In lieu of a blog, here’s a 48 second video which someone uploaded, without explanation, to YouTube ten years and one month ago…
I rather like it, in an abstract sort-of way…
In lieu of a blog, here’s a 48 second video which someone uploaded, without explanation, to YouTube ten years and one month ago…
I rather like it, in an abstract sort-of way…
When I met him at the Soho Theatre Bar in London, he showed me his arm.
Tattooed on it were the words SO IT GOES.
This, alas, was not because he is an obsessive fan of this blog but because, like me, he is an admirer of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five in which the repeated refrain So it goes appears 106 times, usually linked to death, dying and mortality.
“Why Vonnegut?” I asked.
“I sort of,” Joe replied, “fell into doing a literature degree at Portsmouth University and, when you read people like Vonnegut and James Joyce, you think: Oh! I didn’t realise you could do that.”
“Are you an aspiring novelist?”
“Well, I wrote a book when I was basically a child. I wrote a book about OCD when I was 15.”
“A non-fiction book?”
“Yes, about growing up with OCD.”
“You went to Portsmouth University, but you addressed the Cambridge Union last year,” I said, “proposing a motion that The end is nigh.”
“They just saw something on YouTube and asked me,” said Joe.
“So when are you going to become Prime Minister?” I asked.
“I don’t think I’m going to be Prime Minister,” said Joe, “because I don’t think I know what I’m doing and I don’t think I know what I believe.”
“Surely that is a pre-requisite for the job?” I suggested.
“If you listen to the CDs,” said Joe, “a lot of it is about me not really knowing what I’m talking about. But, even though I don’t know what I think, the shows themselves have a viewpoint. Those two shows have quite clear messages.”
“Which are?” I asked.
“The 2016 show 10 Things I Hate about UKIP was not really about UKIP. It was saying that the only hope for the world is the political Left but the political Left are useless, so there is no hope. For a long time, I felt like a good person because I was Left Wing and that is one way to make yourself feel good about yourself. It was about having a crisis of belief.
“And the show this year – I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative – is spelled out quite explicitly at the end. It is about how we sneer at young people for being naive but what we need in the world is naive hopefulness and what is holding us back is older people thinking: We should just give up. It doesn’t matter. It really was about me feeling completely… It kind of came about when I was writing lots of bits of material that contradicted themselves politically and had very different tones.
“Some were saying: I think we should change things and make a better world. And other stuff was: Everything is fucked and it’s awful and we should give up. And then other bits were… not Right Wing but I suppose more critical of the Left. The premise of the show is it starts as a children’s story, getting older as I go through. So I can put the more hopeful bits at the beginning and, as I get older, I can more and more sell out and become more Right Wing.”
“You imply,” I said to Joe, “that you are deeply cynical and say you don’t know what you are talking about. So you really should be in politics proper.”
“I’m from a relatively middle class background. My father was a Probation Officer. I wasn’t growing up in poverty. But you go to the Cambridge Union and I’m aware of every bit of my accent and aware of everything I say differently and it’s a very elitist thing there; a kind of feeling you get: Oh, I don’t belong here at all.”
“Why are you doing political shows if you’re not really that interested in being a politician?”
“I think my aims in comedy when I started were very different to what they are now. When I started, I was very much someone who wanted to bring about a Socialist world and I saw comedy as way to rally the troops.
“Now I don’t know. I feel very uncertain about where I stand on things. I suppose I want to make people feel less entrenched and make them question things. Often people say that and what they are actually saying is Be more sympathetic to very very Right Wing racists or whatever. I am NOT saying that. I don’t think that. I just don’t understand how people are not as confused and uncertain as I am. I think people can’t really be as sure about things.
“I think it is all about values. The reason why I’m still broadly on the Left is because my core values are that I think we should be nice to people, we should share things, forgive people if they make mistakes. But I think often the Left doesn’t value competence.”
“This is going to be quoted,” I said. “Is that OK?”
“Yeah. Yeah. The values of what the Left are trying to achieve I really support. I want a world where people share things and we don’t have people who are homeless. But often the Left doesn’t seem to think through how these things are going to work. The practicalities of how to bring it about.”
“So are you,” I asked, “now stuck in a comedic cul-de-sac where you have to ‘do’ politics? You can’t suddenly start doing surreal comedy routines about giraffes mating with albatrosses.”
“I think my next show may be going away from politics completely.”
“Towards?” I asked.
“I found out recently that, when I was a teenager, there was talk about me being autistic and I’m looking into that more. I didn’t know about it. So I’m doing a show about that in 2019. I am going to take a year off from the Edinburgh Fringe so I can be lazy about writing it. I want to write a good show about being an outsider.
“As a teenager, I loved Marilyn Manson in a very obsessive way. I think I saw him as an outsider and that’s what I felt like at school. Growing up, I had OCD and I was a very big music fan but the OCD made it very difficult for me to go to CD shops and flick through all the CDs.”
“Why?” I asked.
“My OCD was around tapping things in sequence. So, if I touched a new thing, I had to tap it in a long sequence. It’s hard to flip through CDs because you touch loads of things. There is a complicated thought process behind it, but it made sense to the OCD.”
“Have you embraced MP4s?” I asked.
“I have got Spotify because it makes train journeys go easier, but I just like CDs. I like having the sleeve notes and the pictures…”
“Have you had interest in your comedy work from TV and radio?”
“I’ve done bits and pieces. I did some writing for Have I Got News For You. A producer came to see my show last year. and liked it But I find writing jokey-jokes for other people sometimes a bit tricky. My own stuff I always start with an opinion on something and work up from that and that doesn’t always lead on to neat jokes.”
“And you opened for Frankie Boyle,” I said.
“Yes, he contacted me through Twitter. I think he heard me on a podcast. I did a couple of shows with him at Leicester Square two years ago and then last year a longer run at the Pleasance in Islington and a few dates in the Spring. It means a lot when it’s a comic that you like.”
“Have you a 5-year game plan?” I asked.
“No,” said Joe. “Not at all.”
I stole the title of this blog: SO IT GOES.
Someone sent me a Facebook message this morning asking: “Is the origin of So It Goes down to Kurt Vonnegut? Or is it a reference to something wider?”
I told him it is solely down to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and my inherent nihilism.
He told me: “I read Slaughterhouse-Five recently and it just looked like something plugging your blog.”
According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – the refrain So it goes appears 106 times in Slaughterhouse-Five.
In yesterday’s blog, I stole another idea.
I wrote: Realise that no-one KNOWS anything.
This is actually a variation on William Goldman’s refrain “Nobody knows anything” – a refrain which Wikipedia correctly says “is repeated throughout” Goldman’s iconic book Adventures in the Screen Trade.
I often rattled on about it in much earlier previous blogs. It is often mis-emphasised as meaning everyone is ignorant – Nobody knows ANYTHING. But, in fact, it means Nobody KNOWS anything for sure in the creative process.
However experienced, intelligent and brilliant someone is, nobody knows for sure what will be a commercial – or even an ultimately critical – success.
When Michael Cimino was making his movie Heaven’s Gate, everyone assumed it would be a box-office success. It had all the ingredients for mega-success. But it was a disaster. It pretty much financially destroyed United Artists.
According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – it cost $44 million to make and got back $3.5 million at the box office.
When Kevin Costner was making Dances With Wolves ten years later, it was nicknamed Kevin’s Gate in Hollywood, because it was clearly a vanity project with no hope of commercial success – it was, for godsake, mostly in the Native American Lakota language.
It was a big critical and box office success. It cost $22 million to create and took $424.2 million at the box office.
The Blair Witch Project was made on a shoestring with inexperienced actors, producers, writers and directors and was shot shoddily. It was a vast financial success. It cost $22,500 to make and took $248.6 million at the box office.
Nobody KNOWS anything.
It’s a Wonderful Life – now usually high up any Best Movie Ever Made list when voted for by the public – was pretty-much director Frank Capra’s only critical and box office failure.
J.K.Rowling hawked the idea for her Harry Potter books round every big-time publisher in London and was turned down by them all. Quite rightly. No modern teenage boy (and certainly no teenage girl) is ever going to buy one book – let alone seven – about some nerdy suburban boy going to a witches and wizards school. And, if you think any adult would buy even one copy, you are out of your mind.
My point being: Nobody KNOWS anything.
My point being: Creating a work of art is not a science. The clue is in the name. It is an art.
My point being: Nobody can know for sure what will be a success critically or commercially – Not now. Not in the future.
Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, because everyone thought his paintings were crap.
Of course, in his case, they were and are crap.
But that’s only my opinion.
Which, as you may have noticed, is my point.
Nobody KNOWS anything.
Because there are no rules. Only taste. Which is personal. And which can and does change from generation to generation.
My point being… exactly the same as it was in yesterday’s blog.
Do what you think is right.
And tell everyone else to fuck off.
If you take my advice, though, remember…
Nobody KNOWS anything.
That might include me.
It might include you.
You can’t be sure.
You just have to go with your gut instinct and keep calm and carry on.
Yesterday, So It Goes – the daily blog you are reading, in case you have forgotten or stumbled on this – was shortlisted in a vote for the UK’s Funniest Blog.
This took me a little by surprise because, although I have myself been known to call this a “comedy blog” for publicity purposes, I have always seen it as part-humorous, part melancholic and part-nihilistic.
Clearly no-one has actually read my blogs about suicide, psychosis, crime, murder and the general mental instability of comedians and how corrupt the British police are…
I think there might be a slight hint in the title SO IT GOES that this may not be a laugh-a-minute blog. The name, of course, comes from the repeated refrain in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five. It is what the inhabitants of the planet Tralfamadore say whenever someone dies.
The full title of Vonnegut’s novel is: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a Fourth Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod (and Smoking Too Much), Who as an American Infantry Scout Hors De Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Firebombing of Dresden, Germany, the Florence of the Elbe, a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where The Flying Saucers Come From.
On the opening page, before the novel starts, there is a quote:
The cattle are lowing
The Baby awakes
But the little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007.
So it goes.
I read Slaughterhouse-Five before 1991, when I was hit by a truck.
Since 1991, I have not been able to read books. I can write them, but I can’t read them.
Maybe the nomination is for Funny Peculiar rather than for Funny Ha-Ha.
Personally, I have voted for Janey and I recommend you do too.
Nothing against the talented Tony. But Janey is my chum and The Scotsman correctly called her “Scotland’s funniest woman,” while the Daily Telegraph called her “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain” and Billy Connolly simply said: “She is a fucking great comedian”.
Who am I to contradict Billy Connolly on matters of Funny Ha-Ha?
You can vote for Janey HERE.
Voting closes on Monday 23rd March 2015.
Sometimes, people ask me: “Is it difficult to find something to blog about every day?”
“No,” I tell them.
As I mentioned two days ago, through happenstance, I currently have an awkward blog-jam: I already have enough chats ‘in the can’ and events coming up to publish one-blog-a-day for the next 21 days. This is a problem.
In a blog on 21st April this year, I ran some extracts from my electronic diary back in April 2001, when my father was ill with cancer. I felt I should follow this entry up today. I put a note in my diary to do this.
But, last night, I went to the launch party for Sophie Parkin’s new club Vout-O-Reenee’s, whose opening deserves a mention and at least some pictures. It is described as “a private members club for the surrealistically distinguished”.
Under a church in the City of London, Vout-O-Reenee’s certainly attracted an eclectic mix of people – everything from a former Channel 4 Head of Entertainment to a man who made his living by painting giant beetles to a prospective Liberal Parliamentary candidate to a man dressed as a monk with a painted face to a local who had managed to gatecrash the party because he had heard there was free booze for two hours.
My blog is called So It Goes because of the phrase repeatedly used in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. That book partly involves an alien race on the planet Tralfamadore.
In Chapter 2, the hero Billy Pilgrim writes about the Tralfamadorians’ concept of time:
“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist… They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”
Below is an entry from my electronic diary today in 2001. It may be slightly pretentious. I can’t help that:
WEDNESDAY 16th MAY, 2001
In his nursing home bed in Clacton this afternoon, my father’s eyes were staring blankly, focussed on nothing, like the eyes in the photos at the Tuol Sleng interrogation centre in Cambodia: the photographs of men and women before they were taken to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh.
As my father is in no condition to travel, my mother and I went to Colchester on his behalf tonight to have the arranged meeting with his Private Consultant (a bowel man) and, it turned out, a second chap (a cancer man).
As we already knew, when my father was opened up, the bowel tumour had been much, much bigger than expected and had grown outwards, infecting the pancreas and a small part of the liver. The bowel tumour was removed during the operation and most (but not all) of the pancreatic tumour. But none of the secondary liver cancer was removed. It was too dangerous to do this.
Currently – four weeks since the operation on 19th April – my father remains easily exhausted. The three steps he has to take from his bed to his commode exhausts him for about two hours. Eating still exhausts him. He cannot get up without the help of two nurses and cannot walk even with them. His appetite is very low, he feels very hot inside and, although OK when lying prone, he is in extreme pain if upright or seated.
His exhaustion and lack of appetite could either be because he is still recovering from the operation or it could be the symptoms of the liver cancer progressing – although the symptoms usually also include nausea, which he does not have. Apparently the heat he feels inside himself is either the wounds from his operation mending or the cancer spreading. He has a slight discomfort but no pain when lying horizontally. Neither Consultant knew why there should be any pain difference between lying and standing.
They told us the only possible treatment for his liver cancer is three months of chemotherapy which in this case, allegedly, would not be as nasty as chemotherapy usually is. The point at which this chemotherapy treatment starts is not too important – there is no vital urgency. What is more important is that he is strong enough to take the chemotherapy, which he is certainly currently not. The way the cancer man phrased it was: “The start date isn’t important; it’s how you get through it.”
With people who have this chemotherapy treatment on the liver, the effect rate is roughly:
35% get more than 50% better
50% remain steady (ie it has no effect)
15% get worse
If my father is not strong enough to have the chemotherapy treatment – or if the chemotherapy treatment is ineffective – there is no other treatment. Their opinion was that, “He is more likely to die of this liver cancer than anything else,” because, by and large, he is otherwise OK for an 82 year-old man.
A worst-case scenario (which my mother now knows) is that my father could die in “a month or so”. When I asked for a longest-term duration a couple of weeks ago, I was told around 18 months. My mother has not been told this. My father’s sister (who is an ex-hospital matron) had assumed a year.
The main Consultant (the bowel man) is writing to my father’s nursing home. They will arrange to get blood for two blood tests which will enable the Consultants to know if the liver is deteriorating quickly and if it seems likely he could take chemotherapy. Another appointment has been made for 20th June in Colchester for consultation – theoretically with my father or, if not, then again with my mother and me.
Tonight I went to tell my father what we had been told at the consultation, but he was asleep and, when awoken by me making noises, was not really together enough to have any sensible talk. He and I agreed I would talk to him tomorrow, though I guess he will forget I was there tonight. His ability to think clearly or to remember anything has been virtually non-existent the last couple of weeks and it is deteriorating, so whether much will sink in I don’t know. Anyway, I will see him tomorrow.
On the drive back from Colchester, my mother said to me: “It’s much worse than I thought it would be.”
When she got home, she phoned friends and neighbours to tell them what had happened and said: “Just don’t give me sympathy. I can cope provided I don’t have that.”
THURSDAY 17th MAY
I went to tell my father in the morning but he was being bathed before lunch, so I went back at 4.00pm – long enough for him to recover from the inevitable exhaustion.
He seemed brighter after his bath.
I told him what the Consultants had told us: that he had cancer, that the only treatment was chemotherapy, but that he could only be treated if he got stronger. I told him the effects of liver cancer were exhaustion and lack of appetite, which he has, but also nausea which has never had. Inevitably, about four minutes later, he started feeling nauseous.
In Chapter 2 of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim writes:
“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”
With me – with most things – I simply shrug and think: Life’s a bitch and then you die.
Life’s a bitch and then you die; that’s why we get high
Cause you never know when you’re gonna go
I don’t do drugs. I go to comedy shows and appreciate surrealism.
Vout-O-Reenee’s is an interesting club.
Matt Roper told me that yesterday would have been his father’s 80th birthday. His father was stand-up comic George Roper. He died of cancer in 2003.
So it goes.
Life’s a Bitch is currently on YouTube.
Today’s blog maybe meanders. Today’s blog would perhaps be better posted on a New Year’s Eve – any New Year’s Eve – but no matter…
I once heard a prominent British comedy agent say it took at least three years of hard work to create any form of success for a comedian.
The Rule of Three.
I always tell performers they have to take a show up to the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years.
The first year, they don’t know what they’re doing and no-one knows they are even there.
The second year, they know what they are doing and people may be aware they are there.
The third year, people look on them as a Fringe regular.
The Rule of Three.
It may be the same with blogs.
It may take three years to begin to get them right.
So maybe next year?
I started writing daily blogs around the start of 2011 – almost three years ago – I can’t be bothered to check exactly when they became daily.
Rule 1 of writing blogs. Near enough is good enough.
But it is coming up to three years ago sometime.
I think it took about a year to get a rough idea of what I was doing. By the time three years have passed – early next year – I might actually be writing them better.
This came to mind because yesterday I got an e-mail from someone which started:
“I have just come across your piece on the internet about the death of Bill Foxton, which has rather ruined my Christmas! It wasn’t your blog that was upsetting, as such, but the circumstances of the death…”
The blog about Bill Foxton, an interesting man who happened to be a British soldier, was written in March 2011 when I had just started daily blogging.
Bill sounded like a fascinating man: one of those men who brighten up history but are then forgotten by it, as the mists of time close almost immediately. I wish I had met him. Interesting men and women deserve to be remembered by the future.
And I think that, to an extent, is what this blog is about.
It seems to be mostly be about comedians or the comedy business, but it is really about quirky incidents, interesting people and half-glimpsed sub-cultures that may interest someone reading it today or in 40 years time in Britain or the US or Tierra del Fuego or Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands. It hopefully records the existence of interesting but little-reported or un-reported or soon to be half-forgotten people or events.
Or people who may become famous in the future. Briefly. No-one is famous in the long run. Who designed Stonehenge?
There are those two famous quotes from Blade Runner:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost… in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.”
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long”
Nothing burns for long. Our sun will, soon enough, expand and explode and everything here will become stardust.
Dan Leno, Tommy Handley, Harry Worth, Arthur Haynes, Mike Yarwood were famous throughout Britain in their time; the biggest names in British show business for a brief time. But they were unknown in the US. Now, they are mostly forgotten or unknown in Britain. And, in terms of the size of the Earth’s population, no-one is actually famous unless they are known in China and India.
In two brief generations, most of the seemingly ‘important’ events and people of today will be drifting into the mists of time, like one-hit Top Ten wonders.
So this blog tries to record quirky people, quirky events, little-known corners of sub-cultures, not always funny, sometimes melancholic. One recent blog recalled events when Belsen concentration camp was liberated. Back in March 2011 there was that blog on the life and death of Bill Foxton.
So it goes.
This blog is titled So It Goes, after the death refrain in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
It appears 106 times in the book.
Like I said, today’s blog perhaps meanders. Today’s blog would maybe be better posted on a New Year’s Eve – any New Year’s Eve – but no matter…
More normal service may be resumed tomorrow.
I started this So It Goes blog in an occasional way in May 2010.
Someone Tweeted me yesterday, saying: “Dude. You need to sue them…” because he had seen copies of a new magazine called So It Goes billing itself as “A biannual arts and culture journal”.
Nothing to do with me.
So It Goes is simply a common phrase and I imagined they, like I, just nicked the phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
I will re-phrase that, I imagined we both used the title in homage to the greater glory of Kurt Vonnegut.
And that is, indeed, the case. In an interview about the new magazine, editor James Wright says: “The phrase comes from one of my and my co-editor’s favourite books Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The author uses the phrase to illustrate the passage of time, death and the inexplicable. To us, the words speak to life’s inherent unpredictability. Vonnegut often used the phrase for comic relief, and considering the obstacles involved in publishing this issue, it seemed rather apposite!”
So It Goes sounds and looks like a good magazine. I have not seen a printed copy yet, but I wish it well.
So It Goes was also the title of a weekly Granada TV music show 1976-1977; I first worked for Granada in 1978. The show was presented by Tony Wilson and included the first ever TV appearance of The Sex Pistols. It was taken off air after what was considered “an expletive-strewn appearance by Iggy Pop”. As far as I am aware, the ever-literate Tony also named his show after the Slaughterhouse-Five phrase.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, which centres on the destruction of Dresden in the Second World War, the novel’s hero Billy Pilgrim spends time on the planet Tralfamadore and he writes:
“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is So it goes.”
In 1976, Nick Lowe released a song called So it Goes, but the refrain…
So it goes…but where it’s going, no-one knows
… does not sound like the Kurt Vonnegut use of the phrase… more like the general everyday use… but it will do. It will do.
Like most people, I know a lot about what happened during my parent’s generation’s time.
So I grew up knowing a lot about the Second World War.
But, until I visited the RAF Museum in Hendon yesterday, I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.
The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history is thin and random.
When I woke up this morning, the Google.com homepage was celebrating the 197th birthday of Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace – aka Ada Lovelance.
I had never heard of her but, in 1843, she first published the idea of inputting punch cards to Charles Babbage’s ‘Analytic Machine’.
Charles Babbage, of whom I had heard, designed his Analytic Machine purely as a powerful calculator but is remembered as the father of computing. The less-remembered (and, by me, totally unknown) Ada is, according to Google, considered by some “the world’s first computer programmer, as well as a visionary of the computing age”.
The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history really is random.
Everyone knows John Logie Baird invented television.
Except, of course, he did not. He had the wrong system.
My favourite author, George Eliot, is usually credited with the quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been” and it sounds, indeed, very much like her. But it seems to have actually been an urban myth type variation on a quote from the novel John Halifax, Gentleman by the almost totally forgotten Dinah Mulock Craik.
The original quote is the unmemorable: “You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late.”
That has pretty much the opposite meaning to the more famous remembered quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” which seems to have been conjured out of nowhere by generations of misquotation.
Who is remembered and why and for what is fairly random.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Sic transit gloria.
Ars longa vita brevis.
They all seem to cover it.
But I, perhaps not surprisingly, prefer to remember a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel set partly in the post-War US, partly during the bombing of Dresden by Bomber Harris’ planes and partly on the fictional planet of Tralfamadore:
“Now when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”
(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)
The name of this blog – So It Goes – is taken from his book.
When I was in my early teens – maybe even when I was ten – I read a description of the air raid on Dresden in 1945 and the firestorm which was intentionally created to destroy it.
The one detail that stuck in my mind when I read it was that, when the second wave of British bombers crossed the English Channel, they could see a glow on the skyline and that was Dresden burning far, far, far away in the far east of Germany.
When I saw the BBC’s then-banned documentary The War Game, I remember the fact being stated that most of our knowledge of the effects of a nuclear attack on an urban area comes not from Hiroshima and Nagasaki but from the bombing of Dresden and Hamburg and the firestorms created by the creative use of ‘conventional’ bombing.
At the time, in March 1945, in the closing months of the War, the Germans estimated around 200,000 people had died in the Dresden bombing. Some later guesstimates put the possible figure (no-one can ever know) at nearer 500,000; the RAF figures of the time are fantasies; the firestorm destroyed 15 square miles of the city centre.
Yesterday at the Soho Theatre in London, I saw 92-year-old former rifleman Victor Gregg chatting about his life.
He grew up in the 1920s in London’s King’s Cross where, pretty much, all the young boys were in street gangs because, with entire families living in one room, you had to go out onto the streets during the day; staying in your home was no option.
When he was older and the gangs were more mature, he hung around Soho, where gangs from North and East and South London had cafés in various streets and, if there were any territorial disputes, you resorted to cut-throat razors.
One day in 1937, when he was out of work, aged 18, he was standing at Horse Guards, watching the guards change and an older man asked if he wanted to come with him and have a free tea and a bun. He said yes. The man took him to Great Scotland Yard and, within half an hour, someone had chatted to him, a doctor had felt his testicles and he had one shilling in his hand and a railway pass for the next day to a military depot.
“That’s how they got people into the Army in those days,” Victor shrugged.
He fought in the front line at the Battle of El Alamein in the North African desert, including the Snipe Action where, according to Victor, 500 men with 19 six-pounder anti-tank guns were surrounded by and held off massed attacks by German and Italian armoured divisions and destroyed “about a third of Rommel’s tanks”. The British commanding officer won the Victoria Cross.
Frankie was killed in a truck in the North African desert, hit by enemy shelling.
When Victor got to him, the truck was burnt out but Frankie’s body was still sitting there at the wheel of the vehicle.
When Victor pulled Frankie out, the bottom half of the body fell off onto the ground.
At Arnhem (subject of A Bridge Too Far), Victor was dropped by parachute on the second day which meant that he was landing on the bodies of the first day’s paratroopers. The 600 men he was with were soon reduced to 80 and, with their supplies mistakenly dropped 10 km away (roughly the distance from Soho to Wimbledon in London) they were hungry for most of their nine days there and praying it would rain so they could drink water from the puddles.
After being captured at Arnhem, he ended up on Tuesday 13th February in the centre of Dresden in a building with a glass dome roof. He had been sentenced to death for sabotage after trying to escape from a POW camp and burning down a factory.
When they heard the sirens and even when they heard the bombers overhead, they did not think Dresden could be the target. They thought, under their glass dome, that it must be another one of the almost nightly air raids on Leipzig.
The first incendiaries were about two or three feet long and came through the glass dome, showering people underneath with sharp glass shards. They had something like a liquid glue in them that stuck to people’s skin so people who already had glass sticking into them were also burning alive.
“And if you ran out of the building,” Victor explained, “it was like running out into an oven at Gas Mark 7; everything was on fire.”
When the second wave of bombers came – the bombers I later read about as a teenager – the ones which, coming over the English Channel saw Dresden burning on the distant skyline…
When the second wave of bombers came, they were dropping bigger incendiaries and 4,000 pound and 8,000 pound bombs.
To create a firestorm, you drop the secondary incendiaries and bombs into the fires caused by the first wave of attacks.
“Dresden was full of old people,” Victor said. “Old people, women, children, sick people, babies; there wasn’t a soldier in sight.”
And then the winds came. The fires burnt so intensely, the oxygen was being eaten-up so quickly at the heart of the firestorm, that air had to be sucked in to prevent the creation of a vacuum, so hundred-mile-an-hour winds blew along at ground level, sucking people and rubble into the centre of the firestorm.
“You had to try to walk into the wind,” Victor said. “or you’d end like the people who were being dragged up into the air or sucked into the fire. People who were in shelters roasted to death.”
He reckons he survived through pure luck and because he was wearing wooden clogs. The water was steaming, parts of the River Elbe were on fire, the pavements melted leather shoes and feet.
“There was an air raid shelter near the railway station,” Victor said, “There were 5,000 people in it. The doors had been locked to avoid over-crowding. When we opened the doors, there was just glue left inside. Everyone had been turned to jelly. There were no bodies. An occasional bone here and there. But it just looked like it was full of glue.
“The Yanks came on the second day. By then, they had fighter planes which could fly all that way into Germany. They strafed the women and children as they ran on the ground. I’ve seen it written that it never happened, but I saw the fighters doing it.”
After the War, he says, “I was OK for about 18 months, then I became a psychopath. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel any responsibility to anything or anyone. It took me about 30 years to get over what I saw in Dresden.”
He wrote his autobiography Rifleman with Rick Stroud.
He had a look of faraway resignation in his eyes when he talked, except when he told the story about the death of his friend Frankie in the North African desert, seventy years ago, when the bottom half of the body had fallen onto the ground as he lifted it from the burnt-out truck.
Then he had tears in his eyes.
The death of one person can matter.
So it goes.
NB THIS BLOG POSTING CONTAINS POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL.
When the movie Killer Bitch was released last year, it was also going to be published simultaneously as a novel but, when the main supermarket chains and main bookshop chains refused to stock it, the publisher pulled publication of the unfinished book a week before the manuscript was due for delivery. The supermarkets and bookshop chains had not read any extracts from the book and apparently rejected it on the basis of the movie’s pre-release notoriety. This is how the book started… My thanks to James Joyce…
Text is copyright 2010 John Fleming
CHAPTER ONE: THE NAKED GIRL WAS BOUNCING ON TOP OF THE NAKED MAN
The naked girl was bouncing on top of the naked man, riding his cock to orgasm. The man was a porn star. Hustler magazine had written that he was one of the 50 Most Influential People in Porn. The man was groaning; the girl was screaming; the film camera was quietly whirring; they were on a bed in a room in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Woking, near the M25 motorway that runs round London. The warehouse was used as a hardcore porn studio. There were about 20 sets standing in the empty warehouse: a supermarket, a dungeon, a garage with a yellow Reliant car from BBC TV’s Only Fools and Horses, a Colonial office with a Union flag and a portrait of the Queen on the wall. But this was just a bedroom. There were two bedrooms with two beds in them. This was the red room with the pink bed.
As the man felt the sperm pulse and vibrate up his cock and the video camera watched by the left side of the bed, the naked girl riding him slipped her hand under the pink silk sheet and pulled out a curved jambiya dagger with a polished rhinoceros horn handle and a double-sided blade. The pitch of her screams changed. Higher, sharper, like the curved blade of the knife. High. Sharp. Then down in a curved stabbing movement. The man was confused as he saw a single silver flash of the curved blade before it plunged into his chest and tore into his flesh. His orgasmic groans turned into a single long high-pitched scream.
He felt the white semen pumping out of his cock. He saw the red blood spurt out of his chest, splashing up onto the bouncing perfectly-lit breasts of the naked, now banshee screaming, girl. He felt the sharp pain in his cock and the sharper pain in his chest and then the curved knife was rising again, its blade covered in his own dripping red blood.
“You fuc… aaaarrrgggghhhh!” he screamed as the blade went into him again, closer to his throat.
She stabbed him eleven times; he died on the fourth stab.
She could smell the stench of his insides when she slashed his chest open.
He was Number 3 on her list.
When she had finished, she collapsed on his bloodied, gashed body, gasping for breath.
“You done well,” the cameraman told her.
* * *
Outside the bedroom window, rain was falling. It was falling on all of the British Isles. It was falling on all of England, on Scotland, on Wales, on the island of Ireland, on all the thousand or more islands huddled together in the water off the North West coast of Europe. Water fell out of the sky like a drunk God pissing on his own botched Creation. In Cumbria, in North West England, the rivers overflowed and a policeman was killed when the bridge he was standing on collapsed into the swollen river below. He had four children. So it goes.
Outside the Highland city of Aberdeen, in North East Scotland, on a windy, rainswept Friday night, a junkie called Bill Burrows was sitting in a closed slaughterhouse, waiting to meet his dealer, when two men he had never seen before burst in and one of them shot him without a word. The slaughterhouse already smelled of battery acid and iron because of all the spilled blood from the slaughtered animals and the smell did not change when he died. About two pints of blood came out of him, as it does when you shoot someone. A spit in the ocean in a slaughterhouse.
The two men dragged his half-dead body into a large freezer at the back of the slaughterhouse and left it there until his corpse became a solid block of dead meat. If you want to cut a body up, the thing to do is to freeze it solid; that way, there isn’t so much of a mess when you cut it up – no blood spraying and squirting. It’s much cleaner.
On Sunday night the two men came back and took his body out of the freezer when The X Factor talent show was on TV; they lay it on the floor and hit the solid, frozen joints with a sledgehammer to break it up at the shoulders, the elbows, the knees, the ankles; then they chopped the body up with an axe. They took the body parts to a huge pressure cooker in the slaughterhouse which could take 50 or 60 lbs of meat at a time and they cooked the dismembered body at very high temperature at very high pressure – 25 pounds per square inch. After an hour, the flesh, the bones and everything except the teeth had turned to gel. On Monday morning, they took the gel to a farm 30 minutes away and fed it to the pigs; there were 200 pigs; they ate everything by the end of the day; Bill Burrows’ teeth were thrown into a nearby river.
Five days later, the police realised he was missing and the last place he’d been seen was near the slaughterhouse. They found a book lying on his bedside table at home: Slaughterhouse Five. The press went wild with the story for two weeks afterwards – they wrote about the Slaughterhouse Five killings. The story staggered on for two weeks but interest in a tabloid tale with no leads and no puns waned and was blown off the front pages by police inaction, political corruption and glamour model Katie Price’s decision to go on the reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
Bill Burrows had been Number 4 on the unknown killer’s list. Cut up randomly.; soon forgotten.
* * *
On the outskirts of Penzance in Cornwall, an elderly man stumbled erratically along a muddy path in the rain, trying to run for his life. His killer strode relentlessly behind him. The elderly man stumbled into the out-building of a farm. A bemused horse in a field watched human life pass by in the rain. The elderly man tripped and fell, sodden and defeated, in a corner then slowly got up again. His killer strode in and stood opposite him. They looked in each other’s eyes. The elderly man looked at his killer in disbelief. The killer looked at the elderly man with resignation. Neither spoke. The killer pulled the trigger six times. The elderly man was jerked backwards against the wall by the force of the bullets, then slumped down dead. His eyes flickered once; he heard his own last sigh. He was Number 2 on his killer’s list.
* * *