Friday, December 30, 2011

Football, It's a Minging Life! by Rick Holden (DB Publishing 2010)

Let’s end with an amusing little anecdote at Watford. One weekend when Jean was away, a few of the players and I went out on the town after the game. We ended up at a night club in Hemel called the Living Room, which was renowned as a ‘grab a granny’ venue. Somehow, we’d been split up into two pairs. Myself and Lee Richardson, whose never-to-be-forgotten domestic skills included cleaning vomit up with the vacuum cleaner, and Tony Coton and Mel Rees, two daft ’keepers. Lee and I went for a curry, and the two rocket scientists went back to my house to wait for us to return. When we returned I found a cat-sized hole in the ceiling of my conservatory and Mingan sitting next to half a dozen empty lager cans. I was convinced for months that Mingan was the culprit; being a Leeds cat he would have no problem getting stuck into the drink. It hadn’t really occurred to me that the two stooges had got bored of waiting for me to return and had broken in through my bedroom window, putting their feet through the roof as they climbed. That’s goalkeepers for you. I cleared away the lager cans and, to this day, Jean thinks the hole was made by the cat jumping off the window ledge onto the conservatory roof.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Maigret's War of Nerves by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“He worked like a slave. His professors regarded him as their most promising pupil. He had no friends. He never spoke much, even to his fellow students.“
He was poor, but he was used to poverty. Often he went to his classes with no socks. More than once he worked in the market, unloading vegetables to earn a few centimes…“
Then came the catastrophe. His mother died. There was no more money.“
And suddenly, without any transition, he turned his back on his dream. He might have looked for work, as so many students do. But no, he didn’t lift a finger…“
Did he have a suspicion that he wasn’t quite the genius he’d imagined? Had he begun to lose confidence in himself? In any case, he did nothing. Nothing whatever. He merely loafed about in cafés, writing begging letters to distant relatives and appealing to charitable organizations. He sponged cynically on any Czechs he happened to meet in Paris, even flaunting his lack of gratitude.“
The world hadn’t understood him. So he hated the world. And he spent his time nursing his hatred. In the Montparnasse cafés he would sit among people who were rich, happy, and bursting with good health. He would sip his café crème while cocktails were being poured out by the gallon.“
Was he already toying with the idea of a crime? Perhaps… I really don’t know. But I know that twenty or thirty years ago he’d have been a militant anarchist tossing bombs at royalty. But that’s no longer fashionable these days…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“By working ourselves up into a frenzy, we ended up as packs of nerves. Especially those of us who didn’t eat enough. Do you see what I mean? Little Émile Klein included. A kid who didn’t eat, but kept himself going with loads of drink.

“Naturally, we re-discovered the world. We had our own ideas about all the great problems! We scoffed at the middle-class, society, and all established truths…“

As soon as we’d gulped down a few drinks and the air was thick with smoke, we’d bandy the craziest ideas about! A mixture of Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Moses, Confucius, and Jesus Christ.“

For instance, let’s see… I can’t remember who it was who discovered that pain didn’t exist and that it was only a figment of the imagination. I was so taken with the idea that, one night, in the middle of a breathless group, I stuck the end of a penknife into the fleshy part of my arm and tried to smile…“

Then there were other things. We were an Élite, a little group of Geniuses brought together by chance. We soared above the conventional world of law and prejudice.“

A handful of gods, do you see? Gods who were sometimes starving to death, but who walked the streets proudly, dismissing the passers-by with contempt.“

We used to plan the future: Lecocq d’Arneville was to be a Tolstoy. Van Damme, who was doing a boring course at the School of Economics, was to revolutionize political economy and reverse all accepted ideas on the organization of the human race

“Each of us had his place. There were poets, painters, and future heads of state.“

All on drink! And how! In the end, we were so used to getting carried away, that we’d hardly have got here, in the light of the lamp, with the skull from which we all drank, before each of us would manage to achieve the little frenzy he wanted, on his own…“

Even the more modest of us could already see a marble plaque one day on the wall of the house: Here met the famous Companions of the Apocalypse.…“

It was a challenge to see who could bring the latest book, or come up with the most far-fetched ideas.“

It’s pure chance that we didn’t become anarchists. We used to discuss the question, solemnly. There had been an attempted assassination in Seville. We’d read the newspaper article out loud.“

I can’t remember which of us cried out: ‘True genius is destructive!’…

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Margrave of the Marshes by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft (Chicago Review Press 2005)

Although they saw less of one another in the last few years before Walters' death, John remained terribly fond of him. They had a closeness that was quite touching to observe. John frequently characterised their relationship as being like that of a man and his dog, but with each plainly believing the other to be the dog. Walters came up with his own analogy, likening John to Eeyore from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories. 'Everybody's having honey while he's in some damp corner of a field, alone and ignored, with nothing but thistles,' noted Walters. 'If I call to remind him that he has a programme on Bank Holiday, it's: "Everybody gets a holiday but me." If I say he's got the day off to make way for some sort of Radio 1 special, it's: "They're trying to get rid of me." Either way it's thistles and I suspect he finds them rather reassuring.'

Elf (2003)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Football Men: Up Close with the Giants of the Modern Game by Simon Kuper (Simon & Schuster 2011)

When Cruijff returned to Ajax in 1981, the Dutch were sceptical. The Calvinist Holland of the time distrusted anyone who thought he was special. Cruijff had never been very popular in his own country, where he was known as ‘Nose’ or ‘the Money Wolf’. By now he was thirty-four, with a broken body. Surely he was just coming back for the money?

He made his Second Coming in an Ajax–Haarlem game. Early in the first half, he turned two defenders and lobbed the keeper, who was barely off his line. For the next three years, Dutch stadiums sold out wherever Cruijff played, as people flocked to see him one last time. He gave us 30-yard passes with the outside of his foot that put teammates in front of the keeper so unexpectedly that sometimes the TV cameras couldn’t keep up.

But what he did on the field was only the half of it. The older Cruijff was the most interesting speaker on football I have ever heard. ‘Until I was thirty I did everything on feeling,’ Cruijff said. ‘After thirty I began to understand why I did the things I did.’ In 1981 I was twelve, living in Holland, and for the rest of my teens I imbibed everything he said about football. It was as if you could read a lucid conversation with Einstein in the paper every day or two.

Cruijff said things you could use at any level of football: don’t give a square ball, because if it’s intercepted the opposition has immediately beaten two men, you and the player you were passing to. Don’t pass to a teammate’s feet, but a yard in front of him, so he has to run on to the ball, which ups the pace of the game. If you’re having a bad game, just do simple things. Trap the ball and pass it to your nearest teammate. Do this a few times, and the feeling that you’re doing things right will restore your confidence. His wisdoms directly or indirectly improved almost every player in Holland. ‘That’s logical’ – the phrase he used to clinch arguments – became a Dutch cliché.

Cruijff had opinions on everything. He advised the golfer Ian Woosnam on his swing. He said the traffic lights in Amsterdam were in the wrong places, which gave him the right to ignore them. His old teammate Willem van Hanegem recalls Cruijff teaching him how to insert coins into a soft-drinks machine. Van Hanegem had been wrestling with the machine until Cruijff told him to use ‘a short, dry throw’. Maddeningly, the method worked.

(from 'Johan Cruijff - May 2009')

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Since The Layoffs by Iain Levison (Soho Press 2003)

Throughout the night I get customers and I learn things. An overweight woman in her fifties with unwashed, stringy black hair comes in at two in the morning and buys three gallons of whole milk. She hands me what looks like a credit card, but instead of a bank logo, this is plain white and has a faded government seal on it. I look at her suspiciously.

"Run it," she says.

I shrug and swipe it through the credit card machine. Nothing happens. She looks at me, I look at her.

"Are you new?" she asks me. She is wheezing with the effort of carrying the milk to the counter.


"That's an EFS card. You have to push the EFS button on the machine." She smiles at me patiently.

I figure she's a mental patient, and this card is probably an access card to a parking garage in Iowa. I decide to let her have the milk. She obviously likes milk a lot and we've got plenty.

"It's okay," I tell her. "Just take the milk."

"There's a switch, an EFS switch," she says, getting impatient, or annoyed at being treated like a charity case. Then I see a tiny switch at the bottom of the credit card machine marked "EFS." I click the switch, and I'm amazed when a receipt prints up. She signs a copy and walks off, limping under the weight of three gallons of milk which she appears to be carrying home through the cold. It must be for a family's breakfast. I look at the receipt, and it says, "Electronic Food Stamps, Inc."

Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. Not Electronic Food Stamps, but Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. This is a business. Somebody's making money designing ways to get government aid to people who have been tossed aside. Some money grubbing software designer has a government contract because we all lost our jobs.

That's the biggest insult of all, that we are being fed off. The destruction of my life, my town, represents a business opportunity to someone else. NIne months ago, this woman walking through the cold was probably a factory employee, or perhaps the wife of one, and her children had health insurance and she had a car and she bought milk in the daytime, with money. I am suddenly filled with the urge to find the fucker who owns the EFS company and shoot him right in the fucking face. I feel that someone owes me an explanation, not a corporate public relations-type explanation, but a down-on-your-knees-begging-for-your-life explanation, which is the only kind worth listening to.

But he's not the only one. From now on, I have to make a list of people who need to be shot in the face. There needs to be a real bloodbath, to equal the financial and emotional one which has just been drawn for all of us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember by Iain Levison (Random House 2002)

The hard part is learning the route. I'm working Philadelphia's Main Line, once again servicing rich people, many of whom have mansions for houses. Families of three or four live in eighteen-bedroom castles, with new sports cars in every driveway. I drive around and wonder what these people do for a living. Where do the rich come from? Do all these houses belong to geniuses, inventors of rocket engines and cures for diseases? Did they have one great idea, like Post-it notes, and capitalize on it? Is there some fascinating story behind this great surplus of money, or have they simply inherited a factory that makes toenail clippers for the armed forces?

One thing's for sure; they believe they deserve it. I don't know many rich people, but I've met enough to know that even the ones who were handed a trust fund think of themselves as special, not lucky. They reinvent the past to include details of their own forbearance and fortitude to anyone who'll listen, and someone always will because they're rich. It's always more entertaining listening to the rich, because there's always a chance you'll be asked along to the Bahamas or given a sports car for the weekend. The fact that they're usually stingier than the people I hang out with takes a while to sink in.

The other great fact about rich people is that their kids are always fuck-ups. Not the kind of lovable fuck-up who works down at the gas station and tells you he can fix your car and then destroys it. No, rich kids are shady. They're the kind that dream up a brilliant illegal plan, just to show their dad a thing or two; then when you all get caught, they beg their dad for a great lawyer and never talk to you again. They were born into money, and they know money will take care of them. This security gives them a whole different value system, one the rest of the world never quite gets.

These half-empty houses, I notice, are mostly dark and quiet, like the set from Citizen Kane. Housewives putter around in the kitchens, and I see their coiffed heads through the window as I hook up my hose to their oil fills. They are usually alone. They never wave. The third great fact about rich people is that they don't talk to the help. Lady Chatterley's Lover was bullshit.

Friday, December 09, 2011

March Violets by Philip Kerr (Viking 1989)

Driving west on Leipzigerstrasse, I met the torchlight parade of Brownshirt legions as it marched south down Wilhelmstrasse, and I was obliged to get out of my car and salute the passing standard. Not to have done so would have been to risk a beating. I guess there were others like me in that crowd, our right arms extended like so many traffic policemen, doing it just to avoid trouble and feeling a bit ridiculous. Who knows? But come to think of it, political parties were always big on salutes in Germany: the Social Democrats had their clenched fist raised high above the head; the Bolshies in the K P D had their clenched fist raised at shoulder level; the Centrists had their two-fingered, pistol-shaped hand signal, with the thumb cocked; and the Nazis had fingernail inspection. I can remember when we used to think it was all rather ridiculous and melodramatic, and maybe that's why none of us took it seriously. And here we all were now, saluting with the best of them. Crazy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller (Back Bay Books 2003)


I used to walk down the street with Bill Murray and have to stand there patiently for twenty minutes of like drooling and ass-kissing by people who would come up to him. And Murray would point to me and say, “Well, he’s the guy who writes the stuff,” but they would continue to ooh and ahh over him. Murray can be a real asshole, but the thing that keeps bringing me back to defend him is I’ve seen him be an asshole to people who could affect his career way more often than to people who couldn’t. Harry Shearer will shit on you to the precise degree that it’s cost-free; he’s a total ass-kisser with important people.

Back when neither of us was making much money, Murray and I would take these cheap flights to Hawaii. We had to stop in Chicago, and at the airport there’d be these baggage handlers just screaming at the sight of him, and he would take enormous amounts of time with them, and even get into like riffs with them. I enjoyed it, because it was really entertaining. We went down to see Audrey Peart Dickman once, and the toll guy on the Jersey turnpike looked in and recognized Murray and went crazy. We stopped and people were honking and Bill was doing autographs for the guy and his family.

I’ve yet to meet the celebrity who was universally nice to everyone. But the best at it is Murray — even to people who had nothing to do with career or the business (P.248)


Farley and this girl on the show were going out. She was really smart and pretty, and Farley really liked her a lot. But she couldn’t put up with any more of Farley’s stuff, so they broke up. And then she started dating Steve Martin. So one day Farley comes to me and he says, “Fred, I hear that she’s going out with some guy. What can you tell me about it?” And, you know, nobody wanted to tell Chris Farley that she was dating anyone else, particularly Steve Martin. So I just said, “Well, I haven’t heard. I don’t know.” And he goes, “I know she’s seeing somebody. You’ve got to tell me who it is.” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to get in the middle of any of that kind of stuff.” And Farley said, “Well, she may find somebody better looking than me, or she might find somebody richer than me, but she’s not going to find anybody funnier than me.” And what I couldn’t tell him was, he was wrong on all three counts. He had hit the hat trick of failure. Steve Martin was richer, better looking, and even funnier. (P.306)


I mean, the whole thing was weird to me. The whole thing. To me, what was fun about comedy and should have been exciting about Saturday Night Live was the whole generational thing, you know, a crazy bunch of people sittin’ around making each other laugh with casual chaos and a kind of democracy of chaos. And to go into a place where this one distant and cold guy is in charge and trying to run it the way he ran it decades ago is just weird to me (P.463)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Socrates - RIP

I was always Eder in the playground but I always had a soft spot for Socrates. I remember this goal as if it was yesterday:

Socrates - RIP.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Downfall (2004)

The Watching Post

I first mentioned them on the blog six years ago when they were still known as Girls In A Coma but, after buying their debut album in 2007, Girl In A Coma fell off my musical radar. Their latest single suggests I have a lot of catching up to do.

A great song for those of us who still have a soft spot for jangly guitars.

. . . and Owen likes the trains in the video.

It's a fair question

The only problem with capitalism is that the workers keep getting under the feet of the wealth creators.

Hat tip to the 'I Acknowledge Class War Exists' page over at Facebook.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rangers 1872: The Gallant Pioneers by Gary Ralston (Breedon Books 2009)

Undoubtedly, Rangers suffered at the hands – and wallets – of the English clubs, who set up raiding parties that would have been the envy of any 16th-century border reiver. First to go in 1880 was Scottish international Hugh McIntyre, older brother of Tuck and a member of the Cup Final team of 1879, who quit for Blackburn Rovers after they bought him a pub in the town. He went on to win three FA Cup-winners’ medals in successive seasons with his new side in 1884, 1885 and 1886. He was followed to the Lancashire club by founding father Peter Campbell and, although he played several times for Blackburn, he never moved to the area. Rangers lost another stalwart of the 1879 team, William Struthers, who signed for Bolton Wanderers in 1881, quickly followed to the same club by half-back John Christie, no doubt lured by the promise of riches extolled by his former teammate. The finger lingered around the influence of Hugh McIntyre, in particular, in convincing young Scots to ply their trade in the south because then, as now, there were lucrative finders’ fees up for grabs. Agents were despised and routinely beaten up and one G.L. Harrison from Nottingham had cause to wish he had never wandered down the Copland Road on 1 August 1889, when he arrived in Glasgow in a bid to lure defender John Hendry, an early darling of the Light Blues legions, south of the border.   Harrison’s plan was cunning, as he roped in then Scotland striker Jimmy Oswald (who later went on to play for Rangers) to accompany him to Ibrox on the promise of a £5 commission if they persuaded Hendry south. They had already trawled the player’s home town of Uddingston in a vain bid to track him down, but the fear of losing their top talents was so strong among many of the leading Scots clubs, including Rangers, that they regularly formed vigilance committees to keep their non-professionals (in theory at least) away from the paid ranks of the English game. Word quickly spread around Ibrox, which was hosting an amateur sports that Thursday evening, of the danger in their midst. Panic ensued and Hendry was quickly shepherded away from the dangerous suitors while Oswald, who played for Notts County, was led to safety, surviving the baying mob only because of his standing in the game and the presence of a team from the Rangers committee around him. Harrison was not so lucky as he attempted to sneak from the ground and down Copland Road, only to be accosted by two irate Bears. The full story then unfolded in the Scottish Sport, filed by ‘an eye witness’ with more than a hint of eager pleasure:

‘“You are looking for someone?” politely enquired the smallest of the two, as they came up with their prey.

“No-no,” replied the tall, handsome swell – for with all his audacity he looked a swell – but he did so with a look and hesitancy which identified him at once.

“We were told you were looking for someone,” insisted the sly, self-possessed questioner.

“Oh, no. There…there must be some mistake.”

“Were you not wishing to see John Hendry of the Rangers?”

An enquiring glance at his tormentors and a faltering “no” was the reply.

Then the second party spoke, but it was aside, and as if to his companion. “What’s the use o’ makin’ a clown o’ me. I thocht it was a good thing. I’ll awa’ back to Oswald,” and he cast a withering look at his apparently perplexed companion.

The trick had fairly trapped the agent however, for in answer to a last attempt to draw him, his wily inquisitor was at length assured, in a half apologetic tone, that he did want to see Hendry and that he had at first denied his real mission because of the fear he had of the club’s supporters, whose attentions were evidently not of the most reassuring.

“Well, this is Hendry,” said the sly one, after a little more cross questioning, and pointing to his companion who, I need hardly say, was only a cruel impersonator playing a part in the interests of his club.

The “swell” became reassured, looked more like his audacious self, and prepared to do business.

“Do you want me to go to England?” inquired the bogus Hendry after being duly introduced and informed of the terms.

“Yes, I want you to go to England.”

“Are you perfectly sure you want me to go to England?”


“Well, take that!” and before anyone could say Jack Robinson the seducer was sent sprawling on the ground with a lick which could scarcely be described as a baby-duster.  

 The elongated representative of the ascendant element in English football was not long in getting to his feet, but there was no fight in him. He took to his heels and, as if pursued by an evil spirit, careered down the road at the most undignified speed imaginable. Unfortunately for him, a crowd of unsympathetic Rangers were coming up the road as he was frantically tearing down and they, taking the situation at a glance, cruelly intercepted him and he was once more in the remorseless hands of the Philistines.

  There is no use in prolonging the sequel; sufficient to say that, after a good bit of running in as earnest an obstacle race as was ever ran, he reached Princes Street, about half a mile away, where he was mercifully taken in by a young Samaritan married couple, and allowed to sufficiently recover from his baptism of fright and fists to be able to be sent to his hotel [St Enoch’s] in a cab. When I saw the bold adventurer lying low upon a couch, blanched, speechless, and sick unto death, with several well known members of the Rangers holding his low lying head, and timing his quick beating pulse, I did think that the way of transgressors is hard. Probably G.L. Harrison will not again put his prominent features within a mile of Ibrox Park on a similar errand.

Soulboy (2010)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy Downfall

I promised myself I'd never post another Downfall spoof on the blog until I'd actually watched Downfall itself but this one's too good to overlook:


Downfall is now on Netflix Instant. Expect another twenty Downfall clips posted on the blog in the coming week.

Hat tip to Philippe-Antoine over at Facebook.

Fire in Babylon (2010)

Friday, November 25, 2011

3000 Posts

No doubt there's four or five booksiveread2011 'resting' in the draft section of the blog as I write but, to all intents and purposes, this is the blog's 3000th published post.

What (slim) hopes I had for the blog way back in April 2004. Pat on the back for myself for even failing to reach that especially set low benchmark. That takes a certain talent and dedication.

On reaching this particular blogging landmark, there'll be no misty eyed look back on posts past. That's so four years ago.

No, I'll just mention that this landmark post ties in nicely on a personal note because it's Fusspot's six month birthday today.

Fusspot? Did I ever get that nickname wrong. It's like nicknaming Ronnie Corbett 'Stilts'. Zen would have been a more appropriate nickname. I guess he's just happy and content in the knowledge that he shares a birthday with a certain musical genius, and that it's also the historical date of Celtic's last decent result in Europe.

That, and the fact that he's constantly entertained and mesmerised by 'Drama'.

Now that's a nickname that's bang on the money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Boombox by Gabriel Cohen (Academy Chicago Publishers 2007)

"are there any other black executives in your office?" she asks.

He pauses for a moment. "There's one other vice-president. To tell you the truth, though" - he grins, almost in apology - "I don't like him much."

Emboldened by the wine, by their growing intimacy, she asks, "Do you ever feel lonely at work?"

He looks sad all of a sudden. "You know," he says wistfully, "down where I come from, we have a saying: In the South, black folks can get as close as they want to white folks, but just don't try to move high in their world. In the North, you can get as high as you want, as long as you don't get close."

That seems to sum things up. She looks frankly at him, and he returns the look. In all her nervous thoughts about what might happen when two people come together, this is something she has overlooked: a chance to be understood.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Maigret Stonewalled by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“In a moment, almost finished, particularly as I’m afraid I must be trying Monsieur de Saint-Hilaire’s patience. Let’s go back to the scene of the crime, as they say, do you mind?”

When they got there, he said suddenly:

“You have seen Émile Gallet alive… What I am going to say may perhaps make you laugh… Yes. Do put on the light; with this foul weather it gets dark an hour earlier than usual… Well, I didn’t see him, and I have spent all my time since the crime trying to imagine him alive.…

“To do that, I want to breathe the air he breathed… rub shoulders with the people he lived with… Look at this picture… I bet you’ll say the same as I did: ‘Poor fellow!’ Especially when you know that the doctors gave him only three more years to live. A rotten liver… And a tired heart just waiting for an excuse to stop… I want to picture this man as a living being, not only in space but in time… Unfortunately I could only go as far back as his marriage; he wouldn’t ever tell even his wife what happened before that.…All that she knows is that he was born in Nantes and that he lived several years in Indo-China. But he didn’t bring back a photograph or a souvenir. He never spoke about it…“

He was a little commercial traveller, with some thirty thousand francs… Even at the age of thirty he was skinny, awkward, with a melancholy disposition.“

He met Aurore Préjean and decided to marry her… The Préjeans are social climbers… The father was hard pressed and no longer had enough money to keep his paper alive… But he had been the private secretary to a pretender to the throne! He had corresponded with dukes and princes!“

His eldest girl married a master tanner.“

Gallet cut a miserable figure in that society, and if he was accepted at all it was only because he agreed to put his little bit of capital into the Soleil business… They didn’t put up with him easily. For the Préjeans it’s a come-down that a son-in-law should sell silver-plate articles for cheap presents.

“They try to give him a bit more ambition… He resists. He’s not made for a great career. His liver is far from good at that time… He dreams of a peaceful life in the country with his wife, of whom he is very fond.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lovely Thatch

If Meryl Streep's hair doesn't win the Best Special Effect Oscar at next year's Oscars I'll eat my bunnet. I wonder who they got to play Diana Gould in the film? A toss up between Judi Dench or Helen Mirren, I guess.

Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is playing who? Geoffrey Howe just sent Denis Healey a stick of Blackpool Rock with the words 'Fuck You' written through it.

Maybe it's just me, but if that trailer is anything to go by then Jim Broadbent and his prosthetic nose were seriously miscast as Denis. He really would have made an excellent Michael Foot.

Maigret Meets A Milord by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

“To begin with, we couldn’t see very clearly… I thought for a moment he was dead…“

My husband wanted to call some of our neighbours to help lift him on to a bed… But Jean understood… he started squeezing my hand… squeezing it so hard!… It was as if he was hanging on to it like grim death…“

And I could see him sniffing…

“I understood… Because in the eight years he’s been with us, you know… He can’t talk… but I think he can hear what I’m saying… Am I right, Jean?… Are you in pain?”

It was difficult to know whether the injured man’s eyes were shining with intelligence or fever.

The woman brushed away a piece of straw which was touching his ear.“

Me, you know, my life’s my little household, my brasses, my bits and pieces of furniture… I do believe that if somebody gave me a palace, I’d be downright unhappy…“

For Jean, it’s his stable… and his horses… How can I explain?… There are naturally days when we don’t move because we’re unloading… Jean has got nothing to do… he could go to the pub…

"But no! He lies down here… He leaves an opening for a ray of sunlight to come in…”

And Maigret imagined himself where the carter was, seeing the partition coated with resin on his right, with the whip hanging on a twisted nail, the tin cup hooked on to another, a patch of sky between the boards above, and on the right the horses’ muscular croppers.

The whole scene gave off an animal warmth, a sensation of full-blooded life which took one by the throat like the harsh wine of certain hill-sides.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Goodnight Steve McQueen by Louise Wener (Perennial 2002)

My name is Steve McQueen and I'm a bitter man. What on earth were they thinking of. calling me Steve? Didn't they realise it would ruin me? Didn't they know I'd be tortured? Didn't they understand it would be impossible for me to live up to? Did they hell. It was my mum's fault, of course, she was obsessed with him. The only reason she married my dad in the first place was because of the name. It didn't matter that he was a geography teacher. It didn't matter that he was bald at the age of eighteen, fat at the age of twenty-two, and dead at the age of thirty-three and a half. Mum had what she'd always wanted. She'd married herself a genuine McQueen.

I was three years old when my father died - he had a heart attack on a field trip to an ox-bow lake - and for a long time I actually thought Steve McQueen was my read dad. I remember my mum sitting me down to watch The Towering Inferno when I was five - spooning down my second helping of Heinz spaghetti hoops - and feeling really proud. We both clapped at the end. What a guy. He'd even managed to save Fred Astaire and the cat. What a guy. What a dad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I bloody knew it!

From a New Zealand newspaper's Q & A with Ian Rankin, who's currently bigging up the excellent 'The Impossible Dead':

The book that changed me is

... Laidlaw by William McIlvanney. I read this in the early 1980s when I was a student but also trying to become a published novelist. It's beautifully written, with taut plotting and a clean style. Laidlaw made me think I could maybe write my own crime fiction.

It has to be said . . . Morris Cafferty is no John Rhodes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

'It's looking good . . . .'

Hat tip to Richard M over at Facebook.

Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett by Georges Simenon (1931)

The situation was ridiculous. The Superintendent knew there was not one chance in ten that his vigil would lead to any result.

But he stuck to it, because of a vague impression; he could not even have called it a presentiment. It was more like a private theory, which he had never even worked out but which just stuck nebulously at the back of his mind; he called it the theory of the chink.

Every criminal, every gangster, is a human being. But he is first and foremost a gambler, an adversary; that is how the police are inclined to regard him, and as such they usually try to tackle him.

When a crime or felony is committed, it is dealt with on the strength of various more or less impersonal data. It is a problem with one—or more—unknown factors, to be solved, if possible, in the light of reason.

Maigret used the same procedure as anyone else. And like everyone else he employed the wonderful techniques devised by Bertillon, Reiss, Locard, and others, which have turned police work into a science.

But above all he sought for, waited for, and pounced on the chink. In other words, the moment when the human being showed through the gambler.

At the Majestic he had been confronted by the gambler. Here, he sensed a difference. This quiet, neat villa was not one of the pawns in the game that Pietr the Lett was playing. That young woman, and the children Maigret had glimpsed and heard, belonged to an entirely different material and moral universe.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Red: My Autobiography By Gary Neville (Bantam Press 2011)

Jaap Stam was sold, which was a bombshell as big as Sparky leaving, even for the players – especially for the players. We were as mystified as anyone. All kinds of conspiracies swirled around because Jaap’s exit came on the back of his ‘controversial’ autobiography; but I’ve always believed that the book was a minor factor, perhaps irrelevant. I know the manager wasn’t thrilled about the book, and nor was I at being called a ‘busy cunt’. Jaap had called me that to my face many times, and I know it was meant affectionately, but it didn’t look quite so clever spread across the front of the Daily Mirror.

He was very apologetic, because he was a big softie at heart, a big playful bear. Phil, Butty and I used to wind him up by flicking his ears or tapping him on the back of the head so he’d run after us, like a father chasing after a naughty kid. He didn’t mean any harm with the book, he’d just not thought through the consequences of serialisation, when little passages get blown up into big stories. As I explained to him, you can say Ruud van Nistelrooy was selfish when he was near goal but the headline won’t explain how that selfishness was part of his brilliance.

People came up with their conspiracy theories for Jaap’s exit, but all that counted was that the manager had lost confidence in him – a mistake, as he’d later admit. He thought Jaap had lost a bit of pace, and was dropping off. But even if that was partly true, he remained an immense presence for us in defence. He was missed.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin (Orion Books 2011)

‘Any other names?’ Fox asked.

‘One or two are probably still a bit cracked – living as hermits in the Western Isles and writing anarchist blogs. Most of them probably found that as they got older, they became the sort of person they’d previously despised.’

‘The establishment, in other words?’

‘These were bright people, in the main.’

‘Even the ones scooping up handfuls of anthrax from Gruinard?’

‘Even them,’ Professor Martin said, sounding sleepy from all the wine. ‘It’s all changed now, though, hasn’t it? Nationalism has entered the mainstream. If you ask me, they’ll sweep the next election. A few years from now, we could be living in an independent European democracy. No Queen, no Westminster, no nuclear deterrent. That would have been impossible to predict a scant few years back, never mind quarter of a century.’

‘Pretty much what the SNLA and all the others were fighting for,’ Fox concurred.

‘Pretty much.’

‘Is there anyone I could try talking to about all of this, other than psychiatric patients and hermits?’

‘Do you know John Elliot?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘He’s on TV all the time. News and current affairs.’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘He merits a mention in my book.’

‘What about Alice Watts?’


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne (Random House 2008)

"Ah ha," Chips says, finding a page upon which he cameos. He adopts a whiny voice that is a bad impression of Zoe: "Jean who works breakfasts understands. She says that I am very mature for my age. She says that she has had a fluctuating waistline all her life and it's never done her any harm. She says that kids can be cruel. I told her I felt like crying in Geography when Chips said: 'I bet you eat your dinner off a tectonic plate.'" Chips looks up.

"I forgot I said that."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard (Arbor House 1983)

He told her Aperture magazine had contacted him about doing a book. Call it South Beach. Get all the old people, the art deco look. He was working on it now. No, he was thinking about it more than he was working on it. He wanted to do it. He wouldn't mind having a coffee-table book on his coffee table. It seemed strange though--ask thirty or forty dollars for a book full of pictures of people who'd never see it, never be able to afford it.

"At the gallery they sip wine and look at my pictures. They say things like, 'I see his approach to art as retaliation, a frontal attack against the assumptions of a technological society.'

"They say, 'His work is a compendium of humanity's defeat at the hands of venture capital.'

"They say, 'It's obvious he sees his work as an exorcism, his forty days in the desert.' Or, another one, 'They're self-portraits. He sees himself as dispossessed, unassimilated.'

"The review in the paper said, 'The aesthetic sub-text of his work is the systematic exposure of artistic pretension.' I thought I was just taking pictures."

Jean Shaw said, "Simplicity. It is what it is." Then paused. "And what it isn't, too. Is that what you're saying?"

He didn't want her to try so hard. "I heard one guy at the gallery--it was his wife or somebody who said I was dispossessed, unassimilated, and the guy said, 'I think he takes pictures to make a buck, and anything else is fringe.' I would've kissed the guy, but it might've ruined his perspective."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1985)

A wire fence separated the Bajan sculptor's garage apartment and yard from the Robert E. Lee housing project. At least thirty black kids were playing some kind of grab-ass on the other side of the fence. They came over to the fence to stare at Hoke while he pulled into the narrow backyard and parked. There was a huge sculpture of a birdlike creature in the yard, blocking the way to the closed door of the garage. The wings were fashioned from automobile fenders, and the body was formed with welded auto parts. The "bird" had been painted with red rustproofing primer, and its eyes were red glas taillights. The eyes were unlighted, and Hoke wondered for a moment if the sculptor would wire them for electricity when he was finished with the sculpture. He then realized that he didn't give a shit what the sculptor decided to do, because he would never have to look at it again.