Archive for the Life Category

Winter Wonders

Posted in Art, Life on June 8, 2010 by richardblandford

I Got the Asperger’s

Posted in Life with tags , on April 19, 2010 by richardblandford

Richard Blandford

We are as gods. Bow down and worship us, puny humans.

Recently I got official confirmation of something that I’ve pretty much known for quite a long time.  That is, I have the Autistic Spectrum Condition called Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’m not particularly big on posting personal details on the internet, as you can attract all sorts of idiots that way (I, for instance, have never publicly revealed the existence of my miniature Schnauzer, Poppy, and don’t intend to) but feel like making a little statement about this for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I think it’s a relevant context for understanding my writing, both published and yet-to-be-published, and if I waited for everyone to figure it out for themselves it would take bloody forever (although someone’s already cracked the code).

Secondly, it seems to me that the more that’s found out about Asperger’s, the clearer it is that the ways in which it can manifest itself can be quite subtle (although the effect it has on someone’s life, positive or negative, is rarely if ever negligible).  The internet is rife with rumours that public figures like Woody Allen, Al Gore, Steven Spielberg and Prince have Asperger’s or a related condition, but if any ever get a diagnosis, they choose not to reveal it (give or take a Ladyhawke or two).

So I suppose the point I’m making is that the reality of Asperger’s goes beyond the current basic public understanding of it.  Many of us aren’t maths geniuses, and we’re not necessarily being socially inappropriate on public transport (although I reserve the right to do so at any time).  Asperger’s logic can be an integral part of creative thought and artistic expression.  You can also be a good friend, partner, parent, family member.  It’s a difference that contains within it many variations.

Now some of the more mean-spirited out there might look up from their Daily Mail and say, ‘Oh, everybody’s got Asperger’s these days.  You’re just trying to be fashionable and get away with stuff, like that hacker bloke.’

My response to this would be, firstly, ‘fuck off’.

My second response would be that Asperger’s Syndrome has only been available as an official diagnosis in the UK for less than 20 years, and has only entered the public consciousness relatively recently.  Consequently, there are many thousands of people out there of all ages who have gone through their entire lives knowing something’s not quite ‘right’ but are only now stumbling upon a framework for understanding themselves that makes sense.  That’s why it seems that ‘everybody’s got it’ at the moment.

Anyway, there’s a few more things I have to say about the matter, but I shall save them for another time.  Until then, I shall be doing really complicated sums in my head whilst behaving inappropriately on public transport.

He’s Faceman! He’s Columbo! He’s Facemambo!

Posted in Life, TV with tags , , on April 5, 2010 by richardblandford

Columbo                                       Faceman

The other day I went to Dirk Benedict play Columbo in Prescription: Murder at the Worthing Connaught Theatre. The play actually predates the series and was used as the basis for the pilot episode in which Peter Falk played the detective for the first time (although confusingly, the play is based on a previous TV one-off drama, in which Columbo was played by yet another actor).

Benedict was convincing in the role, perhaps wisely adding little of his own and essentially conjuring up the spirit of Falk (who, confusingly, isn’t dead, although he has dementia and can no longer remember being Columbo, which is surely the saddest fact in show-business not involving Alex Reid right now).

The production was cheap and cheerful (and nothing wrong with that), although the sets were excellent, convincingly conjuring up 60s Los Angeles with a minimum of elements. Some of the acting from the supporting cast was a bit creaky, with that ‘TALKING REALLY LOUDLY FOR NO REASON’ you used to get in Radio 4 dramas in the 80s, but I don’t know if the play would really have benefited from a more subtle approach.

Benedict smoked a real cigar, which you could smell and everything.

The audience was played by Victoria Wood and Julie Walters (Sample overheard comments following the murder scene: ‘I can see her breathing.’ ‘Well she’s not really dead.’).

Anyway, the show’s touring the country, and I recommend it.

Where Has All the White Dog-Shit Gone?

Posted in Life with tags on April 3, 2010 by richardblandford

You may have heard this question asked before. For some reason, the white dog-shit of our youth has disappeared. Experts say that it is due to things such as less calcium in dog food and the like, but the truth is something a bit stranger. The truth is…

Well, you might have seen him, the man, if you’ve ever had reason to stroll down a residential street in the early hours of the morning. There he’ll be, at the end of the road, bent over, picking something off the pavement, it seems, and putting it in his sack.

He won’t let you get too close, though. Move in his direction, and he’ll disappear into the night, as if hidden pathways open up just for him between the hedges and the garden walls.

Except… once someone did get close, by accident. It was broad daylight, and they saw him walking along the street and, as he spotted his treasure on the ground, it was almost as if he could not help himself from bending down and scooping it up for his sack. Then, looking from side to side like a surprised animal and seeing he had been observed, he scampered down the street.

The person who saw him do this said, some years later, whatever you do, don’t follow him. Don’t follow him to the house. And whatever you do, don’t walk up the uneven path to the door, and do not ring the doorbell.

And if you were to do any of these things, absolutely don’t wait for him to answer, and listen to him speak in a little voice through the crack of the door, inviting you in for tea, and biscuits.

If you should find yourself in his living room, then, amongst the furniture that looks a bit too puffy, the carpet that is strangely crunchy under your feet, and the bookcases stuffed with books that feel as if they’re ready to fly through the air at any moment, if you should find yourself there… whatever you do, whatever you do, don’t breathe in through your nose.

And when he comes in from the kitchen shakily holding a tray with a teapot, two cups on saucers, a milk jug and a biscuit tin on it, as you see that the walls themselves are lumpy, and from every direction there comes a buzzing, a buzzing as if something is trapped and is desperate to get out, whatever you do… whatever you do…

But there’s nothing you can do, now, except run.  He pours the tea, and adds the milk and he says in his squeak of a voice, ‘would you like a biscuit?’, and his little hand reaches for the tin. It buzzes too, and before you can say no, his bony fingers slip away the lid…

Nick Cave

Posted in Life, music with tags , , on March 7, 2010 by richardblandford

I saw Nick Cave once, in the old Borders bookshop in Brighton’s Churchill Square. I didn’t realise it was him at first. He was standing with his back up against some books in an alcove. Then, when a rather stiff-looking man walked past, he leapt out.

‘Look at my red right hand!’ he shouted. ‘Look at my red right hand!’

The man jumped, and let out an undignified yelp, before walking away as fast as he could, shaking his head and muttering.

Nick crept back into the alcove. I could see it was him now, his features familiar despite the startling hair-loss of recent years and the carefully-shaped beard that had yet to be revealed to the public. I could also see that he did indeed have a red right hand. At least, it had been haphazardly coloured-in red, in what seemed like felt tip.

A young, pretty woman walked past the alcove. Nick jumped out again.

‘Look at my red right hand!’ he said, waving it in the woman’s face. ‘The devil made it red, you know!’

The woman screamed as Nick flung himself backwards against the books, knocking several from the shelf as he pretended to be strangled by the red hand, and fighting it off with the other. He then fell to the floor, kicking more books as he went.

A store security man soon stood over him, trying to get his attention.

Nick just looked up as he writhed about, meanwhile kicking the security man in the back of the knee.

‘Stop it!’ He gasped. ‘Stop the hand. It’s killing me!’

The security man looked about, as if embarrassed.

‘Not again,’ I’m sure I heard him mutter.

Then he reached down, effortlessly grabbed the hand from around Nick’s neck by the wrist, and banged it several times against a hardback book of astronomy with little force.

He dropped the hand, and it fell to the floor.

‘Think it’s time for you to leave now, sir,’ said the security man.

‘Ow,’ said Nick, rubbing the limp red right hand. ‘That hurt.’

‘Come on, now,’ said the security man, lifting him up from the floor.

‘That really hurt,’ said Nick, as he was led away.

Learning From Edna Welthorpe

Posted in Books, Life on October 22, 2009 by richardblandford

Some green ink, yesterday.

I’m trying to break a bad habit.  No, not the one you’re thinking of.  I have no intention of breaking that one, however shameful and disgusting you might think it is.  I mean, it’ s my life, isn’t it?  And it’s not like the anteater really feels anything…

No, the habit I am talking about is reading the comments underneath opinion pieces on newspaper websites.  I just can’t resist it.  If I read an article that’s even vaguely thought-provoking, I have to see what people are saying about it.  And often, what they seem to be saying can be roughly summarised as ‘GGGRRAAAARGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!’

After reading message upon message filled with bad feeling, intolerance and pure blind rage, the world often seems a bleaker, more cruel place than it did before.  But time after time I go back for more.  Yes, I have become addicted to green inkers.

The phrase ‘green inkers’ originated, of course, in the pre-internet age, when correspondence to newspapers of an overly angry, obsessional and seemingly deranged nature was observed to be for some weird reason to be often written in green ink.  These letters were generally treated at best as sources of humour for the recipients, or at worst inconveniences to be ignored.  They very rarely, however, made it to the letters page of any publication they were sent to.

With the arrival of the internet, all that changed.  Now, with the opportunity to add comments to articles, the green inkers could display their bile for all to see, as long as they stayed vaguely on topic and didn’t threaten to kill anybody.  Consequently, any attempt at expressing an opinion in a popular publication with an online presence is now often met with an awe-inspiring public wave of negativity, running from sneering contempt to the plain strangeness of paranoid thinking, where anything can be seen as part of a plot by the government to punish people with reggae, or make fun of people in wheelchairs through the medium of dance.

The upshot of this is that the green inkers now have a much louder voice than they’ve had since Mary Whitehouse had the ingenious idea of mobilising them as a campaigning army back in the sixties.  On the one hand, it’s a great demonstration of free speech, albeit one that can be quite grim to wade through.

It does, however, also create a false impression of what people actually think, while discouraging others of a more moderate and timid sensibility from saying anything at all.  It’s sometimes hard to remember, when reading these shrill missives, that the vast majority of people who read any given article aren’t going to bother commenting on it.  The views at the bottom of the page aren’t a cross-section of all the thoughts the piece has prompted.  It’s just a cross-section of the views of those who could be bothered to type something.

Now, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be lively debate, and the issue is complicated by the fact that even the broadsheets run opinion pieces and blog entries that are clearly designed to wind people up as much as possible (the late Steven Wells was a master of this, over at the Guardian music blog).  Also, sometimes the piece in question is so vile in itself that nothing but contempt is appropriate.  See: Jan Moir.

But wouldn’t it be great if, in general, it was all gone about in a more civilised way?  Then, many who might have something to say but are scared off by the sheer intensity of some posters’ style of expression might feel more inclined to put forward their thoughts.  The key, in my view, is to recognise the spirit in which something is written and respond in an appropriate manner.  For example, if some idiot journalist writes a thinly-veiled hate-piece about a minority group, tell them that their attitude is disgusting.  If, however, someone puts forward a thoughtfully constructed argument about an issue, the conclusion of which you happen to disagree with, just point out the flaws in their argument and present a counter-argument.  Don’t jump down their throats for daring to exist on the same planet as you whilst in the possession of an opinion that in some way differs from your own.

I was thinking about all this because I’ve been reading the diaries of the playwright Joe Orton.  While the diaries themselves contain some things that are unpalatable (No Joe, don’t sleep with underage Moroccan boys!), in the appendix you will find what I consider to be some of Orton’s finest achievements.  There, collected together are the various letters Orton wrote under the pseudonym of Edna Welthorpe.  In this guise, he wrote to various organisations, individuals and publications, railing against home shopping, raspberry pie filling, Juke Box Jury, and his own plays.

The Welthorpe letters are hysterical, because she is the ultimate green-inker.  Her world-view is blinkered, uncompromising and egomaniacal.  Because of this, she can never be satisfied.

This is worth remembering, I think, when navigating the reams of mean-spirited verbiage online.  There’s no way you could ever make these people happy.  They don’t seem to do happiness.  Writing a nasty comment in a box and posting it is probably the closest they get to pleasure.  Equally, it’s not very much good arguing with them, as admitting they’re wrong doesn’t appear to be in their arsenal either.

As it stands, the best way to deal with the new online breed of green inkers 2.0 is the old-fashioned way.  Ignore them.  Unfortunately, that essentially means ignoring the forums for reasoned debate that they’ve set up camp in.  Oh well, I guess somebody’s got to compromise round here.

Been on holiday. You got a problem with that?

Posted in Life on October 1, 2009 by richardblandford

Inside St.John's Co-Cathedral, La Valetta

Just back from a week in Malta.  Not the sort of place I’d normally choose for a holiday, but we were staying in someone else’s timeshare apartment, so it was pretty much a free holiday.  Don’t want to bore you too much with holiday stuff, as other people’s holidays tend to be terribly boring to hear about, but there are a few things I found interesting there that I nevertheless want to sear onto your brains via the medium of language.

The first was the hotel itself.  It had done a deal with the timeshare company that meant that it’s representatives had a permanent office onsite, right next to the swimming pool.  The scam they would pull was that they would accost holiday-makers in the street, telling them they’d won a prize.  All they had to do to pick it up was give them an hour of their time, which would be spent, of course, verbally pummeling them until they bought a timeshare they would later regret.

Sitting by the pool, you could see a steady traffic of timeshare salesmen, dressed in smart black trousers and nice shirt in 30 degree + heat, escorting their victims to and from the office.  They had the air of desperate men, as if they’d wandered out of a David Mamet play, their faces a strange purple, the combined result, I should imagine, of an Englishman in a climate he was never designed for and excessive alcohol consumption.  Every so often, a tourist would walk out in a huff, and the salesman would run out apologetically, begging them to come back.  It was all rather seedy, although undeniably fascinating to watch.  Malta noir.

Another thing that was interesting was St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valetta.  Normally I’m not huge on cathedrals unless they’re particularly spectacular, but this one was notable for not only containing two masterpieces by Caravaggio, but having been built for the Knights of Malta, an organisation of arch-mentalists who ruled the place from the 16th to the late 18th Century, when they were kicked out by Napoleon.  During this period, they policed the Mediterranean, fighting pirates and pesky Turks, with Malta acting as their super-special gang HQ.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is essentially what a place of worship would look like if designed by the SAS.  There are memorial plaques in the floor for fallen knights, decorated with skulls not as a reminder of the inevitability of death, but just as a sign of how hard they were (below).  Portraits of the knights look down at you from the ceiling, with all the reservation of pissed venture scouts in a rural pub.

Most bizarre of all is the memorial of one grand-master, in which his services to the enslavement of the people of both Asia and Africa is immortalised in marble (above).  The building is still a functioning place of worship, so one has to maintain the respectful behaviour this demands whilst confronted with possibly the most hateful and inherently un-Christian object you could possibly come across.

Other things of interest in Malta are the semi-famous buses, which are old models from the US and the UK, shipped out there in the sixties and still going.  There also lots of old cars out there and still working, living rust-free in the dry heat.  A metal-flaked gold Cortina caught my eye at one point, looking particularly marvelous.

There are a number of prehistoric sites there, including the oldest free-standing structure in the world, and a museum that displays the things they dug up in these places, which are pretty amazing (below).  Unfortunately, I went to what was the probably the least interesting prehistoric site, and not only that, the bus timetable for there and back was very misleading.  Worst day of the holiday.

Anyway, those are a couple of things I saw.  And that’s it for holidays until next year, when I shall by staying in my own timeshare apartment in Hull.  Now that was one deal that definitely wasn’t a rip-off.  Still twenty-seven years left on it, but I don’t think I’ll ever get bored there.  I’ve got a spare room if anybody feels like joining me for a week or six.  Anybody?  No?  Oh well.