Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Simple Pleasures of Summer

From Summer by Ali Smith, published this month, the fourth of her seasons series. I picked the quotation out for its reference to Simple Pleasures.

This section is from just after the bit where this lane with its grassline down the middle appears

What a great thing it must be, to be able to make a seat like that look so good.
The best thing is, it’ll last, he says. Decades. Simple pleasures.
Simple pleasures, she says. I was just walking along thinking about them. Well, about how I tend to wish pleasures were a lot simpler than they end up being.
He laughs.
He licks the cigarette paper along its edge.
Uh huh? he says.
Oh, you know, she says. How even when things are lovely it’s like we can’t help blocking them from ourselves. What a lovely summer it is and how, it’s like, no matter what we do, we can’t get near its loveliness.

This links to another key paragraph set along the lane in the image above:

The briefest and slipperiest of the seasons, the one that won’t be held to account – because summer won’t be held at all, except in bits, fragments, moments, flashes of memory of so-called or imagined perfect summers, summers that never existed.
Not even this one she’s in exists. Even though it’s apparently the best summer so far of the century. Not even when she is quite literally walking down a road as beautiful and archetypal as this through an actual perfect summer afternoon.
So we mourn it while we’re in it. Look at me walking down the road in summer thinking about the transience of summer.
Even while I’m right at the heart of it I just can’t get to the heart of it.

I call this the Beauty Stab.

Coincidences No.s 208, 209 and 210 – Sussex

Coincidence No. 208 – Kemptown

I’m sitting at this café in Kemptown, Brighton when I hear a familiar voice. I look round and the face is familiar too. I ask this young woman: “Excuse me but do you have some kind of clothes business in Camden Town? were are you in a film a while ago? “ At first Camden Town doesn’t ring much of a bell with her and I say sorry my mistake. Then she suddenly realises that she took premises temporarily in Camden Town sometime ago and that she is the woman I’m thinking of. She was in a documentary I commissioned a couple of years ago about psychedelics. I know her voice and face not from any direct contact but because I heard and saw her over and over in the editing process.

I didn’t even know she had anything to do with Brighton and associated her with Camden Town and somewhere up north where her accent comes from. 

Mind-Explorers-Poster real stories little dot studios documentary

Coincidence No. 209 – Saltdean & Lewes

My old friend N comes to visit me in Brighton. First thing in the morning I take him to Saltdean for a swim (which is something of an adventure as he hasn’t swum in UK waters for over two decades, he prefers hotter climes). As we walk to the beach we pass the Lido (opened by Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in 1938). “What does Lido actually mean?” asks N (i.e. specifically). “Is it always like this?” I say that I think it’s usually a 1930s large open-air pool like this, although I was taken to Ruislip Lido as a child and that, from memory, was more of a lake.

a public open-air swimming pool or bathing beach 

At N’s request we go to Lewes in the afternoon in search of a second-hand bookshop. We go to the excellent Bow Windows in the high street. We browse, masked up, in the stifling heatwave heat. I examine a Graham Greene novel, one of the first books I lift from the shelf (are you allowed to actually lift books in the Covid era?). It is The Comedians (1966) set in Haiti. The hotel in the story is called Hotel Lido.

I speak to Enfant Terrible No. 2 in the evening. I ask what he’s been doing with his day in this heat. He has been down to Crouch End Lido he informs me, which is full of “old people” (i.e. 30 plus) doing lanes and, post-Lockdown, none of the young yahoos that used to be there seem to have registered the reopening, all of which pleases him.

Coincidence No. 209b – Saltdean & London

Walking beside Saltdean Lido to the beach I notice the name of the makers of the old pale blue iron railings sloping down to the pedestrian tunnel: J. Every, Lewes

At the spot where I normally park in front of our house in London N2 is a metal plate by the drain. It is made by J. Every, Lewes. The drain itself is made by J. Gibb & Co. Ltd., London. Why did London Borough of Barnet go all the way to Lewes for its drain stuff?

Coincidence No. 210 – Rottingdean

I am starting to read the new novel by Ali Smith, Summer. It just came out a few days ago and I have read and enjoyed Spring and Autumn (the latter for our book group which is where I first came across her). I read these sentences: 

She already knows she is never going to have children. Why would you bring a child into a catastrophe? It would be like giving birth to a child in a prison cell. 

This last sentence reminds me of a programme I heard a few days before on BBC Radio 4 about women giving birth in prison. I remember that I was approaching the traffic lights in Rottingdean when I was listening to it. Rottingdean is the village beside where I now live much of the time in Brighton.

Then comes the next sentence which I have not yet read or glimpsed:

And Brighton’s a good place, one of the best in the country for green things, the only place in the whole of the UK with a green MP

I had no idea the novel was set in Brighton until that moment. This sentence is the first reference to it.

Coincidence No. 544 – Kafka

The day before yesterday I start reading Kafka’s Last Trial by Benjamin Balint. It is about the court case settling where Franz Kafka’s manuscripts should reside.

Yesterday I see that Facebook has added to People You May Know a certain Beverley Kafka. I don’t know her, it looks like she may be a friend of a friend of my mum.

Today I am walking in East Finchley Cemetery – it is perhaps only the second time I have been in here. (I am writing this in the shade of a spreading old oak.) At the turn to this side of the extensive mid-19C cemetery is the grave of Dorothy Kafka, born 1930, died 1988. The objective of my walk in the cemetery is to find a quiet spot out of the sun to read Kafka’s Last Trial.

I have never met or come across anyone called Kafka before.

Coincidence Nos. 362 & 363 – words

A couple of standard word ones but nice examples…

No. 362 Kabyle

I am watching Jean-Pierre Melville’s resistance film ‘L’Armée des Ombres’ (thanks to my free 3-month trial of Mubi through the Phoenix Cinema) and the protagonist mentions that in the prison camp where he finds himself are Poles, Romanians, Jews of various nationalities and ‘Kabyles’. I’ve never come across that word. The film is set in France.

48 hours later I am reading ‘The Meursault Investigation’ by Kamel Daoud and he refers to “a Kabyle waiter the size of a giant”. It is set in Algeria.

‘Kabyle’ relates to a Berber population in Northern Algeria.

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud novel cover book

No. 363 Gimlet

I begin my second plague book for the lockdown – Jack London’s ‘Scarlet Plague’. In the opening chapter is the sentence: “In marked contrast with his sunburned skin were his eyes – blue, deep blue, but keen and sharp as a pair of gimlets. I don’t know what a ‘gimlet’ is – at least I didn’t until a few days ago.

Gimlets have been in my life recently only through Gimlet Media, the podcast outfit that make one of my favourite podcasts, ‘Heavyweight‘. I also have a vague notion of it in the realm of cocktails.

I am reading a book – ‘Get Wallace!’ by Alexander Wilson (1934) – and the word ‘gimlet’ comes up and I bother looking it up: “a small T-shaped tool with a screw tip for boring holes”

'Get Wallace!' by Alexander Wilson (1934) novel book cover

 

Coincidence No. 361 – Thalia

(1) I am sitting in my garden in East Finchley reading ‘Get Wallace!’ by Alexander Wilson (the subject of the excellent drama ‘Mrs Wilson’ played by Iain Glen – grandfather of actress Ruth Wilson who I had a very enjoyable chat with at last year’s TV BAFTAs at the Festival Hall, as well as with her father who was one of the sons of Alexander). The sentence I am reading is:

You left her in the company of Thalia Ictinos, and in your pocket were the documents I want.

(2) My other half is listening to Cerys Matthews on Radio 6. As I read the above sentence Cerys gives a shout-out to a man’s 11 year old daughter in Finchley called Thalia.

I have never met anyone called Thalia.

get wallace alexander wilson book cover

mrs-wilson-iain-glen-ruth-wilson-tv

19 years and counting

Our book group started in November 2001 with much the same personnel as we have now (lost one or two along the way with moves out of town etc., added one or two to bring fresh blood). I’ve ended up being the one archiving the titles read so here is the last two years’ worth since I last made a record in December 2017.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer book novel cover design

  • Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff – Feb 2018
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens – Mar 2018
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – Apr 2018
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid – June 2018
  • The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst – Sept 2018
  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – Oct 2018
  • Arno Geiger – The Old King in his Exile (Oct-Nov 2018)
  • Ann Tyler – Back when we were grown-ups (Dec-Jan 2019)
  • Crudo – Olivia Laing (Jan-Feb 2019)
  • I Served The King of England by Bohumil Hrabal (Mar-Apr 2019)
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Apr-May 2019)
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (June-Aug 2019) [my choice]
  • To Calais, in ordinary time – James Meek (Sep-Oct 2019)
  • The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich (Nov-Dec 2019)
  • Karoo – Steve Tesich (Dec-Jan 2020)
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Feb-Mar 2020)
  • A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (March 2020)
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (April 2020)

To Calais, in ordinary time – James Meek book novel cover design

A fine plague book

 

World of Zoom 3

It’s exactly a week since my second reflections on online conferencing which was exactly a week from my first reflections on online conferencing. This only slightly less weird week this morning brought the best Zoom background of the Lockdown from my colleague Simon Goodman at Showem Entertainment, with whom I made Naked & Invisible and In Your Face

simon goodman zoom background 2020-04-03

The other Zoom highlights included, after nagging from me, shifting the long-standing Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar from Senate House, University of London to online (for the first time). Also having our first ever online book group after 20 years IRL.

Book group zoom screen

The distinctive thing about this session was that we didn’t discuss a book. We were supposed to be talking about A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke but our host for the evening is down with… yes, you guessed it, Corvid19. We didn’t want him to miss the discussion of the book he had chosen (it only comes round about once every two yaers that you get to choose) so we just chewed the fat about life, love and the universe – and the plague.

Coincidence No. 488 – Bletchley Park

bletchley park the mansion codebreakers

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

I go to meet my cousin from Melbourne, Australia at my old home tube in Tufnell Park. We have never met before. She has come to London to work as a mathematician at the Alan Turing Institute in King’s Cross. Mention of Turing’s name prompts me to ask whether she has visited Bletchley Park yet? She has. I explain how it was very little known about until Peter Bate, David Darlow & John Smithson made the TV series Station X for my alma mater Channel 4 in 1998. We talk about how the men and women of Bletchley Park did not talk about it for five decades until the interviewees for the programmes got permission from the MoD. We talk about Sue Black who saved Bletchley and who I got to know originally during my time at C4.

I get on the bus to come home. I open my novel, Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which we are reading for my book group. (I’ve just looked it up because I suspected as much… Jane Gardam is the mother of Tim Gardam, now Principle of St Anne’s College, Oxford, in 2003 Director of Television at Channel 4 when I joined.) This was on the page I was up to and started reading on the top front tourist seat on the 263:

But they had me later in the War at Bletchley Park and there we met again. [NB Bletchley had not been mentioned in the novel before or had any role in the story] Bletchley Park was full of innocent, nice girls (not me) who had a very particular aptitude (crosswords) for solving cyphers and things, as you will be hearing in a year or two when ALL IS TOLD (the fifty year revelation).

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Marilyn & Ulysses

marilyn monroe reading james joyce ulysses

Marilyn reading the best book ever written

In my last post I included this photo by Eve Arnold, shot in Long Island in 1955. If you’re wondering whether it was just a pose and whether blondes prefer Irish gentlemen as a source of reading matter, this letter from Eve Arnold contains the answer:

eve arnold_letter to Richard Brown about _marilyn monroe_ulysses

Eve Arnold to Richard Brown, 20th July 1993

The letter is a response to Richard Brown, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Leeds, a Joyce specialist. Brown subsequently wrote an essay entitled Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: Goddess or Postcultural Cyborg? Which is the kind of title that puts people off of academia. But his query to Arnold was an interesting one and I’m glad he asked.

Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses eve arnold

The Long Island playground shoot 1955

Marilyn was frequently photographed reading – which in my book is a big plus even when you are a blonde bombshell.

Marilyn Monroe Reads Arthur Miller's Enemy of the People

Close to home: Arthur Miller

Marilyn Monroe Reads walt whitman's leaves-of-grass

Turning over an old leaf: Walt Whitman

Life in a nutshell

reading books life

Enfant Terrible No. 1 sent me this the other day – it more or less captures my worldview.

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