Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ear, Ear

I was wondering whether the author of a book I read long, long ago was Belgian, so I decided to look him up on the Internet, (what used I to do with my time I wonder). A whole page came up but without a trace of any author, Belgian or otherwise. Instead, seemingly unlimited numbers of entries about some former male model who bears the same surname swarmed across the screen.

But it was Georges, not Josh, Duhamel I was looking for. And Georges is not Belgian, it turns out, he's French, (not sure about Josh [don't care, either]).

I've only read one of Georges's books - Confession de Minuit - but its premise was so original and batty that I've always retained a fondness for it. It is the story of a fairly unremarkable man who one day, for no particular reason, (to borrow a phrase I heard used by a British Rail announcer to explain why the train I was in had stopped for the best part of an hour just outside Clapham Junction station), finds himself overcome by an urge to touch his boss's ear.

The novel describes the consequences of his giving way to this absurd urge. With one tiny, fleeting gesture he crosses the line between acceptable and terrifying behaviour and, predictably, things do not go very well for him from then on.

The book is wonderfully original and blends silliness and seriousness brilliantly, which is why I think it deserves to be better known than it is. I suppose, if I feel really strongly on the subject, I should go off and learn how to work algorithms so as to manipulate the prominence of Internet entries. Then I'll be able to ensure that Duhamel G will out-Google piffling former catwalker, Duhamel J.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Ignoring the Razzle

There are perennials in life - the melancholy of Sunday afternoons, particularly London ones, described by Dickens so well, for instance, plus the absurd pleasure of the lead up to Christmas in Europe - despite all the hype and commericalism, I still find it a season that it's impossible not to enjoy.

Another is the feeling, as Saturday evening approaches, that you really ought to be going out on the razzle, which I think means getting plastered, ideally, or, failing that, at the very least squealing in a crowd, dancing and tottering about the streets at all hours. What it does not mean, anyway, is staying at home, with your nose stuck in a book.

Yet week after week Saturday night fever bypasses our household, and each time it does I feel more of a failure. Take tonight as an example: the only sound is the logs settling in the fire and the tapping of this keyboard. The youngster among us has her nose stuck in a poetry book, the husband is poring over ancient family documents and I, until I turned this thing on, have been reading Les Murray's Collected Poems, (what him, again?)

And that's really what's prompted me to come here and write something - a line of his I just read seemed thought provoking enough to be worth sharing. It's from a poem called Driving to the Adelaide Festival 1976 via the Murray Valley Highway, (page 136 here - and don't miss The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle, which follows it), a wonderful title, I think.

The poem is great - most of Murray's are - and the line that particularly struck me is:

"Romance is a vine that survives in the ruins of skill"

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Widespread Pointlessness

I noticed yesterday that the people at The Dabbler had generously reposted something I wrote about the pleasure of pointless activity. This morning, coincidentally, walking home from Mount Ainslie, I came upon a crowd of people, dressed in clanking armour and medieval costumes, setting up heraldic banners and pretty tents, the ladies swishing about in long dresses and wimples, (or were they snoods?), some wearing crowns, others draped in cloaks with ermine-like trimming.

When a woman who was giving a very good impression of being a sixteenth-century serving wench came sweeping out of the Scouts Hall nearby, bearing a tray of thoroughly twenty-first century looking cup cakes, I stopped her (or, to get into the ye olde spirit, perhaps I should say I hailed - or possibly accosted? - her) and asked what was going on.

It turns out that I was witnessing the start of a big tournament being put on by the Canberra branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The Society has 70,000 members world wide, the wench told me, and they get together to play at being in pre-seventeenth-century Europe, (except when it comes to cup cakes). "The only thing we ask", she said, "is that you try as best you can to wear something that looks sort of sixteenth century-ish".

I doubt I have ever seen anything so authentically pointless; it cheered me up enormously. There were a hundred or so people there and they all seemed to be having a great deal of fun.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

True or False

I just came across this description of foopball by Gary Lineker (no, I don't know who he is either - I found it in a list of funny things people have said, including Julie Burchill's comment about Camille Paglia - "the 'g'is silent, which is the only thing about her that is"):

"Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win."

Will he be proved correct in the World Cup, I wonder. It certainly seems more likely today than yesterday, but I'd appreciate informed advice, (not including any references to the offside rule, thanks), about whether to put money on it, (yeah, yeah, I know about the evils of gambling, but it does add interest to life from time to time.)

Friday, 4 July 2014

If Only

One of the recurring experiences of my life has been an alienated sense of envy whenever I see anyone going to the fridge, getting out the milk carton, pouring themselves a glass from it and chugging the stuff down with evident enjoyment.

Actually, envy's not quite the word - the sensation is more one of standing on the wrong side of a window, watching some activity inside in which you are unable to join, (which reminds me, somewhat irrelevantly, that when I was really little I would sometimes see people standing outside television shops, staring through the windows at the images - still black and white; by the time colour arrived most people seemed to have managed to at least get themselves a rental set, or possibly television shops no longer existed - broadcast on the various display screens inside. They, of course, were at an even greater remove than the one dividing me from milk drinkers, separated by not only the shop window but the screens themselves from what they were watching. [Why I'm telling you about this I hardly know, except that it's always exciting when you remember something you haven't thought about for years]).

Anyway, enough with the digressions. The main thing I want to explain is that, unlike almost everyone else in the universe, I hate milk, and I wish I didn't. If I possibly could, I'd be downing gallons of the stuff, sharing in the considerable pleasure the drink quite clearly provides for the rest of the human race. The trouble is though that every time I taste milk I am overcome with nausea. I find it extremely disgusting - and, worse still, it's not just about milk that I feel out of step with the rest of mankind. There are so many many things that others love and I can't be doing with. The latest of them is the film Calvary, which has received universally positive reviews, but has left me, once again, on the outside, with my nose pressed longingly, (if a nose can be pressed longingly) up against the glass.

If you're interested in my contrarily negative observations, I wrote about what I thought of Calvary here. If anyone else feels the same way as I do about the film, please feel free to comment. It would be nice to imagine one or two others out here on the pavement with me, peering through the Rediffusion window at the soundless pictures flickering away within.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Getting Involved

Years ago, one hot July day in Vienna we - me, plus husband, kids and ageing relatives - straggled sweatily through the sweltering Lainzer Tiergarten, (not many people seem to realise that, if you want guaranteed sun and heat, Vienna and Budapest are ideal summer destinations - with Budapest coming out best of the two, because of the city's numerous beautiful thermal pools for cooling off), to one of the houses the Empress-consort commonly known as Sisi used to hide from her husband in.

At my husband's suggestion, we were going to see an exhibition in the Hermes Villa. The exhibition was called something like 'Beethoven's Hair Clippings' or possibly 'Chopin's Toothpick'. Actually, it may have had some subtler name, something that referred obliquely to the various displays and the one thing that connected them - which was the fact that they were all detritus, (nail clippings, cigarette butts, sneezed-in handkerchieves, plus, of course, the aforementioned bits of hair and toothpick, [my husband now tells me he thinks it was Schubert's toothpick - if only I'd known, I'd have looked at it more closely, hem hem]), carelessly scattered in the wake of famous men, (and yes, as I remember it, the exhibits were almost exclusively the droppings of the male sex [men, eh?])

Anyway, I found the thing unforgettably intriguing. What odd combination of foresight and nuttiness could have led anyone to preserve these objects? Surely plaque-coated toothpicks and snot-encrusted handkerchieves lack significance regardless of their provenance? Was it possible that by virtue of the plaque having once clung to Schubert's molars and the snot having originally emerged from Karl Marx's horrible hairy nose, (sorry, I know I'm being too subjective, but in the immortally damning phrase of someone in my family, Karl Marx is 'not one of my favourite people' - leaving aside the political consequences of his theories, read Francis Wheen's book on him, and I'm sure you will begin to dislike him on a personal level too).

The only experience of my own that seemed even faintly analogous was the impulse that gripped me as a small child one dusty afternoon, stuck in a traffic jam on the road that ran along the edge of Runnymede. Staring out at the rather unexciting stretch of grassland, I made the decision to return in adulthood and walk over the whole of it, putting my feet one in front of the other, heel and toe meeting exactly, each and every time, until I had made absolutely certain that I had stepped on every single inch of the place. At that point, I'd be sure I'd stood exactly where King John had stood when forced to sign the Magna Carta. It seemed a way of directly touching the past, creating some kind of bond with major historical figures. I have to admit I haven't yet carried out my plan - laziness, in this as in so much else, seems to have intervened, (or sanity).

Anyway, today I went to the shoemender, and while I was there I think I glimpsed a new way of looking at the celebrity-rubbish-preservation phenomenon. The shoemender I go to, like many shoemenders in Canberra, hails originally from Greece. Thus, rather unsurprisingly, this morning he was feeling pretty proud. As not merely a Canberran but a Canberra Greek he was thrilled by the astonishing win notched up last night by Canberra's Nick Kyrgios against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

But, he explained, there was something more, something that gave him a very special and particular involvement in the Kyrgios victory. As it turns out, the Kyrgios family are among the shoemender's customers. In fact, not long ago they brought in a bag for the man to mend. And, lo and behold, when Kyrgios emerged onto Centre Court yesterday afternoon (UK time),  what was Kyrgios carrying? Yes, you guessed it, the very same bag my Greek shoemending friend had worked on. Of course, he went wild with excitement. 'I looked at it,' he told me, 'and I thought, "I know that bag - that's the bag I worked on. That bag is there on Centre Court with Nick, because of me."'