The Welsh Probably Have A Word For It
Shop Around pt 6
Talking of Nick Cave, Iíve just been watching Wim Wendersí Wings of Desire. Itís one of the great films now readily available thanks to the DVD revolution. Itís strange how something like that becomes instantly accessible in all the right ways. Itís the obverse of the huge worry that overwhelms me about how our choice gets gradually withered away by the all-consuming oligopolies.

Anyway, there you are central to Wings of Desire you have the performance of Nick Cave, pummelling out 'The Carny' and 'From Her To Eternity', and itís a great pop moment. Though the genius of that particular film lies in the casting of Peter Falk as himself. Itís still one of the greatest of ideas.

So the freedom of choice to be able to buy the odd rather than the obvious. Itís what once happened when you could watch strange Polish films late at night on BBC2. What chance do you have now there are 200 channels? But at least you can walk into Fopp and get Polanskiís Knife in the Water nice and cheap, with the Krzystof Komeda soundtrack.

And the tyranny of the high street bookstore chains, with their Da Vinci Codes and Lives of Pi, can be undermined with secondhand and remainder bookstores. My own favourite haunt in the centre of London is Judd Books, oddly not in Judd Street, but close, and close to where I work.

It can be a goldmine. Recently there have been steady supplies of American import New Directions Paperbooks which are exceedingly handsome. But the last book I bought there wasnít a New Directions edition. It was in fact an American Granta edition of Iain Sinclairís Landorís Tower for £2.95. The funny thing was I had to wait a few minutes before paying as the assistant was so absorbed in the book he was reading. As he put it down (reluctantly) I noticed it was indeed Landorís Tower, which made me smile. So, yup, Iím looking forward to reading that.

I notice on the back it says ďWales has been begging to be invented for some time by a writer of his calibre and Sinclair pulls out all the apocalyptic imagery at his disposal to do just that.Ē Hmm, if I were Welsh I might be less than amused at that, and the idea Sinclair has bled London dry and now wants to mess about in the valleys. As if Wales does not possess great writers of its own.

The irony is that the previous two purchases from Juddís had been New Directions editions of modern Welsh literary masterpieces by Caradoc Evans and Caradog Prichard, which had winked at me in the inviting and challenging way the Welsh are want to do. I had never heard of the writers, I have to say, but these books (Evansí Nothing To Pay and Prichardís One Moonlit Night are absolute gems in their own very different ways.

From 1930 and predominantly the south of Wales Evansí book is a lovely oddly written attack on the aspirations and behaviours of the orthodox religious establishment, which caused huge uproar in its day. Itís disorientating and to use that word again the obverse of Under Milkwood, as itís all about getting on and getting away and for what?

The translated edition of One Moonlit Night is much more the haunted elegaic rites of passage text you can lose yourself in. It contains the funniest and saddest passages I have ever come across, and if you get the chance to read the book I urge you to do so as itís incredibly beautiful.

I deliberately picked the two because it contrasts nicely the divide between north and south Wales and how they view one another ≠ well, certainly then. More to the point, and no surprise when you consider how much it informs Welsh traditions, is the underpinning religious imagery. Which I suppose brings us back to Nick Cave, and it is somehow easy to see his performance in Wings of Desire as that of a possessed preacher at Chapel attacking his congregation with the wildest flow of words and all the mixed up and arousing emotions going crazy. But itís the Peter Falk figures that have the real insight.

© 2005 John Carney