Monday, 9 October 2017

Frida Kahlo bracelet causes Teresa May’s coughing fit

Much media attention has previously focused on the UK Prime Minister’s shoes. That attention has now switched to accessories, specifically to a bracelet Teresa May wore at the recent Tory Party conference.

The bracelet, a set of colourful, chunky rectangles, reproduces images of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who wrote about her work, in a 1951 dairy entry,

I feel uneasy about my painting. Above all I want to transform it into something useful for the Communist revolutionary movement, since up to now I have only painted the earnest portrayal of myself.

The work of such an artist makes an unlikely accessory for a Conservative and Unionist Party leader. But, on reflection, perhaps not. In these globalised post-modern days, every image and artefact is available to everyone with the money to buy it and it can mean whatever the purchaser wishes.

What was Teresa May thinking when she chose that bracelet?

Did she wish to have a dig at her rival, Jeremy Corbyn, exhibiting her ability to appropriate material Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues might consider theirs? Was she aping the self-fashioning so grandly displayed by pop singer Madonna, one of the most avid collectors of the work of Frida Kahlo? Or did she just like the shape, the weight and the colour of the bracelet and have no idea about the life of Frida Kahlo, her politics and her work?

Will Jeremy Corbyn be seen with a Winston Churchill tie-pin and British Bulldog cuff-links next time out?

Similar Frida Kahlo bracelets retail on-line for £31.57.

Did a simple, uninformed consumer choice lead to the unintended consequence of a coughing fit and a public-speaking melt-down, produced by a communist hex delivered by the bracelet?

Did Boris Johnson give the bracelet to her, as a present?

Was she simply showing how culturally hip, metropolitan and internationalist she is?
More people may become interested in Frida Kahlo’s life and work as an artist in Mexico, perhaps another unintended effect of the UK Prime Minister’s choice of accessory. Everyone can welcome that, including Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

Are these no more than beautiful trinkets worn by the powerful, simply because, in today’s post-modern, globalised consumer world, they can, regardless of association, symbolism or meaning?

We own everything, because we can buy everything. Even beauty.”

Did Frida Kahlo know her images and her words would adorn Teresa May, dreamer of austerity and righteous inequality?

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.

I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


Bang bang, you shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down

A radio reporter said: “People come to Las Vegas to lose money. People come to Las Vegas to lose their inhibitions. They don’t come to lose their lives.”

And then they do.

The newspapers are amazed.

Police identified the gunman as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, describing him as a retiree who loved to gamble and who lived with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, 62.

Does his age matter?

The man, who checked into a suite at a Las Vegas hotel, reportedly lived in a quiet retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada – about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The radio reporter wondered how an ordinary man could do this. He was reported to have worked as an accountant.

Authorities also revealed that at least 10 guns were found in the hotel room, including several rifles.

Staff at the hotel didn’t notice anything untoward. He brought the guns up in the lift?

His brother also described Paddock as a wealthy guy who liked to play video poker and take cruises.
He added, “He didn’t have active employment. His life is an open book. It’s all in the public record. He went to college, he had a job. You’ll find out.”

We find out he went to a hotel in a city where we lose our inhibitions and out Gomorrahed Gomorrah, from a bedroom window overlooking an open air music concert. Eye witnesses reported hearing “Pop. Pop. Pop”, like an irritating fire-cracker.

Music played and people sang

We find out onomatopoeia is not up to it. The real sounds are not playful. They are deadly.

Bang bang, I shot you down
Bang bang, and I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down

That’s what you do with guns, in the home, on the streets, in your own country and in other people’s.

His brother is shocked.

The gunman’s brother said, “Where the hell did he get automatic weapons?”

That’s an easy one. He got them retail. He got them anywhere he wanted. It’s America, land of the free. For example, from this deadly combination

a gun store in Mesquite, Guns & Guitars

You can tote your gun and strum The Star Spangled Banner at the same time.

Now he's gone, I don't know why
And 'til this day, sometimes I cry

He didn't even say goodbye

Guns are bought and sold. Gun are fired. People die. It’s a domestic matter, the world over.

New estimates released by the children's charity War Child reveal that since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies including BAE systems and Raytheon have earned revenues exceeding $8bn from dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $775m.

Seasons came and changed the time.

Until the next time.

Who will ‘take a knee’ for this?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Three crime books in as many weeks amounts to a spree of summer reading, all in the turning days of August, full of showers, thunderstorms, goldening chestnut trees and the occasional blast of sunshine, so glorious even the drearest of hearts are enlivened.

Never mind that the swallows are gathering, forming ranks along the telegraph wires, while the sea still rolls onto the pristine beach and the weans, sleek as seals in their black wet suits, shriek when their body-boards tumble in the waves, turf and timber still warm the stove in the evening, so the books come out.

Sara Paretsky’s long term Private Investigator, V. I. Warshawski, undertakes her eighteenth adventure in FALLOUT (Hodder and Stoughton, 2017).

Michael Connelly, with almost thirty novels under his belt, introduces a new lead in THE LATE SHOW (Orion Books, 2017). His Detective Renée Ballard, a woman, works the night shift at the Los Angeles Police Department.

Brian McGilloway’s creation, Detective Sergeant Lucy Black of The Police Service of Northern Ireland, faces her latest policing challenge in BAD BLOOD (Corsair, 2017).

Connelly's and McGilloway's books are, at core, police procedurals, the former in a huge north American metropolis, the latter in a small city in the north-west of Ireland. Paretsky's presents a private investigation, so there is less police procedural work involved. All three sit within the genre ‘crime’, though the word ‘thriller’ is also applied. Thus, they can be grouped together in an old-fashioned school essay of the ‘compare and contrast’ variety.

Firstly, a small note for enthusiastic fans of Connelly and Paretsky and their creations. They both have characters named Chastain, hardly a common name in the U.S.A. There are no Chastains in McGilloway’s book.

Connelly and McGilloway’s characters live in the world of police forces. They have hierarchies; briefing rooms; colleagues with whom they share professional and sexual tensions. The protagonists face antagonism from criminals, citizens and from colleagues. There are ‘good’ cops and ‘bad’ cops, but no obvious critique of policing as such. The grossest crime is murder – the unlawful taking of life - and Connelly’s detective, Renée Ballard, in particular, holds to an ethic of doing right by the victims.

McGilloway’s detective, Lucy Black, holds to this ethic as well and, when there is a conflict between staff members, ‘doing the right thing’ is the favoured norm. 

In a sense, both these books are morality fables, in which the good guys, Ballard and Black, prevail, though the contexts in which they struggle remain largely unaffected. There is an undertow of hopelessness pulling at the torrents of action careering along the main channel of both books.

Paretsky's world is more expansive, with FALLOUT ranging across territory and history in great sweeping rushes. Because Paretsky’s lead, Victoria Iphigenia (V.I.) Warshawski, is a private detective, her antagonists include various city and county police authorities, military and civil authorities, families and clients, though there is, as ever, one decent cop.

With Connelly and McGilloway, we are in cities. The great metropolis of Los Angeles is the territory covered by Renée Ballard. Long hours driving on freeways, with hurried lunches and traffic snarl-ups map the reader’s journey from the decadence of the Santa Monica shoreline to the towns that stretch into the valley, then back through the Hollywood hills and into the downtown area. There is very little introspection on the long car journeys. There are African Americans involved, but Renée Ballard never makes it to South Central in this story.

McGilloway’s Derry, in the north-west of Ireland, is a small border city. He tells the geography of the city with the loving attention of a native, taking the reader to locations not often visited. The scene where Detective Lucy Black crawls through the innards of the city's giant span bridge is particularly effective.

Paretsky takes the reader to a mixed rural and urban story-scape, once again lovingly depicted, as the university city of Lawrence, in the state of Kansas, is her birthplace. Her detective yearns for her home metropolis, Chicago, and effective use is made of the inter-play between the blow-in from the big city and the Kansas locals.

Like all crime novels, these three fine examples sometimes veer towards the preposterous, with the protagonists placed in jeopardy and achieving salvation from unlikely sources, each consciously consistent with the drive of the stories. Though the detectives are formidably committed to their work, they all have capacities to maintain relationships with colleagues and to evoke sympathies from freshly encountered allies.

V.I. Warshawski is vivacious, forceful, athletic and resourceful. She is the most colourful of the three lead characters. They are all singular and single, with complex personal relations in hand or lingering. Warshawski exercises by running, often with her dogs, while Ballard is an expert paddle surfer, who seems to live between a pop-up tent on the beach and her locker in police HQ, with occasional overnights with her grandmother. Lucy Black’s relationships with her parents are important elements the reader enjoys. They all eat junk food and Lucy Black, perhaps the youngest, takes no exercise and is physically fit enough to chase suspects. Ballard is driven. Black is adamant. Warshawski is fervent. All are engaging and effective lead characters.

The plots in all three books work satisfactorily. McGilloway creates, manages and advances the story in a dense, often claustrophobic world, where overlapping actions, involving drug suppliers, loyalist paramilitary factions, Roma immigrants, a gay club, a fire-brand pastor, bent and misogynistic cops, conclude with successful outcomes for Lucy Black and a satisfactory sense of order restored, even as a dread undertow sloughs on.

Connelly’s plot has the precision of a well-oiled machine, pumping and resolute, with action trumping action until that acme of the genre, the vital forensic revelation, clarifies and condemns in a sweepingly believable conclusion.

Paretsky’s plot veers most closely to the preposterous zone. It is the marvellous cast of characters Sara Paretsky creates that drives the story, including the two mechanics who arrive late on and who, quite literally, save the day, ably assisted by Peppy the dog. The reader is in danger of being seriously charmed.

The language in Connelly’s THE LATE SHOW is generally hard-boiled. McGilloway’s language is clipped, enlivened by crisp descriptions and brisk turns of phrase in rooted dialogue. Paretsky, unlike the other two writers, uses a clear “I” voice, addressing corporate, federal and military malfeasance far away from the largely blue-collar concerns of Connelly and McGilloway, all laced with V.I. Warshawski's hip and metropolitan tastes in food, music and clothes. Kefir for breakfast anyone?

All three books are a treat for readers of the genre and were enjoyed as summer reading, with Paretsky's coming slightly ahead of the other two, joint second on the pleasure-ometer, because of its expansiveness and the exposure of corporate and military crime.

All three are light on irony and humour, though the occasional witticism breaks through. Readers will have to re-read their well-thumbed Elmore Leonard paperbacks for the boons of laughter and the askance view.

Next up? Arundhati Roy’s collection of essays, lectures and talks, THE END OF IMAGINATION (Haymarket Books, 2016), where she notes that

Writers imagine they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world.”

These three crime stories: FALLOUT, BAD BLOOD and THE LATE SHOW have culled fine writers from the world and readers look forward to more such criminal culling in the future.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017


The Republic of Ireland assistant manager and former Manchester United football star, Roy Keane, his tongue buried in his cheek, says his former colleague David Beckham would be worth one billion pounds in the current football transfer market. He put the same price on Ruud Van Nistelroy and topped the shopping list with a two billion price tag on Ryan Giggs.

He said: “It’s mind-boggling, the figures that are out there – especially for the average players. If ever there was a time to be a professional player it’s now. Average players are going for £35million. … that’s the market place at the moment … ”

Mind-boggling’ is a good word. Other words applied to the transfer market are ‘crazy’, ‘ludicrous’ and ‘mad’. Some people have applied the word ‘broken’ to the market.

Roy Keane also expressed surprise that Paris Saint Germain paid £200 million for Brazil and Barcelona star, Neymar. Roy Keane says it’s not the players fault that these fees are being paid by clubs.

Is the notion of ‘fault’ applicable to this market?

If it is, then another word can be added to the descriptions of the market and that is ‘sinful’, as in: The transfer market for professional football players is sinful.

Religious figures, who are knowledgeable on matters of sin, might consider bringing the word to bear on the commercial trade in the skills, physiques and temperaments of soccer players.

Roy Keane’s balloon puncturing remarks may prompt religious leaders to consider the question: when does a market become sinful?

On page 899, deep in the glossary of the Roman Catholic Catechism, sin is defined as:

An offence against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God.

Other definitions exist, but, on the basis of this one, the transfer market does not appear to be a sin, as it is not an offence against God or a fault against reason, truth and right conscience. Does this mean that no market can be sinful? The definition, however, does not include either offence or fault against humanity, which the transfer market certainly is, as noted by the many people who apply the word ‘scandalous’ to its activities.

Is the word ‘sin’ too old-fashioned for modern day markets, where the response to such pricing seems to be a shrug of the shoulders in a gesture of fatalistic acceptance? Are there no firebrand messiahs out there who would turn over and scatter the money tables and put the run on the dealers?

Any one for the sport of commodity and hedge-fund trading?