Thursday, 30 December 2010

My Favourite Goal

Can Chelsea keep the Spurs at bay? Maybe, but in the meantime, here is my favourite goal ever.


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

God's Finger

"(As if God's finger touched but did not press
In making England!)"
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 'The Sweetness of England'

The Way Back

To the Everyman last night to see The Way Back, first rate Peter Weir film about the escape, sometime in the 1940s, from the Gulag to India, across ice, mountain, desert, etc.. The motto of the film is "Just keep walking", and at the end it becomes a metaphor for the fight against communism. However, the film's fibre is to be found in the relationships between the escapees. This is rarely done in words. There is for example a moment at which a young woman who has joined them tends the foot wounds of the old man who is most suspicious of her, a man whose 17 year old son had been executed by the communists. It is a moment full of meaning, with no words, made more than merely touching by the marvellous Ed Harris, one of Hollywood's few actors (as opposed to stars). I'd give him an Oscar for this scene alone. I doubt that the movie would have quite the force it has without his grizzled presence. Having said that, all the performances are good, and the direction unobtrusive (as ever with Peter Weir - he's very much a don't-look-at-me director) while giving us David Lean-sized landscapes. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Of Gods and Men

There will be guff written about French colonialism, Islam and corrupt North African governments, but this is a simple story about faith. And a particular faith, at that, a Christian faith based on love: "Love is eternal hope". This is the love of caritas, charity, the love for others, having little to do with desire. The nine Monks who are the heroes of this story all find that selflessness that faith allows challenged by the circumstances in which they find themselves. It is their triumph that they resist the challenge, and it is their tragedy, too. This is a deeply Christian film but without the hint of any proselytizing. There is no preaching, all is drama. It is also beautifully told, a joy to look at. It is very good to see a film in which stillness is considered a theatrical device. It will probably be gone from the screens soon, which is a shame, but catch it if you can.

Monday, 20 December 2010

WikiLeaks and Israel Shamir

Doubtless, this will be considered simply another smear on the good name of wikileaks, but I promise you there is nothing trumped up about this. One of Wikileaks' spokesmen is Israel Shamir aka Joran Jermas, an anti-semite and conspiracy theorist. Details about Shamir and his associates, back in 2004, can be found in a Searchlight article, here, but The Guardian, gawd bless it, has an even more up to date story, here.

I won't pretend that I'm a lover of wikileaks - it seems to me to be a great example of power (knowledge) without responsibility. While democratic governments are subject to checks and balances (that may or may not work, admittedly), are wikileaks to be answerable to no-one at all?

If you want to read Israel Shamir on the subject of Wikileaks, you can find him here, defending Wikileaks against nutters who believe it is a CIA/Mossad operation.

Life's rich tapestry, eh?


To the Wigmore Hall last night for the Messiah, performed by the Early Opera Company, conducted by Christopher Curmyn. Despite a chorus consisting of only eight singers and an orchestra of not more than a dozen or so players, the ensemble made a commendably thrilling noise. Iestyn Davies singing alto (singing the airs I know from listening to Kathleen Ferrier) and Derek Welton (bass) "owning"(the word is my son's) the stage were outstanding soloists.

What is striking about the piece is the variety within a single idiom. It has what you might call a modular strength - lots of different bits go to make up a seamless whole. And that final chorus is really quite breathtakingly like the sound of a choir of angels.

Has triumph ever been expressed so joyfully? No, never.

First Class Honours

Clare Solomon, 37, President of the University of London Students' Union has this to say (write, actually, on her Facebook page) about the persecution of the Jews: "The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians." I'm sure all students of the University of London are grateful to be represented by someone with so sure a grasp of history. She did 'apologise', thus: "This badly worded comment was something that I wrote in haste on Facebook. I’m sorry for any misunderstandings." Who exactly did the misunderstanding, one wonders.

Journey of the Magi

The Journey of the Magi (fragment), ca. 1435
Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (Italian, Sienese, active by 1423, died 1450)
Tempera and gold on wood / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My friend Rupert Walters sent me the following link this morning, and I hereby purloin his kindness and pass it on. What a very good poem this is, and well recited, too. Verse trivia: Dylan Thomas used to call Eliot "the Archbishop".

Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot


Sunday, 19 December 2010

There's No Home by Alexander Baron

An unheard of book by an unheard of author, kindly lent me by the publisher of a reissue of said unheard etc, coming in Spring next year. This is a very good book, originally published in 1949 (but as fresh now as then), describing "the dream time between battles" spent by a company of British infantry in a town in Sicily during the second world war. There is a hint of Captain Corelli about it, but it is closer to home, more familiar. It describes relations between the soldiers and the (mostly) women of the street in which they find themselves billeted. In particular it tells the story of Sergeant Craddock, married to a woman he hardly knows, and Graziella, a passionate wife of a man who has gone missing while fighting in North Africa. And if ever there was a story to justify adultery this is it. There is in their tale the innocence of true, brief love, and while the inevitable end is sad, its sweetness depends upon that sadness. A lovely, true book, and highly recommended. Please look out for it.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

After two fairly ghoulish works about communism and nazism, a ghoulish novel about ghouls, and a first-class one too. What Amis is terribly good at is making his hero flawed enough to be recognisable, but not so flawed as to be monstrous. This book has laughs, and has shivers, and has thoughtfulness. There is even a longish conversation, a la Dostoevesky, between the hero and God (who is described as being "about 28 years old"). Reminded me powerfully, in its depiction of a certain kind of Englishness - rural, pagan, mysterious - of the novels of P.M. Hubbard.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Liu Xiaobo

The following states are supporting China's boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize award to imprisoned Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, founder of Charter 08:

Saudi Arabia

What would you say was the common thread here? Oh yes, that's right - a shared respect for human rights and toleration of political dissent. Not sure why they were invited to attend the ceremony in the first place.

The Outside of Books

From Howard's End: "the aspirations, the mental dishonesty, the familiarity with the outside of books". This makes me blush as I try to sort out my books, reflecting on how very few of them I have actually read. For example, I have about five foot of books on Russia, the Soviet Union and Communism. I simply cannot have read more than six inches. Okay, maybe a foot. I have before me a perfect example of a book I would like to have read - the outside of which I am familiar with. It is called 'The Passion of the Western Mind', by Richard Tarnas. It is a history of ideas. It has underlining up to page 12. The spine is singularly smooth and unbroken. Not so Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, which I probably have read the whole of while sitting on the lavatory. I am, I'm afraid, a middle brow who aspires to be a high brow. I listen to Springsteen and wish I wanted rather to listen to Poulenc. Ah well. Bruce and Bryson will do just fine. I also prefer 'Destry Rides Again' to 'The Seven Samurai'.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Hamlet on 'Monitor'

I've already mentioned this on The Shakespeare Club blog, but it is so good I thought I might draw it to your attentions, too. Orson Welles, Peter O'Toole, Dad and Ernest Milton smoke cigarettes and cigars and talk about Hamlet in a rambling, rather delightful and learned way. Unfortunately it cuts out just before O'Toole manages to finish telling us the three approaches to the ghost...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Fun in Qatar

I assume there will be plenty of kick-backs for FIFA committee members as the Russians build the roads, railways, stadiums, hotels they'll need for 2018; meanwhile English fans can look forward to a rare old time in Qatar. This is information from the Foreign Office, which I have filched from The Guardian:

"It is a punishable offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. Offenders may incur a prison sentence or deportation. Alcohol is, however, available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system. You should not carry alcohol with you, including in your car (except to take it on the day of collection from the warehouse to your home).

You should dress modestly when in public, including whilst driving. Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing short skirts. You should behave courteously at all times. Any intimacy in public between men and women (including between teenagers) can lead to arrest. Homosexual behaviour is illegal in Qatar."

The question is this: in a nation of less than a million do they have big enough gaols to put all the English, Dutch, German and Scandinavian fans who like a beverage now and then?

As for the ban on homosexual behaviour, at least that will keep the Croats happy. And that's important, isn't it?

Qatar is ranked 113th best national team in the world, which is above Rwanda and New Caledonia, for a start. Actually, how about New Caledonia for 2026?

RTS Huw Wheldon Lecture

A good one this year. The very likeable Brian Cox talking about science on the telly.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

United Nations & Moral Leadership, Again

This is a short piece from Nick Cohen, who appears to agree with me that the United Nations is hardly the beacon of hope for mankind that it, and its supporters, like to claim it to be:

"The decision of the United Nations last week to exclude gays from a special resolution condemning extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions did not receive the attention it deserved.

The United Nations is still the object of wistful and on occasion Utopian hopes from those who do not realise that it can never be a moral force because it is a club without membership rules that allows any tyranny to join. Its best – some would say only – good purpose is to reveal how apparently rival dictatorial ideologies – African Nationalist, Islamist, Communist, post-communist and crony capitalist – will sink their differences and unite in opposition to liberalism.

Among the lackeys of despots who said it was all right to kill queers were the representatives of Iran Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Not one African country voted in favour of protecting homosexuals from extra-judicial murder, including Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, which still gets far too easy a ride in the Western press in my view. At the UN the supporters of dictatorship and dictatorial ideas reminded us once again that what unites them is more important than what divides them, and that lesson is always worth remembering."

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Gurmail Singh

The murderers of Gurmail Singh, the Huddersfield shopkeeper, were jailed for life today. There is a link here to an Observer article by Euan Ferguson written in March this year. It is exceptionally moving.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Subtitled 'Real Lives in North Korea', I found this book as hard to leave alone as a Lee Child thriller. Demick tells the story of six north Koreans who have defected to the South. The sins of the communist dictatorship are too many and too ghastly to fliply offer tasters. Like Stasiland, it reminds us of what invariably happens when the State becomes the source of all things. At the same time, these people survived, and the book is not really political at all, but is a record of the perseverance, bloody-mindedness and luck that is required of those who wish to live full lives.

Here's a delightful look at all the good things that Ms Demick missed out:

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Junior Officers' Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey

This is an astounding book. Often incoherent, and with no real narrative architecture (it is one damn discomfort after another), it nonetheless relentlessly articulates what it is to be a modern British army officer. Sometimes it is eloquent, often it is moving, and frequently it is funny. It is also often horrifying.

How do i know that it is true?

Truth comes by way of authority, the author's most important weapon, whether he is making things up or writing poetry or describing what it is like to travel in a stripped-down and up-gunned Land Rover. And authority derives from the deep consideration of one's experience. The consideration is as important as the experience. When Coleridge wrote This Lime Tree Bower from his sick bed he was describing a simple walk. The power, indeed the very meaning of the poem is derived from the depth of his knowledge - his consideration - of the walk he is not taking. The overwhelming impression one gets in reading this book is that the author is drinking experience to its very dregs, and knows that to do so it has to be considered.

It is a humane, literate, revealing, troubling, funny and exciting book. And at the risk of sounding pious, pompous or po-faced, it is also humbling.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Inter Milan 1

Here is the rather charmingly gobbledegook Google translation of the Corriere della Sport's coverage of the match. Can't see Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Vargas Llosa getting into any British newspapers... good to know that Spurs have so many literary laureates on their side. Did Pinter support Spurs?

Inter crumbles: Benitez plays the card of replacing despair with Biabiany Coutinho, and throwing in Milito (who hit the crossbar), to save at least the pride in what he considers his adopted homeland. Here comes the goals of the flag, the 36 'the second time, with Eto'o in the area served by Sneijder. The Nerazzurri have not, however, arrows to their bow and give life to a dull performance, to forget. And do you pierce suspicious offside - at the end of regulation time - the third goal of the Spurs: Author Pavlyuchenko, which came in place of Van Der Vaart. No Inter leaves its mark: the Spurs are calling the shots. And they do it on the notes of the chorus' When the Spurs go marching in ', thus evoking the golden age of Lilywhites in 1963 when they conquered the Cup Winners' Cup. Redknapp returned with a large dusting and many years later remains a beloved team, proud and proud of its Jewish connotation. His fans call themselves Yid Arm. They are the favorite team of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Toast tonight. Inter must reflect the qualification is not compromised but the problems are all, and before the eyes of Massimo Moratti, Capello and Prandelli, puts them all out. Headache for Benitez sees lengthen the list of injured players. Tonight new entry in the infirmary, Sulley Muntari.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Social Network

Saw this last night and it is a really first class film. It is rich, literate, quite beautifully constructed, fat-free and boasts an outstanding performance from Jesse Eisenberg (with excellent supporting performances, not least from Justin Timberlake). It has changes of pace, hard-won ambiguities, touches of comedy and drama from front to back. Thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Nemesis by Philip Roth

Philip Roth is one of the great describers of sickness. Was it The Anatomy Lesson that was almost entirely concerned with Nathan Zuckerman's back problems? Here he takes on polio, It is a very good book indeed, a book of Job for a Job who does not believe in God, and the tragic consequences of that unbelief. And, as always with Roth, the evocations of place are wonderfully done. This, I sometimes think, is his great trick: he puts us into a place so thoroughly (and without what you might call 'descriptive writing') that one has no choice but to believe. It is rhetorical genius, and therefore a joy to read, however sad the subject.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I don’t much like being critical of books – where does it get you? – but, despite its self-conscious bigness (and heavens, does it go on) Jonathan Franzen’s novel ‘Freedom’ has the word ‘dated’ running through it, stick-of-rock-like. This is emphatically a book for liberal-minded 50-somethings and if you’re under the age of 45 I would imagine you’d have trouble understanding what the fuss is about.

It does have the virtues of soap opera, in that one thing leads to another, and you want to find out what happens next, although there is an overwhelming dread (the same dread that keeps me from watching soap operas) that it is NEVER GOING TO END.

There are three central characters, none of whom you would want to spend more than about 5 minutes with if they existed (although the tobacco-chewing rock star Richard has his droll moments). They find that their ‘freedom’ is savagely curtailed by sexual desire. And that’s about it. The author bungs in lots of social history, politics and a seasoning of literature, in order, I suppose, to ‘contextualize’ his story, but what it comes down to in the end is sex and how it gets in the way of everything. And sex, as we all know, is fun to do but dull to read about.

What Franzen does to involve you in his characters’ lives is to write about them at enormous length. By about page 350, wanting to give up, you feel you have to get to the end in order to justify having read so far in the first place. The book is also remarkably monotonal; there is never any change of pace or voice. Even the passages supposedly written by one of the characters read exactly as though written by Franzen.

I had a little weep at the sentimental ending, but it was as nothing compared with my relief at having reached it. I daresay many commentators will regard this book as a great piece of social history a la Zola, but Tom Wolfe it sure as hell ain’t. It has none of the panache, nor indeed any of the sheer literary texture that Wolfe brings to his social realism. And it is unrelentingly liberal, indeed it reeks of a kind of intellectual orthodoxy that puts one in mind of some kind of Academy: this is work to please the elite. I’m glad I’ve read it because everyone is talking about it, but I also feel rather robbed of my time in having done so: I could have read, say, The Magic Mountain instead.

Western Whip Snake

Here are some Dutch people, far more courageous than I, with a Western Whip snake. This is the beastie that I fought and caught in my house in France. Personally I thought I was very brave. I didn't know that it was non-venomous... Apparently it is fairly useful having a Western Whip about the place, as it keeps the rodents in check.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Ryder Cup

There are any number of snobs who rather look down on golf as being an essentially suburban, bourgeois, and therefore a rather boring game. More fool them. This year's Ryder Cup was a cracker. Quite apart from the golf and the heroics and the rain and the team spirit and Wales, there was Jimenez's cigar and Darren Clarke's chain-smoking (I LOVE seeing cigarettes on TV), Mahan's wry smile when he fluffed his chip at 17 (the poor chap broke down later), and the chants of the crowd: "Two Molinaris, there's only two Molinaris", referring to the Molinari brothers; "where's the fairway gone?" to the tune of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, when the cloud came down on the course. There was G Mac, and there was Ian Poulter (a star if ever there was one - a strange combination of Churchill and David Brent, with a touch of Graeme Swann thrown in) and there was the Great Spirit of Seve. Top sporting action.

Cousin Iron Man

Shortly after bravely falling off an Alp and reconfiguring his facial elements my first cousin Wynn's son, Sion Fletcher-Rees, decided that the best thing to do would be an iron Man race. Of course. Just the job after a near death experience. I'm not sure what the precise distances are but suffice to say there is a 16 hour time limit. What follows is Sion's race report.

"Ironman France, Nice, 27th June 2010

Wake up on race day at silly o’clock in the morning, due to being just after the summer solstice it is already light. Eat a snickers and throw on the clothes that I had prepared. Start the mile-odd walk down to the start line, other athletes and their families and supporters are doing the same. Half of the walk is along the promenade des Anglais, where the marathon will be later, with a view out over the calm waters of the Mediterranean. The buoys for the swim are now inflated and seem very far away.

Get to the transition area, a last little look at the bike, though not much point as I have no tools with me, then comes the exposure. I take off my shorts and t-shirt revealing only speedos beneath, it seems I am the only athlete from 2700 who decided that a wetsuit was unnecessary. Apply some Vaseline to parts that I believe may rub during the swim then join the slow procession of worried men (and women)heading for the start line.

Standing on a beach now, hundreds all around me. A nervous word here, a half laugh there. The PA announces the ever-decreasing time until it all begins. Nothing for it now, already committed, just have to try and follow it through.

The air horn goes, within seconds the water is a mess of limbs and bodies. It is a case of wading until knee deep then lean forward and start to swim. The water is cold, not a real cold like English seas, but enough to cause shallow breathing. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, try to get control of breathing and all of my limbs. Moderate success. The field starts to disperse a little, fewer hands pulling at my legs, no feet in front of my face. Reach the first buoy, 1km done, getting into a rhythm now, soon I have gone through the corners and heading back to the shore.

I decide that it would be a good idea to have a pee in the water, though there is ages of swimming to go. Too stubborn to stop, so attempt to go on the go, as it were. Fail. I reach the beach, with the help of a volunteer pulling people out and stagger through a checkpoint and go back into the water. I know it must be only 1.4km to go now. Then only 600m. I try peeing again to save time on the surface and eventually manage it without stopping. Hooray!

Out of the water and into the transition area, change and go.

Start of the bike leg is cautious, trying to make sure I don’t burn myself out. After 35km it feels like my whole abdomen will seize, then thankfully there comes a nice long steep climb for me to concentrate on. Overtaking lots of people, pain disappears. Keep overtaking, uphill is clearly my forte. All our race numbers have first names on them too, so start to play a game against myself guessing the nationalities of other riders. The Tierrys and Gastons make it too easy though.

Uphill finished, rinse some gravity aided travelling, tucked in on the tri-bars, as fast as I have ever ridden, fantastic. Back to Nice. The final section is alongside the marathon route, with lots of people on it. It seems long considering I have to do the distance eight times. Shit.

Start running. There and back four times. I ran for almost a lap and a half then start walking with occasional runs. Got de-motivated by figuring that I could complete the course within the 16 hour limit if I walked the rest of the way. Coming back during lap 3 I decide that I should run again, to see what the time is at the end of the lap. Almost 12 hours. Decided to go for sub 13 and ignore all the burning in my legs. Found other people to follow as pace setters. Cross the line after 12:55:45. Elated."

Obviously, one wonders what calamity might have befallen Sion had he not had that Snickers bar for breakfast ... Stupendous achievement in my view. I cannot begin to imagine how one even thinks of doing this sort of thing, let alone how one actually does it...

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Whales That You Make

for Kit

The whales that you make
out of unwhaleness: wood, tin,
abandoned elements, dive
and rise and breast an invisible ocean,
tremendous in this air
singing unheard songs
populating with fancy,
with the seeing-where-nothing-is,
our small, our unwhaled world.

Mine’s maybe a sleek three inches.
A thin umbilical attaches it to a stand
with a kind of utter balance
so that it may or may not be here,
its great bulk held tenuous
in its breaking moment
as the air parts and the sight
is delighted and a smile greets
the new made thing, the art.

Wynn Wheldon

Thursday, 30 September 2010

i.m. Tony Curtis

The late Bernard Schwartz's finest moment. This really is peerless stuff from all three, plus of course Billy Wilder.

The Red Rock

I suppose it was iron rich
that high red rock in Criccieth
behind Marine Terrace, above
the pitch and putt and bowls;
a place where fantasies bloomed
among the broom and gorse
and I was lost to all but myself
and, faraway and visible,
the magic mountains, winking
in sunshine, slumbering in mist.

The gulls rode the breezes
like gang boys shoulder rolling
while over the years the scrub filled
with bright new builds, like plastic
blocks on an old kilim
and facts began to pile upon my fancies
until the red rock became ferrous,
a memory, a mere poem.

Wynn Wheldon

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Daniel Mendoza in Dublin

My wife's illustrious forebear, Daniel Mendoza, champion boxer, Light of Israel, author of The Art of Boxing as well as a splendid memoir, spent time in Dublin under the showman's eye of the equally illustrious Philip Astley, the inventor of the circus.

Daniel Mendoza was already a star in England before his final fight with Richard Humphreys at Doncaster on 29 September 1790, but his victory there produced a burst of invitations from every corner of the Kingdom.

He went first to Edinburgh and then to Dublin, where he had been engaged to perform exhibition bouts with his brother at Astley’s Dublin amphitheatre, known also as the Equestrian Theatre Royal, in Peter Street.

Please find the rest of this article in 'Pages'.

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney

This collection takes us all the way back to the first poem by Heaney most us ever read, which was the first of the first collection, 'Digging'(1966). That poem is concerned with the human chain as it describes his father and grandfather at work on the land, digging potatoes. Heaney finishes "Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. /I'll dig with it.". In this collection he refers to the "steady-handedness maintained / In books... / ...of Lismore, Kells, Armagh", evoking the skills of the Monks who illuminated them. And this comes out of a childhood memory of fetching water "To turn ink powder into ink" at school (the poem is 'Hermit Songs'). And a final connection: the "much tried pens" of the monks are surely forebears of the squat pen of 'Digging'. Marvellous the way in which Heaney suggests posterity - his own important link in the chain - without a trace of arrogance.

For it is Heaney now who is the old man, not his father or his grandfather ("My hand is cramped from penwork"), and many of the poems in Human Chain are directly about or are concerned with or touch upon, death. Wraiths, ghosts, heavenly air, the dead face of Israel Hands (in Treasure Island), poems in memoriam, Orpheus, wakes, Charon, coffins, war graves, "bodies unglorified" - there is hardly a page on which one is not invited to imagine death or dying or the dead or the afterlife. And through it all runs Lethe or versions of it - rivers - and bits of Virgil, sprinkled like the stones Jews throw into the graves of their loved ones.

Which makes this sound gloomy as hell, but of course it is the very reverse of that and as always it is full of wonder and curiosity and sympathy. Heaney is a kind poet. The title poem takes us again back to early Heaney, this time to 'The Barn' in which the boy is threatened by "two-lugged sacks of corn". Now, the ageing poet takes a grip "on two sack corners, / Two packed wads of grain I'd worked to lugs / To give me purchase, ready for the heave". He is part of a chain of aid workers loading a trailer. He describes the "quick unburdening" of the sacks, "A letting go", which turns, in the last line, into a metaphor for mortality.

"Air from another life and time and place" begins the last poem in the book, but, like Coleridge's 'This Lime Tree Bower' the poet inhabits memory with poetry, and the air ceases to be "another" and becomes the present air. This, indeed, is what poetry can do: it gives memory a meaning other than its merely narrative one.

This is my favourite Heaney collection for some time, maybe because it evokes all those early poems that had a voice in my own childhood. Thoroughly recommended.

Ken's Favourite Progressive Muslim Scholar

Ken Livingstone is famously fond of the nutter (Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi) who answers the question put here as to whether it is appropriate for women who are planning to slaughter the innocent to take off their hijabs in the course of doing so. If you think I'm making this up, please look at the article here. It is frankly astonishing (not to say shameful) that Livingstone is still in the Labour Party.

Part of the Union

Posted in honour of Mr Ed and in memory of Mr David, but also because almost the first album i ever bought was by The Strawbs. Actually it was 'Lay Down' that i really liked. Dave Cousins - the usual lead vocalist (stout, with a beard) - looks distinctly uncomfortable here.


I don't much like Alan Titchmarsh, there's something too cosy about him; I don't have much time for gardening - I'm too impatient; Royalty bores me, unless it is the Royalty of history; the Prince of Wales has always struck me as a little dim (though with his heart in more or less the right place); and yet tonight I watched, quite unexpectedly, a delightful programme about his garden at Highgrove. It was constantly unexpected, had no fancy editing or camerawork, and was quite impossible to take your eyes off. Catch it on iPlayer, here. I guarantee you will be surprised and possibly enchanted.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier is one of my heroes. I have just booked to hear the Early Opera Company sing the Messiah at the Wigmore Hall at Christmas. Here is Ferrier singing Handel. No moving pictures, I'm afraid, but who needs them when you have such a moving voice to listen to?


Like almost everyone else I thought David Milliband was a shoo-in. I have never heard Teddy speak, so, apart from his marble-like eyes and his appalling youthfulness I have no very clear impression of him. David seems personable and obviously intelligent. Their father Ralph was a communist, something I would certainly not be proud of (my mother was one for a little while in her youth, but then grew up and became socially responsible). However, I'm a rather old fashioned liberal democrat (lower case, please), so what do I know? What I would say is that Ed ought to be careful about distancing himself from Blair because I think Tony Blair is a good deal more popular, still, than most Labour activists imagine. The Labour Party, as with the Liberals, often is prepared to sacrifice action for gesture, doing for ideology. Political compromise often requires shameless hypocrisy. Politics is the art of the possible, as the old Tory Rab Butler did so wisely say. I think we should all give Ted a chance. Those young shoulders may be carrying a wise head. I hope so, because an ineffective opposition does not make for good government.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Modern Marriage

Here's an interesting take on modern marriage:

Friday, 24 September 2010

Vers de Societe by Philip Larkin

Vers de Société

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You'd care to join us? In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I'm afraid -

Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who's read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown

Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled

All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who's gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

Playing at goodness, like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don't do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course -

Posted while sitting by a lamp, alone.... Is it too much to suggest that that "Oh hell" is an echo of Sartre's "hell is other people"?

Moral Leadership

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "let us remember, the world still looks to the United Nations for moral and political leadership." Does it? The UN is going to have to put its morals where its mouth is and stop giving platforms to hate-filled lunatics like Ahmadinejad if it wishes to persuade me of any degree of moral leadership. And to stop spending public money on this kind of thing: "Cuba expressed concerns about racial hatred crimes, the dissemination of racist propaganda, religious intolerance, the reluctance to prosecute cases of discrimination against minorities, and the excessive use of force against migrants. It was also concerned about discrimination against Sami and Roma children and about the situation of people with disabilities." Now what state do you think that paragon of human rights, Cuba, was criticizing? Yep, quite right - Sweden. Money well spent. How does one take this kind of organisation seriously? WHY should one? Because there's nothing else? It defeats me why the USA continues to pay the bills for this unelected parliament of fools. Moral leadership? In a pig's arse, friend.

News from Old Persia

This from Michael Weiss in The Weekly Standard:

"The 26-year-old Iranian human rights campaigner Shiva Nazar Ahari was sentenced last Saturday by Iran’s Revolutionary Court to six years in prison after being convicted on all charges made against her by the state, including that of moharebeh (“rebellion against God”), conspiracy to commit a crime against “national security,” and anti-state propaganda. She was additionally sentenced to receive 74 lashes or pay a fine of $400, an option that makes this punishment especially gratuitous and sadistic."

You can read the full article here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

To be or not to be

Fascinating little snippet of Samuel West talking about To be or not to be ahead of forthcoming John Simm and Rory Kinnear takes on the role of Hamlet.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Wilderness Downtown

My son put me onto this a few weeks ago. Most find it entrancing, though perhaps others, of a more cynical bent, will find it gimmicky. I loved it.

Pete Morgan

To BAFTA to hear screenwriter Pete Morgan talking about his work. A more engaging interviewee it is hard to imagine, and one wanted immediately to join him in a pub somewhere and natter about Stuff. What he did not talk about - what he was not asked about - was his predilection for the non-fictional, or rather his inclination to turn the non-fictional into fiction. His films are almost always about real people, to whom he gives made-up lines. I wanted to ask him about Shakespeare, an obvious forerunner, and to whom he must turn from time to time, but i couldn't articulate the question properly to myself before time ran out. I came home and watched 'The Special Relationship' on iPlayer. Morgan makes things seem very easy but it was masterfully crafted. However, I thought it lacked gravity somehow. The difficulty was that the characters did not have enough, well, character. Arthur Bryant for liberals, history lite. Which was also true of course for Frost/Nixon and The Queen, except that in those xceptional works history was in some sense risen above, and the drama was what counted. Anyway, Pete Morgan is a delightful man and a very good screenwriter and I look forward to more of his films.

The Great Khan's Is Dead

I am aware that to bridle at various Islamic ways is considered extremely non-U these days, but the news that all the meat served at Wembley and Twickenham is halal - presumably because it is cheaper - reminds me of a shocking development I was told of the other day. In the late 1970s THE place for an Indian was Khan's in Westbourne Grove. It was not that it was posh, it was because it was somehow familiar, worldly, with its big windows and its high ceilings, its lack of flock wall paper and its white table cloths. It was busy and loud. I passed Khan's the other day. Those big windows now had plastered over them "Halal meat only served here", and, reporting this to a friend, I learned that you can no longer have a drink at there. This is preposterous, backward, and very much to be regretted. The Puritans are at the gate! The Great Khan is Dead! Time to bring out the maypoles, kites and flutes.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Some notes.

There are moments while reading this book when it impossible not to chortle as we learn of yet another dysfunctionality in one of the families portrayed. It is like a ready reference for the modern melodramatist. There isn’t a character without a faithless spouse or an alcoholic parent or a needy child or a hard-hearted lover or a loss of faith or a finding of faith or AIDS or poverty; everyone is “damaged”. There are Greeks and Aborigines and Indians and ‘Australians’ and Christians and Muslims and Jews and Atheists. Each chapter treats of a different individual present at a party in the Melbourne suburbs at which a small boy is slapped by an adult who is not his parent. This act is the ‘donne’* that takes us into this deeply heterogeneous world. At times, it is laughable, but then this is comedy rather than tragedy. There is something Jonsonian about it – every Australian in his or her humour. Perhaps the reader should assume that the author knows what he is doing. Having said that, by far the best chapters are those that concentrate on the Greek characters; the best chapter of all is ‘Manolis’, the Uncle of the slapper, a moving, nuggety portrait of old age.

The Slap is a comedy without the laughs.

And yet…
…the boy at Waterstone’s who sold it to me had tried to read it and had found the characters unsympathetic. And he is quite right. You wouldn’t want to spend more than an evening or so with any of them. Obviously, in accordance with what I have said above, they are all in some way representative, but when one begins to think about what it is they represent, then tragedy enters our considerations. For what these unattractive personalities are all trying to do is The Right Thing. No one is murdered or commits suicide; but great decisions are taken, impulses acted upon foolishly, anguishes incurred. They all live vividly.

The author seems to have a sentimental attachment to the Asian way of life and a knee-jerk contempt for Anglo-Saxon culture wherever it rears its seemingly always-ugly head. Does the book contain, then, a horror of the multicultural ethos that now dominates bien-pensant Anglo-Saxon thinking? Is miscegenation one of the objects of the book’s scorn? There are so many mixed marriages, so many infidelities and cultural confusions that it is hard not to draw that conclusion, although I daresay the author would bridle at the notion. So I shall be sympathetic and suggest that they are merely a function of the unfunny comedy.

At one point in the book Larkin’s famous line appears: they fuck you up, your mum and dad. But actually the almost deafening message of the novel is that they fuck you up, your children. The Slap is telling us that with adulthood, with parenthood, comes responsibility, which is the enemy of freedom. And so the book ends with a joyous, drug-fuelled frenzy of dance, the self lost, and the promise of homosexual, childless love.

As you can tell, I cannot make my mind up about this novel. It infuriates and impresses in equal measure. Some of the writing is very good indeed – especially the almost Lawrentian ability to change his characters’ minds and moods within a paragraph – but there is always the smell of soap faintly in the air. It is a good book, a book about the struggle to live properly, but perhaps not a likeable one.

And I shall very likely change my mind again before too long.

*(imagine an acute angle on that ‘e’ – I think this is a Henry Jamesism. A donne is the thing that starts the fictional ball rolling)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Seen On the Side of a Van

On the side of a glazier's van: "Your Pane is Our Pleasure". Pretty good, but not as good as an ad I saw years ago in the window of a camping shop in Kentish Town: "Now is the winter of our discount tents".

OXO Tower Tea

I'm not a great one for complaining, but quite honestly our tea at the Oxo Tower Brasserie on my wife's 50th birthday was woeful. This was due chiefly to the service. It was cursory and charmless. The waitresses were thrown into confusion by the suggestion that their tea was a tad pishy and were deeply reluctant to furnish more than one extra tea bag without charging... Just what you'd expect of Harvey Nichols I suppose (Harvey Nicks runs it). I can't imagine that being a source of debate at my local greasy spoon (then again the last thing I would complain about there is the pishiness of the tea). However, to make up for it all we had wonderful views on a delicious September day, London looking pale and interesting, and clean (unlike Rome - which, according to my son, who was there earlier this year, is filthy and full of beggars. One might almost say like the Third World, and just the place for a Christian to get down to things).

PS We have received a full apology and refund from OXO, which is very handsome and a good deal better than most places would offer, so well done to them.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Henry Moore on 'Monitor'

In 1960 Dad interviewed Henry Moore on 'Monitor'. You can see the programme here. I love the way in which the viewer is invited to look before listening.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

After the Amis and the McEwan, both of which were OK (Amis enjoyably out of control and at last back to a subject he knows something about - himself; McEwan as controlled and clever as ever) Howard Jacobson's new novel is emphatically pertinent in a way those Big Two somehow aren't. It is a book about being Jewish in Britain, but it is also concerned with the way in which we choose (or fail to choose) the way in which we conduct ourselves. There is something of The Old Devils in it, but I'll have to reread Kingsley's book to find out. i think it has to do with the tenderness of age. This is a perfunctory note, i am aware, but this is a good book, and, as always, enjoyable with it.

Monday, 23 August 2010

William Lamson

This is a perfect stress buster. It is called 'Emerge'. Other work by the artist William Lamson can be found at his website, here.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Mmm, well. not so much confusing, I thought, as confused. Still, quite enjoyable. Ariadne leads Leo through the dreamy labyrinth (though we never see these mazes other than in model form), he confronts the minotaur that is his own guilt (in the form of his dead wife) and returns home to his children (there is a dead father, but it isn't his, and Ariadne isn't abandoned on an Aegean island). There's a rather corny ending.

It is clear from the first that this is going to be a story about coming home, so actually, rather than Theseus, the real hero evoked is Odysseus, and Mal (the wife) is a sort of siren. (The name Mal in Hebrew means 'messenger of God' but in French means 'bad'. Clever ambiguity, eh? And 'Cobb' probably means something like 'home'.) Or perhaps a lotus eater. Can't quite remember. Ms Cotillard is certainly not cycloptic.

It seems to me that Christopher Nolan, the writer and director, has thrown together a cocktail of basic plots (quest, rebirth, voyage, killing the monster etc) hoping something coherent would come out at the end. Well, it is coherent in terms of plot, but I think its focus is fuzzy and it is curiously uninvolving. It isn't really much of a story. For that see TS3, still undoubtedly the film of the year for me.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Edinburgh Festival

Spent a weekend at the Festival, very convivially put up by my friends the Grahams, who have taken a flat there for the whole of August. Both days were spankingly blue and delightful. We did eight things. On saturday we 1) ate at La Garrule 2) saw Dan Topolski, 3) saw Andrew Lawrence, 4) saw Barbershopera in Apocalypse NO!. On Sunday we 1) ascended Arthur's Seat, 2) saw 'The Retreat' by Jenni Herzberg, 3) saw Little Feat and 4) Alan Cumming.

Of all these things the ascent of Arthur's Seat will, I am certain, prove the most memorable. Least enjoyable (but not unenjoyable) was Alan Cumming, who was a little bit too slick for my taste.

Little Feat were terrific.

Jenni's play means she is going to get better; by which I mean it is blindingly obvious that she knows what she is about. I don't think her play needed a gun in it. It was strong enough without.

I laughed like a drain through Barbershopera.

At La Garrule I had something braised which was delicious.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Destry Rides Again

I'm not sure it gets better than this. Cowboys, bad guy, dramatic tension, irony, hamming, slapstick, hubris, James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and the best catfight in cinema history. I'd forgotten how very good this film is. I saw it years ago and always remembered it. It never gets shown on TV. My son recently started drinking milk in vast quantities and I told him about Destry's partiality for the cow juice and thought he'd enjoy the movie. And he did. As did I. It is even better than i remembered it.

Glories of the Great Book Cull 4

"The first religious experience that I can remember is getting under the nursery table to pray that the dancing mistress might be dead before we got to the Dancing Class."
Gwen Raverat, Period Piece, 1952

Hope and Glory

Another snippet from the Great Book Cull:
"Much of life consists in the gradual taming of the grandiloquent hopes and fantasies of infancy." Ernest Jones, Free Associations

This is horribly true, although some of us are less good at taming than others, and remain somewhat infantile. I still harbour hopes (albethey faint) for some kind of glory. Vanitas, vanitatis...

Thursday, 5 August 2010


More from the Great Book Cull. Fairly self-explanatory. Not a great poem, more a fancy note to myself.


Lionel Abel Smith’s Holiday Task
1909: Oliver Cromwell
by Frederic Harrison, Macmillan,
First edition June 1888.
A boy, I imagine, but googling find
he was perhaps Brigadier General
and so very much up to the challenge.

April – so the Easter holiday then.
We mustn’t start imagining beaches
and comical striped swimming togs
but rather a rectory somewhere
in Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire or Berks
and a willow tree swinging gently.

Do you wonder whether he achieved it
this singularly unrelaxing brief?
He did: On page 1 we find underlined
Knights of Hinchinbrook and on page 6
marginalia: “rather like Napoleon’s
father & mother”; on 221
“They make a wilderness and call it peace”
underscored, which makes me think there may be
something to be said for Brigadier Generals.

Essence of Beckett

"What but an imperfect sense of humour could have made such a mess of chaos. In the beginning was the pun. And so on."

from MURPHY by Samuel Beckett, Picador edition 1973, page 41

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Dedication of On Liberty

I have to dispose of well over half my books. As I riffle through them in desperate search for things I do not need (hah! reason not the need!)I come across stuff, such as this, which the more learned among you will of course know, but I have just read for the first time with amazement and pleasure. It is moving because it manages to marry the scholar's objectivity with a widower's extreme tenderness. It is the dedication at the beginning of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. The essay was published in 1859.

"TO the beloved and deplored memory of her who was the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings- the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward- I dedicate this volume. Like all that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me; but the work as it stands has had, in a very insufficient degree, the inestimable advantage of her revision; some of the most important portions having been reserved for a more careful re-examination, which they are now never destined to receive. Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom."

Reading on the Beach

I put this down as a record to myself really. A sort of snapshot of the Wheldon family's summer reading habits. I'd like to know others' experience of holi-lit.

So here is the context: we were in Spain for a week, near Almeria, hot as blazes. Too warm to do anything other than lie or sit on the beach. I finished Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, read Lustrum by Robert Harris, A Far Cry from Kensington (again) by Muriel Spark, and started Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin (the Spark was the most impressive of these books). DNM read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks (while setting up a number of shoots for the next couple of months). JAH read about 44 pages of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (but won several European Cups playing Football Manager on his iPhone). CGP finished The Last Kingdom (again) by Bernard Cornwall, The Amber Spyglass (again!) by Philip Pullman and all but 50 pages or so of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.

A word on the Spark: her books, like William Trevor's, are faultless. Her prose has the weight of the poetic, the sense that the story lies in the very fibre of its telling rather than in its mere pattern. And she is funny. Pisseur de copie. How I wish I'd remembered that phrase when thinking, writing, speaking about my father's biographer.


My friend Jody Tresidder directed me to this website and the photographs of Sergey Larenkov. I find them rather moving while wondering at the same time why no-one has really thought of this before (they probably have, though perhaps without the eye for detail or the powerfully present sense of history). I only wish that the site gave more information in English about the locations, dates and actors in the pictures.

The Druidstone

Imagine this: the most beautiful coast path on earth, a beach half shingle half smoothed sand, flanked by cliffs and rockpools, white-horsed rollers, a sky as big as Asia; a handsome old house, Welsh stone grey, a walled garden of grottoes and lawns and bowers; imagine a hotel in which you feel no need to lock your door, where one assumes friendship with one’s fellow guests and where one is prepared sometimes to wait a little longer for one’s supper than is quite desirable.
Stuck where the tonsils should be in the great mouth of St Bride’s Bay, the upper pious lip of St David’s to the north, the full, commercial lip of Milford Haven to the south, is such a place. The Druidstone is uncompromisingly itself, a haunt for those who once dreamed of the bohemian idyll. You will either feel utterly at ease or edgily uncomfortable; for the former this could be the best hotel in the world.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Silence by Fiona Seres

This was an outstanding piece of work, and rather than describe it i shall simply urge you to watch it on BBC iPlayer. Genevieve Barr, the deaf actress at the heart of it, is surrounded by an outstanding cast in a drama that manages to explore multiple themes while keeping the dramatic tension ratcheted up throughout. Congratulations to all involved.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Retreat by Jenni Herzberg

If anyone reading this happens to be attending the Edinburgh Festival, be sure to take in 'The Retreat'. Bound to be first class. It runs from 6th - 21st August at The Zoo. More Zoo-ie stuff here:

More on The Retreat here.  And here.  Er, and here perhaps.  More on Jenni Herzberg here.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Viva Espana

Wimbledon, the World Cup and now Cuba. The Spanish appear to be on a roll. The Roman Catholic church also appears to have done something worth celebrating. Read the BBC report here.

And you can read about the rather wonderful Damas de Blanco here. Or if your Spanish is up to it, here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Howard Webb and the Dutch

The Dutch whining - Robben!!!! - left a rather sour taste. They would have been undeserving winners had they snatched a last minute goal or won on penalties and they have proven to be poor losers. This is a shame. I had started the game marginally wishing for a Dutch victory (Neeskens was one of my favourite players ever). By half time, as everyone knows, Holland should have been down to ten men. Howard Webb, having let De Jong get away with it, for the sake of the game, one supposes, thereby gave Holland licence to hack at Iniesta and co for the next hour and a half. Is it cynicism on my part or on Holland's when I suggest that they knew that Mr Webb would not be in a position to send off every Dutchman who deserved to be sent packing? How many goals would Spain have won by if De Jong had been sent off? I think Webb did Holland a favour.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Byron on Coleridge

Explaining metaphysics to the nation.
I wish he would explain his explanation.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Woodcraft Folk

Mmm. And I thought the Woodcraft Folk were interested principally in woodcraft and folkiness. Seems not. Seems rather that a little political indoctrination is also included. Read all about it in the Morning Star, here.
My question is this: how, exactly, do Woodcraft Folk boycott Israel? I guess they will already have thrown their mobile phones away and are using homeopathic medicines to treat breast cancer. Should you be a woodcraft folksperson in need of help there is a list here. Some of the brands you Woodcraft Folk must boycott are: Coke, Disney, Gap, Danona, M & S, Kit Kat, National Geographic, Macdonalds, Timberland, IBM, HarperCollins, The Daily Telegraph.... phew!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Larkin and the Women

My friend Mr Adam Kean brought the article linked here to my attention. It mentions, albeit by way of a bit of Alan Bennett snidery, 'Monitor'; and of course Kingsley Amis crops up, as does Andrew Motion. I knew Amis a bit and liked him: "come and look after me Wynn", he once called up the staircase of the Garrick, and I met Motion when he came to speak to my Biography MA course. And let us not forget that my great friend Dr Moghissi hails from Hull. So I feel within touching distance of Larkin - but then, of course, that is the thing about Larkin. Anyone who is moved by his poetry feels within touching distance.

This is a good piece, accepting that it is not literary-critical; indeed it exemplifies the broadness of Larkin's appeal. It made me weepy (at that univied cemetery) and it made me laugh (out loud, with Mr Motion).

Thanks Ad, and thank you Rachel Cooke.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Welcome to Thebes by Moira Buffini

As an example of what David Mamet calls "pseudodrama" this could hardly be bettered. Pseudodramas "begin with a conclusion (capitalism, America, men, and so on, are bad) and award the audience for applauding its agreement". In other words, this is like art of the academy - orthodox, worthy, dull.

It is a shame that so much talent is put to something so mediocre: the set is magnificent, indeed the design of the whole is faultless (Tim Hatley is responsible); it is seamlessly directed (by Richard Eyre), the playcraft is assured (the playwright must take some credit for this), and the acting first class, although it must be said that the play buzzes best when David Harewood's Theseus is strutting about the stage.

I'm afraid I can't be bothered to rehearse the "plot" (there isn't one, actually). I will mention one aspect that I found particularly difficult: the inability to resist cheap jokes. These punctured any sense one might have of the gravity of the crisis being presented. We were told how bloody awful things were, but never shown. If humour is to be employed then it needs to be black as coal, not the "motherfucking father" stuff directed at Oedipus's daughters Antigone and Ismene, stuck in for no reason other than for a chortle. Furthermore it underlined the gestural nature of this kind of theatre: there is no tragedy here, merely the satisfaction of prejudice.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


She's terrific. I'm all for Bulgaria this weekend. Mind you, she hasn't yet won her semi-final. Sorry about the "video" but I reckon this must be the Bulgarian National Anthem and it does us all good to open our ears to such things.

Breaking news: Alas! Pironkova just broken in second set!

Wild Target

Odd title, but terrifically enjoyable little film with star turns from all concerned, from Bill Nighy as uptight assassin to Martin Freeman as shark-toothed rival and including feisty Emily Blunt, who bears comparison with Katherine Hepburn. Splendid portrayal of innocence by Rupert Grint. That is not to mention Eileen Atkins and Rupert Everett...

Although based on a French story, this has the authority and wickedness of a classic Ealing comedy. Plot's all over the place but this really doesn't matter as the real pleasure is derived from the performances.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Harry Stroud's Bohemians

This is the band lead by the second husband of my grandmother, "Mrs Stroud". She had started out as Lillie Nunns, married a Clarke, was widowed and married a Stroud. She occasionally played double bass for this outfit, though she had to stand on a box to do so. Should anyone know anything about Harry Stroud's Bohemians I'd love to learn it. Harry himself is on the accordion.

I Am the Dalek Supreme

In recognition of the tremendous pleasure that the latest series of Dr Who has given me, I hereby post this recently discovered photograph of a rune clearly depicting a dalek, with the startling message "I am the Dalek Supreme" inscribed above. The photograph dates either from around 1965 or of course 10,965 or even One Million Years BC. As for the handsome young archaeologist squatting proudly above his discovery - can't think who he is.

Some Good News

Following the last post, here is some good news. It seems the old left is not so besotted with totalitarian terrorists as are the bien-pensant Pinterites and Guardianistas.

Monday, 28 June 2010


Well, they have a fine football team, but, not unlike many other countries in Europe, a growing problem with anti-semitism. A recent episode is reported here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Prodigious Facts 1

A neutrino is capable of passing through about six trillion miles of lead without hitting a single atom. Not unlike Dan Carter through the Welsh rugby team.

The Philosopher's Stone

In the 8th century the Islamic alchemist known as Geber decided that arrangements of the qualities hotness, coldness, dryness and wetness made up all the metals, and that therefore their rearrangement could mean that one metal could be turned into another. In order to make these rearrangements it was necessary to use some kind of agent. This agent, or substance, was called al-iksir - elixir - and its source was the legendary "philosopher's stone". Geber was undoubtedly brilliant, but wrong. So was Newton, who was still trying to change lead into gold almost a thousand years later. Thought i'd helpfully share this with y'all.

Monday, 21 June 2010

NZ v Wales

All Blacks stupendous. Dan Carter could play in any position and their new wing is as good as Rockoko.


This is odd. Is it a set up? I suppose it must be. If so it is extremely well done. But to what end?

Thursday, 10 June 2010


This morning I came upon the following paragraph in a story by William Maxwell. I think it is remarkable, so I am going to share it with y'all.

"The tragic heroine takes everything into consideration. That is her trouble, the thing that paralyzes her. While her lawyer is explaining to her the advantages of separate maintenance over an outright divorce, she considers the shape of his hands and how some people have happiness while they are young, and then,later, nothing but unhappiness."

There seems to me to be so much in these lines that we hardly need a story into which to place them. It is also rhythmically satisfying: I love the staccato of commas towards the end, following the long clauses. Marvellous. The paragraph is from 'The Trojan Women' by William Maxwell.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

John Berger Collage

This is a hitherto unseen collage by the distinguished novelist and writer on art, John Berger. I came upon it going through old postcards my parents had been sent in the 1960s. My mother, Jacqueline Wheldon, wrote the blurb for the Booker prize-winning 'G', and my father invited John to do several films for 'Monitor'. What I personally chiefly remember about John was his motorbike and his leather jacket, and his rich, lisped and gnarling voice.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Flush as May by P M Hubbard

Wonderfully civilized hero and heroine, quoting Browning and bantering with high facetiousness. Usual Hubbard stuff involving earth works and pagan practices. I really think that almost no-one has ever described the English countryside so well - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the geography of the countryside. Place is absolutely everything in Hubbard's books and he is at great pains to put you in the picture. And my, he does sinister very very well. Some people thought P M Hubbard was Isaiah Berlin but when he was asked directly he said "if I were, would I tell?"

Sunday, 23 May 2010


The following is adapted from a real letter that my father, Huw Wheldon, visiting America in 1959, wrote to my mother. It is what might be called, after Duchamp, a ‘found’ poem.

So then, after washing, a cigarette, and the treasured letter. A treat. To be read with minute care, so imagine a monk adoringly fingering his way through the palimpsest; and I immediately know all and how absolutely impossible it is to write a letter with any meaning because we are beyond sharing the world’s news and the going joke and can now only share life. So the letter becomes not inadequate but irrelevant. The relevant thing is: everything. So I want you to know that I could not find my comb until I found it and I want you to know that the day is as hot as the devil and I want you to know the colour of the carpet and the look on that chap’s face and that just now I had a piss and what is more I am at this very moment breathing, sometimes in and then again, out. Not that these things or perhaps any thing at all is of the slightest interest, and if they happened and you were here they would be trivial and perhaps even boring or tiresome, but they exist as part of my irresistible and flowing and absolutely living, nose-picking, glorifying, boring being, and putting it bluntly it is a jarring thing for you not to know about them automatically, and for me equally not to know that you are grizzling over the sink, or thinking about Aldous Huxley, or feeling the edge of desperation like a bad tooth on the edge of the tongue simply because you are looking at a single delphinium, and as usual, it implies the world, not to mention what the hell to do about the lupins, and eternity.

This appears in this month's issue of Acumen Literary Journal, Acumen 67

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Pound Demonstrates Ju-jitsu to Frost

"[Pound] would take me to restaurants and things. Showed me ju-jitsu in a restaurant. Threw me over his head... wasn't ready for him at all. I was just as strong as he was. He said 'I'll show you. Stand up.' So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head."

This is from the Paris Review interview with Robert Frost. He is speaking of his stay in England, from 1912-1915. He spent time in London with Ezra Pound and then went to Gloucestershire where he made a great friend of Edward Thomas.

This story tickled me firstly because it is ticklish, secondly because one son is very fond of 'The Road Not Taken' and thirdly because another practices Ju-jitsu on Friday evenings.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The November Criminals by Sam Munson

To begin with, you think you are in one of those novels by young men that describe the debauched life they lead as though it was interesting. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Certainly there are drugs, weed, here, in fact importantly so. But there is no graphic sex and no unworthiness before the great god Rock. In fact this is a rather high brow book, dense, intellectual, even difficult.

The voice is Catcher in the Rye conversational, the conceit being that the book is an essay written for the benefit of the University of Chicago selection board, describing the narrator’s best and worst qualities. Addison Schacht, brought up by his oafish but good-natured artist father, sells dope to his high school fellows and is fluent in Latin, with a special love for the Aeniad.

The story of the book, such as it is, recounts Addison’s amateurish attempts to discover the murderer of a classmate, Kevin Broadus. Addison fails utterly but in so doing recreates himself, emerging a sadder but wiser man, one who can, at eighteen years old, not only smoke, but buy cigarettes, not only love but admit to loving, his girlfriend, the intriguing Digger.

Kevin Broadus, a saxophonist in the school band, attracts Addison’s attention when, in a class about Music and Its Relation to African American Literature Broadus, an African American, does “not particularly” agree with the notion, put forward by the teacher, that African American literature is less constrained than other literatures. This is the only thing Addison remembers Kevin saying in class, ever, but before he can congratulate him Broadus is murdered.

‘The November Criminals’, as I learned it, was a phrase given to the Germans who surrendered at the end of the First World War and who subsequently accepted the Versailles treaty. I don’t know whether it was Hitler’s own phrase but it could have been. So: traitors (but, from our point of view, surely, good traitors). If you know this before you start you spend much of the book wondering about its title. The explanation, when it comes, is not entirely clear, but I think that what Addison is struggling to say is that we are all of us traitors to an ideal notion we have of how things should be. Or something. (Addison loves his italics and his 'ors' and 'whatevers').

But perhaps his point is more specifically about contemporary America. Addison certainly has very little time for multicultural orthodoxy, the central tenet of which is: “we’re all still racists today”. Addison regards this as mere gesture; indeed, in its extended meaning he regards it, as exemplified by Black History Month, say, as “the ultimate fantasy of a slave owner”. For his part he, a Jew, collects Holocaust jokes. It is impossible to read this other than as an act of defiance that proclaims THIS IS HOW THE WORLD IS - BE TRUTHFUL.

‘The November Criminals’ is a superior work of fiction, written with authority and verve. It is occasionally very funny. Chicago would have been foolish not to accept Addison Schacht.

The book is published by Doubleday

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


I read in Andrew Roberts' review of Michael Burleigh's new book, Moral Combat: A History of World War II, that on the day Mussolini left his villa for the last time, his 18 year old son Romano, a fine pianist, was playing Duke Ellington's 'Saddest Tale' in an upstairs room.

Ruskin on Sewers

"A good sewer is a far nobler and a far holier thing... than the most admired Madonna ever painted".

John Ruskin - quoted by Simon Schama in his History of Britain. Does anyone know where it comes from?

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Walk 2010, Part Two: Inkpen to Great Bedwyn

Fortified by the thought of underground seditionary activity in the southwestern reaches of Berkshire, as evidenced by Red Andy’s note, we set forth towards the great buttress of Inkpen Hill, about a mile away, and teeming, it would seem, with starlings or midges or perhaps crows gathering to feast on the carcasses of exhausted middle-aged men.

We had already seen several deer on the previous day. Today, set back from the pack by the need of a piss. I saw a large deer standing as still as a cutout about thirty yards away from me, among some rather junior looking trees (young birches?) He stared in my general direction as I stared at him. Odd how incapable one feels of catching the moment properly, even while it is happening. It seems such a privilege, and casual somehow to simply move on. I simply moved on and caught up.

We slanted up the steep hill, beneath the weirdly silent, pterodactylian hang-gliders (not midges, starlings or malevolent crows) that must have been up there from early morning. How do they not entangle one another? And they are silent of course because they go with the wind, unopposing.

It was a good day, lots of interesting clouds and cloudlets (AK particularly taken with one little one after two pints of Adlestone’s at lunch-time) and we made our way as far west on the ridge as we could before descending gently onto the plain and the Roman Road that leads into Wilton, accompanied on our right by a windmill atop a hill of preposterously yellow rape.

Ploughman’s Lunch all round in Wilton, at The Swan, a proper, unpretentious pub with the kind of landlady who will one day be old enough for one to imagine her having been there since, say, 1734. Properly boozed for our time in life (two pints at lunchtime) we strolled in the afternoon sun over the hill and down to the canal. We stopped to watch a long boat come through a lock and discussed the physics involved. We stopped again at ‘Mike’s house, a lock cottage where RR had spent much time as a small child and then a few holidays as a father with small children. MDF stripped off (see previous walks) for a dip in the canal and we all laughed and Mrs Mike brought him a cup of tea.

On, then, to Great Bedwyn. I went into the church, where a much-blotched woman with two sticks and a quite incredible slowness of pace, as well as an irresistible jollity, pointed out various features of interest, not least an effigy of “Henry the eighth’s father-in-law”. A window full of heraldic devices had been put in close by, having been saved from the destruction of nearby Wolf Hall.

The Cross Keys was a pub of total and completely undesigned simplicity. Stuff simply had not been painted or repaired or updated. Run by Bruce and Sue (both of whom wore rugby shirts), Bruce had a side line in repairing canal boats. From one of these boats he had to transport a bed for MDF. And then MDF didn’t want the bed, because he was going home, so Bruce had to take the bed back to the boat, but then MDF did want the bed because he wasn’t going home, and so Bruce had to fetch the bed again, and MDF helped Bruce unload it, and then, life being what it is, I had to sleep on it, and I would have done better on the floor with a sleeping bag and an old iron gate.

Skittles were drawn, although MDF and I were plainly the best team, supper was filling (couldn’t finish a gloriously stodgy berry crumble and custard), and then we played Hearts. I shall record the scores, because posterity loves a stat. In reverse order: SP -135, RR – 101, AK – 35, WW -31, SAF 0. What a master. I would have liked to have seen him go up against MDF, a man I have known for forty years. I have never seen him lose a game of cards except against my children (they hold on to that knowledge, as to a special stone found on a holiday beach). But MDF, defeated by the day and perhaps the knowledge of an imminent return to his own young children, had retired. To sleep in my bed. And leave me his.

The night passed. In between being penetrated by the springs of my zombie-mattress I was attacked by MDF with a pillow, to stop me snoring. On the first occasion I awoke at this, certain that some supernatural force had been at work. I spent fifteen minutes reminding myself that I was a rational being.

In the morning it was raining. We counted ourselves very clever for having, for once, avoided rain in May. SP and RR went west, and the rest of us sped back to London, talking about Alzheimer’s and War. SAF and I were dropped off at Acton Central. Our friends departed before we realised that the station was closed. We made our way to bustling Ealing Broadway and tubed home to face each his own domestic duties.

Once again RR had organised us and led us from pub to pub to pub to pub to pub in a quite delicious meander through the English countryside. The poor bugger’s knee was giving out, but he despises pain and hardship and whingeing (though he has no tolerance whatsoever for dogs), and he remained and remains our dynamo. Many many thanks, as ever.

Much missed were MH and TC, and it ought to be added that RR was far from being the only no-whinger, AK having only recently recovered from a gall bladder operation. KBO chaps.

Ellie Darby

My new hero is Ellie Darby, who was a real trooper on Wags, Kids and World Cup Dreams (BBC3), which I must admit i tuned into in order to see WAGs humiliated and made ashamed of their wealth. But the shame - the snobbery - was mine. The set up: Five WAGS volunteered to go and help in the orphanages of the Cape Town townships. They were all more impressive than I had imagined possible. Of them all Ellie Darby was the star. She is obviously a woman capable of making things happen. She appears to have energy, sympathy and sense. I'd sign her up right away, and insist that Matthew Upson, her partner, be the first on the England team sheet, whatever his shortcomings as a footballer.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Walk 2010, Part One: Kintbury to Inkpen

So: The Walk, 14/15 May 2010. Berks/Wilts: From Kintbury to Great Bedwyn by way of Inkpen. Departed a rather nice pub [name please] full of elderly middle Englanders, walked east on the Kennet and Avon Canal to Hamstead Lock. Utterly ignored ancient earth works around Hamstead Marshall and wondered instead at curious unattached ornamental gate posts standing like large forgotten pair of sentinels across a few acres (?) of Hamstead Park.

On then past the stray dog centre where a notice assured us that healthy dogs were never put down. Phew! What a relief, especially in the hindsight-light of the "dogs are unacceptable" line fed us at the end of Day 2 by those wishing to spread dog-hatred in our less-beturded-than-ever cities. By way of several copses and holts and commons and what have you (not forgetting the rather disappointing Skew-Whiff) we arrived at The Swan at Lower Green. This is a pub beautifully set and dismally owned. I say owned rather than managed because the manager was Thomas – a young, cheerful, chin-bearded chap from Czechoslovakia. Promised gourmet food, we met the chef, a Bulgarian who, all stereotyping apart, looked like a Bulgarian from central casting: swarthy and dangerous and perhaps even a tad wily. Many of us ordered stroganoff on the grounds that it must be sort of Bulgarian and would probably full of evil Black Sea spices and wotnot. It was one of the blandest dishes I have ever eaten. Still, it soaked up the cider that had been consumed while trying to convince ourselves that Andy, a diminutive, full-bearded, local character (straight out of ‘Jerusalem’), was not going to hit one of us in the eye with his own inimitable darts action. Andy also informed us that Walbury Hill, nearby, was the highest chalk hill in the world and only 17 feet short of being a mountain.

In the morning Thomas gave us a note from Andy, thanking us for the game of darts. It was accompanied by some organic shortbread. He signed it ‘Red’ Andy, adding a hammer and sickle for good measure. Ah, the Trotsky of Inkpen we thought and put £10 behind the bar as a contribution to the revolution (or, failing that, perhaps a pint or two). Thomas, beaming, took it, but said Andy wouldn’t need it as he was a millionaire…

I shared with AK in a room with no windows and an insistent ticking noise that I could find no source for.

SAF shared with RR and said it was a little like sleeping with a small piglet (although he did not vouchsafe this to RR himself until Sunday morning).

MDF & GOB, the long fellows, also shared. Both were late for breakfast. I don’t know what the Bulgarian thought.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Pricking o' the Ducts

Two episodes yesterday - Gordon Brown's farewell speech and England losing the 1990 World Cup semi final to West Germany, on penalties. The latter was the climax of a film of Pete Davies's book 'All Played Out', called 'One Night in Turin'. It wasn't terribly good (not a patch on the book), but it did feature Nessun Dorma which can prick the ducts all by itself. As for the unfortunate Gordo (why unfortunate? well, he LOOKS unfortunate) - the hubris was quite gone and it was a modest and dignified speech. I think he is a good man, but a too difficult one. I think Cameron, too, is a good man, but perhaps a too easy. Clegg? Hmm.

Monday, 10 May 2010

September Song

Seems somehow pertinent

Oh it’s a long, long while from May ‘till December
And the days grow short when you reach September.
When the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.


Of course the new election will be under PR so we'll have lots of UKIP and BNP members (the fourth and fifth largest parties in the UK in terms of votes) to make things more interesting.


I'm sorry, but isn't this utterly typical of the LibDems? On the one hand this but on the other hand that. This prevaricating does not at all feel like the national interest is what is concerning them. I am now of the opinion that the Tories should send them on their way, the Labour party should ditch Brown (he was not made for coalitions - he has trouble working with his own sceretary for god sake), Harperson should take over as caretaker, the LibDems should go in with the Labour Party, everyone except public servants will go bankrupt, and we'll have another election in October or March and sort things out properly.