2010: Year in Review

January 2, 2011

You are joking aren’t you?

In the words of Loudon Wainwright III: ‘Who in the world needs a review? Once was enough for me thank you’

(The only thing that I guess I might mention was that there was an amazing Ronald Searle exhibition in which the first item was drawing made in the Changi POW camp in Singapore, of a fellow inmate dying of cholera, which seemed to capture in its faint outline of skeleton and eye the very last ember of life in a man, the ultimate moment before death, the final point of humanity, so that just as death is the backdrop of satire this seemed to underlie all the splendid and proliferating grotesques and caricatures of his subsequent work. Pissed all over the Renaissance drawings exhibition anyway. Useful blogpost here.)

Still, lookit:

by Christopher Scoble

Yes,and one of those writers is Jocelyn Brooke! The other two are Richard Hooker and Joseph Conrad (eh? Oh, he wroteThe Rover there. Hmm.)

I should probably read that, shouldn’t I? Hmm.

Did I tell you I went down to Elham, the place where Brooke spent his holidays as a child? Don’t answer that, I know I didn’t. I half wrote a long piece about it which covered Memory and Loss and THIS COUNTRY which is sitting gathering dust in my drafts.

Maybe I should do a Doctor Who style trailer of what’s coming up in the next series on The Idiot and the Dog (which I’m thinking of renaming The Idiot and the Dog and the Fucking Albatross Around My Neck by the way).

*exciting nuclear war strings with endlessly perorating drums*






and… JOCELYN BROOKE! (that’s like the daleks bit – you know it’s coming you just don’t know when)

(obv when they do the tv trailers it usually means they’ve filmed at least some of it whereas when I write these words it means buggery fuck other than a platonic representation of the gossamer strands of mere noumenal conjecture that have haphazardly caught on the severed upturned and empty claw of my mind which strands are represented as the phenomenological fibs known as Fine Words, and as we all know fine words butter no parsnips).

It’s just I’m listening to this Rasputina album on spotify at the moment and I’m absolutely sure it’s very good but* it’s making it incredibly hard to concentrate. (*It’s got a song called Afternoon of the Faun on so perhaps I should have guessed, but it’s cunningly put near the end).

Don’t see why those without spotify shouldn’t have to put up with it –

See? idk is that any good? (This is where my critical faculties are at currently.)

I just want to listen to Waka Flocka Flame:

Maybe I should just rename it The Fucking Albatross.

Little Detchie-Head

August 23, 2010

Look, I was going to keep this for after I’d done a longer piece on Brooke, but it’s taking so goddam long that I might as well just whack this up anyway, from The Dog at Clambercrown:

My impressions of India, however, were perhaps derived less from Aunt Ada than from the story of Little Detchie-head – that most terrifying of children’s books, rivalling for sheer Freudian horror even Strewwelpeter himself.

I SUPPOSE THAT Little Detchie-Head has, like Stumps, been long forgotten; it is certainly out of print and appears to be quite unobtainable. The little book was published, I think, in the same series as the better-known Little Black Sambo and Little Black Mingo; at any rate, the formate and the illustrations were very similar. I should not be surprised to learn that Little Detchie-head had been withdrawn by the publishers, at an early date, in response to the protests of parents whose children, only too probably, had become half-witted or stark raving mad after reading it. The only reason I didn’t go mad myself was, I think, because the scene of Little Detchie-head was, after all, laid in India, and I could comfort myself – as we have most of us comforted ourselves, in recent times, when reading some more than usually terrifying ‘exposure’ of Nazism or Communism – with the thought that ‘it couldn’t happen here’.

Little Detchie-head was about a little girl ‘who lived with her parents in India’. Apparently normal and well behaved in other respects, she suffered from a precocious form of pyromania, which manifested itself in an incurable passion for poking fires. One day, in the kitchen, when the Indian servant’s back was turned, she slipped and fell (it was only to be expected) headlong into the flames, and ‘her head was burned right off’ – thought the rest of her, oddly enough, remained not only intact but, apparently, alive and kicking. The servant returns – ‘And, oh! Domingo’s face,’ says the tetxt, ‘when he saw his little missy-baba lying on the floor with no head.’ Domingo, however, is a resourceful type; hastily seizing a large detchie, or cooking-pot, from a shelf, he paints a pair of eyes, a nose and a mouth upon its side, and sets it carefully upon the heroine’s severed neck, surmounting it (a nice touch, this) by her cotton sun-bonnet, which apparently, by some miracle, has survived the flames. With remarkable self-possession (and suffering, apparently, from no considerable after effects) little Detchie-head trots off to her parents who, it seems, notice nothing particularly unusual about her, apart from the fact that ‘all she can say is “Clap, clap, clapper-apper-apper.”‘ This rudimentary vocabulary apparently suffices her for the next weeks, nor do her parents seem unduly troubled by it. Christmas, however, comes at last, and Santa Claus, with an admirable appropriateness, leaves in the little girl’s stocking a large, blonde, pink-faced doll’s head. Delighted by this seasonable Yule-tide gift, little Detchie head rises with the lark and, discarding the unbecoming detchie, sticks the doll’s head upon her neck, with the help of a handy pot of glue. Then she runs to Mamma and Papa, tossing her expensive, brand-new curls, and chattering away nineteen-to-the-dozen – presumably in her normal, pre-Detchie-head accents. ‘And’, so the story relates, ‘they were very much pleased’ – surely, one feels, in the circumstances, a rather tepid reaction on the parents’ part; though they do not, it must be admitted, appear to have been a very sensitive or perceptive couple. Little Detchie-head, at any rate, is completely cured, thereafter, of her pyromaniacal proclivities, and indeed, as the author (or authoress, as I suspect) concludes, ‘has to be dragged past a fire’ in future.

The surprising thing about Little Detchie-head is, I think, its date – it must have been published in the nineties or the early nineteen-hundreds – and also the fact it was written, presumably, by a middle-class Englishwoman for English children. Strewwelpeter, after all, was written by a German, and an early nineteenth-century German at that, so that one can explain it – if not excuse it – as a by-product of the ‘Romantic Agony’. But Little Detchie-head is quite another kettle of fish: one doesn’t look for such sadistic horrors in Edwardian England, and it seems barely credible that it should ever have been published in this country, let alone widely read (as it undoubtedly was) in English nurseries.

In my own case, as I have said, the Indian setting made the horrors of the story seem comfortable remote; on the other hand, the knowledge that such appalling events could happen there was to colour my ideas about India for years to come (the only other book about India by which I was ever deeply influenced was E.M. Forster’s novel, which, when I first read it, seemed more or less to confirm the alarming impression made by Little Detchie-head). I developed, myself, a wholesome dread of fires; and the sigh of an Ayah, attendant upon some children staying in our village, could fill me with a tremulous apprehension. I was half-inclined, too, to identify the original little Detchie-head with my cousin, Nancy Pullen, whose hair was suspiciously blonde and curly, and who, moreover, had for several years ‘lived with her parents in India’. I never dared asked her whether she had had, at one period of her life, a ‘detchie’ instead of a head; but it remained a disturbing possibility, and I should hardly have been surprised if , reverting suddenly to her former detchie-hood, she had startled the company at tea-time by rattling out those jangling, metallic syllables (‘Clap, clap, clapper-apper-apper’) which had left her heartless and impercipient parents so strangely unmoved.


Ooh, a half-formed note I couldn’t really develop in any way –

The only thing I’d add to this is to point out the potential for the grotesque those writers with a moral purpose have. Whether it is the exempla of the monastic ages, Swiftian satire or minatory fables such as Little Detchie-head, the disorder in the physical world that imprudent behaviour or moral turpitude engenders is representative of disastrous alterations of the material universe. (And ghosts, are, after all, moral creatures – spiritual excretions congregating around wrongs, with no understanding of the pragmatism that human flesh requires).

(grotesque as non-moral secular absurdities – see Kayser – “the Elder Bruegel paints the increasingly estranged world of our daily life not with the intention of teaching, warning, or arousing our compassion but solely in order to portray the inexplicable, incomprehensible, ridiculous, and horrible.”).

‘Allo boys, I’ve been away, I’ve ‘ad a bit of a ‘oliday

August 1, 2009

The pen grows rusty in the grip, the ink runs dry and the page remains blank with unexpressed thoughts. As a consequence the inexpressible becomes unattainable.

As a further consequence the starting again becomes doubly hard. Nothing flows, all is clogged up and once, after a period of scrabbling, a start is achieved, the pen slides meaninglessly across the page.

Nothing seems worth talking about, writing a mere exercise in style. Experiments that might justify such an exercise seem egregious, and to obscure the matter in hand. Attempts at elegance come across as both callow and conservative, at worst pompous – like a child pretending to be an adult. Plain speaking seems uninteresting, and dangerously revealing of a moribund and fruitless intellect.

Clearly, a subject is needed.

Jocelyn Brooke is worth writing about for many reasons, but has hardly been written about at all. The ground is still fresh and I can tell myself that what I am writing is not an exercise in redundant self-gratification. We can pretend. It is, after all, a start.

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Next week, Second Leg – Jocelyn Brooke reviews MY juvenile poetic output…

January 26, 2008

Jocelyn Brooke’s poetry…

Stop right there, a stray person accidentally reading this might say, why start with his poetry? Why start at the obscure end of an already slightly obscure figure?

Circumstance, I’m afraid. I’ve got his two volumes of poetry, December Spring (1946) and The Elements of Death (1952) next to me, and they’ve got to go back to the library soon.

As I’ve already said elsewhere, I’m not really very good at poetry, having a bit of a tin ear and tending to like stuff that people have shown me how to like, rather than having that natural feel for The Singing Line that enables the best critics to pick a single jewel out of a load of dross.

Still, we can only use the tools we’ve got…

(Rather long again, I’m afraid; my only excuse being that there’s very little on his poetry anywhere as far as I can tell, and while I’m hardly qualified to produce anything definitive, this may at least provide some grist to put to the mill of any future thoughts or discussions.)

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