Journal Entry, Easter 2013:
Our beloved Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, has tried several initiatives, mostly without success, in his efforts to rejuvenate the British economy. Today I had to go to work to transfer some test specimens, and as I walked through the deserted streets of Eccles it suddenly occurred to me: abolish Bank Holidays! The CBI regularly complains that events such as World Cup footie matches, Royal Weddings and Christmas all see a tragic downturn in national productivity. Surely the answer would be to eliminate Christmas, Easter, New Year and May Day; this would prevent UK PLC from losing all those untold billions of pounds. And while we’re at it, we could try reducing the number of weekends; after all, if dustbin collections can be reduced to twice-monthly, then so can weekend breaks. It’s fairly common for managers to moan that they spend a large part of Sunday catching up on works e-mails, so they probably won’t notice the difference. Yeah, so it’s a daft idea; but we’ve tried all the sensible ones, and look where they’ve got us…
Two books, one theme; it’s fascinating to see how different writers shed light on a common body of knowledge, rather like walking past a car and hearing a song on the radio, then realising that it’s a cover version; you recognise the words and the tune, but the voice is unfamiliar. Sometimes it is possible to recall the original version in your head, but occasionally the song is an obscure totem of culture, and you know that you’ve heard this song – or a version of it – elsewhere, and are left feeling vaguely unsettled by the half-remembered tune.
The books are The Conclave, by Michael Bracewell, and Rumours of a Hurricane, by Tim Lott. The first of these relates the adventures of a bright couple who ride the wave of 1980s excess, ruthlessly manipulating technology and intellect to provide themselves with status and comfort. Elegant, and cynical, and very writerly, Conclave describes the establishment of a new social caste and how people become distorted by their efforts to join its members.
Lott’s novel, on the other hand, is more overtly comic, with the main characters – a print worker and his family – responding anxiously to the social changes happening at that time. Lazy writers telling the same story may have been tempted to insert numerous cultural references (pop songs, film stars) to make their narrative more convincing; but these two novels are content to let us focus on the main persons and their unfolding lives.
There are many telling details in Hurricane; Charlie, filled with anxiety, decides to buy his council flat and thus joins the property-owning democracy. His Christmas present to his wife is a microwave oven. He scoffs at the cellular telephone which his brother assures him is the future of business. And he gives his wife a credit card and tells her to ‘go on, treat yourself’…thus are revolutions started.
This era of wild consumerism is often linked with the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, but she was from a Methodist background and viewed luxury with suspicion. She also trained as a Chemist, and would have seen the world in terms of balanced equations and budgets. The Porsche-driving yuppies of 1987 preferred to think in terms of alchemy, using insanely complicated mathematics to create money from thin air. The characters in Hurricane tend to live real lives with real problems; they misunderstand one another and the world around them, cautiously accepting greater levels of wealth and freedom and being vaguely aware that they have left behind a life which, though dull, had much to recommend it…
Journal Entry, 22 Jul 2007:
Thursday morning set off for Newcastle, got lost on their road network, eventually found Dean St. Parked up, went and had an hour-long chat with Sandra Norman. Then rode over the A69 to Carlisle, and it rained. Severely.
Got to New Abbey just in time to see LK unloading the dogs. We drank and drank…apparently I demanded gin but can’t remember this. Fri morning got up with hangover and honked up down the bog.
Then realised my keyfob bike alarm batteries were fading so bought new ones from Halfords and visited jeweller to get them fitted. Then went off to the Wicker Man.
Couldn’t see all the bands ‘cos they’re on in eleven different music tents. Saw the Glaswegian Samba band, and The Beat, and Skaville UK, and a bit of The Proclaimers, and several bands I couldn’t identify but all v interesting and really talented.
One tent full of UV-lit Sikh and Hindu and Buddhist images, playing relentless gentle afro-asian dub choonz. Sat night we all gathered to watch The Burning; fire jugglers and dancers and people on fiery pushbikes before eventually the real thing was set alight.
Flashback, 31 Dec 2007:
I’m lying there, too tired to relax
And she walks in
Defiantly smoking half a cigarette
I hear her say
“I’m afraid the curtains don’t quite meet.”
It’s true enough;
Cheap shafts of light invade my hotel room
And in another dream
I’m trapped, somewhere below a ruined church
Can’t recall my own address.
So what? I’m lost; she walks away, and a line
Of ash is all that’s left behind.