Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Victim of the Brain

Mrs Boyo has convinced me by sheer force of repetition that Solaris by Stanisław Lem is a work of fiction, not the diary of an intrepid Polish astronaut.

To reinforce the point she replaced my Coupling omnibus dvd with a film version of Solaris, directed by Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky. I have watched this film, all 170 minutes of it, and reached the following conclusions:

1. Whatever else they may have lacked, the Brezhnev-era Soviets were not short of film stock.

2. The Russians foresaw a future in which space exploration would be carried out in natural fibres, which puts them miles ahead of the Americans.

3. As established elsewhere, Russians don't know how to have a good time unless there's distilled potato and other people's countries involved.

4. Mr Tarkovsky was clearly an early master of the Kieślowski Gambit.

Named after the late Polish ennuier, the Gambit replaces plotting, pacing, action and characterisation with rapt vistas, unleaven religiosity and inconsequential dialogue, often delivered by women without any make-up. "Ah, sophisticated!" breathe Anglo-American film reviewers. "Mais où est Arnie?" ask Europe audiences.

Which brings me neatly to the US remake of Solaris. Hollywood is often accused of crudening the textures of European cinema with its abridged versions. The Vanishing, Les Diaboliques and the Second World War are indeed travesties of the European originals. But in the case of Solaris, I think Hollywood got it right.

Yes, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is the film Tarkovsky's Solaris could have become. The left-field Dutchman made his mark with gay porn classic The Royal Dutch Marine Corps and The Fourth Man, being the further adventures of Harry Lime, before heading west to achieve his career peak with Showgirls.

On the way there - somewhere over the Azores in terms of his creative flight path - Verhoeven turned his hand to Lem's slender volume and produced a bar of cinematic gold.

Total Recall corrects four fundamental flaws in Tarkovsky's version:

1. In Total Recall, Quaid imagines a dusky, kick-boxing lingerie model. In contrast to his wife - a blonde, kick-boxing lingerie model. The Kelvin character in Solaris dreams of his own wife - a sallow, undernourished, apparently dead homemaker from Perm.

2. In Total Recall, the planet is a real planet - Mars - and has nuclear reactors, mutants, prostitutes and more guns than a Beirut wedding party. The planet on Solaris looks like Dovey Junction and is inhabited by the said uncommunicative frump. And neither she nor the planet are real, from what I could gather.

3. In Total Recall, you have Arnie. Fair enough, Tarkovsky was in no position to hire the Governator in 1972, but he could at least have tried for someone who combines action with Arnie's light touch. Sir David Niven springs to mind.

4. In Total Recall, there's an early scene of Quaid going home from a construction site. This establishes the essential characters and plot. From then on, it's two-fisted, many-tentacled action, with added sleaze. And it also raises important issues about the environment, reality etc. In Solaris, there's a visit to the Kelvin family hut, and then it slows down drastically.

In a nutshell, compare the escalator fight scene in Total Recall with the traffic jam in Solaris. Now imagine what Kelvin would have done on the moving stairs, and how long Arnie would have waited before clearing the motorway with a nuclear-fuelled Humvee armed with laser-powered rocket-launchers. And he wouldn't have taken ten minutes to do it either.

Solaris is available in a subtitled, remastered DVD from the Criterion Collection at £14.86, with an informative article by Phillip Lopate. Total Recall is available pretty much every day at Casa Boyo on ITV2, with an excitable commentary by myself.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cyfres y Ceirw I: Hag

Gwasg Gwynedd is a publishing colossus that bestrides the Menai Straits like a man, or woman, made totally and utterly out of Welsh books and no others. It runs a list of popular biographies devoted to Gwalia's worthies entitled Cyfres y Cewri (The Series of Giants).

Keen observers of the Welsh cultural and political sidduation have long noticed lacunae in this list, and so the rice-paper publishing and summary-execution wing of the Cymru Rouge has resolved to supplement it with Cyfres y Ceirw - The Series of Deer - so called because the notables honoured therein are nimble hornèd beasts of Cambritude.

And so the first Hart of Hearts is Hag - Councillor Robert "Hag" Harris - owner of Hag's Record Shop and Ceredigion kingmaker, seen above in his official uniform as quondam Mayor of Lampeter. His roll of honour is as follows:

- His election as the first truly scary Burgomeister gave Lampeter some much-needed Universal Horror glamour.

- His shop has played a vital role in keeping students tricked into attending Lampeter University from going stir-crazy and trying to break out of the Cardigan Cordon, which is patrolled by the Daughters of Rebecca wing of the Young Farmers (Provisional).

- His militant baldness is a literally shining example to all of us whose heads grow too fast for their hair.

In keeping with the official Cymru Rouge philosophy of Existentialist Nihilism ("I think, therefore it does not exist"), we cannot endorse any of our candidates for Ceirŵaeth without personal testimony, so here is mine.

Hag used to take his vinyl circus of second-hand records around South Wales campuses in the 80s, and one visit to Swansea University prompted a rare foraging trip for me out of the Hendrefoelan student internment camp.

Before heading off I asked Ward, the coffee-based leech-tamer in the shadow of whose sound system I lived, whether there was anything I could get him.

"Ask Hag what he'd give me for a full set of Genesis albums," muttered the Sage of Wyrley from behind a stack of 2000 ADs.

And so, a little later I beckoned to one of Hag's creatures across a pile of Soft Cell singles, only to hear the reedy, disingenuous voice of a caller to a social disease helpline say "I have a friend who'd like to sell a set of Genesis albums". The voice was mine.

"Oh, you have a fri-END who'd like to sell some Genesis albums, have you?" leered Hag's little helper with troglodytic glee.

"Er, er..."

"Oi, Hag! This one's got a firrrr-END who'd like to sell some Genesis albums!" the Morlock yelled across the room.

Hag, like Count Orlock in a Clash t-shirt, emerged hungry from his crypt and glided across to feast on the bared neck of my mortification.

"Right, you've got a FUH-UH-UH-UH-RRRRRRENDDDD who'd like to sell some Genesis albums, eh?" he beamed, sweeping a roomful of women who would now never sleep with me into the conversation.

I thought of taking the Lawrence of Arabia amendment and declaring "He. Was. My. Friend," but realised that there was not crawling out of the well of prog-rock purgatory wherein I had hurled myself.

The crowd of loafers in German army surplus eventually shuffled off with their Elvis Costello records, leaving Hag to lean across and whisper "I'll give you 15 quid for the lot".

"Seven quid's his final offer, Cooper, take it or leave it," I reported back to Ward as he adjusted his java drip.

I learned a valuable lesson that day about music, finance and friendship, and all at the cloven hooves of Hag - a Welsh.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Vladimir Voinovich, Russian wiseacre and author of the commendable Life and Amazing Adventures of Soldier Ivan Chonkin, once developed a political theory called the Bald and the Hairy.

He held that Soviet/Russian leaders who were thinning on top tended to be relatively decent losers. They ended up being marched off to house arrest (Khrushchev, Gorbachev) or dying of clap or whatever before achieving much (Lenin, Andropov).

Top Bolsheviks with the glossy coat of a labrador retriever, on the other hand, were their own men who didn't play by the rules but got results, whether in the fields of mass murder and world conquest (Stalin), collecting Mercedes and ballerinas (Brezhnev) or having it large on the world stage like a goose in a bad suit (Yeltsin).

Even Malenkov and Chernenko, usually dubbed pasty failures despite their shaggy manes, at least managed not get stomped to death by coked-up dwarves in the Lubianka cellars, unlike so many other Soviet also-rans.

Humbly following in the path of Voinovich's tennis shoes, I would like to propose the political theory of the Mismatched Collar and Cuffs.

It posits that British financial supremos whose silvery hair jars with their black and owlish eyebrows are doomed to career misery and alcohol-related humiliation - and not necessarily the fun type I enjoy most evenings either.

In evidence I cite George Brown, Wilson's buffoonish pisswizard, Norman Lamont, the cheap-bubbly berk who mislaid the pound sterling for several months, and current cashbox clown Alistair Darling.

As far as I know Mr Darling has yet to hit the bottle, but I'd certainly back Senator Blutarksy in advising him to start drinking heavily. Things can only get worser, so he may as well observe them sullenly through the bottom of a whisky tumbler.

Back home in Wales, having more than one eyebrow marks you out as a fairy child destined for greatness in the Land of Men. But at least our politicians are content to watch badgers rather than putting them in charge of the Mint.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anti-Danube: Chapter VII

In Which Mountains Vanish as My Troubles Do Not

I settled onto the floor of the leprous cell and ran my bloated, rubbery hands over the first page of the League of the Wives of Bohdan Naxajlo file.

"Real paper," I whistled to myself. So unlike the impacted cobweb and acorn paste on which my collection of essays had been printed. The whole run of "The Waters Have Burst" was eaten by a squirrel, but I endure.

Naxajlo - what bewilderment that name evokes, and not least phonetic! Rarely uttered aloud except within the stag-heavy walls of the NAKRO senior officers' club, it refers to the the scion of a prewar corsetry empire who joined the Communists as Minister of Church Expropriation before failing to return from a solidarity visit to the militant milliners of Marrakech.

Since then Naxajlo has been an umbrella tip embedded in the pimply thigh of Socialism, elusive yet inevitable in his wrecking of Five-Year Plans, folk festivals and visits by unfocused Western playwrights alike.

Linked variously to the Latto faction of the Democratic Rhomboid, the Continuity Langerites and the Shutak List (Renewal), Naxajlo's sabotage has been impish in subtlety and often indistinguishable from Party policy itself.

The doyen of Ruthenian poets, Vaclav Futon, once told me "When you travel to foreign literary conferences and announce yourself to be a Ruthenian, you are asked two questions. The first is 'Please will you hang up my coat?' and the second - 'Do you know Bohdan Naxajlo?' To answer either in the affirmative is to invite a lifetime of crude dentistry in a forced logging camp - as Murdo Bartkiw, the gumless timber bard of Colony 49 might testify if he officially existed anymore."

Naxajlo nonetheless danced across international borders and First Secretaries' saunas like Hrindöl, the spring-heeled otter of Carpathian legend.

I pushed back my sagging brow and began to read.

The file presented evidence that Naxajlo relied on a network of agents, safe houses, midnight feasts and dewy embonpoints throughout the People's Democratic and Popular Republic, and all supplied by this aforementioned League.

It is said that sailors have a wife in every port, when it is more likely that they have been fobbed off with a barbary ape in a gingham frock as was my cousin Pilcho during his national service, but Naxajlo did seem to have eased his way between the swampy sheets of beldames in all the provincial centres and capital districts of Ruthenia. And this was achieved through a combination of hosiery from the family stockpile and what the report called "Belgian practices".

These "wives" were not susceptible to the same methods of persuasion that NAKRO applied to dissidents, Quakers and festival-goers who crossed its path, and this was for the bald dialectical reason that they were without exception the spouses, daughters, sisters, or mothers (and in one diverting case all four) of Party leaders.

I can recall only one occasion when I felt sorry for the organs of state security, and that was when the Vanguard Youth League's International Division allowed a Cuban five-year-old to win the competition to design NAKRO winter uniforms. This looked worse, whatever the weather. But how was I expected to help?

Then a sudden chill ran down my spine. I glanced at my hand, which had abruptly turned raw and hairy, like a badly-shaved spider. To my horror, it was also numb. In panic I slammed a night pot down on it, and my ears echoed to a howl of pain.

I understood through the power of rational deduction that the hand was not mine. The application of logic and experience told me that the fist now pounding the pot around my beret was its twin. Subsequent monosyllabic explanations, embellished with blasphemy and vigorous physical gestures, introduced their owner as one Agent Kafka.

It was he who told me that Bohdan Naxajlo had now exceeded himself. One of our mountains was missing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Le Marquis de Queensberry en Vacances

For Daniel Ash, lately of Bauhaus (and Tones on Tail), now posing cockaltoo of Paphos Bird and Animal Park.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα

The House of Boyo is set for 10 days in Cyprus, home of British sherry and starting-point of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.

Posting will be unlikely, given the demands of brandy sours and the Women of Boyo (Mrs B and our daughter, Arianrhod ferch Saisladdwr), but I shall have my trusty moleskine and crayon ready to complete the next chapter of Anti-Danube, in which Zhatko regrets the birth of Agent Kafka.

I'm having trouble translating the coastal dialect phrase "odperdnyk skumbryjskoh jibanytztva", and any assistance will be rewarded with a libellous mention.

Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

Down the Oxus on a Log

Gorilla Bananas, earnest as ever for closer Welsh-Simian links, has expressed interest in the memoirs of Colonel Peter Deakin, one of Britain's most avid if luckless players of the Great Game.

Thorpe's An History of Inner Asia notes that "if any one man can be held responsible for the successful Soviet conquest of Bokhara, Khiva and the Badakh Shans, then it is Colonel Deakin. His military ineptitude, diplomatic insouciance and Neronic excess left the benighted khanates longing for the relative reason and solicitude of Bolshevist rule" (footnote iii, pp 157-158).

The manuscript has long resided in my Uncle Idris's meatlocker, and the time has come for its biennial skimming, so I'll copy the covering letter and introduction for your perusal.

R. Cooke
Dept of Manuscripts,
India Office,
London W1
Dr. M. Atkin,
Curator, Turkestan Collection,
British Museum,
London W1C

16th February, 1927

Dear Atkin,
We found this down the back of the "Afghan,
Bokhara, Misc." trunk last week. Not really our sort of stuff,
so I thought you might like first refusal, so to speak. It is
an unnumbered manuscript written on what the Yard tells us is
regurgitated rice, hence the sumptuous texture, but it
contains significant traces of mutton fat and human saliva,
I'm afraid, so you may want to wear gloves and keep it away
from radiators.
There is no mention of any Capt. Deakin in our military
files, and the records of the 5th Baluchi Lancers were
destroyed in a Pathan raid on Quetta after the unfortunate
"iron pig" incident in the Mess involving the Eid-ul-Fitr
pilaf and the Governor of Qandahar's favourite wife - it is
interesting that the survivors I have spoken to do mention a
Subaltern Champion in this connexion too, but are reluctant to
discuss the spontaneous combustion reports.
Deakin's comments on the policies of the Government of
India, not to mention his rampant Germanophilia and priapic
exhibitionism, preclude any possibility of publishing it in
anything but a heavily-edited form in England. Nonetheless, as
I am sure you will agree, the manuscript is not without some
interest in shedding light on the petty khanates of the Pamirs
on the eve of the Bolshevist Revolution, and might perhaps fit
in your "Yellow Collection".
The first few pages are missing and, again according to
the Yard, it seems that someone (the egregious Subt Champion,
perchance?) tried to eat the manuscript - whether out of
hunger or fear of discovery in that noisome oubliette I
frankly shudder to think. The fate of these poor wretches
remains a mystery, although I enclose a clipping - with
translation - from the Bolshevist "Naqatepe haqiqati" district
newsletter obtained by the redoubtable Mrs Robinson on her
perhaps ill-advised Bach Choir tour of Red Army border posts
in Turkestan last year. Note if you will the Naqatepe
commissar for corrective work with juvenile delinquents,
Comrade Dzh. T. Bugariy, and read on.

R. Cooke, Archivist.

[Manuscript, in pencil, on rice; incomplete, c 1915. Author
identifies self as Capt. Peter Beauregarde D'Arcy Deakin of
the 5th Baluchi Lancers (disbanded 1919)]

... kept it in her mouth until she stopped breathing. But not
even these recollections bring me much comfort in this reeking
bug-pit, where my every movement provokes more larval gnawing
at my sweetbreads, and my slightest sigh brings down a bucket
of rancid offal on my head from the pitiless heathen guards in
the cell above. The putrid camel innards excite the diverse
vermin further, although Champion - stout fellow - is doing
his best to consign all sources of torment to the oblivion of
his pelican-like maw. The ensuing eructations from his
fundament serve to warm our dungeon on the cold nights,
Months have passed and I have all but abandoned hope of
seeing England and Mavis again, while Champion must curse the
day he turned down the Pink Turcomans' invitation to stay on
as their cricket-bashee and install bells in their Inter-
Denominational Mosque and 24-Hour Women's Self-Help Centre. I
don't know what he really thinks as he still hasn't spoken to
me since his hideous ordeal at the hands of the Akhund of
Basiq-Arvil, for which he persists in holding me responsible
on grounds of my purely-tactical conversion to the sect of the
Assassins and my strategic withdrawal to the Akhund's harem
for a week.
The Amir's Mingbashee visits us each Friday with
entreaties that we should embrace their heathen faith in
return for our liberty and our clothes, which sounds fair
enough to me, but Champion has indicated via the guards that
he will press for my expulsion from the regiment if I should
submit. I suppose he's right. As every Englishman will agree,
it is better to be eaten alive, manhood first, by four-inch
insects with serrated mandibles in a cramped cesspit in the
High Pamirs, and then to have your dismembered body dragged
around the local bazaar by jabbering, pointy-headed urchins,
than to lose one's place on the Lancers' Polo Team and
Maidservant Selection Committee, or something like that.
My only hope is that this record of our ill-fated mission
to Turkestan will find its way back to England in time for the
war, which is scheduled to start any day now. The Mingbashee
says he has heard reports that battle has already commenced
between Germany and the French, so it can only be a matter of
time before our brave troops show their Saxon colours and
rally to the Kaiser's cause against the reptilian Gauls, their
decadent poetry and hirsute women. Our intelligence about the
Russians' sale of laminated cooking utensils to the unlettered
Mohammedans of this remote Himalayan outpost will be crucial
in deciding the fate of Europe, Civilisation, Mankind, the
World and indeed of England itself, I believe.
My greatest wish now is that whoever finds these scraps
of paper should seek out Mavis and tell her that throughout my
travails, even when I was forced for tactical reasons to
submit to the shameless caresses of the depraved, large-
breasted denizens of the Akhund's harem, my thoughts were of
her and her alone, apart perhaps from the occasion when they
slathered two large aubergines with mutton fat and ra....
[remainder of page illegible]

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cymru Rouge hails New China

People who read big newspapers and watch TV programmes featuring clothed types sitting around tables hear a great deal about the growing strength of the Chinese economy and its global impact. China's spending power, thirst for resources, investments in Africa, military might and diplomatic stance are widely seen as a cause for concern.

We in the Cymru Rouge disagree, and not only because we are roiling, hemp-clad Maoists who subsist on our own slate-flecked spittle. We regard Western foreboding about China as little more than a centenary lap of dishonour for the "Yellow Peril" that so baldly maligned that noble apothecary Dr Fu Manchu.

Indeed, any moral panic about the Middle Kingdom ought to be mitigated by its consistent failure to capitalize on its many centuries of achievement and innovation.

For example, China invented paper and printing, but has yet to master the art of writing - prefering as it does to produce crude Rorschach inkblots in place of proper letters.

Furthermore, its invention of the compass now has few uses beyond geometry classes and self-service ear-piercing among bored schoolgirls. The rest of the world navigates by satellite and the map function on Google - which we believe is banned in that potato-less patriarchy.

Gunpowder was another triumph. We used it to manufacture modern weaponry and conquer the world - one consequence of which is that Hong Kong is still a Special Autonomous Region with elementary human rights, working drains and the Cat III film industry. In China, they put it in fireworks.

So let us join Karl Marx (Literarischer Nachlass, vol III, pp 444-5) in voting thanks to China for giving us the boons of capitalism while selflessly sticking to feudal warlordism itself.

Brawd Rhif Un, Ta Moq
Brawd Rhif Dau, Huw Samphan
Brawd Rhif Tri, Paul Pot
Cymru Rouge Political Bureau and Ents Society