Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just for laughs

On Saturday evening we went out with some friends of ours to a Barnstormers comedy night at Solihull Arts Complex. Our friends had been to one recently where the famous comedian Jasper Carrott turned up unannounced; word had obviously got round because the room, although small, was packed.

No sign of Our Jasper on Saturday, sadly (he always has me helpless; at one of his concerts I quite literally stopped breathing, I was laughing so much). Instead we had a series of three comedians, interspersed with a genial compere. All three were good in different ways, but two appealed less - not just to me, but to Dave and our friends as well. They followed the route of standard stand-up: a 'chat' to the audience about events in their own lives, probably made-up and always tending towards bodily functions. One joke about poo can be funny but after a while it wears off and in the case of the first bloke on stage, I really didn't need to know that his Dad had phoned to tell him his mother had just shit herself. And the punchline? The mother grabbed the phone to say 'it was only a little bit'. Hmm. All very well but the only trouble is, it's not funny.

In between the two more ordinary acts, though, was one that stood out a mile. His name is Anthony J Brown and he's described as 'a dapper and dandy funeral director, ...with humour blacker than a raven that has slammed its claw in a coffin lid'. His jokes were different. His whole demeanour was different, since he sidled up to the microphone and began to fondle it in a distinctly erotic manner. He delivered his one-liners deadpan, in a voice that wasn't much above a whisper, so you found you were hanging on every word. And boy, was it worth it, because the punchline was always unexpected, often macabre, and very, very funny. He had the entire audience in stitches. I can't give away too much of his material, obviously (he'd probably chop me into little pieces and feed me to his pet microphone) but here's a tiny taster:

"I came into some money the other day."

[long pause]

"I'd run out of tissues."

[even longer pause]

"It halved the queue at the cashpoint."

At which point I stopped breathing again. I wouldn't mind if I never saw the other two comedians again, but I'll be looking out for Anthony J Brown on the local comedy circuits and I hope he makes a bigger name for himself than he already has. He deserves it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When is art not art?

Possibly when it's a poem.

On Saturday we visited Abbott Hall art gallery in Kendal for the first time. We'd heard it was rather good and sure enough, although the collection on display is quite small, it's full of big names. These include George Romney, who studied art in the town before moving to London; Constable; Turner; and a collection of watercolours of local scenes showing the development of the 'picturesque' movement in the Lake District - paintings that are over dramatised to the point of wild innacuracy, but always romantic.

Upstairs the display changes to more modern art, currently including an exhibition by world-renowned artist Richard Long, who specialises in works that involve landscape. I tend to be rather undecided about Modern Art at the best of times; some of this was, to my mind, brilliant (especially his stunning landscape photography), but some left me cold. In particular, there were a series of artworks where words had been printed onto a sheet of paper and then framed and hung. One of these had me scratching my head, because it was a long list of sounds he'd heard while on a long walk. I assume you were meant to read the list, sound by sound, and hear each one in your own mind to re-create the artist's walk yourself.

The language Long used was very evocative and quickly brought the various noises to mind. It's an intriguing idea, but is it really art? To my mind, written words on a page with their own style and internal rhythm, which evoke a particular image (or in this case, sound) are poetry, not art. If so, then Long is as good a poet as he is an artist.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A story a day

A story a day may not keep the doctor away but it still sounds like good entertainment, which is the aim of the 'Daily Flashes of Fiction 2012' anthology from Pill Hill Press.

The anthology will include four of my darkest, twistedest short stories (Is 'twistedest' a word? Oh well, it is now!) and is divided into 366 days of the year (2012 is Leap Year), each day having its very own story. The editor has just confirmed which day will be represented by each of my stories; the dates are as follows:

27th February - This Life Sucks
13th April - Load of Bull
15th June - Footprints
7th August - Peeping Tom

As far as I know Pill Hill are still on track to release this in December this year, ready for readers to start devouring their daily story from January 1st, so do keep an eye open for further details on when it will be available.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Currently reading

I've just this minute finished reading 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' by Susanna Clarke. It's a massive book - the sort you could use to fell a burglar at twenty yards - and it's taken some getting through. Not because it's no good, but because these days I only really read in bed at night and by then my eyes are too tired to read more than a few pages at a time.

It was worth the lengthy reading time, though, because the book is simply amazing. Original, quirky, full of sly humour but also excitement and even the odd note of poignancy. Basically it tells the tale of two magicians in late Georgian England, but a Georgian England that's very different from the one we learn about in history lessons. This England has been shaped by magic, and by the reign of a magician king who held sway over a vast swathe of northern England in medieval times but has since disappeared. The two magicians of the title, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell, bicker and fight over the return of magic to England, with sometimes amusing, sometimes disastrous results.

The book is very, very long. Well over a thousand pages, and written in an old fashioned, Victorian-novel style that I thought was rather dry - for the first few pages, until I spotted the glorious, half-hidden humour underlying almost every sentence. In the end I think it probably is too long, and there were a few chapters after half-way but before the race to the end which dragged and which could easily have been shortened or even removed without affecting the story.

Overall, though, the sheer scale of the world Ms Clarke has created, the attention to detail, the frequent footnotes explaining this or that spell or historical event, make it less of a book and more of a fantasy tour-de-force. I loved it!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Breathless #2

No more sprints to the station with missing phones, thank goodness, but Dave's been suffering with a rotten cold and cough the last couple of weeks and has just, very generously, passed it on to me.

I won't go into details about all the spluttering but hopefully I'll be back on my feet and posting on here again soon.