Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Monday, July 04, 2016
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Notes on Dickens Walks: recalled to life
Books were on the shelves in my father's study and propped up windows, casually flipped through by my library loving mother. Robert Graves, Bernard Berenson, yes, great literary lights, but I was more Encyclopaedia Brown. I wanted to play sports and go tubin, not admit that I loved to read.
So it was to Shep a young male of dubious writing talent and even more dubious life experienced turned for inspiration. English meant 'stories' to me, though, not novels and Shep was good at keeping our attention in grade 12; unlike other teachers who drilled ‘outline method for studying’ into us or insisted we do a book report of fifty classics over the course of the year, Shep was more laid back. He was Mormon, or rumoured Mormon, blond and balding, a little on the dumpy side but kind of handsome; he was a kind of shaggy dog enigma but also well established within the school. This was the 80's, so part of the charm, the cult of the English teacher; many students made efforts to impress him either by sitting at the front of the class or taking him up on his offer of merit points for public speaking. Occasionally he fell down in class from a bum leg and he spoke with great affection about Hemingway and his vaunted BS detector. To be fair I think the “BS Detector” was directed towards us as a class, as if to say: "Do you really know what it takes to make a great writer? Do you know the significance of the great books of literature other teachers might tell you must read?"
My personal connection to Charles Dickens is small, only that I liked the musical Oliver! very much as a boy visiting my grandparents in London whilst my parents uprooted the family from the Annapolis Valley in NS, for a university sabbatical in the 1970's. For my father, a Londoner, it was a homecoming. For us kids it was a new experience riding the tube with my grandmother, holding onto her coat tails through the Science Museum and Museum of Natural History, wondering at crowds on busses, feeling separated from the valley but also strangely enervated at meeting our English relatives in bustling London.
My grandmother, Mabel, was a big theatre goer in the war years and I was impressed by her interest in theatre and in plays. However it was whilst watching the musical Oliver! with her, one Saturday afternoon,when I was taken by the boy, the story and music; I could relate to the idealistic young Oliver, his sense of justice despite being under intense pressure to go along with thieves and pick pockets. That beaming, searching face stayed with me from that family sabbatical in the UK to when we returned to the valley; I was so impressed when we returned, I considered trying out for the local Kipawo Showboat Production of the Musical Oliver! in Wolfville. I went to an audition in the back of a travel agency but soon chickened out when I realized there were far more children in the valley with greater determination and singing talents than me. Instead I took a back seat, took up the violin and trumpet and sang in the Port Williams Elementary School musical, The Frog Prince!
When I came back to London in 2003 at the age of thirty-seven, I did so knowing that this was a bigger step for me than leaving 'The Port' in 1995 and going up to Toronto to make a go of things. I really only had a couple of ideas in my head and those were to continue writing and performing in London, the stories/sketches anecdotes of the Annapolis Valley which had catapulted themselves to the front of my life – a few years before, in Toronto, and which were connected to the poetry book Scouts are Cancelled. Part of the reason I started writing the Scouts are Cancelled poems in Toronto was that I missed the Valley so much. I was younger too, 28, when I went up to Toronto. I was also haunted by this idea? Could the poems translate in London in the same way? Was I also biting off far more than I could chew in taking this one in middle-age?
A cliche perhaps, but a cliches is nothing more than a very successful turn of phrase, no? SO "Bah Humbug!" was the start of my being hooked on Dickens at age 43 or 44, in the same way I had been so impressed by Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Norman Mailer, Stephen King, and in an earlier period, TF Rigelof – yes – and JD Salinger and my musical hero, Neil Young.
Grimaldi is a special case, a throw back to that childhood love of theatre and acting and plays and Dickens so loved Grimaldi that he personally took and worked on Grimaldi’s autobiography (and if you read close you can see it had to be written by the ‘inimitable’). This I found touching as the pathos and comedy is there in that Grimaldi book (filled with colourful tales of robbers, beatings, bets, swindles, poverty, dying clowns) the same as in Pickwick Papers. Following along in Dickens' hood, I found the Streets where some of the characters got their names, Margery Street, which he must have nicked for Joe Gargery the kindly Blacksmith uncle in Great Expectations, who comforts poor Pip just like Peggotty comforts David in David Copperfield. This street name just outside Islington Square was a particular find and I can imagine the thoughts going through Dickens’ head as he wandered these regular routes close to where he lived in Doughty Street (now the Dickens Museum) where he was holed up with his wife and her sister and first children, working feverishly in Oliver Twist and then Nicholas Nickelby. It took me some time but I soon crossed the Thames and found the old walls of Marshalsea Prison on the road in from Kent, where Dickens' father was incarcerated for debt, behind Borough Market and the old Inns where the coaches rest when many characters from The Pick Wick Papers, including Mr Jingle and Cocky cockney cheekie chappie Sam Weller, first stop for sustenance and ponder the pickles and various predicaments they find themselves in. After some time I laboured to find Ye Old George and Vulture Pub featured predominantly in The Pickwick Papers and of course was astounded to find Goswell Road, home dwelling of Mr Pickwick, where his landlady mistakenly thinks Mr Pickwick has proposed to her. Further on my travels down on The Strand I came upon the private banks, namely Coutts where Sidney Carlton the characters of a Tale of Two Cities frequent. Further along I discovered the sign for the Old Saracens Head Pub, which wasn’t far off Saint Paul’s either. This Is where ye ol Wackford Squeers the miserable school master comes in search of Nicholas Nickleby to serve notice of his intent to sue him for assault and perhaps lay claim to bringing charges against Nickelby for kidnapping, the mentally disturbed Smike. I came to realise how small a city London was in his time; Nickleby finds decent lodgings for his mother in Bow, a small hamlet in the countryside, now falling in the shadow of the Olympic Park and Stadium in the East End.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Taking the stairs brief reading by John Stiles
More info here
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Some notes on a tent trailer
by John Stiles
Sunday, September 06, 2015
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Eyewear Publishing 2015
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
I believe in a thing called a Guitar Riff: The Darkness - Barbarian (Official Video)
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Excerpts from 'The Move' or at least There is now a Hotel where the Church Charity once sat.
Many of the women at the table exchanged puzzled, but wearied looks. One reached down, grabbed the table and then scooped her finger forwards as if to say: "And..?"
"Only this – simply that" The Finance Director shot back with a fierce piercing glare.
The Finance Director, who was suffering from a bad cough, started writing on a board. He fielded the 'pros' and 'cons' of The Move to the second floor. The Finance Director said many important facts about the 'Years Service' and how many faces had changed and that 'The Society' had been at the last property for 100 years but the archivist corrected him and said 80 years, actually.
“Oh yes. Quite right.” Said the Finance Director with a little gasp of impatience.
Afterwards whilst recovering in his cubicle there was a sudden remark by the Finance Director, a remark filled with sighing and a diminishing bluster: "HP Sauce is going to be made in Holland, a disaster!"
At this, The Finance Director paused and his secretary remarked – through a tiny space in the cubicle – “I tried it years ago when I was first trying out things as a young child.”
The Finance Director, alarmed at the speed and keenness of the remark and perhaps trying the keep the spinster at bay, remarked casually: "David so and so… is... Oooh Dear Me!"
"David, who?" The spinster remarked casually but the Finance Director was away.
All looks turned and peered through the room.
Back in the office and after the meeting about the move there was a feeling in the air as if the Christmas party, which has been held at lunch was over now and a man from the consultancy had reminded us all that work needs to be done at desks till end of day.
At this a quiet but brooding lump of a girl, seated directly behind the Secretary to the Director said in a slowly building, but controlled little girl's voice: "Oh God! Who forgot to pick up my printout? Who else is using my printer? I`m sure that two of my printouts have disappeared…!" The old lady, the quiet, cat-faced one, who had been sorting through the needlepoint and sifting through trunks of discarded finery from the Church vestibule shuffled up, and mumbled: “Oh God! I walked right past you. Can you help me please? With the suitcases for the Volunteers. I`ve made more progress than I expected to.”
At this point a large African woman came in. A remark was made about the numbers of discared milk cartons in the fridge.
"Are there still more than ten? Cheese forms in warmer temperatures. I`m going to have to put my name on the carton."
“Is it just me or is the intranet down?”
“It is working...”
Shortly thereafter things got into a state again, it was as if some kind of aliens had come down from the sky and sucked out all the energy of the room. People didn't know what to do with themselves.
"What about the boxes?" Someone said and this was met with another wave of disdain, bordering on fear.
"Hasn't this been covered before?"
The archivist pointed out that it had not.
“The boxes of valuable stuff went to Oxford. There was a storage facility and then there was what...?"
The little man in the silver hair – who may have suffered in silence, or else taken on a role many mightn't want – really beaming with fierce self-containment and expectation said to himself – and to the others – “Are there any questions?”
A remark was made, “What about the boxes that we have to move?” and then the Finance Director faced the archivist, a natural but respected enemy in the wild, perhaps, and he said: "Our archivist can answer that, can`t she?"
And the archivist went white as a ghost. "Who me?"
Then finally, after a month of mulling and contemplation the group sat in its glum, moribund arrangement and watched the clock.
"It is challenging time, we can't go on like this."
This was the sentiment.
The general news was that the man from the consultancy had acquired an O870 number for the new digs. There wasn’t far to go either. Thankfully the new place was miles smaller, and still, mercifully, south of the river.