Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree

Let’s get the car out of the way first: PC Grant and The Folly score a Ferrari 288 GTO. Hashtag Merking. (And I’m taking this a poignant homage to Iain Banks’ The Business, also, yes, again, “Brutal.”, also no, I’ll never not “Brutal” if a Ferrari turns up in a skiffy or fantasy novel.)

And, youse who read me regularly all know my pruneface when a cis author attempts a trans woman character, so pruneface, I called it a Trannyphant, ’cos it’s the trans elephant in the room, ’cos none of you authors were doing it 10 years ago and it’s only ‘fashion’ (or ‘trans tipping point’) that you’re doing it now, and fuck me your obsession with genitals and surgery and medicalisation of trans women’s bodies is nasty — and it’s almost always trans women, and playing us for laughs? So, here’s a lesson in how you do it right:

Guleed passed me the completed IID on Caroline Linden-Limmer and pointed out a note which registered that she’d been granted a Gender Recognition Certificate when she was eighteen — changing her legal gender from male to female.
‘So …’ I started, but was cut off by the vast silence emanating from Stephanopoulos behind us.
I looked over at Nightingale, who looked quizzically back, and decided to explain the implications later. Surprisingly, when I did, his reaction was outrage that someone had to apply to a panel to determine what gender they were — he didn’t say it, but I got the strong impression that he felt such panels were intrinsically un-British. Like eugenics legislation, banning the burka and air conditioning.
I thought of the little girl in the blue dress — you can’t get a certificate until you’re 18 — it must have felt like a long wait.
Her mother, when I met her, didn’t strike me as someone who liked to wait.

The tall bit in an earlier section can go either way, and there’s plenty implicit in characters in the scene which doesn’t get conveyed here. But Aaronovitch has already done BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic — I know, it’s a clunky term, but working with what’s available here) and queer, and Muslim — and all wrapped in Police, and it reads believable to me (and if anyone’s all, “Frances, fam, you’re being taken for a ride there, and not in a 288 GTO.” I’ll own that), and that’s it. A few lines, and we move on with a real person who has a full life and this is one of the least remarkable parts about her.

Meandering elsewhere, Aaronovitch does police acronym soup and gadget geekery with the casual humour of someone who knows a story isn’t the equipment, but loves throwing in a bit anyway. I criticised this in recent Laundry Files novels, where technical paraphernalia overwhelms the story, inducing a fast-forwarding through the pages. So far, Aaronovitch hasn’t fallen into this, though contra that, the pace of his novels, and what he’s set himself up to get through in a novel-length work, leaves some character development or response hanging. Like how PC Grant’s partner, PC Leslie May takes up with the Faceless Man and betrays him. Grant muses it’s because the Faceless Man knows how to repair her destroyed face, but this feels a little unsatisfactory. It may be Aaronovitch is playing a longer game with May here, or that this in fact speaks directly of Grant’s poor emotional and interpersonal development (he did have a junkie for a father) which, along with his habit of getting lost in details instead of focussing on the larger issues, may denote a disconnect between how he sees himself — and the stories are told in first person — and the actual liability he is as both a person and PC.

Or maybe it’s that May is a white woman and like so many of them has little moral compunction in selling out her not-white mates if that gives her a leg-up. Aaronovitch makes it delightfully clear that the Faceless Man, Martin Chorley, is one of those rich, white supremacist types, who thinks British Empire is the natural order, which doesn’t paint May in a good light:

‘So apart from the face,’ I said, ‘Why are you working with this guy?’
Lesley ignored me, but the question obviously irritated Martin Chorley.
‘Because she’s properly British,’ he said.
‘And I’m not?’
‘No, ’ he said, ‘Not that I blame you for it, you understand. Your mother was no doubt enticed over to fill some vacancy in the NHS or to drive a bus, or some other job that the working man was too feckless to do himself.’
[…]
‘But Lesley is a proper Brit,’ said Martin Chorley, who I realised had probably been waiting years for an audience. ‘That wonderful blend of Romano-Celt and Anglo-Saxon with a flavouring of Dane and a pinch of Norman French. That happy breed that conquered the world and could again if all their children were kind and natural.’

As the UK stands, on the brink of a racist, white supremacist, elitist-driven Brexit, with 60,000 Nazis gathered in Warsaw yesterday, and every day feeling the tide of the genocide they want to bring rolling further in, I love this simplicity in Aaronovitch’s writing. We’re long past pretending white supremacists are anything more complex. And anyway, all this was known and clear if not in the first Rivers of London novel, then certainly in the second, Moon Over Soho. Aaronovitch has never written anything other than London, the real London.

Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree
Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree

Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer

City boy goes to the country. Country things happen to city boy.

Taking a breather from Ben Aaronovitch’s on-going story of the Faceless Man, and giving PC Peter Grant a break after having his partner, PC Lesley May turn traitor and join with said Faceless Man to drop a brutalist high-rise apartment block — the story of Grant and architecture right there. Off to Herefordshire.

About half-way through Foxglove Summer, I opened Maps and traced the story, based in Leominster, following the River Lugg up to Mortimer’s Cross, up the gorge to Aymestrey, into the parks and forests of Croft Castle and Gatley Park, where the land folds in long, north-east to south-west ridges, all the way to Raymond Erith’s Folly, with its domed roof, full of bees. It took a while, but worth it.

This could almost be read on its own, if you were prepared to let references to past events slide, and characters arrive with little or no establishing scenes. Sometimes I like that, an antidote to the plodding literalism of much genre fiction which has to tell and explain every step. So we have fairies, retired wizards (with granddaughters with said bees), unicorns, Roman roads — and Romans, countryside relationships (even queer ones, ’cos rural doesn’t mean parochial), Beverley Brook, goddess of the same river in London, who arranges for a small stream near the Lugg to be reborn (with help from Peter) kidnapped children and changelings, and the original forest of Britain. Just the kind of diversion he needs — and just the kind of opening up of the series so it doesn’t become one tiresome slog to nail a singular evildoer.

And if I could not like this series more, there’s a quiet love of hoonage throughout, from PC Grant’s Ford ASBO, to Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale’s Jaguar Mark 2 with the 3.8 litre XK6 engine, to the Utes of Herefordshire, and a Ferrari 288 GTO in the next novel (which I’m taking as a poignant homage to Iain Banks’ The Business, also, yes, “Brutal.”). He’s got my heart here, Muslim ninja cops and hoonage.

Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer
Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer

Gallery

Autoworld Brussels: Porsche 911 SC Targa of the Belgian Police

Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police.
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da beast.

Yes, that’s a 1976 Porsche 911 SC Targa with its blues bolted to the b-pillar (twos are up the front, inboard from the low-slung fog lamps), plus a rough as guts wingnut for fine adjustment. Where its racing number should be, there’s a ‘SOS 901’, and it’s got a huge hazard orange stripe on its bonnet, which (I think) marks it as federal police, along with the white exterior.

Yes, the Belgian — and Dutch, and German — police ran Porsches from the ’60s to the ’90s, because … something something air-cooled, rear engines don’t overheat when reversing at speed in the emergency lane? Fuck I love Europe.

I was pretty blasted after a couple of hours Ferrari-ing, and really didn’t do this glorious work of art justice in my photos, but because I’m in Mode: Hoonage! lately, here are some stats: It’s a rear-wheel drive (duh!) 3-litre flat 6, putting down a not-unimpressive for what it was 231 bhp, to mow down classy international thieves on the Belgian equivalent of the Autobahn at 242 km/h. The back seat (and I’m using that term loosely) was mostly replaced by a crate of emergency gear. As for why a Targa over, say, a normal 911, this was so the passenger cop could stand up, turn around, grab the massive b-pillar, and wave instructions at the following cars. Seriously. That’s why Targa.

Gallery

Autoworld Brussels: Porsche 906 Carrera 6

After a couple of hours of Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years madness — where I spent an unholy amount of lust on the F40 (yes, Frances, yes, ‘Brutal’) — I was looking for a quick digestif in the form of a GT40. Who’d’a known Autoworld … Rotates. Its autos.

Not me.

No GT40 for you, Mme Frances. How about a Porsche 906? In the exact same spot? How about fuck, yeah?

’60s sci-fi dreaming of a future they got and we didn’t. My, this is a pretty set of wheels. And it’s road legal. Yay to FIA’s homologation rules giving us something this bonkers you could drive to the shop in for morning milk. How about some stats to go with the smell of victory?

This is chassis-number 906-128, with the racing number 148, under which it won the Targa Florio on May 8, 1966, driven by Willy Mairesse (Belgium) and Herbert Müller (Switzerland). It’s a rear-wheel drive, 2 litre, flat-6, putting down 210 bhp at 8000 rpm for a top speed of 280 km/h, and weighs a mere 580kg. It looks like something from the Jetsons, if the Jetsons were brawlers and Jane ditched George. I like very much how the two times I’ve been to Autoworld, they’ve populated this one spot with automotive mayhem. Porsche 906, for when my other car is a GT40.

Gallery

Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari 70 Years

I only went to Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years to see the F40, so I could make a post quoting Kathryn from Iain Banks’ novel, The Business. I worked it all out in my head in the middle of the night. I would photograph the mad rear wing with ‘F40’ on it and have that right below, “‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Brutal.’” Brutal. I thought I was so fucking clever. It was worth it.

But if you’re coming here looking to perv on an F40, you’re in the wrong place: the F40 got its own, brutal gallery post, plus an extra special post ’cos it’s just so bonkers. You can find it here though, in the background of at least seven photos, if you’re desperate for some rear wing action; playing Spot the F40 is going to keep youse happy if all the rest of Ferrari hoonage does not.

I like the smell of Autoworld. I like the smell of cars and engines, fuel, brake fluid, oil and other lubricants and hydrocarbons, and the smell of all that being roasted and cooked when it gets raced. The biggest disappointment was no open engine bays. I could tolerate the lack of access to gated shifters — at least there’s glass to look through, but all those glorious engines and transmissions hidden away under metal and composite? Nope. I also wanted more supercars of the Enzo, LaFerrari or FXX K type — and they really should have just called it FUC K and be done with it. Ferrari FUC K. Probably more of a Lamborghini name. Also more track hoonage. Yes, it’s only 45 or so cars, but I’m petty and love seeing GTs slammed and grimed. I got some of my jollies with the burning yellow 430 GT 3 Scuderia and more with the intimidating red-and-white striped 308 GTB4. Also the silver Ecurie Francochamps 250 GT SWB with fat yellow number circles, which had pride of place in the hall.

I always — obviously — associate Ferrari with the colour red, Italian Rosso Corsa. It’s as beautiful and recognisable as British Racing Green or Bleu de France (of course Germany’s colour is silver, which is why I only remember it as an absence of colour amidst these other three). But Ferrari also does an unholy yellow, a black like the existential void itself, and occasionally, infrequently, sublime metallic browns, blues, and silvers, more often in the ’50s and ’60s, but occasionally returning later, like on the Testarossa with its ’80s dark, metallic steel-grey idea of a science-fiction future. And all this colour is so dense and deep. Light doesn’t bounce off the surface, it goes through the layers and comes back changed. It’s one of the signifiers of high-end cars, this paintwork, like the difference between laminate wood flooring and butchering an endangered, 1000 year-old Kauri for planks.

On light, Autoworld is a vast, arched, skeletal hanger full of natural light. Most of this is diffuse, and with the exception of some pockets on the wings, ridiculously easy to photograph in. The Ferrari exhibition though, at the far end where all the windows are curtained off, relies on artificial light, and being Ferrari, that meant bombing all that paintwork and metal with red LEDs, which rotated through a faintly sick yellow and lugubrious blue. Lucky, enough natural light flooded in, but it occurred to me that unlike art museums, where — in the best examples — light is so sensitively considered as to allow the work itself to be seen as it is, car museums seem to take the post-techno rave / chill-out room approach to lighting, as if all this monstrous and awesome machine art is in need of a boost. Which human eyes amazingly can adapt for, but cameras tend to freak out. So the reds sometimes look like a bloodbath dipped in a bloodbath, and the yellows lost all hope.

Unlike my usual museum-ing — which I admit has gotten way out of hand, and I’ve been trying to find ways to reel in while still giving large collections their due — I decided to do little to no editing of the photos. For a long time I’ve been committed to the camera doing the work, but accepting the necessity of post-processing to deal with lens distortion and off-kilter stuff, along with sometimes painstaking cleanup of glare and colour balance. Here, I’ve done some minor, rapid colour adjustments (yellows, I’m looking at you), on some photos, and left it at that. I’m not claiming the results are faithful to Ferrari or the museum, but it’s more-or-less what my camera and I grabbed on the day.

Speaking of yellow, the Dino 246 GT rotating on a turntable is beyond glorious, and I might even have designs on coveting it more than the F40. But the car that impressed on me the truly hellish nature of Ferrari and these kind of cars in general is the deep metallic night-blue 275 GTS from 1965, first owned by Raquel Welch. It’s a front-engined convertible, with a V-12 throwing out 260 bhp at 7000 rpm to the rear wheels for a top speed of 250 km/h. The photos don’t really convey how diminutive and delicate it is, a rag-top roof with seats that barely come up to shoulder-height, slung low on wide tires, how easy would it be for those rear wheels to cut loose and utterly destroy driver and car. “250km/h in that!” I laughed nervously. I’m still looking at it, 250 km/h an hour in that. It strikes me that the kind of driver capable of doing that to a car would never attempt it (outside one of those ‘… controlled conditions …’ type warning prefaces), and the kind of driver who would, has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Glorious hoonage.

Gallery

Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari 70 Years: F40

I admit, if it had been Lamborghini 54 Years, I’d have been way more excited than Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years. But I’m in Brussels, and Brussels has a car museum, and it’s been a while since I visited the church/temple/synagogue/mosque of hoonage. Plus there was a pretty high likelihood I’d get to see what all the fuss was about with those F40s.

Fark. F40.

As Kathryn says in The Business: ‘Brutal.’

There were plenty of pretty cars, from the curves of the ’60s to the wedges of the ’70s, the hyperbole of the ’80s, and the mad angles since then. All that’s for another post (as are the pair of oddities I saw in the revolving motorsport collection — no GT40 this time!). This one’s for the red, 1987 F40.

Ferrari doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in me. They strike me as the province of rich show-offs who aspire to being classy, but don’t get that in that price range, there is no classy, it’s all about fucking arrogance. Hence my love of Lamborghini. But hoons seem to have a requirement to love the F40. Like the GT40, it wasn’t until I saw it there that I really got it. They’re kinda similar, both hammers in search of a nail: for the GT40 that was Le Mans; for the F40, it’s not so succinct. Maybe to say that as Enzo Ferrari’s last car it had to represent Ferrari the man and auto designer and Ferrari his company.

It’s a beautiful, rough, violent, messy masterpiece. It’s fucking terrifying. It’s the kind of car that would kill you way before the limit, if it hadn’t already rattled you apart with its spartan expression of engineering. I would do quite a few questionable things for a passenger seat.

Image

‘Brutal.’

I went to Autoworld Brussels again today, to see the Ferrari 70 Years exhibition. I spent a lot of time on my knees before the F40. (Ever since I planned to see this exhibition, I was hoping there’d be an F40 there so I could quote Iain Banks as Kathryn on it in The Business: ‘Brutal.’)

Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari F40, 1987. 478 bhp @ 7000 rpm. Top speed: 324 km/h
Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari F40, 1987. 478 bhp @ 7000 rpm. Top speed: 324 km/h

Image

F40

‘I’d love a shot,’ I said between corners. ‘Would you let me drive? Just for a bit.’
‘Well, I don’t know. There’s the insurance …’ It was the most worried he’d sounded so far. ‘I’d love to, Kathryn, but—’
‘I’m insured.’
‘But, Kathryn, this is a Ferrari.’
‘I’ve driven Ferraris. Uncle Freddy used to lend me the Daytona when I was staying at Blysecrag sometimes.’
‘Oh? Well, yes, but that’s front-engined, you see, quite different handling characteristics. The 355 is mid-engined. Much trickier on the limit.’
‘He let me loose in the F40, too. And, of course, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near the limit.’
He glanced at me. ‘He let you drive the F40?’
‘A couple of times.’
‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’
‘Brutal.’
‘Brutal?’
‘Brutal.’

The Business, Iain Banks

Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari F40, 1987. 478 bhp @ 7000 rpm. Top speed: 324 km/h
Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari F40, 1987. 478 bhp @ 7000 rpm. Top speed: 324 km/h

Gallery

Dasniya Sommer & Silke Schönfleish — Bondage Duell

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, I had the great pleasure of seeing Dasniya Sommer’s new performance, Bondage Duell, with Silke Schönfleisch at Sophiensæle. I was there to photograph and film, so saw the performance as a series of movement between the real world, camera screen and intercut with frozen images and instances of blackness. It’s always a weird way to see a performance and detaches me from the actual duration and progression of a work.

Bondage Duell is in Sophiensæle’s Kantine, a medium-sized rectangular chamber on the ground floor, in which Dasniya has set the audience in a shallow arc, like theatre half-in-the-round, on the long axis. Everything is compressed, as audience we’re much closer to Dasniya and Silke than we would be if the space was arranged more conventionally, using the depth. Their movement then, is side to side, long, flattened ellipses.

It’s brutal, touching, sexy, intimate; there’s a whiteout of fog, an audio landscape going from cars (courtesy our annual visits to the shrine of Fast & Furious) to cicadas, light moving from ’90s techno to blinding footlights to the softest, haziest, dreamlike seduction. Yes, there’s rope and shibari and suspension, these are after all what Dasniya has made her art for over a decade. Silke also, first coming to her workshop in Vienna at ImPulsTanz in 2014, and since then gradually working together and towards this performance, fitting it around her career as a Regierungsdirektorin in Berlin and formerly Staatsanwältin with the Bundesjustizministerium (that’d be currently a senior government official, and previously public prosecutor at the German Federal Ministry of Justice), basically deeply scary person when at work.

Dasniya’s last performance in Sophiensæle was MA — let’s give it it’s full and proper title, eh? — MA√ 15 { idiosyncrasy } || sin x = ly – fx²¯ in 2009, all turquoise everything, one of the most significant works bringing shibari into theatre and dance, certainly a huge influence on shibari and performance in Berlin, and particularly for trans and queer artists (especially on the women and feminine sides of those things). That was eight years ago, and the rest of the world has made inroads into catching up to what she was doing then — there’s a lot of brilliant art and performance being made with shibari these days. Dasniya’s also moved on, in addition to her own work, working with the likes of Roméo Castellucci, and being a long-time regular with Berlin theatre group, Das Helmi, which in turn has led to semi-regular collaboration with Zürich’s Theater HORA, as well as slowly and very determinedly taking and forming her ideas around rope, shibari, bondage, ballet, also queerness, feminism, femininity, representation, selfhood, her own history as both German and Thai. Anyone who’s seen what she’s been up to in recent years (like smaller performances in festivals like Männer in Garagen) will recognise what’s going on here.

It’s tough, and I don’t mean just the physical brutality of Dasniya and Silke tormenting each other. Obviously I’m biased as I’ve known her for as long as I’ve lived in Berlin, and I like the work of my friends, nonetheless Bondage Duell is doing what interests me in performance. It’s not passing off superficial, trashy, glib, cool, disposable politicising; it skates dangerously along the kerb with imagery that causes discomfort not just on the stage (like the nude paint orgy scene did in the Helmi/HORA collaboration, Mars Attacks!), and at the end I’m like, “Fuck yeah, that was brilliant.” It’s a little like Melanie Lane’s Wonderwomen, or Iain M. Banks’ Culture civilisation, it’s something to aspire to, a future we are making now.

In the end I saw the generale, première, and closing nights, so I saw the performance evolve over this short season, and some of this evolution was considerable. I know Silke and Dasniya talked through various things and were much more willing to take mutually tormenting each other to places where it became disturbing for the audience to watch, which in turn allowed them to revel in causing that unpleasantness. Whether to laugh or be outraged, they’d already moved on by the time we’d formulated a response. It was the gentleness I noticed as well, how they moved together, how completely confident and knowing each other as they mirrored each other’s movement while dressed only in pink and black lingerie, spontaneously growing in beautiful, tender ways. I loved also how the audience was both shocked and in love, how they were battered back and forth by the continual flipping of these states; by the end it was like they stunned.

So, photos. This is a mix from the generale and première, a mix which conveniently turned out to cover each other’s missed spots, so forms a patchwork of the whole (well, most of, there’s a few surprises yet). It is a patchwork though. As usual, I took hundreds of photos, kind of brute-forcing the limits of my camera in low light and fog to capture something. I ended up with about a hundred I really liked, which together convey the work more faithfully than these do, these which in the end are a somewhat arbitrary choice.