Sunday, 25 July 2010

pd james interview

PD James interview: 'I have lived a very happy and fulfilled life': She’s a life peer, a best-selling crime novelist, and last year, the BBC’s scariest interrogator. As she approaches 90, PD James reflects on death, family − and the husband she couldn’t save.
- Daily Telegraph, 21 July.

Added to all this, her best known hero, the detective Adam Dalgliesh, is a man. When I ask her what it has been like being, as it were, inside his head for the past 47 years she chuckles and says: ‘Well, he is a male version of me. Brainier than me but his emotions are mine. The empathy is mental rather than physical. I never describe Dalgliesh getting up and getting dressed.’ So is she, like her hero, unsentimental? ‘Yes, I’m very unsentimental. Very.’
Her most recent Dalgliesh novel was published in 2008, might there be another one? ‘I’m not sure yet. Life has been so busy I have only done 10,000 words in six months. I don’t want the standard to drop and I don’t want a reviewer to be saying: “It’s a remarkable book, for a 91 year-old.” And I don’t want them to say: “It’s not vintage PD James.” If I’m not doing it as well as I have done it in the past, then there is no point in my doing it at all.’
She knows whereof she speaks. Before the Home Office, which she joined in 1968, she worked as an administrator in the NHS, having had some experience of health care working for the Red Cross in the Second World War. That was what she was doing when she had her first novel published at the age of 42. ‘I remember thinking: the years are slipping by and if I don't make a start soon I’m going to be a failed writer. There was never going to be a convenient time to get on with it.’ So she had to be selfish and find the time? ‘I did a lot of plotting on long journeys to work but I was also doing evening classes and visiting my husband in hospital, so I didn’t have much spare time. I certainly didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book, apart from my husband, and he was encouraging.’
During the Second World War, her husband was a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but he suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. He wasn’t given a disability pension because it was claimed his mental illness had not been caused by war service. ‘So I had him and two daughters to support, and did evening classes in hospital administration to get my qualifications. Then I was put in charge of psychiatric units and I got two books out of that.’
It was at this time that she saw an advertisement for the civil service and decided to take the examination. Though she hadn’t had the chance to go to university, for financial reasons, she came third in the country. ‘I’ve still got the pre-printed letter which says: “Dear sir” and “sir” is crossed out and “Madam” has been written in by hand. It was so rare for women to take the exam.’
How does she get into the mind of a killer? ‘I think when you create a character you become that character for as long as you are writing about them. So when I am writing about a killer, I am that killer. I am in his mind, which is probably why I don’t have sadistic mass murderers as characters. They terrify me as much as anybody and I wouldn’t want to be in their minds. And, anyway, most mass murderers are mundane.
'The Cumbrian gunman killed in a random way. He was determined to die and make sure everyone took notice, but his case is not very fascinating to a crime writer. The same is true of psychopaths. They don’t interest me as much from a crime writing point of view because they kill without recognisable motives. What is fascinating is when you have an educated, law-abiding person who steps over a line.’
There is, she reckons, an element of selfishness to writing, because of the space you have to create. ‘There is also what Graham Greene called the splinter of ice in the heart. If I had a friend in distress I would have no hesitation in putting my arms around her to comfort her, but part of me would be observing. That happens. With some of the most difficult things that have happened in my life, part of me stands aside and watches me deal with it. In that sense my life has been a continual narrative.’
She mentioned earlier that there were ‘differences’ in being 90, meaning physical. But what about social? How is the world of 2010 different from the world of 1930, say, when she was a 10 year-old? ‘It is a different world. When I was young our house was lit by gas. No telephone. No car. A Victorian child could have moved in with us and felt at home. Whereas if a Victorian child moved into a modern day household he would be utterly lost,’ James says. ‘Life today for a young person is all about computers and being in constant communication, with blogs and tweets, and so on. Not that that makes them any wiser.’
Though she has a graceful and precise prose style, James was once described by Kingsley Amis as ‘Iris Murdoch with murders’; her age and her conservative world-view can make her fiction seem dated at times. Her conversation, too. She says ‘golly’ and ‘my dear’, but doesn’t swear.
In a review of one of her recent novels the critic Mark Lawson wrote: ‘When reading PD James you do become nostalgic for crack cocaine, anal sex and people calling each other mutha.’ ‘Well it’s not part of my world,’ she says with a laugh when I quote this to her. ‘I try to keep away from it. I can write about it if I have to but mostly my murderers are respectable, upper-middle-class people. They don’t go in for a lot of crack.’
Her characters do have sex though. ‘Yes, they sleep together and some have been gay but I mostly leave the details to the reader’s imagination. Dalgliesh sleeps with his girlfriend and is unmarried but I don’t think you need to describe sex in detail. Same with television. All these heaving buttocks. It’s not erotic – perhaps it is for a 12 year-old, but not to an adult.’
To mark her 90th birthday, Faber and Faber have brought out a new paperback collection of her crime novels, and very handsome they look too, with their brooding covers. Needless to say, there isn’t any swearing in them. ‘Oh, I know all the swear words, my dear,’ she says, ‘and use them myself sometimes, in private. But I see no need for them in my books.’

Monday, 12 July 2010


The 'did you know?' fact from Radio Times' preview of Spielberg's film Munich this week: 'One of the victims of the massacre, Moshe Weinberg, is played by his son, Guri, who was one month old when his father died.'

the lives of others

Extract from a brief item on The Lives Of Others, the 2006 film, in Word, January 2010: 'Deserved Oscar glory followed for this claustrophobic, powerful political thriller but a tragic postscript ensued for Muhe [the actor who played the Stasi agent]. He lost a bitter court case in which he accused his ex-wife of being a Stasi agent and died in 2007 aged only 54.'

Sunday, 11 July 2010

is this the most anonymous cabinet minister ever?

Is this the most anonymous cabinet minister ever?
Picture editors always struggle to illustrate stories about Whitehall. The Times did a decent job this morning with this shot of some bureaucratic types strolling past a Whitehall street-sign. The caption says “thousands of civil servants” may be losing their jobs. But hang on a minute. Is that just a faceless paper-pusher checking his blackberry? Or a cabinet minister? Take a bow Michael Moore, secretary of state for Scotland. You’ve had your 15 minutes of fame.
- Financial Times, 7 July

Friday, 9 July 2010

there is no 'free' lemonade

There is no 'free' lemonade: In giving drink away, girls ignore rules of economics -- and sum up what's wrong with U.S.
- Terry Savage, Chicago Sun Times, 5 July. Extraordinary, horrible American economist's article demonstrates what's *really* wrong with US, and it's not happy little girls giving away free lemonade.

And here's the Monty Python Merchant Banker sketch on YouTube.

elephant and castle plans - again

Elephant and Castle regeneration plan given go-ahead
A £1.5bn plan to regenerate a traffic-choked area of south London has been approved. Southwark Council has given the go-ahead to transform a 170-acre site of Elephant and Castle, in a project which will take 15 years. The area's red shopping centre will be demolished and the gyratory road system re-routed. It will also mean the demolition of the Heygate Estate to create about 5,300 new homes, shops, and public spaces. The area has good transport links, is close to the City and the West End and is within walking distance of 11 Thames river crossings. But the council feels its development has been stifled by its post-war layout, with its six-lane roundabout, high-rise flats and a shopping centre which has been nominated as London's ugliest building.
- BBC, 7 July

Southwark agrees "momentous" Elephant & Castle Lend Lease regeneration deal
Plans for the regeneration of the Elephant & Castle took a significant step forward on Wednesday night when Southwark Council's cabinet voted to sign a deal with Australian developer Lend Lease. Wednesday's decision brings to a conclusion a three-year process that began when Southwark Council, then run by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, selected Lend Lease as its preferred partner in July 2007. At that point a deal was expected to be agreed between council and developer by the end of 2007, but a series of setbacks saw the date pushed back repeatedly. In November 2009 heads of terms were agreed between the two parties, but a binding decision was put off until after the local elections held in May. Southwark Council passed into Labour control eight weeks ago and the new regime claims that it has secured additional commitments on affordable housing, the future of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and leisure provision for local residents. "This could well be the most momentous decision we as a cabinet take in this four-year period," said council leader Cllr Peter John as he invited his nine fellow cabinet members to endorse the deal. The deal is centred around the sale by the council of the land currently occupied by the Heygate Estate to Lend Lease on a series of 999-year leases.
- SE1, 8 July

Monday, 5 July 2010

free saturday: music village, museum of childhood

On Saturday we went to Victoria Park (surprisingly, only five stops on the tube; we've been more often that way by two buses, which can be a bit of a long haul) for Music Village, a free world music festival from Cultural Cooperation. They've had them a few years in Hyde Park (as next weekend), although we've never been, and this was the first time to also have it at Victoria Park (tying in with the Olympics build-up, apparently). It was a much smaller affair than previous Hyde Park publicity I've seen - one stage, one food stall, one info tent, quite a small audience area - but it was pleasant, and shady.

Cultural Cooperation website here; Music Village info here; Saturday's planned line-up here, though it wasn't exactly as planned. We arrived after one and left before five, so we saw bits of four artists (we took occasional wanders off to playpark, around lake, for ice cream etc): Romany Diamonds, Adel Elbrary & Sundania, Alcazaba, and Gouri Choudhury.

Romany Diamonds from programme: 'One of the world’s finest Roma violinists, Ricardo Czureja founded Romany Diamonds after migrating to London from Poland in 1998. Ricardo is passionately committed to enhancing cultural awareness to reduce the centuries-old social stigma afflicting Roma peoples. His band comprises three generations of virtuoso musicians whose combined musical brilliance goes far to achieving this. Ricardo’s son Benjamin explains that music is “what we live off; it’s our bread”. The male family members play violin but Benjamin has broken with convention and plays guitar to add a jazzy feel to the band’s music. Save for Yugoslav double bassist Viktor Obsust, all other band members are Roma and have been steeped in Roma music since childhood.' The Romany Diamonds Myspace page.

Adel Elbrary from programme: 'A venerated singer and composer in Sudan for 30 years, Adel’s performances radiate integrity and excellence. Arabic music from Egypt, including sacred Sufi chants, has had a particularly powerful formative influence on his musical development, while later encounters with artists from around the world stretched his musical horizons further still. Adel lived and worked as a manager of a camp in the Sinai desert some years ago. During that time he met and worked alongside many musicians from India, Arabia, South America, Europe and Israel. He subsequently collaborated with Israeli world music ensemble Sheva to promote peace in the region through music. Together, they recorded the famous track ‘Od Yarb Shalom Al Eina’, (Peace will come to us).'

Alcazaba's Myspace page, and reviews of their album on BBC Music and Allaboutjazz. I'm with the BBC reviewer that their jazzy fusion of flamenco, middle east and indian music was just quite dull.

Gouri Choudhury from programme: 'Bangaldeshi folk diva, Gouri Choudhury is a singer and music teacher born in Sylhet. Today she is one of Britain’s most sought after Bangladeshi performers. “Music surrounded me from a very early age and my parents encouraged me to sing. I recall performing Bengali folk songs when I was seven”. She settled in London soon after being invited to perform here. Gouri was featured on BBC television in 1997, alongside Ravi Shankar in a commemorative concert to mark the 50th anniversary of Partition. She has played all over Britain and in Canada, France and Germany. Nowadays, she performs poignant Bangla songs composed by national poets Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, and mystical folk renditions by Lalon Fokir.' A number of videos are linked from this Google search.

All in all, okay, given that we were seeing the four afternoon acts of a free festival; no great discoveries, and Gouri Choudhury my favourite, which was predictable.

After that we went to the Museum of Childhood for about an hour - my first time, apart from a school trip which was cut very short because the water had gone off (so we went to the Victoria Park playpark instead, which I'm sure the children enjoyed as much as they would have the Museum). The contents interesting, the building even more so. An hour's probably enough at a time, could get old-toyed out if you were there too long I think.