Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack

I’ve just finished re-reading Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack. Set in New York at an unspecified date, Random Acts… is the story of 12-year old Lola Hart’s experiences as her family’s situation takes a downturn, against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil.

We see Lola’s development through entries in her diary, which she names Anne. The difficulties faced by anyone of her age are compounded by her family’s changing circumstances and the deterioration of the world she knows. When we join Lola’s story it is her birthday. She is a happy, contented child, with insight into the adult world she will soon begin to join.

February 15

Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said ‘Darling you think best in the dark like me.’ I think she’s right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don’t think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to.

With money increasingly tight, the family is forced to move to a cheaper, less desirable area of the city. Lola’s middle-class friends abandon her, and her sister Cheryl, whom she nicknames Boob, becomes withdrawn as the stresses take their toll. Her father is forced to take a low-paid, high-pressure job.

As Lola mixes with new people and forges new relationships, her entire life is altered, the transformation she experiences wonderfully conveyed through the language used in her diary. Even the typesetting and punctuation change to reflect Lola’s shifting life. By summer, she has transformed.

July 5

It’s certified that nobody got through the riot glass clear and sure enough I didn’t Anne. While I sat there a cop ran up wearing his mirror glass riot helmet and holding his club. I did nada but that was unmattered as he went by me he swung hitting me upside my head and running on. I didn’t coma but I pitched and minuteslong I lay sidewalked feeling drippy warm and I wondered if I was prepping to cool permanent. I was careless if I did or not.

With its setting wholly relevant to the current political situation, and the pressures facing teenagers throughout the world, Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a tragedy that should be covered in schools. An essential read for writers, too, Random Acts… is a masterclass in character development and emotion between the lines. A wonderful, sad book, the social calamity of which could be just around the corner for us all – and for many is already a reality.

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Flamboyant Gestures – signs of middle-age

I’ve noticed the signs of middle-age creeping in for a while: sometimes I make a little noise when I get up; sometimes I might hobble for a few steps; I might even tut at loud music. Me! Can you imagine? And don’t ask me to sit cross-legged. All of these things are fine and natural, but there’s something I’ve noticed myself doing of late that’s, well, worrying.

We have a dog. A lovely dog. Dudley. He gets three walks a day apart from when it’s just too hot for him, so we’re often out and about. Sometimes when we have to cross a road a driver will slow and flash their lights or motion that it’s OK for us to proceed: carry on, you go ahead, please do – that sort of thing. Here’s where it’s started to get weird.

There was a time when I’d simply wave a casual thank-you and walk across the road. I mean, that’s the end of the relationship, right? I’ve been given the green light by a considerate motorist to pass without fear of being knocked to the ground. But instead of simply crossing what I increasingly seem compelled to do is give a splayed-fingered, Mr Blobby-type wave and do this strange, long-legged lope across the road, as if, ye gads, I must get out of the way as quickly as possible even though my safe passage is guaranteed. It’s like some theatrical demonstration of my immense gratitude towards this considerate driver.

I’ve seen people adopt this weird gait myself and wondered what on Earth was the matter with them. It’s always come across as a bit theatrical and unnecessary. Why don’t you just walk, I thought? Why the silly dance? But now I’m doing it. And let’s face it, there are many alternatives. I could give a casual thumbs-up, maybe even from the hip. Or a cheery salute: nice one, Captain. I could even cock a finger-gun, wink and strut across the road like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever – “you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk…” etc. Dudley would love that. But for some reason Lionel bloody Blair’s taking over.

I have no idea what’s bought this on this flamboyant gesture. Flamboyant is not a word anyone would use in a description of me. Ask my wife. Ask anyone. To me, “flamboyant” suggests a cravat and stripy blazer, and I’m not that person. At least not yet. But maybe, just maybe, with a little practise and some tight-around-the-arse-fit flairs, I could be John Travolta.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…

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The baffling resurrection of a golden hare

When I was a kid I was given a book called Masquerade by Kit Williams. The book represented a puzzle, the solving of which would lead the reader to the location of a bejewelled golden hare. Something like that anyway. I never had much chance of finding the hare, but liked the quirky artwork.

For some reason a couple of weeks ago this book popped into my head out of the blue in what was presumably one of those inexplicable wanderings of the mind. I posted on the internet my curiosity as to whether anyone had ever found this golden hare. I deleted the post relatively quickly as I decided it wasn’t really that interesting, and thought no more of it.

A few days later we were watching Coronation Street. In a conversation in the Rovers Mary was making an ardent point in her usual intelligent but slightly batty style. In doing so she used the analogy of the book Masquerade by Kit Williams, and its mysterious golden hare.

Say what?

There is no possible way I could have somehow picked up beforehand that Masquerade by Kit Williams would be mentioned in a Coronation Street script. It isn’t some pop song that I might have heard without realising before the episode was broadcast. It’s a relatively obscure book from decades ago. Yet within days it’s in my head, then mentioned in passing in a soap opera.

How did this happen?
Or perhaps why?

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The ISS experience

On December 24th Radio 4 gave a heads up that the International Space Station would be visible over the UK at about 5:20pm that evening. The sky was expected to be clear and the air crisp, the lady said. The station would be the brightest thing in the sky, moving like a very fast jet – or Santa’s sleigh. Cor, I thought. I’m up for that.

I expected cloud or some other factor to intervene, but when the time came conditions were exactly as promised: perfect. So at 5:15 I went outside, accompanied by Dudley, our Labrador, armed with hot coffee, iPad running the Star Guide app so I’d know where to look, and waited for the space station to appear.

Few things really impress me, I mean really impress me, but I watched the ISS nothing less than gobsmacked. It was a golden gem that rose from behind the houses and moved smoothly across the sky. To some this might have looked like an aircraft, but the speed – over 17,000mph – and colour of the solar panels were incredible. Yet these were not the things that struck me most.

This ISS is in orbit, in space, outside the Earth’s atmosphere. We know this. Yet the vehicle seemed so low. I know the atmosphere’s thin, but it was much closer than I’d expected, and as it described its perfect arc across the sky I was able to perceive not only the curvature of our planet, but also its size. It’s even smaller than I thought.

Some will question spending billions on the development of such a vehicle given the world’s multitudinous problems, but there is also the argument that the technological advances engendered by such endeavours can make contributions for greater benefit in the longer term. My belief is that we should push on beyond low Earth orbit – something not achieved since Apollo 17 back in 1972 – return to the moon, Mars and eventually beyond. In 2015 Tim Peake will begin a 6-month stretch aboard the ISS. I wonder if he’s open to visitors.

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