Saturday, 31 October 2009

Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

"The most intelligent book ever written" Howard Jacobson
Some hyperbole is simple gushing. This is considered hyperbole. And perhaps it isn't even hyperbole. Perhaps it is true. It is the one neglected masterpiece mentioned on Mariella Frostrup's radio programme that I have a) heard of and b) actually read.


Dionysus bangs his bucket at the locked door.
I send down a maid to explain I cannot see him
And she does not return.

Soon the clank starts up again. I down my pencil
And, cautious for my son, who is intrigued,
I go myself, and do not return.

Wynn Wheldon

Friday, 30 October 2009


"If I had to say which was telling the truth about society - a speech by a minister of housing or the actual buildings put up in his time - I should believe the buildings."
Kenneth Clark, Civilization, BBC

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Dan Jacobson on Dad

I have always loved these two sentences of Dan's, and just came again upon the letter from which they come. 'Jess' is Dan's daughter.

"I shall never forget Huw kneeling down with a tiny Jess to do a charade of Jack and the Beanstalk, in the garden of Jonah Jones' house, above that estuary in Wales. All of him was there."

Hate Crimes

Pauline Howe, 67, wrote a letter to Norwich Council objecting to a local gay pride march. Subsequently two police officers turned up on her doorstep to warn her that she had committed a “hate crime”. I expect she will now go down on the little list that the Police are compiling of "domestic extremists", which includes people who do not like war or Islamism or cruelty to animals or speed cameras.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Books of the Year

Perhaps it is too early for this, but I don't mind, because I haven't done a list yet and it is way past time. So here are the ten novels i have most enjoyed reading in 2009.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (1878)
Love and Summer - William Trevor (2009)
Dirt Music - Tim Winton (2001)
Journey in Moonlight - Antal Szerb (1937)
The Dying Light - Henry Porter (2009)
The Midnight Bell - Patrick Hamilton (1929)
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill (2008)
Breath - Tim Winton (2008)
Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby (2009)
The Believers - Zoe Heller (2008)

Honorable mentions for John Updike, Lee Child, Robert Crais, William Boyd. Nick Cave

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Chris Steele-Perkins

This wonderful photograph featured in The Times magazine today. It made me laugh out loud. It was taken by Chris Steele-Perkins, and was taken on Blackpool beach in 1982. It comes from a collection called 'England, My England', published by Northumbria Press

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Love and Summer by William Trevor

"On the streets of darkened towns, on roads that are often his alone, bright sudden moments pierce the dark: reality at second hand spreads in an emptiness."

William Trevor's new novel is that very rare thing: perfect - as well made as a butterfly.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


I am in two minds. It is an unusually vulgar version, Austen's wit and cleverness filleted out, but i find Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller make terrifically good television. Her wide eyes sometimes become tiresome but she has invested in the character a real liveliness that makes it hard to tear oneself away.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Freedom to be Disagreeable

Jan Moir, a columnist in the Daily Mail wrote last week that Stephen Gately's death had been "anything but natural" and suggested that all may not have been as it seemed. She went so far as to suggest that Gately's lifestyle may have contributed to his death. She revealed herself as a not altogether fulsome supporter of civil partnerships. Agree with her or not (and it isn't a very agreeable column), she is entiteld to her opinion. Isn't she?

"A repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane". This was Stephen Fry's response to Ms Moir's article. This strikes me as pretty offensive (and certainly smugly condescending) not least to those two and a half million people who buy the Daily Mail. Given that one cannot switch on a TV, radio (or phone) or pick up a newspaper without coming upon the ubiquitous, omniscient Mr Fry making his views felt it seems a bit rich that he should be laying down the law on what others with less exposure may have to say. It now seems that spurred on by the bien-pensant elite Ms Moir has been reported to the Metropolitan Police on suspicion that she may have committed a "hate crime".

In another article on this subject Yasmin Alighia-Brown uses the word "toff" as a term of abuse to dismiss the views of Martin Amis (who, so far as I know, has said nothing about Stephen Gately's death, even assuming he knows who Stephen Gately is or was). Many years ago I interviewed Ken Livingstone, on the subject of lying in politics. I put to him an Orwell quotation - i think it was "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful" - and his first response was to dismiss anything written or said by an Old Etonian. So there we are then: Toffs' opinions count for nothing among ex Mayors and those with double-barreled surnames.

Just for the record: I don't listen to Boyzone and I don't read The Daily Mail, but I do think there should be a place for anti-establishment views.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Charles Trenet, 'Boum', Paris 1938

My father was in Paris in 1938. He described the French as being full of "quick-glancing panic" - something nasty stalking them. Hitler's autumn speeches were widely reported. In the same year Duchamp curated an exhibition of surrealism, lining the beautiful galleries of the Beaux Arts with 1,200 coal sacks.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Thursday 16 October

Blimey. Quite a day. Spouse and I walked on the Heath in brilliant October sunshine. We exchanged on a house. The band played a gig at the Luminaire, debuting a new song. I attended a seminar on the fall of Communism at the British Academy. The band's manager quit. If you examine this list carefully, it represents an enormously wide gamut of emotions, states of feeling, modes of thought. Perhaps I'll list them later.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Dutch bees

"I have not yet forgotten the first apiary I saw, where I learned to love the bees. It was many years ago, in a large village of Dutch Flanders, the sweet and pleasant country whose love for brilliant colour rivals that of Zealand even, the concave mirror of Holland; a country that gladly spreads out before us, as so many pretty, thoughtful toys, her illuminated gables, and wagons, and towers; her cupboards and clocks that gleam at the end of the passage; her little trees marshaled in line along quays and canal-banks, waiting, one almost might think, for some quiet, beneficent ceremony; her boats and her barges with sculptured poops, her flower-like doors and windows, immaculate dams, and elaborate, many-coloured drawbridges; and her little varnished houses, bright as new pottery, from which bell-shaped dames come forth, all a-glitter with silver and gold, to milk the cows in the white-hedged fields, or spread the linen on flowery lawns, cut into patterns of oval and lozenge, and most astoundingly green.

To this spot, where life would seem more restricted than elsewhere - if it be possible for life indeed to become restricted - a sort of aged philosopher had retired; an old man somewhat akin to Virgil's - "Man equal to kings, and approaching the gods;" whereto Lafontaine might have added - "And, like the gods, content and at rest."

Here had he built his refuge, being a little weary; not disgusted, for the large aversions are unknown to the sage; but a little weary of interrogating men, whose answers to the only interesting questions one can put concerning nature and her veritable laws are far less simple than those that are given by animals and plants. His happiness, like the Scythian philosopher's, lay all in the beauties of his garden; and best-loved and visited most often, was the apiary, composed of twelve domes of straw, some of which he had painted a bright pink, and some a clear yellow, but most of all a tender blue; having noticed, long before Sir John Lubbock's demonstrations, the bees' fondness for this colour.

These hives stood against the wall of the house, in the angle formed by one of those pleasant and graceful Dutch kitchens whose earthenware dresser, all bright with copper and tin, reflected itself through the open door on to the peaceful canal. And the water, burdened with these familiar images beneath its curtain of poplars, led one's eyes to a calm horizon of mills and of meadows.

Here, as in all places, the hives lent a new meaning to the flowers and the silence, the balm of the air and the rays of the sun. One seemed to have drawn very near to the festival spirit of nature. One was content to rest at this radiant crossroad, where the aerial ways converge and divide that the busy and tuneful bearers of all country perfumes unceasingly travel from dawn unto dusk. One heard the musical voice of the garden, whose loveliest hours revealed their rejoicing soul and sang of their gladness. One came hither, to the school of the bees, to be taught the preoccupations of all-powerful nature, the harmonious concord of the three kingdoms, the indefatigable organization of life, and the lesson of ardent and disinterested work; and another lesson too, with a moral as good, that the heroic workers taught there, and emphasized, as it were, with the fiery darts of the myriad wings, was to appreciate the somewhat vague savor of leisure, to enjoy the almost unspeakable delights of those immaculate days that revolved on themselves in the fields of space, forming merely a transparent globe, as void of memory as the happiness without alloy."

Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of Bees, 1901
(brought to my attention by Jane Ridley, for which many thanks)

Radio One

Waxwork was played by Zane Lowe on BBC Radio One last night.

Promises Promises

"To be British is to be sceptical of authority and the powers-that-be. That's why ID cards, 42 days and Labour's surveillance state are so utterly unacceptable, and why we will sweep the whole rotten edifice away."
David Cameron, Conservative Part conference 2009

Monday, 12 October 2009

Nobel Prizes

Of the thirteen awards this year, eleven went to Americans. I guess they thought giving Philip Roth literature would have been seen as plain Silly. Not bad for a nation so often characterized as full of idiots by intellectually feeble British comedians.

The Dream of the Virgin

Killing time in the National Gallery before lunch at the Academy Club I wandered around the icons and early Renaissance stuff. Not something that would usually attract me, but since 'Wonderworker' my interest has been pricked. I came across this extraordinary picture by Simone dei Crocefissi. It is called The Dream of the Virgin. The cross issues from the sleeping virgin's womb. Adam and Eve, crudely not quite nude, are being liberated from limbo by some strange unbodied hand, and an old woman reads at the end of the bed. There's a fairly groovy bedspread. Then there are very tiny little castles all over the place. There is lots of activity, and the painter clearly enjoyed himself. It has no dry piety about it and a certain kind of sensuousness in the curves that makes it very appealing.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Motorbiking News for Women

I understand that the Hamas government in Gaza has just banned women from riding on the back of motorbikes. Apparently this is not a curb on women's freedom as you can ''see women sitting in cars and walking freely in the streets". Phew, that's all right then.

Lo-Fi Culture Scene - Waxwork

Directed by Rik Green. This track can be bought on iTunes.

Friday, 9 October 2009


So they don't make them like they used to, eh? Among the plethora of children's films - Transformers and its like, including all those moronic Dude movies - comes Up, which is thoughtful, mature, exciting and funny. I kept thinking Spencer Tracy. No bad thing to keep thinking. So my films of the year are Up and The Hurt Locker. Pretty darn eclectic huh?

The Same Hymn Sheet

"The warmongers in London and Washington, aided by the liars in the controlled media, are busy whipping up a war fever against Iran using the same techniques of deceit they used against Iraq..."

"Obama's "showdown" with Iran has another agenda. The media have been tasked with preparing the public for endless war."

Match the quotation with the writer

Arthur Kemp - Foreign Affairs spokesman for the British National Party
John Pilger - New Statesman columnist

Barack & Books

Why has Barack Obama won the Nobel peace prize? What peace has he brought to where?

The Times today has published a list of the 60 best books of the last 60 years. It is a laughable collection, part meretricious, part infantile and generally depressing. For 1964 Len Deighton's Funeral in Berlin has been chosen over Saul Bellow's Herzog. That is one example of numerous fatuous choices. There are only five books written in a foreign language. Where is Milan Kundera? Where is Invisible Man? Where is Achebe? Or Oz? Where is The Bonfire of the Vanities? Muriel Spark? Richard Hughes? A House for Mr Biswas? R.K. Narayan? Where is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, you moronic Top People? Simenon? Where, in the name of all that is good and holy, is The Master and Margarita? I understand that the books were selected by readers of The Times. Gawd help us. I am a self-confessed middle-brow but this lot takes the biscuit. For what it is worth, my favourite novel of the past 60 years is The Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Normando Hernández González

Why can I find no information about the condition of imprisoned Cuban journalist Normando Hernandez Gonzalez on either the Amnesty site or the Human Rights Watch site? Does it have something to do with the accents on the 'a'? I think probably not, alas. From what I can gather from Amnesty's site the human rights that organisation is concerned with are those denied ordinary Cubans by the American embargo. Curious priorities, it seems to me, suggesting that Amnesty is now in the hands of a cabal that sees dictatorship as acceptable so long as it is anti-American.


On October 8th, 1982, all labour organisations in Poland, including Solidarity, were banned. Seems like yesterday. I had a 'Solidarnosc' sticker on the rear window of my car. I also had a sticker that read 'Help the KGB, support CND'. I think the combination of these two impelled persons unknown to pour turquoise paint all over the back of my black mini. It looked rather fetching, I thought.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Dying Light by Henry Porter

Of the three state-of-the-nation novels I have read recently - A Week in December, and Ordinary Thunderstorms are the others - this is by far and away the best. It is, yes, a political thriller, but it is written with more vim, more conviction, better grasp of character and motive, and more determination to make a difference than either of the others. I shall not outline the plot, except to say that it is set in Britain in the very near future and that you won't walk or drive past a CCTV camera again without thinking twice.


This was a new word which my darling wife came across while we were admiring the windows of the preposterously gorgeous Ste Chapelle in Paris.  It means, literally (from the Greek), "ox-turningly".  Here is the definition from the OED:     (Written) alternately from right to left and from left to right, like the course of the plough in successive furrows; as in various ancient inscriptions in Greek and other languages.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


"Tarantino’s only use for the past is to make pasta out of it"  Frederic Raphael in Commentary Magazine. Read more here.

A Nine Lemons Composition

A painting by Jason Line. More art by Jason here.

North End Avenue

May, and the new is still fresh,
Celebrating itself.
Boughs bow to one another in the breeze.
Trees green-barked a month ago
Now strut in darker suits.
Where the daffodils waved
Now the bluebells ring.
The ditches are drying, the ivy glitters.

I would have walked my mother
Up North End Avenue.
She'd be all curiosity
(Perhaps the name of a flower, that,
Like Honesty).  I miss the love she had for me.
I miss giving the love I had for her.

Wynn Wheldon