We've got to talk about Engalnd - 26/07/2014
Well well well. The man's on again.
Dear Nobbbloggees, I hope that you come to my blogs from all angles and all walks of life, and I know that there won't be many of you at the moment because you'll have abandoned me as a bad job. Anyway,my point is that I have to warn you that this blog is only for cricket-loving Nobbbloggees. (Forgive me, but I do like using that word).
I am sorry, non-cricket-loving Nobbbloggees, that you do not like cricket, but if you have managed to live fulfilled lives without the summer game, I really do admire you and you won't be bitter about being excluded from the delights of this blog.
And as for you, my dear cricket-loving Nobbbloggees, you will,be thinking that it's about time I got on with my blog.
Although it lurks beneath everything every cricket writer writes, I don't believe that the one unmistakeable cause of our rapid decline is even now sufficiently realised.
The biggest disappointments this season have been Cook, Bell, Prior, Anderson and Broad. They are the five who played two Ashes series back to back. They are knackered. Not so much physically knackered as mentally knackered. I do believe that this crass scheduling error will never be repeated, but even so, the arrivel of test series after test series is going to do players heads in. There are no matches in between, to hone their form in moments of infinitely less tension. W.G.Grace, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hutton, Compton did not have to face anything like this.
Also, in addition to my five disappointments, we have lost Trott completely, in all probability, he went so far as to be destroyed by it all,and Peterson of course is also no longer there, He seemed to get so mentally jaded that he could only get his thrills out of deliberately attempting to hit the ball over the heads of outfielders placed there specifically to catch him.
Cook. Captaincy. Sadly, and surprisingly, I just don't think he's got it. Batting. He will, if picked, regain his form to score lots of runs abroad. I am very doubtful if he will ever fully correct his technique outside the off-stump sufficiently to score runs in England against teams whose every swing bowler knows of his weakness. The next ashes are in England. He will have had, I believe, a winter's rest. Oh blessed winter's rest. But can he do it technically?
Bell. I am a Bell fan. But the effort of concentration that he achieved last summer in winning the ashes, almost single-handedly, must have drained him. After writing a novel, I cannot begin another one for at least three months. I am drained. A cricketer in the middle order of the batting takes a long walk to the wicket, a loner at that moment in a team game, and has no idea what is going to be flung at him. It is one of sport's supreme tests of nerve. At the end of an Ashes series a batsman must be, should in fact be, drained. Bell was one of the few who didn't have trouble with MitchellJohnson in Australia. His poblems were with himself. He got out to silly shots off silly bowlers. Concentration. All used up,not enough time to replace it.
Prior. The failure of his concentration has been obvious. Also, he does have a problem with fast, short-pitched bowling. He is a macho man, and I don't think he can quite face this weakness in himself. I don't need to dwell on Prior. He has gone. This may be temporary. It may not. At this moment he bows out, bruised, battered and bewildered.
I don't really need to speak of Anderson and Broad as individuals. They are a pair. That is what they are in there to be, a pair. No escape from them at either end. But they too have this huge problem with their concentration, because,deep diown, they are knackered. Hence those moments when one or other,or both, cannot pitch a length. Look how Broad cannot concentrate on his batting. Anderson can, but only because it has been such a joyous and unexpected revelation.Hence those long spells where one or other, or both, pitch it too short.
Very few people seem to be able to understand just what tension is involved in representing your country at the incredibly difficult game of cricket. Don't get me wrong. I love Cook and Bell and Prior and Anderson and Broad. I do not want them to be destroyed. And, if they are, the new generation will thrive for a while, until the relentless greed for money by the authorities, drops them to their knees too.
Making predictions over cricket is a hazardous game. I hope Cook and Bell get hundreds at Southampton, an d Anderson and Broad bowl brilliantly. If they do, I will suspect that a iittle bit, or perhaps quite a lot, of their motivation will be fear, fear that they are no longer irreplaceable.
Fear is better than nothing, but it is a bad, bad motivation. Let them have times off, in the scheduling, always, to rekindle their love of their coluntry, and, even more importantly, their love of the game.
LOWRY - 23/07/2014
Hello again,, Nobbbloggees.
I was in Media City yesterday. In glorious sunshine it looked so much better than it did when I last saw it, in winter People lolled in deckchairs. There was a lot of lolling going on. I lolled myself for a few minutes, but I'm just not one of nature's lollers.
What was I doing in Media City UK? Time will tell - I hope.
After my one meeting, and my one spell of lolling, I wandered towards the Lowry, stood on the Quays taking in this new but already iconic scene. I can't say I was thrilled by the buildings. A few were quite attractive, but all of them were doing their own thing, shouting 'Look at me'. There seemed to me to be no sense of identiyy of place, of unity,of interaction
The Lowry itself was more interesting, as was the Northern Imperial War Museum, it was genuinely striking. But both buildings seemed to me to grow less impressive the more I looked at them. I felt that the architects had tried too hard. There seemed to be great bulky shapes plonked onto them with no hint of any useful function. But that is just a matter of opinion,and I will shortly be talking of disasters about which there can be no doubt at all, so let's give them a bit of the benefit of the doubt and move on.
I entered the Lowry. But where was Lowry? Chairs and tables for coffee and cakes sprouted in every corner. The gift shop was busy. The box office for no less than three theatres in one building was, naturally, also busy. But where was Lowry? I had to ask to be directed to the art gallery, which I had thought to be the whole point of the place. It was up an escalator. At the top I got my free ticket and paid my suggested donation of three pounds and entered the gallery. It is one of the smallest galleries I have ever seen. It was so small that I wasn't tired when I'd seen everything. Have you ever come out of a gallery and not been tired when you've seen everything? It probably isn't as small as I thought, but it seemed small in its obscure corner of this elephantine edifice. It was out of scale with the building that housed it.
As I came out, I looked across a small, anodyne square. Opposite me was a large building, its name very prominently displayed.. I can't remember whether it was called The Lowry Outlet or just Lowry Outlet. Does it matter? The the is immaterial. Oh L.S., solitary, seemingly lonely man, thank goodness you didn't live to walk from your little gallery and stride across the street to your huge outlet, with its unrivalled opportunity to buy thousands of very ordinary things with at least 25% off, from. dull, standardised shops, inelegantly arranged.
I did not reach the end of the building because I saw the dread words 'food court'. Did that mean a food hall but with tennis? I'll never know. But wait. If Lowry is hungry he doesn't even need to enter his outlet, What do you fancy.L.S.? The Cafe Rouge? No, sorry, it's not a lot like the Moulin version. Ah. A pizza? Very quick. Express, in fact. Or a taste of Bella Italia.
Could they really not have done better than this, here in the north, that place of character and individuality? No, it's not absolutely awful, in fact you could be charitable and describe it in that awful English phrase, as 'quite nice', and people may say it's better than what was there before, and that may be true, but oh Manchester, Manchester, great industrial city of character, could you really not have done better than this?
Did I see nothing that pleased me yesterday afternoon? Oh yes. I'm not sure just how good a painter Lowry was, but two pictures gave me enormous pleasure. One of them was called 'Cripples' and everyone in the pictuyre was a cripple. I found it stunning, deeply upsetting, yet hauntingly beautiful. It was the title of the other picture that impressed me. It made my day. It was called 'Standing Around' It showed, not surprisingly, people standing around. I've seen religious scenes, mythological scenes, abstract scenes, cubist scenes, impressionist scenes. This was none of those things. It was a picture of people standing around, and it didn't mock these people, it honoured them. So many things are missing from Lowry's paintings - pretension, hate, contempt among them.
Nobody was standing around outside his outlet, and I was so glad he wasn't there
Another Review - 21/07/2014
Are you going to be helpful this morning while I tell the nice people about another review of my new book? Love you.
Sorry about that. I have to be careful. I get on well with my computer but it's a bit sensitive.
Right. I promised/threatened one more review. This is from a man called David Ruffle, who lives in lovely Lyme Regis, and posts reviews on his website. He'sa writer too,and if youlook him up on www.storiesfromlymelight.blogspot.com youcan find out all about him.
I'm just going to make sure that bit is saved.
Successfully saved. We're in business.
Here's David's review.
'The Second Life of Sally Mottram is David Nobbs's latest 'comic' 'humorous'novel. You know how it is, you see a review which tells you how the book in question is 'heart-warming'or 'uplifting' and you think, ho-hum,really? Well,let me tell you, this novel really is. It tellsthe story of howone woman, Sally Mottram (but you guessed that) sets out to rescueher town from a terminal decline.
'This is something she cannot accomplish alone and with a small band of helpers and followers she sets out to restore pride to her home town of Potherthwaite. We are introduced to this motley band at a leisurely pace, giving us time to identify with them and get to know them. We learn of their weaknesses, their foibles. David Nobbs's humour is, as always, nicely observed,not forced in any way. The humour comes from the characters themselves, no funny lines tacked on at random. The build up to the big day when Sally delivers her speech outlining her plans on the Towh Hall steps may be leisurely but it's involving and is a mix of comedy plus the odd tragedy which David is so adept at.
'From the moment Sally addresses the townsfolk, the novel rteally moves forward at a pace, the effect for the readers as for the people of the town is uplifting. I found the book very moving and very funny, Sally's second life is really the gift of giving a second life to others. She is changed, they are changed,and ultimately we are changed.through the experience. The novel is a triumph and is one of David Nobbs's very best which considering his output is high praise indeed. Actually, thinking about it some more, it may well be his best novel. I loved it. Can you tell? Heart-warming and uplifting, so there.'
Thank you, Nobbbloggees. I feel a bit ashamed at having indulged myself to you. How very British. Anyway, that's all done, successfully this time - thank you,computer, you were wonderful - and I'll be back soon.
The missing review - 18/07/2014
I have just, as I promised you/warned you, posted my second review of my new novel. I have always had troublewith blogs,and have taken to doing them in bits, recording them as I went along. I decided today that this is stupid, and did the whole thing in one go.
The computer has wiped the whole thing.
I will do it again very soon, Monday at the latest. I will do it paragraph by paragraph, saving it at every stage.
Dear computer, I don't mean it when I say nasty things about you. I love you. You save me so much time.
Dear computer, be nice to me.
Love to you all. Have a great weekend.
Beachcomber Lives On - 17/07/2014
I was reading the Beachcomber column in the Daily Express when most of you Nobbbloggees were not yet even twinkles in your Nobbblog parents' eyes. I remember so little of it, except for a character called Doctor Strabismus, whom God preserve, of Utrecht. What he did in Utrecht, whether God did preserve him, and everything else about the column has faded. But it was one of the great influences that led me inexorably to a life in comedy, so you can imagine what a special thrill it was to me to receive, earlier this month, the following review for my new book.
'Thank you for attempting to access the Beachcomber Column, which is expected to arrive shortly. Please hold on. Thank you for holding. Beachcomber is occupied at the moment, but will be with you shortly. Your patronage is important to us and we are grateful for your patience.
'Thank you for continuing to hold. We are doing all we can to minimise the delay in today's column, which is due to a delay in the incoming Beachcomber. Actually, that's not strictly true. Beachcomber came in some time ago, made himself a cup of tea, sat at his desk, buried his nose in a book and hasn't budged since.
'We've tried walking past his desk and looking at our watches, we've tried coughing, we've even tried drumming our fingers impatiently,on his desk, but nothing seems to gain his attention.
'One brave fellow even approached an hour ago, apologised for disturbing him and asked, very politely, when we might expect today's column. Beachcomber looked up, stared at the poor man and said:"Go away".
'The fellow, almost in tears,begged him for some indication of when he was going to start writing but Beachcomber's gaze just grew even more steely and he said:"I am reading the latest novel by David Nobbs and I am not available until I have finished it. As I said before, go away."
The man just stood there, rooted to the spot, which at least had the effect of getting a little more explanation from Beachcomber.
'"The novel is called The Second Life of Sally Mottram and, like many of Nobbs's previous novels such as The Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin, takes is its theme the idea of reinvention, but this time it's not just a person reinventing himself but a woman inspired to reinvent not just herself but the whole town."
'He then turned back to the book and read another chapter before he saw that the fellow was still standing there, dumbstruck. "David Nobbs, you see, is our best comic novelist combining a perfect accuracy in his perception of human foibles with a delicious literary style and an ability to choose the precise words and expressions to tell a story in the most effective and pithily amusing manner. I see him as the P.G.Wodehouse of the middle classes. Just as old P.G. lampooned the upper class world of Jeeves and Wooster, Nobbs focuses on ordinary people who turn out to be far more extraordinary than you or even they ever imagined. That is to say,I am sure they will turn out that way in the end, if you will only stop interrupting me and let me get through to the end without further disturbance."
'He then sank back into the book and was soon chortling with joy again, with the occasional guffaw thrown in.
'Oh hang on a moment. I think he's finished it. Yes, he's closed the book and put it down. What's that? Just tell the readers to buy The Second Life of Sally Mottram,by David Nobbs, did you say,Mr Beachcomber? Brilliant,is it? Up to the very l,ast misspelt word? Well we might as well. It's too late for you to write anything today anyway.'
Dear Nobbbloggees, I hope you don't mind my sharing that with you. That sort of review doesn't happen very often, and I'm only human. In fact I hope, now that I am contacting you again, that you will be pleased for me. Incidentally, that last misspelt word was a joke about a character'sdyslexia, not a typo. Can't end with a slur on Harper's proofreading..
The Beachcomber column is now written by William Hartston,a very clever man, an author and a chess champion among other things. I have one of his books, a fascinating one called 'The Things That Nobody Knows', with the subtitle '501 Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything'.
My first conversation with William Hartston is worth recording. He telephoned me,and said, out of the blue,'Did you like your father?'
'Very much,' I said.
'In that case I'm inviting you for tea at the Savoy.'
It turned out that my father had taught him maths (he also taught Kingsley Amis, Denis Norden and Mike Brearley).
It's lucky I did like my father. If I hadn't, tea at the Savoy, Beachcomber's review and this blog would never have happened.
Return of the blogger - 16/07/2014
Hello. I am back after almost a year and a half.
Oh, trusty Nobbbloggees, how could I havedone it? How could I have neglected you so? I know there weren't hundreds and thousands of you, but there were well and truly enough to make it worth while to communicate with you. You are,after all, my fans.
Why am I back? I will be brutally honest. I have returned out of sheer self-interest.
When I began my career all too long ago, there were large numbers of bookshops, every bookshop had piles of books, readers went into them and chose what they liked. I did no promotion, no radio interviews, no festival appearances, no book signings. Nobody asked me to,and my books really did quite well,and then,with Reggie Perrin, the television was my promotion, and I did really well.
Nowadays I do interviews on radio, appearances in bookshops, articles in newspapers,all sortsof things,and then I find that people don't even know my book is out. There are all sorts of reasons for this. There are far less bookshops, they take far less stock because every book can so easily be ordered, sales on line are surging ahead all the time, and mainly serve those who already know what they are looking for,
In the last weeks, since the publication of 'The Second Life of Sally Mottram', I have met quite a lot of people who like my work but have no idea that this new book is out there. This is just to let you know that it is there. Probably most of you won't read this as you have given up looking for my blogs. This is entirely my fault.
I do not expect everyone to like my book. I do not expect everyone to buy my book. If people see it, and don't like the look of it, or know it is there and choose to ignore it, fine, there are large numbers of other books for them to enjoy. But if they don't buy it because they don't know that it is there, then I do resent that after all my hard work!
I have had a couple of very nice reviews of this my 20th novel (and no nasty ones at all) and in the next couple of days I will post these to you on this site. Then I will tweet that they are here, so that some people at least may find their way to them. And after that? Will I sink into sloth again, feeling that the job is done? No,I will not.. That is my promise to you. I created this ugly word for you, the Nobbbloggees, but I have to say that I rather like it partly because it is so ungainly. I do hope you don't object to it. I care about youand I welcome the fact that you have ever taken the time to read my blogs, and my promise to you is that in the weeks and months and, I hope, years ahead I will keep in touch with you through comments that are written for our joint pleasure, our brief contact, and are not all born out of self-interest.
Two Weekends - 13/02/2013
I promised to blog a bit more regularly in 2013, so here I am again. Nothing very spectacular to report, but I've just had two very different weekends, and I thought you might be interested in getteng something of a picture of my life.
Most of my weekends are a mixture, sometimes rather an uneasy mixture, of work and play. I was going to say work and pleasure, but that would suggest that my work isn't a pleasure, and to my great good fortune I find that it still is. I usually feel guilty at weekends if I don't get on with things, and with the phones and emails not so active I sometimes find it possible to get really good work done.
At the moment I am trying to start writing my new novel. I made a false start, writing in the first person as a 47 year old woman. I finished one chapter, and tried it out on people. A friend (male) thought it was great. My agents (female) didn't like it at all. I abandoned it.
The next novel is festering - no, horrid word - is beginning to grow somewhere inside me, and my instinct tells me that I don't need to rush it. So, last weekend was the perfect opportunity for something I haven't done for far too long - a lazy weekend at home.
Well, not entirely at home. I did go to Huddersfield to watch Huddersfield Town play a goalless draw with Cardiff City. I went basically to see a friend who lives in China but supports Huddersfield. And I met his father, an Argentinian, for the first time. We were late meeting up, and only had time for a pie and a pint in the ground before the match. I have to say that the facilities were basic, and I proved a failure at pie eating without a knife and fork. My pie rapidly lost its structure, reminding me of my life. I fround myself lifting tiny bits of it out with my fingers and just willing it to cool down. Most inelegant.
The game was actually a bit more exciting than it sounds, as Huddersfield fought spiritidly to match and almost beat the team who are eleven points ahead of the pack in the championship. Cardiff brought a large continent of perfectly behaved spectators. Beside the ground there is an Odeon cinema, with a bar into which the Welsh flooded. I think it is a tribute to the unsung improvement in crowd behaviour that this bar was actually open. Two bars in the nearby town were boarded up but this was becausen they had closed permanently!
After the game we went to the other side of the cinema where there was a Costa coffee bar. I had a medium chocolate. It was vast Everything was very genteel and not at all what one associates with football.
Not all the weekend was that exciting, of course. At home I volunteered to be duty chef. I find it so restful worrying about something other than work. I cooked spaghetti with tuna, anchovies, lemon, garlic and parsley on the Saturday evening,a Spanish omelette for Sunday lunch, and paprika chicken on the Sunday evening. I read a lot, mostly one of my own books, 'Sex and Other Changes'. This has not done as well as most of my books, my readers proving very squeamish and uncomfortable about the subject, which I confess I hadn't anticipated. I had forgotten a lot of it, and I loved it!! Surely I'm entitled to say that.? After all, I chose all the words myself, so I should love it.
I also watched the rugby match between Ireland and England. The weather won hands down, but England played a mature game and deserved their victory. I'm half Welsh - I didn't support Cardiff, I'm Swansea - and I always support Wales at rugby. I support England at football, though. I'm a realist.
I didn't watch any other television. Watching scripted programmes borders on work, it sets me thinking.
Oh, and I drank quite a lot of wine. I am only prepared to be cared for by doctors who tell me it will do me no harm.
On the previous weekend we went to Kent, where I discovered that I am a Kentishman, not a Man of Kent, which was a bit of a disappointment as it doesn't sound as aggressively manly We were immensely impressed by the Javelin trains, elegant, fast, clean and always leaving 30 seconds early as if telling the Swiss, anything you can do we can do better. Our only complaint, too much information. A nice girl, but a bit gabby. You are approaching Chatham. You are now in Chatham. You are now leaving Chatham. I tweeted this and received several replies telling me that leaving Chatham was better than approaching it or being in it. Rochester, though, looked spectacular in the dusk. As a Kentishman, I must return.
Our destination was BBC-on-Sea, also known as Whitstable, where we were staying with recent but great friends, Colin Anderson, producer of the three series of my radio sitcom, The Maltby Collection, and his vibrant Irish wife, the journalist Mary O'Hara. I've taken a bit of time to 'get' Whitstable. The Thames estuary isn't the Bosphorus, not by a long chalk cliff, the beach is pebbly and featureless, and there's a whacking great factory of supreme ugliness dominating the harbour. But, gradually, I'm beginning to enjoy it,. The High Street and surrounding little streets are full of character and eccentricity. The pubs and restaurants hum with life. We had a wonderful tapas meal - the mushrooms on toast, bizzarrely, were the stars - and then we drank too long and too much in their little but very cosy house.
On Saturday I enjoyed one of life's great pleasures, lingering over breakfast in someone else's house, without feeling that there was something else I ought to be doing. Then we all met my great friend of no less than 57 years, a man known to the world as Hartley Slater, but Barry to me. Barry has lived in Australia for many years, even decades. He was Professor of Philosophy at Perth University, and, even more impressively to a Cambridge man, coach to the Western Australia Croquet Team. We had lunch in a nearby pub, and there was local skate on the menu, superb.
Barry caught a bus back to Canterbury, Colin and I discussed radio sitcom ideas, Mary cooked us a lovely dinner, and we drank in a more mature manner.
Sunday was busy, so different from the lazy Sunday I've just described. Sunday was very busy. Susan and I bade farewell to eccentric Whitstable and caught a bus to Canterbury, where we booked into the Falstaff Hotel, which was exactly like a Falstaff Hotel in Canterbury. We met Barry and visited the charming Town Museum in the pretty pedestrianised High Street. The museum was bursting with stuff. We looked at a lot of stuff, old stuff, older stuff, and really old stuff. Then it was time for lunch.
We lunched in the Goods Shed, so called because it was once a goods shed, which is a good enough reason for me. It's now a bustling farmer's market - sorry, farmers' market, more than one farmer, lots of farmers. It was full of vibrant chat and very healthy local produce. The restaurant is on a balcony, affording a nice view of all the farmers. The partridge was excellent.
We caught a Javelin train to Margate. You are approaching Margate. You have reached Margate.
I had long wanted to go back to Margate. It was more than fifty years since I'd been there and that's too long an absence for any Kentishman. It's fallen on bad times but there are very real attempts at restoration. There are many lovely old buildings, and the town has connections with several artists including Turner, Sickert and Tracey Emin.
Our objective was the new Turner Contemporary Art Gallery, bang on the seafront, stark, aggressively modern, dominant, uncompromising.
It was thrilling, in this rather unlikely place, to see children being helped to learn to draw and paint on a Sunday afternoon, and other children playing out their fantasies in a gallery done out as a fantasy world.
Sadly, we three found the two exhibitions, of the work of Carl Andre and Rosa Barba, less thrilling. 'They didn't do anything for me,' was Barry's comment.
Carl Andre, he of the bricks, was displaying more bricks, but not only bricks. He did tiles as well. I venture no objective opinion. I dislike it so when people venture objective opinions about my work. 'I didn't laugh once' is completely acceptable to me. 'It isn't funny is not'. I live in the world of the subjective and so does Carl Andre. I hope he does it for many other people.
Rosa Barba had made a video of wrecked boats, crumbling wartime defences, muddy creeks, and, yes, in a few of them she did find elements of beauty, though not enough to make me feel I'd been glad to go to Margate. She also showed machines through which long lines of photographic negatives made patterns.
With both artists there were lots of words commenting on the exhibits. I have an old-fashioned preference for art that doesn't need words to comment on it.
There are some fine artists lined up for later exhibitions. DO NOT LET ME PUT YOU OFF.
We got back to Canterbury just in time to see a Russian troupe performing 'Cinderella on Ice' at the love it hate it Marlowe Theatre. I can honestly say that it was the best performance of 'Cinderella on Ice' by a Russian troupe that I have ever seen. Seriosuly, they were damned good and it was unashamedly sentimental and appealing.
There was still time for a meal in a Belgian restaurant, which had at least eight pages of beers but only one under 5%. It was delicious, as was the pork belly with cherry sauce.
What a lot of food there has been in this blog. But then there's a lot of food in my life.
Two Sundays, one lazy, one crowded, both enjoyable. And lots of food.
The Nobbblogger is a lucky man.
Europe - 01/02/2013
A new month,and high time I kept up to my promise, and my resolution, of communicating with you better in 2013.
So good morning from the Nobbblogger, and Happy February, Nobbbloggees.
I'm not a golfer, because I know that if I ever took it up I would rapidly get hooked. If I had a good round I would feel I needed to play another round the next day while I was in form, and if I had a bad round I would feel that I needed to play another round the next day in order to sort out my problems. But I do enjoy watching the game, and a long while ago, more than twenty years ago, I was at the second day of the Ryder Cup at the Belfry. In the afternoon the captain of the European team, Tony Jacklin, sent several Spanish players out, and they had a great afternoon, rattling the American team more that somewhat. The roars of 'Ole' surged round the course that afternoon as the putts rolled in, and I realised that the British crowd were being fervently European.
I realised that memorable afternoon that I was not a freak in feeling that I was a European, a member of a continent we were almost joined to. The memory lingers, and it's one of the reasons that I feel profoundly uneasy at the prospect of our leaving the EU.
I have good American friends and I love their generosity and friendliness, but I do not share the American dream, I am not a devotee of the American way of life. I feel more of a stranger in America than I do in Europe, despite the fact that in Europe, like in Newcastle and Glasgow, I can hardly understand a word anybody says to me. Incidentally, I am a huge devotee of Danish television. I love to hear the words of that very strange language, I'm so delighted that it has subtitles. Swedish too. I much prefer the Swedish Wallander to the British one.
My problem with doing blogs is that I don't want them to be mercilessly humorous but I also don't want them to be too serious, I don't feel that my role in the world is to be serious and analytical about great issues, so I'll throw in here the most wonderful subtitle I ever came across. I think I've tweeted it, but I don't think I've blogged it. It was in a Swedish film I saw in a cinema in Tottenham Court Road, which is the sort of road in whose cinemas you do see Swedish films of a certain sort. A young girl ran into a village bar, emitted a stream of Swedish, and up came the subtitle 'I have just seen the two daughters of the horse knacker going further than they ought to with each other in the baptismal pond'.
I wander, which is perhaps appropriate, because there's nothing I enjoy more than wandering around European towns. I feel at home and abroad all at the same time. I enjoy cruising, but I dislike the moment in late afternoon when the ship sails off, and all those lovely bistros and trattorias disappear over the merciless horizon.
I have no real understanding of what the financial implications of our departure would be. I don't really understand the workings of the world of money, though I do know that unfortunately I share this mystification with large numbers of economists.
I don't understand why, in the United States, a common currency appears to work pretty well across very diverse States, whereas in Europe the gap between Northern and Southern attitudes and economies seems to have made it a disaster.
I don't understand why, in the United States, different States can have different laws on matters as vast as the whole question of the death penalty, whereas in Europe we are told what length and shape our sausages should be, and all sorts of legal decisions that we might want to make are impossible because of European law.
The EU is said to have made war in Europe impossible ever again. I don't entirely believe that, I don't believe there is any such thing as a certainty in human history, but I agree that it has made it very much less likely, almost impossible in fact.
One is drawn to the conclusion that an EU is a good thing, but we have the wrong kind of EU. This doesn't help me at all making up my mind about how I would vote in a referendum.
Another memory, again one that I believe I have tweeted but not blogged. We are in a hilly street of rather faded Georgian-style houses in Liege. I am with my great friend and fellow writer, Peter Tinniswood, a wonderfully funny man whom I miss more with every year that passes, giving the lie to the excessively simple belief that time is a great healer. How can I endure another Ashes series against Australia without him there to share it? But that's a diversion inside a diversion. Back to Liege. That glorious autumn morning, the otherwise peaceful street was loud with the cries of babies. In almost every house a baby was yelling its little head off. 'Do you know why all those babies are crying?' said Peter. 'They've just discovered they're Belgian.'
Belgium has superb towns and cities, great food, fantastic beer, and lovely friendly people. It's outrageous to laugh at that joke. But laugh we do. 'Name three famous Belgians,' we mock, but the reason why we can't answer is that we are ignorant, not because there aren't any. We treat the great city of Brussels unfairly, partly because of sprouts, which is extremely unfair, but also because it is the headquarters of the vast EU bureaucracy, which is also unfair because it's no more Belgian than any other country, it's in Brussels because a group of very clever and greedy people researched the subject thoroughly and decided that it was the best place for the European gravy train - perhaps that should be the European jus train - because its restaurants were superb.
I'm back with the feeling that it's just the wrong kind of EU.
And that doesn't help me decide what to vote in the referendum. But then the questions in referenda are always and of necessity simplistic.
There's another question. Should I say referenda or referendums?
I don't want to ask myself any more questions just now. I'll be with you again soon, dear Nobbbloggees.
New novel - 14/01/2013
I hope you all had a good time over the holiday and that 2013 will be a great year for you. I was born on March 13 and I have always regarded 13 as my lucky number, since on the whole I'm glad I was born, so I am reasonably hopeful.
Today I am starting work on my new novel, my 20th. I meant to start last week, but clearing up a few odds and ends took longer than I expected. Mind you, I expected it to take longer than I expected. It always does.
But today I really am starting and therefore at last it seems that Christmas is well and truly over. Ironically there has been light snow overnight and Harrogate looks like a Christmas card for the first time.
Our Christmas was quiet but very enjoyable. We like to have a quiet time at Christmas as we have a pretty hectic social life for the rest of the year. In fact there isn't too much to add to what I wrote before the festivities. I was right about the guilt. It sat at our meal tables like an invisible guest. I was almost tempted to put out an extra chair for it. And it wasn't just me, everyone in the family talked very seriously about the problems of the world.
We long ago gave up on New Year's Eve. After the Millenium, in fact. It was as if, since that was a climax that could never be rivalled, there was no point in trying. So, Susan and I see the new year very quietly. On this occasion I offered to cook our evening meal. I have a few specialities that I cook reasonably well, but on this occasion I was going out of my custard zone. Sorry, comfort zone. I cooked my first ever dessert, which involved my first ever use of the whisk and only my second use of the sieve. You will see how inexperienced I am. The menu was Polish beetroot soup, duck breast with cinnamon and red wine sauce and old-fashioned English syllabub. Susan pronounced it 'Polish breetroot soup, duck breast with in cinnamon and red wine sauce, and old-fashioned English syllabub.' She's good that way. No, actually she said it was delicious, and I really think the meant it.
After our long, lingering meal we watch television, and as Big Ben strikes we give each other a nice but slightly self-conscious hug and kiss, slightly embarrassed by it, not because anyone is watching but because we don't really feel in our hearts that either the end of one year or the beginning of another one is worth a celebration.
Then we watch the fireworks and wish briefly that we had been standing in the crowd in the cold for eight hours to get a good view of them live, and after that we turn to Jools Holland and his eclectic and occasionally electric group of musicians. Just as we once ceased to believe in Father Christmas (I say 'we' but that happened long before we met, I'm glad to say), we now no longer believe that Jules Holland's Hootmanay (have I spelt that right?) is actually recorded on New Year's Eve. This New Year's Eve programme struck us, I have to say, as lacking a bit of its usual sparkle and class.
I don't usually make a new year's resolution, but this time I sort of did. Christmas cards now cost such a lot that we question the value of them, and I certainly don't believe in groups of people who gather just before Christmas, like our bridge playing group, all handing each other Christmas cards when they can wish each other a happy Christmas in person, but each year I feel glad to keep in some kind of minimal contact with people I no longer see and may never see again, though I don't see the point of it unless even to these people one adds a few words of warmth and hope and news. Anyway, while doing my cards I made up my mind that my resolution for 2013 would be to communicate better, with friends, colleagues and, of course, with Nobbbloggees.
Even so it has taken me till today to open my 2013 account. But I hope that I will be a much more frequent blogger this year.
As I'm sure you know by now, my latest novel, the 19th, was published in hardback in November. I still find the days and weeks after publication a difficult time. I'll talk about that in my next blog, which will be very soon, no later than the weekend. Got to be true to my resolution.
Happy New Year, Nobbbloggees.
Festive Season - 24/12/2012
I had intended to do a full, whole-hearted blog before 'the festive season', but as usual - , no, who am I kidding?, as always - I am running late with all my preparations, which actually asre so chaotic that they don't deserve even to be described as preparations.
I am trying not to use the word Christmas. I am not a Christian. I was, but my faith became meaningless and in the end I lost it altogether. I became an agnostic and then an atheist, but at first it wasn't particularly important to me. My atheism bumped along, just as my faith had once done, but in the last three years or so it has become more and more important to me.
I will blog about this in more detail early in 2013, I haven't time to send it now and you don't have time to read it. But its relevance to this blog is that it doesn't help me with my reluctance to use the word Christmas. So, the word I used in the first sentence of this piece was 'The Festive Season'. I don't much like that either. One of the troubles for people who find Christmas dfifficult is that it is designated as 'festive'. There is something wrong with you if you don't feel festive. People who don't behave in a festive manner are resented. Many people have every reason not to feel festive and in this particular Christmas in the middle of what still feels like a recession whatever statistics say there are huge numbers of people whose season will not be festive at all due to the effect of the dreadful floods. In such circumstances our festivities tend to seem a bit obscene, maybe very obscene. And even that's a very parochial comment, ignoring as it does the vast miseries of this world which make one feel that people with flooded homes should feel extremely grateful that they have homes at all.
In recent years Christmas seems to have started earlier and earlier and I have commented before on the excitement of my chldhood Christmasses when the decorations weren't even put up until Christmas Eve. The excitement today is dissipated by being stretched out to such length. Christmas songs, many of extreme banality, are played out again and again. There just aren't enough to fill the time. That wretched true love has sent enough livestock in my presence alone to fill a dozen farmyards. All reaction, all emotion, all wonder is snuffed out by the ghastly repetition.
I've done three more paragraphs and lost them twice. I am fated technologically with my blogs. I had more to say, but I've probably said enough already. The good bit starts now and I hope you all have a great time.
I will raise a glass to 'The Nobbbloggees'.
Happy...happy...happy Christmas. There, I said it.
Skyfall - 20/11/2012
I've had a message to the website from a man called John Owens, who advances the great argument that I must stifle my blogging doubts and continue to blog because my blogs are the only places where the English language uses a word with the letter B in it three consecutive times. So, dear nobbbloggees, you are a part of literary history.
I am going to make quite a short blog today. I'm only really doing it to get back into the habit of doing blogs, to overcome my slight but distinct blogophobia.
Susan and I went to see Skyfall the other day. The reviews had been fantastic. 'The Week' said that it was indubitably the best Bond film and it might even be the best entertainment film ever made.
Did I agree? No.
I don't want to be rude to the film. I enjoyed it. I'm really glad I saw it. It was so much better than Quantum of Solace. It had some utterly superb action sequences. It had, in Javier Bardem, an outstanding villain. He gave a riveting performance of huge subtlety. The scene on the abandoned island where we first meet him is quite superb. Naomie Harris isn't bad either. In fact all the acting is good.
The reviews suggested to me that the film had recovered the true bond style, the old Bond humour. Well, it certainly tried. We had several moments when there was an attempt at one of those throwaway laughs that were so successful in the Sean Connery era. When I saw the film, only one of them got a proper laugh. One laugh, in the whole film, when laughs were clearly being sought.
I don't want to criticise Daniel Craig too much. He was so very much better than he was in Q of S. It's not true to say that he has no humour in him. He doesn't have quite enough, he's no Sean Connery, but he is actually pretty good. The problem, I think, lies deeper.
The problem lies in our old friend, or enemy - actually both, I think - Political Correctness. A lot of the fun has gone out of sex. We can no longer laugh at the shocking throwaway lines of the Connery era. The brazen confidence has gone.We no longer have double entendres. We have one and a half entendres.
And I'm speaking now of a film written before the Jimmy Saville story broke, before paedophilia floated among the famous like dandelion seeds across a lawn.
I won't labour the point, but in the world of sex and violence the violence has become so much easier to deal with than the sex.
I think there's another problem with Skyfall, and that's the reality level. The plot doesn't have much reality. They never did. It doesn't matter. This is James Bond. But, in certain aspects, reality has crept in. James Bond is feeling his age. It is being questioned whether he's still up to it. That's brave. It's interesting. It's also, I suggest, a mistake. It stretches the credibility of what he does. It leaves us wondering how much longer Daniel Craig can do it. It leaves us wondering how long James Bond, whether played by him or by yet another actor, can continue. Are they already working on his highly destructive wheelchair, his ingeniously explosive zimmer frame, his poisonous Stannah Stairlift.
Another level of reality that I don't think we've seen before has crept into his relationship with M. It's moving. It's touching. It's, need I say it, brilliantly acted. To me it showed up the unreality of the final scene, where teams of highly trained, ruthless killers, fail to kill the lightly armed James Bond for, I felt, interminable minutes.
In fact it showed up the absurdity of the plot. We don't mind the absurdity, but we don't want it to be shown up.
Where will that reality take us next time, and will that be after another four years of financial difficulties and delays? And how old will Daniel Craig be then? Or what age will the new man be, will the reality be abandoned and Bond lose several years?
An interesting film, thoroughly entertaining, innovative in some ways, traditional in others, but the best entertainment film of all time, I don't think so.
Thank you for reading this, and all best wishes
US Election - 10/11/2012
My dear friends, I apologise for my long silence. How can I explain it? I think I have been suffering from a very rare disease, which I can only call nobbblogblock.
I am now going to make one last determined effort to truly become a blogger, to find at last that I have blogging in my blood.
The cynical among you will say 'Oh ho. He ignores us all summer, now he thinks he needs us to buy his wretched book, up he pops again.'
Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are obviously right, but I will make you a promise. If I don't keep going, regularly, talking about things other than my own writing, I will give this up for good, I will decide I am not a bloggable person
In a few days I will talk about my new book, but today I will not mention it again. I will talk about the election of Barack Obama.
I will not actually do it all in one go. I will stop when I feel like it, ending on the single word 'More'. This will illustrate that there is more to come. It may come almost immediately. It may not. MORE.
It is coming almost immediately on this occasion.
I stayed up on the night of the election until after two o clock. I didn't want to go to bed until I felt confident that Mitt Romney was not going to be the next President of the United States. I always stay up for British elections until I am quite certain of the result, but I never have for an American election before. Why did I have to this time? There was something about Mitt Romney. I knew that I wouldn't sleep easily until I knew that it would not be his finger on the trigger. I was frightened bythe utter certainty and deep conviction of his family - white, bright and oh so right.
I realised that I was wasting my time watching at all unless I watched until the result came from Ohio. Who wins Ohio wins. A very economical truth which uses only six letters of the alphabet. They could save a huge amount of money by cancelling the rest of the election. America might even begin to reduce its debt.
It was no use. There might be several recounts in Ohio. Everyone believed it was going to be close. The same filmed items were coming round every 60 minutes, or so it seemed. The more Romney's lead in delegates increased the more the pundits told us it was all looking good for Obama. I couldn't bear the tension. I couldn't face the thought of his smiles. I couldn't face the thought of all his family's smiles.I couldn't face the thought of Sarah Palin's smile. I decided to go to bed.
In bed I thought, why does he who wins Ohio win? Maybe in the morning I'd get an explanation. How who wins in Ohio wins. Maybe I could write about that. I show how who wins in Ohio wins. Maybe I could write a book using only six letters of the alphabet. Luckily at this moment I fell asleep.
I woke at about half past seven with a strange certainty that Obama had won. I switched the television on and tried to deduce whether I was right. At last I knew. I watched the same bits of film more than once, basking in my relief, and wondering in amazement at the commentators who, the previous evening, had been on the edge of their seats in their excitement, and who now told us that everything was as it has always been, the whole thing had been a non-event and a terrible waste of money.
Now I wished that I had stayed up. I would have loved to watch Barack Obama's victory speech live. I've seen it twice. It's awesome. It's elegant, passionate,intelligent...and sincere. There is no doubt in my mind about that.. Yes, Obama might not keep to everything he says in the next four years, he may not always be able to be right, and brilliant, and strong, and sincere. But he wants to be, and I can live with that. He is a good man, he has the ability to be a great man, and of how many politicians can that be said? He may not in the end be judged a great politiciain, a great President, but there's just a chance he will, I feel.
And what of Mitt? In defeat he showed grace, even, dare I say it, a touch of charm. How often do people, and particularly politicians, reveal in defeat qualities that had they been able to show them earlier might have given them a chance of avoiding that defeat..
The most extraordinary thing about the election broadcast was, to me, that expert after expert stated that the economy was the fundamental issue, indeed, it almost seemed, the only issue. How can I, who knows so little about these things, disagree, yet I do. It seems to me that if the economy had been at the heart of things, Obama might have struggled more than he did. But the key issues were the demographics of gender and race. The sad truth, I think, is that, despite his eloquence, sincerity, intelligence and innate goodness, Obama didn't win the election. Mitt Romney lost it..
He lost it because his policies towards women were a step into a discarded past and his policy towards Latinos was a disaster. I can't see what else the Republicans can do about Latinos. They can't suddenly endorse illegal immigration. I don't see that they can do a lot about women either. The tea party brigade won't allow them to elect a candidate who doesn't endorse their extreme views. He is doomed to be one thing towards his party and something else to the nation. He is forced into hypocrisy and inconsistency.
I was confirmed in the Church of England while still at school and have been losing my faith ever since. Every time I think I have no more faith to lose, I find I lose some more. I am now a signed-up humanist and having to fight against my increasingly militant tendency. I have been so scared by the marching followers of Sarah Palin and her ilk. I was horrified at the smiling faces of Mitt's Mormons. I am, probably, extreme and unbalanced on the subject.. But suddenly, during the long early part of the night, I saw the tea party extremists as a desperate people in the last death throes of their species. America is changing even faster than Europe. I don't see how the Republicans will ever be able to muster enoughh votes again. I thought I was witnessing the end of an era in American politics and American life, and, to a certain extent, in ours as well.
The issue of population growth hovers around my thoughts. But that belongs with global warming and climate change and world starvation and certain other little details that were not mentioned in this election. Already, today, on Saturday, it looks like the election that never was, with the result everybody predicted. And there was I thinking I was witnessing a great moment in history. I should have gone to bed earlier and stayed there longer.
Well, I'm back, Nobbbloggees. And you can see perhaps why I went away. I'm not sure of my relationship with the blog. I certgainly don't want to debase the net by using it only or even largely for publicity. But is it my role to give my opinion on the great issues of our times? Will anybody care? Or should I send you wry amusing little pieces? Perhaps I should shut up and just write books.
I'll give it a go a bit longer, I think.
Things Wot I've Seen - 22/05/2012
Hello at last neglected Nobbblogees. I've been so busy, my darlings, what with my new novel, more of that anon and my Radio Four series With Nobbs On which began yesterday and you all missed it because I didn't blog about it, swine that I am. Two more episodes to come, look out for it on Monday mornings, FM only because those lovely cricketers are playing their rivetting test matches on the other side.
Not got much time even now, but thought I'd comment briefly on the films and plays I've seen, not a lot because of all my own work, not that I'm complaining.
So, the year so far.
The Iron Lady. I thought Meryl Street was wonderful, she always is, I could watch her reciting the sewage outlet figures for all the sluice gates in the Fens and be captivated, but oh, the film. I thought it a waste of time, nothing to say about Mrs T, no respect for detail (showed her as the only woman in the House of Commons, for goodness sake), no political acumen, and all that senility, It wasn't just that it was cruel, it was endless. I never thought it possible to make Jim Broadbent boring, but his ghostly appearance as an imagined Dennis seemed to me to be just that.
More coming, got to have breakfast now. Don't go away.
I wasn't long, was I? Thank you for not going away. Here we go again.
The Artist. I thought this a really sweet film, stylish and lovely. To be churlish, I didn't think there was quite enough in it for it to deserve all those awards, which I am sure were given because it was about showbiz and the industry is so up itself, but still, I mustn't be mean, good film, clever too.
The Amazing Marigold Hotel. Don't know if I've got the name right, but you know the one I mean. Most people liked this but to my mind they didn't show the depth of enthusiasm it deserved. To me, it was a minor masterpiece. Gently but consisitently funny, warm and moving, but also, in its quiet way, saying revealing things about age, loneliness and the differences between East and West. (Well, it's from a book by the marvellous Deborah Moggach) Positive without being sentimental. Loved it. And brilliant performances. And so wonderful to see Maggie Smith being cast for something other than a grand dame. Top marks.
War Horse. Play not film, wild strawberries wouldn't have dragged me in to see the film. Very spectacular. At half time I thought I was watching a masterpiece about man's inhumanity to animals in war, what a great theme. I wasn't, of course. I was watching a very clever adaptation of a story by a brilliant children's writer. That's what it came from and there was no reason why under those circumstances it should not be so, and maybe it would have been unbearable if it hadn't been softened by sentimentality, but it left me with a feeling of two halves that didn't quite match. Almost a masterpiece.
The Pitman Painters. Great first act, as we saw the miners from Ashington surprising the academic lecturer with their intelligence, honesty and observation. Very funny, very uplifiting. This time maybe we did have a masterpiece. Not for me, sadly. It was another game of two halves.The second half got very political and told us what we had already deduced through action in the first half. For me this was quite a let down. I was still glad I'd been, but I felt disappointed at the end.
She stoops to Conquer. I saw this at our local Odeon being piped through, as it were, from London. A strange experience, and the first half, in a small cinema not the large theatre it was being performed in, struck me as so overdone as to be painfully unfunny. After the interval I got used to the experience and started to enjoy it. I wouldn't consider giving a serious assessment of it under those circumstances, though.
Must mention one TV show. The Bridge. I've been loving these Scadinavian shows. Borgen, I thought, was truly terrific. The Bridge was sensational, clever, intelligent, inventive, wonderfully shot, lovely music, great and very original relationship between the Danish male detective and the Swedish female detective. And, wonder of wonders, political, and sharply political. Such a refreshing change from all those boring sex murders. BUT BUT BUT. It wasn't. It was all a cheat. We never knew why that particular Swedish politician had been joined to a Danish prostitute in death. The killer couldn't have cared less about the political causes. Everything thast I thought should have been important turned out to be a red herring. (Scandiavians love herrings). No, this turned out to be the seven hundred and eighty eighth series in which revenge was the motive. Such a let down. To me, unforgivable.
Random thoughts on random productions, but at least I've got back to you, my dear Nobbblogees. More soon.
Frank Carson - 23/02/2012
Hello poor neglected Nobbbloggees
I've got completely carried away writing my new novel - more about that later. Now I am starting a new regime - much shorter blogs but more of them.
This is just a little tale in memory of Frank Carson, who has just died.
Frank was a very very funny man but you don't always want to meet a very very funny man at breakfast.
One day, in the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds, many moons ago, I went into the breakfast room, feeling not totally hung over but, let's say, a trifle fragile. The only other person in the dining room was Frank. I didn't feel like talking. I hid behind my newspaper.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw sixteen businessmen in dark suits enter the restaurant. They were sober and sombre and had name badges on their lapels. They seated themselves at a long table between me and Frank. I felt safe now, and lowered my newspaper.
'Oh hello Dave,' called out Frank cheerfully over the heads of the businessmen. 'I didn't see you there. Did you hear the one about the nun in the oasis?'
A lovely man, except at breakfast. And. sadly, it was the last time I ever saw him. And I can't remember the joke.
More Wales - 21/11/2011
Hello again nobbbloggees
I promised you a second instalment of my Welsh travels. I've tried to write it three times but I found I'd covered most of what I wanted to say in the first instalment, and it sounded like a travelogue. You wouln't want me to sound like a travelogue, would you, my darlings? I didn't get where I am today by sounding like a travelogue.
So all I'll say about it is that we had three very lovely late autumn days in Pembrokeshire, glorious cliff scenery, splendid pubs, mainly good weather. My planned highlight was watching Wales win the World Rugby Cup sitting among a cheering crowd in a vibrant pub. I watched New Zealand beat France over a silent breakfast with two other people.
Then when we went back to Swansea I talked to the West Glamorgan Humanist Association, I am now a member of the British Humanist Society, very passionate about it too. There was a good crowd on a very wet Monday evening, and the venue, the foyer of the Dylan Thomas Theatre, was very poignant for me. My mother was from Swansea and taught Dylan Thomas at Sunday School. She told me that he looked like an angel, and that his looks were deceptive.
When we came out of the theatre the rain had gone, the moon was shining, the wind had dropped, the buildings of the new marina quarter were reflected in the water, it was magical, and Susan hadn't brought her camera because of the rain. The organisers gave us a lovely Italian supper. Generous blighters, humanists.
On our way home we spent a great day in Cardiff, including visiting a marvellous collection of impressionist paintings in the Museum and Art Gallery.. I had hoped to be part of a ticker tape reception for the victorious Welsh team, but this didn't happen either.
I must just add that we saw the new developments in the Cardiff Bay area. Once this was Tiger Bay and rough. Now in the new Millenium Centre (opera house really) and the new Welsh Assembly Building they have very striking and, we thought, very lovely modern architecture. I hope the Prince of Wales approves.
So, that's all I have to say about our trip, I'm afraid. Barely a blog.
I'm very busy this week, I'm glad to say, but I hope to have the time to do something a bit more substantial next week.. Can't let my faithful nobbbloggees down.
South Wales - 03/11/2011
Hello again Nobbbloggees
I've been in Wales, the land of my mother's. My mother wouldn't recognise it.
My mother was from Swansea, which Dylan Thomas described as an 'ugly lovely town'. It's a city now and the modern version is 'a pretty shitty city'.
The purpose of the trip was to give four talks, and Susan and I were able to combine that with a bit of a holiday.
The first call was Hereford. I lived in Herefordshire with my first wife Mary for some ten years. We were members of the vice-presidents club at Hereford United and Mary acted and produced at the now replaced Nell Gwynne Theatre. Susan and I have been together for 19 years and I hadn't been back to Hereford in that time except for Mary's funeral earlier this year, about which I spoke in a blog. I didn't see the point of risking an embarrassing confrontation when such a meeting was completely unnecessary.
The cattle market was empty, having moved to a new site, but apart from that nothing had changed very much. In fact in the whole of the city centre there wasn't one new building, and I was delighted about that. It's not, overall, a sensationally beautiful city, but it's thoroughly attractive. They made a decision a long while ago that no building would be tall enough to rival the tower of the cathedral or the spires of the two city centre churches. It was a great decision.
We stayed in the Castle Hotel, a boutique hotel with excellent food in a lovely corner of the city, and I took Susan to a wine bar I'd last been to 19 years before. It hadn't moved, it hadn't changed, the system of buying food was exactly the same, I loved the permanence in our hectic, fast-moving, fast-changing world.
From Hereford it was a lovely journey through glorious countryside to Carmarthen. We stopped for lunch in a magnificent pub, The Griffin at Felinfach, on...well, just off...the A470, near Brecon, voted by the Good Pub Guide as Welsh Dining Pub of the Year. I can't imagine, since you are Nobbbloggees, that you venture across our lands without that publication. It proved invaluable on this trip. This was a pub that showed that it was possible to serve wonderful food without having the atmosphere of a gastropub.
We stopped for tea at the Cawdor Arms in Llandeilo, a pretty little town. In my childhood days, after the war, my Uncle Kenneth would drive us over the Black Mountain, and we would end up at the Cawdor Arms for tea. I recalled the time there was an alarming rattle in Uncle Kenneth's car. 'I think the big end's going,' he said. I never knew what a big end or indeed a small end was, but it always seemed to be the big end in those days, and it always seemed to go, which meant the car didn't go.. Not in this case however. A mechanic explained the cause, barely able to keep the smile off his face. 'Your picnic set's rattling.' And then there was my Auntie Louie, who wasn't a real auntie. She was terrified of cars, and kept up a running commentary, ostensibly to me, but actually to the driver. 'Mummy's coming to a big bend, David. Watch her put the brake on and slow down.' The memories overwhelmed me. My dead relatives filled the room. My Welsh half routed my stiff upper East Anglian lips. I cried.
In Carmarthen, at the library, that evening, I gave my first talk. An unlovely room, but a decent attendance, some lovely people, and a hugely enjoyable question and answer session afterwards. The only snag - the books I was expecting to sign were lost not in translation but in transit. Well done, Waterstones.
Our arrival in the dark in Swansea was terrifying. Large modern buildings, some of them rather fine, all of them better than the stuff they built in the fifties and sixties, were everywhere. I recognised nothing. The road signs were of course in two languages, which meant that there were twice as many place names on them. I've nothing against Welsh patriotism or the Welsh language, but this is actually dangerous. And there were more roadworks than I have ever seen. Go into cone production, young man, and you'll never be made redundant. A group of helpful, pretty girls - Swansea is awash with helpful, pretty girls - saved us, pointing us in the direction of the Marriott. They told us to look for the hotel's sign, which stood out. Unfortunately it only said Mar. The riott was dark, as if lighting it might cause a riott.
This was, literally, not a promising sign, but in fact the Marriott proved to be excellent. We had a spacious room with a great view over the marina, which has been developed very successfully. How astonished my family would be. We stayed at the Marriott for three nights, had a marvellous lunch there, full of Welsh influences, including cockles on toast with creamed laverbread - a hundred times nicer than it sounds - for £9.95. No standardisation here. One morning I was five minutes late for breakfast, and the hot food had all been removed. The young, female chef gave me a smile as wide as the Bristol Channel and said, 'I'll bring it all back for you, my darling'. There are people in Britain - I blush even to type it - who don't like being called by familiar terms like 'my darling' or 'love' or 'pet' or 'sweetheart'. I wish they'd emigrate. We can do without such pompous tosspots.
Our first day in Swansea, an October sun shone, and our friends John and Joan Glenister took us on a tour of Gower, and gave us a delightful lunch with marvellous mussels in a spicy sauce at the Oxwich Bay Hotel. Beautiful bays, warm sunshine, childhood memories galore. That evening I gave another talk in Oystermouth Library, presided over by the most glamorous librarian I have ever seen, but then this was Swansea. I thought the audience small for such a big city, but they were happy with it and at least the books had arrived. They'd used a local bookshop, Cover to Cover, from the Uplands in Swansea. There's a message there. We had a nice Indian meal with friends afterwards. There are an astonishing number of Indian restaurants in Swansea. I wonder how many Welsh restaurants there are in India.
Next day was fine and warm again and we drove to Rhossili, which is one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and had another truly excellent meal at the Worms Head Hotel - what has happened to Welsh cooking? The Worms Head, incidentally, is a spectacular rock formation, not an element of the dish of the day.
That evening, Neath Library, locked and stern and distinctly unpromising. Nothing was more certain than that, if it ever opened, nobody would turn up. Not so, of course. A really good audience for a small town, a very charming room, a very well-organised event with lots of nice little eats, and quite a few true hard core fans. Yes, folks, I say it with pride, I'm big in Neath, Really enjoyable evening, then back to Swansea for a meal on the 28th floor of the highest building in Wales. It was however the nearest we came to a bad meal on our Welsh trip, but then there was Lisa, our lovely waitress, full of humour and chat.
There's more to come, Pembrokeshire and Swansea again and Cardiff Bay and oh those West Welsh pubs, but this has got too long already and I'm going to do part two next week.
Have a great weekend, Nobbbloggers all.
Beachcomber - 06/10/2011
Sorry for yet another rather long silence. I've been on holiday in the lovely North of Majorca. I didn't forget about you - on every bus, in every restaurant, in every bar I wondered ' Are any of these nice people Nobbbloggees?' I didn't like to ask. It seemed a very personal matter.
We actually went on September 13th, and at Leeds Bradford Airport I didn't buy the Daily Express. When I got home I wished that I had. I found out that there had been a rather marvellous piece about me in the Beachcomber Column.
It goes a bit against the grain for me to quote lovely things about myself, but it's tough out there and modesty's out of fashion and you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't at least vaguely favourably disposed towards me, so here goes, I'm quoting it.
Incidentally, before I start, I must say that the Beachcomber Column in the Express has been with me since my youth. 'Doctor Strabismus, whom God preserve, of Utrecht' and other characters were all part of the formation of my education into comedy, and so for me to be the subject of a Beachcomber column is a thrill indeed.
'Seventy-two pence. Can you believe it? Just 72p, plus £2 80 for something called 'delivery', which seems to consist of sticking it in an envelope and putting about £1 worth of stamps on the outside. Even so, that's only £3.52 altogether, and who dare say that is not amazingly good value? It wasn't even second-hand.
'I am referring, in case you haven't guessed, to the copy of David Nobbs's novel Obstacles To Young Love which I bought through Amazon for that extraordinarily bargain price of 72p (plus £2.80 delivery) in order to have something amusing and absorbing to read on a recent trip to a little place I know in Europe called 'Italy'.
'Nobbs, as you probably recall, is the chap who created Reginald Perrin, whose Fall and Rise was so memorably depicted by the late Leonard Rossiter in the original BBC series and later remade, for reasons that I have never been able to fathom, by Martin Clunes.
'Among Nobbs's other achievements have been scripts for The Two Ronnies, several other BBC series and another dozen or so novels, all of which are suffused with a level of gentle humour and humanity that is unmatched by any other writer.
'My trip to Italy, in fact, was totally taken up, when I was not concocting delicious Italian meals for my offspring, with lying in the sun by pool or beach and giggling helplessly at even more delicious Nobbsian humour.
'Whether he is writing about gender reassignment (in Sex And Other Changes), the terminal illness and deathbed detective work of a near centenarian (in Going Gently), an ageing virgin philosopher having an affair with a young darts groupie (in Cupid's Dart) or the half-a-lifelong unrequited love of a taxidermist (in Obstacles To Young Love), Nobbs has an unerring knack of seeing the funny side of life and expressing it in the most benignly hilarious way. Of all British novelists, perhaps only PG Wodehouse could sustain such a high level of totally malice-free humour.
'I am delighted, incidentally, to note that Nobbs's first novel, The Itinerant Lodger, has finally been republished, particularly as it contains, as I have mentioned before, the finest opening sentence of a second chapter in the whole of literature. I doubt indeed that the line, 'The house was filled with the aura of impending stew', can ever be improved upon as the opening of a second chapter and if anyone knows any better one, I shall be most pleased to disagree with them most strongly.
'I am left, however, with three disturbing questions after reading this book. The first is why it had been reduced by one miserable bookshop to a mere 72p (plus £2.80 delivery) without there being a queue the length of the country lining up to buy it; the second is why the publishers had not sent me a review copy long ago; and the third is why the same publishers have included a quote describing Nobbs as 'probably our finest post-war comic novelist'?
'Probably? What does he mean, 'probably'? Read Obstacles To Young Love and you will see what I mean.'
Some fine quotes there to warm the hearts of an ageing cockle, but there is of course that disturbing question. Why are (the 'are is in italics, but I can't find an italics provider on my website) the books on sale at 72p? Why are anybody's books on sale at 72p? I say this partly for myself, of course, but I've had a wonderful, happy life and career and it's not so much myself I'm thinking of as younger writers seeking to make a living out of the job and finding their books selling at prices which would leave them bankrupt if the whole of the price of the book went to them. One day there will be fifty bestsellers and nobody else.
I dread to think what price my latest, It Had To Be You, is selling at. And of course there's the audio version, read by myself. I think my delivery's pretty good, actually (for a novice!) but how much does it cost? £2.80?
Two Comic Writers - 02/09/2011
I have been thinking this week about two comic writers, one world famous, the other largely forgotten, one hugely prolific, the other with a very small body of work.
N.F.Simpson, always known as Wally, died this week at the age of 92. There were long obituaries in the quality newspapers, but if I had gone into my local pub and said that I was saddened by the passing of N.F.Simpson I don't think anyone would have known who I was talking about.
P.G.Wodehouse died a long while ago, but his reputation took a considerable knock last week, and there was a savage attack on him by Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.
Both writers influenced me enormously, but, I now realise, Simpson had the greater influence. And it was all down to one play, a comic masterpiece called One Way Pendulum.
N.F.Simpson was one of the great figures in the movement known as the Theatre of the Absurd. I flocked to his plays, if one man can flock, but I went to One Way Pendulum so often that I think I can use the word. I also responded with excitement to the plays of Eugene Ionesco, but nothing could equal One Way Pendulum.
I called my first novel The Itinerant Lodger. The influence is obvious. This is the same absurdist construction as A Resounding Tinkle and One Way Pendulum.
The Monty Python boys have acknowledged the huge influence Simpson had on them. The amazing message of his plays was 'The possibilities of comedy are infinite'. What a message for a young writer.
I moved away from sheer absurdity in my own work. Perhaps it can never be a lasting diet and perhaps that was the problem for Wally. Where could he go from there? He wrote for television, but television never really suited him. Television can take absurdity in small doses, in sketch shows and stand up comedy, but it is pretty hostile to absurdity in narrative, perhaps because the nature of absurdity is that it is best when shared. To be in the audience at the Royal Court, laughing along with one's peers at Jonathan Miller trying to teach I Speak Your Weight Machines to sing was to be part of a communal and privileged act.
When I lived in Sheffield, where I wrote the Itinerant Lodger in the evenings, I went with my great friend, the wonderful comic writer Peter Tinniswood, to see One Way Pendulum produced by Geoffrey Ost at the Sheffield Playhouse. The theatre was pretty full, but there was not one laugh during the whole evening. I don't think the audience thought that the play was failing that night, because I don't think they realised that it was a comedy. For that reason Peter and I instinctively knew that we mustn't laugh. Two people laughing in that silence would have destroyed the balance of the evening. But we still found the play as funny as ever.
Would I find it funny today? Would I laugh at a man building the Old Bailey in his living room and then in the second act finding that he was on trial in the court he had built? Would I howl at a woman who was paid not to clean but to eat up the left overs? Would I be overjoyed at the conceit that a man could not be guilty of offences committed long ago because all the molecules in his body had been replaced over the years and he was therefore not the same person? I don't know, and I don't want to find out, and it doesn't matter, because what matters is the incredible and inspiring effect the play had on so many of us all those years ago. That can never be taken away. I am not the same writer because of it.
I've just done a whole piece about Wodehouse and when I pressed EDIT my computer wiped the lot. I've now run out of time and may not even be able to return to the subject today.
So, for the moment, this blog about two writers is about one writer. Suitably absurd.
Bookshelves - 03/08/2011
Greetings from the Nobbblogger in all his glory.
Since we moved from our place in the country to the middle of Harrogate two months ago Susan and I have been gently battling against chaos, and winning, but winning very slowly indeed. Last week, however, a significant event occurred. My new office furniture arrived. I'd left the old stuff in our old house. This wasn't carelessness, it had been fitted and couldn't very well be removed, and if it had been removed and put up again here it wouldn't have fitted.
I have quite a lot of shelf space, but, since we are now in an apartment (the rooms are big, so a longer world than 'flat' is required) I do not have the space I once enjoyed. Some books have had to go. Naturally, as a writer, I have quite a lot of books. Naturally, as a writer, I have found the process of deciding which books to send away, and which to keep, very interesting and challenging.
Three books go straightaway. I find I have two copies of Vanity Fair, Mansfield Park and Tess of the D'Urbevilles. I have not yet developed the habit of reading in stereo.
The next decision is to get rid of everything written by Dick Francis, and/or Mrs Dick Francis. I don't single him out because his books are particularly bad. Rather the reverse. I am quite an admirer, though not perhaps with the fervour of Kingsley Amis. They are formulaic, but well-written and very readable. Too readable. If I kept them I would read them again. You probably know the limerick 'There was a young lady from Spain, who was terribly sick on a train, not now and again, but now...and again...and again...and again...and again.' If I kept them, I would read them on a train, not now and again, but now...and again etcetera. Life is too short. There are so many books still to be read for the first time, including quite a few that I have bought over the years, and not got round to.
That leads to startling thought, why not get rid of every book you've read, make way for books you haven't yet read? Could I do that?
I find that I have quite a lot of books of literary criticism. These include Romantic Image, by Frank Kermode, The Tenth Muse by Herbert Read, and The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf. In their day these no doubt helped shape my literary tastes, but, dear Nobbbloggee, my literary tastes were formed long ago, and nothing is going to change them now, for the better or the worse. And I am not, you will be shocked to hear - or perhaps relieved to hear - an intellectual. So, a few more for the charity shops, if the charity shops will take them.
I have always liked to think that I am not a snob, but in my seventies I think that it's an odd person who isn't to some extent a snob, and there are just one or two authors whose names I don't actually want my visitors to see on my shelves. Off to the charity shop with you, Mr Archer. But, since I didn't regularly buy the sort of book I'd be ashamed to own, that doesn't get rid of many.
Ah. I have a small collection of my father's sailing books. Close-hauled. Coastal Barge Master. From the Thames to the Seine. Windmills and Waterways. 3 Vagabonds in Friesland. I haven't sailed since I was twenty three. These can go. But they're my father's, and he loved them, and I loved my father. And I have never read them. One day, in spring, as the gentle winds caress my balcony, I will read them, and dream of sailing, and of my father, and of sailing with my father. David! Honestly! How could you ever have thought of getting rid of these?
But wait. Look at these. Greek-English Lexicon. A Latin Dictionary. The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. I've forgotten all the classics I ever learnt so why should I keep these? The charity shops will be crying out for them, I don't think, to use the construction we always used when I was studying classics at school. But there's landfill, and these will certainly fill a lot of land. No, wait again. I've thought of a reason why I must keep them, and oh my goodness me, it's the reason that a few lines ago meant that I shouldn't keep them. I've forgotten all the classics I ever learnt. One grey Thursday, in times to come, wife stone deaf, no Test Match on, I know what I'll...oh no. You took them to the dump. Black mark, Stig.
Well what about this? Why the dickens should you keep the whole of Dickens? Will you really have the curiosity, when you're old, to re-read 'The Old Curiosity Shop'? Yes, because people keep asking you what you think of Dickens, and you don't know, you read them more than fifty years ago, and that David Nobbs barely exists any more. No, they must stay.
Talking about Dickens reminds me of a rather splendid occasion when I spoke at a literary lunch, along with three other authors, one of whom was Monica Dickens. After the lunch, at the signing, she came to me with a copy of my book to sign for her, and I produced a copy of her book for her to sign for me, and she said, in a posh, loud and very commanding whisper, 'I don't think we bother about the other two, do you?' I haven't read her book yet., I don't know if she ever read mine. And as for the other two, who were they?
That leads me to a category of books that I can never get rid of. Books authors have signed for me. And I also could never get rid of books by authors I've met, or books sent to me by young writers hoping for a quote. I haven't the heart. Or books written by friends. Imagine tossing Tinniswood into landfill!
I''ve several cricket books, but I had far more as a boy and I sold them all when I went to Cambridge and thought myself, very briefly, too lofty for cricket. Can I now sell these few? Can I buggery?
Now if I had a few books about buggery, I could sell those. But I haven't.
I've got a book by Jimmy Greaves. It's somewhere between Proust and Kingsley Amis. I don't want to get rid of it. I loved Jimmy Greaves.
There is one category of books that I could consider living without, because I don't think I will ever dare open them again. But it's a very small category indeed. It's the books that I loved so much that I will never dare open them because I couldn't bear to find that now I don't love them so much. First among these is 'At Swim-Two-Birds', by Flann O'Brien. At Cambridge I regarded this as a massive masterpiece of comic ingenuity, of Irish genius. Supposing I opened it again and thought it silly. 'Molloy', by Beckett. We read it aloud to each other before dinner, William and Barry and I, and how we roared. Does that stand the test?And one of my father's favourites, the Canadian Stephen Leacock, with his 'Nonsense Novels'. Oh David what a life you've led, with men like these to read.
And then it occurs to me, I had three novels by Beckett. Where are the other two, Murphy and...someone else beginning with M. Where is Lolita? Where is Portnoy's Complaint? (Books often don't get returned. Naughty ones never do)
So here I am, no longer wanting to get rid of books but wanting to get back ones that have wandered. It's no good. I am always going to have more books than I have room for.
But what treasured possessions they are, whether I read them or not. What a comfort their presence is. And as I finish the job I think, oh hurrah for books, for real books, and oh...what are you doing, my friends, with your Kindles, what are you looking for from your e-books?
And my final thought about this whole process is not a nice one, not nice at all. It is that you are in danger, if you aren't careful, my friends, of having a lonelier old age than me.
Buy real books and keep them.
Reading - 17/07/2011
Hello, Nobbbl...ah. There's a problem. What should I call you? I'm going to be writing today about my reading last weekend (not the one just gone, the one before that) and in the course of it I will be giving an example of appalling English that I found in the Telegraph magazine Seven.
Well, if I'm going to criticise other people's English, mine should be above repraoch, or even reproach, and it has been suggested to me, dear friends, that I am the Nobbblogger and you should be the Nobbbloggees. I think it could be argued that we are in this Nobbblog business together, you and I, and by reading the blogs you deserve to be called Nobbbloggers. However, I am rather taken with the idea of being The Nobbblogger, as opposed to being a Nobbblogger. It's a harmless vanity, I hope, and I certainly don't set myself above you, for what use would being a Nobbblogger be if there were no Nobbbloggees? So, I'm going to start again, and hope that you don't mind.
Last weekend (not the one just gone, the one before that - I know I've said that already, but I hadn't established that you were Nobbbloggees then, so it didn't really count) I read two whole books. And on the preceeding Thursday and Friday, on the train to and from London, I also read a book. Three books in four days. It was like those book-reading days of yore, before I lost the habit. Is it not shocking that a writer should lose the habit of reading books? Yes, dear Nobbbloggees (I like saying that) but maybe it is because I'm a writer that I lost the habit. After a hard day at the computer, I really didn't feel like more words, more paragraphs, more chapters.
Recently, therefore, I have found myself only reading newspapers and maagazines, and before I get onto the books I must mention that example of monstrously ungrammatical English that I found in the July 10th edition of Seven, and in their cover article too. It told the story of the relationship between the beautiful model Lee Miller and the amazing artist and photographer Man Ray, and it contained this sentence. 'Laid out in the style of a modern pleasure yacht, complete with a spiral stairway in nickel that led from the ground floor to the deck above, Lee sat and waited.'
The headline of the article was 'First they fell in love. Then they fell apart.' I'm not honestly surprised that they fell apart, if this famous beauty was laid out in the style of a modern pleasure yacht, and especially complete with a spiral stairway in nickel that led from the ground floor to the deck above. I'm labouring the point, and you may think me a grumpy old pedant, but we have a beautiful language, and I find it heartbreaking that people can be so careless, or so ignorant, about its basic grammatical rules.
Now, to the books. And I hope none of you thought when you saw the title of this blog that I was going to be talking about Reading. Sir John Betjeman, before he was a sir, was asked by post to give a talk on the Art of Reading, and he gave his astonished listeners a talk on the Art of Reading, when they had expected a talk on the art of reading. Or it may have been the other way round. Anyway, they were astonished.
The first book I read was called 'Stand Up and Deliver' and it was by the stand-up comedian, Andy Kind. To be honest I only read it because he asked me to. He said I had been an inspiration to him and I don't get told that so very often. I read it on the train and I was so gripped by his tale of his first gig that Retford and Newark passed by without my even noticing them. I felt terrified for him, and I could identify with him because when I first started speaking in public I was very scared. Now I'm pretty confident but then I talk at literary festivals and in libraries and on cruise ships and people come because they are interested in what I'm talking about so they are self-selected. But to just stand there telling jokes to people who are thinking 'Make me laugh', the thought paralyses me.
The book tells of his first up-and-down year on the circuit. I enjoyed it and it made me laugh out loud once or twice. Luckily I wasn't in the quiet coach.
I had been sent another book by a local publisher, and on the Saturday I decided that while I was in the reading mood I would tackle this one. It's not yet published and it came to me in e-mail form and as in its email format it ran to over 500 pages it would have cost a small fortune to print out. I read it on the computer, therefore.
I also had a book which I had bought, and again this was because I'd had an email from its author telling me that she loved my books and had just had her first book published, not without great difficulty. I went to the website and found it cost £5 including postage and I felt that at that price I had to buy it. Here was one author who was not going to get rich.
Now when I sit at the computer, I have to move away after about three quarters of an hour or my back plays me up, so I found myself reading these two books simultaneously. They were both novels, and they were so different that just moving back and fore between them was fascinating, and kept me feeling very fresh. I sank into the two worlds, I devoured the books, I was a reader again.
The book I was sent was called Thorn, by Michael Dean. It's being published by Blue Moose Books (www.bluemoosebooks.com), and I don't know the publication date. It's a historical novel about the philosopher Spinoza and in particular about his relationship with Rembrandt, and of course it's set in Amsterdam. Amsterdam seems to hold a great fascination for historical novelists, and not surprisingly, as it overflows with history. In Rembrandt's time it was at least three cities, a city riven by religious differences, a city of high artistic endeavour and experiment, and a huge trading port.
The book I bought was called Blind Ambition, by Grace Harwood, and is published by the Castaway Press (www.castawaypress.co.uk). it's set in Cheshire, which is not riven by religious differences, is not a county of high artistic endeavour and experiment, and has a bit of distance between itself and the nearest huge trading port. It's set in modern times and is the story of a blind (or almost blind, but that doesn't sound so exciting) show jumper. It's a book for those who love horses. I don't like being anywhere near horses, even though a horse called Reggie Perrin is just beginning his career on the flat and has recently run twice at Lingfield. I was once standing near some horses as we had pre-hunt drinks with young Essex farmers, and I was asked why some had red ribbons tied to their tails. I was told that these were the ones that kick. I retreated rapidly.
However, for some reason I enjoy books about horses. I mock Dick Francis (or is is Mrs Dick Francis?) for writing the same book over and over again. I say in my talks that they used to be just right for the train journey between York and Kings Cross. That was before Network Rail. Now I read War and Peace, and finish it by Retford.
So that was how I spent my weekend, moving from Amsterdam to Cheshire, from a complex tale about religious persecution and artistic rejection in Amsterdam to a story about a girl who loved horses, lost her sight but rode to unlikely triumphs. In fact, despite their vast differences, I found similarities between the two novels. Spinoza, Rembrandt and Emily Devlin were all given a rough ride by life, yet all three triumphed in different ways. And one of the main subjects of both books was truth. Spinoza suffered by telling the truth. Rembrandt suffered by painting the truth. Emily Devlin suffered by not facing up to the truth.
Blind Ambition stretched credulity without quite breaking it. Thorn stretched historical facts without quite defying belief. That is what books are entitled to do. Both books had lots of nasty people in them, but neither book depressed me. The two worlds were too diverse to compare, the two books also. But I am not a reviewer, I am, or was, a reader, rather a simple reader, eager to suspend disbelief, much more naive and less complicated as a reader than as a writer. And as a trotted back and fore between my computer and my armchair, I suspended two beliefs very enjoyably. Can't ask for more.
And now the bad bit. No doubt some of you on reading this may think, 'Oh, I might send him my book.' I cannot cope with any more for the foreseeable future, certainly not for the rest of this year. We have moved home and lost a great deal of time, I have my next book to write, the deadline looms.
But it was lovely, getting back into the reading habit, and one day, in the future, when I have time...
Goodbye for now, Nobbbloggees, from the Nobbblogger.
Contrasting Events - 30/06/2011
Hello Nobbbloggers all (both?)
In the last couple of weeks I have been involved in three very contrasting events - the funeral of my first wife Mary in Hereford Crematorium, the presentation of the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance in the Cafe de Paris, for which my 17th novel, Obstacles To Young Love, was on the short-list, and the publication of my 18th novel, It Had To Be You. If I had won the award I would be saying that I had experienced the depths of grief and the peaks of joy. I didn't win, so you were spared the cliche, but, even so, the contrast was pretty striking.
Although the funeral was held in the Crematorium chapel and involved the dreaded curtains closing in front of the coffin, the ceremony was entirely unconventional, and in the stylish and very moving funeral service programme designed by my stepchildren, the credits read 'My Funeral Service, by Mary Blatchford'. Mary had been on dialysis for many years and towards the end of her varied life she knew that she was dying. She had faced this with courage and humour and style - three qualities she certainly didn't lack.
There were many family members there, and in fact all seven of my stepgrandchildren were together for the very first time. There were also several members of the local amateur theatrical group, The Wye Players, which under Mary and several other talented people had often touched real heights. I had not seen any of them for nineteen years. One of them, Anne Watson, asked me if I intended to sit with the family and I realised that I hadn't given this tricky decision any thought. I decided not to. I felt that in leaving Mary, although I had kept contact with the children, I had removed myself from the right to the family's solidarity. Anne asked me to sit with her and her husband Ken, and she really helped me through the ceremony.
I felt moved, but not beyond what I could handle. And at the house, over the champagne and strawberries - Mary had wanted a knees-up - I talked and chatted and laughed, as you do. But then the guests left, and I looked round this house that I had never visited. I saw a tray that we had served drinks on, a trolley we had wheeled in at parties, some paintings including three by our friend Deirdre Sturrock. and twenty seven years of my life came rolling back, full of sharp memories, more good than bad, and I wanted to turn to Mary and say how much she had meant to me, and of course I couldn't.
I couldn't stay any longer. I had to leave. I walked the streets of Hereford and I was glad that it was raining. I wanted to get soaked. I wanted to ache with pain. And I did. I went to a bar we'd used before Hereford United games (I've lived!) and it looked as if it had been made-over by a lunatic megolamaniacal teenager. Over a meal in a nice little Thai restaurant called Thai on the Wye I was almost shocked by the way in which food could soothe, but the moment I'd eaten I was standing at the edge of an abyss of loss, a loss which I felt I had no real right to experience, since I had created it for myself by my actions. For the rest of the evening I sat in a lonely corner of the bar of my commercial hotel and drank enough gin and tonics to enable me to sleep that night. Nine, I think it was.
In the morning I was moved to find that my stepchildren had come to the hotel to take me out for a drink to cheer me up. They had missed me by ten minutes.
And now, three days later, here I was in the Cafe de Paris in the heart of the West End, up for an award, the only man on a short list of six, feeling rather like the oldest male chick-lit author in the Northern Hemisphere.
Those three days had not been easy. I had felt sharp attacks of devastating grief, and I couldn't tell Susan just how intense they were, that was my secret (now told to the world. But I haven't said much about the family, I have kept all that private, as it should be). Gradually, it's true, the intensity had begun to lessen, but the silly thing was that I didn't want it to, I didn't feel that I had yet experienced as much pain as I deserved.
Our East Coast train to ghastly Kings Cross - they're improving it, so it's getting worse rapidly - was 40 minutes late. Not bad for me. Signals fail at my approach. Points stick. Cows see me coming and stroll onto the line. Anyway, we hadn't got time to go to our hotel in South Kensington to change, and had been promised a room to change in at the Cafe de Paris.
And we got a room. What a room. It was lit only by faint dark red bulbs. It was suffused with the colour of sin. There were beds and sofas in all directions and nothing else. It was a room heavy with history. It was a room steeped in secret trysts between men of power and women of a different kind of power. It was a room in which it was impossible to see to open a suitcase.
But Susan managed to get our suitcase open and even detect a clean shirt. I washed in a public toilet, and could find nothing to dry myself with except my discarded shirt. This, I thought, is the glamour of showbiz.
There were drinks and canapes in a crowded room, where I was joined by lady friends from the agency and the publishers. All the judges except one were ladies. All the authors except me were ladies. I felt that I stood out in all this beauty like a condemned lighthouse.
We went into the main function room, sat in our rows of very narrow seats, clutching our drinks as if they were life support machines, and were entertained by Jo Brand, who was hilarious with little apparent effort.
Next the six books were each introduced to the audience by one of the judges, famous people like Jo Brand, glamorous people like Joanna Trollope OBE, Sophie Kinsella, Morwenna Banks, Liza Tarbuck. Mine was introduced by Andrew Cleaves, the MD of National Express, the sponsors of the event.
Next there was something that was billed as 'Surprise Entertainment!' Apparently the surprise was that it was the same entertainment as the previous year and that he'd been invited back. He was the opposite of Jo Brand. He used enormous effort to only spasmodic effect.
I'm not really excited by the thought of awards. I don't write for that. And in view of the events of the previous few days awards seemed particularly unimportant in the scheme of things. But when you've come all this way, you've met so many people, you've sat there...well, you want to win. I didn't. Helen Simonson won for a book called 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand'. She made as funny speech. I'll read the book.
We all went up on stage to receive a memento for being on the short-list. The others were given theirs by the glamorous judges. Mine was given to me by...you've guessed it...Andrew Cleaves, the MD of National Express. (Nice man actually, took Jo Brand's mockery very well)
Brave smiles and more sparking wine. It didn't taste like champagne now and I don't actually think it was though I'm not certain.
The third event was the publication of It Had To Be You. I gave copies of it to my stepchildren at the funeral. It covers the nine days between a woman's sudden death and her funeral at a crematorium. Weird. And I dedicated it to my stepfamily (Is there such a word?) What timing.
But I'll write abut the book on another occasion - very soon. The blogs will be more frequent now.
Have a nice evening, Nobbbloggers
First Three Books - 06/06/2011
Hello as promised, Nobbbloggers
I don't believe it. We've moved and now live in the centre of a city. Well, a town. Harrogate, actually. And my broadband is at last reliable. And fast. And a few moments ago I promised you that I would be fast and reliable too. And then everything I had typed disappeared. I'm now telling you for the second time that...well the third time actually. Oh, forget it. This was to be a new dawn, my second broadband coming, and it went.
I'm going to add this bit straightaway, before it disappears again.
I have blogophobia.
Add record successful. Here I am again. Are you?
What I've been meaning to write about for some time is the reissue by my beloved publishers, Harper, of my first three books, on what is called Print on Demand. I had been led to believe that this is a magical process by which just one copy can be printed the moment it's ordered, and can be in the bookshop the next day. This has proved wildly optimistic. Purchases on line haven't been bad, but over the counter they've been slow and erratic, like my broadband used to be. I find this extremely sad at a time when bookshops are struggling.
Anyway, I know that a gratifying number of people over the years have awaited the reprinting of these three, and, now that they've finally made it, I felt that I should reread them myself.
The first one is The Itinerant Lodger. The title reveals quite a lot. It's a contradiction. When I wrote it in 1959, in my bedsit in Sheffield (a bedsit run very nicely by Mrs Yardley and her husband, Mr Turner, but we won't explore that), I was heavily influenced by the theatre of the absurd, by the work of men like Eugene Ionesco and above all N.F.Simpson, and by the novels of Samuel Beckett. I can see these influences here, but I can also see David Nobbs popping his head over the absurdist parapet. It's very much a first novel, unlike anything else I've written, yet not entirely divorced from my later work. It points the way.
I found it fascinating to revisit my youthful self, and I rather hope you might too. There were moments when I felt genuinely moved by my inept young 'hero', as he wandered from bedsit to bedsit and fell into Kafkaesque situations, though, I hope, this was Kafka with laughs. I had moments of shame and moments of pride, moments when I felt the book was losing me and moments when suddenly it welcomed me back. At the end, to my delight and perhaps surprise, I was moved.
The book was rejected by at least six publishers, one of them, Macdonalds, saying that there was no market for detective fiction at the time, which was one of the silliest comments in publishing history. There was a huge market for detective fiction, and my book was nothing to do with detective fiction. I think Macdonalds gave up publishing and found a different product.
The Church Times said it was a moving study of schizophrenia. Sometimes an author needs to read the reviews to find out how clever he is.
The three books are all published, as paperbacks, with the original jackets, and the original photos of the author. Oh lord. Was I ever really so young?
With my second book, Ostrich Country, I suddenly found myself reading it with huge enjoyment. To a certain extent I think that is inevitable. After all, I chose all the words myself. Why should I not like them now? It is a young man's book and a humourist's (should that be humorist? My dictionary isn't unpacked yet) book. There are serious themes lurking, but they only lurk, I miss no opportunity of trying to make the reader laugh. I think I do it rather well - well I would, wouldn't I - and I think there is energy and charm in this book. What I have to admit, though, is that I had not yet totally found the key to making the reader turn the page. I was indulgent. I don't altogether mind indulgence, a little of it does you good. One of my publishers got worried when I read Nabokov, he felt I showed off, but I loved Nabokov's showing off (I should be so lucky as to do it that well, so maybe he had a point). Influences can be tricky. I couldn't read Dylan Thomas when I had any writing on the go. I'm half Welsh and suddenly I was120% Welsh and alliterative beyond belief.
Perhaps there isn't enough hard plot in my story of a young man who couldn't make up his mind which of two young ladies he loved, and who had his head in the sand (Ostrich Country. Not all that clever but it has a nice ring to it, I think, and that's the most important thing in a title).
My 'hero', Pegasus, wanted to be a great chef, and there's a climactic scene where he serves a disastrous meal. The disaster is, in comedic terms, that it is so bizarre as to be inedible. There is a problem here, in that meals even more bizarre are being served in several hundred restaurants the length and breadth of the land.
Still, I think it's worth a read.
Got to go. More tomorrow.
They say tomorrow never comes, but it does in the world of the blog.
The third book is called A Piece of the Sky is Missing. The title is taken from jigsaws. Yiou spend hours doing a huge jigsaw and at the end, because oine piece is missing, you feel you've completely wasted your time. So this is a study of a man, put together bit by bit, very much not in chronological order, just as, in a jigsaw, you get bored by the funnel of the ship and turn to the sky for a change of scene. The point is, therefore, that at the end, as in an incomplete jigsaw, you feel you've completely wasted your...no! No!!! You feel that you haven't quite understood the 'hero', just a little piece of him remains a mystery. There's a bit of a post-modern, deconstructional element creeping in here.
I reread this book on the train, and I was totally absorbed. Not for a moment did I feel I had wasted my time. Of course the time structure makes it not an entirely easy read. I am older and wiser now and know how people read books, often ten pages or so before dropping off at night. I once read a book called Murder in the Channel, by Freeman Wills Crofts, in this way, and after a week of trying to read it in bed I still hadn't passed page two. Much better even than Horlicks.
I can see now that in some ways A Piece of the Sky is Missing, with its rebellious and confused 'hero' Robert Bellamy, was a dummy run for Reggie Perrin. Not as good, but actually, I think, pretty good and better than I remembered. And, having expected to regret the complex time structure, I rather welcomed it. It justified ityself. And not everything should be made too easy for the reader Writing's hard enough. Why shouldn't the reader share some of the pain?
It's not for me to say how good these three books are, and I don't know that I know, but I found them interesting both for themselves and for the light they threw on me as a writer. I'm not a huge best seller but I have a devoted following whose presence gratifies me enormously and I would like to think that some of you who read this might find interest in charting my early development.
Don't enjoy them too much, though. If you say you think they're the best things I've ever written, I'll be a little disappointed!
GREAT NEWS - 30/05/2011
Are any of you still looking for my blogs? I don't blame you if you've given up hope.
We have just moved house. They say it's the most stressful thing you do in your life except for giving birth. I don't know about that and luckily I never will, but I'll tell you this. If that's true, then I'm amazed that there's a population explosion.
The whole business of it, and th stress of it, have filled my life for the last two months, but it's over.
We have moved from the end of a track outside a village which gets its broadband from another village, so that the broadband is slow and unreliable, more like narrowband, to the centre of Harrogate, where the broadband is fast and reliable.
This heralds a new era in the broadband life of David Gordon Nobbs, surrogate Yorkshireman, writer, drinker, blogger and tweeter. Watch this space. I have a few things to sort out yet but just you wait for Monday, June 6th. On that day, my new broadband life will begin, and I will at last treat my good friends the Nobbbloggers as they deserve.
Glasgow - 10/03/2011
Susan and I have just come back from three nights in Glasgow, where we've had a wonderful time. It was one of those rare trips where everything went right. Well, not quite everything. The service of breakfast on the Sunday morning was very slow. But if that's your only complaint, you're doing all right.
The train from York was on time, and it arrived in Glasgow on time. This is almost unheard of in my life. The railways have been taking revenge on me ever since 1976 when Reggie was always eleven minutes late.
Glasgow Station presented a fine foretaste of pleasures to come. It's characterful, spacious, bustling, just a bit grimy, the way a station should be. What a contrast to cramped, ugly, queue-ridden King's Cross. And you walk straight out of it into the lively centre of the city.
The taxi to the hotel cost £2.80, and for this princely sum the driver was prepared to hoick our ridiculous amounts of luggage into the cab and out of it, and still smile
The reason for our visit was that I was talking at the Aye Write Literary Festival. The organisers had promised to put us up at a top hotel, and they did. The Blythswood Square Hotel is a town house fully opened as a hotel only last year, in what was once the red light district of the city. How very Glasgow, we felt, that they should commemorate this in the attractive design by having red lights in all the windows of the public rooms.
Our room and bathroom were spacious and elegant, but designed by a man. In other words, as usual, the bathroom lighting was not helpful to doing one's make-up. I really struggled.
We went for lunch in a restaurant called The Red Onion round the corner. It was very pleasant. In fact I'd say it was the best meal I've ever had in a restaurant called the Red Onion.
A taxi took us to the Mitchell Library, the venue for the festival, and this one cost all of £3 50. The library is a vast old building with an impressive dome, but inside it is thoroughly modernised. I was taking part in an event for Amnesty International at 5, but before that we wanted to hear one of my oldest friends, in both senses, Barry Cryer. He had a huge crowd, he always does, and as always he was very funny. He was talking about Kenny Everett, and there were clips, some of them across the faces of people Everett didn't like. The funniest line in all these clips was 'Yes?' Well, perhaps I should explain the context. Kenny Everett is in his house. The doorbell rings. Billy Connolly stands there. Billy Connolly says 'Yes?' Then Connolly asks Everett what he wants. Everett points out that it's Connolly who rang the bell. Connolly responds that it was Everett who opened the door. Frustrated by the conversation, Everett eventually shuts the door, and walks away. The bell rings again. He opens the door again. Connolly is still there, but distinctly impatient now. 'Yes?' he barks. Delightfully absurd. So simple.
Then it was a switch into serious mode. In a small room sat a fraction of the number of people who had heard Barry. They were there to listen to four writers reading pieces connected with the theme, Freedom of Expression, or rather, connected with the lack of it.. I was to read a short but affecting letter written by a young Vietnamese lady to her parents, who were imprisoned in Vietnam for having written things hostile to the policy of the (unelected) government. I preceded the reading by getting on my hobby horse. I told of my great friend, the late Father John Medcalf, who was one day approached by a man in the backward northern countryside of Peru. The man said, 'I've heard of a thing shaped like a brick, and you can learn things from it.' He meant a book. Inspired by this incident, John opened a rural library scheme in the countryside around Cajamarca. Later Daniel Ortega employed him to do the same thing in Nicaragua. And we are closing libraries, even in our local market towns of Easingwold and Pately Bridge. I feel ashamed.
That evening we went out to dinner with Anne Donovan and her husband Liam. Just before we left the Green Room, in came Sarah Waters and we had a brief chat. This came into the realms of coincidence, for which we are criticised when we use it in our books .A few years ago I was one of the judges of a competition for romantic fiction, the Prince Maurice prize. This entailed staying for a fortnight in a luxury hotel in Mauritius, Le Prince Maurice. It is the hotel that sponsors the prize, which is for English and French authors in alternate years, all to encourage the survival of the two languages in Mauritius, and sponsored also by the Mauritian government.. The other judges were Sarah Waters, Marina Lewycka, Joanne Harris, Simon Armitage and that great writer of romantic fiction, Irvine Welsh, who said to me, at the end of a week, 'During the last week I have come to really admire your... My what? Talent? Wit? Genius? Generosity? Good looks? No. My capacity for alcohol. Not a bad tribute, thiough, from a hard man from Leith.
Anyway, two years before the prize that we were adjudicating, the winner had been Anne Donovan, for a book called Buddha Da, which Tim Lott, organiser of the prize, told me was superb. So I had read it, and loved it, and had been in e-mail communication with Anne, and now we were going out to dinner together.
We dined in a vibrant Italian restaurant in Byres Road in the middle of Glasgow's lively, attractive Bohemian quarter, home to the striking neo-Gothic university and a hundred Italian and Indian restaurants. The food in this one was not what we had encountered before. We started with two communal bowls of pasta and risotto, which we shared from the middle of the table, and followed it with an array of small dishes, Italian tapas style. Excellent. There was so much food I never thought we'd finish it, but we almost did. I think if Irvine Welsh had seen me, he'd have been proud. We all got on extremely well, and at the end Anne and Liam insisted on paying. I demurred, but they would have none of it. 'This is Glasgow.' That was explanation enough. Although when we take people out and pay and explain 'This is Harrogate', it doesn't quite have the same ring.
Then back to the hotel, and the discovery that in the ground floor restaurant and bar there worked a man who made as good cocktails as we have ever found anywhere in the world.
And so, almost in a straight line, to bed.
SUNDAY TO FOLLOW, AFTER MY FITNESS TRAINER. HAD TO GET THAT IN.
Continuing after my fitness trainer and now in bold print which is not because I'm suddenly full of energy. I'm not. I'm knackered. And I don't know how it got into bold so I don't know how to get it out of bold, and does it matter?
Sunday morning. Time to fill till my event at 3. The hotel helps by taking 45 minutes to bring our cooked breakfast. I have the full Scottish, which includes black pudding, haggis and a tattie scone. It's good. And I won't need lunch, which is good as I can't be funny on a full stomach. Then I drift around, go for a short walk to wake myself up, and get ready for the event. I'm always nervous in case nobody turns up. I've sold out in Fowey and Scarborough, had a paltry 50 in Oxford and a wretched 16 in Lincoln. You never know.
We get to the Mitchell just after 2.30 and a slightly harrassed lady minder approaches me and says 'Ah. Here you are. I recognised you from the description I was given. Elderly and distinguished.' I see a decent queue for my event and all my nervousness disappears. We have about 160. Not too bad. I am interviewed by Mark Smith of the Glasgow Herald, and he's good. I prefer to be on my own but the bigger festivals never trust you and today it goes well enough for me not to mind. He shows six clips from the original Reggie. There are all sorts of wonderful little touches from Rossiter that I'd quite forgotten. The questions go well, there's good applause, and I sign books in Waterstones. One man is weighed down by a bag containing most of my books, and in hardback. The early books are yellowing and he says 'Tell the publishers they're using too much wood.' Every single person wants to talk, Glasgow rides on waves of friendliness. I ask one man what he wants me to put and he says 'To Allen'. I put 'To Allen' and ask him if he's Allen. He says 'yes'. I put 'Good to meet you' and he says. 'Actually it's for a different Allen.' Anyway, it seems this Allen won't mind my having been pleased to have met him. I don't sell a huge number but it's decent. One man asks me to sign 'To C.J.'
We go for a couple of pints at a nearby pub with Mark and his partner, who is good fun and laughs a lot. The pub looks rough outside, but isn't. It's very couth without being posh or trendy. I realise that this is a Glasgow characteristic. A pretty young lady approaches me and produces a paperback of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin for me to sign Her boy friend produces his ticket for the event for me to sign. They'd seen my queue and thought it would be too long to wait in the library. Very gratifying.
Susan and I go back and attend Michael Frayn's talk about his book on his father. It's quite moving. I first met Michael at Cambridge, where he and Bamber Gascoigne too me out to lunch and found me an agent, who later had two nervous breakdowns, but that's another story. We've really hardly met since then. Andrew Kelly, the organiser of the event, takes me and Susan Michael and his wife Claire Tomalin and David and Hilary Crystal to another very acceptable Italian restaurant where almost everyone has veggie stuff and I have rabbit. Back at the hotel, we again meet the man who makes as good cocktails as we have found anywhere in the world, and he proves it wasn't a fluke last night.
Monday. Inexplicably the computer has moved out of bold. Perhaps it's only bold on Sundays
We had breakfast, relieved to be in the past tense again, and much quicker than on Sunday. Very nice kippers.
We were staying an extra day, at our own expense, to see something of the city. What better way to see it than just following one's nose and walking? Almost any way. So we caught the city tour bus, front seat upstairs, and set off on a wonderfully comprehensive trip. We saw the Cathedral, the oldest house, the Merchant City, the People's Palace, the Golden Mile with its renowned shopping streets, the elegant Gallery of Modern Art in handsome Royal Exchange Square. The statue of the Duke of Wellington was topped by a traffic cone and this is so permanent a feature that it's listed in Time Out. I love that.
Down by the Clyde, where once the docks launched Cunard ships, Glasgow isn't bemoaning its past, its creating its future. There's a huge exhibition and conference centre, a brilliantly designed new auditorium dubbed as ''The Armadillo' by city folk who can't have seen many armadilloes, and, over the river, an even more impressive modern building, the gleaming Glasgow Science Centre.
We got off at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, hugely excited at the prospect of seeing a very famous sculpture by Salvador Dali. We had lunch at the Mother India Cafe, Indian tapas, excellent, and went to the gallery. The Dali was away, on loan. I never hear of such things without shuddering at the transport risks involved.
Never mind, it's a great collection, and we were particularly interested in the gallery of Scottish art, with fine collections from two groups of artists I didn't know of at all - The Boys and The Colourists.
That evening was our cocktail maker's day off. We discovered that the hotel has two men who make as good cocktails as we have found anywhere in the world, and then we ate well on seafood in a restaurant called 'Two Fat Ladies', and our trip was over. Except for all those sights on the left on the train home, topped by Durham Cathedral and Castle, but with hardly anybody looking because looking out of train windows isn't cool, and everyone is busy on blackberries.
Sorry if I've gone on a bit. As you can see, I was very taken with it all.
Libraries - 05/02/2011
It's the national day of protest against the government's library closures, and here I am adding my bit.
I am particularly incensed by the proposed closure of two libraries in two lovely small towns near my home here in North Yorkshire but there will be hundreds of similar stories up and down the land. The towns I'm referring to are Pateley Bridge and Easingwold. People will have to travel well over ten miles from both towns to find their nearest library, and, just as the libraries close, the bus services will be drastically reduced.
The cuts will be fair, our leaders keep telling us. What nonsense. Library cuts will hit the poorest, the oldest, and the youngest. They will hit exactly the people who need and use them most.
I am not automatically against the closure of every single library. There may be some in big cities with decent transport systems where there is a viable alternative. But nowhere in the British Isles that is large enough to call itself a town should be without a library. It's cultural vandalism on a massive scale, but why should we be surprised? We have been ruled by Philistines for most of our history.
My great friend, Father John Medcalf, set up rural library systems in Northern Peru and in Nicaragua after being inspired by an ignorant man thirsting for knowledge, who called on him and said that he had heard of a thing shaped like a brick that you could learn from. John imported our library system into corners of the third world, and with great success. How sad he would feel today, how angry he would feel today, how contemptuous he would feel today, were he still alive.
How much money is this dreadful action going to save the nation? I'll tell you. A piddling amount. An amount that will be swallowed up in the chaos of reorganisations. An amount that would barely give a bonus to a banker. An amount that might buy a few sets of boots for soldiers in cripplingly expensive wars that we can't win.
When I was on the Books Committee of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, we asked one of our members to research the number of people who were employed one way or another by the book trade. The result surprised us. It was, roughly, half a million. We are not talking about some minority interest here. We are talking basic culture. Our nation's culture. Our culture.
When, and I nearly said 'if'', we return to prosperity, these libraries will not reopen. New shops will replace those that failed. Banks will continue to have the best buildings in town. There will not be new libraries. A wonderful, though sadly brief, period in our cultural hiustory will have been damaged for ever.
We are told that reading habits are changing, that people are reading less. If that's not true, it's an argument for not closing libraries. But, if it is true, it's even more of an argument for not closing libraries. Can any civilised person believe that books are not a valuable, an essential, an enormously enriching part of our civilisation?
There are all sorts of different ways of reading books now, but the move away from the traditional printed and bound book is no part of the argument for closing libraries. Libraries are meeting the demand for books in all forms. And the demand for information. Reference libraries are of huge value to so many people. Ah, you might say, but the best way to find information these days is on the web. Maybe so (not for me, incidentally), but not everyone can afford a computer, and libraries have computers as well as reference books, and they'd have more computers if they were better funded. So, again, the poorest people are the hardest hit.
But we are told that less people are using libraries, or people are using libraries less, there is a difference. Certainly less people will use them in the future when half of them are closed. But the reason why less people are using them, if indeed that is the case, is, I would have thought, that despite all our problems we don't have as many people in our land who can't afford books as once we had. But it's precisely those people who need the libraries.
So please, Cleggeron, don't keep telling me that the cuts are fair. That's one laugh I can do without.
Review - 13/01/2011
Hello Nobbbloggers all
These days some newspapers don't give as much space to novels as they used to. I'm pleased to say that I've had some nice reviews for Obstacles To Young Love, and indeed I haven't seen any nasty ones, but they have been on the short side and have only really dealt with half the subject. Now, in the Marlburian Club Magazine, my old school has had the space to do justice to the subject, and I have had a review from a lady named Claire Lowdon which says some very nice things about exactly what I am aiming for in my books. It's so gratifying to see one's aims described so accurately that I have decided, with her permission of course, to reproduce them here.
'About half way through Obstacles to Young Love, Timothy Pickering, our endearingly uncool taxidermist hero, goes to see his childhood sweetheart Naomi being filmed in the third disastrous sitcom of her nose-diving career as an actress (The sitcom in question is a comedy about taxidermy called Get Stuffed; previously, Naomi has featured in Nappy Ever After and Cobblers in Koblenz.).
'After the studio audience has been disbanded, Timothy finds himself drinking in the bar with the cast and crew. A man named Colin asks him for his honest opinion of the evening's performance. 'Well, Mr Taxidermist, what did you think of the show? Really?' 'I suppose it was OK,' Timothy tells him. 'I think the script was a bit weak.' Naomi approaches. 'Ah!' she says. 'So you've met our writer.'
'Some of the funniest scenes in David Nobbs's latest novel draw on the author's own experience of working for the BBC, not always on comedies as dazzlingly successful as The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Which brings us to an interesting truth about comedy: that its success or failure is immediately apparent. If there are laughs, it works. If there aren't, it doesn't. Simple as that. Except, it isn't, quite - because, as everyone knows, comedy doesn't date well. Think of early Bond, how corny Connery's gags sound to today's ears. How slow. As Nicholson Baker writes, 'to show our sophistication across time, we laugh politely whenever we sense, say in Sheridan, that a dead person is trying to be funny, although seldom with the real honking abandonment that the living can inspire.'
'To make your audience laugh down the ages, then, is an extraordinary comic achievement - and one that anyone revisiting Reginald Perrin will be delighted to witness. Much of the genius of Perrin lies in its unfalteringly swift pacing, its relentless, deft delivery of joke after joke after joke. Obstacles to Young Love shares this crucial characteristic: in just 422 pages we are whisked through 25 years of action, beginning with a terrifically awkward post-coital scene between two seventeen-year-olds in a scuzzy Earls' Court B&B (in which Timothy thinks that fellatio is the name of an Italian film director), taking in four failed marriages, the three aforementioned sitcoms, and a good deal of taxidermy before finally ending up at a school reunion charged with comic and dramatic potential.
'But the innovation of Obstacles to Young Love - the thing that will guarantee it a longer shelf life than most comedy - is that Nobbs succeeds in blending his inimitable dry humour with a more serious approach to some deeply challenging subject matter. As well as being a rollicking romantic comedy, Obstacles to Young Love is an exploration of the meaning of life without religious faith, peppered with acute psychological observations and shrewd insights into human interaction. Nobbs is unafraid to blend the trivial with the monumental - to tell us with chilling prolepsis on p24, for example, while the teenage Timothy is playing football with his best friend Kevin Keegan, aka Tommo, that Tommo's suicide is 'still many years away'.
It is the resulting tension between the silly and the serious that allows Nobbs to tackle the bigger questions in the novel with such lightness of touch. The narrative leaps nimbly from the consciousness of one character to another, providing a complex array of viewpoints on modern attitudes to love and religion. At the centre of the book are Timothy and Naomi's contrasted experiences of the journey from faith to atheism, charted by Nobbs with thought-provoking sensitivity. Ultimately it is his facility as a narrator - the ability to make us think and laugh by turns - that makes this quirky, modern tragicomedy such a refreshing read.'
It's not an easy life in the book world today, and we need all the publicity we can get. I crave your indulgence at my repetition of these splendid words!
Christmasses Past - 28/12/2010
Festive Greetings, Nobbbloggers
A few days before Christmas I was honoured to compere a delightful show called 'Carols by Candlelight' in our village church. The only strange thing about it was that they chose a tone-deaf atheist to introduce an evening of religious music.
Anyway, they asked me to give a few thoughts about Christmas at the beginning of the second half. I chose to talk about the only subject on which I am the world's foremost authority - me. And particularly, my Christmasses past. They went down rather well, and so I thought that I might share them with you, my dear and sadly neglected electronic chums.
All my early Christmasses were spent at my Uncle Charlie's farm in Essex. I was an only child, my cousin John was an only child, in fact we both still are, and so we are more like brothers than cousins.
The decorations were very simple, just lovely paper chains in pastel colours festooned from the ceilings, and put up on Christmas Eve. The excitement was all the greater because of this. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen my comments about the inflation of the calendar. We have Christmas month now, which follows straight after Guy Fawkes fortnight. It was so much more exciting when it was more confined. Less is more.
Those were lovely Christmas days. An orange in the stocking created a thrill, a new dinky toy was a sensation. After Christmas dinner everyone went to sleep. I thought that very strange. I don't think it strange now. We had more food at half past six, great hams and Christmas cake, and then we played games, and then I went to bed in floods of tears, crying 'It's a whole year till Christmas, mummy.' Well, only till I was seventeen.
I did a dreadful thing on my eighteenth Christmas. I was still religious then and had been to communion, My uncle had invited a lady called Miss Freath for the day. She was teetotal and vegan. She refused a sherry vehemently, saying, with immense pride, 'I don't drink', and to my horror I heard myself say, 'You took a big enough swig of the communion wine.' A pink spot developed on both her cheeks, and I went bright red. She said, 'I'll never come to this house again,' and stormed out. There was an awful silence, I apologised, and Uncle Charlie said, 'You did right, chap. I don't know if I could have stood watching her toying with a sprout.'
I'll never forget my twentieth Christmas. I was doing National Service, and I had to go back to Germany on December 21st after a fortnight's leave. I was utterly miserable. The cold was intense. The barracks in Munster were grey and inhospitable. and I got horrendously drunk on Christmas Eve. On Chistmas morning the officers brought round mugs of steaming tea and tots of rum, a splendid military tradition. But it didn't seem splendid to me that morning. I couldn't even face the tea, let alone the smell of the rum, and I was violently sick. At Christmas dinner I managed half a sprout.
I didn't have a lot of confidence in my youth, and I never felt sure that people liked me. I always felt a bit uncertain in the presence of my Uncle Charlie, which I realise now was ridiculous, partly because he was one of the kindest men I ever met and partly because his actions proved that he did like me. On my twenty first Christmas, he called me into the Court Room, so called because in Elizabethan times that was where justice had been dispensed in the village, and he produced a bottle of very ancient port. 'You're the only person in the family who will appreciate it, chap,' he said. What?? Was I really that sophisticated, all those years ago? Anyway, I did appreciate it, and the following year he winked at me and led the way to the Court Room again for an even older bottle of port. He opened it, sniffed, said 'It's gone', and poured it down the sink. I was desolate. At the time I thought it was just because of the drink. Now I realise that it was far more than that. I was being admitted to an intimacy that spanned the generations, I was being treated as a mature and sophisticated adult, perhaps for the first time.
During my last year at University - I simply refuse to call it Uni, there was time to say the whole word in those days - I did temporary postal work. On the 23rd I had a date with a girl and I was running late and I did a dreadful thing. I posted all the mail I hadn't yet delivered back into a letter box. The next day, several people invited me in for sherry and mince pies. Yes, that was what people did to postmen in those far off suburban days in Orpington. As I thanked one lady she said, 'You deserve it. You've been so good, never bent any of the cards. My friend in the next street saw her postman posting all the letters back into the letter box.' 'Sadly,' I said, 'you'll always find a few people like that.'
Post was delivered on Christmas Day in those days. More mince pies. More sherry. Because of my postal work the family were having Christmas dinner in the evening, and after my work I travelled from Orpington to North Essex. Train to Charing Cross, bus to Liverpool Street, pint in the festive station bar while waiting for the the train to Witham where I was to be met. Yes, the whole network was running, albeit on a rather reduced service, and the atmopshere was really jolly with the people who were working joining in the festive feeling. Nowadays, on Christmas Day, the world seems eerily empty.
When I married my first wife Mary I inherited three children and we had our own Christmasses, much more anarchic than the Essex ones. Once we went to a relative's house in Sussex. She lived with a man who worked on the Guardian. Just before Christmas dinner he went to feed some cats in a nearby house. I went with him. He drove our hostess's car out into the drive, parked it there, then got his own car out. On his return he forgot that he had got her car out and drove his car straight into it. A two car family became a no car family in a second. The atmosphere round the festive table was distinctly cool. And it got worse. There were two gays in the party, and they had the most furious row, and one of my stepsons suggested that the row was over who should have the fairy from the top of the Christmas tree, and our hostess overheard. Not a relaxing day.
Since then my Christmasses have seemed much less eventful, but if there was one Christmas Day that made me appreciate the others it's the one we spent in Prague. We'd gone for a winter break with Page and Moy - liked him, hated her. I loved the trip, but hated waking up in a hotel on Christmas Day. Never again. Christmas is a family time, if you're lucky enough to have a family. I have a different family now, though I always think of my other families and of those Christmasses of long ago.
I'm not really supposed to call it Christmas Day, now that I'm a humanist, but I don't know what else to call it, and I don't think names are that important anyway.
Just a few random reminiscences, and a promise. Blogs will be more frequent in 2011.
I hope you enjoyed your...whatever you called your day. Enjoy this cornucopia of bank hoildays - wouldn't life be better if every day was a bank holiday? Wouldn't that be a bonus?
If I don't speak to you again, have a great 2011, nobbbloggers all.
Cuts - 01/12/2010
Notice the 25% cuts that have been made to the word Nobbbloggers. I hope that they symbolise the absurdity of laying down an arbitrary level of economies and then trying to apply it to everything.
I'm writing this to add my seven and a half pennorth to Peter Hall's recent outcry about the damage the cuts will do and indeed are doing to the arts. It's very very difficult to argue against arts cuts when hospitals, the police, the fire brigade and almost all our essential services are facing cuts, and I'm not arguing that there should be no cuts at all. It's just that I have the feeling that our philistine Parliament finds it all too easy to say 'Ah. Arts cuts. Fine.'
The arts are among the very few things this country still does well. People from abroad visit our theatres, galleries, concert halls, opera houses and museums in their droves. The nation earns a great deal of money from them. If we are not very careful we will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Or rather, we will turn the goose into a moorhen.
At the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, our Books Committee initiated the production of a paper estimating how many people the book trade employed overall in all its facets. The answer was astonishing - roughly half a million. But nobody ever talks about the world of books being an important industry, a vast employer of people.
One of the government's cuts is to Public Lending Right, the money authors get from library borrowings. It is going down by 15%. I don't object to that, for one year, and provided it goes back up when prosperity returns. But somehow I doubt that it will. But what I do object to is that the organisation that administers PLR, based in Stockton-on-Tees, is to lose its individual identity. It's brilliantly and inexpensively run, authors have the utmost respect for it, it isn't a quango, it's a service industry, providing a great service, but, oh, books, easy target, chaps, there'll be no great outcry there.
Much later having lost my broadband connection and saving this a paragraph at a time in case I lose it again!!
But the thing that really angers me is the six year freeze on the BBC's Licence Fee. All right, I know the BBC agreed, but I imagine they had no alternative. We are envied for our BBC throughout the world, and it costs us 40p a day. A freeze this year, fine by me. Perhaps even a freeze for two years. But six!
On Monday Susan and I watched three great programmes about Germany on BBC4. The first one, at nine o'clock, was about German art, and it was riveting, if not quite as riveting as the one on Berlin that followed. Because we chose to watch this, we could not watch, live, the latest episode of Jimmy McGovern's new series 'Accused' or Ian Hislop on the Age of the Do-Gooders. That richness of choice in just one hour, and it costs 40p for that plus the rest of the day's programmes on four major TV channels and five major radio channels. And it's frozen for six years. To me some of the decisions of this desperately disappointing coalition defy belief. They give me £125 fuel allowance but they have to freeze out the BBC.
Our art defines us. We look back at ancient cultures, we know nothing of their banking systems their health and safety laws, their mortgage arrangements, but their art and literature live on, and how they live on. China, Japan, South America, Egypt, Greece, Rome, many other civilisations shine across the centuries in all their glory. Will be shine across the centuries? How will our art define us, if there is anybody left to see it? Art matters. Yes, we have to have cuts, but please, please, please, make them sensible, sympathetic, and as small as possible. AND GIVE US THE MONEY BACK WHEN PROSPERITY RETURNS.
More on Cruising - 22/10/2010
Hello Nobbbloggers all
I have had technical problems with my computer, and these have made doing a blog very difficult. Due to these problems I've been concentrating on Twitter, because it's so much shorter and therefore easier.
Now that the problems are resolved I am going to try to give a much better service to you, my beloved Nobbbloggers. After all, I was talking to you when I still thought it was only sparrows that tweeted.
This afternoon already I have updated my news items, which were like a pub that's been closed for a year and has all the windows boarded up. You know the sort of thing. 'My new book is coming out in July', and it's dated 2008. Dreadful. Some of my entries were embarrassing.
All sorted out. And now I have a plan for my blog. I am going to do it in shorter pieces, just a part of it at a time, and when there is more to come I am going to put a special coded word at the foot of the blog, a word that will only make sense to you, the Nobbbloggers. That word is MORE.
For security reasons, perhaps you should make a note of this word, in code. Put it backwards perhaps. EROM. Then one day you'll look in your notebook and you'll be able to say, 'What the fuck is EROM?', which very few people are saying, so you'll feel that you're a member of a very exclusive club.
How this will work is that when you see 'MORE' at the foot of my blog, there's more to come. When you don't there isn't. If you see 'MOE' it means I can't type very well.
Anyway, for this, my very first New Age Nobbblog, I'm going to talk about a cruising holiday Susan and I had last month. We sailed with Swan Hellenic, on their ship Minerva. It holds about 350 passengers, nicely small and intimate. It's a bit on the posh side, but not entirely. We met some very nice people from the Home Counties and some very nice people from Burnley. We also met some rather snobbish people from the Home Counties. We didn't meet any snobbish people from Burnley.
We flew to Naples. We were moored in the centre, and on the first day we went for a gentle wander through the city. There were tours to Pompei and Herculaneum but we'd been there and frankly they are in ruins. Naples was lively and animated and smelt of petrol, pizza and good coffee. We saw an amazing sight, a car that didn't have a single bump on it. There was a beautiful shopping mall with a glass canopy, even shopping malls are beautiful in Italy. We came across a huge square by the Royal Palace. It was full of people talking. Not listening. Talking. How did they have the time to do this in the middle of the morning? Were they the unemployed? We didn't feel remotely threatened in Naples, but we didn't like to ask them, 'Excuse me, are you the unemployed?' They didn't look unemployed. They were all well dressed. Well not like Milan. But not like Ripon either. We liked Naples, so full of itself despite its problems, so lively despite being the shadow of what it was when it was a capital city.
Second day, Sicily, Taormina. A picture postcard place. No Mafia in sight, perhaps because it's where the Mafia take their holidays. It came on to rain heavily. Bangladeshi umbrella salesmen sprouted like orchids in the desert.
Third day. At sea. All at sea. Must sort myself out.
Fourth day. Sailed into Venice in late afternoon. To arrive in Venice through the lagoon is awe-inspiring, and our awe was inspired.
Fifth day. Sailed out of Venice at sunset, the sky turning the city pink and red. To sail out of Venice in the sunset is mind-blowing, and our minds were blown. What more is there to say of Venice that has not been said? It didn't flood. It didn't smell. We weren't seriously ripped off. The sun shone. There were huge crowds, but they all had smiles on their faces. Is that bad? Oh, and every now and then a huge liner sailed in or out like an ugly block of flats that has broken loose from some industrial city. We were glad of our small ship, proud of her.
The next stop was Trieste. None of us knew what to expect, and it was a great surprise. It's beautifully situated on a great bay, with high wooded hills behind it, and it's almost entirely free of tourists. The beauty of the city lies mainly in the absence of ugliness. The medieval part is very small. The bulk of the city centre is 18th and 19th century, with the 20th century mainly represented by some fine art deco buildings. The main square is monumental and attractive, and its fourth side looks out onto the sea. But what I empathised with most of all was that it's a city with an identity problem. Like Reggie and many of the characters in my writing. It has been Austrian for much of its history, and well into the twentieth century. It still has an Austrian feel to it, with its monumental buildings, its sober atmosphere, its elegant coffee houses. At the end of the Second World War, and for almost a decade after that, it didn't know whether it was going to become Slovenian or Italian. And now it is Italian. It doesn't feel very Italian. It feels Central European with just a dash of Southern style. Wienerschnitzel with balsamic vinegar. The captain of our ship was from Trieste, and it was our maiden visit. As we left the city band played old favourites, the fire ship sent cascades of water into the air, cascades which the sun turned into rainbows, and several ships hooted their goodbyes. It was strangely moving.
Our next three calls were all in Croatia. Zadar had been 75% destroyed in the Balkan wars but you wouldn't have guessed it. A delightful place with some great churches (I enjoy churches even though I'm a Humanist!) and a quayside with representations of the planets lit up at night by their own solar panels, and even a sea organ. Holes had been cut in steps down to the sea, and the waves create a very pleasant organ sound through these holes. So like our own dear Margate!
Next Split. I once, in my relative youth, wasted hours creating a European football gastronomic league. It seemed hilarious then. The only result I can remember now was Chicken Kiev 2, Banana Split 3. And now here we were in this lovely city, with a marble promenade wide enough to play gastronomic football on running the length of the old town's shore, and smart cafes lining it and hundreds more well- dressed people with nothing else to do in the morning but drink coffee. In the centre of Split are the huge impressive ruins of the emperor Diocletian's palace, and the old town has been built inside the palace walls. 3000 people still live there, in medieval and Venetian houses. Outside the walls are two lovely squares in the Venetian style. Quite a city.
And then there was Dubrovnik. A great sight, a great site, a heartwarming recovery from its bombardment in the recent war. And a deep safe port. So, here were the cruise ships, the vast blocks of flats, the rows of balconies, the bombardment of the little city by people in T-shirt and shorts, looking at everything and spending nothing. Dreadful people, except...we were from a cruise ship too. But with the number of cruise ships in the big ports now, and the size of them, the industry is going to destroy the world on which it feeds. We went back into Dubrovnik in the evening, great jazz from an open air concert drifting through the narrow streets and picturesque squares, and the youngsters of Croatia, well-dressed, talking and laughing and not shouting and not binge drinking, and IN ALL OUR TIME IN CROATIA WE DID NOT SEE ONE PERSON ON A MOBILE PHONE! Very few of the passengers on our ship went back into Dubrovnik in the evening. Dinner was paid for on the ship, you see.
And next, Albania, where Norman seems to represent all the wisdom there is. He was an icon there, the only Western influence allowed, presumably because the Comminists thought that he would persuade the population that in the West people fell over all the time. We went on a bus tour to a town on a plain over the mountains, in the hope that we would see a bit of the real Albania. We did. Everywhere there were half finished buildings, most of them erected illegally. We say more pill boxes in one day than we had seen in a lifetime. When Enver Hoxha was President he built over 7,000 of them, and it's not a big country. They were to stop an invasion, an invasion that never came since it wasn't worth invading. We also passed a village which our guide told us was famous in Albania. It declared independence fifteen years ago and has devoted itself to growing cannabis ever since. The police dare not invade it, So our guide said anyway. Apparently all the people were stoned, but our bus wasn't and we made it safely to the Unesco town of Gjirokraster, described as an Ottoman town. It wasn't awful, but there wasn't much to see, and it certainly didn't deserve Unesco status. There were quite a few wild looking unshaven men in Mercs. There was a frontier feel about it, even though it's in the middle of the country.
On the coach with us was Dea Birkett, travel writer, Guardian correspondent and good company. She actually met her bus driver from South London in Gjirokraster. He's Albanian and was visiting his home. Now that is a coincidence. Dea said that after our morning visit we were now world experts on Albania, and would be able to hold forth every time it's mentioned at dinner parties. I've been to seven dinner parties since we got home and it hasn't been mentioned once. Bastards.
Every field we saw in Albania was scruffy. No crops were growing anywhere (except for cannabis). They've a new system of agriculture. It's called Set-Aside.
Everyone should go to Albania. It'll reconcile you to living in Britain.
After that it was Delphi, the Corinth Canal and Athens. It was great, but it all seemed a bit postcardy after Albania.
Swan Hellenic gave the cruise the title of The Venetian Republic. I called it The Short-Arsed Dictators. We had some very good lecturers on board, it's a feature of Swan Hellenic, and time after time they talked of the short stature of the various dictators who had put their stamp on these fine lands. Garibaldi, Mussolini, Napoleon, Tito, Enver Hoxha, all with little man syndrome in spades (except perhaps Garibaldi, the only world leader to have a biscuit named after him, who freed Southern Italy from the rule of the Bourbons, the only world dynasty to have a biscuit named after them). Throw in Franco, add Hitler, who was hardly John Cleese despite his funny walk, and you begin to sense a pattern.
MORE? No. That's it. Simples.
Upset - 07/09/2010
Did you feel I was neglecting you? I wouldn't blame you. Did you wonder if I've abandoned you for Twitter? It'd be understandable.
I've been very busy, it's true, working on my editor's notes about next year's novel, Life After Deborah. Her notes were rather harsh, I thought, excessively critical. Until I reread the book with her notes in mind, and I found she hadn't gone far enough. Anyway, now at last the rewrites are done and the book is finished, and I'm not so busy.
But even that wasn't the real reason for my silence. It was just that I didn't feel like being serious, but while I can do little gags for Twitter, I didn't feel like being funny at the longer length of a blog. Because I just am not finding the world funny at the moment.
I love sport, especially cricket, and all these betting scandals are hitting at it hard. I really cannot be bothered now with all these one-day internationals against Pakistan. I keep wondering which bits are real and which are being acted. I try not to like football but it's in my blood, and look how the poor dears behave, and can you blame them when we make it so easy for them by paying them so much. It upsets me.
But what upsets me most is the politiians. It's always said that as one gets older one moves to the right. I was determined not to. And then along come Blair and Brown and Mandy and they slag each other off and argue and reveal their monstrous egos and the buggers are moving me steadily to the right, which is just where I did not want to go.
I have voted liberal in my time, I'm a liberal at heart, I want as much social justice as can be achieved within a framework of limiting laws and bureaucracy to a minimum. I've never voted conservative but I have recently almost been driven to do so.
And then along comes this ex-editor of the News of the World, claims he didn't know all his journalists were hacking, so he's either a liar or he wasn't a very observant editor, and suddenly he's Cameron's right hand man. Great, I think for a moment, it may start moving me back to the left. But then I feel upset all over again, because the recent revelations in the News of the World reveal only too clearly how vicious it can be, how disruptive their timing is to the national cause. And there is the man who headed them helping dear Cameron, and supposedly helping him in the national interest.
And don't think I believe the arts world is as clean as a whistle. There's dear Stephen Fry telling us how awful Pinter could be.
People let you down, scupper your hopes for them, make your admiration of them seem naive. I don't know if it's just my age, but it seems worse this year than ever. The silly season where nothing happens is over, and now, as I said on Twitter (sorry) there's a silly season where everything happens, and I do think these seasons are getting sillier and sillier. I don't want to talk about it any more, which is why I didn't want to start.
I'll try to be lighter and funnier next time.
Beneath the comedy - 17/07/2010
Hello, Nobbbloggers all
I'm getting some very nice comments about my new book, Obstacles To Young Love, and it's had a few good reviews, and been discussed on The Wright Stuff, but the word romcom has been mentioned by reviewers, and I just don't think it's a romcom. Mind you, what do I know? I only wrote it. But to me Romcom sounds like one of those houses in which a couple have both donated the first three letters of their name in order to form the name of their house. My house, Davsue, is up for sale, incidentally.
What I thought I had written was a rather sly tale which purports to be a simple romance but actually deals with a fairly important question, 'Is there a God?' I'm known as a 'funnyman'. I don't mean that I'm necessarily funny, but I have written gags and I have written for many comedians and you just don't get your serious novelists, your Booker winners, doing that sort of thing.
I have a serious side to me, but I don't want to pontificate or bore people so I try to make my serious points in comic form. I am passionate about comedy as a way of saying important things, perhaps because although I feel I have these important things to say I don't feel that I am as individual in my way of expressing them as I am in my comedy. But they're there, and it's a bit discouraging when professionals, critics, pontificators, pundits, don't recognise this.
But you do. Well, I can't actually speak for all you Nobbbloggers, but the people who send messages to my website, the people who send messages to me on Twitter, often mention the serious side. I think so-called 'ordinary' people come to books with a fresh eye, while the professionals come burdened down with classifications, preconceptions, and other long words which can so easily get in the way.
I'm not bitter. I'm not even complaining really. I'm just pointing out what happens.
And I will continue to wrap serious fillings into my comic sandwiches.
Sorry this was so brief but it's 00.52 and I'm ready for bed!
A Joke Too Long For Twitter! - 08/07/2010
Please don't feel that I am merely using you as a dustbin for things that I can't tweet. This is a one-off and a proper, thoughtful blog will follow shortly.
However, I do have a joke that I have always wanted to do on some sketch programme and I have never managed to sell it and I think it's funny so there.
It's a current affairs programme, and the presenter says, 'and now over to Anthony Grimsdyke-Falshaw, who is visiting the German village that is believed to have the longest name of any town or village in the whole world. Anthony.'
We go over to a village scene in Germany.
'Hello,' says Anthony Grimsdyke-Falshaw. 'I'm standing in the German village of Niederwalddenkmalschlosskirchemitgrossstaatsangehorigerundwassermuhlemitapfelobstgartenundkartoffelfelds-am-neckar, which is believed to have the longest name of any town or village in the whole world. I'm afraid that's all we've got time for. Anthony Grimsdyke-Falshaw, Niederwalddenkmalschlosskirchemitgrossstaatsangehorigerundwassermuhlemitapfelobstgartenundkartoffelfelds-am-neckar.'
We return to the studio.
'Anthony Grimsdyke-Falshaw speaking there from Niederwalddenkmalschlosskirchemitgrossstaatsangehorigerundwassermuhlemitapfelobstgartenundkartoffelfelds-am-Neckar. And now, can warts be a statistical guide in the fight against poverty?' says the presenter.
I told you it was silly.
And as the sun sets over my care home...
Obstacles To Writing Blogs - 14/06/2010
I've got a confession to make. I've been away. Where have I been? To another part of the net. I've joined Twitter. I've been tweeting. I still am. I'll probably go blind, but there it is, I'm addicted.
However, I don't want you to think that I have neglected you, my beloved Nobbbloggers. If it's been a bit of a while since my last blog, it's really been because a blog takes so much more time than a tweet, and I've been very busy.
Anyway, here we are together again, and I want to take this opportunity to tell you what I've been doing. I've been thumbing through a little book that we've had for years. It's called 'The Art of Turkish Cookery.'
No, I want to tell you about all I've been doing. Well, first of all, I've been back and fore to London for the recording of the second series of the new Martin Clunes version of Reggie Perrin. There's a lot of our old friend Grot in it and I hope that when Auntie BBC decides to show it to you, you'll enjoy it.
I mean, I enjoy Turkish food. It's really good. But this book just isn't. It's full of mispronts, for a start, and some of the dishes just don't sound...well...tempting. Take soups. Do you fancy semolina soup this lunchtime, my darlings? Or flour soup? What about cheese-bread-soup? Ah. Here's a winner. Lamb knuckle soup.
Sorry. I got diverted. Shouldn't have the book here at my side really. So, what else have I been doing? I've been doing the second draft of my radio play, which at the moment is called 'We Happened To Be Passing'. It's about a couple who on their unwisely invite various people, quite a lot of them Belgian, to visit them if they ever come to England, and one weekend they all. Tony, the husband, rediscovers his love of cooking, and he doesn't use 'The Art of Turkish Cookery' in the process. I mean, right at the start, on the first page, there's a recipe for 'Pink Calavance'. The main ingredient? You've guessed it. Pink calavance. One whole kilogram of the stuff. What is it? Haven't a clue. It's not in the dictionary.
Anyway, that's irrelevant. The thing about the play is that, part of the comedy comes from the fact that some of the Belgians are Flemish and some of them are Walloon and the two hate each other and now, this very weekend, Belgium is descending into such bitterness that some people are in favour of the nation splitting up. I mean, am I topical or am I topical? I'll let you know when it's on, and there's no pink calavance in sight.
Not all the recipes are as obscure as that - sorry to get back to the book, but the thing does obsess me a bit. I mean, how do you fancy wheat porridge, pickled mest-balls, nozzled biscuits or some nice steved peaches. They're all there.
But I want to talk to you about my book. It's called 'Obstacles To Young Love', it came out last week as you'll know if you started this viewing at the beginning of the website, and there's not a single steved peach in it.
You can read about the book elsewhere on the site, so I won't tell you what it's about, except that it's not about Turkish food. But so far things look quite promising for it, and since I'm really very fond of it, after all it's my newest baby, I want to tell you about them.
There are some very nice reviews on Amazon, including one real rave. I've read that one seventeen times. But it really does mean a lot to me to hear nice things from readers. I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's why I write, I write because I have an itch, an urge, that just forces me to do so, but I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much if I didn't get a reaction from my readers.
I wonder if the writer of 'The Art of Turkish Cookery' got much reaction from his readers. 'I loved your recipe for water pastry (stuffed with cheese). My kids adored it. More water pastry (stuffed with cheese) they cried.' Actually some of the recipes don't sound very suitable for children. Woman's navel? Woman's thigh balls?'
You can see why I keep getting dragged back to the thing. This is no ordinary cookery book. But back to my book. There was a nice review in the Mail. It called it 'funny and sympathetic'. I haven't seen any other reviews yet, and I'm wondering how many I'll get because it's come straight out into paperback and the media aren't quite into this yet, though I think it's a good thing.
On Saturday week I did an event at the Hay Festival with my fellow novelist and friend Jonathan Coe, hosted by Peter Gutteridge. We had a good audience and a very rewarding signing session afterwards, and I met a few Nobbbloggers! The weather was great, the border country looked stunning, and the whole festival was very friendly. Jonathan was promoting his splendid new novel, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.
Then last Saturday I was on loose ends on Radio Four, and among the other guests was the legendary Duane Eddie, 'The King of Twang'. Remember him? He's almost as old as me. We sat next to each other in the pub afterwards. He is such a nice and generous man. The greats often are. Mind you, I don't think I'm too bad myself. Look how generous I am in sharing the delights of Turkish cookery with you. Some writers wouldn't do that. I can't help wondering if Ian McEwan would bother to reveal the delights of Stufed Pastry, Burned Dessert and Dessert with Chicken Breast (What?) But here I am breaking off from my own work, from the exciting news that on June 22nd I'm going to be on in the afternoon with Steve Wright, on Radio 2 of course. I think that's going to be great fun - for me, anyway. And not a Noah's Ark Dessert in sight (Yes, that's in the book too)
Another exciting development is that the book is the July choice on Channel 5's 'The Wright Stuff'. They'll be discussing it on the programme on July 2nd. If you go to their website you'll find further details about this. And I'm not neglecting my local roots either. I'll be talking about the book in Ripon on the day after Steve Wright, the 23rd, organised by a lovely local bookshop, The Little Ripon Bookshop.
Buit it doesn't actually stop there. Yesterday I emailed my next novel, the eighteenth, to the publishers. It's called 'Life After Deborah'. At the moment. It may change. We had quite a lot of trouble with the title for 'Obstacles To Young Love'. I wanted to call it, 'Love, Faith and the Importance of Skylarks'.
So now you see why, with all this on the go, fairly miraculously at this stage of my career, I don't find as much time to talk to you as I would wish.
That's about it really, and in a way I'm glad, because I wasn't brought up to blow my own trumpet, and it doesn't come easily. I'd much rather just talk about 'The Art of Turkish Cookery.'
Actually, there are stil, a few recipes I can't resist mentioning. Foiled Seabass, for instance. I rather think the seabass were foiled in their ambition to keep on living. There's also - very different - folied seabass. Then there's the very tempting Flat Cake. Oh, and Iskender Kebab. That's the English translation. In the Turkish it's...Iskender Kebab. I think it might go well after pink calavance.
Finally, sounding so English in translation, Walnut Crescents. I wonder how many Walnut Crescents there are in Britain. Somebody, somewhere, must have gone nuts in some town hall and created a housing estate with names like Peanut Close, Cashew Drive and Pistachio Avenue.
I must end, politically correctly but also very sincerely, by repeating that I am not mocking Turkish food, it's great. I am mocking only this particular book, and I am mocking it with affection. I love the book.
I must end now. The sun is rising over my care home. I can hear the birds, going 'Tweet Tweet'. I'm off to another place on the net.
A Literary Journey - 27/05/2010
Last night I was at Lumb Bank, the house once owned by Ted Hughes. I was the guest speaker at a residential course on comedy writing, run by Graham Duff and James Payne. There were sixteen students, of varied ages and sexes (well not very varied sexes, I'm glad to say, only two). I talked for about an hour about my career, and drank a whole bottle of red wine, not necessarily in that order. Then they asked lots of highly intelligent q
A Literary Journey - 27/05/2010
Last night I was at Lumb Bank, the house once owned by Ted Hughes. I was the guest speaker at a residential course on comedy writing, run by Graham Duff and James Payne. There were sixteen students, of varied ages and sexes (well not very varied sexes, I'm glad to say, only two). I talked for about an hour about my career, and drank a whole bottle of red wine, not necessarily in that order. Then they asked lots of highly intelligent q
News Update - 15/05/2010
Once again it's been too long, my friends, and once again - hurrah! - it's been because I'm too busy. I think of you at some stage every day, usually at the wrong time, like when I'm in the bath, and to leap out and blog would be a very wet process. Anyway, here I am at last. So what's been happening?
Well, I've begun to tweet. I feel vaguely proud of this, and vaguely ashamed as well. Do take a peep from time to time.
We've finished recording the second series of the new Reggie Perrin. I know some of you didn't want me to do it and believe that nothing can replace Leonard Rossiter but I hope by the start of the second series you are more ready to accept that this is a new series on an old theme rather than a remake. I think the second series has gone really rather well - great thanks to Simon Nye who has found new takes on my old situations and has revived, you will be pleased to hear, the concept of Grot. ALSO, in this new series there are fantasies involving animals which I think are just as funny as the hippo of blessed memory. When will it be shown? No idea! Frustrating.
Now, between tweets, I am busy writing a radio play for Radio 4. It's being recorded in July. When will it be heard? No idea. Frustrating. I don't want to tell you the plot, but I will reveal one amazing fact. It has more Belgians in it than I have had in anything else I have written. If that doesn't make you want to listen to it, I'm not surprised. No. I meant to say, 'nothing will'.
Then there is Obstacles To Young Love, my long-awaited (well, by me anyway) seventeenth novel and my first with Harper. You can read about this elsewhere on my site but it is all helping to make this a bit of a golden period for the old boy.
Also, I have almost finished the novel after that, Life After Deborah, which I am hoping to have ready for publication at about the same time next year.
On top of all this, I am making my very first appearance at the Hay Literary Festival. It's a joint event with the great Jonathan Coe, whose wonderful novel What A Carve Up I adapted for Radio 4. We're on at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 5th. I do hope there'll be a few Nobbbloggers there. If you are, please introduce yourselves
Last Thursday I was one of the writers speaking at the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch in Harrogate. Nobody came up to me afterwards and said, 'Hello, I'm a Nobbblogger', which was very disappointing.
So I thought that perhaps to finish this brief blog I might give you some idea of what my speech contained. I try not to speak from notes, but I do have notes concealed in my pocket. These are just headlines to jokes and subjects but I always feel more comfortable when I have them. I don't know how much sense they will make to you but maybe you could while away a wet evening by concocting a possible speech around them! No prizes. Maybe one day some post-graduate literary student might stumble across them and write a paper about them. I don't think.
Murder a pint
Bonfire of the Vanities
Mike and Bernie Winters
Not a bad speech, eh? Bet you wish you'd been there.
Van Gogh - 08/04/2010
Greetings, Nobbbloggers all
A rather emotional piece this time.
Last Friday, at Teddington studios, we recorded the first episode of the second series of Reggie Perrin. At one stage Reggie, admitting that he has failed to sell anything in a new business venture, says that Van Gogh never sold a painting. Nicola says that there has to be a better business role model than a ginger Dutch painter who cut off his ear and shot himself.
On Saturday Susan and I went, with my old friend Barry, to the Royal Academy to see the exhibition of the ginger Dutch maestro's paintings and his letters, mainly to his brother Theo. My dears, I was overwhelmed, I was distraught, I sat on a bench with tears running down my face, it was the saddest exhibition I have ever been to. If you haven't been, you must go.
Why was I so sad? I was sad at the enormity of the disparity between the reputation of the great man in his life and his reputation now. It was as if I had never sold a single book, never had a joke said by any comedian, never seen anything I wrote on television, there had never been any Nobbbloggers at all, and now, in 2130, people were queuing down the roads outside the theatres to hear my pispronunciation monologue, to chant 'I didn't get where I am today' in honour of the sad maestro from Orpington who mutilated his nose in Bromley and poisoned himself on Chislehurst Station.
Van Gogh began painting at the age of 27, and shot himself at the age of 37. In those ten years he developed and matured astonishingly, so it's hard not to believe that the best was still to come.
There was so much more to him than sunflowers and colourful, almost gaudy pictures of Provence. He painted a whole series of portraits of peasants working the soil. I can see why people didn't rush out to buy pictures of bent, unattractive, gnarled women planting seeds. But there were also the early landscapes, muted, unromantic, pictures of ditches, stagnant pools, pollarded trees. Again, hardly best sellers, though one picture of a pollarded tree beside a ditch among untidy flat fields with low, sad farm buildings in the distance took me straight into nineteenth century Holland and moved me with its truthfulness.
But later, when he has lived in Paris, when he has become deeply interested in colour, when he has become a true master, the paintings are exciting and exquisitely beautiful. It is believed that he suffered from what we now call bi-polar depression, and some of the paintings, especially towards the end of his life, seem to me to be bi-polar pictures, they contain the depression and the mania, they embrace peace and disturbance.
The painting of his yellow house in Arles, and the almost equally yellow restaurant where he took his daily suppers, led me to want to be in Arles, to meet him, at the end of his long working day, as, having talked to nobody, he went for his lonely supper and his half litre of wine, to talk to him, to tell him what a great and famous artist he is.
But how could it have been that people didn't flock to buy these tremendous paintings that we queue happily for hours to see? How many artists are there today, of whom we know nothing, whose genius will be recognised when the trendy stars of today's art world are forgotten?
The letters, my dears, reveal a thoughtful, intelligent, metaphysical man with a huge respect for art, for people, for nature, driven to mutilate his ear by torment we can only dimly guess at.
Yes, I was deeply moved, my Celtic side overpowered my Anglo-Saxon reserve. And on Monday I was at the rehearsals for the second episode of Reggie Perrin. Did I say to Simon Nye, 'We can't allow that line about Van Gogh. It's unworthy.' I did not. Great art is one thing. Comedy, I freely admit, is a lesser thing. But it has its own rules.
Barry Cryer and I once got a great deal of stick for portraying Les Dawson as Beethoven. It was really just the one joke, the deaf joke. 'I went out on the town with a couple of composers last night.' 'Mozart and Liszt?' 'We'd had a few.' How can these puny minds mock a great genius? Because, I believe, the sheer absurdity of doing so makes it funny, and leaves the subject of the comedy unscathed. Les as Ludwig? Too absurd to be offensive.
I hope you watch the first episode of the second series, and, when the Van Gocgh line comes up, spare a moment to think of him, and the almost unbearable pathos of his life.
Busy Days - 28/03/2010
Hello, Nobbbloggers everywhere
I cannot believe that more than four weeks have passed since I last added to the Nobbblog Files. Time has been passing very quickly in North Yorkshire recently. I think a few hours must have been cut out here and there. I've raised this with the council, told them I don't think I'm getting all the hours I've paid council tax for, but I didn't get anywhere. They wrote to tell me that they are so busy that they haven't got time to reply.
I know how they feel. I am busier than I have ever been in my life. Not that I'm complaining. Boy, how I am not complaining.
Anyway, this is more in the nature of a progress report than my usual blogs. It is a wonderful fact that almost all of the people who read this website do tend to be fans of my work. So this is just a short piece to give you the news, which I hope is good news, that quite a lot of my writing will be available to you in the coming months.
We are bang in the middle of making the second series of the new Martin Clunes version of Reggie Perrin. The week before last Susan and I were in London and Sussex attending some of the location filming. I have to be around when Reggie is walking into or out of the sea. These are iconic moments in my life.
We have finished the location filming and are now moving on to the studio recordings, which will take place at Teddington Studios over the coming weeks.
After the first series there were three questions that I was often asked. 'Why did you do it?' (Not often, actually, just occasionally, from people who liked the 1970s version so much that they couldn't take a new version - though some of them mellowed with time!)Well, I did it because I felt it was valid to do so and would be fun to do so, and I think I was right.
Second question, 'Who do you think is the better Reggie -Leonard Rossiter or Martin Clunes?' My answer is that both are so good and I am so lucky to be served by such performances that I would be a churl if I insulted either the dead or the living by saying that I preferred the other.
The third question was 'Why do you let Simon Nye's name go before yours in the credits?' The answer lies in the way this second series has evolved. When we set off on the long road to its production, the BBC asked me what I wanted my involvement to be. Until I was asked I hadn't been sure, but suddenly I knew. I wanted to be involved in the writing, but I didn't want to do it all on my own again.
The BBC suggested Simon and I was thrilled, and it seemed to make sense to all of us to get Simon to do a first draft of the new version. There was no way I could have got far enough away from it. When he produced his new characters, such as the wellness woman instead of Doc Morrissey, I loved them (no doctor could have topped Doc Morrissey!) and we have been working to Simon's template ever since, and largely in Simon's voice. I love what he has done, and I am in there with him, and Reggie is still very much my Reggie, and we are visiting so much of the original concept - the desperation, the fantasies, and in this second series, my beloved Grot!
I may have said much of this before, but I think it's worth repeating. After all, it's only appropriate to repeat oneself when talking about the BBC.
So, what does the second series hold? Plenty of Grot. Plenty of fantasies. Some favourite old characters. Two new ones including a well known comedy actor whom I greatly admire. I won't spoil the surprise, I'll just give a clue. He is often seen as one of two well-known comedy actors whom I greatly admire. A plot which in some ways, especially in the context of office life, mirrors the original, and in other ways, particularly in the family relationship, breaks new ground. A lot of laughs from the studio audience, all of which, whatever the papers say, are genuine.
So there's all that to look forward to - well, I hope you're looking forward to it. I am, anyway. I imagine transmission will be in the autumn, but who knows, and I'll keep you posted.
An update on the progress of the novels. As I said last month, OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE will be published on May 28th. I now have the uncorrected proof copy, which is sent out to reviewers, and it really does look lovely. It will appear soon on the front page of the site The editor has written a rather lovely phrase for the back cover, describing it as ' a story of love, faith and taxidermy.' Yes, the male protagonist, Timothy, is a taxidermist. The heroine, Naomi, is an actress, and I have to admit that I have had great fun putting her in three really bad situation comedies!
I alkso referred last month to the book after that - LIFE AFTER DEBORAH. Well, it's finished. The moment the recording of Reggie is over I'll be polishing it and sending it to the publishers.
Oh, and I'm also writing a play for Radio 4. More on that later.
Busy days indeed.
I think it's a fault of mine, when I speak in public, that I am too eager to get laughs, that I don't have enough confidence in what I am saying to be prepared to allow myself to be serious. Well, I'm feeling a bit like that now, wondering whether I have kept your interest without inserting a load of laughs. I hope I have. You are my friends, after all. You are the Nobbbloggers.
Novels and illness - 26/02/2010
Well hello there, nobbbloggers.
A while ago...well, let's be honest, ages ago...I promised to let you into the secrets of a nasty illness from which I suffer. At last I am ready to tell you about it.
But I also want to tell you why I have taken so long to tell you about it. It's because I have been writing my new novel, and I have become a bit obsessed/inspired/deluded (choose any two of these three) and haven't been able to turn to other things. I haven't finished the book yet, but I can sense you looking at my website day after day, and sighing 'No Nobbblog again'. So today I will also tell you a bit about the state of play, Nobbs-novels-wise.
The illness first. A lot of people are colour blind. I am a bit myself. I suspected it for the first time when I saw the film The Colour Green, found a very argumentative man sitting in my seat, entered into an altercation with him, saw yellow, and hit him.
But the illness I wish to tell you about is rarer than that. It is acronym blindness. I discovered I suffered from this when I was invited onto the Test Match Special cricket programme, to give an interview in their A View From The Boundary feature, or AVFTB, to use a singularly unsuccesful acronym, and was told that I was to be interviewed by CMJ. Well I always thought that was a complaint caused by eating infected meat. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that CMJ was a famous cricket correspondent, very rare, only three of them in the whole world.
Anyway, I'd better tell you a bit about my new novel, in case you aren't interested in all this stuff about acronyms.
The new novel that I am writing is called LIFE AFTER DEBORAH, and it's my eighteenth! What happened to the seventeenth, I hear you cry. Well, I have good news. My seventeenth novel, which is called OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE, is being published by Harper on May 28th. It's going straight into a paperback format, in keeping with coming trends, and I do hope you will all buy it as I have to say that I think it's rather good. What's it about? Well, broadly, it's about obstacles to young love. But maybe you guessed that. It's a romantic comedy with serious undertones. I read it the other day, and I think it's rather good, but then I would, wouldn't I?
Seriously, I find it difficult to talk up my work. I belong to an earlier tradition of wanting to let the work speak for itself. But, having been taken on by Harper Collins with some enthusiasm, I have taken a hard look at my recent novels and felt that, though I know many people have enjoyed them, I can do better. I get such lovely comments in emails to this website and the knowledge that there are people out there, all over the world, who look forward to my work really does inspire me. Please look out for OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE, and tell your friends.
So, let me tell you just a bit about LIFE AFTER DEBORAH, the one I am writing at the moment, and which has caused me to delay telling you about my CAB (Chronic Acronym Blindness). What is the new book about? Don't all speak at once. It's about life after Deborah. It starts with a woman's death, and it ends at midnight on the day of her funeral, nine days later. There is still - I hope - a lot of comedy in it, but it is also - I hope - very emotional. I don't want to talk too much about the content of the books, I believe in letting them speak for themselves.
I would just like to let you know a few simple things about how I keep myself excited and enthusiastic about my books. Apart from the subject matter, and my desire to make you laugh and cry and sometimes at the same time, I am starting to vary my technique in order to keep myself fresh. CUPID'S DART, the latest one of those in print, was my first book written in the first person. OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE, is my first book written in the present tense. LIFE AFTER DEBORAH is back to the third person and the past tense but the novelty here is a certain abstraction. In OBSTACLES I describe places in some detail, and, where using actual places, with some accuracy, I hope. In DEBORAH there is much less detail of place. A hotel is described, but not named. Pubs, restaurants, streets, none of them are named. In this book they don't need to be. The change may not make a lot of difference to you, but it keeps me fresh.
I do find, as I get older, that the time span of a book becomes more and more important to me. GOING GENLY spanned a century. CUPID'S DART spanned a year. OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE takes place over twenty five years. It was time to write a novel that took place over a much shorter period, hence the nine days of this book. All this keeps me up to the mark.
Anyway, back to the acronym blindness. I first found out about this when I was attending an important meeting, and there was much discussion about TSF's. Apparently there were too many TSFs. Or maybe there weren't enough. I can't quite remember. And the reason why I can't remember is that I haven't the faintest idea what a TSF is. I missed that moment, 90 seconds in, when I should have raised my hand and asked, 'Excuse me, what is a TSF?' I feared that I might make a fool of myself, that I had pages of unread literature explaining TSFs, that the whole thing was about TSFs, that I was the only person in the room not to be familiar with TSFs.
I haven't found out, to this day, what they are. Well, I could hardly ask in the bar afterwards, could I? 'One thing puzzled me. What are TSFs?'
That reminds me, actually, of another, very different occasion when I lacked the courage to ask a question soon enough, with potentially disastrous results. I year or so after I left Cambridge, I met a man in Tottenham Court Road, who hailed me and said, 'Hello, David' which led me to believe that, unless it was a lucky guess, he knew me. After a brief chat, he suggested a drink. I have never been known to say 'no' to such a suggestion. We went for a pint and I started asking questions, rather hesitantly, thinking that they would lead to the revelation of his identity. I got 'yes, still in the same line' 'oh yes, haven't moved' and quite soon the moment when I could say 'by the way, who are you?' had passed. We had two pints and when we parted I was none the wiser.
A year later I met the same man in High Holborn and we chatted away for a bit and I still hadn't a clue and then he said, 'Where was it we last met, David?' and I said 'In Tottenham Court Road' and he said, 'What a memory you've got.' I left while I was winning.
So, if you met me in Tottenham Court Road in the early sixties, and in High Holborn the following year, could you send a message to my website, telling me who you are? I'd love to know.
Sorry about that diversion. Back to the main theme. Acronyms. I've told you how I discovered that I had a problem. Now I have to tell you of the occasion when I realised how serious it was. I don't just not know acronyms. I don't just forget them. I muddle them up, as I did with poor old CMJ.
I was in my local pub one day, and somebody said that I seemed sad, and I said it was the terrible winter, and I must be suffering from SAE. Well, nobody was ever depressed because they suffered from a stamped addressed envelope, so I felt a bit of a fool. I explained that I'd just had a shock, I'd been calling on my friends Dominic and Connie, (they have a nice bungalow which they've named after the first three letters of both their names, I still think they should have chosen Domcon) he's a lorry driver, and I told the lads in the pub that he'd told me that he'd had a major health shock, he had been diagnosed HGV positive. How embarrassing.
On another occasion a friend accused me of not being green and eco-friendly and all that kind of thing, and I said, 'Do you mind? I'm a lifelong member of the RSVP.' Well of course people laughed at me.
More serious still was the time when I issued an invitation to my wedding, and I put on it RSPCA by July 6th. I got replies from three people, four rabbits and a hamster.
I know this isn't serious, but it is a bit embarrassing, and if any of you know a cure, please send me a letter and if you enclose a SAD and a stamp, I'll even reply.
That's it for now. I'm grateful to you for reading this and for being so patient. More soon. That's a promise, or is it a threat? I can't sign off without saying to each one of you, my faithful friends, my readers, my esteemed fans, and it's easy to say this, but I mean it, I really do, YMCA to each and every one of you.
Oh Christmas - 19/01/2010
Well, Christmas is well and truly over and not a peep have you had out of me, despite all my promises. I'm a disgrace. Don't I care about my fans?
I do. I love you both.
I've had a good Christmas in many ways, quiet, plenty of time for doing blogs. So why have I not done one? Inspiration, that rare and welcome visitor, called and stayed. As if doing the second series of the New Reggie (does that sound a bit too much like New Labour?) I have been busy on my new novel. That isn't the one that is scheduled to be published in June. It's the one for the year after that. And, admit it, you'd rather have one of my novels than a blog, wouldn't you? No? Oh well.
Almost fifteen years ago, my wife Susan and I moved to our present idyllic spot in a secret valley in Yorkshire. It was clear that we really did need a four wheel drive car. We had one for almost fifteen years. We didn't need it, the world was warming up, cold winters were a thing of the past. Until just before Christmas.
On the very first day of the snows, I was driving my four wheel drive car along a narrow, twisting road in the village we don't quite live in. I put the brakes on, and nothing happened. Then nothing else happened. Then I hit the doctor's wife. Luckily she was in her car at the time.
The accident happened at very low speed, neither of us were injured, and her car was still drivable. Mine was too, I thought, and indeed I managed to drive home, but, when I got there, I found that water was pouring out. My radiator had been holed. That was the nineteenth of December. We got the car back today. Never mind, at least we can now brave the snows. Wait a minute, though, there is no snow any more. The final bit went yesterday.
Sod's Law is alive and well and living in North Yorkshire.
I'm not complaining, though. Last winter we were recording Reggie Perrin in December and January. This year it's March and April. That bit of luck is rather more important than the minor inconvenience of not being able to get anywhere. Or indeed anywhere else.
I'm a great fan of local pubs. I eat in them, drink in them, talk in them, play dominoes in them. There's a play on that I really want to see. There are friends we want to see, friends we ought to see. But, you know, when you can't go anywhere, you suddenly find that you don't want to. Because there's no point in wanting to. You can't. We've been leading a very happy life these last weeks. I've been sitting at my computer writing, working up a thirst, and in the evenings we've eaten and drunk, and watched television programmes. We've seen thirty eight pathologists cutting into dead bodies in five languages, it's been terrific. I wouldn't want that quiet life to go on for ever, but it was rather good to have the excuse for it during these recent days.
Some days the weather relented a bit, and we were able to drive up the steep track that leads to the outside world, but there came a day when we got out and, as the weather deteriorated, felt it was too risky to drive back. We now had a car stuck in the village, full of groceries. The Renault Megane has its critics, maybe it doesn't drive as well as some other cars, maybe it isn't the most reliable of all cars, but I'll tell you something, it makes a very good fridge freezer.
Every day that week I struggled up through the drifts with my National Trust and World Wild Life shopping bags. The scenery was very pretty. Mostly it was snow. I walked past white copses of white trees, beyond which white fields stretched towards...more white fields. What a master of description I am, well, I'm a writer, you know.
Every day I struggled back through the drifts carrying two bags of groceries. Half the groceries, and three quarters of the weight, were in the form of food for the birds. Ah, he's all heart, that Nobbs.
Also, because a car needs weight in it if it isn't to slide, I put the heaviest things I could find into it. Not Susan, she doesn't like the cold. But, of all things, our hoover, which isn't a Hoover. And our spade. So, when more snow fell, as it did very day, I couldn't clear the steep drive that leads to the steep track that leads to the outside world. Also, we couldn't hoover the carpets.
Anyway, now it's all back to normal, and the question you're asking is, why did it take so long to get our car back? You aren't? Then I'll tell you.
In the first place, which was Japan, the factory that made one of the parts that we needed was closed for several days for Christmas and the New Year. Now this surprised me because I thought that the British were lazy and the Japanese hard-working. Now it turns out that the Japanese are lazy, and the British are...lazy too.
Because in the second place, which was Britain, snow drifts and black ice caused deliveries of parts to be suspended. The part of our car that caused the most delay was the water bottle for the water to clear the front and back screens.
We kept ringing the garage to check progress, but they were so upset about the delays themselves that in the end we didn't have the heart even to do this.
Anyway, we've got by, and the snow was very pretty, though by the end we were just longing for the green, green grass of home. We have a little paddock in front of the house. No horse, just a paddock. Yesterday the snow went and...there were the brown brown molehills of home. Hundreds of them. A scale model of the Western Highlands of Scotland, brilliantly done, but...oh well, the moles were around in these parts before we moved in, and they'll be around when we've gone and...maybe they have a sort of right to be there.
Susan asked me, just an hour or two ago, if I knew how moles managed to pass each other in their tunnels? I imagine they make little wide bits, like the winding holes on canals, where they can turn and pass, but I don't really know. Maybe they never need to turn. Maybe they just go on and on, for ever, in the same direction. One bit of darkness, after all, is very like another.
I could have been a mole, you know. It's all the luck of the draw. What a life I'd have led. The excruciating tedium of burrowing under lawns, night and day. No, they've got problems enough. I haven't the heart to bang all the earth back, blocking their tunnels.
Bit of a swine, that Nobbs, promising you, in his last Nobbblog, insight into a rare disease from which he suffers. Promises, promises, and not a word.
Patience, my dear friends, and in the meantime, aren't you glad yiour hero is kind to moles? Aren't you thrilled that I'm all heart?
A Bit of a Do - 02/12/2009
A little blogette for your delectation.
Last week I did a long and serious blog about something I care a lot about - the world, the earth, the planet, the future, the human race, tomorrow's children.
Today I am going to do a very short blog about something else I also care a lot about - though, I'm glad to say, not quite as much as I care about the above. It's me. Little insignificant one day to be flooded if we believe in worst case scenarios me.
Quite a lot of people have asked me, over the years, why A Bit of a Do is not repeated, whether there are any DVDs etcetera. Well, it is available this Christmas from Simply Entertainment in association with Radio Times.
The complete set, is available, on four discs, for only £17 99, reduced from £29.99. (This is not because it isn't any good, everything else is reduced as well, the Darling Buds of May is reduced by ten pounds more!).
If you have said, over the last few days, 'Blimey, mother, we've got a good Christmas programme lined up, according to my diary, but there is one nasty little gap of 10 hours 50 minutes', you need worry no longer. 10 hours and 50 minutes of entertainment is yours for the taking.
Order online at www.RTentertainment.co.uk or by phone on 0844 573 3866. You know it makes sense. The reference number is G662819.
The original and the new Reggie series are also available, but you all seem to know about that.
The Nobbblog will be back very shortly, with news of a rare disease suffered by its creator. Don't raise your hopes, though. It isn't fatal.
The Age of Stupid - 23/11/2009
You are entering a joke free area. I'm afraid this blog is too serious for jokes. It's about global warming. Yawn yawn? Please don't. Not till after the Copenhagen summit (DEC 7-18 - not much time left) anyway. After that we can all ignore the subject. It'll be too late. Seriously. That's how urgent it is.
On Saturday I saw a film called The Age of Stupid. It's a chilling documentary about the effects of global warming and the folly of our generations. Is this the age of stupid? Well, not universally. There have been more than 30 million hits on the Age of Stupid website - www.ageofstupid.com. To see the film I had to go to a small bar in the Leeds University Union, where of course I was easily the oldest person present. My shock and fear must have been nothing compared to those of the students, whose lives from the age of forty are set to be ruined if we do not do enough NOW.
The film, based on widespread scientific advice and evidence, predicts that 2015 is the tipping year, the year by which, if we do not do enough, if we have not stabilised our enviroment by then, the greenhouse effect will be irreversible. This is at the worst case scenario end of the world's predictions, but it would be a brave person to say that it is definitely wrong.
The film predicts that society will be beginning to break down to a serious degree in the 2030s. Most of you reading this will not enjoy the splendid years of maturity that I am basking in, and as for your children, and your children's children, whom you love so much, well, their future is bleak. If we don't do enough NOW.
The film's predictions are not wildly out of line with other predictions. The Independent last week led with the news that scientists now say that we are on track for the worst case scenario, in which the planet's temperatures will rise by 6% by the end of the century. It doesn't sound much, but it would be totally disastrous. Our civilisation would be wiped out.
The trouble is that nothing so very disastrous is going to happen by 2015, so I fear that people will just not believe that it is as serious, as terminal, as it will be if we don't do enough NOW. People will be bored by it. Oh no, not again, they will say. Well, they shouldn't. By the time the really serious effects kick in, it will be too late. Far too late.
Well I will not be going back to the subject. I will not go on and on, and bore you. Nothing harms a cause more than the bores who bang on about it endlessly. You will hear nothing from me after this rant. There won't be any point anyway. It'll be too late.
What can you do? What can I do? Well, do you know of the 10/10 initiative, whereby you sign up to cut your own emissions, your carbon footprints, call them what you will, by 10% in 2010. My beloved Tottenham Hotspur (9-1!) have signed up. So has the whole city of Stoke. We can all save 10%, surely? Look it up on www.1010uk.org.uk, where you will find out how to join and how to contribute.
Another way to contribute is by financially supporting those who are working for, going to, protesting at the Copenhagen summit. Go to the age of stupid website - www.ageofstupid.com - and either click onto the on-line 'TV' programme on the main page or click onto http://www.ageofstupid.net/money. If we don't support this cause, then one day it will not be possible to support any cause.
I am a pensioner. I believe I am a member of the most fortunate generation ever to be born on this planet. Too young to fight in the Second World War, too old to see the end of our privileged way of life. I call on all pensioners and all people over the age of fifty to rally to the cause, save their 10%. It isn't much. I have many good friends who fly to Spain and Portugal many times a year with the very grandchildren whose lives may be going to be ruined. One trip less next year?
Ah, but the plane will still go, even if I'm not on it. Not for ever it will. Supply and demand.
What effect will my puny 10% have? The Chinese aren't going to stop, are they? Well, it just looks as if they might. And it must help if we set an example. It has to be done by us all. Every man and woman of us.
If we don't, and if in our lifetimes we begin to see that man has failed this, his greatest challenge, won't we feel even worse if we know that we did nothing, we didn't even try?
We can all drive 10% less, surely? The Age of Stupid pointed the finger at the oil industry in no uncertain terms, and one oil company in particular. I won't name it, it would be invidious, as the others probably aren't much better. Think how you can save money for yourself as well as cutting emissions, every time you shell out for some more petrol.
Let's all try to put real pressure on our leaders to achieve something significant, something sufficient, at the Copenhagen climate conference. Write to the Prime Minister. Bombard him. It really is the last chance saloon.
All the world's leaders will want to go down well in posterity. It might be worth trying to persuade them that it's in their own interests to make sure that there is a posterity for them to go down well in.
I recommend that you click onto Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and browse around. You might also try www.greetings.cop15.dk and try www.stopClimateChaos.org.
There are people of course who deny that there is such a thing as global warming or that, if there is, any of it is our fault. But there are also people who deny the Holocaust. Probably it is something that cannot be proved, though the scientific evidence, I would have to say, is overwhelming. Well, we can't wait for proof, and does it actually matter? We will be taking a huge risk if we do not work on the assumption of a worst case scenario. And, even if we are wrong, I don't think it matters. ALL THE THINGS WE WILL BE DOING TO COMBAT GLOBAL WARMING WILL BE GOOD IN THEMSELVES.
REGARDLESS OF CLIMATE CHANGE, WE CANNOT GO ON AS WE ARE. The planet's resources are finite. Our demands upon it seem not to be. We will destroy our planet anyway if we don't change our ways.
I think I can justly claim not to be jumping onto a bandwagon here. The first Reginald Perrin novel was published in 1975, and it included these words, spoken by Reggie in a speech to the British Fruit Association in their HQ, Bilberry Hall:
'Where was I? Oh yes. Progress. Growth. That's another one. We must have growth. Six per cent per year or whatever it is. More people driving more washing machines on bigger lorries down wider motorways. More scientists analysing the effects of more pesticides. More chemicals to to cure the pollution caused by more chemicals. More boring speeches to fill up more boring conferences. More luxury desserts, so that more and more people can enjoy a life increasingly superior to that lived by more and more other people. Are those our just desserts? Society functions best if I over-eat, so I buy too many slimming aids, so I fall ill, so I buy too many pills. We have to have a surfeit of dotes in order to sell our surfeit of antidotes. Well, it's got to stop.'
I relished putting serious thoughts in the mouth of a drunken senior sales executive in absurd circumstances, but, sadly, lots of people don't see the serious points in comedies.
Well, today in 2009, five and a bit years before what may be the tipping year, I echo Reggie's words, and I am sober.
'Well, it's got to stop.'
I didn't get where I am today without knowing that, if the world doesn't do enough both in Copenhagen next month and in its own backyards day after day after day, my grandchildren and their children will have no chance of getting where I am today.
My worst speaking engagement - 23/10/2009
Well hello there, Nobbbloggers all
In my last Nobbblog I promised - or should that be threatened? - to tell you about the worst speaking engagement I ever endured. And here it is.
It was at Whitemoor High Security Prison, in Cambridgeshire. An inmate wrote to me, telling me that there were five great fans of mine in the prison, and they were all members of 'The Wednesday Club', which discussed the arts for three hours every Wednesday.
Five fans! Flattery will get a writer anywhere.
Three hours! If you've read the last Nobbblog you will know that I recently did 405 minutes to the same people, but in 45 minute sessions. Three hours. I was daunted even before I arrived. I was then by no means as accomplished or as confident a public speaker as I have since become.
Susan drove me down to Cambridgeshire. I know the county well, having been to the University, of which, every time it was mentioned, the much-mourned Peter Tinniswood used to say, 'Wasn't that where you did difficult sums, Dave?' The wind blows without interruption all the way from the Urals over the flatlands of Northern Europe to Kings College Chapel and Ely Cathedral. And Whitemoor High Security Prison.
I had been told to arrive half an hour early. 'for security purposes'. I was greeted with friendly smiles, told to relax, told to undress, stood there shivering while my body was sesrched for hidden weapons, told to relax, shivered in a relaxed sort of way, put my clothes back on, doing up the buttons with shaking hands, and relaxed my way, escored by a warder who told me to relax, up stairs, along corridors and into a room where about fourteen members of staff were relaxing before their afternoon duties.
At two o clock, the time for my talk to begin, I was told to wait a few minutes longer, as at two o clock the sex offenders were moved to their afternoon tasks, and the rest of the prisoners weren't allowed to move till the sex offenders were safely out of the way, lest they tear them limb from limb. 'Just sit here and relax.' By this time I was as relaxed as a cobra.
Then it was time to go. I found myself in a small room with sixteen large prisoners and one small female warder. Goodness knows what would have happened if there'd been a riot over the literary merits of Iam McEwan.
One of the prisoners approached me and said that he was the fan who had written to me. Sadly, he told me, the other four fans had been moved to other prisons and had been replaced by four Cypriots. My heart would have sunk then, had it not sunk so far already.
The warder introduced me, I stood, and began. Now I usually start my talks with a reference to the first really proud moment of my career, when I had my very first word in print as a professional writer. It was in the Sheffield Star, the evening paper on which I began my career. It was 'thives'. 'Thives who broke into the home of Mrs Emily Braithwaite stole....' Yes, my career began with a misprint. And. as I suddenly realised, my talk was beginning with a crime. Couldn't start with that one, not in a prison.
Well, I stumbled on, leaving out a story the tag of which was, 'No, but I could murder a pint' and several other incidents which it seemed tactless to tell to prisoners. Somehow, I got through an hour and a bit, which was longer than I'd ever spoken non-stop before, but which still left well over an hour and a half for questions.
Things got worse with the questions.
Often the first question will be 'Do you use a computer?' or 'Do you write every day?' or 'Do you have a daily routine for your writing?' In the prison the first question was a little more demanding. It was 'Why did they make such a bad film out of that very good book, 'The Bonfire of the Vanities?' When I admitted that I hadn't read the book or seen the film, I could feel my credibility slipping out of the ends of my fingers. I waffled a bit about other films based on books, but I knew, and they knew, that I hadn't answered the question.
Never mind. It was a difficult question. The next question would be easier.
The next question was, 'Which Cypriot novelists do you admire?'
I should have blustered. I should have invented an author. I should have said, with comviction, 'Stelios Thianopolos'. When they said, 'Never heard of him', I should have said, 'Really? You should hunt him out. He's a giant of the interior monologue'. By the time they found that he didn't exist, I would be far away.
But I didn't. I said, 'I'm afraid I haven't read any Cypriot novelists.' I was dying on my feet. I could see that, mysteriously, even the non-Cypriots thought I should have read some Cypriot novelists.
The third question was put in an Ealing Comedy petty crook voice, laden with menace.
'Have you ever met Prunella Scales?'
'Yes, I have. She's a lovely lady.'
'I know she is. That's why I'm going to marry her.'
'I think her husband, Timothy West, might have something to say about that.'
'I've got plans to deal with him.'
I can't remember what came next, but it wasn't any better. I limped on through that grey winter afternoon, the light slowly fading, my voice slowly fading. One man, his voice as fruity as a Christmas cake, told me that he had also been in 'the media' 'I once trod the boards with Mike and Bernie Winters.' I longed to ask him, 'What did you do, to have to give all that glory and glamour up, to end up here?' I so longed to know. But that was the question I was not permitted to ask. I was with sixteen people who had fascinating life stories, and I couldn't ask them anything about why they were in prison. Very frustrating, for a novelist.
Somehow I got through the rest of that withering winter afternoon. I can't remember how.
Susan was waiting for me. She had been to see Ely Cathedral. She drove off, and we stopped off at the first place we came to. It was a Little Chef.
I'll tell you how bad the afternoon had been. I enjoyed the Little Chef.
AN EVENTFUL CRUISE - 07/10/2009
I fully intend that this day, Wednesday , October 7th, 2009, will come to be known, in blogging circles, as the day that David Nobbs came back from the blogging dead. Yes, I plan regular entries for my fans. I hope you both enjoy them.
My excuse for not blogging you last month was that I was on a cruise. I was a guest speaker on the good ship Artemis, one of the P and O fleet. Why don't I resume activities by telling you all about it?
This was actually my fifth speaking engagement on board a ship, my third with P & O, but my first on Artemis. This cruise was slightly different from the others, in that my wife and I were classified as crew. This was because I was getting a small daily fee in addition to a free Mediterranean cruise for two, and drinks at half price. It was to have a couple of somewhat unfortunate consequences.
Before I go any further I must say that it was a superb trip and I really hope to be able to do another one next summer, when I seem to have a bit of what is known these days as a 'window' in my diary. I must say that, because there are going to be one or two moments in this piece when it isn't going to sound as though it was superb.
The first unfortunate consequence of being classified as crew was that we had to get our own luggage onto the ship, no porters to help. Now Susan and I had rather a lot of luggage, five pieces in all, and we have a combined age of 143. We didn't look at all like a couple of muscular able-seamen swinging our bags onto the deck while singing jolly sea shanties. I was too out of breath to even manage a guest speaker shanty. In fact as we went through security I had to help another guest speaker even more decrepit than me lift his cases to go through the security screening machine.
Once on deck we were allotted a nice cabin at the back of the ship. or 'aft', as we crew members say. It took three visits to get all our baggage to the cabin, which was locked, and although we had been told the key would be in the door, it wasn't. Never mind, the cabin steward opened the door for us. It was a very nice cabin, with only one slight snag. There was an engineer in it, and he was travelling to Gibralter. He seemed a very nice man, but I didn't intend to share a bed with him, and he was pretty good-looking, so I didn't intend my wife to share a bed with him either.
We were found another cabin, at the front of the ship, or 'forrard', as we crew members say. This time we had help from staff and the engineer, and we were ready to enjoy the cruise. We even managed to have lunch, the first of thirty three very enjoyable free meals on board.
The next day, at two p.m., was the time of my first talk. It was a roughish night with a full gale blowing, and for the first time in my life I decided I needed to take a pill. As a result, I was far from sharp at the appointed time. I was actually booked to do P & O's first ever book club, and my first and last talks on the ship would be book club events. I had chosen 'The Kite Runner' , by Khaled Hosseini, as my book, since I thought people would have heard of it due to the fact of its having been a film, and I had heard glowing reports of it from people whose opinion I valued, and it would allow a bit of discussion about the Afghan War. But with my first talk I faced a dilemma. It was almost impossible to talk about the book without pre-empting the event by saying what I thought about it.
I filled in a bit of time by talking about my woirst experience as a public speaker, when I did a three hour talk in a high security prison. I must check if I've told you about that, and tell you if I haven't. But there was still a bit of humming and hawing from me, and I didn't think I was particularly impressive. It was a cruise, people were supposed to be having fun, the ship was pitching and tossing, and I had a horror of sounding like a schoolmaster. I come from a long line of schoolmasters and mistresses (schoolmistresses, I mean - unfortunately) and I have inherited none of their ability. Also, I wasn't sharp due to the pill.
Anyway, I got through it, and it can't have been too bad because the next day, when I began the first of five talks that would be purely entertainments, I had a very decent audience in the International Bar. I don't know how many there were, but it holds 500 and they didn't look dwarfed.
Our first port of call was supposed to be Gibraltar, but a passenger fell gravely ill and the ship was diverted to La Coruna in Spain, where there is a first class hospital. As a result we didn't have time to call ay Gibraltar. Seconds after this had been announced, the phone rang in our cabin. Would I give an extra talk? No. I couldn't. My planned talks already covered everything remotely amusing that had ever happened to me. O.K., but would I do an interview with the cruise director, Christine Noble? Of course. I would. I did, and very pleasant it was. Thank you, Christine.
I did hear one sour woman complaining bitterly about not being able to 'put in', as we crew members say, at Gibraltar. but the vast majority of the really rather elderly passengers were comforted, and really quite impressed, to find P & O putting a passenger's health first, at great cost and inconvenience.
Our next port of call was Palma, Majorca. This visit passed without any problems. The third one, however, was Marseilles. I had really looked forward to this, having always promised myself that one day, before I died (well it seemed impractical to plan it for after I'd died) I would have a bouillabaise in Marseille. The French had other ideas. They decided that crew members could only go ashore if they had Seamen's Discharge Books. Amazingly, none of the various guest speakers and instructors had Seamen's Discharge Books. They didn't sound very nice, actually,, and at our age we would be lucky to have any semen to discharge (I hate jokes that don't work as well in print because you have to change the spelling, but never mind). So, eight of us plus our partners had to spend the day on board ship. The French didn't get our money, and, even worse, we boycotted French wine for the rest of the cruise. That showed them.
Seriously, it was very irritating. I love France, and regularly argue that the French are really perfectly pleasant, and then their petty officials, or 'petty officers', as we crew members say, do something as pathetic as that. And we are EU members, and we had our passports. Don't start me on the EU. I'll be blogging for life, and where will my novels be then?
The next port of call was Calvi, in Corsica. Here, we lost our main anchor. In any case, we couldn't have gone ashore. The port is too small for us to park, or 'moor', as we crew members say, so we would have had to go ashore by tender, and the weather forecast was for such strong winds that we wouldn't have been able to get back on the ship that day.
Within seconds of that announcement, the phone rang in my cabin. Could I give an extra talk? No, I've explained that. Well, could I do a question and answer session with the passengers? Of course I could. I did, and very pleasant it was too. Thank you, passengers.
I don't want to leave you worrying about our anchor, so feel I must tell you that somehow, and rather brilliantly, I think, with the aid of a local diver, we got it back. We were pleased about this. We were attached to the anchor, as it should have been to the ship.
In the end, ladies and gentlemen, I did two book club events, five talks, an interview with the cruise director and a question and answer session, all to an audience that consisted largely of the same people every time. 405 minutes without repeating myself. I felt fairly proud about that. Who else could do 405 minutes? Don't all answer at once. Ken Dodd. And I got some heart warming comments, including a cry of 'We're loving you, David' from a lady in the main square of Valencia. I've waited a long time for a cry like that in a European city. Or a British one. Or a town or village. Or even a field.
Oh, and that wasn't all. I also got roped in to do a ship's version of 'The Weakest Link'. In the first round I got all my questions right and nobody got any right. In the second round I was still the strongest link. In the third round, feeling that I was being much too much of a clever clogs, I deliberately got my first question wrong. I didn't know the answer to my second question, and I was chucked off. That'll teach me. Incidentally, even in a fun event, it's horrid hearing those words. 'Goodbye, you are the weakest link.'
Our later ports of call all worked without a hitch, we went on three of the splendid tours that the ship ran - to exquisite Siena, up into the hills of Sicily, and around the wonderful city of Valencia, with a beautiful old town and some sensational modern architecture that even Prince Charles would like. We wandered around the lovely city of Lisbon. We had a great time.
As I've said, we had very good food, and we were lucky enough to have a very enjoyable dinner table, in the company of another guest speaker, Tony Gledhill, and his lovely wife Marie - Tony is an ex-policeman who won the George Cross for immense bravery, about which he was suitably modest, and he told interestsing tales about his police work, and about the brave people who have won the George Cross and the Victoria Cross.
Also on the table, until they 'disembarked', as we crew members say, were the comedian, Martin Gold, and the singer, Jane Beaumont. Jane was lovely and Martin was delightful and very funny. He commented, in his act, that if we thought our passengers were elderly we should have been on the QE2. They had bifocal portholes and all night Sterodent parties.
Our table was completed by a very nice couple, Cyril and Jean, who were actually paying customers. Dinner was an event to look forward to every evening.
The cruise also had a classical music theme and there were some fabulous concerts, featuring the delightful guest celebrity, Dame Felicity Lott, an extremely gifted pianist named Danny Driver, even an irresistible Rumanian string quartet from Galway (truly).
There was also bridge, line dancing, handicrafts, dancing instruction, light music, quoits, shuffleboard, quizzes, shops and daily specialist sales,and a casino. Despite all this, there were people on the ship who claimed to be bored.
There were moments, in the early days, when I wondered if this was a cruise too far. At the end I knew that I would miss it, and all the lovely people I had met. I can't wait to be asked back.
That's about it, really. 'Bon Voyage', as we crew members say, not to mention 'Up Yours, Marseilles'.
Cheltenham Festival - 02/10/2009
Hello again after an appalling gap caused by technical problems. Well, actually caused by my being unable to log in, as I had forgotten my user name. Not my name, things aren't yet that bad, just my user name.
Anyway here we are again, with many apologies and much shame.
Normal and more frequent service will now be established.
This is just a very brief announcement of something that I've also added to my news items. I'll be on again very shortly with news of a cruise I've just been speaking on.
URGENT NEWS for anyone living in or near Cheltenham or intending to visit the literary festival. I will be there, in person, not a hologram, at the Everyman Theatre on Sunday, October 18th between 12 and 1 p.m.
And not just me. I'm on a panel hosted by the great Jonathan 'Rotters Club' Coe. The other panellists are Armando 'The Thick of It' Iannucci and John 'Spitting Image' O'Farrell.
Tickets are an incredibly reasonable £7 and can be purchased online at cheltenhamfestivals.com or from the box office on 0844-576-7979.
All this to hear a discussion of the question that is on everybody's lips. Well, it will be after the 18th. 'How has the changing political and social landscape of Britain been reflected in comedy writing over the last 50 years?'
The others are a bit young, frankly, but I know. I've been doing it for 50 years.
See you there.
The trivial and the important - 28/06/2009
Well well well, doesn't time fly? Many people, I know, are wondering if I've died. I'm delighted to say that I haven't. I hope you're delighted too.
My long silence has been simply because I have been busier than at any time in my 46 year career as a professional writer. There's been Reggie Perrin, of course, and my new novel for Haper Collins, to be published next year, and also a third series of my Radio 4 sitcom, The Maltby Collection. The BBC love it, keep recommissioning it with amazing speed, then put it out at times when very few people are watching. Do try hunting it out if you haven't found it yet - news of its transmission will appear in my news pages once it's confirmed.
I've been meaning to do a blog several times and then not finding the energy because the other writing is essential and this, fun and I believe important though it is, isn't. And then I had a badly needed holiday to fit in. We went to Skopelos, the Mamma Mia isle, though not becauise of that. We went because we have a great friend there, Gordon Haskell, who had such a hit with Harry's Bar and 'How Wonderful You Are' a few Christmasses ago. He and his lovely partner Sue took me and my lovely wife Susan all over that spectacular island in an open jeep. I got stung by a wasp, couldn't drink for four days (ouch) and had lots of stuff injected into my left buttock by a very pretty Greek nurse (double ouch). We also met a man who once threw Michael Winner down a flight of stairs. I felt greedy. Why hadn't it been two flights?
Since I last wrote, important things have happened in the world, and unimportant things too. Among the unimportant things was the splendid news that in all the Viking remains dug up by archeologists, there were more combs than axes. This gives a different picture of those manly types. My hair's such a mess, I can't do anything with it, I just don't feel at all like pillaging today.
The most important thing that has happened, of course, has been the continuation of the credit crunch, and I have found myself having very serious thoughts about this. I just don't believe that anything our despised politicians have done, in the rest of the world just as much as in Britain, has gone any way to really solving the problem. They've just tinkered with it, in the hopes that it won't re-emerge until somebody else is in charge, which will be quite soon in Gordon's case. (In The Maltby Collection I have a Greek chef who gets his sayings back to front. 'Do you think he has no pencil in his lead?' etcetera. He calls the Prime Minister Brown Gordon. I quite like that).
You see how I slip from the important to the unimportant. Can't help it. I'm a comedy writer. But I really do have enormous worries about our economy. The number of people who make their money out of money is enormous and I don't think that can be healthy, or ethical. I make money out of ideas, jokes, stories. You may make money out of chutney or building oil rigs. Great. But out of money? Dangerous. And growing. And unchanged. It's enough to make a vain Viking tear his immaculately combed hair out.
I AM HAVING TECHNICAL PROBLEMS WITH THIS BLOG. IF I DON'T FINISH IT, THAT'S WHY.
You see how I drfit from the important to the unimportant. Can'ts help it. I'm a comedy writer. But I'm a comedy writer who cares a great deal about some very important things. Call me naive if you like, but I can't see how a society in which millions of people make money from money can be healthy, let alone ethical. I make money from ideas, jokes, scripts. Perhaps you make money from chutney, or building oil rigs. Great. But so many people are in this great money industry, it's got completely out of hand, and what has really been done about it? Have the bankers learnt their lesson? I very much doubt it. It's enough to make a Viking tear his carefully combed hair out. Oh God, here's the unimportant slipping in again.
No, but seriously, I would go so far as to say that the whole basis on which shares work is distinctly suspect. And there's another thing that I said in the first Reginald Perrin, and it was one of the few things to survive to the second Reginald Perrin.
Private Joy, Public Woe - 31/03/2009
Dear friends (if any are left)
I think I've blown it. I find that I haven't done a blog this year. Why should anybody still be checking up to find one? Especially when there are 893,567 other blogs to choose from. And that's only in Yorkshire.
There are few things sadder than a neglected website. (Actually there are millions of things sadder, but a neglected site, with grass coming up through the news entries, is pretty sad)
I make you a promise. I'll work harder on my blogs, or I'll give them up.
Since I last blogged, I've been very busy. We've finished the new modernised Reggie Perrin, I've completed the second and I hope final draft of my 17th novel, I've written a pilot episode for a potential new sitcom set round a golf club (but not really about golf, I hasten to add), and I've started on the third series of my Radio 4 sitcom, The Maltby Collection
Meanwhile, some of my friends are having a tough time in the credit crunch. Perhaps I shouldn't be friendly with bankers and lawyers.
It's odd, but Reggie Perrin seems to coincide with dire economic times. Things weren't so rosy between 1976 and 1979, when the three series of the original were shown.
Anyway, I've had a bit of a struggle through the boom times, and now I'm booming during the difficult times. Long may it last. My booming, I mean, not the difficult times.
The thing that really depresses me, and angers me, and stops me enjoying my boom times, is my increasing feeling that no public anywhere at any time has been so despised as the British public is today by the people who are supposed to serve us. Which is a bit silly, because everyone is a member of the public.
I intended to do a blog months ago, during the snow, when the whole of London's bus system was closed down. It survived two world wars, many terrorist outrages, and far worse snowfalls. Eighteen inches fell over the new year early in the 60s. This time there was only a fraction of that. Our country has gone from Colonel Blimp to Colonel Wimp. Although I suppose the reason isn't just wimpishness. It's fear of litigation, of someone slipping and suing. Whatever the reason, it struck me as pathetic. Sorry I can't be funny about it, but I don't feel funny about it.
Anyway, I didn't write about it then, but in the last three days enough has happened to make me feel that I must share my anger with you. It's unfair of me, I know, but unfortunately you're all I've got. The people I should be angry with don't give a damn. No point in writing to the bus companies, or Boris.
I can't even be bothered to comment on our politicians. What a sleazy, self-serving lot. If I was a comedy writer (I've just remembered, I am!) I couldn't come up with anything as awful as the home life of our Home Secretary. Supposing I'd written it. 'Please, David, the Homee Secretary's husband charging the taxpayer for adult movies. Comedy has to be believable.'
Then there's the man, I can't be bothered to look up his name, who is to make recommendations about curbing the use of tax havens. Don't tell me they've found out that he has lots of his money in a tax haven. That would just be too obvious, too banal. It's true? Oh my god. Comedy writers aren't needed. Life is a comic genius.
Anyway, enough of that. I want to write about something much nearer to home than politicians. National Express East Coast. We came back from Kings Cross on Saturday, and there were, presumably, engineering works between Doncaster and York. I say 'presumably', because nobody mentioned them. It was just that the train went via Wakefield and Leeds and took over an hour to get from Doncaster to York instead of the usual 20-25 minutes. Nobody told us that it was going to do this. Nobody apologised for the time it took. Nobody expressed regret. In fact, once things got slow, we didn't see any staff any more. You don't when things get difficult. We're the British public, you see. Not worthy of consideration. Not worthy of even a smattering of concern. Not at weekends, anyway.
But I mustn't linger on National Express. I want to talk to you about Travellodge. Or Travelodge. Some pretty nasty things have been said about their standards of cleanliness in Which magazine, but I needed a hotel near the Eurostar and I was prepared to brave their standards of cleanliness. Yesterday I got onto their website. I entered my requirements. Back it went to the beginnijng. Time after time I entered my requirements. Time after time I was unable to actually process them any further. So I rang their central booking 'service'. I put the word 'service' in inverted commas.
Of course I got options. Listen carefully, I was told, they'd been simplified.
They had. When I pressed the number for booking, I got three options. All for groups of varying sizes. None for just one person. I could have booked seven or fifteen rooms with no trouble, but one? Not worth it, mate.
So I waited for an operator. And got music. And more music. And a glowing announcement about Travelodge's facilties. And then more music. Even my bank tells roughly how long I will have to wait. Nothing. I could still be there now. but I rang off, and contacted Ibis.
I can't summon up much enthusiasm for the Ibis Hotel at Euston. It's got not an ounce of charm, and it's charging me £125 for a dreary room and no breakfast, but I got straight through, and I got a female voice. Foreign, almost completely incomprehensible, but human. For that I can almost forgive them everything.
Sorry this isn't funnier, but I'm off tomorrow to the Ibis and Eurostar and my stepchildren in France for a few days and I wanted to connect with my blog again before I went. I will do more blogs, more frequently, and better. Because I do care about you, the |British public.
What's wrong with me?
I'm still alive - 08/12/2008
Hi, blog-starved of Bedford and Bicester
I have had emails asking me, in view of the absence of new blog entries, whether I am still alive. I don't know how I could tell you, if I wasn't, but I am, and thank you, both of you, for your concern.
I have done the thing that infuriates me more than anything else on other people's websites. I have failed to update it. There is no point in having one unless you use it, as the archbishop said to the actress, and the same thing is true about websites.
The reason that I have neglected you is that I have been extremely busy, gloriously busy, unexpectedly busy. In particular I have been writing my next novel, and it's been going extremely well, and I have been loath to turn away from it until I have collapsed in such a state of exhaustion that I would no longer be capable of blogging with any enthusiasm.
Anyway, here I am at last, and this time I'm going to give you a very straightforward message about what I've been doing and am about to do, since it seems to me that you wouldn't be bothering to go to my website at all unless you hadf some interest in what I write.
Actually, the last few months have been so exciting that I can't even decide which of two events is the highlight - the new novel or the modernised version of Reggie. Well, since Reggie is known to the vast majority of you, and the novel is still a secret between me, my computer and my publisher, I think I'd better start with Reggie.
It's been quite a while since the idea of doing a modern version of the sitcom was mooted by Objective Productions, but we're there at last, the location filming has been completed, and even as I write these words, the actors are rehearsing for the first episode in a draughty hall in Lambeth. (No sitcom has ever been successful unless it has been rehearsed in a draughty hall).
Right at the outset, I had to face a difficult decision. Did I want to write it? I found that I most certainly didn't want to let go of it completely. It was my baby. How could I trust anybody else with it? Why should I trust anybody else with it? On the other hand, I had given it my all. I couldn't be sure that I had it in me to recreate the whole thing from start to finish on my own. The decision was obvious. I would write it with someone else. But who? The BBC came up with a couple of names and I jumped at one of them - Simon Nye. I had never met the fellow, but I knew his work. He seemed ideal. I didn't know then what I know now - that he's an Arsenal supporter.
It wasn't necessarily going to be easy. In the last thirty years I haven't collaborated with other writers, apart from glorious stints with Peter Vincent and Barry Cryer on sketches. But to go back to collaborating on narrative material was daunting. I hadn't done it successfully except right at the beginning of my career, with the late, great Peter Tinniswood of blessed memory. Even that hadn't been easy. There had been moments when it had almost cost us our friendship.
Anyway, Simon and I soon decided that we weren't going to sit at opposite ends of a desk and write every line together. I couldn't have done that even if he'd supported Spurs. So, we have worked on our own and emailed the results.
It seemed logical that Simon should have a go at the first draft of the first episode, as he was the new boy on the block, and, as he said, I had done the first draft in 1976.
He produced what I thought was a great script, finding modern equivalents of the original characters. In a sense, therefore, he has created the template for the new series, and I have been working to that. I have to admit that I haven't always found it easy. Sometimes I've felt that the series isn't really mine any more. I have to admit that this modernised version is more his than mine, but the beauty of Simon's creations is that, however different they are, their roots are in the original, and the resultant series therefore seems to be to be truly a joint effort.
I was thrilled to see a leader in the Telegraph headed 'Not so super, Reggie', criticising the decision to bring it back on the grounds that the world has changed. It's because the world has changed that we felt that we could bring it back. There are new things to say, alongside a few old things that are still true. How could they have thought that we wouldn't move on?
Fans of the old series will soon realise that very few of the old jokes survive. What was the point of doing it again unless we reinterpeted it? No hippo. No farting chairs. No mother-in-law. No Tom with his dreadful wines. Reggie and his new wife are childless, in fact.
I've told you what there isn't. I don't propose to tell you what there is. For that you will have to watch it. When? Certainly not before April.
When we started on this project I must admit that I had my doubts as to whether it was sensible of me to get involved. I thought that perhaps I was on a hiding to nothing. It's clear that it can only go two ways. Either it will be welcomed back with great enthusiasm or people will say, 'What a pity you bothered'. However. I've realised that, far from being on a hiding to nothing, I personally am in a no lose situation. If it's a success, lovely, I'll have done it again, or helped to do it again. If it fails, then everyone will say how much better it was when I did it on my own. I don't want that, of course. I'd like it to be thought of as even better than the original.
I've often told the story of how the casting of Leonard Rossiter came about. I went to see Jimmy Gilbert, the Head of Comedy at the BBC, and he said, 'Have you anybody in mind for the part?' As I was writing for the Two Ronnies, I naturally said, 'Ronnie Barker.' 'Splendid,' said Jimmy Gilbert. 'Terrific. Leonard Rossiter it is.'
People have always said that it would be impossible to replace Len, that his shadow would make the job of any successor impossible. However, thirty two years have passed, and the Reggie of this version is not quite the Reggie of old. He has a very different wife in Nicola. He has a different job. He dresses differently. But none of those facts are the reason why I am not remotely worried on that score. I am not worried simply because we have Martin Clunes, a big enough man to step into anybody's shoes.
I am indeed lucky to have two such Reggies. There will be comparisons between them, but you will never hear me saying that I prefer one to the other. They are too good to separate. Besides, it isn't a competition.
I have to go now. I'll have to start getting ready for the trip down to London for the recording of the first episode. When I get back I'll add a bit more about my current activities, in particular the new novel and the third series of my radio sitcom, The Maltby Collection.
Yes, I'm still alive.
Save Our Pubs - 04/08/2008
A few days ago two more country pubs closed near us. Perhaps that should read 'A few days ago two more country pubs near us closed'. The first sentence suggests that they closed near us, which perhaps hints that they weren't near us until they closed, which is ridiculous. But the second sentence may perhaps suggest that lots of pubs near us are closing, and that's not particularly true, because I'm there to save them.. Perhaps I should have put 'A few days ago two more country pubs closed, and they were both near us'. But that's no good either, because at least eight pubs are closing every week, so I should have put 'A week or two ago another eight country pubs closed, and two of them were near us.'
Why am I trying to make this vaguely grammatical point? Perhaps because the more times I say that pubs are closing, the more you will feel how sad this is. Except that you won't. If you don't like pubs, you won't care, and even if you do the repetition will no doubt have irritated you
Perhaps it is dawning on you that I like pubs. I like proper pubs, pubs where drinkers are not regarded as an inferior breed to eaters.
A few months ago I appeared as a guest on the BBC4 quiz programme, 'Never Mind the Full Stops', which does for semi-colons what 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' does for music. I had to name my least favourite word and I chose 'gastropub'. I told the studio audience that 'I don't want sun-dried tomatoes where once the darts board stood', and they applauded, so I must have struck a chord.
Eating is fine, you die without it. I like food as much as the next man, who just happens to be Marco Pierre White. Eating out is fine. Restaurants are fine. Food in pubs is fine, but not at the expense of the major function of a pub, which in my opinion is to provide drink in a convivial setting.
One day, in the not-too-distant future, there may be no proper pubs at all. So I thought that I would talk today about my pub life. It will be a longer blog than it would be if I talked about my sex life, but that's my problem.
The first pub I went into...no, in fact, I didn't go into the first pub I went to. I was playing cricket for a school team against the village of Ramsbury in Wiltshire, and our bus stopped briefly at a pub. I refused to go in! My parents were Congregationalists, all my grandparents were non-conformists and teetotallers, and I felt that I owed it to them to conform and be a non-conformist too.
A year later we played Ramsbury again and I was a year wiser. I was now on the road to atheism via agnosticism. They say that beer is an acquired taste. I acquired it with my second cautious sip.
During my national service in the Royal Signals I got drunk for the first time, in a pub in Loughborough, on dark rum. I also drank four pints of scrumpy in a pub in Torquay and on my return to camp at Denbury in Devon I shouted 'Stand To The Guard', and that, as the ex-military men among you will know, is not a sensible thing to shout. There was a very nice pub in Denbury itself. I remember trying to put the glow-worms out by pissing on them during my unsteady return to camp.
In Germany I grew to love bierkellers, but when I went to Cambridge it was pubs again. I had realised that a pub is about communication. People stood around the bar and it was pretty easy to get into conversation with anybody. That was the whole point of the pub. It was somewhere where a commoner could talk to a king, a tiler to a merchant banker, a vicar to a bookie.
There were lots of pubs in Cambridge, including some lovely ones by the river where one sat on the grass and watched pretty girls punting. I now learned that all pubs are pubs, but only one pub is one's local. My local was the Volunteer, a nice little two bar pub up a narrow side street near my college. I can still see the sign - Mine Hosts, Len and Pip. Len and Pip, how very fifties. I wonder what became of them. I can still taste their liver sausage rolls. A few years later I went back. They say you shouldn't, and they're right. It had become a typewriter shop.
During the summer vacations we went to stay in a friend's family cottage in Aldeburgh. A few doors away was a splendid establishment called the Black Horse. We got jugs of beer from the door marked 'Jug and Bottle' to drink with our supper and after our supper we went to the Black Horse. We couldn't have had supper in the Black Horse. It was a pub. The beer was good, the company friendly, and after closing time it became quite lively. The local bobby would knock on the door shortly before midnight and join us. I went back a few years later. They say you shouldn't, and they're right. It had become Black Horse Antiques. Oh, the sad sad gentrification of the English countryside.
There was another policeman in the Lord Palmerston, my local in Tufnell Park and a hotbed of shove-halfpenny, that long-dead pub game. He was a lowly constable, but he cooked like a millionaire. His whole salmon in aspic was a thing of beauty. Well, I never saw it, but he said it was. You get people like that in proper pubs.
One of my greatest pub evenings was in the Station Hotel in Achnasheen, in the Highlands. I was there with my friend John Aarons, on a motoring holiday. It was autumn, it was cold, it was wet, and it was Sunday. Over dinner, the landlord asked his four residents if they would be going into the bar that evening. He would light a fire if we were, but because only residents and bona fide travellers were allowed to drink in Scottish pubs on Sundays at that time, there would be no other customers. We said we would go in the bar, so he lit the fire. At midnight there were forty eight customers. What a night it was. The landlord's schoolgirl daughter slept over the bar, and as she went to bed, we all gave a stirring rendition of 'Over the Sea to Skye' for her. It was actually very moving. What do they sing today? 'Speed bonny Renault over the bridge'? John and I got involved in a darts match with two road menders from Portsmouth. They were bad and we won. 'Fancy a quid on it?' they enquired. We knew we were being conned but we were getting drunk and we were enjoying ourselves so we said yes. They immediately began to play well. So did we, and we won again. I only made one mistake that night. On getting into bed at half past one I found a huge stone hot water bottle in it. I tried to pass it out over my head, and dropped it. The headache the next morning had nothing to do with drink
So many memories. Drinking with my great friend and comic genius Peter Tinniswood in the Rodel Inn in Rodel, or Raghadal as it has now become in this p c world, on the southernmost tip of Harris. Or was I drinking with my friend Harris on the southernmost tip of Peter Tinniswood. It was a long while ago, and we did have a lot to drink. Well, only three pints, and a pleasant chat with the brother of the Lord Mayor of London. The brother suffered from sleeping sickness and had been banished to Harris for the duration of the mayoralty. We had an impassioned argument with him about the route of the 137 bus from West Hampstead. You have discussions like that, in proper pubs. And then suddenly the last bus of the day was there and we had no time for a pee. Half an hour on the bus, and not a tree in sight as it wound among the rocks. Neither of us had ever experienced pain quite like it. Tarbert and its public conveniences grew nearer so slowly as the bus wound between the crags, and then we stopped for ages as they tried to get a goat into the boot.. I've never been able to look at goat straight in the eye again, and I don't think dear Peter could either.
I lived, in Barnet, in a house called Twixt, so called because it was between a Baptist Chapel and a pub, Ye Olde Monken Holt. Mine hosts, Fred and Brenda. Every afternoon, after closing time, the bank managers and financial consultants of Barnet drank on. At home they were ruled by their wives. Here they were masters of their domain. Fred memorably dubbed them 'The Lunchtime Heroes'. He had a way with words, Fred Twilley. I bought a long-handled type of shears, to cut fruit from the top branches. One day I was chatting over the fence to the Baptists, who had cut down my hedge while I was out. I weas trying to say that I was a good neighbour and a quiet citizen whom they should not have treated thus.. Fred didn't help by yelling out, 'Where are you|? The beer's ready, Percy Longprong'.
Percy Longprong left his long prong and moved to Herefordshire. My favourite memories here are from the White Swan in Eadisland, which had a very amusing landlord, Richard Baldwin. Richard loved a drink and was invited out one Sunday evening for dinner with a psychiatrist. When I asked him how it had gone, Richard said, 'He's the meanest man I know. He gave us so little to drink that I was driving under the limit for the first time for forty years. A police car followed me. I drove erratically, but the bastard didn't stop me.' He would have dined out for ten years if he could have told how he was breathalysed and passed.
Two brief tales from that pub. The roar of laughter from the public bar when a very posh motorist came in and said, in a voice as loud as it was posh, 'Excuse me, chaps. Can you tell me, would you say I was half way to Aberystwith?' A lovely gentle cowherd called Eric. A couple of tourists complained about his language. Richard told Eric. Eric, genuinely contrite, turned to them and said, 'I'm so sorry. I didn't fucking see you.'
Last Saturday evening I was in the Lamb and Flag in the next village, and a customer called Cliff arrived on his motorised invalid carriage. Cliff has a false leg and so does his wife. One day he entered the pub limping. Potato Paul said 'You haven't fallen, have you?' and Cliff said, 'No, I couldn't find my leg. I've borrowed Vi's.' On Saturday he solemnly stuck a notice on the back of his vehicle. It read 'Proud 2b gay'. As we laughed, a taxi pulled up, and four monks got out. Eight customers had been taking part in the St Wilfred's Day Procession in nearby Ripon. The whole scene was bizarre.
Things like that don't happen in gastropubs.
Island Paradise - 22/06/2008
Hello, blogpeople everywhere.
Susan and I have just spent thirteen nights in Mauritius, in a hotel rated by a leading Swiss guidebook as the second best in the world. It cost us less than two thousand pounds, including drinks, laundry, drinks, massages, drinks and something else that I can't quite...oh yes, that's it. Drinks.
Yes, after 44 years hard work at the wordface, I have at last had a bit of a freebie. I now hope that the London bus syndrome will kick in, and there'll be two more very quickly.
Of course it's well known that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as ten free nights in a luxury hotel, with three more at a heavily discounted rate. I had to work for my supper.
The hotel is Le Prince Maurice Hotel on the East Coast of the island, and we were there for the judging of the Prince Maurice Prize for Romantic Fiction. I was one of six judges, the others being Joanne Harris, Marina Lewycka, Sarah Waters, Simon Armitage and that well-known expert on romantic fiction, Irvine 'Mills and Boon' Welsh. We deliberated under the keen chairmanship of Tim Lott, and were joined by three Mauritian judges and our patron, who on this occasion was no less a person than Richard E Grant. Yes, this is quite a prestigious prize.
Mauritius is largely trilingual. I've always wanted to use that word, and have never had a chance before. The basic language is Creole, most of their writing is done in French, and the official language is English. The prize is for books in French and in English in alternate years. The aim is to encourage a local literary culture in both languages, and to this end we had various other duties to perform between the cocktails and the sun loungers.
On our first day we spent the morning reading short stories written by Mauritian schoolchildren and the afternoon judging them, a task which we took very seriously. We were a little taken aback by the content of the stories, which were full of car crashes, deaths, suicides, divorces, arguing parents and drunken fathers. Where was the paradise island that we had been led to expect?
In the evening we were driven to the British High Commissioner's house where we were welcomed at some length by the Director of the British Council, an amiable man with the suitably British Council name of Simon Ingram Hill. I daresay he will figure, thinly disguised, in at least six novels during the next two years.
The second day was as traumatic as any I have experienced in the last twenty years. I had to do workshops in two schools. Now my father was a deputy head master and taught maths. My mother also taught maths. My father's father was a headmaster and taught maths. My mother's father was a headmaster and taught maths. My paternal grandmother taught maths. My maternal grandmother taught maths. I am petirified even by the thought of facing a class of children.
I have to admit that I had done no great preparation, and at the first school, a girls' school, I was told that due to the comings and goings of large numbers of girls, a workshop would be inappropriate, a talk with questions would be best. The school, the Sharma Jugdambi School in the small town of Goodlands, had contributed more stories to the competition that any other school in Mauritius
I decided to make the event as interactive as possible, so after a short talk I asked for questions. Nobody had told me that as well as being almost universally pretty and charming, Mauritian schoolgirls are very very shy. There were hardly any questions, though one girl did ask which was moire important to a creative writer - observation of the imagination? A very good question, but my answer 'You need both' still left me with about 50 minutes to go.
Then I was asked to sit in the audience, the curtains on the stage of the gymnasium parted, and I was treated to a performance of the wrestling scene from As You Like It, in English and in full costume. The costumes were great, the physical comedy was superb but I couldn't hear a word as the shy girls spoke so quietly.
The event limped to its conclusion, and I was painfully aware that this was a missed opportunity, and I had rather failed this splendid school.
Still, I would do better in the afternoon at the boys' school, Bell Village School, no doubt a charming little village school in a picturesque corner of the island.
Alas for my hopes. It's a tough school in a tough corner of the capital, Port Louis. The teacher told me that not one boy was studying literature beyond the third year. All they were interested in was football, and two teams - Manchester United and Liverpool. I would be talking about literature to ninety boys who weren't interested - not surprisingly, perhaps, since the set book was the Mayor of Casterbridge. This, in Mauritius?
At first my talk went well, they listened and laughed, and jeered cheerfully when I told them I was a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. But my planned talk suddenly seemed very short, and there was an hour still to go. The boys were also shy about asking questions. Their master stepped in to help, but he had a low voice and when I asked him to repeat his qyestion, the boys whooped. Clearly his low voice was a school joke. He stood up and repeated his question. I said., 'You'll have to do more than just stand up. You'll have to come closer.' More whooping. In the end we approached each other, and I made my fatal mistake. I am just not one of life's teachers. I am still a fourth former at heart. I said, 'Shall we dance?' There was no way back after that.
I was asked one amazing question, 'What do you think about life?' My reply was 'It's a good thing.' The master, perhaps seeking revenge, said 'Do you really think life is a good thing for millions in the third world?' By now it was almost impossible for me to hear the questions or the boys to hear my answers, so great was the noise. The master sensibly abandoned ship, I struggled on, and at last the ordeal was over. The bell was answered with a violent stampede. The master was nicer than I deserved and said it had been a lively discussion.
The rest of the week was much more calm. We went to the British Council, where we had another speech (well more the same speech really) by Mr Simon Ingram Hill, and we took part in a very civilised debate about the novel and ate delicious canapes of curried meat, curried fish, curried shellfish, curried vegetables and curried eggs.
On the Saturday, the final judging took place. We had narrowed the books down to a final three in London, and now we sat debating in the only floating restaurant in the Indian Ocean. It was quite windy and I later made up a story about the French writers the previous year dining in a gale and having their starters in Mauritius and their desserts in Madagascar.
The winner was James Meek for his book, 'We Are Now Beginning our Descent' , although there were votes for the other two finalists, Ewan Morrison for 'Swung' and Salley Vickers for 'The Other Side of You'. The three books were all so different that it was like deciding between a pumice stone, a rabbit and an umbrella.
After a lengthy prize giving ceremony including another speech (well, more the same speech really) by Mr Simon Ingram Hill, there was a seven course gala dinner. Susan and I sat at the same table as Simon and his wife and in the unlikely event of his having time to read this blog I must emphasise that they are lovely, charming people.
This was the end of the events and it was time to sit on the beach and relax. It promptly rained for three days. However, our last three days were spent in lovely sunshine. It was delightful to sit on the beach under thatched shelters, and sip thatched cocktails in the thatched bar. We were discovering the main problem about touring in Mauritius. The hotels are so superb that hardly anybody explores outside them.
There is doubtless quite a lot to explore and we hope to go back one day, though whether we will ever be able to afford the full cost of the magnificent Le Prince Maurice is doubtful. We had learned quite a lot about Mauritius. It may be an island paradise for tourists, but there are major problems for the inhabitants, and they are very similar to our problems. They are the problems of the early 21st century - the rising cost of fuel, the rising cost of food, the increasing scarcity of fish, the breakdown of discipline in schools, increasing dependency on alcohol etcetera etcetera.
I forgot to mention that eleven boys from Bell Village School contributed stories to the competition, but only four admitted it. Such is the effect of peer pressure.
But there wasa lovely postscript. I have had an email from one of the boys, who has discovered my website and gave his name as 'Not a T Hotspur Fan'! He apologised for the stampede and said that I mustn't think that all Mauritian boys are hooligans.
He also said that I had told them that the best thing to write from was experience, and that I had talked about my novel 'Sex and Other Changes', in which a married couiple both change sex and marry each other the other way round. Was that from experience? I think he'll go far. (That reminds me of the time I told my mother that a writer must write about what he knows. She wouldn't speak to me after she'd read the brothel scene in one of my novels)
Thank you, Not a T Hotspur Fan, for writing to me and making me believe that my visit to your school did have some effect at least. I suspect you must be one of the secret writers of Bell Village School. I hope you have a very successful life and meet a lovely lady and become Mr and Mrs Not a T Hotspur Fan and live happy...well, no, not ever after, because we weren't judging that sort of romantic novel.
I have to report that the judges all got on extremely well and had a great time. Irvine wants to arrange reunions and Sarah thinks we should hire ourselves out to judge the major prizes. And Irvine paid me a lovely compliment. It began 'David, over these last days I've been really impressed by your..' How do you think it ended. 'Wit'? 'Charm?' 'Generosity'? 'Literary judgement'? 'Literary brilliance'?
No. It ended 'capacity for alcohol.' Oh well. No, actually I felt rather flattered, that coming from Irvine of all people.
Another Apology - 30/05/2008
My very dear blog readers,
I can only apologise for the non-appearance of a blog in May. I am glad to say that this is due entirely to my being very busy. I hope to have an exciting announcement very soon. Be patient, fans. I will do a new blog before the end of the week beginning June 16th.
I know. Gordon Brown, the price of fuel, and now this. I feel for you. I really do.
Words beginning with F - 11/04/2008
Hi there, bloggers.
I did it. I said 'Hi'. It's a word I find very difficult. I'm a hello man, increasingly out of place in the world of 'hi' and 'hiya'. I daresay in the end the more prestigious reaches of our education system will be known as 'hiya education'.
I have some random thoughts to share with you since I last blogged - a disgracefully long time ago - and in an effort to pretend that there was some attempt at a theme I decided to link them through words beginning with f. Hence the title. And now in two paragraphs I haven't used a single word beginning with f. Get a grip, Nobbs.
O.K. Failure. My visit to Birmingham on March the 3rd was a dreadful failure. I was booked to give a talk at an exhibition at MacArts, an arts centre in Birmingham. This was in connection with an exhibition by Alistair Grant, who invented a character called King Shoddy who presided over a kingdom of rubbish as Britain sank into the sea in a tide of rubbish. The exhibition was to a certain extent at least inspired by my Grot sequences in the second book and the second series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. The idea was that they would show two episodes of the second series of the sitcom, with my talk sandwiched in between. I was looking forward to it.
I presented myself at the arts centre at six p.m. to meet a young lady called Alex Boyd. She had gone home. I was somewhat miffed. Also neither of the two charming young ladies on reception had even heard of my talk. I was remiffed. I asked, somewhat tartly, if I might see somebody who knew something.
They fetched the duty manageress, who said, 'What's your name again?' 'David Nobbs,' I replied. She responded with just the words every author longs to hear after plying his trade for forty four years. 'It doesn't ring a bell,' she said.
I was becoming uneasy. I apologised to the ladies on reception for my slight tartness. Could this in some way be my fault? Had I forgotten that they had sent an email cancelling the talk?
My wife and I sat in the canteen, nursing cups of tea and coffee that we didn't want. After quite a long time the duty manageress returned with a very tall man who bent down till his face was level with mine and said, quietly and sympathetically, 'Your talk is on April the 3rd, Mr Nobbs.' My first really serious senior moment, and a failure indeed.
What would have put the tin lid on it would have been if I'd forgotten to go on April the 3rd, but I didn't. Everything went very well, but that doesn't make a story. Only the failures make good stories to comedy writers.
Next f word. Folly. And also farce. Since the last Nobbblog you will all no doubt have read of the unfortunate daughter of Earl Spencer. This lady desired to see her favourite football team, Chelsea. The chauffeur was summoned, and off they set. He entered 'Stamford Bridge' in his Satnav, and off they went to Stamford Bridge, a small village in Yorkshire, quite pretty buit singularly lacking in Premiership football matches.
O.K., one can understand that he didn't realise that there were two Stamford Bridges, but wouldn't you have thought that one of them would have noticed, on the long journey from Northamptonshire, that they were going North, and that London is not North of Northamptonshire? You would have thought that she would have said, 'It's left for Leeds and right for York, are you absolutely sure we're going in the right direction?' But, you see, he's her driver so she would trust him in matters of driving, and Satnav is technological so it must be right. Much of the world of computer failure is explained by this sad story - the machine is only as good as the person who programs it. My own fear - another important f word - is that farce of this kind renders poor comedy writers impotent - we just can't beat real life.
Next f word. Parrots. Parrots who use f words. Those of you (that means most of you, surely) who are familiar with the full canon of my work will know that I have a fondness - nice f word - for the conversation of parrots (notably in Second From Last In The Sack Race, unavailable from all good bookshops). Well there was a splendid parrot story this week, and in case you missed it, I must quote the Times in full.
'Nuneaton. A foul-mouthed parrot has taught two other birds to swear, to the annoyance of the owner of a wildlife sanctuary. Barney, a seven-year-old macaw, has been swearing so often in front od a pair of African greys, Sam and Charlie, that they have picked up his language. Geoff Grewcock, owner of the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, said: 'They just sit there swearing at each other. It sounds like a builders' yard. These birds can live until they are 70 so there are potentially another sixty years of this to contend with.' In 2005 Barney was placed in solitary confinement after he told the local mayor to "f*** off" during a civic visit and then turned to two poilice officers and a vicar and added "You can f*** off too."'
The f word for this is 'funny'. If you don't find that funny, there's no hope for you. The details are all so perfect. Sam and Charlie are wonderfully ordinary names for African greys, annd as for Geoff Grewcock - you couldn't make it up. Nuneaton, too, a town desperately in need of a few laughs. Solitary confinement for a parrot. Fantastic. And "You can f*** off too.'! That "too" is sublime. Barney really does understand what he's saying. And the insulted included those three classic butts - a mayor, a vicar and the police. I tell you - those birds have got sitcom cracked.
Next f word. Fiasco. It has to be Terminal 5. My only comment on this utterly embarrassing farrago of folly, farce and failure is about the extraordinary fact that some of the suitcases have to travel down 27 kilometres of...of...chutes? escalators? Let's just say 'of whatever suitcases have to travel down'. I am struck by an image I cannot get rid of - a suitcase winning Sunday's London marathon.
Final f word. Flame. Thousands and thousand of police guarding this wretched flame as it makes its way past rival teams of protesters People are getting upset that the Olympics are being politicised. For goodness sake, this journey of the precious flame is no great valued tradition. It was created by Adolf Hitler. I can feel another f word coming on.
I don't want to know about the next Olympics even before they start. I deplore what the Chinese are doing in Tibet. But something else I worry about is the Olympics after the next Olympics. What kind of a show will be put on by the nation that built Terminal 5?
Next f word - final. A final thought. Should Gordon Brown go to the official opening/closing? The Nobbblog says that he should go to them all. The Nobbblog believes that he should sit as close as possible to the Chinese leaders, plus a few other dignitaries, including President Sarkozy and Hilary Clinton, and he should take with him three new friends - Barney the parrot and Sam and Charlie, the African greys.
APOLOGY - 16/03/2008
I am so sorry to have been silent for so long, but I'm glad to say that the reason is that I have been so busy writing. I'm afraid even this isn't a blog, it's just an apology.
On Tuesday I went to London, had a good time at the Oldie Awards, then went to the readthrough of the scripts for the second series of my Radio 4 sitcom, The Maltby Collection. It's a bit special to me, is this. In fact I've enjoyed writing it more than any scripts since A Bit of a Do. There was a great atmosphere and a lot of laughter and I thought, 'Right. Not much work to do here. Now at last I can write to my dear friends, the Nobbloggers.'
Then came the blow. Five of the scripts were too short. What could I do? I had to write extra stuff, and I am only just going to be able to get it done in time for the recordings, and of course I have to be at those.
So I've no time to write to you properly until early April. Watch this space.
A GREAT NEW PRIZE, BLOGGERS - 21/01/2008
In recent days a few people have told me that they have enjoyed my blogs, and I've thought, 'Oh my God, I've forgotten to do one for ages.' I have to confess, you see, that I am not a natural blogger. When I get the writing itch, I turn to a novel or a play or an episode of a sitcom, and my webside gets out of date. And I know, from my perusal of other people's websites, that there is nothing more depressing than an out of date site, untended, forlorn, covered in virtual dust.
There is another reason for my neglect - my utter technical ineptitude. After a certain number of minutes my computer disconnects and all my blogging gets lost. I get round this only by transferring my text to the blog every few minutes, hoping that there won't be thousands of you logging on and finding a curiously unfinished paragraph. I'm off now to transfer this bit. Bye.
Hi there. I'm back. I wonder how long blogs and blogging will survive. I wrote a play for Yorkshire Television, later adapted as a BBC sitcom, called 'Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy.' It was about two lorry drivers. One of them took dogfood from Hull to Carmarthen and came home empty, the other took dogfood from Carmarthen to Hull and came home empty. (Satire) The title referred to their handles. Remember handles? They were the names you used on Citizen's Band radio. What a craze that was for at least a fortnight. Will blogs go the same way? 'Old Nobbsy's so out of touch up there in Yorkshire. He's still blogging.' 'No!'
Anyway, in an attempt to compensate you for the irregular updates to the Nobblog (blogging is an ugly word, so let's make it even uglier) I have decided to hold A GREAT COMPETITION with THREE WONDERFUL PRIZES - just for you. Only those who access the Nobblog will know the competition even exists. I don't have all the details yet, but it will involve some kind of general knowledge quiz. I have decided on the prizes, though, and they are fantastic.
I wonder if any of you have noticed how many marvellous men have surnames beginning with B. Well there will be three prizes, each featuring a long weekend with a marvellous man whose surname begins with B.
Yes, folks, you will have a chance, an unparalleled, never before offered chance, of spending a long weekend with either Michael Barrymore, Gordon Brown or Paul Burrell. I know. I'm generosity personified. All that I need to do to fix this great competition is to persuade the three man to play ball.
But first I need a bit of input from you. I just cannot decide which of the three prizes should be first prize, second prize and third prize. It's so hard to separate them. Perhaps you can help.
Talking of plays for Yorkshire Television, I also write a play called Cupid's Darts, and that has formed the basis of my latest novel, Cupid's Dart, the paperback version of which will be published by Arrow Books seven days before Valentine's Day, giving you the chance to buy it for your beloved at any good bookshop, and even at some bloody awful bookshops. The play starred Robin Bailey and Lesley Ash, whose first starring role it was. She was brilliant, utterly captivating, and for that alone I could have dedicated the book to her, but the real reason was my sorrow and anger over the horrible infection she picked up in hospital and which has left her needing to walk with a stick. Since I dedicated the book to her she has of course been awarded five million pounds.
I'm not going to debate whether this is a fair sum - money can never fully compensate for any degree of loss of one's health and beauty - but I am going to debate the economics. Few things in our depressing country depress me more than the fact that one is liable to become ill by going to hospital. For one thing, a land of which that is true is hard to satirise. We liive in a land of self-satirisation.
Why do people get ill by going into hospitals? Because, in order to save money, cleaning has been contracted out. I visited five hospitals last summer during 'The Nosebleed Weeks (Soon to become a Feature Film)' Some of the hospitals were good. York District Hospital was truly excellent. Except for the cleaning. The cleaning was of a pathetic standard in all five hospitals, and nobody in the hospitals dared to say anything about it. Saving money cost Lesley's five million and millions more besides. The Nobbblog (I've added an extra B to make the word uglier still) says that this the economics of the madhouse.
Another dreadful instance of this contracting out occurs on the railways, with the maintenance of the lines entirely separated from the running of the trains. This means that when the train is very very late you''ve nobody on the train to blame, which is intolerable. I used to read a Dick Francis novel on the train, because it was just the right length for the journey from York to Kings Cross and back. Since Network Rail things have changed. Last week I took War and Peace, and finished it at Retford.
I did consider contracting out some aspects of my novel writing. I held discussions with a firm in Yeovilton which specialise in character development, and even went so far as to meet Plots Are Us of Preston. But in the end I decided that the whole thing should be done by one organisation. NHS and Network Rail, take note.
As I pen this edition of the Nobbblog, it is raining outside. Thank goodness it's outside. And of course there are floods. Now this week it hasn't actually rained any more than in many other weaks in the ghastly whinters of this beknighted island ( I knew I shouldn't have trusted Spellcheck of Staines). So what's gone wrong? After exhaustive, not to mention exhausting, discussions with the man on the Clapham Ominbus (how does that service survive with only one male passenger?) the Nobbblog has come to the conclusion that part of the problem is that rivers used to be dredged far more than they are now. Why are they dredged less? To save money. What is the result? Vast expense. The Nobbblog says that prevention should be the name of the game, and it says to Gordon Brown, 'Get your finger out, Gord, or Barrymore and Burrell will leap ahead of you in the great long weekend prize stakes.'
Another depressing thought about this depressing island - today, the third Monday in January, is regarded as being the most depressing day of the year - has suddenly struck me. Immigration. There is a vast amount of legal and illegal immigration. I'm not making the usual points about this. I'm just saying, 'Oh my god, things must be even more depressing elsewhere.' That is a thought.
Still, one thing that has been there to cheer us all up this winter is the dear old Beeb. Suddenly, in the midst of all the gory series about serial killers (The Nobbblog says, 'Bring back One Man and His Dog') we have had some really rather good costume dramas. Costume dramas are like London buses. You wait for months, and then three come along - Cranford, Sense and Sensibility, and Lark Rise to Candleford. If you don't pay attention you can get very confused about the plot, especially as a lot of the same actors are in them all.
I began my career, all those years ago, on 'That Was The Week, That Was'. Oh, for it now. I would love to write a nice little utterly confused costume drama sketch. The title? 'Lark Rise to Cranford'
Never mind. Why give these gems to millions? They are for you and your eyes only, because, bloggers, you are very special to me, both of you.
It's raining inside now as well. I must find a new roofer.
See you soon.
This edition of the Nobbblog was written for David by the Bromsgrove Blog Company.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS - 25/12/2007
On this my very first web Christmas I want to give a huge thank you to all those who have contacted the site and even more to those who have sent a web enquiry to me They mean a lot to me. If you haven't received a reply it means that your email address must have been given wrong or, as happened a few times, I received no name or message whatsoever. The contact with you means a lot to me, and I always reply if I can.
I hope you will all have/have all had a marvellous Christmas and a great 2008.
More very soon.
PC World - 01/12/2007
When I heard the news about the teddy bear in the Sudan, one of my first thoughts, after my horror had subsided, was that in the modern world there can be no place for satire and perhaps no place for comedy. Comedy writers are redundant The world is creating its own comedy as it goes along. On reflection I realised that events like that make the need for satire and for comedy more urgent than ever. People who have no sense of humour easily lose all sense of proportion and all relationship with common sense.
Political correctness has made life quite difficult for those of us who work at the word face. Since I last communicated with you - too long ago, but I get bound up with whatever I'm writing and forget about the internet, I am still not truly an IT person, IT to me is something you used to add to gin - there has been another, much smaller story which also seems to do the satirist's work for him (or her - this is all about pc).
Sarah Kennedy, of Radio 2 fame - and widely heard, as I know because she was kind enough to praise a comment of mine and so many people heard it and mentioned it to me - told listeners last month that her car had almost run down a black man because she didn't see him until he opened his mouth and she saw his teeth - or words to that effect. The BBC received complaints that this was racist and made an apology.
What is racist about that? The man was black. That is a fact. The fact that he was black is also germane to the story. If she had said that she nearly ran over a man because she couldn't see him until he opened his mouth, it would have been pretty lame. She had to say that he was black. There is nothing offensive in that unless you think that it is offensive to call people black, that black is an insulting word. Clearly the people who complained do. They are, I would suggest, the racists.
I read of at least one council whose councillors voted to ban the use of the phrase 'black coffee' as being offensive. That is an even worse case of racism, though presumably they would be too thick to understand that. Oh dear. Is that remark thickist, or councillorist?
When I created the hippopotamus joke in Reggie Perrin, I received no complaints. Would that be so today? Wouldn't it be regarded as dreadfully sexist, or even mother-in-lawist, and perhaps, if you were a wild life enthusiast with a horrible mother-in-law, hippopotamusist .
I recently took part in a 40th anniversary tribute to The Frost Programme. One of the sketches shown was a lovely little joke from Barry Cryer. A man goes into an icecream parlour and asks for an icecream. The assistant says, 'You're Jewish, aren't you? We don't sell icecream to Jews.' 'That's outrageous,' says the customer. 'I'd like to speak to the manager.' 'Mr Cohen?' calls out the assistant. Mr Cohen arrives. 'This man is complaining that we don't serve icecream to Jews,' says the assistant. 'That's right,' says Mr Cohen. 'We don't.' 'But that's outrageous,' says the customer. 'You're Jewish yourself.' 'Have you tasted our icecream?' says Mr Cohen.
This is a splendid Jewish joke and went down very well when recorded 40 years ago. When it was replayed to the 2007 auudience I sensed a feeling of unease, tension, broken of course when the tag line was spoken.
We are all so much more sensitive now. On the same recording of the Frost report, there was a tag line consisting of one word - 'rapists'. I can't remember the joke, but it had received a big laugh 40 years ago. I would guess that it wouldn't today. When I edited the TV series, 'Sez Les', we had a gag in which Les, dressed as a Viking, rushes into a village of straw huits wielding a primitive club amd shouting, 'Rape. Rape. Rape.' He bangs on one of the huts and a very elderly crone emerges. 'Pillage. Pillage. Pillage,' cries Les.
That joke is sexist, ageist, almost every kind of ist. Thirty years ago, in that absurd context, with the sublime sight of Les as the world's least likely Viking, the joke caused no offence whatsoever. I am pretty sure we would not have even attempted such a joke today. In this particular instance I am on the side of political correctness. Rape is just not funny. It is less a matter of principle, in deciding what is and what is not funny, more a matter of common sense and above all a sense of proportion.
I must confess a secret weakness here. I love making cannibal jokes. 'I had the chance to meet some cannibals once, and I must admit I was really looking forward to a good dinner, I've always fancied eating people. Just my luck. They weren't having dinner, it was a finger buffet.' Offensive?
My conclusion about comedy and political correctness is that it has had some good and necessary effect but that it has been taken to such extremes that it is in danger of disappearing up its own earnestness. I'd like to end with a return to the vexed question of the adjective 'black'.
I once gave a few seminars on comedy at Leeds Metropolitan University. The first one, I freely admit, was pretty hopeless. One or two of the students were black, and that is a fact, not an insult. One of them objected to my use of the term 'black comedy' as being offensive. I said that it had always been known as this and that it was nothing to do with the colour of skin, the reason for the name was that the night is black (I have no idea whether that is true, but it seemed convincing at the time). Anyway, he didn't accept it, and began to treat me with hostility as well as contempt. At the end he asked me, in tones of heavy sarcasm, 'From your vast experience of writing comedy, could you give us just one sentence of helpful advice?' I groped, and suddenly heard myself say, 'Yes. Enjoy your writing. Then at least one person will have.' Unexpectedly, he liked this reply, and suddenly grinned with real friendliness. Which has nothing to do with political correctness, but then surely an occasional touch of complete irrelevance is welcome? It's all a question of proportion.
YET MORE HOSPITALS - 22/10/2007
I promised/threatened (delete whichever word is inappropriate) to continue my tales from a hospital bed, and so here I am again.
My next spell in hospital was in Hereford, where I had a prostate operation in the 1980s. Hereford and Herefordshire are both lovely, and characters abound, so perhaps it's not surprising that I have more memories connected with this hospital than with any other.
I was admitted on the evening prior to the operation, and sought comfort in the day room. I didn't find comfort there. Instead I found a man who told me, 'Oh, I had a prostate op six weeks ago. They told me it would be simple, and here I am still. I've had all sorts of complications.' Terrific. Thank you very much.
Shortly after I came round from the op, I heard the following conversation.
'Do you remember the ginger haired man who served on the cheese counter in the market on Tuesdays?'
'Yes, haven't seen him lately.'
'You wouldn't have. He's dead. Do you remember the bald bookie who always shouted in a very squeaky voice at Hereford races?'
'Yes, he wasn't there last time I went.'
'He wouldn't have been. He's dead. You know the one-legged newspaper seller who stood on the corner of High Town?'
'Yes, I haven't seen him lately either.'
'You wouldn't have. He's dead. You know who I mean when I mention the very rude, fat man who served in the fish shop?'
'Yes. I haven't seen him either. He's dead, is he?'
'No. He's moved to Kidderminster.'
I promise you I wasn't hallucinating.
As I began to recover, I couldn't help noticing the strange behaviour of the man in the end bed opposite. He was so creepy and crawly to the nurses, 'Thank you so much, my darling' and 'May I ask a little favour, my love, if you aren't too busy?', but the moment they had gone he would insult them under his breath. 'Fat cow.' 'Ugly bitch'. And worse. When it was time for him to go home, a nurse rang his wife and said she could come and collect him. The nurse told me what his wife replied. 'I'm not going to collect hi.m I suppose if you send him I'll have to accept him, but I'm not going to collect him.'
In the bed next to this man there was a younger man who didn't talk much, and then only very quietly, so I didn't speak to him until it was time to clean the ward and the beds in one half were moved into the middle so that the cleaners could scrub the floor under where the beds had been. That tells you it was a while ago. Nobody cleans under beds any more. No wonder there are so many infections in our hospitals. The cleaning is a national disgrace. It's murder by contracting out. Anyway, my bed was now close to this man's, and he spoke to me for the first time, very quietly.
'They'll start to come in soon.' he said.
'Who?' I asked.
'Ministers. Vicars. Priests. Rabbis. Trying to cheer us up. Armies of them.'
His tone expressed equal disdain for them all. No prejudice here.
Shortly after the cleaning was over, a young C of E vicar did indeed appear. He was red-faced, embarrassed, nervous, wet behind the ears, palpably new to this kind of thing. My soft-voiced friend pointed at him and yelled, at the top of his voice, 'It's started'. The young vicar hurried on as fast as his little legs could carry him.
By the time of my next hospital visit I was living in North Yorkshire, and had to have a biopsy of the bladder. I didn't stay in overnight (and I'm glad to say that nothing sinister was found), but I did have a general anaesthetic so I think I can count it as a proper hospital admission. I was only in the ward for a couple of hours or so, but there was still time to over hear one classic conversation.
A shy young black doctor came to examine a dry, deaf, elderly Yorkshireman.
'Have you got a cough?' said the doctor.
'You what?' said the man.
The doctor looked round the ward, and then drew the curtains round the man's bed, as if he believed that we would no longer be able to hear. We heard every word.
'Have you got a cough?'
'Will you cough for me?'
'Cough for me.'
By now the doctor was really shouting.
'Cough for me.'
'Oh! No, thanks. I've just had a cup.'
We move now from Hereford and Harrogate to another city beginning with H. Ho Chi Minh City. My wife and I were on a Swan Hellenic cruise, and I passed out in the restaurant. I was taken to the ship's medical centre, where a female doctor, I won't call her a lady doctor, said to me, with all the bedside manner of Adolf Hitler on a bad day, 'You've either had a heart attack or you are going to have a heart attack.' I was taken down a cvery steep gangway on a stretcher by very small and panicky Vietnamese ambulance men and rushed to an international clinic through the teeming streets at a speed guaranteed to give anyone a heart attack.
A beautiful Vietnamese lady doctor, I will call her a lady, soon assured me that I hadn't had a heart attack. I did have a heart irregularity, but it turned out to be nothing to worry about, and we later deduced that I had passed out by lunching in a hurry in a combination of great heat and humidity on a hot Madras curry and a large glass of red wine, all of which led to dehydration and lowering of the blood pressure.
One day we were on the cruise of a lifetime, the next I was being told by an Australian doctor, 'I'm sending you to Bangkok General.' It was a low moment, but eventually I was so stable that they decided to send me home instead. It took more than ten days to find a medical escort. He flew to Bangkok from London, and Vietnamese doctor escorted us to Bangkok.
On the way to the airport we passed a football stadium and he became very animated.
'David Beckham play there? Only twenty minute, but I have een him.'
I was about to say, 'What do you mean - "een him", when I realised that the doctor couldn't say his esses. There follwed a bizarre conversation.
'You like football.'
'Very much. I love the Premierhip. I watch recording every Unday. I upport Charlton Athletic.'
'Charlton Athletic? Why? Nobody supports Charlton Athletic even in Charlton.'
'Charlton Athletic very good team. Cott Parker make big mitake go to Newcatle United. Big mitake. Alan Curbiley very good manager.'
I don't remember any extraordinary conversations in the clinc, but I will never forget that one with the doctor. I think it speaks volumes about the strange and illogical fascination men have with football.
Two hospitals to go. Hang on in there, we can make it.
Charing Cross next, this summer, after a nosebleed that lasted four and three quarter hours. I was only in two days, and I only recall one conversation now. On the lunch menu there was, among other delights, cod with parsley sauce. A somewhat obese lady waddled up to the nurse's desk and said, 'Do you have anything for really bad indigestion?'
'Why?' asked the nurse. 'Do you have bad indigestion?'
'No,' said the lady, 'but I will have this afternoon. Cod with parsley sauce always gives me bad indigestion.'
'Are you sure?' asked the nurse - rather foolishly, I thought, to be honest.
'Of course I'm sure,' said the woman. 'I have it every week. I should know.'
I should have kept quiet, but I didn't. As the woman waddled painfully past my bed, I asked, 'If cod with parsley sauce gives you such bad indigestion, why do you order it?'
She looked at me as if I was mad.
'I like it,' she said.
My last hospital stay, in York District Hospital, occurred just a couple of weeks after that, towards the end of August this year, after sanother violent nosebleed. This time, although still on the NHS, I got a room to myself.
Nothing interesting happened at all, and I kept feeling, quite wrongly - I have nothing but praise for this hospital, ublike some of the others, that I was being neglected, forgotten, overlooked.
Private room? No, thank you. So boring.
Hospitals - 10/10/2007
I'm sorry to have left you so long without an update. How have you been able to bear it? The cause, of course, was my nosebleeds, which got worse after my last blog before they got better. I ended up in hospital on saline drips and oxygen, and with the transfusion service ready if needed.
Anyway, my nose is all behind me now, as the contortionist said, and I've had a nice long rest, and I'm writing again.
I realised two things about hospitals during the nosebleed time. I realised that I quite like them, and that I've been in quite a lot of them. I think of myself as a very healthy man indeed, yet I have been in no less than eleven hospitals in my life.
Probably I like them because I've always been ill when I've been in them. I only like being a patient. I hate them when I'm visiting patients, even if I only have to stay an hour. But when I'm ill the fact that all decisions are taken out of my hands is really rather enjoyable. In fact I get thoroughly institutionised in a very short time.
So I thought today that I might tell you a bit about my various stays in hospital.
The first one was Petts Wood Maternity Hospital, in Kent, in 1935. I don't remember anything about it.
Next came the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth, in 1954. I was doing my national service, in the Royal Signals. I suffered from the skin complaint psoriasis. I was in the Depot Regiment at Denbury, near Newton Abbot, awaiting embarkation for Cyprus along with the other eleven members of my draft. On the day before we were to leave I was told that I couldn't go outside Europe, because of my psoriasis, so all my mates left without me. I was devastated, and went to the camp doctor, who told me that the best cure for the complaint was sea bathing and sunshine. 'Wouldn't I get this in Cyprus?' 'Of course.' 'Then why can't I go?' Because you're in the army.'
I demanded treatment, and to my surprise I got it. I was sent to the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth, and in seven weeks they cured my skin complaint with coal tar and baths. It returned as soon as I left hospital, of course. I liked the Royal Naval Hospital, except for the twice daily tot of rum that was on offer. I couldn't even abide the smell of it, because it was on dark rum, in Loughborough, that I first got drunk. I spent one of the worst half hours of my life in a hedge just outside the town. I've never gone near dark rum, or indeed that hedge, or even Loughborough since that evening.
One day it was my turn to collect the lunches for the ward. It was a self-service hospital. I set off, with twelve lunches in a trolley, and got stuck in the lift. I didn't go hungry, but the ward did. It was three and a half hours before I was released. After about an hour and a half some engineers arrived. I could hear them working on the mechanism far below. It sounded as if they were hacking at it with axes. It was a very tense afternoon. I ate four lunches to calm my nerves, and that evening I almost drank my tot of rum.
1955 saw me in two more hospitals, both military ones. I can't remember which one came first, but let's say it was the British Military Hospital in Munster, Westphalia. My complaint was not the sort one boasts about. I had boils in both ears. These came from wearing earphones in connection with my work as a morse radio operative. Boils in both ears and psoriasis. No wonder the nurses weren't turned on. Now, when I think of it, I'm reminded of John Cleese in Monty Python as the chemist coming out to a crowd of people waiting for their medicines and saying, 'Which of you is the boil on the bum?' The only strange thing that happened in this hospital was that the man in the next bed told me that he was on a charge for losing a tank. I think that must have been quite an achievement.
The next hospital was a Canadian Military Hospital, in Iserlohn, in the Ruhr. Well, I think it was a Canadian hospital. Everyone else in the ward was Canadian I was there for my psoriasis, the boils having yielded to treatment. There is no doubt that this was the most extraordinary of all the wards I've been in. There were four Canadian soldiers in there who had nothing wrong with them at all. They slept all day, didn't eat anything, but late in the evenings they all got up, climbed out of a window, dropped to the ground and disappeared, to return a few hours later carrying several dead rabbits, which they then proceeded to cook in the ward kitchen. A good scam if you like rabbit. I looked at them with awe. These were real men. My little skives seemed pathetic by comparison.
Back in civvy street, I actually survived for more than twenty years before needing further hospitalisation. Then, one Monday, I drove from my home in London to Manchester to attend a read through of a TV sitcom pilot I had written. It was called 'The Glamour Girls'. I knew the moment the rehearsals started that the two leading girls (not Brigit Forsyth and Sally Watts, who eventually played the parts and were splendid) were utterly and totally wrong. After the day's rehearsal I went to somebody's farewell party, and began to feel as if it was my own farewell party. I went off to an Italian restaurant with one of the actors, my great friend James Warrior, who was the only survivor from the pilot to make it to the actual series. I felt more and more ill and told him that I was going back to my hotel. Outisde the restaurant I fell and cracked my head. I tried to stand. My legs were like rubber. Several times I tried and fell. I told a passing couple that I was ill, not drunk, and they, bless them, went into the restaurant to find Will, as James is called, and he, bless him, rushed out and drove me to Salford Royal Hospital, where they pumped steroids into me and probably saved my life. A doctor told me I'd got Hodgson's Disease. I said, 'Has he got mine?' Unfortunately this was probably just as funny as most of the lines in the sitcom.
I spent several days in that hospital. What was wrong with me? Well, It had been a long tense day, I had endured too much stress, and my blood pressure had plummeted. This is known to laymen as a panic attack, to doctors as a cardio-vascular incident, but when I was asked what was wrong with me I said that I was suffering from a severe case of bad casting.
While I was in that elderly but splendid hospital, Mrs Thatcher was elected to power for the first time. Several of the nurses wept. It was a very moving and disturbing indication of just how politically divided Britain had become. Now, I fear that we would all weep whoever was elected.
The next hospital to take me into its crumbling depths was the Middlesex Hospital in Goodge Street in London. Again, the cause was a panic attack. Again, this was associated with a read through, for the pilot episode of my Channel 4 sitcom, Fairly Secret Army. It went well. The cast were splendid. But I suppose I knew subconsciously that it was a difficult show, depending for a great deal of its humour on the ridiculous pseudo-military language of its main character, played by Geoffrey Palmer. 'Tricky cove, Johnny Conversation. Never quite got the hang of the blighter.' Some people found this absolutely hilarious. Many offices took to talking in that style. Reviewers, those who liked the show and those who hated it, reviewed it in that style. I suppose I knew, that morning, that this was a cult show in the sense that it would appeal a lot to a few people but not at all to the majority. I suppose this realisation caused me stress. Down went the blood pressure. Once more I crashed to the pavement, this time outside a pub.
My one memory of the Middlesex is my last night. Two very nice nurses came to my bed and told me, very gently, that they were moving my bed next to the Indian. Nobody could stand more than one night next to him, so they put people beside his bed on their last night. Should I even mention this in these politically correct times? Well, yes, because it was true, and it wasn't because he was an Indian that people could only stand one night of him. He didn't smell of lamb dhansak and have appalling sanitary habits. He was very well spoken and extremely fastidious and polite. The problem was simply that he talked...and talked...and talked. And boasted. When he discovered that I was a writer, he took no interest whatsoever in my work, but told me of all the writers he had known. 'Lawrence. I'm speaking of D.H. I only met T.E. once. What talks D.H. and I had. Frieda would bring us a mug of chocolate and say, "I'm off to bed, chaps" and we'd jaw on about this and that till half past two.' Had he ever met D.H.Lawrence? Did it matter? How could I stop him? I very nearly had another panic attack.
There are still five hospitals to go - Hereford, Harrogate, Ho Chi Minh City, Charing Cross and York. Hereford was particularly rich in eccentric patients, and Ho Chi Minh City was quite an experience too. Watch this space and I'll tell you about them next week - unless I'm in hospital, of course.
Nosebleeds - 15/08/2007
I've never really thought of nosebleeds as being serious - until this summer. My nosebleeds began a month ago, and they are the reason why I have taken so long to write this latest instalment.
My summer hasn't been all about nosebleeds, of course. I do have pleasant memories to talk to you about - our village feast, my trip to the Montreux Jazz Festival, the marvellous remarks made to me about my work by an elderly lady in a crowded London room. But the nosebleeds do dominate.
For those of you who like detail, they were from the right nostril only. My left nostril has behaved impeccably throughout.
At first I didn't take the nosebleeds particularly seriously. They weren't pleasant, but they did stop. Then, on a Monday morning, a couple of weeks ago, I woke in our hotel room in London with a real pearler.
It began at twenty five past five, and went on and on and on. And on. If you don't like the sound of blood, close your eyes while you read the next bit. Blood even poured from my right eye and down my throat with such power that it forced its way through my lips. O.K., you can open your eyes again now.
I sat pinching my nose in the approved fashion, and trying to think about pleasant things, like our village feast. It's called the Feast Day, but, this being Britain, it isn't a feast at all. There is a procession behind a pipe band, there's a fancy dress competition for the children, and there's a fun fair
The fair is small and old-fashioned, but innocent - and fun. Local osteopaths stand hopefully beside the dodgems, keeping an eye open for customers. In the pubs, which are open all day only on such special occasions, dentists offer their friends pork scratchings. It's a sweet occasion, but not quite exciting enough in this modern era to keep me from thinking about my nosebleed.
From time to time the flow of blood eased, but back it always came, and in the end we decided I would have to go to A and E. Susan had to help me dress, because I couldn't remove my hands from my nose. I didn't look at my most dignified. I trted to think about the nice remarks of that elderly woman, who had liked my work so much, but it was no use.
I tried to amuse myself by recalling the moment, early in my time in our village, when I was asked to present the prizes at the flower show. Luckily I wasn't asked to judge them. Our village isn't part of the Midsomer group, where John Nettles would investigate at least four murders after a flower show, but it can still get pretty fraught if you insult somebody's giant marrow.
The name of our village is Burton Leonard, but a few days before the show I received a letter addressed to Bert and Leonard. In my speech I said that I could picture them only too well. Leonard was a 59 year old classics master at a public school, Bert was a 35 year old lorry driver and his bit of rough trade. This wasn't quite the right note for a village flower show, luckily, so I've never been asked to open, close, or judge anything again.
I tried to take my mind off things with something more substantial - the Montreux Jazz Festival. Susan and I spent three glorious days there in July with her daughter Briget and husband Mark and two Northern Irish friends, Janet and Alan. The sun shone endlessly, lighting up the snow on top of the mountains. The water on the lake was like glass. The bars were crowded with happy music lovers of all ages. There were stalls of food from all over the world, and one wandered to one's concert eating meals none of which cost more than 15 francs. And not a nosebleed in sight. Oh no. Even this memory isn't working.
We had tickets for two concerts, and on the Saturday afternoon we spent four hours on a 'Hot Brazilian Boat', salsaing our way round the lake in a temperature of 34 degrees, to the music of four great Brazilian bands. I felt so young and fit that day, utterly unaware of the nosebleeds to come. Oh no!
Truth to tell, the two concerts were rather diappointing compared to the previous year, when we saw B.B.King's final concert in Europe, at the age of 80. To mark the occasion, at the end of the concert, he brought friends up from the audience for an impromptu jam session. When I tell you that these friends included Randy Crawford, and a pipless Gladys Knight, you'll know just how privileged we were.
The main acts of our two concerts this year were Sly and the Family Stone, and Jeff Beck. Both disappointed us, even though two of our party, guitarists both, were great fans of Jeff Beck. But, sadly, Sly Stone was simply past his sell-by date, too old and too ill. He reminded me of a famous oak tree of great age in my cousin's village of Great Yeldham. It's held together with several metal bars.
The first supporting act on the second concert was a man called Raul Midon. None of us had heard of him. He was sensational. He was born in New Mexico to an Argentinian father and an African/American mother. He and his twin brother were premature, and were put in an incubator. The eye protection was inadequate and both were blinded for life. The brother, Marco, is a Nasa engineer. Raul is a great star in the making. What a story. How pitiful to worry about nosebleeds. Oh no. They're back.
Think about Raul - his glittering guitar playing, the way he accompanies himself on an imaginary trumpet, making amazing sounds with his lips and mouth. Think of his haunting songs, written by himself, many of them about blindness, none of them remotely mawkish.
Any of you who know me will be thinking, what is David on about? The man knows nothing about music. He's tone deaf. Well, it's practically true. When I was working on the Les Dawson show I was the only person there who didn't know why they were laughing at his piano playing. But even I could thrill to the talent of Raul Midon. There wasn't even a hit parade when I was at school. I've come to music late in life and I intend to make the most of it.
I have to get back to the nosebleeds now. Susan's back, she's got a taxi, soon we are at Westminster and Chelsea's A & E. There they cauterise the nose, unsuccessfully. Then they block it, which is horrible.
While they are blocking it, to take my mind off it, I reflect on the remarks made by the elderly lady.
'You're my favourite author in the whole world,' she said. I could only just hear her above the noise.
'Well, thank you very much,' I said.
'A friend put you onto me and I've read every single one of your books. They're all brilliant.'
'I don't know what to say.'
'Don't say anything. Just bask in the knowledge of all the pleasure you've given.'
'I will. I'll bask.'
'I'm seeing my friend tomorrow for coffee. Just wait till I tell her that I've actually met David Lodge.'
There are moments when nosebleeds don''t seem too bad.
Apology - 27/07/2007
Many apologies for not having updated my blog for so long. This is due to a combination of Switzerland, a cracked rib, rain, more rain, nosebleeds, deadlines. a bad case of CDD (Campbell Diary Depression) and the dreaded Blog Block
A new blog will appear here before the end of next week.
The arts, and David Dimbleby - 19/06/2007
In the last week or two I've been doing three very contrasting things. I've been presenting an evening of arts programmes on SkyArts - to be shown later, watch this space - I've been listening to my Radio 4 sitcom, the Maltby Collection, which is set in a fictional art gallery cum museum, and I've been watching David Dimbleby travelling round Britain in a pink shirt and a Land Rover, admiring our beautiful buildings.
For the SkyArts evening, I had to choose four programmes. I didn't choose any comedy, that seemed too obvious. I wanted both the viewers to see The Other Side of David Nobbs. No, I shouldn't joke about the size of the audience. I believe it's quite respectable (as indeed are most of the viewers) and the fact that it's rather small says more about the state of British taste in this age than about SkyArts.
One of the programmes I chose was a profile of David Hockney, entitled 'Pleasures of the Eye'. Ever since I chose it he has been very visible on our screens, looking not a day older than he did twenty years ago - art keeps you young - banging on about the modern world's intolerance to smokers and the fact that people don't use their eyes any more.
How right he is. I will risk your ridicule, but I have to tell you that one of the most exciting activities of my childhood was looking out of windows. That's what I did on trains. It's true that there wasn't much else to do, but when I look at people on trains today I see the world passing by unnoticed while they look inwards, listening to music or having conversations on their mobiles so empty and trivial that I'd be ashamed to be overheard.
Even tourists don't look out of the window. The main line from York to Edinburgh passes, on the right, York Minster, the glory of Durham cathedral and castle, the bridges of Newcastle, glimpses of the exquisite Northumberland coastline, the beautiful estuary and town of Berwick-on-Tweed, and yet more tantalising glimpses of coastline in Scotland. On the left there are fields. There is variety, some of the fields are big, some of them medium-sized, some of them small, but the entertainment isn't exactly exciting. Just as many people sit on the left, with the fields, as on the right, with all the highlights, and it probably doesn't matter anyway as most of them don't look up at all. They are reading guide books of their next destination or next year's holiday. They only look at the things they're told to look at. They have lost the capacity to use their eyes imaginatively. Which brings me back to David Dimbleby and his pink shirt. Or shirts. I hope for the sake of the people he interviewed that it wasn't the same shirt all the time.
The other three programmes I chose for SkyArts were a profile of Arthur Miller, a film of the great blues guitarist B.B.King in concert, and a Finnish biopic, in Finnish, about Sibelius. This has very strange subtitles, with many of the speeches coming up in in pairs, so that as Sibelius begins to speak to a pretty girl, the caption will come up, 'Will you marry me?' 'Of course I will'. It rather spoils your emotional involvement with his shyness in asking the question when you already know the answer. 'Get on with it, man, of course she will', you think. However, I hope that if you watch my evening of programmes, you will persist with the film, as in the end it becomes very moving.
Sibelius had two major problems. He was bad with money and he drank too much. I could identify with both of these problems. The second one wasn't a surprise. Finns are known for their drinking. When I toured the youth hostels of Italy several decades ago, there was a huge noise of tuneless singing outside the hostel in Venice. A drunk gondolier? No. Somebody said, 'That'll be the Finn. There's one drunk Finn at every youth hostel in Europe.' A shamblic youth entered and collapsed against a wall, slowly sliding to the floor. 'Where are you from?' I asked him. 'Helsinki,' he said, and passed out. A great friend of mine, the warmly remembered Eric Stevens, who worked for ITN news and wrote and drank with rare talent, once told me that he was dreading the evening because it was going to be so alcoholic. 'You, Eric, dreading drink? What sort of an evening is it?' I asked. 'The inaugural meeting of the Irish-Finnish Journalists' Friendship Association,' he said.
I understood his fears.
One of the programmes that I didn't choose was 'How We Built Britain' with David Dimbleby. I love architecture. I think it's the most important of all art forms, because it's the one we can't avoid, however small is our interest in art. We may not have paintings, we may have never read a book, like. we are told, the Beckhams (which small thing apparently doesn't stop Posh wanting to write them, what cheek, what hubris), but almost all of us live in a building.
Some of the buildings of Britain are exquisite, so I settled down for a visual feast. And, intermittently, we got it. Then we got another quite lengthy shot of David in his trusty Land Rover, driving past flat fields beneath endless skies. 'Clocked the colour of your shirt, now get on with it.' I wanted to cry.
One of the troubles about the programme is that he simply doesn't tell us much about the actual architecture. He comes over all adjectival. Things are vast, awesome, breathtaking, exquisite. Ely Cathedral is absolutely fascinating architecturally, but he tells us nothing about this, clearly we are not trusted to be interested in anything about the history of architectural styles. Social history, yes, and there's the other problem. Everywhere he goes he has to talk to somebody, sometimes a resident - 'This must be a lovely place to live.' 'It is.' - but usually a humble craftsman. I've grown to dread it when I see a workman looming up. 'How long have you been bodging?' 'Was your father a pargetter?' 'How long does it take to sweep all the chimneys?' He presumably thinks he does this well, but to me he looks about as comfortable with it as a minor royal celebrating the centenary of an abattoir.
I'm not intending to make a personal attack on Uncle David. I actually find him curiously endearing in the programme, and of course there are stunning bits, since we have some stunning buidings. It's the concept I'm attacking. This is dumbing down at its most stark. Make it all human. Reduce it to the audience's level. I suppose I should be grateful that there isn't a phone in, which would enable somebody to make lots of money and would fill hours of screen time at no cost while we see all the buildings again as we vote for our favourite, helped/hindered by comments from Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell. Dear God, what has this country come to?
Much of the art world is irritating, absurd, pretentious, but what an awful world it would be without art, and perhaps dumbing down is even worse than being pretentious, although both spring from a conviction that other people are less clever and receptive than oneself.
I try, even in my sitcom (if I may bring the subject back,. as I close, to one of my greatest interests, myself) to teeat the arts seriously. I had, in my first episode, the foillowing lines, lines that express something I feel most deeply.
'What do we remember of ancient Egypt? Their financial consultants? Their insurance salesmen? Their mortgage rates? No. We remember their art. Art is what lives on. Art is what binds us humans together.'
TITLES - 11/05/2007
Last month my book, ‘Cupid’s Dart’, was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. My autobiography, ‘I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’ was once shortlisted for the Saga Prize. But that was only for people over 50, and this was for writers of any age, sex or creed, so I found it more exciting.
The Saga Award doesn’t seem to exist any more, incidentally. Maybe it had to be abolished on grounds of discrimination. Soon, apparently, everyone will be have to be allowed on their Saga Cruises for the over-50s, though it’s hard to imagine what sort of under-50s would take up the option. Probably it will soon be illegal to give a children’s party unless you invite adults as well. Similarly, hen nights and stag nights will be a thing of the past. Not a bad idea, I hear you say, especially if you’re in Prague, but then if you’re in Prague you won’t be reading this blog. I hope.
Anyway, my first thought on learning of the new shortlisting was that I stood no chance. I have a very pessimistic streak on my Welsh side. Later, however, I began to hope. I began to crave the prize, which consisted of a jeroboam of very vintage Bollinger, a crate of only slightly less vintage Bollinger, the complete set of the Everyman series of books by the great P.G. himself, and a Gloucester Old Spot pig named after the winning novel. When I didn’t win I felt far flatter than if I hadn’t made the shortlist.
The winning book is called ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’. I haven’t read it yet, and it may be that it’s called ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ because it’s about salmon fishing in the Yemen. Or it may be called that for the very reason that it isn’t. It does sound a bit like ‘A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine’. Do I detect a trend here? Should I call my new book ‘Hare Coursing on JCBs in Nepal’?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bitter about not winning the award. I’m just sorry for the pig. I’m sure the book is a worthy winner, but what sort of name is ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ for a pig. I’m not saying ‘Cupid’s Dart’ is perfect, I’d have called the book Old Snouty if I’d known, but I think it is an improvement. ‘Come on, Cupid’s Dart, din dins.’ I can just about hear myself saying it in our paddock.
Anyway, as it happened, this very morning, my personal fitness trainer (see how neatly I get that in) told me one of the funniest titles I have ever heard in my life. It was for an American sitcom pilot in which Hitler and Eva Braun move in next door to a Jewish couple in an American suburb. It was called ‘Heil, Honey, I’m home’. The series was never taken up, and I’m not surprised. None of the gags could have been as funny as the title.
You don’t find that title funny? That’s the trouble with comedy. Our funny bones are all tickled by different things. More of that next time. I’m on titles now.
Titles are so important. I have to admit that the two titles that I regard as the best among my novels were both someone else’s brainchild. ‘Second From Last In The Sack Race’ was suggested by Geoffrey Strachan, my publisher at the time, and ‘Pratt a Manger’ also came from the publishers.
I love really boring titles, though not for my books of course. The Christmas before last I bought a slim volume off a stall in Knaresborough market. I only bought it because I liked the title, which was ‘Great Recipes of Doncaster’. I haven’t even cooked either of the recipes. There goes my readership in Doncaster.
Last year I adapted Jonathan Coe’s marvellous novel, ‘What A Carve Up’ for BBC Radio. Jonathan’s main character receives bundles of books every Christmas from his vanity publisher’s. They include ‘Great Buildings of Croydon’, with three black and white illustrations, and ‘A Lifetime in Packaging – Volume 8 – The Styrofoam Years’
I once went to see that wonderful actor, Geoffrey Palmer, in Alan Bennett’s play ‘Kafka’s Dick’ at the Royal Court. Geoffrey told me that Alan Bennett was depressed becuase the play hadn’t transferred to the West End. I felt that the title was to blame. The intellectuals who were attracted by Kafka would be all stuffy about the use of the word ‘dick’, and those who looked forward to the promised dick would be put off by the reference to Kafka. Incidentally, Geoffrey suggested that I write to Alan Bennett, whom I had once met, to tell him how much I enjoyed the play. And I did. Unfortunately my writing is appalling, I think I must be descended from doctors at some stage, and Alan Bennett’s reply began ‘Dear Mrs Mills, I can’t recall ever having met you, but I’m glad you enjoyed the play.’
Mention of Dick reminds me of a great joke in ‘Phoenix Nights’. One of the two bouncers came out with a superb opening line, apropos of nothing. ‘Those brothels in Amsterdam are very hygienic,’ he said. ‘They make you wash your old man before you go in.’ The other bouncer was shocked. ‘You didn’t take your father!’ he said.
All right, all right, I know,. I’m just wandering from one thing to another, but I’m doing this for fun, all my working life I have to struggle with form, structure, shape, all those things that are present but invisible in good writing. This is my day off.
Two sandwichmen in Oxford Street, one with a blank board. ‘Why are you carrying a blank board?’ ‘It’s my day off.’
Stop it. Where were we? Oh yes. Titles.
Not far from the end of his life the great Dennis Potter wrote his first, and I believe last. stage play. He was very disappointed that it wasn’t a greater success. It was called ‘Sufficient Carbohydrate’. I told you titles were important.
Let’s end with two tales about Dennis Potter and his classic, ‘The Singing Detective’ (Good title because accurate). One of the tales is frivolous, the other more serious, reflecting what I hope will be the underlying spirit of this column
The frivolous first. Almost the last joke that delightful humorist Willy Rushton uttered on ‘I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue’ (Yet another good title) was in a round devoted to the invention of great shows about biscuits. His offering was ‘The Singing Digestive’.
Now the more serious point. Many years ago I was in a pub in Eardisland in Herefordshire, and two local farmers were discussing silage. Apparently it was a good year for wet silage and a bad year for dry silage. Well, to be honest, it might have been a good year for dry silage and a bad year for wet silage. It was a long time ago. Suddenly they saw me, sipping away shyly in my corner. ‘Hello, Dave,’ said one. ‘Didn’t see you there. What do you think of “The Singing Detective”? It’s surreal, isn’t it? I think it’s pushing the barriers of TV drama forward twenty years.’
Those were the days when TV Executives didn’t always underestimate the taste and intelligence of their audience. I wonder what that farmer watches nowadays.
I SWEAR BY IT - 09/04/2007
The recent appearance on our screens of a programme enttiled ‘Fuck Off, I’m a Hairy Woman’ has led me to think about my attitude to four letter words beginning with F (and to hairy women, but we won’t go into that). I don’t imagine that any of you are outraged by the F word these days, but I may as well warn you that there will be a few instances of it in the next few paragraphs.
My parents and my grandparents were very respectable, very religious non-conformists. My grandparents never had alcohol in the house, my parents only had it to offer to guests. It was inconceivable that a swear word would ever have been uttered in any of their houses.
I learnt to swear at school, of course, and during my National Service I regularly heard remarks along the lines of ‘What’ve you done to your rifle, Nobbs? The fucking fucker’s fucked.’ (It always was)
But I can honestly say that when I went to University at the age of 20 I had never heard a woman swear. I’ve just about got used to it now.
Sometimes, in comedy, one loses a great deal if one doesn’t use the f word. I have to admit that I am rather fond, childish though it may be, of the occasional dirty limerick. One of my favourites goes:
There was a young lady called Gloria
Who was fucked by Sir Gerald du Maurier,
Jack Hilton, Jack Payne
Jack Hilton again
And the band at the Waldorf Astoria.
When I was working with Ronnie Corbett on his book ‘And it’s Goodnight from Him’ I told him this limerick and he laughed immoderately. He said it encapsulated a whole area of British society perfectly. The word ‘fuck’ in this minor masterpiece is essential. Its robust earthiness contrasts with the opulent world in which the events took place.
I must add that when I told this limerick to publishing friends of mine, they were outraged. They took the last line as describing a gang bang. This never entered my delicate mind. I saw it as a description of a series of brief private moments of pleasure for hard-working musicians and an uncomplicated lady.
Sometimes a joke is meaningless without the word. Many years ago I was drinking in the White Swan in Herefordshire, and the landlord, my old friend Richard Baldwin, one of the funniest men who never took up a pen in anger, received a complaint from a couple of tourists about the rustic language chosen by a brilliant Irish cowherd named Eric. ‘Eric,’ said Richard very carefully, very gently very quietly. ‘You’re upsetting the couple in the corner with your language.’ Eric, as nice a man as the summer day was long, felt terrible about this. He turned to them, and said, ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t fucking see you.’
One more example. It was the second half of the most boring football match I had ever seen at Hereford. We were playing Halifax. It was nil-all and it would still be nil-all if they were playing now. Half way through the second half, a fire broke out on an industrial estate on the other side of Edgar Street. A plume of black smoke rose into the air. A lone voice broke the silence of the bored crowd. ‘They can’t elect a fucking Pope either’, it cried. It just isn’t as funny without the f word, and I love the way the remark illustates how meaningless the word has become. If it still had any meaning, it would not be possible to use it as an adjective to describe Popes.
This is what I dislike about the frequent use of the word. It has lost all its meaning and all its power. It can’t shock any more. If we in the writing business and the comedy business aren’t careful in our use of it, it won’t be there for us when we need it.. It’s become deeply lazy.
We know many Europeans who bemoan the poverty of their own languages compared to English. English is incredibly rich. So what are we doing to it? We’re castrating it, and we think we’re being so macho.
There you are, you see. I’ve gone a bit moral after all. I owe that to my parents and grandparents.
Attention Spans - 05/03/2007
We are often told that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Umbria is a beautiful area of Italy, and less crowded than Tuscany. I mention that in case you’re getting bored with the subject of attention spans. Prick. Sorry about that, but I thought it was about time that I mentioned something with a sexual connotation. You’ll click off if I don’t.
Please don’t think that I really believe that about you. But it’s how many people in the media seems to regard us these days. And it’s insulting.
In the good old days of ‘That Was The Week, That Was’ my friend and colleague Dick Vosburgh wrote a very funny piece called, I believe, ‘The Over-Illustrated News’. I can still see, very clearly, after more than 40 years, one sequence. The newsreader mentioned the Lord Privy Seal. The camera showed a lord, a lavatory, and a seal.
Well, in the last few weeks I have seen two whole programmes that were like that. One of them was on ITV, and it was about the tragic betrayal, by Gordon Brown and many others, of the contributors to many of our company pension schemes. They made the programme, but they didn’t trust us to be interested in it unless it was tarted up. If there was a phrase like ‘This was particularly hard to swallow’ there would be a shot of a man in a restaurant finding something particularly hard to swallow. And the presenter was constantly shown in different settings. I’m sure that in one instance he travelled six miles during a semi-colon.
The other one was on BBC2, and it was about Hogarth, and an exhibition of his paintings at Tate Britain. (Time for a visual image. Boats. Nice boats sailing along the Thames from Tate Britain to Tate Modern. They call the service Tate to Tate. Surely it should have been Tate-a-Tate?) This programme was also desperately over-illustrated, as if art was boring, as if Hogarth’s pictures weren’t pictorial enough. So, when it was said that he was patriotic, we had footage of England stuffing France at Rugby. I kid you not.
All this made the two programmes unecessarily expensive to make, which riles me somewhat since writers are always being told that there isn’t enough money. Not that I’m bitter, you understand, but I was a bit miffed to be told that my new play about a hermit was being turned down because the cast was too large.
My new novel is based on a play I wrote for Yorkshire Television. It was called Cupid’s Darts but I’ve shortened that to Cupid’s Dart in case people get bored. The play began with a scene in which two people sat on a train and talked. It lasted six and a half minutes, and was followed by a scene in which the same two people sat and talked in a restaurant, enlived only by a waiter in a very small part. Did people switch off? No, they continued to watch in droves. Would they still watch such a treatment today? I believe so. After all, Alan Bennett’s marvellous ‘Talking Heads’ held the interest with only one character. But would we be allowed to make the play like that today? I rather doubt it.
It’s the age of the sound bite, the snippet. Actually I’m quite experienced at writing snippets. I began my career as a reporter on the Sheffield Star, and sometimes we had to write what we journalists call ‘fillers’, little one paragraph stories to fit tiny spaces on the page. One of my first ones was one paragraph long – nay, one sentence long. Unfortunately there was a mispirnt, or even a misprint. Under the headline ‘Sinatra-Gardner’ was this gem. ‘The on-off, on-off divorce between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner was today authoritatively stated to be “ow”.’ Minimalist and meaningless – quite an achievement for a young writer. I even started my career with a mipsrint in my very first word in print. It was ‘Thives’. ‘Thives who broke into the home of Mrs Emily Braithwaite stole...’
These days we read the headline but not the article. Actually I was on a bus in London the other day, with no paper, so I could only read other people’s headlines. There were only two people with papers, and neither of them turned a page over throughout the journey. They must have been very slow readers. So I could only see two headlines. They were ‘Nurses Missed Maggots in Legs’ and ‘Cooked Hamster Was Too Fur by Half’. On that occasion I was quite pleased to confine myself to the headlines.
Talking of slow readers leads me naturally to speedreading, and Woody Allen’s remark about it. ‘I speedread War and Peace in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia.’
War and Peace leads me to another instance of the modern craze for brevity. We are told that the plot of a good book can be told on the back of a matchbox. Time for another visual image. Cut to a hotel room in France. ‘Mr Proust,’ says a critic. ‘I am told that the plot of a good book can be told on the back of a matchbox.’ ‘Perfectly true,’ concurs Marcel, as four men bring in the biggest matchbox you’ve ever seen. How many people today would consider reading all twelve volumes of ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’? (I have read them!)
So, we are back to the question of attention spans. In fact Puglia is another very interesting region of Italy, and even less crowded than Umbria. I’m off now to speedread Proust. See you in an hour.
Done it. It’s not bad. It’s about the smell of cake.
I actually have a website! - 08/02/2007
I find it hard to believe that I have actually opened a website and am writing a blog. Until about two years ago I didn’t even have a computer. But then until last year I didn’t have a personal trainer either. There are two things to be done about going old. Fighting it or accepting it. I find that I’m a fighter.
For most of my long career I have written everything in longhand, doing at least two drafts, and then typing it out. I have gone on record as saying that I am an artist, that I need to feel the shape of the words as they flow through my fingers. Oh dear. What pretentious rubbish!
The truth is that the typewriter was an inflexible, primitive piece of technology. There was almost no capacity for editing on it. All that horrible Tippex, and those ghastly correction ribbons that never quite concealed the alteration, which I always wanted to make on the last line of the page, so that I had to type the whole page again, ugh, don’t go there, David.
It was because I could edit as I went along that I liked writing in longhand, and now I have that capacity in spades on my wonderful, darling computer – my God, am I really writing this?
Anyway, welcome to my website and welcome to my first blog. Blog! Great idea, horrible, inelegant word, like a lavatory for learners. But there are so many inelegant words in our modern culture – bling, chav, asbo, they’re the literary equivalent of old, torn jeans and scruffy tee-shirts. Britain was such a snobbish country for so long that we just have to accept that our crass, celebrity-mad, street-cred-conscious society is an inevitable reaction against all those years of stiff upper lips, contemptuous lower lips, and dressing for dinner.
I used the word ‘culture’ in that last paragraph. What does it mean? To the Culture Minister it means casinos. I’ve been on the left of British politics all my life, but I find that just one more contemptible decision by Tony Bling’s government.
And what about the use of the word ‘reality’ to describe collecting together a group of carefully contrasting people with small brains and huge egos and putting them in a room together and paying them lots of money to humiliate each other and getting the public to vote on who to eject?. It may be entertaining, I don’t know, I haven’t watched it, I might not feel so angry about it if I did and that would be terrible. But it certainly has no connection with any reality that I recognise.
So is this what my blog is going to be? The outpourings of a grumpy old man. I hope not, although it will be rather nice to be able to let off steam from time to time. But I hope there will be a few likes along the way as well as dislikes.
I’m writing this the day after a snowfall which deposited at least a quarter of an inch of the white stuff onto the fields outside my house. The prospect of this caused people to stock their trolleys in the supermarkets as if the outbreak of war was imminent.
Oh dear, I’m grumbling again, but we are getting a bit wimpish, aren’t we? We’ve moved from Blimpish to Wimpish. It isn’t all our fault, though. It’s the way we’re treated. It’s Health and Safety Britain. Oh, dear I can feel another grump coming on.
A few weeks ago in London I stayed in a hotel room with two large picture windows and a balcony. There was a Health and Safety sticker on the windows, explaining that they couldn’t be opened because there was a balcony. It’s almost as bad as America, where a new brand of stepladder has the word ‘Stop’in large letters on the top step.
You may not have noticed, but last Saturday, on a programme called ‘The Comedy Map of Britain’, I appeared naked on British television for the first time. This produced record ratings for BBC1. Unfortunately I was on BBC2.
This startling event took place at West Bay, near Bridport in Dorset. It was at West Bay that Reggie Perrin left his clothes on the beach in ‘The Fall and Rise...’ and we went there to discuss the location and to re-enact the opening credits, in which Leonard Rossiter took all his clothes off, disappeared behind a bank of shingle, and was replaced by a stunt man who swam off into the sea.
I volunteered to do the stunt man bit as well, but all hell broke loose, they had to get the permission of my doctor, who was on holiday, and in the end it was deemed too dangerous on Health and Safety grounds. I suppose they were frightened of a law suit if I collapsed and died.
Even taking my clothes off involved getting police permission, which was given grudgingly on condition that everyone on the beach was told that a man was going to take all his clothes off. There weren’t many people on the beach, it was a weekday morning in October, but this ensured that we had a small crowd to watch the great event.
It all went off fairly speedily, and I was concentrating so hard on getting it right and avoiding a very painful collision between private parts and shingle that I didn’t have time to feel embarrassed. As I started to put my clothes on a lady’s voice rang out from the nearby pier. ‘Can he do it again?’ Can he do it again? Is there a catch-phrase lurking there? Anyway, I felt quite flattered.
So what did I think of it all when I watched it? I haven’t watched it. We were out last Saturday, and I forgot to record it. That’s what I’m like with machines. It’s amazing really that I’ve managed to do this blog.