.........................- U P D A T E S -

.......home.............1st Feb .......... .... previous (Feb 09 to Feb 10): UPDATES...

.23rd Feb:


After hearing Clive James deliver one of his little ‘A Point of View’ episodes on Radio-4 a couple of months ago, I decided that he’d finally cracked – or caved-in – and removed the link to his site on my ‘links’ page.

I’d included the link partly because for some time I’d found his curiously convoluted style - and his subjects - consistently engrossing, but more for the casual yet insightful video-interviews with people like Alexei Sayle, Steven Fry, Martin Amis…. etc. But then suddenly, quite unnecessarily, he declares himself a confirmed climate-changesceptic’ – a term that these days has come to mean ‘opponent’ (usually 'fierce opponent').

Although I always knew he was a fuddy-duddy old git, as I mentioned in an earlier item about him, (and he once confessed the latter epithet himself, which somehow seemed to restore his credibility) I was a bit surprised at this particular gaff - which is what I reckon it was. I don’t need to remind anyone familiar with this site of my inclination for cynicism; even so, I doubt that James would ‘cave-in’ to bribery. Which leaves persuasion - for I sense he could be entering a gullible phase… AND little slots on Radio-4 can be highly sought after by certain unscrupulous lobbyists (ie, business interests).

On reflection, I think my uncharacteristically impulsive removal of the link was inappropriate, because next - about two weeks back - Mr J was another Clive’s guest on ‘Loose Ends’ (Clive Anderson) and I thought: how can anyone expect the old blagueur - now at 70 - to be as astute as previously? And his piece on 'climate-change' is the only occasion I know of when he's spouted nonsense on a crucial issue about which he clearly knows nothing!

As an aside… anyone might think I spend all my time listening to Radio-4 – not bloody likely…. me’s very choosey –  ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘Ed Reardon’s Week’ are about the only shows I make a point not to miss. Others I hear by chance – unless they’re a one-off like last week’s David Hare masterpiece ‘Murder in Samarkand’. Otherwise, if I’m fiddling about with something requiring little or no thought and prefer a change from eavesdroping on my own absurd ruminations, then I’ll check-out Radio-4. Back in the 70s, I used to listen to plays and documentaries a lot, and have always been a bit of a random dipper with radio. But when I discovered a digital channel called ‘The Jazz’ I went straight out and bought a DAB radio and listened (when I listened to anything) to virtually nothing else. Then, promptly, the station was terminated. What? This was something unheard of… and I made a note (see the purple box) at the time. But probably this did me good… because it forced me back to speech listening which is great for stirring the visual imagination.

But back to Clive, and to one of his video-interviews I viewed a few days ago with John Carey who gently dismisses such fascinating banalities as Tracey Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ and items like the 'can-of-shit' that apparently still takes up it’s little domain in Tate Modern. These kind of ‘artworks’ definitely stretch boundaries and should be applauded if only for that (and I guess there is only that). So potentially they actually fulfil one important aspect of any artwork: to WAKE US UP! We might be shocked, alarmed, horrified or perhaps gripped, elated, impressed… any emotional jolt will do, and the more unexpected, the more powerful, then the better for us, because the more effective the work will be in achieving its aim of making us MORE AWARE. I think I was utterly indifferent, but nevertheless bemused (which I suppose was something)... But whether an 'artwork' appears to us as beautiful, ugly, stunning, disgusting… matters less these days, I think, than if we can somehow GET STIRRED UP: interested, puzzled, curious - after all, it worked for that avant-garde layer of bricks (remember?). For who wants to spend their life in the kind-of dull somnolent haze that many people seem to have got caught in these days? Well, that’s one take on the issue….

* * * * * * * * *

But some of Carey's perspectives provoked me to look at a couple of playwrights. I’d been reading – and am about half-way through – Tennessee Williams’ ‘Memoirs’ (picked-up several years back for 30p). I can’t recall now what prompted me a week or two ago to select this strange little book from all the other memoirs and biographies I have on my hallway shelves (maybe it was his connection with Keysey? And a BIG volume of his short stories I've been working my way through on-and-off), because I’ve only ever seen one of his plays: his second major work ‘A Steetcar Named Desire’. The version I saw was the film production with Marlon Brando – a spectacular début performance that launched (for one) Brando’s impressive career.

So I watched on youtube the first hour of a 1987 production of his foremost theatrical sensation ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Very finely acted and directed, all from a dynamic and authentic script… and in some ways, perhaps, timeless and therefore still relevant, but these days, somehow (so it seemed to me) largely superseded or even swamped-out - by a phenomenon that was shortly to dawn on me (and which I'll come to in a moment). Although I’d never seen or heard '...Menagerie' before, I should say in its favour that it was nevertheless curiously (since my experience includes nothing like it), brilliantly familiar… that is, the small-talk, the bickering, the moods... all the little human interactions and interplay. But, crucially, I tired of it after the first hour – and stopped the film. WHY?

From a somewhat different angle and with none of the minor detail contained in the play, I’d only recently read Williams’s account of his early family circumstances that the play paralleled: his father estranged, so he (ie, the protagonist) is living with his mother and slightly disabled sister, supporting them by slaving in some hell-hole of a shoe-factory... etc, etc. Had I, when watching the play, subconsciously interpolated - not from the inevitable subconscious observations of human behaviour we all absorb throughout our lives, or already hold in our 'collective-unconscious', but from some other source? Could my 'familiarity' have originated from that other phenomenon I'm about to come to. I was struck too, though, by the realisation that it sometimes matters less what a play is about, than the manner in which events and characters are portrayed - as in Nabokov’s masterpiece ‘Lolita’ - the pricipal story of which, for instance, could be told in a brief 10-pages (or less). Though at other times, the build-up of a whole picture is essential, such as for Arthur Miller's masterpiece 'Death of a Salesman'.

Next I turned to that other renowned, twice Pulitzer-prize winner: Edward Albee. The first half hour or thereabouts of his most famous work ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ was gripping enough. I watched both a good ‘amateur’ stage version (fixed camera), then the Richard Burton film adaptation. Again, as with Williams' plays, all superbly acted and directed, with riveting, authentic dialogue and so on and so forth. It was at this point that it struck me: that although both ‘...Menagerie’ and ‘...Woolf’ were supremely well-written and directed portrayals of specific 'universal' circumstances, they were essentially also versions - albeit concentrated - of what these days has become that most dreaded, tediously perennial 'opium-to-the-masses' phenomenon: the TV soap!

I mean, those that depict life as an endless succession of strife and animosity as I describe in my little story of Melanie: ‘Acts of Life’ which serve as a nice contrast (so calculates the Corporate Establishment), so that beside it the treadmill-&-grind of most people's everyday lives shine brightly and attractively - hence they accept their lot without complaint!

In a youtube 1979 interview Albee discusses ‘Zoo Story’, a highly regarded early short play of his. There are several options: stage or film… I watched the ~10-minute film: A smartly-dressed 'professional' guy sits on a park bench reading. He is approached by another guy, 'non-professional', of similar build and age in casual attire who starts a conversation. Soon the second guy becomes provocative and arouses the first guy’s hackles. The two reveal themselves to come from very different backgrounds. The encounter ends in disaster.

Albee was about 30 when he wrote ‘Zoo Story’ and it has its faults – occasional lack of authenticity, in my view, and a certain naïveté. But it’s a fine little sketch that endeavours to show certain contrasts which are assuredly true - and are perhaps not at all easy to fabricate as Albee attempted here.

And when I reflect on all this, I think: Well, I reckon my little story ‘Con Men’ could stand a performance like that. It reveals one or two little truths and gives a fair lick to both sides. As Albee quoted in his interview, Beckett had once said (I paraphrase): that no worthwhile play requires basically more than two or three chairs and the actors to sit on them and interact. (Maybe you could discard the chairs.)

True or not, it certainly bears reflecting on - radio-kid!


1st Feb: .......................................................................................................top

Consecutive Events
 and the

A couple of months back when I was checking some pages on this site, it occurred to me that I actually knew nothing about the guy who authored ‘The Master Game’ - the book on which I based my article of that title (and to where the link leads).

So I clicked on Amazon, typed 'Robert de Mott', and Hey-Presto: an autobiography 'Warrior's Way' (1979 - 400-pages, with index)!

The telling subtitle: “more than an autobiography - one man’s quest for freedom”, tallies well with the approach to life he advocates in his other book, as quoted in my article. However, ‘Warrior’s Way’ arrived, I read it – was gripped throughout (and could write a BIG essay on it. Lucky for you I'm an idler) – but particularly recall the chapter ‘The Great Psychedelic Freakway’ where de Mott chronicles some aspects of Ken Kesey’s famous 'psychedelic' bus trip in the 60s with his ‘Merry Pranksters’ which included Neal Cassady (as driver!), later caught the notice of Aldous Huxley, called on the legendary Tim Leary (of notorious refrains: ‘Drop out, Tune in, Turn on’ and ‘Make love, not war’, etc.), and ended up at Kesey's home in Oregon...  

A revealing extract from that chapter in de Mott's book:

He drove down the Freakway in an International Harvester school bus, decorated with Dayglo, filled with pranksters in all states of dress and undress, piloted by Neal Cassady in a way no school bus had ever been driven before or since. Some trip!
  For Kesey’s group the emphasis was on action. It was not, as are all predominately intellectual enterprises, ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ Kesey was a wrestler, an athlete, a man of action, and his trip was an action trip from start to finish. It was bumpy, risky, scary, fantastic, outrageous. Ken Kesey had read his Nietzsche ‘Live dangerously’. It was dangerous all right. One thinks of Neal Cassady piloting the school bus down a windy road in the Smokey Mountains, never using the brakes, barely touching the steering wheel, probably high on amphetamines, with Kesey on the roof taking a movie of the whole wild whooshing descent. The bus was practically airborne. ‘Live dangerously.’”

I remember driving the steep winding roads of the Smokies myself, and at a high point climbing to some mad precarious spot to take this:


De Mott fails to mention that he was actually not a member of Kesey's motley crew – going by his dramatic and lucid descriptions, he might well have been - except all is revealed in the stupendous, lsd fuelled Gibney/Ellwood 2011 cinematic masterpiece 'MAGIC TRIP'. It was a trip that inspired Tom Wolfe's amazing 'The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test' & The Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour'... among other things.

Kesey is famous, of course, for his ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962) – since there’s no such entity as a cuckoo’s nest, it was a title that once puzzled me. But he wrote other tomes as well, one being ‘Demon Box’ (1986), a collection of tales reflecting on those wild days of lsd and the psychedelic bus-trip (and including some intriguing consequences), which I found on Amazon for only 1p (+ £2.75 p&p)... how could anyone resist THAT? So now I read on the back, among other things: “… Most poignantly, Kesey looks at the hard lessons to be found in the deaths of Neal Cassady and John Lennon..." Open it anywhere - just a crack, mind, for it ought to be called 'Demon Jack-in-the-Box' - because Kesey's HUGE unique persona bursts right out at you... and refuses to let go!

But all the above is really an aside – ‘What?’ (I hear you cry!) The fact is that when I’m not charging across the cliffs, or around some local ‘forest’ or shuffling along a nearby seashore, leaping the rocks, sprinting along the sand, then much of my time is taken on weird circuitous literary meanderings and diversions as delineated above. Usually, I’ve got the books needed to complete a particular investigation, though if not there's always the net... because all trails are essentially endless – well, almost endless, so it seems sometimes. But if all this is an aside, I’d better get to the point:

When ‘Demon Box’ arrived, I noticed on the packaging that it had come from a little town in Washington State called Lakewood – which I found on the map to be on Interstate-5, about 40Km north of Seattle. And I began to recall when I was driving north up Interstate-5 approaching a junction where I could either go right to Seattle or left to re-join highway 101 – that famous old coastal route which had taken me a good length of California.

I chose left, and caught a ferry to Vancouver Island from Port Angeles (which I later discovered was where Raymond Carver had lived). But getting back to Lakewood, I wondered what the place looked like; and then it occurred to me that I could log onto Google Earth and in the virtual sense actually go there.

That’s when I began to get really carried away. First, I went from Lakewood across to the North Cascades where Kerouac spent several months on Desolation Peak in a fire-watcher’s hut – and later wrote about the experience in his brilliant ‘Desolation Angels’. Next, I charged down to Jellystone Park, 'lifted' the little orange guy off the sliding-scale stick, and ‘drove’ nostalgically around West Jellystone, then around some of that amazing park…. and on to see once more those magnificent jagged peaks of Grand Teton. Suddenly, the thought struck me that I could maybe visit the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, which we drove past without stopping last April…. So I zoomed up and out, across the Atlantic to France and down, down, down into Paris and to the Palace gardens where I ‘strolled’ for a good ten minutes.

And at last I can visit Crater Lake in Oregon, the road to which was all snowed-up when I tried to drive there (and where, when I took this shot, the silence was awesome):

to crater lake

Just pause a moment and imagine standing there where I stood to take this shot, every now and then a soft rustle as a branch somewhere loses its burden of snow, the crisp pristine air....

The point is, though, all this ‘zooming’ and ‘driving’ and so on might be merely virtual, and at present fairly rudimentary – jittery, uncertain, often limited and slow (especially the orange guy) … etc…  yet, even so, quite fantastic. BUT SOON… given a decade, perhaps, AND the entire process will be transformed. Then you’ll be able to grab a small handset, I imagine, put on a visor and it’ll be as if you’ve become a bird, or are driving a flying-car – and all in 3D you'll be zooming around the planet, sweeping down to visit and inspect almost anywhere, skimming mountain-tops, skirting coastlines, swerving along rivers and forest tracks, driving the great freeways (& freakways) of the world at breakneck speed …. zooming across deserts, lakes and oceans, even diving the deep-sea trenches perhaps, or alternatively to the moon…. Woweeeeeee... unmapped locations will be computer-interpolated - so maybe there'll be the option of going beyond the Solar System too: visit the extrapolated environs of Proxima Centauri, Betelgeuse or even Andromeda at 2.2-million light-years... all based on real data from the Herschel telescope… and from wherever else it can be drummed-up.

Like the remarkable ‘evolving’ prospective androids outlined in my previous Update, the incredible ‘Google UniverseTime-Hoover (a truly monumental TIME-HOOVER) envisaged above are what we have to look forward to…. (I say this, hoping beyond the odds that it all takes shape in the next decade or two before I’m too decrepit to enjoy it… or dead. YowW!)

Compare what we have these days against the (now amusingly banal) sensation caused by the launch of the first pocket calculator 4-decades ago, or modern TV against the inferior TVs of the 50s (which required a thump every so often to get some dodgy connection to re-make)… and reflect on how, in half a century, every aspect has been smoothed, refined and perfected - for a boring flat picture, at any rate!

Look at what there is AND Think Ahead!

Oh, you lucky kids out there who’ll enjoy all this amazing technology, spare a moment of reflection on us poor sods who’ll be pegging-out, and on what we’ll be missing and you’ll be enjoying…. because one day the same terrible realisation will hit you also. And it'll be worse then because the technology will be all the more enticing, thrilling, exhilarating and above all promising....