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Tony Grist

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The Seven Amethysts [Feb. 7th, 2016|10:48 am]
Tony Grist
This is a dream that insisted- even as I was dreaming it- that it should be turned into blank verse...

The Seven Amethysts

I got to speak with a friend of his-
A smart old man in a soft, cloth cap-
Who said, "He owned a silver cup
With seven amethysts round the foot
That he'd take with him to public meetings,
Put on the desk and keep topped up
With whisky from a flask. One time
He chucked the contents into the crowd
And the heckler he was aiming at
Ostentatiously licked his wrist
And said,'It's water.'" "Well, why not?"
I asked." But my informant's eyes
Turned hard. "Not possible!" he snapped,
"Not possible!" He wasn't a man
You argued with so I demurred,
And, mollified, he carried on.
"The day he died," he said, "Was a day
In early spring. He hadn't been ill.
And the next door neighbour said she met him
Turning in at his garden gate
And he told her that he'd work to do,
Cheerful, like. Next day we found him
Face down on floor, with the cup
As if it had rolled from his hand. You can see
The impression in the carpet still.
And all seven amethysts were missing."
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Slade House: David Mitchell [Feb. 6th, 2016|09:38 am]
Tony Grist
This is Mitchell getting to play with the train set he constructed in The Bone Clocks. It's the shortest, slightest but perhaps most purely entertaining of his novels. He avoids the word but basically it's all about vampires.
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Better Late Than Never [Feb. 5th, 2016|09:17 pm]
Tony Grist
Most of my life I've eaten my root vegetables boiled. It is- I suppose- the English way- also the quickest- but recently I've learned the way to concentrate the flavour and make them actually worth eating is to roast them
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Self Portrait As Donald Trump [Feb. 5th, 2016|11:28 am]
Tony Grist
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John Bratby At The Jerwood [Feb. 4th, 2016|07:11 pm]
Tony Grist
In his heyday John Bratby was the most famous living English painter; by the end of his life he was all but forgotten. He died in 1992 on a Hastings street on his way back home from the chippie.

The Jerwood's retrospective- the first since that very English demise- shows why his career took the shape it did. He begins as a visionary of the everyday, painting kitchen tables, boxes of cornflakes, his wife and children- whatever happens to be around- with expressionist intensity- as if he can see the molecules swirling away beneath the skin. The lines are thick and black, the colours earthy and the paint smushed on straight from the tube. He is prolific, he likes working on a big scale, he provides the artwork for the film The Horses Mouth and teaches its star, Alec Guinness, how to handle a brush and palette knife. He powers his way through a couple of decades, paints Arthur Askey (sweetly), paints Paul McCartney (also sweetly), then leaves his wife, has a groovy mid-life affair with a younger woman and the colours turn fauve- but not very convincingly so (he was never a colourist) and the energy goes out the window. He remarries, paints pictures of Venice and lives out his latter years in an uxorious fug of sex and cider. The pictures of the 50s and 60s feel like they needed to be painted, the later ones don't. Discontent can fuel an artist. Perhaps the problem was he got to be too happy.
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Get Back In Time For The Weekend [Feb. 3rd, 2016|01:54 pm]
Tony Grist
A modern family is taken back in time to live in a 1950s bubble. It's been done before with food; this time the focus was leisure. They got the look of it right, but otherwise...

I don't remember my father spending his time in the shed doing DIY. He kept a lot of tools but he hardly ever used them. Plus he didn't have a shed.

Doing the washing may have been a chore, but it was a once weekly chore. I remember a clothes rack hanging in the kitchen. We ate out meals in its shadow. The TV family didn't have one of those.

Middle class families (and this was a middle-class family we were following) hired working class women to do the bulk of the housework. The mother in the TV show complained of being tied to the kitchen sink, but my mother got out of the house a lot; she went to the shops - which usually involved a cuppa and a cake in a Lyons Corner House- visited her mother at least once a week, took tea with friends and neighbours, walked the dog, paid regular visits to the library. Everyone walked more than they do now, but we had a car (my mother drove- as did my two grandmothers) and if we hadn't have had a car the buses were reliable.

Something the people who talk about the 50s tend to forget is that this was a generation of young adults who had lived through the war. They were toughies. Both my parents had been in uniform.

And where was the radio? We listened to the radio all the time. Music, soaps (the Archers and Mrs Dale's Diary) comedy shows like The Navy Lark, quiz shows, current affairs. Radio was the river we swam in.

I don't remember being under that much pressure to go to church. My mother and father weren't regular attenders. Lots of curtain twitching? Not on our street.

I was free to wander the streets and the surrounding countryside- as middle-class kids mainly aren't these days- but I hated being in the Cubs and avoided uniforms and tents and camp fires and all that shit as much as I possibly could. Mine was a Just William existence, mooching about, playing games that generally involved replica firearms and so on and so forth. Where was the TV kid's cap gun? I had an arsenal of the things. And where were all his other toys? I had an army of plastic soldiers; one of the cheaper figures cost sixpence- and that's what my pocket money mostly went on. Then what about hobbies? I collected stamps, tea-cards, made model aircraft. Also I read a lot. All the TV kid had to amuse himself with was one sodding jig-saw.

This was the 1950s as re-imagined by people who grew up in the 70s. It comprehensively illustrated the difficulty of getting into the mindset of a past era- even a very recent one. It showed why historical novels and movies have to be taken with a very big pinch of salt. If you weren't actually there you'll never know what it was like.
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Off The Top Of My Head [Feb. 3rd, 2016|10:32 am]
Tony Grist
One can sleep too much- and I think I must have done so last night because my brain feels like something you'd stuff a cushion with.

Our daffodils- or perhaps they're narcissi- are in bloom. I pointed this out to my mother with a comment about them being early and she said, ""Not necessarily. I think they're a variety called February Gold." Funny the things she remembers...

Conan Doyle reassembled the cast from The Lost World for several other stories. In The Poison Belt they sit in a sealed room with oyygen cylinders, make sexist and racist remarks, discuss the afterlife and watch as every living thing succumbs to something horrid in the atmosphere. It's like Breughel's Triumph of Death updated to the machine age. There are train crashes, golfers keel over on the putting green, Brighton burns. Brighton? Yes, because the sealed room is in Rotherfield- a Sussex village we visited last year. I know a nice pub in Rotherfield...
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The Bone Clocks: David Mitchell [Feb. 2nd, 2016|02:13 pm]
Tony Grist
David Mitchell writes short stories and then interweaves them so they turn into novels- and now it's apparent- seven books in- that he's also interweaving all his novels so they'll turn into a comedie humaine- covering not just one society (as with Balzac) but the whole of the planet and the entire history of civilisation. This is an admirable thing to be doing and fun for the reader- who has the pleasure- on a par with crossword puzzling or sudoku- of working out how the parts fit together- and spotting characters that have turned up elsewhere in the oeuvre.

When the whole construction is finally assembled- which may be never- because who can predict when death will come calling or inspiration fail?- The Bone Clocks is going to be seen as the keystone of the arch. It's here that Mitchell finally gets to explain in some detail how reincarnation and functional immortality- concepts which structure his fiction (when characters recur they may not always do so in the same body)- actually work in this universe of his. This is a dangerous thing to be doing for two reasons- firstly because he risks boring or annoying his reader-something he avoids by mixing in some high-octane, cinematically-styled, paranormal action- and secondly because there's the danger that a mystery which looks deep when only hinted at may seem a little trite when fully exploded- and this he hasn't entirely manage to dodge. If Balzac is his competition- and what seriously ambitious novelist wouldn't want to go mano a mano with Balzac?- then the Frenchman- in Seraphina- is the greater, more instinctive, better informed metaphysician. On the other hand, Balzac has fewer explosions and paranormal light sabre duels.
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More Of The Same [Feb. 1st, 2016|11:48 am]
Tony Grist
Trump has all the characteristics of an over-indulged toddler- egomania, greed, spite. Thwart him and he sulks; try to reason with him and he spits. I picture him in a romper suit and soiled nappy, sitting on the floor, surrounded by his busted toys, yelling his little head off.

God knows what sort of president he'd make. He's firing off wild promises- all Muslims banned from entering the States, a wall between the States and Mexico, Isis defeated in one fell swoop- without any consideration of the cost, logistics and diplomatic and social repercussions.

But his followers aren't thinking ahead. They're enjoying the show. They want to see the political system smashed into little bits- and Trump is saying he'll do it for them.

Trump is vile, but his followers aren't. They're just folk. They're bored and dis-satisfied and they'll follow any flag they feel is going in vaguely the right direction. I'm not saying Trump is the new Hitler (Hitler was much smarter, understood politics and had a formidable organisation behind him) but there are parallels. People feel frustrated and angry. A leader appears who can command a podium and they fall in love with him. Once that connection has been made there's no reasoning with them. They're like people caught up in a fandom. Explain to a fan the multiple shortcomings of the thing they love- Star Wars, for instance, and they'll go, "Yes, we know all that- we don't like Ja-Ja either- but look, it's Star Wars!" And so with Trump. His fans aren't asking whether his policies make any sense or why his hair looks so weird- because they've surrendered themselves to the collective. I've often wondered what it was the German masses saw in Hitler- when he was obviously such a dick. But I'm watching Trump go from strength to strength and it's the same phenomenon. When a movement gathers a certain momentum the dickishness of the leader ceases to matter.
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I'm Beginning To Think He Has A Chance [Jan. 31st, 2016|12:18 pm]
Tony Grist
We get bored so easily. We may think we crave an easy life- roses round the cottage door and all that- but we don't really. We're the species that set out from the Rift Valley- however many millions years ago it was- and kept on going and kept on going, always hungry to see what lay over the next rise- and if we came to a river we invented boats and if we came to a sea we invented bigger boats- until in the end there wasn't a place on the planet we hadn't settled. We crave the new, we crave adventure- and there's never been a war that most of us didn't gladly plunge into- shouting whatever battle cry came most readily to hand.

And so millions of us are voting for the likes of Donald Trump. It's not the sensible thing to do, not the safe thing, but it's exciting. The man may be ridiculous- and palpably nasty- but at least he's not dull.

Trump's followers may think of themselves as conservatives, but they're not. The human race isn't wired for conservatism, it's wired to take risks- and that's what these conservatives are doing. They're backing the loose cannon, the unsafe pair of hands, the man who seems to love to make enemies. Even though they'd be unlikely to acknowledge it, what they're asking for is trouble.
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