Smells like a surreal story

Picture the scenario.
You wake up from your slumber.
You are a little groggy.
You are resisting getting out of the womb-like duvet.
You will rise but you will not shine.
You make your toilet.
You feel a little peculiar.
You splash your face with water and it is then that you notice.
It cannot be so.
You must be in one of those dream-like states were you think you have woken up but you really have not. You look closer.
You cannot NOT notice!
Your nose, the centre of your face.
Your nose has disappeared.

This is the predicament that Collegiate Assessor KOVALYOV finds himself awaking to in the surreal short scrap of literary genius, the BOSS little tale that is Gogol’s THE NOSE.


(Please note to the non-Liverpudlian reader, ‘boss’ translates as fantastic, wonderful, splendid etc.)

To make things all the weirder he later spots his Nose casually walking in the street!

Strangely enough, I mistook it for a gentleman at first.
Fortunately I had my spectacles with me so I could really see it was a nose.

Gogol’s writing has always captivated me. As a storyteller he really grabs the reader with both hands and drags him or her directly into the action of the narrative. 

To celebrate 80 years of Penguin Little Classics, the publisher has released 80 shorts by everyone from Thomas Hardy to Edith Wharton. 80 titles priced at just 80 pence. I have taken advantage of sending Gogol’s surreal tapas of the written word to friends around the UK and Internationally.

I am actually quite jealous for those readers who have not read this title or heard anything about it as I would love the sensation of looking at it once again for the very first time. I distinctively remember reading it in my room decorated with pop posters of PULP, BOWIE, SUEDE and BJORK. It was a dismal winter’s evening, howling winds licked the window glass with rainy saliva. Gogol blew my mind with his clever satirical wit.

It was CAMUS that said,

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilisation from destroying itself.

Clearly Gogol wanted to hold the mirror up against the society he lived in and attack it. His play The Government Inspector is a classic example of this. If you are suitably impressed by the Russian writer’s imagination, I implore you to also take a peep at DIARY OF A MADMAN. It is absolutely hilarious in all of its complete insanity.

And keep an eye on your nose!

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The perfume of the printed page: Caledonia Books Glasgow

Glasgow is simply a marvellous city, marvellous people and marvellous mayhem.

On arrival at the majestic train station, you know it’s something special immediately. It allows retailers to trade but they have to adhere to the station’s standard signature style, gold lettering on varnished wood panelling. No branded logos! Oh, if all Cities took this stance, wouldn’t that be something? I cannot see Liverpool City Council adopting this policy, for they are too busy keeping Tesco happy.

To spend a weekend with good quality friends is a restorative, but to spend a weekend with good friends in a city like Glasgow is more than just a tonic. Two days that took in a Vietnamese restaurant, black pudding and squid, the West End, Glasgow Cathedral with its epic graveyard on a hill, the shrine of St Mungo, Kelvin Grove Art Gallery complete with the Dali Crucifixion (Christ of St John of the Cross) and the Winter Gardens in the People’s Palace on a par with Kew.

dali crucifixion

And of course I was as ever drawn to find out a little independent book store. I found a book shop in Glasgow by sheer accident, Caledonia Books. Books are the souls of the people who have been these ways before. Ideas trapped and contained on pages held together, bound by leather with the owner of the thoughts emblazoned on the spine. Words carefully put together into syntax that can ignite a reader’s imagination, cause explosions of inspiration or nourish the cranium.

However, certain books can have the reverse effect, they can rot, destroy or drain the life out of the reader. For instance a lot of famous-for-being-famous biographies, lives dull as dirty dishwater or Fifty Shades of Grey, diabolically bad. Poor excuses for tree killing. Fifty Shades is for people clearly who have never had good sex in their lifetime or lack the imagination to have good carnal relations. I got as far as 10 pages into the book (just to see what all the hullabaloo was about) and I’d signpost those who feel the shades was tantalisingly titillating to go away and read The Story of O by French author Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage.

If this Glaswegian store and the smell that permeates from it was bottled and put into the perfume market, it would be known as Printed Page. The eye is immediately drawn to a narrow steel spiral staircase ascending up to a stock room, an attic crammed with yet more books. The walls are coated with volumes all crammed into concise labelled categories, Scottish fiction, poetry and drama with a barrage of healthy fiction in the centre aisles.

Caledonia Books

Here you are welcome to wander through the mini-labyrinthine library. As I am currently writing a play, I find it is helpful to read other plays and books about writers, so recently I’ve been devouring the bitter but poetic Steven Berkoff and his collection of one act plays. It was like chewing a whole bag of lemons but an exciting experience. Today in this Scottish Sanctuary, I bought a book of interviews with writer Dennis Potter, Potter on Potter. I love the way sometimes it is the book that finds you!

I also stumbled upon a book by Samuel Beckett, his first piece of fiction. I was drawn to its battered look with strange red blotch on the pages, the markings of a sloppy Shiraz stain perhaps? The quality of the customer service in this establishment was evidenced in the sale of the books. The chap who served me decided to give me the wounded Beckett book for free instead of £1.50. So the compromise was that £1 went into a charity store donation box.


I always like to seek out a small independent book store when I visit cities around the world and I would beg the readers’ of ten minutes hate to take up this healthy habit. My mantra is read, recharge and reflect, inspired by the owner of another amazing book store in Liverpool, Kernaghan Books, read, think, grow. I think the two mottos complement each other quite nicely.

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Twang there goes another rib!

It is a difficult thing to make people laugh, to be able to deliver a gag with ease. One guy in my walking group has the poised skill of an absolute professional. He has the ability to make a comment in natural conversation with a punchline subtly planted. Even better, the actual gag is usually quite bad. One example from his repertoire is a guy whose wife has left him because he confessed he has a pasta fetish, to which he mutters, ‘I am okay, I guess but occasionally I feel cannelloni’.



(Kind of lonely).

Matchbox Comedy Club is a brand new, carefully curated showcase of alternative comedy featuring everything from sketch and stand up, to clown and storytelling. It gives comics the opportunity to trial new material, test routines and sets. It is in a sense a laughter laboratory. I have been to the gig twice and admittedly some acts are funnier than others, but it is all about preference. Some people worship acts like Miranda and Sarah Millican, personally I find the only way I’d possibly laugh at their monotone voices and predictable routines is if they were slapped across the face with a giant piece of fresh trout. Each to their own I suppose, comedy is subjective.

I recently caught up with the comedy night’s resident compere Alastair Clark to see what this clown has to say for himself and talk about the monthly humour fest that he describes as,

A little matchbox full of joy.

10mh: Tell us a joke.

To be honest, I don’t really feel like it. I may have been inclined to do so, if you hadn’t been so rude. I mean… You didn’t even say ‘please’. No ‘hi, you are you?’ Just straight in with the demands. And while I would like to be cooperative with your interview I can’t help but feel that telling you a joke now would only reward your negative behaviour. So I feel that it would be for the best if we put this whole sorry affair behind us and try to start fresh with the next question. I can only hope you are more courteous in your interactions in the future.

1omh: What is the funniest book you have ever read?

I once read my mate’s diary from when they were 14. It was hysterical! Bad poetry and confessions about boys she fancied. Epic stuff.

10mh: Who are your comic influences?

The Incredible Hulk mainly. While most superheroes are just adolescent power fantasies, the Hulk embodies an essential moral relativism. Dr Bruce Banner is a normal scientist who tries not to let his emotions get the better of him. When he does get angry the consequences are dramatic and unpredictable, I think we could all learn a lot from the Hulk.

10mh: What should audiences expect from the comedy night?

Oh right Matchbox, yeah. Erm, dunno… Something a bit different definitely. I feel like this is a really exciting time for comedy in general. There’s a whole new crop of people who are looking at things from a totally different perspective, comedically speaking, and they’re really pushing the boundary of what comedy is in terms of style and content. And what we try to do is get some of those people, put them in a theatre and set them loose on an unsuspecting (but consenting) audience. So expect things that are a little unusual but also brave.

We also try to book diverse lineups, mixing styles and practices in a way that is pleasing on the pallet. Perhaps the best thing for an audience to expect would be to expect nothing. Not because we will deliver nothing, on the contrary we will deliver a lovingly handcrafted tapestry as elegant as the Bayeux and as long as the Nile. But because if you expect nothing then you won’t have any preconceptions, bringing a totally clear and open mind will allow us to make magic in your head space. Whereas if you’re sat there with your arms folded thinking ‘When are they going to talk about the differences between men and women?’ you will definitely be disappointed. Whatever way you look at it, it’s better than an arrow in the eye.

10mh: Is there a formula for comedy?

Is there a formula for any art? There are people far more qualified than me to answer that question. There have been thousands of years of discourse on aesthetics and I dare say that they are no closer to an answer now than when they started. To be honest, if you were looking to me to sort that problem out, I think it would be fair to say that you had unrealistically high expectations of this interview.

10mh: If you could have your ideal comic line up for an evening who would it be?

Hulk (obvs), Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow… Just The Avengers really.

10mh: What makes Matchbox stand out from all the other comedy nights in Liverpool?

Loads of things. Its fun, it’s different, it’s exciting, and it’s in a lovely space… Like I said, loads of stuff. Come and see for yourselves. I could try to tell you everything there is to know about Matchbox comedy nights all the facts about: what goes on; what happens; how it works: but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it’s like to experience it. You’d have to experience it yourself to know that.

The subjective act of experiencing creates a new fact over and above physical reality that cannot be communicated. If you don’t get what I mean, try reading some Thomas Nagel. Or just come to Matchbox. Up to you.

Matchbox Comedy Club –


The Lantern Theatre, 57 Blundell Street, Liverpool, L1 0AJ
8th Apr / 13th May / 10th Jun / 8th Jul
(Monthly, Every second Wednesday of the month)
Doors 7.30pm, Show 8pm
£3 in advance or £4 on the door
(Tickets available from The Lantern Theatre)

Alastair Clark is the resident compere and curator of Matchbox Comedy Club. A respected act on the alternative Liverpool comedy scene, Alastair’s style is a mixture of insecurity, honesty and offbeat delivery.

The Lantern Theatre is an atmospheric and intimate family run Fringe theatre venue located in the heart of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle.

THAT Comedy Productions is an independent live production company, based in Liverpool and run in association with THAT Comedy Blog.

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Mr Heming IS watching

DISCLAIMER: I definitely would not recommend reading this book if you are in the process of selling or buying a house.

What is it about creeps that captivate the modern reader? Think about it, think about literary characters. There is Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, or Barbra Covett in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, and not forgetting the archetypal villain, Norman Bates in Psycho by Robert Bloch.

Barbara Covett

Now to add to the cast of sociopaths in the world of the written word we have Mr. Heming. He appears in the brilliantly creepy A PLEASURE AND A CALLING by Phil Hogan. This character is an estate agent, a consummate professional and outwardly noble citizen who loves the still tranquillity of the suburban village he chooses to reside in. But behind his air of real estate expertise, he is a prowler who snoops on the people he sells houses to. He copies the keys of the properties once sold and has an inventory of facts and notes on all the owners and their families. Heming scrutinises their schedules with microsurgical precision, sneaking into their private homes when unoccupied to have a cup of tea, sit in a favourite chair, or forage in their refrigerators. Sometimes he steals souvenirs, mere insignificant items, trophies of his triumph in deception.

What appears at first to be the descriptions of an eccentric yet disturbed gentleman start to transform into that of a warped sociopath who becomes increasingly more and more toxic. Heming becomes obsessed with an arrogant lothario, Mr. Sharp and his steamy affair with an English rose, librarian Abigail.

Phil Hogan’s novel analyses what lies beneath. Behind the carefully manicured lawns and conservatories, behind the closed doors of the dream homes, there is a malignancy slowly choking. A chilling novel that is like witnessing a car crash, you don’t want to look but still do. This piece of fiction will offer you a sinister perspective of suburbia and is all the more unsettling because the deception takes place in a domestic setting.

a pleasure and a calling

I can liken it to the way the original John Carpenter horror film Halloween was all the more harrowing because the action took place in the ‘safety’ of suburbia. The very title of the book A PLEASURE AND A CALLING, ignited an inner debate in the aftermath of reading it, on whether this was appropriate or not, fitting or in fact bad taste?



What disturbed me about Hemings’ antics was that it tapped into a deep rooted phobia of my very own. On occasion over the years I’ve come home to an empty flat or house and had a strange instinct that it felt like someone had been there before I arrived. A smell of coffee, a burnt match or just a scent that I don’t recognise. But then I just cast it out of my mind. This book evoked that memory and I wonder if others who read it have had similar experiences?

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Do not disturb: Welcome to Hotel Babylon


Last weekend, staying in my friend’s cottage in Sale, I had the luxury of being able to read the book Hotel Babylon into the wee small hours. The next day the tell-tale marks of reading late had taken its toll on my face. I had bags under my eyes like a spaniel’s ears. But it was worth it.


The manager of an exclusive luxury hotel (known as Anonymous) exposes the goings on in the trade. Imogen Edwards-Jones sculpts a career’s worth of experience and anecdotes from Mr. A into one action-packed day, told through the eyes of a ‘receptionist’. Each of the 24 chapters narrates the events of a single hour, from 7 am Friday to 7 am Saturday.


It is a 24 hour trawl through the decadence, depravity and downright debauchery of the hotel industry. After paying an astronomically large fee for a room, guests feel this gives them an immediate licence to be rude and obnoxious. The polite, respectable citizen can be transformed into an ignoramus who thinks they can act however they choose.

Something strange occurs to guests as soon as they check in, even if in real life they are perfectly well-mannered, decent people with proper balanced relationships, as soon as they spin through the revolving hotel doors the normal rules of behavior no longer seem to apply.

The reader is taken absolutely everywhere in the hotel, from the reception area to the back offices, the exclusive bar, restaurant, kitchens and of course the varied rooms from the ludicrously extravagant to the over-priced boxes. It is a candid observation of what really goes on behind the painted smiles of sycophantic members of staff.

Lavish drug parties, calculating call girls, nude guests, massive telephone porn bills and bathtubs filled with Evian, it’s all here. The residents’ swimming in a lake of liquor, mounds of cocaine and unadulterated raw sex. The reader is plunged into a double shift crammed with outrageous incidents, requests and scandals. And the cast of characters are memorable, dictator-like chefs, cleaners curling up to catch a sneaky 40 winks, vamps, tramps and dead bodies.


I would remind anybody who is tempted to try the ‘white worm’ – commonly called cocaine – to really think about snorting unknown powder. The so-called glamour of this drug is highlighted with the rock band who end up with diarrhea and have to wipe their bottoms on curtains once the paper has run out.


If you would like to spend more time in the world of the hotelier, I would recommend seeing the fabulous vintage film Grand Hotel. Further reading could include Arnold Bennett’s The Grand Babylon Hotel published in 1902. This expose depicts what the staff and guests of a luxury establishment get up to.

Nothing much has really changed!

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Watching the painter, painting

On the eve of showing new work at Candid Arts in Islington, London, ten minutes hate caught up with Chester-born artist Gary Roberts to talk paint, influences and rebel kids.


10mh: Tell us about the exhibition.

My new collection of paintings is homage to the rebel kids. I have investigated themes such as nature vs nurture, sibling rivalry and the pressure of masculinity in a man’s youth. The work is autobiographical and covers the story of my brother and I and the different paths we have chosen in life.

10mh: Which creative people do you feel have influenced your work?

Stephen King has been a huge inspiration to me. He is an incredible character writer; he has taught me the values of hidden depths. Each portrait I paint you can take at face value, but the viewer also has the option to explore the layers to get the characters back story.

Joni Mitchell has also influenced my work. She has mastered the art of the autobiographical piece without it sounding too self-gratifying.

Blunt Trauma small

10mh: Can you remember the first thing you painted?

I went to a very religious school. Whenever we would do bible studies there was always an opportunity to draw some disturbing imagery, usually drenched in blood. I think I have the Bible to thank for my love of the macabre and the grotesque.

10mh: Do you have a ritual/routine before an exhibition opens?

I try my best to have a day off before I show my work. I will meditate, catch up on sleep, and walk my dogs. Anything to centre me. The work is very personal to me and putting it out in the world can be a very daunting task. So I try to be in the best possible place, mentally.

10mh: If you had to be a colour of paint what would you be and why?

I would be flesh tint. That way I could be 100s of colours at once.

Memory of 1985 small

10mh: What music do you play in the studio?

Music is very important to me. I listen to Radio 6 Music most of the time. Alternative music is the place to go if you enjoy something sonically creative. The mainstream doesn’t excite me as it used to. Other than that – Kate Bush, Laura Marling, Father John Misty, Haim, Hole, Madonna, Kings of Leon, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Baroque music. If nothing is stimulating me musically I stick on an audiobook. Ideally I would like to read and paint at the same time but that’s pretty much impossible.

10mh: If you could meet just one artist who would it be and why?

Joni Mitchell (Well, she’s technically an artist as well). And I would ask her the exact location of The Mermaid Café.

Roberts finished a degree at Liverpool John Moores University and studied under Dutch portrait artist Ed Van Der Kooy in The Hague.

twitch small

The New Artist Fair runs between 27th-29th March at Candid Galleries.

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Margin notes: Dockers and Detectives by Ken Worpole

While the buildings, gardens and artefacts of the pre-industrial world and land-owning classes are studiously preserved, there remains a cavalier attitude to the industrial heritage, and to the material cultures of working class people and the singular worlds they created and inhabited.

Dockers and Detectives Ken Worpole

Folklore has become the last redoubt of working-class identity in many but not all British cities, taking symbolic shape in the streetscapes and landscapes of remembered places.


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