Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
One writes to another: "It shames my manhood that I am so attached to you. It is a foolish fondness from which no good can come. I have suffered a womanish longing to see you."
When the young Lincoln arrived in Springfield intent on starting to practice law he had nowhere to stay and no money. He went into the general store and asked the young owner if he could be given "the furniture for a single bed" on account. He planned to pay the store back if he made a success of his legal career. The man behind the counter took pity on him and said: "I have a large room upstairs with a double bed and you are very welcome to share with me." Lincoln shared that bed for four years.
At this point the contemporary eyebrow can't help but lift and speculate about the pair's sexuality. Which just shows how far we've come.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I gave up on Vikram Seth's 1349-page "A Suitable Boy" because I wanted to be able to look forward to a time when I wasn't reading it. I abandoned Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" a chapter before the end because it was the only way I could express my contempt for its total lack of the basic suspense it was supposed to be providing. I have occasionally set a book aside with the intention of returning to it. Sometimes I have done so.
In truth the thing I really hate about stopping reading something is the conversation with the GLW.
"Oh, I thought you were reading Book A."
"Just thought I'd have a change."
"Oh." (Heavily loaded, hinting at disappointment at spouse's lack of stickability.)
Anyway, the Kindle changes all this. I used to think its weakness was that nobody knew what you were reading. I now realise that can be a strength. Since I bought it I've read eight books: Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", Jay Z's "Decoded", Keith Richards' "Life", Max Hastings' "Finest Years", David Nicholls' "One Day", Ben Macintyre's "Operation Mincemeat", Rory Stewart's "The Places In Between"and Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money". (I know this because my Kindle tells me.)
More interestingly, I've given up on a further two. Both "The Hare With Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal and "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy were books that were recommended to me by friends. If I'd been reading either of them in actual paperback - laying them on the bedside table at night, putting them in my pocket in the morning - I would probably have stuck with them. But they weren't so I didn't and I have no regrets about it at all.
They're not sitting there curling up with a look of mild reproof. They're still inside my machine. I might return to them at some point in the future, much as I have done with records that didn't make an impression at the time I got them but did many years later. We shall see.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Giles Coren touches on the same subject in today's Times in which he wonders why any sane person would want to live in those new flats built for billionaires overlooking Hyde Park:
These people do not get to go to the shops, to ride the top deck of a bus in the rain, they don’t get to fork over the compost in their tiny urban garden, chance delightedly upon a fiver in the back pocket of their painting jeans or find an old pine table discarded on a skip that will burn in the grate for weeks. They do not get to laugh loudly in the face of possible death while unblocking the gutter on their roof, as Matthew Parris did here on Thursday. They do not get to do anything. Except sit on an expensive chair in a bookless apartment, staring out at a park they are frightened to venture into alone.
I watched Tantrums and Tiaras recently. This is the film about the home life of Elton John. The home life of Elton John appears to be all chrome, glass, expensive table settings and nervous domestics, hovering in the background laughing at one's jokes. I saw enough to know that the only person who would want that kind of home is the kind of person whose wealth and profession cuts them off from the very idea of home. It's as if they've had to get the sheet music to the tune that the rest of us can just whistle. Everybody would like to have more money, of course. If we've got any sense we don't want that money to transform our lives - we just want enough to remove the difficulties from the one we've already got.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I can’t do it. My first instinct is to shoot back, particularly when, as is so often the case, people are not reacting to the words I wrote as much as the words they prefer to think I wrote. This seems to happen increasingly. People appear to want you to have said the thing for which they have a put-down standing by and they can’t pass up the opportunity. The temptation to shoot back and bury them in sarcasm is very powerful. I frequently compose emails which I don't send.
Maybe the solution is to do what Steve Martin did back in the 80s, which was to send a form reply to everyone who wrote in, whether favourable or not, asking them to “keep an extra bunk made up in case I get to YOUR TOWN HERE.” It's the kind of thing that people would treasure without knowing whether they had made their point or not. You can read it along with lots of other fascinating correspondence at Letters Of Note.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
This seems to me the way of the world or at least the television version of the world. I can't understand how television can possibly function if it compromises its single-minded obsession with what things look like. Every TV presenter knows that they occupy a very tenuous position in the hierarchy, a bit more important than the sofa upon which they sit but nothing like as important as the theme tune.
It's not as if it's like real life where competence aces everything else. This is television. If you made it as on-screen talent it's likely that your looks played a huge part in getting you there in the first place and therefore it seems likely that their inevitable decline will play a similar role in your downfall. It's the same if you're in the chorus line at the theatre.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
Both programmes were very big productions which must have cost a lot of money. All TV programmes are very big risks. These must have been bigger risks than most. I assume they can't have realised what disasters they both were until it was too late. It can't have been until they'd devoted months to writing, shooting and stitching together all those tiny character vignettes featuring Walliams and Lucas as stewards, immigration officers and pilots that somebody at the BBC realised that what they'd commissioned was, like lots of TV comedy, sharp, well-observed, edgy and NOT REMOTELY FUNNY. I didn't take particular exception to the stereotyping. Comedy's built on stereotyping. What I do take exception to is things not being funny. Funny's easy to recognise. It makes you laugh.
The obvious response to "Famous and Fearless" was that it featured people who didn't clearly belong under the first adjective doing things that didn't automatically entitle them to be described as the second. I saw Dame Kelly Holmes competing with three women I didn't recognise - and I'm not the least clued-up member of the audience. I bet the commissioners had to be introduced to them. I guarantee that if the people commissioning it had been told that the most famous people they were going to get were Richard Branson's son and a member of Atomic Kitten they would have snapped their cheque book shut, the programme would have gone in the Monkey Tennis file and everybody's reputation would have remained unstained.
Instead they presumably had to see it through. By then they'd spent so much money and executive credibility that there was simply no going back.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Samantha Womack obviously feels a bit closer to her work than the people who write the scripts and says: "What Ronnie has been through is such a crushingly awful thing to even pretend might happen to you. I actually felt ill having to portray it."
Funny that this should happen the same week that the producers of The Archers, which I do follow, decided to throw Nigel Pargeter, arguably the show's most loved character, off a roof. He didn't want to leave but when the fickle finger of ratings was looking for a victim he was the one it was pointing at.
There's a lot of detached talk about story arcs and how difficult this kind of thing is to play but out here in the audience we don't want to know. You've taken away our friend and cast a pall over what is already the most depressing week of the year. We know it's not real. It's a lot more important than that.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
I suspect any form of performance must be pretty much the same. You can't act or sing or juggle if you're worrying about how to do it or trying to do it in a different way. Of all the adjectives that critics employ to show how much they approve of a particular performance the most inappropriate one must be "intelligent". The best performances are the work of an almost empty head. The intelligence was all used up in rehearsals.
That's why interviews with athletes are traditionally so unsatisfactory. They say "I put the ball in the right areas" or "it just came over and I hit it" because that's the truth. Thinking any more about it isn't going to make it any easier to do and they above all know how hard it is to do.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Reading something aloud is the best form of sub editing. It's still the best way of making sure the stress falls on the readers' inner ear the way the writer would like it to. It can be testing. When you ask children to read aloud something they've written they will often read what they meant to write, not the words they actually put down. I've known adults who are just the same.
I'm very envious of those writers who can speak whole sentences into the air and then commit them to the page. All too often in these digital days the temptation is to just put a few words down on the screen and then slowly build them into a passable shape. A lot of music is made in just the same way, which could explain a thing or two.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Near where I live in north London is a medium-sized park. In the middle of the park is what was once quite a grand house. Parts of it are sixteenth century but it was extensively remodelled over the years as successive generations of rich merchants tried to make it more grand or more practical. It has a staircase and some murals that are regarded as being of some note. Once the ownership passed to the local council after the war it became, as I dimly remember, a mother and baby clinic, a cafe and the kind of museum where stuffed birds greeted you with puzzled stares. The exterior of the building was half-timbered but it was about as authentically Elizabethan as the front of Liberty's. It was never a thing of beauty.
In 1984 the building was struck by fire. The council wanted to demolish the building because it was no longer safe and their responsibility. Preservation organisations sprang into action to resist. English Heritage gave it Grade Two Listing. Scaffolding was erected to keep the building up and a fence erected all around to make sure that no over-adventurous kids could get near.
The scaffolding is still there. The council proposed changing the building's Covenants, which were laid down in 1903, to allow some commercial use of a restored house. Whitbread were interested in it being a family restaurant. The local residents objected, claiming that the amount of traffic such a place would attract would make a busy area even busier. In 2003 the building was entered for the BBC programme "Restoration"in which Griff Rhys Jones invited the public to choose which of a number of proposed projects was most deserving. It lost.
In the twenty-six years since the fire all manner of proposals have been examined and discarded. Grants have been secured and very often passed on to professional consultancies. (Nowadays if you want to make a bid for lottery funding you have to hire a professional to do it.) Many of the people who led the original campaign to preserve the building have retired. Some must have died.
The latest initiative comes from the Mayor Of London's Office and involves £500,000 being granted to pay for preparatory and public consultation work about the new proposals which are a combination of restoration of the house with some form of sheltered accommodation in the stable block. If this gets the go-ahead they can apparently find a further £5,000,000 to pay for it. God knows how much further cost has already been incurred holding this building up since 1984.
There's nobody fonder of history than I am. I'm no fan of the wrecking ball. I'm a member in good standing of the National Trust. But if a small attraction like this, which is only ever likely to be appreciated by the small number of people who live locally, can only be maintained by calling upon a fund from a form of central government (either national or local) then it may be time to either do it the way the Victorians did it when they first built our parks - by raising a public subscription among the people who really care - or just letting it slip away.
The Housing Minister today said that in some people's eyes Ringo's house is "a culturally important building". English Heritage have described the house near me as "historically important" and "architecturally unique". These are the kind of baggy phrases that could be extended to justify the preservation of just about anything. In this country nothing is so guaranteed to get the public tear ducts going as the threat of something being removed. Stopping the wrecking ball is the work of a day. Deciding what to do instead can go on forever.
Saturday, January 01, 2011
Recently released audit figures from the United States suggest that the iPad magazine apps which launched in a blaze of glory last year have not built on their success. While the owner base has expanded at a staggering rate, downloads of iPad magazine apps have gone in the opposite direction. Geeks blame this on file size; publishers on the absence of an appropriate subscription model. I think it's a lot more fundamental than that.
The new figures don't merely suggest that the early adopters have not been convinced. They suggest that a lot of people aren't particularly curious to know what a magazine on an iPad might look like. If they were curious the figures would at the very least have sustained their previous levels. Why should they be bothered? If you like reading Vogue or Vanity Fair then one of the things you like most about it is the feel of it under your fingers. An iPad version can only be an expensive second-best. On the other hand if you're a reader of a high frequency, information-heavy title like The Economist, who offer a very good iPad version to their subscribers for free, then you appreciate being able to have it with you at all times.
I just read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom on the Kindle, on my iPhone and on the iPad. Since it syncs across all the different platforms you can set it down on one machine and resume reading at exactly the same point on another machine. Hence I read it far more quickly, and probably with more understanding, than I would have done on paper. Electronic readers are perfectly suited to the efficient absorption of information. They're no good at replicating the idle serendipity of the standard magazine experience.
It's interesting that the iPad application which styles itself "your personalised, social magazine" should call itself "Flipboard" in honour of that very inadvertent leafing.