Flute / friction / fish / funeral

June 26, 2022

4 February
Something I remember about D. I only spent a week in his company, but I noticed he had the verbal tic of saying ‘This is true’ when he agreed with something you said. I thought it rather affected at the time, but he’d never have been conscious of it and it may have been a symptom of shyness.


16 February
Beautiful passage from Webster on brown-nosing: ‘from the implication that servility is tantamount to having one’s nose in the anus of the person from whom advancement is sought’.


23 February
You know those moments of lucidity immediately before sleep? Anyway, I went to a flute, viola and harp recital this lunchtime and I was just drifting off when I became conscious that the phrase ‘She comes from the town of the parrot people’ had entered my mind.


29 March
Memory coming to me yesterday of Mrs D, teaching French in Year 7 or 8, writing vocab on the board in French and English, and translating ‘le frigo’ into English as ‘frig’. Surely someone else noticed her mistake, but at 11 I may have been the only child in the room to associate the word with sexual friction.


29 April
Today P was destroying floppy disks from the ’90s.

P: Why does this disk say Nuclear Codes?
Me: I don’t know – does it?
P: No!

I could almost grow to like him.


22 May
My comedy crematorium worker Crem Pat could have a friend, Funerary Ern.


13 June
Joke I wrote ten years ago: If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I dumped my girlfriend just because she told me she’d started producing an egg every second. It was a massive ovary action.


14 July
Duncan Thickett: ‘I don’t eat fish on medical grounds – but when I’m not at the doctor’s, I eat it all the time!!’


18 July
During the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon Men’s Singles finals on Sunday I shouted ‘The roast gammon of old England!’ at the TV more than was strictly necessary, but it has become my new favourite pastime and I shall be doing it every summer from now on during middle-class sporting events.


11 September
Cleavage in Austen adaptations seems an anachronism to me. Am I right? Breasts presumably existed then. Perhaps censorship of them came later. This film of Mansfield Park lost me when someone cried out ‘This is 1806, for heaven’s sake!’ Also the scene where Fanny catches Henry rogering Maria Bertram wasn’t in the book.


13 October
On Trinity Street this morning there was a Japanese girl walking in front of me with a top that said in huge letters on the back: ‘MOIDER DA BUM! Unidentified spectator, Cliffords Field, 1926’


19 October
Had ‘The Farmer and the Cowman’ stuck in my head, but couldn’t remember the words. Is it ‘Cemetery folks should stick together’, I thought.


14 November
I think a student may have heard me say ‘fuck you’ to a book I hit my head on.


20 November
Mother played organ at funeral of a 56-year-old man today. A friend from school recalled his generosity. If you didn’t have enough money at the shop on the way home from school, he would buy two of everything. Two Lion Bars, two Walnut Whips, two packets of Quavers. Then they’d go home and eat them in his bedroom with Radio Luxembourg on.

Library / laxative / lemon / laird

January 8, 2022

23 January
Dream last night: I noticed a student in the library with a coffee cup, so I went and gave my standard polite lecture on food and drink. She was defensive and asked why, and I told her they attract vermin, and right on cue a mouse scuttled out from the radiator grate. I said I’d let maintenance know, and we peered below some bookcases and saw something even I hadn’t expected: a sheep, and to the left a donkey. Then a gorilla came out and started prancing around, and then out came about 20 or 30 squatters who had been living in some library annex unknown to me. Most of them left of their own accord, but it got so crowded that I couldn’t tell who was in the library legitimately and who wasn’t. I suppose it may all be related to my anxiety about challenging people with food and drink. This morning F opened a can not ten feet away from me, claiming ‘It’s water’, and I just sat there and took it, cursing myself.


23 February
H on form today as we walked to the UL. Noticing an area of the Backs that had been fenced off: ‘Maybe a cow was violated.’ In the staff car park: ‘Let’s find B’s car and key it.’ If B retired, would he attend the leaving party? ‘Yes, but only to poison his drink with laxative.’


7 March
Me: I see you’ve got Friends of Cathedral Music visiting on Friday.
P: Yes.
Me: FoCM, that’s what I say.
P: Thank you for that.


24 March
The Amish are supposed to shun modern technology, but surely there must be one Amish boy somewhere who uses the internet solely for rating documentaries about the Amish on IMDb.


3 June
Lemony painters:
1. Gustave Sourbet
2. John William Water-Ice
3. Limonado da Vinci
4. Citron Xsara Picasso
5. Rembrandt van Rind


25 July
D back from holiday, and showing off a photo of him in the sea, flecked with foam. Spume, I said. He’d never heard the word before, and googled SPEWM.


9 August
D: I don’t like the name Kevin.
Me: That’s very popular in France apparently.
D: [to R] It hasn’t reached Italy, has it?
Me: [exaggeratedly] KEVINO!
R: That means ‘what a wine’.


13 September
N’s wearing a mustard-coloured jumper like he’s a fucking laird or something.


8 October
A sweet Persian-looking boy of about 12 next to me was explaining the reconstruction of the Globe to his little brother in the interval of Twelfth Night. ‘Obviously the original one burnt down, but they rebuilt it and where you’re sitting now is approximately where they sat in those days.’


21 October
F: There was a big clang when I was on the train this morning.
J: A clown?!


21 November
The doctor asked about rectal bleeding. ‘The integrity of my anus has not been breached’ was the phrase I nearly used, but I think the word I had in my head was ‘bleached’ so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t say anything.


30 December
Reading Wodehouse last night, I became aware I was falling asleep when I read the phrase ‘financial position’ as ‘fictional poussin’.

What I read in 2021

January 1, 2022

Me again.

How many books read in 2021?
A round 120.


Male/female authors?
73 M, 41 F, 3 NB, 3 mixed.

Favourite book read?
My favourites have tended to be old favourites, but of the new ones let’s say The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, which was hugely exciting.

Least favourite?
I read (not entirely voluntarily; more of that later) an erotic novella by Louis Aragon called Le Con d’Irène, whose English title I will omit here in case any maiden aunts are reading, but anyway it was pretty awful; it did at least have brevity in its favour, whereas I had to wade through far too much of Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn before I realised what a load of shite it was.

Oldest book read?
Sense and Sensibility (1811). It’s normally something a bit older, but evidently 2021 wasn’t a Shakey year.

Newest book read?
Michael Rosen’s coronavirus memoir Many Different Kinds of Love, Richard Coles’s bereavement memoir The Madness of Grief, Pat Nevin’s football memoir The Accidental Footballer, and Fiona Mozley’s novel Hot Stew all came out in 2021.

Longest book title?
That would be Thomas Grant’s fascinating Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks.

Shortest book title?
A tie: Karoo by Steve Tesich and Holes by Louis Sachar, both of which I loved.

How many rereads?
21. At the end of 2020 I made a list of ten novels to reread (To the Lighthouse, Moby-Dick, Sense and Sensibility, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Middlemarch, Lord of the Flies, Buddenbrooks, Bleak House, Brideshead Revisited, Pale Fire), which I got through as scheduled. Add to those To Kill a Mockingbird, Three Men in a Boat (still a bit dull), The Waste Land and Other Poems, Wuthering Heights, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Christmas Carol, The Boys (Montherlant), Lord Dismiss Us (Michael Campbell), Marjory’s Book (Marjory Fleming), Andorra (Max Frisch), and A Fox Under My Jacket (Harriet Graham). I like rereading, but there’ll be less of it in 2022.

Most books read by a single author?
My Peanuts reading project, which has now reached the 1980s, means Schulz is top again with 5, followed by Ford Madox Ford (4), Flora Thompson (3), and Jane Austen, Richard Coles, Charles Dickens, Thomas Grant, Tony Parker, Barbara Pym, Alex Ross, Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler (2 each).

How many books were borrowed from the library?
A measly 11, the others divided roughly equally between Kindle books and print books owned by me.

Any in translation?
As well as those already named, I read Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Norbert Tschulik’s critical biography of the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Schmidt (did anyone else in the world read this book in 2021? I think it not hugely likely).

Any in foreign languages?
Just Les Bijoux de la Castafiore, which made me think I might read more Tintin, something I’ve not really been interested in before.

Best coincidence?
I read a few paragraphs of Ben Folds’ memoir and then decided to pause it because of thinking that if I spent too much time with him I’d probably end up thinking he was an asshole. Instead I started reading a novel that turned out to contain a scene in which its protagonist, listening to the radio while stuck in traffic, starts thinking what an asshole Ben Folds is.

Best random read?
Oh, yes. I noticed early in the year that I had a bookcase full of books that I rarely think of reading, some of which I’ve owned for ten years or more, so in order to force some progress I decided that one book in every three I read would come from the bookcase of neglect, to be chosen by a random number generator. And it picked some interesting things, such as Sister Carrie, Lark Rise to Candleford, Novel on Yellow Paper, Parade’s End (which I could see becoming a favourite if I ever have the patience to read it again), Richard Holloway’s memoir Leaving Alexandria, and a couple of Tony Parkers; but the most purely enjoyable among them was Don Marquis’s immensely charming cockroach-and-cat poetry collection archy and mehitabel.

Best innuendo?
Mary Wesley’s ‘Hector always said Max would impregnate this corner of Cornwall with a shot of musical spunk’ was one low point in a book full of them, but I think an innuendo has to be unintentional. Dickon’s ejaculation in The Secret Garden, ‘I’m as tough as a white-thorn knobstick’, comes a close second; but the palm has to go to Ford Madox Ford:

Tietjens himself, dining alone with the Minister to whom he wanted to talk about his Labour Finance Act, didn’t find him a disagreeable fellow: not really foolish, not sly except in his humour, tired obviously, but livening up after a couple of whiskys, and certainly not as yet plutocratic; with tastes for apple-pie and cream of a fourteen-year-old boy.

Projects progress?
I got through the ten rereads without a hitch. I had also vowed to read Philip Roth chronologically, which I did not do. Life’s too short. Not a word of Roth has travelled down the optic nerve in 2021, and you know what, it’s been quite tolerable. A project abandoned.

What next?
I’ll keep on with the random books. I also want to read some long books I’ve neglected. Six of them, which means one every couple of months, feels doable.

Charles Dickens – Nicholas Nickleby
Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo
Mark Lewisohn – The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 – Tune In
Larry McMurtry – Lonesome Dove
Vladimir Nabokov – Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

Some fun in store there, I suspect. Also, I can’t help noticing how pale my reading is, and more so this year than in previous ones perhaps. To read ten books by writers of colour seems a modest target. So let’s do that. Happy reading to you all!

2021 threesomes

December 31, 2021

Any year that witnesses the death of Stephen Sondheim, the handle breaking off my favourite mug, and the continuation of a global pandemic can’t be considered a wholly successful one, can it. But there have been some good things, which are as follows.

Top 3 live
I’ve not been to a lot of live stuff this year, but it was good to see the cinemas and theatres reopening. I did get to a couple of comedy gigs, of which the better was Paul Foot at the Merlin Theatre in Frome. Stephen Hough came to Cambridge in October and brought some Schumann, Chopin and Rawsthorne with him. Best of all was the Edward Gardner-conducted performance of The Midsummer Marriage at the Royal Festival Hall in September, with Jennifer France especially memorable as Bella. There’s no substitute for seeing a big opera live; I’m already excited about Peter Grimes next year (more Jennifer France). Fingers crossed it happens.

Top 3 new films
In a normal year not all of these would have made the list, but I went to the cinema so rarely in 2021. Anyway, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, about four teachers who start abusing alcohol at work, was engrossing and provocative and powerfully melancholic. Also provocative, Pablo Larraín’s weird and wonderful Spencer, which shows Princess Diana starting to emancipate herself from the Royal Family. Kristen Stewart (like Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round) is one of those actors you’d gladly watch in any old crap, but this has lots to enjoy, not least a bit of Mike and the Mechanics at the end. And last night I watched Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, which is gloriously awkward and oppressive and cathartic. I love Rachel Sennott.

Top 3 old films
I’ve been exploring Michael Haneke’s back catalogue, and finding I prefer the earlier stuff. His debut, The Seventh Continent, is so sure-footed it’s amazing, its first two sections building up layers of credibly banal detail before an incandescent third act. I want to watch it again. Céline Sciamma just gets better and better, doesn’t she, Portrait of a Lady on Fire probably her finest film to date (I haven’t seen Petite Maman), and an important corrective to films like Blue is the Warmest Colour, a queer romance made by women, and a film that people will be watching for as long as they watch films. Timeless. And this year’s Sondheim contribution is D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: Company, the legendary document of the cast recording in 1970. Dean Jones, Beth Howland, Elaine Stritch, Pamela Myers. You hear these performances, so familiar from the album, with new ears when you see them sung live. What a treasure.

Top 3 books
I’m the only person left on the planet who doesn’t have Netflix and isn’t that fussed about it, so I haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit, but surely it can’t be more exciting than the Walter Tevis book it’s based on. What a rollercoaster. Second, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. You often hear people say that the film adaptation of [any book ever] can’t compare with the book; with this one, I feared the book might not be able to compare with the film. No worries: it’s the perfect companion piece, nostalgic and painfully bittersweet. Third but not least, Joanne Limburg’s memoir Small Pieces, which treats her brother’s suicide and her own attempts to come to terms with both this most senseless of acts and her mother’s death three years later, and how it all relates to their familial Jewish identity. It struck many chords with me personally, engaged as I constantly seem to be with the excavation of my own past, and I found it more moving than I can put into words.

Top 3 albums – classical
The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi’s box set of Franz Schmidt’s Symphonies has been on hard repeat this year. I just can’t get enough of this guy. I didn’t know the first at all, but isn’t it a lovely, sunny piece. Late in the year I happened upon a tape from the mid-1990s that contained a gorgeous arrangement of Kodály’s ‘Evening Song’ recorded off the radio by me during childhood, and I tracked it down to the Crofut Consort’s Bartók and Kodály album, which is full of lovely things. But the real find has been the recital recordings from the late 1960s of the boy treble Simon Woolf, not currently available commercially but mostly digitised here. They’re among the best performances by any treble I’ve ever heard (up there with Sebastian Hennig, hitherto my benchmark), not least in the Szymanowski Children’s Rhymes, exquisitely beautiful unfamiliar repertoire. Try this. Seriously. And this.

Top 3 albums – other
I realised at some point that I had a big Paul McCartney-shaped gap in my post-breakup Beatles knowledge, so set out on my odyssey with the 1970 album McCartney. What an amiable piece of work. ‘That Would Be Something’, ‘Every Night’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ … I also brought out of mothballs an EMI double cassette of Comical Cuts, which I hadn’t listened to since the early 1990s and didn’t appreciate at the time. Comedy of the 1930s and 1940s, mainly British. Even the stuff that’s dated badly is endearing (not Tommy Trinder). I’m talking the Western Brothers, Stanley Holloway, lovely Sid Field. If there’s a man of my age on the planet who’s listened to more Oliver Wakefield this year I’ll be very surprised. And lastly the 20-disc William Sheller retrospective Préférences, which I mainly worked through while watching Euro 2020 instead of listening to tedious football commentaries. I discovered French singer-songwriter Sheller during my A-level French exchange, and he’s become a habit. His songs are alternately catchy and banal, often both, and sometimes they rock.

Top 3 sport
It’s been a good year for women’s sport, what with Emma Raducanu and that. I’ve hugely enjoyed watching the various short-overs series of the England women’s cricket team, and I’ve developed a thing for Amy Jones (I’m only human). She even made the Hundred watchable. Two ignominious Champions League exits notwithstanding, it’s been a lovely year to be a fan of Chelsea Women. I love the men’s game too (and let’s give Tyrone Mings a knighthood now), but one reason I especially like watching women’s football is how comfortably queer it is. Half of the Chelsea first team are out. This would have been a big deal to me 25 years ago. To know there are queer kids watching and feeling a bit better about themselves makes me happy. And I was overjoyed to see the successes of Tom Daley, on his own and with Matty Lee, first at the European Aquatics Championships in Hungary and then at the Olympics. Onwards and downwards.

Top 3 TV
I’ve had fun going through old TV I’d neglected. Inspector Morse, Steptoe and Son, that sort of thing. The ITV Sherlock Holmes was lovely, wasn’t it, and if you’re in the market for a new crush might I suggest Jeremy Brett? For the hardened Frasierian it’s hard not to notice Brett’s physical and vocal similarity to Edward Hibbert, and it’s fun to imagine Gil and (say) Bulldog venturing out into turn-of-the-century London to solve various grisly crimes. Coming more up to date, this was the year I got properly into This Country. Perhaps it means more to a boy from the West Country: these are recognisable as people I went to school with. Hilarious, and irresistibly poignant. Like Steptoe and Son, a comedy of trappedness. And, as usual, Junior Bake Off. I still refuse to accept Zack didn’t win. I also liked Impeachment and It’s a Sin.

Top 3 podcasts
From the Oasthouse with Alan Partridge has been my constant companion. ‘Tragically, for a sex offender, everything has to be sexy.’ Endlessly quotable. On the subject of sex offenders, Jamie Loftus’s Lolita Podcast is a fascinating and important investigation of the book and the phenomenon, and will affect how I read and think about it in future. Worth several hours of anyone’s time. And of course the best podcast around is Into the Archives with Peter Fleming, which continues to be offbeat and funny and moving despite my occasional contributions. Hello! Below there!

See ya, losers.