Monday, 31 December 2012

Piss Drenched Jeans: The Night Micky Geggus Saved Our Lives


Highlight of 2012 was undoubtedly West Ham beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley. I was with all my West Ham faithful, the only exception being my good mate John from Canning Town who was elsewhere busying himself with studying Law in his last year in Paris; always thought law was a wise subject to study for a man who heralds from a place known to some as the City of Thieves.
          A brilliant day got off to a bad start. I slept in. The meet was Bond Street 11am. I got out of bed around about that time of morning. It’s what I do best. I rushed out, boxer shorts on back to front, my Morrissey flat-top, proper flat and no top. Awaiting the tube I ran into an old friend who was going to the game with a pack of mates I didn’t know. He’s a top DJ, a large chap thrown into the bargain, and I made reference to this still being the case. It didn’t go down well what with his mates not knowing me. I got blanked and they shifted to the right as the train came in and I decided it was best to get in the left carriage. It was empty. I felt empty, not a good feeling to piss someone off who you haven’t seen in a while, especially on a Wembley Cup Final Day. I sat down. Gazed up sheepishly and said this delicately to the person sat opposite.
          ‘Fuck me, it’s Stinky Turner.’
          I said that because it was him. The front-man of the Cockney Rejects. Stinky Turner aka Jeff Turner aka Jeff Geggus. From then on we had a manic love-in of all things West Ham and his band and then me taking over a bit. His son looked bored throughout but that was okay. I felt bad about having to get off at Bond Street. But that was where our meet was and anyway he was on route to hook up with Trevor Brooking for a pitch-side interview. Before we parted Jeff asked me where I was in the ground and then said he thought his brother was in that same section.
          Fast forward. I meet his brother at half time.


          ‘Alright Micky, I just ran into Jeff and his boy on the way up here.’
          Once again the conversation was like one between old school mates. But I did have some history with Micky. The night he saved me and my small band of mates from getting buried round the back of the Bridge House in Canning Town in March 1981.
          Those were seriously violent days back then. At gigs and at football. On Saturday West Ham had beaten Chelsea in the old Division Two 4-0 and there was fighting everywhere. The next day my band set off along the M4 to support Vice Squad at a pub in Bristol. Happy with the previous days result and naively not appreciating any violent connection with Bristol City, I proudly wore my West Ham scarf. We got there early. The locals didn’t dig my scarf. We had to take refuge in a Marks & Spencer. I was told to tuck the scarf inside my jacket. That night Vice Squad never showed. And neither did the PA. On the Tuesday they were supporting the 4 Skins at The Bridge House in Canning Town. We thought we’d show up and ask for an explanation and an apology. Before I was picked up that night I was told this.
          ‘Don’t wear that fucking scarf.’
          I didn’t bother to labour the point that Canning Town was safe territory for claret and blue colours as emotions were tender after what happened in Bristol. So I left the scarf at home. On the night we never got to speak with Vice Squad. We were the only non skinheads in a 300 strong pub. It didn’t help that they thought we were Chelsea. We drank furiously to accommodate the unsettling paranoia. As the toilets in the pub were evidently a no go area for non skinheads, the five of us agreed we’d have a piss where our van was parked, which was round the back of the pub in a dimly lit anonymous dead end that was flanked either side by high corrugated walls. To compound the problem, we were also afraid to leave the pub.
          We eventually left after the gig, almost unable to walk what with our bladders holding so much lager and then our small and desperate collective got ambushed mid-piss; words directed clearly indicated that they thought we were Chelsea taking liberties on their manor. It was messy on all levels. With more than the odd boot in the face. Lying on the floor cut and bloody and wearing piss drenched jeans, it was all quite depressing. More than that, it looked like we were not going to make it home. In such moments you don’t get overwhelmed in fear because quite simply, there isn’t the time. The only thing I remember thinking was in how I wished I had my fucking West Ham scarf on.
          And then when all looked beyond help a young Micky Geggus – the only other non skinhead and a face we hadn’t seen all night – appeared wearing a green flight jacket with sown on Motorhead patch. He parted the waves, an Oi Moses, stopped the fighting, calmed the masses, got us in the van, climbed in the back with us as they were going to brick the van once we got to the front of the pub, and then ensured we were safely on the A13, homeward bound safe and sound.
          ‘I normally have a good memory but don’t recall that night,’ Micky had said to me during half time at Wembley.
          Not sure if he was just being modest, but that was a night I wasn’t ever going to forget in a hurry and the story was still surging through my head when I went to take up my seat just after half time. When I got there I was asked what I was smiling about. Surviving that night, I thought. But Tom Ince had scored for Blackpool and it was 1-1. What lay ahead was a grim second half of biting fingernails, gasping for breath, the desperate urge to have a piss – going to the toilet would definitely mean Blackpool would score – therefore also, the fear of piss drenched jeans and all of this augmented by the sickening taste of impending gloom and loss. It was all going wrong. Like that night in the Bridge House. And then when all looked beyond help, Ricardo Vaz Te – who we hadn't seen all afternoon – appeared and buried the ball into the roof of the net and I was soon able to empty my bladder and feel the joy.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Waste of a Banana Fritter


We’re all starving like fuck and a few doors down from Susan’s house is a takeaway – Cantonese and Peking Cuisine – and we go in there and after a great deal of pissed up fucking about arguing, we go and finally get loads of dishes that we’re going to share with her boyfriend Bob. As I’ve taken control I do the ordering and shout up: Beef Chop Suey, Stir Fried Chicken with Baby Corn, Sweet and Sour King Prawn Balls, Lemon Chicken – I fucking love Lemon Chicken – Fried Mixed Veggies, Pancake Rolls and two portions of Special Fried Rice. It worked out about eleven quid each not including how post-order Christine decided she wanted a Banana Fritter which I ordered and paid out of my own money and this also added time to our exit as they did what needed doing to cook a fucking Banana Fritter. But who fucking cares. The green light to paradise was still shining down on me and Christine. We were gonna have some tonight. I was definitely a starving horse about to be fed his oats. We went to Susan’s house and I was immediately introduced to Bob and I tried to do the decent thing in a strangers house by trying to act all together as well as convince the bloke that I hadn’t been shagging his bird all afternoon. He shook my hand and seemed genuinely friendly enough even though most small blokes who wear glasses usually are. I mean, by their very presence they’re hardly equipped to go about their lives at war with us lot. Most sensible small blokes all know that they just have to except their placing in the general scheme of things and get on with it. Handle the piss takes if and when it happens to be dished out in their direction and don’t get all self important and try and make a name for yourself. It never ever works out in their favour when they try to be Bruce Willis when they’ve had a few jars of courage. Bob’s sort will always lose out. It’s the law of the jungle. So with that said, I didn’t really have a problem telling him whereabouts I lived. I might look like I’m from the Castle Island but I’m not and I think it probably relaxed him knowing that. Made him think that I’m not a nutter.
Bob ate more than any of us, although I didn’t do too bad. What fucked me off was that Christine had made a right big fuss about getting a Banana Fritter after we’d already ordered and had to wait an extra five minutes for her and now as we’re sitting here all finished, I notice that she’s only taken one mouse sized bite out of it, the very same Banana Fritter that’s slumped on the hard shoulder against the piled up mountain which happens to be the rest of the food she’s also failed to touch. What a fucking waste. I could have got the right hump. But fuck it. Fact is, I have big plans. I need to stay cool here.
We go to watch some old DVD which Bob tells me is his all time favourite film. It was Shallow Grave. I’ve seen it before and it was okay, but no way would you call it brilliant though as the flatmates in it were all cunts and deserved to die. I fell asleep soon into the film and when I awoke it had finished and little four-eyed Bob and sexy Susan are dishing out the polite goodnights as they take out the plates and then Susan came back with some bedding and we’re all rather foolishly saying goodnight again and then in a sort of embarrassed silence me and Christine Dean, while avoiding eye contact, make up a bed on the floor using the cushions from the sofa and the two armchairs as a mattress. The door’s partially open, letting in some light from the hallway, and I’m hoping that Bob and Susan won’t have a problem leaving it on for a while as I like to see what I’m doing. As most birds who know me and have been there will tell you.

We’re still not speaking or acknowledging each other as we undress and then as soon as we get under the quilt cover and our knees touch it instantly becomes the signal for me to start and I reckon it was under two minutes when I had Christine Dean pushed up on all fours arse high and I was in there licking and fingering her in both holes. I was frantic. It was great. She was responding well and I soon had my cock up her. It was total no nonsense. Mad and barmy. So fucking brilliant as I try to truly appreciate this moment as here I am banging into her. I’m pulling her shoulders back and battering her in and out as fast as I can go but it seems that all the beer consumed during what has been a brilliant day is now numbing all sensation and it’s not helping me achieve my ultimate goal. I have to think quickly on my knees and so I pull out my cock and stick two fingers up her and now that I’m lubricated by her juices I’m onto opening up her arse again and seeing that there’s still no vocal opposition, I quickly seize on the moment and stick my long fat cock up there and it feels so much better, it really does, and now I’m possessed and I’m banging into her so hard, so fast, and I’m totally oblivious to her surrendered shape as I just keep looking down, concentrating hard on the visible portion of the rod of my cock going in and out of her arse all mechanically like a piston from George Stephenson’s Rocket or something and I think I can hear her acknowledge my good work, the work of my rocket, my best endeavour in pissed up circumstances and I go and try raise the game further, speed up the ride, I’m now slapping her tiny tight arse cheeks as this 7-4 favourite continues to slut it on home full of the thrust and speed of her brilliant rider – the dirty cow’s fucking loving it more than I am –  and I’m well clear of the chasing pack and I’m in such good health here despite all the beer consumed during what has been a brilliant day and the dark thoughts that now make themselves known to me as I continue on with the job are dealt with as I’m on such a rush that this is at long last really happening for me again, I am back, Jim Best, well and truly back on the saddle, and on and on I continue to push myself faster and further than I’ve ever been before and I’m knackered but getting faster all the time and I try not to get hypnotised by the speed of my cock sorting out this tidy anal slut and on we go and I’m wondering how long I can keep this up for but I’m wanting a finish now cos I’m feeling knackered so to add to the thrill I’m now knocking off a few years off of her, turning her into a sweet fifteen year old school slut who has crept downstairs and let me in through the back door with ma and pa oblivious to what I’m doing to their loving innocent daughter who just loves it shoved right up her, always keenly begs for it up the arse and this drives me to new magnificent heights and I want to shout out and let the world know how good this all is, but I’m in Bob’s house and you can’t do that sort of thing cos he’s got a kid up there and anyway there’s no way I can have him getting images, having a sneaky wank to our dirty noises all carefully so Susan doesn’t know what he’s really doing over on his side of the bed, so I copy Christine and keep my volume on mute and instead I home in on the beautiful sight of the receiver and then incredibly I realise that I haven’t even got her tits out yet, so I waste no time and push her T-shirt aggressively up to her shoulders which she plays up on and tries to resist while I continue to pump into her and then I keep the game going and reach under and rip her small tits out from her tight bra and I have a small grab with my left hand while the right sees to clutching a fistful of her hair, pulling her head back so that I can work my way up there another inch or so as she jerks back grunting away and I reckon I really could just go on like this all night if I really wanted to and I’m just keeping my concentration going working myself up for big explosion and then incredibly, from out of nowhere, I’m registering some negative resistance going on here and it’s not in the script either and therefore it ain’t going down well and it all gets worse cos the fucking bitch is actually right at this very moment telling me to stop, and I lose my way, confused, as I’m dropped from such a great height, confused until the emotion is replaced by complete outrage as I can now see clearly that there’s stewards on the track waving red flags and trying to fucking well call off the race as I’m about to cross the finishing line and she really is telling me to stop, this is no joke, JIM, ARGGH, STOP! ARGGH, STOP! PLEASE JIMMEE. ARGGH, STOP! PLEE EASE! ARGGH, NO. NO JIM. JIM, JIMMEE! NO! PLEASE JAMES STOP! and having hit the alarm name, calling me James, I appreciate in how this is seriously mad, not nice, and she’s now uttering her pleases in some honourable controlled half muted way as if she’s now trying not to bring this apparent out of the blue disaster what’s going on here to the attention of those above us and I look up from what was once the gifted magic of sex and now I can see and hear that she’s crying, pure concentrated devastation, and I just want to continue, finish the race, the job, bury my rich seed up her arse, but she’s really fucking going mental here, sobbing badly, and I go and pull up abruptly and before I know what to do next I go humiliatingly soft and as I do I fall off the saddle.
          At exactly the same time I impact the floor, the hall light sinisterly goes out and now we’re both in total darkness and initially I’m happy because Christine can’t see my face and then I’m wondering if Bob and Susan really have heard any of this and I’m laying on my back and I know that Christine has moved well away from me and she then goes and confirms this as she pulls almost the whole of the quilt her way and for the first time in my life I genuinely feel like I’ve just committed rape.
          Naked and lying on my back in the dark and with the broken whimpering to my left continuing to haunt me, it really does feel so horrific.

Hurting Teeth


The water board had been gathering outside in numbers like an enemy ready to attack. And then attack, they did. Opening up hole after hole after hole all along street, creating misery and chaos in order to prevail good clean running water. They were, in a heavy-handed big ugly way, replacing all the ancient Victorian pipes with big new long yellow ones. And despite a few white feathered protests it soon became clear that all the pipes really were going to have to be replaced. There was no getting around it. Only under it. With just two days to Christmas to go, the scenic view was not one of peace and goodwill. For wherever you gazed there was numerous deep holes surrounded on all sides by mountains of dirt and fractured concrete. It was all rather grim.
          Was this what The Beatles meant by 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire in A Day In The Life? thought Tom Barnaby while watching the workman dig deep, Tom hidden from view like a secret sniper from a corner flap of curtain in an overhead side-room. Outside an unfriendly wind blew against the wobbly window with a vengeance – ‘It’ll fall out one of these days,’ she always liked to say – and the rain fired down, icy cold and diagonal.
          ‘Where are you, what you doing?’ came her accusing voice from the adjacent bedroom.
          There was a short spasm of silence.
          ‘I was looking out the window,’ Tom then said, still somewhat startled but happily drowning in the spirit of honesty. And then he added: ‘It’s carnage out there. There’s nowhere for folk to park a car. I don’t envy them workman, mind.’
          ‘What do you mean?’
          ‘What with all that wind and blistering rain. Not a day to be outside.’
          Those words should have comforted Emily. Because there she was, tucked up all warm and safe in bed. But she wasn’t happy. She wasn’t feeling very well and with Christmas around the corner this was not good.
          ‘My teeth hurt,’ was where it all began the night before the night before.
          Hurting teeth was a major problem as Emily was in fear of the dentist. But by the stroke of midnight from when the first tickling of pain began its conquering of her lower jaw, her teeth soon became the least of her worries.  For Emily, the pain of toothache had brought home some friends, many a familiar stranger to her. Along came a very sore throat (throat cancer), a never-ending headache (brain tumour) and she also now had a twisted stomach (bowel cancer).
          ‘Oh Tom, what on earth am I going to do? What if my teeth still hurt Christmas day? I won’t be able have turkey and roast beef. Oh I feel so rotten.’
          ‘We’ll eat turkey and roast beef alright,’ said Tom Barnaby.
          ‘How can you be so sure?’
          ‘Because I am.’
          ‘But you don’t have teeth that hurt.’
          A routine silence prevailed. But was soon punctured.
          ‘You’ll be fine,’ he said.
          You could always rely on Tom Barnaby to say how everything would be fine. Her husband was a happy go lucky chap who got up early without complaint every morning to go out and deliver milk. He had grown up without ever having a problem with his teeth. Tom put this down to the fact that ever since he was a small boy he had always eaten a crunchy apple and drank a glass of cold milk every day. All that calcium over the years had looked after him.
          ‘Why don’t you ever get teeth issues?’ she would bemoan.
          ‘Because I drink milk every day I guess,’ he would reply.
          ‘You know how much I hate the taste of milk,’ would be the end of the conversation.

Milk – how the hell did she ever end up with a milkman? Waking her up at 3am every bleeding morning? Simple answer. When they married – thirty-two years ago – Tom wasn’t a milkman. He was deputy manager at a car showroom on the London Road. It paid well. It was like they lived a better life in them days. Then fate introduced him to voluntary redundancy and soon after that he was delivering milk. His mate Gene O’Dare got him the job. Put in a good word and the interview was a formality. So that was what Tom Barnaby did for a living. He sailed about the town in the small hours on his float, enjoying the tranquillity of dawn, the first peeps from stirring birds, the occasional stray fox and morning jogger. Tom liked his own company while at work. But sometimes too much time on your own plays tricks with your brain. He would often return home exhausted and spout the most inexplicable things. Like for instance when he came into the house this morning and said:
          ‘It’s arctic monkeys out there?’
          ‘You mean brass monkeys?’
          ‘Do I?’
          ‘Yes.’
          ‘What did I say?’
          Arctic instead of brass.’
          ‘Oh.’
          He then scratched his head and put on the kettle.
          Tom always liked to make a cup of tea and to prepare food for his wife. Especially right now, when she needed him most. He felt bad that Emily was feeling poorly and he wished there was something he could do about her sore teeth and also, her constant worrying. Emily did like to worry. Well, no. She didn’t like worrying, she didn’t enjoy worrying, it was just something she did. Out of habit. Emily worried about money when they had money, she worried about money when they didn’t have as much money and she worried about what it would be like if they didn’t have any money at all. Emily and Tom – homeless and starving and holding hands in the icy cold. Then she would worry about how perhaps they wouldn’t actually be holding hands. How they wouldn’t be holding hands as they were no longer on speaking terms on account of being bitter, broke, homeless. Who would hold her hand then instead of Tom? No one. She would be on the streets, alone and hungry. Without a hand to hold!
          Tom Barnaby liked to think he never worried about money. That such a worry was too exhausting. No. Good health was the most important thing. Without good health then you had cause to worry. Tom felt that it was all her frantic worrying about being worried all the time that brought about her many complaints. But then again, he was surely no expert. Maybe Emily was right to be worried. He could have easily found another car showroom and gone on to become a manager, what with his track record. Had he bottled the challenge and gone for an easy route instead? And where exactly were the loyalties in milk? What about the redundancies that every milkman in the depot had been fretting about since Doug Francis was made redundant in July? Others would follow. That was the truth. It was only a matter of time.
          Perhaps he should worry too? She always said that she’d feel much happier if she knew that her husband was a worrier as well. How he might empathise with her in a more comforting manner. Maybe he should do some over-the-top worrying on Christmas Day. Sort of like a surprise present. Complain about climate change, how we as the dominant species had done serious damage to the longevity of life on the planet and what is the point of being born in the first place what with all the pain and suffering in the world. That sort of thing. But what if his worrying backfired and made Emily more of a nervous wreck? No. He would carry on the same.
          Every Christmas Day they walked the ten minutes to the pub to feast on the Christmas Roast. And Tom was certain that his wife would be fine come the day. He was that confident that all would be well, that the next morning he began to whistle a happy little tune and he maintained it throughout his round. The tune he whistled was a song called Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard. And then an hour or so later, while still whistling, as he headed back to the depot, it began to thickly flake with snow. Tom then wondered where exactly could he buy some mistletoe. Perhaps he could get some at Marks and Spencer? They might sell some next to the fruit and nuts.
          By the time Tom made his way home he was tired and even though there had been all that rain the previous day the snow was settling fast, over two inches now, he was easily sidetracked from thoughts of purchasing some mistletoe. He liked the simple cleansing silence of snow and it had really come down fast, the roads layered in a thick white crust. He thought about the men down them holes in a few hours, shivering and shovelling out snow. Tom looked forward to getting indoors and making a cup of tea. He wondered if Emily would want a hot drink, what with her hurting teeth. He decided instead that he would make her a tepid peppermint tea and stir in some crushed ibuprofen without her knowing. That should do the trick. Keep the wolf of pain at bay. For tomorrow was Christmas Eve and Tom was certain that the surprise presents that he had purchased for his wife – a funbag of blank video cassettes, a pink stressball, a Philippa Gregory novel and some purple jewelled earrings – would most definitely take her mind off of her toothache.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

10 Books



10. Three – Ann Quin

Originally published in 1966, this was the third Ann Quin book I have read after Berg and Tripticks. Three’s got a poetic sexual eeriness throughout. Where  the book lacks the drive that Berg had, it replaces with the tragic beauty of a young voice chasing something out of reach and knowing nothing will change. The last paragraph delivers the inevitable but five pages from the end is the most spine-chilling narration. ‘How easy for a body to drift out, caught up in a current, and never be discovered, or for anyone to ever be certain.’ That was Ann Quin writing about her own death in 1973 seven years before it happened. She had clearly always decided that her end was predetermined. Heartbreaking.  

  9. Judas Pig – Horace Silver
 
This brutal and absorbing book of East End gangster life is a long out of print Do-Not Press publication from 1994. Was one of a few superb charity bookshop finds of mine this year and a gruesome read. Horace Silver’s writing gets you sucked in so far you get blown out the other side. Not a massive fan of gangster books and always thought The Long Firm by Jake Arnott was Charlie Richardson’s My Manor meets The Orton Diaries. Which it was. Judas Pig is the real deal, well written, uncompromising. Been told could get good money for this book as much sought after. Not surprised. But I don’t care too much for money…the book’s now mine and not going on Ebay.

 8.  Tales from the Two Puddings – Eddie Johnson

Tales is an East End contrast on so many levels to Judas Pig even though Eddie Johnson did know the Kray's and many other dark personalities in the 1960s. This piece of non fiction is by the father of Matt Johnson from The The. Eddie Johnson ran the Two Puddings pub in Stratford. It is a social document, a one way conversation from a man reminiscing about a past that was both violent and full of loving. Eddie’s real passion was entertaining and looking after people, to have fun. A most important gift. He claims to have put on the first ever disco and certainly the pub was a major live venue in the early 60s. The Who, Van Morrison, The Small Faces all played there. Eddie Johnson is a socialist and a humanist. What’s there not to like? Was gutted when I heard he had been book signing in Newham Bookshop on the Barking Road before West Ham/Sunderland and I had missed out on meeting him.  
 
7.  The Buddha Bar – Joseph Ridgwell

 A third writer on the spin from the East End. What I liked so much about this book was that it sounded like the voice of a family member. All my brothers and sisters have travelled far and wide while I have maintained a package holiday existence at a cost. Each chapter is like a postcard home, honest, warm but mocking me in how much I really have missed out on being young and exploring beyond the end of the road. The narrator puts what money he has as well as all of his dreams, love and energy into running a bar in Thailand. A joint venture. But does trusting in someone  you love  (in this case a wildcat called Mindi) make you blind and is trust a weak trait to maintain? I don’t think so. ‘Domestic or international?’ is the question at the end of the book. I, of course would only answer, domestic. Ridgwell would never settle for such a word.  

6.  Skagboys – Irvine Welsh
 
This brilliant prequel to Trainspotting is a big book. As published this year only in hardback, not a great travel companion. Like carrying around a brick, a literary breeze block. When I say ‘travel’ I am of course referring to local transport. I remember Kindle idiots sniggering to each other on the bus as I split my brick open and broke into a read. But these moments did have me wondering if Renton’s handwritten journals were displayed like that on a Kindle. Soon found out the answer. Just regular italic font. Hardly the same impact as reading the actual book. Suckers. I always have the last laugh.
 
5.  Dark Corners of the Land – Adelle Stripe

I was never into poetry until I read Sky Ray Lolly by Fiona Pitt-Kethley back in the 1990s. The poems French Connection, Sky Ray Lolly, Wankers and A Sunday Afternoon – all a kick in the bollocks new territory for me. I think some of those poems shaped the way I began to think and then write. I have memories of friends who when I began to try and write suddenly became non friends, a elitist crew of self-indulgent readers of Penguin Classics who, to quote Siouxsie Sioux were ‘condescending from on high’. And I would think to myself ‘go and read the poem Wankers, Joe and feel the joy’. The best poetry I have read since Sky Ray was recent. Last month. Dark Corners of the Land. The poems Murmur, Last Utero, Self Burial and Penny Dreadful stand out for me as the Champions League qualifiers who would easily be a match against the four Pitt-Kethley’s I mentioned. Adelle Stripe’s book was also my first taste of Blackheath Books. The tea card in mine is of an Artic Skua in flight. It flies into my mind warning of what is to come when I turn the page –  much rural death. Sounds depressing but it’s proper good.

 4.  Last Days of the Cross – Joseph Ridgwell

 The only author to have two books in the Top Ten. Too right. I have never met Joseph Ridgwell but in this crazy world of meeting strangers when on the piss and down a dark alley of social networking it’s been a real pleasure. And his full of life passion via a few email exchanges is finely replicated in this book. I used ‘full of life’ deliberately of course. Heavily influenced by John Fante’s alter ego Arturo Bandini, here we find Joe in Sydney, up against the world and struggling for money, love and the ability to write one word. Painful familiar territory. Unsentimental and often very funny, Ridgwell makes you turn the page like a maniac while also encouraging a constant return to the fridge for another cold beer. Genius.  

 3. Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr

 Have read a long time ago and when I saw the film thought it had delivered, matched the book, emotionally and violently. But in June I got a pre-trail John Calder hardback with intact dustcover for £3.50 in a charity bookstore in Devon (a serious result) and read again. The book versus film wins 5-1 having been 4-0 up at half time, confirming to me how the page will always be more powerful than the screen. To illustrate this point, what happened to Tralala and even Harry Black gets you round the throat more in Selby’s words than watching the same acts portrayed on the big screen. Brutal and beautiful. If you haven’t read the book recently or since seeing the film years ago, return.

 2.  The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

Young Anais Hendricks knows they watch her as she outstares the moon. Right from the beginning this damaged wonderful creation marks her territory. You are either with her or you put the book down and forget she exists. The latter’s what Anais  would be expecting. This is a spectacular debut, a triumph out of damage. This book should be cemented in top place because of the cool self awareness and self determination of this important voice. A voice that no matter what she may or may not have done, screams fuck it, I am not caving in here. And any narrator that raises a fat smile for wanting a two-headed pickled baby in a jar was always going to be hard to beat. But Anais knows this world just isn’t fair and her awareness of this truth must prevail. That’s the reason why I cannae put her top.

 1.  The Voyeur – Alain Robbe-Grillet

Read this mesmerised on a beach in Crete in October; a seaweed strewn beach that resembled the bottom of a hamster cage. A lesson in descriptive writing and how to confuse the reader but not irritate. That is the gift of this book. The Voyeur was my first experience of Alain Robbe-Grillett. Mathias, a watch salesman, arrives on a island with a mission to sell a suitcase of watches to the locals, but while he is there a girl is found at the base of a rock face, she had been raped and murdered, but the questions pile on top of one another thick and fast until at the end I am asking – did Mathias even go to the island at all, hire a bike, leave cigarettes butts at the scene that could implicate him to the murder, did he really kill the girl, did a girl even die, exist, did he even smoke, wake up that morning etc or was Mathias a young imaginative Mathias in a room all along struggling to draw a gull while his mind roamed wild?  The answer is none of this matters. Looking forward to reading again.