Friday, 8 October 2021

A Guilty Pleasure, Good News for Retroprogressives, and an Earworm

 In one of the charity bookshops of Lichfield (there are at least two good ones, not to mention the excellent literary/historical bookshop in Dr Johnson's House) I came across this garish number with its wildly inappropriate cover image. Naturally I snapped it up. I haven't read I Like It Here in donkey's years, so I thought I'd give it a go. An early Amis (1958), it's a fairly slight affair, the tale of a writer who for various reasons finds himself reluctantly abroad, in Portugal, with wife and family. It's nothing like as bilious as Amis's other Englishman abroad novel, One Fat Englishman, and its protagonist, Garnet Bowen, is a great deal more likeable and less deplorable than the appalling Roger Micheldene. Reading Amis tends to feel like a guilty pleasure, but there's no good reason why it should: he was an excellent writer, as well as being very often very funny – a rare and cherishable combination. I Like It Here has already had me laughing out loud several times – at this passage, for instance, describing Bowen's first impressions on arrival in Portugal: 
 'Everything looked cheerful, expensive and brand-new, even vaguely important. Perhaps it was all to do with the sun and how bright it was. It was a pity that such terrible people said that colours were brighter in the South, because they were right. Oh well, they talked so much they were bound to be right occasionally, just by accident. Bowen looked nervously about for peasants. It would be unendurable if they all turned out to full of instinctive wisdom and natural good manners and unselfconscious grace and a deep, inarticulate understanding of death. But surely they couldn't, could they? No peasants were on hand to offer themselves as evidence. He had an uneasy feeling, though, that this situation was not going to last...'
Or there's this bravura description of the man who might or might not be the distinguished author Wulfstan Strether:
'Visually the fellow measured up: he was tall, slightly stooping, with almost white though abundant hair, and with a bearing, a nose, a mouth, a pair of eyes that could be unhesitatingly pigeonholed as authoritative, hawk-like, sensitive, piercing. This was to ignore, perhaps, the properties of his ears (elongated, red), hat (staringly white), shirt (damask, extra-zonal, unwise), and his dialogue recalled Charles Morgan rather than anything Downing College would approve – though the distinction was admittedly a fine one. But all this was countered by the quality of his voice (the statutory reedy tenor) and its accent (older speaker's upper-class, with even a scintilla of hyah about the word here). He looked about sixty and, while amiable enough, a terrible old crap.'
(I think by 'extra-zonal' Amis must mean 'not tucked in at the waist').
Yes, there's a lot to enjoy in I Like It Here. And all for the princely sum of £1.99. Books in charity shops seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper, with oddments being sold off for 50p and less.
  Old vinyl LPs, on the other hand, are on offer at surprisingly high prices, scratched and battered though many of them must be – a dramatic turnaround from a few years ago, when you could barely give them away. And yesterday I learned that new vinyl is now the bestselling physical form of recorded music, having overtaken the CDs that were supposed to render vinyl obsolete – great news for us retroprogressives. 
  My own collection of somewhat battered vinyl LPs I recently subjected to a drastic cull, and have lugged large quantities of them down to a local charity warehouse. Among them was John Cale's strangely beautiful, or beautifully strange, Paris 1919, which I have on CD and listen to quite often. Rather too often, it would seem, as I was recently plagued night and day for 48 hours or so by a most unlikely and unshakable earworm – this: 

Oh well – I guess I should be glad it wasn't Antarctica Starts Here...



  1. Obviously from the same people who brought us this cover:,204,203,200_.jpg

    Of course I had to buy it!

  2. Good grief! Yes indeed – maybe I should try to collect the set...