I remember the off licence on Myrtle Parade, Liverpool, the rude proprietor, the bottles of Merrydown and cans of Tennent’s Super we carried back to our student house on Falkner Street – an ex-brothel sometimes used in exterior shots for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In a washing-up bowl, we mixed the beer and cider with blackcurrant squash, filled stolen pint glasses and lifted them with Gargantuic gusto, chanting: ‘Down in one! Down in one! Down in one!’ Suicide we called it, a few pints of the purple stuff before we hit the Everyman (third room), McMillan’s, Casas, the Mardi Gras. I remember the chippie next door to the offie, the sausage, chips, and gravy dinners; the West Indian restaurant at the other end of the parade, the beautiful twins who ran it. I remember when Niall Griffiths wrote books like Grits (2000), Sheepshagger (2001), Kelly & Victor (2002), Stump (2003), and Wreckage (2005).
Small presses – and I think Parthian would consider itself one – are to be applauded, lauded, and funded. In the era of the Kindle, iPad, and Nook, the age of publisher confusion and the dark time of shrivelling advances, independent presses are lifelines, godsends, and refreshing oases for writers; particularly for authors of books like this, a memoir/travelogue/rant that may have struggled to find a home with a larger publisher. I know people who know the people who run Parthian, and this pains me to write, but here goes: the editing, proofreading, and spellchecking of this book (or lack of) made me want to scream. On every other page – on a few occasions, twice in a sentence – I found mistakes. I kept looking at the cover to check I hadn’t been sent an uncorrected proof. Just a few examples: ‘he starts to read about WWthe Second World War 2 and Europe under Nazi occupation,’ ‘a fFew pints,’ and ‘at the foot opf the city.’ I spotted several ‘it’s’ when they should have been ‘its’, p.43 – ‘and all it’s crew eaten.’ On p.58 Griffiths writes, ‘it seems an ineptitude with apostrophes is not confined to British greengrocers.’ Four pound’s of spud’s, please, Niall. At one point, the poverty of the proofreading made me chuckle. Griffiths writes about the first girl he kissed – Jackie Thompson (the first girl I ever kissed was also called Jackie Thompson) – ‘he’ll never forget the glorious and squirming shock of her tongue in his mouth’ – that’s very good – but five pages later, the poor girl has had a pronominal sex change, ‘I had my first proper kiss here. On that balcony, there. With Jackie Thompson. Wonder what he’s doing now?’ Well he’s obviously had his deixis operated on. To this anal-retentive reviewer, it looks as though someone’s gone through the manuscript with Word’s track changes but forgotten to press the accept button.
Enough of this whingeing Pom – here are the pluses. Articulated through his present and younger self, Griffiths’ travelogue/memoir has none of the narcissistic bloat of a Theroux or the inauthentic wash of a Chatwin. Ten Pound Pom’s main strengths derive from Griffiths’ honesty, humour, powerful writing, and not-quite total recall. In 1976, ten-year-old Niall, his older brother, younger sister, and parents emigrated to Australia on the assisted-passage scheme – the Australian nationals dubbed these migrants ‘Ten Pound Poms’ – and lived there for three years. 30 years on, Niall and his brother Tony revisit Brisbane and then drive across country to Perth in a station wagon – a noisome pie-eating, beer-drinking, fag-smoking odyssey. Griffiths notes the changes (or not) in the places they visit – the sanitization of Singapore (during a stopover on the way to Oz), the commercialization of beach resorts, and the unrelenting boredom of the trans-continental journey. He has fun pricking the fake bonhomie and highlighting the real superciliousness of Australians as he orbits his younger self, staring down at the past, squinting and blinking his way through memory. Sounds, smells, and tastes stimulate his prose and kick his similes into gear, ‘On the land where our house once stood there now stands a beige bricked, balconied place that stands out like an angel fish in a toilet bowl.’ (An editor would probably have slipped a hyphen between beige and bricked). Eye-popping metaphors and miniature stories spatter the narrative like the weird insects splattering the station wagon’s windscreen. On the journey, he attempts to find some revelation/relevance in and through his younger self; exploring individuation, he asks how he and the younger Niall are related? Among the fart jokes, the run-ins with belligerent short-arse coppers, the pet blowflies, Griffiths addresses the process of becoming ‘I’, the agglomeration of ‘we’ as a collective individual, the party of one, and he does so with a controlled rage tinged with sarcasm.
In Reality Hunger, David Shields argues that, ‘an artistic movement, albeit an organic and as-yet-unstated one, is forming,’ and he asks and answers, ‘What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: “raw” material.’ This new movement manifests itself in ‘criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography, a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.’ Griffiths’ nonfiction books Ten Pound Pom, Real Aberystwyth, and Real Liverpool might seem a strange career trajectory for the author of Grits, but the ‘lure and blur of the real’ is evident in Griffiths’ first novel with its autobiographical-turned-fictional characters ‘stumbling blearily through a landscape smeared in rain.’ Griffiths’ writing examines the re-membering of time and a writer’s attempts at world building. On his return flight from Heathrow to Manchester, he thinks of asking the pilot to ‘empty the shit-tanks over Old Trafford’ – I second that emission.
Any Cop?: Good cop – Hell, yeah. Bad cop – Hhell, nO.