source. The telling of a tale should be self contained. Was it here?

For me the stand out performance was that of Toby Jones as Percy Alleline. For most of the other characters previous exponents seemed superior. Not with Percy Alleline; here Toby Jones was clearly superlative. I would like to see him playing this character type where he has the substantial role. I hope he gets the chance.

If you do view the film then please also take the time to indulge in at least one, preferably all, of the versions indicated in the opening paragraph. You will pick up so much more of the story and, possibly, appreciate the film more.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Book Review – Some More Books on Writing

I've been wading recently through a quagmire of books on writing. Really I should give it up. I see it as extracting the best from the conventional wisdom; but then the problem with the conventional wisdom is it's… well… it's conventional… and… and it's not always wisdom. I should have known this all along. Having picked up a few useful tips along the way, I must admit the ratio of gold to dirt is painfully low; all but making you want to give up on the prospecting lifestyle. These are some of the books that have recently dulled my addled brain.

It's an odd thing: but books on writing stories and novels contain very little about the subject of plotting; those books aimed at screen writing contain more useful guidelines. This is odd because a novel, potentially at least, can do so much more than a film script. This does not pose too much of a problem as much that's written about script writing is easily translatable into novel writing. Linda J Cowgill's The Art of Plotting is a reasonable little book. However it's only superficially about plotting; the large scale sweep of plot twists and turns somehow gets forgotten. Instead we get scene sequences. Now if we accept the idea that scene sequences is not plotting but one level below plotting and above individual scenes then it's an interesting concept.

Scene sequences (I shall use my own terms rather than follow those of Cowgill) are plot events that follow a particular pattern; a plan-action-result sequence. Here the plan scene is where the characters decide what they intend to do, action scene(s) is where they attempt to carry out the plan, and the result scene is where you show your characters response to what actually happened. Cowgill's point in developing these sequences is to show the characters emotional response to events; to highlight detail that could have been missed; it's a tool to guide the writer in aiding the readers emotional engagement with the story.