This Be the Construct


Don’t Look Now, British Lion Films, 1973

From London Review of Books:

27 February. Good piece in this morning’s Guardian, a discussion between Will Self and Stewart Lee in which the latter describes the hostile reaction he sometimes has to face from audiences. At one point, ‘a guy got really angry. He said it wasn’t the audience’s fault they didn’t get what I was doing and I should be better at my job. I thought there was going to be a fight, as he came down to the stage and was hanging about in a menacing way. I had to come out of character and say: “Look, this is a construct.”’

This is true in all sorts of (less menacing) situations to do with writing. There are plenty of Larkin poems, for instance, in which the poet could add the same footnote: ‘Look, this is a construct (and I’m not as celibate as I pretend or maybe even as racist).’

12 November. The Correr has been reorganised so that the paintings which for me were its chief delight have migrated upstairs somewhere so we don’t find the anonymous man by a Ferraran painter of which we have a reproduction in Yorkshire, or the plump ladies with their dogs and crimped urine-dyed hair on their 15th-century rooftop. As ever, though, R. spots something extraordinary: a classical brooch of an owl remounted in an 18th-century setting which once belonged to Marie Antoinette. But oh the people, myself included.

The greed at breakfast in our hotel is also dispiriting, one young woman this morning with such a passion for fruit that she piles her plate with melon, pineapple, grapes and kiwi fruit and fills her pockets with tangerines to the extent that in the process nature itself is demeaned. Hard to be a waitress at breakfast and retain a respect for one’s fellows. Some of the well-to-do guests can’t wait to get the food back from the breakfast bar to their table, one young man downing a tumbler of orange juice en route and a boy stuffing himself with sausages before he even sits down.

An adventure. When I used to come to Venice in the 1970s I ate, sometimes every night, at Montin’s, now quite a celebrated restaurant and a short walk from the Accademia. We book for this evening, except I’m not sure if I’ll remember the way, all that remains is that one passed a cinema (long since closed) and took a short cut through a sottopassaggio before turning left onto the quay with the welcome red lantern outside Locanda Montin. In the circumstances we decide to splash out on a water taxi, the trip only taking ten minutes or so before the driver calls us up from the cabin to explain this is as close to the side as he can get. There’s a gap between the swaying boat and the landing stage of three or four feet down across water onto the stone. R. manages it first and with him on one side and the boatman on the other I launch myself into space, with time enough as I’m flying through the air to wonder with a bad ankle and at 82 how I’m going to manage. But it’s OK, though even Lynn, who’s normally so intrepid, is unnerved by the leap. It’s only when we get into Montin’s and compare notes that we realise how risky it’s been. Still, we have a nice meal though Italian food isn’t quite the same as it was. In the 1970s I invariably ate Parma ham and melon followed by liver and sage, neither of them on the menu tonight.

“Diary”, Alan Bennett, London Review of Books