Lovely pint of Hophead from Brewsters of Grantham, Lincolnshire, at the Cock and Bull Society’s Real Beer Festival at the weekend, taking away at least for a while the nasty taste the very thought that usually springs to mind of that town, the original home of the grocer’s daughter; unfair really, to be burdened with Margaret Thatcher like that. Anyway, serious hops and I got a hint of fruit, a lively and refreshing triumph at 3.6%. In my book (one of the many lost books – see below) the art of brewing is getting loads of flavour into something you can safely quaff a few of and not be a cause for regret; as you get older the powers of recovery go.
I’ve been glued to the television the last four Sunday nights on Channel4 for ‘The promise‘, Peter Kosminsky‘s dual timeline drama of Israel and Palestine, a spelling out in the stories of individuals of the moral maze of Israel’s bloody establishment in 1948 and the desperate and depressing mess now ongoing in Hebron and Gaza. I had no idea of just how badly we, the British, in the time of the sainted Attlee government, let the Arabs down. Heartbreaking stuff, the Zionists calling the British army Nazis for holding out for an orderly transition, until they just split, of course, leaving the Palestinians at the mercy of the armed Zionists; Hitler’s legacy (Western guilt) causing problems for us all, still.
The beauty of Kosminsky’s treatment – the peacenik Israeli being victim of Palestinian suicide bombers, for example – was that it didn’t take sides, couldn’t take sides. And the key here was Claire Foy’s mesmerizing performance as the gauche 6th former full of righteous indignation at what she was finding – discovering the score, the awful bloody scores – and trying naively but bravely to do something about it, as she followed her unhappy granddad’s journal of his time there, a good man with the army in 1948. Slow it may have been at times, but worth every minute. I was moved; that hasn’t happened to me with the telly for a long while. And my previously simplistic view of the Israeli-Palestine conflict has been shaken.
Talking of promise leads inevitably to consideration of the current Arsenal side and their being stupidly held to a draw by Leyton Orient in one cup competition and losing to Birmingham in the final of another one on Sunday. Life’s little ironies – how long has one been imploring them to shoot from the edge of the penalty area for a change? So the opposition keeper gets Man of the Match.
Also annoyingly, I find it hard to erase a line from a song on the John Grant album I rubbished last post. “Sometimes I feel like Sigourney Weaver …” Amazing how hard it was to find confirmation of that quote in Google because there are so many personal testimonies out there on the web of people saying how sometimes they feel just like Sigourney Weaver in ‘Alien’. Anyway, never having been a fan of horror movies, I’d rather hear something like, “Sometimes I feel like John Stuart Mill when he discovered the maid of a lady friend he’d leant it to had thought the scruffy draft – the only copy – of the book on the French Revolution that his friend Thomas Carlyle had given him to have a quick look at before it went to the printers, had thrown it out as scrap.” No easy backups in those days. Maybe Neil Hanlon could write the song.
A story, that, taken from ‘The book of lost books‘ by Stuart Kelly ( 2005), subtitled rather misleadingly on the cover of the 2006 Penguin as, ‘an incomplete history of all the great books you will never read‘. Kelly is a self-confessed anorak who got into Greek drama at aged 15 in order to get out of doing sports. This new departure saved him from making lists of things like “Everyone in Star Wars that wasn’t made into a figure” and started him off on what became ‘The book of lost books’. He’s a clever man. He has a lot of fun; sometimes you share it, sometimes you don’t – probably depends on what you yourself bring to the show. “The entire history of literature was also the history of the loss of literature,” he says in the introduction and I have to say he exposed – no, threw light on – some of my blind spots.
Anyway, plenty of ways for books to get lost: though mentioned in other books, they can be destroyed by the ravages of time and history; they can be disposed of by the writers themselves, or their relatives and friends to save reputations, or censors; they can be simply abandoned by their creators, or completion cut short by contingencies like death, or just be good intentions never realised. Near the end – the arrangement is chronological – he actually posits the all the books potentially there in William Burroughs’ use of the randomized cut-up method in creating the ‘Naked Lunch’ trilogy, but never realised in their stead.
Sometimes lost books turn up, as in the case of a prizewinning Greek playwright millennia later:
Menander had been regarded as the hypothetical progenitor of a dramatic line that culminated in Shakespeare, Moliere and Feydeau. Introducing him back into the theatrical repertoire now seemed as sensible as cloning a caveman and asking him to cook for a dinner party. Lost, Menander was a genius; found, he was an embarrassment.
A few other personal favourites and titbits gleaned:
- Francois Villon’s “pathological dual career in rhyme and crime” (“Other poets … have struck the bad boy pose, and glorified in being ‘accursed’, ‘bohemian’ or ‘rebellious’. Francois Villon … really was a delinquent and killer …” Ben Jonson had quite a life too.
- James Boswell, amanuensis and biographer to Samuel Johnson, seen as Laurel & Hardy, described as being “the blubbing Stan to Sam’s impatient Ollie“
- Johnson again, predicting of Laurence Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’ (a book dear to this blog’s heart, hence its nom de blog), “Nothing odd will do long – Tristram Shandy will not last.”
- a delightful rubbishing by interjection (“Excuse me…”) of Coleridge’s prose introduction describing its inception to ‘Kubla Khan’. “Scriptus interruptus reached pandemic proportions among the Romantic writers …“
- Emile Zola, in exile in England at a certain stage in the Dreyfus Affair, watching cricket in Sussex