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The Gift

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Anthony Trollope: Power, Land, and Society 1847 - 1980

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Friday, 26 January 2018

The Impulse control of a Bonobo monkey



I sense a ‘clear-out’ looming, and yes we have a great many things we don’t really need. In such instances ‘stuff’ which may once have cost a pretty penny becomes less important than space. I am hopeful though that one battle has already been won.

Books.

I have rooms full of them and the main accusation – that there are books I will never again read—misses the point entirely.

You may as well argue the case for recycling  a Dorset cliff-face for road building, and stuff the palaeontological record. Fossils? Who needs them? We have living breathing animals. Archeology? Waste of time. Why preserve long forgotten Roman mosaics when there’s a housing estate to be built?

Yes, I can appreciate a flaw in the argument. My book collection may appear small beer compared to a major palaeontological find, or an exquisite floor mosaic from 200 AD. But it is not small beer to me.
Every one of these books has a memory or story behind it – even those books I’ve barely read or skimmed.

When I was a student in Swansea, I scoured second hand book shops and built up a good ‘Everyman’ library of some pretty obscure books: The Letters of Lady Mary Montague 1709 – 1762, The letters of Oliver Cromwell, The speechs of William Pitt the Younger, Selected Speechs on Public Questions by John Bright (now that is a dull book) Holinshed’s Chronicles, The Sermons of Hugh Latimer, The Speeches of Disraeli, Ruskin – I could go on to list all fifty-two I eventually bought during my time in Swansea but I’ll spare myself and you from the misery.


Now, I have read some of the more interesting letters from Cromwell, I’ve even, to my shame and in private, read aloud one or two of William Pitt’s war time speeches. They taught me one thing; the man had fantastic breath control with his sentences in search of an ending.  I’ve sampled Hugh Latimer’s sermons, and enjoyed the robust cadance of C16th speech. But I’ve read none of those books from end to end,(other than Lady Montague’s letters – she’s a star)  and it’s likely I’ll never open their pages again. The point is those fifty-two books bring back memories of Swansea and the aspirations of an earnest student.

If I go back further in the geological record, you’re looking at my childhood and early teenage years, pulp scavenged from church bazars, and books I actually bought. No way could I get rid of my James Bond paperbacks, my Michael Moorcock, Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft collections, or my complete set of ‘The Saint’ (yellow paperbacks) by Leslie Charteris.







With regard to the latter, I cheated. I ended my childhood with about a third of ‘The Saint’ books, but Heaven took pity on me. God is a bibliophile. Harewood House has a wonderful second hand bookshop close to the stables. They had every ‘Saint’ book, and I was in heaven. Now was I buying them with the intent of sitting down and reading them all from cover to cover? Quite obviously not.  I was buying back a fragment of childhood. I’d do the same if I ever found a complete set of Biggles!



For those lucky enough to have been born in great Northern Cities like Liverpool, you lived and breathed magnificent Victorian buildings that uplifted the spirit without you always being aware of it. You never felt obliged to explore every floor of those buildings to appreciate them as monuments. Only years later you realise how privileged you were. Much the same is true of books.  Every closed book is a world waiting to come to life. Now I am richer I can afford (and so can a generous wife) fine folio editions of the works of Anthony Trollope. I feel privileged to have them – not because I feel obliged to re-read every one of them.



Memories again.


I did my M. A. on Anthony Trollope and English Landed Society, and in the process read about thirty of his forty-seven books. Paperbacks, heavily annotated and most of them lost. In this respect my Folio editions of Trollope’s Barchester and Palliser series are monuments to a wonderful time in my life. Yes, I will re-read many of them – but I don’t have to. That is the point – other than the fact I’d need another life to read all the books I’ve acquired over the years. And have I mentioned my kindle yet – 900 books or more? What with the daily Kindle deal offering books for 99 pence and a click, the temptation is often irresistible, especially for one with the impulse control of a bonobo monkey: Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum, London, New York, and Ruska at 99 pence each? I may never read them, but they’re there, and it gives me great comfort. I guess I’m a glorified squirrel, but at least my nuts are neatly shelved; an unfortunate image. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool



Last week we went to the Savoy, the finest small cinema in Wales and a mile’s walk from where we live.  The film was  Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and, predictably, as the film came to an end there was a lump in my throat, perhaps even a tear in the eye. That doesn’t mean anything in itself. I’m a bit of a sob-bucket. A well designed advert has much the same effect – to the amusement of my daughter and wife.

The film itself is improbable but true and with a nice irony. In ‘Hollywood world’ it remains the norm for aging male stars to be paired off with young and attractive actresses. In this true story it is the reverse —the real life Gloria Grahame, still highly sexual at fifty-seven, cops off with a young man in his twenties. (Although it must be said, Gloria had form in this department)

An added bonus for me was the film’s location, and I was able to walk the streets alongside its stars.

I walked with them into the Philharmonic – in the film, doubling up as London pub, into Ye Cracke where father and son discuss bacon butties and Gloria Grahame – in fact I’d sat on that same seat more than once. And then there were the terraced streets, those glorious slabs of red brick and shadow that add magic to Liverpool – especially at night, especially in the rain

I knew nothing about Gloria Grahame, nor some of the weird and wonderful actresses who wanted to portray her in the film: Joan Collins, Whoopi Goldberg, and Madonna. I’ll leave you to decide the weird in those three. Thank God they went for Annette Bening.

I did discover that, for her, the #MeToo and designer black dresses came sixty-seven years too late.

In 1950 she was offered the lead in ‘Born Yesterday’ but because she wouldn’t ride unaccompanied in the back of Howard Hughes’ limo, the company immediately dropped her. Like many women of that era, she was bullied into needless plastic surgery, although her own vanity played a part too.  And, like many of her male stars, she had a strong sexual appetite, culminating in a scandal that shocked Hollywood. In time the 'machine’ against her in stories that ‘stuck.’ This is perhaps one of the fairest assessments.


I’ve since mugged up on Gloria Grahame, her performances in ‘A Wonderful Life’ and Oklahoma; noir films like Sudden Fear alongside Joan Crawford and Jack Palance, and In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart, The Big Heat and The Bad and the Beautiful

It's my ambition to see each of these films with Film stars don’t die in Liverpool in mind, for I don’t mind confessing, I found myself falling a little in love with Gloria Grahame* as well as Peter Turner.

*Or was it Annette Bening. Tricky.

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Friday, 5 January 2018

Paddington Bear is from Wales



I can be quite careless in giving and receiving gifts. When my daughter asked some time ago what I wanted for my birthday, I suggested a CD or maybe a book. She is a jobbing actor, and money is tight. She shook her head but said nothing more. A week or two later she told me my gift was arranged, an all-expenses-paid trip to London culminating in a meal in Notting Hill.
You don’t argue with my daughter—I did win the occasional argument when she was a toddler—but I tried to defray the expense. Kind friends visiting a relative in Hammersmith gave me a lift as near to Notting Hill as possible. Enroute they ascertained what kind of pub I enjoyed, and I trotted out the usual things: good ale, a fire . . . some books, the last a throwaway remark.
My friend with the smart phone was busy for a time and then exclaimed in triumph: ‘The Eagle, Ladbroke Grove. It has everything.’
And so I arranged to meet my daughter there via text.
They dropped me off about a mile away and pointed to the road I needed to follow. I was glad of the exercise and walked briskly, swinging my canvas bag—eager to see my daughter, eager, too, for the beer and the fire.  Twenty minutes later, with no sign of the pub, the first doubts emerged. I blocked a guy, who otherwise wouldn't have seen me, and enquired about an Eagle pub. He hadn’t heard of it, but whipped out his phone and checked google maps. It took less than a minute and when he looked up there was respect in his eyes. ‘Just up the road, mate. Quarter of a mile turn right.’
Vindicated.
Relieved, I set off swinging my canvas bag more jauntily. And sure enough, there was the pub – the beer – the fire to the right, and a wall lined with books.
No daughter.
Thirty minutes later a phone call.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the Eagle pub,” I said.
“I’m at the Eagle pub.”
“You can’t be, I said
“I am. Fire to the right, like you said. Book cases. An old geezer sitting near the fire. Thought it was you at first. Tried to convince myself it was.”
Thanks. “We must be in some parallel universe.”
“Not funny. Go ask the bar where you are. Post code.”
To cut the story short I was in The Eagle in Shepherd’s Bush. 


She of course was in the right pub, the Eagle in Ladbroke Grove.


“I’ll come find you,” I said.
“No.” Controlled panic. “Just wait.”
Twenty-five minutes later my out-of-breath daughter arrived and the evening began. I tried to pay for the drinks, London pubs are expensive, and we agreed on sharing, though she triumphantly presented me with a double Talisker just before the final pub closed. The food, Greek, was magnificent and there was still tomorrow to come. ‘A surprise,’ she said.



The surprise was a guided tour of Al Jazeera newsroom halfway up the Shard building. Thank you, Oliver Varney. She knew of my obsession with news and how I flitted between news channels, an addict in between fixes. After that it was pleasantly anticlimactic as we made our way to Victoria station for my coach back to Wales. I felt like Paddington Bear on my way home to Peru. We rambled through Borough Market, (bit smelly)  explored the wonderful St Magnus Church*, and enjoyed a final pint at the Shakespeare pub just a stroll away from the bus.






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On the way home I pondered on what my daughter had given me—more than a gift—an experience. You rarely remember who gives you a book or a CD. You never forget an experience or the generosity from one who has very little. She had given me something else too – an insight into what she considered to be a growing weakness on my part. I was losing my sense of adventure, she said, far too comfortable in front of a keyboard or screen—but always the right one unlike London pubs

*St Magnus was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, though its foundations date as far back as the C12th. It’s also the guild church of ‘The worshipful Company of Fishmongers and the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. It’s been name checked by Dickens in Oliver Twist, and by T S Eliot in The Wasteland”

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‘The walls of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.’
And now it’s been name checked by Baffled Spirit