Tuesday, 24 December 2019

MISTLETOE by Walter de la Mare


Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Sunday, 8 December 2019


Just watched Dr Zhivago for maybe the first time in 40 years. Tremendous film. Maurice Jarre's quite brilliant score sometimes meld into sound effect. The cast, mostly British stars - Courteney, Richardson, Guinness, Tushingham, Christie, Chaplin - somehow manage not to overweigh Robert Bolt's script. Perhaps the sheer magnificence of Lean's direction puts them all in the shade. Omar is, well, Omar, and properly intense, but the outstanding performance is Rod Steiger's - all passionate malevolence and moral ambiguity. A treat.

Friday, 29 November 2019


RSC at the Barbican
Director: Greg Doran
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis

Talent: Antony Byrne (Duke), Lucy Phelps (Isabella)

Club: Self, RW and Mr Peter Huhne

Shakespeare set it in Vienna, so so did SBL and Doran, though three hundred years later.  Plus ca change, eh?  Well, it kind of worked.  The set design - very clever photographic projection and lighting (the famously long final scene was set in a magnificent railway station, fit for dukes and punks alike).  I didn't really get a proper sense of the decadence and moral decay that is one of the themes of the play.  Still, that may be because I missed much of the language of the first half, as my new bluetooth loop app-fangle didn't appear to work (I had head phones for the second half - a treat).  It is a terrifically intriguing play, that can be done in all sorts of ways.  Usually the duke is played as a rather neutral deus ex machina, but the truth is he is not ex at all - he has almost a third of the lines.  It is HIS play.  This production seemed to recognise that, and Antony Byrne gave an energised, driving performance.  Lucy Phelps was a bit too shouty for me.  I tend to think of Isabella's anger as controlled.  Anna Maxwell Martin, ten years ago at the Almeida, is my model.  It also has to be said that last night's Angelo maybe lacked a little sleaziness.  Then again, it is interesting that it is a Nun who gets the character going, so perhaps Shakespeare intended to suggest that even the upright can succumb, given the right temptation.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Miller and James

With difficulty Flick forbore to cringe
In terror at the sight of DR FRINGE.
He loomed before her like a basketballer
Who if unwound might well be even taller,
And in his bulging optics blazed unchecked
The flames of his amazing Intellect.
(from 'The Fate of Felicity Fark in the Land of the Media' by Clive James)
RIP Jonathan Miller and Clive James

Thursday, 31 October 2019

George Steiner

George Steiner has died. Among other things, he wrote 'The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.' about Jewish Nazi hunters who track down Hitler in South America, which I read fascinated. An extremely erudite man, and one I was rather thrilled to meet, he scolded me for failing to inform The Times of a lecture he was giving, one I'd organised as part of an American Festival, at the Royal Society. 'Your father would not have forgotten', he told me. He seemed extremely put out. I was embarrassed, though I thought his barb rather cruel. He was a genuine intellectual, rather than an academic, his audience the public; his writing was always engaging.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019


I don't write much poetry these days.  Here's a short, simple one.  I don't seem to be able to set it in the lines in which it was written, so I've run it together, separating the lines with a slash.

What is your book about, asked the critic / and she said running.  Running? He frowned. / Yes, running.  But it’s set in 1950. / We ran in 1950, she said. But - / But nothing, she said. It was 1950,  / and it was our turn to be alive.


Saturday, 5 October 2019


There are no pigeons.  There are crows.

They cycle on the pavements.  The metro in Tokyo is splendid.

They have drink-vending machines on every corner, but no fizzy water

Wires.  They have a lot of wires.  They don’t care how they look.

They put quails’ eggs into the heads of small octopi and eat them.

The lavatories (electric) are equipped with provision for enema and bidet.

Beer is more expensive than whisky.

The rivers are straight. The gardens are exquisite.

Fucking futons. Fucking, fucking futons.

Talking on the phone on public transport is really not on.  Bumping is fine.

Mount Fuji does not actually exist.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Cynical, facetious and glib, the charming Crawford siblings are a very modern pair.  Witty, light, intelligent, and in her case markedly physically attractive – not only does she have dark sparkling eyes, but she can master a hunting horse – they are metropolitan elite, , that layer above celebrity, smarter, more set.  They are, in other words, formidable.  Set against them are two modest, trusting and serious minded country folk.  In order for Fanny to resist she has to be the rather dull saint that so many readers are infuriated by.  Edmund, equally colourlessly virtuous, has Mary’s beauty to contend with (she, it is clear, finds in Edmund’s physical attractiveness the primary source of her ardour), not to mention those Crawford wiles.  Blame and credit are shared out between the sexes.  Fanny alone emerges spotless.  She, indeed, is a kind of saviour. 

It is a book that constantly asks the reader to examine his or her own motives and character, and sometimes this is an uncomfortable business.  I'm fairly sure I'd have fallen head over heels for Mary Crawford.  It is some 40 years since I last read Mansfield Park and now it makes me appraise my abilities as a parent, and question my own 'dispositions' and principles.  It is an intensely moral exercise, though Jane Austen is too much the genius to be merely moralising.  It is funny, wise, sharp, and realistic.  The vices and weaknesses of her characters are throughly recognisable.  Jane Austen remains emphatically contemporary.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Mansfield Park

I am reading Mansfield Park, not for the first time, but as research. Ha! At least that is why I started it, but, again, not for the first time, I find that Jane Austen is incomparable, the absolute master of the game. I know Fanny Price is insufferably virtuous, but she is only there as a witness to the vices of vanity, snobbery, selfishness, and so on, that we all share in some degree. I have already fallen for the well-formed, witty, intelligent, independent-minded, flirtatious and shallow Miss Crawford; already seen myself in the virtuous, down-to-earth, kindly Edmund Bertram. See? LURED.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


Good grief, what a lot of fulminating. I'm a Remainer, but one who believes the tactics of his 'side' have been wrong from the start. There has never been much of an attempt to explain or persuade. Matters now appear to have descended on both sides to mere name-calling, sloganeering, claims to be the Voice of The People, etc, and writing IN VERY BIG LETTERS. It is as if both sides really want trouble, a fight. The government is an elected government - Prime Ministers are not elected, MPs are - the Queen, as a constitutional monarch, has no choice but to do as that elected government asks, so unless you want an executive monarch, there is no point in criticising her. The proroguing of parliament is not a 'coup' - governments don't launch coups, they are (forgive me) couped against - it happens every year. Which is not to say that Johnson is not playing a filthy trick by extending the prorogation by a few vital days. He is, but I wish those who oppose him would stop shouting. It doesn't help - it just stiffens the resolve of the PM and his supporters. The voice of reason should be measured, not frantic. Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot / That it do singe yourself.


Christ, can't bloody remember.  It's in Sheffield, usually.

Gertrude Jekyll's gardening boots


The Fist

Cricket at Lord's

Zoned out

Goldhawk Road

Photographer failing to remian discreet

No caption required

JNA framed

JNA in a tree

Women and children last

By the lily house


Bridget Riley

Cut and Paste

Duncan Grant by Duncan Grant

Big ruddy castle on big ruddy rock

Personal space.


Messi and JNA

Father and son weighing up the price of nippels (Luxembourgian for root vegetables),

Four generations at Kew

Ladies and Gentlemen


Laurence Corns nuptials

Friday, 16 August 2019

SAD BOYS CLUB The Mirror and Me

Not sure what is going on here.  It is a sort of meta-self-parody type thing I think, with in-jokes.  Very post-modern.  Or not.  Jolly street theatrical, that I will say.

Monday, 15 July 2019



For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago !


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Letters Home, 14 July 1944

Two letters home from the front, Normandy, 14 June 1944.  The first is to his mother, the second to his university friend, Desmond Leeper.

Cake is contraband: sending cake is criminal: eating contraband articles criminally despatched must be among the gravest of sins.  Sin, black velvety sin, was, as everyone knows, always a delicious thing – this sin was this indeed… Four of us wolfed it there and then, washed down with sweet tea, and everyone voted you Honorary President for Life.

I continue to learn about dirt and desolation – and, for that matter, au contraire, health and virtue.  The greatest joys, next to sleep, are the Mail, and (well, there it is - ) reading the new staggers and scoffing illicitly sent cake.  Writing this in the inevitable dull orchard with its geometry of trees, nothing ramshackle here, and surrounded by the equally inevitable and for ever blasted bloody mosquitoes.  Living too soiled a life to read the New Testament – or too irrelevant possibly – one can only thrive hopefully on the dignified paganism of the 91 st psalm and its like.  An odd comment on modern manners incidentally is that under heavy bombardment all the boys pray like bloody hell and incessantly.