Archive for January, 2011

Thorpe Marsh (ex-)Power Station

1963 – 1994

Nr. Doncaster, South Yorkshire

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A book at bedtime (2)

La Bête Humaine by Emile Zola (1890)

Jacques Lantier, brother of Etienne, is the main character in La Bête Humaine, in which Zola considers the rage within man. I find the novel’s setting strangely evocative, based as it is around the Le Havre-Paris railway line, travelling through the Normandy countryside; a route and final destination of Paris’ Gare St Lazare which are still close to my heart. I can also confirm that this setting is much more apt for literary treatment than the coach station in fin-de-siècle (fin de 20th siècle, that is) Rouen: another Norman vehicular setting, but, from my experience, populated by many more weirdos than Zola’s – even allowing for the ‘human beast’. 

Unlike many of his ancestors, Jacques avoids the old green fairy but instead finds himself consumed with murderous desires, which he attempts (unsuccessfully, natch) to suppress. There are several occaisons where Jacques comes close to succombing to his rage; he manages to rein in his homicidal urges, but finally snaps and kills his lover.

Indeed, lust, sex, and desire are never too far away in this novel (and are usually inter-twined with a dose of murder for good measure): an(other) extra-marital affair is central to the plot from the very beginning, Jacques is deeply attached to his engine (‘La Lison'; this relationship even seems to keep his rage in check) and, well, trains and tunnels and that. You know.

At the dénouement of the novel, Jacques attacks a colleague; the train they are supposedly in charge of hurtles down the tracks, throwing them to their deaths as their unknowing passengers drink themselves into a stupor. Zola being Zola, these passengers are of course patriotic soliders on their way to the border to fight in the Franco-Prussian war. Train or bullet lads: either way, you’re screwed.

Incidentally, I’m fairly certain the image above is not from the original 1890 edition of the novel.

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Tony time

Tony: [drinking tea] Ooh, is this my red top milk?

Colleague: Yes.

Tony: It’s on the turn; it’s not your fault … I’ve chucked it, I’ll not have more than this one … Or I’ll not be off the bowl.

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Here’s Tony!

Several years ago, when starting a new job, I met Tony. And once in a while, a man comes along and touches you. Not improperly; in an emotional sense. The time I spent working with Tony was… intense. Intense and baffling. Sadly, I only worked with Tony for about 6 weeks, before he moved on to his next audience.

It occurred to me to write down the bizarre, ill-considered, and unintentionally funny things he would regularly say. I will share some of them on here sporadically.

Thanks for the idea Ray.


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Knives out

The Young Knives are, in a literal, geographic sense, Middle England: they were formed in Ashby de la Zouch, the kind of place where successful Bullseye contestants would return home, towing a speedboat and thinking “how the hell do I sell this on??”. This apart, they wouldn’t really be called ‘normal’ – how many other bands feature two brothers?


Ok, how many other bands features brothers who look like David Mitchell and Ronnie Barker? And in how many other bands featuring brothers who look like David Mitchell and Ronnie Barker does the latter go by the name The House Of Lords (because he exercises a power of veto over the others)?


The Young Knives are regularly marvellously scornful. Quite often at people just like me.  Such as in Half Timer: A salary / It gets you through to half time / A salary / Why don’t you, erm, smash the system from within / A salary / Get yourself a promotion / And then take your children to the zoo for the weekend / A salary / With the extra cash you’ve got there.

What I also find interesting about The Young Knives is the moment at which they first (to my – probably limited – knowledge) introduce strings to their sound. This might be one of my typically uninformed feelings, but I swear doing so is invariably the moment when an indie band jumps the shark and loses almost all connection to what made them them (yes, I mean you, Manic Street Preachers – this reference goes back to about 1997. I am nothing if not current).

However, 1 minute into the 6th song on The Young Knives’ second album, in come the strings. And what would you know, it only bloody works a treat. After listening to the song multiple times I can usually convince myself that, at 3 minutes and 12 seconds, as I’m urged to jump from the prow and swim to the shore away from this ghost-ship, the world is actually ending.

Anywho, I’m off to smash the system. Night all.


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Pitch invader

The final ever match at Saltergate.

1-1, 90 minutes on the clock, and the ball sits up in front of the longest-serving player on the pitch, who had made a recent comeback from cancer, and who is 20 yards away from the goal in front of the Kop.

As the man says: “Hit it!”

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It’s a praise about Ray

A good friend of mine goes by the name of Ray Wittering. We met through work and he initiated our first conversation by asking what the bowl containing lumps of brown, sugar-y looking things next to the pots of tea and coffee was. I replied that, as Mick Jagger would say, it was brown sugar, he asked how come it tasted so good, and BOOM! we never looked back.

It always struck me as odd, not to say impressive, that despite my French degree, time spent working in France, and look-at-me-I-can-speak-French-you-know pretensions, his knowledge of French music and film verged on the encyclopedic whereas mine was more monosyllabic.

For just over two years we spent a fair amount of time commuting to work together in tight enclosed spaces, either by train or car, or on foot (after getting out of the tight enclosed spaces first). A lot of this time (and, it must be said, a lot of our actual ‘working’ time) was spent laughing at things we saw, and the things we (mostly he) said. We (mostly he) devised a number of comical characters (including, hilariously, a fat man who loved gravy) and wrote a number of scripts (mostly he. Look, he has a degree in English Literature & Film, ok) for TV shows, called things like Mummy, Make It Stop.

Relatively quickly I became more of an ‘additional material’ kind of contributor, but I was happy with that, as it was still always a pleasure to read his scripts, including Mondo Raymondo, a documentary-style programme based on the fictionalised life and times of Ray Winstone (featuring Ray in the lead role).

Despite making contact with, for example, Ray Winstone’s office, none of our (mostly his) TV ideas seemed to hit the right note for the TV execs. However, two words helps explain this: James fucking Corden (I know, I said two words, but you can have the fucking for free).

We also dreamt up a number of fictional Morrissey albums (Havana Good Times; The World In A Pie Crust), and went to a few football matches together. Our teams had the good grace to exchange a couple of 4-2 wins at Saltergate in consecutive seasons, and he also suffered a freezing February afternoon on the away terrace at Belle Vue, watching a truly awful game only enlivened by a late, solitary goal by the Spireites.

Ray has a wonderful blog, and it was during one of our conversations by email that he prompted, urged, or even dared me to do my own. You have a lot to answer for, Ray.

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I don’t mind if you forget me

Do you worry about your health?
Do you watch it slowly change?
When you listen to yourself, does it feel like somebody else?
Did you notice when you began to disappear – oh was it slowly at first, until there’s nobody really there?
These are the questions with which British Sea Power’s Yan begins Remember Me (for the record: yes, yes, yes, and yes). There’s a deep sense of loss here (of youth? love? the nation’s war veterans?), delivered with absolute, utter conviction.

This is one of the reasons I love British Sea Power.


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A book at bedtime (1)

Germinal by Emile Zola (1885)

Etienne Lantier, son of Gervaise Coupeau of L’Assommoir fame, is the ‘star’ (if you will) of Germinal, my all-time favourite French novel, in which the initially shy and politically naive young man becomes an inspirational leader of a community (and stays politically naive).

Etienne leads a workers’ uprising at a northern coal mine, in search of improved working conditions. In the ensuing months-long strike, the miners and their families suffer appallingly and are driven to the very edge of survival. Ok so they don’t debate canibalism, but one family does sell (for a pittance) everything in their house, apart from the portrait of the benevolent Emperor, hung above the (cold, empty) fireplace, kindly provided free of charge by the company. In a particularly grimly captivating scene, as anger rises among the community and ferocious riots break out, the local shop-keeper (who insists on alternative forms of payment from the miners’ wives for what limited food stocks he has) has his manhood ripped from his body. It is then paraded around as if t’were a trophy.

A small number of miners (including Etienne – oh, Etienne) eventually cede and return to work, only to be trapped underground following a tunnel collapse brought about by sabotage (carried out by a Russian anarchist, a close friend of Etienne’s) intended to cripple the mining company’s position. Etienne’s own hereditary blood-lust finally takes grip, and sees him attack and kill a love-rival (a sub-plot), shortly before they are rescued. Etienne subsequently leaves, with his former colleagues returning to work for longer hours and lower pay than before the strike.

Despite this bleak resolution to the strike itself, the novel concludes as follows:

“Aux rayons enflammés de l’astre, par cette matinée de jeunesse, c’était de cette rumeur que la campagne était grosse. Des hommes poussaient, une armée noire, vengeresse, qui germait lentement dans les sillons, grandissant pour les récoltes du siècle futur, et dont la germination allait faire bientôt éclater la terre”

“Beneath blazing skies, in that youthful morning , it was with a growing murmur that the countryside swelled. Men were growing, a black and vengeful army, germinating slowly in the land’s furrows in readiness for the next century’s harvest, and whose ripening would soon burst open the earth itself”

I can in no way do justice to this novel; its portrayal of an impoverished mining community is hugely sympathetic without being romanticised; its consideration of the political and class struggle illuminates the immediate setting of the novel, but also speaks volumes about late 19th-century France; its depictions of conditions inside the mines reflect Zola’s (as always) devoted research to his novel, and are incredibly atmospheric to the point of claustrophobic.

I bought this book for 10FF (about a quid) from a second-hand bookstore in the very small town  in Normandy where I lived and worked as a teacher for a while. I suspect the fact that I almost immediately adored this book was strongly related to the fact that I was fairly well isolated from friends and family at the time, I have a generally quite bleak outlook on life, and I’m also a raging lefty.

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Cottam Power Station

Nr. Retford, Nottinghamshire


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