Monday, 8 February 2016


Not perfectly photographed, but I hope you'll get the idea.  Large canvases by Caitlin Line, exhibited at the excellent Monocle Deli in Macclesfield.  Well worth a gander.


Hampstead Road, High Summer, 2010
Frank Auerbach
A wonderful exhibition.  Not too big not too small.  Few people.  Some students attempting to draw (ha!) FA pictures.  The trick with Auerbach is to stand far away from a picture: this will allow you to see the subject.  Then move in.  The pictures resolve themselves into abstraction.  You might want to say dissolve, but there is a feeling that as you close in on the surface of the canvas you begin to approach the act of painting itself.  The celebrated impasto technique (the paint laid on as though it was a solid rather than a liquid) makes some of these pictures more or less three-dimensional.  But what wonderful, wonderful results.  The overwhelming effect of his technique - not just impasto, but what I can only describe as 'scribble' - marks all over the place - is of intense liveliness.  And again, it isn't just impasto and scribble but also colour: the city - well, Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, Primrose Hill - is evoked by a promiscuous use of colours that somehow do not interfere with one another, or if they do, they do well.  Then again, he has a faultless sense of composition.  I suppose these are old fashioned pictures in a way.  They are beautiful, proportioned, full of life.  Do go, if you can.

Sunday, 24 January 2016


And the mood became sweeter.  The music that was being played came to an end, and in the wonderfully lit room, blurred circles of light thrown on the ceiling from the lamps on the floor, people stopped dancing.  What next came on went straight to my heart - sad guitars, words, a song, an American girl singing 'Barbara Allen'.
      That voice!  It needed no music; it hardly needed words. By itself it created the line of the melody; by itself it created a whole world of feeling.  It is what people of our background look for in music and singing - feeling.  It is what makes us shout 'Wa-wa! Bravo!' and throw bank notes and gold at the feet of a singer.  Listening to that voice, I felt the deepest part of myself awakening, the part that knew loss, homesickness, grief, and longed for love.  And in that voice was the promise of a flowering for everyone who listened.
    I said to Indar, 'Who is the singer?'
    He said, 'Joan Baez.  She's very famous in the States.'

This is a passage from V. S. Naipaul's great novel A Bend in the River.  The narrator is an Africa-born Indian who has left the east coast to open a store in the Congo.  The location is a new university in his town, presided over by a white American professor.  'Barbara Allen' is of course an old English folk song.  Naipaul was intrigued by identity long before it became the rage, and he understood that it is a complicated business.

Monday, 18 January 2016

BOOKS 2016

MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, edited by Peter Biskind
AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare
SWEET CARESS by William Boyd
LOOP OF JADE by Sarah Howe
A BEND IN THE RIVER by V. S. Naipaul
FREYA by Anthony Quinn

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


National Theatre, Olivier
Director: Polly Findlay
Talent: Rosalie Craig, Joe Bannister, Matk Benton (Touchstone), Paul Chahidi (Jacques)
Club: RM, Emma, RW, RP, NM, WW

"Over-directed", muttered Mr RM at half-time, referring not least to the preposterous set, which, whatever the clever interpretive thinking or the brilliantly theatrical execution involved, struck me - and indeed most of us, I think - as mere whimsy, detracting rather than adding to what is indeed an almost whimsical play.  Whimsy of genius of course.  Again at half time Mr NM thought the performances "uneven".  The second half, in which the weight of interest shifts from Rosalind's relationship with Celia to her training up of Orlando, was tremendously well-paced and funny. Rosalind takes the play by the scruff of the neck, and, as it were, directs the action.  "They played it like children, they seemed to be having fun," remarked NM at the end, and even the hey nonny-no's that sometimes infuriate Mr RW were acceptable.  The club has seen AYLI twice before - both RSC productions - in 2006 (Lia Williams) and 2009 (Katy Stephens). I don't remember either very well, although I do rate Victoria Hamilton's Michael Grandage-directed go at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1999 as amongst the best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen.  This one may live in the memory - I hope not merely for the upside down furniture.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Press Conference with Orson Welles

Here is a curiosity. Dad's first show with Welles was 'Press Conference' Usually subjects were politicians. Dad wrote to his father about Welles: “A really outstanding man, a singular & a great person, whose stature would not respond to the twittering tempo of what I had set up... I was doing … a shoddy injustice to one of the most remarkable people I have ever met” .
Orson Welles takes the hot seat in this in-depth and…

Saturday, 2 January 2016


Well not mine, but Henry Jaglom's

t as close as the last century got to a Leonardo, curious about everything, knowledgeable about everything, full of anecdote and gossip and wisdom and humour and opinion. It is quite impossible not to see Welles as immensely likeable, which I believe he was. But I shall always remember my father, who worked with him several times, and who admired him hugely (placing him in a select fraternity that included Marcel Duchamps and Lloyd George), telling me that he could never have worked for him - although Welles asked - because although a genius, he was also a liar. The only problem was that one never knew what was the lie and what was the truth.

Review of Private Places

My modesty - not robust at the best of times - will not allow me to let Tom Phillips' review of my book 'Private Places' go without broadcast to the furthest corners I can reach.  Tom is himself a fine poet, with two collections published by Two Rivers. Good info on Tom here:

Here is Tom's review, written for Tony Lewis-Jones's Various Artists e-zine, and published within the last week.

There’s something immediately engaging about Wynn Wheldon’s poems. No matter that the book’s called ‘Private Places’ or that many of the poems in it do indeed stem from such privacy and from such places, Wheldon’s rhythmic strategies and easygoing tone are invitational. This is a world which – despite its various intimacies – he wants us to share, a world which, while he might have got it all wrong (as he does in the opening poem, ‘Language’), offers up some kind of meaning for all its casual cross-purposes.
At the heart of this collection is an adeptness with language, a felicity which can half-rhyme ‘funeral’ and ‘opal’ or ‘dull’ and ‘hall’ without drawing attention to itself and pulls off the kind of momentary linguistic wrong-footing that is, in the long run, more satisfying than any amount of metaphysical posturing. When, for example, did you last read a Faber poet open up with the ruefully laconic ‘Occasionally, I am adrift’? Or a sure-footed post-Heaney metafabulist start from ‘The cemetery ladies visit once a year/between cherry blossoms and forget-me-not’?
Life is, Wheldon seems to be saying, quite ordinary, but it is also something other, a morass of memories and associations, a shifting surface of stuff, some of which sticks and acquires value – whether that be the sunlit shape cast on a lover’s back or a group of canoeists from Birmingham who mysteriously disappear in what ‘the English call Hell’s Mouth’ – and some of which simply leaks away into anonymity. The poet’s job – if he or she has one – is to salvage what they can from the wreckage, isolating moments from an endless flow and then finding the words that might just fix them into some kind of frame, some kind of posterity. That Wheldon’s poems are almost always only provisional is perhaps also part of their appeal. They are investigative, non-definitive at their most seemingly definitive and rueful where they might well have been bitter. In ‘Air Ambulance’, for example, he stands in Green Park and watches while some kind of medical emergency is evacuated, reflecting on ‘a woman loved long ago’, before asking ‘So what’ve I done? Stopped smoking’ and taking a step back with ‘The richness of youth is spent in living.’
Published in the likes of The Rialto and The Spectator, Wheldon is a poet worth reading. His approach, perhaps, may be out of fashion, but when did that ever matter? ‘Private Places’ is a book whose privacy opens out in a myriad directions.
Poems start, in other words, with the seemingly random – ‘I liked the shape of the lawnmower’ begins one – before shifting gear and tying in to some kind of history, whether familial and domestic or big and public. The shapely lawnmower, for example, yields up an image of Wheldon’s father ‘Breasting into now, alive’, while ‘some punk singer’ lunging at the poet with ‘a pair of garden shears’ in ‘A Bit of a Myth’ nails the punk rock 1970s into an adolescent rites of passage. And what, Wheldon asks, would Catullus or Martial have made of ‘the electric erotic’, 21st-century digital porn seen through the eyes of lubricious Roman satirists?

'Private Places' is available from Amazon, but also - and preferably - from

Sunday, 13 December 2015

SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq

Just finished 'Submission' by Michel Houellebecq. MH is a grumpy, cynical cove, as is his protagonist, Francois. Francois doesn't really get excited about much, other than his inability to have an orgasm, and the work of the work of the fin-de-siecle novelist Huysmans - best known in this country as having been read by Oscar Wilde. On three occasions he wonders whether he ought to simply die (there is an odd echo of Emma Bovary's wish both to die and to live in Paris - Francois is as anti as Emma is utterly romantic). Occasionally the reader wishes he would, but there is a kind of drole charm about the narrator's voice (as in most of MH's writing), with its ability to switch from the metaphysical, say, to the quotidian within a single sentence. Food and weather and sodomy live in the interstices between the novel's set pieces. The last, in particular, is important. Very early on Francois declares himself a misogynist, and the initial submission of his story is the submission of women. This begins with his own predilection for anal sex, and ends with a discussion as to how many wives he will be able to support (three it is thought). Through the magic of Islam Francois shucks off his cynical, near-suicidal self, to look forward to a simpler, easier life. He submits. 'Submission' is a warning. It suggests that far from Islam conquering the world by force of arms, it will do so by stealth, by appeal to 'civilized' values: the family, faith etc... It makes one wish that feminism would cease its silly civil wars and prepare itself for a battle to defend the enlightenment and liberal democracy, and for the rest of us in the meantime to remain slightly less civilized than the French.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Line from e e cummings

"the snow carefully everywhere descending"

- wonderful, winterful, line from 'somewhere I have never travelled'.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Book launch: Thursday 19th November, 7.30 pm Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton St, Covent Garden, London WC2

Illuminated by bright flashes of rueful wit, this is a collection to savour.  But don’t let the conversational tone of Wynn Wheldon’s poems fool you: they smile and take you by the hand and then pierce you with little needles of pathos or loss, as sharp and fiery as Cupid’s arrows.

Cressida Connolly

Here are big themes: sex and death, gods and monsters. 'I could consult The Golden Bough or Sigmund Freud and find all sorts of explanation' declares the poet. But turn instead to his frank, erotic, beguiling poems. Here are the traces of a life, the passage through it, the innocence and experience, the successes and failures, the sacred and profane, here is youth and maturity, mortality, desire, and the cooling of desire. Here we find Dionysus, a phoenix and canoeists from Birmingham. Above all, memory - the curve of a breast, the smell of sex, light falling on water - fleeting sensual impressions that will in turn linger on in the mind of the reader. I love these poems.

Anna Thomasson

Private Places is a full collection in the best sense. It is redolent with thought, in its own voice, full of perception, 'The hillsides weep into the reservoir', and fine irony, 'She gave herself to someone sound.../Who did not euphemise desire with books'.

William Oxley

Saturday, 14 November 2015


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Philosophy Then and Philosophy Now

Not Danish Cabbie

Second generation Turkish cabbie in Copenhagen: "Danish football - [to my wife] excuse me because you are woman - but Danish football is women's game.  I like English football. Real mens.  I am not Danish. I not marry Danish woman. Danish women too much stress."

Tuesday, 3 November 2015


This is from my mother's novel 'Mrs Bratbe's August Picnic', published in 1965.  The character speaking is Mrs Bratbe's 17 year old Alexandra, recently expelled from school. Uncle Bunny is the Prime Minister.  It seems prescient.

p 247 Panther edition