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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Holiday reading

I get up every morning and cycle for the bread in the teeth of an Atlantic gale. The rest of the day is spent dodging the weather. Not since a holiday thirty years ago in the long-gone land before children have I read as much as I have this week. It's one of those things that repays practice.

First, Through A Glass Darkly, Nigel Jones's biography of Patrick Hamilton, from which he emerges as a charmless snob - but we expected that, didn't we? He goes to the Daily Worker to write pieces in praise of Stalin. His mate Claud Cockburn already does so under the name "Frank Pitcairn". I love the idea of public school educated intellectuals sitting in pubs trying to come up with prole names for themselves.

Then Duncan Hamilton's "Provided You Don't Kiss Me: 20 Years With Brian Clough" which is entertaining enough but still can't come up with a reason for why he was so special other than the fact that he was a quote machine. I wonder whether he actually was any great shakes as a coach or just happened to find himself attached to the right group of players at the right time. Nobody knows what coaches do in the first place which is amazing when you consider how much ink is spent speculating about it.

I wish somebody would write a decent post 9/11 thriller. Richard Flanagan's "The Unknown Terrorist" isn't it. The only thing I can remember about it is that in Australia men's swimming briefs are known as "budgie smugglers".

I read the first part of Ian McEwan's "On Chesil Beach" in the New Yorker ages ago. I read the novel in about the same time as the action it describes. Because of the nature of the story's, er, climactic event, it may never be filmed, I fancy.

By this time I'm getting into my stride and I approach Janet Frame's autobiographical trilogy "An Angel At My Table" intending to read her childhood memoir and see how we got on. I ended up reading all three because since she's been so honest it seemed rude not to stay with her. Michael Holroyd says it's one of the great auotbiographies of the 20th century and I wouldn't disagree.

"Moondust" by Andrew Smith is a quest to meet the men who walked on the moon before they all die. The quest is not as interesting as the amazement you feel that they managed it in the first place and the wonder at the inexperience of the people charged with making life or death decisions. During the launch of Apollo 12 the rocket was hit by three lightning strikes, which caused all the electrical systems to go haywire in a way that none of their drills had envisaged. Before aborting the mission the Controller turned to John Aaron, the man in charge of the electrical system and asked him what to do. Aaron said "Try A-C-E", which is a bit like hitting "reset". They did and all their signals came back. But here's the thing about John Aaron. He was 24.