Imaginary cities: Darran Anderson. (2015) Influx Press
T. Dan Smith: A funny thing happened on the way to Utopia. An Amber Film. (1987)
I am constantly trying to work out what it is I am doing in creating good companions. I have started reading ‘Imaginary Cities’, by Darran Anderson, and came across this:
‘Fragments of the real are retained, though they evolve…to fit hindsight and are juxtaposed with memories of dreams and thoughts and memories of memories. We are unreliable narrators, even to ourselves.’ [quoted from Kindle sample - I am going to buy a copy, honest!]
As with previous ‘goodcompanionsaround’, I am creating an an imaginary place. AroundNewcastle is being developed thorugh perception and memory; mine, and my perceptions of the good companions’ perceptions of place (largely Jack Common, literature and film related to T.Dan Smith and possibly Robert Westall’s ‘The Machine Gunners’) .
It was great to come across the news that a short story by Jack Common is being re-published in a new Penguin anthology. The story, 'Nineteen', was last published in 1931. I haven't read it but will be getting my hands on the 'Penguin Book of the British Short Story' as soon as I can. More news on Jack Common can be found in this link to the Chronicle. Jack Common will be featuring in my next Goodcompanionaround, hopefully to be published on this website in the new year.
The Daily Mirror and Unite the Union are urging people to sign the petition to Save Our Steel. I urge you too. Please click on the link below to find out more.
Save our Steel
I am reading Jack Common’s 1951 novel, Kiddar’s Luck. My copy was published in 1975 in Newcastle by Frank Graham. The novel resides within a cartoon dust cover depicting street life, possibly in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne. The cartoon characters resemble depictions of working class people from British films of the 1950’s rather than the pre-World War One characters Jack Common writes about. Kidder’s luck shares the space within this dust jacket with Jack Common’s other famous novel, ‘The Ampersand’. If there was any justice each novel would be separately bound within beautiful leather covers complete with gilt lettering. if there was any justice Kiddar's Luck would be known as a classic and BBC 4 would make endless documentaries about it. If there was any justice actors from the RSC would compete for roles in the numerous TV adaptations and art house films. But there isn't, and I am grateful to Frank Graham for publishing these overlooked, undervalued books at all. Kidder’s Luck is a work of poetry. It is a work of social history. It is a work of humour. It is a thing of beauty and I implore you to get your hand on this book, read it and spread the word.
*With apologies to Albert King, William Bell and Booker T. Jones, for singing and writing 'Born under a bad sign.'
Sunday 4th October, caught the 10.20 from Bradford Interchange to Manchester Victoria - the slow train. It turned out to be a jolly affair. Bradford People’s Coalition Against the Cuts had bought a group ticket. We were on our way to join the TUC anti-austerity protest outside Tory Party Conference, that was being held at ‘Manchester Central Conference Centre’. We passed gaping mouthed travellers on platforms at Halifax, Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Littleborough and Rochdale. They had never witnessed so many passengers on their early Sunday morning train. The train that time forgot - full.
The streets of Manchester were eerily quite when we arrived just before 12.00. The city centre was populated by tabard wearing, placard carrying demonstrators stumbling their way to Oxford Road amid the debris of the new tram line, metal security screens surrounding the conference venue, and lines of yellow jacketed police.
It was liberating to wander the centre of Manchester without cars, vans, lorries, bikes and power crazed cyclists. We fell lucky - bars we stumbled across served excellent coffee, contained good company and ample seating (important to those of a certain age). We managed by luck rather than judgement to be at the front of the wave of marchers seeking similar respite and refreshment.
After much good humour and sunshine we returned to Victoria station where I took these photos showing so called ordinary places as celebrated destinations.
Reginald D. Hunter popped up on an Edinburgh Review show on TV and they showed a clip from his film, ’Songs of the South.’ I recall watching it earlier this year on BBC. It was a nuanced view of the American South, a very personal view, a view that took into account his own development as well as that of the southern states. He used the music to set the mood of the programme, and for reflection. He painted a very personal picture and we saw the place in subtle and challenging ways. It left me with lots to ponder: the nature of people and place, the prison and the window that history can be. I got the feeling that he returned to the land of his birth with trepidation and left it more at ease with a past (both personal and societal) that he fled years previously. The music was a good companion to a tender and thoughtful piece of documentary making.
Finally. I can cross Priestley’s ‘The Good Companions’ off my list. Not that it wasn’t worth it. It was. The depth of character, the complicated nature of plot development - written in a time before technology made tracking, copying, editing easier - is engaging. At just over 630 words the book is an achievement. Jess Oakroyd tops and tails the piece. He had the potential to be the most interesting character. This was because Jess left his job as a carpenter ‘at t’mill’ to to roam the country as a handyman with a travelling concert party. Jess’s horizons had previously been limited to ‘Bruddersford’ and his ‘trade’. Into late middle age before he had any desire to broaden his experiences, Jess escaped Bruddersford overnight in the back of a lorry with two crooks. How would this law abiding character cope with the challenge of the open road?
The problem was that Jess floated through his experiences. He had little ambition or passion. He was content to be at the service of others. He did not drive the plot and disappeared for large parts of the novel. He returned towards the end as a useful plot device. He was there to service the needs of the other characters and in the end, the needs of the author. His initial experiences at the hands of the lorry drivers and the showmen were engaging, but were soon forgotten when the story of Inigo and Susie took centre stage.
It may or may not be true that the ‘’angry young men’ of the 1950’s wanted to assert working class characters as agents in their own story as a reaction to characters like Jess Oakroyd. But for me, it was true that Jess, at the end of 600 pages, became just a tad irritating.
I’ve arrived at page 373 of Priestley's tome, and the racial name calling and stereotyping is so frequent that it is difficult to see these references as simply of their time (my edition was first published in 1929). Racial stereotyping is not the only stereotype. Jess Oakroyd, a working class character leaves the West Yorkshire town of Bruddersford to to escape an oppressive and lonely life in the mill town. But, he is no Joe Lambton. Jess’s deference, low self esteem, and timid nature make it difficult to root for him after 300 pages. He is robbed and harassed due to mistaken identity and his response is to carry on as an unfunny Norman Wisdom (Norman displayed fight as well as humour). The Good Companions is turning out to be a disappointment. But I’ll soldier on to the end.
I caught the 1954 film ‘An Inspector Calls’ with Alistair Sim on TCM, and although ‘stagey’ and a little predictable, it kept me gripped. I suspect I’ll have to re-read ‘Postscripts’. ‘Journey Down a Rainbow’ along with excerpts from ‘Margin Released’ to remind myself of the subtle, insightful and progressive writer J.B. later proved to be.
Today the weather turned, I put socks back on (with my sandals) and watched a documentary about Brian Eno, the ambient music composer, artist and music producer. It was fascinating to see the range of Eno's influences: management theory, game theory, adolescent rejection of Catholicism, a surprising range musical tastes, the precision crafts of his ancestors (restorers, clock menders…), art, and wider political concerns. This ‘Lifeworld’ (assumptions drawn from institutional, economic and cultural structures) distilled into his music and his art. Music that has neither melody, beat or rhythm, and yet music that can hold people in quiet appreciation for half an hour - an hour - four hours.
Brian Eno isn't to everybody's taste, but that isn't the point. The point is not to deny the importance of our 'Lifeworld' to our decision making, our preferences, and how we make sense of the world. A classic is the separation of Politics from Economics as though one was a technical issue and the other was an irrelevance indulged by idiots. Adam Smith and many of the Economists favoured by today’s neo-liberals presented themselves as 'Political Economists’, because they understood that competing interests were at the heart of Economics, and these competing interests had to be reconciled; which is the function of politics. To ignore the wider world would be to ignore the heart of Economics - what we value and why.
Similar separations can be found in the idea of the consumer, as if we are not talking about human beings, who also produce, have concerns about their wider communities and dream that things might be different. I suppose I'm arguing for the 'interconnectedness of things'. As for socks with sandals - connectedness cannot be justified in all circumstances (I was banned from leaving the house until I shed the socks).
J.B. Priestley’s ‘The Good Companions.’ It is an engaging read. I have recently taken to reading books that are no longer than 190 pages, and preferably much shorter. ‘The Good Companions’ weighs in at 465. To my delight I have been making steady progress, mainly because I have enjoyed the worlds inhabited by the three major protagonists. These worlds are painted in detail and are populated by distinctive and believable characters. These characters are, I assume, the good companions of the title. I have lost myself in their, so far, separate worlds, with the anticipation that they will eventually meet up. It is a style of writing that for many readers has gone out of fashion. Why paint a detailed picture of anywhere when we have already seen picture of them, have travelled there, or can see them on Google maps? But I am won over, or have been until now. I read this book with sympathy for the characters. I am with them as they travel to new adventures. I am in sympathy because I am in sympathy with J.B. Priestley. Everything of his that I have read to date has spoken of generosity of spirit and a respect for the powerless in particular. So, whatever misgivings I have about a character - their apparent shallowness or foolhardiness - I trust that J. B. will deliver in his characters what is expressed by J. B. himself. I have in mind, in particular ‘Postscripts ‘, transcriptions of his radio broadcasts early in the second world war, and published in 1940. But I have hit a dilemma. On two occasions J. B. uses the ’N’ word. It is used in the context of the world of entertainment, where ‘minstrel’ - not without its own problems - might have been used. I could then have dismissed the use of the ’M’ word as being simply a manifestation of the times, 1929 - the past is a different country.
Conan Doyle can also be offensive - but Sherlock Holmes is no less popular. I guess in the great scheme of things the use of the ’N’ word on two passing occasions in a 465 page text written 85 years ago is not something to lose sleep about. Maybe my hand wringing says more about me than J.B.