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Laurel, Poems of Love, Loss and Rivalry, by Peter Cowlam

Poetry Posted on Sat, November 25, 2017 13:27:42

Absence

When
stupidly I ran on

through
the arrows

of
events,

and
stumbled

home

into
this old room

in
winter,

a
note in the failing

light

half
slanting on

the
table

told
me

you
weren’t

coming
back.

Laurel, Poems of Love, Loss and Rivalry, ISBN 978-1-902086-16-3, 106 pages, $6.99, available from Amazon.



Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?

Fiction Posted on Fri, September 01, 2017 17:06:49

Listen as you read. Narrator read by Gilly Anderson; Wye, Zob and Snell read by Peter Cowlam:

Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? is a satire
on literary celebrity, set in the relatively safe remove of early
1990s literary London. There are three main characters. The first is
Marshall Zob, whose father, of eastern European origin, has
previously changed his family name from Zoblinski, or Zobilinsk, or
something like that. Zob Junior is a literary celebrity, whose social
ascent has taken him to London’s literary heights, through a
network of media and literati contacts. Zob can and does delude
himself that his success really is down to his genius. All that’s
missing from his CV is the Booker Prize, which he feels he should
have won, but hasn’t.

The second of the three main characters is Alistair Wye,
a computer science graduate who by some monumental fluke has been
hired as Zob’s amanuensis or assistant. Wye’s job prior to this
was as overseer of a computerised database, one designed by him for a
theatrical properties firm as a means of keeping track of its stock,
its orders, and its clients. The entire book is supposedly Wye’s
personal diary, recording his reactions to life in proximity to a
literary celebrity.

The third main character is the hapless Andrew Glaze,
one-time Professor of English Literature at Exe University. Glaze is
already dead before the action of the novel starts. As Wye notes in
the foreword to his diary, news of his death was ‘a passing that
hardly caused me to put down my coffee cup, or extinguish my
cigarette’. It’s a passing that’s important to Zob, since back
in the 1970s he was not only Glaze’s student, he was his star
student, or as Wye puts it, also in his foreword,

Marshall Zob, should you not already know, is the
perfection of the dead Andrew Glaze, PhD, whose brightest student he
was. This was back in the early 1970s, in the cloisters of Modern
College, Exe University, where the writer and academic, and Blagueur
Prize-winner (twice), the witty Zob Senior [that’s to say
Marshall’s father], had passed before him. [Incidentally, Zob
Senior was also Glaze’s friend and colleague. I am not meaning to
suggest by this any hint of nepotism, which Glaze himself has
remarked the English are so touchy about.]

Glaze’s personal life hasn’t been a great success.
Prior to the novel’s opening, his marriage has collapsed and his
wife Samantha has fled to New York. After the divorce, she intends to
marry one of New York’s wealthiest bankers. All of this is
chronicled in a series of letters, postcards etc. languishing in
Zob’s archive.

Zob has been careless about filing these letters, and
keeps them dotted around in no particular order. Furthermore his
replies to his friend Glaze have all been made on an ancient
IBM-compatible using word-processor software he never quite
understood. That correspondence does still exist, somewhere on disc,
but when that ancient PC refuses to boot up it is Wye’s job to find
a solution and retrieve it all. In fact this becomes vital to Zob
since, as an important academic, Glaze’s life and work is about to
be commemorated publicly. For Zob there are also commercial
opportunities in reproducing and annotating his long exchange with
Glaze. Wye does manage to restore that creaking PC, and what he finds
there, and what he finds in Zob’s paper archive, forms much of the
material that ends up in his diary – which could be summed up as a
ruthless exposé of the life of a literary superstar.

He is amused to find, in Zob’s letter to Glaze dated
the 30th of May, reference to himself, on the subject of his
appointment, which reads as follows:

Most recent interview took place in my pool hall. I go
there a lot – it helps me to think, and relax. I couldn’t make it
– or rather him – out. A native of Manchester, yet talked like
colonial Tunbridge Wellian. His name’s Alistair, though he didn’t
hint at a Scottish connection. He seemed – which is perhaps the
operative word – seemed (stress) well informed generally. He
assumes I am of the Left, because he’s seen my byline in The
Observer
, and told me he’d read and liked my lampoon on the
decent, genteel exterior of former Tory prime ministers. I didn’t
say hear hear…

For all this his degree’s in computer science, though
the man was evasive about his university – a sleight of hand I
thought these boffins weren’t capable of, having no intelligence
outside that realm of the microchip. He could be very useful, as I
wouldn’t mind all that hardware paraphernalia – though God knows
I can make nor head nor tail of the box of tricks I have got. He
works, he says, for a theatrical properties company in Mortimer
Street, for whom he designed, wrote and installed a stock-and-order
system. He reads a great many science books, and for that reason
thinks he can talk down to me. I showed him a thing or two on the
pool table.

Wye remembers that interview differently. This is from
his diary entry of July the 4th:

The conversation we had in his pool hall was over a best
of three games, which did, it is true, end on the final black. This,
naïvely, he potted. The light from the canopy above, parcelled its
tiny quanta in a varied dilution of yellow. Here perfectly was Zob’s
imperfect illumination, in whose glaze I remarked on the soiled nap
of the table. ‘Successive smokers,’ I said, and chalked my cue.
Together we bent to those grey-green archipelagos, those swipes of
ground ash. ‘I am interested in music,’ I said, in reply to his
question what existed other than the written word. When he talked
about literary prostitution this was, he said, merely a term in a
very long series. According to him, we who worked prostituted
ourselves in one way or another. In a glum status quo few authors had
the courage to challenge anything. Did this, I asked, not leave your
fellow pool players intellectually in vacuo? And to talk of
society’s imbalance, wasn’t that merely society’s
impregnability? That was more or less it, he said, never having
claimed that the elevated tribes and scribes to whom he belonged
really did have a social conscience.

He potted a first yellow, calmly: wasn’t he after all
on the comic side of fiction, and therefore exempt? Then, he
imagined, he snookered me.

‘Let me show you,’ I said, ‘how to bend a ball….’
Awkward, of course, to cue, just as our human quarks or men of
conscience can’t with certainty cast their vote. To the massé
nevertheless. My stolid white dragged its heels round an interposing
yellow. It struck a side cushion and my object ball simultaneously.
Result: Not the pot he’d expected. I allowed him, O ye dumb angels,
bearing the professor’s footstool, just one more visit to the
table. I took that first game, it has to be said without much effort.
The second I gave him, only because he bought lunch, which consisted
of egg, cress, warm mayonnaise, sandwiched with expert inattention in
two squares of foam.

Now, as for those levitating letters tailing my surname,
I cannot legitimate the embossed sheen of a doctorate, the gold plate
of an MSc, nor even the albata filigree of a lowly MA. As a
short-trousered first-former, and I agree a touch Romantic, I took
Browning – with his ‘Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!’ –
and that ricochet off the book of Ecclesiastes – ‘…all is
vanity’ – somewhat to heart. What after all is ‘education’
but the remorseless hum of commerce? At seventeen I wrote a one-page
constitution, governing the life, aim and ideals of Wye’s
pantisocracy. The project was doomed, naturally, depending for
sovereignty on a deserted, disintegrating cottage just outside a tiny
settlement called Capel, where I was known and loved. That wider
kingdom sent in its head-shaking yeomanry, blued in look and uniform,
with arguments against my scheme. Their central thrust was the minor
matter of ownership. Our adopted country or cottage belonged to a
Medway vicar, while the ‘discovery’ of marijuana also helped
break up our experiment. This was one smoke-filled, winter afternoon,
when the sky was a blossom pink (as I looked out and up, through a
weald of elms).

I told Zob my qualification was as a computer scientist,
though I have only a BSc, so in terms of the actuality that wasn’t
entirely untrue. I watched him on that final black, which he’d
failed to spot was equidistant from two corner pockets, making
predictable the white as it holed itself too. Lucky we didn’t bet,
eh, Marsy? Amazingly our second interview took place in a grimy café
not far from his snooker club, and for a third he sent me to see his
agent Cornelius.

Meanwhile Zob, in his political infighting in the
brutish world of publishing, shows us his weakness for public
accolades. He attempts, aided by his agent, to bribe his way into
winning that prize of all prizes. That prize Wye can dismiss as a
typically English parochial thing, but important internationally
(apparently). Here Zob eventually comes unstuck, when a new and even
more mediocre novelist, Justin Simms, appears on the scene just as it
seems certain Zob will win. Simms has friends as powerful as Zob’s,
and at the last moment is poised to snatch the prize from under Zob’s
nose. Wye describes him thus, in his diary entry of April the 20th:

He was – and didn’t blush to hear it – of gentle
birth. Throughout his boyhood he tinkered with a red Bugatti, which
even before he was licensed he drove direct to Vire. He drove
circuitously back, upsetting the gendarmerie. His first efforts in
creative writing were naturally quite brilliant, winning him a prize.
In researching his debut novel Simms wanted to know what was all the
fuss about in post-industrial Britain? He lacerated his yachting
pumps, which had cost hundreds. He fished out his striped rugby
socks, his school wars fondly remembered. Some dungarees he had
sprayed the Bugatti in served as principal garment, all enhanced
authentically by a few days minus shaving tackle. The hair, bleached
by a long weekend in Key Largo – where he was best man at an old
chum’s wedding – well, those strands would just have to grow
themselves out. So apparelled Simms set a course into the
disintegrating streets of his and your metropolis. North of Oxford
Street he sang – this was outside the Cambridge, with its
early-evening throngs, where people pressed coins into his open palm.
He moved on to the Blue Posts, offering a fabricated life story to
its drinkers, or, he corrected, its drinkers outside under parasols –
who urged him away with cash. For his nights he acquired a polythene
wrap, into which he mummified himself, mostly in a doorway off the
Strand. From that he graduated to a cardboard coffin in the precincts
of Charing Cross. So on for a long three months, where his street
life gave him – a realism actually lived through – the germ of
his ‘powerful’ first novel. For most the palm was already his,
that thing so close to Zob’s own heart.

Agent Cornelius, now faced with having to earn his
commission, devises a five-to-six-point plan as to the problem of a
dangerous rival.

1 A declaration of ‘war’
is inadvisable, as that could put you in a vulnerable light.

2 Conciliation is a best
first step, with a public laudation, such as ‘Welcome, colleague’.

3 Open camaraderie between
you and the new boy. By that we mean friendly, professional rivalry.
This is the surest way to undermine the Crouch link. [Geraldine
Crouch chairs the prize committee].

4 Remember! Crouch is a
raging suffragette, and as yet no one has sounded out Simms on that
score. Ideally he’ll be unsympathetic.

5 Finally Simms was born
with money, and is bound to get bored with work. If so you might lead
the rest of us in regretting his premature retirement.

PS 6 Have a party. Invite
Simms, and Crouch. And me!

Preparations for that party are finalised by Wye, who is
co-opted to serve as wine waiter. The invitation list is a ragbag of
important, opinionated arts correspondents, commentators, reviewing
hacks, book editors, journalists, devotees, and a low-budget
filmmaker with options on Zob’s novels. Wye navigates his way
through the gossip, the backstabbing, the career talk, the clash of
egos, and has finally had enough when Shayle, the filmmaker, a
dejected-looking man, regales those gathered around him with a tale
of professional woes. Wye describes it as follows, in his entry of
June the 25th:

The sullen Shayle took one of three last glasses on my
salver. Symbolically Zob turned up then apologetically turned down
the central chandelier, via the dimmer switch. An escaping cramped
ellipse of light from a table lamp, in a burnt hue of burnt sugar,
illuminated an eye, a sallow cheek, an ear lobe, as Shayle began to
speak. He’d had a problem with extras – this on a shoot in
Exeter. I don’t propose to make doubly clear that his job is
largely low-grade entertainment, and that his lode is a TV production
house I have the foresight not to name. ‘It’s what you get,’ I
said, ‘for falling short of Equity rates’ – because, brothers
and sisters in servitude, picture the scene:

Director circles that particular section of supremely
pointless script where hero, an Italianate youth, whom ignorant
author has named Sancerre, enters private casino. Silence. Action.
There are six extras seated at each of three round tables, above
which gaffer has suspended lights from makeshift gantry. Dealers deal
cards onto green baize. This is draw poker, the rules of which are
not entirely grasped by all eighteen. Other props are: a Churchillian
cigar, numerous cigarettes, cold tea in whisky glasses, water for
gin, where only the lemon is genuine, and low-alcohol lager. None is
to be drunk, as no top-ups between takes. There is an imitation haze,
and several thousand pounds in sterling, all in bank notes (and
there, gentlemen, is the rub). There is one camera only, and this
means an interesting interplay of angles is, well, frankly
troublesome, and in the end a little nicety Shayle – already over
budget – decides to abandon. Sancerre strides to table where he
sees his great rival Anjou, and because the scriptwriter has no
grounding whatsoever in mathematical probability theory fleeces his
opponent, first with a full house, then a straight flush, finally
four of a kind. This – as I yawn – does not conclude the story.
The casino is folded up and put away. The players break up for
coffee. Those bank notes are counted. They are recounted. Then they
are endlessly recounted. Here we arrive at the brink of an
accusation, though directed at which of those eighteen? Or perhaps
the star Sancerre himself is underpaid…. Here I turn to the liver
surgeon, whose surprised left eye socket seems momentarily monocled.
‘Do please have this last glass,’ I say.

Wye, utterly bored, and irked at officiating all night
as Zob’s wine waiter, retreats from centre stage once most of the
guests are drunk and past caring. With Snell’s assistant Merle, who
is in the process of forming a breakaway agency, and is instrumental
in bringing his diary to publication, Wye and two other guests decamp
to the laundry room for a game of cards. He sums that up as follows:

How shall I wrap up this dismal scene? My departing
Muse, in a lightness of tread, and with that cool air of exile she
fans to my brow, has preached detachment. Gloria finished my bottle.
Giles – who stumbled on my semi-hidden stocks – suddenly usurped
my promotion to major-domo, at least insofar as Orphic revels needed
to be supervised. Ms Crouch and Miss Bloge processed through the
buffet lounge, where the former delivered her new tractate, Women
and the Priesthood
. Here I cannot take issue – without, that
is, looking stupidly solemn – when that whole charade was
essentially fun and games for the male of the species, a ‘poor
chap’ who sought to dignify his workhorse status with the magic
rain of mysticism (there I go: solemn). Flude, Snell and the
impeccable Simms picked at a raspberry-coloured pâté, and were
otherwise in conclave. Merle – star of my studded heaven – had
got Isabelle and Blandford into the laundry room, and needed only the
unsuspecting me for a hand of solo. Merle, my precious Merle! How
could I disagree with your abondance (or agree with your
misère)? It’s no matter. By two a.m. I had had enough,
therefore dissolve, I say, inebriate sprite! The smiling Wye could
find no right bid…

…for a twenty of diamonds…a duopoly of spade
queens…a quartet of black twos…

…and was it you, was it you who put me to bed, shoes
by the door, beige pantaloons overhanging my chair, shirt on a
hanger?

Merle!

The book plunges on through its rivalries, its artistic
and academic failures, its family feuds, through its master-slave
relationships, but does end on a bright note, when Wye is asked to
pen his conclusions. ‘Well now, let me think,’ he says. ‘In my
memoir of social decay, which has been after all the catalyst of
artistic regeneration, I shall start I suppose with a fatality. The
corpse, Glaze’s, is symbolic. Some time hence its transmogrified
mulch is the moving ground that the grandeur of a renascent
literature flourishes in. It shan’t be compacted – not by those
clumsy hobnails our many Marshall Zobs tramp in our world of printed
pages in.’ And abetted by Merle, off Wye goes to publish his diary.



Prologue, The Vagabond Lover, by Garry O’Connor

Autobiography Posted on Thu, June 01, 2017 09:22:48

The
Past is Bourgeois Propaganda

‘The
past is bourgeois propaganda,’ booms a deep voice in French from
the stage of Paris’s Odéon Theatre. I am participating after a
fashion in the May uprising of 1968. I have lived for some months in
a tiny maid’s room, eight flights up on the Île Saint-Louis,
happily exiled, insulated from reality, smiled upon by fate, blessed
and at the same time deprived. Most days I eat chicken necks and
gizzards served with rice at a corner café – and eye the
glittering and sexy world of Paris without taking much part.

My
English friends, Kate and her husband Robert, found it rather curious
I should be living all alone, doing a minimal amount of work, a bit
of teaching, a bit of translating, maybe one or two articles for a
newspaper, to get by, but they couldn’t see what I was carrying.
Nor could I, perhaps. I was an inner darkness, even to myself. I had
no why and wherefore, even about who I was. I was, in the words of
one of Dad’s songs, ‘wandering on life’s highway’, or perhaps
just desperately trying to avoid the past, with its mighty sucking
action.

What
my friends saw was the ostensibly self-sufficient outsider spreading
himself with all the comfort of a pasha in their smart rue Washington
flat. I defended the conditions of my life with the fervour of a
recluse, concealing even from myself that I was not built to
withstand solitude.

Often
when they teased me and I was walking across Paris, having refused
the offer of a lift back, I wondered why I was so forgiving of the
tiny, poky room in the Boulevard Henri IV. All the windows were
smashed along the corridor, and apart from the blast of air drying my
wet hands and face when my towel became too grimy, it had the
abominable trick of giving me vertigo when I passed gingerly along. I
had no head for heights, and even the vision of the opulent Tour
d’Argent on the bank nearby did not steady me. No doubt about it,
the room was a rat hole, with the bed sandwiched under the sloping
roof. The really intolerable factor was the loneliness. I had not the
simplicity to be truly alone.

It
was not so much the streets I dreaded, for there were always people
about, if only tramps, or police, or lovers. In the streets you could
always find detail, incident, while even the clochards swigging from
their starred bottles, drinking life’s bitterness to the dregs,
even they had the solace of the unceasing river, beside whose
primeval flow they pirouetted in grotesque capers. Even they,
unconsciously, by offsetting beauty, created art.

It
was the nights, sitting at that small rickety table in my room, or
lying on my back on the bed, watching the indigo cloud piling up and
deepening to black over the glittering Tour d’Argent, that I really
feared. I bought a second-hand book on cloud structures, for cloud
observation was about the only positive use to which my room could be
put, and tried to ward off despair, or wrote out epigraphs in bold,
heartening letters.

I
was intent on growing a thread, or filament, from some new tissue,
circumventing some obstacle, shaping some capacity as yet only dimly
glimpsed. What was it all about? And why? I didn’t know. And all
this while I was possessed by the image of Kate, with her
interminably deep blue eyes, her lovely and volatile nature. Even had
she been free, which she was not, she moved in a different orbit, a
glorious flaming sun, I being the burnt-out cinder of a planet, a
curled-up piece of toast caught in the grill.

Then
came the Odéon occupation. And I was there. The student leader,
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, popped up, red-headed, round and jovial, a
jack-in-the-box, or devil in a morality play, a Daniel Quilp. He knew
what to say, dwarfing the mellowed bust of Pascal, of La
Rochefoucauld. This was not the Sorbonne, where the uprising had
started, but the Théâtre de l’Odéon, which had been thrown like
a dog’s bone to the insurgents. Thousands of protesters crammed the
auditorium and the loges. The stage was so jammed it was a wonder the
worn and creaking boards stood the weight.

Everyone
talked at once. It was forbidden to forbid. Everything was equal.
They were screaming at a middle-aged professor that he was a
sélectioniste’ – he favoured selecting students to
follow a university course. Shouting that his other crime was of not
being working-class, they started to threaten him with blows.

‘Let
the professor explain himself, and if we think he’s a bastard we’ll
tell him “Monsieur Blanc, you are a bastard!”’

Monsieur
Blanc spoke at length but no one bothered with what he said, and soon
a murmur grew and it silenced him. By now it was so stuffy I thought
I would faint. People left for fear of suffocating. I explored
backstage. At the back was an eerie, dark little passage leading down
one side of the stage to the other. Underneath was hollow. Perhaps
the floor really would not hold! What if three or four hundred people
went crashing down into the chasm? I came back. Everyone now talked
at once. Order does not exist; licence was without licence: there
were not two sides to any question but twenty – fifty, a hundred.
There was no person in the chair – no master or mistress of
ceremonies – it would be a symbol of hierarchy, of oppression.
Every blade of grass had a tongue. Everything was equal. Everyone had
a right to the truth, and to voice an opinion. Was this a foretaste
of the twenty-first century, with its Twitter and Facebook rule, with
its faction-ridden societies and nations?

Actors
tried to speak – neat, well-shaven, ordinary men and women;
musicians, artists – the latter with the beards of anarchists. Over
and over again they told each other that bourgeois culture was dead.

The
Odéon – a symbol of repression – had been seized. They were
delirious. Now it, too, was dead. Henceforth it would be a political
forum. Malraux, Barrault, Renaud, Claudel, Messiaen, Boulez, these
great names of French culture – they no longer existed. ‘One
doesn’t compose with a society in decomposition.’ ‘Long live
communication. Down with telecommunication.’ Maybe this really was
a new beginning. What had André Malraux, Minister of Culture, once
said? ‘Christ: an anarchist who succeeded. That’s all!’ What
did he say about the twenty-first century, that it would either be ‘a
century of religion, or not at all’.

During
the next hours of night and day while discussions raged on I visited
other parts. Dressing rooms had been turned into kitchens or
dormitories. I tiptoed from room to room sometimes fearful that I
might provoke the numerous and naked two-backed beasts copulating
over or under blankets. No one seemed much bothered that I was there
to see them. Shame? They had abolished that. Others pounded tall
typewriters, issuing slogans, directives. Grim-faced militants in
rimless spectacles, bald, bearded men under banners mesmerised me.
‘the more i make revolution the more i make love.’ Next day I was
still there and I couldn’t leave.

The
real beneficiaries of revolt appeared. ‘You’ll get the plague if
you stay,’ Katie warned before she left, for she had been there to
begin with, begging me not to stay. ‘All that filth. There’ll be
rats. You’ll see….’

I
laughed in disbelief, but then they appeared. Great brown things,
their bodies could be seen bobbling among the filth accumulating
under the stage. Above, and in the auditorium, the great debates on
class, on Marxism, on poverty, on the great new future, continued
without halt. Backstage the dressing rooms overflowed with stench.
First used for rutting, they became a cesspit. Vandalism was rife,
obscenities scrawled everywhere, light fixtures broken, mirrors
cracked, costumes and make-up strewn over everything. In the costume
stores there was even worse havoc. At first these had stayed locked –
until broken into from the skylights above. The theatre’s director,
Jean-Louis Barrault, France’s greatest actor, looked in to see what
was happening, made a speech supporting the students, and then left
weeping. Half the seats had been torn up. Later, for having shown
sympathy, he was relieved of his post.

Then
walking down a corridor, I found myself seized from behind.

My
assailants were two blond men, naked to the waist, scarves tied round
their necks and army fatigue caps on their heads. Their grip was like
steel and it was useless to resist. Anyway they had a purpose so they
propelled me in a certain direction.

‘Where
the hell are you taking me?’

They
didn’t answer but pushed open doors ahead with their feet. They
looked older than the students, and were military professionals.
Breathless with fear and exertion, ‘I work for an English paper’
was about all I managed to say. I freelanced for the Financial
Times
. ‘Who cares?’ said one of them. ‘We were told.’

A
room where hundreds of seventeenth-century costumes for Molière and
Racine lay scattered had become a parlour for clochards. ‘Parlez-moi
d’amour….
Je vois la vie en rose….’ they quavered
and warbled. The brutal-looking, gap-toothed men from the Île
Saint-Louis and old women who pushed prams from which dangled brown
stockings of uneven length, laughed and waved. Godot had arrived.
Estragon and Vladimir had infiltrated the headquarters of Phèdre and
Harpagon.

The
next store was a ‘medical centre’ – so one captor told me: on
duty there was a motley collection of half a dozen lunatics in white
coats. They seemed more like junkies or members of the Living Theatre
who toured with a cast running naked up and down the aisles. In the
middle of the largest of costumes stores was an odd assortment of
weapons. Crowbars, axes – the theatre fire axes – cudgels,
chains, chunks of masonry, and what I took to be Molotov cocktails.
We had reached the inner sanctum. The arsenal. My first inclination
was to laugh – more from nerves than anything else.

‘Who
are you?’ I asked.

There
were between twenty and twenty-five of them. The leader was
dark-haired, his hair close-cropped and thinning, cut to give an
appearance of firmness. His forehead was lined – not by thought, I
guessed, but by screwing his eyes up in extreme heat and glare. He
was a big fellow, over six foot, and looked fit. He had narrow, small
eyes, darting with the threat that he could be very nasty if crossed.

‘You
must be the Katangais,’ I said. I had heard of them. They were
mercenaries, now on leave, and with no employer. They got their name
from the fact that some of them had been in Katanga – but others
fought in Korea, Algeria, and Indo-China. Wherever a dirty war needed
to be fought, they fought it, the dirtier the better.

‘We
heard the call of the students,’ the leader answered slowly,
chewing over his words. He spoke mildly enough – as if playing down
the violent side. ‘As we haven’t any education, we decided to
join in and place our physical strength at the service of the
revolution.’

‘The
pay here can’t be very good.’

I
regretted saying this: it slipped out without my meaning it. But I
had cast a slur on their altruism, and I would be beaten for it, so I
braced myself for blows. Surprisingly, they did not seem to mind.

‘There
isn’t much work around for us at the moment,’ grumbled one.

‘So
how do you envisage your role in the revolution?’ I asked somewhat
more cautiously now – although they seemed ready enough to chat.

‘We
have founded the CIR,’ says their leader. The CIR, he explained,
was the ‘Committee of Rapid Intervention’.

‘But
why do you come here, to the theatre?’

At
this they went silent, and appeared to rumble with bellicose
intention. I had better not press the question.

‘Please,
what do you want with me?’ I asked.

‘You
must stay with us,’ he answered,’ In case there is trouble.’

His
purpose was plain. I was a hostage.

They
brought food – a baguette that was slightly stale and tasted
rubbery – and some cheese – and poured out wine. The enormity of
my trap grew on me, for the siege might go on forever. Yes, the
government had thrown the dog a bone and were waiting till he grew
tired of it.

The
nights were worst because I couldn’t sleep. I rocked myself
backwards and forwards on the mound of costumes that was my bed, but
it did no good. The dark had captured my brain. What if I myself
dissolved in the dark?

I
fought against the darkness. I listened to the sounds outside – and
inside my head. Sometimes the rain outside was fierce. I closed my
eyes. Several times my nervous condition dominated. So it went on –
and then I fell asleep and had this dream.

I’m
waiting for my dad to come on stage. I’m about six years old –
the wide-eyed boy. And I’m sitting in the front seats of the dingy
brown, upholstered stalls of the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road,
about to watch Mum’s powerful lover – the embodiment of every
woman’s dreams. You – the Vagabond Lover – are about to stride
out to bask in the glow of ambers and reds, and capture the hearts of
a thousand attentive watchers and listeners.

I
wriggle a bit but am rapt. But I have butterflies in my stomach.
Jerry is still, where he can, bombing the hell out of provincial
cities and ports – and sometimes London too. Air-raid sirens have
warned earlier as Heinkels and Dorniers pass over the suburbs. Maybe
they’ll be back.

Arms
linked, legs kicking, tits thrusting out, the dance duo before yours
comes wheeling, gasping and clattering off, like some monster gone
half mad and out of control.

It’s
your turn. Top of the bill. The act everyone’s been waiting for.
The big star. Beside me Mum sharply takes in breath, her eyes shining
and full of happiness as she composes herself with pleasure.

Ever
since I can remember Mum would say, ‘Come on, you’ve got to watch
your father’ (she, from a different class than his, always called
him ‘your father’).

So
I’d seen your act a hundred times – if not more. But I’m not
just sitting here, watching you; without me knowing you’ve become
so much a part of me, the deepest part. My dad. So I’m here, not
only out front, but with you in the wings, ready to go on before you
do – inside you, as you’re about to stride out into the lights….

The
pit band plays a chorus of your signature tune, ‘I’m only a
strolling Vagabond’ – a big cheer of recognition – and then out
you stride onto the stage looking as if nothing mattered to you,
throwing half a smile up to the circle as if you’ve spotted some
old friend there, and this has caught your attention far more than
the other thousand-odd members of the house.

By
many such little tricks, I knew and could see later, they’d be
captured by you and listen. If you can get them sufficiently at ease
with themselves, they’ll let go and float easily off into the
dreamy fabric of your songs—


I’m
bound for the hills and the valleys beyond


So
good night pretty maiden, goodnight.


I
follow Fortune that beckons me on


I
catch at her skirts and the lady is gone


But
that’s just my lot, if so right….

Your
clothes help the informality. The Strolling Vagabond against a
backcloth of lanes and trees in the far distance, farm horses and
hills, a blue sky, endless peace. A wooden stile for you to lean
against and place your foot upon. A tree trunk as a seat.

You
finish the chorus of your song. We all clap. Violent and sustained
applause. I wave at you, Dad, and you smile, motion for the audience
to be silent. ‘Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,’ you
declare in your lilting, stage-Irish voice.

‘And
now if I may I’d like to sing you an old favourite by that most
illustrious of song writers, Irving Berlin – “When I Leave the
World Behind”.’

Cheers.
Applause again. The song was well known. Effortlessly your voice
glides and coasts over the colourful orchestrations.


I’m
not a millionaire


Who’s
burdened down with care


Somehow
that’s passed me by…
.

But
Dad, you are – in my and everyone’s estimation! A millionaire!
Suddenly I’m frightened. What if the Heinkels and Dorniers on their
way back to Germany swarm over North London again? And what if
searchlights stab the darkness, outlining hundreds of gleaming insect
structures packed under the roof of the sky, and guns lick out red
tongues at the night? What if the Germans drop their bombs on us?

Would
you pack it in? If a stick of bombs made a direct hit on or near the
Met, with the air-raid sirens caught unawares and no warning given,
would you stop singing? Never. You would go on singing regardless.

But
what of the little boy sitting there, watching you? Would the song go
on for him – and forever?

I
woke up. The vast inside of the Odéon lay empty, desecrated,
battered – like some fetid, yawning mouth. It seemed irredeemably
fouled: the exhaust gases of idealism and spontaneous expression. The
theatre’s ghosts had suffered wholesale extermination.

The
CRS and gendarmes had surrounded the theatre; they were helmeted and
armed with teargas grenades. The word had gone round that the Odéon
would be reoccupied by the authorities.

‘What
will happen?’ I asked one of my guards.

He
sighed. He was unmoved. ‘Negotiations….’

‘No
fighting? No last-ditch stand? What’s happened to the spirit of
Katanga?’

‘Jackie’s
not negotiating with the police,’ he answered tetchily, ‘he’s
negotiating with the television and film people. Americans are
offering a big fee.’

‘But
how much would you ask – to put up some resistance to the police?’

The
other dropped his usual air of lassitude. ‘Why? Can you pay?’

Once
a mercenary, always a mercenary. He was about to go and fetch the
others.

‘No,’
I said, ‘I’m penniless. It’s purely an academic question.’

The
guard shrugged.

A
voice we could just about hear floated up from a loudhailer outside.
‘Let those who want come out, do it now! You will be free if you
leave without weapons, and without any bellicose intentions.’

I
looked at my captors.

‘Where
does that leave me?’

‘Shut
up! I told you we have to await the results of negotiations. Jackie’s
down there now.’

Another
Katangais put his head round the door.

‘Come
on: the order has come through. We’re going!’

‘What
about him?’ asked my guard, meaning me.

‘He’s
nothing to do with us now.’

I
beat the Katangais to the exit, and hid by the pillar of an arch to
watch. They emerged clean, well-shaven, their clothes crisp and
pressed. They walked upright, without looking at anyone. In the
street quite a crowd had collected. The Katangais presented their
papers to the police control and marched off without a word.

In
the square, top police brass had assembled: prefects, sub-prefects,
stood to attention as everyone left. The mayor complimented the
police on the ‘cleansing of the public building’. Then an officer
in plain clothes climbed out on the roof of the Odéon and removed
the red and black flags. The French tricolour soon fluttered again
over the weather vane, but there had been no time to erase the ‘Ex’
prefixed to the ‘Théâtre de France’ on the entablature.

In
the rue Casimir Delavigne a young man opened a window on the second
floor, and started jeering and shouting: it needed all his father’s
strength to grab him and haul him back inside.

What
was the significance of my dream? Was the contrast of it with the
stinking theatre pointing to a path I would have to follow in the
future? Was this what destiny had in store?

Dad
was after me, had pursued me even to Paris. And he would continue to
be after me, relentlessly, until I turned to confront him. Would I
have the courage to investigate his life, find out all I could about
him, all there was to know? Had I resources enough to tackle the
central part of the mystery? And could I present him as he was,
expose him to the world?

A
line from a poem drifted into my head. ‘O maison, où donc est
ton maître
?’



The Vagabond Lover, by Garry O’Connor

Autobiography Posted on Mon, March 20, 2017 14:40:33

Publication date 3 April 2017. A racy, opinionated and highly entertaining account of life, loves and gossip in the English theatre since the 1960s, centred on and contrasted with a moving account of the writer’s famous and very much more strait-laced father, the Variety singer Cavan O’Connor.

‘The backstage story of one of Britain’s most popular entertainers told by the son who made his own way in a world his father never knew. Cavan O’Connor’s boy has written an enthralling family biography, full of gossip, wise insights and fascinating revelations.’ Sir Ian McKellen

The Vagabond Lover incorporates eight pages of photographs of the Cavan O’Connor era and milieu. Click here to view.



Across the Rebel Network, by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Wed, December 14, 2016 12:00:27

Anno centres a federated Europe in an
uncertain, and not-too-distant digital future, when politics, the
media and mass communications have fused into one amorphous whole.

He works for the Bureau of
Data Protection (BDP), a federal government department responsible
for monitoring the full range of material, in all media, posted into
cyberspace. The BDP is forced to do this when rebel states are
seceding, small satellites once of the federation but now at a remove
from it, economically and socially. A handful of organised outsiders
threatens to undermine the central state through a concerted
propaganda war, using the federation’s own digital infrastructure.
It is this climate of mutual suspicion that to Anno makes inevitable
decades of digital guerrilla warfare. While his department takes
steps to prevent this, he doesn’t reckon on the intervention of his
old college sparring partner, Craig Diamond, who is now a powerful
media mogul. The two engage in combat conducted through cyberspace,
in a rare concoction of literary sci-fi.

Across
the Rebel Network
is published by CentreHouse Press and is
available in print format. Retails at all the usual places, including
Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books, Barnes and Noble.



Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? by Peter Cowlam

Fiction Posted on Wed, December 14, 2016 11:52:02

Winner
of the 2015 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. For Alistair Wye,
assistant to ‘top’ novelist Marshall Zob, Zob makes just two
mistakes. First, he plans a commemorative book celebrating the life
and work of his dead mentor, John Andrew Glaze, whose theory of
‘literary time’ is of dubious philosophical pedigree. Second, Zob
turns the whole literary world on its head through the size of
advance he instructs his agent to negotiate for his latest, and most
mediocre novel to date.

Secretly
Wye keeps a diary of Zob’s professional and private life. Comic,
resolute, Wye stalks through its every page, scattering his pearls
with an imperious hand, while an unsuspecting Zob ensures perfect
conditions for the chronicles satire.

Set in the relatively safe remove of London’s beau
monde in the early 1990s, Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?
unremittingly debunks the phenomenon of literary celebrity.

The plot revolves round a researcher working through an
archive of computer discs, emails and faxes, and his own diary
recording his reactions to life in proximity of bookish heavyweight
Marshall Zob. It’s a roaring satire, in the best English comedic
tradition.

Who’s
Afraid of the Booker Prize?
is published by CentreHouse Press and
is available in print format. Retails at all the usual places,
including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books, Barnes and Noble.



Debussy Was My Grandfather, by Garry O’Connor

Dramatic Writing Posted on Tue, December 13, 2016 12:34:58

Under the one title are brought together two plays
by the critically acclaimed Garry O’Connor, Debussy Was My
Grandfather
and The Madness of Vivien Leigh.

A theme common to both is the emotional
and psychological turmoil underneath the veil of public careers, with
an uncompromising look at the undercurrents: the dysfunction of
domestic/family life, in all its anguish and floridity. There’s a
nicely judged balance between art in its moments of transcendence,
and the reality underpinning it, with a flawed humanity put to the
service of art. It’s a theme O’Connor has explored in a
substantial body of work as novelist, biographer and playwright…

Praise for The Madness of Vivien Leigh:

‘The mythology of one of the
century’s most celebrated marriages…a brilliantly perceptive
portrait.’ The Observer

‘With real insight O’Connor
gets plausibly close to what made Olivier and wife tick as artists…a
penetrating, utterly objective mind at work. Irish Times

‘Compulsive…the pair who
were Charles and Di, Torville and Dean, Tragedy and Comedy, Scylla
and Charybdis all rolled into one.’ Vogue

Debussy Was My Grandfather is published by
CentreHouse Press and is available in print format. Retails at all
the usual places, including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books,
Barnes and Noble.



Naked Woman, by Garry O’Connor

Dramatic Writing Posted on Tue, December 13, 2016 11:28:43

Under the one title Naked Woman are brought
together two plays by the critically acclaimed Garry O’Connor. The
first, Semmelweis, is a victim play in the Tennessee Williams
tradition, and the second, De Raptu Meo, is a theatrical
re-creation of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his times.

Semmelweis is from the start in a trap
set by his own character and his overriding passion for truth. But
his is a story of crushing disappointment, having parallels today,
especially in medicine. To see flaws in the system, and to speak out
against cover-ups and vested interest, invites pariah status and a
ruthless sweeping aside in the relentless drive for conformity and
profit.

De Raptu Meo, as Libby Purves pointed out in
her review, exposes the relativity of truth we find in contemporary
culture, which she has contrasted with events surrounding English
poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who faced, in Richard II’s reign, the
accusation of rape. Present society is awash with stories of sexual
abuse as no other age has been. Here is a take on that subject, with
the audience asked to participate in Chaucer’s trial as if the
jury, and at the end give a verdict as to whether or not he was
guilty of the crime.

Semmelweis was first performed at the
Edinburgh Festival, and De Raptu Meo had its first reading in
Inner Temple, with Derek Jacobi in the part of Geoffrey Chaucer, and
its first full performance in the same venue with Ian Hogg in the
lead role.

Naked Woman is published by CentreHouse
Press and is available in print format. Retails at all the usual
places, including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Word Power Books, Barnes and
Noble
.



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