Everything moved at what to us then was a fair pace.
A package from War Dog magazine landed on the mat, my subscription copy plus a few complimentaries because I had three poems in it. I went round to show them to Chris Davenant who lived not far from the Racehorse pub.
He looked at this flimsy thing with respect. Though he was by no means a literary cove, he did admire George Orwell and had made his pilgrimage to Jura.
Chris conned the magazine, read my three poems, and handed it back without comment. It was evident from his face that he accepted I’d scored a palpable success.
He could talk about these literary gems later, to Magnus Parfitt. He could mention them to Roy Leakes. And he would, I knew it.
This was the carousel of fame, as we conceived of it, in motion. They would have received their copy in the post, no doubt, probably the same day as I did. The magazine emanated from Huddersfield which back then (the early ‘90s) was considered a new Athens of poesy. (Didn’t it have Simon Armitage, Janet Fisher and Peter Sansom to its credit, plus numerous others?)
I’d visited Huddersfield and seen nearby Wakefield, where the prison stands, from the train.
Nowadays, you get something on a website, so what?
You set up a home page—anyone looking at it? No. Not many.
In fact, you may actually be getting further and reaching more people than you would through the mails, but your perception of your success is probably less.
At least now you know where you stand, you’re not rhapsodising as you piss into the hollyhocks. The fluffy dream of authorship with its pipe cases, blotting paper and leather reinforced elbows on the cord jacket can be abandoned.
Back then old Campbell Gooch the optician, quite a rich man in our way of viewing it, could spend plenty of money and put together a thin, well-printed magazine which actually paid its poets.
He could believe and did believe he was achieving something. Though it was a coolish fire, a bit over-rural, that it purveyed, the magazine did achieve something. Not white-hot, no. But it achieved something.
In ebooks the literary is nowhere. Doesn’t sell. Probably, it never really sold. We just didn’t know it.
In the same way, the second hand book trade has taken a blow. We know now how rare most First Editions are NOT. And how cheap they are to have sent to you from someone in Middlesex or Manitoba.
What sells is genre stuff, particularly romance and, they say, erotica. Maybe the vampires too.
If you cuddle your soul and push out a few words of poetry, or a little essay for connoisseurs, you’ll be lucky to make back what your Internet Service Provider charges. Have you got the scales out of your eyes? Accepted that you were a dilettante kidding himself all those years?
Now you’ve got more opportunities than ever. Embrace them.
Could be we were all grasshoppers back then, but we were happy in our way, always hoping to make it. The world allowed us to believe that we might make it and let us build dreams on slender props.
We were relatively happy to be grasshoppers chirping, as Keats knew he was, “for a little clan”. More like microscopic.
Seeing from the lists in the back of Rider Haggard’s books that there was a novel in which Allan Quatermain meets up with the immortal She, was as thrilling as hearing about an episode of Cheyenne in which Bronco Layne and Sugarfoot also appeared.
She and Allan, supposedly another memoir from the pen of Allan Quatermain, was first published in 1921, nearly forty years after Quatermain’s first account of his adventures, King Solomon’s Mines.
It seems that Allan Quatermain visited Ayesha in her northern caves before Horace Holly, Leo Vincey and Job made the trip.
In a note to the Editor at the start, Allan finds it necessary to explain why, though he had met her years earlier and set down what happened, he has never allowed this book to be published. His reason?He was afraid that if he spread the word about this lovely white woman in the wilds of Africa claiming to be more than two thousand years old it would have been regarded as “a slur upon my memory and truthfulness.”
Captain Good, who was with Quatermain in King Solomon’s mines, gets him to read the novel She, where Quatermain finds to his amazement a description of this glamorous windbag (as he regarded her), “Ayesha, or Hiya or She Who Commands” whom he had met and been hypnotised by many years earlier.
By cross-referencing Allan’s adventures as recorded in the various books, Haggard creates an African dreamtime of his very own. The books interlink and the past and future are like a knitted scarf. Einstein is proved right and time is no longer a straight line.
Umslopogaas, speaking in She and Allan, where he meets Quatermain for the first time, can hint at the death that will overtake him in Quatermain’s company years later. (A footnote advises the reader to refer to the book called Allan Quatermain.)
Many of the African books of Haggard refer to each other in footnotes, thanks to the “editor” of Quatermain’s manuscripts, Henry Rider Haggard.
In this way the books have a kind of 3-D feeling. You are reading one book but you have a hazy sense of the others vouching for its authenticity.
Anomalies have been found by scholars in Allan Quatermain’s lifeline as mapped out by the twenty-odd books devoted to the old elephant hunter. However, the thread of personality that unites them all makes up for that. It’s hard to shake this abiding sense you get that Quatermain lives and breathes and is confiding in you.
Quatermain has a quest in She and Allan, and that is to find out about his dead wives. The ugly psychic dwarf Zikali has told him that there is a “white witch” who can give him the answers he wants. That’s why he consents to visit the country ruled over by the white witch (who turns out to be She). Umslopogaas, who will accompany him, wants to find out about a dead woman too. In his case it’s the love of his life, Nada out of the book Nada the Lily. Umslopogaas also wishes to learn what he can about a “brother of mine whose name I never speak” (Galazi the Wolf, his dead comrade whose fate is also told in Nada the Lily). “For of him as of the woman I think all day and dream all night, and I would know if they still live anywhere and I may look upon them again when I have died as a warrior should and as I hope to do.”
Haggard plays the same themes over and over in his books, and in this case the tale of Inez and Janee very much resembles the tale of little Flossie and her black nurse in Allan Quatermain. Mr Mackenzie’s domain in the veldt as described in AQ, resembles Robertson’s domain in She and Allan.
She and Allan is full of exciting and interesting scenes and notable for describing the first meeting of Quatermain and Umslopogaas.
The talks with Ayesha in the caves of Kor are full of hot air, a bit feeble, and likewise some of the spiritualist-like trances Allan goes into. (It’s touching though, the way Allan is greeted by the dog Smut when everyone else fails to see him. This idea is based on a real experience of Haggard’s which he reported on in detail to a scientific society.)
Many illuminating and moving scenes in that savage world that Haggard knew so well how to create make this book a must for the Haggard fan. (Of course, like many of his later works, it was probably dictated to his secretary. This would have made for a dilution of his style and a loss of many semicolons.)
Every so often your ideas about the old career need a dusting-down.
I should have been writing a SERIES of books long before this, and not stand-alones. So I’ve started a trilogy, a space opera. It’s true I’d intended to create a series of vampire books, the first one being Easy Blood, but that went on hold.
The space opera though may have legs enough to tide me through three novels of more than 70,000 words. The sort of thing my sister would read, or yours, or anybody’s. Or brother. (My mother, no. She can’t even “understand” Star Trek. Even Jean-Luc Picard has no charms for Mum.)
As for My Mate Ironside, I brought that out because I thought there was a chance it might be a novelty hit like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull or Mr God, This Is Anna, not that I could read either of those. It’s early days, but My Mate Ironside is life-affirming, I’ll say that.
Credentials for writing space stuff? I watched all of Star Trek and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I also read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels. More recently I got into the works of Lindsay Buroker and Chris Fox. That should be enough for anybody. So I know it remains down to me now, kiddies, to get typing and “make it so.”
Sam Daker has come across some more diary entries from "Larry Parrinder", the Angels and Slags man. These screeds date from four or five years before the ones in that book. They show that Larry was at the yearning game and sometimes the crying game, earlier than we knew.
Wednesday 24th December 1980
The holiday is just about here, no operations scheduled, and just one emergency patient to fetch, from Ainsworth Ward. A Staff Nurse helped me take the head and foot off the bed and we wheeled the old boy back to Theatres for his op. She kept laughing, which made me think she had a drink or two under her belt, a spot of the old Christmas Eve lunchtime booze.
“Do I have to do the write-up in the book?” she asked in the corridor.
“Yes,” I said, “just fill in as far as the double red line. Name, age, ward, etc.”
“Oh, you’ll show me, will you?” she said.
When we got to the anaesthetic room I took the blanket off the patient and then showed the Staff Nurse where she had to fill the details in. I also got the notes for her, which were on the shelf underneath the trolley. I stood there beside her and she leaned forward and pressed her right breast onto my left hand, which was on the shelf where the big open book stood. Her breast was soft, and firm.
Friday 20th March 1981
I would like to get The Most Beautiful Girl In The World Who Eats In Sangrail’s Café up in my room and play some blues tapes to her. If I found in her a greatness of soul to match such a classical frame! For her I could be another Dante. I’d sing her praises for ten, twenty, or even thirty years if necessary.
Monday 23rd March 1981
Today I thought at first that Fay was acting a bit distant on the ward. She asked how I enjoyed my week off, but she looked tired and depressed. Maybe I would have to give up my efforts to get her up into my room to see my manuscripts or “etchings”.
In fact we arranged to meet tomorrow at Mansion Square.
The only thing is that I see they have been at work on the door frame of my room while I was at work. I hope they don’t want to change the door or something tomorrow just when I get the chance to come to grips with Fay.
I confided to Tommy that I would be seeing her. He said she’s nice-looking and must be in her mid- or late-thirties.
She is “much woman” as I’ve found in our little joking clinches and embraces (like when I playfully took her in my arms and we nuzzled nose to nose).
I don’t want another fiasco like the Julia episode of a week or two ago. I went to her room in the nurses’ home and kissed her for about two hours and she didn’t seem to hate it, but since then nothing.
Thursday 26th March 1981
Fay came up to my room all right. I was showing her a lot of manuscripts, and as she was looking at Rogues’ Rhapsody I got her by the shoulders and started to kiss her. She lay back on the bed and let me carry on, but with her hands up, as if it wasn’t quite what she was expecting. Soon she sat up, smiling and frowning at the same time.
“I came here to look at books, I really did.”
So I let her get on with that, and afterwards we had a chat about writing. She’s keen to get into the game.
“Let me see you on the typewriter there,” she said.
I obliged, rattling away at the first gibberish that came into my head.
When she was ready to go we arranged that she would come to the “literary evening” at Fred’s tomorrow night. (She’s calling up here so she can get a lift with me and Harry.) I gave her a peck as she was going and she turned it into quite a passionate kiss.
Have you seen the dispreputable book that these entries predate, The Angels and the Slags? To check it out, click here.
The old toe rag has committed himself to delivering a sermon on “Mother Mary” to a group that meets at St Andrew’s in the afternoons. The vicar persuaded him.
“His idea is, I can just talk natural-like on the subject, with notes to hand, but I’m thinkin' it will be better to write it out… You know, there are two blokes I especially want to hear this, Kent, and that’s you and my boy Jock. Might bring you both to the Lord Jesus.”
“Maybe it will with Jock, but I can’t make it that day.”
“That’s rough. We’ll get you yet though,” he says with a grin.
“Come on Rick, you know I’m not an atheist.”
“Yeah, but you tend towards the school that says Christ could have escaped the Cross and run off to France with Mary Magdalen. Christ wouldn’t have wanted to escape that wooden Cross, it was his divine Purpose, man. Redeemin’ us each and every one.”
“I don’t even know why you’ll be talking about the Virgin Mary in the first place, Rick. Do you know anything about the subject? You’re not a Catholic, you’re more like Baptist. Anyway, that whole Virgin Birth concept is based on a mistranslation. It should read ‘a young woman will conceive’ not ‘a virgin will conceive’.”
Rick waves this aside but I continue:
“All the while the vicars are aware of these controversies which they don’t bother to pass on to the flock. As long as most of the congregation are saved, that’s the main thing. No need to trouble them with the ins and outs of it. When there was the court case about whether The Da Vinci Code had plagiarised The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, there was very little there in the questions about Christ possibly marrying Mary Magdalen, the Merovingian Dynasty, and the Holy Grail, that the vicars hadn’t tackled at theological college. But they don’t think it’s important for such as you or anyone else, Rick, to know about these issues.”
He scratches his head and I pipe down.
I know he wants me to pledge myself because he’s got a cosy spot in heaven picked out for me. It seems that his other son, David, now follows Darwin and Dawkins, and Rena no longer attends services, but to him that’s no reason why his old mate Kent shouldn’t.
In his way of looking at it I’m not a follower, though I believe in a God of some sort. In my opinion Christ was a prophet whose teachings were hijacked by Saint Paul and others and made into a code which probably still gets you to heaven all right, but requires a lot of blind faith in some dull and exploded doctrines.
Read more about Rick in the new ebook My Mate Ironside.
Does a contented life make for anxious dreams? What about when you're thrashing around on the pillow, embroiled about a whole first term wasted back at University on a Master's course?
I was due to chat informally with the prof along with the rest of them at the start of the second term. I had to account for what I had done in the first term, which was nothing.
Luckily, waiting in the queue I worked up a line of bunkum that might get me out of the shit. It was all to do with Seneca and the state of philosophy in the age of Silver Latin.
Today I would simply hand him the prospectus for the next Crowther ebook: "My Mate Ironside".
This will be a collection of tales about walking through town behind the wheelchair of that scallywag Rick Ransford.
His life and times on the old housing estate come into it, naturally, because what else is there? Yeah, back then it was like the Wild West when he was hale and hearty. His mind has still hardly changed from that concoction, though he's forgotten quite a bit.
Should make 8,000 words: a dozen pieces with a flavour all their own. Friends, watch out for My Mate Ironside.
on the dune with a guitar
and a chick he’s pursuing
(plus her friends who also lent
their brief attention)
the council estate lad,
that aspiring beatnik, didn’t care
if they were all Yankee meat
or bait for the cadets at HMS Ganges.
it was a variant of the 3-chord trick
that he flailed there like a gypsy.
Tony and I gave him the credit
and clapped along
while Jacko sat nearby tolerating it,
Jacko, that Genghiz Khan type
of a mean street or two,
sitting there with a machete
in a cardboard sheath,
how in later life he’d become
a labour councillor
who before he died would arrange
some gigs where I could
read out these lines.
Been watching some segments of “The Bald Truth” on YouTube.
It’s people’s experiences with transplants, Follicular Unit Extraction (which entails moving the sheaths of tiny hairs from “donor regions” of your head or body to bald parts), Scalp Micropigmentation, and more. Listening to these talks and telephone chats you can become an expert.
For anyone who joined the hair loss community a few years ago it gets addictive.
Spencer Kobren, who runs the show, has been dealing with the problem in his own life for thirty-odd years. Though he looks like a normal guy his age with a bushy crop of hair and a right-hand parting, he freely admits to painting his bald spot out with Toppik. Anyway, through immersing himself in this subject Kobren has become an advocate for hair loss sufferers. At the same time he found a means of self-expression and a career.
Listen to a few of the calls that come in and you will see how full the world is of people concerned with scalp problems. They like to know they are not alone. They share tips. You begin to realize that there may be a lot of people around whom you never knew were bald. (Kobren doesn’t out anyone, not even celebrities, as baldies, but there are many on the internet who occasionally turn their hand to it.)
Maybe Henry Miller would have concluded that Kobren and the others have been wasting their time covering up, maybe not. Maybe Patrick Stewart would, or Telly Savalas, or Yul. But there are thousands and millions of men, and women too, who could find a lot in these shows that hits close to home. At least forty per cent of people suffering hair loss are women.
Kobren, to give him his due, takes his hat off to anyone who can shave his head and go totally bald and get away with it. If they can handle it, he gives them credit.
In my case a thinning at the crown and a whittling-back of the hair line are already, I fancy, being remedied by the recipe of Stephan, a Scotsman with his own videos on YouTube, who shows the results he got after some months with a nightly application of a mixture made from onions, garlic and apple cider vinegar. After only two weeks I find some tender sprouts are pushing through. I would swear it isn’t imagination.
One of the telephone callers on “The Bald Truth” mentioned cider vinegar and he was speedily laughed out of court, but I’m hoping the last laugh will be mine and Stephan’s.
If I end up after six months or so with no true improvement, I may consider the tattoo treatment known as scalp micropigmentation. That’s if I can justify to myself and Jade an outlay of around £3000. Still, what better can you spend your money on than your own person?
I like the videos I have seen showcasing the work that some of the micropigmentation salons can do on a totally clean-shaven head. The testimonials the clients give in their before and after segments are persuasive. You get your hairline at the front and no horse shoe showing at the back. The bald dome is eliminated by those tiny lines like follicles, giving the illusion of a healthy buzz cut.
Spencer Kobren and Joe think the temporary ink is better, because it fades to nothing in 18 months. I’d go for the permanent treatment though, even if it requires touching-up through the years.
How she tried, the one that he could not trust, slipping her childish petard in at the end of the sequence.
But forewarned and armoured was he, and the petard was to him as nothing
for he had the back trick like no man in Illyria.
How glorious a stroke the Lord allowed that night!
Truly, He saved the name of his servant who looked them in the face.
Unclouded, he looked them in the face and smiled.
Truly, the Lord is great in his mercies,
He raineth them down on his servant, therefore the multitude see in him the glory gleaming as from a buckler of iron faced with gold.
That night he was triumphant at the tavern!
That triumph may set the seal to an epoch.
And coming home they saw the seven lights of the Dipper over the very roof of their lodging.
Frank Mapes took the head of the table, not our hostess Claire, as it was his 90th birthday.
On Frank’s right was Vera, and I was on Vera’s right.
Though I play down the poetical side of life these days I appreciate that the others still have their oar in those waters. Soon Vera is telling me how she got her start in the poetic world with so-and-so of such-and-such a small press. Now, in her eighties, she can look back on her pamphlets, some of them well reviewed, with satisfaction.
“Well, that’s great.” I say, “and here we all are, stars, I take it, of Parnassus in our way, but I for one have given up on it now because all along what I really and truly wanted was never going to arrive via the small press: fame, fortune and eccles cakes.”
“They never arrived for you,” said Angie, “any more than they did for the figures you lampooned in that ebook of yours on the subject.”
“You talking about Outrageous Lilliput?”
“You know I am. You got some mean licks in on that one. People are dealt with pseudonymously, but they’re recognisable for all that.”
“Was I fair, though? Did I attack anyone out of malice?” I asked.
“No,” admitted Angie, “you just happened to say what should be left unsaid.”
After the meal we went into the sitting room and to launch things, Frank got up. He delivered a bit of background about each number before diving one-two-three into “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” then “I’m In the Mood for Love." Yours truly strummed the nylon-strung box.
It being after all his 90th, Frank had provided champagne.
The evening then turned into a read-round of poems from the company, though I preferred to keep swinging and belted out “I Only Have Eyes for You” and a half-spoken version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Also Angie, who was putting Jade and myself up that night, sang an unaccompanied folkish air and the next time around got out a black and white concertina and played a jig that would not have been out of place on the deck of Benbow’s flagship.
Angie lives in a renovated Victorian pile in Felixstowe which has a nice guest bedroom. Her children are now grown up and flown, one living in New Zealand and making strides as a photographer.
I got out of the shower next morning and passed the full-length mirror Angie brought back from France. Seemed as if the new exercise régime had done something after all.
The reflection brought back memories of an illustration of a silver-backed bull ape that ought to have been castrated. Still, who would want to look like an aesthete?
* * * * * * * * *
A stand-alone short story about Vauclare, the anti-hero of Easy Blood, has been put online at the fabulous Back Road Café. Check it out here.
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