A type of story I would never have thought of writing but decided to try my hand at is a Christmas Ghost Story. A friend of mine who I won’t name but lives in Keighley has written a Christmas Ghost Story for a number of years so, as I don’t do cards I thought I’d have a go at the literary tradition to fill in any Yuletide communication gap. It turns out I’m not bad at them, though really they’re seasonal non-ghost stories rather than anything in the style of M.R.James. The only precondition I insist on is I must get a decent idea enough in the year for me to be able to write it in a leisurely style over a number of months before sending the completed tale out around the shortest day. So far I have done three such stories to great critical acclaim – this year six people have responded enthusiastically to the five pager – a new record! And I already have my idea for the 2019 edition, so it looks like a little sub-canon of such work is starting to build up among the Duckworth work numbers.
Feeling in a rut, though as Alan Bennett says, ‘the good thing about being in a rut is that you know where you are.’ Anyway, I decided to go back to doing things om my own that I wanted to do. This is a good idea as it is very rare other people want to do what I want to do. Left to my own devices I do enjoy living in my hut at the far end of a Norwegian fiord. Anyway – again, I took myself off to the Liceu Opera House in Barcelona to see a production of Katarina Kabanova by Leos Janacek. Down on the AVE, (the high speed train.) Only 37 minutes from Sants Station, and only twenty euros return. (Thank you to rip off British Rail prices for providing the subsidy for my little local trip.) Pinxos and red wine before picking up the tickets in the Basque place behind Santa Maria del Mar, where I met someone who had worked with Toby Jones who said I was much taller than he is. I’m not much taller than anybody. Just how tall is Toby Jones? Anyway – one more time – it was a good production of the not so often performed Janacek. Great score. Cava in the mirror bar beforehand and back in Girona before 21:20. Out of my rut, I feel much more positive about the variables in life. In a ‘notes from the countryside’ way the funfair for Sant Narcis week in the Devesa Park has departed, and the Christmas decorations are up, though they won’t be illuminated until December 1st, if Girona’s easy going rut goes to plan.
I came across a nonsensical aphorism of genius by Stan Jefferson, also known as Stan Laurel lately, ‘Anyone can build a nest but not everyone can lay an egg.’ I tried to do something similar but couldn’t manage it. The one off formula of this Stan Laurelism relies on a general metaphor. People, birds, build nests. This is then followed up with something connected but specific. The second part of the Aphorism isn’t a metaphor, it is a description of a particular physical act, ‘laying an egg,’ something not everyone can do. Result a great nonsensical truism. But just to show everyone who reads this blog, if anyone does? that I am not completely wasting my time this September, I came up with something not half as good. Or maybe it is exactly half as good. So, feel free to use it sometime no time. ‘Anyone can eat a banana but not everyone can slip on its skin.’
I have spent two weeks in Yorkshire and other English Regions whose main positive was that it was ten centigrade cooler than in Girona. I quite enjoyed it. But underlying this pleasant coolness after about nine days was a low level annoyance with the place and after thirteen days satisfaction about going back to Girona the following morning. My work was done. My time was up. Now I’m sure I would be similarly annoyed with Catalonia if my Catalan was good enough to understand when people were complaining, but it isn’t so I aren’t. My Catalan is fine one to one and I’m quite able to get what I want, but I have little idea about the general chit-chat passing me by, and I hope to keep it that way. The main benefit to this ignorance is that it keeps my blood pressure low. My blood-pressure was something I could feel was on the rise over the two weeks staying in a place right in the middle of a phony civil cold war before the action starts. Everywhere felt like it was trying to avoid the consequences of its divisive actions. Certainly all the sheep with a nasty side who voted leave and hadn’t changed their minds were very silent about the prospect of everyone except the few becoming poorer and less free by handing over control to the multi-millionaires. All in all, after my holiday it was good to be back in a country where I don’t really know what is going on.
It’s a long hot summer, which suits me now I have learned how to do nothing during it. Close down the blinds to dismantle the sun. In the style of Sancho Panza summer is an ideal time for sleeping three hours in the afternoon. And when the heat hasn’t dropped in the night and you give up on the early hours, between four and five in the morning is a good time to finish off what you haven’t managed to do while you were asleep in the afternoon. After an hour sleep returns and remember, time spent oblivious is never time wasted.
Gogol stuck in the UK of 2018 would feel perfectly at home – A prime Minister masquerading a s Nose. David Davis’ Brexit negotiation diary that of a madman with no interest in connecting to what looks increasingly like reality. There is something very mid-nineteenth century Russian about the whole set up. Nothing adds up. 52% of people deluded on the grandest of scales behave as if nothing is the matter. As a Civil Cold War in the country starts to look long term 317 divided Tory MP’s start to get herded into a smaller and smaller space until the only thing left for them to do is to apply leeches to Liam Fox’s nose and pour cold water over his head. Funny though this is, and let’s hope it gets a lot funnier, the down side to this nose dive is that it affects me. Here on my Catalan estates I am having to think about if I ‘m going to get treated like a Canadian. I suppose I could resort to a Franz Liszt Triangular tour – Girona, Perpignan, Switzerland or some such. Anyway, I do have a plan even though I am still hoping that the beneficial positive common-sense solution for the country of staying right where it is might reluctantly and as a last resort be taken. But I bet I can rely on the present excuse for a conservative government not doing that, otherwise what is it for?
Interested in classical music as I am and long since someone who is interested in what the narrow mainstream overlooks, I have found but also returned to a number of works over the last year. Havergal Brian Symphony No 3, Cipriani Potter the symphonies between 1819 and 1834 and the Anton Rubinstein Quartets No 1 and 2 both part of the Op 17 set. These works are truly a case of there being as the composer Robert Simpson said, ‘no good critics.’ Let me qualify that. Any critic who isn’t a creative artist naturally has no idea how things are created by artists. What they do is more academic cross-referencing than criticism. To an extent these people can tell you what has happened but have little or no idea about what is happening now. When it comes to now they confuse their own prejudice with insight and as a result Art History of all kinds has suffered from the long tradition of prejudiced critics deciding what is and isn’t good. Understand I am not criticising these people I am just describing them. As well as the general damage done it is interesting how much better say a composer like Brahms would have become if he hadn’t had the support of the nineteenth century Viennese critics. Having said there are no good critics there is the great Jonathan Meades who has created his own art form for delivering cultural ideas and to a lesser extent there was the late Robert Hughes, again at his best a generator of ideas, though always a lot better talking about things he liked rather than what he didn’t. Then there is Freud, who didn’t write much about culture but did write ‘Civilization and its Discontents’ and the line, ’there are no differences except cultural differences,’ is worth the entry fee alone. And finally we have Shelly ‘In Defence of Poetry,’ the essential short read about what culture is and does.
Trapped by snow in the South of France is the more accurate title but I wanted to save time, which I haven’t done because I felt the need to explain it further. What happened was we chose the one day of the year in a fifty-year period when having a meeting in Nimes, a fifty-minute car journey from Montpellier, would result in a life or death struggle on the return journey. Now making lots of money as I am in the international recruitment game, does not make taking seven and a half hours getting back to Montpelier okay. We were fortunate, at least we got off the A9 and into Montpellier, unlike the 4000 people who got stuck on the motorway. In Montpellier there was no way of getting any further, and with the hotel foyers looking like a bad day in Syria by the amount of people who were stuck in a biblical scene with no room at the inn, we settled down to inside the car for the night. Fortunately, the Pompiers were doing a good job, unlike the Gendarmerie who keystone Cop like simply got in people’s way, and so we were swept up and into the Red Cross Refugee Centre in the old Zenith Concert venue. Hot chocolate, sleeping bag, heating and camp bed now provided, we made it through to an already thawing morning, when we managed without shovels to kick the snow away with our suede shoes and get back on the road, making it back to Saint Paul et Valmalle within the hour, because 30 kilometres an hour though it was, there was no traffic on the roads to make the route its usual traffic jam hell. Parking the car up in still drift bound Saint Paul we walked five-minutes through foot deep white stuff back to square one. A day in the life now completed. It is an experience had that has no need to be repeated because I’ve done it once.
Every four months I will write an update of where I am with the writing, a view of things with the scaffolding still up so to speak. I usually work on three or four things at the same time, moving from one to the other rather than keeping to one thing and seeing it through. This is how I work, not a recommendation about how other people should. The most difficult thing at present is a short story called Excoffon. Four pages which will be able to be read in any order giving 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 possible sequences, twenty four possible ways of ordering the pages. All orders will give a version joined up in the way Excoffon letters can all be joined up with each other whatever the sequence of letters is, or not as the case may be. It is a one off, but I wanted to try something different. The other two works I have on the go are plays that have been around sometime, but only now are they taking what looks like their proper shape. Symphonic Poem about Liszt inventing the Symphonic Poem in Weimar in the 1850s and the National Day, a play set at a house party in Brixton on September 11 2016, which is Catalan National Day. I think all my plays are best read rather than performed, but that is only because no one wants to perform them.
In the pre-recording past everything was always up to date. Only in the 18th Century did a sense for the not so distant past appear. Stories like King Arthur being something altogether different, more mythical than historical. The past of antiquity had been important since the Renaissance and had opened up possibilities outside of the restraints of the now. The idea that we were made up of invisible elements called atoms, produced as one of several scenarios started to be backed up by a few observations which made it more plausible than most of the other options on offer. Heraclitus – Epicurus – Lucretius, ‘On the Nature of Things,’ made the biblical into the imprisoned present rather than a story-tale past. But why am I going on like this? Well, Facebook and alumni organizations are starting to take the biscuit. To avoid being annoyed by people from 1979 you never rated in the first place, these networks really need a funnel/filtre of present interests shared, rather than just past places existed in. Before they are even allowed to ask to connect they should have to give serious reasons for continuing a camaraderie that never existed.