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Still Scribbling (Just About) September 2, 2013

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Media, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.

There have, it seems, been 85 of the suckers over the past few years, and almost uniformly bleating about some social injustice, media travesty, political inertia and/or conspiracy blah-blah-blah. My last blog in fact exhorted my reader to simply buy Private Eye whose muck-raking activities are far, far more assiduous, wide-ranging and comprehensive than a lone scribbler’s could ever be, and that remains my position. And in a world increasingly run by giant corporations and their poodle governments, the potential for protest to have much effect is limited. Which is why I haven’t published another one for months and likely won’t do for many more.

Indeed I think it’s fair to say in the world we now blindly struggle through, my generation really had the best of it and I pity the poor blighters following in our wake.

But just for the record, these are the subjects that have me wringing my hands most often and most intensely : Mick Farren’s death; Google; Amazon; virtually all politicians; Syria; fracking; HS2; global energy policies; most electronic media; banks and bankers; my personal finances; human behavior in the digital age; Afghanistan; celebrity culture; finding a garage who can competently tend my Citroen XM. It’s never bloody ending.

And since this will be probably be my last scrawl for ages, I’ll try and counterbalance that litany of despair with a brief list of things that have made life bearable:

DAVID BYRNE and St Valentine at the Roundhouse: 8-piece brass section, quirky if borderline irritating guitarist/chanteuse Annie Clark and Byrne’s magnificent songs. Truly uplifting.

MOVIE BINGEING: Seeing up to seven a week courtesy of my gig with the Picturehouse chain. Yes, there’s dross a’plenty, but some gems too, recently including What Maisie Knew, Closed Circuit, Cold Comes The Night, All Is Lost, Gloria, The Great Beauty, Enough Said, Blue Jasmine and Nebraska… all out now or in the next two months, and all to be savoured before online streaming and home cinema finally kill off real cinema (and I’m out of a gig, again!).

Beefheart Illustration

‘Outsider Artist’ Joe Coleman’s homage to the Mighty Captain

ART: a now not-so-recent trip to Paris revealed some unexpected gems, including Hey! Modern Art & Pop Culture at the wonderfully whacky Hailles St Pierre (a sort of mini-Roundhouse) featuring ‘outsider artists’ from the 70s onwards, including the Clayton Brothers, the biker druggie Joe Coleman, Erik Joyner and dozens more.  Hey! is also an occasional, beautifully produced mag-book worth €19 of anyone’s money whose interested in truly innovative creative mavericks that make the Damien Hirsts, Chapman Bros. and Tracey Emins of this world look like the cynical, minimally talented hucksters that they are.

And the Chagall exhibition, mostly of his bitingly critical anti-war works at the Musee du Luxembourg was moving in a different way.

But most impressive was a trip to the Musee des Artes et Metiers. I was making my third visit there in the vain hope that I might finally work my way through its enormous collection of technical, industrial, consumer, automotive and architectural design exhibits (I failed) when for light relief wandered into the temporary Enki Bilal show. He’s little known (to me) Serbian-born comic book artist and writer – a master draughtsman and fantasist with an agreeably perverse view of the (nether) world, but he’s also made several feature films, unshown in the UK, which despite massively limited resources and zero CGI are incredibly dramatic and graphically imaginative. This I know only because he’d spliced together a riveting and often hilarious assemblage that played on a constant 15 minute loop.

What all the hip Parisian  despatch riders are using these days

What all the hip Parisian despatch riders are using these days

Amazingly, given their no-budget origins, Bilal managed to persuade star names to appear in them, such as Julie Delpy and Michel Piccoli (Tykho Moon), Frederic Pierrot and Charlotte Rampling (the deeply weird Ad Vitam a/k/a ‘Immortal’) and Jean-Louis Trintignant and Maria Schneider (Bunker Palace Hotel). Bilal’s films are available, if hard to track down, on DVD but I recommend that you do. (I also got to bestride Prosper Keating’s meticulously maintained Velocette KSS whilst in Paris, but that was art as ancient engineering).

Lichtenstein at Tate Modern is long over of course, but it’s still zinging around in my head, and the Salgardo photos at the Natural History Museum are pretty damn incredible.

THEATRE: The revival of Gorky’s Children of the Sun at the NT was a timely reminder of the perils of political expediency, thrillingly staged and performed, ditto Chimerica at the Almeida – since transferred to the West End  – which boldly addressed the growing power of China and waning influence of America. More conventional but no less caustic was Noël Coward’s supercharged comedy of upper-class manners, Private Lives at the Gielgud.

MEDIA: Apart from the aforementioned Private Eye, The New Yorker continues to be the source of much pleasure and instructive intelligence. Long, beautifully written articles on subjects as diverse as Louisiana tugboat dynasties, Tibetan politics and the exploitation of African mineral resources by shadowy Israeli industrialists, plus the best film reviewers in the world bar none make the £100+ annual subscription worthwhile… even if, with hideous inevitability, its publishers are trying to migrate us online.

And so finally of course we come to Renault Twingos: I’ve always fancied these cheeky wee-but- roomy French hatchbacks since riding around in a colleague’s during my frequent business trips to Paris in the mid-90s, and having been obliged to sell my beloved Lancia Gamma, I spent some of the proceeds on what is now probably the only one in mid-Wales.

The future is Twingo, at least when I can't afford to fill up the Citruin XM

The future is Twingo, at least when I can’t afford to fill up the Citruin XM

Certainly the only one in metallic gold with a full length sun-roof. What larks… almost as much fun in fact as riding a Honda CBX around in what for once has been a fabbo summer.


1. martincraig - September 3, 2013

What a delight, Mark! No need for any of the usual smartarse wisecracks from me; this is such a generous list of stuff & people I’ve (mostly) never heard of and investigating it all will keep me busy for months. Brilliant.

I’ll have to see if I can nab the only Twingo in Scotland, going by the quality of your other recommendations. Excellent blog, thank you. You’re looking well too. Your mission now is to stay that way.

markswill - September 3, 2013

Good to hear that you’re still at it too, Martin. I wish you didn’t live so damn far away as I’d love to meet up again… although I think the XM would be a better bet for the trip than the Twingo.

martincraig - September 3, 2013

It would be great to meet up, and that’s my current dilemma in a nutshell. The Jeep 4.0 is perfect for this immediate area, but I spend ridiculous amounts of time scanning MeBay and Otto Trader for a second vehicle and lurch between hyper-economic hatchbacks with offbeat style & pizazz (like your Twingo) and ludicrous gas-burning old muthas still capable of whisking me to see friends like you at warp speed. I must say that the only time I shout out “Hellfire, have you seen THIS?!” I’m referring to one of the latter. However, I’ve already found twin Twingos, one in pink (with blue seats) and one in blue (with pink seats and randomly selected controls in toothpaste green) both older than yours (L & N reg) in the North of England & both with suspiciously identical mileages of 100k. This is how cults are born.

2. Steve - September 3, 2013

Mark, it would be a pity if you gave up now. No, you are unlikely to change any of it, but leaving incisive commentary to those few who care is still worthwhile. Perhaps I am just being selfish, a monthly dose of your style and dazed and crazed words was vital to me many years ago and heavily influenced my career decision (reinforced by that damned movie) to hang out in Arcadia, ride bikes everywhere, do whatever I had to to get by, avoid Louisiana in duck season and take care if doing strange drugs with strange women in cemeteries.
Your words, with their insight and style, heavily influenced my very minor contribution to Australia’s motorcycle media and my life andtimes generally. It was an unexpected pleasure to stumble across your blog a few months ago.
Keep going.

markswill - September 3, 2013

Thanks for your generous comments Steve, but I do really believe that in today’s world where a zillion instant digital pundits are impotent against consolidating commercial outfits that are individually stronger and globally more influential than governments that my increasingly angry words are irrelevant. But I may change my mind! And from time to time I may well feel that I have subjective pleasures to communicate to my small but perfectly formed following… of which I’m flattered to learn that you’re one.

3. Neil Murray - September 3, 2013

Hah! I remember hammering a Mark One one-point-two-litre rental Twingo from Rennes to Caen, hoping to get there before the evening ferry sailed.
Business trip – my host and I were supposed to be taking the train from Rennes, but he got the times wrong and we missed it by two minutes.
So he marched to the Hertz or Avis counter to grab a car on a one-way trip to Caen, and then discovered he’d left his driving licence in the car he’d parked at Portsmouth. So, as I had a licence on me, it was rented in my name and I did the driving.
Rental cars are always the fastest things on any road, of course, but I was bashing this poor thing along at 90 on main roads. It was about as big, well-built, and rigid as a biscuit tin, but God, it was fun…..
And yes, we made the ferry.

markswill - September 5, 2013

You paraphrase, perhaps unwittingly, the great P.J. O’Rourke’s timeless maxim, “The fastest car in the world is not a Ferrari, not a Maserati BUT A RENTAL CAR.” And yes, the Twingo has all the solidity of a biscuit tin but mine is remarkably free of rust… I live in hope of a good few years life out of it.

4. tony rooney - September 3, 2013

as ever , an entertaining thought provoking read . Have been missing it , the only blog i read !

5. dick pountain - September 3, 2013

St Vincent Mark, St Vincent. Edit now to avoid ridicule (except it appears no-one else has heard of her)

6. Linda Stokes (@bluntkutz) - September 3, 2013

Sigh… thank doG you wrote another blog, so I can self-flagellate for not running off with you when I had the chance, oh yeah, and Google.. sigh..as one of the first people to have “glass”, it is my opinion it will primarily be used for surveillance ….of the wearers…they can see everything you are doing, and of course the GPS alerts to your exact location.
Love from a far away fan

markswill - September 3, 2013

Well Prof. Linda, you may be right about Google glass, in which case they’re even more sinister than I thought. And exactly when did you have the chance to run away with me? How did I miss the signs? 1979 was an awful long time ago, though… but I think any further exchange on this subject is best held in private. You well, though?

7. andy tribble - September 4, 2013

Keep going when you feel like it, Mark, you must know that it’s completely not true that multinational corps rule the world, we might buy their stuff but i cannot think of any instance at all in which we buy their opinions, no respected pundit (like you) is even in their pay. They are strange giant jellyfish that have money but no brains and are not in fact armoured against the legislation of any medium sized country.

martincraig - September 4, 2013

Beautifully put Andy, and worth developing. The game has certainly changed, but it isn’t over.

markswill - September 5, 2013

Hmmmmmn…. I take your point UP to a point Andy, but by avoiding taxes they indirectly avoid legislation that might otherwise curb their power to influence and in some respects corrupt.

8. Linda Stokes (@bluntkutz) - September 4, 2013

In this country, (USA) the game is already over…i thought ”poodle government” was spot on. Here, Corporate Opinions are the only opinions, except for those of ‘deviants’ and GMO s grace every ‘special of the day’.

markswill - September 5, 2013

Astute as ever, Prof. Linda… but just how ARE you getting on with those Google Glasses?!

9. melindacb@hotmail.com - September 6, 2013

Mark you cannot give up, we need as many people as possible to keep blogging about the evils of multi nationals etc. Otherwise the ill informed will just be brainwashed into becoming more integrated into this every increasing homogenised society. By the way I am concerned about your well being you are now driving a car with a name more akin to a chocolate biscuit and it’s in a gold wrapper!!!

markswill - September 6, 2013

Hahahahaha and indeed, ha, Melinda. But as mentioned, I still have my big, horridly fast, horridly complicated and horridly thirsty Citroen XM as well. Plus my Honda CBX. As for your kind words re. my bloggery: well one man’s scrawl to 300 people (max) isn’t gonna change anything, much less the world and as I pointed out, Private Eye

    does it much better to many more… ditto if less frequently, my beloved New Yorker. But thanks anyway and as I noted, I will still occasionally sound off in the future.
Peter Collins - September 7, 2013

301 now, Mark, as I have just (re)discovered you. And would I have ever bought an H2 Kawasaki and ridden it around Europe in my now distant youth without your inspiring words? You still have a talent and maybe who you reach is more important than how many – although perhaps some self-interest in my flagrant flattery! If you give there will be one less of the good guys, that’s all.

markswill - September 7, 2013

Hi Peter, and wonderful to hear from you as anyone who could ride an H2 around Europe – even in the first flush of youth – will always be a prince amongst men in my book. But I’m not giving up entirely, just giving up tne frequency.

10. Panomphaean - September 7, 2013

Hear, hear Peter Collins. Rediscovering Mark’s scribblings here, as we all age, is a pleasure.

11. Peter Collins - September 7, 2013

Kind words, Mark, but I can attest that the wallet felt somewhat less princely afterwards…so perhaps it’s as well that the machine-gun toting Yugoslav Police rather put me off going any further.

12. Hilary - September 8, 2013

Endorsing the comments above – please keep blogging, Mark! Surely the end of September will provide an abundance of new material for you to muse upon?

markswill - September 9, 2013

Hahahahaha and indeed, ha, Hilary… But your generous endorsement is well taken

13. Martin Wild - September 13, 2013

Don’t give up the ship matey! How else will us Philistines know what to lie awake worrying about?
Congratulations on a proper Twingo. The new version is a terribly watered-down thing, barely identifiable from all the other clones.

markswill - September 13, 2013

The fact that anyone would like awake worrying about anything I’ve withered on about is either worrying in itself, or flattering… not sure which! And thanks, the Twingo is indeed a delight ≠ even the full length sunroof is waterproof in the deluge we’re currently suffering at the moment.

14. Paul Hardiman - October 29, 2013

Well, so glad to have found you again after all these years, even if you are threatening to slow it down massively. RooR was the first thing I used to turn to, (well remember the tales of your and Pete Furlong’s IT175s). At the time of The Stranglers’ heyday, it all seemed so glamorous to an impressionable youth beginning to realise he didn’t want to be a building surveyor.. maybe why I’m still scribbling (for the classic car mags) after 30 years. I’m so glad you’re rescued a Twingo – I think they all gravitated to south Wales where there was a specialist, but of course the later ones rather perverted the original’s singular concept.

markswill - October 29, 2013

You didn’t want to be a building surveyor, Paul?!?! You must’ve been MAD ! Think of the job security, the decent income, the pension, the weekends dedicated to loafing… Anyway, thanks for the flattery, and let me return it: who are you scribbling for these days so I can go out and buy a copy?

As for the Twingo, well I actually bought mine in Halifax from another fan who’s now on his fourth Twingo. The guy in south west Wales who was (sort of) importing them gave up some years ago, which is a bugger because getting bits for them without a Renault parts book (in English) is proving a Herculean feat: took me three weeks to sort out the right CV joint assembly and I’m approaching tappet adjustment with much trepidation (five different engines, four of the same capacity, none clearly identifiable as the Clio equivalent. But that’s enough anoraking for now…

Paul Hardiman - October 29, 2013

No, I didn’t want to become a building surveyor and was luckily rescued by The Guardian’s creative and media ads one Monday in 1982. Did 14 years on staff at Classic & Sports Car but before that was privileged to work with hot metal (and sadly witness its demise) when at FF – didn’t get the job as sub on Car in its golden period when LJK was god, but later offered a place on its truck titles. Anyway, went freelance eight years ago to fit in with being a mostly single dad and these days ponce about with the uncredited linky bits that someone has to write – features are so short these days and editorial rates haven’t changed since about 1995, so I skulk around the minor pages being anonymous doing things like auction reports, which scrapes together a bit more money. There is a Mk2 Coombs Jag resto piece in Classic Cars this month, but I wouldn’t go out and buy one, as they cut all the interesting stuff. Oh well, enough of me… just glad to see you’re still about. But yes, you did inspire me.

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