10/02/10 – 17/02/10

God. What happened there? Work and that. In the gaps I watched a couple of movies.

Liam Neeson is surprisingly effective in Taken, a laugh-a-minute, sing-along, feel-good, family romp about a former agent murdering his way through a bunch of sex traffickers in order to rescue his kidnapped daughter. I’ve made it sound a bit more philosophically complex than it is there by the way. No matter. It takes a great deal of its inspiration from John Frankenheimer’s Ronin. Good. If you’re going to rip something off, at least make it a good thing.

Then I watched Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. I do think he probably needn’t have bothered. The original is pretty damn spiffy, but then again if it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly. Mr. Zombie doesn’t hang around and achieves high standards of accountability vis a vis the boobs and the gore and stuff. Extra points for using a Rush song on the soundtrack and encouraging Malcolm MacDowell’s spooky channelling of Donald Pleasance.

Points off, however, for over-explaining Michael Myers’ background. The less justified he was, the more scared I was of him. Not a waste of time on any level though.



Pretty much I have the politesse and diplomatic lightness of touch of a nematode worm. See a thing, blurt a thing. That’s my style.

I was once in the car with a friend of mine who is incalculably more refined than I am, when we noticed across the car park a guy we both recognised as a problematic customer from the bookshop where we worked at the time. Channelling Racine I retorted, “That bloke is a massive twat.”

My friend reflected for a second or two and then said calmly, “I like to think of him as a grace-grower.”

What a lovely attitude. I have tried, in my clod-hopping way, to emulate it subsequently and there are rarely more opportunities for growing a bit of grace than when travelling between Inverness and Leeds by car.

Drivers are mad.

I once saw, on the M74, the aftermath of a soft furnishing incident. The way I reconstructed it in my head was that two blokes had decided to move a three piece suite using only one small car and two bungee cables. It was a Saturday morning, so I was imagining they were suffering from over-refreshment the night before too.

It was a good theory I think, extrapolated backwards from the only thing I could see which was two dismayed looking men ducking in and out of traffic trying to collect cushions and sofa framework debris from the carriageway. The cushions, for their part, seemed to be enjoying their time frolicking amid the traffic. I have rarely seen cushions look as blithe and carefree as these ones did.

No such spectacle on the drive down today though. Just the usual melange of cheery wave-givers and micro-penised psychopaths (I have assumed some stuff here).  My favourite was the lady who was hogging the middle lane of the M6 after Carlisle. Generally I just give them their space, the middle lane-hoggers. It’s a bit of an extra drive around their car to overtake them, but I’m not usually in so much of a hurry that the extra few metres makes a difference.

Something made me look in through the window of this one though which is rarely a good idea. I glimpsed a pale, terrified, oddly lumpy woman gripping her steering wheel and staring fixedly ahead. The air in her car was a different colour from normal air. I guess she’d been smoking heavily, but it gave her car the look of an exploratory craft lowered on to our world like a Venusian bathysphere.

If she had looked across at me she’d have seen a jovial earthling singing along to Dolly Parton, or possibly Cradle Of Filth.

Motorways. They’re like a community, but not.

My taste in a lot of things, it turns out, is quite gay. My DVD collection houses, in between the eighties video nasties and naughties remakes of eighties video nasties, a surprising number of musicals.  Look between Cahill United States Marshall and Candyman and you will see Calamity Jane. And there between My Dear Killer and The Mysterians is the glorious My Fair Lady. Some Like It Hot, The Sound Of Music and South Park Bigger, Longer & Uncut (all arguably musical in content) come in a run between the two versions of Solaris and Southern Comfort. It’s a good collection and I’m very pleased with it.

Some days I’m in the mood to see failing alcoholic British actors stumble their slashing way through giallo movies, or Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or Jason Statham doing the shooting and punching. Some days I just fancy nice flouncy frocks and a bit of a sing-song.

As we walked the West Highland Way last year, which is one of the more macho things I’ve done in my life, there was a stretch during which the pulchritudinous Kay, the frankly unhinged Alison and I sang the songs of The Sound Of Music at full bellow. I was left singing on my own briefly as we passed a van full of surly-looking workers. The girls who saw these horny-handed artisans way before I did shut up abruptly, leaving me singing I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen alone to an audience whose appreciation level was low.

Was I embarrassed? Well, yes, a bit. But I had no need to be. I used to defend what I saw as my “guilty pleasures” a bit rabidly. These days I’m a bit more comme ci comme ca about it. There are no guilty pleasures in my life. Just pleasures.

Sometimes it’s Dolly Parton and All Saints. That’s just the way it is. Dolly in particular is wonderful.


When I finally got round to reading the paper on Friday night it was a bit of a gloomy affair. The Guardian was concentrating on the death, seemingly at his own hand, of the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. It’s not appropriate to be jocular about this so I won’t be. The guy was forty (which I think is very young), widely admired and respected in his field and was basically by any measure a success. Suicide is an amazing act of assertion. Nobody does it because it’s going to be a bit of a laugh. It’s the product of an extreme mental state.

I only bring the subject up because it casts a bright light on an area of especial ignorance of mine.

Again, before I start this, I’m going to re-iterate that I’m absolutely sure the guy was the genius he is exalted as. The fault is one of perception on my part. I absolutely do not understand the importance of the fashion industry.

I accept that it’s normal to wear clothes. It’s really cold where I live for a start. I also accept that our clothes are broadly representative of our inner states. We don’t perhaps express ourselves clearly all the time through them, depending on what’s available to us, but we have a stab. Presented with a matador costume and a jeans and t-shirt ensemble, I’d go with the latter. Some would go carambas! Good for them.

I prefer cotton, wool, linen and silk. Other people prefer artificial fibres like polyester, rayon and PVC. Good on em. Particularly the PVC guys who are an interesting bunch of people.

The joyless looking fashion shows, etiolated twiglet ladies, face-lifted sleazy old crocodilian predators and sweaty cocaine jamborees that seem to typify the fashion world look horrifying to me though. I’d have to guess that the people involved in the whole thing are having fun (although they never bloody look like they are), but nobody ever seems to be able to convey to me what the nature is of the fun they are supposedly having, or what the purpose of it is. What, in short, is fashion for?

Jess Cartner-Morley in the Guardian wrote “No one who went to an Alexander McQueen catwalk show could ever again have believed that fashion is merely superficial. McQueen’s interest was in psychology, and fashion was how he communicated.” She (I think Jess is a she) goes on to write about McQueen’s various shows which he themed around Vertigo, The Birds, Picnic At Hanging Rock and The Lord Of The Flies.

I bet they were extremely exciting spectacles to witness, but I would argue that they almost serve as a dictionary definition of “superficial”. There is very little here to support the notion of an informed psychological approach or innovative point of view. Referencing a work of someone else’s isn’t a creative act is it? McQueen didn’t even seem, on this description, to have changed the context. He’d just taken something cool which already existed and said “Hey look. Cool!”

My drive down to Leeds from Inverness took as its central themes the music of Dolly Parton, All Saints, Cradle Of Filth, The Phenomenal Handclap Band and Rush. My act of driving was not merely a physical one. It was an informed psychological investigation of the function of driving and the modes and methods of those who drive.

I would like to declare myself a genius.


There was a delightful Saturday filled with three of life’s Fs. Food, family and flipping hard crosswords.

Sunday though presented a different prospect. It was Valentine’s Day. I was in a church. Effing aitch.

The occasion was titchy tiny nephew Luke’s christening. I missed the mass beforehand but turned up with my sister Helen (who in any movie adaptation of her life will be played by Helen Mirren) for the christening bit, which was stapled on to the end of the main service.

Helen navigated us there with skill and I must say aplomb.

(Actually I wasn’t under any obligation to say “aplomb”. It’s just a nice word to say, and a nice word to type. Give it a go. Give it a go. It means self-confidence or assurance, with the sense of rectitude or perpendicularity about it. It’s from the French phrase a plomb, which describes how a plumb line hangs down, true and undeviating. A plumb line gets its name from the lead bob at its end. Plumbum is the Latin for lead. Hence plumbers, who used to work with lead pipes. You’re all quite clever and may well already have known all of that.)

After her peerless navigating Helen squeezed effortlessly into a tight space in the car park with a composure I could never have summoned. There was none of that socially awkward denting of metal of tinkling of glass that can sometimes accompany my more optimistic parking manoeuvres. Just as well really. I’m not sure what the worldly and spiritual penalties are for criminal damage on church property but I bet they’re swingeing.

It’s odd the residual superstition that I have regarding churches (particularly Catholic ones) and the clergy. I strongly identify with one of Ben Elton’s early funny lines before he went legit.

“I would never say ‘fuck’ in a church,” he said. “I would have one, but I wouldn’t say it.”

I feel similarly self-contradictory. As I’m sure I’ve mumbled on about in the past, I can’t believe in a God who’s swayed by favouritism and who doles out the ultimate sanction of an eternity of suffering so lightly. But I got programmed pretty well as a kid so I’ve a lot of deep-seated emotional stuff that sits oddly with my more dispassionate adult take on things.

On the drive over to the church I’d been wondering how to answer if the priest did his audience participation bit about whether those here present rejected Satan and all his works. I definitely don’t believe in Satan. I think there is absolutely stuff that’s “morally” wrong which I reject whole-heartedly, but I see morality as a thing that arises from our species’ adaptation over millions of generations. The stuff that’s immoral is the stuff that stops us living comfortably together as humans, broadly.

Rejecting Satan, to me, seems to take for granted his existence and I wouldn’t want to do that. But then again, given that I don’t believe in Satan or the paternalistic, theistic god of Christianity where would be the harm in just pretending to go along with it? Surely that way everyone would end up happy and I wouldn’t even take a hit on my integrity.

At one point I decided that if the priest called on me to renounce Satan and all his works I would say, “Well I don’t believe in the ultimate personification of sin, or even sin itself per se, but I am generally against acts of selfishness which hurt others and would like to cast my vote for anyone who lives by the golden rule: Do as you would be done by. As for rejecting all of Satan’s works, even if he did exist that would be a bit sweeping. It’s a bit like that bit in Genesis Of The Daleks when the Doctor gets a chance to kill Davros before the Daleks are created but he doesn’t do it because, although the Daleks’ existence is in itself evil, it brings about a lot of good. I’d be happy to say that I reject a lot of Satan’s works, but really I’d be doing it on a case by case basis. Also I thought he was pretty good as Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate.”

But that’s quite a long answer for a priest who’s just expecting “I do.”

He turned out to be a great priest who specifically went out of his way to welcome those of no faith without being patronising or disparaging. The service was short. I enjoyed it, and I took a lot of photographs of the backs of peoples’ heads.

Then a cracking extended family and friends do at a local Italian restaurant (cheers Rach!). It’s fabulous to be a part of that kind of set up where there is just a ton of love and happiness. It was a little jarring to note that my sister’s gawky school friends have all become beautiful, worldly women in the 25 years or so that I took my eye off them. It was even more disconcerting to find that my attempts to mingle left me immovably on the old folks’ table. Has it come to this?

My total absence of child skills became manifest too as Poppy (catchphrase: UNCLE JOHN!!! UNCLE JOHN!!!) and her friend Scarlett (whose catchphrase, bafflingly, also seems to be UNCLE JOHN!!! UNCLE JOHN!!!) involved me in balloon tying games and a long, repetitive and hard to understand game of making imaginary ill dogs better with dog medicine and dog ointment.

I think the rest of the room was talking about Miles Davis, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and recent European history, but there was none of that for poor old Uncle John. Excuse me, UNCLE JOHN!!! What happened to my life?

Luke, the ostensible reason for all this happening, remained his usual quiet, benign self. A smiling eye of the storm. A beatific presence who only occasionally disgorged unfeasible quantities of ejectamenta. Not for nothing is the poor lad becoming known as Pukey Lukey.

Then I spent a day in the car again, and another day recovering from my day in the car.

What a hombre. Would any of you like to marry me?

2 comments on “10/02/10 – 17/02/10

  1. “Frankly unhinged” indeed. I have at least one hinge, which admittedly may not have been visible under six layers of thermals on our route march in the Highlands.

    This was, of course, brought to my attention by Ms Pulchritudinous herself, who (solely on account of this piece of toadying) has been in gloat mode since she arrived.

    Be afraid, be very afraid, she’s already talking about how much she’d prefer to live in London than the Highlands. We’ll compare hinges then.

    • I’ve looked into this very carefully and apparently it’s not libel if you just write it on the internet.

      Also, I didn’t say you weren’t pulchritudinous.

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