Positively The Last Day Of Summer...

Today might turn out to be the last really warm day of the year. That's what the forecasters say, but, like every other expert, they're fallible.

The seaside towns we breezed through were well busy. Lots of people on the beaches and sprawled outside their beach huts. The first picture was taken on a quiet street in Pevensey Bay, the second in Bexhill...

Dr Zhivago

I didn't care for Dr Zhivago when it first came out; I thought it slow to the point of dreariness and distinctly old fashioned. Also emotionally detached.  Fifty years on (and more) slow has become meditative, old-fashioned has become timeless- and emotional detachment no longer seems such a bad thing.

In fact I can't see much wrong with it. The performances are great. I'd loved to have seen James Mason as Komarovsky (he turned it down) which isn't to say that Rod Steiger isn't more than adequate. Chaplin is sweet, Sharif is soulful, Christie does a wonderful job of turning a dream girl into something real, Guinness is miscast but has his moments and Richardson is a joy. Klaus Kinski puts in a characteristic appearance being dangerous and mad. Russia (actually Spain and Finland and other far-flung places) looks beautiful.

I don't suppose there's any doubt now that Lean is one of the great directors.

I read the book around the time I saw the movie- in a cheap paperback edition with Sharif and Christie and a steam train on the cover- and found it a slog- an attempt to do something Tolstoyan by a writer who wasn't really a novelist. The cheerleaders of the west wanted it to be an enduring classic because it was a wet fish to slap the Soviets with- but I doubt they were right.  Do people still read it? I suppose it's of historic interest and importance. Am I going to re-read it? No. But I'd happily watch the film again.

A Locked Room Mystery

An advertisement for beef pops up on the telly. It features large, oozing slabs of  pink muscle tissue. I am so far gone in veganism now that my instinct is to look away.

I was watching a Channel 4 documentary about the excavation of a Middle Kingdom tomb (formerly a pyramid but the mud brick had melted) in the royal cemetery at Dahshur. The burial chamber- which had belonged to a princess- was secured with enormous granite blocks but had nevertheless been robbed and ransacked. Our presenter tantalized us with this locked room mystery until reaching the conclusion- the only possible one if you rule out teleportation- that the violation must have occurred before the tomb was sealed- and the most likely suspects were the priests. First read the funeral rites, then- when the grieving relatives have gone home-, break open the coffin, tear the body to bits and pocket the loot. This wouldn't have surprised Joan Grant who was of the opinion that Egyptian priests-in all but a few select eras- were ineffectual frauds at best and black magicians at worst.

Fail Better

"Fail better" is a phrase that has escaped its original context and now goes about the world-like a benevolent little gnome- doing good.

I was going to use it in my last (brief) post but I thought Id' better remind myself who said it first and where and why- and when I had the answer I decided it wasn't so appropriate after all.

Author: Samuel Beckett.

Original context: a short (little read) piece about gloomy people visiting a graveyard called "Worstword Ho!" 

Beckett was one of those mid- 20th century artists I fell in love with at university- who have little good to say about the human experience and whose most positive message is that we may, perhaps, have the strength to endure it. They were atheistical, nihilistic- and as a friend of mine put it- "miserable on purpose" They suited the Cold War era- giving expression to its doominess- but no longer serve us as they once did. (Let leaves fall on them. Let them become history. Let them become mulch.) Hitchcock was another and (in some of his moods) so was my beloved Ingmar Bergman. At their best they leaven their negativity with humour.  Beckett was famously controlling about his work- and wouldn't allow productions of his plays to go ahead if they departed from his original mise en scene. How would be feel about a grim little phrase from a grim little novella  breaking free and making like a sunbeam. Would he kick the cat or laugh? I like to think he'd laugh.

As a greater writer put it, "The whirligig of time brings in his revenges."

Must Try Harder

We recycle,  we compost, we reuse, we repurpose, we stash in the hope of re-using or repurposing- and we still manage to fill a big bin every fortnight with stuff that will presumably go to landfill.

Not good enough.

Row, Row, Row...

The sky is cloudless but the air is cold and I wound a scarf round my neck before going out to sweep the leaves on the patio. It's my newest scarf. Odi gave it me for my birthday; it's grey and black and has little skulls all over it.

We asked Julia to clean out the garage a few weeks back when it was raining and not fit for her to be in the garden- and the wicker basket I use for garden waste ended up in the bin- only I spotted it in time and rescued it.  This morning I mended its broken bottom with string. It'll serve for several seasons more.

Before I got going this morning I watched several episodes of Dulce Ruby's show "Waking Realm". She and her guests were talking about extra-terrestrials. Every episode concludes with a twangly, faraway snatch of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"- and I wish I knew who the artist was so I could access the whole thing. I don't mind having it stuck in my head because it's a mantra.

Matters Arising

It sounded like it was raining last night but it wasn't. What I was hearing was the wind in the trees and the leaves falling down.

Julia has been staying in St Ives (the Cornish one) living among locals not emmets (the locals' not altogether insulting- indeed rather pretty- word for incomers and holiday makers.) The estate where her friend lives has a community garden with fruit trees and a skate park in the process of being built and places to sit out and look at the sea; also a big sort of cupboardy thing, well-roofed (I'm not sure if I'm visualising it correctly) with drawers- where you can deposit items you no longer need- like books and clothes and school uniforms- and help yourself to anything you want- and all without money coming into the equation. If we were the horrible creatures the media says we are this would be abused but we're not so it isn't. I call it a vision of the future.

I sometimes ask myself who my favourite living author is. There are several contenders. Ali Smith? David Mitchell? And I always forget about Susannah Clarke because  she keeps a low profile and has only one enormous novel and a collection of short stories to her name- but now she has a new novel out and it sounds different and  fascinating- and I'm putting in an order with Amazon. My favourite living author? Susannah Clarke. Absolutely. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is the only book by a living author I've read more than once. It may also be the only novel by a living author I unreservedly love.

I thought I loved Nicholas Nickleby too but I'm finding it hard to get through on the re-read. It has a wonderful cast of characters- but they're dependent on a central story that's hard to get worked up about. Nick and Kate and their deliciously scatty mother have been defrauded by their wicked uncle- but Nick is a smart lad, clever, talented, successful with women- so any set-back is only going to be temporary and I can't see why we're making such a fuss about it. Besides which he's not terribly interesting and neither is Ralph and Kate is a frightful drip who spends her time suffering nobly and weeping in corners. I care about Newman Noggs and I care about the Mantalinis and I care about Miss La Creevy and I care about Mr Crummles and his touring company (How Dickens loved the theatre!) but Nick and Kate and Uncle Ralph? Meh!


I dreamed that Chris and his Dad (they're the owners of the horses who live in our fields) had asked us to care for a donkey. They said we had to keep it close to the house and watch it  because people would want to steal it- so that's what we did and it made a mess of the garden.

We were discussing donkeys yesterday. Julia said she'd seen a couple of white ones down in the West Country- and we talked about how they have crosses on their backs as a reward for one of them carrying Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Ailz thinks donkeys are distinct from asses and I think otherwise. "Donkey" is just marginally politer if applied to a human being.

Ailz used to call me "Donkey". I thought it was because I was well hung. She said, "No, it's because you eat a lot."

Change of subject- sort of....

I sign a lot of petitions for worthy causes, but I've begun to wonder whether petitioning someone isn't just a way of acknowledging their power and cementing them in place. For instance, the Johnson government is totally half-baked and makes half-baked laws- and aren't I just encouraging it in its self-belief by asking it to change its laws; wouldn't I be better off ignoring them and it?

I haven't made my mind up on that one- but I didn't sign the petition that prompted the train of thought.

We have power. We give it away to so-called authorities. Why? Do we really think they know better?

Authorities, governments, ruling castes, cabals consist of people who lack personal authority- and seek power over others to make up for the deficit.

And dress up their inadequacy in titles, uniforms, business suits and all that malarkey...

A donkey with a big hat on (made the link) is still a donkey.

If we totally ignored government would it cease to exist? Yes, I think it would-

And one day it will.

We've got some growing up to do first-  but we can make a start...

Roll It Round Your Tongue

Kit Malthouse, who is Minister for Something or Other, says we should grass up our neighbours if see them gathering in groups of more than six.

Kit Malthouse: Hmmmn. Or even Mmmmm.  I don't like his attitude but he has such a pretty name...


The  media is a pain. It hardly matters whether its coming from the right or the left (terms that mean less and less) because either way its outlook is so relentlessly materialistic that it misses most of what's going on.

It thinks mainstream politics matters. It thinks the economy is the be all and end all. It respects our institutions. It cannot imagine change that goes beyond the acquisition of better and zippier toys. It thinks Darwin and Freud have adequately described the world.  It's interest in spirituality is limited to the ignorant things that  ignorant men in dog collars have been saying.