Something Changed 48: Sit Down

Like the good lady, in the 1990s I had a bit of a soft spot for James.

Sit Down was the band’s biggest hit.

An acquaintance of mine once complained he hated that when it came to the middle eight of this song people listening to it would start to sit down. As if it was the group’s fault.

My feeling is that artists aren’t responsible for the way people react to their creations. George Orwell couldn’t have foreseen folk saying, “it’s like 1984, isn’t it?”

James: Sit Down

This is the originally released version from 1989. It doesn’t have quite the bite of the later release and the video is a bit unimaginative.

The Sorrow of War by Bảo Ninh

Secker & Warburg, 1994, 218 p. Translated from the Vietnamese Thân Phân Cua Tinh Yêu, (originally published by Nhà Xuät Ban Hoi Nha Van [Writers’ Association Publishing House], Hanoi, 1991. English version by Frank Palmos based on the translations from the Vietnamese by Vo Bang Thanh and Phan Thanh Hao, with Katherine Pierce.

The vast majority of writing about the Vietnam War published in the West has been from a US perspective. This book acts as a kind of corrective as, here, the US, along with the South Vietnamese ARVN, is the enemy. The novel’s viewpoint character is a North Vietnamese soldier, Kien, whom we first meet in his post-war duty of collecting for burial the remains of corpses left over from the war. This is in an eerie place the soldiers named the Jungle of Screaming Souls. One corpse is discovered in a colourless plastic bag and the body seems immaculate. Then it discolours, something seems to escape, and it deflates. The platoon takes this apparition to be a soul departing. This scene is emblematic as, while the memories of combat are no doubt authentic, so much of what Binh describes here is surreal. Many descriptions of war are.

The novel is disjointed, fragmented, as if reflecting the uncanny nature of such experiences. Ninh tells us the sorrow of war is like the sorrow of love, “a kind of nostalgia,” a “sadness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past.” The novel is a patchwork of such pain, of things unforgettable, surfacing unbidden from memory. “His fighting life was being revived in flashbacks, or in slowly unfolding scenes as heart-rending as a funeral march.” War as an experience is perhaps best encapsulated when Kien remembers trying to dissuade his comrade Can from deserting as it would be shameful. Can replied, “‘In all my time as a soldier I’ve yet to see anything honourable.’”

While combat and its horrors – the blood and entrails carried on the tracks of tanks so that they have to be driven through a river to clean them, Kien’s friend killed when his tank is all-but vapourised by a shell, the dreamlike quality of being on the receiving end of a US air-raid, the self-sacrifice of an inexperienced female guide named Hua who distracted a platoon of US soldiers away from a group of wounded NVA personnel whom she had put in danger of discovery – The Sorrow of War is not merely a story of firefights and military life. The story flits between those and his pre-Army life in Hanoi with Kien’s golden memories of his girlfriend Phuong and of life after the war where it is not only Kien who has been changed utterly but also Phuong, forever scarred by her travails when she accompanied him south to his first posting and her subsequent struggles to subsist in Hanoi.

The end of the war brought to the soldiers no soaring, brilliant happiness such as Kien saw later on film, only memories and nightmares. “Those who had died and those who lived on shared a common fate in this war.” As to the future, “Losses can be made good, damage can be repaired and wounds will heal in time. But the psychological scars of the war will remain forever.” The survivors “had lost not only the capacity to live happily with others but also the capacity to be in love.”

Since Kien later sets out to write about his impressions of the war the novel also contains observations on writing. Binh tells us the author wrote “because he had to write, not because he had to publish.” This is of course the way round the process ought to be.

Despite all its gruesome content and incident, its record of man’s inhumanity to man – and woman – The Sorrow of War is not difficult to read, a testament to both Binh and his translators.

Pedant’s corner:- mosquito repellant (repellent,) “his beard was well shaven and tidy” (if it was shaven it wasn’t a beard, well trimmed perhaps?) “Who’s to know.” (is a question; therefore ‘Who’s to know?’) “All that remained of his mother were some photographs.” (‘All’ is singular, hence ‘was,’) a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech, “Sue repeated eagerly” (she repeated eagerly,) curriculum vitae (there was more than one; curriculum vitae means ‘course of life’ so its plural – courses of life – is ‘curricula vitae’ in Latin and English – but in English some might say ‘curriculums vitae’. If interpreted as ‘courses of lives’ the Latin plural would be ‘curricula vitarum’, which is a step too far in English.)

Art Deco in Chester-le-Street, County Durham (ii) The Old Co-op

This one was too long for me to be able to fit into one photo. It still houses the Co-operative Bank, but also when we visited a Peacock’s and a Poundland.

Art Deco Shop Building, Chester-le-Street, County Durham

Central portion detail. Rule of three in the windows plus other Deco hallmarks:-

Central Portion, Art Deco Building, Chester-le-Street

Stitch of two photos to get whole building in:-

Stitch of Art Deco, Building, Chester-le-Street

Interzone 290-291, Summer 2021

TTA Press, 2021.

  Interzone 290-291 cover

After a longish break Interzone reappears with a double edition. The editorial is by Lavie Tidhar describing his early steps into being published (in Interzone natch,) and his quest to bring World SF to wider attention. This being a double issue there are two of Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories. In the first she ponders museum artefacts what they tell us about the past – and the future. In the seconda she wonders about the connections we make – as people and as readers – and their validities. Whiteley is also the subject of the first item in the book reviews, where Duncan Lawie looks at both her latest novels Greensmith (“the more astonishing end of Philip K Dick”) and the gentler on the reader Skyward Inn (the name of a pub in the Western Protectorate.) Both “explore big questions whose answers lead to further thought.” I examine the British Library’s reprints of John Brunner’s “very readable” The Society of Time (which is in control of time travel in a Western Europe dominated by a Catholic Spanish Empire) and Ian Macpherson’s Wild Harbour, a cosy catastrophe avant la lettre, and Scottish to boot. John Howard relishes M John Harrison’s “selected stories” collection Settling the World, stories in which nothing is settling, the footing is always unsure. Stephen Theaker discusses David Ebenbach’s How to Mars, (“a good story, but gimmicky, of a one-way trip to Mars for a reality show but where one of the inmates against all the rules has become pregnant,”) Premee Mohammed’s novella These Lifeless Things (set fifty years after the Setback killed 99% of humans) and Martha Wells’s Fugitive Telemetry (an Android SecUnit investigates a murder on Preservation Station,) Maureen Kincaid Speller considers The Wall by Gautam Bhatia (filled with moments of deep emotional intensity but a little too overcrowded with possibilities) yet “deeply satisfying,” and Val Nolan finds the “darkly absurdist” Line by Nial Burke well worth waiting for.

The fiction was all well worth reading.

A Hollow in the Sky by Alexander Glass.1 Except for a few refuseniks called scatterlings humans have joined into a kind of hive mind called the Gathering. Our narrator Mateo is one of the scatterlings, looking after a vespiary in a monastery. Some years ago fellow scatterling Tomoko went off with/was taken away by extremely enigmatic aliens named the Borers. Now she has returned. This is well written but overuses the vespine metaphor.
In The Andraiad by Tim Major,2 the titular andraiad is a church organist and piano tuner called Martin Helm, built to replace a man who died in a fight, and determined to be better.

Pace Car by Lyle Hopwood. Gates – matter transmitters – apparently gifted to Earth as a punishment for the creation of part animal/part human chimeras – have transformed the world, but they are gradually destroyinh their surroundings. Billions of humans have died. Our narrator is a collector of old cars who requires a mechanic to maintain them. He is part goat.

An Island for Lost Astronauts by Daniel Bennet is set in a post sea-level rising world and the appearanceof a mysterious and otherwise unexplained White Ship where convicts are left to scavenge the islands outside East City where returning astronauts have also been outcast for fear of contamination. The story has a sub-Ballardian feel and is deliberately enigmatic.

The narrator of A Stray Cat in the Mountain of the Dead by Cécile Cristofari3 is a nurse of Arabic origin working in a French care home. As the story unfolds we discover she has a weak heart but it is the stray cat that gets in no matter what the staff do that drives the story. If it lies on their laps the deaths of inmates seem inexorably to follow.

Nemesis by Matt Thompson. In a world threatened by comets thrown Earthwards by the sun’s dark companion beyond the Oort Cloud (the Nemesis of the tile) a woman’s memories are being reconstructed.

The Mischief That is Past by John Possidente4 is a tightly controlled exposition of justified paranoia. A journalist on Humbodt, a space station, is in hiding after a contact tells him of someone called Sacagawea who died in 1812. Except she didn’t; she’s still alive, uncovered in Greenland 1937 along with an alien spaceship, and now a state secret. Yet this story ends as its narrator’s is just beginning.

The Egg Collectors by Lavie Tidhar5 are two ballooners (sic) sheltering from a storm on Titan who encounter some ovoid objects on the surface.

Without Lungs or Limbs to Stay by Shauna O’Meara is set on a generation starship where the population has gone rogue, is now space adapted, and recycles the sleep-frozen members of the intended colony in order to keep their nutrient balance the right side of viable.

Pedant’s corner:- aTim Lees’ (Lees’s,) “to not only” (not only to.) 1“a timpani” (timpani is plural; one of them is a timpano.) 2Louis’ (x2, Louis’s,) a mining lift cage accident is said to involve nine men on the top deck and seven below, but three lines later reference is to nine on the lower deck.) 3a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. 4“to lay low” (to lie low.) 5ballooners (balloonists,) “‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you.’” (is a question so ought to finish with a question mark.)

Art Deco in Chester-le-Street, County Durham (i) The Post Office

On our trip to England’s north-east earlier this year we decided to make a stop in Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

When I pulled to a stop in the car park I’d chosen, right in front of me was an Art Deco building, which turned out to be the Post Office, built in 1936.

It’s one of those brick Art Deco buildings. Note the horizontals, verticals, canopy, rounded corner, flat roof:-

Art Deco Post Office, Chester-le-Street, Durham

This angle shows the rounded corner better:-

Rounded Corner, Art Deco Post Office, Chester-le-Street

Crown and ER 1936 (Edward VIII) logo detail on columnar window, round ended canopy:-

Chester-le-Street, Art Deco Post Office Detail

War Graves, Cramlington, Northumberland

The headstone containing the names of (some of) my ancestors was in the graveyard of Church of St Nicholas.

St Nicholas Church, Cramlington, Northumberland

St Nicholas Church, Cramlington, Northumberland

While wandering the graveyard I found two Commonwealth War Graves, both from the Great War:-

Private J Shield, Northumberland Fusiliers, 10/11/1918:-

War Grave, Cramlington, Northumberland

Serjeant J W Brabban, Royal Field Artillery, 27/11/1918, aged 21:-

War Grave in Cramlington, Northumberland

The End of an Old Song by J D Scott

A Romance. Canongate Classics, 1990, 214 p, plus iv p Introduction by Christopher Harvie. First published in 1954.

Things lost. The times they have achanged. It is not for nothing that the lament is the signature example of bagpipe music. Scottish authors have always chronicled disappearance. It’s there in this book’s title and its epigraph – the source of that title – is of course the quote from Lord Chancellor Seafield on the dissolving of the Scottish Parliament in 1707 after the Treaty of Union was signed, “There is the end of an auld sang.” Scots have been struggling with a sense of absence, of incompleteness, ever since.

But there are wider literary echoes here too. This review ought perhaps to have begun with the words, “Last night I dreamed I was at Kingisbyres again,” Kingisbyres being the name of the “big house” where narrator Patrick Shaw had his formative experiences. Indeed, the book could also have been titled “Kingisbyres Revisited”.

Yet this exercise in Scottish nostalgia, displaying the typical Scottish writer’s flair for landscape description, is narrated by one Patrick Shaw who tells us he deliberately cultivated English snobbishness. Indeed, the novel reads as being written with an English sensibility, and people are always described as Scotch, not Scottish. As a result, the Scotticisms, when they occur – “‘Away, man,’” – do so with increased force. Despite his leanings towards Englishness Patrick intuits “the essence of the past of Scotland, its dark, fated, cruel quality and the contrasting strain that ran through it of lightness and grace and gaiety ….. something powerfully charged with love and hate, pride and violence, which, in given circumstances, it might discharge in some tremendous flash of lightning.”

In the 1930s Patrick was a pupil at the nearby fee-paying but far from top drawer school, Nethervale, (his alcoholic father reduced to teaching there) and was invited to Kingisbyres by his friend Alastair Kerr, himself brought up by an aunt in the village and who, local rumour had it, was the natural son of the house’s owner, Captain Keith, who paid for him to attend the school. In Kingisbyres a room once graced by Bonnie Prince Charlie is kept perpetually ready for “the King over the water” to return. One summer, Captain Keith, no longer able to afford the upkeep, lets Kingisbyres to the nouveau riche Harveys (the money was made in biscuits) and Patrick was immediately struck by their daughter Catherine, a presence who is to flicker in and out of Patrick’s and Alastair’s lives for the remainder of the book. Catherine is used to having her own way and even as a young adult knows how to deploy her charms to get it. The establishment of the three’s irregular relationship takes up more than half the novel before the focus shifts to the book’s narrative present after the Second World War.

Captain Keith, like many of the landed gentry, has some very right-wing views and Alastair frequently indulges in casually pejorative mentions of Jews – sometimes not so casually, even after the war. He also has some acerbic comments to make on his countrymen’s attitudes, “being stuck-up is a crime in Scotland. That’s why everybody who makes money leaves it in the end. What’s the good of making money if you can’t be stuck-up?” and the cultural cringe, “like the good wee Scotty I am, I’ve been conditioned to feel that success is genuine only when it’s been registered in London.” He cites those objects of aspiration, “‘That old Kentish manor house,’” along with an English rose for its mistress, two children and a picture in the Tatler but after the war, in its austere aftermath, such longing is obsolete, “‘Now we have to give it up for an apartment on Fifth Avenue.’” When he says, “‘God save us from the romantic outlook,’” Patrick asks him, “‘It’s goodbye to the English dream?’” Alastair replies, “‘Yes,’” and Patrick says ironically, “‘You might call it the end of an old song.’”

The characters in The End of an Old Song are well-drawn, Catherine’s youthful carelessness and flightiness apparent from Patrick’s first encounter with her, Alastair always a hard, uncompromising presence (though Mrs Harvey is a type; a recognisable and all too familiar type, but still a type.) The novel speaks both of its time and to timeless Scottish concerns.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; a missing end quote mark from an illustrative passage. Otherwise; gulley (gully,) Agnes’ (Agnes’s,) “thee fingers of whisky” (three fingers,) “Mrs Mathers’ voice” (Mathers’s,) “Bonny Prince Charlie” (usually spelled Bonnie, as it is on the next page and elsewhere in the book,) “‘If you boys arenie’ to be working’” (usually spelled arenae – and there’s no need for the apostrophe.) “After Dunkirk time I didn’t see Alastair …. for nearly two years … I went abroad … and until early 1943 I was in the middle East” (Dunkirk was in 1940, 1943 is 3 years later, not 2,) glaiket (usually spelled glaikit, is said to mean wandering in one’s mind; I have always understood it as meaning gormless, or slightly dim.)

Reelin’ in the Years 192 – Make It With You

I mentioned here that David Gates of Bread somehow managed to write love songs that just hit the spot.

From 1970, this was the group’s first UK hit.

Bread: Make It With You

Cramlington Heritage

In the old village square in Cramlington, Northumberland, is an information board.

Information Board, Cramlington, Northumberland

One of the items on it commemorates the men from mining communities who joined up and went off to fight. 170 Cramlington men did not came back. Victory arches were erected as, of course was the permanent War Memorial:-

Cramlington War Memorial Information Board

Another panel on the board remembers a Zeppelin attack on the village:-

Information Board, Information Board, Zeppelin Attack on Cramlington, Norhumberland

Another Review Book

 The Second Rebel cover
 The First Sister cover

Another book has arrived from ParSec for me to review.

This is The Second Rebel by Linden A Lewis, the second in a series. I reviewed the previous instalment The First Sister in Parsec 1.

This latest review will, I assume, be published in ParSec’s second issue. I’ll get onto it soon.

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