Archive for October, 2013

An Instant Poem


Is it me
Or is everything shit?”

I see in a shop window.

It’s not you.


Time To Be A Little Less British. Complain.


We British are supposed to be good at queuing. Some race memory of all those queues for rations during the war, perhaps. And once in a queue, we stoically put up with it, though with some grumbling.

I saw a good example of this recently. I was attending a Doctor Who convention, and there was an autograph session. By the start time, there were probably three hundred people patiently waiting in the queue. We assumed that we would file past the seated guests in turn. But no, someone decided to put everyone into separate queues. There was the predictable grumbling at this, but that was all. Virtually everyone accepted it like good little sheep.

A few, too few, people (including me) were sufficiently angered to complain. How very un-British of us, but it worked: I went to the boss and got what I wanted. After, I looked at the queue with some contempt. Stop being so British, I thought, stop grumbling and complain. If enough of you do it, they will have to do something. You’ve paid the organisers a lot of money to let yourselves be treated like this (some tickets were £130!) What on earth is wrong with you all?

I wondered if this could stand as a symbol for modern Britain. Mired in austerity that is impoverishing millions, where are our indignados? Reading the Daily Mail or The Sun and believing the propaganda. I often wonder if it’s worth getting angry about, but of course it is. If no one did, They would get away with far more than they already do. I just wish more people felt the same, that more people would cast off the mantle of British reserve and grumbling and shout back. Surround Them and shout until the walls crash down on their unworthy heads.

Review: Warship, a Blake’s 7 audio, Big Finish Productions, 2013


Big Finish, perhaps best known for their Doctor Who audio adventures, have now started producing audios for Blake’s 7. Warship written by Peter Anghelides is the first full cast story. Set between the end of the second TV series and the start of the third, we see Blake, who has spent the first two series trying to fight the brutal dictatorship of the Federation now having to ally himself with it in the face of a greater threat.

I was keen to hear the cast reprise their roles and I was not disappointed. They step back into their characters effortlessly, and though some voices have changed over time, they’re instantly recognisable. It’s a good, well-paced story that gives every character plenty to do. In the absence of Peter Tuddenham (who sadly passed away in 2007) the voices of computers Zen and Orac are ably voiced by sound designer Alistair Lock. The only things that jarred (and then only a little) were that the original sound effects could not be used for copyright reasons, and Vila’s constant grumbling.

These minor niggles aside, this is a very good story and I will look forward to future releases with eager anticipation.

The Joys Of Fan Fiction: Blake’s 7


Blake’s 7 is a sci-fi series developed by Terry Nation that ran on the BBC between 1978-81. Set several hundred years into the future, it was a dystopia, in contrast to Star Trek (which, though I enjoy, is sometimes too optimistic: “we conquered poverty in the twenty-second century” someone says at one point. Oh yeah?) I was captivated by this disparate gang trying to fight back against a brutal tyranny, and tuned in eagerly every week. My interest in it was revived in the early nineties when it was released on video. I wanted more, so I joined one of the many fan clubs and soon began to contribute to the newsletter.

Unlike Doctor Who and Star Trek, which had novelisations and new stories in print, fans of Blake’s 7 largely had to content themselves with fan fiction. That is, fiction written by fans. This is a valuable resource especially for series that have ended. It can follow on from the series end, set stories between episodes, provide back stories for characters and even tidy up inconsistencies from episodes. It keeps the flame alight. The club produced its own fiction, and I eagerly sought it. However, while you can’t doubt the enthusiasm of the contributing writers, the problem with fan fiction is the wide variation in quality. I read a lot of it in the nineties and while there were some good writers, there were also many not so good. Perhaps it’s a reaction to how I was taught at university, but I often thought there was too much telling and not enough showing.

I don’t want to be too negative however. I enjoyed a lot of what I read and it filled the gap left by the series end and helped keep my interest going. Now, the series is out on DVD, and there are various audio adventures and books available. This would have seemed an impossible dream in the nineties. I can still remember the anticipation of a newsletter or zine arriving through the post. It was one of the things that brightened my life then, and for that I will always be grateful.

On Nostalgia, Into My Heart an Air that Kills, A.E. Housman


This short poem is from A Shropshire Lad, first published in 1896. Its two stanzas of four lines each form a dialogue on the nature of nostalgia. In the first, the poet asks a question, prompted by a sudden, painful remembrance: “an air that kills” has blown straight into his heart from some “far country”. The recollection takes the form of an idealised pastoral scene of “blue remembered hills” with church spires and farms nearby. Just what is this place? the poet asks.

He answers his rhetorical question in the second stanza. He sees his past, a time when he was happy: “the land of lost content”. Clear and close, yet he knows he can never get it back, never return to “the happy highways where I went”. This is, I imagine, a common experience: it’s certainly one I often feel. Yet it’s surely the mark of a great poem where the poet can describe such an experience so originally and effectively, with some truly memorable language: “blue remembered hills”, “the land of lost content”, “the happy highways”. And he describes it so concisely, capturing in eight lines both the power of memory and its ultimate futility. Futile it may be, but it’s a very human impulse which this beautiful short poem captures to perfection.

from A Shropshire Lad


Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Unreliable Memories


I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory, yet today, I wondered. I was on YouTube, playing eighties music and came across a link to a song called “Broken Land” by The Adventures (1988). It sounded familiar, so I clicked on it. As soon as it started I was flooded with a powerful rush of feeling. It was instantly familiar, I recalled how much I had liked it at the time, and I was able to accurately sing along. I’ve written before of the power of music to evoke feeling and memory, and this was a good example of it. So what’s so surprising? Until today, I probably hadn’t heard the song for twenty-five years. I had neither bought it nor taped it from the radio (apparently it was the most played song on Radio 1 that year) yet I’d forgotten all about it. It had fallen through a hole in my memory.

Yet this rush of renewed memory was so powerful, was brought so suddenly close, I could almost touch it. I was instantly borne away on a warm river, back to being a nineteen year old away at university. How could I have forgotten this song? It seems incomprehensible. But forget I did, though that has made the rediscovery all the sweeter: it’s a pity I can’t hold on to the feeling I got when I first re-played it, turn it into some sort of pill… A rush? Quite probably. Hearing it again certainly lifted me, and I could do with more of that.

Comfort me through this stormy weather/From where I stand/I see a broken land

Glorious The Thunder’s Roar


Late October and the evening is closing in earlier today. Then a rumble of thunder and the rain suddenly increases its intensity. Surprised, I pull the curtains to watch for lightning. Surprised as I’m not used to seeing storms this late in the year: I’ve always associated them with summer days. After several increasingly sultry days, a storm arrives and breaks the humidity with a refreshing roar, leaving the air cool and sweet.

Thunderstorms have always fascinated me. A truly awesome spectacle. One of my earliest memories is opening the curtain and watching a storm in the wee small hours. It seems counter-intuitive that a cloud, made up of water droplets, could produce such fierce electrical displays. Today’s storm is not particularly impressive. The thunder occasional and what lightning there is confined within the cloud. It’s been a long time since I saw the sharp jags of forks arcing into the ground, the brief flickering brilliance hotter than the surface of the sun and packing a million volt punch. Followed by long, cracking booming rolls of thunder that make your ribs vibrate. And the rain. Thunderstorm rain has to be seen to be believed. So intense, it’s like looking into a deep waterfall, and within seconds, the gutters are half metre wide torrents flowing so fast the water passes over rather than into the drains, and the rain bounces as high into the air. I recall one such storm about twenty years ago. There had been several hot and sticky days and the storm came as a relief. Dressed only in shorts and T shirt, I went into the yard and stood in the rain, more pleasant than any shower or bath.

No chance of that happening today, and the storm has passed in the time it’s taken to write this. Only a small storm, but no less welcome. They still fascinate me, and I’m glad of that.

We Might As Well Be Strangers


You take offence again
At something I said, and
Slam the phone down
Rather than tell me what.
On days like this
We might as well be strangers.
Perhaps silence is better
Though you’d probably take
Offence at that too,
So what can I do?
On days like this
We might as well be strangers.
We don’t share the same language,
None of my words work,
We might as well be strangers
When everything I say is wrong.
On days like this
We might as well be strangers.

I Wouldn’t Wish Anyone Dead


I wouldn’t wish anyone dead,
Not even those in careless moments
Of heat or booze, I say I hate,
Not even the school tormentors
Who, in recollection, I say
I wouldn’t piss on if they were burning,
Not even them, though it’s a struggle.

I wouldn’t wish anyone dead,
Though thoughts clutter and cloud the brain.
Not mass murdering dictators,
Not liars elected or selected,
Noone’s worth the emotion,
A pebble’s bounce from loving them,
Put aside reaction, it’s distraction.

I wouldn’t wish anyone dead,
It’s a simple idea,
Don’t bother to analyse when the feeling grows
But stop and put it aside
Before the fire takes hold,
Blinds you to everything else, makes you its slave,
I wouldn’t wish anyone dead.

I wouldn’t wish anyone dead,
It’s easy enough to say, but
I’m no monk in a Spartan cell,
I can’t shut out the world so easily,
I wouldn’t wish anyone dead,
Though I think it far too often,
I wouldn’t wish anyone dead.

Out of Reach


Old stone, so smooth to my fingers,
How long have you stood here
On this bare hill?
Who dragged you from the valley floor?
Were you their god, or
A waymarker, the
Right way somewhere?
Now, tired from the climb,
My shirt sticking to me,
I look down over fields, roads,
Sheep dots, pleased I’ve made it.

Stone cool to my back
I remember childhood holidays,
When, playing in those fields
I’d look up here,
So far, it seemed, so huge,
A place I’d never reach.
Yet, even my child’s eyes
Could just make out
The pimple on the top,
Now my stony chair.
How many years?

I doubt I’d recognise
That child now, what
Could I say to him
Or he to me
That would make any kind of sense?
He’s not from my country,
But as I trace moss and lichen
I can see him clearly,
The wind has blown away the mist,
And for a few moments
I am he once again.

Perhaps now we could talk
As we bask in the sunlight?
How, what, how…
How can I tell him what’s coming
Where to turn and when?
No, better perhaps to say nothing,
Remember him laughing in the fields,
Simply shake my head in quiet surprise
At how long ago it all was.
A sudden breeze opens my eyes,
Hisses through heather

Sky darker now. I turn,
Mist, bubbling from the valley
Rolls up over the grass,
Drives me from my seat
In hasty search for the road down.
And later, as I look back up
Through steaming clouds,
I see that child again, running,
Laughing in happy ignorance.
And I, feet planted heavily here,
I am envious.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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