Austen Seven

Austen Seven.

Last week The  Guardian celebrated Jane Austen’s  bicentenary by asking authors to name their favourite Austen novel.

Hilary Mantel bright and original as always chose Austen’s juvenilia which includes Love and Friendship (see link) which became  one of the funniest films ever. Says our Hil “  did she ever write a straight sentence?….. was she cutting up her card board beaux in her mind even as she created them and laughing  at her public as much at her  characters”

Ian McEwan “Northanger Abbey profoundly influenced my novel Atonement…..No place for wild and foolish imaginings. Perhaps this is the very essence of modernity-always to believe one has  arrived in  one’s time at the summit of the modern”

Ahdaf Soueif. Sense and Sensibility.”Jane Austen’s novels change as you change…..S&S was not my favourite as it had neither Mr Darcy or Mr Knightly to satisfy an incorrigible urge towards a Romantic Hero. Edward Ferrars and Col Brandon seem more like diffident absences. Now I reflrct they are amongst the truest of Austen’s characters. For the world they live in is a world where no one may do what they really want … Austen’s genius is that you find  in her a true reflection of what you, at a particular moment, think is reality.”

Claire Tomalin who wrote such a brilliant biography of Austen  grabs most people’s  number one Pride and Prejudice.  Drama and wit,“Mrs Bennett’s least favourite daughter, Elizabeth,stands along side Shakespeare’s Rosalind as one  of the most interesting heroines ever written and surpasses her by being  more complex-multi stranded,capable of dark thoughts.”

Tessa Hadley “The moral universe in Mansfield Park gets more complicated(than P&P);Austen’s emotional range thickens and deepens, along with her novelistic technique…. In Mansfield Park jeopardy, the possibility of these young people making a mistake that could cost them a lifetime of unhappiness feels more real.”

(I did the book for A level and thought that heroine Fanny Price was one of the wettest girls I had ever come across. In the film they somehow introduced a lesbian element.)

Joyce Carol Oates. “Emma is the spreme novel of adolescence,ideally read when one is the heroine’s age-20. Our heroine’s “faults”-her vanity,short sightedness,peremptory behaviour-are flattering faults;commonplace and essentially trivial, not like the traits of meanness and duplicity.”

Margaret Drabble goes for Persuasion. 27 year old ,heroine Anne “objects to woman’s literary reputation for inconsistency, arguing that ‘men had every advantage in telling their story-the pen has always been in  their hands’ and continues with rash, heartbreaking and revealing candour:”All the privilege I  claim for my own sex(it is not an enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” She does of course get her man.




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Pier Hunting-Cromer

Pier Hunting- Cromer

Cromer has one of the most perfect piers. Sturdy and broad without a hint of an amusement arcade or a fair ground ride. Instead it has the most wonderful Pavilion Theatre with “its last in the world end of the pier show”. That is variety, the pot pouri of light entertainment long since derided as not the spice of life.

The walk down from my hotel to the theatre was dramatic with the sun beginning to set and the tide going out. At the interval the sun had gone but dramatic storm clouds were beginning to gather over the North Sea. Later there would be thunder and lightning.

I had come to sneer at middle to low brow England. Its lack of ambition,juggling and camp jokes, surely they died with Jimmy Tarbuck, I knew what to expect.  But I was won over. The 12 member cast produced great dancing, some musical hits (Oklahoma, Les Mis, Dirty Dancing, LA LA Land ), very good audience interplay, a bit of opera, juggling  with humour, some good and some excruciating comedy . “When I was a lad you paid  six pence to see the fat lady with the tattoos, now you just walk along the beach.”

The energy and enthusiasm alone guaranteed  an all round feel good factor. Typically after the show the  cast mingled with the audience , all part of the end of pier experience. Part musical, part panto, pure sea side, how’s your father, all good wholesome fun, I loved it.

Oh,oh,oh….Oh what a lovely pier. I made my excuses and went in search of a good malt, difficult in a town  with 35  care homes which likes to be tucked up by  10.

Cromer itself is so  dinky , with its pier and dominant church that you wonder why it  isnt put in a box so  you can take it home to play with. This is not a kiss me quick resort, there is no Weatherspoons, it bills itself “The Gem of the Norfolk Coast.” Its been around for some time, Oscar Wilde stayed in the brooding Hotel de Paris, Stephen Fry was a waiter there, Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen both wrote of  the resort. The pier one of the last to be built dates from 1901. The town from 1262. The name from “lake frequented by crows”.

On the morning I was there I walked the sands and cliffs to nearby Overstrand. A village with pre war Churchill connections. Few others were on the  long and wide sands, the breeze was my friend, the oyster catchers my companions. The waves and the endless Norfolk sky part of life everlasting. Don’t call a man happy until he has walked alone along a beach. Or been to an end of pier show.

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The Oldest Profession

The Oldest Profession

Man needs sex and affection, woman needs affection and sex. Deals are struck, marriages are made, many survive. But still man needs sex. Perhaps he is hard wired. Sometimes as middle age  pushes glacially on a man might respond to the ancient instinct of spreading it around and turn to prostitutes. A man passed his prime pays money to have sex with a woman who is at the top of her game. The man could well  get infatuated, maybe even feel that this new burst of sexual activity and satisfaction is that thing called love.

David Harris the business man from  Abergeveny couldn’t stand the thought that his kept woman who he had met in a brothel was seeing other people and secretly was plotting his downfall and her exit. He killed her.

Peter Morgan of Amberley,Sussex was so taken with his Lithunian piece who he had also met under the red lamp, that he tried to hire gunmen such to do in his wealthy partner.

These cases  came to mind as  I read this week’s agony column in the  Daily Telegraph. The DT’s so pc agony aunt(ie) is everyone’s favourite gay Graham Norton.

Dear Graham

I’m slowly but inexorably falling in love with a woman. I’m 55; she’s 31; youthful, warm, charming, graceful, exquisitely beautiful. I’ve seen her six times and she’s happy to see me more often.

The problem is, she’s a prostitute. Setting aside any views about the rights and wrongs of such a transaction, I know that my love will not be reciprocated.​ ​

Yet I feel alive and passionate when I’m with her, and it fulfils a yearning to give love, even if I can’t pretend I am receiving it in return. It knocks the “real” relationships I have had into a cocked hat. What should I do?


Norton of course living in part of  society where sex is easily and freely available misses the point and tells John Doe , effectively to get real, grow up and to go back to the sofa for a cuddle with his partner. Forgetting that the call of the wild   can be as irrepressible to straights  as it is to gays.

I have known many men who see business trips and visits to la maison publique as part of the deal. I have  known men who prefer the control of relationships with prostitutes to the complications of adult relationships. With the influx of eastern European women the standard of British call girls has improved immensely.

Whatever, in the end my home made aphorism stands,”The penis is a great source of pleasure but a very bad satnav.”

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Everyday Story

Everyday Story.

When I was 22 I had just graduated with a surprisingly good degree and  was hitchhiking across Canada. An adult life of at least fifty years stretched before me. When Akeem Moore  from nearby Croydon was 22 he already had three children under four, a possible career as a rapper and a few months to live.

A party in Croydon, a sprawling South  London suburb last October had spilled onto the street. Laughing, no doubt smoking  and jiving, folks were having a good time. Why not? It was  11.25, Friday night. But there is a   full stop, a gun man appears, puts his shot gun  to Akeem’s head  and pulls the executioners trigger. The gunman fires again, runs off and the laughter turns to screams  . Few doubt that this was a gang land killing. Some reports mention an earlier incident of “dis”. Typically rapper  Akeem stage name,Tugzy(see link) was also described as a “promising footballer”.

Certainly he was popular, Smoke Zillah launched an on line appeal and 145 contributed  £3285 for his funeral and head stone. His mother hoped  that her “baby prince Akeem’s soul would rest in perfect peace.” His partner and mother of his son reported “her heart was broken.”

The police pulled in 36 year old Benjamin Wallace. Not least they had the testament of his girlfriend that on that fateful night he asked her to wash his tracksuit clean of  the “boy’s brains”. She also said that Wallace had offered £5000 for Moore’s murder. Telephone evidence put Wallace  in the murder area.

But last week in court she said she had made up her story for “vengeful” reasons and anyway that night she was with “another lover”. End of witness credibility, end of case, Wallace  who had spent six months  on remand thanked the judge  after he recorded a not guilty verdict.

So three more kids grow up without a father.  At least two single mums face a life time of struggle. Moore’s aunt says,” Akeem’s children are still very young. They don’t understand what happened. They think their father is playing football in heaven and all they want to do is play with him up there.”

No such tosh will be talked at my funeral, but then I was  never a promising footballer and my mother wont be burying me.






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Death Seen and Heard

Death Seen and Heard

You are old. You feel a bit ill. You retire to your bed. You have no energy,you cannot bear to stand. You find it difficult to eat, then unbearable to drink such is the pain of swallowing. The doctors try everything even experimental drugs but nothing works.  You are of course  dying. As the man said no one gets out of here alive.  Not even Louis XIV, the Sun King.

We all know three quotes from the French throne, Let them eat cake, L’etat c’est moi and Apres moi la deluge. Two were said by the Sun King the man who built  Versailles.

The Death of Louis XIV is  a classic art film, Beautifully made, highly praised, with limited appeal, blink and you wont catch it (the Minema at the Bloomsbury Curzon twice daily) and probably too long.

But like all good art  it has a point. Its nearly  all shot in the candle lit bed room. The endless close ups reveal the noses and  warts of Rembrandt’s portraits. The doctors try this and that,the cooks  refine the food more and  more, some of the statesmen try and get a decision out the man. Sweetly his beautiful hounds are brought in to say good bye,its almost the last real sign of life from Le Roi Soliel.  Priests come and go.In desperation they let a man with an elixir made of bulls blood, bulls sperm and frog fat have a go. He rather beautifully is not drawn by a heavy weight Dutchman but by the livelier, quicksilver Caravaggio.

Sometimes the compelling gloom is lifted by the distant sound of marching bands, sometimes by heart breaking choral arias. But the gangrene spreads. Even kings must go the way of all flesh. And this being a snuff    as well as an art movie on the death bed they cut  Louis open to check the size of his spleen. Actually surprisingly  there were one or two  other (very dark) jokes. Not least the wig.









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Beatles Remembered

Beatles Remembered

One of my few claims to pop history is that I was at the Albert Hall’s Pop Proms in 1963 when the Beatles were number two on the bill. Topping the show that day was Del Shannon singing Swiss Maid.(link,ouch) With the screaming  girls having eyes for only the Fab Four ,very much a changing of the guard moment.

This thought came back  to me as I was leafing through “Revolution in the Head, The Beatles Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald.” Somewhere I had read that this was the best  book ever written on pop music,and especially if you are interested in The Beatles this could well be true.(I got my copy from Abe Books.)

Basically there is a good intro essay and then a great description and reference work on every one of the 186 recordings  they ever made. In the piece on I’m A Loser the influence of Dylan(as elsewhere) is looked at. The harder lyric is a testament to the folk/protest angle which Lennon picked up from Dylan. The Nobel prize winner picked up a more lyrical popular (and controversial) style from the Four.

Anyway on their 1964 US tour they all met up in Manhattan. Our boys drugs of choice were booze and amphetamines. Dylan  offered to roll a joint. This was something unknown to the floppy heads. AS McCartney would later say “Till then we had been scotch and coke men.” Booze and speed gave way to cannabis and LSD and a whole new creative chapter .

So while the Beatles started on the long and winding road which led to Sergeant  Pepper, Dylan prompted by the “ Beatles’ musical vitality  returned to the   rock and roll that motivated  him as a teenager, the result being Bringing It All back Home, one of the decade’s most influential albums”.

Another chapter in the special relationship!







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Swimming for Putney-Saltdean Lido

Swimming for Putney-The Saltdean Lido

Oh dear. Saltdean Lido was built in 1937 as the crown to the art deco garden suburb development  five miles east of Brighton. Beautifully situated between the Downs and the cliffs, It was used as a water tank during the war ,it staggered on, too far from Brighton to be viable, its season too short to make money,the target of several developers until it was closed in 2012.  120 flats were planned for the site.

Then locals formed an action group,   got Heritage Lottery money, crowdfunding and got  the magnificent ocean liner of a complex, all curves and Hockney blue tiles up and swimming. It reopened  on June 17.

The pool is working,the changing rooms basic, the facilities  non existent and the day I went there were more attendants than swimmers. Yesterday was a dull weekday and  school holidays haven’t started,so maybe unfair to judge, but much needs to be done. Lidos that succeed like Brockwell and Tooting are surrounded by low income families who love a day out by a pool. Satldean is very much  semi detatched.

To rub in its problems last Sunday vandals broke in,smashed glass and heaved rocks into the pool.£1200 was the cost of the damage, not much after the £3m spend but saddening and deeply symbolic.

But for me the day was  a success. Brighton with its crazy mixture of stoned locals, oldies, undergraduates and processions of nubile language students, its antiques, its pier,Pavilion,its Green MP,its gay in every sense flavour and style is always worth the 45 minute train ride from Clapham Junction.

Buses go every  few minutes  along the coast ,east to Saltdean, a road I had never taken, past dinky Rottingdean, ultra posh Roedean school, all along the mini white cliffs until snug in its valley the distinctive 40 metre harp shape of the pool and Queen Mary of the main building. Now proudly bearing the slogan Saltdean Lido,The People’s Pool.

Of course its unpopularity yesterday added to my pleasure as a man who swims for his lunch. Which was had across the road down on the beach in the White Cliff Cafe. Also a work in progress. Toilets for customers only.  A very good value paella was served by an extremely attractive  Japanese lady, something very Brighton about that mixture.   I hope the Lido survives for I will now go at least once a year.

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