Tuesday 21 January 2014

This and That

Talking of 'immersive' reading experiences, I've been having one myself these past six weeks or so - which is why you haven't heard from me lately about my reading. I've been thoroughly immersed in Tom Holland's In The Shadow of the Sword, a sweeping history of what we call Late Antiquity, subtitled The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. It's riveting stuff, racily written, eye-opening and a real revisioinist page-turner. But it is undeniably a damn'd thick square book (the Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon, a propos volume one of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: 'Another damn'd thick square book! Always scribble scribble scribble, eh Mr Gibbon?'). Which is why, slow reader that I am, I'm still barely two thirds of the way through. But immersed I undoubtedly am.

Last night on Radio 3, a new series of The Book that Changed Me began with Alan Johnson, a former Home Secretary and rare example of a fully human politician, talking about the explosive impact his first reading of David Copperfield (at the age of 13) had on him, and the hope the book gave him that he could build a happy and secure life. He had  had a sad and difficult start in life - orphaned at 12 when his mother died, he was brought up by his sister, then 16. 'I had read lots of books but nothing like this complex saga; so moving, so emotionally intertwined. I loved Peggoty, laughed at Micawber, loathed Uriah Heep. And I cried. Tears that never fell for my mother fell for Ham.'
You should be able to hear this quietly moving talk on the BBC iPlayer.

First it was Rob Ford, the (er) colourful Mayor of Toronto; then it was Paul Flowers, fun-loving 'crystal Methodist' chairman of the Co-Op Bank. Now, the latest rotund figure to find himself caught up in unsavoury scandal is the corpulent Lord Rennard, the Lib Dems' alleged 'sex pest'. What is it with these generously upholstered gents? Let's hope it's not Eric Pickles next...

The contents of the bags disposed of in rather sensitive circumstances by Charlie Brooks (husband of flame-haired tabloid editrice Rebekah) were disclosed in court yesterday. I was touched to note that, in among the computers and notebooks and porn DVDs (Bride of Sin, Lesbian Psychodrama Vols 2 and 3, Instant Lesbian, etc) were the newsletter of the British Kunekune Pig Society (not quite Whiffle on the Care of the Pig, but a good sign) - and a conker. A single conker. Suddenly I'm warming to the man...


  1. Alan Johnson was married and a father at 20. When he mentioned this fact to Tony Blair, the latter responded in wonder, 'My God, Alan - you really are working class, aren't you!'

  2. Rupert must be kicking himself, oodles of raw material and no News of the World, sadly missed I would say. Amusing times, especially from Paris, who is the French first fancy piece at the moment, we must know soon, official visits in the offing.

  3. Nothing to do with this post, Nige, but have you seen the murmurations near your usual Derbyshire haunt, Wirksworth? Some fine performances from the starlings on Middleton Moor.

  4. Alas I haven't been up there since last autumn Mary - I must ask my cousin. A wonderful sight, a good murmuration....

  5. And then (hat tip Susan in NY) there's NJ Governor Chris Christie - another rotund scandal magnet. There's definitely a trend here...