Could this be the new normal diaries? 28th June 2022

A normal where although the pandemic is not over it feels less of a threat than before? A normal where we watch aghast night after night at what is happening in Ukraine and feel helpless? A normal where the poorest countries in the world teeter on the edge of famine and food poverty is a term that has entered all our vocabularies?

I can’t say it’s that cheerful. Yet despite the disaster which is the UK government, the lurch to the right by so many countries including my own, there is something about long light evenings, about wild flower meadows, about blue skies and chilled white wine that mitigates the gloom. It’ll be a different story in December.

I have been enraged by Sheffield Hallam University’s announcement that it will suspend its English Literature degree course on the grounds that graduates do not swiftly move Ito high end high status highly paid posts within eighteen months of achieving their degrees. English Literature is apparently a low value degree. Oh yeah? Tell that one to the marines. Since when has education been valued by the salary one earns?

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st June 2020

So we have reached the longest day. It doesn’t seem quite possible. Celia and I were talking about this yesterday: how can we be in mid summer when the usual rituals, the usual events that are our landmarks as we move through the months simply haven’t happened? I realise I am somehow waiting for them. So it’s surprising to see tomatoes and cucumbers forming on plants, surprising to find we have moved from the daffodils and bluebells to the hydrangeas and hollyhocks, surprising the days are going to start getting shorter from tomorrow.

The billboards thanking our key workers which we saw everywhere have changed too. There’s a really striking one about domestic violence saying abusers always work from home. Along the SouthBank there are pleas for cash as well alongside the poems to remind us of the poetry library and all the other wonders we cannot currently access, and which are now in jeopardy.

Support the SouthBank

Poetry diversion

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Wear your poppy and remember

I don’t want to see Nigel Farage wearing a poppy, or any of the other people who talk about the wars of the twenty-first century for political gain; the jingoism reignited by men who never had to face themselves and find out what it was to lose everything.
We are told to wear our poppies with pride, but sorrow would be more appropriate. Sorrow for the loss of life, for the devastation caused by ideologues to whom the concept of a shared humanity was an anathema.
Farage is an ideologue. He is not the only one. Here in the U.K. and across the world there are people calling themselves patriots who have confused patriotism with nationalism. Nationalism does not understand shared humanity. Continue reading

Booked

My shelves are groaning. Something has to be done. Culling books is so hard. Each one feels like a friend, how to tell them they aren’t needed anymore, how to cast them into the outer darkness that is the charity shop (even though that’s where a fair few of them were before I brought them home)?
A friend is taking some volumes of French poetry I feel I can live without, as well as a copy of Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris, a book I used to love. I read the opening pages, and I still love it, I just don’t think I’ll read it again.
There are so many wonderful books I haven’t read, if I could just identify the ones on my shelves I shall reread and let the rest go it would be an immense help. As it is, I feel a responsibility to make sure they all end up in good homes. Continue reading

Backing the Booker

In Twitterland, Sabina @sabaone responded to the news of the latest book to win the Booker Prize with this comment:

some of the booker winners baffle me. have read God of small things and White tiger and was not impressed by either

I loved The God of Small Things, and thought this year’s winner sounded pretty interesting when I read about it after it was shortlisted. The only Booker prize winners I have tried and failed to read are Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which I hope to try again and enjoy, and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, which I am not going to try again. However, there are many years when I have not read the winner, and 2015’s A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James remains on my to read list.

But I loved Possession: A Romance by AS Byatt, (1990) which was the first novel I managed to read after my father died and which felt like a requited love affair. Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012) by Hilary Mantel are in my all time top ten of best novels I have ever read or hope to read. I’d never have read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013) if I hadn’t heard about it because of Booker. Continue reading