If you know me in real life and I haven’t yet asked if you want to read my novel – do you want to read my novel? It’s the one I’ve been going on about for the last year or so; it’s called ‘Tapestry’ and is based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. These numbers are present in nature and particularly in spirals, which have fascinated me for decades. ‘Tapestry’ is a picture of Britain from post-war to post-Brexit and involves a spread of characters from the royal family to the homeless and including some ghosts. You can read as much or as little as you like, though it would be good if some people could read the later chapters. If you’re interested drop me a comment below. Lots of people have already read and liked it.
Sorry but for various reasons this offer is limited at the moment to people I know in what we are pleased to call real life.
As I write in the UK it is scheduled to hit a 31-degree high and a 53-year political low (since Suez) with the doom that awaits in the shape of Boris Johnson. I don’t think they have exit polls with this type of thing as it’s done by postal vote but all pundits agree that this is the probably outcome. As if Brexit itself weren’t enough, Johnson looks like being our Trump, a self-serving narcissist hell-bent on power for its own sake (even Max Hastings doesn’t trust him, for god’s sake!) all set to dissolve Parliament and drive us off a cliff in the interests of – well, I’m not sure what exactly but no-one will benefit from a no-deal Brexit. The best we can hope for is that so many of his MPs would desert him (two have already resigned and more have refused to serve under him) that he’d lose a vote of no confidence and be forced to call a general election. Labour seem finally to be lurching towards a coherent policy on the two things that have held us back over the last couple of years: anti-semitism and the dreaded B-word. We have launched a website and educational documents about anti-semitism and seem now finally to be backing a ‘people’s vote’ on the final deal, if not a second referendum. Yes, these things should have been done two years ago but hey, better late than never.
Brexit really is a Gordian knot; whichever way you look there’s no clear solution. Thankfully we Brits are dab hands at the good old-fashioned fudge, which is probably what it’ll turn out to be in the end.
It’s enough to make you go and live in Scotland. It’s bloody cold but at least they have sensible policies.
Additional: after his vote was almost double that of Hunt, I have now decided that BoJo stands for ‘beyond a joke’
Anyone in Britain will know that postcode as well as they know their own, for it is that of the Beeb, our beloved Auntie, allowing nation to speak peace unto nation and still producing some of the best TV around and all of it sans adverts. W1A dates from a few years back, though series 3 is more recent, and stars Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher, former head of Olympic Deliverance (in ‘2012’) along with Jason Watkins, Nina Sosanya and Sarah Parrish.
It took me a while to get the full flavour of what is really going on here. Not being well-schooled in office politics it didn’t immediately strike me that Ian is being set up to fail by his colleague Simon (‘Head of Strategic Governance’) who has – or claims to have – the ear of the BBC chairman and who constantly passes off the crap jobs (‘I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this…’) whilst swooping in to claim responsibility for all the good ideas emanating from Ian’s environs. But Ian’s soon onto Simon and does some pre-empting of his own, getting hold of strategic plans and coming in early to beard Tony in his den and pass them off as his own which in this case they actually are. The frozen smile on Simon’s face when this comes out is exquisite.
W1A is full of such moments, too full to list them all but it rapidly becomes clear that Ian is no fool and always seems to pull something out of the hat at the last minute. Hurrah. The dynamic in his team is paralleled by the sub-plots of Izzie Gould and Lucy Freeman (the only other competent workers in the BBC) who in turn are plagued by slimy opportunist Jack Patterson, office idiot Will Humphries and the utterly unbearable and totally Machiavellian David Wilkes, while Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes) makes everyone’s life a misery without even trying. The voice-over (David Tennant) is a joy in itself. So go watch the BBC having fun on itself with itself. Yes no, very good, very strong.
OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.
No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US. I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*
The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again. Ah well.
I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.
*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.
Spoiler alert: Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine
Un. Put. Downable. More readable than The Silence of the Girls, more compelling than Killing Eve, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was so addictive that I went to bed late and started reading again first thing. I didn’t even do the crossword, that’s how engrossed I was. Basically I read for four hours yesterday interrupted only by dinner and tennis, and then another hour this morning. Wow.
I’d had an unfair idea about this book, that it was basically light fiction (I’m trying to avoid using the term chicklit) with a twist. I was wrong. If I had to categorise it I’d say it was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time meets We Need to Talk About Kevin. OH has done an excellent summary here so I won’t sport with your patience (or mine) by recapping the plot, but will skip straight to the novel’s strengths and weaknesses. The best feature of this novel was its readability; not in any facile sense but in terms of engaging the reader with the central character who seems, like the narrator of Curious Dog Night-time (as we call it) to be somewhat autistic. She doesn’t understand social interactions and does her best to mimic others, hoping to pass for normal: I can relate to this so hard it makes my heart bleed. Like the narrator of Kevin, she is a survivor of horrific abuse and like her has continuing – and horribly difficult – contact with the perpetrator of that abuse. But this is a hopeful novel, one which starts from a low base and builds gently, gradually and at times amusingly (I laughed out loud a lot) to its conclusion. It reminded me of Goodnight Mr Tom in the way the central character is surrounded by loving, helpful, ordinary people who become her true family. Eleanor Oliphant treads the line between the facile and the grim and leads us towards the light.
If I had to make a criticism I’d say dialogue isn’t Gail Honeyman’s strong point. Eleanor’s speech is perfectly done as she sounds like a cross between a station announcer and the Queen Mother, but ordinary everyday dialogue doesn’t come across so well. But that’s nit-picking; I say this is an excellent read and I give it 9.5 out of 10! Get a copy today.
For my birthday I received an adult colouring book. I am fully seized of the benefits of adult colouring and feel no need to explain or justify it; however the author of the book may have felt such a need as a long list of qualifications succeeds her name, prompting OH to comment: ‘How many qualifications do you need to make a colouring book?’ before adding, ‘she probably felt she wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise.’ That’s almost certainly true, but what struck me was the tag at the bottom saying ‘a zen colouring book.’
How is it zen? I’m not even sure I know what zen means – I suspect it’s one of those words which, if you think you understand, it you don’t – but I’m wondering in what way this is a zen colouring book as opposed to a non-zen colouring book? What particular qualities does it have that make it so? At first glance I can’t discern any, nor did the introduction give any clue. This does not, of course, make it any the less fun or beneficial, nor am I disputing that colouring can be a deeply meditative process, but zen? Hm.
One of the most disappointing books I’ve read is ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’ Being at the time both passionately interested in motorbikes and also wanting to find out more about meditation, I seized a copy as soon as I could lay my hands on one, but was sorry to find little in it of either topic. It seems that zen is just a handy marketing term for something a little off-beat, hippyish or related to spirituality in a vague sort of way (and Robert Persig sure was vague*.)
Anyway whether it’s zen or non-zen, unzen or dezen, it’s a good colouring book, and that is enough. More of this anon and how it contributes to the writing process. In the meantime have a very happy Monday, stay cool if it’s hot where you are and don’t forget Wimbledon starts today! And Andy is playing again, as is Johanna Konta, so be prepared for a lot of match reports.
*to be fair, he does say so himself, but I still think it’s a highly self-indulgent book
…just don’t think of it as costume drama. That’s my take on Gentleman Jack, the latest Sunday night offering from the Beeb starring Suranne (Doctor Foster) Jones. I nearly turned off during episode one because we’re so used to seeing the Beeb get it right in terms of period whereas the dialogue here, written by Sally (Happy Valley) Wainwright, is patently modern, as are many of the attitudes. The central theme is of a woman born into the landed gentry determined to take on not only the running of the estate but to live according to her nature, that is, with another woman. It was perfectly possible in those days for two unmarried ladies to live together as companions; however their plans to pass under the radar are threatened not only by meddling relatives but by the public at large. Gossip is rife and only Anne Lister’s title and money save her from utter infamy.
Even though this is a terrible shock to the system for anyone used to faultless renderings of Jane Austen, I’ve come to really enjoy it; and the key to enjoyment is to think of it as a romp. Don’t worry about the anachronistic attitudes, just enjoy the ride. The acting’s great and there are some interesting sub-plots relating to the sinking of coal-pits and the fortunes of Anne’s tenants, all overseen by Anne herself as her parents are dead and her aunt and uncle have no head for business. Add to this the attraction of being based on a true story and a terrific theme tune and basically you have a winner. I’m hooked. Here‘s the true story the drama is based on.