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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2014

May  31,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The trouble was not that people were promiscuous, he thought, but that they were promiscuous only with their bodies.

--The Brake collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  30,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

From talking to American architecture students he had also acquired a new idea of his profession.  The unfamiliar word they used was charette, a noun they also used as a verb.  A charrette was an all-night session of work, and they seemed to feel they were missing something if they didn't pull a charrette ('pull' was the correct verb, if you weren't actually saying 'charretting') every week or so.  The word was explained to him as meaning a 'little cart' in French: at one time students had to put their work in a cart which would drive off at a pre-ordained time.  They could run after the cart if need be, and throw their work in, but if their work didn't reach the cart there could be no excuses.  From the explanation as well as the word itself, charretting should be a European rather than American tradition, but his informant argued strongly for its status as American.  Certainly Roger had never heard the word in Britain.  The equivalent British words, he remembered, were gnoming or grinding; they were always words of penance and failure

--The Brake collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  29,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He watched Cukor's The Women at the Castro movie house, amazed.  There wasn't a man on screen, and hardly a woman in the audience.  In the film, Norma Shearer's mother told her that men were shallow, that men could only see themselves in someone else's eyes, that when they were bored with themselves they just changed the eyes they saw themselves in, so the best thing for her to do was to buy some new clothes, get a new hairdo, redecorate and wait till her man came back.  The men in the audience, with their new clothes, their recent haircuts (and some of them only going to the movies while the paint dried in their apartments anyway), erupted in affirmation.  Roger might have expected something of the sort when Scarlett O'Hara vowed never to be poor or hungry again, but he was startled by this mixture of resourcefulness and a communal masochism, self pity and rah-rah cheerleading.

--The Brake collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  28,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He looked with favour on historical references, irregular curves, erosions, the creative use of interstitial space.  He broadened his tolerance for eccentricity.  He loved, for instance, Peter Eisenman's House V, with it upside-down dummy staircase formally balancing the functional one - so useful at moments of reversed gravity.  He enjoyed too the slim pillar in the bedroom, whose sole purpose was preventing the residents from moving their beds together; by doing so they would lose the dawn view he had prepared fro them through a slit window.  That, Roger thought, was the right way to treat a client.  Even better than running off with the client's wife, make it hard for him to have an affair with her.  Make sure he's awake to see plenty of dawns.

--The Brake collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The nearest gay pub marked on the map that their host at Rogues had given them was called The Waterman.  As they entered, their novelty ensured them the equivalent of a ticker-tape welcome.  The Waterman had the usual amenities of a gay bar that had evolved stage by stage from a straight one, that is, no chairs, so that turning round to stare involved no violence to furniture.  The pub was too crowded for conversation actually to stop, but everyone there gave them an aggressively searching look in their first ten seconds in the pub.  Bernard knew the commercial gay scene well enough to realize that interest and approval were often signalled with a coldly accusing stare, but it still seemed strange to him.  You would have thought that The Waterman was playing host to a convention of bounty hunters, he though, who couldn't help comparing any unfamiliar faces with the Wanted posted in their minds.  Neil and Bernard felt Wanted all right.  It wasn't particularly pleasant.

--A Small Place collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Television viewers, too, could see the bishops of the Church in their copes, escorting the young monarch to her throne.  In her right hand was placed the sceptre and cross, ensign of power and justice; in her left, the rod wit the dove, a sign that equity and mercy would temper that power.  She was anointed with the oil of chrism on her head and on her chest by the former headmaster of Repton, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury, a crossword fanatic and firm disciplinarian who, while headmaster, had caned the schoolboy Michael Ramsey, who now stood beside the throne as bishop of Durham.  British life, in other words, in all its old-fashioned oddity, was much as it had always been.  And here came the crowned heads of other lands, driving through the rain in their landaus - the big, jolly, laughing queen of Tonga, and opposite her the diminutive sultan of Johore.  (Who was that?  'Her lunch,' replied Noel Coward.)  and here is the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, dressed as Warden of the Cinque Ports, stiff with gold braid, and golden buttons, and medals and old glory, his smiling Clementing, tiare'd and bejewelled, beside him, in the mantle and collar of the GBE.

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Typical of the British habit of coming in at the end of things and therefore creating almost instantaneous nostalgia was the Rev. W. Awdry's decision, in the late Forties, to write a series of children's stories about Thomas the Tank Engine on a small branch line.  Within a very few years of Awdry's series beginning, the Fat Controller, one of the old private railway bosses, would in fact have been sent packing by the new British Railways apparatchiks; and Thomas's friends, Gordon the Big Engine, Henry the Green Engine, and so on, would only have survived in museums or those slightly sad small stretches of track on which enthusiasts still run steam trains.  In the world of children's literature, however, these steam trains with their Fat Controller appear to be as immortal as the fairies or the gods, impervious to any changes on the Earth, let alone changes of government transport or ownership.  Children who have hardly travelled on a train, still less a passenger steam train, find these stories endlessly re-readable.  In part this is surely because of the illustrations by C. Reginald Dalby which evoke - witness the marvellous snow scenes in the story called 'The Flying Kipper' - a vanished Britain, though not always one which is sin or crime-free.  (In a later story in that volume, 'Henry's Sneeze', some boys throw stones from a railway bridge and leave the Fireman concussed.)

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

On 20 August 1943 Friedrich Reck-Mallaczewen, the Man in Despair, saw a group of such refugees trying to force their way on to a train in Upper Bavaria.  As they do so a cardboard suitcase bursts open 'and spills its contents.  Toys, a manicure case, singed underwear.  And last of all, the roasted corpse of a child, shrunk like a mummy, which its half-deranged mother has been carrying about with her, the relic of a past that was still intact a few days ago.'

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The summer raid over Hamburg in July 1943, conducted in extreme heat, led in effect to a tornado of fire which took possession of the whole city.  Ben Witter, a Hamburg journalist who witnessed the raid, recollected: 'The water by the docks was on fire.  It is difficult to explain why the water was burning, there were many more ships in the canals.  They had exploded; burning oil was on the water and the people who were themselves on fire jumped into it; they burned and swam, burnt and went under.'  A Hamburg fire officer, Hans Brunswig, said: 'Most people were killed by the fierce heat: the temperature in some places reached 1,000 degrees centigrade.'  Over a million and a quarter people fled from Hamburg.

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the night of Harris's thousand-bomber onslaught on Cologne, the morale of the people was terribly shaken.  A hospital doctor recalled: 'We were all shaking with fear, many of the patients were crying, many people actually caught fire and were running round like live torches.'  Amazingly, however, the survivors doggedly went on with life, just as Londoners did.

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Yet Hitler's anti-Semitism surely did play a part in the change of British public perception of the whole European situation.  Many of the 70,000 of those Jews (55,000 of whom settled permanently) who came to Britain as a result of Hitler's persecutions were to become household names, like Karl Popper, Nikolaus Pevsner, Georgi Solti, Geoffrey Elton.  Others were household names already.  When Sigmund Freud arrived, all the rules were bent, and he was made a British citizen the very next day.  Apart from enriching life in innumerable ways for the British, their very presence prompted the questions in the mind which would lead to something much deeper than questions of mere national interest.  What kind of a world would it be, if it were controlled by a regime that wanted to expunge Albert Einstein and Yehudi Menuhin?

--After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson

May  20,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

To be a poet was no longer a popular distinction, as it had been even in the early Twenties.  Hardly a poet now earned enough by the sale of collected poems to keep him in tobacco.  The crown had passed to the novelist, who was essayist dramatist, pamphleteer, prose-poet, historian, all in one.  The novel became industrialized: novels succeeded less on their literary merits than on the sales-power that author and publisher could exert by direct and indirect advertisement and 'pull'.  Useful instruments to this end were the professional reviewers, whose chief gift was knowing whom it was wise to praise or safe to slam.  Their names grew bloated from constant quotation in publishers' announcements.  In 1936 the head of one of the largest British publishing-houses congratulated his shareholders on the valuable contracts secured that year 'not only with well-known, novelists, but with novelists who are also reviewers'.

--The Long Week End: A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

[N.B.:  I, for one, take some comfort both in the knowledge that this sort of literary "enterprise" has existed for quite some time and that the advent of the internet and inexpensive electronic publishing means that at least some wheat will continue to be manufactured along with the prodigious quantities of chaff.]

May  19,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Of course, as has been well known in the West for centuries, the Chinese are an enigmatic people, who talk in riddles and pass messages about in cookies, but they're also capable of searing and salutary frankness, as was experienced by friends of ours, a family of four, two distinguished adults and two comparatively placid sons under ten, who went regularly to a restaurant some distance from their home because they enjoyed both the delicious food and the speed of service.  They were nonetheless slightly puzzled by the gravity of the management's and waiters' demeanours - though they were never rude, they never smiled, or even greeted them as if they'd ever seen them before.  Finally, after several years of this, the man, a distinguished lawyer then, and now a judge, let's call him Cravenwood, decided to unravel what had come to seem to the whole family a bit of a mystery.  On their way out on what would proved to be their last visit, Cravenwood stopped at the door where the head waiter was loitering, and put it to him: 'Look', he said, 'look, we really, really like your restaurant, the food is excellent, and the service so efficient, and yet you, none of you, give us as much as a smile or a hello, not once in all these years, not even to the boys,' gesturing to them, 'so we can't help wondering, is there any particular reason?'  the manager thought for a moment, then said, 'We don't like you.'  There's not much you can say to that, really, all you can do is wish you hadn't asked - and not go back, of course.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Izaak Walton described Donne, after the death of his wife, as being like the pelican in the wilderness - pelicans being thought to tear at and rend themselves from grief - and yet Donne was a man of God who triumphed in the thought of his own death because 'Then Thou hast done!' - 'hast Donne' - how is it then that he couldn't triumph in the thought of his wife's death?  Surely he should have exclaimed triumphantly, 'Then Thou hast Mary!'  Mary?  Why do I think her name was Mary?  It was Anne, surely?  Anne Donne?  He wrote it on the kitchen door, on the day of his marriage.  'John Donne, Anne Donne, Undonne.'

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

So it always comes back to the same thing - if no God and no afterlife, no afterlife and no God, then no judgement.  Judging is simply another form of grieving, and all you really mean is: he shouldn't have done it because it's not fair on me.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I've always loved the memory of the Promenade, such a neat, unassuming little off-Broadway theatre - off-Broadway signifying its status, not its location, because actually it's on Broadway, but with 499 seats - one more seat would have made it on Broadway, and everything, including the tickets, would have cost much more.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Well.  Our beginnings never know our ends, as Butley says once or twice in the play, quoting T. S. Eliot - and it seems to me that it's probably also true that our ends never know our beginnings - well, how can we? . . . [W]hen one thing led to another and conclusions were somehow reached before choices were made, when you became a man in an altered condition as a result of a slip of the tongue, or a moment of inattention.  They felt more like lapses than choices - one lapsed into the future as possibly one lapses into infidelity, or into bankruptcy, or into death -

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I'm glad I've read Mahfouz - almost all the first volume, and sections of the two other volumes, have the transparency of a great novel, you seem to go straight into the characters without being conscious of the words that take you there - and this in translation, as with Tolstoy - and you feel the alien world of Cairo during the First World War becoming utterly familiar to you, habits and customs that would be disgusting when reported to you out of the context he creates come to seem quiet natural, so that one accepts, for instance, the prosperous merchant's attitude towards his wife and daughters even when shocked by it.  He's a wonderfully sympathetic creature, this merchant, majestic, epicene, wise, intolerant, devout, unfaithful.  When he behaves badly, which he does quite often, we find ourselves wishing quite simply that he wouldn't, as we do with our friends, the close ones that we can't allow other people to judge, and when we judge them ourselves it's with the proviso that the judgement should carry no penalties.  Very few novelists can do this, it seems to me, make us make close friends with characters we wouldn't hope, or even want, to understand if we came across them outside the novel. 

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

[N.B.:  I must confess I have not read Mahfouz--yet--but if that sympathetic description doesn't make you want to read an unknown author, well, back to the Fifty Shades of Zombies for you.]

May  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Inexplicable that it comes back to me now, as it did one afternoon last summer on Spetses when, drying after a swim, I watched a tiny old lady sitting in the rim of the sea, picking stones out of the water, looking at them, putting them back, not childishly but like a child, and my eyes filled with tears of shame.  I an now nearly ten years older than she was when she died, I've had all those years more than she had, and I hadn't given her a few minutes of those years, on an impulse -

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Now of course I wish I'd taken lots and lots, especially of my parents, especially of my mother, my mother in her prime, to block out the memory of her skeletal hand clinging to mine, and I determined not to look at my watch until I did, a swift, casual glance down at my wrist.  'Oh,' she said, in an anxious whisper, 'don't go yet, Si, stay a little while longer.'  'I can't', I said, 'I have to pick Ben up from his nursery school.'  She held her hand out to retain me.  I held it to my lips, kissed her quickly on the forehead and left.  I had enough time, more than enough time to get to the nursery school, so I walked along Putney towpath, and thought about the kind of son I was, who would deprive his dying mother of  a few more minutes, that's all she'd claimed, a few more minutes of his company.   I still don't know why I wouldn't stay.  It wasn't coldness of the heart or fear of seeing her so extremely ill and dying.  There had just been an undeniable impulse to remove myself.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I wish I could remember what he looked like.  I wished we'd taken photographs.  I've always been a lazy and reluctant photographer.  The trouble is that the present never seems worth photographing, only the past, when it's too late, which is why I suppose I've so few photographs -

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Saying that murderous acts can't be definition be acts of faith only makes sense if you are referring to a specific faith, a clear and basic tenet of which is that murderous acts must not be committed in its name - but there are different faiths, and different gods - I suspect if our cop has any idea of God it's a mush-headed, compassionate, sexually open cop, just like himself, if marginally outranking him, with whom he can have conversations about their love for each other as they share a joint.  OK, it seems less harmful that a view of God as patriarchal pimp, running a Paradise brothel you can blow yourself up and into, with a portion of girlies for every infidel you take with you.

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He went on to instruct us not to think ill of Islam, these murders are merely criminal acts, to be viewed as non-racist, non-ethnically discriminatory unreligious acts and so forth, as if his first thought was that the population is so imbecilically homicidal that we'll rush out and stone the first Muslim, or approximate Muslim, we see, and then burn down mosques, etc. and so forth.  Or does he hope that a man who's packing himself with explosives will hear his words, rip off his psychic camouflage and identify himself to himself as a mere criminal, and defuse himself, resolving henceforth to lead a civically blameless life?

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

A policeman who in quieter times likes to discuss his sexuality with the public has just appeared on television and said that the words 'Islam' and 'terrorist' don't belong in the same sentence.  But any word can belong with any other word in any sentence - 'It would be wrong to say that every follower of Islam is a terrorist' is an example of a sentence in which the two words belong.  'The words Islam and terrorist do not belong in the same sentence' is another example, as is the sentence 'The words Islam and terrorist occasionally belong in the same sentence.'  But of course what he was really saying, and what he intended us to hear, was, 'Do not dare to engage in a discussion in whicy you associate Islam with acts of terrorism.'

--The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray

May  1,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was a failure of imagination on my part.  So many calamities, big and small, are: the failure or inability to work out the day-to-day consequences, over a period, of our actions.  A few years before you came to England I got to know a writer.  He worked all week in the British Museum reading room and did his writing at the weekend.  All week, sitting high in the reading room, he had a whole world under his direct gaze; all week his imagination was fed.  The weekend fiction he did was immensely successful.  People would go to the reading room only to have a glimpse of the famous man at his ordinary weekday duties: beaky-faced, making small, abrupt, nervous movements.  In some such way, two centuries before, the ragged poor would go to the French royal palaces to see the king dine or get ready for bed.  And, indeed, a little like the king, the writer took his position too much for granted, the celebrity, the talent.  He began to feel cramped by his job in the British Museum.  He gave it up and retired to the country and set himself up as a full-time writer.  His writing changed.  He no longer had a world under his gaze.  His imagination became starved.  His writing became over-blown.  The great books, which would have kept the good early books alive, never came.  He died penniless.  His books have vanished.

--Magic Seeds by V. S. Naipaul