November 13th, 2020

Little Nell Is Dead

In the morning I sweep up leaves. In the afternoon I suffer a bad attack of hay fever. Is there a connection? Probably.


I like to sweep up leaves and furthermore I think leaves need to be swept up- so I don't want to stop. Would it make a difference if I wore a mask? Do I want to find out? Not sure.

The best way of dealing with hay fever is to stay still. The less I move around the less my sinuses bug me. So I sit on the couch and sleep a bit and read a bit.

All that sitting and reading means I've now finished The Old Curiosity Shop. As you may know I've set myself the task of reading all of Dickens' major novels in the order in which he wrote them. My verdict: The Old Curiosity Shop is the best yet.

Pickwick Papers is all but plotless. It carries on until it stops. It's a 19th century sit-com.

Oliver Twist is a brilliant little shocker. Dickens is saying I've shown you I can do comedy, now I'm going to show you I can do this as well.

Nicholas Nickleby is a bit Pickwick, a bit Oliver. It's picaresque with a crime plot mixed in. Sometimes it feels like we're just going through the motions. The leading characters are colourless. I got bored.

The Old Curiosity Shop is where it all comes together. It's very funny, it's very moving (yes, I like Little Nell) and it's thrilling when it needs to be. Quilp is the best villain ever!

It's fascinating to watch how a great writer develops- treading water, trying new things, having off days, surpassing himself. Next up will be Barnaby Rudge.

The Anybody Elses

It appears there's been a battle at the top of the British government. We, the people, have only found out about it after it's been lost and won. The combatants weren't elected politicians, but a faction headed by the PM's chief adviser and a faction headed by his fiancee. The fiancee's party seems to have won. What does any of this have to do with democracy? Not a lot, so far as I can see. What does it have in common with the carryings on of a Tudor or Bourbon court? Quite a lot, I think. The favourite pulls one way, the queen or mistress pulls the other; between the two of them the king is bewildered and befuddled.

When you elect a government in a modern so-called democracy you are in fact electing a monarch and their court. The court will consist of elected officials- who are answerable for their actions, unelected officials who are less so, obscenely wealthy godfathers and godmothers who need to be heeded and appeased or else- and a mixed bag of family members, cronies, lovers, flatterers, creeps, gophers and people who know where the bodies are buried- almost all of them hungry for power. A strong monarch may be able to keep this circus in some sort of order; a weak one- which is what Boris Johnson appears to be- will be pulled every which-a-way.

Come election time all the court wants you to see is the smiley face of the monarch- and the less you see of anybody else the better. But once the votes are in it may well be the anybody elses who get to run the show.