Archives » 2009 » February

Kaeti And Company by Keith Roberts

Kerosina, 1986

Keith Roberts wrote some of the best British (for which read English, because that’s all there was) SF of the era in which he was active in the field. Indeed, his was some of the best SF of his time full stop. His well regarded (and I recommend them without reserve) novels included Pavane, Kiteworld and the tour de force that was Molly Zero – a whole novel written in the second person. A historical novel, The Boat Of Fate, which was set in Roman Britain was also well received and well worth reading. Several of his longer works were built from shorter pieces, though. Roberts always had a deft touch and his concentration on character helped to set him apart from the majority of SF practitioners. He did seem to have a thing about betrayal, however, especially of a man by a woman. Sadly he died in 2000.

Kaeti and Company contains ten stories some of which have elements of fantasy, others being more realistic in tone. On its own (save for one and that only at its end) each story paints a credible and detailed picture of the lives it portrays. Roberts certainly knew how to create atmosphere. But there is something about this collection which sits awkwardly.

The framing device for the book as a whole, where before each story Roberts apparently addresses Kaeti directly as if casting her as an actress in the “part” she will take but wherein her name (along with those of some other characters) is retained from story to story – thereby providing a rationale for the book’s title – is clever but ultimately unsatisfactory. Others of these “actors” include Kerry, who nearly always wears yellow, Rodney, Bill and Pete. But precisely why is this necessary? Why not just people the stories with the characters and name them in the usual way? We are clearly not meant to find the similarly named characters the same from story to story despite their nomenclature, Kaeti varies in age for example and variously inhabits the present and the past, and yet Bill and Pete always “play” Kaeti’s mum and dad where they appear. It is, I feel, an unnecessary complication.

Again, the best tale might have been Kaeti And The Hangman, an interesting study of a condemned woman in an alternative reality, or possible future reminiscent of that in Molly Zero – except it turns out in its last paragraph to have been describing the shooting of a film script. I felt cheated by this revelation. It does beat, “I woke up and it was a dream,” but not by much; and the framing device, which presumably encouraged this choice, most certainly does not rescue it. This leaves the Clocktower Girl and Kaeti And The Zep as the most satisfying stories.

The last piece, The Dream Machine, about a movie, of which Kaeti is the star, being filmed in the narrator’s street (we are invited to believe this narrator is Roberts himself, but I resist the temptation) makes an explicit point about multiple realities existing within the same milieu but this seems to be elaborating for the sake of it.

Given the second sentence in this review you can imagine my disappointment, here; amplified all the more as I recall the Kaeti stories being lauded when they first appeared. I still have Roberts’s other Kaeti collection, Kaeti On Tour, to be read. I hope the “actress” fixation does not appear there, but I fear it will.

(I couldn’t find an embeddable picture of the Kerosina cover so the above is the Wildside Press one from 2000.)

The Death Of Scottish Football? 2

The sheer cheek of it is unbelievable.

First they demanded and got a smaller top division; “to help them in Europe.”
Then they demanded and got to keep receipts for home games instead of the previous split.
Then they demanded and got effective control of their own league.
Then they started scrabbling around to play anywhere but here – England, the “Atlantic League.”
All in the search for more and more money to stuff their own coffers.
(And in Europe they still haven’t bettered their achievements under the old system they wanted rid of in the first place.)

Now they scrap their own reserve league but come up with the suggestion that their reserves should join the SFL Div 3.

They’re not advocating it for our benefit you can be sure, only for theirs.

Why should they even be talked to, still less accommodated? Why should they be granted a place in Div 3 when clubs like Spartans, Cove, Edinburgh City and Preston Athletic desire to get in – and have a better claim on a place? Why scrap your reserve league if you still want to have a reserve team?

In the words of Chewing The Fat, “I smell shite.”

Go away. Just go away. Go to England and see if they’ll have you. Go to Holland. Go To France.
Take your moaning-faced insufferable “fans” with you. See how they’ll like you never winning anything for years on end and not even having a sniff of Europe like the majority of English clubs. See how loyal they’ll be then. (A damned sight less than those inured-to-disappointment fans of SFL clubs, you can be sure.)

The Death Of Scottish Football? 1

I never watch the SPL. I never will unless, by some miracle, Dumbarton rise all the way to play in it. (And, perhaps, not even then.) I don’t even watch its “highlights” on television. In short I couldn’t care less.

It’s a crabbed, all but closed shop, whose result is either of two foregone conclusions. As far as I’m aware, its product on the pitch is joyless and sterile. I very much doubt it has raised standards of football in Scotland. Its members have, in effect, built a fortress and pulled the drawbridge up after them and also shown a breathtaking lack of humility and solidarity.

And now there are plans afoot to complete the job and expand the SPL – to institute an SPL2 encompassing all those Scottish clubs that aspire to full time football. Quite apart from the horrible piece of textspeak the designation SPL2 emdodies this proposal can only lead to the severing of whatever clubs are graciously allowed admittance to the cartel from their roots in Scottish football in the wider sense. For how long would it be before this new league (of two premier divisions? – that is itself a nonsense) becomes like the NFL; an absolute closed shop, with what remains of the SFL left to wither on the vine? The SPLs 1 and 2 would hoover up any and all sponsorship monies, leaving the rest not much to survive on.

Yes, it would still be possible to meet SPL clubs in the Scottish Cup; but they’d make sure qualification to do so is as difficult as possible. I don’t think it would be long before the smaller clubs – each with their own proud (or otherwise) histories never forget – found the going too tough. Without the prospect of the odd promotion to a higher division, without its possibility, their endeavours would be rendered somewhat pointless.

Of course, in their money chase, some of the SPL might go to the wall too. Thought about that, lads? No really small, long-standing SFL club has gone out of business since I can remember (though Stranraer are now struggling) yet a biggish club, Motherwell, have been in administration. Of those that went out of business altogether Third Lanark weren’t a small club; Clydebank were taken over; Airdrieonians went bust, but they were of medium size, had reached Cup Finals and played in Europe; Gretna were not long-standing and over-reached themselves by grabbing at the SPL – a lesson to us all. An SPL2 almost guarantees a lot of the smaller clubs will go in the end.

And would SPL2 football be any better than SFL Div 1 is now?
No.
And, without relegation, the SPL2 competition would have no bite, no danger, no fear at the bottom end.

But, despite when the SPL broke away, SFL clubs in effect being told to eff off by the new independent league (for which, really, read the gruesome twosome* – you know who you are; the people you are not – the others grimly hang to their coat-tails) clubs at present in the SFL Div 1 just might go for this farrago in the vain hope that it will bring in some extra cash.

The proposal does not seem to be based on footballing merit – ground capacities and catchment areas have been mentioned as qualifying criteria – and as such goes against everything that makes football the glorious, daft game that it is.

Only eight years ago Dumbarton played against Hamilton Academical in the SFL Div 3. Less than five years ago, on 17/4/04, the two teams last played in the league, in the SFL Div 2. That day, as it turned out, if Dumbarton had drawn instead of losing to a scrambled last minute goal, they (if the remainder of that season’s games had ended the way they in fact did) and not Hamilton would have been promoted to Div 1.
Hamilton are now in the SPL, Dumbarton in Div 3. Five years ago. Only five years.

Had an SPL2 been set up eight years ago Hamilton would not have got a sniff at it. A few years earlier they didn’t even have a stadium of their own to play in!

There are clubs in the lower two SFL Divs which have in the past, made a fist of playing at a higher level, some even winning Scottish or League Cups. One, I hesitate to mention which, was the first outright winner of the Scottish League. Yet they could be cast to the winds.

If the SPL wants to expand let it take in all of the SFL.

Fat chance.

*Not Fran and Anna; but even more disagreeable.

Doyle M For Murder

Here’s a blurb for the Writers’ Bloc reading on Thursday.
Go along. You know you want to.

They say February is the most miserable month of the year. Are you shivering under a duvet and three jumpers, longing for adventure in exotic parts of the world? Come find it at the new Writers’ Bloc show.
And get a free book.

DOYLE M FOR MURDER is part of the Edinburgh City of Literature reading campaign. Drawing inspiration from “The Lost World” and certain other creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Writers’ Bloc has somehow ended up with murderous squirrels, dead bagpipers, unlikely German filmmakers and a fellow with a disagreeable pencil moustache.

As if that wasn’t enough, Bloc favourite Andrew J. Wilson has put in a call to the man himself — Conan Doyle has spoken through the ether to dictate an all-new Professor Challenger story, “Out of the Depths”.

You can be part of this astounding literary event NOW by reading the first chapters on the City of Literature web site:

http://www.cityofliterature.com/ecol.aspx?sec=6&pid=363

Chapters one to four are available already. But you’ll have to come to the show to hear the incredible climax.

Bloc is yet again trying a NEW VENUE for this show. This is the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 60 The Pleasance, Edinburgh. Pass through the arch to a courtyard; the Cabaret Bar is at the back left. Admission three golden guineas* (two for concessions).

Authors appearing include Stefan Pearson, Andrew J. Wilson, Morag Edward, Andrew C Ferguson, and Gavin Inglis.

Writers’ Bloc.
www.writers-bloc.org.uk

* pounds Sterling also accepted

America (2nd Amendment)

Since the nice Mr David O’List has commented on one of my previous posts about his early ground-breaking band I thought I’d link to the You Tube rendering of America (2nd Amendment) performed by the Nice – credited on the label to Sondheim, Bernstein, Emerlist Davjack – so you could hear what we were both rabbitting on about.

The embedding is of the long version as on the single. There is no video with the clip; just a picture of a US flag. I avoided the shorter four minute cut (which was given a play on Radio 2’€™s Sounds Of The Sixties a couple of months back) as it has, to my ears, a clumsy edit about ¾ of the way through.

The single is sub-titled 2nd Amendment. The second amendment to the US constitution is of course the famous one about the right to bear arms.

I was at school at the time of the single’s release and my music teacher expressed interest in the “rock version of the New World symphony” that he’€™d heard about -€“ as I said in my previous post about it the track quotes from Dvorak – so I brought America in and he played it to the class. All went well until the spoken bit at the end where he went ballistic about “€œruining a perfectly good piece of music with political rubbish.”€ So much for social comment.

Not only was this single over twice as long as was then common, the track was also, except for the spoken outro, an instrumental. By that time in the sixties, unlike earlier in the decade, instrumental releases had become unusual and hits extremely rare. A doubly brave decision, then.

This, it seems, is where prog rock started.

120 More Novels You Should Read, Apparently

The Guardian has added its readers’ picks to its original list of novels you must read.

Of the 100 novels given a puff from a contributor I’ve read 4½. 3½ of these were SF/fantasy. (The half is Doris Lessing. I read the first Canopus In Argus book and gave up. It was turgid stuff.)

I did rather better in the 20 more titles list. Three from here, all SF/fantasy.

I note that in the SF list the book that topped their best of the 20th century SF finally gets a look-in. I must add that I don’t rate it anywhere near a list of this sort.

And there’s still no Silverberg. I know I forgot about it last time but Dying Inside has got to be there surely?

Here’s the full 120. Bold I have read, those I’m intending to read are in italics.

Love (1)

Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes (1982)
The Bread of Those Early Years (Das Brot der frühen Jahre) by Heinrich Böll (1955)
La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas Clarin (1884-85)
Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen (1968)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1849-50)
The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2001)
Ask the Dust by John Fante (1939)
Senseless by Paul Golding (2004)
A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy (1873)
In Love by Alfred Hayes (1953)
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (1952)
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2003)
The Cloud Sketcher by Richard Rayner (2000)
I Sent a Letter to My Love by Bernice Rubens (1975)
Fanny by Gaslight by Michael Sadleir (1940)
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (early 11th century), translated by Royall Tyler
Zoo, or Letters Not About Love by Viktor Shklovsky (1923)
Gordon by Edith Templeton (1966)
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927)

Crime (0)

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham (1938)
The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham (1952)
The Final Days by Alex Chance (2008)
Night and the City by Gerald Kersh (1938)
The Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald (1951)
The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald (1971)
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond (1990)

Family And Self (0)

Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhishan Banerji (1929)
Parents and Children by Ivy Compton-Burnett (1941)
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar (1963)
Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis (1955)
Death of an Ordinary Man by Glen Duncan (2004)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
The British Museum Is Falling Down by David Lodge (1965)
The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien (1960)
The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff (1931)
Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White (1961)
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian (1990)
The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Mary Yonge (1856)
L’Assommoir by Émile Zola (1877)

Comedy (0)

The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim (1909)
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs (1975-78)
Some Experiences of an Irish RM by Somerville and Ross (1899)
Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell (1934)
Drowned Hopes by Donald Westlake (1990)

State Of The Nation (0)

Havoc In Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett (2004)
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (1722)
And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov (1934)
The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo (1958)
The Football Factory by John King (1996)
The Octopus by Frank Norris (1901)
Joseph Knight by James Robertson (2003)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
Downriver by Iain Sinclair (1991)
When Memory Dies by A Sivanandan (1997)
Fame Is the Spur by Howard Spring (1940)
Sostiene Pereira by Tabucchi (1994)

SF And Fantasy (3½)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Little, Big; or, The Fairies’ Parliament by John Crowley (1981)

Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (1999-)
Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933)
Island by Aldous Huxley (1962)
Canopus in Argos by Doris Lessing (1979-83)
The Boys From Brazil by Ira Levin (1976)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft (1941)
The Wave Theory of Angels by Alison Macleod (2005)
The Confidence Man by Herman Melville (1857)
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (1958)
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (1967)

War And Travel (0)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett (1923)
A Good Place to Die by James Buchan (1999)
The March by EL Doctorow (2005)
Consul at Sunset by Gerald Hanley (1951)
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (2007)
The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederick Manning (1929)
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1974)
The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky (1972)

And 20 More:- (3)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (1993)
Heart’s Journey in Winter by James Buchan (1995)
The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (1955)
Aegypt by John Crowley (1989)
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson (1977-83)
Troubles by JG Farrell (1970)
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (1988)
I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)
See You in Yasukuni by Gerald Hanley (1969)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins (1972)
Phantom Lady by William Irish (1942)
March Violets by Philip Kerr (1989)
Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (1990)
Khan Al-Kahlili by Naguib Mahfouz (2008)
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin (1996-)
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (2002)
The Spanish Farm trilogy by RH Mottram (1924-26)
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1950)
The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers (2003)
Angel Pavement by JB Priestley (1930)

Dumbarton 1-1 Cowdenbeath

The Rock 21/2/09

Another draw at home….
It seems like we should have won this, though, so two points dropped.

With only 15 games to go now this makes winning the division unlikely.

So; another massive game coming up on Saturday. First of the double header with East Stirlingshire.

Every game from now till the end of the season could have the same tag.

I don’t know if I can stand it.

Anna Watt

One of the glories mysteries of Scottish kitsch culture has died.

Anna Watt was one half of the unbelievable duo of “singing” sisters Fran and Anna.

I first encountered them on the Scottish Television show Thingummyjig which featured artistes and dancers performing songs and dances in the broad Scottish folk tradition but couched in a light-hearted not-taking-itself-too-seriously style; much in contrast with the BBC’s earlier effort on these lines “The White Heather Club.”

Thingummyjig’s host, Jack McLaughlin, the self-styled Laird o’ Coocaddens, used to refer to Fran and Anna, famous more for their mini-kilts and general tartanry, as “the Gruesome Twosome.”

They made even more of an impact on Terry Wogan who quite clearly could not believe what he was witnessing when he first had them on his TV interview show.

How anyone could make a living peddling this sort of stuff beats me.

The really scary thing is Anna was 85. I thought she was almost that old all those years ago. Looking at the clips on the Scottish news tonight she and her sister in their heyday looked relatively young. Michty me!

Anna Watt, 1924-2009. So it goes.

The Ironclads Of Cambrai by Bryan Cooper

Pan, British Battles Series, 1967

Occasionally I like to toss in the odd googly and read a History book.

I’ve had an interest in History, in particular the First World War, almost since I can remember and have a tidy collection of these British Battles Series books which were/are a nice compact size, around 200 pages, easy to hold and carry about, and roam British history from Agincourt through the Spanish Armada (both of which occurred before British History proper began) up to, I think, the Korean War. Taken in all they give a good overview of how this sceptred isle bickered and fought through the ages. Some are more readable than others (A. Farrar-Hockley’s The Somme I remember as less so, sadly.)

With my background of reading around this subject I didn’t really learn much I hadn’t known already from The Ironclads Of Cambrai apart from the fact that the sponsons on the male tank could swing inside to allow it to travel by train. (Male tanks had cannon, female ones machine guns.) The book is at the more readable end of the spectrum, managing to make the elements of the battle as clear as such confused events can ever be rendered. There are some eye witness accounts quoted which add to the clarity. More of these might have been a further boon.

The book starts with the events leading to the formation of The Tank Corps and goes on to delineate the lack of knowledge of how to handle the new weapon plus the waste of its potential advantage of complete novelty through being utilised too early and in too small numbers in the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and over the totally unsuitable ground/mud in Flanders in 1917.

The terrain in front of Cambrai was a much more promising area for deployment of tanks, being firm and relatively unfought-over. The element of surprise in the attack, though almost compromised, plus the cursory (in First World War terms) preliminary bombardment and the panic the lumbering monsters engendered in the defenders helped achieve a breakthrough which even enthusiasts hadn’t dared to hope for. Cooper makes much of the failure to exploit the initial advantage gained and in particular castigates those commanding officers who had no great hopes for success and stuck too rigidly to timetables drawn up before the attack went in. Their lack of imagination and, crucially, of belief in a breakthrough after the stalemate years were certainly a hindrance.

However, the difficulties of command and control of such a battle in a time when radio was neither truly effective nor practicable make this a harsh criticism. Cooper does note the Germans also failed to make the most of their initially successful counterattack for much the same reasons, so this rather goes against his point that the British generals were the stumbling block to success, that if only they had had confidence in the tanks’ abilities a great victory might have been won. But even by Cooper’s account, the C-in-C General Haig seems to have appreciated at least the possibilities of the tank; though others lower down remained to be convinced. More crucial was the lack of reserves Haig was prepared to commit to the battle. Given that, success was always going to be an ephemera.

The most culpable behaviour, which came in the subsequent enquiry, was the blaming of the loss of ground suffered in the German counterattack on the troops in the line. As ever, this was a gross calumny.

The book of course focuses on the tanks. For this was the first battle in which they had been employed in what has come to be seen as their proper function. Moreover what few tanks were left undamaged and still mechanically sound after the attack was finally called off played a critical role in the holding back of the German counterattack. Cooper emphasises that their deployment in this endeavour was due mainly to the initiative of individual members of the Tank Corps. He finishes by eulogising the Corps and mentions the Tank Musuem at Bovington where one of the ironclads of Cambrai is on display (or was in 1967.)

Final comment:-
In the end lessons were learned. The great victories of 1918 (and they were victories) could not have been achieved without the experiences gained by trial – and error – in the years before. Which, of course, was a tragedy for the many thousands who died or were wounded.

The salient fact of the First World War was that neither sheer weight of numbers nor any of the newly employed technologies, poison gas, air power, the submarine, radio, the tank, were capable of being decisive on their own, or even, in most cases, together. It is pointless to wish that they were. The techniques for coordinating vast resources and numbers of men, even of supplying them – especially in a fluid situation – also had to be developed. All that took time. And a resourceful and resilient enemy didn’t help. It was only the German offensive of early 1918, a near disaster for the Allies, which brought about the final requirement – the implementation of a unified Allied command structure.

Busy March

Well, the rearranged fixtures are out.

As predicted we play Tuesdays and Saturdays for almost the whole of March, with only Tue the 24th off. Add in the Forfar game and it extends into April. The lads will be knackered.

Tue Mar 3 East Stirlingshire H
Sat Mar 7 Albion Rovers H
Tue Mar 10 Elgin City H
Sat Mar 14 Montrose A
Tue Mar 17 Albion Rovers A
Sat Mar 21 Annan Ath H
Tue Mar 31 Elgin City A
Sat Apr 4 Stenhousemuir A
Tue Apr 7 Forfar Athletic A

And with the away game on Feb 28th we do get the one double header, against the Shire. Will those be the two games that knock us out of the play-off places?

(Maybe not. Shire’s away record isn’t that great.)

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