The Yorker Archives; Jubilee: a review

Shelley Harris’ first novel is about a photograph. The one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second it took to take, the events leading up to it and the lives of its subjects after it. A delicately bittersweet account of childhood and of the undercurrents of racism in 1977 British suburbia, Jubilee is a summer-reading must have.

We follow the life of Satish Patel, the introverted cardiologist who, amongst other demons he wearily faces, is horrified when the photograph resurfaces. Considered a national treasure, the picture taken on Jubilee day has a darker significance for Satish, and is a poignant reminder of the cruelty of adults and children alike.

As the reality of the pictures deeper meaning is slowly unfolded throughout the chapters, we’re given an intimate portrayal of the world as Satish saw it as a child and an immigrant in the 1970s. Often heartbreakingly funny, and at times, just plain heartbreaking, Jubilee is full of thoughtful nostalgia and an effortless charm.
Glancing between eras; we meet all characters before and after the infamous picture is taken. Aligning past and present so seamlessly allows us to see if, and how, the actions of the past do indeed affect the behaviours of our future. As Satish reassures himself “we are all better than the worst thing we’ve done”, readers can contemplate a sense of justice in how the lives of characters map out.
The narrative is subtle, and the murky topic of racism is dealt with with such a finesse that it doesn’t seem to impede on the innocence of the children we are reading about. The way Harris writes about childhood is a genuine, realistic interpretation of how childrens’ relationships work- the hierarchey of friendships, the relevance of race and age, the attacking and protecting of each other.
In exploring the story of this photo- this one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second- Harris masterfully deals with an entire society’s attitudes towards immigrants, and shows the beginning of a change in those attitudes in the coming-of-age of it’s children.
A surprisingly light read considering the sadness of some of its themes, Jubilee is a beautifully written and moving story about innocence. It’s characters, relationships and plot line are so simple yet so plausible that you can’t but help admire Harris’ style- and to certainly look forward to a second novel.

Rapping Lyrical

Mark Grist, one half of the Dead Poet’s, recently shot to fame thanks to an astounding performance in a rap poetry slam battle.  The video went viral, and if you’ve been hiding under a rock that doesn’t have a wifi connection, you can find it here. The novelty was in seeing an teacher in a battle with a student; old v young, suit and tie v baseball cap and trousers that hung below the arse. 

For me, the novelty wasn’t the only reason to stick around. The lyrics were impeccable- both MC Blizzard and Grist delivered masterfully crafted lines, never stumbling or losing rhythm, inventive insults which dripped with wit and intelligence. It’s high time spoken word poetry was appreciated as an art form, an entertainment form. This unlikely duo have done the trick.

Grist’s performance was brilliant. Witty and cutting, the only thing that made it taste sweeter was that it was directed at a cocky pupil- everyone has always kind of hoped to hear what their teachers thought of them, and here it is. In a much purer and honest form than your school report ever could have been. 

On a side note, I want to praise Blizzard. “The honest truth is Bradley, I’ve been served better whilst in Costa”, while the lyric is perfectly put together, and I think Grist would agree with me on this, it’s not entirely honest.  In all the excitement to congratulate Mark Grist on his (well-deserved) win, many have wrongly demoted Blizzard’s skill as sub-par. His extraordinary ability to properly produce amazing lyrics at a speed most professional rappers can only try to emulate, not only demonstrates his quick-tongue and skill, but also his forward thinking imagination. Lines such as “But hold up Mixy, I’m taking the mick, see, you could mix E in my drink and still could never lick me”, while remain a tongue twister for anyone else (genuinely struggled even typing it out…) are simply fluid for the young battler. Three dimensional insults (personal favourite, “then you’ll know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of a glass ceiling“), and intelligent (“I’m gonna get rid of Mark like when Germany brought the euro in“) against almost any other performance poet would bring them crashing down. 

But not against Grist. With words as sharp as his suit, he effortlessly tore into his opponent, stumping the audiences and causing thousands of YouTube viewers to burst out in laughter; “This blizzard lizard’s got no fire it’s just hot air he’s breathing, when all’s said and done, as the years drag on, you’ll look even more like Deborah Meaden”. Not needing to resort to tired lines, he brings creativity and originality to traditional jokes- the standard “your mum” joke reaches new levels of profanity and hilarity, and is a highlight of the entire slam. The Pokemon line (around 8 minutes into the video) is simply put, genius.

Using Blizzard’s real name, playing on his previous occupation, yet still slipping in youth culture references, ultimately, this was a battle Grist couldn’t lose. His skill and cool were at a level that almost guaranteed winning- and a perfect triumph that the video has well over 1.7 million views. It’s a war of attrition Blizzard didn’t really stand much chance against. I’m not claiming Grist is the best rap battle poet in the world, (his next Don’t Flop, though as lyrically engaging, just doesn’t have the excitement this battle does), I’m asserting that a better platform for a poet such as himself couldn’t have been scripted. You know, unless he’d written it.

Upon the video going viral, Grist’s fame meant his other videos have also seen a surge in popularity. “Really Really Good at Bored Games”  is an admission of how uncool he is, yet comes across as incredibly smooth.

“Girls Who Read” is my personal favourite. A little soppier than the others, it still contains the dry humour and hints of boyishness underneath the more tender feel- and certainly appeals to any romantics who had been so far unconvinced by Grist.

His newfound popularity is doing wonders for spoken word poetry. He has started a little fashion on twitter- #SpokenWordSunday. I’m proud to admit that I was the first to jump on this bandwagon (poetry-wagon?)- and was the first follower he retweeted with my suggestion of Taylor Mali. Mali is also a teacher turned poet, and is definitely worth checking out. Each week, I spend hours scrolling through the suggestions this new twitter trend, fuelled by Grist, offers up. I’m finding poets I never would have reached otherwise, and am now actively searching out live poetry events in my area.

He’s making T.V. appearances, both with and without his Dead Poets Partner “Mixy”, and is being namedropped by national press. Hopefully, for the spoken poetry field, and the rap battle scene, his unlikely fame will increase interest in these art forms. I’d love for this to be the beginning of a new trend of spoken word- and at the moment, Grist is pioneering this new phase of popularity. 

(Originally published in my sister blog)

Luke Jermay: Psychic Cabaret

Luke Jermay opened the show by asking the audience to raise their hands if they believed mind reading was possible, to which a scattering of nervous hands went up. The general consensus was “No, not really”, it seemed. Had he asked at the end of his show, I expect every hand in the room would have shot up.

In the intimate venue of the Basement, underneath City Screen Cinema on Coney Street, Jermay altered beliefs on what a single man could do with pure intuition. Stunning the audience with his uncanny ability to pinpoint exact details, with no clues or overt trickery, Jermay left us in awe. He could tell you a stranger‘s exact date of birth, know the full name of an audience member’s first kiss, and was somehow able to produce mirror images of drawings the audience members were asked to make in private.
He quickly developed a rapport with the audience, handling unexpected challenges with a finesse and sense of humour that made the show seamless. His adeptness at mastering the audience’s emotions was impressive; one moment everyone would be chuckling at a wonderfully delivered insult, the next we were hung in suspense.
The small venue was the perfect location for Jermay. A highly interactive show, I walked into the show hoping to be able to sit quietly at the back and spectate without interruption, yet by the end of the show, I was hoping that I’d have a chance to get involved – an opportunity that a surprisingly large number of the audience got to take.
Having written for and worked with many famous magicians and mentalists, such as Derren Brown and Dynamo, Jermay’s talent is indisputable. It has taken him around the world, from Las Vegas to London.
Luckily for York, Jermay won’t be rushing off anytime soon, so there are plenty of chances to see this unusual live entertainment act for yourselves. The Psychic Cabaret will be at Basement on the first Thursday of every month, and with tickets at just £12, it’s a show that you can’t afford to miss. This is entertainment that truly delights and spooks simultaneously, and an experience that you will talk about for a long time afterwards.
REVIEW FOR THE YORKER, FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.theyorker.co.uk/arts/performingarts/10558

Fake "Friends"

First of all, a disclaimer. I will never care that it is uncool to watch Coronation Street. I come from a family who genuinely have Norris’ birthday on our calendar. My stepfather once sternly told off my younger sister for constantly asking questions during one particularly intense episode; “Look, it’s either going to be part of your life, or it isn’t”.

I’ll miss you :(

While at university, watching C.S. reminds me of being at home, and is generally my daily dose of the Mancunian accent I do tend to crave after not hearing the family’s voices for too long. It also gives my flatmates ample opportunity to mock me for being a little bit pathetic. For example; this week, Becky McDonald left the street, and I’m distraught.

Becky was the ultimate Corrie girl. Rivalled only by Blanche in her genius put downs and classic one liners, she was definitely the most fun character on Coronation Street, and the least 2-Dimensional, as some Street characters are/have been (I’m looking at you, Ashley Peacock). I’m genuinely going to miss her.

My distress, however, didn’t impress. Which got me thinking- is it ever acceptable to form an attachment to a fictional character? The answer seems to be a resounding “no”, but it certainly doesn’t stop people from doing exactly that. Spend ten minutes on blogging site Tumblr or searching through Twitter, and you’ll see post after post declaring love for the people from GLEE, Doctor Who, or any Disney film. There’s an entire world of die-hard Harry Potter fans, writing fan-fictions and developing finely attuned knowledge of their favourite character’s lives, years on after the final book was published.

And it’s not all teenagers on blogging sites either. Real life adults have been known to shed a tear during The Titanic (the bit where the old couple get into bed? If you don’t cry, then you’re officially considered A Monster) or other weepies. I actually had to pause “The Green Mile” twice because I was balling so much. 

Whenever I pick up a book, one thing that determines whether I carry on reading it or not is whether I like the protagonist. This doesn’t always translate to whether I’d want to be friends with them, not necessarily; yet there’s a reason The Bell Jar has been lay gathering dust on my bookshelf since I pinched it from a friend’s house. I’m aware it’s considered one of the greatest pieces of literature, and if anything, I could enjoy it purely because of how well it is written. Thing is, the main character Esther, is just too self-deprecating, and let’s face it, a little too hipster-y. She’d be a crap person to go down the pub with.

We’re all guilty of holding someone fictional dear. Even grown men must feel a tug on their heart-strings when a childhood cartoon character is remembered. Lots of women feel an affiliation with Sex and the City characters, and there are people out there who actually have Disney characters tattooed onto their body. Seriously.

It’s something that everyone does, and a hallmark of good writing and good characterisation- to be able to create a character that people will sincerely miss when you stop writing about their existence. Maybe having a breakdown when Schmicheal the dog was put down is pushing it a bit too far, but at least I know I’m not alone.