Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekly round up 3

- My album of the week is the new Warpaint LP, which is really their first album as far as I’m concerned, as I never really listened to their first – just the odd song on a radio that sounded to me (possibly incorrectly) like they were trying to do a The Cure thing. I caught them live at End of the Road this summer, where they sounded a bit rusty, but listening to this now I can see what they were getting at; a big, spacious, deep, lazy pop vibe. It’s a lovely lovely album, I think – a bit like a lot of the stuff I used to listen to when I was a teenager.

- This week I overheard some kids on the train discussing which parties would be in the next coalition. It made me realise how quickly things change, or at least how little the young know. Already for a lot of people in the country, a coalition is a normal state of affairs, what one might expect from a government. Perhaps they’re right, now, but it wasn’t long ago that coalition politics was just ‘a foreign thing’.

- My eyebrows join up in the middle. I have heard this discussed as a major problem (although more as a general rule than in reference to my own). Sitting in a barbers this week, with a slightly distracted guy gutting my hair, I had to do that thing for a moment of staying completely still while he stared into my eyes, fixing my fringe. He trimmed it a bit, then rocked back on his heels, staring at me. He leant forward, hacked another clump of hair out of my eyes, and then, as if on an un-quashable impulse, lurched forward and neatly snipped a path through the small patch of forest which sits atop the bridge of my nose, separating my two brows for the first time in many years.

We both pretended nothing had happened.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sunday round up pt 2

- I’m so happy that The Bridge is back. I tend to avoid these long running TV shows, because I feel that they are a time drain, but The Bridge is one I’ll make an exception for, because the location fascinates me and the characterisation is brilliant. The second series seems to have more heart than the first – a consequence of Martin’s bereavement – and it’s been wonderful so far, although it strikes me that they’ve overplayed Saga’s lack of social conditioning this time round. That makes her funnier, perhaps even more charming – but less realistic somehow. Anyway, it’s great that it’s back. (Now all I want them to do is tell me which scenes are in Malmö and which are in Copenhagen; not knowing drives me nuts for some reason)

- Internet things: This is the first web-tool I’ve discovered in an age which is actually as useful as I hoped it would be. Unroll me helps you to unsubscribe from awful email-circulars. Yay. It really works.

- Having read a lot of Updike over New Year, I turned my attention to Philip Roth this week, digging out his still-outrageous, even-funnier-than-I-remember-it ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’, which is just so wonderfully biting and furious. As usual, I’m juggling about six books at the moment, but this one is pure pleasure.

- Another I’m finally reading after meaning to for ages is Olivia Laing’s ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’ which is just superb; a personal travelogue which examines the lives of six great writers and aims to answer the question posed in the subtitle: ‘why writers drink’. It’s beautifully written, although it’s giving me two big problems.

1) I’m having a sober January and it’s really making me want a cocktail. 2) It’s adding more stuff to my to-be-read pile; I’ve read a lot of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Tenessee Williams, but far less John Berryman, Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Want to read much more by all six now.

- I find Steve Malkmus’s stuff totally impressive, but not always easy to love. Of his solo work, only ‘Pig Lib’ stayed with me in the way that his work with Pavement did, even though The Jicks are (technically and for Malkmus) a better band. Every new album is a bit of a puzzle for me – always rewarding, never immediate. I’m always a fan. His new one is loose by his standards and contains some great stuff – ‘Houston Hades’ is so good it could have been on Terror Twilight, one of my favourite Pavement albums.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sunday round-up #1

- With Christmas finished, we finally took our tree down yesterday, and Alec helped us return it to whence it came. This year we bought our tree from Gill’s Home & Garden store on Western Road, Brighton, and we were pleased to plump for a living tree. We returned it to the shop and it will soon be taken back out to a forest and re-planted. Our tree was called Paeater, Tree of Courage. [Moment of respectful silence].

- Sad to read of the death of Elizabeth Jane Howard this week. At first it seemed that all the coverage was going to concentrate purely on her relationships with other people rather than her work, but this has been steadily redressed over the last few days – with several beautiful articles emerging in the press. She was a great writer and hugely underrated. The appreciation in the Guardian is particularly worth reading, as is Martin Amis’ eulogy in the Mail.

- I watched ‘American Hustle’ this week, which I thought was absolutely great. I’m horribly out of date when it comes to cinema, I’m afraid. I follow quite a few film buffs on Twitter and am permanently perplexed by references to famous actors who I had no idea existed (Ryan Gosling? Channing Tatum? I have no idea who these people are or what films they’ve been in). I’d never seen Jennifer Lawrence in anything either ’til I saw AH but I’m now a fully paid up fan – of Amy Adams too (who I’d likewise never heard of). They both act the men off the screen in a really involving, exciting, over the top film. Which is not to say the male leads don’t impress too.

- I also watched ‘Anchorman 2′, which was fun – but the only reason I mention it is that I watched it at The Big Scream, the baby-friendly screening at the Dukes at Komedia in Brighton’s North Laine. I was vaguely fearful that attempting to watch a film surrounded by yelling babies would be massively frustrating. It wasn’t at all – I barely noticed them except for the moments when Connie reached over and stole my glasses.

- If you live in Brighton, go and get a coffee in The Mad Hatter CafĂ© on Western Road. They’ll let you buy a suspended coffee while you place your order, and a hard-up coffee-fan can claim it at their leisure later. Ace.

- We spent the whole of the Christmas break in Brighton, and this week the last of our visiting friends departed, and a few who have been away returned. The most rewarding thing about 2013 was the contribution made by our excellent friends. The best days of the year have been those spent with Lynds, Anne-So, Rich, Vic, Alec, Connie, Sam, Laura, Ali, James, Anita, Jackie, Ollie, Dan, Alice, Ryan, Simon, Paul, Vanessa, Dan, Ant, Hedvig, Andrew, Sophie, Ruby, Harry, Claire, Gabs, Murray, Amy, Dan, Julie (and others). They’re a nice bunch.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Updike, ‘Ace In The Hole’ / New Year

Full of the enthusiasm of a New Year, I’m planning on working my way through Updike’s short stories this year. Updike has experienced a decline in reputation, it seems to me, and is seen as somewhat of a dinosaur now, and self-indulgent, too. I always loved him as a stylist, but only a few of his novels I loved without reservation – some I had to put down (Toward The End of Time, ugh). I think probably as a poet and an author of short stories (the latter in particular) he was at his very best.

The first story I read, in the magnificently presented new collected stories published by the Library of America, was also the first notable story he wrote. Ace In The Hole prefigures Rabbit somewhat; a short tale of a young man at odds with the world of work and not succeeding in his own efforts to raise a family. A man who’d rather be on the court, bouncing a basketball.

This bit really struck me. perhaps because I’ve spent a lot of time playing with, observing and marvelling at Vic’s baby daughter this year. But also because it’s in the acute observation of such vital and intimate details of life that Updike evolves beyond the accusations of dinosaur-hood, I think.

In two steps, Ace was at Bonnie’s crib, picking the rattle out of the mess of blocks and plastic rings and beanbags. He extended the rattle toward his daughter, shaking it delicately. Made wary by this burst of attention, Bonnie reached with both hands; like two separate animals they approached from opposite sides and touched the smooth rattle simultaneously. A smile worked up her face. Ace tugged weakly. She held on, and then tugged back.
Terrific. Looking forward to reading more.