Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting Artful

I spent a fair amount of June thinking about art. I had my reasons. 1) It's a fruitful area of consideration. 2) I've been asked to do a TOK lecture for our Year 5's on Art as an Area of Knowledge (or something like that) and I thought I'd better sound as if I had a bit of a clue about what I will be talking about. Mind you, the lecture is probably going to take place next year (when the Year 5's are Year 6's) but I thought I'd get my retaliation in early, as it were.

The thinking involved, as it usually does, a lot of me imagining myself standing there delivering wise words and testing whether the words I had in mind sounded like they were possessed of any kind of wisdom at all. As usual I found myself pleasantly surprised at finding I seemed to have a few useful ideas and unpleasantly perturbed at how few these ideas actually were. It's a very illuminating way of discovering how much one doesn't actually know - very much in the spirit of Theory of Knowledge, I think. I also did a bit of reading, well generally re-reading, in fact. Aided and abetted by John Carey's What Good Are The Arts?, Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel, Raymond Williams's Culture and Society and most of the essays in The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics I am now armed to convince some unfortunate young people that it's all a lot more complicated than it looks - and it looks pretty complicated anyway.

There is one fairly simple point that abides with me, though. The whole business of the democratisation of the arts is extremely healthy. There are those who'd call it dumbing down, I suppose, but the more people who do art, in whatever form, the better. It's a lot more intrinsically rewarding than doing drugs and renders the world, or the way we see it, more artful, which goes a step better than being no bad thing, attaining the giddy heights of being distinctly that rare beast: a good thing of itself.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Old Dog, Old Tricks

This from my diary for Sunday 2 July, 2006:

Well it was a late and disappointing night last night. I shall have bad dreams about Steven Gerrard's penalty miss for years to come.

Nothing really changes, eh?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dark But Hardly Comfortless

It was a game of three thirds - as opposed to the archetypal two halves. The outer panels of the triptych were dominated by a superb Germany: skilful, mobile, fluid, intelligent, in contrast to England who simply weren't. It was just about at the fifteen minute mark that I consciously thought: we are going to get hammered. And after the Podolski goal I seriously thought five or six were on the cards. Then came the central panel, a curious exercise in premiership blood & thunderation. But even if the Lampard not-a-goal had been-a-goal I don't see how anyone seriously might have thought that Germany were going to lose. Even at the beginning of the second half when England still had much of the play, Germany looked the more likely to score more than once - as, of course, they did. Both of Mueller's goals on the break I saw coming as soon as I glanced across at England's lack of cover, as did most of the world, I guess.

On the build-up to Mueller's second, Barry's startling lack of pace against the cannily effective Oezil brought back memories of myself lumbering around in park football as an overage thirty-something being skinned by whippet-ike youngsters around nineteen, attempting vainly to clip their heels as they motored around me into the distance. But I was never paid as much as Barry, of course. In fact, I was, rightly, never paid at all. Nor were any of our back four who still rarely (actually, I think never) conceded dumb route one goals like Germany's first.

Anyway, I'm trying to take the defeat well and haven't done so badly today, though I lost a fair amount of sleep last night. I'm reminding myself of just how good the Germans were (wasn't Shweinsteiger brilliant even though not many of the reports have been mentioning him?!) and what a pleasure it was to witness such great football. I remember adopting the same outlook after Gunter Netzer's Germany thumped England at Wembley in the early seventies, though it didn't work for me then. But now I'm older and a lot more tired and have put up with these situations for many more years. And the teams who've made it into the quarter finals so far have oodles to offer (though I'm sorry that the USA didn't make it, always being good for the unexpected.)

Can Germany go all the way? It would be nice to think so - a triumph for the beautiful game. But that defence is oddly brittle for a German team - hence the atypical central thirty minutes last night. And I can't see Argentina allowing anyone to pull them around at the back as the puppet-show otherwise known as Johnson, Upson, Terry and Cole did.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Shift In Perspective

I'm still working on clearing the backlog of reading of the books for children I've got in KL. These are titles I bought in the late 1980's in the UK but didn't read and left behind when I came over to Singapore. I finally shipped them out, with a number of other old books, some five or six years back and have been chipping away at them, in an on and largely off manner, since.

Having said that I'm not sure the one I found time for this trip can properly be classified as being written for children, though it's generally marketed as such. The title in question was Jan Needle's Wild Wood (the edition in question being wonderfully illustrated with cartoons by Willie Rushton). It's a cunningly wrought, splendidly subversive take on the world of Wind In The Willows, being a re-telling of the events in the lives of Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad from the perspective of the Wild-Wooders. The villainous weasels, stoats and ferrets of the original become the valiant, exploited underclass of Wild Wood, struggling to survive a bleak English winter and we find out how Toad really came to escape from the dungeon, amongst other revelations concerning the plot of the original. Even Ratty's being tempted to seek for adventures on the open sea is given an unexpected twist.

The idea of recasting a beloved classic in what I suppose is a broadly class-conscious politically-correct light sounds quite dreadful - but here it works completely because Needle obviously loves the original and its characters and, against the odds, manages to stay true to them. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the highly contrived frame story which sets up the central narrative of Baxter, an amiable weasel (or ferret, can't recall now) who was witness many years previously to the take-over of Brotherhood Hall. This frame seemed quite unnecessary, just getting in the way of getting the story going. I can't imagine even quite a sophisticated child having the patience to sit through it. Which leads me back to the question of whether this is a children's book at all. (Mind you, the same is true of its (almost) inimitable original.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

(It's Not Just) A Matter Of Tactics

Duncan Hamilton's Provided You Don't Kiss Me wasn't the only soccer-themed tome I found time for back in KL last week. I also enjoyed Jonathan Wilson's Inverting The Pyramid, an account of the development of tactics in the beautiful game. The range of the book makes up for its somewhat detached approach, serving as a reminder that the game has been around for a long time and current fashions and concerns have never really been too far away. What also emerged, for me at least, was an understanding of the degree to which the most dramatic tactical developments have been linked to particular individuals on the pitch.

You don't get total football without Cruyff.

There's also a remarkable picture taken at the Celtic vs Inter Milan European Cup Final 1967. What's so remarkable is the meagre size of the crowd in the background of the shot. You used to see that number at Hyde United games when I was a kid. But I remember watching the game on tv and being impressed at the foreign glamour of it all, though not with Inter's eleven-man defence - a strategy nicely accounted for by Mr Wilson. I must have had a very short attention span in those days because I stopped watching in disgust, thinking Inter were bound to win and, although delighted to learn of Celtic's eventual victory, felt disappointed in myself for not actually watching the whole thing live. By the by, the Celtic team that day were all born within 30 miles of their ground, Parkhead. We're never going to see that again, more's the pity.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Floral Dance

It's been a week but my heart is still dancing with the highland flowers (and the fruit and other good stuff like that), at least when I'm in vacant or pensive mood. Not that events in South Africa have left much time for being pensive.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Step Forward

I found myself a good deal more involved in the last twenty minutes or so of last night's England game than I'd expected myself to be. At that point it had become important for me that they should win because they deserved to and we were getting glimpses of qualities they could bring to games at the knock-out stages that had the potential to result in great games. I'm thinking here of the kind of blood and thunder, all or nothing, end to end stuff that, on its day, makes the Premiership the most watchable of all leagues.

We might just get that against Germany - the perfect opponents for the last sixteen. There's no point in playing a team you're going to be regarded as favourites to beat. You get the best football when it's all or nothing, as long as you've shed the shackles by then. And I get the feeling, from a distance and I may be wrong, but I do feel that Capello is the man who could unshackle the squad. His handling of the silliness following the Algeria game was exemplary - the contrast with the hapless Domenech is eerie and salutary.

And on a tangential but related point: why do Jamie Milner's step-overs look like they're being performed in slow motion? Is this intended to confuse the defender?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heart In The Highlands

Above: just a few, heartening reminders of what we did on our holidays, a whole week ago.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Beautiful Game

It occurs to me that anyone reading some of the recent posts to this Far Place might assume I was chiefly, if not solely, interested in the progress of England's national team in the World Cup. This is by no means the case. I won't be terribly upset if they get eliminated at the group stage; in fact, I won't be at all upset, assuming they don't deserve to go through which, at present, they don't. (By the way, I still have not abandoned hope that they'll do something against Slovenia and am probably the only supporter they've got who thinks Capello makes perfect sense in his comments on how they played against Algeria and what they need to do now.)

My real interest in the tournament lies in wanting real football to be played - on the ground, to feet, plenty of movement off the ball, and wanting to keep scoring to the end because that's where the enjoyment lies. A bit like Portugal last night. Any team that can do that will get my support - as did Brazil in 1970 (their 1 - 0 victory over a fine England team being one of the great games of any World Cup) and Holland in 1974.

I reminded myself of the fundamental truths of the game back in Kuala Lumpur by reading Duncan Hamilton's Provided You Don't Kiss Me, a sort of account of Brian Clough's years of success (and failure) at Nottingham Forest. The writer was, at that time, a sportswriter for a Nottingham newspaper and had good access to Cloughie and he provides us with a persuasively raw and vivid portrait of the man. The book is organised around broad themes rather than proceeding sequentially - for example, one late chapter focuses on Clough's drinking and its deleterious effects upon him and casts about both early and late in his career to explain the mystery - and I suppose would be a bit of a puzzle for anyone unaware of the broad outline of the great manager's career. But it worked for me, helped by the fact I read the whole thing in less than a day (as a sort of holiday after ploughing through the Naipaul I had just wearily completed.)

What I liked most about the book was the obvious respect Hamilton maintained for Clough all the way through its 'warts and all' aspects, and the way it didn't lose sight of the bedrock truths of what football should be about. Yes, the man wanted to win, but he wanted to win with style and knew how to set players free, mentally and physically, to do so. The humour he embodied was at the heart of it all and sort of fed the passion.

It's a pity he didn't get the England job. He would have released the players from their chains. But, as Hamilton convincingly shows us, the media would never have allowed someone with a real personality to have sustained that position, no matter how right he was for it.

In the meantime, I'm salivating over the prospects of Portugal against Brazil. Let's hope they both turn up to play.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Unable To Quit

In early June I decided to abandon V.S. Naipaul's The Loss Of El Dorado on the not unreasonable grounds that I was getting absolutely nowhere with it. It turns out that I wasn't quite as determined as I may have sounded. I kept going and my aged blotted paperback copy now resides on a bookshelf in Maison KL whence I made it to the final page.

Was I right to keep going? I suppose so, yes, on the grounds you should always finish what you start. (Curiously I typed that initially as 'start what you finish', which sounded better somehow.) But the problem is that looking back I don't feel there was any profit in the enterprise. Naipaul convinces you that history is a messy business, especially for those on its periphery, which is just about everyone in his account, and that people are generally foolish or cruel or foolish and cruel. No one emerges with any credit - in fact, what makes The Loss Of El Dorado so difficult to read is that no one emerges at all in anything close to a fully-rounded sense.

Case in point: much of the central part of the narrative revolves around the rivalry between a chap called Picton (who eventually got himself killed heroically at Waterloo) and another chap whose name I've forgotten and don't care to remember. The rivalry seems to come out of nowhere for no good reason, except to make desolate the lives of those caught up in it. But that seems good enough for Naipaul, who, when you think of it, seems drawn in so much of his work to the shabby, sordid and second-rate. Of course, normally he can make this stuff first-rate even in its bleakness - but not this time, at least not for me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just Playing Around

It's odd that we talk of playing football but there's not a lot that's particularly playful about it - witness England's grim performances in South Africa. I know it's naive but I genuinely get the feeling that if Rooney et al were able to enjoy themselves out there we'd see something worth staying up into the small hours to watch. Sometimes not giving a damn is the way to go.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Firing Blanks

I nodded off for much of the second half of England's inglorious goalless draw with Algeria. Ironically this wasn't because I was watching live in the early hours of the morning. In fact, I viewed the replay of the game on Astro at 10.00 am. However, I did know the score, having accidentally switched on to hear the sad news at 9.30 when I thought I'd be safe from finding out. But in some ways it was fortunate as at least I was able to get some decent kip before starting our day's journeying to Shah Alam (returning troops) and Melaka, instead of forcing myself to stay awake in the vain hope that England's players would remember in which direction Algeria's goalposts lay. This is all grossly unfair - to Algeria. I thought they played really well, as did the USA a few nights back, and deserved watching.

I'm pleased that I never bought in to the delusion that Algeria were complete no-hopers. It seemed to me that any side who could get rid of Egypt, possibly the most consistent of African teams in terms of success in tournaments, were not likely to be slouches.

And looking ahead, frankly if England can't win against Slovenia then they haven't a snowball in hell's chance of doing anything in the rest of the tournament. And I'm not belittling Slovenia who are quite clearly more than little useful on their day. As is the case with almost every team in South Africa, holding out the exciting possibility that if a 'minor' nation can just hit great form for a few games there might just be a new name on the trophy - and I'm not talking about Spain. (Who, by the way, played some great attractive football against the Swiss, which made me quite upset they lost in some ways. Though despicably delighted in others.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Height Of Cool

Back to some welcome warm weather in the lowlands of KL. Thoroughly enjoyed the Cameron Highlands, and we have the strawberries to prove it, but the temperatures up there get more than a bit parky considering the lack of any kind of heating anywhere – except for a three-bar electric fire in a generally deserted Starbucks in Tanah Rata which was never switched on. The troops didn’t seem to mind though and spent this afternoon frolicking in a determinedly chilly waterfall at Lata Kinchang as if to prove it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Further Intentions

Squad strength now stands at five kids - Ashraf (hardly a kid these days, though - actually the designated driver), Aiman, Ayiem, Fafa and Nurul. The last on the list was keen to go strawberry-picking today, but we didn't manage to find a strawberry farm in the area that was providing such a service, despite visiting three. Fortunately these kids are not overly demanding and she took the disappointment in good spirit.

We've booked an eight hour special tour tomorrow which will even see us doing a few minutes of jungle trekking, so we're hoping for the rain to cease and general satisfaction all round. The tv in the apartment picks up Astro's World Cup coverage so happily the guys (self-included) are easy to please.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The plan is to head north, Ipoh and the Cameron Highlands, see a bit more of this fine country and keep the troops occupied. Hope they have televisions there, the type that receive the World Cup.

Seriously thinking of strangling a dog, specifically the one next door that decided to start barking well before the dawn azan. Listening to its hysterical yapping when I should have been asleep was not the best preparation for the long and winding road ahead. Fortunately grown-up nephew Ashraf is coming along as co-driver.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Line Up

Finally we find ourselves connected to the world via our phone line after a chap came round to repair it yesterday. In Manchester English he was doing a ‘foreigner’ and was only going to charge 50 ringgit for a job that took quite a while. We doubled the amount, as much out of gratitude as anything else. Still not sure if the lizards were to blame. It seems it could have been lightning, of which this area gets more than its fair share.

We’re also connected to world events, i.e., the footie in South Africa, via Astro, our satellite tv supplier, and, in contrast to Singapore, we don’t have to pay extra for the service. So I got to see Robert Green’s horrendous blunder watching the morning replay of the England vs USA game and since I didn’t know the score as I watched the game it was just as painful as it would have been if I’d viewed it live in the early hours.

The odd thing about mistakes that bad is that it’s hard to hold them against the perpetrator. It can hardly have been a lapse of concentration given that the poor guy was probably suffering one of the greatest adrenaline rushes of his life just being out there for the game. We all know it’s a case of the body doing exactly what you don’t want it to do because you don’t want it to do it so incredibly much. I’ll bet he couldn’t make himself do the same thing in practice deliberately no matter how hard he tries. Which goes to show we are none of us machines.

Unless we happen to be Germans.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lines Down

Now in Maison KL, but I'm afraid the phone lines are down, which means limited access for me to this Far Place. The missus blames the lizards (rather than the monkeys) for reasons too complex to go into here. Despite feeling mildly cut-off from civilisation as we know it - the kids are moaning about not being able to get on something known as Facebook - life is eventful here. Today we attended the wettest wedding I have ever experienced. In fact, it's the only wet wedding I've experienced - but it was, trust me, transcendentally wet.

Now eating roti prata and drinking teh tarik - so all is well. Not staying up for the England game. Too old. Too wise.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gained In Translation

For any would-be cartoonists out there who are in need of a name for a cute cat of cutting intelligence I'm going to suggest Strindberg. Appropriate, eh?

This completely uncopyrighted idea was brought on by my reading yesterday of the Swedish playwright's The Father in two different translations. The reading originated as a labour of labour - I have to introduce the play to a class next term - but quickly turned into one of enjoyment, though never quite approaching the state of love. This was a big improvement on my previous reading, conducted in December, which left me flat, itself having constituted great progress from the first time I ever read the play. That first reading coincided with the first time I ever taught any Strindberg, Miss Julie for 'A' level in the early nineties. I was using a Methuen edition which bundled together The Father, Miss Julie and The Ghost Sonata. Miss Julie seemed to me a wonderful play, and very enjoyable to teach, and I read the other two plays looking for equal delights - which I didn't really find, well not in The Father anyway. It stuck me as so monomaniacal in its misogyny as to be preposterous. And I felt something similar in December, reading the same Methuen edition, with Michael Meyer as translator - the play was approachable in its simplicity, yet forbiddingly simple for all that. There was an extraordinary sense of direction and intensity in terms of the drama, but this seemed to replace any of the rich complexity you'd normally expect of a writer exploring his characters with some attempt at understanding.

Yesterday I read the Meyer translation again, but this time hand in hand with a newer version from Mike Poulton, the edition the bookseller provided for our students. Jumping from one text to another on a scene by scene basis (Meyer divides the 3 Acts into small scenes, I assume following Strindberg's own divisions since he does not do anything similar with Miss Julie or The Ghost Sonata) I found created a small kind of magic. Poulton's is a somewhat more idiomatic translation and more obviously playable on stage and the stiffness of the Meyer translation seemed to evaporate. At the same time I got a sense of the greater accuracy of the Meyer translation in terms of the literal content of the drama. I felt like I knew what Strindberg wanted on stage down to the moments of sly humour in the piece, assuming that Strindberg had a sense of humour, that is. An illusion, of course, my feeling of inwardness with the mightily crazy August, but effective enough for me to warm to the play and, for the first time, feel its power.

There's an odd but effective kind of comfort in reading these dramas. No matter how bad one's life might be it can hardly approach the transcendent rottenness of that of old Strindberg.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Keeping Going

Took Abah to the hospital this morning. His medication has been reduced so we're hoping for a reduction in the level of confusion he's experiencing. Then went to buy an inflatable tube for him to sit on this afternoon and had my first experience of the new super-large Jaya Jusco at a new mall near the already super-large Tesco in Melaka. A new Tesco is also springing up at Cheng on the way to Alor Gajah. And there are obviously plans for a major shopping area next to the new Jaya Jusco. Boomtown Melaka.

Observed the following slogan on a lady's t-shirt in Jaya Jusco: To die will be an awfully big adventure. Curiously cheerful. From Peter Pan, I think.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Getting Going

It doesn't get easier. That need to stir oneself and do the necessary. It's incumbent upon me to get it all together for the journey north when I'd rather just laze around watching the film version of The Remains of the Day that they just happen to be screening as I'm supposed to pack. But it's a reminder of sorts that if I don't get going there'll be precious few remains of my own day to enjoy. So here I go.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

(Not) The Worst Band In The World

An unusual impulse purchase made last week: 10cc In Concert from the King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents series. I've never heard of this series of live recordings before and the cover looked pretty tacky. Priced at less than eight bucks the CD looked suspiciously cheap also, but the damage to the pocket being limited even if it turned out to be a bit, or a lot, of a lemon made me think seriously of breaking open a fifty dollar note I happened to be carrying. I'd also spotted Neil Young's Prairie Wind (acoustic Neil and gorgeously accessible) going for sixteen dollars and it seemed somehow sensible to wind up with two CDs for essentially the price of one. A triumph of cheapskatery!

But the thing that was really driving me on was a sudden memory of just how good 10cc were in concert. I'm talking here about the original four man line-up: Stewart, Gouldman, Creme & Godley, the band featured on the disk. The recording was from 1975 and featured material from the first two albums. I saw the same line-up live in Sheffield in 1976, I think, just after the release of their fourth and final album in this incarnation How Dare You. They were sensationally good being accorded the kind of rapturous reception only given to the very best which, at that point, they seemed undoubtedly to be among. Somehow I'd managed to forget that they were one of the most heavily featured groups on our collective play-list as university students, rubbing shoulders with Genesis (the Peter Gabriel line-up) and Steely Dan. How had they come to drop so dramatically out of consciousness - mine and that of the world of popular music in general? They were in a position, with the release of How Dare You, to inherit the mantle of The Beatles. (That's over the top, sure, but really at the time I'm talking about it seemed they could do no wrong. Excellent players, singers and writers - all four!)

I suppose the answer lies in the punk revolution and also a sense in which we'd seen the full flowering of what they had to offer by 1976 (and heard I'm Not In Love on the radio way too many times even for a great song). Four excellent albums are four more than most manage, and there were still one or two diverting toe-tappers to come from the 5cc team of Stewart & Gouldman.

Anyway I've played the live CD a couple of times and not been disappointed. It's clear they really could play so my memory was not at fault. The encore version of Rubber Bullets makes me live again the rocking version I experienced back in '76. And I enjoy reconnecting with songs that had sort of slipped from memory yet came back immediately within a few bars in all their wit and wisdom.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Further Adventures

The Mum I spoke to last night was the version who soldiers on regardless of her latest physical pains, problems, indignities, but finds explaining them in some considerable detail a kind of relief or temporary release. She's had a problem with some sort of wound on her leg that has been dripping copious amounts of clear fluid and to which she seems to have had at least two different doctors attending. As far as I can gather it has now dried up and she was expecting a nurse to come round with some new medicine. She sounded a bit miffed telling me that Maureen had said it was nothing to worry about, but that made me feel a bit more reassured that nothing major was going on. I'll be ringing later to see whether the nurse came and settled everything. If she didn't, I'll certainly hear about it.

We're intending to go up to Melaka on Tuesday and deal with another patient in the form of Noi's father. He's got an appointment at the hospital regarding his on-going treatment for a blood clot on the right side of his brain and it's our chance to help the family deal with things in a little way. His behaviour has been a bit erratic of late with his mind wandering. I'm hoping this is a temporary thing, connected to the medication and the effects of the clot itself, and that treatment will go some way to restoring a bit of equilibrium.

So things are far from hunky dory, but our knowledge that they could be a lot, lot worse helps us stay positive. Not that our feelings matter too much in all this. The only thing of any importance is that we try to be and are of some help in our woefully limited capacities.

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Adventure

I'll be ringing Mum later and, as usual, I'm wondering which Mum it will be. Cheerful, or relatively so, Mum is always a relief. This is the one who asks about everyone over here and can happily recount being about to make a cup of tea, how a book she's reading had made her laugh, and the like. Kooky Mum is a bit of a handful. This is the one who seems to think she once lived in Singapore and can't remember the house she lived in at Gresham Street for some thirty-odd years. Angry Mum is sort of refreshing on account of her energy, but repetitive in her truculence regarding most aspects of the world. Despairing Mum is sad and painful to listen to, but bracing in her honesty.

The adventure lies in the unpredictability surrounding which one you're going to get. The change from one evening to another can be startling. But all are valid and I'm grateful, or try to be, for which ever one it is on the other end of the line.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Repletely Complete

Noi treated me to a slightly delayed birthday dinner this afternoon, except it wasn't dinner, it was high tea, which was even bigger than dinner. At least the one we munched our way through at Royal Plaza at Scotts (I think that was the name of the place) was. The experience was ferociously satisfying and I recommend it to any out there attempting to drive up their cholesterol levels and pile on the pounds. Though I must say, we both ate reasonably sensibly given the circumstances, given the temptation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Staring at the possibility of a painful failure at the moment, and I blame V.S. Naipaul. It's a long, long time since I bought a copy of his non-fiction work The Loss of El Dorado thinking that I was in for an enjoyable and informative read on the history of Trinidad. I knew next to nothing of the topic and also knew that Naipaul had never let me down in his work, fiction or otherwise. So I knew I was on a winner.

Now my copy looks distinctly the worse for wear, time and the humid climate having done their usual ravaging. But it remains stubbornly unread, despite some six or so attempts to put that right over the years. The last attempt began two days ago and it's fast fading (and it will be the last.) The darned thing is stubbornly unreadable. Who are all these people in the opening pages and what are they doing? And, more to the point, why should I care?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Old Dog, New Tricks

Useful activity for the start of the month: read the appropriate segment of Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar. Sort of nostalgic for someone raised in England, except that mad, sad Clare's England is long gone. It's actually disappearing as Clare attempts to capture it - possibly the reason he's trying to catch it before it vanishes.

He begins June with an odd rhyme: Now summer is in flower and natures hum / Is never silent round her sultry bloom. I'm guessing his hum had a drawn-out vowel sound, but I haven't much idea of Northampton dialect. Later he rhymes blooms with broom, which would seem to confirm this. He seems quite unconcerned about the sibilance at the end of blooms, by the way. No wonder those early editors tried to clean him up and fence him in to acceptable boundaries. I suppose his escape from enclosure was to go crazy.

And talking of rhymes in June, I can't help but think of Procol Harum's fine lyricist Keith Reid's take on the hoariest rhyme of all. It comes in one of the great (and oddest) songs of the later end of the twentieth century, A Salty Dog, and it goes: Now many moons, and many Junes, have passed since we made land. Gary Brooker sings the line with such gusto that most listeners fail to catch just how quirky it is, reinvesting the cliche with a strange power.

Which I suppose is really what Clare is up - reinvesting our fallen world with something of the meaning it should possess for us. You'd need to be mad to try it.