Monday, 25 November 2013

a clubbable woman

On Thursday 7th November I finished A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill, the first of the Dalziel & Pascoe novels. I had had in mind to read the first of those for a while, as from what I'd heard it sounded like I might like them (puzzles), and then I saw in a Book People catalogue from Radio Times they were selling the first six for six or seven pounds, so I got them.

It was okay, though not very puzzly. It was from around 1970, I think, and I didn't warm to either of the detective characters (in fact it was quite of its time in terms of sports club and sexual politics, which I found odd to start with until I realised when it was first published). I'll stick with them, though, and see how they develop. They became a very popular TV series, but I've never seen any of them. It didn't have the feel of an introduction to a series, setting up the characters, but wrote about them as if you were familiar with them already, which I found interesting.

happy go lucky

We watched Happy Go Lucky on DVD on Friday 8th November. I'd bought it for Bethan as a present years ago, as she likes Mike Leigh (so do I), but we hadn't managed to watch it. It was okay, as they go, but nothing special. Not too much bleakness, at least - I'm less keen on the bleakness. My favourite Mike Leigh is definitely Topsy Turvy, which is perhaps the least characteristic of his films. We saw it at the Barbican, at what, without us knowing it in advance, turned out to be a showing with a Q&A with Mike Leigh after the film, which was quite a bonus.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

four just men extract - the london mob

This is a section from The Four Just Men (first published in 1905, but much of this section rings strikingly true today), by Edgar Wallace, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it:

The crowd that blocked the approaches to Whitehall soon began to grow as the news of Billy's death circulated, and soon after two o'clock that afternoon, by order of the Commissioner, Westminster Bridge was closed to all traffic, vehicular or passenger. The section of the Embankment that runs between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge was next swept by the police and cleared of curious pedestrians; Northumberland Avenue was barred, and before three o'clock there was no space within five hundred yards of the official residence of Sir Philip Ramon that was not held by a representative of the law. Members of Parliament on their way to the House were escorted by mounted men, and, taking on a reflected glory, were cheered by the crowd. All that afternoon a hundred thousand people waited patiently, seeing nothing, save towering above the heads of a host of constabuliary, the spires and towers of the Mother of Parliaments, or the blank faces of the buildings - in Trafalgar Square, along the Mall as far as the police would allow them, at the lower end of Victoria Street, eight deep along the Albert Embankment, growing in volume every hour. London waited, waited in patience, orderly, content to stare steadfastly at nothing, deriving no satisfaction for their weariness but the sense of being as near as it was humanly possible to be to the scene of a tragedy. A stranger arriving in London, bewildered by this gathering, asked for the cause. A man standing on the outskirts of the Embankment throng pointed across the river with the stem of his pipe.
'We're waiting for a man to be murdered,' he said simply, as one who describes a familiar function.
About the edge of these throngs newspaper boys drove a steady trade. From hand to hand the pink sheets were passed over the heads of the crowd. Every half hour brought a new edition, a new theory, a new description of the scene in which they themselves were playing an ineffectual if picturesque part. The clearing of the Thames Embankment produced an edition; the closing of Westminster Bridge brought another; the arrest of a foolish Socialist who sought to harangue the crowd in Trafalgar Square was worthy of another. Every incident of the day was faithfully recorded and industriously devoured.
All that afternoon they waited, telling and retelling the story of the Four, theorising, speculating, judging. And they spoke of the culmination as one speaks of a promised spectacle, watching the slow-moving hands of Big Ben ticking off the laggard minutes. 'Only two more hours to wait,' they said at six o'clock, and that sentence, or rather the tone of pleasurable anticipation in which it was said, indicated the spirit of the mob. For a mob is a cruel thing, heartless and unpitying.
Seven o'clock boomed forth, and the angry hum of talk ceased. London watched in silence, and with a quicker beating heart, the last hour crawl round the great clock's dial.
There had been a slight alteration in the arrangements at Downing Street, and it was after seven o'clock before Sir Philip, opening the door of his study, in which he had sat alone, beckoned the Commissioner and Falmouth to approach. They walked towards him, stopping a few feet from where he stood.
The Minister was pale, and there were lines on his face that had not been there before. But the hand that held the printed paper was steady and his face was sphhinxlike.
'I am about to lock my door,' he said calmly. 'I presume that the arrangements we have agreed upon will be carried out?'
'Yes, sir,' answered the Commissioner quietly.
Sir Philip was about to speak, but he checked himself.
After a moment he spoke again.
'I have been a just man according to my lights,' he said half to himself. 'Whatever happens I am satisfied that I am doing the right thing - What is that?'
Through the corridor there came a faint roar.
'The people - they are cheering you,' said Falmouth, who just before had made a tour of inspection.
The Minister's lip curled in disdain and the familiar acid crept into his voice.
'They will be terribly disappointed if nothing happens,' he said bitterly. 'The people! God save me from the people, their sympathy, their applause, their insufferable pity.'
He turned and pushed open the door of his study, slowly closed the heavy portal, and the two men heard the snick of the lock as he turned the key.
Falmouth looked at his watch.
'Forty minutes,' was his laconic comment.

four just men

I finished Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace on Friday 5 April. It was good, and I enjoyed it. Edgar Wallace is one of those writers who was massively popular in his time, and prolific (more than I could ever hope to read), but who hasn't survived into regular reprinting, just the occasional volume in a niche/classic reprinting series (The Four Just Men was, according to the blurb, his first great success), and one of those who make you wonder why some people endure and not others. Certainly to an extent it's true that if someone wrote a couple of classics which are still considered classics, their other works are more likely to survive too. (I often think this in relation to Shakespeare and his contemporaries in particular, when you compare some of his plays which get regularly produced with other rarely-produced 16th/17th century plays you do get to see.

Here's a paragraph from the introduction by Jack Adrian (pxv in my Dent edition ('Classic thrillers' series) of 1985):
A remarkable feature of the book is that although on the surface it seems to be a straightforward and seamless narrative it is no such thing. It is in fact a series of smoothly linked short stories. Not every chapter comprises a self-contained tale but certainly 'The Faithful Commons', 'The Outrage at the Megaphone', 'The Messenger of the Four' and even the 'inquest' chapter at the end have a beginning, a middle and a natural conclusion, and each is so constructed that either a problem is devised and then solved, or a shock or twist is contained in the climax. It was a style of storytelling - a series of minor mysteries solved in sequence throughout the book while the major mystery was only revealed at the end - that was to be refined over the years until it was recognisably the Wallacean method, to be cheerfully pinched by an entire generation of thriller writers.

I will post separately a good section, from near the end (p121 of 140), when the date and time are approaching when the Four Just Men have stated they will kill the Foreign Secretary, Sir Philip Ramon, having already demonstrated impressive feats which suggest they could do it.

mr holgado

On Saturday 6 April we went to see Mr Holgado at the Unicorn Theatre at 2pm, while Bethan was at choir practice. We enjoyed it a lot, I possibly more so. One of those children's plays which wouldn't need to be very different to be playing in an off-west-end venue; slightly creepy, surreal, a visual style you'd think of as European. Three actors, well performed and well staged.

Friday, 22 November 2013

barts choir

Went to see Barts Choir once again on Wednesday, at the Albert Hall once again, and, as often, had to leave at half time since it would be too late to stay for it all. So we heard Beethoven Coriolan and Dvorak's Te Deum, but not Brahms's Requiem. They were good as ever, and it's impressive to see Bethan performing in such prestigious venues. I had been looking for the Dvorak on CD but hadn't found it; it was good.

The time we saw them before that was at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 8 April. They were doing Faure's Requiem, with in the first half Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music, Britten Sea Pictures (no choir) and Finzi. We stayed for the whole thing that time. Both occasions, as usual, others from church were with us.

In between they did something at the Cadogan Hall, but we weren't able to go for some reason.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

one day; teen angst canon

On Tuesday 12 November I finished reading One Day by David Nicholls.

I had it on the shelves, and it was bumped up the reading list by an exchange of tweets with Andy on this article from the BBC News magazine, 'Is there an 'angst canon' of books that teenagers read?'

Andy had only read a couple of them; when I went through all those mentioned I found I'd read 17 of them, but in most cases, possibly every case, not as a teenager (I had in fact only finished Jane Eyre the previous weekend). I also thought that many of them didn't live up to their reputation, but was aware that that might be because I didn't read them at 'the right time' of life. Some of the books mentioned were clearly 'core' titles, familiar, while others were mentioned in little more than passing and seemed rather tenuous to link to the theme.

One Day was one of those more modern ones mentioned. It didn't seem likely to me that it would be angsty, though it might be sad-romantic at a level, as with some of the others mentioned in the article as more popular among the girls. In fact the article said boys read angsty ones and girls read 'expanding emotion and sensibility' ones.

Anyway, I was prompted to read it, and I read it pretty quickly, and enjoyed it, as I had expected to, though I thought the very end, a partial flashback to the very first day, made the rest of the book much sadder in retrospect, deliberately or not.

Andy had read Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. I had read those - or, at least, the first volume of each. The former I enjoyed, though the set-up and themes were more familiar to me from reading sf/fantasy than they seem to have been to some people, but thought the sequels would be more of the same, so not in any great hurry to read them. The latter was okay, but not good enough to commit to - or be grabbed by - another long fantasy sequence, especially since so much of it was politicking and inter/intrafamilial relationships and treachery which were setting themselves up for long, long workings out of things which you can see are going to happen or go wrong, based on mis/non-communication and deceit, and it would have to be much more engagingly written to make me have the patience for that, and for me not to just get frustrated at people's bad choices and gullibility (which I was already doing).

I had read The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, 1984, The Bell Jar, Catch 22, Clockwork Orange, Wasp Factory, Slaughterhouse Five, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I hadn't read The Trial, Junkie (W S Burroughs), Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Handmaid's Tale, 100 Years Of Solitude, I Capture The Castle, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, three John Green books (The Fault In Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines), and One Day. (On my shelves, as well as One Day, I have I Capture The Castle and 100 Years of Solitude, in both cases bought because they're on must-read lists.)

It quoted one survey saying men liked The Outsider, Catcher in the Rye and Slaughterhouse Five, girls liked Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Handmaid's Tale, while both liked Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird and 100 Years of Solitude.

In a sequence of emails to Andy I said,
'I those + 15 others! #lapofhonour Finished Jane Eyre on Sunday! Much good they did me; would rec few - perhaps read too late?'
- and when he asked which I'd recommend:
'I'd rec Bell Jar & Mockingbird to anyone. If you like SF then 84, Orange, Brave Slaughterhouse all cut it.'
'(Slaughterhouse more WWII, those are the good bits, SF bits will put some off). I have One Day, I expect to like it. #oldromantic'
'Hated Jane Eyre, Wuthering, Catcher, Catch 22, Outsider, Fear/Loathing, Cuckoo. Mostly dullness/horrible characters.'
'Like many 'humorous classics' of previous generations, found Catch 22 simply not funny!'
'I confess 1984 more for its ideas; I did find it a little dull too...'

Only things to add, I think, are that I have a clear memory that To Kill A Mockingbird was definitely one of those I was put off from because I knew people had studied it in school (not that they'd said anything bad about it, just the fact that it was a set text - exactly the same with Lord of the Flies, which I also enjoyed when I did read it), and that I subsequently read I think all of JD Salinger's other books and thought they were great - Catcher in the Rye I just thought was dull and pointless.

Slaughterhouse Five was the only book I read in preparation for university, it having been on the first year English reading list in the sample info they sent, but it wasn't on the list when I actually went.

Wuthering Heights was the first book I wrote an essay on for first year English at university. In a way I wonder if it led to me not carrying on with English, rather than psychology, because I wrote a not very good essay, because I couldn't get past the ridiculous narrative structure, hundreds of pages of reported speech within reported speech within reported speech, as well as just hating the book in general, which got me off on a bad foot with my tutor and we never really recovered from that.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

sherlock holmes museum

Two of us went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Friday 5th April; we had tried the day before but didn't go through with it because the queue was so long (though we did instead on that day visit the Sherlock Holmes pub, off Northumberland Avenue, with its replica of Holmes's study upstairs, preserved from the Festival of Britain; you could just look in, and I wouldn't have liked to have made a special or long trip to see it). We got there soon after it opened when we went back on the Friday, though by the time we left the queue outside was substantial.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum I was surprisingly pleased with. It was a little expensive, given that it's very low-maintenance - largely an unstaffed recreation of the apartments at 221b, and an easy tourist moneyspinner - but neither of us were bored, and I did find it quite evocative. The thing which was most striking was - and I think this was accurately representative - how little private space to themselves both Dr Watson and Mr Holmes would have had living in such a place, yet there's certainly nothing in the books to suggest that these were unusually restricted dwelling places for men of their wealth and standing in that era.

The second thing I will remember longest from that visit will be the younger member of the party pointing at something in the shop and asking what it was, and I had to explain that it was a telephone with an actual dial, and demonstrate how it worked. I felt very old.

And later that day, we also popped into Tate Modern. It's good to live in London.

scott pilgrim vs the world

Finished watching Scott Pilgrim vs The World on digibox on Saturday 16 November. I quite enjoyed it, though it had had mixed reviews; obviously based on a comic, and drew a lot from that in its look and style.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

appointment with death

Finished Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie on Wednesday 9 October - it was okay. Too much one of those blast from the past crimes, and also one of those that spends a lot of time on timings around the murder.

making up ground on harry potter

In advance of a visit to the Harry Potter experience by two of us in half term, we watched three of the Harry Potter films in October - the Goblet of Fire, the Order of the Phoenix, and the Half-Blood Prince. We'd put them off because they were 12s. They were pretty good, and especially from Phoenix got progressively darker and more teenage (the second and third mentioned in particular had quite a different colour palette from the earlier, brighter films, being virtually black and white in places). We just have the last two films - the two parts of the final book - to go. I'm enjoying watching them, but still don't feel the need to read the books. (I read the first years ago and found it an unremarkable children's book, which I wondered why so many adults read and enjoyed; nothing snobby against it, but very definitely a children's book.)

the claw of the conciliator

On Sunday 29 September I finished The Claw Of The Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, the second in the Book of the New Sun set. I went for the second after the first because of the style and the ideas; the second had that, but continued to be a bit too directionless; it didn't feel like enough things were resolving, or enough progress being made. I enjoyed it okay, but not enough to go on to the third one.

sharp's

For the first time in ages I went to Sharp's, on Tuesday 24 September; it would have been a Morris Folk Club night, but they decided to go to Sharp's instead, after the rehearsal (which I wasn't at), as it was Gerry the barman's last time (another firm has won the contract). It was a good evening; I put my name down but didn't sing, but I was far from the only one, as there were many there, and I think those who did sing only sang once. The Morris choir did sing, Roll the old chariot along, which was one of my favourites of the night (I didn't go in the choir, but I did sing along as everyone else did; Sharp's always very good for singing along; also, I still had my right lens covered up after the op, so looked rather odd). Probably my favourite of the night was a humorous version of Matty Groves called Fatty Groves.

I definitely won't get along so often now, Tuesdays being Morris night; I hadn't been along for a while, partly because I'd lost my nerve. I haven't made it to a Morris folk club night yet.

the wind in the willows

I read The Wind In The Willows while up in Lewis - a copy in the house there. I knew I could finish it elsewhere if I didn't there, but I finished it there (on Friday 30th August).

I was pleasantly surprised, as I had got an impression of it as an annoying, childish book, rather in the vein of Winnie The Pooh (which I started years ago, while at university, and hated - full of selfish characters every one of which I hated; children, of course, being fundamentally and inherently selfish, don't take against books like that for that reason; one of those books which really don't work if you didn't read it as a child I suspect) - not least I guess because the character which has permeated through into popular culture most is the monstrous, selfish Toad, and the familiar episodes being the ones in which he appeared.

I was only reading it because it was on some of the 'best books' lists I'm working through (which is why I'll have to have another stab at Winnie The Pooh again, anticipating that it won't take long). But I enjoyed it; predictably, the character I liked least was Toad, and his behaviour, both in general and to his friends, I found appalling. But it was well-written, not twee, and not too flowery (the other impression I'd got was that it was full of descriptions of wonderful nature, which it wasn't really), and I liked the other characters and their relationships.

Coincidentally, there's a series on CBBC just now, All At Sea, which I hate with a passion for just those kinds of reasons - main child character does monstrous selfish things (in, importantly I guess, a realistic setting rather than a cartoony/heightened setting) which are really unpleasant to friends, family and everyone alike, which are supposed to be funny but which just aren't, and conclude in mild punishment and little consequence of the vile havoc wrought. A child of my acquaintance just thinks it's very funny and doesn't understand what I'm banging on about.

monsters university

Saw Monsters University in 3d at the Lanntair on Friday 23rd August. Unremarkable, and certainly not as good as the original. I don't remember anything that made me laugh. At the height of my cataracticity, so the 3d particularly pointless.

st kildan myths

From Roger Hutchinson's review of Donald S Murray's The Guga Stone (a collection of pieces on St Kilda):
'Donald Murray rightly points up the absurdity of the authors of the two most popular modern St Kildan books, Tom Steel and Charles Maclean, in blaming the Protestant Church for destroying St Kildan culture and ultimately St Kildan society.
'Steel and Maclean are able to perpetrate that fiction chiefly because neither they nor most of their readers know much about Protestant - or any other - Hebridean islands. If Presbyterianism destroyed St Kilda, why is Catholic Mingulay not still thriving? If Presbyterianism destroyed St Kilda, how did Scalpay survive?
'Those authors, those storytellers, were actively looking for a mythology. They had discovered a founding myth. They needed a final myth to explain the evacuation of 1930. And in between, myth became woven with reality into the rough fabric of life on Hirta, Boreray and Soay.'
And:
'The island's famous "Parliament" is another source of profound symbolism. ("There was one of those in our village on Lewis too," writes Murray, "which met and quarrelled on occasion. We gave it the considerably less grandiose title of the Grazings Committee.")'

the trilemma

A couple of quotes from Alex MacDonald's article on CS Lewis in the November Monthly Record.

Talking about the 'mad/bad/God'/'liar/lunatic/Lord' options presented in Mere Christianity: 'This argument, which Lewis did not invent but developed and popularised, is sometimes referred to as "Lewis' trilemma". The earliest use of this approach was probably by the Free Churchman "Rabbi" John Duncan (1797-1870), quoted in 1870 as a saying used by him during his preaching career (Colloquia Peripatetica): "Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable."'

Nothing new under the sun, of course. And wouldn't be surprised if someone had made the point long before that too.

Alex goes on to say that some argue against it by saying that Jesus didn't in fact claim to be God - he did - or that he was simply mistaken (though how a mistake of that nature is supposed to be different from 'mad' I don't know).

Then:
'However, it is common today to speak of a fourth option to the trilemma - that Jesus was a legend, or at least supernatural aspects of the Gospels are mythical - and it is customary to criticise Lewis for not taking this into account. This is unfair, as in a popular apologetic work such as Mere Christianity he did not delve into questions of literary criticism. However, elsewhere he did, particularly in the delightfully entitled Fern-seed and Elephants.
'There he picks a statement from a liberal commentary where John's Gospel is called a "spiritual romance", "a poem not history". Lewis retorts: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." In his opinion there were only two possibilities - either the author was reporting what happened, or else someone neary 2000 years ago suddenly invented modern, novelistic, realistic narrative (which is literarily and historically inconceivable). He says that if a biblical scholar tells him that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, he wants to know how many legends and romances he has read, not how many years he has spent studying that Gospel and what others have said about it. This is still a point of fundamental significance today. I recently heard a scientist on radio dismissing the Bible as myth. We are entitled to ask not how well qualified he is scientifically, but how well qualified he is to speak about myths.'

Friday, 15 November 2013

not like my day

Things which are much more common today in Lewis than they were when I was growing up, all observed on the beach at Eoropie in the summer: kite-fliers, dog-walkers and surfers.