Archive for December, 2008

Footnote to Clive James as a role model.

December 22, 2008

The American-born freelance journalist who now works in England England  Jean Hannah Edelstein  has made Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time one of her two choices for The Observer’s “Pick of the paperbacks 2008 

Cultural Amnesia
Clive James

Picador £14.99
“This is a beautiful book. James proves himself not only to be in possession of a towering intellect, but a singular ability to communicate his often slightly obscure passions in a manner that is warm and enriching.” JHE

The evidence seems to keep piling up that James is thought more highly of by people from outside British literary circles than by those inside them. There is also the possibility that this is because James’s past life as a TV personality works against his being taken seriously in any other sphere of activity.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form


Clive James a role model?

December 18, 2008

I often speculated on why it is that many of the greatest admirers of Clive James’s manifold talents often come not from Australia or from England, but from Ireland – like me – amd from  America.  In the country in which he lives and writes, he seems to be either ignored or indulged by the so-called serious intellectuals.

It has occurred to me that may be that the British-born but Irish-educated Julian Gough is on to something when, in his essay for the January 2009 issue of Prospect, when he says says that James “was, and is, an inspiration to younger writers worldwide, whose backwaters lack role models”

I would suggest that maybe those writers were, and are, looking for a specific kind or role model, a role model who would  show them how to cope with a range of intellectual stimuli to which  they found them selves exposed themselves to once they left the “backwaters” and moved into the bigger world in which the high and low arts seem demand attention. James, it seems to me, is, and was, an ideal role model in that respect. He’d come to England with a large appetite for the full and active appreciation of everything European culture gad to offer, and he’d come with a a natural ability evaluate everything that he took in, whether it was music, theatre, painting, television, and to report on his findings in a way that made those who heard him sit up,  pay attention and, yes, emulate.

My own introduction to James came through listening the the songs he wrote with Pete Atkin, reading reqularly the TV column he wrote for The Observer and fineing every so often  essays that turned up in various prestigious (but  sometimes not widely available)limagazines. When some of his essays were collected and published as The Metropolitan Critic, they were there to be  read and enjoyed  over and over  again,

You did not have be a follow James into every nook and cranny to know that you were in the presence of a man whose judgement was sound and who could, without making  one feel inadequate in any way, presume that the person he was writing for shared his wide range of interests that he had.

He is the kind of writer who makes the reader feel that he wants to keep up, makes him or her that there is a great deal of fun to be had from keeping up. He can be, and quite often is, accused of name dropping for the sake of it. But more often than not, the name dropping itself can have an effect on his reader. I got around to listening to Charlie Parker a lot earlier earlier that I might otherwise have because Clive, in a song lyric, Perfect Moments, cites Charlie Parker playing My Old Flame as a “perfect moment”. The challenge to this listener was to listen for himself to see whether this was indeed a perfect moment. It turns out that it’s probably not – comes close enough to being one for one to be convinced that probably is for someone.

That’s the way James works. He points you to something you may not have noticed before, says something interesting, arresting or challenging about and then gives the reader enough slack to find out for himself.

Extract from Julian Gough‘s  essay for the January 2009 issue of Prospect,

As Good as Heaney


Julian Gough

The Book of My Enemy: Collected Verse 1958-2003
by Clive James (Picador, £8.99)

Angels Over Elsinore: Collected Verse 2003-2008
by Clive James (Picador, £14.99)

I’ve been reading Clive James since I was in short pants and he was in flares. Back then, it was impossible to predict where he would end up, because he was shooting off in all directions at once like a burning box of fireworks. What couldn’t he do?

From 1972 to 1976, James’s Observer television columns used riveting language to nail down the ephemera of an entire culture as it moved into a democratic age. It was only after the tapes were wiped that people realised it had been these ephemera that showed you what was happening. He twigged it first. In 1979, his Unreliable Memoirs did to its genre what Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint had just done to the novel. James admitted to flaws and inadequacies that nobody who wrote that well had ever owned up to before: the minor ones; the embarrassing ones. Liberating, brave, Unreliable Memoirs was also hugely influential; Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook is its charming but undisciplined bastard child. Then, from 1982, his ITV show Clive James on Television invented the reality TV aesthetic: a celebrity chuckling while ordinary people ate ants to get on television. The ordinary people were Japanese, from imported gameshow clips; but the British, shown it was possible, soon evolved into anteaters.

After the show, he’d go home (reading Tacitus on the tube, in the original), and write a poem about Egon Friedell. James was the barbarian who had travelled to the capital of the old empire and, casually mastering its every art, become more civilised than its natives. He was, and is, an inspiration to younger writers worldwide, whose backwaters lack role models.

In the later volumes of the memoirs, James constantly attacks himself for his selfishness, his ego. But I always used to think that—especially in the novels and poems—he wasn’t selfish enough. In looking up to so many writers and thinkers, he put himself down, and thus risked failing to reach the heights of his true potential. I now realise that what I saw as a flaw was in fact his greatest virtue as a poet and essayist.

All through these early and middle years, the essays and poems quietly punctuated the bigger stuff….[link to full text]


Julian Gough is the author of Jude: Level One (Old Street Publishing). His blog is at http:// http://

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form

GOP Southern Senators block loans to Big 3

December 16, 2008

The proposal to give the Big Three automakers billions dollars in emergency loans came a cropper when, on Thursday last, the United States Senate has rejected the plans to offer a  House of Representatives and the White House approved a $14bn rescue loan to the big Detroit three carmakers GM, Ford and Chrysler, late on Thursday last.

 The reasons for its failure are according to Sunday’s Salon are easy to find.

The fiercest opposition to the loan proposal — and nearly a third of the 35 votes against ending debate on the deal — came from Southern Republicans, and the ringleaders of the opposition all come from states with a major foreign auto presence. Not coincidentally, nearly all of those states — except Kentucky — are also “right-to-work” states, which means no union contracts for most of the employees at the foreign plants. The Detroit bailout fell victim to a nasty confluence of home-state economic interests and anti-union sentiment among Republicans.

This week Southern Republicans had a chance to go to bat for foreign automakers while simultaneously busting a union. At a hearing last week, Corker explained that his constituents “have a tough time thinking about us loaning money to companies that are paying way, way above industry standard to workers.” Which may explain why his proposed alternative to the loan agreement between Congress and the White House would have required the United Auto Workers to agree to significant wage cuts next year, based on a spurious claim that union workers earn significantly more than non-union workers.

The double-whammy was too hard to resist, I suppose.

Cathal Cryan: The Marathon Man & my brother.

December 12, 2008

I make no excuses for publishing this article in full.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Enjoying it too much to quit

No challenge is too great if one puts their mind to it. Michael Gallagher talks to a man who changed his life when he picked up a book in the local supermarket.

HE was a thirtysomething couch potato, enjoying comfortable evenings lounging in front of the telly with a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits. He had just quit smoking, but the replacement of the nicotine with sweets, bars and other tasty treats was another problem which had to be addressed.

As the 1970s prepared to give way to the electrifying eighties, Cathal Cryan was a Coolock-based detective sergeant heading down the avenue towards middle-age in a happy, but unfit state. Then, by chance, the Ballina native found a book in a bargain basket in a super-market and as many lazy journalists say – the rest is history.

“I had just given up smoking and was putting on weight. Then one day I was out shopping with my wife Breege (nee Forde, from Lacken) and I had my ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion.

“There was a basket of books near the checkout and I picked up one titled, Running for Your Life, by Bill Emerton. It cost me about 25p at the time and I can safely say it changed my life. That was my inspiration to go out running and there was a training manual in it, which really got me into the swing of things.”

A few weeks ago, the reformed couch potato completed his 60th marathon when he crossed the finish line in the Dublin Marathon. The amazing transformation has been a lifechanging one and Cryan has no intention of stopping just yet.

“When I started running I decided I’d do one marathon and quit. It was to be a one-off – an experience – but that’s not the way it turned out. Then when I hit 50 I said I’d quit, but that didn’t happen either.

“Now I’m sixty-five and retired, but I have no immediate plans to stop running. I’m enjoying it too much,” the Lord Edward Street native explained.

If enjoyment means getting up at 7.30 four mornings a week to churn out the training miles then Cryan is onto a winner. Since he caught the running bug as a 35-year-old he has run tens of thousands of miles in training and competition. In 1982 he kept a diary and when he added up the numbers at the end of the year he had covered 4,700 miles in training, finished five marathons, two 20-mile races and three half-marathons.

“That was a busy year and I actually won one of the 20-milers in Fermanagh, but if you’re going to run good times you have to put in the miles and work harder. I would never have been considered an elite athlete, but I’ve always been consistent. Challenges drive me on and whenever anyone would say that something ‘couldn’t be done’ that’d be the spur for me to prove them wrong.”

In 1996 Cathal decided that he’d cycle to all Mayo’s matches in that year’s senior football championship. The opening round of the campaign saw the newly-installed John Maughan take his team to Ruislip for a meeting with London, so Cryan had to get the boat and pedal from Holyhead to the British capital.

“The whole thing started as a kind of a joke at work. I told people I would do it and I wanted to prove that I had cycled every mile, so I came up with a plan. I made up a card – a type of a passport – and got it signed at Holyhead and then in every town that I cycled through I went into the post-office and got them to stamp the card so that I could prove I had been there.

“I made good progress and the journey only took me a day and a half. I cycled for about 14 hours the first day and five on the second and when I reached Ruislip, John Maughan and the team were waiting there for me and John put the final signature on the card.”

Mayo’s progress through the championship that year meant that Cathal was on his bike until late September, but the Ballina native is a well travelled man when it comes to sporting endeavour. He has run marathons on three continents and is a regular competitor in London, New York and now Dubai. He has the distinction of appearing in the inaugural marathons in Dublin, London, Limerick, Belfast, Cork and the one and only Castlebar 26-miler, The Mayo Post Marathon, in 1982.

He has completed the famous distance in less than three hours on no-less than 27 occasions and has fond memories of many people and performances along the way, but his run in the 1986 New York event remains one of his favourite recollections.

“I was a guest of the NYPD that year and even though there would be great friendships between the two forces, there was also a huge competitive streak. They entertained me lavishly at the post race party, but there was little love lost in the race itself.

“I didn’t have a disctinctive Garda vest on me and when I sat in behind one of the NYPD runners with three or four miles to go he didn’t know who I was. I stayed with him all the way and with about 150 yards left, I kicked and beat him to the line. Little did I realise that he had been the leading NYPD runner and they weren’t a bit happy to be beaten by the Irish fella, but I was delighted,” he recalls.

That performance was a far cry from the early training runs when Cathal began his runnng career. He was still feeling his way into the sport when it was announced that Dublin would host its first marathon in the autumn of 1980.

“I had decided to run my one and only marathon in Birmingham that year, but then I heard about Dublin and switched my attention to that one. I was certain that I’d run just one marathon in my lifetime so I set myself a high standard. The famous athlete, Noel Carroll, had a training programme in the RTE Guide and I followed that, but only loosely. I was determined to beat Noel’s time so I worked a bit harder than his training programme suggested and it worked. Noel finished in a time of 3 hours and eleven minutes and I had finished two minutes earlier.”

That dedication to training is still evident in Cryan’s running. These days he trains with competitors much younger than himself, just to stay sharp. A training partner went to school with one of his daughters and that gives the Mayo man great enjoyment.

“I really enjoy training with lads who are still in their 30s and 40s. I get a great kick out of that. They keep me sharp and that’s why I can still run in the 3.50s for the marathon,” the proud grandfather explained as he turned his attention to the next challenge – the next conquest. That’s the way life has always been for the man from Lord Edward Street

Russell Davies on Artie Shaw.

December 11, 2008

It’s not often one can say that one is looking foward to the repeat of a TV programme, let alone say that one looks forward to its being repeated twice, but I can say witout any hesitation that these are two repeats  of a  of a single programme that I’m actually looking forward to with some eagerness.

Radio Times

Artie Shaw: Quest for Perfection

Saturday 20 December
11:30pm – 12:30am

Sunday 21 December
2:45am – 3:50am

Russell Davies looks at the life and music of composer and clarinettist Artie Shaw, charting his achievements with previously unseen footage and musical clips from the 1930s and ’40s.

Presenter Russell Davies, who is interviewed  here about the programme, well understands that Shaw the man could be a bit prickly, and therefore not everyone’s cup, but he also understands that Shaw was a consummate musician who for a decade or so was peerless.

Camille Paglia champions Sarah Palin.

December 10, 2008

There is being a member of the awkward squad, and there is being a member of the awkward squad, Well, than is actually being a member of the awkward squad, and there is Camille Paglia. Here she is in today’s issue of Salon, asking us to believe that Sarah Palin is more substantial political force than we hitherto  thought her to be.  

 …. Step by step over the past five weeks since the election, headlines about Palin in the mainstream media and some Web news sites have become more neutral and even laudatory, signifying that a shift toward reality is already at hand. My confidence about Palin’s political future continues, as does my disgust at the provincial snobbery and amoral trashing of her reputation by the media and liberal elite, along with some conservative insiders.


This provincial snobbery, which. it would appear, Paglia thinks is the sole reason for Palin’s failure to register as the intellectual heavyweight that she is, is still showing up all sorts of places.  

 Once the Republican ticket was defeated, the time had passed for ad feminam attacks on Palin. Hence my surprise and dismay at Dick Cavett’s Nov. 14 blog in the New York Times, The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla,” which made a big splash and topped the paper’s most-read list for nearly a week. I have enormous respect for Cavett: His TV interviews with major celebrities, which are now available on DVD, set a high-water mark for sheer intelligence in that medium that will surely never be surpassed.

However, Cavett’s piece on Sarah Palin was insufferably supercilious. With dripping disdain, he sniffed at her “frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences.” He called her “the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High,” “one who seems to have no first language.” I will pass over Cavett’s sniggering dismissal of “soccer moms” as lightweights who should stay far, far away from government.

I was so outraged when I read Cavett’s column that I felt like taking to the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of intelligence, talent and political aptitude?

After devoting four subsequent paragraphs to demonstrating that Cavett – “far too processed by his undergraduate experiences at Yale, at a time when Yale was stuffily insular and a bastion of WASP pretension”  -and his kind who speak a non-standard language, a language, she gets to her point.  

Yes, that is the lordly Yale that formed Dick Cavett’s linguistic and cultural assumptions and that has alarmingly resurfaced in the contempt that he showed for the self-made Sarah Palin in “The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla.” I am very sorry that he, and so many other members of the educational elite, cannot take pleasure as I do in the quick, sometimes jagged, but always exuberant way that Palin speaks — which is closer to street rapping than to the smug bourgeois cadences of the affluent professional class.

English has evolved, and the world has moved on. There is no necessary connection between bourgeois syntax and practical achievement. I have never had the slightest problem with understanding Sarah Palin’s meaning at any time. Since when do free Americans subscribe to a stuffy British code of veddy, veddy proper English? We don’t live in a stultified class system. In the U.K., in fact, many literary leftists make a big, obnoxious point about retaining their working-class accents. Too many American liberals claim to be defenders of the working class and then run like squealing mice from working-class manners and mores (including moose hunting and wolf control). What smirky, sheltered hypocrites. Get the broom!

It does not seem to occur to Paglia “understanding Sarah Palin’s meaning” was never a problem for anyone. The greater problem from the fact that they could barely bring themselves to believe that that she wanted what said to be taken seriously.

Pete Atkin talks radio from LA

December 9, 2008

On November the 11th and 18th’s podcaster Tracy Pattin posted two podcasts of conversations she had with radio director Pete Atkin while he was in Los Angeles directing the second series of the comedy drama set in a Carmelite monastery by Christopher Lee, Kicking The Habit.

What Pete has to say about radio drama is engaging enough fro me to wish to post and preserve the podcasts on this site.



Pete Atkin is a British singer-songwriter and radio producer notable for his 1970s musical collaborations with Clive James and for producing the BBC Radio 4 series This Sceptred Isle and Kicking The Habit, written by Christopher Lee. Produced by Rosalind Ayres and Martin Jarvis.


Voice Registry Podcast-Tracy Pattin talks to BBC Radio Director Pete Atkin Tuesday, November 11th, 2008


Voice Registry Podcast-Tracy Pattin talks again to BBC Radio director/Producer Pete Atkin Tuesday, November 18th, 2008



Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum..

Washington, Behind Closed Doors – not again!!

December 8, 2008

There is a rather good piece by Glenn Greenwald  in today’s Salon explaining why  Matt Miller, a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress (CAP) and former official in the Clinton Office of Management and Budget , for suggesting in  The Washington Post that not only  should  former officials of the White House who write books after they leave office be stigmatized and scorned, they should also be prevented from doing so by the president who should be vested with formal power to block publication.

That is an atrocious idea.  For one thing, it’s hard to see how enforcement of these silencing contracts could be permitted in light of the First Amendment.  And I doubt that Obama, for appearance reasons if nothing else, would take this proposal seriously.  But those matters aside, the thinking behind this proposal is common among Beltway insiders and reveals much about the ways of Washington.

The attribute that defines Beltway culture as much as anything else is obsessive, gratuitous secrecy.  The vast bulk of what takes place of any consequence occurs away from the public eye.  Even laws which Congress enacts are proposed, negotiated and written behind closed doors with lobbyists and operatives.  By the time these bills are even known to the public, let alone openly “debated,” their outcome is a foregone conclusion.  Floor “debates” and Congressional votes are pure theater, empty rituals with no purpose other than to ratify pre-ordained outcomes that were determined in secret…..

There is much more.

A definition of Beltway

The Big Three carmakers & national healthcare.

December 4, 2008

There is a terrific article in today’s Salon by writer Andrew Leonard explaining  how national healthcare could have saved Detroit.

Using a 1986 New Yorker article The Risk Pool by Malcolm Gladwell, Leonard explains how the company that in 1962 was paying benefits at a ratio of one pensioner receiving benefits to 11.6 employees was last year ratio of 3.2 pensioners to 1 employee.

 Having read this article, I believe I now understand what the Big Three are saying when they argue that the cost of paying benefits of hundreds of thousands of retired workers is what prevents them from being able to compete with foreign carmakers.

Bush & ABC’s Charles Gibson

December 4, 2008

Salon Joan Walsh has  some pertinent comments to make about what she calls President George Bush’s  delusional exit interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson.

When Gibson asked Bush what he was “unprepared for” when he became president, Bush gave this rather stunning answer.

“Well, I think I was unprepared for war. I didn’t campaign and say, ‘Please vote for me, I’ll be able to handle an attack.'”

What an odd, self-pitying outbreak of candor for this strange president. I’m not sure how anyone could run for president and be “unprepared” for war. The job includes the title of commander in chief of the armed forces. It’s true, though, that Bush didn’t campaign as someone who would quickly start two wars, and commit the U.S. to a belligerent and reckless policy of unilateral preemptive attacks on our enemies based on perceived threats, not hostile actions (that’s the “Bush doctrine,” in case you’re reading, Sarah Palin)………….

Walsh piece can be found here, It’s  worth reading, especially as a reminder why it the world might be right to  rejoice at seeing the back of him.