Chipperfield / chapel / check / chocolate

January 28, 2020

26 February
Really quite angry at the weekend while contemplating the Mars bar. I think if I were given the opportunity to go back in time, I would return to 1990 and eat several Mars bars. It’s not just perspective that’s skewed my impression of how good they were back then, the familiar idea that things seem bigger to children, they really were more substantial. The vertices were squarer, the chocolate thicker, the lettering on the logo more stylish (it really does make my blood boil what happened to the logo), there was a sense of occasion to the eating of one; and there were individual occasions, just once or twice, when I bit into one and it tasted faintly of ginger, which might have been my imagination but I’m convinced wasn’t. And what made me angriest of all was the knowledge that time travel isn’t possible, that I will never have the experience of childhood Mars bars again. It’s been months since I ate a Mars bar, maybe over a year, more by apathy than design, and yet the next one I eat won’t have the effect of water on a man finding an oasis in the desert as it should, it’ll just be another Mars bar that isn’t as good as it used to be.


9 March
In the waiting room this morning, the receptionist turned on the radio and it was playing ‘The Locomotion’. I became instantly aware that my right leg, crossed over my left, was doing that involuntary tapping motion that one has no control over. Not in time with the music, though, which reassured me: it meant that if anyone saw me tapping my foot they would realise it was unrelated. Alternatively, they might think I loved the song but had no rhythm, which would be worse. Except that I do like ‘The Locomotion’.


9 April
I know I used the phrase ‘off his mash on mary jane’ last week, but I can’t remember the context.


20 April
A revisit of Simon and the Witch Series 1 Episode 5, in which Cuthbert is given one by Hopkins (as it were), demonstrates that the modern Mars bar is considerably smaller than the Mars bar of 1987, which confirms my testimonies of 26 February.


27 May
Next to me at chapel this morning: bald-shinned, safari-trousered old buffer with vespine hosiery.


30 May
Weird memory of making esoteric puns at school in 1999 on the name of circus trainer Mary Chipperfield, convicted at that time of animal cruelty, and the Merychippus, a proto-horse who presumably came up in a biology lesson.


31 May
Tonight I went to evensong at St John’s, which happened, unbeknownst to me, to be a special service attended by the St John’s College School Parents Association. It was basically a Dominic convention. I sat between two Dominics and had a chat with the one on my right (actually called Dominic), who was the father of a chorister. He had been a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor and a choral scholar at Oxford, where he began studying music and ended up with a degree in philosophy and theology. He talked enthusiastically about Welsh rugby and told me I must go to the Millennium Stadium to see an international. Be still my beating trousers.


31 May
Evensong at Trinity was somehow consoling, though I found myself resenting Christians generally for all their concerns that aren’t mine. The phrase ‘Voices tell me I’m the shit’ occurred to me a lot during the introit.


8 June
Last Friday D, S and I all wore check shirts, and today we’re all wearing the same shirts. ‘Our cycles have synchronised!’ I said, to some amusement. S didn’t immediately get it. ‘I’m talking about menstruation.’ That set D off somewhat.


16 August
A nine-year-old Scottish girl on the train last night, talking to her grown-up brother or stepbrother and an older man who might have been an uncle. Polite conversation about how much she loved dogs, what she would call her own dog (Lexi or Dexter), 101 Dalmatians, the appetites of chihuahuas, what breeds of dogs are used for guide dogs. Then ‘Have either of you ever seen Adventure Time?’ Discussion of various characters, ‘I think you’d like it’ to the older man. For someone who spends a lot of time thinking about his own childhood, I don’t have a great deal of affection for children, but for a brief period I felt like one of those young men in Salinger.


21 October
‘Siblings are better than parents,’ says W, ‘because parents die.’


9 December
Felt a bit anxious. Went into the office and changed an illustration of a name badge on some packaging from ‘Schwartz’ to ‘Schwantz’, which cheered me up a bit.

End-of-year reading meme

January 2, 2020

You again.

How many books read in 2019?

80/35. A healthy ratio.

Male/female authors?
73/42, give or take a few genders. I’d like less of a gender gap, but for as long as [unnamed female acquaintance] persists in doing the same thing in reverse, only with a wider ratio and far worse books, I will continue not to worry too much about it.

Favourite book read?
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Least favourite?
There have been a few contenders, but Ritual by David Pinner, the book on which The Wicker Man is said to have been based, was particularly dire, lapsing only occasionally into so-bad-it’s-good territory. (‘Her curved breasts were tense with concentration.’)

Oldest book read?
I read Dante’s (Divina) Commedia (c. 1308-1320), in the translation by Robin Kirkpatrick.

Newest book read?
As usual, a handful out this year:

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Tippett: The Biography by Oliver Soden, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg, Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More by Stephen Hough, Find Me by André Aciman, and March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women by Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado and Jane Smiley.

Longest book title?
As usual, the subtitle does most of the work. This year the subtitle belongs to Ronald Firbank’s The Flower Beneath the Foot: Being a Record of the Early Life of St. Laura de Nazianzi and the Times in Which She Lived. I don’t imagine most people could take more than about a page of Firbank before flinging him across the room, but I think he’s worth the effort.

Née Victoria Gellybore Frinton, and the sole heir of Lord Seafairer of Sevenelms, Kent, Mrs Harold Chilleywater, since her marriage “for Love,” had developed a disconcerting taste for fiction — a taste that was regarded at the Foreign Office with disapproving forbearance…. So far her efforts (written under her maiden name in full with her husband’s as well appended) had been confined to lurid studies of low life (of which she knew nothing at all), but the Hon. Harold Chilleywater had been gently warned, that if he was not to remain at Kairoulla until the close of his career, the style of his wife must really grow less virile.

Shortest book title?
IQ by Joe Ide. Also the shortest author name.

How many rereads?
Eleven, which is about my average. Candide, Persuasion, A Christmas Carol, Billy Budd, Death in Venice, In Cold Blood, Riddley Walker, The Nine Tailors, La Ville dont le prince est un enfant, The Warden’s Niece, and So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Most books read by a single author?
This year I began systematically to read my Complete Peanuts collection, so Schulz is top of the heap with six (I’m up to the end of 1962), followed by Edward St Aubyn (five), Dante Alighieri and Andrea Dunbar (three each), and Thomas Mann, P.G. Wodehouse and Sally Rooney (two).

How many books were borrowed from the library?
40, which taken as a proportion is way down on previous years. This year my Kindle use has increased markedly (31 ebooks). I’m not one of these printed-books-or-nothing types, but I think the pendulum’s probably swung far enough.

I had no clue what was going on
Thanks to the copious notes and commentary I was mostly able to follow Dante, but I can’t claim to have got much out of it, it was so far out of my comfort zone, and all that remains in my mind is the occasional beacon emerging from the surrounding dimness – the delightful episode in the Purgatorio, for instance, where Statius talks to Dante of his love of Virgil, unaware that he is in Virgil’s presence, and Virgil gives Dante a look warning him to keep schtum.

Any in translation?
Quite a few. As well as the Dante and Voltaire and Mann named above, I read Mann’s The Magic Mountain in the sparkly translation by John E. Woods. I took a trip to Belgium for the New Year and read Dimitri Verhulst’s The Latecomer and Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Television in the spirit of complementarity. A couple of Proustian books, Józef Czapski’s Lost Time and Céleste Albaret’s Monsieur Proust. Ronald Reng’s biography of the goalkeeper Robert Enke, A Life Too Short. And Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman.

Favourite character encountered this year?
Annie Asra in Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, Miss Roach and Mr Prest in Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, Laurel in Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, Keiko in Convenience Store Woman, and Shaw’s Saint Joan.

What next?
I don’t know at what point I realised that the division into twelve volumes of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time would make it the ideal reading project for any given year, but anyway I’ll be reading it in 2020, with a little help from Hilary Spurling.

I’d intended that would be it, but let’s rashly vow to wade through the Roald Dahl short stories, which in my Everyman collected edition (which omits some of the Henry Sugar ones but is otherwise exhaustive) number 51. One a week seems doable.

Sixth and lastly, I was given Andy Miller’s memoir The Year of Reading Dangerously for my birthday but wanted to hold off reading it until I’d read more of the books it discusses. Let’s earmark five of those for 2020 (only not Bukowski or Kerouac or Bret Easton Ellis, please) and then read Miller’s book. Plenty to be getting on with, then.

2019 foursomes

December 30, 2019

The annual reminder that this blog exists even though I don’t post on it any more. I do intend to get back to it next year. Let’s aim for one post per quarter, if that’s not unduly optimistic. Thank you for reading: I love you all. Happily the almost constant not-blogging has created much time for attending, reading and listening to various things, among which the following have been among the better specimens:

Top 4 books
INVIDIOUS to single out four from such a stellar bunch, but let’s do it anyway. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain repaid the few weeks of effort I put into it, one of those novels that engages and excites the brain. I always forget Mann’s quite funny; mea culpa. Edward St Aubyn’s quintet of novels about his alter ego Patrick Melrose enlivened the second half of the year. If I had to pick a single one, the second, Bad News, was a joy from start to finish, switching effortlessly from desperately poignant to scabrously funny. I haven’t encountered many writers with St Aubyn’s pithiness. Noel Streatfeild’s exceptional and sobering Saplings, telling the story of a family of six becoming fractured during the Second World War, hinted at a brilliance I’d only suspected from her children’s books. And I wouldn’t normally pick a reread, but the one novel that above all others blew me away in 2019 was Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. I’d read it before with admiration, but this time around it made my head swim. It’s so potent, so alive to the possibilities of … well, everything. The novel as a form, for one thing, but storytelling and myth and human existence generally. Mindboggling.

Honourable mentions to the likes of Dimitri Verhulst, Blake Morrison, Angus Wilson, Patrick Hamilton, Sayaka Murata, Sally Rooney, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Elizabeth Taylor (the other one), Jacqueline Woodson… More anon.

Top 4 new films
The Favourite started the year off with a bang, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest oddballfest, full of joyous anachronisms and wild humour. I love Rachel Weisz to distraction. Like Lanthimos crossed with Aguirre crossed with Southern Comfort, Alejandro Landes’ Monos was indescribably audacious, the story of a band of trainee guerrillas in a remote part of South America. I loved its mixture of beauty and brutality, and Mica Levi’s score, of course. You can add me to the lengthy roster of people who found Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ in Marriage Story a moving and erotic experience. Surely Noah Baumbach’s finest work to date, and great to see Julie Hagerty at the top of her game. I caught a preview at the Cambridge Film Festival at which Netflix heavies systematically beat to a pulp anyone observed using their phone during the movie. But my film of the year was probably Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. His most elegiac film, perhaps, his most reflective, anchored by a humane, sympathetic turn from Antonio Banderas, and full of tenderness and melancholy. It’s the only film I went to see twice this year, and I’m already keen to revisit it.

Honourable mentions: Booksmart, Midsommar, By the Grace of God, Eighth Grade, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Top 4 old films
Sergei Parajanov’s unorthodox biographical drama about the Armenian poet Sayat Nova The Colour of Pomegranates is a film the like of which I’ve never seen before, and perhaps the closest to poetry that cinema has come for me. Bewildering, intoxicating, overwhelming. I’ve never seen such colours on screen. Something rich and strange. Seriously, drop what you’re doing for a moment and try this for size.

I’d somehow avoided Preston Sturges until now, but Sullivan’s Travels has converted me. I felt almost anything might happen. Another film I had a long overdue date with: Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. So beautifully, classically constructed, and told with such care and quietness. They’re an unlikely pairing, Sturges and Ozu, but I think they share a humanity. And lastly, the Brazilian director Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother, a warm but incisive drama about the power dynamic between a wealthy family and their maid (amazing Regina Casé), which shifts when her daughter moves into the family house. It’s sensationally good, and (spoiler alert) it ends happily. I laughed with joy.

Honourable mentions: Yi Yi, Nebraska, Arrival, All About My Mother, Leave No Trace, Miracle in Milan, Palindromes, Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas, Midnight, Dry Summer

Top 4 Edinburgh
My best Edinburgh yet, I think, in terms of both quality of things witnessed and not suffering burnout from my foolishly intense schedule (this year, 22 shows, a photography exhibition, a sung Mass and a piano recital in the space of three and a bit days). Peter Fleming: Have You Seen? was the pick of the shows, a great concept and a virtuosic performance. Paul Foot: Baby Strikes Back! and Ivo Graham: The Game of Life were the best shows I’ve seen from either performer. Foot’s pre-show spiel about Princess Michael of Kent opening a school for autistic children was a joy. And Lucy Beaumont: Space Mam was a much needed change of pace from most of the shows I saw, such a warm and generous performance. The first time I’ve seen her live, but not I hope the last.

Honourable mentions: Tim Key, The Delightful Sausage, Tarot, Kieran Hodgson (as usual).

Top 4 theatre
I was on an Andrea Dunbar kick early in the year, and made a pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds to see Out of Joint’s excellent production of Rita, Sue and Bob Too in the unlikely surroundings of the the country’s only surviving Regency playhouse. Good to tick it off the list. The return of Follies to the National Theatre brought into focus things I’d missed last time, Peter Forbes’ superlative Buddy a case in point. To see him dancing in ‘The Right Girl’ opposite Harry Hepple as his younger self was a great joy. English Touring Theatre’s Equus was an intense production of a play that never feels satisfactory to me, though its brilliance seemed more evident than ever before. Zubin Varla, so impressive as the father in Fun Home last year, was a very fine Dysart. And Travis Alabanza’s Burgerz, my second show in a row at Edinburgh’s Traverse to feature live cooking on stage, was a vital call to arms, a reminder of the importance of showing up for people who need support. Must do better. People were in tears, and not just because of the onions.

Top 4 student

My student theatre highlights all came at the ADC in the first half of the year. A couple of musicals in Lent Term, firstly She Loves Me, that least resistible of shows. The 2016 Menier production was fairly fresh in my mind, but the cast of this one was good enough to efface some of those memories, Robin Franklin and Annabelle Haworth an adorable Georg and Amalia. The show had umpteen choreographers, and it showed. Then, Legally Blonde, a piece of fluff really but a dream in the moment, with a host of fine performances. If the production of Millennium Approaches, the first part of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, wasn’t quite as impressive as the previous ADC one in 2013, it did have some superb performances (Leo Reich, Bilal Hasna, Billie Collins and Conor Dumbrell the standouts), and I’m delighted that the production team has taken the bold move of staging Perestroika next year, which is what I’d hoped for last time but didn’t get. The best thing I saw on stage all year, professional or not, was The Revlon Girl, Neil Anthony Docking’s play about a group of mothers bereaved in the Aberfan disaster. It’s a devastating piece of work, and was done full justice by a cast impeccable in every respect, who deserve to be named here: Meg Coslett, Martha O’Neil, Freya Ingram, Amelia Hills and Emily Webster. I don’t cry easily at anything (or I didn’t use to), but I cried three times, and it’s not a long play. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how stunning it had been, and it haunted me for a long time afterwards.

Top 4 classical
A CUOS production of Carmen in February, which I’d half-hoped might be half-decent, turned out to be very impressive both visually (a West Side Story-esque background of brick added an edge) and vocally. The star turn perhaps Maximilian Lawrie’s Don José, though I felt Mercédès and Frasquita stole the show. It helps that they have some of the best music, such as the trio with Carmen ‘Mêlons! Coupons!’ which turns out not to be about grocery shopping (apologies, I will keep flogging this joke to death until someone laughs). A couple of Camerata Musica recitals in Cambridge delivered the goods: Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber doing Mahler (a stunning Kindertotenlieder the highlight), and Lucas and Arthur Jussen playing two-piano and piano duet music by Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky (an incandescent Rite of Spring), plus the Sinfonia from Bach’s BWV 106 as an exquisite encore. And at the end of November, the musical high point of my year, a concert performance of the Bergen National Opera production of Peter Grimes at the Royal Festival Hall. Stuart Skelton was a bit under the weather, but that didn’t seem to matter. The orchestral wash, those electrifying choral moments, and a cast to die for, among whom Roderick Williams’ Balstrode, Susan Bickley’s Auntie, Robert Murray’s Boles, James Gilchrist’s simpering Adams, and Clive Bayley’s randy Swallow were outstanding. I had the music in my head for days. Recording to follow, apparently.

Missing out narrowly: piano recitals by Arcadi Volodos and Steven Osborne, and Billy Budd at Covent Garden. No Yuja Wang this year, always a bad sign.

Top 4 albums
Actually it’s been a Yuja year anyway, because her Berlin Recital live album has been a constant companion. I heard her play a similar if not identical programme in London. Her Scriabin 10th Sonata is out of this world. Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson’s 1988 album Hear Victor & Barry and Faint (available on YouTube) has brought me a great deal of entertainment and consolation. All together: ‘Use your condoments lavishly when ingredients aaaren’t fresh’ etc. etc. I wangled myself a copy of the Chandos 19-disc Grainger Edition, which is a treasure trove featuring every imaginable iteration of the music of a composer who becomes dearer to me each year. (Only eight versions of the ‘Colonial Song’? Surely there must be more.) And the opulently restored Film Score Monthly edition of the soundtrack of Dr. Seuss’s still drastically underrated The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Who can deny its charms?

Props to François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles for their Ravel Ma mère l’Oye, Pollini’s Schumann Fantasie, op. 17, and Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack to The Swimmer. I also had a G&S binge in July, listening to all the 1940s/50s-era D’Oyly Carte recordings. Martyn Green and Ella Halman, fabulous.

Is that it?
I’d like to put in a word for Junior Bake Off, from whose general niceness I derived an indecent amount of pleasure. Let’s hope it returns in 2020. Also coming up next year: Igor Levit, Yuja, The Boy Friend, Sunday in the Park with George. See you there.

Library life

July 20, 2019

20 January
Both our copies of John Hick’s Arguments for the Existence of God have disappeared. Q.E.D.


24 January
Catalogued today: a book by William J. Heitler, which amused me, Heitler sounding like the most half-hearted alias (cf. Mr Hilter, Beinrich Bimmler, and so on).


3 February
Thought: ‘Covering a book is very much like making love to a beautiful woman.’


4 February
Annoying reader, observing that the security for Ban Ki-moon’s visit was inadequate: ‘The cars were completely unattended. I mean, what if someone wanted to shove a potato up the windpipe…’ They could have done that at lunch if they wanted to bash him.


12 March
My competence and efficiency have been ruthless this afternoon. Any neutral observer would have been dazzled by the variety and speed of my librarianly skills.


29 March
I’ve got the hots for one of the models in the new edition of Abrahams’ and McMinn’s Clinical Atlas of Human Anatomy.


20 April
Old emails show I had a dream in 2010 about Ant and Dec coming in to cancel their joint borrowing account and to complain about my having charged them a replacement fee for a lost book.


20 May
Water cooler installed in library. Student already spotted wearing a conical cup as a sort of KKK yarmulke.


16 July
Flicking through a book on neuroanatomy, my eye alights on the phrase ‘General Melchett Council’. Check again. ‘General Medical Council’.


18 July
Today’s amusing author name: Rodney H. Grapes.


25 July
One of our library copies of King Lear has appropriately become divided into three parts.


5 December
Reader, making conversation: ‘There has been no snow in Stockholm this winter.’ I think she may be a spy.