A reading chair

If I was a king, I would have a chair purposefully crafted out of volumes of books. Books that I have read through the years. Books that now I find are inside of me.

The iconic Iron Throne in the infamous television drama, Game of Thrones (adapted from the novels by George R. R. Martin), is allegedly forged from 1,000 swords. I guess this is the source that inspired me. But alas, I am not a king at this particular moment in time, so I have settled for a leather black studded Art Deco-style chair. The type of seat that will improve with age, the more battered and worn it looks.

The Reading Chair 2

I was inspired to purchase a designated seat to just read in after enjoying horror master Stephen King’s book simply titled, ‘On Writing’.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.

So read I where I can, but I have a favourite place: the blue chair in my study. So far in 2014, I have read the graphic horrors penned in GRIMMS FAIRY TALES, been to prison and stolen books in 1930’s Paris with JEAN GENET, danced the Charleston at THE GREAT ‘Jay’ GATSBY’s and warded off stray donkeys from Betsey Trotwood’s lawn in DAVID COPPERFIELD. Who knows what adventures await me next?

The Reading Chair

Quentin Crisp said cinema is The Forgetting Chamber, where you forget all your daily troubles and dissolve into the cinema screen. To have my very own chair to escape into the world of literature is essential for sanity, health and well-being. In fact, I think Schopenhauer said it best:

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.

I don’t know where this overgrown bush of books has come from; I cannot resist picking up the odd title as I go. I am sure there are worst habits to have.

The Book Bush

Thankfully, Stephen King agrees with my reading addiction:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

desk

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Fortunate discoveries in Paris

If Paris were a female she would be a natural beauty with Debbie Harry’s chiselled cheekbones, natural bone structure, a facial composition of bliss and elegance.

debbie-harry-annie-leibovitz-vanity-fair

The kind of girl who looks amazing even with just a simple outfit on, hair scraped back and early morning breath. Artistry is in the very DNA of the City of Light. I love to amble around watching the day turn into night and witness the compositions I’ve seen in Brassai’s photography come alive.

brassai

Sunday morning, sharp cold air stabs like a thousand miniscule icicles. Time to fuel up on bread and jam with proper coffee taken in a French café, where they had run out of croissants. I meander towards the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse, through the cemetery.

Montparnasse-cemetery

Here the dead live in close proximity with the living in high-rise apartments, but as my old Nanny Carrie used to say:

It’s not the dead you should be afraid of, lad, it’s the living.

I should be on the right path, yet to be honest, je suis perdu. I stumble upon the La Pagode cinema on the Rue de Babylon and eventually hit the Seine.

seine

Bang a right and allow myself to flow along the river. Like a piece of flotsam I drift, starting my exploration through the myriad of booksellers.

Peter Ackroyd personifies London, in his biography of the smoke, as a living entity. The tube, river and roadways acting as arteries pumping the life blood into the epicentre. Keeping it alive. The river is potentially the oldest part, the life line of the city. It is true of Paris also.

Along the Seine there are around 200 independent book sellers outdoors. 300,000, collectible, new and used books and magazines under open skies. The banks are littered with iconic green metal boxes, depicted in numerous famous landscapes – notably from the Impressionist period.

bouquinistes 2

There is an urban myth about the origins of this bohemian trade. A ship transporting volumes of books capsized near Notre Dame. Sailors rapidly swam ashore taking with them as many books as they could and sold them to the passers-by to substitute the wages they had lost. This quick sell proved to be a lucrative venture.

The Bouquinistes sold old, bashed volumes and highbrow society would not buy these vulgar types of books. In 1450 with the invention of the printing press, there was an increase in the sale of pamphlets targeting the government and the church. The vagabond traders had no fixed selling point meaning if necessary they could make their escape from the law. The area along the river became a rallying place for citizens and students to vent their spleen.

The literary business really took off following the Revolution; houses of the bourgeoisie were demolished, emptied and affluent book shelves were sold through the bouquinistes.  Jean Genet, the infamous writer, made stealing books and selling them on to the bouquinistes practically an art form and his signature trademark.

Bouquinistes

During World War Two, the Resistance transmitted code messages in the pages of the books. It was a hard task for the Nazis to find the messages hidden.

I decide to take a trip along the river by boat. Sadly, as I take in the sheer beauty of Paris, at least 3/4s of the people on board chose to experience Paris by water, not through their own eyes but through the perspective of the “I” phone.

I remember a time when I could go to a gig, dance like a loon and throw myself around. Now in recent gigs I’ve been to, I have seen people recording the event, filming the whole spectacular. Recording life, instead of living life, has become the new hashtag experience! Eyes are the window of the soul, but does anyone have a spare charger?

I finish my journey at The Shakespeare and Co Bookstore, a favourite haunt of mine and decide to purchase THE LITTLE PRINCE, one of those many titles I have not quite got around to yet.

the little prince

A perfect way to lose oneself on a Sunday morning in March.

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All The Year Round

I have begun my latest reading project: to swim my way through the oceans of literature that Mr. Charles Dickens created during his lifetime.

charlie dickens in his syudyI purchased 13 Volumes from Kernaghan Books in Liverpool. I must confess, I started The Pickwick Papers a few weeks ago but struggled a little so decided to try David Copperfield. Instantaneously, the episodic nature had me hooked. I wanted to see how a reader of the day would experience Dickens’ work. So I visited the Liverpool John Moores Special Collections and Archive to take a peep at one of their latest acquisitions, a collection of All The Year Round. (A weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens, with which is incorporated Household Words. Price 2D)

All the year roundBoldly emblazoned on the cover is a quote from William Shakespeare:

The story of our lives from year to year.

Shakespeare

The periodical has all types of feature for the reader of the day from marital advice:

The earth is full of couples who are made for each other, not only of couples whose destiny it is to love but of those whose destiny it is to hate. For every spider there is created a fly, for every cat a mouse, for every bird a worm, for every innocent bill holder a really innocent bill acceptor and for every picture dealer a picture buyer.

to advertisements for Dickens’ infamous reading performances.

Christmas Carol and Mrs Camp
MR CHARLES DICKENS READINGS
April 18th (1861)
Little Dombey and The Trial from Pickwick
at St. James Hall, Piccadilly

There is a great exposition of social issues of the day:

…sense of the joy and purity of life comes from the children as they dance and sing in the midst of the toiling crowd. But let the millions who toil in England pass before us in one great procession, and we shall find sad companies of eager, undergrown, unwholesome men walking with none but pale, none but pale and weak eyed women and with none but bruised and weary little children, stunted of growth, some even wearing spectacles, all silent as the grave.

CHILDREN OF WORK June 8th 1861.

The celebrated writer’s fiction proved to be an education tool too, a way of informing and instructing the masses. I particularly like the way we can see the development of what are now understood to be classics in the canon of literature:

In No 84 of ATYR to be published on December 1st will be commenced, GREAT EXPECTATIONS A new serial story, to be continued from week to week until completed in about eight months.

In a world where we have access to instantaneous information at our finger tips, it is hard to imagine waiting weekly for the next part of a story in print. The Dickensian reader would not read the tales in one sitting, they evolved over time and were delivered as episodes weekly. To think about in a modern context, take your favourite t.v. programme series, say BREAKING BAD, SHERLOCK (please add appropriate title), now put all of the scripts into one place. That is a hell of a lot of words, copious pages of syntax. The way I am attacking the reading of Charles D is not really how it was intended to be read.

The archive space here in Liverpool is really something special. A place to handle the creative past, to instantaneously transport back to previous literary and cultural times.

LJMU archive is accessible to the general public by appointment 10-4 Monday to Friday. It houses a host of intriguing collections:

  • THE SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL
  • JOHN MCCREADY ARCHIVE
  • THE ARTHUR DOOLEY ARCHIVE

arthur dooley

  • THE LIDDELL HART COLLECTION OF COSTUME
  • INTERNATIONAL TIMES
  • THE BARRY MILES ARCHIVE
  • ENGLAND’S DREAMING: THE JON SAVAGE ARCHIVE

punk

  • CYBERNETICS, PUNK, FASHION, COUNTERCULTURE, THEATRE, ART, HISTORY.

In keeping with the technological times we live in, there are also a number of resources online. After all, If Charles Dickens were alive today he would be blogging, instructing people from his iPad, laptop or smartphone, for this is the way readership is now acquired. And imagine what Oscar Wilde could do with twitter!

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Digital Detox

Sunday morning and I am now 24 hours into my digital detox. No social media, no e-mail! I am not even allowed to turn on my iPad to type up my scraps of material from the week before.

I have a presentation to make in the University early next week. I know I need to sort the slides, visuals and notes. I aim to get through until Monday morning and map out my session on paper with sketches and rough drafts.

I did contemplate sticking a small microchip or a bar code to my arm, like a Nicorette patch, to help stave off my digital cravings.

digital detox

Stop the need to view a TED talk or play music through Spotify. I‘ve even got my old long player vinyl records, that I inherited from my parents, out of the loft. The scratching sounds of Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, to help me with my electronic fast.

I had an action planned day, scheduled on Saturday with Sophie, my ten-year old niece. Drama class at eleven for her, giving me an hour to work on my new piece of writing PUPPET.

Lunch in Chinatown, followed by the new exhibition at The Bluecoat (ironically, focusing on how artists are questioning the impact of digital technology on humans), then to the Planetarium at the Museum for a show on the Winter Sky at night.

The works on display at The Bluecoat were extremely interesting.

The stand out piece for me had to be by Marilene Oliver. The artist has reconstructed her mother and father through stacked screen printed sections taken from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The sculpture is like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. It has a strange, other worldly presence that is captivating and also quite unnerving.

Marilene_Oliver__Family_Portrait__Self-Portrait___Sophie__2002__02

By chance, whilst at The Bluecoat, we stumbled upon an open day for the printing studio, The Juniper Press. A newly formed letter-press studio equipped with traditional type and presses for the use of artists and designers. The room was brimming full of people, with lively demonstrations taking place. The space smelt of raw oil based ink and crisp sharp printed pages, metal prints hot off the press – literally.

Juniper_Press_Stamps_THUMB

Letter-press printing has been in existence for over 500 years. There is currently a revival of this lost art taking place, perhaps people yearn for something more practical. The printmakers told me that there is a real resurgence of interest and use in contemporary art and design.

My niece had the opportunity to work a Victorian Anvil Press and see exactly how the letters were composed and physically pressed on to the paper. A process that requires complete accuracy and attention to detail. With no room for too much error, as paper, print and resources were costly.

Now in these more austere times, we can learn a lot from this way of working, for it’s so easy to just press the mouse and print off a document, typos and all. The art of taking time and care to compose the structure of a piece of writing is something that can often be omitted. It is so easy to rattle off an e-mail and put it out there without having the time to think. I am an advocate of the ‘think before you click’ philosophy.

So for half an hour in the studio I was transported away from this modern life. I lost myself in the pleasures of print making. It was fantastic for my niece to see the mechanics of the process and understand the origins of the word font.

I must confess I am now a converted lover of letter-press printing. Leaving the studio, I purchased a book mark with a quote emblazoned on it from Benjamin Franklin,

Give me twenty-six SOLDIERS OF LEAD and I will conquer the world.

In a week that has seen the loss of the admirable activist, Tony Benn, a man of true values, this did bring a smile to my face.

tony benn

Back to my writing studio and the digital detox.

That night, in keeping with the Victorian theme, I started my next reading project. To get through the entirety of Charles Dickens’ back catalogue. I’ve recently purchased a superb collection from Kernaghan Books. As you can see, this may take me some time.

Dickens books

I encourage a weekly daily digital detox, it’s cleared out the electronic clutter in my mind.

Now to my inbox.

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From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

If you have just joined us, the mortal bath and ten minutes hate are respectively re-reading and discovering Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in chronological order (sort of).

from russia with love coronet book cover

Famous opening lines of novels often get bandied about in lists, but it wasn’t until I read From Russia With Love for the first time that I saw one that seems to have been overlooked among all the truths being universally acknowledged and weighing up of best and worst of times.

The naked man who lay splayed out on his face beside the swimming pool might have been dead.

Having thus garnered your attention, Ian Fleming doesn’t let it wander too far for the next 200 or so pages.  We soon learn that the body might have been, but sadly isn’t, for this formidable not-dead unclothed man is the distinctly non-Russian-sounding Donovan Grant, Chief Executioner of SMERSH, ‘the Soviet organ of vengeance: of interrogation, torture and death’. A few, more detailed, yet taut chapters and we are apprised of the formidable team which that organisation has set against our man Bond. Chess master Kronsteen, the wolf-like cunning of Rosa Klebb and Grant himself, an animalistic turncoat driven to slaughter by the full moon. Not only to kill him, but to tear down his reputation and that of his Service. The trap will be sprung in Istanbul (Fleming having visited the city in 1955 on assignment for The Sunday Times). Bait is in the form of a defecting spy, the young-Greta Garbo-esque Tatiana Romanova and, almost as an afterthought, a Soviet cryptography machine.

The Bond of this book – who doesn’t even appear until Chapter 11 – is a long way from the lithe instrument of Casino Royale. Admitting that he lacks sharpness after a summer cooped up in London, when back in the saddle he misses signs, disregards warnings, misjudges character and places friends, as well as himself, in harm’s way unnecessarily. The intricacy and eccentricity of SMERSH’s plot has been designed by Kronsteen to catch M’s attention, tempt James into danger and leave his body and reputation destroyed, but there is a sense throughout of Fleming poking fun at his creation. He doesn’t hesitate to use Bond’s own proclivities against him, not just the beautiful girl, but the need to ‘be a sport’, ‘see the game through’ and gamble recklessly. Without the protection of Istanbul’s station head and all-round force of nature, Darko Kerim, one suspects that England’s finest wouldn’t have made it out of the airport alive.

Readers drawn towards the softer side of Bond, especially as displayed in previous jaunt Diamonds Are Forever, may feel warmed by the renowned international playboy beginning this follow-up mooning over ex-paramour Tiffany Case:

He missed her badly and his mind still sheered away from the thought of her.

But our protagonist is still operating in less enlightened times. M’s horror at the silliness of women who fall in love with a man’s picture gives way to chuckles over Bond’s Turkish wingman’s chaining of a naked girl to his kitchen table, before Tatiana demands that James beat her if she gets too fat for lovemaking post-defection. What fans of the film may recall as a titillating brawl between two Gypsy women is here much more brutal, although the participants do manage to rip the other’s clothes off at an early stage of the proceedings.

That said, Mr Bond is not quite the unrepentant caveman. There is a definite prominence accorded to the women that hold the fragile Bond together. From housekeeper May as adept with a boiled egg as she is at seeing off Communist agents, to the eternally chaste yet ‘most darling’ Lil Ponsonby, as well as Tatiana herself, who doesn’t let her all-conquering beauty hold her back from offering a warning about the assumed name of the man Bond takes for a fellow agent. The shame is his for how easily it is dismissed. And for all his air of ‘hey, sometimes these decorative non-men can be quite useful’, Fleming can’t take much joy in the slyness of Rosa Klebb. Scheming her way to Head of the Operations Department of the famed, feared, SMERSH and succeeding – where many men have tried and failed – in landing a poisoned blow on Bond, she lets the side down badly in one crucial area:

…the bulge of uniform that rested on the table-top looked like a badly packed sandbag, and in general her figure, with its big pear-shaped hips, could only be likened to a ‘cello.

Growing weary of his secret agent, Fleming had left the ending ambiguous enough for this to be the final Bond if he chose. Perhaps it would have been too much for him to have his man killed off by a hottie.

Despite the certainty of all involved with Her Majesty’s Secret Service that the operation is a trap, its nature and intended denouement remains obscured. Were it not for the executioner’s need, later to become a Bond film cliché, to spill the entire detail of the plot before making use of a weapon, our hero would have died at Grant’s hand none the wiser.

Old man, the story’s got everything. Orient Express. Beautiful Russian spy murdered in Simplon tunnel. Filthy pictures. Secret cipher machine. Handsome British spy with career ruined murders her and commits suicide… what a poke in the eye for the famous Intelligence Service! Their best man, the famous James Bond. What a shambles… What’s the public going to think? And the Government? And the Americans? Talk about security! No more atom secrets from the Yanks.

In the established narrative of post-War spy fiction, Ian Fleming is the hack, writing pulpy genre fiction that doesn’t stint on the girls, guns and gadgets and which pits our brave goodies against clearly distinguishable baddies. Set against him is the literary gent John le Carré, eschewing the clichés of the genre for subtly drawn commentary via characters that dwell in the grey areas. And while Donovan Grant’s crowing at Bond is what the mortal bath calls ‘typically Flemingian showing-off’, with it the author demonstrates that he knows exactly what Bond is and what he and his organisation’s place will be as the cynicism of the Cold War obliterates the idealism of World War II. From Russia With Love is a tight thriller, with no reduction in pace from earlier books. If you were to read just one Bond, I would advise that this be it. John F. Kennedy would no doubt agree. Not least because, for all the perceived glamour of Bond, there is far more overlap with the grey world of the George Smileys than that established narrative would allow for.

*

For a moment he thought nostalgically and unreasonably of the excitement and turmoil of the hot war, compared with his own underground skirmishings since the war had turned cold.

From Russia With Love (1957)

Connie Sachs:     It was a good time back then.
George Smiley:     It was a war, Connie.
Connie Sachs:    A war we could be proud of.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
(from the screenplay filmed in 2012, based on the 1974 book)

It may seem perverse that, when for so many it was impossible to enjoy much of World War II, for a certain type and class of Englishman or woman those six years could be looked back on as a kind of peak.

verywellalone1

The famous David Low cartoon captioned, ‘Very Well, Alone!’, Churchill photographed wielding a Tommy gun, evenings dancing at The Ritz or Savoy as the bombs fell and sirens wailed. When compared to the Weltschmertz of the Cold War and the lost Empire, for some, the War years were an epoch to be quietly mourned.

churchill-met-tommy-gun

Fleming would later say of his wartime intelligence work that:

I could not have had a more interesting time.

Via Bond, he at least notes the unreasonableness of such nostalgia.

At the heart of From Russia With Love is a sleight-of-hand trick, but not the one perpetrated on Bond by SMERSH in revenge for his antics at Royale. It is the one created by Ian Fleming to show an outgunned and under-resourced Mi6 continuing to punch its weight on the world stage. On the page the chaps of the Service will vanquish the foe, when in reality that organisation was chasing its tail as The Cambridge Five affair unfolded. Typical establishment-pillar types, they had sold out their country and its allies to the Soviets, not for money, but due to unseemly ideological convictions. In contrast to the intellectuals and homosexuals (both equally suspicious characteristics to many English people of the time) of the Cambridge Five’s set, fiction gives us the serially heterosexual man-of-action, Bond, and the regularly cuckolded, anonymous Smiley.

Smiley is often called ‘the anti-Bond’, maybe because the coffee in his world is disgusting and the cigarettes are hand-rolled from a tin. Perhaps because le Carré made oft-quoted comments disparaging 007 as an ‘international gangster’ and ‘neo-fascistic’. While this may have been as a result of goading from Malcolm Muggeridge, on closer reading this opposite stance becomes nothing more than lazy sloganeering from reviewers seeking to manufacture a conflict. Neither Bond nor Smiley would be out-of-place in the other’s world, but it is doubtful that Bond would feel entirely at home in the scholarly Circus corridors, where:

…the inspired amateurism of a handful of highly qualified, under-paid men had given way to the efficiency, bureaucracy and intrigue of a large Government department.

Call for the Dead (1961)

Instead Bond would be a ‘headhunter’ in le Carré’s vernacular, kept far away from M or Control and the real policy decisions. A bagman, tasked with the gritty, unacknowledgeable jobs. Ricki Tarr of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, flirting with danger and trying to get away with the girl, is perhaps closer to Bond than the toad-like George. The hand dealt to Alec Leamas of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold provides a portend of Bond’s reduced future options. By his own admission, Bond is out of step with the ‘retired officers of the Indian Army’ that make up his colleagues, unsuited to the deft parry of the Cold War, lamenting the policy shift from stick to

carrots for all… At home and abroad. We don’t show teeth any more – only gums.

Condemnation from literary taste makers began before Fleming’s death and focussed on a perceived sadism, the enjoyment of violence for its own sake. Yet after a fight at close quarters Bond takes time to lament that there has been

too much blood splashing about

and later muses that he

had never killed in cold blood, and he hadn’t liked watching, and helping, someone else do it.

Blunt instrument he may be, but Bond is not without his own moral compass, however far off true north many of us would consider that it points. And though he is supposed to favour gentler methods, Smiley doesn’t prepare for an operation without thinking that he

had a gun somewhere, and for a moment he thought of looking for it. Then, somehow, it seemed pointless. Besides, he reflected grimly, there’d be the most frightful row if he used it.

(Call for the Dead)

Bereft of signature weaponry, Smiley has to utilise the cold currents of the River Thames to off an enemy, who was once a friend. Where the lines were once clearly marked, now no one can be sure where the loyalties of colleagues – or lovers, or spouses – really lie. Darko tells Bond that there is only one way to tell if Tatiana is being duplicitous but even after sleeping with her James remains unsure. Questioning constantly, yet Bond is happy to hand over his loaded gun to someone who talks the talk of the Service, despite his horror at that fellow’s use of ‘old man’ and Windsor knot. In a world of fictional Grants and real-life Philbys and MacLeans, where blending into the background is the key to survival, Bond is perilously visible. The inch-thick file at SMERSH, complete with photographs, would soon see him – like Smiley – pulled out of the field and desk-bound.

And after so many years, in contemplating this latest mission, even loyal servants are not without the occasional wobble:

…what would that youth think of him, the secret agent, the older James Bond? Would he recognise himself beneath the surface of this man who was tarnished with years of treachery and ruthlessness and fear…? What would he think of the dashing secret agent who was off across the world in a new and most romantic role – to pimp for England?

It’s a far cry from the days of The Great Game, as Smiley would probably agree:

Trained to Empire, trained to rule the waves… He saw with painful clarity an ambitious man born to the big canvas, brought up to rule, divide and conquer, whose visions and vanities were all fixed… upon the world’s game; for whom the reality was a poor island with scarcely a voice that would carry across the water.

(Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)

Perhaps we get the secret agents we deserve. Bond of the books providing a tonic in the post-War bleakness, while by the time of the films London was beginning to swing again, although that was more a case of clever PR than fact of life outside of a select few post codes. It is fun to note that Bond and Smiley are both Chelsea-dwellers, back before SW4 was a fashionable address. Instead it was a sort of proto-Hackney, with reasonable rents and leafy squares amid the half-cleared bomb sites. Home is only somewhere to lay one’s hat, when the pull of foreign shores is a constant itch:

…while he ate, [Bond] gazed down at the cool mirror of the Lake of Geneva. As the pine forests began to climb towards the snow patches between the beautifully scoured teeth of the Alps, he remembered early skiing holidays.

Soon the lights of the French coast came in sight. As he watched, he began to sense vicariously the static life beneath him; the rank smell of Gauloises Bleues, garlic and good food, the raised voices in the bistro.

(Call for the Dead)

For both Fleming and le Carré, life is elsewhere, a decade and change before the Pistols will decry the ‘no future in England’s dreaming’, the narcolepsy is already pulling down the eyelids. The reality of that solo stance against Nazism: only possible due to the financial muscle of the Americans and with total victory unable to hold the Empire together, was a bitter pill forced down by the British Establishment through successive crises of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Facing life as a junior partner of the CIA, in a more subservient position than when they chummily helped him out at Royale, one might surmise that Bond would prefer a quick death at the hands – or foot – of Rosa Klebb while Smiley would choose to end his days in a dusty German library.

Bond’s reading en route to Istanbul is The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, who himself knew something of the power of the spy novel:

Thrillers are respectable now. Back in the beginning, people weren’t quite that sure about them, but they really say more about the way people think and governments behave than many of the conventional novels. A hundred years from now, if they last, these books may offer some clues to what was going on in our world.

It is interesting to wonder what we would feel about Bond if From Russia With Love had been the last one in the series, as Fleming considered. By the time the Berlin Wall went up Fleming – like M, Control, Smiley and Bond himself – was a relic and from here, Bond’s villains and escapades move further away from the uncomfortable truths of the Cold War. Both writers know that our secret agent fantasies are ludicrous, less casinos and models than drab suburbs and shop girls. So one gives them to us anyway, amplified, while the other downplays them, revealing major themes through everyday banalities. Rather than setting them in opposition, each depiction of the secret warriors should be seen to compliment the other, as essential records of SIS’s journey from Enigma via double agents to NSA intercepts.

James Bond will return… as our review series reaches Dr No… SOON!

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William Roscoe, thank you!

On 8th March I did raise a glass for Mr. William R, Liverpool’s Renaissance man. A model citizen, a man of integrity, an authentic role model. Someone I wholeheartedly admire.

original botanic garden plans

Traditionally, on someone’s birthday, a gift is purchased to celebrate the occasion, to herald another year gone by. This year, I would like to do the reverse. To highlight the gifts that William Roscoe gave to his homestead, the City of Liverpool, during the course of his lifetime.

Long before Roald Dahl wrote The BFG for his granddaughter Sophie, in 1802 Roscoe wrote The Butterfly’s Ball and The Grasshopper’s Feast for his son, Robert. King George III liked it so much, he had the poem set to music.

butterfly ball

He was behind the creation of The Botanic Gardens. In 1797, he and a group of friends created a scholars’ library, the Liverpool Athenaeum. The club still houses a collection of Roscoe’s books.

athenaeum

Roscoe founded an Institute for Mechanics and Apprentices, which has today evolved into the thriving Liverpool John Moores University. Roscoe had the courage to denounce the African slave trade in his native town where, at that time, a significant amount of the wealth came from slavery.

What was in the local press on 8th March? Absolutely nothing! I affectionately call the local rag ‘The Misery Gazette’, as if it is not warning about imminent drug crimes or other news of negativity, then it’s reporting news stories about restaurants that were closed down for health reasons three years ago. It is something when the only interesting or even joyous part of a newspaper is its obituary section!

What do I do to pay homage to the man’s day of birth? I take a simple bunch of flowers, this year white roses, and I leave it at his modest memorial sandwiched next to a Tesco Express. As there are a minimum of 800 Tesco’s in the city centre, I will have to be a little bit more specific.

william roscoe burial

It is on Mount Pleasant and I say modest, because this is exactly what Roscoe would have wanted. Amongst the sprawling masses of Liverpool. In the very hub. Besides, he doesn’t really need an ostentatious memorial. The essence of his greatness lies in the achievements that are all around in the Pool of Life.

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Viva Frida!

I like to read and write in bed. A comfortable mattress can at times be equally as productive as a sturdy desk. A pad perched up on my knees, drafting, crafting. My mantra has always been: graft equals craft.

One of my idols, Frida Kahlo, used her bedroom – sometimes out of necessity. There she would sketch and paint images that came out of her dreamscape. A cocktail of her fear and inner thoughts. Breton famously  described the work of Frida as

a ribbon around a bomb.

She was used to suffering from early age when she contracted polio and then at 18 was injured in a horrific bus accident, where she sustained injuries that affected her throughout her lifetime. Her personal life was turbulent and her relationship with soul mate Diego Riveria was a tempestuous one. The creative couple was known as ‘the elephant and the dove’, a Beauty and the Beast-like pairing.

Her entire catalogue of work is a testament to my personal belief that art has a transformative element; turning negativity into something positive. Be it a writing pad, a canvas, a block of wood or clay, an artist’s role is to take experience, push it, question it and put it out there. Her self-portraiture is painted with a pallet of wit, raw honesty, brutality, pain, cruelty, passion and empowerment. Or as she simply put it,

I paint my reality.

This inspiring lady had a resilience that pumped through her blood.

Five months after her accident she posed in a family photograph, wearing a grey suit, a practical element to disguise her injuries. A controversial, provocative dandy, taking centre stage in the composition captured by her photographer father, Guillerno. Almost like the son he never had.

The artist used her own body as a canvas, painting the massive plaster cast that bound her torso during her recovery from the accident. She later took on the Mexican dress of long skirts, heavy jewellery, fringed shawls and a crown.

fulang chang and I

FULANG, CHANG and I (1937), illustrates Kahlo at the height of her beauty, an image from the sensual world.

Kalho Frida - A few small nips passionately in love - 1935

A FEW LITTLE PRICKS (1935), inspired by a morbid newspaper report, she used this story to distance herself from the real life trauma of the recent betrayal of Diego sleeping with her sister Cristina. The victim in the composition has her sister’s features and the man with the knife resembles Diego, while Frida herself imagined that she herself had commits the murder.

little girl with a death mask

LITTLE GIRL WITH A DEATH MASK (1938), inspired by the native style of popular Mexican art.  A person clad in a traditional white death mask, holds a sunflower (tagete) traditionally used during the day of the dead, celebrated on the second of November. The flower is meant to light the path for the souls of the dead as they make their way back to their ancestors. On the floor there is a jaguar mask in papier mache, another ritual accompaniment at this annual festival.

the-wounded-deer-1946

THE WOUNDED DEER (THE LITTLE DEER) 1946, in this image Kahlo places her own visage on the animal and it conveys an expression of nobility, an air of dignity, in the crown of antlers. The deer has been pierced with nine arrows, a slow kill to symbolise the emotional pain of Diego’s repeated infidelity.

I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best.

She did not solely use the medium of canvas painting; her diaries also contain sketches, reflections, watercolours, lyrics and poems. A candid, reflection on her personal creative process, her childhood, political sensibilities and obsession with Diego. The diary spans from 1944-54 and is a series of random memories and thoughts with no attention to chronology. The manuscript is a turbulent bag of emotions.

Aztec Rebirth

Diego beginning

Diego constructor

Diego my baby

Diego my boyfriend

Diego my painter

Diego my lover

Diego my husband

Diego my friend

Diego my mother

Diego my father

Diego my son

Diego= me=

Diego Universe

Diversity in unity

Why do I call him My

Diego? He never was

Nor ever will be mine

He belongs to himself

The legacy left behind by Frida Kahlo is a collection of paradox, she is both victim and heroine, suffering and successful, but above all human. Essentially painting her own life.

VIVA Frida!

viva frida

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