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.