Thursday, 26 June 2008

Ne Faites Pas Ça!

Being a baptised, confirmed, ordained and shortly to be beatified Francophile, I just love this. She makes me laugh every time she says, "Don't do that!"

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


The more observant of you might have noticed that I have added a link to my Friends list; OneBook.

Its descriptor summarises its intention - 'If you could read one book…'

I, being a baldy of little brain, submitted the following which, I now realise, falls outside of the rubric so it was not posted. However, it deserves a wider readership. Not my writing, but that of which I write.

Adam Thirwell, ‘The Last Flippant Writer,’ an introduction to Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Vintage, 2005

I fear the book I wish to comment on does not exactly fall off the radar screen of required reading. It is Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories. However, it is introduction to the Vintage imprint, published in 2005, by Adam Thirwell, entitled ‘The Last Flippant Writer’, that caught my attention.

It is a very accessible analysis of Kafka’s writing, beginning with a definition of what Kafkaesque is and isn’t.

Kafkaesque is, to quote Thirwell, ‘the spirit of the non-serious – evasive, ironic, flippant.’ It is not the description of a man who is ‘a genius, outside the ordinary limits of literature, and a saint, outside the ordinary limits of human behaviour’.

Kafka’s discovery is that ‘Plots are so tiny, so small… that so much less was necessary to create a story than people had thought.’

As a writer, this is a liberating thought. The idea that detail, the floss traditionally extended to drive the narrative or create atmosphere, may itself constitute the story and so need fulfill neither function creates a delicious ambiguity. ‘Everything could be both, or neither, at once.’

Thirwell roots Kafka’s style in the experimental fiction of turn of the century European literature. He specifically refers to is the Swiss-German writer, Robert Walser.

‘From Walser, Kafka learned … that a story did not have to have a stated moral. It could be smaller, and evasive – it could be an exercise in style instead.’

Much of the mythology that has grown up around Kafka Thirwell attributes to Max Brod, a good friend who was charged by Kafka to destroy all his unpublished work. Fortunately, Brod refrained; less fortunately, he became Kafka’s first and most influential interpreter.

According to Thirwell, Brod ‘had a theory of a Great Writer’; someone who ‘is seriously racked by metaphysical doubt, a seer with a message for troubled humanity, a person preternaturally sensitive to pain and suffering.’

Add Brod’s desire to posit Kafka as a Great Writer to the author’s premature death and one can understand how Kafka becomes bracketed in the romantic ideal depicted in The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis.

Thirwell’s introduction, ‘The Last Flippant Writer’, runs to just 28 pages, a length one can comfortably read in-store at Waterstones or Borders so there is no need to buy the book. I would urge every writer, wannabe or published, to read this gem of literary criticism. It is, above everything, a Class A stimulant for the creative imagination.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Sun has Got His Hat On. Hip, Hip, Hip Hooray!

Amazing how you can wake up feeling miserable then, within a matter of hours, feel like kissing every person you meet. (This is Brighton, so it is permitted.)

To bring you up to date, I toddled off to court, arriving five minutes late as my dear ex-wife had rung to wish me luck just before I was about to leave which took all of fifteen minutes.

So, sweaty from my accelerated walk as well as with nerves, I arrive in the waiting room and immediately spot my adversary, the landlord's agent. To spare his blushes, I will call him by his initials, TC. (They also happen to stand for Top Cat. Very appropriate as you will see.)

He is of a similar age to me and a most agreeable individual. He has plucked my ass from the flames a couple of times before.

So we chat. I explain the situation, he scratches his head. A good sign. The ball is in his court. He bounces it a couple of times.

"I need to refer to the umpire [i.e. his counsellor]," he says. "If she doesn't turn up in five minutes, I will adjourn the case."

I swiftly make a plasticine model of said counsellor and stick pins in it.

My voodoo fails. The counsellor appears and the two go into a huddle. TC emerges from the huddle.

"I will continue with the repossession order," he says. "However, I will sit on it and then, provided you can clear your arrears by the end of July, I will rip it up."

I can clear my arrears by the end of July. I will clear my arrears by the end of July. I can, I will. I will, I can.

As for TC, he is Top Cat.

On the Rails or Should that be the Road?

I am in deep depression. Not of the form that I have described before whereby it creeps over me unbeknown, but in a shape that I can identify while it gathers.

I have to go to court today to hear the joyless news that I will be kicked out of my flat/appartment.

It is, needless to say, my own fault as I have got behind with my rent.

However, I am in a position to pay off my arrears and, because I now have a regular income, will be able to maintain payments for the foreseeable future.

I have lived here for ten years. The longest I have lived anywhere in my life. It means nothing. The fact I can pay my back rent means nothing. I as an individual am nothing. My worth is defined purely by numbers on a balance sheet.

My personal problem is nothing compared to those faced by millions across the globe. I try to keep it in context.

That said, my problem is similar insofar as it is symptomatic of an attitude that reduces people purely to an arbitrary paper value. The only transcendental worth today is money, a social construct of material exchange that now measures every step of every individual on the planet as though we were all machines incapable of emotion or fault.

The true wonder of humanity, to me, is its capability of making mistakes. Of being wrong. If it were not so, if we had lost our endless curiosity, and hence our fallibility, we would never have progressed. We would certainly not be worthy of love. We say we love this or that machine, but do we? Do you really love your computer? Your car? Your washing-up machine?

Love is not born out of the perfection of the person, but the imperfections. It gives us our point of contact. We can understand the other because we can identify the faults that we recognise in ourselves. Or we believe we can. It makes the other human, like ourselves. It makes the other endearing. It makes us endearing. Capable of being understood. Capable of love.

I will let you know how it goes. I will also, as promised, blog about the wonderful holiday I had at Stuart and Gabrielle's heaven in France.

Friday, 13 June 2008

The Stork Has Landed!

Slightly post the event, I have to announce the early arrival (by ten days) of my second granddaughter, Katie.

She was born at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 4th June 2008, weighing 7lb 7oz – I think.

So, much love and congratulations to Emily, Danny and sister Amy.

(The reason for the delay is that I have been away on holiday in France, of which more later.)

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A Thousand Groans of Unrequited Love

I was in love when I was five. Or I may have been slightly younger. I can't remember precisely when I first met her. Her name was Marie-Clare. She was one day older than me.

Of course I wouldn't have called it love then. I didn't know what the word love meant. But she felt like an extension of myself. I was a part of her, she a part of me. So it was love.

Her father, like mine, was in the army. Hers was a lancer, mine an infantry officer in the East Surrey Regiment. We were in Malaya as it was then know, or Malaysia today. It was the time of the so-called troubles. So-called, I believe, because to have called it anything more accurate, like a war as in the war in Vietnam that was to follow, would have called into being treaty obligations that Britain couldn't face or probably couldn't afford at the time. It was in the early fifties and this country was still recovering from World War II.

My father had volunteered for the war and stayed on as a regular after. It was brave of him to return to Malaysia. Brave beyond belief. He had been captured at the fall of Singapore and spent three years as a Japanese prisoner of war on the infamous Burma-Siam railway. A situation made all the more painful by the fact he had grown up in Rangoon. His grandmother was Burmese, making him a quarter Burmese. Making me an eighth Burmese. My left arm is Burmese. Burma had held happy memories for him till he had to work on that railway.

My father should never have gone to war. He had a stone in his kidney, which, I believe, is one of the most painful conditions possible. It was so painful even the Japanese gave him pain killers. Or so I am told. Perhaps it is a piece of family mythology. The stone in his kidney wasn't. I saw the scar.

Marie-Clare. We breathed the same air. I don't think adults understand the intensity of feeling, the purity of passion, that small children experience. At that age emotion cannot be rationalised. It is experienced as concretely as a No 25 bus. There is no self-reflection, no analysis, no gnawing doubts. It just is.

I used to go to Marie-Clare's home everyday. She and her younger sister, Henrietta, had a governess, Miss Black. So I would join them for 'classes'. I cannot remember a single detail concerning Miss Black. Neither her age, height, the colour of her hair, nor how she dressed. Nothing. I just remember this warm snuggly feeling. A glow. An envelope. Somewhere safe. Someone who allowed us to be happy, who responded to us as children and encouraged us to be children. Not small adults.

I recall once making ice-creams out of the cone shaped receptacle of some flower for the fairies in the garden. This was Malaya, remember, so the vegetation was very exotic. Still is no doubt. As was the wild life.

Another incident I remember is of us children shrieking with delight and terror and jumping onto the girls' bunk beds because a snake had been found in the house. Snakes were commonplace. And also very dangerous, the most common being kraits, or bungarus, relatives of the cobra.

My mother tried to warn me of the dangers.

"Davey," she said, "if you ever see a snake you must run away as fast as you can."

"I can kill it easy," I replied, a macho four year old at the time.

It was not the response she wanted to hear. Sigh. However, I am still here.

Marie-Clare, one day older than me, and I were engaged. I can't remember when or where we agreed to get married. But we did. I vaguely recollect being with her under some building - lots of the older buildings were raised above the ground because of termites, snakes, etc. I am sure we were discussing our nuptials at the time. If I remember correctly there was a tiny but perfectly formed hornets' nest housing huge and perfectly lethal hornets dangling from the underside of the building. We didn't stay long.

And we never got married.

One day Marie-Clare told me she was going to Hong Kong. I had never heard of Hong Kong. It sounded like the noise of a cowbell to me. I didn't take her seriously.

But one day she was gone. To Hong Kong. Suddenly it shed its musical ring to sound more like a knell.