Thursday, 30 May 2013

On the Turps

I've been doing a bit of DIY. Only a very small bit - viz. repainting the blackboard outside the kitchen where I chalk up all the things I mustn't forget to buy next time I go shopping (and then forget to buy them, because, unlike a piece of paper, a shopping list written on a blackboard is quite difficult to carry).

The blackboard list, impractical as it is, is a ritual I am fond of, but the surface had become so murky that, even if had I been able to take the thing with me to the supermarket, I would have found, when I got there, that I couldn't read what was written on it. What it needed was repainting. Thus, I went to the DIY shop and bought myself a small tin of matt black paint and a medium-width cheap brush.

The process of buying these things took a good deal longer than the actual act of painting and so, after completing the task, admiring the result, then painting a kitchen chair for the sheer pleasure of painting something else, adding two more coats to both the blackboard and the chair, casting about for anything else that might need a slick of black and persuading myself that the fridge would not be improved by such a radical step - and nor would the rubbish bin - I broached my new bottle of meths, pouring a generous slug of the stuff into an empty jam jar.

AsI did so, I remembered how just after university an enterprising friend of mine decided to run film evenings once a week featuring Australian movies that would not otherwise get a screening in Canberra. He got quite a good turn-out, despite the fact that it was winter when he decided to do it and that on one occasion the people at the City Technical College, where he'd managed to hire an auditorium, forgot to leave the electricity on and so he had to refund every member of the audience the price of the ticket and send them home.

Anyway, the reason the meths made me remember my friend Tony and his laudable activities was that one of the films he showed was a story whose heroes were all alcoholics living on the streets of Sydney, whose mainstay in the grog department was methylated spirits. I have the idea that the film ended with one of them, a man who looked less like a human and more like a lion by that stage - a consequence of his chosen beverage, I assumed, rightly or wrongly, at the time - going toward some kind of apocalyptic ending, (possibly burning to death?) while suffering a meths induced hallucination of some wild and florid sort.

Ever since seeing that film, I've always looked at bottles of meths with the same alarmed fascination I normally reserve for the emergency cords on trains. I could, if I wished, start knocking back shots of methylated spirits for breakfast I think each time I see one. If the mood took me, I could choose to become  a shambling wreck like that film's hero. I could give myself up to the demons of addiction. I could set decadence loose in my life.

But I don't. What is more, the government trusts me not to. Which is odd, because it doesn't let me anywhere near heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or a range of other addictive substances, and, while it keeps reminding me of the danger of cigarettes, it also invites me to fill its coffers by buying a packet or two from time to time, (I resist, by the way, although I used not to).

There's no logic to the state's approach to dangerous substances. Nor does it do any good. I've observed illicit drug use at quite close quarters and I've learned that, no matter what you do, there are people who are going to take things that are bad for them. All you can do is warn them, and keep on warning them. If you try to prevent them, you will waste time and money and cause endless problems, thanks to the age-old law of unintended consequences.

Stop the war on drugs or start the war on methylated spirits, I say, but for heaven's sake, get some consistency in your policies, government. If you're flogging us fags, how can you justify filling our cities with organised crime by denying us other harmful but fun things? Stop treating us like children. Educate us and then let us make up our own minds (which many of us are doing anyway, without your permission). If we want to go to hell in a hand basket, that's our business. Sure a government is the people's servant, but the member of staff we want is not the nursery maid, thanks all the same.

Friday, 24 May 2013

In Praise of Literary Prizes

I had up until now thought that writing prizes were rather a bad thing, encouraging the 'this is best, this is my favourite' mentality familiar to any parent of a child between the ages of four and fourteen (drives to school were peppered with questions of the 'which is your favourite film, mum', and 'which song do you like best of all the songs in the world' variety, questions to which I could never find a single answer).

Anyway, today I've changed my mind. The reason I have is that Lydia Davis has been announced as the winner of the Man Booker International prize and until she was announced as the winner I had never heard of her. Now I have, and thanks to the e-book, that other phenomenon about which so many people are ambivalent, (and about which I want to write when I have more time one day), I've been able to start reading and enjoying her right away (an example of her work is this perfect articulation of the dilemma faced by thirty-something women, called The Double Negative: "At a certain point in her life, she realises it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.".

If there were no Man Booker International prize, I'd never have known that Lydia Davis existed. I now do know she exists and I'm glad I do. Ergo literary prizes are wonderful.

(Mind you, I still don't understand how the banal piece of predictable, shallow nonsense that is The Hand That First Held Mine could possibly have deserved the Costa prize)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

In Case You Missed It

Thanks to Sheridan Jobbins, (Twitter name @5oh19) for alerting me to the most hilarious comment stream I've ever seen on a job advertisement. What's even better, the stream is still growing - and it's getting funnier all the time. Even Bartleby has had his two bob's worth.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Words and Phrases - a Continuing Series

There are people in my household who seem to think that a Monday evening that doesn't include watching at least a part of Q&A, (it tends to be only a part as the programme acts as a soporific on its most enthusiastic viewer - or possibly it's the wine downed to render the content of the programme semi-tolerable), is a Monday evening wasted. I don't agree, but I am usually over-ruled. As a result, I find myself each week being enraged by many things - it's that kind of a programme - but above all by the host inviting me to 'join the Twitter conversation'.

The so-called 'Twitter conversation' is actually a band running along the bottom of the screen, displaying banal tweets by viewers. The tweets shown there are not all the tweets tweeted about the programme; the tweets shown there are only a select few. Some mysterious and mystifying process of editing or censorship is passed through before the successful ones are alllowed to show themselves before the wider viewing public. They are mostly stupid and dull, some are aggressive, one or two are mad. But what is worst about them is they ARE NOT A CONVERSATION. They are just a random collection of remarks. There is no quickfire bantering, there is no referring back, there is no expanding on a theme introduced by one tweeter and enlarged on by another.

What we are being tricked into believing is an exchange of thoughts is no such thing. It is just a burble. "Join the Twitter burble." That's what that man on Q&A should say each week. And if he did, I would answer, 'No, I won't - and even if I did you probably wouldn't let me join properly. You'd probably say, "That's not burbley enough, we can't show something that doesn't burble properly." So instead of joining the Twitter burble, as you are apparently inviting me to do, I'd be left pressing my nose eagerly against the window - or screen - of the Twitter burble. I'd be on the outside, wishing I could be inside. So it's actually a false invitation that you're giving me. In fact, it's a misuse of language. We've cleared up the conversation misunderstanding; you've agreed that it's actually a burble, but now we have the problem that the invitation that you're giving me isn't actually an invitation at all."

At that point, the Q&A fan in my house would wake up and ask me why I was shouting at the telly, and I'd say, 'Never mind, it doesn't really matter. I'm just going to take a look on Twitter', and then he'd go back to sleep.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Another Worthy Winner that Didn't

Someone in my family could probably do a round of Mastermind on past Eurovision (Song Contest) entries. Here is one of her favourites, which, she points out, pre-dates Gaga - indeed, it may have inspired Gaga, who knows:

She tells me there are many more where that came from, so, if anyone else wants to plunge into the pit of kitsch and schlock in which she is immersing herself, like some lonely jelly wrestler waiting for a tournament, just let me know and I will get her to supply more of the same.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Winning Isn't Everything

The entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, as my husband insists we call it, (as opposed to Eurovision, as the rest of the family sloppily prefer), from Lithuania in 2006 was, I reckon, the cleverest I've seen. Unfortunately, Eurovision, (oh all right, the Eurovision Song Contest,) is about many things - mainly disco beat, bright flashing lights and batty costumes - but being a smartarse is not one of them. It got my vote though, (especially the bit with the man in a suit and the fiddler):

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Little Book of Calm

Some time ago I mentioned some of the horse books that I grew up with. One that I did not include then but which was once very important to me was The Manual of Horsemanship, a text I prized as a child:

The Manual of Horsemanship is probably the first piece of surrealist literature I ever read; that is, it is a work of total fantasy, written from a point of view of profound seriousness. It is a piece of fiction from beginning to end, a collaboration between the author and the reader in which they both pretend that it might be possible to turn the essentially chaotic business of dealing with a large living animal into an orderly affair, provided precise rules are followed.

It begins by taking the living, spirited being it is dealing with and turning it into a diagram:

(Once everything is labelled, one feels much more in control, even if a combination of fetlock joint, pastern, coronet and wall of foot does combine with an impulse from whatever it is that lies beneath the poll to kick you in the ribs.)

Having drawn and quartered, if not hung, the enemy, so to speak, the book proceeds without any further mucking around to describe the operation of getting on and getting off a pony, ("Because it is the recognised official Manual of the Pony Club it is not considered necessary to substitute the word 'horse' for 'pony' in all sections where either word is equally applicable", by the way), and all the interim procedures.

It continues, alternating between statements that might seem almost as appropriate in a book of Zen Buddhist technique ("Every aid requires the complete harmony of body, legs and hands", "If this system is carefully adhered to, the rider will find these exercises falling into his lap, as a ripe plum does from a tree", "If the rider takes a great deal of trouble in the initial stages of training, he will reap great benefits as time goes on. It is wishful thinking to imagine this high standard of training can be achieved in a short time. It is not possible") and instructions that a) beg the question of the point of the whole exercise - "The greatest difficulty in equitation is to keep the horse absolutely straight" - and b) presuppose a world very unlike the one in which most of us live, a world where you are part of a discerning elite ("knowledgeable horsemen and women will not use bad or coloured saddlery, neither will they neglect the care of their own saddlery") and have access to "your own veterinary surgeon" and your own "well-conducted hunting stable".

There are enigmatic diagrams that seem to explain everything and nothing, (mostly the latter):

(These two remind me of the kind of thing you sometimes see in American literary criticism - The Narrative Patterns in Jane Austen's Oeuvre: Characters and the Maze):

and diagrams which make the difficult look easy:
There are instructions for doing things that could never be done while holding a book in one hand (this comment actually applies to almost the entire text):
Best of all the reader is presented with a whole programme for living:
Every eventuality is covered and, provided rigid discipline is observed, all will be well. I find this impossible fantasy very soothing. My children had Hogwarts; I had a dream of stable (in all senses of the word) routine.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Things I Found on the Internet - from April to mid May

This is like some horrible thriller that you reach the end of and think, 'Thank heavens things like that don't go on in the real world.' More here.

I love these gifs, which I found via this. I also found this, which, naturally, I feel very enthusiastic about (hem hem), at David Thompson.

I quite like George Saunders, although I wouldn't describe myself as an unalloyed fan. However, I found this article about him interesting, in part because one passage in it triggered instant recognition from me. The passage is about this new thing called the Internet and how we are learning to deal with it:

"I'd get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialled 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully."

This prompted me to look at everything - everything - afresh. Now I want to try to collect some local friends for the creatures on the list.

It was all Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, ooh what a clever one, on the spurious-ish grounds that it might have been the anniversary of his birth (or not). Being mildly contrary, I therefore thought it might be as well to remember that Charles Dickens also provided his two bobs' worth when it came to coinage.

My dad was involved in espionage but he always struck me as someone who might have been happier doing something artistic - now I discover that all the time he probably was.

Once again Twitter has thrown up - no, not like vomit, like on the shore with a tide - a number of entertaining and interesting things. It led me to this (make sure you read all the way down), which then led me to this, which reminds me of Seinfeld's Letters from a Nut, one of my favourite books ever. It also gave me this, which is funny, and this, which is beautifully eery, (as is this) and this, which I don't even begin to understand but, as it contains a scientist saying this: "There could be a mirror world where interesting things are going on", I find it fascinating.

This struck me as relevant to the question of gender and irreversible decisions to change gender being made when very young, something that I worry may often be the result of an increasing push to categorise and then to shut down any possible discussion. Why is it necessary to built a category for every human variety? In a similar vein, I heard someone on the radio outlining the way in which the category bi-polar has been expanded to include all sorts of variants, many of which sound worryingly like me on a bad day. Humans are weird. I think that's the only category I can sign up to wholeheartedly, especially since reading yesterday in the newspaper that schizophrenia may be caused by an inflammatory condition, preventable using aspirin

I lost many hours to this Austrian archive, especially its old editions of the Wiener Salonblatt, copies of which Patrick Leigh Fermor mentions in Between the Woods and the Water were always lying about in the households he visited in Hungary and Transylvania. The job of sub-editor for Wiener Salonbatt must have been very demanding, given that the people who appeared in it were all hung about with titles to the extent that any picture caption ended up taking up almost as much space as the picture itself.

This reminded me of this.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Sad Neglected: Books Unfairly Overlooked - The Long Prospect by Elizabeth Harrower

I suppose it is wrong to call this a sad neglected book, since my copy is part of the admirable Text Classic series of reissues. On the other hand, I did get it in the remaindered bookshop and I have never heard anyone talk about it or its author. Which is evidence of just how nuts the book world is right now.

I loved this book. I loved it particularly because I'd just come from trying to love a book called The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, who, I'd discovered, is Australia's most successful author, if success is counted by sales (and for a writer really what else matters - if people don't pick up your book, you might as well not have written it, after all, [speaking of which, you might like to take a look at this]).

Anyway people are gobbling Morton up, so I got excited and thought I might enjoy her work too.

But I was wrong. Sadly, my only reaction to Morton's work was disappointment. Horrible, mind-numbing disappointment. The prose was dull, there was no insight or attempt to plunge into human psychology. No character had enough depth to be even faintly interesting. There was no feel of authenticity to the novel, on any level, just page after page of drivel about 'one of those heavenly summer days when the sky is blue and the breeze is warm and you just know there is something exciting waiting round the corner' and situations where 'each woman knew in her heart that it was the last time the one would ever see the other' and an unremitting stream of cliches, with characters being 'bundled unceremoniously' and waking 'at the crack of dawn' and finding a puncture 'plain as day', which doesn't bother them, because 'they were young and in love'.

And then there's the dialogue, which banal doesn't really do justice to:

"'I am feeling poorly.'

'Don't want pudding?'

Laurel shook her head, halfway to the door, 'Early night for me, I'm afraid, terrible to be ill tomorrow.'

'Can I get you something else? Paracetamol? Cup of tea?'

'No', said Laurel, 'No, thanks, except, Rose...'


'The play?'

'...You are a funny thing', said Rose with a lopsided smile" -

(and what the hell is a lopsided smile anyway - you have no idea how long I've stood in front of the mirror trying to work it out).

Strangely enough The Secret Keeper and The Long Prospect do have faint parallels, which possibly made the contrast between them seem more striking and the injustice to Harrower more obvious. Both books are about the same thing - an adolescent girl who is put under  a lot of strain by those who should be protecting her. However, whereas Laurel, the adolescent of Morton's novel is demonstrated to be in emotional turmoil thus:

"Laurel meanwhile took to nail-biting in earnest"

Emily, the protagonist of The Long Prospect, is portrayed with intelligence, wit, understanding and depth.

Harrower doesn't bother with some lousy plot about cake knives (why should I care who it was plunged into or why, when I can't even begin to believe that the plunger or the plunged-into exist, except as little black smudges of words on the pages of Morton's novel?) She swaps the narrative propulsion of wondering whodunnit (inasmuch as anyone does wonder) for wisdom and insight. Her story is a brilliantly observed parable, highlighting the way that children are essentially prisoners of the families into which they are born, trapped by the narrow horizons of those who have the responsibility to raise them.

Emily is a child who 'longed to be in a climate of effort where people strove, where mathematical precision would eventually arrive at the answer to all questions, and where warmth and kindness and love were everywhere, but mainly over her', but  who goes to a school where she is surrounded by a class who 'noted through eyes in the top of its hydra-head a way of sitting or of speaking that might be branded different from the norm. The imitation of any such discovery ... occupied its lunch hour' and is surrounded at home by people who would 'even laugh at Shakespeare'.

She lives with Lilian, her grandmother, about whom the best that can be said is that a'certain quantity of alcohol brought out in her a kind of mellow fruitiness that was the nearest she ever came to any kind of charm'.

Paula, Emily's mother and Lilian's daughter, lives in Sydney but visits occasionally and, apart from the rather odd circumstances of her marriage - her husband lives in a country town, where he works, but they are not planning to divorce - is a strict conventionalist. Thus, when Emily becomes very fond of Max, Lilian's lodger and the first person to pay proper attention to her, Paula is quick to accept Lilian's intimations that the relationship is odd. She has in any case already made up her mind about Max:

"She could see that under that nice-seeming manner, he thought, and wanted to talk and stir things up. It quite made her shake when people were like that. Only drunks were like that - but he wasn't a drunk. The only thing left for him to be was peculiar..."

Max, of course, is not peculiar; he is simply nice enough to recognise that the people who are supposed to look after Emily, do not in fact look'after her in any  respect was as if, being young, her connexion with the human race was very simply discounted.'

No matter. Emily is wrenched away from him. Thereafter, she works 'with fanatical thoroughness' at school, she becomes at home 'unobtrusive as a shadow', but 'under the listless surface was a hot gushing, weak but uncontrollable animal that lifted its arms and exhausted her with meaningless tears - when she broke an old saucer for instance; at any sudden noise or small accident.'

In the final pages of the novel, Emily appears to reach some new level of understanding. Our last glimpse of her, 'sapped, hollow, belatedly obedient', is, I hope not of a defeated creature but of one who knows that she has to serve time before she can escape.

Harrower's description of the careless blundering of much human life is horribly accurate, while her ability to convey Emily's emotions and character is wonderful. She also has a gift for finding the perfect descriptive phrase for objects. After reading this book, I will never look at a 1950s beehive hairstyle again without recalling Harrower's depiction of one character touching 'the wickerwork of her lacquered hair', while from now on whenever I see a palm I will think of her remark that they look like 'overgrown pineapples'.

The story of Emily and Max, in this age of moral outrage and panic about paedophilia, touches some familiar, if unsettling, chords. The vivid portrayal of Emily in particular is a great achievement, and I find myself longing to know that she ends up faring well in her later life. I suppose the Paulas and the Lilians of the world are the ones who read Kate Morton. For the Emilys and Maxes, I'm glad that Harrower is there to fill the gaps.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Geopolitics of Whitegoods

Our washing machine and our dishwasher both stopped working within days of each other. If I weren't such a trusting person, I might have begun to wonder about conspiracies of built-in obsolescence. Instead, I called a man and fixed a time for him to visit. I thoght he was coming round to fix the machines. Sadly, he was under the impression that he was there to pronounce their last rites. Which he did, with the immortal phrase, 'They're buggered love, that'll be $132, I don't take cards.'

So off we went, as we do every five to ten years (used to be the latter, now getting increasingly more usual that it's the former) to the big store out in the industrial suburb where you find this kind of stuff. As we wandered the aisles, we were soon joined by a cheerful fellow called Rakib Khan, who set about advising us on what we should buy and what we should avoid.

Basically, his advice came down to the simple principle that stuff made in Asia is, as he put it, 'absolutely no good at all.' Even Turkey was really Asia, apparently, and out of the question. Only European workers had the skill and the work ethic and the all-round craftsmanship to produce an appliance we could think about buying. China, Korea, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, the workers of all these great nations and many more in the region were swept aside. Only Germans and Scandinavians were worthy of our consideration. We took his advice, shelling out far more than we'd planned to. When I got home, I remembered the stamp at the back of a cupboard we've got that was built in the 1920s:

Some things never change.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Words and Phrases - a Continuing Series

Someone called @johnemcintyre has just tweeted this excellent piece of advice:

'Every time you delete the word "iconic," a sentence becomes more succinct and marginally less annoying.'

Some people might even say that that is an iconic tweet.

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Recently a noisy section of the population has been spending a lot of its time nagging the rest of us about not wasting food. The presumption is profoundly annoying, to me at any rate. Speaking as a person who, having brought home a chicken, has never allowed it to feature in fewer than four meals minimum - ditto any other morsel of edible substance brought into the household - I am insulted at the suggestion that I throw money around at the supermarket just so I can throw food in the bin at home. I do not need chiding or advice on this subject, but I get it anyway. and it drives me mad, especially as I thought I'd escaped the phenomenon by leaving Great Britain to return home to Australia as soon as Gordon Brown and his meddling interfering cohort began lecturing the populace on their wicked foodwasting ways.

But now the hectoring has reached our shores. It's enough to drive you to drink. Except that that too is off limits. The notion that the odd alcoholic beverage might help get you through the stresses of life seems to be considered barbaric in some vociferous circles these days, (and yet no-one can explain to me what alcohol is for if it is not for easing strain). Someone has even written a book about how horrid people were to her when she decided to lay off the bottle for a year. I know this because the book was discussed solemnly last night on the First Tuesday Book Club, (a programme that is in itself an argument for alcohol - I only saw it inadvertently and I doubt I'd have survived it if my husband hadn't kindly supplied me with strong drink [well some wine]).

What concerned me about the discussion of the book - which is called High Sobriety, although I've no idea why I'm giving it free publicity - was the fact that not one person on the panel questioned the decision of the book's writer to drink nothing and to let it be known that she was drinking nothing. Clearly, just as it is annoying if vegetarians when invited to dinner don't just pick out the broccoli and avoid the steak on their plate but instead insist on ringing you up before they come to your house to inform you that they are vegetarians and ensure you make proper arrangements for them, so, if you don't drink but do make a song and dance about it, it can feel to others that you are challenging their decisions, throwing down the teetotaller's gauntlet and expecting a response. If on the other hand, you simply order something non-alcoholic without pointing out that it's non-alcoholic, no-one even notices. And anyway why not just drink in moderation?

But I'll leave the last word to Alice Thomas Ellis who, in a piece called Drink Up in her collection called Home Life, wrote much more perceptively about this subject than me:

"...I once took a child to see a doctor about a verucca. The doctor was bored stiff with the verucca. He looked keenly at me, enquired what was wrong and on hearing that I had sustained a bereavement pressed upon me an unsolicited prescription. Being half-witted, I cashed it in and started on a course of pills which had to be approached warily - one a day for two days, two a day for three days - that sort of thing. After a week of this I found I could no longer read newsprint, my mouth was as dry as a dog biscuit and every time I stood up I fell over. Vodka never did that to me.

Nothing does anything much for grief, but just a little alcohol helps just a little, especially at funerals. A wake would not be the same with everyone standing round, carefully timing his anti-depressants."

Mind you, she goes on to mention that her husband believes women "don't need to drink because they're drunk already." That is a very sobering thought.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Another Slice of Heaven

Having just discovered an email in my inbox from a fellow by the name of Robert Barton, (who I think perhaps works in the same office as George Sanderson who emailed me yesterday and Peter Johnson who emailed me the week before last), informing me that I have a large inheritance waiting for me from a longlost relative, I can't help thinking that it might be rather nice, in heaven, if all these gentlemen were the genuine article and not, as I fear they are here on earth, the noms de plume of a bunch of crooks.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Paw Thing

When I had no furniture except a few old packing cases and a sofa with disturbing stains, I used to try to disguise the true horror of these objects by hurling shawls over them before visitors arrived. In a similar manner, politicians often attempt to disguise rats' nests of disgrace and corruption under anodyne statements of the "I want to spend more time with my family" variety. Most of the time, these verbal shawls are pretty dull. Occasionally though, one comes along that makes you - or me anyway - laugh out loud:

I think it's partly the indefinite article that I like about this. A dog - it just appeared on the hearth rug, we don't own one but suddenly there it was. No wonder she fell over it. Who wouldn't?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Updike Moments

Going through old papers this evening, I came across some quotes I wrote down while reading John Updike's book of short stories called The Music School. 

I don't know why I didn't use them in the post I wrote about the collection. I suppose it's impossible to quote all the great bits of Updike, but since I've got them, I thought I'd add them to the blog. I especially like the first and last:

"the unqualified righteousness with which our own acts, however admittedly miscalculated, invest themselves."

"I imagine warmth leaning against my door, and open the door to let it in; sunlight falls flat at my feet like a penitent."

"His voice was faint and far, like wind caught in a bottle."

Ploughing, "like a slow brush repainting the parched pallor of the winter-faded land with the wet dark colour of loam."

Saturday, 4 May 2013

After Heaven

Having speculated about heaven, I suppose one must also mention the other place, (although only while touching wood, of course).

I think my favourite vision of that unattractive region is the one Lord Redesdale, the father of the Duchess of Devonshire, came up with. He had a horror of anything sticky so, when his youngest daughter asked him what his definition of hell was, he answered, "Honey on my bowler hat."

I learnt this from an exceptionally funny article reposted from the Telegraph on the excellent Patrick Leigh Fermor blog here.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Words and Phrases and Learning the Hard Way

It's taken me a while but I think I've finally decided that theatrical performances billed as 'challenging' or 'confronting', (see here for an example), are best avoided - and if 'burlesque' is mentioned anywhere on the poster, well, that's the clincher. All the 'burlesque' performers of my acquaintance have been somewhat repressed private school girls who seem to think that putting on satin corsets and fishnet stockings will help them transcend their inhibitions and transform them into wild-eyed sirens.

Here's one, getting ready for an evening performance:
By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I hate the phrase 'no-brainer'? I probably have, but there's no harm in making the point again.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Embarassing Moments in Radio I

Whenever a husband is unfaithful, his wife must, naturally, be insulted. However, I think there are degrees of insult and, frankly, John Major's decision to have an affair with Edwina Currie ranks as possibly the biggest marital insult the world has ever known.

Apart from the fact that she is the human equivalent of chalk being dragged down a blackboard, Currie is also so 'in your face' - (to use a phrase that I don't like, but I suspect she's very 'keen' on ['keen' is very Currie, almost essence of]) - about the whole sordid imbroglio. Perhaps it was her finest hour. Certainly she grabs every tiny opportunity to remind us of it. With no thought for poor old Norma, she refuses to leave it alone.

Even on Radio 3, (I know, I thought they never allowed anything unsavoury on that station), she cannot let matters rest. On Nightwaves during a discussion about Thatcher's legacy last week, someone suggested that not many people now remember Major. There was no need to reply, but a simpering Edwina decided to shove herself forward anyway. "Oh I do", she purred into the microphone, topping the horror off with a flirtatious giggle which would make even the strongest among us blench:

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

They're Messing With Our Minds

I mentioned going to see Barbara, a film set in East Germany, a while back. There was one aspect of seeing it though that I didn't go into then.

I'm referring to the dreadful conversation me and my husband had as we were coming home after the screening. He said, 'I know it's ridiculous, but every time anyone got into one of those awful Ladas, I got distracted with wishing they'd all put their seatbelts on' and I said, 'Oh, me too - plus every time Barbara got on her bike, I kept worrying about the fact that she wasn't wearing a helmet.'

In the film we glimpsed the odd East German slogan - 'Believe in the bright future of your fine socialist nation', that kind of maddening exhortation - and at the time I thought, 'Ugh, how absolutely awful'. Now though I realise that those things weren't too bad really. They must have been annoyingly ubiquitous but at least they were too flat-footed and obvious to be genuinely insidious, whereas the messages we've absorbed from our local government have been much more subtle.

I thought I disapproved of bicycle helmets and all other aspects of the state interfering in how I do things, yet somehow, without billboards or megaphones, I've been silently brainwashed. And heaven knows how many other nanny initiatives I am equally meekly in thrall to, all unawares.

It's no good worrying about it, I decide. Instead, I'll seek comfort in a nourishing glass of gin. But even that's hopeless - my head, it turns out, is awash with messages about moderate drinking and government guidelines - and one thing I'm pretty sure of is that it's only when you get to what the authorities would consider immoderate levels of consumption that the comforting qualities of alcohol kick in.