Monday, 15 May 2017

Doing The Rounds: Part Three #1

This is dedicated to anyone who has ever improvised on a theme of Captain Beefheart’s ‘Frownland’ when entering the doors of their local Poundland: “I cannot go back to yer land of gloom”. It is also for everyone who has been intensely irritated by people who refer to x as a Poundland this, y as a Lidl or Aldi that, z as a Primark the other. What does that even mean? Why would you write it? What does it say about you and the way you view the world?
In the local high street Poundland sits neatly next to Poundworld. Both shops seem to do a good trade. There is certainly a lot of overlap in what they stock, but there are similarly a lot of differences too in what they sell. This could be neatly represented by a Venn diagram. So many things could be represented by Venn diagrams, particularly the vagaries of taste and how they fit in with acquaintances’ likes and dislikes in real life and on social media.
Where would we be without discount stores like the pound shops? Lost, probably, certainly locally. Add in Savers and Primark, and they form a core part of many people’s daily rounds. There are no doubt plenty of ethical and aesthetic arguments against these shops, but generally they seem to be a force for good, at least in terms of wealth redistribution. Why pay more elsewhere?
There is no doubt that Poundland sells some right old rubbish. But one’s person trash is what brings a smile to someone else’s face. It is like that line from the Shena Mackay short story about being moved by ephemera and junk and seeing eternity in a plastic flower and the human condition in the brittle pink Little Princess Vanity Set in the supermarket, whose tiny mirror flashes a fragment of a dream.
Poundland actually sells a lot of very useful items, many of which are made by old established companies, and many of us rely on them for our sundries from their range of toiletries, medicines, household cleaning products, stationery, sweets, cakes, biscuits, soups, decorating and gardening items. And getting away from the old idea of Poundland being a haven for the working classes, there is the Jane Asher Kitchen range and the In the Garden with Charlie Dimmock items, including a very impressive metal trowel and handy gardening gloves, all of which are clearly targeted at a rather respectable market.
The only downside is the transient nature of their stock, though perversely that unpredictability is oddly appealing and a reason to keep checking the shelves. Things can disappear alarmingly quickly, never to be seen in there again, which is annoying when one has not bothered to build up a reserve stock.
Any habitué of discount stores can cite their own examples of favourite items which have disappeared never to be seen again. Of late there is the case of Poundworld and the vanishing supplies of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. Allied to this then is the fear of things vanishing. How many packets of those addictive CCI Menthol sugar free boiled sweets should one stick in the drawer, just in case?
And then there is the media section, the shelves of CDs, DVDs, and books where just occasionally something startling will turn up, like Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive, and some Picador titles like Greil Marcus’ Invisible Republic and Well Done God! Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson. The latter, which could cost £25 elsewhere, was an unexpected treat so fine it might make one stop and yell. But, truth to tell, it has remained sitting on the side, largely only read and enjoyed in fragments found while flicking through curiously.
One of the editors of Well Done God! is Jonathan Coe, and it feels like something of a betrayal not to have devoured all of this book in one go having loved Like A Fiery Elephant, the story of B.S. Johnson which Jonathan told so powerfully. He drew the reader in so beautifully, sharing his enthusiasm and his internal conflicts, gently guiding the reader through the life and work of “Britain’s one-man literary avant-garde of the 1960s”. Not being familiar with Jonathan’s subject matter at all made the whole thing seem somehow more like a thriller, with some similarities to an early Len Deighton work, with Jonathan’s approach being to present us with “more of a dossier than a conventional literary biography”.
B.S. Johnson (and it is odd now to think how another B. Johnson with a father named Stanley really was not a major player when Like A Fiery Elephant was first published) comes across as a thin-skinned high modernist, someone who was “serious, single-minded, uncompromising” with a “rage for authenticity” whose story in Jonathan’s hands is sympathetically treated. As a consequence it is easy to feel guilty for not warming more to B.S. Johnson’s writing, but every one of us will have a list of books, films, TV programmes, records, and so on, we feel horribly uncomfortable about not loving. Some of us keep these names private, while others show them off like a badge of honour, usually to bait others.
So many of us are likely to have piles of books not yet read, CDs not yet played, DVDs not yet watched. Here, for example, is a copy of the DVD of Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, based on the novel by B.S. Johnson, and directed by Paul Tickell who was a bit of a hero here in the very early 1980s when he was writing for The Face and NME. The DVD is still in its plastic wrapping, which has a Replay sticker on the back from Poundland. You never know what’s going to turn up.

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