Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Flat. Low. Went into town today. Couldn't think of anything to do. And there was no one to do it with. Came home. Tidied up. Made some food. No texts, no e-mails, no voice-mails. Listened to "The Woman in Black" on the radio. Sat down in front of the computer. Did nothing. Watched an episode of "The Prisoner". Stared at the computer. Did nothing. The grey cat came in, mooched around for a bit and left without a word. Checked Facebook: brief exchange about crisps. Another brief exchange about the Green Lantern. Checked my e-mails. The phone rings twice, both recorded messages about the miss-selling of loans. I listen to Hancock on the radio for about ten minutes. Another two readers on "Jottify". I don't write anything. I miss my wife. Life is so boring without her. I open a bottle of wine for the first time in two and a half weeks.

The wine is boring.

Welcome to Dumpsville, population : you!

I think my therapist is breaking up with me. And after I've been feigning madness like an art-school Hamlet; coffin riding, splintered fingernails full of dirt. The time between our sessions is getting longer and longer and today she asks me "How do you feel about the counselling?" meaning "I think we should see other people."

I've grown accustomed to these hour long philibusters,it's great to vocalise my pain and not have to worry that the other person is having a good time. Except now I'm starting to. Maybe I should change the act a bit.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I done wrote a theatre review for Culture N. I.

Reviews THEATRE REVIEW: Cooking With Elvis
'It’s like looking at the workings of a pocket-watch that is singing doo-wop and shifting furniture'

Updated: 27/09/2011
By John Higgins It’s a real shame that that the Bruiser Theatre Company’s production of Lee Hall’s Cooking with Elvis is so very good. I have in my critical arsenal seventy five insults but only fourteen compliments. I’m afraid I will be using all of the latter in this review, and possibly borrowing a few more from high-minded friends.

Cooking with Elvis tells the story of an Elvis impersonator (Stephen Beggs) cut down in his hip-swivelling prime by a car accident and left in a permanent vegetative state. He is cared for, after a fashion, by his alcoholic and anorexic wife, Mam (Jo Donnelly) and Jill (Nuala McGowan), his food-obsessed 14 year old daughter.

Jill narrates the drama, introducing each scene with glittering eyes and a rictus grin. It’s this insistence on the reality of an audience that is the frame-work for the piece.

Cooking with Elvis was originally written for radio and the audio cues have been kept, keenly trumpeted by Jill. The character describes the action of each forth-coming scene with unnatural glee.

It’s a great conceit to use Jill as a human title-card. She announces the action and allows the play to be as dark as the subject matter dictates, while maintaining a joyful lightness of touch.

It also allows for the mechanism of the cast breaking character to rearrange the set between scenes, scat-singing all the while, regardless of the emotional content of the preceding or following scenes. Thus Elvis is able to leap from his chair and belt out Vegas-karaoke versions of his hits, complete with Karate moves and a trade-mark guttural “Thangyewverymuch.”

The other two characters in the drama are Stewart (Shaun Blaney), a dim baker with a nice line in stolen Black Forest gateau and a propensity for stripping to his pants, and Stanley (Stanley) a small, inanimate tortoise.

Stewart is a would-be lothario whose idiocy and sexual incontinence lead him into trysts with all of the cast members. Barring Stanley.

The scene where he chummily decides to give Elvis a 'helping hand' is one of the comic high-lights of the play. It is beautifully judged by Blaney, who gives the scene just the right level of pragmatic bonhomie. Stewart, you feel, would flourish in a prison environment.

Stephen Beggs delivers an increasingly paranoid and apocalyptic King. At first content to describe his interest in burgers and capes, concerns about erectile dysfunction lead him into visions of 'sodomites rutting in the cornfields' and Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

His emergence from a fairy-lit cupboard, like a be-quiffed Mr Tumnus, next to the rutting bodies of his teenage daughter and the lodger, is another richly comic moment. The lovers provide cooing backing vocals between thrusts.

Jo Donnelly, as the booze-addled English teacher mother, gives a performance of astonishing range. She veers from a jelly-legged seduction of the hapless Stewart to a dark-night confessional, threading her fingers through the spokes of her husband’s wheelchair.

Nuala Magowan has perhaps the hardest role as Jill, the food-scientist and focus for the drama. She doesn’t have the funny lines that Mam gets or her father’s karate kicking set-pieces, yet she’s on stage almost constantly.

She is her own Greek-chorus, from the opening strains of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' to the rousing last notes of “Amazing Grace”. Magowan is well up to the task, delivering a sure-footed and energetic performance.

Lisa May directs with a hand so firm she could have baked it in vinegar. The choreography is neatly done and the sets dismantled and rebuilt between scenes with astonishing efficiency. It’s like looking at the workings of a pocket-watch, but a pocket-watch that is singing doo-wop and shifting furniture.

The sets ingeniously fold and slide, producing doors from flock-patterned dividing walls and staircases from kitchen units. They have the beauty and simplicity of giant origami, a perfect illustration of Bruiser’s ethos: “minimal set for maximum impact”. Like Mam the machinery here is very well oiled.

If I had any misgivings they would lie with the play itself. It’s a bit slow to start, the resolution is fairly contrived and unconvincing and Stanley the tortoise’s story doesn’t really go anywhere. If you’re going to put a tortoise in a play you are going to need to make that tortoise work for you!

The self described 'glib epilogue' ends the performance with a truly rotten pun, but this is not so much acknowledged as celebrated. Mam and Jill scowl out into the audience, daring them not to laugh. And there’s still 'An American Trilogy' and appropriate pyrotechnics to come. To end on an awful pun of my own, this production was performed with some truly amazing grace.

Cooking With Elvis is touring throughout Northern Ireland during September and October. For more information, see Culture Northern Ireland's What's On listings.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Play

It was actually good. I hate it when they're good. What do I have to write about now? The goodness of the play. Bah!

Writer, writing

Am off out to review a play tonight. "Cooking with Elvis" by Lee Hall, famous writer of "Billy Elliot" but this appears to be a very different kettle of cheese, routinely being compared to Joe Orton's work. I'm doing it for Culture N.I. and, oddly, it's at the end of its run rather than the beginning meaning that my opinion won't sway anybody in any direction.

Which is fine.

The Postman rang my doorbell this morning and in my eagerness to open the door I snapped the key in the lock. It fell apart between my powerful fingers with ridiculous ease. Two boozeless weeks of careful eating have turned me into a superhero. A superhero locked in his house. I had to ring a crabby and hungover Dee Mullan to come and let me out. If I hadn't given her the spare I would be stuck in here still, starving to death, and admiring my slender figure.

The postman was delivering a DVD of "Stewart Lee : 90s Comedian" as my desperate man-crush continues to the extent that I'm currently writing a piece slagging him off in a fair imitation of his pedantic stage manner. It's a twisted love letter really. He is basically my avatar in an immersive* video game called "Look at what you could've won".

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Adventures in tape

I'm flat broke. To the extent that I have actually signed on. To the dole. When we first moved over I applied for a carer's allowance. It took two months to process and Kelly died within three weeks, so I rang them and told them to stop it. I didn't realise that after the initial payment they had placed a stop on the account and I hadn't received any more money anyway, and they didn't tell me at the time, and they didn't tell me when I rang to cancel it. Later, at the C.A.B., I found out that they are supposed to pay you an extra two months after the death of the person you are caring for. And, of course, me being me, and exhausted by the thought of ringing people and going through the same information AGAIN, I let it slide. When I finally got my shit together to sign on, weeks later, filled in the forms, including the part in which I said I had previously been receiving a Carer's Allowance. Went to the interview, was seen by a total of four people, was advised what I needed to do to qualify for the money (write a little book about all the ways I've looked for work, come in to the job-seekers and use their machine to find work, look it up on their web-site etc ). I spoke to my bank earlier in the week and they advised me that no monies have been paid. I asked them to send me statements about my banking activity since we moved. I was paid an arrears lump-sum from the carer's allowance people on the first of July and since then nothing. I ring them up. They tell me they have no idea why the payments have stopped. They tell me that I'm definitely entitled to the money but they can't issue it and they don't know why. A man named Cormac is going to ring me back. I ring the JSA. They tell me that it's right that they haven't paid me anything at all. The reason is that there is an ongoing problem with a Carer's allowance. The Carer's alowance is the big swinging dick of benefits, it tramples everything in it's path, despite actually being less money than the Job Seekers Allowance (we value our carers far less than those robust and fearless job-seekers in this country). I say I haven't had any money for two months from the carer's and anyway it was on my form for the JSA, why did nobody mention it then? They say they don't know. I say well do I still sign on, given that I'm not receiving any money? They say Oh yes, you have to sign on - it will effect your benefits. But i'm not receiving benefits, I say. But you will, there's arrears money coming to you from the carer's allowance. But I don't have any money now, how am I supposed to, say, eat. Their hands are tied. JSA guy, Darryl, is going to look into it and phone me back.

Cormac the carer calls me back. I'm definitely entitled to the money, he says. But he doesn't know when I can have it. The problem stems from whom I was caring about: Kelly's disability benefit claims were all made in England and Northern Ireland, despite DEFINITELY being in the U.K., has a different internal claims system which has screwed everything up. I appeared to be caring for nobody. But I made MY application in Ireland, I say. How come it initially went through? He's not sure but he's very adament that the money WILL be mine. At some point.

Darryl JSA rings me back. He solved everything! My carer's allowance will be coming through immediately. I say I've spoken to Cormac the Carer and he doesn't know anything about it and reckons it'll be twenty four hours before he does. Darryl sounds momentarily vague. No, definitely sorted. The JSA? That'll be sorted too, by the end of the week.

And it will. Because I am so fucking on it by now. I will not stop. And they'll pay for these fucking phone-calls as well.

Monday, 19 September 2011

May have just lost my the last chance to hear her voice. Her Dictaphone was flashing "battery low" so I replaced the batteries - and have apparently wiped all the previous recordings in the process. I wasn't ready to listen to them and picked up the Dictaphone by chance during my frantic cleaning today. If the low battery had wiped out messages it would have been bad enough. But it looks as though my usual mechanical stupidity has done it. I wasn't ready to listen to them and now I never will. I don't if there was even anything on there, of course; but now I'll never know.

I'm so sick of being a fucking moron.

Poor Diem

I'm still on a lifestyle revamp: I don't drink every night now (just Friday's and Saturdays - that was a rationalisation from not drinking at all. You can't not drink and still network - people look at you oddly). I have cut out bread, butter, red meat, wine and beer ( I drink gin and slimline now!) milk, fat and sugar. I eat fruit and some sort of variation on Turkey stir-fry. I walk at least two miles a day, even when it's raining. It has had no obvious effect at all. If anything I look fatter. Never-mind, once I am certain of my un-waged credentials (I have my first two weekly drop in on Wednesday! New bug, I hope there's no hazing ceremony) I shall join a gym. I already have a gym-buddy a 2o something artist friend of mine: it's like the man and boy love club over here.

I have got things done today. I phoned Kelly's bank about her account. I had already done the joint account stuff two weeks ago and two weeks is about as long as it takes to get me motivated to do things again. They're phoning me back as they don't know their own "closing-your-dead-wife's-account" procedure. You would think it would come up occasionally. I then phoned Hotmail about giving me access to the e-mails in my account. Little know fact about Hotmail accounts - if they aren't used for six months they close them down. I've had to go all the way to America with this - all of my correspondence with Kelly from when we first met is on that account. I have to have it. They're going to e-mail me within "24" hours. I also tidied the bedroom. This had three separate effects: I could see the floor again, I wept bitterly having to engage with all of her things ( a Christmas card where she refers to herself as "my girlfriend", her many wally socks, just things...just everything) and lastly I found my passport. This means that not only do I have some i.d. but I can also get off this rock if need be. In a hurry. When they find out the truth about me. I also found a lot of clothes that I thought I'd lost - some of them even fit me!

So that's my day. I also watched "The Spy in Black" and wrote five hundred mean-spirited words on being fat in order to try and get published somewhere over here. That's what they're crying out for: middle-aged men be-moaning their spread.
Another dream from Kelly. This time it's a phone call to tell me that she loves me and that I love her and she's on the train to Preston. She tells me in passing that she's been watching the film "Sideways". My brother Barry had been on the phone when Kelly rang and I put him on hold while I took Kelly's call (my dream phone is rather more sophisticated than my actual phone!) Suddenly I can no longer hear Kelly but Barry's on-hold sighs and mutterings. "Left to rot over here," he says. I press the call waiting button to tell him I'm talking to Kelly but something goes wrong and I lose both of them.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My heads full of you today, darlin'. Went for a walk along Lagan Meadows where you used to wander, sketching tree-stumps and falling over in bogs. Then I submitted stuff to the Vacuum, the way you used to. I read the pieces that you had submitted and I became both angry and proud and something else which I can't quite put my finger on. Angry because they're so good, as good as anyone; better than anyone. How did nobody notice? It doesn't make any sense. Your voice sings off the page. The pieces are whip-smart, funny, passionate and compassionate, full of one-liners and clever bits that take a couple of goes to get and are actually worth getting. You were really good at this. Why the fuck did nobody ever pay you for it? The report on Miss Belfast I can almost touch; it was written just a couple of months before I met you and it's the same funny, clever, beautiful girl that I found squatting on children's furniture in a house-party in Basingstoke. You were brilliant. You're my Miss Belfast. As well as being the fastest girl in Gulladuff, no contest.

Watched Xander and Anya almost get married on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but had to turn off when an excited Anya exclaimed "I get to spend the rest of my life with my best friend,". It doesn't always work out like that. *

Watching that silly bitch with the speech impediment talking about Georgian living rooms. I quite like her. You would have hated her. Good.

*Needn't have worried - Xander bolts from the altar and queers the whole pitch. Good old "Buffy"!
Can you get fat on grapes and bananas? I'm craving bread. French bread.The unkindest bread of all.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I'm on a thing called Jottify which is a new web-sitey thing for budding, or in my case rotted on the vine, writers. My comedy-cold-war-spy-mythological-circus novel "The Rain of Terror" has been posted on it. It is routinely being beaten in "follows" and "likes" by Dr Who fan-fiction and "comic" verse. Worse than this is the fact that my brother, the estimable E "O" Higgins, is the run-away success of Jottify, out-classing everybody and receiving uniformly fawning praise, with comparisons to Susan Hill and a "like" from Stephen Fry!**

Please drop by Jottify and show me love! I need positive reinforcement. He's younger and faster than me. Looks like this link doesn't work properly either. Cut 'n' paste it please. Sorry.

**What won't Fry do?

P.S. check out Edward's too. It is actually very good.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Watching the Sarah Silverman Show. It's the best show on television. Though I don't think it's on television any more. Just putting that out there.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Stone Killer

Day one of new health regime a partial success. Woke early, did some rather good writing, washed up, went for a lengthy walk, bought healthy foods and cooked them. Consumed no wine. Admin, sadly, remains untouched. But it will still be there tomorrow.

I've made a commitment for two months to exercise, eat good food and drink far, far less, with the notion that I should lose a stone in that time. I've written it down now so I will look like a prick if I don't do it. So good.

Tree's Company*

Sorry about yesterday. Wild variance in tone on this blog isn't there?

Kelly would have loved today because her favourite thing in the world was the sound of the wind moving through trees and it is blowing a gale down Massey Avenue which is where I've chosen to walk today. I'm reminded of the Parkland walk we used to take as often as possible back in Finsbury Park. Like most of these places it's an abandoned train-line running up to Alexandra Palace and used chiefly by joggers and people on bikes, with dog-walkers and romantic strolling couples coming in a poor third and fourth respectively. But there was a specific spot, just north of where we lived, where a cross-winds used to catch in the tops of the trees and the traffic noises subsided and we could stand there holding each other listening to the wind in the trees and living solely in that moment.

Massey Avenue is a decorous place, the Hampstead of Belfast, large Victorian mansions nestle, cheek by jowl, with aggressively new mansions. It's where palm trees and two-car garages go to die. But it's the trees I'm mainly interested in, especially as the tip-touching canopy of green is keeping most of the rain off. I'm pounding these green streets as part of my plan to lose weight over the next two months (a fort-month). It's part of my general plan to become better. To do something with my life. I really have nothing so I have nothing to lose. To paraphrase either me or Bobby McGee.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

18 ways I'm missing her

Missing the long, hand-held walks over North London hills or South London parks, walking until the anxiety relaxed its grip and we could go to our home,
Missing her voice,
Missing her wit and the smile she didn't like,
Missing her eye rolling, her thigh slapping; her kicking legs,
Missing her walk.
Missing her skin.
Missing her hands.
Missing the mole on her right cheek and the occasional straggling eye-brow.
Missing the black fire of her eyes.
Missing my long black-haired sexy wife,
Missing my short red-haired noble wife,
Missing my best friend,
Missing the tears in bare-walled hospital side-rooms where every hope was crushed and all we could do was cling to each other,
Missing holding her,
Missing knowing I wont have to finish a sentence,
Missing her style,
Missing being so very, very proud all the time.

Missed her death.

(today was the two month anniversary of her death)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Feel like a new name.

Am tired of John Patrick Higgins; old muffin top, hobbledy-hoof. Feel like a new label. Perhaps a direct transliteration into Spanish: Juan del Feugo? (Higgins means, in Irish, "Sons of Fire")

Or something camper and more fun: Donny Mwah!

Or a literary name? Hmn. No one is ever going to beat Umberto Eco. It's a joy to say his name. Tommy Ovary? Benedict Chung? Marjory Cakebread, Pontious Litesout' (a Dublin writer from the thirties!) Rupert Hartford-Evans, Robin Pinch, "Evens" Stevens, Derek Lanyard, Derek Wolff, Martin Crecy, James Grenthel,

More Irish? Peadar O' Bleadar? Brendan O' Gunns, Josie James? Mick Tick, Aloysius Merichrissmus, (another Dublin writer), Patsy Boyle, Niall Faile, Colm An Paper, Benny Hannon, Samuel Buckett, C.S. O' Hastings,

French? The old favourites: Jacques Tacky, Jean Maljean, Huey Clos, Leon Si, Patrick Homerton, Gaston Gastoff, Guillaume Homme, Jaques Vache, Alain Deman, Terry Ennui,

Cool Rock 'n' Roll moniker? Hard Man Humble, Second Stage Lensman, King Stink, Higgs Bosun, Duke Hum Drum,

Martin Amis? Whoreson Drab, Gaz Ebo, Keith Antihero, Tracey Victim, Martin Amis, Guy Aching-Smallpiece, Russell Leeks- Musselwhite, Tony Pratt, Katie Thicklegged - Prostitute, Anna Log, Ian Actor,


Thursday, 8 September 2011

I am no longer ready for this jelly.

I'm starting a diet. I will also be finishing it. And, in two months time, I expect to be a stone lighter. Watch this ever decreasing space.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Went to the Belfast Literary Festival 2011 tonight. I don't know anything about poetry but I like the way it sounds. I was keen to see University Hall as I'm seeing Les Mystere de la voix Bulgare there in October and wanted to check out the acoustics. It was also free because I'm, like, super-connected.

I needn't have worried about the acoustics. The Ulster Hall is a fantastic venue; a small, intimate, high-ceilinged chamber with a giant organ dominating the stage. Led Zeppelin played here in 1971 and the set up must have been very much the same! I'm programme-less and note-less, so this is a thumbnail sketch, at best, of what I saw and, inevitably, there were two further problems: Irishness and the fact that these people, reading out these poems, tended to be poets. Poets, by their very nature, are half tramp, half social-inadequate and all over the place. I don't think any poets would be offended by that description; they are a gentle folk, given to ironic distance and profound self-awareness: they know they're oddballs, fringe-dwellers and carriers of sexual disease. That's why Byron was described as "Mad, bad and dangerous to, y'know". And it's this shambling, dissipated, shirt-tail-not-tucked-in persona that means they're not always the best public speakers. You wouldn't go to a power-point presentation presided over by a poet and expect to learn about your company's core values. Though you might learn a little something about yourself.

The other difficulty was the Irishness. Now this I cheerfully admit is entirely my problem. If you're an Irish and you grew up here, amongst cultural certainties and shared ideas and a shit-load of mountains, this evening would have been a walk in the park for you, a gentle stroll around the arboreum, a gay canter through the courtyard. But I'm not you, I'm a big thickie who knows nothing about the city he lives in; its geography, its cultural and political history or why an "Ulster Fry" is any different to any other fry.* The upshot of it was that, because it was a specifically "Belfasty" event, a lot of the poetry was tailored towards Belfast. It was a Shibboleth-fest.

So what I'm saying is that I didn't know any of the poets, understand any of the references or pay to get in. I'm keeping the Belfast literary scene alive!

The evening was compered by Glenn Patterson, dapper at fifty in the Paddy Kielty manner, and oozing charm in an electric blue suit. He's a neighbour apparently though I haven't seen him in the Bethany Fish Bar.

Most of the Belfast Group were present; Michael Longley, Ciaran Carson, Frank Ormsby and Paul Muldoon. Representing younger poets were Leontia Flynn, crowd pleasing and understated with her quirky titles and nervous delivery, and Sinead Morrissey, whose rhythmic, head-bobbing attack pushed her vivid imagery into every corner of the room, pressing her words onto the audience, her own rapt, un-read, word-perfect performance becoming an incantation. The effect was quite astonishing.

It was peculiar that after delivering this charged exciting performance she had to sit on stage while Colin Bateman read what seemed to be an entire first chapter of one of his books. I'm not a fan and, while it was mildly amusing, Morrissey's** effect was still resonating electrically around the room for the first few minutes of his blather.

I didn't know what to make of Longley. He looked venerable, of course, in his big Hemingway beard and pink Uncle Albert face, but his poems seemed like long lists of things made poetic by his delivery. Ciaran Carson was introduced with words "Ciaran Carson has the distinction of being the only Ulster poet to date..." There was a long pause here and then a list of his accomplishments was read out. But I think I preferred my version. Carson elected to read a short prose piece and then sang, unaccompanied, an Irish air. He was immaculately dressed. Owen Mccafferty, a play-write, decided to read out a lengthy piece of prose about a man buying two scented candles. It might have been my favourite thing; humorous and desperate in turn but never "dark" in its tedious modern sense; there were no extremes, no polarities. It presented a life, in a city, that is fag-ash grey, stepping gingerly over a tacky carpet, working out the complex mathematical probabilities that are the natural precursors to getting a round in. He showed us a world where buying a scented candle to burn up the smell of beer farts and cigarettes represents a liberating act, because the money spent on the candle could have been used to buy more booze.

Muldoon was excellent, bracing himself at the podium as if the sheer power of his words would knock him down if he weren't clinging on for dear life. It wasn't quite like that. He introduced a poem about glow-in-the-dark cauliflowers with a quotation from the National Enquirer. His halting, Mary-Robinson-President-for-life delivery was slightly off-putting and I'm not sure live readings are a natural home for either him or the poems, but enough jarring ideas came skittering through the fug to keep the interest and to prompt further investigation. Also he has Dulux dog hair which I like.

That was my first ever literary festival and it felt like my first ever gigs in London: wandering around, thinking that everyone was cooler than me and that they were all poets and in the know and anyway I wouldn't know Paul Muldoon if he came up and was allusive and pedantic to me. It won't last. I'm older now and I'm a clever swine. I'll be running next years.

* I think it may have something to do with a soda farl.

** And it's not often I say that!

The Madness of Don Juan

Reading the sort of things that I write on Facebook I can only conclude that I'm going slightly mad. Endless rambling observations of the minutiae of my life, tripped up by clauses, parentheses, addenda, foot-notes and appendices. It isn't communication, which I suppose it must appear to be on the surface, as it actively discourages discourse; I'm already answering my own up-dates, colouring them, mucking about, lampooning or subverting the content. What is it for?

This week's ear-worm classic is Bry Ferry's version of the Everly's "The Price of Love". There's a "handsomeness" to the guitar riff that is very satisfying but it also has, Bry being Bry, castanets, a trumpet solo and Ladybirds style backing vocals all over it. I love the old arrivest fool!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Starfucker General

Just found out that the keyboard player in my old band is now a respected art film director. That's a bit depressing. Two of his films are showing in the "Festival at Queens" here in sunny Belfast. Don't know whether I shall attend.

I last met him in the Dublin Castle in Camden about ten years ago (this was about five years on from the Italian-House-Indie-Madchester-Shoegaze demos we had made together in a shed in Farnham. His secret weapon was an ancient keyboard called "The Jen" which couldn't play a proper melody but could be used to make all manner of farting lava noises - it made us sound a bit different to the rest of the shambling Rickenbacker wobblers around at the time.) We had both, independently, turned up to see the same Japanese Psyche-rock band. He told me he was living in a squat in the East end and was in a band called "Suture". We were going to keep in touch but didn't.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

I don't normally stick me film reviews on here. But this is an epic. What a film. I give you DEATH LINE.

There is a consensus on the Big Three of British Horror films. They are, in reverse order, "Blood on Satan's Claw" "The Wicker Man" and "Witch-finder General". While they are all excellent films, each sharing a sense of rustic dread, an arable 'istory if you will, (though the binding cheerfulness of the Summerisle community is a million miles away from the cruel, blasted heaths and sheep-like peasantry of "Witch-finder") I have problems with each of them.

"Blood on Satan's Claw", the least well known of the three, has an extraordinary plot, incredible music and a fabulous cast. It suffers from having a very confused second act and a protracted, lip-smacking rape scene. "Witch-finder General" is certainly an excellent film in a lot of ways, not least for Vincent Price's "you'll wish I was camp again" performance. But unlike a Dali painting I find it a hard watch, it's too cruel, too bleak, too nihilistic. I like a bit of fun in my 70's horror romps and this, like the similar but weaker "Cry of the Banshee", is unrelenting in its depiction of man's inhumanity to woman. The Wicker Man is brilliant; the soundtrack beautiful, the plot hilarious and Chris Lee is hot buttered charm all the way through. It's my problem really; I've just seen it too many times. There was a point in my life where I was watching it on a weekly basis. Nothing holds up to that level of scrutiny, not even the very worthy remake starring Nicholas Cage.*

The major problem that I have with these films is that I don't believe that they are the best of 70's British Horror. I wouldn't ordinarily pitch perfectly worthwhile and clearly unrelated films into spurious competition with each other, and if I do so now it is because my favourite 70's horror is so over-looked. Even Gatiss and Rigby ignored it on their otherwise laudable exploration of horror cinema on BBC4. That film, as you may have guessed if you've read the above title, is DEATH-LINE. And it is a pip!

Death-line starts like no other horror film. We are introduced to what sounds like a stripper's anthem played on a mini-moog and a spare drum-kit. The music accompanies a colourful blur with what appears to be a smudged keyhole in the centre of it. As the camera gradually focuses we see it is the bowler hatted silhouette of a man staring into the window of a Soho peep-show. We're a long way from Summerisle. The camera blurs in and out as we follow the moustachioed perv around the porn warren, neon signs in red and blue deliquescing like lava lamps, the unnatural Formica yellows and greens lending the streets an indelible verisimilitude. This is Soho in the seventies. It could be nowhere else.

Having completed his circuit, to no obvious end, our saucy salary-man makes his way to Russell Square (bit of a walk) where he propositions a young woman and gets a knee in the knackers for his pains. Wheezing, as well as dealing with the crushing sense of ennui that comes with a blow to the under-carriage, he suddenly realises that things can get a lot worse than a kick in the balls.

On the last train home come Alex (David Ladd) and Patricia (Sharon Gurney - last seen in the Corpse where she play's Michael Gough's daughter. In real life she is his daughter-in-law). He's a deeply unpleasant American student and she's a woefully soppy English one. As they step over the body of the businessman these credentials are quickly established: "Patricia, in New York you walk over these guys!". Patricia insist that he goes to tell the guard and he does so, grudgingly, telling her to stay with the body. She doesn't want to be left with it a follows him awkwardly up the stairs like a beaten dog. They find the guard and then a policeman. But when they return to view the body it has disappeared! So they look like dicks!

Cut to the offices of Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance); a ranting, unshaven lunatic in a misshapen hat and soiled raincoat: he's our hero! It is the next morning and Calhoun is going about his day; blaming tea-bags on "Indians", fishing said tea-bag out of his cup with a biro or a dart, bollocking a female officer and confiding to his assistant "I fancy 'er". While all the "business" is going on he has been listening carefully to Detective Inspector Roger's retelling of the incident on the platform of Russell Square. It seems the bowler-hatted perve was not without influence. He is James Manfred O.B.E. a big shot (Calhoun pronounces it "shit") at the Ministry of Defence. This rings a bell with Calhoun as he remembers another person going missing at Russell Square. He brings in the hapless Alex for questioning and accuses him of being a thief. As a parting shot Calhoun barks "Get yer 'air cut!" at the sullen hippy and gives him a look of such malicious joy that it's impossible not to like him.

Next comes one of the truly remarkable scenes in British horror and for my money in all cinema. After a brief expositional detour with Clive Swift, where he explains that in the 18th century an Tube tunnel collapsed on the workers who were digging it (men and women) and the bankrupt, morally and otherwise, Rail Company left them there to die, the camera works its way through the glistening bowels of the abandoned tunnel. In what seems like one glorious tracking shot we move past dripping masonry to the empty eyes of the half-dead Manfred, propped up beneath the hanging corpses of other half eaten victims, Manfred's certain fate. The camera continues its unblinking journey through more rotting viscera and piles of rubble until we come across "The Man", a shuffling Neanderthal figure and his dying and apparently pregnant sister-wife. Hugh Armstrong, the actor who plays "The Man" didn't work as an actor for another ten years after "Death Line" and after that assayed roles such as "Jun Priest" in "Beastmaster" or "Station Officer" in "Minder". This is baffling. His performance as "The Man" is a towering achievement, turning a shuffling madman role into something sympathetic and sensitive, quite a performance considering he has to communicate his entire emotive spectrum through straggling hair, a thick beard and a single line of dialogue! How the Oscars missed this astonishing turn I will never know. It's like they had something against murderous, incestuous, subterranean sub-humans in low budget British horror films! After this sentimental introduction to the Man and the Woman, the camera continues its journey, through piles of corpses, fallen family members arranged in neat stacks, each commemorated with stolen jewellery arranged on their chests. The distracted sobs of the grieving Man abate and what we get now is a dumb-show of the tunnel collapse story, from the pounding of pick-axes on rock, to the tunnel's collapse, to the screams of the condemned. It is told beautifully in sound, effectively negating Clive's thumb-nail sketch, the cold eye of the camera drifting onto salient details, the sign for the abandoned "Museum" station, the illuminated hoops of tunnel walls, the forbidding pile of rubble that sealed the fate of those trapped behind it and then the camera lifts up, like a departing spirit, and out into the still familiar Russell Square tube. People tell me I like bad films but that scene, with its economy, technical accomplishment and nagging suggestion, can compete with anything in cinema.

Calhoun and Rogers nip round to Manfred's flat, Calhoun helping himself to booze and breaking into his locked drawers ("suspicious bastard") until Chris Lee turns up as a patrician M.I.5 enforcer and warns them off. Calhoun isn't having it!

Alex and Patricia break up, but bless her, she can't last five minutes on her own and pitches up back at the flat with a bottle of chianti and her mascara running down her cheeks. She still continues to use the tube, late at night, alone, as if nothing odd has happened.

The Man attacks and kills three London Underground workers, one of whom might reasonably be called the most Cockney man who ever lived. This is his day in his own words. "Yesterday? Let me see, ah. Got up 11. Had a nice day in. Got up 11 o'clock. Ham, eggs for breakfast. In the afternoon went to the pictures. In the evening I saw that bird. What a sort, what a performer I tell ya! Lovely...hey!". He stops there to get his head kicked in by The Man.

Calhoun and Rogers go to the pub and get pissed for no reason at all. The scariest thing in the film is Calhoun pissed. As Rogers plays pinball in his over-coat, Calhoun mercilessly harangues the bar-man, his mood swinging like Benny Goodman in a gibbet, alternating pissed joshing "Are you aware that it is an offence to sell alcoholic beverages outside of proper drinking hours?" with surly digs "What's the matter with you?" "Where'd you get that coat? Are you aware that that is stealing by finding?" to apoplectic ranting "The Queen? Indeed god bless her. AND DON'T YOU SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT TOO! Are you aware that her gracious majesty is over there, over-seas, working the far flung empire, helping to keep the world safe for the likes of...flogging her pretty little guts out, so you can live in a democracy? Look at this place, a knocking shop!". This scene doesn't move the action on or have any bearing on the film at all really but it's my favourite scene and by far the most frightening. Calhoun is the sort of raging repressed lunatic you feel could do anything!

Late at night, on the platform, Alex and Patricia become separated. The Man drags her off to his lair immediately. The police find blood on her handbag. The abductor is suffering from acute anaemia and plague! Calhoun knows he's onto something very unusual indeed and the film spirals into a desperate man-hunt before The Man can kill Patricia. Or eat her. Or worse.

Actually the film gets bit lost here, there are no real surprises and, while the suspense is ratcheted up, Alex gets most of the screen time so inevitably some of the tension is lost. David Ladd's performance as Alex is both wooden and sullen, like a teenage wardrobe on holiday with its parents. But it's not his film, it's Donald Pleasance's film, in a role I would have liked to see him play again and again. An alarmingly hairy police officer hands him a file and says "Anything else sir?". Without looking up he replies with gravitas, "Beards".

It's the way he tells 'em.

*kidding! Alright? KIDDING!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Missing her. Writing and re-writing most of the day. Bought ingredients to make a mushroom soup. Made far too much of it. No one to drink it. Eat it, it's soup. Got a bus back from the Big Tesco (I wanted dried porcini - not a local delicacy) and the bus-driver couldn't have been nicer, even stopping at a non bus-stop so I wouldn't have to walk too far up Pims Avenue. No one to tell.

Watched Doctor Who again. Victorian dolls and children's play-ground singing. It was hokey old nonsense. She would have loved it. Long evening. Listened to Radio 4 Extra, Radio 7 as was. It was always on in London. The soup was good. The cat came in again.

Had a cry. Which is not a kind of fish-based bourbon.(Haddock Rye - that's the sort of shit pun she would have enjoyed - in passing, not written down. She had clear rules on that sort of thing)

Bought a new jacket. She would have liked it on me. I miss her.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

How's the form?

The woman in the C.A.B. cafe seemed genuinely affronted when I asked her if she had any tea.

"Of course I have tea," she said in Ingrid Pitt's voice, "normal or infusions!" This last was said with a flourish and flared nostrils. I had a camomile which she presented to me in a self-assembly manner: a paper cup full of boiling water and the bag lying next to it, like a biscuit on a saucer. I chose to dunk.

An hour in the C.A.B. talking about forms and then collecting forms.

Then it was a trip to the Job Centre (or whatever it is called these days) where I haven't been for twenty years. More forms to fill in, more waiting around. Limbo.

While I'm waiting I think about David Coverdale's "Behind the Smile".

If he never did anything else in his worthless and trivial life* David Coverdale is worth it for "Behind the Smile". How any one convinced Jon Lord to play so rigidly, with such formal restraint, how the drummer managed to be so clip-cloppingly unfunky and yet so on it!How every one concerned thought that discordant toy-town synthesisers were the way to go I will never know! I'm pleased they did though.

Dave, singing in a handsome lower register and teasingly phased, assays a pretty good Scott Walker impression, right down to "the big man's" vibrato half way through which bubbles up into the ether like steam off a soda-stream.** It's a great way to spend a minute and a half.

* Dave did two other worthwhile things. The first is his video for "Is this love?" the subtext of which, actually the text of it, is "I'm tapping that!". The "that" in question being his then wife Tawny Kitaen and her long ginger legs. The second was an interview I saw with him where Dave, rattled, responded to a question about his lyrics with the line "I never claimed to be Billy Bloody Shakespeare, mate!". He said this dressed as a rear admiral in a voice like Roger Moore, if Roger Moore was a Tetley bitter man.

** I clearly no longer remember how soda streams work.