The Ghost Jester Claw Grasped him, “You have no choice”, it screamed.

I am currently attempting another book. I have written quite a few thousand words, here are the words from this morning.

You, a middle-aged and flabby man with lipstick badly daubed on your face and foundation smeared precariously on your brow and cheeks, are standing on top of two chairs in the middle of an audience, screaming, “are you from telly! Say you are from telly!”, at a scared and paying stranger, why?
The answer, “well, it is the Edinburgh fringe festival”, is surely not enough.

Twenty minutes before this, you were sitting breathlessly, daubing on the make up and attempting to eat a raw vegetarian sausage. You had run from you previous show, some hills away, where you read thoughtfully from the works of scientist and mused on cosmology, before introducing someone singing a song a out snowflakes as they played a theremin. Life should be variety, after all.
Five minutes before show time, and you sit slumped, picking sausage scraps from your English teeth, wondering with your double act partner if either of you will be able to muster the energy for your very loud, very stupid, very improvised show. It is 2pm, and the sort of thing that should really be done under the cover of night.
The sluggishness is shrugged off as you launch into an opening number, filled with rabid chutzpah.

“A you’re adorable, B you’re adorable, C you’re adorable, D you’re adorable, E you’re adorable…” , you get the idea, and so to zed. The audience are correctly perplexed and intrigued. You receive their applause, then launch into, “1 you’re adorable, 2 you’re adorable, 3 you’re adorable…”, those years of vaguely reading Antonin Artuad’s work on the Theatre of Cruelty are now being misused with zeal.

And so, not long after, you are balancing on those chair tops, an act of balance impossible to you without such maddening levels of adrenaline, and you’re screaming to the point of tasting the blood of your throat.

“Look, just say you’re from telly!”

The scared man’s eyes look up imploringly. “I’m from telly?”

“are you really?!”

“No”.

“Then why did you lie to me. Arghh. What’s the point of even doing the show if none of you bastards are from telly”.

The whole show was deeply stupid (and very well-reviewed, I should add. “Two funny cunts” The Scotsman – real review).

Oddly, of all the shows I have done, Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, was one of the ones I questioned the least. It’s utter pointlessness made it a joy for us to perform. Despite the pretence of neediness and desperate hankering for a TV career, we actually wanted nothing out of the show beyond an all singing, all screaming absurdity. (like all comedians, I am wary of mentioning my peers, for fear you’ll go off and see or read them instead of me, but Michael Legge is the middle aged idiot I do Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire with. Should we ever do it again, do not come along presuming you’ll have the joy of seeing my failing torso. Sometimes I remain fully clothed)

Nevertheless, the question remains, what in our minds, what natured or nurtured childhood neuronal diversions left  and I with the need to do this sort of thing. And we do need to do it. For some people, comedy may just be a career choice, but for others, it is a calling, more than that, it is a grasping. A wretched jester’s claw grabs you and insists you have no other choice, it is showing off of death, or sometimes dying while showing off.
Sometimes, when being interviewed by a local newspaper in the hope of enhancing poor sales in Alnwick or St Austell, you’re asked, “what would you have done if you hadn’t gone into comedy?”
I think I used to pretend I’d have been a teacher. The truth is, there is no alternative reality I can imagine. Even during doldrum days, when things are going far from your plans and even further from your dreams, I cannot say, “Oh, if only I’d been a geologist or a milliner”. There is nothing else I wanted to do. From the moment I first saw Rik Mayall on TV, maybe even before then, I knew I had to do this.

But what if I had failed, then what would I have done?

Then, I presume I would be a failed stand up who had been forced into some non-specific alternative career, or more likely, I would have just kept trying and trying until I could get somewhere at least.

“Fail, Fail again, Fail Better.” I still am.

In moments of umbrage, and they can be many, you can still regret being molded in this inescapable shape.

In the last few years, I began to find stand up tours were hinting at a creeping insanity slithering up behind me. The grey edges were moving towards the centre. The mind can be canny with bleakness. I may have weeks on tour where, with the exception of the time in the spotlight, everything dragged murkily, but everyone time that fog lifts, it’s as if it was never there and never had been. It is a handy trick to help us all keep going.

Eventually, I decided it might be for the best to stop stand up. This was not due to falling out of love with stand up. I had started to toy with the idea after a gig with a poor turnout and a blood sugar low. For a moment, mid flow, I stopped and sat down and looked at the few. They were a lovely few, but so few. I was confronted by my preposterousness. This was made worse by the auditorium being adorned with images of comedy greats. I should have channeled those bits of their biographies that dwelt on their career lows and public rejections, but why be so mean-spirited to the dead, and so all i saw before me was their success and excellence. I breathed in. The homunculus in motley that I keep in my mind declared, “showtime!”, and I continued, fearing that I may have overstepped the mark into “poignant”. Roadworks and Escher like traffic diversions hindered my lift to the station. My support act was in a car with a madman. repeatedly punching his upper leg whilst slavering non-sequiturs of self-pity and self-loathing. Rushing to the barriers over a footbridge, my rucksack unzipping of its own accord, pencils, roll on deodorant and life scraps bouncing onto the tarmac, the train pulls away as I can reach and touch its metal. I buy another ticket for £121. My mathematical homunculus unhelpfully tots up my losses for last night’s gig. The fury pounds for long enough that I don’t notice the pain in my upper leg until we reach London some hours later. The bruise is vivid for days.

After this, I continued touring the UK, and went to Australia and America too. i was aware that the sanest I felt was when I was being profesionally ridiculous on stage. I found a day that I would declare was the end of stand up, and at least 73% of me believed it might even be true.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

You can hear the Book Shambles podcast with Josie Long and me HERE. Guests include Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss, AL Kennedy, Sara Pascoe and Stewart Lee.

The stupid music podcast I do with Michael Legge is HERE

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We and Our Big Mouth – on The Raging Book Shambles Fist Fights*

“Think before you speak”, they always said.
But who does?
Sometimes we think as we speak, often we only seem to have worked out what we have said as the words have reached halfway across the room.
By that time, your regret may have kicked in. Sometimes you are surprised your brain has manufactured that sentence.
It is very easy to place a grenade in a teacup now. There are so many arenas where you can publicly place your half-cocked opinions or fully formed dogmas. There are also an increasing number of immediate ways you can discover that the a word or a sentence can be translated in a very different way from your own intentions. It is getting easier and easier to type your own noose.
There is a Lord Chancellor homunculus in your head who tries to bowdlerise your sentences as it rushes through all the permutations of possible understandings.
As Jon Ronson’s You Have Been Publicly Shamed demonstrated, the diversity of our imagination would rather secure umbrage than use itself to imagine an anodyne meaning or misunderstanding.
When Josie Long and I are making Book Shambles, we have no preparation and no script. We sit in the studio, always with a guest who has pricked our curiosity or jabbed our fascination, and what happens then happens. We are excitable. Works tumble forth. Sometimes, as the neurons cool and we breath air from out of the sealed, soundproofed room.
Our first post recording debate was about the use of the word “whore”. It came up in a discussion with Sara Pascoe. It was some ridiculous scenario, a conversation set in Victorian times I think.
Afterwards, some felt we should either cut the conversation due to the possible of some finding the language incendiary or placing a brief note at the start of the podcast. I, as the middle class, middle aged, white male saw nothing wrong with it at all. I believed context was clear and probably made some speech about a fear of losing too much language from imagined umbrage or the offence of a very few, an offence I would have felt was misplaced. We discussed it, and hopefully reached an acceptable conclusion for all.
This week, we found ourselves discussing suicide with A L Kennedy. Again, this had not been pre-planned. As we arrived at the recording studio, I recalled that the first work of hers that I read was On Bullfighting. The introduction includes an enlightening story about what went through her mind as she seemed to be on the brink of suicide (I really recommend this book, and all her work).
It made a great impression on me and I think it is also a very practical piece about what might go through your mind when you may be on the brink.
As we talked, I remembered a conversation I had with a woman in Adelaide. She was one of those individuals who casually shares fascinating insights even when she is still a stranger to you. After my gig, a few of us were sitting in a bar, and she told me, with no sense of pity or melodrama, that her daughter had killed herself. The dominant reason for bringing this up was to tell me that it is a subject that more comedians should talk about on stage. It is a subject that needs to be aired in the hope that this taboo can be diluted. (I would recommend Al Alvarez’s The Savage God, a history and discussion of suicide).
After the recording, there was some talk of placing a warning at the start of this podcast, to state that suicide would be discussed. My argument against is that it might stop some of the people it would be most useful to from hearing it. We were not tabloid or Piers Morgan prying. We weren’t seeking tear duct action, after all, we are not television.
The decision has not yet been made, but I think we might put it out with out any pre show warning. (as Nick Hurley tweeted after reading this, “tendency towards sensitivity is honourable—but does prefixing the discussion with a warning defeat its normalisation?”)

Josie writes.

“I feel that I’m in a position where I am able to try and be sensitive. I don’t self censor but if something comes up that I know is a subject that’s triggering for people I think it’s a good idea for us to put a small mention at the top of the show. It feels simple and painless to give people the heads up like this.

I think Robin did have a point when we spoke about this, which was that putting on a warning might turn away some people who might identify with the discussion, and so lose people who would really appreciate it. It’s not shocking or deliberately challenging about the topic but understanding and humane.
I don’t know what we ought to be doing but it doesn’t feel like a hard thing to try and be sensitive.
But, either way I have sneakily got my own way because robin has written this blog post which at least has let people know a bit about the conversation and so make their own decisions. Haha, bad luck old man.”

  • title may be a lie. They are more conversations near a fruit bowl.

Book Shambles series 2 has begun, so far we’ve put out Dean Burnett and Charlotte Church, AL Kennedy next, and Reece Shearmsith and Eddie Izzard coming soon. Series One and Two can be found HERE (series one is Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss, Sara Pascoe, Stewart Lee, Laura Dockrill, Salena Godden and Owen Jones)

 

 

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I Don’t want to sing these shits anymore – when the good night goes bad

The following was written 25 minutes after the gig, sat on tarmac waiting for the train (it was platform 12 and the 2324). It is purging through typing.  (also, people imagine I carry this misery with me for days afterwards, but it is a picture of specific post gig frame of mind.)

When you have failed at a gig, everyone in the busy streets before you was there.
Sure, the room may have only had 200, 100 or 50 people there, but now, every casual late night browser by the shoe shop window sees you reflected and nudges their partner, “there’s that bloke that was shit”.
All that has happened before, all the triumphant gigs and celebrations are forgotten hastily, you’re in this business to feel shame and judgement.
When you walk through the streets after a great show, you don’t feel as if everyone sitting opposite you on the bus or bench is thinking, “wow, there’s the guy who was briliant”, then you wander from spotlight glow and approbation to anonymity. Failure is more potent. It has glue. Horrible, sour-syrupy, gloopy glue, and it is on you.

I have generally kept to my promise of a gig-less life, though I do the lovely Old Rope new material night and most benefits I am asked to do. It would be mean-spirited not too, though after tonight’s showing at Gloom Aid, it would have been more generous to have said no.

It was Monkey Cage recording day, so Brian, Sash (our excellent producer), and I spent the day talking sex and statistics. This was the subject, not a leisurely pecadillo chat before the hard physics. I think the recording went well. Not our best of the series, but hopefully fun and informative ,especially when it came to the sexual allure of Henry III and the statistical interrogations of Alfred Kinsey. (As Liam Neeson played Kinsey in the film of that name, I am plagued by images of the statistician saying, “I will find you, and I will kill you…unless you are utterly truthful about the number of times you have partaken in anal sex”).

I then scooted off (yes, I scoot, but not on a scooter, I don’t have a beard) to Old Rope. I had no time to gather my new material, so strode on with Pukka Pad in hand and Duffel coat still on, and projected fury and nonsense. I necked a beer with my mouth and hand, the second since Monkey Cage, and rushed to the 100 Club for Gloom Aid (in aid of the excellent charity CALM). Max and Ivan were being splendid as I arrived. Adam Riches then performed a superb Sean Bean exhibition, then it was me. The host could not see me as he want to introduce me. There was some fiddle faddling, so I just wandered up and said, “here I am”.
This was mistake one. It broke the rules of walking on to applause. They didn’t know me, and by breaking these laws, they valued me less. Then, I picked the wrong idea to start with. Knowing I was tired and stupid, I should have begun with something big and noisy and ridiculous, especially as Adam Riches had delighted them so much with his virtuoso Sean Bean. The second beer was a mistake, it dulled my frontal lobes. There was no connection with the audience. My improvising spirit, that had been hectic and lunatic at Old Rope, was dead. I squandered my time trying to fulfill my obligation with anything my head could find. I underwhelmed, and for too long too.
You have pooped the party.
The splendid evening is deflated.
You sneak out behind the promoters back, carrying your disease.

Only the night before I had bathed in praise when I had been the last minute host of a film award ceremony (and had a lovely chat with Tom Courtenay), only 48 minutes before I had been a live wire at Old Rope, now I was a chewed sponge in a bin.

And that is what I carry with me, the squibbery drowns any triumph, the triumph was an illusion. It is lost.

And so I turn to Malcolm Middleton’s A Happy Medium, it is jaunty.
“Woke up again today, realise I hate myself. My face is a disease”

That’s better.

(and then I moved on to Yes by McAlmont & Butler and Rubber Ring/What She Said (live) by The Smiths)

I am less bad on the Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles (with Mark Gatiss, Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Chris Hadfield and more) I Don’t want to sing these shits anymore – when the good night goes bad HERE

Our Vitriola music podcasts, including our Bowie tribute, are HERE

Oh, and Monkey Cage is back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Was Your First One? – Bowie Scribblings

 

“Will you stay in our lovers’ story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you”

My head is a jukebox.
It is playing Bowie at random – Kooks to Starman to A New Career in a New Town to Blackstar to Hang on to Yourself to Where are we Now?.
If I am honest, my head had to make up some of the words for Blackstar, they’re not all stored yet.

Walking up the hill to school this morning, I couldn’t understand it. Wouldn’t everyone be talking about Bowie? Was there any other topic of conversation? Apparently there was.
What strange people.

I played another record in my head, though it kept coming back to Kooks.
Was that my first favourite?

I had the advantage of older sisters. This meant there was a copy of Hunky Dory in our house, and a 7” of Sound and Vision (with A New Career in a New Town on the B side).
At 9 years old, I was drawn to sweet sentiment in song, and so I was drawn to Kooks.
By the time I heard Hunky Dory, Bowie had made much more. This was 1978, but sadly one of my sisters had been foolishly sidetracked by The Bay City Rollers.
Before long, we had Lodger playing on a record player whose arm was so heavy you’s think it was designed by fundamentalist mormons determined to destroy the world’s music by boring holes in it.
(Foolishly, when talking Bowie on our Vitriola podcast, I suggested I wasn’t too keen on Lodger. Then I listened to it again, what a dick, it’s great…as you know).

Low on cassette, and Let’s Dance on some weird Malaysian import tape brought in by a boy at school. Tonight bought for my 16th birthday, and somewhere between the ages of 12 and 22, the rest of the back catalogue was filled in. I was doubtful of Black Tie, White Noise, but adored Outside (what! even that is twenty years old).
Knowing the messiah qualities Bowie had for many, the pop Dylan in terms of the magnitude of reverie and worship, I can only see myself as a casual fan, by which I mean I bought every album when it came out from Tonight onwards (including Tin Machine), and picked up all the back catalogue.
But I never styled my hair or clothes in reflection. let’s be honest, I never had the figure for it.

A few years ago, Brian Cox and I were doing a show at Hammersmith Apollo (formerly the Odeon).
We were attempting a live link with CERN. As with so many attempts to showcase the cutting edge of scientific discovery, the live link hissed and jerked and hid. We filled time dicking about.
There was a moment when we looked at each other in the eye, and I thought, “he is thinking what I am thinking”.
Later, I discovered he was. There we were, having fun on that stage, just being foolish, and our minds were saying, “what the hell are you doing? This is sacred ground. This is where Bowie said,
“This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we’ll ever do.”
They screamed and they wept.
Every time I stand on that stage for the soundcheck, I think of Bowie. I think of how ridiculous it all is that I should even be allowed there at all.

I met Bowie once, ever so briefly.
Backstage at a gig in New York.
I knew he’d be there, so took an album to be signed for my sister. I had worried that, having always looked so remarkable, I wondered if there would be some ghastly reveal, that really he was sagging and dusty, like the Bowie in the attic of Catherine Deneuve.
He was as a vivacious as you would imagine, courteous and quick, and then gone. (I hope my sister hasn’t lost that album, plucking about the courage to get that signature caused nerve damage).

There was a habit, there might still be, though I think it is has been publicly shamed, of saying on the death, “oh, that’s a bit of my childhood gone”, but that doesn’t seem true to me at all. If anything, that is a bit of the childhood reinvigorated, flaring brightly again.
The sad news of an artist dying has neurons firing, a deluge of memories, of songs playing, a memory of the excitement and delighted nausea of your teenage idol worship.

When the artist dies, we dust off albums and return to vinyl unplayed for years. Sometimes, we had forgotten our adoration, lost in the humdrum of growing up.
This was not true of Bowie. I was listening to Blackstar last night, then to Station to Station. This morning, Low was going to be played whatever, I’ll just be hearing it a little differently today.
And the sweet sentiment of Kooks was a little sharper as I walked up that hill with my son, hand in hand as always.

Last year, Michael Legge and I stumbled through our favourite Bowie LPs and songs on Vitriola HERE

Josie Long and I interviewed Bowie cover specialist, and occasional astronaut, Chris Hadfield HERE

 

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I Watched Saturday Prime Time…and I Think I Liked It

The ramifications of ending the incessant stand up tour schedule are becoming apparent.
Last night, I watched prime time Saturday night TV.
And it was a telent show.
What has become of me?
It was the honey trap of Bernie Clifton that did it.

I am not sure Saturday night prime time was ever meant for me. Once Doctor Who was finished, what joy was there for me? I watched it, its limited channels and limited hours meant novelty alone would keep me goggle drawn.

In the last twenty years, my work schedule meant I was rarely in for the sparkling confetti cannons and increasingly desperate, melodramatic kitsch collisions between impresarios moonlighting as jukebox juries or spotify hangmen.

By my late 30s, I had already reached that pipe smoked face of miserablism that lowers his Penguin Modern Classic and asks, “who is making that awful noise?” or “this doesn’t make any sense at all”.
Watching from afar, or at least peeking over Hangover Square, Saturday night TV had a bland yet iron grip, a flaccid, boneless hand that somehow still wouldn’t let go. I saw the viewers like that actor in the 1980s anti heroin commercial who told us he could give up at any time. Colder, greyer, their skin beginning to rupture, the saturday night crowd could not see what had become of them.

But it was an old showman, best known in the 70s, the sort of fellow you might catch of Seaside Special, who drew me into The Voice.

And I quite liked it. I mean, it won’t become a habit. I am just a casual use of primetime.

It began with a great big setpiece combining the judges – Will.i.am, Boy George, Paloma Faith and
Ricky Wilson belting out Whole Lotta Love. I’d had a couple of drinks already, so my mind was open to spectacle. Having enjoyed Wayne Sleep’s Puttin’ on the Ritz and Ben Adam’s of A1 singing Take on Me on a magic carpet at the panto only six days before, I was still open to pizzazz.

BBC1 took no risks with their first contestant. The show was thrown into the arena of Ken Russell’s Cat People, as a singer with a vast lipstick sneer and dressed like an eroticised, anthropomorphised leopard sculpted by Ray Harryhausen belted out Nutbush City Limits (which I think was also in the panto, though sung by Widow Twankey, so it had quite a different sense of occasion).

A vicar expertly expressed some tune I knew little of (the number of Nick Cave, Anna Calvi or Sparks songs was low). A short man with a young face sang something operatically and everyone was surprised that such a short man with such a young face could sing so deeply.
Bernie Clifton sang The Impossible Dream very impressively, particularly for a man in his 80th year.
It all ended with a young Burnley emo type creating Shane Meadows’ Mamma Mia the musical as she did something rather good with Lay All Your Love on Me.

And then everyone cheered and Bernie turned up on his ostrich and Boy George and Paloma Faith got their iphones out and filmed the felt mayhem.

I was relieved the vicar didn’t get picked, fearing that balance would force Richard Dawkins to audition with Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter next week.

Having witnessed the glutinous dribbles of reality cruelty – laugh at this idiot, see this person who thought they were someone eat a cannibalised backpacker’s sphincter etc – I was won over by the good-heartedness of The Voice.
There was delight in the carnival.
Not too much lachrymose back story.
No sense that somewhere within we should revel in other’s shame or delusion.

You know all that already I imagine.
I won’t do it again, it might taint my curmudgeon capacities.

The music podcast I do with Michael Legge is HERE
The book podcast I do with Josie Long is HERE (currently available to hear, interviews with Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss, Sara Pascoe, Stewart Lee and more)
I won’t be watching The Voice next week as I will be doing a benefit with Richard Herring, Shappi Khorsandi and lots of others HERE

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The Best Bookshop in The World

I was born to browse.

Some days, I worry that I spend more time browsing for books than reading them. Schopenhauer would not be pleased.

It is the excitement of the potential within.

The cover painting or the back blurb or a rumour going around a bibliophile enclave lures you to a book. It is the potential of what lies within.

What will this book do to your mind?

How will it change your world?

What sort of ride are you going to be taken on?

There is the excitement of finding a book you have been on a quest for for many years, suddenly spying the pine in secondhand bookshop. On the way home, you leaf through it over and over again, not reading, just looking at your conquered quarry.

Desmond Morris described the delight experienced in finding a book you have been hunting for as the modern equivalent of dragging a gazelle back to the cave (I think that was in The Nature of Happiness).

For years, I sought The Alice B Toklas Cookbook for a friend. Finally, I found it. This was probably many years after she wanted it, but nevertheless, I was successful, even if it was a situation of too late the hero.

What is the perfect secondhand bookshop?

Since I was a little boy, I have been going to bookshops with my father. It may be nurture, but one more generation and it may be nature. I went to book fairs where I saw Ivor Cutler seeking out rare Maurice Sendak books and Michael Foot astutely examining the yellowed works of romantic poets.

When touring, I return to Driff’s Guide, an eccentric pocket encyclopedia of secondhand bookshops in Britain. The most recent edition I have is from 1992, so many shops are now gone. (If you would like to know about the author Driffield or Driff Field or Dryfield , ask Alan Moore. Also he appears in Iain Sinclair’s novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings. You can also read his essay on him in London: City of Disappearances. I promise you it is an interesting and enigmatic tale).

I like a secondhand bookshop to be too full. In front of the shelves, piles teeter. It is a test of zeal.

Can you be bothered to shift the weighty hardbacks to peek at the bottom shelf of old Penguins?

There should be a semblance of order. It’s not good going into a bookshop that is like a firebombed Borges’ fantasy.

But it shouldn’t have absolute order. You should know roughly where philosophy is, or what the owner judges to be philosophy, but rigorous cataloguing dampens delight. Part of the fun of the search is to leave the bookshop with many things you never knew existed in the first place. Books you woke up unaware of, but by lunchtime you know you cannot live without.

Haphazard pricing systems also add to the adventure. Occasional overpriced tat increases the whoop when you unearth the underpriced gem.

Finally, it is useful if there is an independent tea shop with teetering Victoria Sponges within a short walking distance. To sit with a cake fork in one hand and your new books in the other is an immensely satisfying end to bookwormery, plus a much needed sugar intake after the exertions of scrutinising and lifting up the heavy piles to find out what lies beneath and behind.

Unlike Orwell’s perfect pub, The Moon Under Water, these bookshops exist. If you are drawn to a seaside trip with a bibliophile bent, I recommend Camilla’s in Eastbourne (they have a parrot too) or The Sanctuary Bookshop in Lyme Regis (actually, that one is very well ordered, but great nevertheless).

(I don’t really want to tell you about my favourite shop. Then you’ll go there and snap up all the delights before me.)

My favourite bookshop in England is The Cottage Bookshop in Penn. I visited it many times as a child. I had not returned for twenty years, but yesterday I did. It was a rare occasion of nostalgia barely living up to the revisited contemporary reality.

The shop is a cottage, where every room is full of shelves and books. The stacks teeter, the prices are wonderful. It is in the cusp of being a maze.  I left knowing that there was much I missed. I knew that, somewhere inside, there were many more books I desired, but the 23 I had in my hands were enough for today. (there isn’t a cafe nearby, but the pub is 50 yards away). Maybe I’ll go back for the 1980 Hazell annual and that Huxley in Hollywood book, oh and all those copies of Penguin’s Science News that I couldn’t decide on, and the book of William Blake prints, and…

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles, our chaotic book podcast, is available HERE.

So far, we have interviewed Stewart Lee, Mark Gatiss, Sara Pascoe, Laura Dockrill, Owen Jones, Salena Godden and Chris Hadfield.

There are many other shops I adore, why not add your choices or your shop under here.

Footnote and Competition.

Can you guess how much this all came to? Best guess (UK only) will get some books I need to get rid off due to my house sinking into the ground

This is what I bought –

Space, Time and Nathaniel – Brian Aldiss

The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat

Mass Control – Jim Keith

BFI Modern Classic: Salò – Gary Indiana

Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader – Sean Redmind (ed.)

Robots: Fact, Fiction and Prediction – Jasia Reichardt

Curationism – David Balzer

Six Existential Thinkers – HJ Blackham

Penguin Science News – 1, 4 , 5, 9, 25 and 28

BFI Classics: The Seventh Seal  – Melvyn Bragg

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field – Kary Mullis

Bright Air, Brilliant Fire – Gerald Edelman

The Sphinx and The Megaliths – John Ivimy

Breakfast with Lucian (hardback) – Geordie Grieg

Victim Prime – Robert Sheckley

Star Wars Official Marvel Collector’s Magazine 1977

Fantasy Art Techniques – Boris Vallejo

Science Fiction Film – Denis Gifford

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Slapstick Ballet – Chaplin

As a child, I loved Charlie Chaplin films. I would put on my father’s shoes and wander about it with a trampish gait. LuckiIy, I was never tempted to boil and eat the shoes too, I would not see that done in Gold Rush for a few years yet. I am from the last generation that found it quite normal to watch silent films on television. There was nothing arcane or archaic about it. It was an everyday part of BBC2 programming. Some silents had been spruced up, Harold Lloyd now had an annoying voice over which has possibly damaged an entire generation’s opinion of his brilliant work.
As I grew older, my love of Laurel and Hardy remained, but Chaplin went out of favour. The received wisdom that he was overly sentimental meant that it became unfashionable to like Chaplin. Keaton was the one to revere, he was considered a more serious clown, with a stone face of existential angst and a collaboration with Samuel Beckett. Why it might be necessary to make a choice between Keaton and Chaplin, I have no idea, there is time enough to celebrate both, but I find a surprising number of people who say, “I never really got Chaplin”.

Each time I return to Chaplin, I find it harder to understand how anyone can dismiss him.
In is only in the last few years I have realised just a cinematic genius Chaplin was. He wrote, produced, directed, starred in and composed the music for a series of powerful, funny, philosophical and moving films. Even the first cinematic outing of the tramp, Kid Auto Races at Venice can make me laugh 100 years after it was made, as Chaplin repeatedly gets in the way of the news cameras and racing cars with such brazen cheek.
The choreography and ludicrous image of Chaplin becoming a wooden hedgehog as he carries 11 chairs on his back in Behind the Screen is as fresh as nay visual comedy being made now. Though the bread roll dance from Gold Rush may seem to have been so often imitated that it has lost some of its wonder, watch the sequence again and you will see how intricate something of seeming simplicity is. Johnny Depp spoke of having to imitate it in Benny and Joon and the days it took to get everything just right. It is so much more than it at first seems. That is what makes Chaplin live on, the depth of thought behind each seemingly simple routine. It is never just falling over with a bang, it is acrobatics with genius aplomb, it is the grace of the chaos.

As his biographer Richard Schickel noted, with Chaplin, all that seems solid melts into something else.

For those who ask, “but is Chaplin really still funny?”, I can promise you that a new generation of children laugh now at Chaplin attempting a tightrope walk while distracted by monkeys in The Circus. There may be many banana skin routines, but I am pretty sure Chaplin was the first to attempt the banana skin on the tightrope one.

I had not revisited the Rink, one of my earliest memories of watching a Chaplin, for three decades, but I watched it again this week. Here is Chaplin as a waiter, his face immediately revealing that he will not be following the rules of servile deference as he works out a bill based on the remnants of food spattered over the diner, the furious and luxuriantly eye-browed Eric Campbell, then pockets the an unoffered tip. He is lovable, rebellious, coquettish, both worldly and other worldly. As for the roller rink routine, I would watch Dancing on Ice if that is the sort of business that was on.

Eric Campbell was also the monstrous street-fighting adversary in Easy Street. Unable to floor him, or even move him with fisticuffs, Chaplin eventually overcomes him by pulling his head into the lamp of streetlight and gassing him. Woody Allen declared that Easy Street would be funny in one thousand years from now. The potency of the ridiculousness has made it last nearly a century already.
Neil Brand, a fine pianist who frequently accompanies silent film performances, sees that today’s audiences have to overcome the mores and attitudes of a bygone age, but that once that is done, we can still empathise with Chaplin as he responds to overwhelming forces.

City Lights, his most revered film and highest on the AFI’s 100 greatest film list, opens on a delightful scene of accidental rebellion. The grand unveiling of an epic statue ruined when the drape comes off to reveal the tramp asleep in the arms of the granite god. As the US national anthem plays, the tramp attempts to stand to attention while dangling by the butt of his trousers from the sword of a carved figure. There is set piece after set piece and, though my twentysomething self probably sneered at the innocent love story of tramp and blind girl, the 40 something me is more romantic and easily moved by this tale of a tramp who will do anything for the love of a woman. It also has the best joke with an elephant in any movie I can think of.
As for The Great Dictator, amongst the drama and social commentary, vividly portraying the rising oppression of the jewish people in Germany, there are moments of superb broad comedy. Adenoid Hynkel, a petty, preposterous dictator with delusions of monstrous grandeur is perfect for puncturing. The scenes of desperation as he attempts to show that he is the Great Dictator to rival dictator Napaloni, played with oomph and chutzpah by Jack Oakie are still fresh today.

And then there is Limelight. The music hall may be long dead, but Limelight still conveys what it is to be a clown, the desperation and fear of losing your audience, what it is to age and rail against age and loss.

If you want to sample his magnificence with a brief scene, just look at the delicacy with which he plays drunk in Limelight, the subtlety with which he conveys am inebriate attempting to find the keyhole in a door. If that doesn’t work for you, then watch him dressed as a chicken in Gold Rush or with his face manically covered in soup by a malfunctioning machine that is meant to be a sign of a bright new future in Modern Times.
There is beauty and humanity to be found here that I believe will survive a good few centuries yet.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles Podcast is here with interviews with Mark Gatiss, Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Laura Dockrill, Chris Hadfield, Salena Godden and Owen Jones, they are all HERE

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