Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Running With The Kenyans | Iten | Fastest men on earth

Get running

If you like running, check out Adharanand Finn's new book Running with the Kenyans.

I've been jogging for a couple of years. I'm not exactly serious about it but I've done a couple of 10Ks and I enjoy going out two or three times a week. It blows the cobwebs away.

Finn -- his elaborate surname is apparently the byproduct of having two hippy parents -- was a serious cross country runner in his teens. He might have been a contender, but for the fact he went to university and started going to the pub more often than the track.

After rediscovering running in his 30s he decides to give himself a mission: to find out just why Kenyans are so good. The book charts his family's move to Iten, Kenya, which is the global capital of middle and long distance running.

He's not the first to do this. 

Finn's book explains how he trains with and gets to know some of the quickest men and women on the planet. He loses a couple of stones in weight. Meets a Catholic cleric who trains many of the quickest runners. Gets a few blisters. Runs a marathon through a game reserve. And learns there isn't really a secret after all. You've just got to run.

It's a terrific book -- and I've featured it in the Big Issue this week (it's out on the streets in the UK now... I will attach a link when it goes on the website next week). It made me want to run more than I do. It also made me a little ashamed of the huge contrast, economically, between us in the "first world" and those in Africa. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Anne Frank in your attic | An interview with novelist Shalom Auslander

Shalom Auslander doesn't pull many punches. His memoir, about growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in New York state, is called Foreskin's Lament. In it he quotes his wife's assessment of him, that he was theologically abused.

His new novel is Hope, A Tragedy. In which a man finds Anne Frank living in his attic.

The author grew up with Yahweh and Hitler, and was unsure which one of them was crazier. That's how he put it when I spoke to him on the phone during his recent visit to the UK, to appear at the Jewish Book Week in London. (I can't help but wonder how that went. Did he escape alive?)

Shalom's Anne Frank is an old angry woman bitter about the way her diary has been turned into a holocaust industry. It's an outrageous premise but this novel manages to be just as funny as it is serious. And Auslander is very serious. This book is a thoughtful muse on the nature of history and what it should mean to us.

Here's a clip from the interview which also features in the Big Issue Magazine. On the streets week beginning Monday March 19

You are really taking on a Jewish icon here. A Jewish saint, really.

Oh, at least. As she says in the book, Jesus was a Jew but I'm the Jewish Jesus

So what is going on with this premise, why Anne Frank?
Well the bigger question for me is why hope? That to me is the real sacred cow of the book that I'm dealing with. If you look backward in history and see all the horribleness we have done to one another you can sort of assume it is going to happen again. What is the role of hope is it just to get you through - or is it a negative, does it make it worse?
Once that is something I was dealing with and I had a character whose flaw was hope I thought, what can I throw at this guy that is something to deal with immediately

And you chose Anne Frank, because she had lived in hope?
To some degree in my head it was here is this guy who has a son and a wife and wants nothing more than to start over without the weight of history behind him. And here comes the very symbol of suffering. If I was a Christian maybe it would have been Christ up there who had turned into a cynical old man, not the guy he was when he was young. For me, just because of the way I was raised the natural fit was Anne Frank. That tickled me the most. Her role isn’t 'Holocaust' it is 'history'. To her as an old woman it is an affront to everything she was as a child that she is miss holocaust 1945. That she has become misery and death for the world.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Hollywood Gossip | Cary Grant's favourite pump attendant | The secret life of Scotty Bowers

Big Issue Book column extract:

Former gas pump attendant Scotty Bowers has for decades kept his extraordinary career as the sexual aide de camp to many of Hollywood’s biggest names a secret. Finally, aged 89, he has decided to reveal all.
Lucky for him that every movie star he ever “tricked” is dead?
Which is a shame: I would have enjoyed hearing the response to Scotty’s suggestion that Cary Grant was madly in love with fellow screen legend Randolph Scott (not a new allegation, the claim these two actors shared a house together is relatively little known).
Also, I bet Oprah would have had a field day interviewing the Duke and Duchess of Windsor about the battalions of same sex lovers each took to pass the time of day while they weren’t ruling the British Empire. The Duke – aka the former King Edward VII -- was a “gentle lover” who, Scotty reports delicately, “sucked me off like a pro”.
Don’t get me wrong, there is little in this book that doesn’t ring true – from Tyrone Power’s peccadilloes to Charles Laughton’s eating habits. But at the same time, there isn’t a page of it which doesn’t sound completely made up.
With the exception of a waspish quote on the back cover from the writer Gore Vidal, a longstanding mischief maker himself, Scotty offers no corroboration for any of his stories.
We learn he was just seven years old when a neighbouring paedophile introduced him to sex, but Scotty presents himself not as a victim but as a bedroom adventurer, a generous soul who wanted to give folks a good time. A one man sexual revolution.

Big Issue | Opium of the People | What is happening in British TV drama?

Have you seen this week's Big Issue?

It's a striking cover: a bold red with a vintage TV pumping out a vintage sort of a drama.

My article inside asks what has happened with British drama. Why has it lost its edge? Why are we spending so much time and money dwelling on twee period pieces set in big houses, about aristocrats with staff.

Here's an extract. But to read the full article, you need to find a vendor on a British High Street. For more information go to The Big Issue website.

In first episode of the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, Keeley Hawes’ character, Lady Lovely, commiserates with her husband, Lord Handsome, about his tough day at the Foreign Office negotiating with Evil Nazis.
It is 1938, World War Two may or may not be about to happen but Handsome, real name Lord Hallam Holland, is pretty confident it will. Keeley tells him: “Come upstairs and kiss the children, Hallam. They are the future.”
Future targets for German bombs, presumably, I heard myself scream at the TV.
I’ve been screaming at the box a lot lately. If it is true that we get the television we really desire, what are we to make for the popularity of such shows as Upstairs Downstairs, Call The Midwife –the BBC’s most successful drama for a decade with an 8.9 million average audience – and ITV’s very own uppercrust ratings monster Downton Abbey?
We’re in the midst of a recession, with huge swathes of the country facing the hardest times since an urchin called Oliver had the temerity to ask for more. And yet a glance at the small screen suggests that everything is... just so, with clean cuffs.
The message, if there is one: don’t worry, there’s a Duke in charge.
As our hi-tech LCD screens have got thinner, the content they carry has become just as slender. Television is no longer the cutting edge, it has been co-opted by the National Trust.
It shouldn’t be like this. Back in the 1980s – the last time we had a Tory government, recession and a Falklands crisis – the television squatted in the corner of the living room, threatening our peace like an IRA car bomb.
At regular intervals it would go off: Yosser Hughes demanding gizza job in Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff; the agonised shrieks of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective; the madcap thrashing of The Young Ones.
The 1980s was a decade of anger and frustration. Even its period drama was infused with a political edge: Brideshead Revisited, The Monocled Mutineer.