Friday, 31 January 2020
I have concluded this: living in, and visiting, other countries gives you a better perspective of your own.
Singly or as a family I lived in the USA (six years), intermittently in France where for a decade we owned a house, six months in Singapore on national service, two weeks in Germany on family exchange. Plus three month-long holidays in New Zealand, independently touring. And many weeks of independent touring and villa rental in France.
As a journalist and for professional reasons I visited France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, Venezuela, Finland, Ireland (north and south separately), USA, Canada.
Living in the USA was a youthful adventure which sort of aged. When Brexit loomed I was too old to consider anywhere other than Britain even if VR had agreed. In any case no country is perfect and one chooses the best compromise. While I was still working Sweden tempted me but not its climate.
But if you’re living a compromise you dwell on the bad bits and Brexit spotlighted them. Before, I’d never felt ashamed of the country I was born in. But now I realised it was rightwing. Not the familiar Tory/Labour divide but rightwing as in parts of fascism. Remember immigration and the referendum.
I’d joked about Britain’s insularity, reckoning it grew out of the country’s monoglottism. But Brexit revealed genuine hatred of other countries; read The Daily Mail, Britain’s most successful newspaper.
Of course I can still visit (albeit with more hassle) the countries that introduced me to Mozart, Balzac and Michelangelo. But I’m no longer part of them. A minor matter. Stop whining, RR.
Wednesday, 29 January 2020
People rarely complain at being made to laugh but it’s easier said than done. Recycling old jokes isn’t it; twice-told jokes are not twice as funny. In fact traditional jokes (“Three men go into a bar…”) should be left to curl up and die. As should others’ observations that have been around awhile. Nothing fails worse than failed humour.
Poking fun at DT is good because he hates being laughed at. No use saying his face is orange, everyone knows that. But look closer. The make-up ceases near his eye-sockets; a sort of “reverse panda” effect. There’s humour there. Be my guest, use it to make somebody laugh. They’ll thank you.
I’m always trying to make people laugh but I don’t confine myself to the man with the cheese-slicer quiff. It doesn’t always work and then I’m thought facetious. Often it’s because I haven’t pushed hard enough. Half-hearted humour is simply non-humour.
Times are bad, people moan, which leads to an excess of solemnity. Being over-serious can be counter-productive, it saps the nation’s will to live. We don’t want that, do we? Few people have laughed themselves to death. Ponder the defects of BJ: an adulterer, badly-dressed, a hairdresser’s nightmare, faults that are too obvious. However, note how his grammar/syntax goes to pieces in a tough interview. Yet the man’s classically educated and boasts about it. Aha!
Eco-headlines yet to come
● Four-car family's new "electric" cuts emissions.
● Glacier melts; iceberg risk reduced
● Cows fart into coal company's paper bags
● Trade war ends in...
Saturday, 25 January 2020
Hereford’s Borderline film festival is coming up. Our choices have been made: 20 movies over two weeks. In both 2018 and 2019 we managed 22 but matching the movies against the locations, dates and times is like playing three-dimensional chess and losing badly.
Also there’s Ian, our 6ft 4in grandson. Wherever possible I need to find him leg room.
Ian, VR and I each make our choices and I have the unenviable task of combining the three lists, chopping out those that are impossible. Fairly, that is. Ian makes a special plea for Pain And Glory, the latest by Spain’s great director, Pedro Almodovar - a choice we all share. But it’s only on at three places, all on the same day. One is 31 miles away from our home and another village, equally obscure. We opt for the village hall at Michaelchurch Escley. Because we’ll be arriving there latish we reconnoitre it during daylight. Gonna be difficult.
Booking starts promptly at 10 am at Hereford’s Courtyard Theatre. I arrive at 9.45 and sort of hang around, establishing my presence. “Is there someone ahead of me?” I ask. “Him,” says the booking clerk. I chat with my competitor who’s a good sport and has done Borderline many times.
However, two extra booking clerks have been added and my competitor and I start “even Stephen”. More info about leg-room is now available for the Courtyard where most of the movies appear; I get everything I want and a large sum of money is deducted from my credit card to cover the sixty tickets (see pic).
I email the result to Ian who lives in Luton. He says, “I look forward to seeing the delights of Michaelchurch Escley in the pitch dark.”
Monday, 20 January 2020
She isn’t much to look at. Her pink blob of a head lacks hair and a face. Her legs are even more attenuated, ending in points with no feet and resembling pink sticks of celery. She wears an anonymous long-sleeved white blouse and what was then called a gym skirt, made from compressed zig-zag material similar to the lungs of a piano accordion.
But looks aren’t everything. Guffie appears in dreams when I’m often at my lowest and needing support. She is, after all a young woman, and welcome for that. She speaks softly and encouragingly and her hands – if she had hands instead of sharp points – are used in supplication. Occasionally she has hair, mouse-brown and fine as spider’s web, and this is an especial bonus.
Her greatest asset is that she is willing to share my company. And by implication forgive me for the sins of my adolescence which were manifold and extreme. I infer she goes back into my history though this is never discussed. Her non-existent face carries a gentle – if non-existent – smile. And yes, I know this is hard to follow but this is how it is, I’m not aiming for the Booker Prize.
I’m grateful I have Guffie. She is prescient and knows when to arrive. Over Christmas I was ill and cast down, She was absent then because she has only psychological skills, nothing medical. Perhaps in March some time. I get the feeling she’s read my novels, even those as yet unwritten.
Sunday, 12 January 2020
Death's a lonely old
time, ain't it Johannes?
With one or two exceptions (Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra) these names are simply names to me. I am aware of them, nothing more. There is no implicit criticism here. I simply travel on a different train, an outdated steam chuffer that trundles along rural routes and spends aeons untended at stations, deserted by staff. Speed is immaterial. I only visit graveyards. To a man (and I fear they all are men) my "milestones" are tombstones.
Living conductors, orchestras, singers and instrumentalists re-animate the works of these long-dead ghosts. Newspaper critics praise or denigrate such "performances" then all is still. My patch represents only a tiny percentage of what constitutes music these days. Even The Guardian, my newspaper, which tries to be even-handed about culture, devotes only a few column inches to this branch of archaeology, and then – ironically - only when the work is "new". By implication, soon to be forgotten.
A bit like being limited to novels written before, say, 1900. Great names, great works but lacking Joyce, Greene, Waugh and Proust.
Minorities like mine may seek comfort in snobbery: “This stuff has survived; it must be good.” – I’ve done it myself. Also much modern popular music is electronically tweaked; for a baritone such sounds are beyond my debutant skills.
Minorities may also pretend to be elite but it really isn’t worth the effort. One friend said classical singers’ voices sounded “artificial”. I sort of agreed.
I enjoy singing; it seems to “complete” me. But this is surely an intimate sensation, probably incommunicable.
Is smoke finally emerging from the chuffer’s chimney? Time for more tombstones.
Monday, 6 January 2020
|Surname of the nearer player is Twelvetrees|
Younger daughter’s husband is Gloucester born and bred and has supported the city’s rugby club since the year dot. He talks wittily about being a fan to the point where I mentioned I’d like to join him some Saturday afternoon.
Why? I’m not much for crowds even at symphony halls. I understand rugby but am far from obsessive. Perhaps because my major interests – writing fiction, learning to sing, speaking French, reading – preclude social contact. This Christmas I received tickets for the local Derby – Gloucester vs. Bath - from daughter Occasional Speeder who promised to drive me, find parking and sit by me for comfort.
I was ill before the game started, got more ill as it progressed, and went straight to bed when I returned home to sleep for a full twelve hours. Enriched by what I had seen.
The second half was lively and Gloucester won. I’m glad they did but in one sense the result was incidental. The memorable action occurred on the terraces. I knew rugby supporters drank during the game but had no idea to what extent. Just before the game started, the empty seats nearby rapidly filled with middle-aged men wearing Gloucester’s cherry-and-white, who had clearly been whiling their time at the bar. Each carried two quart-capacity plastic jugs full of beer (ie, half a gallon per man). Enough to get them to half-time, I surmised. How wrong I was. Within twenty minutes they were getting up, disrupting the seated fans and off for refills.
One wearing what he claimed was a pith helmet (It wasn’t.) managed to miss one of Gloucester’s tries.
I should have been irritated but perhaps mild delirium made me less judgmental. Cheerfulness reigned and nobody got hurt. It occurred to me I lead a very Casaubon life.