Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Coincidence No. 101

I wake up in a pleasant hotel in Bristol and decide to treat myself to some pleasant TV (‘Strike: Lethal White’ BBC1), finishing off an episode from last night. There’s these lines in the bit I got to:

No, wait, I’ve seen Blanc de Blanc before. Matt’s Instagram. Where we went on our anniversary. It’s only an hour from Chisel House.

The character (Robyn) is referring to a hotel where she went with her husband. Blanc de Blanc was the room name.

I am writing this in Casa Lapostolle, a room in the Hotel du Vin. It is named after a wine as is their way. The bottle is sitting in a cabinet just outside the door.

Watching Hotel du Vin in Hotel du Vin

Things That Are No More #2: I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas – and forever

This is Michael Dickinson (filmed by me in April 2018) not far from Spike Milligan’s stomping ground. Sadly he passed away recently. He was a much-loved presence in East Finchley as well as other parts of London such as Camden Town. He came to East Finchley to visit the Phoenix Cinema (which BTW is about to re-open) among other things.

Michael was an actor, writer and campaigner. He suffered from a psychological condition called ‘retropulsion’, a compulsion to walk backwards, which is a symptom of Parkinsonism. He died from Peritonitis on 2nd July in his bedsit in Highgate, aged 70.

Michael was born in Yorkshire. He lived all around Camden Town in the 70s and 80s, then mov­ed to Istanbul. After 30 years living in Turkey and working as a teacher, he was deported back to Britain in 2013 after being arrested for exhib­iting a collage portraying President Erdogan as a dog collecting a rosette from George Bush.

He studied at Manchester School of Theatre in 1969. Michael acted and wrote for the Pentameters Theatre (which BTW urgently needs support to survive and has a crowdfunder on the go to that end) above the Three Horseshoes pub on Heath Street, Hampstead where he was considered a talented actor. His final play was about Keats whose manor included Heath Street. Léonie Scott-Matthews, who has run Pentameters for over five decades, witnessed when the condition kicked in: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here. He got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

In a 2017 interview in the Camden New Journal Michael said: “I am not acting. If it wasn’t for the retropulsion, I would much prefer to be walking forwards.”

For some time he lived in a tent on Hampstead Heath. Other times his home was a cardboard box behind Sainsbury in Camden Town and various squats including Hampstead Police Station (also on Heath Street). Eventually he got more regular accommodation. 

The Erdogan episode took on international proportions. Michael arrived at the appeal hearing bearing a similar collage with Erdogan’s face on a dog’s body. During the shenanigans Charles Thomson, co-founder of the pro-figurative Stuckist group of artists,  wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to encourage the “strongest condem­nation of this prosecution”.  Thomson said: “The story got international media attention because they were trying to get into the EU at that time. I think without it he would have got a stiff jail sentence.” He described Michael’s art as “exquisitely wrought political collages”. Relating it to the movement he founded he said: “Stuckism is for individuals who feel marginalised and not prepared to kow-tow to the establishment. They are not afraid to be them­selves and often they pay the price for that.”

Besides plays, as a writer michael wrote dozens of articles, mainly published on Counter­punch. His output included various essays about his life.

Michael’s life is a perfect example of the richness of stories that can underlie people in our communities we are perhaps dismissive of or put in a judgmental box. Another such example from my own childhood community was Dr Stephan Hassan, known as the Edgware Walker. When I started working at Channel 4 the filmmaker-comedian Lee Kern (Co-producer of Who Is America? with Sacha Baron Cohen) gave me a copy of the film he had just finished (2003) as a tribute to a forwards runner, as mysterious as Michael Dickinson.

Lee’s affectionate film, The Edgware Walker, was first broadcast in 2004 (Channel 4). Its core message is that is is important to engage with such people where we live, including asking them questions as you would your friends and neighbours. 

Things That Are No More No. 1

Alan Parker and the curse count

the commitments alan parker movie film

The Commitments (1991)

I met London-born director Alan Parker once – it was at the Dorchester hotel in Park Lane at some film-related event, around 2004. As we were walking out I took the opportunity to tell him a story about my younger son and The Commitments

Like many parents I tended to show my children movies too young, forgetting the detail of the content. One afternoon I was sitting watching The Commitments with the pair of them, connecting them to the Irish half of their identity. Enfant Terrible No. 2 disappeared off mid-movie for a few minutes to run upstairs and get the stopwatch his Auntie Bernadette had recently bought him. He then reinstalled himself on the sofa and carried on watching, shiny new present in hand. After a while he turned to me (he’s about five at the time) and said: “Dad, do you realise it’s 3 minutes, 48 seconds since the last ‘Fuck’?” like that was some kind of record in linguistic restraint.

I find The Commitments a pretty flawless film, the music performed with brilliant energy, the casting of Andrew Strong as Deco key to the success of the movie.

birdy movie alan parker 1984

Birdy (1984) – Nicolas Cage & Matthew Modine

Whilst I got as excited as the next kid about Bugsy Malone and the splurge guns, it was Birdy, which came out as I started uni, which made a real mark on my growing up. Matthew Modine’s performance is very moving, perfectly supported by a young Nicholas Cage.

Mississippi Burning movie film alan parker 1988

Mississippi Burning (1988) Willem Dafoe & Gene Hackman

Mississippi Burning remains one of my favourite Alan Parker movies. Although it’s probably looked down on these days for having largely white saviours, it’s as cinematic and compelling as you could wish. It would make a great double bill with Ava DuVernay’s  Selma. I’ll be watching it as a single bill this evening in memory and celebration of Alan Parker who went to the Big Studio in the sky yesterday. For me what he stood for was the ability to make entertaining and emotionally satisfying films which were accessible/mainstream and yet imaginative and substantial.

 

Wider Wake

I’ve noticed something reading Finnegans Wake for the first time – I call it ‘Wake Hang-over’. During the Corona lockdown I begin every morning by going out in the garden and reading. Latterly I start with a couple of pages of the Wake and then whatever book I’m reading, currently a light whodunnit by Anthony Horowitz entitled Magpie Murders, easy reading for hard times. When I go to read the second book I find that for a while I’m still in a different reading mode, hyperalert for word play, connections, double meanings; somehow floating a bit above the text; inhabiting a strangely comic world – or is it a comically strange one? That unique reading mode gradually fades but the overlap is interesting and enjoyable. As a linguist, it’s a bit like when you come out of a foreign language, back to English, and the shapes and dynamics of that other language are still what’s shaping your consciousness and thinking.

Picking up from my previous (second) Wake post I’m quickly going to update my lists:

hce food service equipment logo

HCE

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman – “for every busy eerie whig’s a bit of a torytale to tell” (20)
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella
  • haughty, cacuminal, erubescent (55)
  • Humpheres Cheops Exarchas (62)
  • Haveyou-caught-emerods (63)
  • Hyde and Cheek, Edenberry (66)
  • House, son of Clod, to come out you jew-beggar to be Executed (70)
  • Et Cur Heli! (73)
  • at Howth or at Coolock or even at Enniskerry (73)

finnegans wake plaque mullingar house chapelizod

On Mullingar House pub, Chapelizod, Dublin

Dublin

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool
  • Dablena Tertia (57)
  • Doveland (61)
  • Dulyn (64)
  • Dubblenn (66)
  • deeplinns (76)
  • blackpool (85) Blackpool (88)

And I’m starting a third such list- variations on “Ireland”. There is a linkage between HCE and Ireland: HCE > Earwicker > Earlander > Eire > Ireland

Joyce surname ireland map 1901

Ireland

  • Errorland (62)
  • Aaarlund (69)
  • aleland (88)

(So these are all cumulative lists.)

To round off this post I’d like to start highlighting some of my favourite neologisms and word-collisions. Like the lists above, these highlight the variety and persistence of Joyce’s ludic approach to language. Joyce is “a mixer and wordpainter” as he describes Hyacinth O’Donnell on p.87.

The playfulness and transmutation of language is the essence of the dream state and the act of “sewing a dream together” (28) which is this fluid, complex book. “intermutuomergent” (55) is a wordflow that captures the dynamics of the language of the Wake. This is the “meandertale” (18) to end all meandertales. (The wandering river, the Liffey, runs through that heart of it, personified in ALP. And the neanderthal is just beneath the skin of us hairless apes, we Chimpdens.)

  • tellafun book (86) [telephone]
  • lexinction of life (83) [lexicon/extinction]
  • nekropolitan (80)
  • timesported across the yawning (abyss) (56) [transported across time]
  • to clapplaud (32) [clap]

BTW my favourite Wake website so far is From Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay, a blog by Peter Chrisp.

Returning to lockdown, on the basis that the Wake touches on everything, this seems like a good Corona sentence: “the obedience of the citizens elp the ealth of the ole” (76).

 

 

Quotation: Teach us rightly to number our days

On holidays and such circumstances we have a conversation in my family about tattoos. I’ve made 51 tattoo films in my career including In Your Face for Real Stories/Little Dot Studios (100M+ views) and The Male Body Handbook: Tattooed for Channel 4. The conversation springboards from the question: If you were to have a tattoo, what would it be? I always end up saying the only thing I would want to see every day is something that was or meant “Carpe Diem”.

As I sit writing this at my desk there is a marble tablet to my right – a cheap bit of tourist tat from when I visited Rome a couple of years ago to speak at MIA – the Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo film festival/market. The tablet, quite heavy, says:

CARPE DIEM

QUAM MINIMUM

CREDULA POSTERO

Quinto Orazio Flacco

So the phrase we are familiar with actually has a broader context: Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow. It comes from Book 1 of (Roman poet) Horace’s Odes (23 BC). Quinto Orazio Flacco in Latin is Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace.

I don’t really like the look of Carpe Diem. Carpe reminds me of carp, the fish that Eastern Europeans love to consume for some reason. Diem contains “die”. So I was pleased to find another quotation this week (at the funeral of my step-father) which means much the same thing. It is from the Old Testament, Psalm 90 (verse 12):

Teach us rightly to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I read this as an exhortation to value each day and recognise that it is one of a limited number we are each allotted – through that perspective, brought to mind daily, we can become wise at heart (as opposed to at head).

The nearest tattoo I can find is Psalm 90:14, two doors down, nicely done but not at all the same:

I am big on the word “joy” though – my daily mantra is “I will enJOY my day” – and I’m all up for being “glad all our days”, but it’s not for me.

However Psalm 90:12 is not quite snappy enough – it is great for an arch in a cemetery but not quite right for my arm.

Back to the fantasy tattoo drawing board…

In the meantime In Your Face has just been awarded the Best Documentary accolade in the Lockdown Short Film Showcase run by London Short Film, of which more tomorrow…

Maurice Podro 1928-2020

Maurice Podro 43 Group by Stuart Freedman

Maurice Podro photographed by Stuart Freedman 2020 (copyright Stuart Freedman)

Maurice Podro was 91 which is one reason why he hardly appears on the Web. He has two search returns: a listing as a company director – inactive and a piece to do with his time in the 43 Group, a post-war anti-fascist group mainly of Jewish ex-servicemen who took on Mosley and the blackshirts, pretty successfully. Maurice’s older brother was quite political and led the intelligence operation. Maurice wasn’t political – he just said “I knew it was the right thing to do”. That second search return is an article entitled ‘Remember the day they did not pass’ – it’s about the Battle of Cable Street.

Maurice Podro fought the resurgence of fascism in post-war Britain and his response is unambiguous.

“I am a firm believer that you fight violence with violence. I don’t see it any other way.”

The journalist, Alex Davis, seems a bit disapproving of this plain-speaking response. Maurice had a catchphrase to conclude any debate or discussion: “…and that’s simplified it.” That meant, that’s the plain truth.

The photograph above was taken by Stuart Freedman to capture the last half dozen surviving members of the 43 Group. I had connected the historian Daniel Sonabend, author of ‘We Fight Fascists’, a definitive history of the 43 Group, to Maurice and he interviewed him. Daniel then connected Stuart to Maurice and he photographed him. Maurice was not too well at the time and he didn’t much like the photo for that reason. Ditto his wife, my mother. But I really like it because it captures Maurice’s determination and fighting spirit in those pursed lips.

The last outing I went on with Maurice was to an evening discussion about Daniel’s book at King’s Place, York Way. He was wearing a camel hair coat and looked like the dapper cross of a mafioso and a Wingate football club supporter of the 70s (minus the cigar). Every inch the swagger don. I was well proud of him that night.

In the foyer he bumped into some men whose families worked in Petticoat Lane/Wentworth Street market. Maurice knew their relatives in detail – crystal clear memory. It was like the time I took him to a Sinatra show at the Palladium – the children of some market traders of the golden age recognised Maurice at the interval and eagerly questioned him about their parents’ generation down the Lane. He knew every name without fail. He was a living link to a past now almost vanished. I’m glad that I got round to interviewing him at length on video and I’m going to give the video to the Jewish Museum in Camden Town now. I did the interview with David Rosenberg who is a specialist on the history of anti-fascism and radical politics in the East End. I once took Maurice on one of David’s ‘Anti-fascist footprints’ walks and every time we stopped at one of the landmarks Maurice would pipe up and add more first-hand testimony to David’s commentary. Such as details of the mini-train that snaked around the playground at his school, JFS. And the time they beat up a blackshirt, broke his legs and chucked him in a bin.

So I wanted to get Maurice properly on the internet with this post to mark his passing to the big jazz club in the sky yesterday afternoon. I’m writing this listening to Buddy Rich. Maurice loved drumming, learnt to play during his time in the RAF, hung out in Archer Street, Soho in the days when it was in effect the jazz musicians’ labour exchange. He took me to see Buddy play twice. The second time, at the Festival Hall, I got to meet him and get my record signed. I was in my school uniform still. Buddy told me I should be at home studying on a school night, not out listening to jazz.

The last time I saw Maurice he was at home in the Corona Lockdown. I saw him through the open side door at the front of my childhood home. He was frail and not doing that great. I cracked a joke slightly at his expense and he laughed – I can’t remember what it was but I remember being pleased it was a good one and was appreciated. I’m glad that was our last ever interaction.

He took me to jazz. He took me to the other Lane (Spurs, where he got me hot Ribena and we sat next to a man who sucked on a huge cigar but never lit it) – in latter years, we would go to a caff opposite before the match and he would engage with all and sundry, the highlight of the afternoon eclipsing the actual football. In the good old days he had an 8-track in his car on which he introduced me to some great music such as ‘Hot August Night’, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. He gave me a job down the first Lane as a teenager – as we passed Hoxton on the early morning way into work he would pronounce “‘Oxton – ares’ole of the universe!” (it’s improved some since then), and get me good grub at Mossie Marks or Kossoff’s, sausage sarnies with lashings of ketchup a favourite on cold mornings. All a far cry from my dad who was a research scientist.

Maurice was my step-father and the best way I can capture him is to say that whenever he was introducing me to anyone he would always say “this is my son, Adam” – never “my step-son”.

maurice podro sadiq khan mayor london cable street commemoration

Maurice with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan when he was honoured at a Cable Street commemoration

In the Wake of Waking Up

I’m writing this after having just finished an online session about the Sirens chapter of Ulysses with the Charles Peake Seminar group – it’s the chapter centred on music. I switched straight from that which finished at 8pm to a live online gig from the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin by Iarla O Leonaird (singer in Gaelic) & Steve Cooney (guitar player) which started at 8pm. Music is a Big Thing for Joyce – this morning I got to The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly at the end of the second chapter of Finnegans Wake, marking the culmination of the rumours about HCE’s shameful act, fixing that moment for the long term in folksong. It actually opens with musical staves and notes, underlining the collagey, encyclopedic and scrapbooky nature of the Wake.

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And he curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
At the butt of the Magazine Wall,
The Magazine Wall,
Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy
To the jail of Mountjoy!
Jail him and joy.

I noticed this morning after finishing this section and the couple of pages before it that when I went to read another (conventional) novel it took a good few minutes to go back to conventional reading – you get into a different mode of reading and thinking when immersed in the Wake. It was a really interesting reading experience. The way you read the Wake is more engaged, playful and energetic than normal reading.

I want to finish off this second post by starting a couple of lists. The central character, HCE, has his initials explained in a number of ways in the book and I want to start capturing them:

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella

HCE Group-Logo-Landscape-Colour

Another list I want to begin here is one of all the different ways Joyce refers to the city at the heart of the novel (as with Ulysses) – Dublin:

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool

phoenix-park map finnegans wake

The focus of Wake’s Dublin

(I’ll keep building these lists as I read through.)

 

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

 

VE Day 75 – The Walk

flags VE day 75th 2020 london

Beginning of my VE day walk – a lone hint of celebration on our street – East Finchley, London N2

st pancras and islington cemetery commonwealth war graves

Coronavirus has stopped normal access to the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

The commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery earlier in the lockdown (before they closed the cemeteries)

naked lady henlys corner statue war memorial

I’m sitting just beneath Emile Guillaume’s La Délivrance known locally as The Naked Lady – it’s a WW1 memorial but it is opposite the flat where my great-uncle Bruno lived, a concentration camp survivor & refugee from Leipzig Germany, so its WW2 victory for me

children holocaust memorial henlys corner

Flowers for children VE Day 75, Henly’s Corner

clock tower war memorial golders green

The clock tower memorial to WW1 & WW2 at Golders Green with its distinctive blue

keith douglas poetry golders hill

WW2 poetry Keith Douglas in flower garden at Golders Hill – wisteria no hysteria, stiff upper lip

Comment: unicornsalmost

‪This Sunday, on @bbcradio3 : Unicorns, Almost – a play about the life and poetry of Keith Douglas https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j2bn‬

hampstead war memorial

Hampstead war memorial to both world wars – a few hundred yards from where I was born, overlooking all of London

location Allied brad pitt hampstead

Film location of ‘Allied’ movie with Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard set during WW2

Film location of 'Allied'

Film location of ‘Allied’

I met a family sitting out on their front steps down the road from here, told them what I was doing and they pointed me to…

nicholas winton s house willow road hampstead

Nicholas Winton saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazis when based in this house in Hampstead

liam gallagher RAF roundel

Liam Gallagher‘s RAF roundel window at his old place in Hampstead

lee miller roland penrose house downshire hill hampstead

Photographer Lee Miller‘s house Hampstead – she photographed WW2 for Vogue magazine including the liberation of Dachau & Hitler’s bathtub in Munich

hampstead heath pond

My dad remembered vividly a doodlebug V1 exploding in the corner of this pond near his childhood home – I never walk by without thinking of him Hampstead Heath, VE day 75

george orwell house hampstead parliament hill

George Orwell‘s house – his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy worked at the Ministry of Information during WW2 (in the censorship department) in Senate House, University of London & he famously used it as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – Orwell was in the Home Guard & broadcast for the BBC

ve day walk montage

That’s the VE day 75 walk done – 9 hours, 24,600 steps, good fun

VE Day 75

ve day trafalgar square 8 may 1945

8th May 1945, Trafalgar Square

The current situation of lockdown under threat of a deadly viral enemy is as close to war as my generation has ever come which makes it a most resonant time to celebrate this landmark VE Day, the 75th.

My most memorable VE day to date was one spent in Bangor, Co. Down, N. Ireland when my wife was working on the BBC’s live coverage of the event which involved the lighting of a string of lanterns right round the British coast. To help her manage the day, with a very demanding, experienced and alcoholic director, I looked after one of the main contributors, a charming old fella from Belfast who had survived the Belfast Blitz of 1941. I spent the day hanging out with him, chatting and making sure he felt looked after. He was interviewed in the evening by John Cole.

Today’s VE day I marked with a themed walk, made up last minute, partly on the fly. I came up with the idea while sitting in the garden in the early morning sunshine. By 9am I was on the road. 9 hours and 24,600 steps later I returned home.

VE day walk 8 may 2020

I’ll publish the details of the walk tomorrow – it ranged from photographer Lee Miller’s house to Liam Gallagher’s RAF roundel window, from the location of a Brad Pitt war movie to a tribute to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the holocaust.

Half way I stopped to read some of Keith Douglas‘ poetry, a WW2 poet stationed largely in North Africa. He died shortly after D-Day at the age of just 24. The line

but time, time is all I lacked

from the last poem in the volume (a selection by Ted Hughes) seemed to sum up his artistic life. There’s a radio play about him on Radio 3 on Sunday (10th May) at 7.30pm called ‘Unicorns, Almost‘ by Owen Sheers.

I began the day by sharing an unpublished poem by Edmund Blunden entitled ‘V Day’. it’s in the manuscript collection of the Imperial War Museum. It concludes with the line:

 We have come through.

which seems very apposite and inspiring for these strange days.

V day page 1 poem edmund blunden

V day page 2 poem edmund blunden

Edmund-Blunden

Edmund Blunden – a WW1 poet who was still writing in 1945

Keith Douglas poet WW2

Keith Douglas

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