Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Doctor Who : Rose - Russell T Davies

‘Did I mention? It also travels in time.’
            The thing the Doctor says to Rose Tyler right at the end of their first adventure together. The thing that tips the balance. The clincher that sets her running back aboard the TARDIS just before it goes spinning into the vortex, so that she can encounter ‘the rest of her life.’
            This recent novelisation by Russell T Davies of his 2005 TV script is filled with many of these iconic, memorable, spine-tingly moments. The moments that made you realise, fourteen years ago, that Doctor Who is back, and it’s back for good. It can still work, and still be exciting to clamber inside that old blue box and set off into time and space. People will still buy it.
            It was exciting then, to be at the start of a whole new season, and to hope and pray it would be recommissioned for further years. For long-term fans like me it was amazing to have all the hullaballoo around it… but there was always one thing missing. Yes, we had tie-in novels, but we never had novelizations like we used to in the old Target days.
            The argument went that we didn’t need them: revisiting stories was easier these days, in the age of DVDs and box sets. But that never quite held for me, that argument. Novelisations were much more than a simple record of a story. They were that story all over again, bigger and bolder. They were that story, experienced again from the very inside.
            So, last year. A spurt of nostalgic excitement from BBC Books. A set of four Target-facsimiles based on pivotal 21st Century Who adventures. I’m eking them out. Who knows when there’ll be any more? Last year I adored Steven Moffat’s loopy adaptation of his own 50th Anniversary Special: adorned with cameos and in-jokes and impossibilities of all kinds. RTD’s ‘Rose’ is a more stately, reverential, traditional affair. Here we get a loving restoration of what it was like to re-enter the worlds of Doctor Who back in 2005. Now, as then, we encounter the tropes and elements of the series gradually, and with great care…
            But as with the very best Target novelizations we get to spend more time with the characters. Duration is the key, and the chief pleasure of novels. Episodes are over in 45 minutes. Here we get to explore a little backstory – Mickey is so much more sympathetic when we hear his history and meet his friends. Jackie is even more abrasive but we understand so much more about her. Clive – the conspiracy theorist in his Dr Who shed – is properly tragic in this. (And then – that wonderful hint of revenge-to-come from his wife at the very end…!) Many more characters are rounded out… as is London itself. We get a real sense of scale – with the West End going tits up when the Autons attack. It’s a proper alien invasion of the type we always longed for in the series of old. But even the visual effects of New Who can be improved in a Target novel. It’s delightful to find that out. Books are still broader and wider than the TV screen will ever be.
            Fittingly, Rose Tyler is the star of the show. The ordinary girl who refuses to be just ordinary. Who learns to figure things out and refuses to simply ask the Doctor questions. The Doctor himself is rather more aloof here than he seemed at the time. More damaged, more bossy and butch. But we can see why Rose would go with him. She gets him. She knows he’s a softy and a dafty underneath all that knuckleheaded yelling and stomping that he does.
            And what a great climax! The London Eye falling, the Nestenes weeping, the Autons popping like champagne corks… and all the MPs screaming as the Thames floods into the corridors of Westminster… 
            It all sets us up for further adventures. Rose makes her choice and dashes off to explore the universe. On TV we had lots of treats to come. The very next Saturday, in fact, we’d follow both her and Doctor Who to find out what the year Five Million was like.
            But as a reader you can’t help feeling just a little bereft. No more novelizations for a while. If ever. There’s Jenny Colgan’s Christmas story, of course. And there are the original novels from 2005 to reread – Steve Cole, Jac Rayner, Justin Richards – those bookish jaunts with the Doctor and Rose. But I’m greedy for a full range of Targets. I want to know what Dickens is like, and how epic ‘Aliens of London’ feels, and to learn more about Margaret Slitheen’s inner life, all through the miracle of novelisation. I always was avid – greedy, even - for more and more Doctor Who books – since first stumbling upon ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ in 1979 (forty years ago, I realise..!)
            I guess they’ll happen eventually. These magical things tend to happen eventually, when someone has the same brilliant idea, all over again. These things travel in time.

All the Pens I Own

All the Pens I own

I save the tins from instant coffee to put my pencils in
So that everything smells slightly roasty
And sets my head spinning when I sit down to write

Testing out all the pens I own
Turns out I’ve got loads

And lots of the pens have dried up or run out
And loads of the pencils are broken, worn down to a nub
Or have their spines cracked all the way through inside

I pick out my coloured pencils in every delicate shade
And all my strident, neon felt tip pens
My pencils of the softest lead
2B and only 2B

I spend a good long hour or more sharpening everything
That comes to hand.
It feels important
Because I’m waiting

Waiting for news of all kinds
Maybe for news that will never come

Times like these can get you down
Because they make writing seem like a thing
That you don’t do for yourself
And you don’t do for your worldful of readers
Wherever they are
Whoever they might be

These times make it seem like writing is a world
Where you answer to people who maybe don’t really care
Or aren’t even there

You’re waiting for the go-ahead, the permission
The great elusive green light
You’re waiting for the

‘Yes! We want it!
We love it!
We won’t let anything stand in our way!
We want to give this proudly to the world at large
We’ll be proud to buy this from you
And show it to everyone…’

The best thing you can do at times like these
Waiting and waiting and pushing all this stuff from your mind
Is to go through your pots of pens
And all your coffee tins of delicious pencils
And twist them and curl them into perfect sharpness
Get yourself ready

This is a terrible time for sitting
Alert for news

It’s a time for dreaming with all your pens out
Draw some long crazy outlines
And colour them in with every pencil
From your Lakeland tin

And yes
Make sure you go over all the edges
And yes
Forget about staying in the lines.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Happiness for Beginners - Carole Matthews

I haven't reviewed a book on here for ages!  I've read some lovely novels recently, so maybe I'll get back to it. Here's a look at one i've just finished...


My favourite books create a wonderful sense of place, I’ve realized. The books that I treasure and return to are ones that build an environment I want to spend more time in. The hectic farm at the heart of Carole Matthews’ new novel becomes just that kind of place. It’s a special kind of farm that’s a haven for displaced and damaged animals and young human beings. We get to spend a lot of time with wonky hens, anti-social sheep, diva alpacas and difficult kids.

There’s a strong sense of time running out for this messy and cheery paradise though, as the land is being sold out from under our heroine Molly and her ramshackle caravan. The whole idyllic place is going to be thoroughly ploughed up and ruined by the futile onslaught of a high-speed railway. Molly has to find somewhere new to move her fifty-odd eccentric animals and the kids who’ve come to depend on her alternate school. However, she has recently fallen into the orbit of Shelby Dacre, a local minted soap star and his surly son, Lucas, and all their fates look as if they’re destined to become entwined. It’s not hard to guess what’s going to happen, but these lovable and independent-minded characters manage to put enough stubborn obstacles in the road of their own happiness to give the tale some lovely and funny suspense.

Mostly, however, it’s a story about learning the trick of happiness, and how to find it in the simplest and sweetest things. Shallow, materialistic and selfish characters are given short-shrift and, as ever, in a Carole Matthews novel, the loyal, hard-working, and slightly crazy characters are the ones to win through in the end. In this book it feels like the reader is drawn in to belong to this mismatched family of llamas and heart-throbs, baby goats and young poets – and Hope Farm really becomes somewhere you’re sad to leave at the end.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Bernard Socks on Poetry

Bernard Socks on Poetry

1. Bernard Socks Responds to Criticism

I’m lying on his side of the bed
All day long
I’m deliberately shedding hair
And licking my asshole

Absolutely furious

Jeremy didn’t like my last poem
‘As much’ he said
‘As your previous work.’

Let it piss down
All day
Let it piss down on him
Smoking outside
What does he know anyway
About cat poems?

2. Bernard Socks Reflects on Form and Content

What I’m saying
At the end of the day
Is that I’m a cat
And I guess that’s the stuff I write about

It’s gonna reflect
Cat-type concerns
Catty kind of stuff

And you might think my world is narrow
(I think it’s huge)
And you might think
It doesn’t touch on wider themes
(It does)
And you might think my appreciation of
Poetic form, rhythm, metre, etc
Is rudimentary

But this is what you get
When you ask
The cat what he thinks

3. Bernard Socks on Editing

Revising poems
Is a bit like chewing your feet
Teasing gravel chunks
From between your toes

Licking all your fur down
So it lies smartly
Smarming in the cat spit
And chewing on your nipples

You have to check every line
Taste it
Give them a careful niff niff niff
Seeing that they sit straight

Do they lie sleekly in the same direction?
Can you twist your neck around
And lick
That bothersome idea
Perfectly into shape?

Cats like being succinct
They don’t hang around
Say what you’ve gotta say

See you later, losers.

4. Bernard Socks at the Open Mic

“I’m not sure if this will work in performance
Me being more of a language poet
And all
Here goes:




OO                                    OOOOO

RRrrrr  rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr








5. Bernard Socks on Humankind

Sleepy cat
Are humans daft?

Yeah, humans are daft
All right

Humans are crazy.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

'Stop 'No Outsiders!'...

Stop ‘No Outsiders’!

I had a good education. I went to a Comprehensive School in the 1980s and we were taught to think for ourselves. I grew up with a healthy disrespect for received wisdom, dogma and cant. A lot of the stuff I learned at school was a waste of time, naturally. Too much learning by rote, perhaps, too much stuff about arable farming and crop rotation. I could have done with more time for reading, of course.

            One thing missing from my education was any acknowledgement that LGBTQ people existed anywhere in the world. It was a huge absence in every lesson, every school assembly, every form of communication sent out by this mostly progressive, modern establishment. It was a great big Queer elephant in the room.

            At the time it was illegal, of course, for a school or its teachers to say or present anything that normalized homosexuality or anything that wasn’t hetero. Any utterance suggesting that queers of any stripe were in any way normal was deemed to be ‘promoting’ homosexuality and therefore forbidden in our schools.

            This was a big thing to grow up with in those years and it was all thanks to Mrs Thatcher and her government’s pernicious and weirdly puritanical commands. And it lasted all the way until the early 2000s, this strange state of affairs: thou shalt not speak of Queers in the classroom.

            It meant that, when we were all taught about relationships, sex, bodies, feelings – all that stuff – it was always, only, about what mummies and daddies did to make babies. That was the kind of cursory and rudimentary attention that the breadth and complexity of human sexuality and emotions received. All of that glorious stuff was something that could be taught – clinically, quickly – during one Tuesday afternoon.

            Elsewhere… in discussions of art and literature and history, queers were routinely swerved round, or their kinks were straightened out. Michelangelo daubed muscle men’s bottoms and willies over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but you could never really talked about why. Oscar Wilde went to prison but, even in the 1980s, we got to discuss the ins and outs even less than did maiden aunts reading the news back in the day.

            The only time queers got mentioned via horrendous schoolyard bullying and braying. Oh, and of course, our primate PE teachers screaming at us on the playing fields, calling us puffs and nancies. Curious, the unerring gaydar of the PE teacher. While other teachers turned a blind eye to the whole topic, their primitive, lumbering track-suited fellows always seemed to know just who to shout their homophobic abuse at. It might almost make you think that the official silence about Queers encouraged and licensed the abuse and the bullying outside the classroom. Funny that, isn’t it?

            And the Eighties was such a tricky time for queers anyway. The Sunday papers we got at home were horrible tabloid ones, full of salacious stuff about vicars and tarts – and also queers and AIDS. Really vicious, nasty stuff about gay men. I read it all and grew up completely terrified at the thought of growing up gay and the horrors it would entail.

            And the Eighties pop charts were full of queers and what were then called ‘gender benders.’ Some in the closet, some out of the closet. Some hugely brave and successful and lauded. Other sneered at and disparaged. Many of them dying, dead, gone forever.

            A complicated, terrible time in many, many ways.
I feel I must repeat this: our schools were wonderful. But they did nothing. Absolutely nothing to help us understand. They did absolutely zero about enabling LGBTQ youngsters to orient ourselves and operate in the adult world.
            Nothing about safe sex, even.
            Nothing about asking for help.
            Nothing about fitting into the world, or finding your tribe, or finding someone to talk to, or even that such a thing was possible.
            Nothing. They really did nothing.

            Some of us were lucky enough to go into further education. But only a very small proportion. We got to move away from our little town and go and living in a city or a campus. There, things were a bit different. You could learn at a lot at college. There were GaySocs and Nightlines and all kinds of ways to start learning. But there were a lot of peers who had grown up in the same ignorant set of circumstances that we had. We had a lot of the internalized homophobia to deal with, because of the cockeyed way we’d been brought up and educated.
            Still, there were adventures to be had and mistakes to be made.

            I always felt, as a gay man who came out at twenty that I was years behind my straight friends. It’s a running joke amongst my friends that gay men in their early twenties run around like girls do in their teenage years. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

            We can be shouty, brilliant, gorgeous, arrogant, silly, bullish, proud, angry, joyful, depressed, manic, crazy, addled, unwise, confused, messy, destructive, superficial, wild, marvelous.
            Sometimes all in the space of one night.

            But what queers of this particular generation are – the ones who grew up in the shadow of things like Clause 28 and all that weighty, embarrassed silence – is neglected. That’s what I think we are. We grew up and we had to figure out everything for ourselves.

            By the time a LGBTQ person finds their first significant lover and has those big conversations and shares their backstory with each other… there is a lot of backstory to share. They are the product of a culture that has willfully ignored them. A culture predominantly straight, and a culture that saturates all available space with explicit heterosexual imagery everywhere you look. (Strange, all this brainwashing. You’d think the predominance of heterosexual stuff would turn us, wouldn’t you? All that aggressive promotion, eh? Surely it’s going to turn our heads and turn us straight..? Is that how this stuff works, hmm?)

            So I always think: hurray. Good for you. Especially for the LGBTQ adults who grew up in those dark years when their schools didn’t teach them anything and wouldn’t listen to them. Good for you. You dragged yourself up and you got into the world and survived.
            Many didn’t.

            This kind of neglect can destroy lives and foster homophobia.
            And there can be no going back.
            We must never let bigots, homophobes and their dopey, backward ideas creep back into education. They can do terrible damage to people’s lives.

            There’s nothing wrong or shameful or dirty about the L or the G or the B or the T or the Q or any of the other stripes we’ve added to the flag we’re waving. We’re equivalent and we’re equal to everyone else.

Hearing bigots spouting off about education sends shivers through me. The very thought that the government or local councils or schools might cave in and kowtow to ignorant people’s ideas about what should be taught brings back awful memories of the things we had to put up with.

            I love the fact that there is a course called ‘No Outsiders’ in that Birmingham school, and it places everyone on equal footing, and that pupils will learn that human nature is more complex and wonderful than religious bigots would like them to think. It sounds such a kind and thoughtful course, too.

I think it’s important to demystify these things. We grew up in such fear of the unknown. As LGBTQ kids of the 1980s we felt we were part of the terrifying unknown ourselves.

            We can’t go backwards into this ignorant stuff. We can’t indulge bigotry. People must be told: no. This is the curriculum now, in any civilized society.

            I had a great education – in terms of thinking for myself, and being trained to question authority, cant, dogma and received wisdom. But there were huge things missing from it. The great big Queer elephant in the room sat there waiting. All that has been addressed and sorted out since, thank goodness and we have courses called things like ‘No Outsiders’.

No matter how shrill or fervent the bullies are, we really, really can’t go backwards.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Two More Bernard Socks Poems

Socks is a Good Cat

All the neighbours’ cats drink gin
It’s true
They say it’s neat gin
They drink it sloe
Call it gourmet
Think themselves fancy
They’re still pie-eyed
By sunrise

All the neighbours’ cats smoke fags
That’s them, puffing away
In the undergrowth
Tabbing their heads off
Stinking their paws up
Coughing like mad
How do they manage to inhale?
Or strike matches?
But they do

All the neighbours’ cats commit murder
Without blinking

All the neighbours’ cats get sexy
It’s revolting!
Everyone’s wriggling and giggling
Spraggling and waggling
Bums in the air!
Everyone’s shagging and gagging like mad
Boys and boys and girls and girls
Especially the ambiguously gendered!
They’re the worst of the lot!
They’re all mad for it round here
Really, I’m quite shocked
Most of the time

But not me
I am a good cat
I am the best cat in the world
You know me

Butter wouldn’t melt
On my cold wet nose

Bernard Socks Has a Quiet Day

My usual palaver is on hold
All the scritching
All the scratching
And the bombing about

Don’t worry about me
I’ll be curled up in a ball somewhere

I’m only dreaming
About exploring other lands
Conquering worlds and
Coming up with the wildest schemes
Every idea I have
Would amaze you

But today’s plans are quiet ones
I’m having a quiet day

Maybe back about five?