Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Changed Man

When I first bought my copy of Ruth Padel's 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, the title of one of the poems she analyses jumped out at me immediately. I recognised both names and the relation between them in the curiously titled Keith Chegwin as Fleance, names which I suspect would be quite mystifying to most readers outside the British Isles - well, the first of them anyway.

Keith Chegwin was, or is, I suppose, a minor broadcasting celebrity, who appeared regularly when I was a teenager on Saturday morning tv shows aimed at kids. As a child he appeared in Raymond Polanski's film of Macbeth as Banquo's son Fleance who narrowly escapes with his life when his dad is assassinated by Macbeth's bad guys. I know the film well having used it a few times in the classroom when teaching the Scottish Play for 'O' level. Hence my recognition of the thoroughly arcane reference which led me to read the poem.

I sort of got it on first reading, having glanced at Ms Padel's helpful commentary, but it didn't leave any deep impression. Then today I read it again, having suddenly thought of checking whether the poet, Paul Farley, I'd been reading in Edinburgh, having picked up a collection from in York, featured amongst the 52 writers. He did, and he - you've guessed it - was the writer of the Keith Chegwin poem I'd read several years ago.

When I bought the collection in York I was convinced I'd never heard of Mr Farley, so it was a bit embarrassing to realise I'd read something by him, and a lively extended commentary on him as a writer already. But here's the funny thing. Reading his poem today I found it a powerful piece even on the first reading and wondered how it was I'd not reacted to its strangely comical melancholy years back. I suppose I was different then. I'd not been changed, as I am today, ever so slightly, but enough to count, by my experience of a protracted reading of other work by its writer.

What we read makes us no longer quite ourselves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Talking Trees

Happened upon a wonderful article in the December NYRB about trees the other day. I read it in my actual copy of the mag, but realised today it's available on-line here. (The NYRB is incredibly generous in terms of what it makes freely available to anyone with a wi-fi connection.)

I've always admired trees just for being trees and, therefore, pretty obviously superior to most other forms of life. But in the light of what real experts on the subject have to say that admiration is now officially boundless.

Isn't the world an astonishing place? And aren't we incredibly stupid to keep losing sight of that fact?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Odd People In And Around Edinburgh - Retrospective

It was pretty cold when we were in Edinburgh back in December. So how come all my memories are warm ones?

(Possibly the answer lies somewhere in the evidence above.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sweet Sounds

I must say I admired my own sense of restraint on our recent trip to the UK with regard to the buying of CDs. Or, rather, with regard to the fact I purchased only 9 CDs in total despite the manifold temptations I faced. Just one example: in Edinburgh I chanced upon a delightful shop near the theatres on the way to the Castle which specialised in folk music. I reckon I could have come away with at least 100 absolutely necessary purchases but restricted to myself to 4, these being, not in any order of merit: Eliza Carthy's Dreams of Breathing Underwater; Roy Harper's Stormcock (astonishingly only the second Harper album I've owned, the other being HQ); the second album for The Imagined Village, Empire & Love, featuring lots of Ms Carthy and her dad; and one I've been trying to hunt down for some years now, Live Love, Larf & Loaf by that stellar quartet French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson.

Just listing these, and thinking of the other 5 I bought in December, makes me feel warm inside and desperately keen to listen again to them all. Just take the last in the list above. I first became aware of the existence of this, in anyone's terms, extraordinary collaboration when I heard a track from it, I Am A Bird In God's Garden, in a 3 CD Richard Thompson compilation. This is RT in Islamic mode, and most tasty it is too, especially the lovely off-kilter violin courtesy, I assume, of Fred Frith. It turns out that pretty much every track on the original album is distinct unto itself and everyone's a gem. I foresee. or fore-hear, I suppose, hours of happy listening ahead.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Odd People In And Around London - Retrospective

Thinking back to having a capital time in the capital.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Since I've recently been posting pictures of last month's trip to the UK I suppose the assumption might be made that somehow I'm longing to be back there. Nothing could be further from the truth. We always enjoy our travels, and it's highly satisfactory to think back on them, but I'm more than content with where I am at the present moment. Funnily enough I can recall a time - when I lived in the UK - when that wasn't so. Despite a general enjoyment of life then and what it had to offer, I know I felt a need to be somewhere else. I can recall evenings in the pub at weekends, often with Dave Stott (with whom we shared some time on our recent trip), on which I felt vaguely discontented at what seemed the littleness of my experience. I needed to go somewhere else. And I did.

And here I simply don't have those feelings, despite the littleness of our world in this Far Place and environs. This came home to me with particular force this afternoon, munching on some freshly concocted blueberry & lemon bread (courtesy of the Missus), drinking immoderate amounts of tea and listening to Richard Hawley's Lowedges and Bill Frisell's Nashville (both albums named after other far places, oddly enough.) I neither needed nor wanted to be elsewhere.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Signs Of Life

Was taken aback earlier today by a sudden distinct improvement in my performance on my trainer thingy in the gym. Very gratifying. I thought I'd never experience the training effect again.

Life in the old dog yet, mayhap.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Do We Need This?

Sometimes when I'm in a classroom a silence will descend, generally when it's willed by myself and compliant students bend to that will, and, very occasionally, just by accident, emerging from the circumstances of the moment. I really enjoy those moments, especially when the silence manifests but the preceding noise is still somehow lingering, at least in memory. The sudden stillness is so rich, so full of possibility somehow.

It just so happens that I enjoyed a couple of moments today comprising such descents and they got me wondering whether we - I mean people in general, we human stuff - actually need silence, hunger for it. At least sometimes.

No, that's not quite true. The question as to whether we need silence emerged also from the fact that I've actually read, or heard, the claim that we do a couple of times in the last few days. Encountering the claim I immediately felt assent, it chimed with my own experience. I know for sure I need the stuff. And it was, in a way, reassuring to be told that I'm not so different from other folk in this regard.

But here's the thing. If we do in some essential way need silence why are we so good these days at making darn sure it's so hard to achieve? I can't think of any public space in which there aren't concerted attempts to abolish any quiet that might intrude. All too frequently piped music inhabits the space where silence might have been, but there are other techniques to ensure we don't get what we need and, at some level, crave for (as some of the experts say we do.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Odd People In Devon - Retrospective

It's quite a privilege to be able to look back and say, What larks, eh?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Speeding Up

After lingering over Daniel Deronda in the most delightful of ways I've found my reading speeding up and spreading out. Over the weekend I completed my third reading of Kawabata's Snow Country, partly inspired by the fact I've started the year teaching it to one class and even after the second reading felt pretty unsure as to what the writer was up to. I'm still not all that sure, by the by, but the puzzlement seems to me part of the response intended.

At the same time as exploring the more extreme regions of Japan as explored in Kawabata's fiction I found myself in downtown Tokyo in Daryl Yam's Kappa Quartet. I'd started on this in late November and enjoyed the opening few pages, but then put it aside as I didn't think (rightly as it turned out) that I'd get time to read it in the UK. Anyway, I'm now moving ahead with it and it's a bit of a page-turner.

But not quite enough of one to have stopped me from buying Elvis Costello's memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. This has been on my radar since I saw a hardback of it a few months ago and decided to hold off until the paperback came out. And now I've got it I 'm finding it predictably addictive reading. Fortunately it's written in short, digressively anecdotal chapters, each circling round a distinct theme or sequence of memories so it's not so difficult to put down despite being unputdownable.

Oh, and I'm chugging along quite nicely in Sean O'Brien's collection The Beautiful Librarians. This was one of the two poetry titles I purchased with my book tokens late last year and it turns out to have been a good choice, despite being entirely random. The blurb refers to the poems as Audenesque and that's fair comment, though O'Brien tends to be a bit more opaque than the Master, which, considering Auden's occasional opacities is quite an achievement.