culture

Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.


I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁


Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

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Picaresque

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

(Jonathan Swift from “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”)

Do you ever go on a Google Safari?

This may look like a conjoining of two popular search engine names but really my meaning is the popular and ubiquitous meaning of the first word and the literal meaning of the second.

So, it may start by recalling a phrase or quotation or, in this instance, a title of a book, and I’m curious as to its origin or context or literal meaning. The book is the only work published by the author, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.

This was a book I’d judged by the title back in – whoa! the 1990s, I reckon, when Penguin issued a series of modern classic novels at an introductory bargain price. I wasn’t disappointed.

The phrase used for the title came to mind this morning after reading the news, but in particular the readers’ comments which are invited below many of the news items. I will admit that I have commented on items myself though I hope I haven’t been typical of these commenters. It’s a healthy sign of freedom and democracy that we are allowed to express ourselves publicly even if we wrongly equate our opinion with that of the author’s. A moment’s thought would tell any reasonable person how wrong this is likely to be so they might discard their certainty before going in search of the truth. Yet vanity and pride overwhelm, so generally people will choose ignorance over correcting themselves.

So, discovering the title comes from Jonathan Swift rather than The Holy Bible or Shakespeare, and being happy with that, I find a term I wasn’t familiar with but ought to be: Picaresque.

Essentially, Picaresque is a literary genre which deals with the lovable rogue, in particular someone from the lower orders in society, though in a broader sense anyone swimming against the popular tide. I love this genre and find such persons, whether fictitious or real, interesting.

In human nature, I feel there must be a “gene” which compels us to move with the herd. You can see its possible “evolutionary advantage”, can’t you? The downside is, amongst other things, people are informed by a narrow section of news outlets – somewhat bias driven for cynically commercial reasons, we get hemmed in by “party politics” – mostly self-serving and unrepresentative of ordinary citizen’s needs or views, and a largely out-of-date and devalued education.


The author, John Kennedy Toole’s life story is a sad one. Having written A Confederacy of Dunces – a brilliant and funny debut novel, I thought – he failed to get a publisher interested in it. He suffered depression and took his own life at the age of 31.

It was his mother, an influential figure throughout his life though not always a welcome one, who championed the novel in her son’s memory and eventually had it published. Later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reads like a good story in its own right and although there is a play, I don’t know if anyone’s made or thought of making a film of it.

Though the Safari could’ve gone on, I chose to end it there.

More, more world wide watchables

Maltese: The Mafia Detective (Italy, 2017)

Delighted to have the random selector pick out this Italian cop drama. There doesn’t appear to be many Italian shows featured, not in proportion to German ones, say. The Italians are naturally theatrical: whatever they do, however mundane, like ordering a coffee, it all seems like a catastrophe which could have been averted. It’s as if argumentative is the default dialogue style. Maltese: The Mafia Detective is no exception.

The story is set in 1976. Commissario Maltese is a Sicilian born detective who’s been working in Rome for the last twenty or so years. His boyhood best friend, also a senior cop, is getting married and so Maltese returns to his home town. After a family dinner, his friend and his fiancee are shot by a hitman on their way home. Maltese, suspecting Mafia involvement, is determined on justice and requests a secondment to take command of his old friend’s squad.

Despite what I say in the first paragraph, this is a polished drama with a good script and storyline; nothing is too implausible.


Inspector Falke (Germany, 2016)

Like I said above, it seems German shows are over represented on Walter Presents.

Inspector Falke is not a stereotypical German: he’s scruffily dressed, doesn’t drive a nice car, he drinks glassfuls of full-fat milk instead of coffee, he gets easily stressed and doesn’t appear to be intellectually, emotionally or psychologically in-tune with his rank. My first impression was he isn’t played to be a likeable character but as the show progressed, I felt more sympathetic towards him.

But the show is really odd too. The first episode deals with something quite mundane, normal grist for the procedural mill. Thereafter though, in each subsequent episode, Falke, and his more reasonable partner, find themselves dealing with all kinds of implausible police cases like hi-tech espionage, an anti-terrorism plot, and a mass hostage situation.

Judging by the last episode, there must be a follow up series but it’s not available on All4 yet.


Locked Up (Spain, 2015)

The Spanish title being Vis-à-vis (Face to Face), and often I don’t understand why they need to tinker with titles for the benefit of English speakers. I mean, Locked Up – how ham-fisted was that committee meeting? It’s also, I feel, a tad condescending.

Never mind, this is good telly, if a trifle on the long side – 35 episodes over two series. For me, when things run on for too long I tend to develop viewer fatigue, the drama begins to feel like a soap opera and I can sometimes detect diminishing performances in the key players. There is also a tendency to “jump the shark”. I’d say this just about manages to survive to the last on the plausible side of shark jumping but I trust there’s not a further series in the offing.

It’s a drama set in a women’s prison but with a parallel story running on the outside with police and family. There’s also a third angle, presented within the series, which takes the form of interviews of the principle actors in character, as if a documentary or a journalistic piece on women prisoners was being made by persons unseen. This is strange as it offers some light relief from the tense and often harsh drama, but is compelling too as it offers backstory to the drama as well as commentary on prison life for women.

Without giving too much away, the story is centred on Macarena Ferreiro, a young naive businesswoman who finds herself sent to a high-security prison for fraud and embezzlement after her boss hets away with the firm’s cash. Naturally, she is out of her depth and a target for the harder, experienced lags. Matters are made worse for her when she accidentally finds information on hidden loot from a robbery committed by a cellmate. She then becomes the focus of Zulema Zahir, a ruthless murderer and the most fearsome inmate on her cell block. Intense stuff to begin with and manages quite well up to the end.

(oh, no – I’ve just noticed two further series, another sixteen episodes. Not yet available here and likely won’t be watched by me anytime soon.)


Maltese: The Mafia Detective (IMDb)

Inspector Falke (IMDb)

Vis a Vis (Locked Up) (IMDb)

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

Woman – her journey

To paraphrase the old chicken and egg thing, I wonder which came first, the woman or the man. I know, I know, the bible says, and all those other versions about the globe concur, mostly though perhaps not all, but…think about it.

Logically, it seems to me that while a man cannot possibly grow an infant alone, chances are a little better for a woman.

I think, free from politics, religion and all other enforced mumbo-jumbo, men and women could get along just fine. Or at least better than they have with all the historic mumbo-jumbo. I wonder how it would be if there was equality between the sexes. I don’t mean equality of opportunity, careers and wages, or anything modern like that, but physical equality. I’m not sure the men would fare as well; possibly they would be like the bees and ants, subservient and with one purpose, and once that was over the women might bite off their heads and eat them. Despite the randomness of evolution, are males not merely couriers for chromosomes?

I think the males better watch out. And I don’t mean fight back. They are clearly evolving into a weaker version of their sex, psychologically mostly but with the advent of modern technology, clearly physically too. While there is still evidence of chumps about, knuckle dragging ignoramuses, grunting and blowing in your ear ‘ole, these are swimming against the tide. The great emasculation is happening, concurrently with the slow progress of feminism. Thanks to technology – ethics and morality, philosophy and politics have no option but to follow on – the gap is closing. And if we can all keep our cool, that’s good, isn’t it?


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Prompt #77 – “Woman – her journey”

A difficult thing for me, a privileged, white, western male, to write about not wanting to cause offence. Sorry if any offence is unwittingly caused.

More World Wide Watchables

More from All 4’s Walter Presents…

Deadly Money (Germany, 2018)

When this one came up on my random selector, I thought there must have been a mistake. One series and only two episodes, less than 50 minutes apiece?

It’s a concise drama explaining a fictional version of the 2008 banking crisis. A high-flying executive investment banker expects to take over as CEO.

It’s portrayed as a ruthless business and our banker has to secure a big deal with a Middle Eastern organisation to improve the bank’s share price. He has a team of acolytes to help him but one in particular is a young protege, Tom, who has a talent for maths. Things appear to be going their way but, as we know from the real events, it’s all a dodgy business.

In true German style, the Frankfurt finance quarter appears here as a highly polished, ruthlessly efficient, awesome monster. It makes Wall St. look like the City of London, and the City of London look like the Post Office.


The Team (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, 2015)

I think, perhaps they bit off more than is chewable with this international crime drama. Three senior detectives and their respective bagmen – or women in most cases – go after a Lithuanian human trafficker following a spate of identical murders of sex workers in each of the detectives’ countries. This latter guy has aspirations about being a city banker, running his own respectable bank. Reluctantly, on the nefarious business side, he is in partnership with his ex wife, a rather callous bitch on her own terms.

It’s not bad but it’s not as cool as old Walter made it out to be. One problem I had with it was because the three protagonists had different native languages, interaction is done in English and it sounded a little awkward, like people reading something they didn’t fully understand. Of course, this is probably what would happen in real life, difficulty in communicating, and had they played it that way all would be well, but they didn’t. Also, there were implausibility issues, but I’d let that go as its a drama, and each detective had a messy life story running concurrently, which was, well, messy.

Hey, dismiss those niggles and it isn’t a bad series, and a majority of lead roles for women for a change.


Liberty (Denmark 2018)

Set in Tanzania in the 70s, I initially thought this was made in the 70s. Or my broadband wasn’t functioning as it should. It had a real low-fi feel.

Centred on a social group of Scandinavian expats comprising of exploitative businessmen and do-good aid workers, the brevity and abrupt changes in fortune of the characters saves the drama from being a soap opera in my view. Everyone’s life is dysfunctional and everyone’s hopping into his or hers neighbours’ bed, but fear not, there’s only a modicum of explicit sex.

The main story is the friendship between Christian, the teenage son of aid workers, and, Marcus, the “houseboy” servant of a neighbouring couple. They share an interest in music and getting stoned. Marcus makes mix tapes to sell on the side and aspires to be a DJ. The two then have the idea to set up a dance club in town. They name it “Liberty”.

With the adults falling out and falling in with other spouses, Christian drops out and falls more in with the Tanzanians. Naive, exposed and vulnerable, he finds he has to deal with violent rival forces and a corrupt police force, all the while testing his new friendships.

Yes, I had to check the year of production. 2018. But it’s the 70s. Africa is backwards and corrupt and the whites are exploitative and openly racist. Nevertheless, it’s a drama which has its moments.


Mama’s Angel (Israel 2016)

I have to say this is more like it. If it were a stick of seaside rock, it might have plausible written right through it. Yet there is still a great sense of tension.

The setting is a suburb with a mixture of white and black residents. The police chief has a twenty-two year old daughter in a casual relationship with a young Ethiopian art student who himself intends to leave to study in Holland. The police chief in turn has a tense working relationship with the able head of the criminal forensics team. While she is away undergoing surgery, a seven year old boy from a neighbourhood family turns up dead on a nearby hill, beside a monument upon which someone has recently sprayed graffiti. The police chief exploits the absence of the capable forensics head to arrest and accuse the Ethiopian of murder, ignoring all other likelihoods. When the forensics head returns to work, she finds she has this mess to contend with.

So if the Ethiopian didn’t do it, who did? Our suspicions are teased.


Deadly Money (All4)

The Team IMDb

Liberty IMDb

Mama’s Angel IMDb

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

Fat Tuesday, No Pancake

So, today is Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras, if you prefer, or Pancake Day here in Britain.

I don’t know about you but pancakes are one of those foods which you imagine are better than they actually are. Fried batter with raw lemon juice and white sugar. Yum. Like you could eat any of those ingredients on its own, in quantity, with relish.

In my youth, I vaguely remember an eatery chain dedicated to pancakes. What was it called? Pancake Hut? Pancakes R We? Flat Batter Fry House? I honestly don’t remember. Inside, the menu was almost entirely pancakes. You chose a savoury filling for the main course and a sweet filling for dessert. I think the savoury ones were stuff like chilli con carne, ratatouille or fried beans; the sweets were predominantly stewed fruits with ice cream on top. It was somewhere to take your girlfriend when you wanted to impress her without much money. We were young, see!

Well, much like Christmas mornings and Hallowe’en, Pancake Day hasn’t a lot of traction without kids about the house. I think we may forgo them this time. We have some venison meatballs in the freezer and I might do a wild mushroom and shallots gravy, some parsnip mash and lightly steamed cavolo nero. Enjoy your pancakes!

image: detail from The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel, the elder (1559)

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)