Things Fall Apart

My next read, Chinua Achebe‘s Things Fall Apart, fell through the letterbox on Saturday and I spent the morning getting through an alarming number of pages. At this rate I thought, it’ll only last me a day. I’d better ration it – and so I put it away and took out Heresy by S J Parris. This work of historical fiction (the initials perhaps a wish to disguise gender since studies have shown that male or gender-neutral names do better with publishers) was given away by Waterstones with each copy of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, and I’m not sure it entirely did it a service since it almost looks like how to do historical fiction alongside how not to do it. I find it inexplicable how writers are often praised who have an unbearably clunky style, who tell instead of showing and who have characters conveniently calling each other by their full names so that we know exactly who they are (‘Ah, Sir Phillip Sidney! How goes the poetry?’ ‘Ah, Giordano Bruno, as I live and breathe! So you have come to speak about Copernicus’ theory that the Earth goes round the sun?’) OK so that’s not an exact quote, but it’s not far off. Still, in spite of all that it’s a reasonably good read – and I may come back to the question of how to and how not to do historical fiction. Not that I’ve attempted it myself; far too much research for my liking.

So what else did I do with my weekend? Saturday involved a lot of sitting in the garden, but by Sunday I could no longer ignore the rampant convolvulus and (gnashes teeth) horsetail and so I did enter the shed, gird myself with gloves and wellies, arm myself with the strimmer and sally forth to do battle with the bastards. I have driven them back but have no doubt they will advance again – are even now preparing an advance – and we shall have to do battle many more times ere the summer is done. Which at this rate will be November.

Weeds aside, there has been a Nigerian theme to this weekend. It is a frequent rallying cry of OH that men cannot be feminists because they cannot truly understand the female experience; OH therefore had a big problem with Chimamanda Ngozie Achidie’s talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists.’ (I had not so long ago read her novel Half of a Yellow Sun about the brief history of Biafra.) The Nigerian author delivered this TED talk to an audience of mostly black women (and some men) and there was a great deal of delighted laughter when she spoke about attitudes in Nigeria which, from what she said, seem to be parallel to attitudes here in the ‘fifties (I don’t say that to be disparaging, it’s just an observation.) Much of what she said was therefore familiar to a Western audience; but her insistence that men should be feminists also and that they have nothing to lose by so doing, was an important one, and something I feel we have yet to learn. It remains a source of regret to me that feminism in the West came of age concurrently with global capitalism and so has become imbued with the spirit of individualism and competition that Thatcher so vividly personified. We need to rediscover cooperation – and perhaps now is the time to do it.

Speaking of which I rounded off the day with this documentary on Dominic Cummings. I haven’t finished it yet but if I ever wondered whether people were caricaturing him unfairly, I wonder no longer. It’s a horror story. More of this anon when I’ve finished watching it but for now, tatty-bye and have a good week.

Urg. Now I’ve gone and reminded myself of Ken Dodd.

Kirk out

Cummings and Goings and Staying Put

I don’t honestly think I can add anything to what others have said about the disgraceful behaviour of the government’s chief advisor in going to visit his parents for no good reason when others are not allowed to visit their dying children in hospital, and the even more disgraceful response of the Prime Minister in defending the indefensible. He’ll regret doing that; as Withnail said of another rat, the fucker will rue the day!

Then the fucker will rue the day.

But enough; I need to stop thinking about that before I choke with rage. Aaaaaaaand breathe! So, what else has been happening in lizardyogaland? I’ve finished Girl, Woman, Other and have a slight hiatus in my reading as I’ve now caught up on just about everything. It’s a great feeling, and there’s room for more so I’ve ordered Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe about which I will tell you more when it arrives. On the TV front I have rediscovered the classic series from the 1980’s The Jewel in the Crown. Starring Art Malik, Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James it covers the final years of the British Raj in India. I was utterly glued to this when it came out and am delighted to have found it again. it’s based on The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott which of course I read as soon as the series was over. More of this anon.

Have a good day, whatever you’re doing. It’s a delightfully sunny one here in lizardyogaland…

I’ll just leave you with this:

Kirk out

Just Shut up and Listen

No, not you; I would never talk to you like that. I was answering the question posed by yesterday’s post: what is my head trying to tell me? And the answer is, shut up and listen. Stop doing the usual stuff, stop thinking the usual thoughts and listen to what I’m telling you.

That’s all pretty clear, though when you do start to listen it’s a bit like trying to decipher the voices of the sea or to hear a message in the static of a non-digital radio. OK, you say, here I am listening. So what have you got for me? And the answer is a prolonged chhhhhhcccchhhhhhhhhhhhh

hhhhzzssczxcszxxchzxchzxchzxhczhxczhxczhxchzxchzxhczhxczh

xchxzchzxhczhczhxchzxc

zzzziggazig-ahhhhh!

Oh god, now I’ve gone and reminded myself of the Spice Girls. Bleaurgh.

But you get the picture – or rather, you don’t. Sometimes you have to listen but not-listen; to give a sort of sideways or slantways attention to what your brain is trying to tell you. Phillip Pullman describes this brilliantly in His Dark Materials when the knife-bearer teaches Will how to use the subtle knife; it’s a kind of attention without concentration – or what we think of as concentration which is a willed screwing-up of the mind like pinning a butterfly to a card. This type of concentration is looser, it’s trying without trying, harder to achieve in one way but easier in another way. It is a flow.

I’ve talked about all this in earlier posts on yoga concentration and meditation, but it’s a lesson you have to learn over and over again, deepening it every time.

So after all that I watched Patrick Melrose. I recommend this but not last thing at night as it’s deeply disturbing. It’s currently streaming on NowTV, effortlessly.

Kirk out

Additional: OH has just pointed out that in a similar way to a computer, the mind works on the GIGO principle: garbage in, garbage out. Therefore if you want to produce good writing, you should read good books. And watch good TV.

Like Patrick Melrose.

The Joy of Box

As many people have discovered, there’s nothing quite so satisfying in the evening as finding a good box set to watch. Nevertheless they are addictive so I try to ration myself to one or two episodes a night. But sometimes I get totally gripped, which is what happened last night with Press.

I’d come across Press before on Netflix due to that charming way they have of flipping little clips at you while you browse (I’ve got into the habit of pressing the mute button while I do this else you’re blasted every few seconds with incomprehensible snatches of conversation, a bit like the old days when you used to tune a radio. There’s a bit in Wallace and Gromit but I can’t find that so enjoy this clip instead.) Anyway as I was doing a bit of the old scrolling I came across a series I’d previously dismissed. Let’s give it a try, I thought. OH is forever saying I’m too quick to make up my mind, so determined to watch at least ten minutes, I clicked play. And did not click another button until bedtime.

Press is a slightly sensationalist take on two rival newspapers, The Herald and The Post. More than loosely based on The Guardian and The Sun, these papers represent the polar extremes of print news, the Post (handily signalled by red tops on all their office computers) unprincipled, unscrupulous and rich, and the Herald (blue tops) principled, conscientious and struggling for cash. The series follows the journalists of both papers as they chase up stories, often competing for the same scoops. Things come to a head when the Herald takes on a wealthy entrepreneur accused of sexual abuse (remind you of anyone?) They go to press but unknown to them the Post has stolen the story and the entrepreneur takes out an injunction, forcing the Herald to pulp the entire day’s papers. And that’s where I left them.

The best series are those which build a world for you to enter, a believable place with a sense of location; peopled with characters to root for, lament over or boo at; a world you can inhabit for a few hours. I inhabited this world all evening; in fact I inhabited it for too long, because when it came time to return home I didn’t want to leave, and instead of doing the sensible thing and reading my book for ten minutes, I went straight up to bed where lo! I did not sleep for at least a couple of hours.

Ah well. It’s an addictive series and only slightly OTT which doesn’t matter because it’s believable. Box sets are like dreams really – it doesn’t matter how preposterous they are, so long as they’re believable. Then you can inhabit them and they can teach you something. I’m not sure what Press taught me but I had a great time learning – and there’s more to come…

Kirk out

VE Day – Should We Be Celebrating?

A few days ago an invitation dropped through our door to a ‘social distancing street party’. Apart from being somewhat baffled as to how this would work, I experienced a strong reluctance to go. I felt a bit bad about this. It was a community event; I am community-minded – why wouldn’t I support it? It was only after I realised that today is the anniversary of VE day that I twigged: I don’t want to go to a VE day street party because I don’t want to celebrate VE day.

But why not? Surely the defeat of fascism is an event worth celebrating? I am only too aware that people gave their lives for our freedom and that this should not be forgotten. But in my opinion it should be remembered, not celebrated, particularly in these post-Brexit, global pandemic days. It seems entirely inappropriate that we should celebrate a victory over nations that are now our allies and who are suffering as we are with the virus. My fear is that with the toxic xenophobia generated by Brexit it could all turn quite nasty. But I could be wrong. In any case it’d be interesting to see if the never-seen neighbours in the mysterious ivy-covered house with the LEAVE MEANS LEAVE, emerge from their dwelling like Boo Radley to celebrate.

So rather than celebrating we will be having a family pizza and video night. I’m not sure what we’ll be watching but here’s what I’ve been looking at. First, the excellent drama Silk, starring Maxine Peake. The phrase ‘courtroom drama’ is almost a tautology since you’ve already got the elements of drama: the thesis of the prosecution, the antithesis of the defence, all resolving – hopefully – in the synthesis of the verdict. You’ve got the cast of characters all dressed up in gowns and wigs, you’ve got heroes and villains. All any writer has to do is choose from a series of offences to make an interesting plot, and the thing practically writes itself.

Except that without some kind of twist it could easily become dull and predictable. Not so Silk. Rather than the usual upper-class chaps, Maxine Peake is a working-class Northern lass on her way to becoming a QC and with a passion for defending clients. Her opposite number, Clive Reader, is the epitome of the traditional barrister; ex-Harrovian, white, smooth, plausible and very charming, especially with women. These two share an office, some cases and before the series began, a bed. They frequently clash but also genuinely like and respect each other.

So that’s worth watching – and having finished that, I’m re-watching the most recent series of The Crown, starring Olivia Coleman. Last night Mountbatten attempted to lead a coup against the Wilson government, reminding us that democracy is always under threat from those who believe they have the right to rule. Which I guess brings us back to VE day. So let’s remember and raise a glass to the men and women who fought fascism and won – at least for now.

Kirk out

Life in Lockdown

After six weeks, lockdown is beginning to get to me a little. I was fine for a month or so; enjoying it really, relishing not having to organise anything or remember appointments, not needing to bother about rotas and timetables, just having time to myself to be introspective and of course to learn Ancient Greek.

The Greek’s going pretty well actually – it seems to reach parts of the brain modern languages can’t reach. I’m against elitism in learning but it has to be said that learning a classical language does something to your grey matter. I can feel bits of it sparking up and making connections I haven’t made since I was at school and laughing at Miss Kettlewell. But enough of that later…

Alas in the seventh week the time is starting to hang heavy and I’m going a little stir-crazy. There are only so many videos you can watch or courses you can do or Zoom meetings you can attend without some kind of burnout and basically when it comes down to it there’s no substitute for full-on human contact. I’m a mixture of introvert and extravert and whilst I enjoy company I also need from time to time to hibernate. My usual periods for doing this are Christmas and summer; at Christmas I take a couple of weeks and in the summer I go for a month. It’s very wholesome but at the end of it I’m glad to go out and see people again.

I’m lucky of course not to be living alone. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in that situation or else stuck in a flat with small children pinging off the walls. Then again they say that this period without frenetic activity has helped children to focus more – and as we found when doing Home Education, when children say they’re bored if you leave them to find something to do they usually will.

On the TV I’m continuing with Doctor Foster, a positively Greek drama with everything you could want in a modern tale of betrayal and vengeance. The eponymous doctor is basically Medea; a calm and supportive woman who, when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her for years, stops at nothing to destroy him. It’s appalling and highly compelling in about equal measure.

Reading-wise I’m between books at the moment: I’ve finished Beloved and The House of the Spirits and I tried Annie Proulx’s Barkskins again

but I just can’t get into it. The latest edition of Granta arrived on Saturday and I launched into it with such fervour that I’ve read nearly all the stories and articles. I have ordered the Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other which should arrive in the next few days, so till then I am resigned to having spaces in the day with nothing to read but Facebook or the Guardian app. Ah well.

The trouble is, when a book arrives that I really want to read, I devour it within days and then I have nothing to read any more.

Back to Miss Kettlewell. I’ve mentioned her before but just in case you don’t remember, she was our Latin teacher at school. Red-faced and plump, looking rather like a German sausage in an ill-fitting crimplene dress, she cut a ridiculous figure to our 14-year-old eyes. She not only taught Classics, she spoke English in a Latinate way like a female Doctor Johnson, giving equal weight to each syllable and pronouncing every letter clearly. One day as the lesson started, her eye lit on a vase of dead flowers on the windowsill (how they got there no-one knew.) She screwed up her face, pointed a trembling finger at them and in a sonorous tone said, to no-one in particular, ‘Take those flowers away – I dislike them intensely!’

Poor Miss Kettlewell. She’s probably been dead thirty years and we’re still laughing at her.

Kirk out

J*E*S*U*S*A

You may have come across this documentary recently on youtube, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin, being an examination of the USA’s love affair with guns and how the heck they manage to tie that in with worshipping Jesus. There’s some scary guys on this film; there’s a preacher who says Jesus wasn’t a pacifist but a ‘hellraiser’ (well yes, he was anti-establishment but…) and another who says that the passage about Jesus making a scourge to chase the moneychangers out of the temple basically means that it’s OK for everyone to carry assault rifles. Hmm.

This is not unique to the USA; after all we took part enthusiastically in the Crusades. Then again that was seven hundred years ago and I’m hoping we’ve moved on a little. Not so some of these guys who talk openly about massacring Muslims.

Much of this film is quite hard to take. But the hellraising preachers are interspersed with the ‘righteous’ guys, those who see the gospel as preaching peace and if not total pacifism then at least non-aggression. How do the hell-raisers explain ‘turn the other cheek’ I wonder? Do they even go there?

But even some of the ‘righteous’ guys are a little scary. There’s one guy who ‘wore out’ his Bible and when he took it back to the shop and showed them the shattered bindings they said ‘but these editions have a lifetime guarantee.’ So they gave him a new one and he wore that out too. I dread to think what he was doing to it. Sometimes it seems to me that intense study can be a substitute for thought and contemplation.

As a documentary it has some interesting – and appalling – footage but seems to lack direction, being a series of clips and interviews with those for peace and those who want Jesus as their army mascot. It reminds me of a line from Blake:

both read the Bible day and night

but thou read’st black where I read white.

But before I got into the murky world of US religion I went onto Britbox andcaught up once more with Silk.

From the outside at least, the legal world is an endless source of fascination. The phrase ‘courtroom drama’ is almost a tautology since the judicial confrontation looks like a drama in itself. You’ve got the Greek elements of thesis and antithesis resolving – hopefully – in the synthesis of the verdict; you’ve got the cast of characters all dressed up in gowns and wigs, you’ve got heroes and villains; and all any writer has to do is choose from a series of offences to make an interesting plot. The thing practically writes itself.

Except that without some kind of twist it becomes dull and predictable; but this is not a charge anyone could make of Silk. Rather than the usual upper-class chaps, this series stars Maxine Peake as a working-class Northern lass who makes it as a barrister and is on her way to becoming a QC. Her opposite number, Clive Reader, is the epitome of the traditional barrister; old-Harrovian, white, smooth, plausible and very charming, especially with women. These two frequently clash but also genuinely like and respect each other.

And last night I was induced to go onto Netflix and watch Get Out, a film which OH insisted was brilliant. It was pretty good but I thought it went a bit weird and zombie-ish at the end. I won’t say any more in case you want to watch it yourself. Oh, and we’re also looking forward to seeing all of Ken Loach’s films being released for free, though we’re not sure where.

So that’s what I’ve been watching. And how the heck do you pronounce JESUSA? Is it ‘Jess-ooza’? Or Jesus-ah? or Jeez-U-S-A? I think we should be told…

Kirk out