Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Theme: Jenny Diski

  • OK, I've been outed as a noise nut and it's true. I am crazed by noise. I have to put my fingers in my ears when I'm on the street and a lorry passes, my whole insides turn liquid when the recycling bin men come by and tip boxes of glass into more glass. I can't bear it. I hyperventilate when the dog two doors down barks for twenty minutes. Noise, like pain, makes me want to leave the planet, but before that to kill someone.Read more
  • In 1980, Lady Isobel Barnett was found guilty of stealing a can of tuna and a carton of cream and fined about £75. Barnett was a very public figure. For a decade or more, from the early nineteen-fifties, she had been a regular on the English version of “What’s My Line?” and on BBC Radio’s “Question Time.” Often assumed to be an aristocrat (actually, her title came from her husband, who was the mayor of Leicester), she was a quintessential lady — fine-featured, well dressed, and always with sensible, moderate opinions about the world and its doings. She embodied British deceny, uprightness, and charm.Read more
  • Lassitude, indolence, extreme laziness, idleness beyond belief - I don't know how to convey the degree of my incapacity for activity. People don't believe me. You don't believe me. You think I exaggerate. No, I don't. You won't believe that either. You think it an affectation. So yesterday I went out. I did a reading with the estimable Francis Spufford at the Small Wonders Festival at Charleston. There was nothing unpleasant about it (apart from the Bloomsburyness of Charleston. Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Virginia visiting. God I hate that drippy painting and twee tastefulness).Read more
  • It is the time of the comedians. Western politics as it is perceived by populations and portrayed by the media of every kind is in such a parlous state, that it is not a metaphor but a reality developing before our eyes. The comedians in this country are arguing amongst themselves, but in full public view, about the state of the nation and what is to be done to resolve and redeem its moribund condition.Read more
  • You will have heard that the English do nothing, almost nothing, but talk about the weather. I apologise for having kept you waiting so long. Actually, as I remember my visits to Sweden, there was considerable discussion about the weather there, in Goteborgs, Stockholm, and up in Kiruna, it was a constant topic of conversation.Read more
  • On the subject of death I’m inclined to turn to my two favourite writers. Vladimir Nabokov begins Speak Memory, an autobiography of sorts, with the kind of banality any reader of his knows better than to get cosy with: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ Given how much respect he had for common sense we shouldn’t be anything but wary.Read more
  • I was born in central London in 1947, a child in a very special generation. In no time at all it became perfectly clear to me that not just my parents but everyone had been awaiting my arrival and was delighted to see me. Grown-up people of all ages and genders peered into my pram and then my pushchair as if they were slightly distant relatives. They stopped on the street to chuck me under the chin and pinch my cheek (yes, well-fed, rosy with health) and congratulate the adult pushing me on bringing me into the world. Even old Queen Mary, Edwardian widow of George V, had her chauffeur stop the Rolls in St. James’s Park, where my father had taken me to feed the ducks.Read more
  • The Poet, who made Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork for supper last night, so I am not entitled to complain about anything, has a dark side. Before he was an academic he was a book dealer. He gave up book dealing but not the books. We live in a terraced house which backs on to the railway line. These houses were all railway worker’s cottages. They have tiny rooms and steep staircases. They are lovely, well-built but must have been cramped even with a smallish family living in them. Read more
  • August is the worst month to be living in Cambridge. It’s quite a small town, with a population of about 120,000, very small compared to Gothenburg with 510,000 inhabitants. It has local areas, but the centre is a functioning part of everyone’s life. The market square has had stalls selling its wares since the middle ages, and it still sells everyday necessities like bread, cheese and local vergetables. There’s a farmers’ market every Sunday morning. Nearby is the largest John Lewis department store in the country. Read more
  • Last week while reading Samuel Beckett’s Company, I came across the phrase ‘a block hat’. Beckett describes his solitary protagonist lying on his back in the dark remembering the times when he walked in the countryside or the coast, with his father, as a child, and as an adult, alone. He is sartorially a perfect Beckettian character wearing an ancient decrepit ‘greatcoat’ that comes down to his boots which sink into the snow or sand, and a black ‘block hat’. Read more
  • It’s beginning to feel as if the beat of our lives is marked by acts of human violence and stupidity. Our lives mostly consist in routines of work and play, and intermittent moments of spring, summer, art, literature, comedy, music – all those items in the world that gain our attention or inattention and allow us pleasurably to think or tick over idly. Read more
  • In 1959, by pure accident, Roger O. Thornhill was mistaken for another man. Actually, he was taken for a man who did not and had never existed. Thornhill’s initials spell ROT, which is printed on his monogrammed matchbooks, and when asked what the O stands for, he replies, “Nothing.” That O in the center of his name zeros in on Thornhill’s lack of identity, an all-style-no-substance absence that first allows and then forces him to be whomever anyone else wants him to be. Read more
  • It hasn’t been a good year for sporting heroes. Lance Armstrong finally admitted what just about everybody already knew, though with barely an apology to the people who devotedly followed him and his organisation, partly because he was such a winner and partly because he was such a winner in spite or because of having suffered and overcome testicular cancer.Read more
  • There is a picture in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where I live, called The Annunciation. I keep a postcard of it in my writing room, and visit the actual painting from time to time. A winged and haloed angel Gabriel, holding white lilies and pointing up to the heavens, kneels before the Virgin Mary, also haloed, her arms crossed on her breast, her head slightly bent to receive his earth-shattering message.Read more
  • I was born in central London two years after the Second World War. My parents were first-generation British Jews, brought up in London’s East End by their immigrant parents who had escaped from the Eastern European pogroms in the early years of the twentieth century. Since my birth in 1947, no one has ever said to me ‘You would all be dead. Your mother, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed.’Read more
  • A friend of mine in his mid-twenties is a Film Studies graduate, and like a typical old person – both somewhat right and very annoying – I’m always mentioning old movies to him, being surprised he hasn’t seen them, and pointing out earlier connections to films he has seen, as if he can’t really know a film properly without knowing what came before. Read more
  • I’ve spent a good deal of time lately reading up on the set of historical, medical and philosophical conditions known for centuries as melancholia and more recently as depression. My interest is that I’ve been commissioned to write a book about melancholia, but I’ll be writing it because it’s a subject I’ve lived with and thought around most of my life.Read more
  • ‘All pens are filled with potential’. So begins an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper for its ‘new idea’. The paper is offering weekend masterclasses in creative writing and publishing, taught by novelists (‘discover the novelist within’), historical fiction writers (‘Historical novels have been riding high in the best-seller lists of late.Read more
  • The first lesson: finding. Actually, the only lesson: what you do when you find what you want is another lesson entirely, and not one that will be taught. Finding is a question of looking, my child. Of looking in the right way. That’s looking not to see, do you see, but to allow what you want to present itself to your vision.Read more
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