Friday, November 23, 2007

I Told You So

Desperately trying to find some consolation in Wednesday’s result, at least I can type the most enjoyable phrase in the English language:

I told you so.

Yes, 13 months ago I was typing things like:

...already I have severe doubts about the ability of the coach Steve McClaren.


...he may not have the intelligence and gravitas to handle the tactics and the prickly egos of the players.


Let's hope Steve McClaren is simply going through a very rough patch. I doubt that's the case, but hope I'm wrong.

Sadly, I was right .

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Shit fuck bollox.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Greatest is Dead

Norman Mailer died over the week-end.

I can’t say I was a full-on fan of his work, but I had read (and mostly enjoyed) about 10 of his books.

Mailer’s misfortune as a novelist was that his first book (The Naked and the Dead) was by far his most successful, artistically and commercially. He was barely 24 when he wrote it, and like every other first novel before and since, it draws heavily upon his own experience.

It’s a really effortless read, beautifully written and cunningly devised – it starts as a straightforward piece of war realism, gets experimental but in an approachable way, and then imperceptively turns philosophical. Just when you feel comfortable with the characters, the story, and the setting there’s a stunning plot shock – one of the best ever.

American Literature went through an amazing golden age in the early to mid 20th century and Norman Mailer, even if he’d never written anything else, would have been included among the last of the true greats. That’s a hell of an achievement, as the quality is so high between about 1925 and 1960 that the second rate includes Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck, and even the genre crap is by Jim Thompson, Horace McCoy and Raymond Chandler).

Of course Mailer wrote something else after the Naked and Dead; he wrote far too much and far too often. I suppose I’ve attempted about a quarter of his total output of which Why are We in Vietnam, and Ancient Evenings were unreadable and Tough Guys Don’t Dance was rubbish.

Better by far was Harlot’s Ghost – an interesting historical novel about the founding and evolution of the CIA, as told by a gifted young agent who goes on to achieve executive rank.

And then there’s the journalism.

He hated being praised for it, but Norman Mailer was one of the greatest non-fiction writers ever. Give him virtually any topic, from a civil rights march (Armies of the Night) to a boxing match (The Fight), to an Apollo moon shot (Of a Fire on the Moon) and you’d be carried along by an effortless stream of words whilst being entertained, provoked, and finally confronted with thoughts and ideas that had never occurred to you before. Yes Mailer really was that good.

If you’ve never read anything by him, please try The Naked and the Dead. If you enjoy that, move on to The Fight.

My own favourite is Of a Fire on the Moon – it’s the only book I’ve ever read on the Apollo missions that combines art and philosophy with an accurate description of events and the engineering (Mailer majored in aeronautical engineering at Harvard in 1943). Nobody but me gives a shit about Apollo now, but it’s great to have one good account of what was involved and what it all might mean.

A final irony: Norman Mailer had a huge ego, and made friends and enemies easily. Amongst his most implacable enemies was Gore Vidal (of whom I'm a huge fan). Yet the two men’s careers are almost identical – a great start, followed by huge output of patchy fiction interspersed with brilliant essays and journalism. They even wrote for the same side – the deeply unfashionable and despised progressive left.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Democratic Victory

Tom Tomorrow returns to form - Looking forward to the departure of Dubya is something we can all happily anticipate, yet the Dems (so far) have been spineless and pathetic in Congress.

Not that that will change Dubya's place in history. Several years ago, my poker buddy David claimed that Dubya had earned a place on Mount Rushmore... Perhaps he meant the urinals?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

HMS Bulwark

HMS Bulwark being maneuvered carefully down the Thames on a visit last week.

It's surprising what large ships can make it up river to the Pool of London (Tower Bridge) provided there are enough tugs to keep them in the channel.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Seeing in the Dark

One of life’s many surprises; not all the clichés of middle age are lies.

So for instance, since I turned 40 a couple of years ago, I’ve put on weight and started waking in the middle of the night on a regular basis. No different from the experience of millions of other men (and women too for that matter).

It isn’t all bad. Being fatter means I’m also slightly warmer, which makes Britain in November more tolerable. And even the insomnia has an occasional benefit; last Sunday morning for instance.

I woke at around 3:00AM and felt annoyingly awake, so switched on the radio and started listening to the World Service. After the news came a piece of radio drama entitled Seeing in the Dark. Conditioned by years of Radio 4 crap, I winced and thought about going downstairs to watch telly (Spanish league football maybe, or perhaps those rip-off phone-in quizzes with cunningly amateurish professional presenters).

But wait. This play has won the annual World Service radio drama competition, which attracted over 1000 entries this year. Competition winners are seldom rubbish. And then there was the announcer’s gentle warning about the content – ho hum – a bit of artistic sex and violence never hurt anyone.

It was cold, so pulled the duvet up a bit higher and switched out the light. A softly accented Canadian/American voice started talking about his life in prison, and how he’d unexpectedly and suddenly been granted parole. A shock for anyone who listens to Radio 4 much, the play was set IN THE PRESENT, and featured someone UNDER THE AGE OF 30. And he was Canadian, or maybe American (it doesn’t matter much).

What followed was a beautifully written description of the inner life of a charming but unstable and violent man – making his way back home through a morality free wasteland that resembled the rural Mid-West.

Yes, it was a derivative piece – there were reminders of everything from Bonnie and Clyde to the con-man in Thelma and Louise, to Junior Bonner, to the lies of James Frey. But who cares when something is a well written and scary and convincing as this?

So glad I was sleepless and was able to hear it!

Hopefully the author Gordon Pengilly has more of his stuff broadcast soon.