Saturday, 31 March 2012
Today is also the birthday of the poet Andrew Marvell, born in Winestead, England (1621). His most famous poem is "To His Coy Mistress," a favourite with undergraduates in my time, written to convince a woman to sleep with him: "Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime," .... "But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near."
The Archbishop of Canterbury has commented this morning (Sat March 31) on the finding that less than half of all British children know the words of the Lord's Prayer. He points out that, quite aside from being deprived of a vehicle specifically recommended by Our Lord, those children are also unable to recognise the many allusions in our whole literature and culture to such core equipment. On my bookshelves this morning for instance, I noticed Andrew O'Hagan's novel Our Fathers (surely an allusion to the first line of the prayer). Even the title of this year's British entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 'Love Will Make You Free' echoes the New Testament lines John 8: 32 'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'.
All over the chapel the men filled their chests for a burst of conversation.
'Oh God our help in ages past' sang Paul
'Where's Prendergast today?'
'What aint you eard? 'e's been done in'
'And our eternal home.'
I laughed so much looking for this passage that I have decided to take the book on the train south today (for a funeral on Monday).
Lastly, I am delighted to report that my erstwhile mountain of books on the floor has melted to a mere couple of sorted piles. While shelving, I have found the strength to chuck quite a few. Some have gone to find new homes through the kind offices of Katherine Clemmens' Moffat Book Exchange, others have gone to Moffat CAN. In my haste to get the books onto shelves, I lowered my sights from attempting alphabetical positioning. This has resulted in a pleasing effect, whereby books in the same genre jostle as if at a disorderly and unlikely cocktail party. Looking just now along the rows for Decline and Fall, I noticed Rose Macaulay next to Gogol and Virginia Woolf next to Dostoievsky.
Friday, 30 March 2012
Monday, 26 March 2012
Sunday, 25 March 2012
Saturday, 24 March 2012
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
In the nick of time, before I sank beneath piles of unfiled documents, unshelved and unsorted books, I was helped to sort out my office systems and library yesterday by Marilyn Elliott and Bernie (Moffat Ramblers) McDougall. Many thanks both!
Monday, 19 March 2012
Sunday, 18 March 2012
I began Mother's Day aka Mothering Sunday by firing off a squib in the direction of the Financial Times, whose TV critic and associate editor John Lloyd will be one of our guests at Russia: Lessons and Legacy, our international Moffat Book Events conference Sept 14-17.
Here's what I wrote:
Your Companies editor Sarah Gordon started her article about the Encyclopedia Britannica switching from paper editions to online (FT March 17/18 2012 'Battleground over web content shifts decisively to quality') with: 'The forests will benefit'. When the red mist had cleared from my eyes, I tried to imagine a serious journal of record starting an article in comparable circumstances with the words 'Cider apple trees will breathe a sigh of relief' (at the cessation of cidermaking) or ' Welcome reprieve for stalks of wheat worldwide' if vitamin pellets ever replaced bread. Hello Sarah! We in the commercial forestry sector grow trees, in rows, to be harvested to make stuff. They are a crop, right? And once they have been felled and taken away to make paper, pallets, houses etc we plant some more! Magic, isn't it? Ms Gordon is welcome to come and see how its done any day here in the southern uplands of Scotland.
I could have added, for the benefit of those who are worried about Anthropogentic Global Warming (AGW) that, for their 30-40 year growing cycle, commercial forestry trees suck in enormous quantities of CO2.
A batch of our Zacharry's trademark freshly-brewed non-alcoholic spruce beer, rich in vitamin C, was a sell-out at the coffee morning so I have asked Jim Hurren o/c the forest brewery to make another batch asap. Cheers!
Saturday, 17 March 2012
Friday, 16 March 2012
The film starred Vic Reeves, Angus (Pirates of the Caribbean; Midsomer Murders) Barnett and my elder daughter Abi Roberts. When we (Abi's family and friends) arrived to see it on New Millenium Day Jan 1 2000 the poster next to the cinema was still advertising the film but when we got inside it was explained that the film had been 'pulled' at the last minute at the behest, it was said, of Peter Mandelson.
It has since, much to our disappointment, proved impossible to obtain a copy or even see the film.
Hooray for my cousin James Ingram who prepared all the original scores (and many others for over 20 years) for Stockhausen's 'Wednesday' which will be performed, as originally intended but never so far achieved, by a string quartet hovering in 4 helicopters above Birmingham UK - as part of the 'cultural Olympics' in July.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Tina kindly brought me a bag full of those lovely orange hedge lilies crocosmia which will flower in my new garden later this year. We took them round to the garden and I showed her the space for our new Moffat Gallery, which will open for its first exhibition during Beyond the Garden Gate.
There's an article about hoarding in The Independent. Am I a hoarder? I fear that I have hoarding tendencies, and hereby resolve to clear up some of my more pointless accumulations. In other words: spring clean.
Sunday, 11 March 2012
Another book that I am also remembering this morning is Clochemerle, a 1934 French satirical novel by Gabriel Chevallier centering on the installation of a urinal in a village in rural France. The book was made into a series by the BBC in 1972 with a starry cast headed by Peter Ustinov. The reason for my remembering is that I am part of a small community group intent on improving the facilities in two villages along the Upper Clyde: Crawford and Abington. Time will tell whether we will experience the civic uproar caused in Clochemerle.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
Today started on a sad note, with news of the death of C, an old friend. He had burned the candle at both ends, so when his lifestyle finally caught up with him we, his family and friends, could not be surprised, but he will be missed for his kindness, his enjoyment of life and for helping us celebrate the moment despite the sadness that underlay his partying.
Friday, 9 March 2012
Wednesday, 7 March 2012
It's the birthday of novelist Robert Harris, born in Nottingham, England (1957). In 1987, he was working as an investigative journalist when he decided to take a vacation in Italy. He was lying on the beach, listening to the German tourists talking all around him, when he suddenly imagined that he was living in the victorious German empire. He got up and went swimming in the ocean, and by the time he came back to shore, he had an outline for a novel about what the world would be like if the Nazis had won World War II. That novel was Fatherland (1991), and it became an international best-seller.
Harris went on to write many other books, including Enigma (1995), about British code breakers during World War II, and Archangel (1998), about the search for a secret Stalin diary. His most recent novel is The Fear Index (2011).
Harris said, "It is perfectly legitimate to write novels which are essentially prose poems, but in the end, I think, a novel is like a car, and if you buy a car and grow flowers in it, you're forgetting that the car is designed to take you somewhere else."
Harris took his readers to a darker place in The Ghost (2007), which suggests that the wife of a UK Prime Minister resembling Tony Blair was a CIA agent who kills her husband. The film version by Roman Polanski won many awards and bears re-viewing for its bleak aesthetic and spare, downbeat script.
Sunday, 4 March 2012
Coincidentally, today is the anniversary in 1797, of a peaceful transfer of power, for the first time in the US modern times, from George Washington the first president of the United States to John Adams. George Washington was overheard to say to his successor:
'Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!'"
There were convincing arguments made at the Skegness UKIP conference for: Britain being better off out of the European Union(by former Treasury advisor Professor Tim Congdon, supported by IMF data) ; lower taxes; business, particularly small business and sole traders; grammar schools; law and order; a points system for immigration such as that used in Canada, Australia and the USA; retention of the United Kingdom and 'common sense'. All of these are perfectly tenable points of view, possibly mainstream in the public if not at Westminster or Holyrood. Nigel Farage devoted most of his address to the conference to an impressive plea for UK government intervention in the case of a businessman extradited to prison in America without the US authorities submitting any evidence to a British court - a clear violation of habeus corpus.
I left Skegness glad to have witnessed, and taken part in a corner of, the UK democratic process on a weekend when Russians are going to polls in an election that many voters seem justified in fearing will be fixed.
Saturday, 3 March 2012
After a rail journey lasting eight hours with three changes of train, I arrived at the entrance to the hotel, at 5.30pm on Friday March 2. As I entered the gravel forecourt, I was disheartened to see that most of the the gold lettering that once bore the hotel's name on the right hand side of the wall had fallen off except for two letters hanging at a lopsided angle. I went to check in just in time to hear the assistant behind the reception desk tell another arriving guest on no account was he to ring the bell beside which there was a notice ‘Ring Bell For Assistance’.
“It’s been one of those days” she said by way of explanation.
After being asked to pay (by Mastercard) in advance for my two nights’ stay and having completed an arrival form, I was given a wooden numbered fob with electronic entry card and two keys attached and took the lift to the first floor (pressing ‘3’ in the lift as instructed by the receptionist). On exiting the lift, I entered the appropriate corridor to access my room; the aroma of cigarette smoke was faintly in evidence despite a ’no smoking’ sign on every door. I tried to open the door to my room via the electronic entry card, but failed. I left my case by the door and returned to the reception desk . The receptionist offered to help, adding ‘I may not be able to – it’s only my second week”. She also remarked on the smell of cigarette smoke in the corridor, before using one of the two keys to open the door to my room. I had chosen the hotel online because it offered a seaview from a balcony. On entry, there was a small sitting room with leather sofa, TV, tea-making equipment, a coffee table with a vase of white artificial lilies and an occasional chair of plastic woven basketweave. It was a fine evening, so I opened the balcony door onto a scruffy asbestos and brick balcony with a yellow artifical lily bizarrely attached to one of the wrought iron railings, three garden seats and an abandoned water bottle.
Through a connecting internal door was the bedroom with a companion to the occasional chair in the sitting room, a wardrobe, double bed, and, in the window alcove, a mahogany dressing table with matching dressing table mirror and stand, and a mahogany chair, upholstered in red nylon velvet, stained on the seat. Next to the bed was an antique bedside light on an ornamental brass base with a parchment shade ornamented with crystal drops and fringe of what looked like dead hair in spidery wisps, sitting on a tiny round bedside table. There was a pervasive and persistent stink of stale human body odour emanating from the ancient divan base of the bed, which (as I was later to discover) made sleep impossible.
The ensuite bathroom was a strange mixture of contemporary fittings, DIY and ancient stained lino. The signature style-setter however, was the grime-encrusted loop of the multiply-knotted string of the light pull.
I was due at the opening night dinner of the UKIP conference – the purpose of my visit to Skegness -, and from a cursory inspection of the dilapidated guest houses I had passed on my way on foot from the station, I decided I had no option but to stick it out for one night.
After a sleepless night, at 5.30am I went to make myself a cup of tea. I looked carefully at the first cup and saw a brown mark on the inside, which proved on scraping it with my finger nail to be a deposit left by the previous user.
I am checking out today.
Friday, 2 March 2012
I'm off to Skegness today with my sceptical reporter's hat on. Appropriately, today is the birthday of a journalist and novelist I much admire: Tom Wolfe, born in Richmond, Virginia (1931). He wrote The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. He also wrote The Right Stuff (1979), about the American space program. Though he viewed nonfiction as the best way to comment on the really important things in life, he also wrote three novels: The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), A Man in Full (1998), and I am Charlotte Simmons (2004). His fourth novel, Back to Blood, is due out this year (2012).
In an essay published in 2007, Tom Wolfe argued that the newspaper industry would stand a much better chance of survival if newspaper editors encouraged reporters to "provide the emotional reality of the news, for it is the emotions, not the facts, that most engage and excite readers and in the end are the heart of most stories." He said journalists should use four literary devices in their work -- "to make the reader feel present in the scene described and even inside the skin of a particular character." They are: 1) constructing scenes; 2) dialogue -- lots of it; 3) carefully noting social status details, "everything from dress and furniture to the infinite status clues of speech"; and 4) point of view, "in the Henry Jamesian sense of putting the reader inside the mind of someone other than the writer." Well, I will try to follow Wolfe's advice.
For many years I have been curious to discover what makes UKIP, and their accident-prone leader Nigel Farage, tick. Are UKIP members Little Englanders or (worse) the NF in respectable disguise? I am going to have a long, hard look at them gathered in the Lincolnshire seaside resort made famous by the poster of a manic fisherman skipping over puddles in the sand. Will Skegness be bracing in a good way? The only way to find out is to go and put a metaphorical toe in the water.
I will report back tomorrow.
Thursday, 1 March 2012
Now: a quiz question to which I genuinely wish to know the answer - where did all the woad go? We are told that our forebears decorated themselves with woad, a blue dye that is made by boiling up a plant. You would think that therefore the plant would still be found growing in many a corner of a British field or hedgerow. But no. It does not grow wild anywhere in Britain. If you need some blue woad dye, as we did 12 years ago for my younger daughter's wedding outfit 'something blue', (in her case a garter), woad seeds had to be bought and the tender plant cultivated. I will raise the question with our garden historians during Beyond the Garden Gate May 26/27.