Archive for the ‘ali smith’ Tag

Coincidences No.s 367 & 368

Sydney Levinson – Creative Accountant

No. 367 

4.V.22

I get a message via Facebook from an old colleague/friend, an artist/photographer, I met through Channel 4:

“Morning Adam, how are you? May I call – some sad news I’m afraid – Though you may know already – through Sarah T”

I don’t know already, no idea what it might be. We speak later. It turns out my old friend Sydney Levinson is dead. I haven’t seen him since before Lockdown. I last saw him when he invited me to tea in Mayfair at a place he really liked, lots of red velvet as I recall. 

This is the last time we were in contact:

a typical Sydney message

3.V.22

I am out with my older son, having a chat. He tells me that we need to be more verb than noun. He is quoting Stephen Fry. (Fry was paraphrasing Oscar Wilde whom he memorably portrayed in the 1997 film ‘Wilde’.)

“Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

My son uses as an example a person he has met only twice – a person who DJed at my 50th birthday party and who the two of us bumped into at ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, a person with whom he has exchanged but a few words – Sydney Levinson. “Like your friend,” he says, “the one who is an accountant and a DJ.” This of all people is the person he choses to illustrate transcending being a noun, being defined by a role. 

This, it turns out, is the day Sydney went to the big DJ booth in the sky. My gut feeling is it is spoken the moment Sydney took off.

Sydney Levinson was an extraordinary individual. He worked as an accountant but specialised in applying his know-how to arts businesses and artists who needed help with money. He was on the board of many prominent arts organisations, sharing vitally needed financial know-how. He also loved to DJ on weekends in West London and any time any place the opportunity arose. We first met as business mentors on an ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) scheme providing mentors for creative businesses, during Ekow Eshun’s regime at Herbert Read’s quirky institution. 

Here’s where I first wrote about Sydney in this blog in 2007. And here’s an account of Sydney’s typically open and generous connecting of people. And here’s the last coincidence Sydney featured in.

Sydney, I know you are hanging out with Joey, Johnny, DeeDee, Tommy and all the other forever young punks.

 

Sydney’s teatime companions

No. 368 

5.VI.22

I am reading Ali Smith’s latest novel ‘Companion Piece’. It seems to revolve around two words that come to one of the two protagonists in an auditory hallucination: “curfew” and “curlew”. I read a passage where a curlew, that strangest of birds, appears in a hallucinatory or imaginative or psychotic or magical scene, on her bed beside her dog, brought in apparently by a housebreaking waif.

27.V.22

I go to see a long-delayed (by Covid) gig (Ali Smith’s novel is about the Covid period in Britain). The gig is David Gray, performing his brilliant ‘White Ladder’ LP on its 40th anniversary. The gig is two years late. Before the show begins, at the Millennium Dome in North Greenwich (aka the O2) – I have been following him since the early days of his career with gigs at small places like Dingwalls in Camden Town and The Forum 2 in the Holloway Road, this time he is playing to the best part of 20,000 – a video plays on the big screens above the stage. It is David Gray talking about saving the curlew on behalf of a charity called Curlew Action – he talks about the bird’s “most haunting and unforgettable song” and concludes: “It would mean the world to me if you could help one singer try to help another.”

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.

Books of 2016 – suggestions for book groups

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I put out a call today for books people have read this year which really blew their socks off. It’s my turn to chose for our book group – that’s a thing that only comes round every 20 months or so, so I want to make it a goodie. I wanted to go for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, which was bought as a gift for my birthday,  but it breaks our 300 page rule. Last time out I chose The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell which was class and memorable.

Here’s what people sent in, mostly published in 2016 (with a few oldies for variety):

  • Ragtime by EL Doctorow
  • Wake & The Beast by Paul Kingsnorth
  • A Brief history of seven killings – Marlon James
  • the vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Station Eleven, Euphoria by Lily King
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  • Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  • His Bloody Project – Gramme Macrame Burnet
  • Mr Penumbras 24 hour bookstore – robin sloan
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • Bel Canto by Anne Pratchett
  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
  • A god in ruins – Kate Atkinson
  • All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

cover

I went in the end with Autumn by Ali Smith (recommended by my friend Bill Thompson) as it’s very topical, one of the first post-Brexit novels, and I’m looking for some insight into how to deal wisely with the fucked up year we’ve just had. I knew I should have just gone to bed when Bowie died and slept through two winters.

Here is the list I made of suggestions for book clubs last year where the question was which book made most impact on your life.

And here’s the list of the first 10 years of our reading group’s books.

Finally here’s a list of recent titles from our group, based on email archaeology working my way back to the end of the first 10 year list (my favourites are bolded):

  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty (11/16)
  • The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt (10/16)
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany (9/16)
  • A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam (6/16)

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (4/16)

  • Joyce Carol Oates:” the man without a shadow” (4/16)

  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (2/16)

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq (1/16)

  • The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami (11/15)

  • The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford (9/15)
  • “In the Country of Men” – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (3/15)

  •  The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (1/15)

  • “Oblivion”by David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • “The Leopard”by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What was Promised by Tobias Hill (6/14)

  • “Stoner: A Novel” – John Williams (Apr 14)
  • “Rabbit at Rest” – John Updike (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (12/13)

  • May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes (11/13)

  •  Irretrievable – Theodore Fontane (9/13)

  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (7/13)

  •  Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (3/13)

  • “Yellow Birds” – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • “There’s no such thing as a free press…” by Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • William Trevor’s ‘Love and Summer’ (11/12)

  • (Life and Fate – Vasily Grossman (8/12))
  • “The Uncoupling” – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Philip Roth’s “Nemesis”(4/12)

  • “Old School” by Tobias Wolff (3/12)

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Nov 2011)

So our little group has just turned 15 years old. Our next meeting is tomorrow night (The Sellout). Glad to say it’s as good for us today as it’s always been…

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