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Mark Brumby’s Cultural January

Welcome to our maiden My Cultural Life where we’ll recap the last month and ponder the highlights – and occasionally the low-lights – of what we’ve been doing.

Fittingly for the commencement of such an endeavour, we’re looking at January.

And, while January is a month that happens with a certain regularity at the beginning of a year, it does inject a certain freshness into things, and it gives us all a feeling that we’re starting again.

Outside, the daffs are pushing up through the dirty slush and the birds and the beasts that infest our garden are beginning to stir.

And for us, though we’ve got Covid, Brexit and heaven knows what else to deal with, it feels as though we’ve turned the page and, hopefully, 2021 won’t be quite the train wreck that 2020 was.

The world of books:

Here we’ll look at a few of the books that we’ve managed to read during the last month.

Elmore Leonard

52 Pickup – Elmore Leonard.

I’m one of those lucky people who’s read enough of Mr Leonard’s output to know how good it is, but who still hasn’t read anywhere near a half of what he’s produced.

52 Pickup is another dive into the world of shady, low-life characters that Mr Leonard seemed to know so well. With nary a wasted word, particularly in his dialogue, he’s able to bring these people, odious for the most part and questionable at their best, to life in a way that few others can emulate.

If you fancy a shortish read featuring amorality and seediness at its best, you could do a lot worse than read this one.

Takeaway? You do business with crooks, you might get what you deserve.

John Le Carre

Absolute Friends – John le Carre.

Another recently deceased great, Mr le Carre (aka David John Cornwell) rarely disappoints.

And Absolute Friends is considered by some to be his defining work – quite an accolade when you consider that the man wrote The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener, The Night Manager & many other great books.

Absolute Friends tracks the adult lives of the two friends of its title. It has an ‘end of era’ feel. It features the realpolitik of diplomacy, questions loyalty asking for how long and to whom one truly owes fealty.

Takeaway? You might love your country. But it may not love you back.

Going Clear – Lawrence Wright.

A non-fiction dive into the world of Scientology, this book, as might be expected knowing the litigious nature of the subject ‘religion’, has aroused some controversy.

We talk (with reference to Brexit and the like) of people being in ‘a bubble’ or ‘an echo-chamber’ but, it has to be said, cult-like religions have little to learn when it comes to orchestrating, reinforcing and maintaining beliefs that, to most people, sound like gibberish.

The accompanying documentary, also called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, is mysteriously ‘unavailable’ on several commercial platforms but, with a bit of ingenuity, it can be found and watched without too much trouble.

In it, the book’s author, Mr Wright, gives an admirably straight-faced explanation of beliefs such as the core understanding that the alien Mr Xenu poured the bodies of millions of people into volcanoes 75m years ago and that the souls of said people float around and inhabit new-born babies, sometimes dozens or hundreds into one body, the moment the infants hit the fresh air. Remarkable.

What’s on film?

A couple of re-watches here: Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas (where the anti-hero is more of a danger to society than I remember him being on earlier watching) and it’s younger, comedy twin, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa starring Steve Coogan.

Michael Douglas in Falling Down

Falling Down is a bit clunky but, it has to be said, it gets its point across.

Indeed, anyone who does (or did) much commuting, particularly on the Central Line where the carriages are about four feet high and four feet wide, will know that you have your breaking point and, if you are a certifiable nutcase, as Mr Douglas was in Falling Down, this may be arrived at sooner than would otherwise be the case.

Alpha Papa reminds us, as if we needed reminding, that niceness and success can be inversely correlated. Beware recently fired DJs bearing masking tape, a saucepan and a shotgun.

And on television?

Putting this piece together has brought home that we don’t watch much TV as such. We have ingested The Haunting of Bly Manor (not, frankly, overly impressed) and that’s about it. There may be some good stuff out there. Suggestions welcome.

The rest has been true crime (Des, Pembrokeshire Murders etc) along with any documentaries that continue reveal just what an utter, utter moron Donald Trump was, is and forever will be.

Indeed, on the subject of Trump’s incompetence and general nastiness, we’re secretly hoping to prove Einstein wrong when he said that the proof of lunacy was doing – in this case watching – the same thing and expecting a different outcome or verdict. With Trump, nothing yet. The damning verdict remains pretty solid, his apologists raving nutters.

Food & drink.

A bad joke, perhaps, as there’s not much action on this front at the moment.

We did manage a couple of out-of-home pizzas in December, the second as cover for four pints of craft ale. Thankfully, the need for a ‘substantial meal’ with drinks may be dropped when pubs reopen in April, May, June, take your pick.

In January, nada. Gigs? Yeah, right.

Conclusion.

Culture, for a lad from a Hull comp when the pubs are shut, is what you make it.

The Dig

This month, we’re looking for more proof that Trump was a well-disguised genius, we’ll read a bit of Bill Bryson, check out The Dig, bone up on Credit Default Swaps (don’t ask), read a bit of Richard Dawkins, maybe another Elmore & perhaps look into one or two ‘hard-boiled’ thriller-writers mentioned by a couple of authors that caught the eye.