Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book Review #1: Writing Therapy by Tim Atkinson


Tim Atkinson is one of our number, a blogger who goes by the name of The Dotterel and also writes Bringing up Charlie. He has written a book, which is quite excellent, and which I promised to review here. Now, I don’t have too much time or previous experience, so staff members on the Times Literary Supplement can breathe a sigh of relief, but here goes:

The story centres on a teenage girl who drops out of school and spends all her time reading in the local library. A good idea on many levels: hockey is not an important skill in the job market, (neither are history or geography but I’ll let that pass...) Atkinson somehow manages to understand this girl’s way of thinking – jealousy of her classmates, the failure of communication with her mother, her crush on a male teacher – very well indeed. He’s been a teacher himself and is clearly observant. She then gets admitted to a teenager unit of the local psychiatric hospital, where she meet other kids: self-harmers, bulimic, sex-addicts, fantasists… She has a lesbian relationship with another girl there, described in a direct and non-cringe-worthy manner. There ensues a battle between the “old guard” members of staff and a trainee who encourages her to write as a form of therapy. This fulfils what I take to be the theme of the book, and somehow she manages to avoid the traps of escapism and work her way to a clearer view of her place in the world. The conclusion is sufficiently heart-warming and, most importantly, convincing.

Its book that you keep on wanting to read and read. The subject matter is in and of itself engaging. (From a personal perspective, I had a close family member who also sought to escape the world through the medium of literature, though I don’t think this ever led him to having a lesbian affair.) In addition, the author manages to write it as the teenage girl, a feat he pulls off remarkably well. And it has coded literary references, which one hopes will give young readers inspiration to read further and maybe even write books of their own :-) I hope that it reaches a wider audience - it deserves one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top Cats #2

Those kittens still haven’t showed up yet, so I’m forced to present the second half of my Top Cats list, my Five Favourite Fluffy Felines, as with the Ferals, mainly in terms of fictitious moggies*.

#5 Bagpuss off of Bagpuss: A very popular candidate in comments on the previous list. But I have to confess that I never “got” Bagpuss. Ivor the Engine, yes; The Clangers, most certainly; but Bagpuss was just too esoteric, too dense with subtexts, simply too Modernist – like trying Finnegan’s Wake after having enjoyed Ulysses. The plots seemed to involve mechanical mice and a large cat that did nothing: Waiting For Godot wasn’t in it. I’m clearly just irremediable middle-brow.

#4 Vienna/Ponsonby: I always remember Leonard Rossiter talking to large fluffy cats: it was the former in Rising Damp (6:14 minutes in), and the latter in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin. Rossiter, by all accounts, had an exceptionally high opinion of his own talent, perhaps justifiably so considering his nanosecond perfect comic timing. There’s no more obliging straight-man than a lazy pussycat, which is he probably how he honed his craft.

#3 Custard off of Roobarb and Custard Admittedly the dog was the star, but as the phlegmatic pink cat from next door Custard was Sancho Panza to Roobarb’s knight-errant. The animation was as edgy and fidgety as most of the target audience surely felt at that age, and the theme-tune so perfectly grungy that it could’ve been written by The Ramones but with jazzy mouth-organ and (later) double-bass, by Toots Thielemans and Danny Thompson… just my little fantasy :-).

#2 Jess off of Postman Pat: I always felt there was something disturbing about Postman Pat. It’s the way he drives around the lanes of Greendale without ever having to slow down for corners or watch out for other traffic – he’s clearly made a pact with the Devil. And he’s never without the company of that cat – it’s his “familiar”. So what makes Jess A Fluffy? I hear you ask. Well, just think how much worse Pat would be without it.

#1 Tanu: Of our two, Ţuţica is the more trichologically luxuriant but, personality-wise, Tanu’s as Fluffy as they come - he’s simply too stupid to be Feral. Spends his energies chasing butterflies rather than eatables, and has a habit of banging his head on things - very endearing when the thing in question is a part of one's body; another good trick is, when he’s on your lap, surreptitiously move the chair under a table, when he wakes up he’ll yawn, stand up, and bang his head… every time.

* NB: I’ve made no mention of Mrs Slocum’s Pussy – also a popular viewers’ choice in the Feral category - as I felt we’d probably had quite enough of “that” sort of thing in the previous post....

To end, something for all you young people out there, here’s the rave version of Roobarb and Custard:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

R.I.P. #1

The recent death of Michael Jackson left me strangely unmoved. When Princess Di died I was living in a house in Denmark full of hippies who didn’t give a toss, so I’d no prior experience of being unmoved and being told this was strange. I felt genuinely sorry for their families but not much else, possibly because I hadn’t enjoyed Jackson’s later music much and adhered to the Jarvis Cocker school of thought that though talented and possibly harmless he probably wasn’t the saviour of all the world’s children. Then I remembered he had brothers called Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon; that night I dreamed a dream – good grief I must have eaten a lot of cheese the previous evening - what it would’ve been like if Jackie Chan, President Josip “Broz” Tito of Yugoslavia, Germaine Greer and Marlon Brando had been the pallbearers:

Germaine: You know, he was such a beautiful young man, in that special age between innocence and maturity.
Marlon: He coulda been a contender.
Germaine: He was a contender, you idiot! It’s just that you choose to judge him by the handed-down values of a Patriarchal society...
Jackie: Hey, this funeral is kinda boring, how about if the hearse is hijacked by the Triads, door opens, coffin flies down road and through the streets of Chinatown, and we go after it fighting everybody we meet on the way?
Germaine: ...that gives women nothing but second-class sexual citizenship and shitty orgasms
Marlon: Got any butter with you?*
Germaine: No I haven’t, you fat, pervy narcissist! So what are you rebelling against?
Marlon: What have you got? Dairylea would probably do.
Germaine: I didn't fight to get women out from behind vacuum cleaners to get them onto the cheese board.
Jackie: Ha, so you think your verbal kung fu is good, heh, Sheila?? You wait till Julie Birchill show up, then we see who is true master!
Marlon: The horror, the horror...
Tito: Hey, I successfully led partisan troops against the fascist armies during World War II and then united the mutually antagonistic Southern Slavic peoples during 35 years of relative harmony whilst both making friends with Western leaders and keeping the Red Army at bay, while this Jackson was just a singer with an squeeky voice and a funny face. I can’t believe I agreed to do this. Still, I ‘spose, a gig’s a gig.
Vicar (David Bowie, for it is he): Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, Michael Jackson was a junkie; Gone to the llama ranch in the sky, hitting an all-time high.
Everybody: Amen.

Gadjo Dilo wishes to thank the producers of On The Waterfront, Last Tango in Paris, The Wild One, Apocalypse Now and all of Jackie Chan’s films, and the publishers of The Female Eunuch, The Beautiful Boy , Ashes to Ashes and Yugo First: An Autobiography for their kind permission etc.

* I hesitated, much, before referencing this by-all-accounts terminally unpleasant film; but then I thought, if anyone can handle it Germaine Greer probably can.

Here's the geezer with his bros from the era which I personally prefer to remember:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Top Cats #1

The result of the votes counted after the Previous Moggie Post was that our two trencherman tabbies are now named Tanu and Ţuţica, the most Romanian names on offer, and already X is leaning how to mix dodgy cement and Y is seeing how much cheap gold she can fit into the gaps between her molars. And, hurrah, the miracle of childbirth has once again been visited upon the world! Somewhere. Ţuţica’s tummy is now full of milk rather than babies, though we have no idea where she’s put the latter. Mysterious. While we look for them, in honour of All Things Cat – for taxonomic reasons I’ve divided the contest into Feral and Fluffy - here’s my all time list of Five Favourite Feral Felines:

5: Tom off of Tom & Jerry

Only the episodes from the Fred Quimby era, of course, or Kevin would kill me, and rightly so. Not the most imaginative name for a cat, perhaps, but then he was EveryCat: playful, adventurous, soft-hearted, cowardly, greedy, but above all just very very violent.

4: Cat Stevens

Born Shakin’ Stevens to a Greek taramasalata salesman and a Swedish masseuse in London’s Welsh Quarter in 1948, he had a troubled youth not knowing who he was. Eventually he found solace in beard-wearing, in all its many fine manifestations, and changed his given name to something more hirsute-sounding. (With his peace campaigning and his moderate Islamic views he should maybe be a Fluffy rather than a Feral, but I fear I may need all 5 slots of the former for the kittens, when we find them.)

3: George Galloway out of Respect

A maverick, left-leaning politician with a following from Ken Loach to (at a guess, but for the man's sake I'm hoping not) Derek Hatton, when one fateful day in January 2006 he was seen purring and pretending to drink milk from a saucer. As a trained mime artist I respected him very much for this. He’s since confessed to suffering from felo-variant Kepler’s Syndrome, and has put himself on a special diet of Whiskas Junior as the first step in a rehabilitation programme.

2: Top Cat off of Top Cat

Pleasingly, exactly what is says on the tin: leads a mélange of alley cats in a constant scampery of foraging, romancing, rock ‘n’ rock and abuse of authority. Loosely based on Sgt. Bilko, apparently - indeed the actor playing Pvt. Doberman there voiced TC’s sidekick Benny - but with the leadership skills of Napoleon, Che Guevara and Mike Brierley all rolled into one. You’d follow this cat anywhere.

1: ”Cat” off of Red Dwarf

The coolest cat in the cat-basket. You might think I’m only saying that because he’s anthropomorphosised. But no, the comedy sci-fi show actually had it right: “Cat” is the Future of Felinism. A hundred or so years ago we became aware that Life Imitates Art, and now, I am sure, so will Evolution*; in 3,000,000 years I fully expect moggies to be standing on hind legs and wearing cyclamen-coloured zoot suits.

* Dilo, G. “Unnatural Selection: Post-Modern Evolution of Species”, PhD Thesis, University of Life, Cluj-Napoca, 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gadjo Dilo’s Peccadillos #4: Housewives, choice

Mrs Dilo’s away this week and so Gadjo’s mind again starts to wander a bit - and he also realises how the housework builds up during the course of seven days... And so, as we focus in ever closer on the ideal of perfect female luvliness, this time we’ll discuss the necessary qualities of The Housewife:

Jane Asher

Is it apocryphal or has Jane Asher really promoted more homecare products than any other housewife?? Jane must be pushing 70 by now but she’s still quite pretty. And that’s the problem. To be a proper housewife you’ve got to age properly. Jane looks fine because she’s got some Ecuadorian slave lady on 50p a month doing her chores for her - I bet she’s never unblocked the lav in her life!! Sorry, not impressed.

Sheena Easton

My baby takes the morning train,
He works from nine till five and then
He takes another home again
To find me waitin’ for him

She’s just been sitting there, waitin’ for him. Maybe she’s rearranged some things in the fridge or thought about doing the ironing, but she’s mainly been just waitin’, and we know what that means – right, lads? You’re exhausted but as soon as you get in you have to listen to her rabbiting on about who was going into Mrs Tibbs’ house, what was on Richard & Judy, and can she buy a new washing machine. D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Dame Edna Everage

The self-proclaimed “Housewife Superstar". But is she? She’s certainly sturdy and has aged appropriately over time, but there’s something not quite right there and I can’t put my finger on it. Too much make-up, possibly.

Freddie Mercury

Something fishy going on here too but again I’m not sure what. Ah yes, I’ve got it now, it’s the hovering technique. Take a look: she doesn’t go under the sofa or the table. Move the chairs to the side, tell Gran to stand up for a minute... come on luv, it’s really not that difficult!

Sofia Loren

2nd time in for Sofia. She’s a statuesque and Cleopatra-nosed housewife in A Special Day, therefore fulfilling most of my previously elaborated criteria; (the chance to do some pole-vaulting in that film’s rooftop scene amongst the washing lines was missed, which I think was a mistake, but I’ll let it pass). The character she plays is dowdy, yet underneath a well of passion that’s been suppressed by years of domestic choirs and an unthinking twerp of a husband. Luvly.

Pam Grier

Pammie was always well-proportioned and in every way up there with Sofia according to my criteria. Admittedly, we’ve seen her more often toting a Colt 45 than an Electrolux Z1030C, but I reckon she could still do a job about the house - in fact she may be yearning for it after all those tough-girl rôles. The best thing Quentin Tarantino ever did was in Jackie Brown when he simply let the camera soak her up, often just walking from one place to another. It had been 20 years since she’d been a Blaxploitation Babe but she was luvlier than ever (though just imagine, just for a second, if she’d also been pushing a Eubank carpet sweeper at the time, mmm…). Yep, I think we’ve got a winner!

To end, here’s some of my favourite flamenco music; get a load of gypsy housewife La Perla de Cadiz: