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Thursday, 27 February 2020

Clive Cussler, The Titanic and how Reading Strategies brought me to Greenland.. ish

My eyes were transfixed. The Titanic had broken the surface, bow first, and then they'd boarded. But the heroes had been tricked both by the Soviets and by the past... 
This movie had just made real, something I had fantasised about, and something Clive Cussler's words had lovingly described to me just a few years back.  

Dirk Pitt® (who didn't look like what I thought he'd look like), standing on the sodden deck of the once lost ship, the ship being the real reason I came to see the movie of a book I'd read four times said, "You want to talk about distress? We have Navy weather forcasting a force -12 storm, we have Russians looking down our throats and we are on a ship that never learned to do anything but sink. That’s distress!” - and they were left to the storm and the Soviets and the Titanic looked as if it was to be lost again... 

Exciting stuff, though for me, not exciting enough. 

For me, the most exciting thing was the artifact under Pitt's feet. The big, Iron relic from the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha'n age. An age when rich, white, English posh people's lives were oh so much more valuable than the rest (has much really changed?) and the Director had concentrated on perhaps the most boring aspect of the story for me... The cold War, damp squib fight for what was buried somewhere below the dripping, rusting decks in a safe. 

I wanted a tour of the ship! (James Cameron, in his post wreck rediscovery movie, didn't disappoint in that way years later). 

But there it was, the reason I had come to the Iveagh Cinema. And I was hugely disappointed. I had been excited to see this, but the movie didn't deliver for another, huge reason. All of the technical wizardry of Hollywood had only delivered a special effect, not the still lost Titanic, not in the way reading Cussler's book had. 

Because Cussler, like me, loved the ship. Loved the stories of the ship. Loved the atmosphere on that ship. Loved the glimpse into another world, a world of class, that we were told was disappearing in the seventies. 

And I learned in those facts, that movies were rarely as good as books. 
When I was little, I was fascinated by the Titanic. Children can become totally obsessed by events or stories or other aspects of our world. My childhood was a '70's completely analogue life... with the exception of TV (it's odd to describe TV as analogue), so the only dramatised Titanic film I'd seen until I had read Cussler's love story to the ship, when it was shown on telly, was the wonderful  "A Night to Remember." It had the impact on me that I suppose, Cameron's "Titanic" had on audiences much later. And a year before the release of the movie, a TV movie, watched with the family, at my parents feet (I usually sat on the floor watching telly) "SOS Titanic," had added colour to the beautiful machine (and drama and flesh to the accounts of people I knew from various factual accounts, for example, Lawrence Beesley's). 
My Grandmother told me of a visiting storyteller who had taught her and her class a poem about the ship, which she recited to me (and painstakingly wrote out for me... I wish I still had that). Both her and my grandad were about the age I was when I became obsessed by the ship, when it was being built alongside the Olympic, and set sail for the bottom of the ocean. She knew of someone who had been on it, a friend of a friend. And I felt through her, I was connected to the ship. 

The real wreck of the Titanic was as yet still undiscovered, and not only did I seek books on the known Titanic; survivor accounts, photo books etc, but I sought out books that surmised the whereabouts of the wreck, the state of the wreck, and newspaper articles that told of millionaires who were going to build Titanic replicas, conspiracy theories about the Titanic etc.

And then Clive Cussler entered my life. I listened to a "Home Service" radio report about his book, Raise the Titanic in 1976/77 and had to buy it to add to my collection of clippings from newspapers, xeroxed pages from library books, my Revell plastic model of the ship I had saved for and painstakingly built and painted and books bought in Eason's in Newtownards Shopping Centre and Walshes in Banbridge. I was 11. The Internet had yet to be invented and  computers were scifi monsters. But I had more than the contents of the Titanic wikipedia page at my fingertips and buzzing around my head. 
I had been a reluctant reader until I was in P3/4. But I saw the value in reading. I saw it was important, so I became determined to read around the age of six/seven, but hated the grinding torture of "Dick and Dora," whose adventures were like a rainy, boring Sunday, forced to eat leather fried meat and tomato sauce whipped potatoes. 
But then mum started buying me comics (and cooking lasagne!). The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, Shiver and Shake... There were loads of brilliant, funny comics in my newsagent, renewed every Wednesday  or Thursday. And then war comics, Warlord, Battle, Victor etc... They were where I really learned my reading. I remember at six or seven being unable to read the speech bubbles, but being bloody determined to find out about what these characters were saying. And quite quickly, I saw sense in using the reading strategies my teachers screamed at me, and hit and pulled my hair, taking out their own mental torture on this odd, annoying, chatty boy. The fear of God really didn't help me read, stay quiet or count, etc. But reading became an escape from their torture. 

The first book I read was one given to me by my Anglican Sunday School on Children's Sunday, about the Donkey that had brought Jesus to Jerusalem before his arrest. And I remember the pride in that. I read the last page as I sat on a rainy Saturday morning, waiting in the car for dad, who had called in to a car garage for something. When he came back, I remember telling him, "I've read a book!" And he said, "That's good," and we drove home. I remember thinking that this reaction really wasn't what you'd expect for such a feat... A whole book! But the subdued, anticlimactic reaction didn't put me off. I wanted to read more stories, and find out more stuff... Stuff I wanted to know, not just the stuff that was stripped of all excitement and turned into a workbook or xeroxed literature exercise in school.

And I found Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt® and NUMA, and the oceans, and adventures across the globe (I've still not visited Reykjavik, or Greenland, two places described by Cussler that made huge impressions on my mind), and I discovered global politics, nuclear weapons and a happy place to go between Bond movies that was modern, and imaginative and to my young mind, serious and exciting  literature.

I read the first seven Dirk Pitt® books, but by the seventh, I became an undirected, uneducated, unschooled (I left school with a couple of O levels, a bit of luck and a lot of help in getting my first jobs!) literary snob, realising that these novels that had gripped me as a child and as a young teenager, were not classical literature and I haven't read a Cussler novel since, but always smile inside when I see his books on shelves in airport bookshops. These books that made me feel like a grown up reader (it was difficult to explain the excitement of Watership Down to my friends, but my enthusiasm for Cussler dragged them along to the cinema to see that Belfast Liner cut the surface), taught me the excitement of the world outside my small place in County Down, and taught me how exciting reading really was.

I stopped being snobbish about reading quite a while ago... I read almost any genre, good and bad. And just a few weeks ago I promised myself I would revisit the brilliant Cussler, an old friend and one that really entertained and made me happy as a child and teen. Entertainment and a talent to entertain are genius. Escapism and fun are massively valuable beyond the tortuosly worthy novels I sometimes crawl through in order to feel some benefit from the effort. Like a diet of watery soup and vitamins, cold baths and a regimented exercise regime. 

Cussler's talent was wonderful, imaginative, uncomplicated, happy entertainment through his obvious enthusiasm. And his enthusiasm brought me the world of literature. 

I was sad to read of his death.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Jim and Andy.

I've never really understood grief, perhaps until now. I managed through my Grandfather's funeral ten years ago, my nanny's a few years before (nanny is a, word we used to distinguish her from my other grandmother) and in the eighties and nineties my other grandparents, uncles, aunties and a little niece. They were hard, hard times. But the grief I'm working through at present after dad dying two weeks ago, is different. On a different level. A different saturation of grief, that soaks right into every cell and thought and experience.

I have a list of worthy documentaries I want to watch, and today being a day I really could barely pick my self up from the bed, the seat, the toilet, the sink at the mirror that had me staring at this old man stripped bare of the face I wear, I resigned myself to the comfy chair and the Netflix list. 

My watch list is full of politics I must watch and science and history to shift me somewhere else, but clicking through them, I flicked past this one... And then went back and gave it a go. 

I didn't really set off watching it expecting it to be that memorable. But, it was the right thing at the right time.

Carrey, a working class guy who has reached the limits of his dream, who has stripped his being right the way back to the core, is a beautiful being. Sad, delicate, damaged, but through it all, knows himself, even though he says he came out of the film about the life of Andy Kaufman totally confused about where the real Jim was. His referencing The Truman Show, and walking through that door to the real person, is one we all long for. I found my door at 17, in discovering the comradery and freedom alcohol brought, but no longer drink or take drugs beyond caffeine because walking through that door sometimes revealed someone I really didn't want to be... Rarely... but often enough to make me decide to stay this side of the entrance, and to find another door to the real me. 
There is so much to strip back. Carrey talks about the layers we build around us, the show we put on. And he says he no longer wants to do that. He realises that it isn't just a show business thing to be "someone else," that many others - everyone does it. And with that I agree. To be authentic in a world we are forced to be something else day by day, to survive, to earn, to live among people who would not seek out to be with.

Carrey does some beautiful things, as well as some rather mean things, and I think he may still not really realise his version of Kaufman may have been just that- his version, and not what he implies - that is, a possession; Andy revisiting the world through him and the movie. 

He does push buttons... He does push people in the way some of Kaufman's characters did, but Kaufman did what Carrey set out to do in his early career--bring joy. 

Make people forget. 

Made them happy. 

Carrey's treatment of the wrestler Jerry Lawler, and some other people is quite bad, and excused as "what Andy did," when he didn't actually.
But it is his treatment of Kaufman's family that is redemptive, at one point he cries because of meeting Kaufman's daughter privately for over an hour, a woman who had never met Andy in real life. To "channel" Kaufman for that woman at that time really was a beautiful thing.

And back to grief... Carrey talks about death, and how it is something, a point, we aim for. That time we can let go and feel relieved we don't need to care anymore. I understand his thoughts in this, but witnessing my father's death, his want to live and his need to care, and his want to continue caring, especially that last day of his life when he seemed to have come back to us in many ways, I disagree. Dad screamed at death and called out for my sister, who he cared for to the very end... That daughter he sat in primary school class with when she was a child, because of her fear of the world at that time. 

Kaufman, the King of resurrecting The King of Rock and Roll, through his at times painfully, cringey, embarrassing, knowingly awkward, beautiful, divisive "Foreign Man" act, I feel, Carrey believed at the time, was resurrected through him. And inso much as someone can be resurrected through memory and revisiting place, music, conversations, was. My father lives in my head. The conversations real and imagined continue to reel in my head, though the past couple of weeks, or even the past couple of months, I realise many life long assumptions of who he was, really were assumptions based on my own bias, fears, likes, and edits. 

The film, which is Carrey commentating on footage made behind the scenes of "Man on the Moon," is hilarious, poignant, frustrating and in many ways, better than the movie that was being made. Watching this man live the character he based on his own bias, fears, likes and edits 24 hours a day throughout the shoot is a tour de force of comedy, but so, so much more.

I think I'd like Carrey. I like people who understand themselves, their limits and what is broken about them. Authentic people. I don't know anything else about Carrey, other than his movies and this documentary (and some of his more recent existential statements), but I hope he has people, around him to listen to, who are authentic and whom he realises are so.

Before he was famous, Carrey wrote a £10million cheque to himself. His father died a few weeks after his film, The Mask, was released. Carrey's love for his father seeps from this film, and is contrasted with the not so ideal relationship Kaufman had with his father. 

When Jim's father died, he slipped the £10 million cheque into his suit pocket before his burial.  I understand the significance of this... The need to prove yourself to your parents. The need to show them that you are ok... That you have succeeded... And  ambition tied up so much in that primal relationship with the unquestioning love of good parents for their children, and vice-versa. 


Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Revolutionary Change part 1

I turned 54 yesterday. It was a terrible day for me in some ways. Lots of people did their best to bring me out of my grief and depression. And my son taking me out for lunch did make me briefly happy. But distraction really is the name of the game at this time. 
{I've jumped 53...}

So, a wee post on something I've distracted myself with today. 

Back in the eighties, social change was not only palpable, not only just protest and left wing rhetoric, but beginning to reach mid-Ulster. And some baby-boomers I worked and socialised with, didn't like it.

Being part of the "Pro-social change," wing of GenX, I defended change, to the point, in mid-Ulster, I was looked at like some sort of terrorist collaborator peacenik "hippy punk." 

I've just watched a documentary on the Korda/Korda-Fitzpatrick Che image.

I'm watching a lot of documentaries at the moment to distract me during the day-time. Netflix dramas at night, fiddling about on Facebook and messenger groups, twitter and lots of dog walking and some reading... When I stop, the grief gets in. It envelops, and folds me over. It stops me in my tracks. It's living that Edvard Munch painting. 

Anyway, this isn't about grief... Or Che or his image. A young, millennial woman in the documentary described the group she felt part of who wear Che shirts as, "Hippy punks." As a Genx'r, this description is odd to me. But I suppose the youth movements and music movements of the past are strange territory nowadays. Millenials group themselves as online groups, gamers, different types of gamers, non-gamers even... Instagram, YouTube followers... The social movement aspect of music, clothes and politics seems to escape them (or they really don't, as I suspect and applaud, care). They dress in a mish mash of vintage clothes, and talk as if the world outside their screens is something noone else has ever noticed before... (I'm sitting in a coffee shop listening to a loud American describe Prague... And now describing, loudly in detail, a movie, frustratingly, I haven't yet seen to someone I think he thinks has never seen a movie before). 

Millenials belong to groups sold to them, rarely created by them (I'm perhaps being an old fart and misrepresenting a generation... I do respect millenials.  I feel they are the most logical of generations, and I place a lot of hope with them. We fucked up... They are going to create the world previous generations could only dream of). 

Now this isn't their fault (as my previous parenthesis hopefully begins to describe). The labelling of everything from style, through to shoes and teeshirts and underwear, happened in my generation... Something I always hated. The fractionalisation of movements, types of clothing etc, sold with a label on a tee-shirt.
{Korda/Fitzpatrick Che image, 1968}

I diverge.

When I worked in the Technical Office of a shoe factory, change seeped in. Young women started to become employed as management trainees, rather than just stitches or office workers- this became a bit contentious. Don't forget, the eighties was just the beginning of the atomisation of workers rights and pay (as well as society, and consumerism beyond the previous three or four income groups or classes). 

Nowadays, two salary/wage families struggle to pay mortgages and bills, when before Thatcher, one income did this for most households. The eighties, for those who were there, were a time when capitalist exploitation clashed and seemed to merge with the feminist movement (bad description... I mean Thatcherism exploited feminism, I suppose, what with newspapers highlighting "superwoman" who could hold down 12 hour day jobs and raise kids and play golf). Feminism and women working, seemed to the baby Boomers I worked with, to be the thing that was going to drag down wages, much in the way the baby Boomers nowadays blame foreigners. The baby Boomers had social movements that led change, yet it was instigated during the GenX immersion into the work place. And the women management trainee pioneers had to put up with sexist jokes, comment, insult etc and had to take it. 

Another documentary I watched yesterday, about the Moon Landings, and focusing on Mission Control, highlighted this sudden social change very graphically with the modern day top techs of Mission Control being women, contrasting the entire room of controllers for the Apollo missions being men. 50 years since Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins flew around and landed on another world, women have control of the new push to the lunar and Martian surfaces. 
{Photo taken by white men sent to the moon by white men, while women & black people worked on the project, unseen} 

 British Shoe factories have died in the UK, like most of the old industrial manufacturing vase did during the eighties. But the women pioneers who had to fight through the awful insults and misogyny I witnessed daily, are taking their places at the top tables. 

This is a revolution and we are right in the middle of it. After 2000 years of Abrahamic religious sexist tosh, and 250 years of capitalism that built its systems atop this tosh, walls are tumbling. Glass ceilings are smashing. And gender, sexuality etc really does not matter if you have the right skills. Of course, baby Boomers and the GenX'rs who conservatively held on to the beliefs of their fathers still are a majority as Brexit and the temporary resurgence of the right has shown. 

But we are at tipping point. And those millenials who really could not give a fuck if punk and hippy were two opposing social movements and dress senses and in fact different disappointed generations, are going to bathe the precarious, almost ethereal and endangered gelatine-silver image of equity in strong fixative. 

They'll stick it in an album called "analogue history," and digitally move towards total disbelief at the disrespect previous generations had for gender and for humans they shared streets, buildings and families with. 

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Goodbye, daddy.

My dad died on 31 January. My hero. My compass. This man gave me life. And now I have to learn to live without him.

Thank you dad, for all you did, taught me and helped us all with. 

The world really is all the poorer. 
{dad, with Tiger the alsation, mid 1960's} 

{dad, third from right. 1940's. There is a story to this picture, that I know only part of... For a post next week} 

{mum, me, dad at Spelga Dam, a few years back. October 2016}

{dad and I in Glasgow, circa 2015/16}