Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Peace at the Football Museum

A great evening of stimulating talk tonight. Two balding guys, a stage and some stories. The stage at the museum. The National Football Museum. In Manchester. Sorry, no, I can't keep that style up for an entire blog, but David Peace does for 700 plus pages in his new fictional biopic of Bill Shankly, Red or Dead. And when he reads it out, just as I heard an actor do last Friday on Radio 4, it is mesmerising and compelling.

But at this teaser event for the Manchester Literature Festival, Dave Haslam, a smart interviewer, does a neat trick I've seen him do before. He delves effectively and disarmingly into the subject's background, then leaves obvious questions unasked, encouraging audience participation. A very knowledgeable and inquisitive audience oblige. 

Peace was willing and open. I really enjoyed hearing him talk too. My two favourite novels are Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn. And in any top 10 is GB84 by Peace. He duly acknowledged the influence and style of both those books on his style and ambition. I'm also fascinated with how you weave in real living people into fictional stories. These points were duly teased out with some great answers from him.

In Peace's Red Riding trilogy he imagines dark depths of Yorkshire's underbelly. Yet what has Jimmy Saville's unmasking proved? That there was something worse? Or that abuse of power took many forms? Where else will he look for stories, for real lives to portray? Geoffrey Boycott was mentioned, and Brian Clough at Forest, possibly the greatest achievement in football. I think he sparkled most when he knocked around ideas about a Harold Wilson book, another Huddersfield/Liverpool connection, like Shankly.

I asked a question. It was something like this. "You have shown great bravery by taking risks in introducing real living people into these works of fiction. Did your experience with the negative reactions to Damned United affect how you approached Red or Dead?"

He said it did.

I hope I like Red or Dead, it is about a good man, Peace says, and a celebration of a good life in a harsh world.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gary Bowyer's Blackburn Rovers at Doncaster - what's it all about?

Away end at Doncaster via @theawayfans
Three league games, just one point and out of the League Cup. It's hard to take the positives out of that. Thirteen years to the day since Jack Walker died, things still look grim for Blackburn Rovers. 

My main feeling of frustration at Doncaster last night was the lack of impact from sustained passing football. That seems to be the game plan - Blackburn Rovers passing the opposition to death. But already it's looking predicatable. Jordan Rhodes just isn't getting the service as a lone striker. His body language last night suggested to me he's had enough. I'd be amazed if he doesn't go in the next two weeks, but relieved, because when the team plays to his strengths, we can beat anyone.

I quickly got the point of Paul Dickov's Doncaster Rovers - a team very much in his image - dogged, opportunistic and fit. In the second half I wasn't sure what Bowyer's Blackburn were all about. The game plan went out of the window - but all that passing and possession is pointless if players like Scott Dann and Grant Hanley can't marshall a defence to command the box at set pieces. This is a team for the Championship, it's not full of Premiership glory boys who don't like it up 'em. Though for the life of me I don't understand Josh King at all. But as a team, it should be competing at the upper end, but last night proved the importance of getting the basics right.

Does all of this mean I'm anti-Gary Bowyer? No, far from it, but he's a novice manager trying to build a team in a certain way. That's the trade off. He's never pretended to be anything else. He'll need time to prove whether he's a good manager or not. The last thing that this basket case of a club needs right now is more turmoil and upheaval.

Anyway, it was another new ground for me last night. My 137th, my 65th of the current 92 and up to 80 on the Punk 92. The Keepmoat is definitely one of the better new grounds - a complete bowl and a good location for getting in and out of. Decent atmosphere from the home fans and from the visitors in the first half. In the second half all the sourness of the last three years came out again. The intimidation, the plastic hooligans and the stunned-into-silence depressed majority. It's going to be a long season.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The three week holiday

It's been a long time since I was able to take three weeks off, but this year has been a real treat. Walking, messing about in boats, playing cricket, reading books, generally just doing the sort of casual ambling about I always have. 

But has it been a proper and total switch off? Sort of. Being self-employed means always being on call. I've had phone calls to make and emails to respond to every day. I popped down to Old Trafford for the Third Ashes Test, which was sort of work related. We went to see Rovers up at Carlisle, which felt like work. I've nearly finished a book I'm writing, but there's still more to do. Things were piling up to such an extent that on Monday this week I rented an office in Ulverston, plugged in and did a full shift catching up.

I'm not complaining, but only time will tell whether I've properly recharged the batteries. I don't think it's even possible for anyone to fully disengage. 

The one thing I do know is the experience of a view like this every morning for three weeks is remarkably good for the soul.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Villain - The Life of Don Whillans by Jim Perrin

Just finished Jim Perrin's exhaustive biography of the cult figure of Don Whillans, a climber and mountaineer who never really belonged. It struck me that his drinking and his bellicose aggression fit that mould of working class men who invite the tag - 'could have been greater' but achieve cult status anyway. You think of Gazza, George Best, Liam Gallagher. A generous view will have it that they fought incredible odds to achieve amazing things in the face of establishment hostility - or they use their upbringing as an alibi for failure.

Whillans came from Salford and was a brawler and a rough neck, yet he found an expression in rock climbing. His love of exploration starting when his parents took him to stroll around Roman Lakes in Marple (so there's hope for my lot yet). In his life, which Perrin has been meticulous in researching, he climbs all over the world and with climbers who became household names - like Chris Bonington and Doug Scott. He becomes a popular lecturer and even appears on This is Your Life and other TV programmes.

My own personal interest in his story comes from my Mum's dear friends Ian and Nikki Clough, both no longer with us. Ian had died on Annapurna in 1970, an expedition that Whillans was on, and was described as epoch-making. Nikki had cancer and passed in 1983, which hit my Mum hard at the time, and it seems, Whillans too.

I love books that get under the skin of a culture and Perrin does this in great detail and with searing honesty. There was obviously a terrific bond amongst climbers, a counter culture and an establishment that weave between each other. There's also the prolific shoplifting, scrounging, grafting and hitch-hiking, behind this frontier banditry though are fierce rivalries and sniping that makes the comedy circuit look like a band of brothers.

The lengthy footnotes in the book make it a tricky read. It would have been better to weave some of them into the narrative as anecdotes and asides. But for all that it was a compelling book. It isn't a eulogy to a friend, or a hatchet job, but a careful and thoughtful portrait of a flawed genius with demons and very obvious failings. To his enormous credit, Perrin looks at many anecdotes and myths from all angles, he was earmarked for an MBE but it coincided with him fighting with police when he was knicked for drink driving. If I'm honest, I find Whillans to be a very unlikable character who hurt too many people. But they are judgements Perrin invites you to make, rather than forcing his view on you.

Could he have been a contender? Well, he was. For all of his status as "Whillans the Villain - the outsider" he had a great deal more recognition and respect than he probably wanted. The mark of a true outsider is that they place themselves there by choice.