Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Lessons Of History

The news coverage of recent events at Charlottesville has reminded me of just how little I really know about 19th century American history despite being all too familiar with so many images from that period. I suppose my problem is that what I know, I know from the literature of the period - especially Twain, Melville, Whitman - and whilst I deeply trust these writers and their respective visions, I have little grasp of what might be termed attempts at an objective history.

So it's been a pleasure to read a couple of excellent essays in the most recent edition of the NYRB, respectively titled: Charlottesville: Why Jefferson Matters and Southern Comfort. Of course I'm aware of the possibility of ideological agendas informing each, but each also manages to sound reasonable and authoritative. It's of some small comfort to think that in an age when those who deal in evidence and reason and careful thought are under attack, it's impossible to prevent clarity of thought and insight and a desire to deal in historical realities. Let's hope there's an audience out there to read and carefully evaluate all this.

Monday, August 21, 2017

On The Increase

It's been quite some time since I've used the gym, and it really hasn't been my fault. I've been champing at the proverbial bit in my desire to torture this aged frame of mine, but the gym is inaccessible on account of a breakdown in the biometric entry system. And the system is so wonderfully sophisticated it will take months to fix. The wonders of technology, eh?
I suppose I could have found ways to get hold of the key to the padlock that helps secure the main door. And here's where I have to admit to a degree of guilt. Frankly it was just about troublesome enough to do so, and I've been so busy dealing with the bloated Toad, work, that I've not tried hard enough. But I'm planning to put that right this week, inspired as I have been - believe it or not - by the PM's National Day speech.

I've not actually watched the speech, or heard it for that matter, but the press coverage featured quite a bit on some very sensible points made about the prevalence of diabetes on these shores and the need for maintaining a healthy life-style to combat said disease, and a host of other nasty possibilities that become that little bit less possible when you're eating and exercising sensibly.

I must say though, in terms of our general ability to cope with the problem of obesity in developed nations (whatever nation we happen to belong to) some of the figures quoted made for worrying reading. For as long as I can remember there have been pretty intense campaigns here regarding leading healthy life-styles, this Far Place never being exactly short of campaigns related to whatever is on the government's collective mind. And in a generally communitarian sort of society you might expect such campaigns to have some effect. Yet the average number of calories consumed per day per individual has risen from 2100 in 1998, to 2400 in 2004, and 2600 in 2010.

Now I don't know exactly how they compute the figures but there's enough of an obsession here with numbers to convince me that this is measuring something real. Yet I was around in 1998 and there was plenty enough grub and the green stuff to get hold of it to mean that the average Joe could have been munching his 2600 cals then, if he so desired. So what makes him munch them now (and possibly more, assuming one can predict a continued increase to 2017)?

I'm guessing that the forces of consumerism that are so good at persuading us to buy what we don't need are getting steadily better at persuading us to eat and drink more than is really good for us. And I'm guessing we sort of know this but sort of don't care. Scary. Very.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Well Versed

Have decided there isn't enough poetry in my life. I'm still irritated about not having a reasonable Keats selection around to supplement my reading of Andrew Motion's biog - which gets better and better, by the way. So I've dusted off my copy of Derek Walcott's Omeros, last read over a decade ago, and am getting down and dirty with the various inhabitants of St Lucia.

One supplementary reason for doing so is that a few years back I acquired a tasty-looking guide to Walcott's big poem, entitled Epic of the Dispossessed by a chap called Robert Hamner, but I've never got beyond the opening chapter and the bit about the first book of Omeros as it was obvious you really needed to read the poem along with the guide and I didn't feel up to a rereading. Now I do, so it's all systems go.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Not So Good

Phoned Maureen today, it being her birthday. Not sure she's really looking after herself, but it's difficult to tell from a telephone call. John was talking about getting some further treatment for her in the next couple of weeks, so there's some small hope there - but it is small.

Friday, August 18, 2017


It suddenly occurred to me the other day that despite holding the late, great Frank Zappa in the highest musical esteem possible I don't actually own all that much of his output. I think I've heard all the really famous stuff, but even that I'm not entirely assured of. I mean, there's an awful lot of it, apart from anything else.

I immediately decided to begin to put this to rights by downloading something from iTunes, and have been listening to said something with abundant delight for much of the week. (In the interest of full disclosure I'm talking about Apostrophe which, I suppose, is just about as close to a mainstream album as you're likely to encounter in the back catalogue.)

The funny thing about Frank for me is that I really should find the adolescent humour, to which he was so obviously addicted, boorish in the extreme but it just makes me smile. As does the music on its own - a quality I can't think of in any other composer.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Range Of Options

Sad sight of the day: a young man carrying a laptop emblazoned with the well-meaning slogan, Failure is not an option. Made me wonder when he would find out just how much of an option it actually is.

Funnily enough this was just before teaching Miller's Death of a Salesman, a play the deep truth of which anyone believing in the slogan needs to learn (before learning it the hard way.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Room For Improvement

There are occasions when I surprise myself by behaving in a remarkably mature, almost wise, manner. Fortunately such occasions are few and far between. Much as I'd like to arrive at enlightenment, part of me prefers the adventure of getting there and its many, many detours.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It's Doom Alone That Counts

Just reached the Isle of Mull accompanying Keats on his trip to Scotland and read this devastating sentence in Motion's account: It was on Mull that his short life started to end, and his slow death began. I'm so used to thinking of the great poet as inevitably doomed to an early death that it's never occurred to me before that his death at such a young age was possibly avoidable. He was still worn down by the difficult trudge to the island when a few days later he started nursing his dying younger brother Tom, which left him open to the highly infectious tuberculosis that killed Tom.

It's all intensely sad. But, considering what he would achieve in terms of the works penned after the Scottish adventure, it's also strangely inspirational.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Are you the designated driver, staying sober and responsible, getting everyone home in one piece? Or are you one of the helpless who need ferrying home? I suppose it falls to most of us to act out both roles at one time or another, though I'm not sure we end up choosing which we want to be. I suspect that the role selects us, for better or worse, and we find out which we were all along.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ducks, Finally

All things, including ducks, come to he who waits. Well, more like ducklings really.