Monday, April 21, 2008

English trash in Belgian bins

Godfrey Mason, an Englishman with a very Flemish walrus moustache, runs the English Bookshop at Ajuinlei 15, Gent, Belgium. It’s prima facie as good as any in Bristol or London, but I choose to judge second hand bookshops on an esoteric evaluation of the contents of their bargain bins. Anyone can work out which buzz-authors to feature prominently in a display window; a solid working knowledge of the truly worthless publication is a different matter altogether. Best-selling titles by Danielle Steele and Virginia Andrews may clutter the shelves in multiple copies but these are not bargain binners. These hacks will continue to be read by generations. Pulp horrors by Guy N. Smith and Shaun Hutson will always be picked up by people like me for their camp, violent content and wonderfully lurid covers. And Stephen King is a good writer who deserves to be read. No, the rain-lashed pavement bargain-bin is a unique and oddly complex world. Its contents are by necessity painfully dated and drearily obsolete. It is a damp, depressing, yellowed hinterland of specifically useless old shit.

Here’s some of the results of Mr. Mason’s decisions:

Scandal! – Janet Street Porter

-I couldn’t get past her face on the cover to tell you what this one was about. (One feels obliged to talk in the past tense about something so anachronistic and downright vulgar)

Survivor – A Tribute to Cliff – Tony Jasper

-This is a book about Cliff Richard.

The Secret Life Of Sooty – Geoff Tibballs with foreword by George Harrison

-Sooty was a hand puppet bear operated by Harry Corbett, and later, his son Matthew Corbett, on the British children’s television programme The Sooty Show. The irrelevance of this volume cannot be overstated.

Surrey Walks: An Illustrated Guide – Walter Jerrold

-This book was published in 1907. The illustrations are hand-drawn. I grew up in Surrey, and I’m afraid that Mr. Jerrold would be most disappointed to hear that so many of his favourite haunts are buried deep beneath the M25 Orbital. “A most refreshing diversion into the village of Chessington may be attained via the Pilgrim’s Way…” etc. Nope. Not any more pal.

Advanced Microwave Cooking For All Occasions – Harriet Anderson
-Variations on this delusory theme are available everywhere.

Inside the shop the shelves bulge in elegance and order with sections on the paranormal (“In Search of Lake Monsters” by Peter Costello stands out as a sober and scholarly work among countless manifestly incorrect prophecies of Armageddon for the year 2000); killing people on the sly (“Ninja Secrets Of Invisibility – An Illustrated Manual” by Ashida Shim; contains loads of photos of men not knowing there are ninjas standing behind them); the age of steam, deep sea diving, prison camps, fiction, gambling, geography and economics (“Who Owns London” by Shirley Green – answer: the Queen, the City Corporation, some Aristocracy and a bunch of oligarch ex-Soviet double agents, but she stretched it out a bit). In short, Mr. Mason runs a very well-stocked and charming English book shop in Europe and he knows exactly what to throw away. How did I go about thanking Mr. Mason for this rare pleasure? I have brought seven books on tour with me and read none of them. You can’t digest much of substance when the world is hurtling past you at 80 mph. It’s a well-documented problem, hence the recommendation of ‘page-turners’ and ‘holiday reading’. I sheepishly left the shop with a 3 euro copy of "Nemesis" by Shaun Hutson. I paid with a 50 euro note. Sorry Mr. Mason. I should have bought the book about Sooty as well. I can now think of a number of friends who would have found it briefly amusing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Busines as usual

I am a sensitive man. It doesn't take much to move me. The whole film could have consisted of millions of fascist aristocrats defecating into an open sewer, but in the the trusty hands of Australian classical guitarist John Williams, Stanley Myer's theme tune 'Cavatina' has me sobbing my feet out of my of mouth. The signature masterpiece crops up regularly in the film, each time reminding you that you are a very emotional person and that this film is going to affect you on a fundamental level. Isn't Meryl Streep good? Yep, she's just great. It's a bit bloody slow isn't it? Yeah, it is a bit. Robert De Niro is cool. Weird how Christopher Walken already looks dead. Heigh ho. Then suddenly they are in the shit, being tortured by the Viet Cong with a routine sadism that is barely comprehensible. Robert De Niro initiates a heroic yet somehow credible escape from this hell hole, Christopher Walken subsequently goes bonkers and gets into Russian Roulette. De Niro tries to bring him back to Pensylvania. It doesn't work. You know what happens next.
One of my friends and I considered viewing this film as a masochistic rite of passage to be repeated on a regular basis. Whenever anyone asked 'what shall we watch then?' we would suggest ‘The Deerhunter’. It's been a while since i posted a proper blog entry, and seemed like a ripe old time to catch up with my fave Vietnam flick. Two minutes in, one single glimpse of Christoper Walken's wet, lost-doe eyes and we have switched channels and put on Brian Eno's 'Music For Airports'. The film had been showing on Channel 4; 4 Plus 1 shows the same daily schedule of programs slightly later. At some point, with my companion and I lost in Legoland, I roll off the bed, fall on the zapper, switch channels and see Christopher Walken blow his brains out. Seemingly trapped in a horrific, endless time-loop of Michael Cimino's making, we stumble out into the kitchen and one of us throws up.
Next week: Watching 'Irreversible' on Dextromethorphan