Tuesday, 31 July 2012


i.m. Boaz 
1 July, 2002 - 30 July, 2012

Some ten years ago, baffled and irritated by the acquisition of a dog for my son Caleb’s sixth birthday, I wrote a piece entitled ‘What’s the Point of a Dog?’, sent it around, and found that commissioning editors to a man and woman were obviously dog owners.  No-one wanted my wise words.

I was non-plussed. The article seemed to me eminently sensible.  Dogs were a hassle weren’t they?

They had to be walked, groomed, fed, cleared up after, prevented from frightening small children, trained, and found a home for when one went away. But then one could say exactly the same for one’s children (and at least dogs don’t answer back or say “No!” and stamp their feet). I cannot now for the life of me remember what was specifically troublesome about having a dog.

This morning our dog was put down.  Riddled with lumps of cancer in his abdomen, anaemic, and lethargic almost to the point of unconsciousness, with no appetite and a “seriously disfigured liver”, Boaz had come to the end of his days, threescore and ten dog years after his birth, and the point of a dog becomes clear.  A dog is a vessel for the unspent affection, the love, that is so often hard to bestow on one another.  (It strikes me that maybe this is an affliction particularly affecting the shy British, which might explain our reputation as dog lovers).  Our grief at the death of our dog made us dumb, but also breathless with sobs, and was real.

I daresay this will be considered by all the non-commissioning editors out there as rank sentimentality.  Ten years ago I would probably have agreed with them.  However, it was ever the case that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and this is especially so of love. Dog lovers tend to warble on about the faithfulness of dogs, but frankly dogs would be damned foolish not to be faithful to their principal food source.  I have never doubted that Boaz attached himself closer to my wife than any other member of the family because he knew damn well he was more likely to get a tidbit from her than from the rest of us.  Then again, my wife is chief of the Wheldon pack, and a good dog always follows its leader.

So, yes, whenever other members of the family either are not present or do not deserve affection, for one of any number of reasons, there is the dog to receive it.  Boaz, a larger-than-usual Tibetan terrier, was particularly suited to the receipt of love, for he was shaggy and handsome, with a thick black coat marked by streaks of brilliant white on his chest (his ‘bib’), head, and the tips of his tail and one paw.  He was good-natured except when he had fearlessly hunted down his own food, such as half-finished yogurt pots or misplaced packets of digestives.  This once meant our cleaning lady Elena’s sandwiches.  She received a nasty nip attempting to retrieve them, and had to phone for help because Boaz took up guard of said sandwiches by the front door and would not let her pass.

It is thought that dogs are ‘clever’ but I never saw that particular quality shining in Boaz.  He seemed to me to be a bit dim.  This was often in truth because he could not see very well, his shagginess often obscuring sight.  He was occasionally stubborn, refusing to move unless bribed.  When walking he would invariably be behind, sniffing, examining, scenting, and if you called him to catch up, he’d trot towards you, but only so far.  He was very much himself.  (On those rare occasions when he walked in front he would sometimes affect a mincing gait that was frankly excruciating).

He occasionally went missing, although he probably would not have called it that.  He had simply wandered off, following one bouquet after another, with no sense or indeed need for destination. The frightful hollowing out of one’s body that comes with a child gone astray, and the rising sense of panic, made itself felt on these occasions in only slightly diminished a form.  One’s negligence in allowing such a thing to happen was awful.

Such self-recrimination was a symptom of our need for an object to love that would happily accept that love, requiring nothing in return other than food and shelter and the occasional throwing of a ball.  In a family a dog acts as a bonding agent. He can be the subject of talk (including argument, fantasy, drama, and so forth), and the cause of laughter (frequently so with Boaz) which is the most powerful of all adhesives, but chiefly he can be the resource for otherwise unspent affection.  And as the scientists now attest, being affectionate is good for you.  One way or another, dogs make life better.
Boaz was company for all of us, in both different and similar ways, and we are lonelier without him, closer to each other in our grief, and further away without his adhesive presence. He was a real, physical being, a tame animal, a peata, to use the Scottish Gaelic word, which feels more appropriate than the mere ‘pet’.
For of course as well as all the mollycoddling and stroking and laughing a dog provokes and inspires, he will also take you out walking into the world. This is the single thing I am personally most grateful to Boaz for.  He showed me Hampstead Heath, and, mawkish as it may seem, we shall spread his ashes there, in that benign, tame, handsome and gently mysterious place which suited him so well.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Booker Long List

Well, either I simply no longer read enough book reviews or most of these books haven't yet been published.  Probably a combination of both.  I haven't heard of most of them. I have however read the Michael Frayn, which is very funny and, of course, clever.

Nicola Barker, The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink, Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn, Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson, Communion Town (Fourth Estate)


The band previously known as Lo Fi Culture Scene has metamorphosed into CASABLANCA.  Their Facebook page is here. Check it out now, you funk soul brothers, etc etc...  First single is due mid-September.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

At the Oval

It has long been my opinion that the Upper Tier of the Mound Stand at Lords, on a perfect English summer's day, watching England play Australia, is as close as it is possible for mortal man to get to paradise.

Yesterday at the Oval, watching South Africa kill England with dreadful slow certainty, wasn't far off.  We were in the shaded Bedser stand and saw Ian Bell play a staunch and steadfast innings of 52.  When he went we knew the game was up.  But the real pleasure was sitting with old friends quaffing cold beer in front of the verdant sward, beneath an azure sky.  I'm afraid such adjectives are unavoidable.  It really was like that.  There was something timeless - newsreely -  about watching Morkel and Steyn pounding aggressively in, Steyn especially.  Utter bliss and many thanks to MDF for organising.

David Nash at Kew

Years ago, in New York, I was told off by a security guard for carrying a child on my shoulders as we wandered through the post-impressionist galleries of MOMA or perhaps it was the Met or the Whitney.  Galleries are places, after all, of piety, where one must stay quiet and respectful before the sacred forms and objects of modern secular religion.

Sculpture parks are quite different.  You can see the work of art from afar, walk around it.  Children may dash about it screaming.  And the irony is that if the work is good, then a gentle sense of awe will be unavoidable.  This is certainly the case at Kew Gardens, which has been transformed into a David Nash sculpture park.

David Nash is a sculptor of wood. He says that he learned to "speak wood", and he is fluent in it.  He carves it, chars it, slices it, assembles it, turns it into bronze or steel, occasionally loses it (the wonderful wordless 'Wooden Boulder' film in the Sherwood Gallery at Kew has the power of a novel), altogether loves it. The results are fascinating. Wood is made to resemble Chinese mountains, streaks of lightning, families, kings, queens - not explicitly or exclusively, but suggestively.  Suddenly one begins to take better note of the trees in the gardens, seeing in them different forms and shapes.  Metamorphosis moves from the actual to the imagined, everything turning into something else, delightfully.

Of all the exhibitions in London this summer, this surely must be the most enjoyable.


The Dark Knight Rises takes itself far too seriously, is far too long, lacks wit or humour and the dialogue is often impossible to hear, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Recommended.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

To Kill, or Not to Kill? by John Carlin

This fascinating article was passed on to me by my friend Rupert Walters

Many of us turn to Shakespeare’s plays and poems for pleasure. But for political prisoners in apartheid South Africa, his work served a more urgent purpose

After the student uprising of 1976 in Soweto, an event that rekindled the spirit of black resistance against apartheid, large numbers of young South Africans showed up at the military camps of the African National Congress (ANC) in Angola, ready to fight and, if necessary, to die for the cause. One group of recruits had a problem. There was a line in Shakespeare, from a passage in Julius Caesar, that had special resonance for them, whose exact wording they couldn’t agree on.

So they turned to Ronnie Kasrils, a veteran white commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed movement that Nelson Mandela had created 15 years earlier. As Kasrils recalled in a phone conversation earlier this month, the passage in question begins with the famous lines, “Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once.” The young men, soldiers now face to face with mortality, had those words nailed down. It was the final line of the sequence that was troubling them. Did Shakespeare use the word “will” or “shall”? Was it “Seeing that death, a necessary end,/Will come when it will come”, or was it “Shall come when it shall come”?

Kasrils, who incidentally trotted off the whole passage from memory when I spoke to him, was pretty sure that it was “will”, which is in fact correct. “But since we didn’t have Google in those days, and since the matter was so important for those guys,” he said, “I sent off a message to London for clarification.”

The scholarly pedantry of those young black South Africans, their concern to distinguish between the woollier “will” and the more forthright “shall”, showed how serious they were about their Shakespeare. But so was the entire South African liberation movement, from top to bottom, as visitors to the British Museum will learn should they attend an exhibition starting on Thursday and running until November 25, called “Shakespeare: staging the world.” One of the principal items on display, “Exhibit A” to illustrate the contemporary dramatist Ben Jonson’s line that Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time”, will be a book known as “the Robben Island Bible”.

Robben Island was the Alcatraz on the South Atlantic where Nelson Mandela and other South African political prisoners spent many years of their lives; the “Bible” was a collection of the complete works of William Shakespeare smuggled into the jail in the 1970s by a prisoner called Sonny Venkatrathnam. They called it the Bible because Venkatrathnam cheated the prison censorship system by telling his warders that it was a Hindu religious work. But there was another reason, too. As the book circulated, Shakespeare’s poems and plays acquired the condition of secular scripture, interpreted by one and all much as believers might the Koran, the Christian Bible or, for that matter, Karl Marx.

As Dora Thornton, the curator of the British Museum exhibition put it, “They used him as a way of developing their own moral sense.” With Shakespeare having anticipated and explored the competing questions of leadership and self-doubt, idealism and expediency, ambition and loyalty that bedevil politicians everywhere and always, but all the more urgently at times of national conflict, Mandela and his comrades drew from his works to shape political debate and lay the philosophical foundations for political action.

There was no question more central to the debate within the ANC, almost from its inception, than whether to opt for violent or peaceful resistance in their mission to end white minority rule; whether to go for the “Cry ‘Havoc’!” route or seek to persuade their oppressors to cede power. It was a moral question but also a practical one. Which would work best?

And here is why the timelessly political Julius Caesar was the Shakespearean work that most concentrated the minds of South Africa’s freedom fighters. As notes written on the margins of the Robben Island Bible show, many of the island prisoners delighted in As You Like It, Twelfth Night and the sonnets; some drew inspiration from The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest; and in one particularly interesting case, concerning not a prisoner but a leader in exile, Hamlet offered sharp food for thought. But it was the pages of Julius Caesar, as Thornton found when she leafed through the Bible for the first time, that had been most thoroughly pored – and pawed – over; it was in Julius Caesar where the prisoners found the most valuable examination both of the core dilemmas that assailed them and of the possible consequences of electing war or peace.

Remarkably, Sol Plaatje, one of the founders of the ANC in 1912, thought the play of sufficient importance to take on the mission of translating it into the African language Setswana. More interesting still, Mandela included a quote from it in a 1944 manifesto that he helped to pen for the ANC Youth League. The choice he made points to his budding exasperation with what was then the prevailing ANC policy of passive resistance: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

The lines are from Cassius’s temptation of Brutus, the attempt by the most convinced of the conspirators to persuade the most reluctant of them to join the plot to kill Caesar. And yet, when Mandela did eventually opt for violence 17 years later, as the first commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he did so in a spirit more in tune with the morally ambiguous Brutus, the real hero – not Caesar – of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers,” says Brutus, “ … we shall be called purgers, not murderers.” Shakespeare captured there the self-justifying argument of all terrorists (or guerrillas, depending on the point of view), but Mandela took the idea further, insisting while he was in charge of the armed struggle that the apartheid regime’s strategic installations, not people, would be the only acceptable targets.

The policy would turn more aggressive after Mandela went to prison, yet, over its 30 years of existence, Umkhonto we Sizwe would kill no more innocent bystanders than the number that perish today on an average day’s bombing in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even then, when it did happen, when a bomb caused death and mayhem on a Pretoria street or in a Durban shopping centre, the ANC leadership, both in prison and in exile, would react with soul-searching and self-doubt, among them Mandela’s best-known successor as head of Umkhonto and hero of the black townships, Chris Hani.

Hani, who was assassinated by rightwing fanatics in 1993, was fascinated by Hamlet, as Ronnie Kasrils, his close friend and comrade in arms, told me back then. Hamlet wrestles from beginning to end with the dilemma that Brutus has resolved by the beginning of Act Two, to kill or not to kill; or in Hamlet’s case (entirely pertinent to a black South African population exploited for the three centuries), revenge or not revenge.

Contrary to the evil image of Hani presented to the white population by their government, conscience did make a coward of Hani. The native hue of resolution did eventually impose itself, for he was a brave fighter and a resolute leader, who gave orders to take human life. However, as a thoughtful man who read the classics as well as Shakespeare, and as someone who in his youth had seriously contemplated becoming a Catholic priest, he agonised over succumbing to the mortal sin of murder. The two Hanis, the philosopher and the avenging angel, found a mirror in the character of Hamlet.

Nelson Mandela’s mirror was more Shakespeare’s Brutus – though not entirely. It is hard to escape the conclusion that in Brutus, Mandela saw a reflection of the man he strove to be, but also a compelling cautionary tale. The self-sacrificing creed of Mandela, who came within an inch of receiving the death sentence at his trial in 1964, finds no better expression than in the declaration of faith Brutus makes when he says, “If it be aught toward the general good,/Set honor in one eye and death i’ th’ other,/And I will look on both indifferently/ … I love/The name of honor more than I fear death.” Or when, in response to Cassius’s “threats”, he says, “I am arm’d so strong in honesty/That they pass by me as the idle wind.”

Yet Brutus erred. Brutus was not shrewd – but Mandela was. It would be a stretch to say that there is a direct line between Shakespeare’s words and the decision of the ANC leadership to opt in the end not for armed confrontation but for peaceful talks. But it would also be misguided to neglect the degree to which a play like Julius Caesar, in which not just the elders but some of the youth of the liberation movement were steeped, did not substantially inform their mental processes. The decision to kill Caesar led to civil war, precisely the outcome that seemed so plausible a prospect in South Africa for so long and which Mandela strove so clear-headedly to avoid, both after he was freed from prison in 1990 and after he ascended to the presidency in 1994.

Mandela’s moment of truth came after rightwing plotters assassinated Chris Hani in April 1993. It was a loss that pained him terribly. Hani, Mandela’s almost certain presidential successor had he lived, was like a son to him. The black population loved Hani, as Shakespeare’s Roman masses did Caesar. They were baying for blood. It was a moment, as all those of us who were there recall, when South Africa was staring into the abyss. (I remember, not entirely incidentally, meeting a brooding, vengeful young black man in one of the embattled townships outside Johannesburg whose first name – some people would not believe me but I really didn’t make it up – was Macbeth.)

Mandela found himself suddenly in the role not of Brutus, whose die was cast early on, but of Mark Antony. Would he answer the call of his heart, as Antony did? Would he let slip the dogs of war? Or would Mandela’s reason prevail, restrained by the spectre he would sometimes conjure of a country “drowning in blood”? It was the turning point in South African history, a large part of the reason why the country today, for all its shortcomings, remains stable and democratic. Mandela, setting aside the grievances that he and generations of fellow black compatriots had been nurturing for centuries, made a call for peace. Brutus would have applauded. Shakespeare, recognising in Mandela a hero nobler than any he devised, would have done so too.

John Carlin’s book ‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation’ was the basis for the film ‘Invictus’. ‘Shakespeare: staging the world’ runs at The British Museum from July 19 to November 25

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Paul Simon, Hyde Park 2012

I was reminded recently of the condescending, graceless performance of politico Dali Tambo on 'Imagine', when he was happy to receive Paul Simon's apology for any offence caused by 'Graceland', but refused to offer one in return for any offence caused by Artists Against Apartheid.  Well, I suppose the fact is that Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela alone represented more voices than AAA ever did, and they were happy to tour the songs, along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo  (I wonder if Tambo has asked for apologies from all of them).  Makeba is no longer with us, but Masekela is, and he was one of the stars of Paul Simon's performance in Hyde Park last Sunday.

A bonus was the appearance of a  cheerful Jimmy Cliff, who sang The Harder they Come, Many Rivers to Cross and Vietnam.  It was like being 18 all over again.

The best parts of the show were numbers from Graceland - Under African Skies, the Boy in the Bubble, Graceland, Crazy Love and Diamonds, which sent the crowds whirling and whooping.  There was also a terrific, swinging Call Me Al. The highlight however was in the first encore: Paul Simon alone with an acoustic guitar singing 'The Sound of Silence'.  The crowd, many of whom were well and truly Tuborged (and there was also much more weed in evidence than at the Boss's show), fell utterly silent.  It was magical and moving.

Read the ever-engaged and engaging Sarfraz Manzoor here and the ageless Robin Denselow here.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Hyde Park 2012

Standing in the rank-smelling mud in the rain, next to three aesthetically-challenged half-naked individuals yelling at the tops of their tuneless voices, it was impossible not to feel a) joy and b) privilege at being in the presence of Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band.

Unlike the many thousands of people who weren't actually there, though quite understandably like to claim to have been, I did really see Bruce first in 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon, and for me it remains the ne plus ultra of rock and roll performance, (probably because at 17 'Born to Run' meant EVERYTHING).  Subsequent gigs have never matched that, and why should they have?  I have seen Bruce all over the place, including Milton Keynes, at Wembley, at the Emirates, and indeed the last time at Hyde Park.  Each time is a sort of echo of that moment in 1975, and I shed a tear for the passing of the boy I once was.  Occasionally I have wondered whether I deserve to hear, say, 'Badlands' sung live right in front of me.

I don't know why, but last night was special too.  The show opened with a piano- accompanied 'Thunder Road' that justified the expense of the ticket all on its own. It is an immense song.  (Anyone interested should read Nick Hornby's chapter on it in '31 Songs'.)  Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, accompanied on three or foru songs, pretty effectively on 'Death to my Hometown', but fiercely, magically, on 'The Ghost of Tom Joad'.  It was a bonus to have a moment of outstanding musicianship.

'Spirit in the Night' swung wonderfully, and after a plaintive acoustic 'Empty Sky' the show kicked into non-stop high energy bossdom until 'The River', which had me weeping all over again.  It was followed by 'Joad' and then 'The Rising' with the massed thousands nah-nah-nahing like so many military wives.

There was a spoken intro to 'We Are Alive', most of which I couldn't hear because of people talking and laughing, but I think it was a classic Bruce homily involving walking with his mother and sister in a local cemetery...

By now the curfew time had passed, but the band played on - 'Born in the USA' (apparently the entire crowd had been born in the USA), 'Born to Run' ("in an everlasting KISS"), 'Glory Days' ("in the wink of a young girl's eye"), 'Dancing in the Dark' (he brought on stage a girl who'd been holding a card reading 'I'll be your Courtney Cox') and then, suddenly, amazingly, there was Paul McCartney and they were singing 'I Saw Her Standing There'.  "I've been waiting 50 years for this", said Bruce.  'Twist and Shout' followed.  My 18 year old son remarked that you could sing the chorus for ever and it would never grow dull.

And then Westminster Council turned the sound off. Must have been the greatest moment of his life for the jobsworth responsible for pulling the plug on Sir Paul McCartney and The Boss. 

Stupendous gig.  Three hours and twenty minutes of pure fandom.  Oh yes, I've still got it.

PS  If you don't believe me, read neil McCormick, here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Obedient Son by O. Chapman

Delicate singer-songwriter numbers reminiscent of David Ogilvy and Nick Drake.  Worth a listen. Go here.

Alison Krauss & Union Station

Skip the ads quick - sorry about those.  Lovely song.  Not sure about the video (have the lads just climbed over that fence they are walking away from?  Where have they been?  Why does Alsion have to do the cooking AND the singing?).

Alison Krauss and Union Station are supporting Paul Simon at Hyde Park on Sunday.  Fab gig.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Directed by Ed Hall and performed by Propeller

I have seen this production twice within a week.  I enjoyed it more on second viewing, though I have no idea why.

A friend thought the production 'over-directed' and it is true that there is always a lot of business, what with stomping about, songs (from a Te Deum to London Calling by way of a Chanson d'amour), dry ice, laughing, fighting, clambering and a surfeit of farcical French.  The other way of putting this is that it bristles with energy.

OK, I do have an idea why I enjoyed it better second time around.  I was infuriated by the perverse decision to cut the death of Falstaff, surely one of the most moving speeches in dramatic literature - the dying old man babbles of green fields.  This is such an odd play - it has, to all intents and purposes, only one character, in whom absolutely nothing changes - but it is thematically rich.  One of these themes is mortality and another is the arbitrary nature of degree.  Falstaff's death is a foreshadowing of all the other deaths that are to come. The Hostess's description uses a kind of high, melancholic bawdy; she elicits an essential sympathy which we can then use to understand the reality of each following death.  So to leave it out is, in my view, an act of treachery to the play, and robs it of one of its most strict demands on our imaginations.

So the second time I went I was prepared for the disappointment,not angry.

The second problem with the production is, again, a Boars Head difficulty.  Henry should have a little bit of rock and roll in him.  It was very hard to imagine Dugald rollicking with Falstaff.  And rock and roll also requires at least a sprinkling of the charismatic.  Dugald - good at comedy, and he speaks the verse well and clearly - is not blessed with charisma.  Having said that, I must report that a lady friend told me that the word from the Ladies Loo was that Dug was "hot", so maybe I speak only for myself.

This would seem to be a generally critical review, but actually the show is enjoyable.  Last night the audience stood to a man at the end. There are few longeurs, and the difficult and potentially tedious expositionary speeches at the front of the play were very well done, as was the fighting, and Dug did the "ceremony' monologue well.  Astounding how Shakespeare gets from there to "we happy few".  He's really very good.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Grass by Chrys Salt


 I think if you click on the pic you'll get far more information.  Chrys is a fine poet - engaging, authoritative, intelligent.  The best idea is to hear her read.  You will then feel impelled to buy the book.  You can hear her at the Edinburgh Festival: 

August 14th 2012  @ 5.30 Cornerstone Bookshop ( Edinburgh)
August 15th 2012@ 1.00pm) WordPower (Edinburgh) 
with Tessa Ransford and Pauline Prior Pitt.
August 15th  2012 @ 6.00pm  Blackwell’s Bookshop ( Edinburgh)  
with Tessa Ransford and Pauline Prior Pitt. 

Grass: a new poetry collection by Chrys Salt Pub: IDP (Indigo Dreams)
ISBN:  978-1-907401-85-5  Price: £7.99
 Now available from Central Books:  99 Wallis Road, London E9 5LN Tel: 44 (0)845 458 9911 Fax: 44 (0)845 458 9912
Email: orders@centralbooks.com
Indigo Dreams Bookshop www.indigodreamsbookshop.com
Amazon, Waterstone’s, Foyles etc.

Friday, 6 July 2012


I had no idea how badly I wanted Federer to win until he did, when I went quite weak and started laughing.

Obsessed With Pipework

The utterly splendid and delectably idiosyncratic organ that is Obsessed With Pipework publishes issue No 59 today.  Although featuring no poems by me (they'll turn up in January, I'm assured) it is nonetheless well worth a gander.  Look at least at editor Charles Johnson's blog, here.

The Death of Falstaff

Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's  bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' made a finer end and went away an it had been any   christom child; a' parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o' the tide: for after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with  flowers and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. 'How now,  sir John!' quoth I 'what, man! be o' good cheer.' So a' cried out 'God, God, God!' three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a' should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and upward, and all was as cold as any stone.
Henry V Act II Scene ii

Monday, 2 July 2012


Last Sunday we went to Cambridge for Nicholas de Lange's annual Garden Party (Nicholas is a cousin of my wife).  As usual, our host, looking hardly a day over 50 (he is 67) was resplendent in garb (there is something of the 50s dandy about him), with time for everyone and exuding good cheer.  His redoubtable mother, Elaine, as ever held court and delighted all.  We found ourselves spending most of the time in the company of Mr Tom Priestley, the distinguished Film Editor, both worldly and gentle, who had worked on many seriously well-known movies, including John Boorman's 'Deliverance'.  This reminded me of something Boorman had written about my father in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy:

He took me under his wing, asked me to take over Monitor, that jewel I had admired for so long.  I was too intimidated.  Wheldon was an inspirational figure and a brilliant raconteur.  He fronted Monitor with great elan.  He chatted as an equal with Henry Moore and Orson Welles.  I always felt tongue-tied in front of Huw.  I had a dream one night that he had (painlessly) extracted all my teeth and my gums were frozen.

While Boorman may have been a suburban boy, Tom Priestley wasn't.  His father was J. B. Priestley, who did one Monitor before my mother mysteriously insulted him while a guest at his lunch-table.  She certainly had not meant to do any such thing.  Unfortunately I do not recall the details of the story.  I'm glad however that the Preistley-Wheldon association has been amicably repaired. It was very good to meet Tom, and Nicholas's party in the Betty Wu gardens at Wolfson as cheerful as ever.

Snakeskin 187

I have a very short, frivolous poem at Snakeskin, one the web's (few) first class poetry websites.  The magazine is edited by the esteemed George Simmers.  Issue 187 is devoted to Short Poems.  Very enjoyable.  Take a look, here.