Thursday, 31 July 2014

houses of parliament

On Thursday 26 June, after going to a test for a language place in a secondary school (with no real expectation - other parents were saying 'good luck', I was saying 'have fun'), we went to the Houses of Parliament. It wasn't very busy, so we didn't have to queue at all, and went to both Commons and Lords. We didn't stay long in either place, because there wasn't anything very interesting going on or very many people in the chamber. In the Lords, however, there was one person I recognised, and that was Paul Butler, who used to work at Scripture Union and is now the Bishop of Durham. Who'd have thought I'd live so long that I'd know, however vaguely, someone with a seat in the House of Lords?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

ruling passion; ali smith

I don't often remember my dreams; if I do, it's usually just a fragment, but itcan really stick with me through the day.

Last night I finished reading Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill, the third Dalziel and Pascoe detective novel. I'd got the first six in a cheap set from The Book People, based on some recommendations of the series, but I'd been quite disappointed with the first two (A Clubbable Woman and An Advancement of Learning); I might not have stuck with them much further, or at least made much of an effort to seek more out, but this third one I found to be much better.

At bedtime, then, I was wondering which novel to read next off my shelves; I browsed a bit, but made no decision.

In the night I dreamt about Ali Smith, so in the morning I picked up Hotel World off the shelf and started that. I read Like a long time ago, I bought it new when it came out. I've had Hotel World and Other Stories & Other Stories on the shelf for a while.

The fragmentary scene I remember, which was perhaps from just before I woke up, was that I wanted to introduce Ali to Fiona and other friends in the Morris Folk Choir - I think Fiona was sitting beside her - but Ali was drunk and asleep.

I knew Ali a tiny bit at university. Her last year was my first year, and we were in the creative writing group together. Probably the high water mark of my literary career will prove to be having poems in the same publication as Ali, the creative writing group's issue of its magazine, Scratchings, for that year. When I was home last year I took back down, among some other things, the copies of Scratchings which I had, including that one.

I wrote to her a couple of times after she left university, and got replies. Once while I was still in Aberdeen and she was in Cambridge, I think, after having gone to see her play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; and once after I'd read Like, her first published novel, which was when I was in Elephant & Castle, and which I sent care of her publisher.

I'd always had a certainty that she would get published. I would regularly look in the relevant place in the bookshop shelves to see if she'd appeared there yet. And eventually she did. I saw her once some years after that, across the bookshop in the South Bank Centre - I think it was a Books Etc then - but I was with my mum so didn't go over.

She was very kind to the younger me, and I have fond memories of her.

Monday, 28 July 2014


On Monday 2nd June I finished Transition by Iain Banks, which was pretty good. I guess the title also an allusion to the fact that the novel was something of a transition, being a science fiction one under his normal fiction name. Not many books left to go now (four, in fact, two of each; I've been reading them chronologically), and they won't be added to, sadly.

Monday, 14 July 2014

william wyler directs laurence olivier

From Frank McLynn's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris:

The most attractive personality of the wartime directors was William Wyler, a slightly-built German Jew from Alsace who became one of Hollywood's legendary figures. Famous for his meticulous direction - he was known as 'ninety-take Wyler' - he struggled with communicating his wishes to his actors. The 'guidance' he gave them has been variously reported as 'Again', 'It stinks' and 'Be better'. When one actor painstakingly followed his directions to the letter, Wyler yelled, 'Don't do it the way I tell you. Do it the way I mean.' But he did teach Laurence Olivier the difficult art of acting for the camera (on Wuthering Heights). Every time Olivier played the scene, Wyler monotonously said, 'Again. Give me less.' Eventually an irritated Olivier expostulated, 'If I give you any less, I won't be doing anything at all.' Back came the reply, 'Now you're getting the idea.'

churchill's phrasemaking; churchill's literary-based opposition to hitler

Two extracts from Piers Brendon's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor, by Jonathan Rose:

Rose starts from the unimpeachable premise that Churchill was in thrall to the words, spoken and written, with which he dramatised his life. There is, indeed, abandant evidence for this. As his friend Charles Masterman said: 'He is in the Greek sense a rhetorician, the slave of the words which his mind forms around ideas. He sets ideas to rhetoric as musicians set theirs to music. And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.'

Asquith put it more pithily: 'Winston thinks with his mouth.' His real tyrant, observed Sir Robert Menzies, was the 'glittering phrase'. Such phrases could be misleading, none more so than his reference to the Mediterranean as 'the soft underbelly of Europe'. Yet even as a young man Churchill himself was aware of the danger of becoming, as Disraeli famously said of Gladstone, 'inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity'. He told his mother, 'I very often yield to the temptation of adapting my facts to my phrases.'

Similarly, as Rose rightly says, facts were always subservient to interpretation in Churchill's books.


Citing Churchill's fear that Hitler's domination of Europe would deprive Britain not only of territory but also of free speech, Rose asserts that 'the core of his implacable resistance to Nazism was essentially literary'. Furthermore, Rose affirms, Churchill 'recognized and resisted Hitler largely because the Fuhrer so closely resembled the fictional villain [Antonio Molara] he had created' in his only novel, a Ruritanian romance entitled Savrola, first published in 1899. But evidently the resemblance was not close enough. So, in the end, Rose decides that Churchill 'recognized his enemy because Hitler seemed to be an amalgamation of his three favorite melodramatic villains', Molara, Moses and the African tyrant in King Solomon's Mines.

Only a university professor of rare intelligence would conclude that Churchill needed adventitious aid from literature to appreciate the menace of Hitler.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

lewis and the first world war

It struck me today that I don't remember, in thinking about growing up (and on the whole since), being aware of many stories of Lewismen in the First World War being told or written about. The Iolaire was the only story, casting its monstrous shadow over every other individual story that could have been told. I don't know if this was generally true, or just my experience.


I've been thinking recently about the millstone saying of Jesus - 'If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea' (Matthew18/Mark9/Luke17). I'd generally thought of it in the context of those who harm or abuse children, those who are the worst of society. But I've been thinking I can't distance myself from the warning as comfortably as that. As Christian parents, or Christian adults in church, if the way we live - sinfully, hypocritically, faithlessly, selfishly, unlovingly, generally setting a bad example - causes a little one (child, or perhaps anyone younger in the faith) to reject or turn away from or be led off the Christian path, we are all potential millstone-wearers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

the thing

On Friday 9 May I watched The Thing - the John Carpenter version - on a DVD I got secondhand. Watched it late after the others had gone to bed, as one should. One of the core horror films of my youth - along with An American Werewolf in London and Alien, both of which I have also recently picked up on DVD.

It did stand the test of time, and I enjoyed it. The ending had stuck with me, and was as I remembered it (things which 'stick with you' can turn out to have been surprisingly inaccurate memories). There were a couple of extras (commentary, and making of/special effects thing, I think), so may watch them at some point.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

things that make where we live sound worse than it really is

An old post from Facebook, 15 July 2011:
Things that make where we live sound worse than it really is: a) discovering a couple of years ago that Domino's won't deliver pizzas to our house because of the estate we live on; b) today's school sports day featuring an inter-parental dispute which involved a call to the police.

(some comments: Douglas: 'Vibrant and diverse. Sounds like competitive parents though.' John I: 'Were you and Bethan in the parents three-legged race again?' Me: 'They're the kinds of stories you read in the paper and think what awful places they must be, but the estate and the school aren't like that at all. I don't know, you shoot one measly pizza delivery boy and they never let you forget it.' Douglas: 'A colleague of mine, veteran of a dozen England Football tours (including not being allowed in Japan due to some misunderstanding over being on a list), was rather taken aback by the ferocity and determination with which everybody went about getting drunk on a Saturday night in Stornoway.')