Category Archives: Literature

Ali The Killer

He came dancing across the canvas
With his poems and his puns
Fighting for the new world
And a place to share the sun

On the floor lay the Draft Board
With their orders and their laws
By himself he often wondered
About their secret world

And his followers stood round him
Some sat at his knee
He saw their many colours
More than the Gods could see

And the ideas all were beautiful
And the principles were strong
His freedom would be sacrifice
So others could go on

So hate might be a legend
And war be never known
That peoples work together
And together lift the stone

The fight he took to many lands
Some died along the way
He built up with his gloved hands
What can’t be built today

But I hope he’ll be remembered
For what he did that day
When he killed the men who wanted
To send him on his way

He came dancing across the canvas
Ali, Ali
What a killer

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The Sound of Music – 3 Short Stories

1
I can outrun them. They’ll never catch me.

After all, I’m driving the same car that Steve McQueen drives in ‘Bullitt’ – a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback. In the same Highland Green colour.
So they’ll never catch me. What have they got than can do a quarter-mile in 13.8?

I’m wearing the dark blue roll neck jersey; the Lucky Strikes are on the passenger seat and the Colt Diamondback is in the glove compartment. The customised 8-track is blazing out its message to the countryside as we growl and hiss  along the highway.

Such a cool ride. The Mustang is a beast that I’ve tamed. Yeah! But, hey, where did the Dodge Charger come from? It’s alongside me. A black ’68. Two guys in it. Ramming the Mustang. Damn! Brakes. Brakes. No! No! Spinning. End-on-end. Roof crumpling. Steering wheel in my chest. Such searing pain. Blood. My blood. I see the sky. I’m outside of the car.

I cannot move. The 2 guys are standing over me. One looks like Lee Marvin, the other wears glasses. Looks like an accountant. They seem kind of concerned. They’re talking;

‘This ain’t a movie kid. The Charger does the quarter in 13.6. Faster than that Ford piece of shit.’
‘Tough as hell stereo though, Jerry. Still playing’
‘Yeah. And what is that shit? Should be Lalo Schifrin, huh?‘ He laughs dryly.
‘I know what it is, Jerry. It’s, uh, classical they call it. Tchaikovsky I think. Yeah. Tchaikovsky – that’s it.’
‘No shit? Kinda inappropriate wouldn’t ya say?

I saw his boot but I never felt it.

Splat
2
DINING OUT
Restaurant Review by Piers Norman

‘The Groomsman’ Falls at the Final Hurdle

‘The Groomsman’ licensed restaurant. 27-29 Waverley Street, Phone 829 2337
Hosts; Ralph & Gwen Carstairs
Chef; Clementini Arbiso
Michelin Rating; 2 stars (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”)
Open for dinner; Thursday Saturday, Lunch 7 days.
Fully licensed
Starters      $10-20
Mains         $25-40
Puddings   $10-20

Food: *****

Service: ****

Ambience: *

Wine list: ****

Sound System; *

I could go on about the caramelised onions , the bouillabaisse and the 2009 Pauillac but it would be a complete waste of time. When we were here in 2013, I had occasion to remonstrate with owner, Ralph Carstairs, about the hopeless sound system in the restaurant. So much so that I was bound over to keep the peace.
When we visited The Groomsman last week, sadly, things had deteriorated further –  to the point where Escoffier himself could not have retrieved the situation.  Whatever joy my palate may have experienced was crushed by the bottom-end racket emanating from the High Street rack system that brings disgrace to Waverley Street. No matter what disc is in the player, it all sounds like Sly and Robbie Maximum Dub. I was somewhat tired and distraught that night and so I do hope that the Magistrates take that into account at the hearing next week.

Splat

3
Sitting in my study, sipping on a Chivas Regal and listening to Diana Krall on the Bang & Olufsen felt good. It had been a hard week and I needed to feel right, feel hip. The interview with Bono hadn’t gone as well as I expected and he had put up all sorts of barriers when I asked him why he kept looking at his watch. Still, I could touch it up a little and it would make a fine second instalment of the ‘Irish Rock Legends’ series that Rolling Stone had commissioned. It would have been the third instalment if someone could have bothered to tell me that John Cale was Welsh.
The first interview had been with Van Morrison. I say interview; it was a phone call lasting 5 minutes or so and 4 of those were listening to Van arguing with an official outside the Irish Supreme Court where he’s contesting some land ownership or a paternity suit or such like. Still, I can touch it up a little, pad it out a bit – it’ll be fine. Then all I’ll need to do is find an actual third Irish Rock Legend. I wonder if Sam Smith is Irish?

 

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Connery Confidential

Johnny Stomp wants to hit Lana. But the bar is busy. Mickey Cohen’s goons in the next booth. He bites his lip. She smiles.
‘Joe Kaufmann wants me to do this movie in England, Johnny’
‘Yeah. So you gotta go, huh?’
‘Yeah. Cheryl will be fine at boarding school.
Stomp combusts.
‘Cheryl! Cheryl! Cheryl! What about me, Lana?’
She reaches over. Cups his chin in her hands. Smiles again.
Stomp wants to kill her.

Stomp fidgeting in a wingback chair in Mickey’s hotel room. LA heat working on him. Italians working for Jews. But Mickey was smart. Dangerous too.
‘Sinatra shoo you off Ava G, Johnny?’
Stomp looks at his shoes. Colours up.
‘Broad’s a lush, Johnny.  And Lana’s working.’
Mickey’s dry, death rattle laugh, throwing Daily Variety to Stomp in the chair.
Front page. Lana and the Limey. She’s fucking him.
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Johnny Stompanato flying the Atlantic. He flew the Pacific. Beat the Japs at Okinawa. Now he’d beat the Limey. Show Lana.
Lana’s at the Hampstead house and loves Stomp. Gives him everything. Takes his blows.
Morning. The reporter outside asks who he is. Asks if Mr Connery knows about him. Laughs. The death rattle again.
Stomp in a taxi, flying the Pacific to Borehamwood. The Studio. Cracks the old man at the gate in the head. Finds the soundstage. Another Time, Another Place above the door. Running in. There’s Lana. And Barry Sullivan. Stomp shouting.
‘Bitch! You bitch!’
Lana crying. People shouting. Then him. The Limey. Sean. Walking toward Stomp. The gun. Stomp has the gun pointed at the Limey. Screaming. Running. Chairs tipping.
‘You keep away from her!. You keep away from Lana! I’ll kill you!’
Then his hand bending Stomp’s hand back. Searing pain. The gun is gone. The Limey’s death-rattle smile and then only the cold studio floor to embrace him.

A year later. 1958. Mr Connery in Tinseltown. At the Roosevelt. Receiving guests. His star ascending. Mickey Cohen comes to settle up.
‘We know you killed Johnny.’
Mickey holds his hand up. Palm outward. Toward Sean’s mask.
‘We know Lana’s got her crazy bitch daughter to confess. But we know you did it. There’s a contract on you.’

Sean on the lam. Staying at the Buena Vista up the coast. Grows a beard. Waiting for Mickey to find someone else to kill. Waiting for 1962. Waiting for when Johnny Stomp and Mickey Cohen would be old newsreel. Waiting for fame.

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Author’s Note
On April 4th, 1958, Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Johnny Stompanato, Lana Turner’s lover,  to death in her mother’s Beverly Hill’s home. The court reached a decision of  justifiable homicide and Cheryl was made a Ward of State until 1961.
Stompanato was an enforcer for gangster, Mickey Cohen, and had complained to Cohen about Sean Connery’s affair with Lana Turner when the two were working together on a movie in England. Connery did go into hiding briefly when Cohen let it be known that he felt Connery was the cause of Stompanato’s death.

Two Characters In Search Of A Relationship – Short Story

So  How long is it that we’ve known each other?
Why do you ask?
Look – I know it’s not possible – well, we shouldn’t try is what I mean – to quantify how valuable it’s been Mmm. But if you could divide the length of time by that accrued value, then you could get a standard unit. We’d be able to see – measure – whether its been worth it or not. But, as I say, I guess we shouldn’t try.
No. It’s a fair point. How do you feel about these meetings then?
That’s it though, isn’t it? I don’t want to have to rely on feelings. Feelings are so unreliable, aren’t they? I mean – there are several respectable branches of medicine that have prospered because of that very premise.
And the law.
Eh?
The law also prospers because feelings are unreliable. The law has a symbiotic relationship with forensic psychology. The alchemy of guilt – turning feelings into fact.
Is that an admission then?
If it were, there’d be an admission charge.
Then I’d certainly need to know if it’s been worth it, wouldn’t I? The price of admission, yeah?
Twenty years, more or less. That’s how long we’ve known each other.
You changing the subject?
Not at all. I’m answering your question. Scroll back and you’ll see.
Okay. Well then. Do you feel, think, know – whatever – that it’s been worth it?
Certainly I do. The actuaries and the clinicians tell me – it is their considered opinion – that I have many good years in front of me. So the proportion of time spent to time available at the rate of return – the standard unit you mentioned – is favourable, A broker would describe it as attractive. Whereas in your case, well, the rate of return would have that same broker on the phone screaming, ‘sell, sell, sell!‘.
Are you telling me that I ought to take a negative view of these meetings? That they’re worth more to you than they are to me?
I’m not telling you anything. I’m answering your questions
Now you scroll back. Mostly, you answer my questions with questions of your own, don’t you?
Are you beyond being accountable then? Over these many years has your sense of entitlement grown to the point where all interrogative statements, shot like a bolt from that crossbow of a mouth, must be rewarded by the perfectly divided apple of a response? Are you now the William Tell of rhetoric?
Is it really twenty years?

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A King’s Gotta Do What A King’s Gotta Do – Henry V – A Review

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But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.’
King Henry V has these thoughts on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt in October, 1415. He leads an English army, depleted by sickness and weary from hard campaigning in France. He wants to march on to Calais and safety but the much larger, better equipped French army has been shadowing him and is shaping for a battle. Henry has told the French herald that he is in no condition for a battle and would prefer to avoid one. But he adds, that if battle is offered by the French, then he will accept the challenge.
The challenge for director, Thea Sharrock and her Henry, Tom Hiddleston, is how to play Henry. This production is the final play in the series The Hollow Crown and many of the actors, including Hiddleston, have been carried over from the two Henry IV plays. So we’ve seen Prince Hal making his bones, shedding his profligate ways and assuming the mantle of kingship. We know he’s canny, shrewd. A prince who feigned at a dissolute character in order to seem all the more appealing when he shows his true colours as king.
For many, the two most well-remembered  portrayals of Henry on film are Laurence Olivier’s war hero (1944) and Kenneth Branagh’s ruling class hooray henry on a day trip to France to see what booty may be had. (1989) Hiddleston chooses a different path. We sense a diffidence about him. His key speeches at both Harfleur and Agincourt are personal, intimate – made to small groups and individuals. Not on a white charger, splendid in golden armour. It’s almost as if this monarch is already wearying of the rhetoric he’s fated to deploy. The gestures, the costumes, the action all seem just a little jaded; ‘I’ve got to do this, you know. Reclaim my birth right. Finish the unfinished business here in France. But it is a bloody business, so it is,’ seems to me to be the sub-text.
I suppose this approach might explain the absence of so many scenes that usually appear in this play; Canterbury’s detailed explanation to Henry of how the French have employed the principles of Salic Law to deny the English claim to the French throne; The plot against Henry at Southampton before embarking for France; The French nobility bragging about their prowess and likely victories on the eve of the battle and, most perplexing of all, the slaughter, by the French, of the English boys guarding the baggage train at Agincourt – particularly as Henry still delivers his ‘I was not angry since I came to France until this instant.’ response. This omission also places a quite different interpretation on Henry’s order to kill the French prisoners, the baggage train incident usually being seen as a justification for a reprisal. But this and the other changes all serve to create the idea of a pragmatic, canny king who is all too aware of his historical obligations and perhaps just the slightest bit contemptuous of them.
I should add that adopting this, I suppose, more cerebral approach, utterly compromises the two scenes which feature Princess Katherine (Mélanie Thierry), the daughter of the French king, Charles VI, to whom Henry becomes engaged. Usually serving as light relief from the bloody business of war and a handy way to reach détente, in this production, these scenes become almost incongruous, charming not sitting easily alongside quotidian but necessary violence.
So, yes, a masculine Henry. But a Henry caught in a time of unease both at home and abroad. A Henry keenly aware of his obligations to history and his country but wary of the weight of those obligations. I liked this Henry. The portrayal is flawed. But I liked it none the less.

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Author’s Note
; The BBC have set down a tentative date of 2016 for screening of the second part of The Hollow Crown, comprising Henry VI, parts I, II and III as well as Richard III, thus completing the full cycle of the ‘history plays’ encompassing The Wars of the Roses. It’s worth noting that the Princess Katherine mentioned above was Katherine de Valois. After Henry’s death, she married Owen Tudor and it was their grandson, Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field and was crowned Henry VII.

War and Honour – Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 – A Review

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‘Tis not due yet. I would be loath to pay Him before His day. What need I be so forward with Him that calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter. Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set to a leg? no. Or an arm? no. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word “honour”? What is that “honour”? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.’

These words are spoken by Sir John Falstaff at the commencement of the Battle Of Shrewsbury. The troubled king, Henry IV (Jeremy Irons), is about to take on the Percys of Northumberland and their allies in the latest rebellion against Plantagenet rule.
Director, Richard Eyre, has constructed an intimate account of the making of a king, Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston), by having him act as the pivot between two contrasting worlds; the royal court at Westminster and The Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap. And everyone we meet seems to have a point of view about honour. Falstaff, Hal’s drinking companion, sees it as a worthless label – ‘a mere scutcheon’. The king is troubled by his own lack of honour, having deposed another king who ruled by divine right. And Hotspur, the rebel, is consumed by the quest for honour – so much so that his judgement is blinded by it at a crucial time. This production has Hal weaving his way through the machinations of his father, the king, the boastful and self-serving posturings of Falstaff and the noble, but rash, actions of his adversary, Hotspur. By the conclusion of Part II, Prince Hal is ready to become Henry V, the product of his own tutorial.
A brilliant cast bring Shakespeare’s play to the screen, making the text – and therefore the ideas – accessible in a way that creates a new standard I believe. Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff brings  a rhythm, a cadence to Falstaff’s lines that open up his character, make him transparent – not only to Hal but us, the audience, as well. The argot of Eastcheap is a hip hop away from rapping in the ‘hood. Shakespeare wrote for the pit and everyone connected to this production plays it that way. I mentioned in my earlier review of Richard II, the first in this series of  The Hollow Crown, the sense of visual narrative allied to a deep knowledge of Shakespeare that had created an organic account of history in the making. This splendid production has built on that fine beginning to bring us an intriguing and satisfying account of the making of a king.

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When Plantagenets Fall Out – Richard II – A Review

The Hollow Crown

 

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchise, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

These lines from Act III of Richard II have been chosen by director, Rupert Goold, to also serve as a prologue to BBC Television’s 2012 production of  William Shakespeare’s play. This production is the first of three TV films under the title, The Hollow Crown, also taking in Henry IV parts I & II as well as Henry V. Richard speaks these words on a Welsh beach as he arrives back from campaigning in Ireland to learn that his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, has returned from exile to reclaim the estates, taken from him earlier by the king.
This beginning, and the style of what follows, evidence an approach that places Richard in a historical flow. He doesn’t just materialise at the beginning of Act I. He’s been king since he was 10 years old. He has ridden out to put down The Peasants Revolt when not yet 16. He has ridden out the attempts of the Lords Appellant to take control of government. And in 1398, in his 32nd year, when the play commences, he is confident in his empowerment by the divine right of kings. Yet the prologue tells us that history, like justice, is blind. It tells us that a king’s divine right may be challenged if that right is not tempered by care and charity. Indeed, the warning is echoed by Richard’s successor, Bolingbroke, as Henry IV, when he reflects, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’ And he should know.
So Shakespeare understood then that what happened between Richard and Bolingbroke at the conclusion of the 14th century would reverberate on English, British and European history – not just through the ensuing Wars of the Roses –  but far beyond that. And the Bard of Avon is wonderfully well assisted in bringing this least-produced of the ‘history plays’ to the screen by director, Rupert Goold and co-producer, Sam Mendes. Goold’s knowledge and working experience of Shakespeare and Mendes’ feel for visual narrative combine to achieve a compelling, organic account of how history is made by two men – not myths – but men whose very polarity obliges them to collide. Ben Whishaw as Richard, portrays a monarch grown disinterested by his power. When his uncle, John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart) dies, Richard, already having mocked the dying man, confiscates his estates and possessions to bolster his failing exchequer. Gaunt’s son, Bolingbroke, is banished and disinherited.
What Richard does appear to be concerned with though, is developing a martyrdom complex. He appears frequently in flowing, white robes and makes extravagant gestures to the heavens. His fascination, in an early scene, with a painting of the death of Saint Sebastian, is an eerie augury for his own death. I was struck by a similarity in the way Whishaw plays these scenes and the way Peter O’Toole plays similar scenes in both Lawrence of Arabia and The Ruling Class. I suspect that may be something to do with Sam Mendes – who in turn may have been channelling Ken Russell? In any event, it’s clear that Richard is unfit for the role of king. When he hands over the crown to Henry, he does so as a peevish child.
So. What of Henry Bolingbroke? In the hands of Rory Kinnear, he is at first staunchly loyal to Richard and then incrementally more and more guilty as his quest to restore his name, his honour, transforms into his usurping the throne – almost as if by accident. One fault of the production is that we never get to see the crowds or the armies that  would support a popular uprising and that does detract from the central proposition that the two protagonists are irrevocably bound as opposites. Shakespeare then arranges Richard’s murder to echo the death of Thomas Beckett at the hands of an earlier Henry; Zealous supporters interpreting the king’s words to rid him of a troublesome burden. Probably safer in Tudor times to rationalise regicide that way, than suggest, as historians do now,  that Richard was killed by starvation and neglect, wasting in the dungeons of Pontefract Castle.
A sumptuous production then, filmed mostly on location, with excellent leads and great support from the likes of David Suchet as York and Patrick Stewart as Gaunt.(His ‘scepter’d isle’ monologue delivered as a tragic valedictory is a brilliant thing) This bodes well for the following two films which I hope to view in the next few weeks.

 

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