Monday, 2 May 2016


More stuff from the remaindered books outlet which yielded the tiny Jon Ronson gem praised here last week. Another slimline volume. History this time. A short account of the Vietnam War. Not a subject I usually think about a lot. But it came up here quite recently when considering remarks made by Charles Bukowski in 1973 in response to television coverage of freed POWs returning from Indochina: 
"The POW propaganda plant is still grinding against all sensibilities. We lost the war, got our asses kicked out by starving men and women half our size. We couldn't bomb, con or beg them into submission so we got out and while getting out, somebody had to come up with a smokescreen to make the populace forget we got our asses kicked." 
Bukowski reminds us of how US media outlets focus so sharply on the American casualties of the conflicts into which that great nation so often wades, while saying far less about the vastly more numerous deaths of local civilians caught in the crossfire. These thoughts led me to the discovery of a 2012 article in which John Tirman discusses the question of why US citizens appear inclined to ignore the civilians killed in "American wars". Tirman notes that  "the lack of concern about those who die in U.S. wars is... shown by these civilians' absence, in large part, from our films, novels and documentaries" and that "the entertainment industry portrays these wars... almost always with a focus on Americans."

I don't think it's fair to single out the USA as the only nation where this approach to describing armed conflict is the norm. My sense is that here in the UK, for example, the media and entertainment industries similarly combine to create narratives in which foreign civilians and enemy combatants are pushed towards the margins and the background.

One would hope, though, that history books authored in the countries on one side of a conflict would pay more attention to the civilian casualties sustained by the other side, as well as attempting to explore the perspectives of the people living on that other side. I'd like to keep nursing that hope, notwithstanding old warnings about there being no such thing as a truly neutral, objective or even-handed historian. At first sight, though, this recently acquired book about the Vietnam War seemed to suggest that its account of the conflict would be in keeping with John Tirman's observations about a lack of concern for the civilian victims of wars contested by the USA: the cover is illustrated with a photo of an American soldier's helmet; the blurb on the back of the book speaks of 58,220 American dead and 300,000 American wounded, without mentioning equivalent figures for the Vietnamese population. True, the middle paragraph of that blurb does suggest that the author has attempted to tell the story of the war from the Vietnamese perspective, noting that for "the people of North Vietnam is was just another in a long line of foreign invaders" and observing that "for two thousand years they had struggled for self-determination". But that insistence on citing the numbers of American casualties only does create the impression that this book is yet another predominantly US-centric account of the conflict. It is a pity that the publisher's people felt the need to take this approach, and they have done the Scottish author of the book a disservice, I feel, because the opening chapters do say rather more about the Vietnamese perspective than the blurb and the cover image had led me to expect. I feel, then, that the publisher's marketing people decided that they needed to sideline Indochinese civilians, combatants, history and politics in order to package a palatable product for an audience endlessly invited not to care about dead foreigners. The disservice done by this approach, then, is done not only to the author but also to those of us with the capacity to feel for the fallen on both sides of a conflict.


Dateline BLOODY BLIGHTY: As the twisted ankle recovers and as the physical condition begins to pick up after the blissful blunting of incautious eating and reduced exercise in now much-missed NYC and now yearned-for Florida, more poundingpounding of treadmill and further jerkyjerk-phyzikal jerx. Today: reintroduction of bastard bench-pressing and blooming box jumps, the latter causing prickling stings of familiarness, such is the affection for this particular form of movement. All movements not unconducive to the wearing of big-ass headphones (i.e. just those box jumps, really), were bounced onwards by musical accompaniment thus:

  • Delegation: You and I [1979]
  • Bad Manners: Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu [1980]
  • Audio Deluxe: 60 Seconds [1992]
  • The Stranglers: No More Heroes [1979]
  • Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Pump It Up [1978]
  • Talking Heads: Once In a Lifetime [1981]
  • Sex Pistols: Pretty Vacant [1977]
  • Baby Huey: Hard Times [1971]
  • Symarip: Skinhead Moon Stomp [1970]
  • The Rakes: The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect [2007]*
  • Gary Toms Empire: 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle) [1975]
  • George Benson: Give Me the Night [1980]
  • Chicken y Sus Comandos: Caminando Despacito [1969?]
  • Azymuth: Jazz Carnival [1979]

As my current preference is, demonstrably, for music recorded, for the most part, in the 1970s and 1980s, this tune by defunct UK indie-rockers The Rakes stands out like a sore thumb: a rare example of young(er) people's music entering the radar screen of this ageing, dessicated husk. It's a song which 95% satisfies me but which contains a single irritating flaw, to my mind. Music, musicianship, craft, whatever: fine; lyrics: MOSTLY fine, being an unpretentious take on the worries of an imperfect night out in the 21st Century (ten new messages on my phone; danger of eye contact with male stranger leading to fighting and disturbance of carefully crafted hairstyle...). But there is a seriously dud pair of lines:
You slag off America in the pub
Saying the war was shite
The in the club drink some Buds
And smoke some Marlboro Lights
I'm not sure whether the narrative voice is addressing itself (himself) or a third party. Either way, a critical observation is made, namely that it is hypocritical to speak negatively about American foreign policy while consuming products made by American companies. This seems an entirely juvenile and fatuous position, reminding me of the time when Louise Mensch thought it was terribly clever to suggest that protesters who oppose some iniquitous elements of capitalist societies cannot use mobile phones or drink coffee without undermining their arguments. But this is a minor gripe, I guess. The song is pretty good otherwise.

Saturday, 30 April 2016


The twisted ankle is just about OK again. So robustish physical jerks and those 500m run-as-fast-as-seems-manageable-seven-times things are doable again. Once such recent stint was buoyed and bounced along to these shuffled up trax:

  • MC Serch ft. Nasty Nas, O.C., Chubb Rock & Red Hot Lover Tone: Back to the Grill [1992]
  • Balkan Beat Box: Adir Adirim [2005]
  • Duran Duran: Planet Earth [1981]
  • IAM: Je Danse le Mia [1993]
  • Cream: Sunshine of Your Love [1967]
  • Digable Planets: Pacifics [1993]
  • Commodores: Machine Gun [1974]
  • The Selecter: On My Radio [1979]
  • Chicks On Speed: Euro Trash Girl [2000]
  • Soft Cell: Tainted Love [1981]
  • Depeche Mode: People Are People [1984]

Monday, 25 April 2016


Of late, my footsteps keep taking me past the clutter of a decent remaindered books outlet in the West End of that London. I've taken to stopping in for a brief mooch, mindful of all the interesting reads I've been turned onto by these places over the years, as mentioned in a recent ramble around the upside of time-killing.

This particular shop has proven to be particularly well-stocked with the works of Jon Ronson, hence their numerousness on the this is my england reading list. In theory, I would have been happy to pay full price for any of these. It also seems unfortunate that non-fiction as consistently interesting and amusing as Ronson's can be had from the bargain bins. But the remaindering process is a gift horse. My means are not unlimited. So I cannot look it in the mouth.

On the most recent trip to this shop, I picked up another of Ronson's books, wondering for the first time ever whether he had written something unlikely to be worth the discounted price I'd paid for it, let alone the original full price. It was, after all, extremely slender, weighing in at barely seventy pages. But given than less can be more, I was more wary of the subject matter than of the feathery size of this little thing. I was never, after all, much of a fan of Frank Sidebottom, the singing papier-mâché head brought squeakily to life in the 1980s and 1990s by the late Chris Sievey.

I did get the joke. Being a soft southern git did not prevent me from appreciating the comic mismatching of musical forms with obscure references to the quotidian details of life in the north of England. I must have even had some level of appetite for that particular brand of comedy because Half Man Half Biscuit were a fixture of my teenage mixtapes for a while. I was a fan of The Fall, too, a fact I mention because I contend that the magic realism of Mark E. Smith's lyrics and the knowing dourness of his delivery combine to create a comic effect not unalike the ones conjured up by Frank Sidebottom or by the post-punksters from the Wirral peninsula. 

I just felt that the Birkenhead combo did the whole northern absurdism bit more amusingly and more satisfyingly than the persona created by Chris Sievey. Good grounds, then, for wondering how much I would enjoy Ronson's brief account of his time as a member of Frank Sidebottom's Oh Blimey Big Band and of his later co-writing of a fictionalised movie version of Sievey's strange life.

I needn't have entertained these doubts. I demolished those seventy pages in the time it took to eat some sushi and take two tube rides. On both journeys, I was that passenger you sometimes see struggling to suppress loud laughter and wiping hot tears of mirth from his face. This is only partly because the dingy gig venues and Students Union ENTS office described by Ronson were so close to the wonderful, half-recalled shitholes of my own youth. It is simply very funny and sweetly sad. So DO buy this. Buy it for very little in the remaindered book store. Or buy it full price. But get it. Get it.  

Sunday, 24 April 2016


having managed to twist the left ankle rather painfully on Friday, I needed fairly gentle physical jerks today. nothing involving the slamming of the bodyweight through the legs and onto the floor. treadmill pounding, then, dispreferred in favour of turning the pedals of the static bicycle thing. around 20 notional km were thusly racked up, followed by other non-ankle-imperilling shenanigans. musical accompaniment consisted of:

  • The Freemasons ft. Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer) [2009]
  • The Skatalites: Beardsman Ska [c. 1965?]
  • Flowered Up: It's On [1990]
  • Focus: Hocus Pocus [1971]
  • Goran Bregović: Kalasnjikov [2000?]
  • The White Stripes: Icky Thump [2007]
  • The Fall: Mr. Pharmacist [1986]
  • Donald Byrd, Jason Mizell & Fonce Mizell: Street Lady [1973]
  • Billy Taylor Trio: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free [1986?]
  • Rotary Connection & Minnie Riperton: I Am the Black Gold of the Sun [1971]
  • Las Balkanieras: Yu Go! [2011]
  • The Jam: In the City [1977]

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

all progress depends on the unreasonable man

sometimes I enjoy a well-known quotation so much that it becomes a staple of my conversation. I'll reach for it whenever it seems apposite. I probably overdo it sometimes. one such much-loved quote has cropped up once or twice on this is my england. it is a remark made by George Bernard Shaw, suggesting that we avoid the temptation to get drawn into debates with those who refuse to play nice in a lively exchange. Shaw talks to us in terms of wrestling with a pig.

this image is most likely to surge to the front of my mind when I'm feeling the urge to spar with the writers of very horrible comments added, below the line, to articles or news items presented to me on the laptop screen or on the phone. same thing back when I used to bother with Internet messageboards. it can happen in the context of Twitter, too, of course.

no huge surprise, then, to find myself stumbling upon another Shaw quote today and deciding that it may well become as well-liked and come to be(over)used as regularly as the pig wrestling bit:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
readers who are more well-read than me. readers who are better educated. readers who really KNOW their Shaw. they may all be smiling, sighing or eye-rolling at the spectacle of a middle-aged blogger only coming to know of the above quotation today. at the childlike wonder with which he's enjoying it as something fresh. at the idea that he openly professes the likelihood of working into his limited repertoire of rhetorical flourishes. but I don't mind. I'll never meet you anway. and I like it. just like it. find it pleasing. find it to be neatly and so, so obviously useful and versatile. and I like the slim, slight book in which it cropped up for me today. more on that soon.

Monday, 18 April 2016


Well, the days of working out in the relatively ritzy hotels and the gated community clubhouses of Florida are well and truly over. Warm weather and wide, bright highways no more. Back to Brexiting, blathering Blighty. Hence, then, to my usual gymnasium and to the realisation that while my "fitness" doesn't seem to have eroded too much, my posture (when lifting things and pulling things etc.) has gone squarely to hell in just two weeks. I'm assured it can be got back to where it was pretty swiftly. Ahead of all this, I'd pounded away on the old treadmill for a bit, propelled on my way by these tracks:

  • Department S: Is Vic There? [1980]
  • Sham 69: Hurry Up Harry [1978]
  • The Farm: Groovy Train [1991]
  • TC 1992: Funky Guitar [1992]
  • Visage: Fade to Grey [1980]
  • Indeep: Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life [1982]
  • James Brown: Funky President (People It's Bad) [1974]

Earlier in the day, while having a coffee, I'd noticed a guy wearing very eye-catching socks:

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Tuesday, 12 April 2016




Hotel gym in St. Augustine, Florida this morning. Put in a couple of miles on the treadmill plus a few other physical jerks. All of this jollied along by:
  • The Dismasters: Small Time Hustler [1987]
  • Otis Gayle: I'll Be Around [1972?]
  • 3rd Bass: The Cactus [1989]
  • Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music [1976]
  • Lou Donaldson: One Cylinder [1967]
  • Just Jack: Starz In Their Eyes [2007]
  • Primal Scream: Movin' On Up [1991]
  • James Mason: Sweet Power Your Embrace [1977]
  • Happy Mondays: Step On [1990]