Archive for December, 2017|Monthly archive page

16 years and counting

 

mothering sunday graham swift novel book cover

Had a splendid evening yesterday at the annual Dickens gathering of one of the members of the book group to which I belong (and have done since it was set up in November 2001 by David Price). We drank a Victorian brandy & rum punch made to a recipe of Dickens himself, the preparation process reaching its apex when the whole thing was set aflame (harder than you’d imagine). Besides the vigorous blue flames, other highlights included lively readings from Bleak House and Great Expectations among others. I chose the passage from Our Mutual Friend (my favourite Dickens) which gave T.S. Eliot his working title for The Waste Land – ‘He do the Police in different voices’. It culminates in…

“I aint, you must know,” said Betty, “much of a hand at reading writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I do love a newspaper. You mightn’t think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.”

I last wrote about Dickens in Simple Pleasures part 4 a year ago almost to the day. I was reflecting on 2016 through the lens of the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Not much changed there then.

Nor has much changed in the book group. Same personnel since June 2015, which is when I last listed what we’ve read since the very first gathering – for Atonement. I seem to have become the de facto archivist so here is an update to the on-going list which is put out there in the spirit of offering ideas to other book group title choosers.

In The Country Of Men by Hisham Mitar – June 2015
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford – Sep 2015
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami – Nov 2015
Soumission/Submission by Michel Houellebecq – Jan 2016
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Feb 2016
The Man without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates – Apr 2016
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – May 2016
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam – July 2016
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany – Sept 2016
The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt – Nov 2016
The Sell Out by Paul Beatty – Dec 2016
Autumn by Ali Smith – Jan 2017
The Vegetarian by Han Kang – Mar 2017
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis – Apr 2017
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift – June 2017
Men Without Women by Haruki Murukami – July 2017
Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo – Sep 2017
The Remains of the Day by Kasuo Ishiguro – Nov 2017
The Information by Martin Amis – Jan 2018

The first 14 years

brooklyn colm toibin novel book cover

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Best of 2017

The Florida Project halley moonee

The Florida Project

Film:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Florida Project

Lady Bird

Last Flag Flying

Last year: Manchester by the Sea, American Honey

Male Lead:

Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread

Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes

Last year: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Female Lead:

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards

Bria Vinaite – The Florida Project
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Last year: Sasha Lane – American Honey

Male Support:

Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards

Last year: Jack Reynor – Sing Street

Female Support:

Brooklyn Prince – Florida Project
Mary J Blige – Mudbound

Last year: Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Director:

Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards

Last year: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Writer:

Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards

Last year: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Editing:

Dunkirk

Cinematography:

Roger Deakins (my old boss, in my first job) – Blade Runner 2049

Last year: Vittorio Storaro – Cafe Society

Film Music:

Three Billboards

Last year: Sing Street

International Film:

The Square (Sweden)

Single/Song:

Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child

Last year: In Tiburon – Van Morrison

Album:

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Bjork – Utopia
Avishai Cohen – 1970

Last year: Blackstar – David Bowie, Keep Me Singing – Van Morrison

Gig:

Hothouse Flowers – Electric Ballroom
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Millennium Dome
Avishai Cohen – Barbican

U2 – Joshua Tree – Twickenham
Hollie Cook – Borderline

Last year: Imagining Ireland – Friday 29 April 2016 at Festival Hall

Play:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Girl from the North Country
St Joan (Donmar)
The Ferryman

Last year: Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent’s Park)

Art Exhibition:

Basquiat – Barbican

Last year: You Say You Want a Revolution? (V&A)

Book:

Everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

M Train – Patti Smith
My Promised Land – Ari Shavit

Last year: The Sellout – Paul Beatty, Judas – Amos Oz

TV:

Stranger Things S1

Last year: Ambulance

Sport:

Lions beating & drawing with All-Blacks

Harry Kane scores his 8th hattrick of the year becoming top European goal-scorer and taking record for most Premiership goals in a year

Event:

?

Dearly departed:

  • Roger Moore
  • John Hurt
  • Martin Landau
  • Sean Hughes
  • Brian Kant
  • Jerry Lewis
  • Christine Keeler
  • Walter Becker

Best of 2016 – with links to all previous years

Coincidences No.s 359, 360, 361 & 362 – Back in the Old Country

first edition ulysses james joyce 1922 paris book novel

A snip at €30,000

No. 359 – 06:12:17

I am packing for a trip to Dublin to address the board of RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland. There is one area of the subjects I am covering which I’m not feeling 100% confident about.

As I take stuff out of my work bag to make space, an old copy of Broadcast (the TV industry trade paper) surfaces. It’s from late September. Two pages have become detached from the centre. They are about exactly the subject that was niggling me.

No. 360 – 06:12:17

I am at Luton Airport in the queue to get on the plane to Belfast (I have a meeting at BBC Northern Ireland before heading south to Dublin). The plane is heading to Belfast International / Aldegrove which is north of the city in Co. Antrim.

My phone goes while I’m in the queue. It is Home Counties-based Northern Irish radio broadcaster Peter Curran. We almost never talk on the phone – we do face to face and use email/text to arrange getting together. He tells me he is recording a programme in Antrim and something he saw made him think of me. I tell him that that’s a bit weird as I’ll be in Antrim in about 55 minutes.

lemon soap sweny dublin james joyce ulysses

A snip at €5

No. 361 – 07:12:17

I go to a reading of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in the old pharmacy (Sweny’s) near Merrion Square where Leopold Bloom buys his lemony soap in the novel. (I’d seen a copy of the ultra-rare 1st edition a few streets away earlier in the afternoon – see photo above.) People show up ad hoc and each person reads a page from where the group had last gotten to – the reading goes round the attendees for the duration of the session. To make it feel just right an auld drunk fella showed up to take advantage of the warmth and light. The section they are reading today happens to be my favourite in a 733 page book.

I go to turn my phone to silent before the reading starts. My phone shows 19:04 – the year ‘Ulysses’ is set in these streets of Dublin.

Earlier in the afternoon I drop into the old pharmacy (now run by Joyce volunteers) and buy a bar of the lemon soap in a facsimile wrapper.

As we read we read the line “To wash his soiled hands with a partially consumed tablet of Barrington’s lemon-flavoured soap”. A couple of pages later we read: “in Lincoln Place outside the premises of F. W. Sweny and Co. Limited, dispensing chemists”. Between we read:

“What reminiscences temporarily corrugated his brow? – Reminiscences of coincidences, truth stranger than fiction…”

(I have just noticed Sweny’s intials – F W. I came to the reading directly from the National Gallery of Ireland, 3 minutes away. I had been at an exhibition of F W Burton (Frederic William) called For  The Love of Art.)

lorraine chase campari TV advert

Lorraine Chase

No. 362 – 02:12:17 & 09:12:17

The name Lorraine has been following me around this week.

At the start of the week (last Saturday) I am directing a documentary about cycling. I go to interview a couple in Birmingham. The wife is called Lorraine and is an ex-church minister – I have pictured her as a thin white sticky woman, influenced I think by Lorraine Chase, the woman made famous by the Campari TV ads in the 80s (catchphrase: “Nah, Luton Airport!” – see No. 360 above).

As it turns out the interviewee is a substantial black lady.

At the end of the week (yesterday, Saturday) I go to a screening of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, the feature documentary by Raoul Peck about James Baldwin and Black Lives Matter (from the 40s to the 2010s). I sat next to documentary veteran Peter Dale, my old colleague from Channel 4. During the film I noticed in the archive footage a sign for a diner in one of those southern towns like Selma, I forget which: it is called Lorraine.

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