Reblogging this in response to the recent Greek elections. Syriza in Greece now holds the balance of power and is an equivalent party in Greece to Left Unity in Britain.
Month: January 2015
The Show Has Gone On
I’ve been looking forward to the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’ for a long time. Having read the books soon after they came out and reviewed them on this blog:
I was keen to see what the Beeb would make of them. And I am not disappointed: as far as I can see the adaptation is faithful to the spirit of the book as well as the letter. The attractiveness of Cromwell is that, though wily and sly, he is no snake: though we may find it hard, he genuinely loves Wolsey and isn’t afraid to show it even after Wolsey’s fall from grace. At heart he’s an egalitarian who speaks as he finds, educates his daughters, listens to his wife and consults his servants – and when he finally meets Henry he treats him with respect but without servility. He is a fascinating character and many things are held in balance here in this series, as they are in the book. I like Damien Lewis as Henry: the young king is shown as having an apparently artless openness with a veiled menace lurking somewhere in the throat. It must be hard to play Henry VIII without a certain Brian-Blessed-style heartiness* or without harking back to Keith Michell. Incidentally, they’re repeating the Keith Michell series as well. My Mum was glued to that one when it was on. I also like the way Anne Boleyn pronounces Cromwell’s name as ‘Cremuel’, although she doesn’t sustain the French accent in the rest of her speech. So far, it’s a pretty good adaptation, I think. I wonder what Hilary Mantel thinks?
Highland Flings, Bare-breasted Fighting and a Rogue-in-a-Parcel
Happy Burns night to all our Scottish friends from your friendly local rogue-in-a-parcel. I’m never quite sure what people do at Burns nights: do they burn a boat or is that some Shetlands thing? Do they fling the Highlands over their shoulder? Do they fight bare-breasted with a baby under each arm?
I suspect not. I seem to remember Jan saying that at her Burns night there would be music, Scottish dancing and food. So that’s all good – anyway, it’ll give Steve a legitimate reason to put on a kilt, won’t it? There you go Steve, don’t say I never give you anything…
It’s as cold as the Shetlands here at the moment, or at least it feels like it. But at least it’s dry. I’m much better at dealing with dry cold than I am with damp cold: the damp gets into my bones and I can’t get it out again, no matter how I try. Still it’s lovely and toasty where I stayed last night.
Hey, I’ve just looked up the weather for the Shetlands and guess what? It’s exactly the same temperature there – 5 degrees – as it is here! Oo, gosh that makes me feel really raw-boned and granite-chinned, just like a true Scots lassie. Alas, I have no Scots blood whatsoever, while my other half is one-quarter Scottish, of the clan McIntyre-Ure. This clan has the most boring hunting tartan ever, and their motto is a truncated version of the RAF one: whereas the RAF go by ‘per arduas ad astra’ – ‘through hardships to the stars’ – the McIntyre-Ures are made of far sterner stuff. No wishy-washy namby-pamby heading for the stars for them! No sir! The McIntyre motto is simply ‘per ardua’.
I seem to remember Thatcher once quoting a Scots poet who said:
‘And does the road wind ever up?
Ay, to the very top’
That explains why she was such a pain in the arse.
But the only version I can find is a much more comforting one by Christina Rosetti:
There are a couple of stories told about the McIntyre clan. They once owned land which included a mountain on which there was snow. The rent for this land was fixed at one summer snowball and a pure white calf; and this worked perfectly well until one day they decided it was silly (can’t think why) and asked for money. The rent went up and up and eventually they were priced off their land.
The other story about the McIntyres is of how they got their name. Once there was a Princess who was captured by a Viking and taken on board his ship. As they set sail one of the retinue, a carpenter, took some blocks of wood from the sides of the ship and filled them with tallow. The ship was sinking and the Vikings demanded he put the blocks back. He refused until they agreed to return the Princess – and that is how the clan was named McIntyre, meaning ‘son of a carpenter’.
I have to admit that Mark shows some of the character traits of a McIntyre: he is quite austere in his approach to life; he walks everywhere and is not at all fazed by cold, hunger or pain. The only thing that really bothers him is a fake tartan or a tin of fancy shortbread…
New Mslexia Blog-Post
My latest Mslexia blog post is live and awaiting readers and their lovely juicy comments! You can read it here:
Doing What They Want
It is frequently argued when people respond to terrorism in a certain way, that you are ‘doing what the terrorists want.’ So, for example, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders, people have argued that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to the events ‘because that’s what the terrorists want’ – or that we shouldn’t rejoice in the magazine’s success or go on marches or wear Je Suis Charlie t-shirts – or whatever it might be, because ‘that’s what they want’.
I have two reactions to this. First, it’s impossible to know exactly what the killers wanted. It seems that they wanted to kill the cartoonists, because that’s what they did; and it’s logical to assume that they wanted to spread fear and to silence people in order to promulgate their horrendous vision of Islam. But beyond that – whether they wanted to destroy the magazine or build it up; whether they would laugh at the subsequent demonstrations or gnash their teeth at them, we cannot know. We can only surmise.
Secondly, the idea that I am doing ‘just what the attackers wanted’ and should therefore not do it, does not sit well with me, because it means I’m still being manipulated by them. What I want to do is to weigh things up and do what I decide to do, respond in the way I feel moved to respond and to do what I think will help. Of course this leaves me open to the charge that I am naive and well-intentioned and playing into the enemy’s hands. There may be a tactical argument here, if my actions are ultimately going to harm my cause, but there isn’t a moral one.
Likewise with trolls the argument is usually to ignore them, because giving their comments the oxygen of publicity is ‘just what they want.’ (Incidentally, what about the nitrogen of publicity? Or the hydrogen? * I think we should be told). Up to now I’ve been trashing my trollish comments on this blog. But yesterday’s comment was so funny I decided to publish it. I had a highly critical comment on my Mslexia blog post, too – and approving that led to me getting lots of support. Besides, I can’t help remembering that in the Harry Potter books, what finishes a Boggart (a creature that shows your worst fears) is laughter.
So let’s all have a good laugh, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists…
* I think the helium of publicity would be good fun…
Orwell and Words
As a writer and poet, I spend a lot of time thinking about words: not just how to use them, but what they are and how they are put together. I once studied linguistics (quite unsuccessfully, I might add) and a part of that subject is Morphology, the study of what a word actually is. I can’t claim to have mastered Morphology – in fact I’d much rather have spent the time watching this:
but it set me off on a path; the path of thinking about words. Crosswords are another good way to think about words: how they work, how they are put together, what anagrams can be made from what, and so on. And it seems to me that words are the stuff of life. Words are special: words are holy.
I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. It’s no coincidence that the central plank of state oppression in Orwell’s ‘1984’ is the language. INGSOC spends its time in reducing the number of words in the dictionary and citizens are punished for using obsolete ones; whilst the government renders meaningless those which are left (‘War is peace; freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’).
Words are never mere words, though Hamlet might seem to say so: words are holy; words are precious. The Bible starts with one and so does the Biblical version of history: (‘in the beginning was the word’)
The word was not only there in the beginning, it was ‘with God’ and it ‘was God’. You can’t get much clearer than that.
And yet what does it really mean? Orthodox Christians would presumably say that ‘the word’ refers to Scripture, though nothing was Scripted for a long while after. But I think it means something much more esoteric to do with the fundamental nature of truth and the holiness of words. Mantras are words; prayers are words and poems are words, and at their best they all approach each other. This is not to say that what a poet writes is somehow ex cathedra, but that poetry, like prayer and scripture, approaches sublimity.
Words are powerful. In Harry Potter, the most powerful part of a spell is the incantation, or form of words, used to cast it. Names, as my other half will attest, are deeply significant; they are the word which is you. Words are important: words can cast light or darkness; they can lift up or cast down. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can finish me off.
As a poet, I try to master words. But in order to master anything, you have to first go along with it. You have to listen, to understand and to know what it is you are dealing with. So that, when I split words up to make new ones I always do it along fault-lines. It’s like working with flints: you have to understand how the thing is made; where it came from and what its range of allusion is. Then you can start to work.
OK that’s enough for today, me lovelies. See you on the other side…
Good Morning America, How Are Ya?
Good morning my dears and how are you all? I’ve been away for a few days in the tourist Mecca that is Barrow-on-Soar and also sampling the Loughborough micro-climate. Before that I was staying with my good friend Stephen who does a great line in Middle-Eastern hospitality and before that I was at Peter’s. I am very much appreciating being able to stay with friends and get some space. Don’t worry: nothing terrible’s happening. It’s just that I wasn’t sleeping and I needed some time away.
Incidentally, the Loughborough micro-climate is an actual phenomenon. Many’s the time I’ve observed it when, coming from Leicester where it’s dry you cross a line of rain which starts at the outskirts of Loughborough – or conversely, a line where the rain stops. It can be wet all over the county and dry in Loughborough – or vice versa. You just never know what you’re going to find.
It’s freezing here in Leicester though: I don’t think I’ve got warm since I left Jan’s flat this morning. I went down to the station for the eleven o’clock train and waited for ten minutes before they announced it was cancelled. I swore out loud; then stomped off into the village where I found a delightful cafe which kept me going until it was time to head out for the twelve o’clock train. These trains are, by and large, one of the success stories of public transport in the area, a case where a line has been reopened (!!!) and now serves several villages whilst also connecting Leicester (eventually) to Lincoln. I got on the little two-coach train and discovered it was almost as cold on it as off it. I was, however, amused by the announcer saying we were stopping at Silby and Siston (instead of Sileby and Syston). Sounds like a firm of plumbers, I thought. I also cringed at the way they kept saying ‘We will shortly be arriving into…’ Ugh! I hate that sort of expression.
So we arrived into Leicester and I arrived into a cold bus-stop where I found I would have to wait a while, so I arrived into a slightly warmer W H Smith’s where I found a card for a friend. The bus, when it arrived, was warmish, but the house was emphatically not. 12 degrees in the kitchen, if you please!
I do not please.
It still hasn’t warmed up properly.
Anyway, what have you all been up to?
I’ve been writing snatches of poetry, such as these:
The man walks towards the timetable so determinedly I think he’s going to walk right through it.
A collection of yellow guards’ vans yolked together
Celebrities are currency
that you can spend at parties.
The Great Oral Tradition
I’ve discovered a new way to read short stories – by reading them out loud. I’ve always done this with poetry, partly because I perform it and so need to know how it sounds, but mainly because I don’t know if the poem works until I hear it. Stephen Fry’s excellent book ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ encourages readers to read all poetry aloud, and it’s good advice. Until we learned to make marks on parchment or papyrus or whatever, everything was in the oral tradition; so it always seemed natural to me to read or recite poems aloud, right from when, as a child, I learned Hilaire Belloc’s and Winnie-the-Pooh’s poetry off by heart.
But it never occurred to me to do it with prose, and as a result, when I was revising a story, I often ran into problems I didn’t know how to resolve. I felt that it didn’t sound right but I couldn’t tell what was wrong. And then I had an ‘aha!’ moment – a eureka moment, if you will – and I realised that it might help to read the story out loud. And it did! I instantly became aware of repetitions and unwanted assonances and all sorts of things. And the story improved immediately. I’ve been working on two or three stories today and made great progress.
So I’ve decided that what we writers need is not FR Leavis’s Great Tradition but the oral tradition. We don’t need some ponced-up academic telling us who is and isn’t worth reading: we need to go back to our roots. We need to speak and hear and listen – only then do we know what works.
I’ve not been around for a while because I’m away at the moment, so will blog when I can.
Sometimes a phrase will come to me and I have to write it down somewhere – that one came while I was having breakfast and since I’d left my notebook upstairs I’m putting it on here. Maybe it will resolve itself into something meaningful by the end of this post…
Here’s a photo of yesterday’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ rally at the Clock Tower: it wasn’t a bad turnout considering we only had about 2 days’ notice. Everyone was given a pencil and a candle:
Not much happened – it would have been good if someone had brought a mic and amp as a representative of the Indian Workers’ Association made a speech which no-one could hear. It would have been good, too, to have some songs and poetry… but as I say, they only had two days to organise it, so getting around 100 people there was not too bad.
I arrived in town early and lurked in Clark’s pretending to look at shoes, not realising that Mark was also lurking in Costa having a coffee. Perhaps, in honour of the occasion, it was a decapitated coffee?
Maybe he was sitting on what Holly used to call ‘invitable furniture’. We had a huge blue inflatable sofa at one time, as well as a squashy red armchair. Sadly they did not last long…
There are some more comments on my Mslexia blog, all supportive, so thanks all!
Laughter is the Best Politics
I’ve come to the conclusion, having given this a lot of thought, that there is a fundamental difference between personal abuse (sexism, racism, homophobia etc) and the mockery of someone else’s beliefs. The first is unacceptable because it’s against a person, but the second is acceptable and often necessary because, although people cannot help what they are, they can often be way out of line in terms of what they believe – and religion, any more than politics, should not be protected from satirists pointing the finger and saying ‘That’s ridiculous!’ It may not be sensitive to mock the Prophet, and I wouldn’t do it – but that’s a far cry from saying that it shouldn’t be done; and a whole world away from storming a magazine’s office and killing the offending cartoonists.
And there’s the rub. The killers are worlds away from us democratic liberals, so where does that leave our society? What are the limits of tolerance? I believe those who come here should subscribe to our laws even if they don’t agree with them – even if they believe them to be fundamentally wrong – even if, with every fibre of their being, they are convinced that our laws are evil, just as I would be if I went to live in Saudi Arabia. (And I hope I never do.) The way forward is through debate and argument; all you achieve by murder is to harden and solidify opposition to your views.
One after another, Muslims have come forward to say that the Qu’ran does not support the terrorists’ actions; that Mohammed himself (peace be upon him*) said that the only response to mockery is to walk away. I can’t comment: I don’t know the Qu’ran well enough, and those parts I have tried to read seemed quite obscure and hard to comprehend. But if you’re a Muslim I’d really like to know what you think. And thanks to Martine (see comment on yesterday’s post) for a link to an interesting article on this.
It all reminds me of when I was in Spain one Christmas. ‘Why is Father Christmas saying jo jo jo?’ I asked myself. Eventually I realised that’s how the Spanish write ‘ho ho ho.’
Ho, ho ho – laughter really is the best politics… and possibly the best religion as well. If anyone doubts whether God has a sense of humour, just reflect on the fact that she created men.
Just kidding, Steve! Honest!
PS Drink and Think at the end of the month will be focussing on the Charlie Hebdo murders and their aftermath.
*I say this in solidarity with moderate Muslims, not because I believe it to be necessary.
You must be logged in to post a comment.