Archive for the ‘novels’ Category

Waking Up

My favourite book is Ulysses by James Joyce. I first read (most of it) at university, completed it six years later. By that time it resonated far more for me – I’d got to know and love Ireland in the interim. It has a reputation for being difficult but once you let go a bit and let it flow over you to some extent it becomes both readable and enjoyable. It feels to me like it’s about everything.

finnegans wake james joyce book novel

Inevitably after a few years the thought occurred to read Joyce’s follow-up, Finnegans Wake. In November 2017 I bought myself a copy of A Shorter Finnegans Wake, edited by Anthony Burgess. The longer original seemed so intimidating that I felt this attractive slimmish Faber volume might be the route in. But on opening to the first page it looked absolutely unreadable. A codebook with no key. Like nothing I’d ever seen, apart from perhaps the most obscure, chaotic parts of Ulysses – reminiscent but far more convoluted.

At the beginning of 2018, on 5th January, I joined the Charles Peake Seminar at the University of London, a monthly gathering at Senate House of mainly academics close-reading Ulysses, which I’d first been told about years before by Fritz Senn, the director of the James Joyce Institute in Zurich. “Good timing”, the person beside me whispered, “we’re just starting a new chapter!” I wasn’t particularly impressed until it came to light that the last one had taken 5 years. We’re talking close reading here.

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

One of the regular attendees at the Charles Peake was Finn Fordham from Royal Holloway who led another sister seminar on Finnegans Wake, also monthly, same place. He persuaded me to try it out, reassuring me that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the book. My first session was on 23rd February 2018. we were on page 538. Now we’re on page 547. Two and a bit years to cover 9 pages!

But these two years proved crucial. A few weeks ago, during the Coronavirus lockdown, our seminar having shifted online for now and doubled in frequency through demand and enthusiasm, I realised, after a particularly enjoyable session, looking back to page 1 that I could now read what once seemed unreadable. On 26th April (2020) I embarked on the journey through the Wake. Reading at least a couple of pages every day, usually to get my day under way, I have now read the first couple of chapters, the first 50 pages, in half a month.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I’m glad to get a name-check in the opening line. The central character is HCE. By my reading so far HCE is Adam (among others). HCE is a man who has a great fall by committing a sin in a garden or park, Phoenix Park in Dublin. It involves sex and breaking the law. He might have been exposing himself to some young ladies or wanking in a hidden place. He may have been frolicking with some soldiers. His crime changes with each telling. Rumours abound. HCE stands, we are told at the start of Chapter 2, for Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Humphrey connects him to another bad egg (or ego) who had a great fall, Humpty Dumpty. Chimpden is a reminder that we are but bald apes. Earwicker renders him/us lower, creepy weird insects (earwigs). But at the same time HCE is also some kind of a king. This is the night book to Ulysses‘ book of a single day around Dublin city. This one takes us to dawn through the obscurity and dream-world of a typically chaotic, but not without pattern, human sleep. Humphrey becomes Humpty becomes Adam becomes Everyman, struggling with identity, guilt and self-justification, interacting with a family equally fluid, in a language playful, funny, obscure, frustrating, innovative and plumbing the depths for things that don’t really want to come to light…

James Joyce portrait Irish writer novelist

To see or not to see, that is the question

 

Coincidence No. 544 – Outsider

I am doing a day-long Zoom session for Documentary Campus Masterclass (was supposed to be in Copenhagen but had to be shifted online). I take a short break of 15 minutes and decide to use the time to start re-reading Albert Camus’ L’Etranger in French (the first book, other than comic books, that I have read in French for ages). The usual translation of the title is The Outsider (rather than The Stranger – it means both in French). I read the first couple of pages.

I rejoin the Zoom session and start a one-to-one meeting with a German filmmaker currently based in Thailand. From Chang Mai his very first statement is: “I did a lot of films about outsiders.”

Existentialist philosophy as propounded by the likes of Camus and Sartre has the universe as without meaning and pattern, and man as always striving to see pattern and sense in things.

the outsider albert camus novel l'etranger penguin

The Plague

Back in the good old days of my youth Corona was fizzy drinks

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s truck lorry

In those days when I was doing A Level French and studying Albert Camus among others – in particular L’Etranger (The Outsider) which happily coincided with The Cure’s early single Killing an Arab, based on that slim book) – I read about Camus’ 1947 novel La Peste (The Plague) without actually reading the work itself, often considered Camus’ masterpiece. What I was left with was the notion that you can’t be individually happy without having collective happiness. I applied this in an old post – looking back no idea where it came from, probably from thinking about The Terminatora notional film collaboration between James Cameron and Albert Camus!

This day last week I walked into the small bedroom where my Penguin Modern Classics reside and spotted The Plague just above my head, reached it down and began reading on the basis that there will never be a better time to read this book.

The parallels between Camus 1940s plague in Oran, Algeria and the current global pandemic of Coronavirus or Corvid90 didn’t disappoint. Camus was evidently combining an actual outbreak of a virus in that city in his native country with the realities of living under the Nazi Occupation of France during the Second World War, during which Camus had worked with the Resistance as the editor of Combat, a banned newspaper. Nonetheless the viral spread parallels were very striking so each morning I have published on social media via Instagram a resonant quote from La Peste as I read through and thought this morning that it would be worth aggregating all those posts here on Simple Pleasures Part 4. There’s nothing like a plague to refocus you on the simple pleasures of life.

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

Adam Gee
8 March at 18:25
Seems like the perfect time to read this – so I am #Camus #Corona
Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

 

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

“No, all those horrors were not near enough as yet even to ruffle the equanimity of that spring afternoon. The klang of an unseen tram came through the window, briskly refuting cruelty and pain. Only the sea, murmurous behind the dingy chequerboard of houses, told of the unrest, the precariousness of all things in this world.”

“This bacillus is such a queer one.”
“There,” Castel said, “I don’t agree with you. These little brutes always have an air of originality. But, at bottom, it’s always the same thing.”
“That’s your theory, anyhow. Actually, of course, we know next to nothing on the subject.”

“One of the cafés had the brilliant idea of putting up a slogan: ‘The best protection against infection is a bottle of good wine’, which confirmed an already prevalent opinion that alcohol is a safeguard against infectious disease.”

“ …though in their heart of hearts they were far from recognising the enormity of what had come on them, they couldn’t help feeling, for obvious reasons, that decidedly something had changed. Nevertheless, many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was for them an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come. Alarmed, but far from desperate, they hadn’t yet reached the phase when plague would seem to them the very tissue of their existence; when they forgot their lives which until now it had been given them to lead. In short, they were waiting for the turn of events.”

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947 picasso

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)

Sirens

I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]

Books That Changed Lives – suggestions for book groups

I’ve been in a book group with some old school friends and a motley crew of other geezers for 13 and a bit years now. Here is a summary of our first 10 years. Well it’s my turn to choose the book again now – it takes 18-24 months for the honour to come round these days so you can’t take it lightly. I put a call out to social media friends for books that had really changed their lives or ways of seeing the world. Loads of interesting suggestions came in and rather than let them fade away in the ephemeral world of Facebook etc. I thought I’d save them here so other people in other book groups/book clubs/reading groups could make use of the titles. (The quotations are from the friends making the suggestions.)

Bookshelf books

  • Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  • My brilliant friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane
  • Don de Lillo’s Underworld
  • Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – “made me think differently about how the past shapes your present/future and how as individuals we get to choose if the negative parts of our past consume our futures or not. It is also beautifully written and made me revisit poetry too.” “it is the book that taught me how beautiful words can be”
  • Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The social animal – David Brooks
  • Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
  • Andre Agassi’s “Open”
  • The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities
  • Us – David Nicholls
  • Amongst Women by John McGahern
  • Malloy by Samuel Beckett
  • The Master by Colm Tóibín
  • The Country Girls by Edna O’ Brien
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’ Brien
  • The Quest for Corvo – AJA Symons
  • Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  • Birchwood by John Banville
  • How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
  • The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
  • Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
  • The History of History – Ida Hatemer-Higgins
  • Inventing God, Nicholas Mosley – “felt my mind shifting on religion/geopolitics/Middle East. God as the greatest invention of humankind. Humanist but generous to those who have faith – a gentle riposte to the Hitchens/Dawkins approach. In a novel.”
  • A window for one year – John Irving
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – “love, friendship and sacrifice”
  • Wild, Cheyl Strayed
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • To the End of the Land, David Grossman
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – “felt the terror of teenage girls when read and re-read both as a teenage girl/40 yr old woman”
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – “felt the power and grace of the quiet man”
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinwe Achebe
  • Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother “Made me respect young people more”
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • The Mezzanine by Nicolson Baker “It’s very short, very unlikely and some in the group will HATE it and for others it’ll change the way they look at the world around them. You’ll never see perforations or a straw in a fizzy drink the same way again.”
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman – “had a huge influence on my going to university and recognising the need to never find oneself in a position where you are wholly reliant on a man. All teenage girls should read it.”
  • William Leith’s The Hungry Years “taught me how not to be a food addict”
  • Cervantes’ Don Quixote “taught me to rely on my inner compass rather than external signage.”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow “showed me that our personal interpretation is where the colour and joy of the world are to be found, but to keep it just shy of solipsism”
  • Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book “became my personal cultural key to unlocking New York”
  • Stoner – John Williams
  • Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse “made me see my middle class/ inner animal struggle in a clear & cleansing light, Damn you Herman Hesse!”
  • Plumed serpent, D. H. Lawrence – “opening to the mythic underbelly”
  • Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ “because his characters are so compelling and so flawed. Our heroine’s youthful arrogance and stubbornness sees her turn down suitors because she values above all her freedom, only to find herself trapped in a way she could not have imagined. I was excited at her prospects and I feared for her. There were other characters I was rooting for too! Having re-read it more than 20 years later, I was interested and surprised to find I had more compassion for some characters I disliked intensely and impatience for those I felt sympathy for when I read it as a teenager. A truly astonishing, complex masterpiece.”
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road “is the most piercing book I’ve read. The description of the trials faced by the father and son has stayed with me for years.”
  • 1984 – George Orwell – “”We are the dead” “You are the dead” stopped me in my 13 year old tracks. Never saw it coming”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day – “because it really does require you to take a big chunk out of your life to read it – Rams home the idea that reading is subversive: stops you working, earning, socialising and kinda does stop time.”
  • A fraction of the whole – Steve toltz
  • Douglas Coupland’s ‘Microserfs’
  • Be Here Now – Ram Dass
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • The english and their history by Robert tombs – “Amazing and definitive book that filled in every gap for me in understanding where we live and why it is how it is”
  • The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom “Despite the title, it’s a real page turner. Yalom goes back and forth between Spinoza and Rosenberg (part of Hitler’s propoganda machine). My book club had a fantastic discussion.”
  • Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
  • Humanity: A Moral History of The 20th Century by Professor Jonathan Glover
  • Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Beingby Milan Kundera
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicle -Haruki Murakami – “Extraordinary writing that made me see the world differently”
  • Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Again, thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the list.

In the end I opted for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (partly because I thought Cloud Atlas was something pretty special). Will report back on how it goes.

Fundamental Flaw

children playing

The spirit of the law

The first words I heard this Easter Monday morning were Allah Akbar. They blared their way at 5am across the fields from Jisr az-Zarqa, across the stream from which it takes its name (bridge over the blue [stream]), along the Roman aquaduct which flowed right down to Caesarea, and through the flower-lined streets of Bet Chananya where I am staying. In my half-sleep I lay wondering: What did God actually ask? Presumably he never mentioned electronic amplification in the Koran. I suppose he said something along the lines of get up high and call the faithful to prayer. No speakers. No microphone in the Holy Book I’m guessing. Just the human voice. So why the need to broadcast beyond the call of the human voice?

I’m just back from the streets of Jerusalem, from the Via Dolorosa to the Wailing Wall. On Good Friday I saw the faithful carrying wooden crosses into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Calvary. It coincided with Passover this year and of course shortly after the resonant hour of three o’clock the Jewish Sabbath kicks in. At the hotel where I was staying the electric revolving door was switched off for the Sabbath and you had to push it around manually. The reason the electricity was switched off is because switching on electricity has been interpreted as constituting work. Presumably electricity doesn’t get a specific mention in the Torah. But you end up with your shoulder to the heavy revolving door doing the bovine work of pushing your way into your temporary crib. So interpretation ends up achieving the opposite of the spirit of the law.

And anyway, what’s that Orthodox Jew doing carrying two bulging plastic bags across the lobby on Sabbath afternoon? He’s not even supposed to carry money in his pocket – that’s work too apparently. In North-West London near where I live, the Orthodox Jewish community tried to or actually built a network of thin, high wires around certain streets of NW11 to create an ‘eruv’ which seemingly constitutes some kind of enclosure which would permit Orthodox Jews to have money in their pocket or push a pram on the Sabbath within its near-invisible confines. Religions have this habit of finding ways and interpretations to get round their own rules.

Heading West to Holland Park you’ll find the sumptuous Arab Hall in newly restored and just reopened (yesterday) Leighton House, home of the prominent Victorian painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. He was a keen collector of Isnik and other Islamic tiles. On the walls of the Arab Hall, setting off its central fountain and latticed windows, are tiles depicting birds and natural beauty. But Muslims, like Jews (and technically Christians), are forbidden from creating “graven images”. It’s right up there as rule/Commandmant No. 2: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath”. So birds are a no-no. Look carefully at the tiles though and you’ll see a line has been scored across their necks in the glaze. Apparently that gets you off the hook with God.

So there’s the spirit of religion on the one hand, and the question of human interpretation and institution on the other hand; there’s the human voice and the cycle of work and rest, and there’s contemporary applications of religious rules and the predominance of the letter of the law or the interpretation thereof over the spirit of the law.

A few days ago – ironically on St Patrick’s Day – on Radio 5 I heard Steven Nolan interviewing a certain Monsignor Dooley, a senior representative of the Irish Catholic Church. He asked him whether he would report a priest to the police if he knew he was abusing  a child. His reply was that he had no legal duty to do so …nor, indeed, any moral duty.  This was from a close colleague of the churchman who was reading out that very day in Armagh Cathedral the Pope’s apology for the abusive and deviant behaviour of his Church in Ireland – the apology which ended up with a call on the (increasingly appalled)  Irish Catholic congregation to do a year’s peninence for the sins of… of whom … of  the representatives of the Pope’s rotten institution in their country.

In some religions to become a priest or community leader you have to be married, preferably with a family. The Catholic Church will remain rotten at heart as long as it enforces celebacy of its officials. Supressing sexuality and natural urges obviously just misshapes people, and wherever it finally bursts out of some resultant kink or deformation, like a hiss of burning sulphurous steam, it causes pain and stink. I’ve met angry Catholic priests. I’ve met obviously gay ones, who either don’t realise it or don’t want to be honest about it. I’ve met ones over the last couple of years whose faith has clearly been shaken by recent events. I’ve seen, I’ve smelt those whisps of suppressed and displaced feeling.

In Richard Price’s excellent novel ‘Clockers’ he describes in unforgettable fashion what his cop character calls “the Cycle of Shit” – basically how abusive behaviour and its consequent damage transmits from generation to generation in a vicious, downward spiral. Which begs the question, what in God’s name has been happening to those priests in the seminaries and institutions in which they’ve grown up and trained?

It turns out the voice that abused my ears this morning wasn’t even a real person. It was a tape recording. The officials of religion that feed these Cycles of Shit are steeped in the rankest of hypocrisy. Not that I’d have felt that much better if the lazy bastard had gotten out of bed to disturb me and make me this grumpy.

Can’t kid a kidmapper

cover by NC Wyeth (1913)

cover by NC Wyeth (1913)

Follow the Kidmapper: a literary blogumentary from Tim Wright

From 30th June to 25th August, Tim (who wrote MindGym with Ben Miller and me) is following a route across Scotland from the south-western tip of Mull to the outskirts of Edinburgh, as charted in Chapters 14–27 of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’.

You can follow his travels & travails at Kidmapper.

Tim considers ‘Kidnapped’ a fantastically exciting book – “the story of David Balfour running for his life across the Highlands, sometimes accompanied by tough and rebellious Alan, sometimes pursued by the English army, seemed so visceral and exciting to me that I wanted to try it for myself. So that is exactly what I am doing.”

From the blog you can read and discuss the book itself, listen to extracts being read out in the places the book describes and keep in touch with where Tim has got to each day.

“Perhaps there’s something you’d like me to do or think about whilst I’m walking. Perhaps you’d like me to visit specific sites and film them for you. Or better still, perhaps you’d like to come out here and join me for a walk, add your own responses to being on the Kidnapped Trail and have an adventure of your very own.”

If you want to start from the beginning, the first episode is on Tim’s YouTube channel and you can find him as ‘kidmapper’ on most popular web services.

So this is the latest chapter in Tim’s on-going exploration of web narrative, which incudes the outstanding In Search of Oldton whose launch I had the honour to host at Channel 4 way back when.

I’m feeling inspired now to handcuff myself to a blonde and run across the heather-strewn glens of ‘The 39 Steps’.

We seem to have a bit of a Hitch here, darling

We seem to have a bit of a Hitch here, darling

And on the subject of following…

You should follow me on Twitter here

Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) should follow Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) there

The English army should follow David Balfour there

Why all the following?

Rocky Road

Banff, Canada

Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City

High in his mountain lair, overlooking the snow-topped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, protected by the sheer stone walls of the looming castle, the cross-platform commissioner and his white cat reflect on the events of the past few days. The Banff Spring hotel, one of the barmy baronial piles built by the Canadian Pacific railway (I’ve seen two others, at Lake Louise and in downtown Toronto, all astounding in their scale), is home to the annual Banff TV Festival which follows hard on the heels of NextMedia, its toddler brother of about four which focuses on interactive media. It’s interesting to see this year that the two are beginning to overlap substantially, reflecting (a little late) the changes in TV over the last two years in particular.

The highlights for me of ‘the place great TV is born’…

My main speaking session this afternoon with Kate Harwood from BBC Drama (Cranford, Oliver Twist, etc.), chaired by Ed Waller, Editorial Director of C21 Media – really enjoyed rabbiting on about Picture This, Embarrassing Bodies and Big Art Mob to illustrate my approach to factual cross-platform (BTW “rabbiting” is one of various English words I found out this trip Canadians don’t understand). Sesh seemed to go down well. Mentioned the forthcoming 4mations and 4IP. It’s always fun demoing Embarrassing Bodies because you never know what gruesome video will be featured on the homescreen – my very own Russian roulette of public speaking (not sure what exactly we were looking at yesterday but the thumbnail featured what seemed to be a fifteen-day old mini cheese pizza growing on someone’s head) .

Kate showed a couple of interesting clips from forthcoming shows – House of Saddam looked fascinating as did Criminal Justice (in which Pete Postlethwaite and some other thesp heavyweights cropped up).

Looking up at the reception before the Rockies Awards to see Bill Murray of Where the Buffalo Roams and Ghostbusters fame. Stripes featured big in my teen viewing – especially the parade ground manoeuvres to the tune of Manfred Mann’s Doo Wah Diddy. He looked rather white and old. Buffalo I first saw at the Arts Cinema when I was at college so I guess he is getting on. (I’ve just finished reading Fear & Loathing for the first time – goddarn that book has great pictures!)

I’m carrying on writing this on Canada’s third greatest invention – after maple syrup and Neil Young – the Blackberry. We’ve just driven past the Banff Centre where Kim Cattrall trained. I had the pleasure of picking up 4 Rockies Awards on behalf of the Channel in front of said Sex in the City star to her 1 shiny little metal mountain range. Whilst she looked like a million dollars, I was more like a bad penny, coming back to the podium four times, which did however have the benefit of driving home how much above its weight Channel 4 punches.

Going to the hot springs after work yesterday with Jane Mote of UKTV, in their rather charming 1932 split-level building. 39 degrees in the outdoor water with views in all directions of snow-capped peaks. Steam coming off the surface, fat bellied men in old-style trunks, a row of French maidens posing in 1930s bathing costumes, it felt for a moment like we were in some Russian resort, missing only the wodka.

Running this morning, after doing a breakfast meeting with four Canadian writers and producers (including Jill Golick of scriptwriting blog Story2OH), along the Bow river past the falls. The epitome of Canadian Rockies scenery.

Having a proper chat at breakfast with Nick Fraser of Storyville (who has just execed a film about the aforereferredto Hunter Thompson) (and Mette Hoffman Meyer of DTV, Denmark representing the award-winning documentary Iron Ladies of Liberia) – last saw Nick when we were both speaking at Discovery Campus in Brussels but didn’t really get to talk – so a proper chat about photography (prompted by his commission What Remains: Life & Work of Sally Mann which also picked up a Rocky), new digital forms for documentary, sealing wax, cabbages and things.

Last year it was Mark Thompson I met at breakfast in that same dining room. We were discussing the fall-out of Celeb Big Bro and his verdict was “shit happens”. And the Richard & Judy phone vote balls-up – “Sometimes shit happens in a row”. Which in retrospect was ironic given the kind of year he had following that convo with one bit of shit (Blue Peter fix) after another (queen trail scandal) after another (BBC cuts).

Hooking up with Tom Perlmutter, President of the National Film Board of Canada, to explore possibilities about combining forces on 4mations. Canada has a great reputation in animation which seems in kindred spirit to what comes out of Channel 4 on the animation front.

Meeting an honest to goodness Mountie.

Being on the judging panel for iPitch from the Bell New Media fund, like last year. Not quite as exciting entries as last time but a worthy winner (a cross-platform teen court).

As I come down from the mountains, I come away with the impression that convergence is now more than the C word in TV – it’s the done deed.

Human Bonds

james bond Pan book covers

So I’m on the underground yesterday, reading the new hardback I’d bought the day before. Then this burn-out walks on and I have that feeling – I know he’s going to sit next to me. He’s very tall, lanky, drug thin. His fingernails are dirty. The driver has to warn passengers to stay clear of the closing doors. The burn-out calls them “fucking idiots” in the expected loud cockney voice. I shift rightwards in my seat, hope he isn’t going to smell too bad (which he doesn’t as far as my hopeless sense of smell can tell), carry on reading.

“Is that the new Bond novel?” he asks me gently, having glanced down at the page I was on. The book only came out the day before. The open page had few clues as to what it was.

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you think the film they’re making of it will be good?”

“I think it’s based on a different story.”

“So is that written by Fleming?”

What do I take from the unexpected exchange? You can’t judge the book by the cover I guess is the obvious one we (certainly I) can’t be reminded of often enough. You can tell the price (but not the value). What I most took away was the Simple Pleasure that I had enjoyed the conversation and contact and there was real warmth in those human bonds.

The new Bond book is entitled ‘Devil May Care’ and has been written by Sebastian Faulks (of ‘Birdsong’ fame) in the style of Fleming. I’ve only ever read a couple of Bond books, but remember really enjoying ‘Casino Royale’ (the first Bond novel) for the surprising brutality of the man I had only encountered through the movies. The publication of a new Bond book felt like a bit of an event (I was one when Fleming died) so I bought a copy of this in advance on-line through Hatchards website and picked it up on the day of publication on the way to a meeting at BAFTA with Rob Bevan of XPT- we were working on the forthcoming website for 4IP, the new Channel 4-led fund for public service interactive media, announced at Next on 4 back in March and coming on-stream over the summer. Hatchards in Piccadilly – a book shop dating back to 1797 as it says on its rich green bags the colour of Bond’s customised Bentley with its Arnott supercharger – is one of London’s great treasures. It makes me feel guilty every time I buy from Amazon and I try to make amends by pulling by whenever I’m at the Academy at 195 Piccadilly and picking up a signed volume.

After having a satisfying creative session with Rob, my old collaborator from MindGym, I hooked up with Ivo Gormley of ThinkPublic to talk about his forthcoming documentary about the internet and democracy. We walked back Channel4wards through St James’s and St James’s’ Park where I had the pleasure of demoing Big Art Mob in its mobile incarnation [WAP site] to him in a small alley where we found a superb bas relief of Anthony and Cleopatra, which looks like it may once have adorned a theatre in the area but is now built into a wall opposite an old public house, and on a remixed sculpture which seems to have once lost its head in the park. Ivo’s dad, Antony, who he closely resembles, is one of the most popular artists on Big Art Mob, third only to Henry Moore and Banksy. I wonder what the ‘burn-out’ thinks about public art? what his favourites around the city are? Something to talk about next time…

Bond is back

%d bloggers like this: