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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

How to Survive the Midlife Crisis…

Is the midlife crisis in crisis?

During a recent radio interview promoting my debut novel (cue: promotion alert klaxon), I was asked about the Life Assistance Agency’s theme of longevity. That, and the advisability of driving to the Antarctic in a family car, after Ernest Shackleton’s great-grandson drove a stocky Hyundai across the South Pole, which is certainly one way to grow tired of children asking ‘are we there yet?’

It has been a long-burning ambition of humankind to live forever, but humans have also been responsible for Smell-o-Vision, along with Clippy, the MS Word Office assistant who offered even less useful assistance than the Life Assistance Agency, and only ever helped by minimising itself. Just because there’s been an idea doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.

I was being interviewed on BBC Radio Drive Time, and I now question declaring the inadvisability of eternal life, due to it resulting in watching the people you love age while you don’t. However, I fear they are still winching cars from hedges throughout Kent, as drivers lost their will to live. Thankfully the interview picked up. However, it did raise the question of aging, and how the raging against the dying of the light was once best expressed by purchasing an unsuitable soft-topped sports car with an acceleration faster than your reaction times, which you write-off within a month of buying. That and an extramarital affair. Or taking up golf. But people don’t get old anymore; they just keep on keeping on. If millennial fashion for high-waisted jeans is an indicator, midlife appears to start at twenty and stops at some point during a Saga Holidays Pete Tong cruise to Ibiza when you accidentally take more than your usual ‘cheeky half’ and plummet into the Aegean whilst inadvisably demonstrating your windmill, which you last successfully managed as a 18 year-old.

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because we all live online, where we’re all the same. We can be everything to anyone (within reason) without the obvious giveaways of walking sticks and involuntary afternoon naps to expose you. There used to be time when you’d only get to flirt with someone on a date, yet now we’re all hiding under the table while sending up notes and flattering selfies, and NOT touching anyone’s knee.

Getting old always used to be so obvious. My Grandpa wore an old suit and brown shop apron his entire working life, and on retirement hung up his apron and simply stopped wearing the tie. Now men are wearing T-shirts into their 50s without anyone advising them not to, while women are borrowing their teenage daughter’s dresses.

For most men, the midlife crisis is something that happens to someone else: laughing at the mate who starts competitive cycling as a socially acceptable way in which to wear lycra, while they themselves stalk their first girlfriend on Facebook, or sign up to Rightmove alerts for old pubs to transform into a B&B adorned with a DJ room and vinyl on the walls.

However, there are some clear signs: needing to diarise the next day’s hangover after a few pints in the pub is one, as is signing up for triathlons, getting excited about the News and setting up direct debits to charities, but mostly it’s happening so gradually that no one notices, until you finally discard the roller skates you bought at university because they invalidate your life insurance. It’s probably a healthy denial, but perhaps when the time finally arrives we’ll be less prepared for it, like getting to the South Pole to realise you’ve left the flag at home.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available to alleviate that Sunday feeling here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

Albums of the year – 2017

 

Is it that time of year already? Did I say that last year? It seems only nine months ago when the release of a decent album in 2017 seemed as likely as transgender politics not being divisive. Then there was a flurry of releases, which saw more money leaving the wallet than the latest EU demand. As ever it would appear that in answer to the last song on the recent Killers album Have all the songs been written? The answer is no, they haven’t.

One of the worst things about aging, apart from not taking sugar in your tea, is watching new bands flinging about gender fluidity to derivative new wave pop as though they’re the first ones to truly understand Bowie, clearly ignorant to the thousand of bands who’ve already done the same thing since 1976. I’m not sure when bands became so conformist, but for someone they all fight to hate, Trump seems the biggest influence on pop music since the Beatles.

For anyone still listening, the album of the year is easily GENTS. This is a band everyone falling in love with pop’s bedsit heroes Pet Shop Boys in 1986 has been waiting for. At least that’s what I told the band, several times, until was dragged from their dressing room after a rare live gig in east London.

Gents – About Time 

They are frustratingly un-Google-able, but once you get past listings for barbers and a Yorkshire band of the same name you find lustful imagining of neon urban nights, with the sort of wistful dream-pop that shuns irony by aiming straight for the heart. They’re a classic synth duo, with singer Niels Fejrskov Juhls adding guitar to unfeasible tall partner Theis Vesterlokke’s synth stabs and ambient washes. They’ve already released an EP, and About Time is a stunning collection of understated electronica. And TUNES.

Few enough bands nail it; even fewer hammer it home with the ease of GENTS. It’s the suburban blues that never needed guitars. It’s as raw and romantic as the Pet Shop Boys in their innocent prime. GENTS are utterly perfect.

Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind 

GENTS are not the only scandi-pop to feature, as it was also the return of these lovable indie disco moppets. This album was in the list before I’d even heard it. In fact ever since the sublime Optica of 2013. Four years is a long time to wait for a band that barely charts their own Sweden, much less London, but a new Shout Out Louds LP has been sorely needed. Contemporaries of the Strokes and Magic Numbers, they’ve never fully crossed over, but Capital radio’s loss has been intimate gigs with resplendent cowbell breakdowns and stage invasions gain. From the epic romance of Jumbo Jet to the hopeful No Logic it’s a master class in harmonies and the bitter / sweet vagaries of love. For any fans of the Cure’s poppier moments, or the effortless melodies of Steve Mason or the Concretes they are not to be missed.

War on drugs – Deeper Understanding 

So, here’s an album you might actually find on NME’s yearly list. There’s been no better album this year for the open road. This is dad rock at its best. All hypnotic jams that remarkably maintain focus, propelling rhythms and searing guitar solos. It’s perfect for that wanderlust, the soundtrack to the imaginary road, as you press your foot-to-the-floor, gently, as you leave for Co-op after dropping the kids off at school. It has that immaculate production of John Hughes and Stranger Things. It’s Neil Young’s Harvest gorged on Phil Collins and Dire Straits.

Charlatans – Different Days 

So, this is a bit cooler. The evergreen Charlatans, who tragically lost their drummer in 2013. This is not Dad rock, but Dad dance. On this LP they have dispensed with recent albums sounding like New Order to actually recruit their drummer Stephen Morris on several songs (along with Peter Salisbury from the Verve). From the gently plucked guitars of the Balearic opener Hey Sun Rise we find baggy shuffle and sultry organs all present and correct, with added handclaps and sunshine.

The unmistakable chime of Johnny Marr follows the Spoken word of Future Tense by Ian Rankin on Machinery.  It’s a good tune, albeit drawn from a stronger place than Marr’s own workman-like solo LPs. But it’s side two that soars, with the scat backing vocals of There will be chances and the loping Over Again mingling the synth flourishes of New Order’s Gillian Gilbert with funk. It’s unlikely, but it’s probably their best album yet.

Cut copy – Haiku from Zero 

Their last album Free your mind was such a shameless celebration of Italo-disco and rave that it was hard to look in the eye the following day. It was a flawless shiny masterpiece and quite adrift from the scratchy indie disco of their earlier years. There was barely a guitar in sight behind the breaking banks of synths and piano. This is a retrench to their indie roots, while not entirely losing eye contact with that night. While there’s nothing quite so ecstatic as Heart’s on fire, it’s a slow burning masterpiece.

Killers – Wonderful Wonderful 

The new wave abandonment of Out of my mind is a surprising highlight, as it cheerily echoes the synths of Mr Brightside. It’s more throwaway than they’ve recent dared and it works. Meanwhile there’s a dusty bar room band somewhere missing the Calling as its late night sleaze set closer. You can almost hear the bottles spinning through the air before a car park brawl and home to bed. But it’s splashed with enough electronic flourishes to maintain its pose.

There’s a blur developing between Flowers’ solo albums and the Killers, but if Wonderful wonderful is the sound of a crisis in confidence then there’s more fuel in the band’s tank than recent problems suggest.

Some other honorary mentions –

The Horrors also mined the 80s with the enthusiasm that the 80s mined the 60s. It’s a schizoid album of discordant guitars and blemish-free synths.  XX was easy to admire, but hard to love, while Rag n Bone Man appeared to have studied Adele and the cross-generational appetite for safe modern soul. Meanwhile, for Future Islands – the Far Field redefined more of the same.  They have always succeeded in making no lead guitar, indecipherable lyrics and never varying tempo interesting, as their recent live shows demonstrated, but there was the sense that even the band knew they were treading water in following up the perfect Islands album.

Unlikely Song of the Year – Shake it onby Jamiroquai – who’d have thought it. A thoroughly modern shimmer through electro synths that the once west London jazz-funkateer might have once baulked at. If guilty pleasures even exist then this its definition.

And book of the year is of course the Life Assistance Agency – thanks to all who have reviewed it, and if not then please do – the more the better.

 

The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

The politics of Central heating – Thermostat Wars.

It’s hard to believe the idleness of Idle Blogs in not bringing up the contentious issue of central heating. For some people switching on central heating while returning from stashing away the BBQ in September is a matter of pride. For others the opposite is true, for whom even glancing at the thermostat before Christmas Eve epitomises modern mollycoddled existence,. Where once we broke the ice off morning taps, we now swan around barely-dressed in flats heated like nuclear reactor cores.

 

Heating is something difficult for anyone who grew up without to accept. It certainly fuels angry opinion hotter than the house I grew up in.

As a social worker I visit a lot of homes, and the best advice I can give to newcomers to the profession (that is neglected on the diploma) is to wear a warm coat with a vest underneath, unless you enjoy a personalised 4-layer sauna, while staring at the selaed window wiling it to open.

I grew up in the countryside, and not only on the north side of a hill, but surrounded by woods. No, it was not a gingerbread house, but looking back at old photos the woods were densely dark. You could barely see further in than a 10 feet. Who knew what lurked within? Well, actually it was foxes, deer, and squirrels and to my young mind hordes of German soldiers. I was not scared of the dark, or Germans, and I’m still not.

In the mornings, wrapped tightly in blankets, I’d draw pictures in the ice on the inside of my bedroom windows with my warm fingers. The hot water bottle from the previous night lying on the floor frozen solid enough to hammer nails home.* This was before the dash across the arctic wastes of the hallway to a warm bath. We’d abandon that once the water cooled, to press our backs up against the sitting room storage heater that my father swore worked, while eating toast until it was time for school. It was that or cuddle a spaniel.

It is only with hindsight that I realise how integral the dogs were. In a house in which you can see your breath in the upstairs bedrooms, a dog basket holding two dogs the cosiest place to be. Crammed into the backseat of a VW beetle going on holiday to the west country was a little too cosy; it was like travelling with the two-bar radiator that you worship in winter and trip over in summer.

These days people complain about fuel bills in such stifling heat that house plants are wilting. I was advised to put on the heating once you run out of jumpers, by which point you’re so constricted by wool that you gain the dexterity of the Michelin man in a soft play area and can’t operate the boiler. Perhaps that was his point.

“It’s freezing” say people in lieu of conversation, simply because local climate fails to match that of the Caribbean. These people have presumably exhausted their vocabulary by the time local temperatures actually drop below zero. There must be an Icelandic word for people who think it’s cold simply because it says October in a calendar.

Turning the heating down saves money, saves the environment and I swear stops illness, which breeds in sweltering homes with the ease of athletes foot at public pools. This is based upon the fact my father was never ill, whereas the sight of modern fuel bills is likely to kill him.

* there is some artistic licence here

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here –

 

It features no bears.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

Paddington 2 – review.

Reading reviews of Paddington 2 you might be mistaken for thinking reviewers were dishing 5 star reviews after too many marmalade sandwiches. The lack of dissenting opinion might be due to recovering from them writing up the apparently deadened Murder on the Orient Express, or that criticising Paddington is akin to hating crumpets or tripping old ladies over in the street. Not only is he the only bear we allow to store sandwiches under his hat without judgement, but he represents an innocence we all lost. Apparently the director Paul King walked around the block rather than sit through the original’s preview screening with Paddington’s creator Michael Bond in case he disliked it. He loved it and so did everyone else.

Both films are gorgeous, switching from animation, to stop-start, to traditional illustration and pop-up books, to CGI and 2d drawings with the abandonment of an anniversary party marking early a-Ha videos.  Much like the population of London, you don’t question the existence of a duffel coat wearing bear for a moment, and that animating a bear that once had two dots for eyes and a little smile is something my grandmother would have fainted at after asking how they’d trained it.

So, is the new film any good? The first film was watched through the hands of childhood memories, before revealing itself as charm personified, as the Peruvian bear negotiated the modern world with the comedic competence of Crocodile Dundee . When I say modern, the films depict tranquil west London streets without an agitated deliveroo rider, clueless Uber driver or over-congested roads in sight. The seconds it takes the refuse truck to negotiate Ludgate Hill outside St Paul’s would take twenty minutes in real life. The existence of Notting Hill’s victorian architecture will be a revelation to easterly hipsters rarely straying beyond Old Street roundabout, with barber quartets on every corner and wood panelled barbers. It looks more like Paris, another over-romantacised city. Yet it works. It understands the importance of escapism.

You might expect bigger bangs for a bigger budget and there is a car stunt involving driving through a small black board. It’s not exactly the Fast & the Furious. Otherwise it’s much the same, other than a steam train chase, which I’m sure most viewers noticed involved the Class A1 Peppercorn 60163 Tornado: the first steam engine built in Britan since 1960.

Although it’s a lesson in tight scripting there are fewer set pieces than before and could have benefited from more. Laughs are sharp and mannered,  but not wrung perhaps as dry as they might be. Hugh Grant hams it up, but again perhaps not to the peaks reviewers suggested. That his Phoenix Buchanan hates working with other people is something most people on a bad day can relate to. Otherwise it’s a gentle romp involving the restorative main of marmalade.

I certainly missed any Brexit references that the New Statesman rather predictably read into it, unless it meant a prison break reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Budapest Hotel. Every toffee apple from previous scenes counts, and perhaps the film’s only flaw is that expectations are high. Already having been awarded 5 stars it feels more like 4.

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here –

 

It features no bears.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

Too busy to bath? The importance of being clean.

It has always been the intention of Idle Blogs to provide sanctuary from the partisan politics and vitriol of Twitter, until now. It is time to embrace the pressing issues of our age. The fabric of society is threadbare, which might be due to globalisation, Trump, the EU or daylight savings. So who needs a new rift? But it’s here nonetheless. After all, it was only the other week that MP Tim Loughton – the co-chair of all-party parliamentary group on Mindfulness – admitted to spending up to an hour in the bath each morning.

There are many issues with Tim Loughton’s statement, the most striking of which is the existence of a parliamentary Mindfulness group. I’d ask for how long it’s existed, but if it’s effective they’ll have no idea. However, there are few national institutions that currently look more in need for restorative mediation. I’d like to be on the all-party parliamentary group on real ales, good chats and afternoon naps, which one suspects is mindfulness.

Anyway, I thought the morning bath went out of fashion with Roman emporers and admittedly my sister, who spends an hour in a morning bath while the rest of her family hop about with crossed legs outside the door. She sails out an hour later with the purpose of a ship finding momentum on the slipway to its maiden voyage. Surely in a world that requires mobile coffees and hands-free phones we don’t have time for baths in the morning do we?

My sister, and presumably Tim Loughton, would argue that it’s a peaceful way to begin the day, even with concerned family outside knocking ensuring you’ve not drowned, although I’d argue another hour in bed is more tranquil. It’s certainly more relaxing than a shower at Bates Motel.

Of course the shower is the epitome of modern living. Easy access, efficient with water, refreshing and clean; all it lacks is wi-fi, unlike the bath. Perhaps Tim Loughton is checking his emails. Gone are the days of bathing being a public ritual – when the family sat around the tub, smoking pipes and playing whist while you crouched ankle deep in water better suited to tarring fisherman huts than cleansing.

We’re urged to save water, which in our climate feels like Saharans being asked to save sand. Save water? I spend half my life standing in it and the other half under it. A shower is basically inviting rain into your own house, although baths might be accused of being a puddle, albeit topped with a foot of bubbles and lost soap dissolving before you have time to use it. Each to their own, if that’s still allowed, but if the hour in the morning seems too languorous to kick start the day then why not have it in the evening.

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance . It features a great deal of music.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

Stranger Things 2 – Some thoughts.

No spoilers – unless you are unaware of the 1980s taste in peach bathrooms.  

It’s hard to remember a more eagerly anticipated TV series than Stranger Things 2. Even the NME has jumped the bandwagon, where once it would have sneered from the touchline.

There were some new episodes of Peppa Pig recently, but even that pales against ST2, which it isn’t called as it sounds closer to STD than is comfortable. There is always Dr Who of course, the anticipation of which invariably outstrips the actual experience of watching it; viewers are generally lobotomised by incomprehension twenty minutes in. Dr. Who takes its incomprehensibility seriously. If at least one person doesn’t abandon it screaming with frustration at tattered memories of having been once able to coherently understand TV programmes then it’s not doing its job.

With its immaculately 80s synths soundtrack Stranger Things is the Ryan Gosling neo-noir movie Drive, but with a small town Americana back drop, and aliens, well, monsters, or at least strange things. Actually it’s nothing like Drive, but is snap shots of an 80s films fancy dress party. It’s Gremlins, the Goonies (not that I’ve never actually seen it), and Stand by me, which I can’t recall much about beyond train tracks and Ben E King’s song that may not even be on the soundtrack. There was an invasion of the 60s half way through the 80s, as though it lacked the confidence in being itself. Levis adverts put Ben E King, the Commodores and Marvin Gaye back in the charts so frequently that it would have confused any strange visitors what decade it was.  We even had quiffs. Some of us still do.  Anyway, the fact is Stranger Things has this familiar feel of how you remember films, as opposed to what they were actually like.

It’s Netflix own show, as opposed to buying it in, and they’ve helpfully given it a five star rating, which feels like them completing their own customer feedback forms. It starts with a car chase, and is basically an exercise in spotting the 80s references – Patrick Swayze’s  Red Dawn – tick. Rob Lowe lookalike, tick. E.T. check. Cool hand Luke – tick. It’s unsurprising that the Duffer brothers who wrote and direct the series sought advice of Steven Spielberg because otherwise they’d be meeting him on a less voluntary basis in court.

The budget has quadrupled, most of which appears to have been spent on sound effects and dramatic red skies.  The lack of mobile phones is addressed by walkie-talkies, a must-have of the 80s, alongside soda-stream and the Rayleigh gold Burner. The tension’s as taut as before; complete with all kinds of terrifying moments, such as them watching the best-forgotten 1983 film Mr. Mom, eating home delivered KFC and a peach bathroom.

There will already be plenty of people who have binged the entire season in less time than it took the crew to eat their early call breakfast, which feels wrong. Instead I’l be watching daily like I once viewed the creaky Australian soap Neighbours, when the 80s references were harsh reality and not nostalgic .

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance . It features a great deal of music.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

Writing Diary. Putting your novel in the drawer

There is so much writing advice out there that it’s hard to know which bit is most annoying.  Is it Write, Write, Write? Or Read, Read, Read? I mean honestly who has time for such nonsense in the age of Crazy Birds and Candy Crush Saga and the new series of Stranger Things?

Then there’s show don’t tell, which is actually sound advice, until you’re required to tell something and it turns into a complete charade. If someone is too near the cliff edge you don’t show them, you bloody well tell them before they fall off.

Obviously the most annoying is Elmore Leonard saying – if it sounds like writing, then rewrite it, but that’s because it’s good advice, yet like a a moth in the dark is impossible to grasp. It’s certainly the writing advice best ignored if you’re hungover, or driving.

However, having spent the last 2 weeks following another popular piece of advice – lock the first draft in a drawer and don’t look at it for two months – this is presently the most annoying. Having told a few people of my intention, so many added ‘to let it bake’, that I thought I’d fallen into an alt-universe of the Great British Bake Off.

Let it bake? How hot are these drawers? And surely if a drawer is locked you can still tip the entire desk out of a third story window and pick through the pieces… Yes, I’m that desperate.

Apparently the break provides a more objective view when you re-read your manuscript. Presumably, ‘objective’ being euphemism for running to the nearest pub in tears. But once you’ve unloaded the dishwasher, how do you spend your time while your manuscript is baking? Start another novel is the advice of a lunatic, so I put that new paragraph aside.

Where writers once had moleskin notebooks or dictaphones, they now look like anyone else incapable of lasting longer than 3minutes before looking at their phone. I’m always making important notes in my phone I never see again, so I decided to investigate. Perhaps these nuggets of wisdom too important to be trusted to memory might be sewn in to enliven the 2nd draft. However, at first glance the only way they belong in a novel would be as a malfunctioning Kindle ™.

My favourite so far is : Maniquoncwoyh jo say on what they wear, which sounds like the evolution of a novice learning to write compressed into 10 seconds and somehow dying before reaching the full stop. I’m glad I took the time to capture it, or at least some drunken, previous version of me is. This one is toying with the idea of putting it into the google Welsh translator.

There’s also time to weigh up new novel ideas, and the advisbility of adapting a Danger Mouse plot to novel length, which is worrying; it’s not exactly Zadie Smith re-engineering E. M. Forster’s Howards End (for the storyline of On Beauty) and the red letterbox HQ would be a give away, although my protagonists (I can’t call them heroes) do also have an office they can ill-affoed in Soho.

It’s fascinating what you get up to without a book to be writing, and is the sort of personal revelation that occurs two hours into watching Jason Orange’s best bits from Take That *

Talking of Take That, patience is a virtue in writing as it is elsewhere, and the further you are from your work, the clearer you can see. Which reads like poorly translated advice found in a fortune cookie, but it’s the only opportunity you get to be the reader of your own work. I guess this is a good thing. Now, to plan which pub…

*Yes, all you wags out there, there is more than 5 mins of his best bits, although 2 hours might admittedly be pushing it.

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance . It features a great deal of music.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

The Dangers of a Bucket List…

Presumably everyone has heard Sam Smith’s Bond theme Writing’s on the Wall by now. He claims it only took 20 minutes to write, but it sounds more like 10. His boast smacks of over confidence. It sounds more like he’s satisfying a Bucket List ambition – Write a Bond theme – than making an effort. Not only does it lack a chorus but it has the sexual swagger of a Tinder profile without a single swipe.

A Bucket List is all the things you failed to do in life, but wanted to, and I don’t mean the washing up. It’s the hope that listing ambitions might bring you closer to achieving them, like buying a map brings you closer to a holiday.

It’s desperately listing things which never occurred to you at the time because you were too busy watching TV, or sleeping off a hangover. If it was truly a list of things you intended, but neglected to do, then telling parents you loved them more frequently should make the list instead of ‘Airboating across an alligator swamp,’ whatever that is. Mind you, with some parents this might be the same thing.

Timing is everything, and it’s essential to consider a bucket list only at a point in life when it’s too late to do most of them, otherwise you might actually end up visiting all the Harry Potter locations dressed as Fridwulfa. Achieving it too prematurely might result in the inclusion of

  • Get to sit in front seat of car
  • wearing a dinosaur costume to bed.

Bucket Lists are a last bid attempt to achieve some semblance of a life by parasailing and then bore anyone still listening with what happened (i.e. you para-sailed, which is actually a surprisingly difficult thing to expand upon.)

There’s a website for people lacking enough personality to even have ideas for a bucket list. It suggests things they never knew they wanted to do, like Send a message in a Bottle (27) or had already done, like Stand in a Red Telephone Box in England (43), without realising it was a life defining experience.

Swimming With Sharks (3) is a popular choice, but if you wish to complete the list, this is probably best left until the end. Meanwhile, Studying for a Degree (56) can inadvertently lead to the afternoon naps that a bucket list, with its I’ll sleep when I’m dead ethos, is endeavouring to avoid. After all, nothing screams you’re studying like waking up on the sofa surrounded by text books on the floor.

And that’s the problem with Bucket Lists, people who’ve happily spent their afternoons sipping tea suddenly want to do so while jumping from a plane. Besides, like Writing’s on the Wall, any close look at a Bucket List, will reveal the strange absence of sex. I guess Chasing a Tornado (18), or Walking the Abbey Road Zebra crossing (37) is easier, but surely all anyone really wants is hot group sex that doesn’t involve Essex cul-de-sacs with a hot tubs contravening current EU health and safety standards.

Actually, one of the most entertaining things on the Internet is a webcam of Abbey Road’s crossing, where local motorists out-do each other by running over Beatles fans. Discovering that they are also people aiming to complete their Bucket List will only increase injuries. Mind you, Save a Life (14) is also on the list, which perhaps kills two birds with one stone – which strangely doesn’t feature on many lists.

Anyone pressed for time will be pleased to find Watching the film Bucket List (64) included, but probably the most annoying thing on the suggested Bucket List is Write a Novel (20), like it’s something you might do while queuing for the Abseiling (32), mind you, some self-published efforts read like they were written while actually while abseiling.

Frankly, anyone with any sense will spend life doing what they want to do, without it needing to look like a still from a Red Bull commercial, because for most people it’s sighing contentledly at a cup of tea, listening to a new album, or reading a novel. The most important thing missing from the Bucket List is, don’t try too hard. Unless you’re Sam Smith.

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance . It features a great deal of music.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

Beautiful Creatures by Lawrence Osbourne .

As a writer I know the value of good reviews, so it would be disingenuous not review the best novel I’ve read since I was last compelled to review one. This is while being yellow with either jaundice or envy at how perfectly this book is executed. Even Lee Childs likes it. It’s enough to make me weep into the first draft of my new novel. Lawrence Osbourne is even likeable despite having written his first novel back in 1987 on an olive farm in Tuscany.

Despite being widely unknown and criminally ignored by the literary awards cartel back in London, Lawrence Osbourne lives the life every writer hopes for. He’s lived everywhere, often while writing a novel with a stray dog at his feet. He has stared at life and said ‘yes’ not ‘later’.

Living in Bangkok alone would adequately answer ‘So what attracts you to this job?” but it’s just one location he’s mingled with. He is the archetypal rakish novelist abroad. You want partying at millionaire riad parties in Morocco? Read The Forgiven. You want a missing young schoolteacher in Cambodia? Read Hunters in the Dark. I would go on but I’ve not read the others (yet).

His recently published Beautiful Creatures is more of the same, i.e.. well poised prose.  The eloquently tight observations, often of outsiders in alien environments remain, only this time there’s also a breathtaking pursuit through Italy, and (slight spoiler alert) just when you want guns to feature – an Itaian Benelli Montefeltro Silver semi-automatic shotgun no less – you get them.

We find ourselves with two twenty-something girls semi tanned and semi bored on the Greek island of Hydra, who meet a young Arab man who has been dropped off by boat from who knows where. The allure of the unknown flirting with the rash idealism of youth soon associates with unexpected twists of fate, yet always with an extraordinary lack of judgement or political correctness on the part of Osbourne. It’s startlingly contemporary.

The novel does what I aim to do. In place of postcolonial guilt, shades of regretted love affairs and stubbed-out Gauloises, he gives literary fiction a story. And the story is only predictable in that it turns into every corner you want it to; as opposed to many novels this days that spend too much time navel gazing to look at the road. There’s magnificent sense of place. Anyone who’s spent a fortnight on a Greek island will recognise the smell of countless donkey generations, ouzo and the dry scrape of cfafe plastic chairs beneath that ancient aegean sun.

He says “novels should be bleach boned”, which is exactly the sort of advice budding writers don’t want to hear, as it intimates hard work. He then rubs salt into the wound by adding “it’s a question of cumulative observation and lived suffering. It takes time.” Damn him, but at least he follows his own advice. If I’m honest his much heralded (by me) last book Hunters in the Dark is forgettable compared to Beautiful Creatures. He’s finding his stride in his late 50s. This an absorbing, beautiful and exciting read. Prepare to get lost.

My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance . It features a great deal of music.

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

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