We had a nice day’s sail on the river Blackwater yesterday, made more interesting by the discovery of a new guest in the river, Radio Caroline no less.
Back in the 1960s I used to play in a band, and in 1965 we released a record, What you Got, penned by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. I remember relaxing in a bath listening to Caroline on a portable radio when they played the flip-side of the record, a thoughtful and introspective song called Fe Fi Fo Fum…
“Fe Fi Fo Fum, I’m a giant when I hold you close, you’re the baby that I need the most, Fe Fi Fo Fum…”
Well, it was another time…
To the Proms on Saturday night, the only one this season after all the Wagner last year. That old war-horse Bernard Haitink was conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Schubert’s 5th Symphony followed by Mahler’s 4th. A rather good combination I thought.
Haitink, at 85, is showing his age in his slow walk out to the podium, but his touch in the Schubert was as deft as ever; highly appropriate for this lightest of pieces.
I’m a great Mahler fan, and even though the 4th does not have the grandeur and massive crescendos of some of the other symphonies, it is complex, melodic and quite introspective. It sounds (very) pretentious to say it, but I get the feeling listening to that symphony that we are getting a glimpse right inside the composer. One almost feels that a scholar will one day discover a code-book in Mahler’s papers revealing the correspondence between various musical phases and his moods or thoughts. As one of the characters in Educating Rita observed, ‘What would we do without Mahler?’
A splendid evening, not even dulled by the Essex Boys spitting beer at each other in the next compartment in the train home, and a dangerous close-encounter with a broken beer-bottle on the pavement during the walk from the station. The new City of Chelmsford turns its street-lights off at midnight. Woe betide anyone without a torch…
The most extraordinary thing. One of the drearier characters who has appeared in both of my books, Henry’s Trials and Smethurst’s Luck, was the Home Secretary at the time of the legal difficulties of both gentlemen, Sir George Cornewall Lewis. He eventually provided both Henry John Hatch and Thomas Smethurst with free pardons, but his reluctance with the former, condemned Henry Hatch to six unnecessary month’s stay in Newgate Prison. He (Lewis) has been a person for whom I have had some contempt, as one of the scholarly landed gentry, reluctantly co-opted into government and entirely divorced from the common people.
His biography paints him as a droll sort of chap; he was frequently quoted as having said: ‘Life would be tolerable were it not for its amusements…’ It goes on to say that his written work was ‘prolix…[using the] deliberately flat prose…of one who dislike style in writing’. (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Cornwall Lewis was definitely not one of my favourite people.
And then I started reading one of his books. The book in question: An Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients, published in 1862 was probably his last published work; he died the following year. And it’s really good! Readable and very interesting! It is scholarly and packed with references, yet written in simple accessible prose. In trying to untangle which Greek astronomer/philosopher said what or believed what, it’s a goldmine, a real mother-lode of information. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can download it from Google – as can anyone – and read it on my iPad.
Today I observed the curvature of the Earth. I was sailing on the river Blackwater, and the visibility being good, I was able to observe, with binoculars, the wind-generators on the Kentish flats, to the south of the Thames estuary. The curvature was such that they seemed to be chopping the very water, the hubs of the rotors appearing to be just above the waterline.
It is always comforting to know that we really do live on a sphere and not on a flat plate supported by an infinite number of tortoises...
I have just read George Orwell’s 1984 again. It is an astonishingly good book; more than 60 years after it was first published, in an age entirely different from the miserable post-war austerity of 1949, it still has the ability to shock.
Knowing something of Orwell’s background from the biography he never wanted written, I can see an element of wish-fulfilment in the desire of the young and nubile Julia for Winston Smith; he was the faded middle-aged party member, with the varicose ulcer, who recognizes the interminable indoctrination of ‘The Party’ for what it really is. Orwell of course had fought in the Spanish Civil War. He put his life on the line for the communism/socialism he believed in and was nearly killed for his trouble. His two greatest works, Animal Farm and 1984, portrayed far more forcibly than any political pamphlet the complete bankruptcy of communism in practice.
I had forgotten about the ‘Thought Police’, ‘DoubleThink’ and ‘NewSpeak’. NewSpeak of course is already here in a way; just listen to any conversation on the Underground between young people with its ‘I was like… and he was like… and I was like…’ etc. Translation: “I was like” = “I said…”, “He was like”, = “He said” and so on.
It is depressing though, to realize that a whole generation is growing up only knowing “Big Brother” as inane reality TV, and identifying “Room 101” as an even more cretinous chat show.
I went to see an absolutely brilliant play at the Lyttleton Theatre yesterday. Great Britain is a glorious satire on the gutter press, the police and politicians. It was full of scurrilous, marvellously non-politically correct jokes, peppered with much Anglo-Saxon terminology. This together with a sparkling script ensured that I hardly stopped laughing the entire time. Which is not to say that the play did not have a very sharp edge, but it was just what we needed after the activities of some of the newspapers in recent years…
Billie Piper played the lead and astonishingly good she was. Also brilliant was Robert Glenister as the editor of the Free Press, a ‘red-top’. This was theatre at its absolute best, with a brilliant production using the latest video technology. I would say this is a ‘must see’, as balm for anyone frustrated with those three non-liberal professions, the press, the police and the political classes.
My favourite scene was when the rich and powerful newspaper proprietor was hauled up in front of a House of Commons Select Committee: ‘This is the hungriest day of my life’ he said…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs