Wednesday, 30 March 2011

On Brighton Beach: A Fragment

They walked together on the beach at Brighton, at first among the upper levels where the big pebbles slipped beneath their feet and they found themselves bumping into one another and muttering tiny, hardly audible sorries. So they moved, without words, nearer the water.

Then Matthew said: “Do you know how many pebbles there are on Brighton’s beaches?”

Phoebe said: “No, Matt, I don’t.”

“About six hundred thousand million.”

“That’s a lot of pebbles.”

Matthew had known, even before telling her, that Phoebe would not be interested in how many pebbles there were on Brighton beaches, but he had felt that something must be said. It was simply that absolutely nothing else occurred to him.

“I knew you wouldn’t be interested in that”.

“It’s a lot of pebbles.”

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Should he say that? Was it an admission of his own shortcomings or perhaps it would be interpreted as a plea for mercy. Either way, bad news. Then again it was a kind of intimacy, wasn’t it? To admit that? To go to the bottom of his mind?

“I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” he said, and Phoebe looked up at him and smiled and laughed a little. He looked at her, and she was slightly shaded by the sun over her left shoulder. He felt a surge of gratitude mixing with his affection.

“Better than me, though. I didn’t say anything.”

They walked on, slightly more comfortable in their silence, and yet Matthew was aware that perhaps this was the moment when he should release his desire from the bonds of his shyness, sit Phoebe down and kiss her. His heart beat faster with the conflict of desire and fear. Both seemed ferociously strong, producing, now, an overwhelming need for food, a hot dog from the pier, as though the distraction would salve his anxiety and the pork, mustard, onions and bread satisfy his lust for final contact with this girl with whom he believed he was in love.

“Hot dog?”

NB This is a fragment from the novel on which I am working, which seems to me to stand alone as a piece of what is called flash-fiction.

Monday, 14 March 2011

An Apology

I would herein like to withdraw the vile slur I made against the valiant England team in their plucky performance against mighty Scotland last Sunday. No way was that pass forward. Not in a million years.

This was the best moment of the game:

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Hamlet without the Prince

England scraped a win against Scotland with a forward pass against 14 men. They didn't look like world beaters. Perhaps they have been missing this chap.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Desert Island Picture

My son, who is studying the history of art at A level, recently asked me what one picture I would take with me to my desert island. And why. Although the first question is difficult enough, the second is perhaps harder still.

I thought of pictures by Bonington, Cotman, Ruisdael, Constable and Turner, all of them close to my heart. Interesting choice of phrase, “close to my heart”. These pictures all meant something to me long ago, in my teens or early twenties, when my heart was perhaps more labile, so their attaching themselves was all the more impressive. And they are landscapes. And sky-dominated landscapes at that (think of Bonington’s A Distant View of St Omer at the Tate), [above]. This attests to a fundamentally romantic temperament, which I won't deny. But one gets on.

Horrible generalisation, this, but as one grows older one grows away from self-absorption. Other people come to interest you in their own right, not simply as extensions of your own consciousness. Gazing into the sky and dreaming has its moments and attractions, but perhaps people are more interesting still. There is a picture at Kenwood House that I love (and would have dismissed when young as terribly stuffy and dull) Mary, Countess Howe by Thomas Gainsborough. And another, at the Wallace, a kind of sister painting, Nelly O’Brien by Joshua Reynolds. But it is another picture at Kenwood that I would choose. It is my favourite painting by quite some way.

Why? Immediately I said “I like the colours”. This was flip, but there is something in it. When I look at this painting I think of Shakespeare. I see a kind of benevolent omniscience, even in these very colours (to be pat: the red is life, the dark is death and the palette of the picture ranges through every tone between them, so there is deep sadness but also laughter here). I feel I am in the presence of someone I can trust. The famously mysterious circles behind the artist merely suggest to me that element of being that remains unknowable. Rembrandt painted scores of self-portraits and yet there is in none of them even the hint of vanity. It is as though the artist genuinely sees himself from without, objectively (though he surely was not attempting to portray his own benevolent omniscience). This, I think, is the best of all those renditions of himself. He is an old man, bankrupt, his wife and son both fatally ill, and yet here he turns this negative experience to positive effect in a picture both pathetic and proud. The figure in the picture has so clearly experienced life, in the sense of having, like Socrates, examined it thoroughly. I wouldn’t be so lonely on my desert island, with Rembrandt hanging from the palm tree, and that is why I’m taking him with me. I imagine there'll be plenty of skyscape to stare wistfully into.

Have just come across a page in The New Yorker, here, that may be of interest (the portrait is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum at the moment).

Monday, 7 March 2011

Friday, 4 March 2011

United Nations & Moral Leadership, Again, Again

Pleased to see that today Iran officially becomes a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Seems rotten then that Libya has been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council, only nine months after being invited on. Still, not to worry, they still have a place on the UN Commission on crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (along with Russia, Sudan, etc).