Tuffer’s Alternative Guide to The Ashes – Phil Tuffnell

The 2023 Ashes Series is starting on Friday 16th June, for those of you who don’t follow cricket this is one of the oldest bilateral sports tournaments in the world, starting in 1877 and pits Australia versus England at cricket in a series of five day matches. It’s worth noting that it didn’t gain the name of ‘The Ashes’ until the ninth test match between the two sides, which took place in England in 1882 and which England somehow managed to lose from what should have been a winning position. This led to a mock obituary appearing in The Sporting Times on 2nd September 1882.

The urn containing ‘the ashes’ was presented to the captain of the touring England team in Australia that Christmas and is now kept at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London as it is extremely fragile, only rarely being removed from its glass display case for ceremonial occasions, and has only actually travelled to Australia twice in the intervening years. It isn’t the official trophy for the tournament but symbolises the rivalry between the two countries but replicas and images of this tiny, 6 inch (15cm), vase are to be seen whenever the two teams play each other and its silhouette can be seen on the front cover of this book between the words ‘The’ and ‘Ashes’.

This year there are five games to be played in June and July at various venues across England, five games is the most common number of matches but it does sometimes alter. Phil Tufnell played in five of these series and both his first and last test matches for England were against Australia. It should be noted that at the time the England team were pretty weak and the Australians very good so he never got near to being on the winning side in an Ashes series. Tufnell retired from playing serious cricket in 2003 and gained a job as a summariser on The BBC Test Match Special which he still does and he continued to play cricket for celebrity teams for many years after his official retirement.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but thought it would probably be descriptions of his experiences and whilst those do appear, the book is a whole lot more than that. In fact it is a highly entertaining look over the entire existence of the tournament from the first matches and includes the origin story of the Ashes urn but also lots of stories of players and games over the entire, almost 150 years, that England and Australia have faced each other on the cricket grounds in both countries. These range from when in 1903, back before aeroplanes existed and it would take three weeks by boat each way to get to the tour, the England team on their way out managed to lose a game of deck cricket against a team of female passengers. In 2001 The Australians hosted a charity function in Manchester and the first auction item was a chance to train with the team, bidding was slow as the room hadn’t really got going when they started this so a couple of Australian players decided to bounce the bids on a bit, which was fine until Steve Waugh ended up winning the auction and paying £500 to train with his own team-mates.

Scattered through the book are lists of ten players in various categories including, ten fast bowlers Tuffers was happy to have never faced, ten Ashes blockers and ten Ashes bashers amongst other selections. These are fun as it’s not just a list but reasons why. Chris Tavare is probably the best of the blockers that I have seen and he once spent ninety minutes at the crease without scoring anything at all and had on a different occasion taken two hours to score nine, not entertaining but incredibly frustrating for the Australian bowlers and winding them up led to mistakes.

My copy is the first edition hardback from 2013 published by Headline and I have to wonder why it has languished on my shelves for ten years its been a really fun read and here’s hoping for an equally fun summer of cricket.


Ten Minute Alibi – Anthony Armstrong and Herbert Shaw

First published as a novel in 1934 ‘Ten Minute Alibi’ is based on the play of the same name by Anthony Armstrong and has presumably been adapted as a novel some time during its run in London by Herbert Shaw. I have to say presumably because there is nothing in the book to say what role Herbert Shaw had in writing it, or indeed any biographical details for him. The play was very successful playing across America and on Broadway it had 89 performances (from 17th October 1933 to January 1934) whilst in London’s West End, it had 857 performances (from 2nd January 1933 to 23rd February 1935) but having read it I can definitely say that the novel is less than riveting so not a good transformation by Shaw, I think I would have preferred to read the original play.

The plot however is interesting, Philip Sevilla appears to be a well to do club owner in London but he has a much more lucrative sideline in people trafficking, specifically innocent English women with few remaining family members whom he seduces before packing them off to South America to be forced to work as prostitutes. The way his operation works is spelled out with an example at the start of the book where we witness the downfall of Muriel Cartney. Having established that she has only a small number of people that would be particularly concerned if she disappeared Sevilla works his charms on her telling her that he is married but that his wife is in an insane asylum so he is desperately lonely and would marry her if he could get a divorce but that is unlikely due to his wife’s medical condition. Finally he persuades her to give up her job and rented apartment to join him in Paris where they can live, apparently as man and wife, without any of their London acquaintances being around to spot the lie and ruin her reputation.

Once in Paris he then appears to ‘accidentally’ run into his ‘friend’, in reality his business partner in the trafficking operation Jose Garcia, and starts to arrange the handover of Muriel. At first all is well and they stay in a lovely hotel in Paris apparently whilst he looks for something more permanent, this he would normally do for two to four weeks enjoying the nights with his victim before claiming that pressing business issues with the club means that he has to return to London to sort these out, Assuring Muriel that he would be back in a few days and that Garcia would look after her whilst he was away he would leave and never return just sending increasing worrying, and false, messages that the people he had put in charge of the club had ruined him and she was on her own but he had no money left to support her. Unwilling to return to England as a woman who had been living in sin Garcia then suggests that he has contacts in Buenos Aires where Muriel could get a new career on the stage and effectively start again and he would willingly accompany her there to see her settled in. Once in Argentina she would be handed over to the gangsters and pimps that would then keep her prisoner and force her into sex work. Sevilla meanwhile would pocket at least a thousand pounds for delivery of another victim.

This sounds all too modern, although nowadays it is women from poorer nations falsely promised legitimate work in the West only to arrive and be told that they need to pay back the enormously inflated cost of transporting them by working in the sex industry. I was surprised to see roughly the same process in a book written in the 1930’s, I’ve never seen it as a plot line in any other contemporary work and I can see why the shocking nature of the story would have generated publicity for the original play. Having spent the first twenty or so pages detailing the story of Muriel and through that Sevilla’s real means of earning big money we then move on to his planned next victim, Betty Findon and this is where the book really starts as Betty has a man who secretly loves her, trainee barrister Colin Derwent, and he will do anything to thwart Sevilla’s plans.

However this is also where the book started to lose my interest, the ongoing scenes between Betty and Sevilla, Sevilla and Colin, Sevilla and his manservant and other two handers would clearly work well on a stage but it’s all too bitty for a book. The dream sequence after Sevilla drugs Colin to prevent him seeing Betty to try to warn her again feels odd, and the means of how to kill Sevilla and still have an alibi by altering clocks so that he could be seen to be elsewhere at the same time revealed to Colin in his dream is all too complicated to work as it needs split second timing involving people who don’t know it involves split second timing. The plan involves Colin catching Sevilla at home and alone before taking Betty to Paris to replicate his previous modus operandi. However when Sevilla needs to be home for the first part of Colin’s alibi to work he’s out and when he does return it’s with Betty and the manservant is also there, both of which are not visible when Colin finally arrives to carry out his plan which involves claiming to have £1,500 to pay off Sevilla but in reality shooting him and staging it as a suicide.

I’m not going to go further into what happens in this review in case anyone fancies braving the rather clunky text for what is actually quite an unusual plotted story especially for the period. Maybe however see if you can find the play script rather than the novel. My copy is the 1938 Penguin first edition and whilst there may have been a reprint in the 1940’s this appears to be the last time the novel was published in English, which I think speaks volumes for its popularity. The play is actually easier, and cheaper, to find in various 1930’s anthologies.

Summer in Algiers – Albert Camus

This collection of three of Albert Camus’ essays was published by Penguin Books as part of their seventieth anniversary in 2005 and is a fascinating description of two cities and a town in Algeria, the country which was the birthplace of Camus. It is always interesting to read a locals perspective on places that you really want to visit especially if it is by a writer of the quality of Camus, and Algeria is the only country on the north African coast that I haven’t yet been to and this book moved it higher up the list of places to visit. This is the second book I have reviewed that is set in Algeria though, after Tartarin of Tarascon by Alphonse Daudet so clearly I need to go there sooner rather than later. As mentioned this has descriptions of a couple of cities, Algiers and Oran along with the archaeologically important town of Tipasa with its wonderful Roman ruins, the first essay concerns Algiers.

Summer in Algiers

Unlike the other two essays in this book, this is not a description of the place but the people of Algiers and especially the youth. He explains that here people start work and marry young and raise their children so that by their thirties men have largely done all that they have to do and it is a steady decline of their vigour that is all they have to look forward to. Summer in Algiers is a time of unrelenting heat so only the poor are left there, the rich decamp to more salubrious climes until the September rains bring relief. The young poor however gather on the beaches, for it is the culture of the body that reigns supreme and as Camus explains “Here intelligence has no place as in Italy” instead the men display their muscles and the girls their shapely legs in one fast summer before work, drudgery and motherhood claim them all far too early. It’s not a happy essay.

The Minotaur, or a stop in Oran

The longest, at 31 pages, of the three essays is possibly the most interesting, partly as I’d never heard of Oran despite it being the second largest city in Algeria, but mainly for the wonderful description of not just the town but also the people and what they do for work and fun, Camus worked here as a teacher for a while before ill health (tuberculosis) forced him to leave. The title’s reference to the Minotaur is an allusion to the labyrinthine network of streets in the city where it is easy to get lost and the walls of the old city which cut the centre off from both the desert behind but also the sea to the front. But everywhere there is the dust which seems to be the defining element for Camus whenever he thinks of Oran along with the odd collections of merchandise in the shops.

Here, presented in a casket of dust, is the contents of a shop window: frightful plaster models of deformed feet: a group of Rembrandt drawings ‘sacrificed at 150 francs each’, practical jokes, tricoloured wallets, an eighteenth century pastel, a mechanical donkey made of plush, bottles of Provence water for preserving green olives, and a wretched wooden virgin with an indecent smile. (So that no one can go away ignorant the ‘management’ has propped at its base a card saying ‘wooden virgin’).

There is also a detailed description of a boxing tournament, not just of the boxers but the crowd and building as well and a section on the construction of the new harbour walls which will eventually pull the city to face the sea, if not embrace it. It’s s great piece of closely observed travel writing although unlike the next essay it doesn’t make me want to go there.

Return to Tipasa

Tipasa is about seventy km from Algiers and had clearly been a regular destination when Camus was a child. He doesn’t care much for the modern town, it is the ancient Roman ruins that call to him and having looked up the town online I can see why, just follow the link here to Atlas Obscura. To his dismay on returning to the ruins as an adult decades later he finds them surrounded by barbed wire with a small number of designated entry points rather than the open site he remembered as a youth but once inside the magic returned and he revels in walking through the ‘bread-coloured stones’ feeling peace again and escape from the modern world as he does so.

I’d always been a bit wary of Camus, mainly because of his reputation as an existentialist writer, and having studied the works of his friend Jean Paul Satre at school that put me off that particular group of authors, but this short collection has made me want to read more Camus. He has a real gift for a phrase and an ability to take the reader to where he is writing about. I’ve explored several of the ruined Roman cities along the north African coast in both Tunisia and Libya and Return to Tipasa took me right back to those magical trips. There is a monument to Camus in amongst the ruins of ancient Tipasa which includes a quote from another of his essays set there ‘Wedding in Tipasa’

Je comprends ici ce qu’on appelle gloire : le droit d’aimer sans mesure.

I understand here what is called glory: the right to love without measure.

Albert Camus memorial in Tipasa

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

A long time ago I read Ulysses by James Joyce and for decades considered that was enough Joyce to last a lifetime; but I also had this book, and at 199 pages it was a lot shorter, maybe it was time for another go? Well I finished it this morning and if anything it was the tougher read of the two books. A series of disjointed episodes with several characters appearing seemingly at random but treated as though they had been there all the time however lacking context to place them within the tale, such as it is. It was also, to my considerable surprise, a book about Stephen Dedalus, the main character for the first third of Ulysses and here more clearly as a fictional representative of James Joyce himself. The book starts with the earliest memories of Stephen as a very small child and finishes with him deciding to leave Ireland just as Joyce did, and on the way Stephen attends the same schools and university as the author and his family has the money problems not helped by his father’s alcoholism. So is it a work of fiction or is it a disguised autobiography? It’s a bit of both, a fictionalised autobiography and with no way to separate the two parts, it also has several issues which made it a more difficult read even than the famously difficult Ulysses; the biggest of which is the twenty odd pages in the middle of the book that is basically a religious screed on life, death, heaven and hell which in places reads like a sermon from the more hellfire branch of the Catholic church and in others like an interminable list of confusing arguments, see below for a random sample of this section.

What you eventually get from this huge section is Stephen Dedalus’s slow retreat from the Catholic doctrine that he has been immersed in from childhood, first at home and then at the Jesuit boarding school of Clongowes Wood College and after a year there, when his father ran out of money to pay the fees for that place, on to the Christian Brothers O’Connell School in Dublin. This was exactly as Joyce himself did. By the end of the book as he is graduating from university Dedalus admits to his friend that he doesn’t want to take holy communion as his mother wishes because he has largely lost his faith “I will not serve that which I no longer believe”. Joyce himself had a somewhat more complicated relationship with Catholicism, certainly by the time he left Ireland he was not a practising Catholic but he attended church services during his self imposed exile on the continent, largely in Paris and Trieste, which lasted from 1904 until his death in 1941.

My other problem with the book is the regular use of Latin in the text, which I have never studied, and in this version of the book is not translated in footnotes which I suspect more modern editions do. My copy is from May 1948 during the crossover from Penguin Books in America to them going independent as Signet which explains the somewhat confusing references to Penguin, Signet and even New American Library (NAL) on the front cover. There is also Irish slang and several words that I didn’t recognise so that much like the Dean in the passage below I found myself putting the book down to look up a word.

A tundish by the way is nowadays a plumbing term for a device placed close to the pressure release valve that allows people to see if water has escaped the system due to excessive water pressure rather than a means of getting liquid into something but a century ago when ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ was written it was more usually a funnel used in the brewing industry.

All in all you are left with the impression that Joyce was more concerned with showing off his own perceived brilliance than telling a coherent story and at times I was tempted to give up but by then I was half way through so kept on going. Fortunately the final chapter, of the five, did read more like the book I was expecting so it was worth ploughing on. Will I read more Joyce? Probably not; but then again I said that after finishing Ulysses. I don’t have any more of his works on the shelves though so it would have to be a new purchase.

A Vision of Britain – HRH The Prince of Wales

No prizes for guessing what put Prince Charles on my mind this week of his coronation as King Charles III and I knew I had a copy of this book on the shelves where it has been since I bought it new in 1989. The original version of this was a television programme broadcast by the BBC on the 28th October 1988 as part of the a documentary series called Omnibus, the script for this was then expanded and somewhat re-arranged to make the book. The main theme of the book is what Prince Charles sees as the destruction of the built landscape with modernist construction replacing beautiful old buildings especially in London although he does occasionally step outside the capital memorably describing the brutalist central library in Birmingham as

It looks to me like a place books are incinerated, not kept!

Page 32

I must admit that I tend to agree with Charles on that one and it wasn’t much loved by most people in the city which meant that although it was only built in 1973 it has since been demolished, although quite what Prince Charles thinks of the replacement I have no idea. It’s definitely an improvement and I really like the inside which is light and airy rather than the gloomy previous building.

Charles is often regarded as having a rather twee view of architecture, a classic example of which is Poundbury which as it says on the town website.

Poundbury is an urban extension to the Dorset county town of Dorchester, designed in accordance with the principles of architecture and urban planning as advocated by His Majesty, King Charles III, in his book ‘A Vision of Britain’.

Not many books can claim to have been the basis for an entire town of 4,600 people, planned to rise to 6,000 when development is completed in a couple of years. And whilst it is rather fake looking in places it is a viable community with businesses, schools and other civic amenities created within it rather than thought about afterwards which seems to be the current process for new built large developments. Charles is still involved in the overall design plan for Poundbury and whilst I don’t think I would want to live there I can see what he tried to do.

The book is particularly scathing about architectural developments in the UK since WWII and whilst he does find much to praise this is invariably where the architect has looked backwards in history for inspiration. The book is heavily illustrated both of buildings he likes and those derided and you quickly get the feeling for his ten principals for good buildings and design. In summary these are:

  • The Place – respect for the existing landscape
  • Hierarchy – the importance of a building should be obvious
  • Scale – size of buildings in relation to the buildings surrounding them
  • Harmony – buildings should not be jarringly different from their neighbours
  • Enclosure – public squares and enclosed spaces rather than row upon row of similar houses
  • Materials – use local materials where possible, the beauty of our ancient towns and cities constructed of local stone and brick
  • Decoration – there should be some, not the all too common featureless brick walls
  • Art – again have some
  • Signs and Lights – these are necessary but need not be overwhelming and should be well designed
  • Community – building a community with spaces for people to gather is essential

All in all the book definitely expresses a vision for the future even if a lot of it is deeply rooted in the past. Thirty five years after he made the documentary Charles still very much believes in what he said then. There are buildings he hates in the book which I quite like and as I said I wouldn’t want to live in Poundbury but there is a lot to agree with him. There have been some truly awful buildings created and a lot of really lovely ones lost in the last eighty years.

The Wind From the Sun – Arthur C. Clarke

This book contains all eighteen short stories Arthur C. Clarke wrote in the 1960’s, including one set in his beloved Sri Lanka where he had moved to from England in 1956 and resided there until his death at the grand old age of ninety in 2008. Although all the stories were written in the 1960’s the last two didn’t actually get published until the early 1970’s including probably the strongest of the works in the book ‘A Meeting With Medusa’. The title story ‘The Wind From the Sun’ is also one of my favourites from this, the sixth collection of short stories by Clarke, it’s original title was ‘Sunjammer’ and it is still occasionally published under that name but Clarke explains in the preface that he changed its title as fellow SciFi author Poul Anderson used the same title, and indeed the same concept of sailing the solar wind, almost simultaneously in early 1963. To add to the confusion, and this time not mentioned by Clarke, another SciFi writer, Jack Vance, also had the same idea and published a similar story ‘Gateway to Strangeness’ also known as ‘Sail 25’ although that came out in late 1962. All three men had come up with the same idea independently and had no idea of each others work and the time taken to get things into print more than allows for the disparate publishing dates.

Perhaps inspired by the co-incidences around ‘Sunjammer’ there is another short essay included in this book entitled ‘Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells Esq.’ which describes Clarke’s absolute conviction that a story called ‘The Anticipator’ was written by H.G. Wells and he had written as such in his single page short story ‘The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told’ which precedes the Roberts/Wells essay in the collection. In fact ‘The Anticipator’ was written by Well’s contemporary Morley Roberts and in the essay he explains that the story is about a high quality writer who keeps having the plots of his stories hijacked by a hack writer and published just before his version comes out so that the general public assume that he is constantly plagiarising the less good author so it is somewhat appropriate that Clarke didn’t get the true authors name right. It happened again to Clarke in 1979 when his book ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ was published at the same time as Charles Sheffield’s ‘The Web Between The Worlds’ both of which are about the construction of a giant tower all the way up to geostationary orbit which would operate as a space elevator therefore removing the need for rockets to reach space. Both novels have a similar construction method using a robot called Spider, both towers are built by a engineer who had previously constructed the longest bridge in the world and there are several other identical, or near identical features including the engineers name beginning with M. Again neither author knew about the others work it was simply an idea whose time had come.

All but two of the stories in this collection take place within the Solar System, the exceptions being ‘Crusade’ and ‘Neutron Tide’ and most occur on the Earth or Moon. This is another feature of Clarke’s science fiction writing, not for him universe wide adventures or galaxies at war which a lot of his contemporaries wrote about. Clarke, for the most part, is a more grounded writer. That doesn’t mean they are less fantastical just less space opera and more extensions of the readers understanding. ‘Maelstrom II’ for example has a man on his way home from the Moon when the, normally freight carrying, railgun that he is using as a cheaper way to get back malfunctions so he doesn’t have enough speed to achieve escape velocity. Yes it’s science fiction but everything in the story is valid science.

Arthur C. Clarke had a first class degree in mathematics and physics from King’s College London and used his scientific training in his writing, always making sure, as much as possible, that any concepts he came up with had a valid scientific basis. This makes him one of the strongest writers of science fiction as opposed to fantasy, when Clarke describes the fall into the atmosphere of Jupiter in ‘A Meeting With Medusa’ or the astronomical observations in ‘Transit of Earth’, which has an astronaut on Mars watching Earth cross The Sun you can be sure that the figures used are as accurate as 1960’s science allowed. Clarke didn’t come up with the idea of geostationary orbit but he did write the first scientific paper describing how satellites placed there would be perfect for telecommunications.

It’s a fun set of short stories and I was surprised how well I remembered several of them from when I first read the book in the mid to late 1970’s.

The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson – Anthony Trollope

The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson, as the book is properly titled, is one of Trollope’s less well known and even lesser read novels. I don’t know why The Folio Society in their complete Trollope novels series decided to drop ‘The Struggles of’ from the title other than the probable difficulty of fitting all the words into the standard spine layout for the series. That this is a relatively unknown work can be judged by its sporadic printing history and the fact that even The Trollope Society themselves largely dismiss it in a single paragraph write up and that the list of primary characters on that web page fails to mention any of Mr Brown, Mr Jones or Mr Robinson. I mentioned the printing history because it is so odd for a novelist of the stature of Trollope, Longman along with Chapman & Hall both declined the novel and it first appeared in eight monthly parts in The Cornhill Magazine in 1861/2. Despite being written in 1857 it didn’t appear as a book until American publisher Harper’s Library issued a copy in 1862, the first British edition was Smith, Elder’s (who also published The Cornhill Magazine) copy in 1870, there then followed another American edition in 1882 and then nothing for ninety nine years!

It largely seems to have been reprinted since 1981 as part of sets of complete works with no publisher judging it sufficiently commercial to make it a stand alone book in its own right. Indeed even The Folio Society, whose copy I have, left it to the last to be printed of the forty seven Trollope novels in their complete set which they started in 1989 with ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ and finally finished in 1999 with this book and then topped off the collection with Trollope’s autobiography. There isn’t even a Wikipedia entry for the novel. With all that in mind it was with some trepidation that I decided to see if it was really that bad.

Happily the answer is no, and whilst it isn’t a great novel I definitely enjoyed it both as a satire of the advertising industry and a tale of intertwined relationships. To set the scene Mr Brown becomes a widower at the start of the book and gains control of his wife’s butter business which he has no interest in so subsequently sells. He has two daughters Sarah Jane who had married Mr Jones and Maryanne who is single but has promised marriage to Mr Brisket, the butcher. Mr Robinson has fallen in love with the flighty Maryanne to the extreme annoyance of the much larger butcher who several times threatens him with violence if he doesn’t stay away from her. Oddly the three title characters subsequently start a business together selling haberdashery which none of them know anything about, with Brown putting up the money, Jones being the floor manager and Robinson in charge of advertising, he also takes charge of the decor and uniforms in the shop which is themed around the recently invented colour, magenta. The original capital in the business is stated as £4,000, which is the equivalent of around £365,000 today, a massive sum to start a small business with, but right from the off the partners, encouraged by Robinson, planned big with significant premises at 81 Bishopsgate Street and a significant amount of staff to match. What they didn’t have was much stock as Robinson was convinced that spending a lot on advertising would bring people in and then you could sell them what you had, rather than what you had promised you had.

It is not only Robinson’s extremely expensive advertising ploys, which range from horse riding knights in armour, to liverymen handing out leaflets but Jones’s dodgy selling which involved putting high quality items in the windows with low prices then actually selling similar looking but lower quality items to the customers for the same price which leads to the reputation of the business starting to fall away. Brown meanwhile is still dealing badly with his two daughters who see their inheritance frittered away in the business whilst he banks less than the actual takings and salts some away from himself. It’s difficult to find a single likeable character in the book with the possible exception of Robinson who is more naive than criminal, Brown’s two daughters are truly horrible and I rejoiced when Maryanne, after playing Brisket and Robinson off one another throughout the book ends up with neither of them and both count themselves lucky to be rid of her.The firm needless to say burns through the large amount of capital it started with in about a year and goes bust, a story that could be applied to numerous businesses that have more ideas than plans or solid foundations. It would have been interesting to see what Trollope would have made of the various overinflated dotcom and IT companies and dodgy banks built on loans to them over the last twenty years but ‘The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson’ is an excellent primer on dubious companies living well beyond their means but believed to be sound right up until they crash. It may not ever have been rated highly but it should be read by anyone looking to start, or invest, in a company in the present day.

The forty eight Trollope books in the complete works set by the Folio Society.

Wall and Piece – Banksy

Iconic and famously anonymous graffiti artist Banksy first wrote about his works in three small books just 148mm x 105mm (5.8″ x 4.1″) Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall came out in 2001, Existencilism in 2002 and Cut it Out in 2004. I bought Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall when it came out but unfortunately missed the other two which were also published by Banksy’s own Weapons of Mass Distraction publisher. I say unfortunately because you cannot pick up any of these for less than £100 each nowadays. Far easier to find is the subject of this weeks blog Wall and Piece first published in 2005 by Century, part of the Random House group, and much larger at 257mm x 210mm (10.1″ x 8.3″) and 240 pages and which is in full colour unlike the small black and white only books which are just 48 pages long.

As for the ‘Now with 10% more crap’ sticker on the cover, my edition is the 9th impression and talking to a friend who has an earlier version, without the sticker, she confirmed that my copy is noticeably thicker than hers. We haven’t done a page by page comparison to establish the additional material but it was clearly an evolving project and I would have expected this to be a second edition rather than the 9th impression of the first. Wall and Piece, as a mass produced book running into multiple print runs is unsurprising quite cheap to find second hand, costing just a few pounds although I bought it new from a book shop and paid full price (£12.99) for mine.

The art is roughly in chronological order, starting with his chimp wearing a tabard with assorted messages on it to his rats which is when he really started to be noticed with his instantly obvious style and sense of humour. It is probably the fun in what he does that makes him so different to the vast majority of graffiti artists and which makes him so collectable with one of his works recently selling for £18.5 million, including premiums at auction. But this book takes us back to the beginning and he explains where the idea for the stencils came from, he was trying to paint ‘LATE AGAIN’ on the side of a train and taking far too long about it so that the police arrived and he only avoided being caught by escaping through thorn bushes and then hiding under a dumper truck. Looking up he saw the stencilled plate on the base of the fuel tank.

I got home at last and crawled into bed next to my girlfriend. I told her I’d had an epiphany that night and she told me to stop taking that drug ‘cos it was bad for your heart.

More rats, and this shows how he makes use of existing things on the walls he paints on either because it’s funny as in this example or because he is trying to make a more serious point. The vast majority of his works in the past have been either painted over or simply cleaned off the wall involved so it is the photographic records that are his lasting legacy. Most recently, due to the considerable value of his authenticated works, huge sections of wall have simply been removed and presumably sold such as the seagull art in Lowestoft taken earlier this month, see here.

The newest works in the book are from 2005, which is when the book was first published, and feature the works that Banksy, and a team of helpers, painted on the segregation wall illegally built by Israel through the occupied West Bank, the one above is near the checkpoint in Ramallah. They mainly appear to be holes in the wall with attractive views, one has a mountain range, another a tropical beach although one looks simply like the dotted line with scissors used to surround items to be cut out from printed items, this particular image is over twenty feet high. Although the paintings are largely appreciated by the inhabitants Bansky describes the wall in the book as something that “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.”

Old Man You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful
Me Thanks
Old Man We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home

One section I particularly like deals with his re-interpreted art such as Sunflowers (from a Petrol Station) seen above. Banksy has managed to hang his parodies in numerous famous galleries by simply walking in and putting them up usually with explanatory cards in the form used by the gallery itself. These establishments include The Tate Gallery in London, The Louvre in Paris, The new York Metropolitan Museum and the Natural History museums in both London and New York amongst others. In the book these works are often accompanied with various photographs of Banksy hanging the ‘fake’ painting, the pictures normally survive on the walls for a few hours before being removed after which they have been discarded by the gallery or more recently added to their own collections.

Above is part of the rear of the book which not only completes the image on the front where the masked man is shown to be throwing a bunch of flowers rather than the Molotov cocktail that might have been expected from first impressions but also includes a quote from the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force, which may or may not be genuine.

Finally below is the book that started it all, a lot of the images from ‘Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall’ are also in Wall and Piece but in colour and much larger than could be achieved in such a small book. Surprisingly though there is a quite a lot of text in this small volume whilst Wall and Piece is largely a picture book, although it does include quite a bit of information about the various styles he has used and little bit of biographical detail but not enough to come any where near identifying him. There are also hints for how to do your own stencil graffiti in a few pages at the back and some introductory paragraphs at the start of each section.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

This is the 275th entry in this blog so by way of something different this is not so much a ramble along my bookshelves as a wander through my record collection. But it does concern two books, specifically the two Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams in the form of the wonderful adaptations done by Dirk Maggs and John Langdon for B.B.C. radio in 2007 and 2008 and first released on vinyl by Demon Records in 2020 and 2021. Each is a triple album with an episode a side so a total of six hours of listening pleasure and boy is it a pleasure. Dirk Gently is a Holistic detective in that he uses apparently unrelated objects and experiences in order to solve his cases, the stories are also very funny. The pressings are high quality coloured vinyl which along with the design of the sleeves and liners add considerably to the joy when I first unpacked them.

The cast is also superb with Harry Enfield playing Dirk Gently, Olivia Colman is Janice his long suffering secretary, Billy Boyd is Richard MacDuff and Jim Carter is Detective Sergeant Gilks. These four appear on both sets of records with other cast members including Andrew Sachs, John Fortune, Jan Ravens and Peter Davison to name just a few. There are also several stalwarts of the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy radio series, the original scripts of which I reviewed here, such as Stephen Moore, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope who also wrote the incidental music for both Dirk Gently series. By the very nature of cutting both books down to three hours each when the Audible recordings of the books being read are just short of eight hours each clearly a lot has been lost, but this is true of any dramatisation and frankly I largely prefer the audio dramatisations to the books, especially The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul for reasons I will explore when I get to that section.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

This was probably originally Douglas’s attempt to get some use out of a script he had written for Doctor Who called Shada which had been abandoned shortly after filming had started due to a strike by B.B.C. technicians. The similarities between the two works are obvious and whilst Douglas removed the specific Doctor Who references and merged in part of the plot of City of Death, another Doctor Who serial he wrote, the central character of Cambridge professor Chronotis having a time machine and living for centuries remains the same. In Shada he was a Time Lord, in Dirk Gently it is never explained who or what he is but they do use his time machine, which is actually his rooms in college, to travel to an ancient spaceship orbiting the Earth and back in time four billion years to the start of life on the planet. The new material concerns a character Gordon Way who is killed right at the start but continues to appear as a ghost trying to contact the living and explain what happened and it is his death that Dirk Gently ultimately solves in proving that his client Richard MacDuff didn’t do it and Way was actually killed by an ancient and malfunctioning robot from the orbiting spaceship.

This adaptation is pretty faithful to the original book, which can not be said of the second recording for reasons explained below.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

The title of this book comes from another of Douglas’s works, the third of the Hitch-Hikers books, and is said of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, an immortal character who was not born to immortality and was therefore not prepared for it.

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

Life, The Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams

The original book is somewhat complicated and jumps around rather a lot as Douglas keeps track of the various characters and this meant that Dirk Maggs had to do a severe rewrite in order to produce something that would work in six episodes without completely confusing the listener. He also brought back Richard MacDuff, who doesn’t appear in the book, and made him a character in this version, there are also a lot of added Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy references as Dirk had recently adapted books three, four and five of that series into radio productions. It also features a fridge that has not been cleaned for months and eats the person who first tries to do so. A client for Dirk is later found ‘listening’ to an album but unfortunately it is jumping mainly because the arm is bouncing off his severed head which is now on top of the turntable. There are also major character appearances for Odin and Thor and the explanation as to where Asgard can be found in modern London and how Janice, now an innocent Heathrow airport check in clerk, became cursed and turned into a drinks machine.

Douglas Adams had been working on and off on a third Dirk Gently book intended to be called The Salmon of Doubt up until he died, and this work, along with other unfinished pieces was eventually published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002. Dirk Maggs originally intended to dramatise this as well but plans were shelved by the B.B.C. before any work was done on this.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail (Book)

This book is a lot of fun, especially if you know the film well as it contains the forty five page first draft, which was used for pitching for funds to make the film, along with the much longer final draft. The original version actually bears little relation to what was actually filmed and even in the final versions there are a lot of sections crossed out with pen amendments alongside so it was clearly a work in progress even whist being filmed. Alongside these two scripts are sketches of possible titles and posters, lots of stills from the film, a statement of accounts as to how much the film cost to make, a total of £229,575 for those of you who are interested and a letter from the producer to Michael Palin.

I feel this tells anyone who hasn’t seen the film quite a lot about it and it is very funny for those of us who have seen the film numerous times and can quote large sections.

It’s the ephemera and the pen amendments that for me make the book so interesting you can see the Python team improving the work as things are going on and they spot opportunities to tighten the humour, such as the section below. This is part of the fight between the three headed knight and Sir Robin which in the original final draft takes 3½ pages of typescript but is replaced with 1½ pages of handwritten alterations which got rid of a lot of the bickering between the heads and speeded up the arrival of the punchline “He’s buggered off” which isn’t even on this page of the script.

On his way to this fight, which as alluded to above Sir Robin ran away from, his minstrels had been singing songs of his bravery but written in such a way as to terrify the knight, which can be seen below. I have included this double page spread to give some idea as to how the book is formatted. On the left, which would have been blank in the original script are all sorts of interesting items such as the Daily Continuity Report seen here, but it could be snapshots from the set, notes on possible improvements, sketches by Terry Gilliam etc. In short anything at all that the editors of the book and Derek Birdsell, the designer, thought would be fun to include. It makes a wonderful mish mash of ideas about how the film is, or should, be progressing and adds a huge amout to what could have been a simple reproduction of the script.

I just had to include one of my favourite sections from the first part of the film where Arthur and his knights have arrived at the French castle, not riding horses but banging coconut shells together in the classic sound effect method to simulate horses hooves. This then leads to a side discussion as to where they had got the shells which comically keeps interrupting the main flow of the text. It is particularly fun as the swallow has become so iconic when attached to this section of the script to see that they originally intended a whole selection of different birds including a gannet, plover or a merlin which would have been a funny preshadowing of later in the book when they do encounter a parody of Merlin in the form of Tim the Enchanter.

The film ends on the shore of a lake where the knights are preparing to embark on their last great adventure but by this time the budget had largely run out and the Python’s decided to simply end the film there with a modern day police raid which stops filming. A truly surreal end to the film in a truly Monty Python way.

The rear cover has lots of suggested advertising slogans all in the form of obviously fake quotes including the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, her predecessor Edward Heath, and Richard Nixon who had resigned the American presidency following the Watergate scandal just four days after Mark Forstater’s letter the Michael Palin reproduced above. As can be seen I have the first edition of the book published by Eyre Metheun in 1977. Later editions drop the cut out folder format of the cover for a more ‘normal’ binding.