Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Sunbathing Before Troy

A mid-period work by your umble blogger


I cannot pretend that I am not disappointed. I was rather hoping to have been inundated with interesting / interested comments. Clearly I am not being contentious enough. I am going to try harder in future.

The Scorpion by Paul Bowles

This is a short story by Paul Bowles.  An old woman lives in a cave.  A man sits outside on a boulder.  Her son comes to take her away.  She dreams of swallowing a scorpion.  The old man says goodbye.  She ignores him.  At first reading it infuriates, as one tries to locate some kind of meaning. Eventually one must accept that this is a piece of surrealism.  It is full of mythic resonance but it is without message.  It is as pure a piece of escapism as can be imagined. What is left in the reader's mind is a series of images. It is a kind of gift to the reader's imagination. This can only be written with absolute authority.  The writer's mark is as indelible as the painter's signature. At the same time, there is no style, no "look-at-me"; the reader is not diverted. Masterful stuff.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Ordinary Thunderstorms

This is a new novel by William Boyd that seems to have provoked a good deal less interest than Sebastian Faulks's new book.  They are similar in many ways.  There is a Big Baddie (Bankers in SF; the Pharmaceutical industry in WB); there is a wide cast of characters; and there is the setting (London).  Drugs and hospitals and fathers and sons figure in both.  Boyd's however is much much better.  Without having the burden of writing a kind of programme-state-ofthe-nation novel, as Faulks has tried to do, Boyd has simply told a story.  His story is more preposterous, but it is better told and therefore more convincing.  His characters are fuller, the descriptions more acute, the risks taken in the way of Dickensian coincidence bolder.  It is much more of a novel altogether.  What is more the very writing itself is better wrought without straying into look-at-me territory.  Thoroughly enjoyed, then, and a true London book.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Happy Birthday Bruce

Bruce Springsteen was 60 on the 23rd September. This is the front cover of the magazine of the AARP - the American Association of Retired Persons.  The Baby Boomers are going down rocking.


To Trafalgar Studios to see Lenny Henry in Othello.  First rate.  He's a big man, for a start.  He looks like a warrior.  He also has a kind of tenderness about him, so that the wounds by which he is inflicted do seem really to tear.  Against Henry's bear like presence is set the quick, ratty Conrad Nelson as Iago.  Henry was terrific at stillness, Nelson compelling in motion.  We sat in seats that were more or less on the stage.  They were apparently cheaper.  God alone knows why.  And Shakespeare really is very good. All that stupendous language - and then "cold, cold, my girl" and your heart bursts.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Inherit the Wind

To the Old Vic last night with sleepy son to see Inherit the Wind. I was fairly sleepy myself. Under normal circumstances both of us would probably have been comatose by half time but this was very enjoyable. David Troughton, in particular, held the stage (just as his character is supposed to) staying just the right side of caricature. Spacey enjoyed playing the great liberal icon, Clarence Darrow, all worldly-wise and witty with it, but perhaps overdid the agedness. St Trev directed with usual aplomb. The play ends rather whimperingly. It could perhaps be fifteen minutes leaner. But a good evening, much enjoyed by both of us.

A Week in December

At the risk of sounding like the bitter literary critic R. Tranter, whose story makes up one of the threads in this novel, A Week in December is a little disappointing. In fact I'd go so far as to say pedestrian. It has the dryness of an exercise well done. But what I really object to - and I admit this is a failing on my part perhaps - are the endless pages of financial talk, of synthetic bonds and proprietary bank traders and gilts and trades and mercantile exchanges. I am sure that such a book needed to be written, but Tom Wolfe this ain't.

The second half is much better than the first, and I nearly wept at the end of two separate threads.  This obviously is no mark of quality but rather a demonstration of a thundering sentimentality on my part that I try very hard to hide.  So: not as bad as I originally tought, but not pushing my top ten for 2009.

The Road by Frank Turner

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Spooky Action at a Distance

"The premise behind a quantum computer is simple - provided you swallow the unpalatable quantum truths that underlie it. One is that objects such as atoms and electrons are not confined to being either this or that, as the objects of our everyday macroscopic world are; they can be both this and that at the same time. They might, for instance, be spinning clockwise and anticlockwise simultaneously, or adopt two different energy states at once. This is known as superposition.

What's more, these ambiguous quantum characters can club together so that what you do to one affects the others. This is the phenomenon of entanglement or, if you're Einstein, "spooky action at a distance". Together, the characteristics of superposition and entanglement make for a computer of awesome power.

Take a classical computational bit such as a transistor current. It can adopt one of two states: 0 (off) or 1 (on). Not so its quantum counterpart, the qubit. Superposition means a single qubit can simultaneously be 0 and 1, giving you twice the information storage capacity right from the start. Then entanglement kicks in, allowing further bits to share their superposed states in a common pool. The result is that computing power grows exponentially with the number of qubits. While three classical bits are needed to store the number 7, three qubits can store all eight numbers from 0 to 7 simultaneously. Just a few hundred qubits could store more numbers than there are thought to be atoms in the universe."

Michael Brooks, New Scientist, 21 September 2009

Blimey! I don't really understand this stuff, but I love the hyperbole that turns out to be simple fact.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

I didn't realise it was you Norbert

"I remember once I slid in on this United player and all I'd seen were this pair of red socks. I clipped him, sent him flying. As I was lying there, I suddenly realised it was Nobby Stiles. I thought 'Oh God, what have I done? I'm for it now'. He looked me up and down and he seemed genuinely surprised. 'What did you do that for Mike?' So I said: 'I didn't realise it was you Norbert. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known.' And he said: 'Well, you better get up and start running, Mike. And you'd better keep running.'"
Mike Summerbee, Daily Telegraph, September 19, 2009

Friday, 18 September 2009

Dawkins on Death

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
I have pinched this directly from Terry Teachout's terrific blog 'About Last Night'.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


An English summer.
Mud and ashes and leaves turned
On foreign beaches.

Wynn Wheldon

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


The Mother of God Pelagonitisa by Macarios the Icon Painter

This is the icon mentioned in my story 'Wonderworker'. Unfortunately I do not have the computing skills to make it any bigger.

The White Album

There is a confessional game in which, say, English graduates admit they have never seen Hamlet or read Great Expectations. Well, I must now admit to never having owned The Beatles' white album. My friend James Postgate had it (or perhaps it was his sister Debbie) and it may have been on in the background as we played subbuteo on the dining room table, but I never really listened. And so now I have bought it and I am going to listen to it properly.

Showering Malady

I read in the New Scientist that shower heads can give you some non-tubercular unpleasantness if you don't clean them before use. I have always myself preferred a bath with a good book. (I'd add the link to the article if I could figure out how to.)


"He was nine years old, he was a child; but he knew his own soul, it was dear to him, he protected it as the eyelid protects the eye."
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Juliet, Naked

This is Nick Hornby’s best book. His subject (as usual) is love and his mode (as usual) is the tragi-comic. To say ‘love’ is not quite enough. It is, I think, loving kindness – caritas or charity – that Hornby really rates. His warmth as a writer derives from a kindliness that is rare in any kind of writing, let alone comic writing, which depends so often on a merciless eye or ear. I suspect that Hornby is close – or at least thinks he is - to his creation in this book, Tucker Crowe, an ex-singer-songwriter. We are constantly told how frightful Tucker has been to his wives and children and girlfriends, but this has all happened in an alcoholic past. The Tucker the reader sees is a good father and a gentleman who likes reading Dickens, though somewhat idle. He doesn’t much like himself and at the same time has no illusions about the frightfulness of frightful people.

Like most of the men in the book, Tucker is fairly useless (the women earn the money, make the decisions, bring up the children, talk the sense…). He does nothing. The book is a description of the mutual redemption of the two central characters, Tucker Crowe himself, and Annie, a woman locked into a loveless marriage with an obsessive ‘Croweologist’, Duncan. Crowe lives in the United States. Annie and Duncan on the Lincolnshire coast. The plot lies in the way Hornby brings them together.

He must have been delighted when he thought it up. It is another part of Nick Hornby’s attractiveness as a writer that he is so very easy to read, which invariably suggests that whatever one has read must have been very easy to write, which I daresay it wasn’t. He has great fun inventing Crowe, messing about with all sorts of rock and roll archetypes, traits and tropes that will appeal to the pop-culturally-aware readership that laps him up. He has a go, too, at the academic study of that very same pop culture that tends to lend to the trivial all kinds of weight that it should not be asked to bear.

It is a funny book, as well. There is something Kingsley Amis–like in Hornby’s determined eschewing of the high-falutin’. He writes with a delicious clarity. His authorial presence is ghost-like. We hear everything through his characters’ voices, the third person no bar to this. It is a deft trick. At the same time all three of the main characters make use of Hornby’s characteristic extended metaphors – the ones that (purposefully) break down like inexperienced tight-rope walkers desperately trying to keep their balance (there’s one beginning here, do you see?).

A final note: I would probably not have picked this up had I been reading piece-meal, but there are in the text I think at least four references to the verb tenses which are being employed. Has Nick Hornby been reading Michael Dummett?

Del Potro

The boy done good


Ninth game of the fourth set. Federer magisterial.

Lo-Fi Culture Scene


Lo Fi Culture Scene perform 'Too Late Anyway' at the Joiners in Southampton, July 2009

Cal as a Viking an Age Ago

Monday, 14 September 2009


First blog. Experiment.
Badly want Federer to win. So much so I cannot watch the blasted match. Why should this be? Surely the neutral should root for the underdog? I also tend to want Man Utd to win things. I want the best to be the best. Then again perhaps I simply crave authoritativeness. Is that so odd in one who aspires to be an author?