Well, of the BBC's selection, I've read just one: the new Reacher. I did read Sally Rooney's first novel, 'Conversations with Friends' but it failed to whet my appetite for 'Normal People'. I did read some books published this year - a good novel by Cressida Connolly, set among Mosleyites on the south coast, an honest and tear-inducing memoir by Louisa Young, welcome new poetry by Douglas Dunn, a collection of medical anecdotes, both funny and moving, by Keyvan Moghissi, and a terrific book about 'Where Eagles Dare' by Geoff Dyer. Another very good thriller was Henry Porter's 'Firefly'. And now I'm halfway through David Copperfield (third time). It'll be the first book I finish in 2019. Putting the mark high for what is to come. Looking forward to it. Aren't books great?
Though I don't intend to read anything on this list - sorry, 'ultimate guide' - here is what provoked the above.
I heard a few weeks before Christmas that a very good friend of my Mum and Dad - of the family - had died. He was terrifically distinguished, but I wasn't aware of his academic or intellectual significance when I was a boy, which is when I knew him. Well, I understood that he was interested in things - in the children of his friends for example. He would question us, in that lovely gentle Jewish South African voice, both quizzical and knowing, about what we were up to - I am sure we gave very dull answers, but he never showed disappointment. We went to stay with the Klugs in Cambridge (where my mother had first met Aaron) every Whitsun holiday. They had a lovely house with a big dining table - the white cloth stretched for miles up and down it - a largish garden we made the most of, and a half timbered Morris estate. 'They' were Aaron and Liebe and Adam and David. Adam was ferociously intelligent, a good deal older than I was. I seem to recall that he ran samizdat into the eastern bloc or something... He died of cancer, I learn, at some horribly early age. David was younger than I was, but almost certainly cleverer. He is, I believe, an academic of note. Liebe had been a dancer. She and I tried to get a sort of UK-SA arts programme going after Mandela was released, but probably through my indolence it came to nothing. Liebe was no-nonsense, but had a wonderful, full laugh. I'm very sorry to have lost contact with the Klugs. They were an important part of my childhood. Aaron was a kind of model human being.
Marianne Faithfull's new album is entitled 'Negative Capability'. On the back of the cover is a photo containing the following books.
Oscar Wilde / Оскар Уайльд [that's OW in Russian - there's no title otherwise]
Vladimir Nabokov - Letters to Vera [his wife]
Chet Filippo - Hank Williams, Your Cheatin' Heart
Frances Yates - The Art of Memory (I'm especially impressed by this - I once read a book by Frances Yates called The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, and was dead proud to have done so).
Henrietta - Henrietta [I need help with this one]
Peter Siskind - Easy Riders
Barry Miles - title unshown, but could (might well) be In the Sixties Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales
Unidentifiable volume The Complete Pelican Shakespeare
The phrase 'negative capability' was coined by Keats to describe Shakespeare's ability to render truth beyond the reach of mere fact or reason.
In the gatefold:
Howard Jacobson's Kalooki Nights and A. N. Wilson's After the Victorians (both authors, it so happens, with whom I have had conversations). I have not, however, met Andrea di Robillant, the author of Lucia in the Age of Napoleon. Other titles are generally indecipherable, although there is one called 'Happenings', which is probably about, you know, 'happenings', those occasions that take place in art galleries where nude persons cover themselves in paint or blood or feathers and roll around making marks, remarks or merely spectacles of themselves.
Not only a fascinating portrait of love (requited and otherwise), libraries, life, objection, doubt, forestry, war, Israel, Palestine, quakers, art, and peace, but also beautifully put, and finely edited. And a lovely object in itself. Plus an outstanding Foreword. Well, a Foreword anyway, by me.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
Directed by Fiona Laird
David Troughton (Falstaff)
Yuletide fare. A warm hearted farce. The director moved the setting from Windsor to 'Essex', and down a class from middle middle to lower middle, with no great damage. The costumes were a hybrid of Elizabethan ruff and contemporary dull. In tone there was a Gavin and Stacey air to the whole proceedings (a Dick Emery joke worked its way in for the more senior members of the audience) - or perhaps it was watched over by the spirit of Alison Steadman's most memorable performances, spiced with a touch of Sibyl Fawlty (and even the merest hint of Vicki Pollard). The action, in commencing, seemed perhaps a little slow, the comedy forced; but it may be that the audience itself needed to become familiar with the characters. As the evening went on, the play seemed to accelerate, and the laughs became more frequent and more natural. I personally found it hard to hear many of the actors, Troughton, Vince Leigh (Master Ford) and most of the women excepted. I was sorry Karen Fishwick, otherwise perfectly competent as the desirable Ann, allowed the immortal lines "Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool... / I had rather be set quick i' th' earth / And bowled to death with turnips!" be consumed by business (lying on the floor waving legs), of which there was perhaps a little too much altogether. The well-known scene in which Falstaff is hidden in a laundry basket - one of Shakespeare's great comic set-pieces - brought the show fully to life, despite there being no laundry basket in evidence. Instead, both on stage and in the text, there was a filthy wheelie-bin. Almost the entire play is in prose, so this was quite acceptable, and one imagines WS would not have disapproved. And anyway, it was very funny. Troughton gave Falstaff the centre of attention, but it was the Merry Wives themselves who were the stars of the show. As, presumably, ought to be the case.
I reviewed this book some time ago, for 'Planet: The Welsh Internationalist', but it - the review - has not been otherwise available online - so here it is now.
Story of a Welsh Mountain
by Jim Perrin
press, £14.99, 240pp
by Wynn Wheldon
There are longer novels than The Great Gatsby, but Gatsby
is a masterpiece.There are buildings
larger, taller, wider than the Taj Mahal, but the Taj Mahal is one of the
glories of humankind. There are hills higher than Snowdon, but Snowdon is,
emphatically, a mountain.One of the few
bones to pick with this tremendous book is the author’s occasional description
of Snowdon as a hill.
passive, mountains are active. This last April alone saw two climbers killed on
Snowdon. Snowdon - by which is meant the three peaks of Garnedd Ugain, Y
Lliwedd and Yr Wyddfa – is perhaps the most visited mountain in the world: its
summit is reached by almost half-a- million walkers a year. It is both hostile
Jim Perrin has been under the mountain’s
spell “all [his] outdoor life”, and, “better to understand this enchantment”,
he goes to the church at Nant Peris on the northeastern flank of the mountain,
or more particularly, its graveyard, where three gravestones mark the deaths on
Snowdon of a child, a mountain guide and a man of God, and finds in them “the
bones of a story aching to be told”. *
narrative is both thematic and chronological, but he begins with a
circumambulation of his subject. Much of the tone of what is to follow is
established here. There is rich simile: Snowdon on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey
map “looks animated, starfish-like, pinky-beige”. There is anti-colonial
outrage at the same Ordnance Survey map’s misnaming of Nant Gwynant (it should be ‘Nant Gwynen’, and Perrin,
defying the “tyranny of custom” calls it that). A footnote suggests the reader
look at Brian Friel’s play Translations,
“should you want a view of the historical and colonialist process at work
here”.Perrin is marvellously inclusive
in this way, digression becoming part of the form of the whole, both in the
body of the text, but more so in the glorious profusion of footnotes (all very
properly to be found at the foot of the page rather than irritatingly among the
In this first
chapter, too, we find Perrin’s sardonic wit at work on John Boorman’s film Excalibur (“codswallop”), on
goat-culling “career-conservationists…who… countenance the slaughter of
indigenous species [and] are, to my mind, the ones with the cloven hooves”, and
on the Health & Safety Executive who would be “(obviously a good
thing)…driven to terminal apoplexy” by the reintroduction of wolves to Eryri.
Other agencies, persons, publications and
so forth that will come under fire in succeeding chapters include Granta magazine, windfarms, the National
Lottery, George Mallory, the Central Electricity Generating Board, contemporary
Welsh academics, people from Surrey who retire to Wales, books with ‘wild’ in
their title, tourists, and sheep. To really pass the Perrin test you would have
had to be a member of the Independent Labour Party, while at the same time
living in close proximity to the mountain, preferably a fairly long time ago. There‘s
a touch of the Tebbit about him. Having grown up in Surrey, but hoping to
retire to Wales, at times I felt bullied.
chapter also touches on myth (Yr Wyddfa as the tumulus of the giant Rhita), on
flora and fauna (the Snowdon lily), on geology, on climbing and on history, themes
expanded on in the chapters that follow.
England, Jim Perrin has, like Jonah Jones and Jan Morris, become Welsh, and
writes (as Jones and Morris have done) with the zeal of the converted. This
book, while erudite and scholarly (there are references to Longinus, Burke and
Sebald, among others), has the heft of its author’s own life in it.Its expansiveness and generosity, the
carefulness and grace of its descriptions, the occasional anger, and the sheer
love for his subject add up to what is in effect a kind of treatise. There is a
moral ardour here that occasionally borders on the sanctimonious (he finds the
idea of “conquering” mountains “odious” – well, OK), that makes him do some
dirt on Mallory and his companions (anyone who has read Wade Davis’s monumental
Into the Silence will know that they
were not negligible men), but which also gives energy and life to prose that
mixes the demotic and the academic with pleasing idiosyncrasy.
Perrin is, in
other words, a Romantic. Snowdon can teach us how to live.A regret, one I share, is that Coleridge left
no record of his time on the mountain, probably due to inclement weather.However, Perrin’s account, while perhaps not
as “audacious, swirling and bizarre” as the great poet’s might have been, stands
easily beside those of Pennant, Bingley and Borrow.It is a classic. It should not, however, be
attempted without a good map. An index would have been nice, too.
reviewer’s ancestors are buried here too: a tax collector, a preacher, an
educationalist, with their impressive wives. For a Wheldon, to be on Snowdon is
either to be very much alive or to be
very much dead.
Lincoln - astounding cathedral. Sits at the end of a street imaginatively named 'Steep Hill'. Britten's War Requiem was being rehearsed. Members of Sad Boys Club listened in for a bit. Then Sad Boys Club did their own bit of performing. A fan of top punk outfit Idles listened in for a few numbers (he even swayed gently). A grand day out. Maccy D at Peterborough service station, around 11.30 (no photos I'm afraid).
Read notes on gallery walls and you wish you'd never been born. Everything so neat and understood. Every mystery solved. every inconsistency ironed over. The age, the man: these the ideas in the air, those the painter's gifts, now behold them hand in hand. And all in that icy academician prose, mirthless, well schooled and well behaved, rendering precise that which was once tumultuous.
from 'The Twentieth Century? Tosh', in Whatever it is, i don't like it