Monday 30 January 2012

The worst of Bath

Jane Austen Persuasion book cover
I'm on to Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last novel though only the second I’ve read. Of them all, this story has always been my favourite, being more introspective and darker than the rest. I remember two adaptations; a recent ITV production with Sally Hawkins and an older BBC effort with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. It is - again - incredibly romantic; I can see why Austen has such a following. It’s bitingly funny too:
The worst of Bath was the number of plain women. He did not mean to say that there were no pretty women, but the number of plain was out of all proportion ... there certainly were a dreadful multitude of ugly women in Bath.
And sometimes, just biting:
He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him ‘poor Richard,’ been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.
Ouch, she’s hardly sentimental! One mild complaint, more of a thought, and not of the book; Anne is described as plain yet Sally Hawkins is anything but. To digress a little, neither is Ruth Wilson in Jane Eyre, and Toby Stephens was a little too good looking for Rochester. They’re all supposed to be, if not plain, certainly not striking. It’s a familiar failure; with respect to physical attractiveness, the source is often ignored - has it always been this way? Have we so little faith in character, or is it that producers - perhaps rightly - have so little faith in us?

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Ethan Frown

Ethan Frome book cover
On an impulse, having seen a tweet mentioning Ethan Frome and with almost nihilistic expectations, I decided to read the book. I’ve not read any Edith Wharton before though I’ve seen the odd adaptation. I even dug out a copy of The Age of Innocence in expectation of reading it next, then put it aside; Ethan Frome is crushing, but not in a good way.
Hey Mrs. Kinetta, are you still inflicting all that horrible Ethan Frome damage on your students?
-- Grosse Pointe Blank
So now I can appreciate Martin Blank’s comment. Perhaps a tale of what, for one individual, might have been if not for circumstance, is darker than one where our end is certain? In some ways I found it more depressing than The Road, yet though I could tell it was well-written, beautiful, tragic and so on - and it is all these things - it was also that rare case of knowing a good book but not feeling it.

Wednesday 18 January 2012


Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.
-- David Cameron
It’s a week of imaginary fights, or appears to be. Odd how that bastion of equality, otherwise known as The Labour Party, managed to avoid settling the issue in all the years they were in power, yet its supporters still feel able to use a reported rebellion against the Prime Minister’s plans to legalise gay marriage, as the stick with which to beat the Tories. I don’t doubt the rebellion is real, nor however do I doubt the objections - often on a religious basis - are cross-party.

Ed Miliband fights
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband’s war with Len McClusky may not be entirely phony, but there must be plenty in the Labour party toasting the general secretary of Unite, for giving the leader of the opposition the appearance of having a backbone. Ed’s offence was to face reality and accept the freeze on public sector pay; far more impressive - and to be honest, more fun - was the stand-off that followed with a union dinosaur. Rwooooarr!

It might be enough, but I don’t think can rest quite yet. Michael Gove may have to repeat his efforts of earlier; “I’ll keep you in the game”, he said to Labour, whilst buying a yacht for the queen, “but I’m not going to throw it for you”. Unfortunately he didn’t say that, also it turned out his attempt wasn’t quite as determined as The Guardian made out, who failed to make clear the salient detail that no taxpayer money - or as The Guardian likes to call it, government money - was proposed. It’s almost like they wanted to start a fight.

Saturday 14 January 2012


I should confess my culpability; in adversity will I prove to be the good person I have always imagined or hoped? I finished Any Human Heart on Friday. I don’t think “profound” so apt, but certainly moving; sad stories are the best, those I remember anyway. Is “sad” a deserved label? I remember that same empty feeling having read Doctor Doolittle as a child, sad because it was the natural end of things, but there’s more to William Boyd's novel than that.
John refuses to patronize pubs with royal or aristocratic appellations as a matter of principle.
I’ve noticed a week or so will elapse before I pick up my next book, and again I’ve no idea what I’m going to read. Logan rates Gogol (a recommendation from a fictional character!) or there are traditional classics from such as Dickens or Hardy - I like a bit of tortured soul. They jostle for position and I’m increasingly aware of how little I’ve read, but I tell myself there’s plenty to keep me busy. Then there are those I have; numerous writers telling me how little I know. As a teenager I was all maths, science gave a kind of certainty to the world, yet now I often feel the opposite; it describes everything, telling me nothing. Muriel Rukeyser wrote “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms” - bloody poets.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Decline and fall

We don't want to know that 'Hitler invaded Poland' - we're more curious about what you had for breakfast. Unless you happened to be there, of course, when Hitler invaded Poland and your breakfast was interrupted.
-- Any Human Heart
I'm finding all this blogging malarkey rather hard going at the moment; it must be what happens when I try to read and write at the same time. I am at least making progress with Any Human Heart, as slow as predicted but on the finishing straight. Logan Mountstuart; once annoying, objectionable even, becomes more interesting with his inevitable decline. Only that’s not really it, he's always of interest; I think I'm naturally drawn in by the end of things, and I have a feeling this is leading somewhere profound. It's good advice though, this blog was started with a similar sentiment but as the years pass, meanders all over the place.

I'll have to think more on this too; the fall of The Roman Empire, the mass suicide in Demmin, those two off the top of my head but why this theme? It's something to do with how we handle hardship, what it says of our character, our ability to control our own destiny and our choices or lack thereof. How, though most can be giving when times are good, it's how we act in adversity that reveals our true nature. With that in mind I should probably stick to the news, for now.

The trouble is I can't remember what I was doing when Diane Abbot made that racist comment last week, and much as I try to be upset, I'm not. It was, regrettably, the fun involved in seeing her wriggle out of "white people love playing divide and rule", and the unfortunate slip of the keyboard the following day when Ed Miliband, having given the miscreant a "dressing down", referred to the recently deceased Bob Holness as having presented "Blackbusters". Then there's the Scottish referendum on independence - the SNP says it wants one, the UK government wants to take measures to ensure its legality and (as we've come to expect) Alex Salmond still finds something to complain about; such childish nonsense yet what can I say that's of any worth? Logan records that world events - such as his wonder at men walking on the moon - are poorly served by his journal when there are far better sources; better, his friend tells him, to concentrate on the minutiae. Only, I don't have breakfast.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Tuesday morning, 1 A.M.

It took me a while to find some sleep last night, until early into the morning, to the point of being able to mark off the time at which I realised I could now breathe more or less properly; my cold can be downgraded to a sniffle, and I always seem to have those. My daughter is back in school and I am back in work - at least she gets half-term and a long summer holiday. However, despite this and my latest cold wiping out the latter part of Christmas, the sheer relief leaves me wildly optimistic I can complete the week in one piece - well, it’s only four days.

I shall use the calming/chloroforming power of television, a long list of unwatched DVDs and a plea that we didn’t get round to watching much - to extend the festive period for one more week, or until I finish season two of The Wire, whichever comes sooner. In-between I plan to sneak in more of The Misfits, Friday Night Lights and Blu-ray presents Das Boot, The Wild Bunch and all those films I always say I’ll make sure to watch on iPlayer but somehow never do. Unrealistic wishes aren’t just for Christmas, though I think I can safely say I’ll finish those mince pies.

Monday 2 January 2012

The altar of something must be done

I rarely drink but I know a few who do, some a lot, and I’m not so removed from the world as to deny the problems of binge drinking. I am however detached enough to avoid the temptation of believing everything can be fixed, that something is always better than nothing. The “something” in this case is a plan to impose minimum prices on alcohol. From The Independent:
A recent study suggested that a minimum price of 50p [per unit] would prevent more than 2,000 deaths a year. [28-Dec-2011]
William Hogarth - Gin Lane
Here’s the difficulty I have: I don’t believe it. I simply don’t believe that 2,000 deaths per year are caused by binge drinking facilitated (and this is the important bit) by cheap alcohol. What I suspect are thousands of deaths where it has been judged alcohol consumption played a part - the rest being conjecture. Whether alcohol played the significant part might be evidence-based - though I doubt it - what remains is dodgy statistics and wishful thinking. How on earth do you determine the alcohol was low-cost? More than this, how do you determine the elimination of this low cost would have made any difference? Removing low cost doesn’t remove the lowest cost option, it merely changes it; and my limited experience of people intending to get rat-assed is that price doesn’t come into it, if it did they wouldn’t be going to a pub/club to get paralytic; which leads to my other annoyance.

Given “progressive” is a word so in vogue, this is regressive in nature. Minimum priced alcohol is a measure advanced by one section of society with the intent of imposing on another - the poorest, financially. There’s no incentive for those introducing the measure to question the ropey science, since they won’t be affected in any way. It’s an illiberal example of the liberal-styled middle class not helping, but telling the poor how to live - how unusual.