Category: Arts and About

All aboard the writer’s train of inspiration

It has been like waiting for a train when unaware that there has been a derailment further down the line.

You wait in hope. At first, quite patiently, unconcerned. It will be coming soon.

Gradually other emotions creep in. A slight anxiety, morphing into concern. What’s gone wrong? The train should be here by now.

It is never this late in coming.

Then irritation mingles with the anxiety. What if it doesn’t arrive; what happens?

There is no one else around. Porters have been phased out, sent to the railway museum of antiquities. The absentees are the wise ones who always have a Plan B, even a Plan C. They don’t get caught out by a train that doesn’t come; they have their alternatives ready and set to go.

But not this bunny, stuck in the midst of nowhere, waiting for a train that seems destined never to appear. Fretting and fuming that life has come to a standstill.

And that is how it has been for far too long on the creative front. Days, weeks and eventually extending back into a previous year.

All that time gone forever, lost in waiting for inspiration for the next book. To have an idea would be good, a theme, a topic, anything that would get things moving forward.

But no, not a cracker.

Several stuttering starts were made when frustration forced the brain to come up with something, anything. But brain and I both knew these were false starts, not worthy of being classed as ideas.

They were dross, the rejects of an uninspired mind.

Such words as were scribbled were ill-suited to each other; sentences were ill-matched partners in a forced fictional marriage.

Suddenly the familiar railway cry of “all change” is heard. There is action down the line. An idea flows in from nowhere, words quickly follow. A metaphorical engine towing carriages of characters pulls in to the station.

I see the familiar face of Bromo Perkins among them.

I board. Exhilarated to be on the move at long last. Words arrive almost without bidding, sentences follow and an opening chapter soon comes into being.

The next book has begun. Let’s call this one Crossing The Line.

Just remember this …

As I was saying before …

Before what? Before when?

Why did I come into the kitchen? What am I doing here?

Well, as I was saying …

What was I saying? Something about … er …

Hell, let’s start again.

There’s this problem I’m having with memory. I hear mention of such terms as

Sugged in by Joe and his YouTube antics

YouTube has a lot to answer for when more and more truly worthwhile causes are failing for lack of funds while a semi-literate 24-year-old accrues instant wealth from acting the idiot in his bedroom.

Like thousands of immature youths before him, Joe Sugg found it amusing to film his gawkish ramblings and upload them to YouTube.  A tidal wave of unthinking followers now replay his videos to such an extent that in next to no time he has become obscenely rich.

OK, it’s not YouTube’s direct fault that Sugg (who, you might well have asked) is raking in a fortune while thousands of far more genuinely deserving causes go penniless. But it is only through its existence that such skewing of society’s priorities has become possible.

In a matter of months, Sugg, a roof thatcher in an English village, has jumped from scraping by on an apprentice wage to estimated earnings of £500,000 a year. And that’s only for starters. The inevitable book deal, documentary and ticketed live appearances that accompany such nonentities ensure this is merely a base figure.

The foundation of Sugg’s obscene income (far more than the Prime Minister’s or that of innumerable people with taxing, responsible, even life-affecting jobs) is the revenue from the advertisements that accompany YouTube’s videos. With an estimated “audience” of  5.2 million he is creaming it – and so is YouTube.

And it all comes from acting like a right dick and mouthing the sort of unthinking, random thoughts that tend to fester so many young heads.  Plus the equally unthinking support of millions just like him.

If only all this support – and, more especially, money – could be channelled into some meaningful, useful, deserving, positive purpose.  Every day there comes news of an individual, an organisation, a cause, a project that is facing failure or closure (even death) through lack of funding.

Many such would welcome even as little as one per cent of Sugg’s income in order to struggle on, to survive.

There is, however, little hope of that happening.  After all, this cynically dressed and groomed peacock has an admirable example to emulate in the form of his slightly older sister, Zoe, who is categorised as “an internet sensation” famously known – like so many instant identities – by a single moniker: Zoella.

Big sister is even more ridiculously rich for doing little that contributes an iota of benefit to the welfare or wellbeing of our  impoverished society.

One cannot help but think society is being suckered (or is it Suggered?) by Joe, Zoe, their imitators and their followers.

Sadly, there is no answer; no remedy. Unless, of course, these mindless parasites have a Eureka moment and decide to turn all their preening and prancing to some philanthropic and purposeful use.

And, yes, pigs might one day fly.



Beyoncé and Pavarotti: what have you done with my ‘at’?

It seems that the long-standing two-letter preposition at has been dismissed as irrelevant by these two superstars and thousands of lesser lights throughout the English-speaking world. No longer does Beyoncé play at the Rose Bowl; she merely plays the Rose Bowl, a phrase that suggests an uneven contest in the extreme. Similarly Maestro Pavarotti has ceased to perform at the Met in preference to playing the Met, which hints at a battle leading to discord rather than harmony.

These days the Rolling Stones play Hyde Park, Justin Beiber plays the O2 Arena (heaven help it) and the Royal Ballet plays Covent Garden in a hint of a right royal clash of cultures. There is not an “at” in sight.

Only the sporting world has so far refused to obliterate this most essential of words. Chelsea still plays Man United at Stamford Bridge but one wonders how long it will be before we are informed that Chelsea will be playing Old Trafford – an uneven match of eleven millionaires against a baying mob of thousands of working class battlers.

What is gained by obliterating a tiny word that has also served us well, its meaning and purpose never in doubt? Admittedly English is a language that is forever changing;  but change has to have reason and purpose.

To have performers playing venues instead of playing at achieves neither. It is an unsustainable and meaningless nonsense.

A Lesson in Writing

I have long been a fan of Louise Welsh and her slightly offbeat tales – always intriguing, striding across genres and never less than enthralling and entertaining.

It is, of course, all to do with the writing – economical, concise, never a wasted word and yet having maximum impact.

But she really excels in the latest of her books to appear on my reading list.

A Lovely Way to Burn should be required reading by all those “writers” who are flooding the internet with books that they churn out, in many cases, at monthly intervals.

True, they write; in the sense that they use words to form sentences. And, using the narrowest possible meaning of the word, I suppose they are authors, which most of them  also claim to be.

The reality, however, is that they are production line purveyors of words thrown on to a page for consumption by readers  to whom a well-crafted sentence is as foreign as a yeti to a Saharan tribesman.

Louise Welsh, on the other hand, truly is a writer. She takes time to author her work. She revises, polishes and undergoes the editing process.

If only those who populate the web’s plethora of writer sites would do likewise.

A good starting point would be to read the prologue to A Lovely Way To Burn. Here, in three sparse pages and perhaps not much than five hundred words, Walsh spins the threads of three diverse stories. It is taut, concise writing with almost parsimonious use of words. Yet it is full of colourful detail that informs, seduces and entices the reader into wanting to know more; much more.

Better by far than the excessive wordiness of so much that now passes for “writing” but which is nothing more than the regurgitation of a thesaurus in an attempt to impress.

Read Welsh and learn.




Suchalot laughalot

It’s completely mad, totally ridiculous and one of the best evenings of sheer fun you will have in many a night at the theatre. It is, of course, the zany psuedo musical comedy Spamalot, playing all this week at the Hall for Cornwall.
Created by Eric Idle it is, as the programme proudly states, a show “lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail” which, as Idle informs us, became the “endearingly silly” film upon which much of this creation is based. For many it will be highly familiar territory enjoyably revisted as they journey with King Arthur and his shambolic knights on their search for the holy grail. All the known hazards are there – the grotesque French, the killer rabbit, the knights who say …. and the brave foe to whom the loss of legs and arms is just a flesh wound.
The dancing is hilariously energetic; the songs are zestful and laugh-along funny. And the many send-ups of the musical comedy genre fire several accurate barbs at pop divas and the numbers they scream across the footlights.
It is an ensemble show in which everyone excels but special mention has to be made of showbiz legends Bonnie Langford as The Lady of the Lake and Todd Carty as the loyally loveable Patsy, as well as multi-talented comedian Marcus Brigstocke as King Arthur.
They and they rest of the cast had the audience totally on side from beginning to end, sharing many a laugh with them along the way.
It’s a rollicking, uproarious fun night out that Tuesday night’s audience so clearly enjoyed and needed no prompting to join in singing the moment that Patsy launched into that song.

Oh dear pussy

You’ve gotta laugh. No really, you do. You can’t help yourself. The show now running at the Hall for Cornwall is ridiculous, self-indulgent, nonsensical, lacking any point or reason and totally inane – but it provides as good an evening’s entertainment as we’ve had for quite some time.
Four members of the notoriously idiotic Spymonkey collective transform Oedipus, the greatest tragedy of all time, into two hours of high farce and slapstick. The jokes begin with its title, Oedipussy – a nod in the direction of the Bond movies – and they don’t get any better. In fact some of them are downright painful.
It is broad, knockabout comedy direct from the school of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and pantomime dames. Yet for all its faults and weaknesses it manages at least to entertain and raise many a laugh. It is raucous, rude, rustic and Rabelaisian, full-on and in-your-face and mostly succeeds thanks to the energy, comedic skills and sheer physical staying power of its four performers. And I’m sure the young man in the front row will long remember his night out and his confrontation with the female form.
Some judicial pruning wouldn’t go amiss and one or two flatter moments need improving or cutting.
It’s certainly not deep and meaningful but for a mostly hilarious evening it’s hard to beat.
Treat yourself to a chuckle or two. There are still two more nights to go.
Go on, you’ve gotta laugh … and you certainly will.

A bitch of a play

They don’t make them like that any more. Movie stars. I mean. Today’s so-called celebrities couldn’t hold a candle to the two grand dames of the silver screen who are portrayed bitching their way through life in a sublime two-hander at the Hall for Cornwall all this week.
Anita Dobson as Joan Crawford and Greta Scacchi as Bette Davis spar with barbs and scathing one-liners in Bette and Joan, a re-creation of what supposedly occurred on the backlot of Warner Bros studios in Hollywood as the two fading film stars came together in 1962 to reawaken their careers with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
The occasion is cleverly crafted by playwright Anton Burge to encapsulate these two tempestuous careers and the shattering collision of their ego-driven personalities.
The dialogue is sharp and witty as the spotlight shifts between these two abrasive characters – one always determined to be a lady and the other claiming that her acting comes before all else; and each forever plotting to undermine the other.
In a way, both are sad and tragic figures yet they are survivors – two of a kind yet distinctly different. The triumph of the piece is that we laugh with them, rather than at them, as they relish their petty triumphs and recognise their failures and failings.
Another winner for HfC as proved by the rousing first night reception.

Boleyn along

If only all history lessons could be as sparky, bright and entertaining as the English Touring Theatre’s production of Anne Boleyn, playing all this week at Hall For Cornwall. With minstrels in the gallery, a hugely talented all-singing all-dancing cast, a humdinger of a script and a marvellous brew of humour and drama this is a show not to be missed.
It is true ensemble theatre with many of the actors doubling, or even tripling, up. Their delivery and timing bring out all the best in Howard Brenton‘s sparkling lines, which provide a whole new perspective on the convoluted tale of Anne Boleyn’s tempestuous relationship with Henry VIII. It is theatre in which the silences and pauses are as telling and forceful as the words themselves.
To single out any actors in such a consistently strong cast seems almost unfair on the rest. But especial praise must go to Claire Bond, who provides a zesty, feisty Boleyn, whimsical, manipulative and courageously pugnacious in her unrelenting fight for religious freedom, and to James Garnon as the Tourette’s afflicted King James who almost steals the show with his madcap rantings and hilarious cavortings.
All in all, a wonderful night of theatre and a show not to be missed from its surprise beginning to its boisterous end.

Steely swing

One night we are swinging along with Vivaldi; the next we’re rocking with Steeleye Span . That’s the Hall for Cornwall for you – something for everyone and all top rate.
Serenissima regaled us on Thursday with vivacious and intricate melodies from three centuries ago; and on Friday Steeleye Span took us back to their beginnings more than three decades ago. Both were joyful performances by consummate musicians with the happy knack of projecting their enjoyment and enthusiasm across the footlights. And both were melodious weavings of musical patterns than ran deep below the surface with individual players bouncing off each other with seamless continuity.
For their pre-interval session Steeleye Span relied on their Now We Are Six compilation. In the second half they delved deep into their back catalogue before giving the hall full of faithful old rockers the inevitable All Around My Hat, performed on demand. without rehearsal and totally word perfect, which says much about Steeleye’s durability and popularity.
As ever, the band was led by the ageless Maddy Prior, her crystal clear voice almost unaffected by the years, its purity and clarity still a true toe-curler as it echoed around the hall. Now that, dear X Factor contestants, is singing.
All in all, another winning night for HfC.