Thursday, December 30, 2004

Wot I Did This Year

A ridiculously conceited concept, I realize, but then isn't that the premise of everything here?

1: Travelled to England to see the Mekons' gig at Manchester's Band on the Wall, ably supported by, among others, the fantabulous John Hyatt. By a huge margin the highlight of the year, even if I couldn't get Sally Timms to take her top off.

2: Entered the parallel universe known as the blogosphere for the first time. Now I can't seem to get out, despite the suggestions of several well-wishers.

3: Visited Cuba for the second time (shan't be returning).

4: Visited Cephalonia for the second time (ditto).

5: Discovered that I bore easily (see 3 and 4).

6: Wrote my third novel, Ivy Feckett Is Looking for Love: A Birmingham Romance.

7: Started my fourth novel, Fun Among the Screelpokes.

8: Won Laytown/Bettystown Men's Over-40s doubles. Outdoor. On Thursdays.

9: Took massive doses of intravenous drugs for the first time. Alright, 8 days of antibiotics, but coming off them cold turkey was a nightmare!

10: Burst my appendix for the first time.

11: Received my first surgical scar, a sure sign of middle age. I've been scared of knives ever since I was chased out of Jacey Park woods at the age of 8 by a teddy boy with a penknife, so before the operation, I asked if I could be anaesthetized while the surgeon did his stuff. Transpires that this is the usual procedure anyway, so I didn't have to see my previously immaculate skin pierced by unforgiving metal. Great relief all round.

Also, I got married and had a baby boy.

Big hopes for 2005!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Lick My Craic

Once again, the Irish music charts have come up trumps during 2004. The competition was so strong this year that I've been forced to combine singles and albums to whittle down the number to the ten best records. I know this is cheating, but I make the rules round here, so it's allowed.

When I say Irish charts, by the way, I'm referring to the Raidio Siamsa lists, not the poxy fixed RTE charts. This is ACTUALLY what the yoof of Ireland are listening to, as opposed to what the post-Celtic Tiger Idiot Bourgeoisie up in Montrose tell you.

In reverse order, as is traditional:

10: "Grainneog in the Road," by Country Jeff and the Culchies (Flahooley Records)

9: "Maeve, Maeve (Binchy)," by Ciaran Oganach (Clabhta Recordings)

8: "Kiss My Monkey," by Onan Hendricks (R.S.V.P.)

7: "I'm Your Scum," by Asphalt (Paradigm Plus)

6: "Give Ireland Back to the English," by The Hames (Living Arse Records)

5: "Like a Birmingham Laser," by Juan-Pablo and the Angels (Ellisout Music)

4: "Ivan Illich was My Mother," by Spakka (Spiral Snatch)

3: "Snot Unusual," by Billie-Jo Harvester (Dullish)

2: "The Structural Development of Hierarchy during the Process of Electrification in North Korea," by The Wee Scaldies (Ciunas!)

and beating them all by a country mile,

1: "Bird Shit on My Shoulder (Dog Shit on My Shoe)," by the Happy Larrys (Water Mint Music)

This time next year, you'll ALL be whistling it!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Out of the Mouths of Babes . . . Weird Shit

Despite my recent incapacitation, I was eager to pay another visit to my intellectually dangerous godson and his twin brother up in County Cavan. My last trip engendered the story here, so the possibility of material for further postings helped overcome any remaining tenderness in my abdominal area.

Although not yet five, Joshua and Jordan have seen both maternal grandparents die, as well as the family pet, Mickey the labrador, at the age of 14 (that's 98 to you and me), in addition to more remote family members and, last week, the caretaker who buried their nana and granddad. All this in addition to at least two visits to Australia (their dad is from Adelaide), so you can understand that they've seen plenty of the world already thanks very much, albeit from push-chairs and strollers.

This familiarity with death and its frequency must surely account for Jordan's recent question to his mother, a common enough one in young children but peculiar in this case for its phrasing: "Mommy," he asked, "When are you and Daddy going to die?"

This isn't Oedipal, it's psychotic. Unless one allows for the possibility that it was just a very dull and boring day for Jordan and he hadn't seen a death for a while. That's the only explanation I would want to countenance for the element of impatience suggested by his query.

Item two: The Saturday before Christmas seems to also be the traditional day for arranging what the lads call "Stable Jesus," i.e. the nativity scene. The family has a set of china figurines which, if not antique, have been in the family for a while, and the lads derive great pleasure from positioning the various characters and animals in the mock wooden stable diorama atop an occasional table in the living room. Unfortunately, this year, Joshua managed to break an arm off Baby Jesus, an event that elicited a brief reprimand from Mommy but subsequently great amusement, at least for Joshua, at the thought of "One-Armed Baby Jesus," the perfect name for a Christian kung-fu movie, I thought. Joshua wandered off for a minute with the figurine, then came back into the room to inform me, "Jesus has got three arms." There was no apparent justification for this statement, and he hadn't modified the figurine in any way. My immediate assumption was that he was pretending that the little baby's legs were arms as well, so I played along, but then he followed up his statement with, "Jesus has got lots of arms." "Mmm," I said. "That's so he can deliver all the presents." (Oh yes, I neglected to mention that the nativity scene also featured Santa; this is a sort of nod to secularism in a good Catholic household, possibly for my benefit, I don't know).

Joshua returned Baby Jesus to his crib in the stable, sat a while, and pondered. Then he came back over to me, lazing on the settee checking Final Score, to inform me, "Baby Jesus is an octopus."

What drugs is this kid on?

"That's right," I told him, conscious of my role as his godfather. "Baby Jesus is an octopus."

The fact that Joshua knew that it wasn't true only made him laugh all the harder.

Ah, the laughter of children. Surely this is what Christmas is all about.

One final anecdote from the weekend, and an image that will remain with me for some time. Jordan was sat on his mother's knee as she read through a book with him, identifying letters of the alphabet. "A is for . . ." she would say, and Jordan would complete the sentence, using his own imagination, with "Apple," "Bear," "Cat," "Dog," and so on. At "H," or thereabouts, Jordan was receiving such plaudits from his audience that Joshua decided he wanted to join in, leading to mini temper tantrums and a short spat. Perhaps it was the threat of competition that spurred on Jordan's imagination, but when Mommy got to "M is for . . .," Jordan's response was "Machine." His mother couldn't have been more stunned had he said "Masturbation." Where on earth did he get "Machine" from? Fruit machines from the pub next door? Sinn Fein's local political machine? This was mind-blowing. Granted they live in the country and see their fair share of tractors and combines, but "machine" is an abstraction, a generic term. What kind of child comes out with "M is for machine?" A paranoid schizophrenic one, is my guess.

I'm not well up on theories of child development, so I'm in no position to judge whether this sort of behaviour is normal for a four-year-old, but I do understand now why people say you should make the most of your kids' childhood. Never again will they be so free-thinking and unconstrained in their mental associations. Never again will you save so much money that you would have spent on acid when you have kids around like this just to fuck with your mind.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The black and white minstrels: Ahead of their time?

An item courtesy of the Robins Review, Altrincham F.C.'s fabulous matchday programme:

Angel Torres, president of Spanish club Getafe, wants his white players to paint their faces black to combat racism.

Torres made the call after racist chanting at the game between his club and Barcelona, reports Sporting Life.

Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho were the victims of taunts in Getafe's Coliseum Alfonso Perez. Torres suggested the Getafe squad showed solidarity with black players by painting their faces black for their next game.

"I have spoken to one of the club captains and I am certain that the players want to take measures to fight against racism," he said. "I will ask them to paint their faces black before they go onto the pitch next Sunday."

Getafe striker Gica Craioveanu said: "I have no problem with doing that, but I don't think we need to do anything quite as drastic."

He believes a special match should be staged to help combat racism and to raise awareness about the problem in Spanish football.

"Neither the team, nor the players, nor the Getafe fans are racist," said Craioveanu. "I think a game against racism played in the Santiago Bernabeu would be a better idea. "We all have to stop this now, starting with the most important players from every team."

Thursday, December 09, 2004


What can it possibly mean, I hear you ask as you pan down my links. Find out for yourself at the enlightening and always erudite Socialism in an Age of Waiting (apologies if this reads like mealy-mouthed insincere grovelling in light of the very decent things they've said about us - that's the downside to text-based communications. What do you want, emoticons?)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Old Habitus Dies Hard

Rethinking Class: Culture, Identities & Lifestyle, edited by Fiona Devine, Mike Savage, John Scott, and Rosemary Crompton

It's been more than ten years since I had any direct involvement in academia, so I thought this brand new collection of studies, compiled by the editors of Renewing Class Analysis, would get me up to speed with the latest in cutting-edge theories concerning class and social stratification.

I needn't have bothered. It seems like very little has changed in the time since I completed my postgrad. All the contributors to this collection seem to be agreed that simplistic 'producerist-based' definitions of class are inadequate (specifically, blunt) tools for class analysis, as are emphases on patterns of consumption or lifestyle, as exemplified by more recent, postmodern approaches. Class has far more to do with the exercise of power than relationship to the means of production, thus most seem to be content to rely on Bourdieu's concept of social fields and his distinction between economic and cultural capital, possessed to varying degrees by members of society and in such proportions as to allow us to define their location in the social hierarchy. Thus Michael Vester examines the way Bourdieu's pioneering work on class in France can be operationalized for Germany, and Mike Savage, Gaynor, Bagnall, and Brian Longhurst examine the changes in habitus amongst the community of Cheadle, an article that at least had the merit of discussing somewhere I can claim to have visited many times (mostly unwillingly).

We seem not to have gotten very far in the space of ten years. There doesn't seem to have been much rethinking done, only an attempt to apply some of Bourdieu's principles. Odd the top of my head, I can think of three classic theorists of modernity, Elias, Veblen, and Simmel, whose works could have been put to use in informing Bourdieu's approach, but nothing like this seems to have been attempted (maybe that was never the remit, but there's precious little originality here).

For instance, Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption could be used to examine the contestation of lifestyle patterns at the borders of social fields; even a simple example such as the increase in wine-tasting among working-class communities and the knock-on effect this must surely have on the popularity of oenophilia among the middle classes could benefit from this. We used to refer to such behaviour as embourgeoisement, and I was delighted, no I wasn't, I was horrified, to see this term still being used to describe changes in working-class behaviour. In any case, how do you determine whether the adoption of a specific behaviour means that an individual has risen up the social ladder or that the behaviour has dripped down? Or indeed, up -Beverley Skeggs's article, "The Re-Branding of Class," at least manages to acknowledge this problem in her wry poke at Guy Ritchie and the Mockneys (great band name by the way).

It's also difficult to believe that there's no place for Elias's figurational sociology in the exploration of any aspect of habitus. If it's the case that increased bureaucratization and centralization of authority and the various processes of production and consumption lead to increased 'self-control' and 'self-restraint' among individuals in any given society, so that different emotions predominate in different epochs, cultures, and classes, we should be able to trace the historical forces that lead to the differentiation of social fields according to ethos: The supposed stiff upper lip of the English upper class must not only have a synchronic aspect (as part of a social space occupied by the class to set it apart from the 'lower orders') but also a diachronic aspect, a biography that relates it to membership of a class experiencing the consequences of modernization as necessitating interchangeability of members, self-restraint, and, indeed, a consciousness of its own 'civilizing' tasks.

And maybe, just maybe, Simmel's idea of neurasthenia (exemplified by Stendhal's syndrome) could be put to use, especially at this time of year, to explore Bourdieuvian habitus amongst working-class and middle-class children and the extent to which they might overlap and undermine standard definitions of class. I dunno, just an idea.

The blurb on the back of the book says, " . . . the book celebrates the emergence of new ways of understanding social inequalities." I didn't see any.

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Marx for Murdoch

Karl Marx, by Francis Wheen

As you've by now realized, I have a policy of not linking to books published by companies owned by Rupert Murdoch—you can find the book yourself if you want to: I feel bad enough for having bought the book myself. Having read it, frankly, I can understand why Murdoch was happy to publish it.

In Wheen's defence, because this is a biography rather than an outline of Marx's philosophy, this is not the place to look if you're expecting a detailed explanation or justification of Marxism; there are some half-hearted stabs at defending the arguments advanced in Capital vis a vis crises of overproduction, for example, but these are undermined by Wheen's contention that Capital should not be read as a scientific work in any case but as a work of art akin to Sterne's Tristram Shandy or Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

In fact, Wheen makes a better case for this view than he does for the validity of Marx's arguments. He spends several pages showing how the text of Marx's grand opus is laced with abstruse syllogisms, daft paradoxes, obscure metaphysics, and ironic or satirical passages of no small literary merit, all of which render the work far more readable than any normal, dry economics text of the period, even if this is at the expense of rigour. More use-value and profit can be derived from Capital, Wheen asserts, if it is read as a work of the imagination: a Victorian melodrama, or a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created . . . or perhaps a satirical utopia like Swift's land of the Houyhnhnms . . ." (I was always given to understand in any case that Marx was more concerned that Capital be an overwhelming book in terms of its size than its scientific validity.) Not touched upon by Wheen, but a rumour I once heard from a fellow Counagian, is the argument that there is supposed to be a Hegelian structure to the entire text (the three volumes) so that it can be read like some massive unfolding of the dialectic. Little help, anyone?

So, then, this is a work of biography, not exegesis. But as such, the narrative throughout is somewhat insipid. Whether this is to do with Wheen's style (see previous review) or the chosen subject is difficult to say. It's an appalling cliche to use but never has it been more apt: Reading Francis Wheen is like eating a Chinese meal—it all goes down very easily and seems to be substantial, yet ten minutes later you're hungry again.

You come to this book assuming that Marx's life story will arouse a sense of awe, that because he was present at events that later proved to be of world-shattering importance, they will appear less than mundane in their retelling, yet you are is left feeling that this man can be a hero for no one other than librarians for all the time he spent reading and writing. Indeed, it's a biography for people whose heroes are librarians and novelists rather than fighter pilots or drug smugglers (Given Lenin's well-known cowardice in the face of physical violence, these are probably the same people). Even in the book's most exciting passages, all Marx seems to do is drink, sit on committees, destroy workers' organizations when they look like falling beyond his control, or engage in common vandalism and get chased by the police (to be fair, he was a tad more adventurous during his student years, but then weren't we all?)

The conclusion to draw from this book might be that it is for his writings that Marx should best be remembered, since as an individual he was prone to jealousy, petty rages, vulgar name calling, and begrudgery of such incredible force that the merest slight could not go unpunished: viz Herr Vogt and The Great Men of Exile. Moreover, he was an unbelievable scrounger, not just receiving off cash handouts from Engels but living off a handsome sum every year so that his daughters could live respectable bourgeois existences and attend the best schools. It was not that Marx had nothing to live on but that he spent money so lavishly and wastefully that explains the hardships that are often cited as proof of Marx's sacrifice on the workers' behalf. Any sacrifice was made not for the workers but for his daughters, and if it was made by anyone, it was made by Engels—or the people who worked for him.

It's Freddy Engels who comes out this biography with the most credit, and it surprises me that we still do not have a definitive biography of him in English. He is a far more simpatico character, and his long relationships with both Marx and Mary Burns are indicative of his capacity for selflessness and loyalty. And a good laugh he seems to have been, too (we'll leave aside for the time being his regular participation in the Cheshire Hunt).

As a final comment, let me just add that Wheen's treatment of the anarchists in the International is strangely underdeveloped. A chapter that one expects to be devoted to Bakunin spends only the first few pages discussing what a thoroughly bad egg he was, and there's no acknowledgement that Marx's position on the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune were affected by the significance they might have in the battle between Marx's "German socialism" over the rival "French socialism" of the Proudhonists in the International. These are not negligible aspects of Marx's career, since both he and Lenin successfully presented themselves as liberators in their words and dictators by their deeds. And it's by their deeds that ye shall know them.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Voice of an Angel, Heart of a Devil

That's the gorgeous and wonderful Kelly Hogan, now linked left. Find out more about her stuff at Bloodshot Records. The most incredible voice. And soooo sexy.

Kevin Coyne

Whose work was recently advertised on C&S here, passed away last week. Please check his Web site here.

The Dangerous World of Blogging

More paranoid and less rational analysts might see some sort of conspiracy in the ongoing 'accidents' befalling left-wing bloggers in recent months. Comrades Yulianov and Rooksby each recount incidents that hardly bear credibility in isolation (notwithstanding their ironic style of narrative), and when considered side by side would lead the most sceptical of parapolitical researchers (yes, Robin Ramsay) to conclude that there has to be a government agency intent on censorship by termination with extreme prejudice.

Now your intrepid blogger at C&S has raised the bar in his ongoing game of Knock and Run with death by allowing his inner organs to be exposed to daylight in the hope of demonstrating no hidden agenda. I'm happy to report that all that the surgeons were able to find on Tuesday morning were a bit more than two centimeters of appendix, where there should have been six, and some accompanying 'debris.' The significance of this was lost on me until the surgeon explained later that when I originally arrived in the hospital eight weeks or so ago with stomach pains, my appendix had indeed perforated but the layer of fat protecting my vital organs had surrounded and isolated the area so that no infection could spread. My dad now tells me his uncle died of exactly the same thing at the age of 16 (the only explanation I could get from the doctors to explain my condition was 'a build up of matter,' which could mean anything: weetabix, chewing gum, No. 3 buses etc.).

It turns out that never growing up did me a favour. All those years as a grown man playing footie and tennis kept my body fit enough to respond to this internal crisis. At least, this is what the surgeon told me, and i think that should be the lesson to draw from this: Never grow up.

It's been curious to observe the responses from people to my news. Anyone who has had appendicitis responds much in the same way as any man does to an account of someone else being kicked in the goolies - an automatic empathy that elicits at the very least a wince and a cringe. They recognize straight away the pain and dangers involved. By contrast, people who still have their appendixes simply say to me, "Appendicitis? Isn't that what ten-year-olds get?" To which I reply, "Yes. I play football and tennis and write a diary and kiss girls and run away. In what way do I not qualify?"

As you see, normal service is in process of being resumed.