Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Curse of Vilem Franke

The Curse of Vilem Franke

By Mark Sadler

My former Oxford classics professor laid the blame for his permanent loss of erectile function on a reading of the collected works of the 19th century Czech author, Vilem Franke. When I visited him last year he was a shadow of the man who, in his academic prime, would stand atop his desk and recite Larkin's jazz reviews and passages from The Conference of Birds. He wept into a tweed handkerchief, patched at its centre with a leather oval, and confessed that even high doses of Viagra had done nothing to rouse his “little prince” from his slumber. My suggestion that a kiss from another handsome prince might do the trick at least raised a smile.

Earlier this year, I attempted my own Vilem Franke reading marathon: In the space of only a few months, I managed to clear an impressive, 150 page trail trough the dense, tangled prose of his first novel - The Obdurate Wife. It was around this time that Mrs Seven (who is actually my fourth wife and anything but obdurate) remarked upon a noticeable decline in my sex drive and a general loss in the vigour of my thrusting. Of course, I ended my experiment with Franke there and then and, unlike my poor classics professor, appear to have had a lucky escape: My wife assures me that since I returned to safer reading material I have regained my previous “tip-top form” in the bedroom.

I have since resigned myself to never finishing The Obdurate Wife. Even the section of this novel's wikipedia entry that provides details of the plot, tails off halfway through the narrative. I wonder if anyone has ever reached the end of it.

On Monday I happened to be in a branch of a popular book seller (one that rhymes with “Fresco”) and saw that they had on display various Vilem Franke novels. For some unfathomable reason, there was also the option of obtaining a sturdy cardboard slipcase, containing three of the writer's better known works, for the sum of nineteen pounds and 99 pence.

As long as the danger posed to the male libido by these novels is overlooked, I imagine that they will continue to undermine the sex lives of middle-aged, pseudo-intellectuals like myself. I strongly suspect that this was Franke's intention all along. He was a bitter, puritanical man, who was obsessed with the population levels of the mice living in his cellar, which he believed mirrored the rises and falls in the population of his native country.

Last year, at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, I took part in a panel titled: Whatever is to be done? My fellow panel members were people who, like me, cut themselves off from the wider world for long periods of time in order to write novels. Over the course of three hours, we brought to bear our in-depth knowledge of fictional worlds on an array of complicated, real-life global issues. I attempted to raise the danger of Franke's literary canon as part of the discussion and it was grudgingly added to the bottom of a list of things that we should all be worried about.

We parted company later that day, with each of us making a vague commitment to sign any e-petitions that we forwarded to one another, via twitter or facebook. I note that very few of my literary peers have supported my impassioned formal plea to have Vilem Franke's novels banned. Writers and academics are, for the most part, liars and frauds. I can understand why Franke didn't want us to breed.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Music of Monday (For Harkive)

Today (Tuesday 9th July, 2013) Harkive.org will gather accounts of the different ways in which people listen to music. Mine is below: 

Monday 8th July

8:00: Home

"What's the name of the band you're seeing tonight - The Duckworth Lewis Model?"

It's The Duckworth Lewis Method. My mother has asked me the same question at least 20 times this week, but has trouble remembering the name of the group.

"They play cricket-themed songs."

My sister-in-law is not familiar with their canon and slouches against the aga in her dressing gown, singing the "I don't like cricket" line from 10cc's Dreadlock Holiday.

9:05: Thorpe Bay Railway Station.

A man in a fluorescent yellow jacket informs me that I will be unable to board the front carriage of the incoming train, as it is reserved for Southend Choir.

I am listening to Five Leaves Left on my red iPod nano – one of the older, rectangular models. Me, Nick Drake, and any of the other passengers who are unable to sustain a convincing soprano, cram ourselves into the remaining cars.

10:30: London (City)

I am walking north from Fenchurch Street railway station, following a sketchy, mostly improvised route in the direction of King Cross. I am looking for a shop called Bookends. I can't recall the address and have only the vaguest idea of its location.

I am listening to the new Kurt Vile album – Wakin On A Pretty Daze. He's a kind of Lou Reed for the 21st century. A lot of thought and hard work probably went into creating this half-arsed soundtrack to my half-arsed life.

12:00: Holborn

I've found Bookends and have moved on. When the Kurt Vile album finished, I played my favourite track (Too Hard) three times in a row. After the third time I let the album run on to the end.

14:00: Soho

I am flipping through the racks of CDs in the darkened cavern-like interior of Sister Ray – an independent record shop on Berwick street. I've left my want list at home; that's a good thing too, because I am between jobs and can't afford to go mad.

I walk out with the deluxe reissue of Marianne Faithfull's Broken English, which I've been searching high and low for. I also purchase a reissue of Sleep's Dopesmoker album. Matt Pike, from the group, is now in High On Fire – a stoner doom band whose music sounds like the sky crashing down on your head.

17:00: Regent's Park

I am reclining on the grass beneath the shade of a small tree. Periodically, a man lying on his back nearby will play Flight of the Bumblebee on a flute. This goes on for a couple of hours. It's rather soothing and takes the edge off my annoyance at a quartet of Cocker Spaniels who have been allowed to run amok and seem determined to get inside my rucksack.

Flute man leaves, and is replaced by the intermittent tune from a distant ice cream van, which drifts across the park; the sound of my childhood calling to me down through the decades. 

19:45: Regent's Park

My brother and his family drove down to Southend from Glastonbury at the weekend. On the way they stopped off at Stonehenge. I am probably thinking about this when I catch myself whistling the folky interlude from Spinal Tap's Stonehenge to some geese.

21:30ish: The Thomas Lord Suite, Lord's Cricket Ground:

The Duckworth Lewis Method are on stage. Neil Hannon's Adam Ant homage/bold fashion statement (mixing a braided military jacket and a pith helmet) loses something in the translation.

Thomas Walsh is dressed sombrely in black, with a top hat that he keeps on throughout the performance, despite the heat. He resembles, either a character from a Dickens novel, or a funeral director relative of Slade's Noddy Holder.

I have made a careful study of the two Duckworth Lewis albums and have concluded that 50% of their songs are heartfelt homages to cricket. 25% use cricket as a metaphor to comment on global or personal issues. The other 25% are excuses to revel in filthy, cricket-themed innuendo. If Sticky Wickets is about anything other than unbridled wanking, I'll eat Mike Gatting.

Mixed in with the glam rock and obvious debt to ELO, the band show off some unusual influences: Hannon's repetitive, deadpan delivery during Line & Length brings to mind Kraftwerk backed by INXS.

In between the songs there are excursions into the back catalogue of 1980s Liverpudlian pop group - China Crisis, an unconvincing Ian Anderson (from Jethro Tull) impersonation. and an on-stage mutiny in which the band temporarily break away from Hannon's control and begin improvising songs about dairy products for a mooted cheese-themed album.

00:30: East Tilbury

The train back to Thorpe Bay is taking the meandering scenic route home through darkest Essex. I don't listen to music on these late night services, preferring to keep my eyes and ears open. To pass the time I peruse my earlier record purchases. My inner teenager informs me that the sleeve art for Dopesmoker (an alien caravan trudging in single file across a barren red desert) both rules and kicks arse. My older self concurs.