Thursday, 21 May 2015

Over on The Dabbler...

There's a new review by me of two recently published volumes of short stories from the enterprising Turnpike Books.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Addle, Farrell

Lady Addle Remembers is a spoof memoir, supposedly written by a late-Victorian grande dame but actually the work of one Mary Dunn, first published in the Thirties (when this kind of thing had a bit of a vogue) and reissued at least twice since. Blanche, Lady Addle of Eigg (nee Coot of Coot's Balder) - a rampant snob and a woman entirely lacking in self-awareness or indeed awareness of anything much else - is happy to bestow on her grateful readers a few cherished memories, nuggets of wisdom, poetical effusions and  (startlingly grotesque) family photographs. Lady Addle Remembers is a minor comedy classic - not up there with Augustus Carp, Esq, by Himself - but an enjoyable read.  Here, Lady Addle remembers the occasion when, after an absurdly protracted courtship, the imbecilic Lord Addle finally managed to propose to her:

'And so the years sped on, and at last came the day when Addle asked me to be his wife. Even that was typical of the nobility of his character. The occasion was a ball at home, and we had danced twice together, I remember, regardless of scandal. Afterwards he led me to our magnificent conservatory, and seating me gently between two red-hot pokers, sank on his knees and told me he loved me. It was a wonderful moment and I was sorely tempted to say 'Yes' at once. But I dared not allow myself to be swept off my feet by the suddenness of it all, so I paused for ten or twelve moments considering my answer. It was then I noticed that his forehead was damp and his face drawn as though in pain. That decided me. 'If he really loves me like that,' I remember thinking, 'it must come right.' I hesitated no longer, but gave him my hand, and I shall never forget the look of utter relief and thankfulness as he rose to his feet and drew me tenderly to him.
  It was not until long afterwards that I learnt that one of my father's prize cactus plants had been behind him that night, and the minutes when he waited for my answer had been spent in pure agony.'

This rang a bell... Yes, the Major's inadvertent quasi-proposal to Angela in J.G. Farrell's Troubles:

'...the only other thing he recalled quite distinctly was saying goodbye to her at an afternoon the dansant in a Brighton hotel. They had kissed behind a screen of leaves and, reaching out to steady himself, he had put his hand down firmly on a cactus, which had rendered many of his parting words insincere. The strain had been so great that he had been glad to get away from her. Perhaps, however, this suppressed agony had given the wrong impression of his feelings.'

I wonder if Farrell had read Lady Addle and unconsciously absorbed the comic possibilities offered by cacti and tender moments.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

His True Face?

So, the 'true face of Shakespeare' - a portrait 'drawn from life, and in the prime of life' - has been discovered on the frontispiece of Gerard's Herbal. Really? There does seem to be good reason to believe that the figure (bottom right of the four) is intended to represent Shakespeare, but that's all it is - a representation, a stylised image, not a portrait likeness. That's why this 'Shakespeare' has pretty much the same face as the other three figures (especially his near-twin at top left). Still, it's an interesting find - if not exactly 'the literary discovery of the century'.

Bless their fluffy little heads...

In the course of a fatuous radio discussion on the latest proposal to cut the drink driving limit down to approximately zero, I caught this contribution, which went unremarked: 'Women like to drink white wine, and it's hard for them to work out the size of a glass and how much they're drinking.' It went unremarked because it was spoken by a woman. Just imagine if a man had said it...
'Glass of white wine for the lady,' as Al Murray always says.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Buzz Buzz

As I sail into my last three weeks of wage-slavery here at NigeCorp, the pace (much to my chagrin) seems to have been set at accelerando, rising to presto furioso. So much for winding down...  However, my Tube journey this morning was enlivened by the presence of a large and vigorous bumblebee bombinating around the carriage, then flying off (on a subterranean beeline) further down the train. I didn't see where he got off. Or indeed on. But once again this year I'm struck by how well the bumblebees are doing, at least in the London area, flying virtually all year round and seeming more numerous than I remember them ever being - this despite the dire warnings that they are in danger of dying out. Not on my manor, it seems.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Big Story

This time last week, the nation was digesting the unexpected (by the pundits) election result. Naturally I wrote a post about the quest for Britain's National Bird. Now that the smoke of election battle has dispersed, it's clear what the Big Story is: Nigel Farage's phantom retirement and an outbreak of dissent in the upper ranks of UKIP. Well, that's the big story as far as the BBC is concerned: it seems to have been leading every bulletin for days, with long reports, interviews and features thrown in. Some of us might not be too surprised that UKIP is in a degree of disarray, having got more votes than the SNP and the Lib Dems combined and yet crossed the finishing line with one seat and no leader. As UKIP is a party of loose cannons - its very lack of management might indeed be part of its electoral appeal - it's no surprise that they're rolling around the deck even more than usual and a couple of them have crashed overboard.
 You and I (and probably the entire world outside of the BBC) might have thought that the big story of the election was the collapse of the Labour vote across the whole nation (apart from London) following a catastrophically inept campaign under a disastrously awful leader, an unelectable cerebral weirdo of apparently extraterrestrial origin. With Labour in complete disarray, leaderless, rudderless and with no obvious reason to exist, you might have thought that would be the story, especially as said leader was expected (not least by himself and his inner circle) to become PM last week. But no - UKIP's the story...
 No, hang on - a Labour story has managed to shoulder UKIP off the BBC's top spot at last: Chuka Umunna has withdrawn from the 'battle' for the Labour 'leadership'. Funnily enough, I spotted him at Victoria station last night, with his 'girlfriend', waiting for a train. He was looking worried and uneasy. Little did I realise that I was witnessing history.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015


I see the house on Church Walk, Kensingon, in which Ezra Pound once lived is for sale, for the thick end of five million smackers (that's Kensington for you). Pound rented an upstairs room in this house, hard by St Mary Abbots church (tallest spire in London, fact fans) - whose bells maddened him - from 1909 to 1914. It was the base from which he conducted his assault on English letters, making himself known to the likes of Ford Madox Ford (whose English Review was housed a short walk away), Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Gaudier-Brzeska, T.E. Hulme and Robert Frost, who once climbed the stairs to Pound's room and found him in the bath. It was in this sparsely furnished room, with its single gas ring, that Pound wrote most of the delicate lyrics collected in Lustra. He wasn't quite living in a garret, but his poem The Garret rather sweetly sums up his Church Walk life...

Come let us pity those who are better off than we are.
Come, my friend, and remember
       that the rich have butlers and no friends,
And we have friends and no butlers.
Come let us pity the married and the unmarried.

Dawn enters with little feet
       like a gilded Pavlova,
And I am near my desire.
Nor has life in it aught better
Than this hour of clear coolness,
       the hour of waking together.