In Praise of Good Telly

Downton Abbey? You can keep it; Eastenders in posh frocks. Coronation Street? Never watched it, though Ena Sharples was a well known name in my primary school playground. Holby City? Phuh.

I am not the greatest television watcher, mostly because I have a very small television that makes it less of a relaxing pastime and more of one where you have to stand up and close to the screen so as to see what is going on. And I write as someone who only has myopia in one eye.

But every now and then I am gripped by a series. Wolf Hall earlier this year hardly counts as it was a transcendental adaptation of two transcendental novels. Anyway, I saw most of it on Celia and Charlie’s proper sized television. For a series, other than things like Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs to which I am completely addicted, to get my full attention it has to be pretty good. Or the Olympics.

Short silence while I relive the joy of standing a foot (31cm to my metric readers) from the television screen while Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Hannah Cockroft and David Weir did their stuff while I shouted encouragement to their unhearing ears.

Back in 1996, quite by chance I caught the first episode of This Life. I was gripped. Immediately. I spoke about it to everyone I knew. No, no one else had seen it. Zero interest. So it was with a degree of cynicism some weeks later when This Life had become an unmissable televisual event in the circles in which I swim that I listened to those same people swearing that they had been into the programme from the word Go!

Today, out and about in London, where mid-afternoon I got drenched in the unforecast heavy rain shower, I noted several unmarked police cars flashing those distinctive blue lights, and racing along the streets. I don’t know what they were doing, and tonight’s Channel 4 News didn’t help. Somehow I think it’s probably connected to our understandable nervousness following events in Paris both on Friday and today. Continue reading

Six Books of 2012

I thought I might write a post of my top ten reads of 2012, but two stood out so far above the rest that I thought I might make it five, and one of those will be a reread.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel was, in my eyes, the deserved winner of this year’s Booker Prize. Her prose is so deft, her lyricism, her down-to-earthness all built a believable world with Thomas Cromwell as the unlikely hero at its centre. I was concerned it wouldn’t be as good as the first book in the trilogy, Wolf Hall, but it emphatically is. The only thing that stops me champing at the bit for the third volume is that Mantel has managed to make me rather fond of Cromwell, and of course the third volume is where it all goes horribly wrong. Perhaps that is something of an understatement for his fall from grace, trial and execution.
My second top book was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeannette Winterson’s powerful memoir. Like Bring Up the Bodies I started reading a library copy, but a few pages in knew it was a book I had to own. It is Winterson’s very own self-help book, how she survived an extraordinary childhood, succeeded against the odds in being herself, made it to Oxford, wrote a fictionalised account of her life in her début novel, had her own fall from grace, depression, attempted suicide, rebirth. Which makes it all sound rather dull. But it isn’t, no it isn’t at all. Her comments, her reflections, her humour, her absolute drive for survival make this a compelling and wonderful book. Her remarks about the importance of well stocked public libraries, or the power of language, the connection between the language of the King James version of the bible and understanding Shakespeare should be engraved on the eyelids of Michael Gove and anyone who thinks education is simply what we put in the National Curriculum. Oh, and she likes cats and dogs too.
In another year, Michèle Roberts Ignorance, a novel about collaboration, occupation and resistance in France under the Nazis, would have been higher up my list. It is a subject the French have not yet really faced, and is thought provoking and often painful stuff. Continue reading

Of the Booker Prize, Betting Shops, and James Naughtie

Where I live there are lots of betting shops. I do mean lots. At least five over a stretch of half a mile or so. Today I wish I knew how to use them. This may seem barely credible, but in all my life I have never placed a bet in a betting shop. I have taken part in sweepstakes at work, spent a happy evening losing five pounds at the greyhound track, bought the odd lottery ticket, numerous raffle tickets, but the world of Paddy Power, William Hill et al is a mystery to me.
But tonight it is the Booker Prize, and I want to put my 50p on Will Self’s Umbrella. It isn’t the book I want to win, that is Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which is sublime, but she has won already with Wolf Hall, and a second win for the second book in her trilogy would be less than likely.
I went to the Royal Festival Hall last night to hear all those short listed read from their books. I learned that I have been pronouncing Mantel’s name wrongly all this time, placing the emphasis on the first and not the second syllable. I also learned that her creation Thomas Cromwell sounds entirely different in her mouth to in my head. Interesting. Continue reading

Thursday Continued

NotCat’s poo is now stowed under the car. Tomorrow I shall take it with me when we leave. That’s not because I have some weird retentive fetish about holding onto NotCat’s body waste, there are no rubbish disposal facilities here. I’ll get rid of it at the earliest opportunity. Even wrapped in newspaper and inside a bag, it still packs quite a punch.

It is still raining, but it feels like it might stop soon. There was a mighty noise a while ago and I nearly spilled my cocoa. Wet weather is such a good opportunity for cocoa appreciation. Anyway, NotCat growled, I looked out, and there was a heron. By the time I got my camera it had moved away, but I hovered hopefully, wondering if it would come back or if one of the kingfishers might appear. No such luck, so here is a photo of a distant heron. If you look carefully, you’ll see it.

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My interest in ornithology continued for several minutes and I watched this bird, who was considerably happier swimming around the marina than I would be.

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When the kingfisher didn’t show up, I watched the rain bouncing on the water.

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I am also keeping an eye on a boat across the marina. I earned my good deed badge this morning when I noticed it behaving oddly. I realised one of the ropes had become detached and it was swinging about. At first, I couldn’t see any spare rope, then spotted a loop that was far inferior to the rope at the other end of the boat, waited for the wind to blow it towards the pontoon again and reattached it. So far so good.

Continue reading

Wet Night at the Marina

Tucked up cosily on the boat. We are lucky; the weather which has been mainly dry on the journey, has changed to steady rain. It beats an energetic rhythm on the roof.

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NotCat sleeps on the bed which is airing with the electric blanket. When he climbed out of the car, in his harness with the lead attached, he was curious and alert. Then some people appeared and he flattened himself on the grass until they had gone. I was glad to see him recover his nerve, and even gladder when he led me in a sure line towards the boat. He stopped and sniffed the path, looked about him, interested and relaxed.

The wind was up and although he walked onto the pontoon confidently enough, he soon had second thoughts. We retreated and roamed the area by the fence. Then back to the pontoon. This time I picked him up. I had visions of him panicking and both of us ending in the water.

Last time we were here I found a damp place under the window when I stripped the bed. It was just before we left and we were already late. I have had my fingers crossed it was condensation. I let out a sigh of relief when I found it dry today.

So I have eaten. The bed is freshly made. The food stowed in fridge and cupboard. My book waits for me. Tonight I shall start on Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. But first a glass of rum.