Saturday, February 23, 2008

Journey into the unknown

Arise in darkness before even the larks are awake. Breakfast on cold porridge without milk (since the old cow died). Bid farewell to my tearful wife who is beyond comforting. To London, in great trepidation, and a divers collection of colonials, poets and internet scribes.

Of which more, God willing, anon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Adventures of Hiram Holliday

In the winter of 1960 after my father died we fled to Scotland. My mother, who suffered from an acute psychiatric condition, couldn't cope on her own and we went to live with her sister in a small farm cottage deep in rural East Lothian where my uncle worked as a farm labourer. I was twelve years old. I left behind all my friends in Tilbury in Essex, the kids in the gang, roller skating on the broad pavements, toyshops, football in the streets at night, going to the pictures on a Saturday matinee, the endless possibilities of life.

In my new home my mum and her sister fought all the time. Literally day and night. For some reason that I couldn't understand I was a cause of much of the friction. As a result I tiptoed round the house on eggshells, never knowing when I would do something wrong. My world had turned cold and grey. I was lost in a barren landscape of ploughed fields and abandoned coal pits.

Fortunately, as well as a few books, we had a black and white television. In autumn of 1960 the BBC started showing the first of twenty-three episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, a comedy imported from the US that NBC had aired several years earlier. Apparently the programme was based on a novel by Paul Gallico but I suspect the adaptation strayed a long way from the original.

The show starred Wally Cox as a weedy, mild-mannered, nerdy-looking proofreader who through years of secret practice had developed James Bond-like skills in activities as diverse as shooting, rock-climbing and scuba-diving. He was also incredibly well read and an expert on all sorts of arcane arts from horse-whispering to memorising Shelley's poetry. Travelling the world at the behest of his employers he pitted his wits against a diverse collection of evil geniuses. He possessed supreme self-confidence that allowed him to face every danger with equanimity and yet he remained touchingly modest. Against overwhelming odds he resolved every crisis. How I longed to be like him!

Hiram was unremittingly cheerful. He loved the world and all its faults. He found joy in everything. His attitude to life gave me hope even though I knew that at the end of each half hour episode the real world would remain as drab and forbidding as ever.

After all this time I thought Hiram had vanished into the ether but I reckoned without Google. Google has obliterated time, brought the past back to life. I met Hiram again the other day, even watched an episode of his adventures on You Tube in grainy black and white as if I was that twelve years old kid again.

All the old memories and emotions came flooding back as if it was yesterday. The pain, the despair, the bitterness and above all the hopelessness that enveloped me as I tried to cope with my mother's illness. She's dead now of course, finally at rest. Wally Cox too is dead, his ashes scattered, rather bizarrely, along with those of his best friend Marlon Brando, in Death Valley.

Thanks to the internet though, Hiram Holliday lives on. A true hero of our time. Or my time at least. Thanks, Hiram, for coming to my rescue too.

If you're interested you can check Hiram out here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Reader Writes

Two nights ago I received a rather perturbing e-mail from one of my blog readers who styles himself "Lurkio". The e-mail - which raises a number of important issues - reads as follows:

"Hi Mr Pundy

I am thinking of visiting the Booklaunch you recently described on your blog in the hope of meeting both you and Mr Ahearn as I too am a failed writer who still aspires to literary greatness despite all the evidence to the contrary. I believe I can draw inspiration from the way you have both refused to accept your lack of talent as a serious hindrance on the road to literary immortality. The problem is, I don't know what either you or Mr Ahearn looks like and I have a dread of approaching other men in strange pubs in case my motives are misconstrued. Please can you help?


Let me say right away - and after a great deal of thought - and despite the moral minefield that surrounds the subject - I determined to tackle the issue of identifying people you have never met head on. Here's the rather courageous reply I sent Mr Lurkio:

"Hi Mr Lurkio

Do not despair. The problem you have described is surprisingly common, even though it is rarely spoken about in public. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Indeed, so common is the affliction that that it's little wonder that the world is full of strangers. I believe this is especially true in London, due in part to the high population density, to say nothing of the widespread occurrence of public houses.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to pre-cognitive stranger recognition, as the illness is more properly known. Freud, in particular, was especially gloomy about the likelihood of finding a reliable palliative since, in his opinion, every stranger presented a different challenge to the cognitee (ie you). Jung, on the other hand felt that certain facial distinguishing strategies were worthy of consideration especially if the target could be fulsomely described.

Your particular case is made more difficult by the fact that I too have not met John Ahearn. However, being a fully-trained (and successful) self-published author I am able to deconstruct John's writing by means of acute textual analysis and reconstruct the resulting signifiers into something which is - I am confident - an accurate word-picture of what the man actually looks like. Here then - based solely upon his published oeuvre - is his description:

1 He is male
2 He is American
3 He speaks largely in Arkansas rhyming slang
4 He is over six feet tall
5 He has a lazy right eye
6 He has a very furrowed brow due to all the agonising he endures trying to find the apposite bon mots for his poems
7 He is bow-legged
8 He has a large white droopy moustache
9 He may or may not be wearing glasses
10 He'll be swilling corn whiskey from a small barrel balanced on his shoulder

If you are still unable to spot him in the crowd from this description look out for a guy wearing a Stetson with a sixgun strapped to his waist standing beside a horse tethered to the bar. This may not be John but he'll likely be an American who will at least buy you a drink.

As far as my own appearance is concerned the problem is altogether different. According to my wife - who I have to admit I haven't seen for some time - I have absolutely no self-awareness. This makes describing myself extremely difficult. To help me I asked my two friends to describe me but the best they could come up with was the following list of adjectives: "humourless", "dull", "mean", "thick", "bitter", "envious", "snobbish", "touchy" (but not feely) and - a little unfairly I thought - "extremely unsociable". Physically, I am six feet tall, balding, multiple-chinned, gap-toothed, short-sighted, hard-of-hearing and I wear a permanently mournful expression on my face.

If all else fails, look for the guy standing alone in the corner. That'll be me. Unless, of course, it's you - seeing your reflection in the mirror next to the Gent's lavatory.

See you there!!!!"

Friday, February 08, 2008

Great encounters in history

Socrates and Plato
Stendhal and Lord Byron
Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens
Rainer Maria Rilke and Rabindranath Tagore
W B Yeats and Christopher Isherwood
Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein
W B Yeats and Ezra Pound
Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Iris Murdoch and John Bayley
Markx and Engels
Marks and Spencers
Burke and Hare
Anthony and Cleopatra
Antony and the Johnsons
George Burns and Gracie Allen
Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham
Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere
Shirley Temple and John Agar
Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley
John Wayne Bobbitt and Loreena Bobbitt
Homer Simpson and Marge Bouvier
The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Roy Rogers and Trigger
Ben and Jerry
Lennon and McCartney (suggested by John Baker)
Robert Allen Zimmerman and Bob Dylan (ditto)
Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler (suggested by Matt)
Cleopatra and Me or John (suggested by the incomparable Minx)
Pooh and Piglet (suggested by Absolute Vanilla, who needs a cuddle)

And finally....

Bill Pundy and John Ahearn.

Be there and watch history happen.