Many drive 4x4s. My mother was a 3×3. My father a 5×3. But this week it was off to an evening billed as a 5×15. Here at the wonderfully converted Tabernacle in North Kensington, five of the literati (supposedly without notes) spout forth for fifteen minutes ,not necessarily about their latest books. The evening was kicked off by the much awarded Howard Jacobson.
As it happens on a recent villa trip my hostess was raving about his Booker prize winner The Finkler Question. She claimed that Jacobson was the British Roth. I had also tried that book and Jacobson is to Roth what sandwich spread is to caviar.
He started well in a Jewish way(it is his party piece) having a go at the event,, all events and British antisemitism in general. Typically he mentioned that in a cathedral city(Wells) antisemitism was like fox hunting not an act of cruelty but part of the air breathed. In a Woody Allen type way he went through a well rehearsed repertoire of Jewish boys being bad at sport and wearing special underpants. And then even with his notes after ten minutes he just ran out. 6/10
Cob Stenham was a close friend of a close friend. When he was finance director of Unilever he set up that mighty combine on its generous sponsorship of the arts. He also guided me on one or two stories.
His daughter is the successful young playwright Polly. She brought her f an club who chuckled and whooped at every gesture and youknow. Gamin and pretty she might be but she was a professional entertainer and we a paying audience. So getting repeatedly lost in your notes especially when they are all about you and yours and asking the audience to talk among themselves was frankly embarrassing. As was a lot of what she was confessing.4/10
Esther Freud. Very professional and galloped entertainingly though how she came to write her latest, Mr Mac and Me. A novel based around the Scottish architect Renee Mackintosh and his relationship with Warbleswick where Esther like many others(inl. Knowland cousins ) has bought a country cottage. Bravo.7/10
Ruth Padel. Never heard of her but I live in Putney .She has picked up numerous awards as well as publishing ten collections of poetry. She went through the anatomy of a poem which was electrifying and enriching. I had never realised that it’s the vowels which are the wind which drives a poem along. Of course she got into deeper and less satisfying areas when she tried to explain what it is and why it is she does it. This route always ends up in embarrassing acne.. But she finished on a memorable line. Making is the defence against the dark. 6/10
William Self. I had come to jeer at this long streak of socialist piss. But. But. What a master. Of the audience. He mocked the others feeble attempts with notes. Poetry is chocolate cake with crack cocaine-I need it once a year. I resigned being a Jew when the Israelis invaded Lebanon. I too was brought up in Warbleswick.He laughed he joked. He danced, he fooled. He asked the audience for a subjects. Planted or not, the subject he riffed on was doubt. Absolutely brilliant discourse on Cartesain philosophy. I find him unreadable but that evening he was the man. The boss. 10/10
Next month its Frostrup, Levy, Davies, Frayn and Spencer. So plenty to boo and hiss there.