Sunday, 30 November 2008

Short Story

I stumbled across this, from 1968, on a trawl through my archives this afternoon:

Two men were walking along a forest path late on a midwinter afternoon, in search of a particular village, when they came to a division of the way into three separate directions without any indications.
‘Which way should we go?’ said the first man.
‘There’s no sign of a sign to help us,’ said the second. They pondered for a while. ‘I know, let’s spin a stick, and we’ll follow whichever road it points to.’
There being no better plan, they each went off into the forest to find a suitable stick to spin.
‘I’ve found one!’ cried the first man. ‘So have I!’ cried the second. They met up and compared the two sticks.
‘I found mine first,’ said the first man.
‘Maybe, but mine is straighter.’
‘Which shall we spin, then?’
‘No, I think mine actually.’
By now it was beginning to get quite dark. Suddenly they saw that a stranger, warmly clad and bearing a lantern, had joined them.
‘Can I be of assistance?’ he asked them kindly. The two men explained their predicament.
The stranger thought for a while, toying with the two sticks as he pondered. At last, looking up, he smiled and said:
‘Yes. I come from the village you seek, and so can advise you with some certainty.’
‘Advise us, please,’ said the two men.
The stranger smiled again and raised one of the sticks like a wand.
‘This stick is surely the truer, and will spin beautifully.’
Thus saying he bade them a good evening and continued on his way.

Friday, 28 November 2008


Last week, desperate for something to read on a grey cold damp afternoon, and unwilling to haul myself into Waterstones to load up another forest of pulp, I trawled my bookshelves for something I felt like rereading or hadn't yet read, and, more or less at random, plucked out this Victorian novel. Ten pages in, I was hooked. A hundred, I found myself telling the people off for their unreasonable behaviour or applauding them for their startling unpredictabiliy.

You have to get past the Victorian novelist's language, of course. In this case, not hard. The dialogue is the way in. These people talk like kids today (in their own vernacular). I wanted to give an example, but, skimming, realised that I couldn't, because I know them and you don't. Just think sassy wit.

The discursive passages are harder, but often even more rewarding. Again, I was tempted to quote, but again, I can't, because they lose much of their strength outside the context - and that's their strength! No Dickensian preaching here - the insights grow out of the characters, and where they sit, at that moment, within the story. You never, never think 'hang on, author, you put that in'.

Most of all, the heroine (and narrator), Lucy Snowe. As she tells her story, you're whizzed between her feisty insecurity, her coolness under fire, her intrepid risk-taking, her girly wimpishness - without once feeling that there are any contradictions or inconsistencies. I'm in love with Lucy Snowe.

Actually, apparently this novel is largely autobiographical, arising from the author's unhappy experiences as a teacher in Belgium. So perhaps I'm in love with Charlotte Bronte.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Christmas Shopping

I was going to go into town and blitz this on Friday, swallowing my fears about the expense; but now, obviously, I'll wait until Monday, when I can save two and a half pee on a pair of joke socks for my nephew.... If the idea behind the VAT holiday was to kick-start a pre-Christmas spending spree which would then save the global economy - well, it's not gonna work, is it?
I heard a much better idea on the radio the other day, which was: let's drop vouchers from helicopters.
Longer term, John Maynard Keynes, in the 1930s, suggested that the government should pay half of the unemployed workforce to go around the country burying pound notes, and the other half to dig them up again.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Swell Season

Anyone who's seen the film 'Once' will know the two protagonists, who are also the lead players in this Irish music co-operative who played the Albert Hall to a nearly full house last night - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. (Anyone who hasn't seen the film should).

A great concert. After rather overlong support acts and two intervals, Hansard takes the stage, steps in front of (not behind!) the microphone and performs one of the key songs from 'Once' - just him and his guitar with no amplification, fills the Albert Hall with sound ... Brave man! And of course he has us in his palm after that. Marketa came on and they did a duet (with mics), then the rest of the band, then a two-hour show that seemed to last about thirty minutes.

For me, two highspots: a solo version by Glen of 'Astral Weeks' (the song, not the whole album!), at the end of which he made his guitar and voice sound like an orchestral thunderstorm - the floor in the stalls was actually trembling, and I reckon Albert and his Hall rose into the night air above Hyde Park. Secondly, a spoken intro where he explained that, if you see an insurmountable wall in front of you, one plan is to turn round and walk in the opposite direction - eventually (if you have the time and energy), you'll have walked all round the world and end up on the other side of that wall.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Let's join the euro!

Will Hutton said this in today's Observer. I can't see any argument against it. The logically correct solution is that the world only needs one currency. Money is not a real entity. The reality is tangible goodies- food, drink, entertainment, exploration etc - and tangible input, which is work. Money is just the medium of exchange which, ultimately, enables the conversion of work into goodies; it's a bit like oil. Do we need so many different kinds of oil? And do we need to expend so much effort and danger into turning all these different sorts of the same thing into each other?

The Antiques Roadshow dumbdown

I used to love this progamme, mainly for the unexpected discoveries, the human stories, the esoteric analysis of valuable or worthless objects, the mind-blowing pricing (and of course the attractive women who sometimes hover in the background, making eye contact with the camera).

This week's episode has been widely trailed in the press as 'the first ever £1M discovery'. Naturally, you expect some nice bloke to have found a Ming vase or Lowry sketch in a skip or attic, or a granny to uncover the original manuscript of the declaration of the first world war - at any rate, something to engage the nerves.

Instead, what we got was a small bronze fake of Gormley's gormless chunk of rust, which turns out to be not even a prototype, but an advert! A million quid? I'd bid fifty for the scrap value. The Antiques Roadshow has finally blown its credibility with this one.