I have been waking up in silence for a few days now.
Usually I like the chunter of The Today Programme on the radio for a while before I get out of bed and gather myself, but on the first day after the Haiti earthquake it was a dismal listen. Human suffering on an incomprehensible scale punctuated by the Brown and Cameron Punch & Judy Show. I try not to be cynical about politics. I listen. I vote. But I find the run up to a general election has a draining effect on my disposition as political pragmatism and caution disappear to be replaced by a frothing “promise anything” mania. My boyish wide-eyed credulous innocence comes under attack. Picture John-Boy Walton getting repeatedly kicked in the balls by a hillbilly mountain man. That’s how I feel.
Silence it is then as I pour coffee down my neck and look out at Inverness. I can see the cathedral. I can see the castle. I’m four floors up and looking down at the inexorable flow of the river carrying melt water down from Loch Ness into the Moray Firth.
I love this city.
I was born and brought up in Leeds, which makes me proud. Pointlessly proud, because I had no say at all in the matter, but proud nonetheless. I was born in 1965 so I remember the glory days of Leeds United. Yorkshiremen (racist generalisation here) have a spurious sense of their own importance anyway, and when you add to that a high-achieving football team with a sort of global presence you will understand that I grew up thinking of Leeds as the sort of place Florence was at the time of the Medicis.
There was a mini Copernican revolution for me when I left to go to university and spent four years in St. Andrews and travelled round a bit. It started to seem that if there was a centre to the universe I, apparently, wasn’t it. There was a lot more to the world, I learned, than the limiting pewter-coloured horizons of Leeds. I came to consciously realise what I had subconsciously known for a while: that Leeds was actually a bit sordid. Filth on the streets, rats the size of cats in the Kirkgate Market, a National Front presence throughout the late seventies. The Yorkshire Ripper. The Chapeltown riots during the summer of 1981.
Readers of David Peace’s brilliant but corrosively depressing Red Riding books will know what I mean. There’s a fever dream quality to the man’s prose, but he conveys the ambience with absolute truth.
I went back to Leeds after university and lived and worked there for four years, finally leaving permanently in 1992 when I decamped to Aberdeen.
Disconcertingly, as soon as I left town Leeds really got its act together. It had been smartening up a bit during the eighties, but at the start of the nineties it got hosed down, dressed up and became a centre for the finance industry. Half the Civil Service moved up from London. New buildings popped up like fungus from a fruiting body. When I went back for visits I barely recognised the place.
Weirdly the same thing happened when I left Aberdeen. It almost overnight turned from a city-wide cage fight into a metropolitan sanctuary for the suave and the urbane.
Once was worrying, but twice? It was like coming out of a failed relationship and thinking of the other person, “Gosh I hope they’re OK.” And then the next time you see them they look fabulous, and are obviously thriving on your absence.
Not once, but twice… I think maybe I hold cities back. Stop them realising their full potential, that kind of thing.
Bad news for Inverness then, because I’m staying here as long as I can. It has culture, movies, live music, theatre everything. But at the same time there is landscape nearby that is so beautiful you want to fall to your knees weeping with gratitude when you see it. There are good travel links, but it is sufficiently far away from most centres of population that it remains forever like a particularly desirable suburb of Hobbiton.
When I bought my flat in 1998 the selling agent took me aside and, as a favour, said sotto voce that the reason it was so cheap was that the neighbourhood was a bit rough. That was over eleven years ago and I think I’m still laughing. Because what passes for a rough neighbourhood in Inverness would be, anywhere else in the world, a heritage site with a gift shop selling tea towels and little pots of honey.
The only other place I would consider moving to is Scarborough which first won my heart when I went there on a family holiday as a child. Scarborough is on the East coast of Yorkshire. It has spectacular cliffs that are unfortunately eroding so fast that the houses and hotels on top of them topple into the sea with the speed of reckless lemmings.
It was, I think, a town that found success as a holiday resort for wealthy Leeds businessmen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and even though the raison d’être no longer exists the town still behaves as though it does. There’s a brilliant, seedy, loucheness in the air. A kind of cut-price Vegas, “ah you’re on your holidays, where’s the harm?” vibe.
So there are wonderful seaside miscellanea like donkey rides, amusement arcades, fish and chip restaurants (and the fresh fish is amazing), but the shops that sell you your buckets and spades and postcards and so on also have a line in sticks of rock in the shape of a cock, and vibrators and cock rings and butt plugs. It’s like a tiny little Sodom or Gomorrah, but with its own branch of Waterstone’s. And a funicular to take you down from the town centre to the beach. And a park with Chinese lanterns and a lake where they do World War 2 battle recreations with models.
If Leeds and Aberdeen are ex-girlfriends who are well rid of me then Scarborough is more like some imaginary Aunty Elsie who’s not a real imaginary Aunty but an imaginary friend of my Mum, and smokes menthol cigarettes and has sherry on her breath at ten o’clock in the morning.
“Got a kiss for your Aunty Elsie?” Scarborough seems to be asking.
Course I have.
So much work today, but I did find time to re-watch Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150AD, spurred on by how much I’d enjoyed the first film last night.
If anything this one is better (and I think the same was true of the TV stories they were based on). Bernard Cribbins is more engaging than Roy Castle (who was plenty engaging enough, but had to do an awful lot of off-putting fart-arsing around in the first movie). And, as brightly hued as it is, the second film is darker than the first one being set in the identifiable ruins of future London rather than on a distant planet.
The scenes of London under attack must have been incredibly resonant back when the film was made (1966 – the TV series was 1964). The German air raids during the war would still have been fresh in people’s memories. Terry Nation (inventor of the Daleks, Survivors and Blake’s 7) made no pretence that his work wasn’t influenced by a fear of blank-faced authoritarianism, but this is a story that makes the obvious influence behind the Daleks even more obvious.
I have plenty of stuff to watch at the moment including the contents of a particularly joy-filled parcel that arrived from Amazon on Wednesday. It contained Tokyo Sonata on Blu-ray, part of Eureka’s newish plan to release their Masters of Cinema series on Blu-ray as well as standard def. I expect I will eulogise about this endeavour later. I hope so. It’s the sort of thing that gives you hope for the future of humanity.
The parcel also contained a box set of Film Noir classics released by the BFI just before Christmas which I am looking forward to enormously. And finally there is another BFI release called The Joy Of Sex Education, a double disc set of archive shorts from right through the twentieth century. The earliest one is called Whatsoever A Man Soweth and is from 1907. The most recent is from 1973 and is called ‘Ave You Got A Male Assistant Please Miss?
Before that though, I feel the need to de-junk my Sky box of some of the stuff that’s been sitting recorded on the hard disk for a while now. First up: Friday The Thirteenth, the original version from 1980 which, staggeringly, I’ve not seen before. Any good you reckon?