Literary romance – a poem

I was ostentatiously holding
a novel by Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie, when the Nigerian
girl I was trying to impress, says

Are you carrying that book
in a half-witted attempt
to impress me?

You know me so well!
I say, which proves, she says,
that happiness and knowledge
are enemies indeed.

Happiness is elusive, I say,
like something you reach for
but cannot grasp.

She sighs loudly and replies,
something you reach for
but cannot grasp
is not like elusive.

It. Is. Elusive.

Perhaps elusiveness
is not so elusive after all,
I say, quick-wittedly,
at which the girl pushes me
into the Regent’s canal

and my head resurfaces
just in time to hear her say,
bloody Englishmen, always thinking
they are funnier than they are…

Advertisements

2015 General Election: 10 reasons why the Conservatives won

In the days immediately after the General Election, my Facebook feed was filled with people despairing about the Conservatives getting into power, and wondering how such a thing was possible. The general opinion was that the evil Tories hate poor people, want to sell off the NHS and create a country serving only the elite.

Yet, if this were true, how did they get 10 million votes and a majority in Parliament?

Here are a few reasons, in reverse order of importance (to build the tension for you, dear reader).

10. Nicola Sturgeon

A politician who has actually met some voters...Nicola Sturgeon
A politician who has actually met some voters…Nicola Sturgeon

Labour weren’t just outflanked on the right by the born-to-rule boys; they were outflanked on the left by the brilliant, utterly authentic Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP leader is the most convincing politician in the UK, and with the SNP’s momentum off the back of the referendum, Labour never had a hope in Scotland.

9. The TV debates
Like most people, I didn’t watch the TV debates. I was busy drinking red wine. But I did see that moment when Ed Miliband looked down the camera and made his appeal to the country…and shuddered. It was like being propositioned by a giant eel.

Thank goodness more voters weren’t paying attention, or Labour’s electoral defeat would have been much, much more convincing.

8. The media
We all know that the media is mostly run by right-wing oligarchs. There were a couple of ways Labour could have addressed this. Either, like Tony Blair, you cosy up to the media to win their support. Or, you use a combination of traditional campaign methods of leafletting and door-knocking, together with modern techniques of social media to get your message across. Rather than do either effectively, Labour had a weird pink van which they drove around the country to demonstrate their pointlessness.

Harriet Harman busy patronising women
Harriet Harman busy patronising women

7. Labour’s demonisation of rich people
In their twin policies of getting rid of the bedroom tax and introducing a mansion tax, Labour thought they had a winning formula. Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite.

What Labour were engaging in was the classic left-wing mistake of asking people to be better than they are. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of humans. I think we are terrific. But if I was in charge of a political party, I wouldn’t think of asking people to vote for policies that do not materially benefit themselves, or people they know.

The bedroom tax is a hideous piece of policy and getting rid of it would make the world a bit better. Great: do it. Having a mansion tax makes sense as well, because rich people’s tax burden could be greater.

Both of these policies are fine, but they have very little to do with the concerns of the majority. And without significant policies which would help the, let’s say, 95% of people who are unaffected by either tax, it is Labour saying, “help poor people, attack rich people, don’t worry about yourself.”

Moreover, as Tony Blair annoyingly but accurately pointed out about three seconds after Miliband conceded defeat, you don’t win elections without supporting aspiration.

6. Pensioner bonds
Pensioner bonds, launched earlier this year by the Tories, were seen as an overt attempt to buy the grey vote. The old codgers duly said thank you very much.

5. David Cameron
People on the left tend not to notice, but David Cameron is quite good at his job. He is a very effective communicator. He keeps things simple, and manages to convince a lot of people that his interests, and those of his rich mates, are the same as the national interest.

Also, he managed to keep the Coalition together with very little infighting. Of course, the Lib Dems did a splendid imitation of a lapdog, but Cameron must have had some personal charm to keep things smooth.

In addition, and in a big change from Labour, he didn’t reshuffle his Cabinet every five minutes. You get the feeling that he put people in charge of a department and trusted them to do the job. This steady approach meant the Tories, whatever you think of their policies, have been remarkably unified.

4. The advantage of incumbency
It is easier to look like you should be in charge when you are in charge. And in the five years the Tories have been in power, the economy has grown (a bit) and nothing has gone seriously wrong. (For example, they haven’t got into bed with a twattish US president when he suggested killing a few hundred thousand muslims.)

3. Ed Balls
Ed Balls looks like a Nazi, and, in his strident, boorish, self-regarding approach to politics, acts like one. He is a charmless thug who makes you reflect that perhaps George Osborne isn’t that bad, after all. A massive well done must go to the people of Morley and Outwood for kicking him out.

Ed Balls brings his unique brand of thuggery to the football field
Ed Balls brings his unique brand of thuggery to the football field

2. The first-past-the-post system
Under almost any other democratic electoral system, the Tories would not be in sole charge of the country. As has been widely noted, UKIP got four million votes, and one MP. That could be the most unfair result in the history of our democracy. It is an embarrassment and hopefully all the other parties will campaign for this system to change. But because the system also benefits Labour, it probably won’t happen any time soon.

1. Ed Miliband
With this socially-awkward, political geek as leader – from a confusingly monied yet Marxist background – there was no way Labour was going to get back into power. As Ken Clarke said on the telly this morning, “politics, in the end, comes down to personalities,” and Ed Miliband’s personal ratings were always unwaveringly disastrous.

What a wonker.
What a wonker.

Ed Miliband was elected to the Labour party leadership because he is essentially a good natured, kindly, if rather otherworldly, person who wants to help people.

Yet the British public took one look at Ed Miliband and saw, instinctively, that they couldn’t trust him to go to a European summit and not embarrass them. Moreover, they saw that here was a man who didn’t know a thing about cricket or football or theatre or music or failure or boozing or sex. And when he did talk about politics, he talked in his indefinably strange, tongue-too-big-for-his-mouth way that would make Gandhi want to give him a clout.

Ed Miliband was the greatest gift the Labour party could give to the Tories. Cameron and co simply stopped referring to Labour – knowing that the party which created the NHS still has a big emotional pull for many people – and referred only to Ed Miliband.

The Tories, seeing this fatal flaw, quietly but relentlessly asked, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Do you want a commie weirdo in charge of the country, or do you want a team of public schoolboys who won’t interfere with your life too much?”

Ten million people – people who are primarily looking out for their own interests, just like everybody else – decided they preferred David Cameron over Ed Miliband.

And if Labour are to get back into power, they should stop trying to attack these people, but seek to understand them. If they do that, Labour might one day regain power.

Carl, Courtney and Kendrick – Richard’s album round-up

Carl Barat and the Jackals – Let it Reign

A record entirely untroubled by genius, but a jolly, Clash cliché-ridden romp nevertheless. The song titles seem to have come out of a Libertines random phrase generator – Victory Gin, Summer in the Trenches, etc – and the lumpen lyrical content (“when she goes, she really goes” apparently) exemplifies the need for Pete Doherty to come back from rehab forthwith. That happy circumstance would allow Carl to put down the biro and return to being in a band in which his main duties are having good hair and insouciantly smoking cigarettes.

Carl Barat doing what he does best
Carl Barat doing what he does best

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney-Barnett_4

This album is so laden with lovely lyrics it is almost obscene. Courtney Barnett’s mordant, jaunty take on life is entirely to my taste, and she makes the endeavour of making music seem so easy. On Pedestrian at Best she says

I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence
it all depends whether
I’m up, I’m down, I’m on the mend

which is fabulous; and when she says

You’re saying definitely maybe
I’m saying probably no

she appears to take down Noel Gallagher in one neat couplet. Or rip a former lover. Or both. Either way, Courtney Barnett is a hero in my ears.

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

This new Villagers LP has done away with the playful, surreal songwriting of the previous album, and moved, perplexingly, toward songs of choirboy-ish yearning. Conor O’Brien is a delightful writer, and always worth listening to, but on some of the songs here he seems to be aimlessly noodling on his guitar, apparently oblivious to the fact that someone is recording him. Still, I like Villagers, and am going to see them in a fortnight, so I’m tuning my ears to thinking this one is better than it is.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Where the hooks go, Kendrick?
Where the hooks go, Kendrick?

To Pimp a Butterfly has all the standard issue Kendrick Lamar ingredients: great rapping, intricate storytelling, a dollop of preachiness, all woven together with classic funk. To that mix he has added poetic interludes, free jazz, quite a bit of screaming and some kind of bizarre, beyond the grave chit-chat with Tupac. All this leads me to think that this album is like prog-rock – grand and long and definitely impressive, but perhaps not actually good.

Also, when he says, “Shit don’t change, until you get up and wash yo’ ass” he seems to be pushing the kind of problematic pull-up-your-pants message advocated by the moralising rapist Bill Cosby. Fuck that, son.

In short, Kendrick is a genius, and I do love him, but I think this year I’ll be getting my hip-hop kicks from Earl Sweatshirt.

Warpaint – Warpaint

How do you come up with that album titke, Warpaint?
Long meeting, was it, coming up with that album title?

The members of Warpaint seem to have watched the Virgin Suicides and decided to form a band which sounds like that. Listening to this album you can imagine Sofia Coppola in an advisory role, doling out tips on casual indifference. The songs come at you with glances, making you desire them all the more. Warpaint is quite the most feline album I have ever heard: complex, cool, and with charms which unfold beautifully.

Quorn Savoury Mini Eggs

My 18-star review of Quorn Savoury Mini Eggs for Average Food Blog

AVERAGE FOOD BLOG

Quorn Mini Savoury Scotch Eggs
You know when you come up with an idea for a big project at work and you think:

“I’m over my head with this. I need buy in and sign off from someone senior. Like mad senior. Like crazy mad senior sign-off for this shit to fly like a motherfucker and shit.”

And, yeah, you may not have an internal monologue like an English white kid trying to act like an American black kid trying to act like a dick, but you get my drift. When I decided I wanted to write a blog about the highly important subject of Quorn Savoury Mini Eggs, I knew I couldn’t just go ahead, willy-nilly.

I needed to consult Average Food Blog founding father, chief rabbi and vegetarian king pin, Joshua Seigal. I went to his north west London abode to do just that.

I knocked on Joshua’s door. He greeted me civilly…

View original post 495 more words

Truth v Lies: dialogue

“You aren’t going to tell the truth, are you?”
“N-no.”
“You were! You were, weren’t you? You were going to tell the truth!”
“I wasn’t.”
“The truth. Of all things.”
“I was just going to say…”
“I don’t want to hear it. If you can’t think of a decent lie, don’t say anything at all.”
“I…”
“Even a cheap one. A cleesh. A fucking, aliens abducted my fat arse and took me on a circuit round the earth and I saw it, I saw it all, darling, it was blue, the blue bits, they were blue, and the other bits, they were other colours, and the aliens they spoke like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, they spoke like, “you’ll never believe who I had in my spaceship the other day.” “Who did you have, Pete?” “I’m glad you asked me that, Dud. I was in my spaceship.” “Right.” “I was in my spaceship, and who came and knocked on my door but Tony Bloody Blair.” “All bloody, was he, Pete?” “No, Dud, it’s just a turn of…” and they go on chatting and chatting like that, funny it was, at first at least, but bloody hell after you’ve had those two Pete and Dud aliens bantering for fourteen hours straight, you just want to get off the spaceship, that’s all you want to do is get off the spaceship and come back, in the morning, in the morning after you have spent the night abducted by aliens, all you want to do is come back, back to your wife.”
“That is – exactly – how it was.”
“That’s right. That’s how it wasn’t. And things that aren’t like that, aren’t going to happen again, are they?”
“They won’t.”
“Liar.”

What D’Angelo means to me (summary: a lot)

d-angelo-billboard-650a

I was living in a two-bed terrace just off the Welford Road in Leicester, living with an ageing Italian diplomat called Mr La Barca, who kept the fridge sparse apart from his supply of cambozola, which he used to offer me on a little plate, saying

“You muuuuust! You muuuuust!”

After formal but friendly chit-chat, he’d go back to his desk and his study books, and I’d sit in the living room, reading monumental novels like Last Exit to Brooklyn, wondering if I would ever write something great, paralysed by that

One day in early January, wearing my bomber indoors because me and Mr La Barca (I never knew his first name; didn’t want to know) didn’t like central heating, my friend Lucy knocked and handed me D’Angelo’s Voodoo album; and I don’t know how those hippies felt when they got Sgt Pepper in their mitts, or the punk kids at the first sight of Never Mind the Bollocks, but this was a moment that, even when I’m dribbling in the nursing home, I won’t forget

You might say, “Rich, wasn’t he just another turn of the century soulboy – like R Kelly, with fewer motoring/sex metaphors? Like Sisqo, without the cheerful adoration of ladies’ underwear?

and I’d say, “Hang on.”

Let’s go back to my desolate Leicester bedroom. I stick the CD in my cheap Sony hifi. Mr La Barca is in his bedroom next door, playing one of his English language tapes to which he would repeat

“STEAK AND KEEEDNEY PUDDING”

and other essential phrases to help him fit seamlessly into East Midlands life.

I lie on my bed and listen to Voodoo and, first listen, I knew this album was a work of art. It is a journey from the street, through lust, sex, love and then, when you have been immersed in all that grittiness and sensuousness, to a song, Africa, which is the most powerful evocation of the spiritual I have ever heard.

In Miles Davis’s autobiography, Miles says that he loves the music of Prince because it is both innovative and rooted. That’s how it is with D’Angelo. He has an instinctive grasp of the essence of soul and gospel and funk and manages to coalesce these threads into something new and, in that final song, Africa, something transcendental.

D’Angelo spun out soon after Voodoo was released. Word was he turned to drink and drugs, junk food, put on weight, quite possibly mentally unravelled. There was talk of whole albums written, recorded, and discarded. It was said D’Angelo had problems with his body image. The record business turned him into a sex object (not without justification) and he couldn’t cope with people seeing him as a sort of singing, dancing, six-pack-on-legs.

It took 14 years to get to this week, when another album was released. In that time, me and my friend Patrick have often discussed him in our annual pre-Christmas drinks – is he all right, is he getting it together, will next year be the year.

In 2012, as part of D’Angelo’s re-emergence into the public sphere, Patrick, my cousin Jenny and I went down to Brixton Academy to see him. The show was okay, although not on the level of a concert from his nu-soul contemporary Jill Scott I had seen in the same venue. Despite his frankly enormous arm and chest muscles, he looked strangely vulnerable on stage. And yet, when his over-blown band put their instruments down and D’Angelo was left to sit at the grand piano and play – alone – we saw a glimmer of that once-in-a-generation talent.

When the announcement was made earlier this week, I went a bit mental. I don’t know how Take That fans reacted at news of their reformation a few years back, but if they burst into tears, ran around a bit, babbled incomprehensibly to their housemate and have been smiling ever since, then their reaction was highly restrained compared to my own.

I emailed Patrick, who is on holiday in South America: NEW D’ANGELO ALBUM!!!!! To which he responded: “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

And if you think we are mad, I would say: “Fair enough.” I’d also say, it’s not just us. At the media launch of the album, one of D’Angelo’s close musical friends, Questlove, spoke to journalists (sparing D’Angelo that burden) and, while he is a lot cooler than me, there was a sense that he wanted to high-five and hug the whole world, when he said:

“I don’t really want to give a hyperbolic or grandiose statement, but it’s everything. It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, it’s truth, it’s lies. It’s everything.”

My Christmas present failures (and a solution to this misery)

Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas
Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas

If Christmas is about anything it is about unrealistic expectations.

It is a time when we try to turn something immaterial – love – into something material: presents. We are setting ourselves up for a tumble. And rather than increasing the sum total of love, this anxious gift-giving is more likely to turn that love into hate, or perhaps a kind of woollen resentment.

My strike rate for Christmas present success is no more than one in three (by which I mean about one in five). In football striker terms, I am Emile Heskey – capable of the occasional exquisite show of class, but more often a hapless chancer, failing when it is easier to succeed.

People often ask me if I get nervous before I perform on stage. I say, yes, you need to. The nerves don’t get the better of me because I am prepared. I know what I’m doing (more or less). When it comes to the giving and receiving of Christmas presents it is quite the opposite. I am a fearful wreck, seeing danger at every turn. And for good reason, because my catalogue of Christmas present failures is as long as it is confidence-crushing.

Here are some edited lowlights.

A compact disc
Last Christmas, I bought a compact disc for my cousin, Simon. He unwrapped it and gave a look as if to say, “What on earth am I supposed to do with this?” See, Simon lives in the modern age and hasn’t used CDs for the past decade. To him, a CD comes from a bygone era, like the horse and cart, without the anachronistic charm. I might as well have given him a VHS cassette. Or a mangle.

A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it
A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it

A steamer
I fall in love every day, in a skittish flitting flirting way, with people in elevators and on escalators, indeed with elevators and escalators, if their lines are elegant enough. But one time I was properly in love. Love love. That love which is all doomed devotion and Saturday nights indoors watching Ant and Dec.

In this context, you might have thought that I would have extended myself when it came to presents.

Not me. Where I should have tremulously rustled up a cliched combination of roses, chocolates and trips up the Eiffel Tower, I bought a steamer.

A steamer.

A household appliance which cooks vegetables whilst allowing said vegetables to retain more of their nutritional content. I was essentially saying: “I love you, but you could really do with eating more curly kale.”

"A healthier, lonelier life."
“A healthier, lonelier life.”

Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits
Back in the mid-90s, back when singers like Toni Braxton and Celine Dion ruled the earth like brutal, multi-octave velociraptors, there was Dina Carroll.

I liked Dina Carroll.

Not in a big way. Not the way I liked Guns N Roses. But as an English Whitney, she was pretty great.

I once said to my sister that I liked Dina Carroll. She said she really liked Dina Carroll too. It became a thing between us. Don’t Be A Stranger would come on Capital and she’d say, “Classic!” and I would fervently agree.

This went on for some months and so, when it came to the annual trip to HMV to selflessly buy music for people who aren’t me, I bought her Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits, thinking it the safest of safe bets.

On Christmas day, when she unwrapped the CD, she laughed and said that she didn’t really like Dina Carroll. She was only taking the piss.

In my quiet devastation I resolved to never, ever trust blood relatives again. And always to be the most sarcastic person in the room.

Junichiro Tanizaki – Some Prefer Nettles
This is an elegantly written, yet very saucy tale of marital infidelity and lust. An ideal present for a new girlfriend with a love of literature. Me? Let’s just say relations between me and my aunt haven’t been quite the same since I chose this as her Christmas gift.

Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.
Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.

Original Source XXX Black Mint Shower Gel For Men
I am a devotee of this brilliant product. It is minty and manly, and when you use it to wash your privates, it makes your balls tingle.

Three years ago I bulk bought this as a side-gift to the men-folk in my family (to lessen my sense of mortification when my main gifts failed).

A few weeks later, I went to see my mum and dad, and noticed that while the shower gel was on display near the bath tub, it had barely been used. When I enquired to my father what the matter was, he said he “didn’t know how to use it.”

My father has two master’s degrees. He is, whenever possible, intellectually sneering. Yet he couldn’t work out how to use shower gel.

Since then, I have had to adjust my view of my father as an all-knowing Yorkshireman with a heroic gambling habit, to a sort of flawed autodidact who, without the presence of my mother, would have long since died in a bizarre hoovering mishap.

A genius product from Original Source
A genius product from Original Source

One that succeeded

A penguin
When my neice, Amelia, was four, I got Santa to get her a stuffed penguin, and when she opened it she said, “A penguin!” She was really happy with that penguin, and so was I.

My Christmas appeal
Amelia told me the other day that while she had over thirty items on her Christmas list last year, this year she only has eleven. She explained to me that she basically had a lot of stuff. She is eight years old yet is already scratching around for material things she actually wants.

This, combined with my lifetime of present-buying torment, suggests it might be better to cut back on the buying and enjoy each other’s company instead.