16 May 2017
It’s audition time. I have to think up an outline, idea for my next book. As always at this time of in between books, several ideas pop into my head. I mentally audition each one, the best ones I work up in some sort of draft plan. I’m impatient, and like to start on a new project almost as soon as I’ve finished the last, but I must chose the right one, and nothing has, as yet, stood out. So the audition goes on.
While I’m thinking, I’m going back to bread making. We’ve some friends coming for supper on Friday, and I’m making a sour dough loaf. But it’s a bit of a performance. You have to make the starter a week in advance (last week) and then let the leaven and dough do its proofing and fermenting for another three days before you bake it. It goes in the oven on Friday morning, and by 10:00 a.m., I should have a good-looking and, hopefully, tasty loaf!
A few days ago we went walking through the woods at night, and what a treat it was. We’d been to For the birds, an immersive walk through a secret woodland location in Brighton, as part of the Brighton Festival. We walked deep into the woods and came across, in the words of the installation director, ‘various different sound and light installations all sharing a common theme based around observations and love for birds and all things avian. A spectacle of flight, bird-song, movement and other narratives based around extinction and migrations, but also a celebration of their life and beauty.’ I hadn’t known what to expect, and found the hour or so it took to stroll through the installation a unique and entertaining experience. Well worth seeing – and we managed an early fish supper overlooking the sea.
Trump. I’m running out of adjectives to describe his stupidity, so I’ll just say dumb.
The wisteria’s now at its best. Soon it will be gone and start dropping, sticking to our shoes, and leaving blue splodges on the wooden floors inside the house. But it’s fabulous at the moment, and I enjoy the magnificence of it everyday when I’m down in my study at the bottom of the garden. Its ending heralds the end of spring and a time when summer blooms are bursting to open. I love this time of the year. Something new happens everyday.
The death of a little girl yesterday on a school outing to a theme park is so sad. She’d left home to have fun, no doubt waved off and wished well by her family, and then tragically killed. My thoughts go out to her family.
We went to see Alan Bennett at the Chichester Festival Theatre last night. What a treat. The author Kate Mosse, who lives nearby, introduced him. He was hilarious, reading extracts from his latest book, Keeping On Keeping On – his diaries from 2005-2015. I read it early this year, and laughed at almost every page. He has a rare talent of being able to recount an everyday tale in an original and interesting manner then add a sharp cynical comment: relevant but oh so funny. He’s a little frail at 83, but sharp as a button, and talks in a lucid, precise way that’s eloquent and forthright. I’m a great fan of his, and have seen many of his plays, but I’ve never seen him live and listened to him talk. I’m glad I did. My already considerable respect for him has climbed even higher.
Ten days ago Mary and I and our daughter went to see Bob Dylan in London. I’d heard and read he doesn’t say anything or engage with the audience during a gig, and he certainly lived up to those comments. But his performance was brilliant, showing that after sixty-five years of recording music he’s able to perform his classics with a new twist as well as putting his own interpretation on many of the old swing songs of the thirties to fifties. As one critic said, ‘Dylan reinvents himself again.’ Seeing him live had been on my bucket list, now I can tick it off – grateful for the opportunity.
Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron, the new president-elect of France. He’s a European, a progressive, committed to togetherness, and a refreshing change from the nationalism of Brexit, Farage, and Trump. The road ahead of him will be tough, strewn with obstacles and opposition. I wish him well. His election gives progressives like me some hope.
Home-made sourdough versus home-made bread maker: no comparison – sourdough wins hands down.
After making – and devouring very quickly – the sourdough loaf last weekend, I went back yesterday to using my bread maker. The bread (see image above right) was good; I ate a slice for breakfast today, but the hand made sourdough was excellent, so tasty, and wins any contest hands down. So I made a monumental decision: it’s bread maker bread during the week, hand made sourdough most weekends, holidays, and when friends and family visit. Nobody in the household disagreed.
This means keeping a live starter going, and having messed up and thrown away the starter they gave me on the bread course, I have to make another one. Oh what motivation the flavour of sourdough has on me!
The wisteria at the back of the house is just out. It’s a pale lilac version, more subtle and misty than the dark lilac, but equally impressive. It’s only started to break into flower in the last few days, and will take a few more days to reach its full bloom when it will be truly magnificent. Wisteria is hard work; it needs pruning twice a year, which means ladders and stretching – not so easy for an old guy like me. M has to come and hold the ladder, but for all that, the show we get is worth it. So much so that we try not to be away for the three weeks when it’s at its best. I’ll post more pictures later.
I’m being taken to see Bob Dylan live in London on Saturday. What a treat! He’s touring his Triplicate set of three albums, all covers of classic swing albums. I don’t think we’ll hear any of his classics, but I’m still excited. He’s a few years older than me, impressive that he’s still touring and making albums.
I’ve been away. It’s been Easter, a time for relaxing, seeing friends and family, spring walks, chocolate and good food. We did all of that.
For me, it started the week before Easter when I went on a bread-making course at the e5bakehouse in East London, an artisan bakery and coffee shop, well worth a visit for their bread, cakes, coffee, and the enticing food shop. Undoubtedly the best food course I’ve been on – I’ve done quite a few. Hands on, informative, and leaving me with a feeling I wanted to go home and bake bread, which I did. I own a bread maker, which I use two or three times a week, but this was something else. E5bakehouse bake sourdough, the real bread. Together with the nine other participants – all equally appreciative – we each made to take home one loaf, four ciabatta rolls, four bagels, and the dough for another loaf to bake the following morning. We had visitors that weekend; otherwise M and me would have become fat as houses!
M’s away this week, seeing her friend in Yorkshire then going on to visit her brother in Edinburgh, so I’m left hobbling around the house and garden – bad knee that won’t go away – and making my first attempt at bread after the course and without the watching eye of the tutor. It came out looking okay, if a bit elongated. I don’t think I stretched it enough, but tastes well. See image left.
We went to London for a couple of days and saw Imelda Staunton in Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. An excellent play: Imelda Staunton outstanding as usual. I’ve seen her in several performances, both film and stage, and never has she been less than first-rate and unforgettable. It’s a long play, three hours with an interval, but utterly compelling.
I see we have another election. Not too pleased about that. The PM lied yet again about not having an election until 2020. She won’t have my vote, but then I’m not sure who will? For once I’m one of the many ‘don’t knows.’ With the world scary and unstable, the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, Brexit, and the NHS, the care service, and our schools cripplingly underfunded, shouldn’t Teresa May and the government be focusing on these, rather than being opportunist and seeking a blatant party advantage.
Blossom and blooms appearing everywhere. Down here in the south it’s been warm and sunny for several days, even having to water a few plants, and seen a queen bee buzzing around. That means the garden needs some attention, and the pond needs cleaning. A busy time ahead.
I’ve just finished reading The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. I didn’t know much about this book, hearing about it from a friend. It blew my mind away, the best book I’ve read in the last twelve months, and probably in my top ten best reads ever. It’s the story of a husband and wife who live, and work the lighthouse, on a small rocky island of Australia. One day they find a small baby and a dead man in a shipwrecked dinghy. They bury the man, and look after the baby as their own. Well written, moving, and sad. I read it in about two and a half days, not in one sitting, but whenever I could.
Terrorism is in the news again: so sad for all those bereaved and injured. My thoughts go out to them. The world needs some good guys to run it. I hope we find one or two or more soon. Present crowd are grave.
My recent work, Truth is not always true, has gone off to the publisher. Now beginning to plan the next one.
Roy, Steve, and Eric are working in the garden making a lot of noise and mess. They’re great guys, happy to do anything we ask, but our back drive has turned into a large pile of rubble, about four foot high, with several large mechanical diggers parked all over it. We’re having a new brick-paved drive, and they assure me that all will look lovely, and back to normal next week. I hope so. Our neighbour, although well warned, has complained several times. She thinks her house is about to fall down! It’s not, but I understand her concern. The noise is loud, continuous, and scary, and I can’t work in my study. I went in a few minutes ago to collect a USB disk. It was cold, dusty and with no light.
Last Sunday we had a day in Brighton, see image, with our daughter, celebrating Mother’s day, which she organisedso well. A great lunch and, as always in the city, an interesting and exciting wander, followed by a sunny stroll along the beach. Brighton never ceases to delight me with its independent shops, restaurants and coffee shops, its mix of diverse, friendly people who amble, as we did, through The Lanes. We live in an old Roman city that has its own individual charm, but all the shops are branded, selling the same products that can be bought anywhere else in the country and online, the restaurants are part of a national chain, and the coffee shops, numerous as they are, branches of a larger organisation. There are no individual bakers, greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, or delicatessens. Brighton is the opposite, an abundance of different and varied choice. So uplifting.
We spent Sunday to late last night in Venice, a city I never tire of.
The crumbling render on centuries-old buildings, the narrow meandering streets, hardly wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, edged by four or five-floor-high old dwellings, and often brought to a sudden end by a canal crossing at right angles, are all part of the charm I love.
Then there’s the beauty: the stunning palaces and villas that line the sides of the Grand Canal, the campos, the countless artworks found in the galleries and churches, the Rialto and Athenaeum bridges, Saint Mark’s square, the Dodges palace, Saint Mark’s Basilica, and the list goes on.
We ate well. Some restaurants we’d researched, others were spontaneous finds that we liked the look of. We were never disappointed. Once, after a visit to The Athenaeum, we found a restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal. We ventured in, and were given a table a few feet away from the water; able to watch the boats pass as we ate.
I’m fascinated by Venice. A city built on water – surrounded by water, devoid completely of cars and lorries, and criss-crossed and divided by small and large canals – that functions like any other city, except it’s done by boat. Rising early, you’ll see vessels deliver the city’s requirements: food, building supplies, household appliances, mail, parcels, and more. During the day, people travel around by foot and on the Vaporettos: the waterbuses. Rubbish is collected by boat, water ambulances take people to hospital, and funerals proceed solemnly along the canals.
This was my third visit, and I hope to make a fourth.
Spent a pleasant two hours yesterday watching Twentieth century women, an engaging movie about how a fifty-five-year-old single mother enlists the help of two much younger women to help her bring up her teenage son in 1979 California, when values and culture were changing fast. ‘A film about nothing specific boasts rush of gorgeous moments, a standout performance from Annette Bening and profound thoughts on family and identity.’ The Guardian.
1979 was a good year. I enjoyed being reminded of it, and the culture, the clothes, music, and the way we lived and thought. Nice times.
Snowdrops are fading, bluebells are close to flower, daffodils in abundance, blossom. Spring is here.
Signs of spring.
Last Sunday, a delightful ‘lunch halfway’. By that, I mean we met up with old friends halfway between them and us. We went to Anthony Worrall Thompson’s restaurant, The Greyhound, near Henley-on-Thames, an old wooden-beamed pub set in a pretty garden, where the food was good, the service excellent, and time flew by.
I’ve just finished reading The Sellout by Paul Beatty, last year’s winner of the Mann Booker Prize. A refreshingly original book: brilliant, hilarious, unconventional, challenges the rules of writing, provocative, and with an underlining satirical message about the continued racial inequality in the US.
This morning, I read an alarming and disturbing article in The Guardian – Syria children suffering staggering levels of trauma. It tells of the forgotten refugee children of the Syrian war.
‘Children in Syria are suffering from “toxic stress”, a severe form of psychological trauma that can cause life-long damage, according to a study that charts a rise in self-harm and suicide attempts among children as young as 12…’ The Guardian.
The West, who can do so much, understandable obsessed by Trump and Brexit, seem to have turned away from this catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Nearly six million children have been orphaned, displaced, lost loved ones, witnessed terrible atrocities, and seen their homes destroyed by the Syrian war. Unless helped now, they will grow up broken, always carrying a mental scar, and see the West as too obsessed with itself to help. This is sad, and with grave consequences.
March is here. February seemed to go on and on.
Mary and I went to see Manchester by the sea yesterday (see image). Wow. We were speechless when we came out. So powerful and sad, well acted, and beautifully choreographed. The part of the east coast of America where the film was set is stunning almost at any time of the year, and it was shown in all its seasons. Congratulations to Casey Affleck for winning the Oscar for best actor. Well deserved. The first episode of new BBC thriller, Replacement – shown last night – seemed tame by comparison, although equally compelling.
The last day of February is often disappointing. Today doesn’t seem to be any different. Just when you’re hoping for a day full of promise and warmer times, it turns out cold, winter’s icy grip holding on, keeping spring at bay, and not about to burst upon us, warming us up, and cheering us with new blooms and bursting greenery. Still, the grass is growing, the fish in the pond have shown their faces, swimming back and forth in the deepest depths. Something’s afoot.
Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, we dashed out, caught a train to London, and managed to see two exhibitions at Tate Britain: David Hockney and Paul Nash, the last of which finishes this week. Both were excellent, and showed each artist through the various stages of their career.
The Hockney exhibition showed his early work from the sixties – almost from when he started painting – up to his most recent works. Interesting to see how his style has changed, and how he embraced new techniques, like painting using an iPad.
The Paul Nash exhibition also reflected his different styles in his short life from painting landscapes and still life to abstract scenes.
Finally finished my latest book, Truth is not always true. I’ve done as much as I can to it, and have sent it off to my editor for a last run through. It’ll be out later this year. No excuse now for not attending to the garden this weekend!
Read some good news this week. On Wednesday, Jamie Oliver and the Duchess of Cornwall launched the Great Get Together, a nation-wide event over the weekend of 17/18 June where street parties, picnics and bake-offs are planned across the UK in honour of the murdered MP Jo Cox, killed by a white supremacist. I plan to hold one.
Last Friday, M and I saw the movie Denial: the true story about when the Holocaust denier, David Irvine, sued Penguin Books and the American Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipsted in 1996, and lost. But he could have won had it not been for the British lawyer Anthony Julius, who was Princess Diana’s lawyer in her divorce from Prince Charles. Good film; but I find it disturbing that there are still Holocaust deniers at large and increasing in numbers.
I read recently in The Guardian about the twitter war between Piers Morgan and JK Rowley. Piers Morgan comes across as an ill-informed bully. JK Rowling, not one to be put down, corrects him on his fake facts, argues the principled case for refugees and other disadvantaged causes, and gets the better of him. I applaud her.
I’ve been listening to the interviews on Radio 4’s PM programme between Steve Hewlett and Eddie Mair, the presenter. Steve Hewlett, who’s been the host of Radio 4’s The Media Show, has terminal cancer. He’s shared his fight against the disease with the listeners. Last week his specialist told him that they could do no more for him, and he had only a short time to live. He then proposed to his long-term partner and they married immediately. So sad, so moving.
Just finished reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. As I predicted, a sad ending but a wonderful book. Now going to start Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, which my daughter gave to me for my birthday. I’ve peaked at the first page, and are keen to start. It’ll be tonight.
As much as I try to avoid reading about or listening to the antics that Donald Trump is getting up to in The White House, I can’t. Every night since he became president there’s a lengthy clip about him on the BBC evening news. I fear for America and the world. I think it will end in tears.
I think I’ve done as much as I can do to my latest novel Truth is not always true. Next week I’ll read it through one last time, and then send it off to my editor. I’ve found this story hard to walk away from, always wanting to tinker with it, change a few words, improve it where I think it needs improving, and add and delete pieces. I think I’ve put more thought into this story, and worked harder on it than any of my ten previous novels. Its core message is about fidelity, and it begs the question: is there ever a time when it’s okay to be unfaithful?
It’ll be out later this year.
My birthday celebrations are now over.
They started on Saturday, when M and my daughter, Laura, took me out to lunch in an old pub (see image on a sunny, summer day) in a pretty village, nearby. The staff were friendly, the food fresh and good. I had fish pie, which was delicious.
On Sunday my eldest son and his family came over for lunch, cooked by M and L – slow roast lamb. It was scrumptious.
Yesterday, my birthday, we went out to lunch again at another pub overlooking the harbour. Two good friends and M and I managed to while away about three hours: eating, drinking, talking, and watching the tide come in. Back home later, I saw that several old friends, who I hadn’t seen for some time, had wished me a happy birthday on Facebook, and, as a result, we’ve arranged to meet up – something to be grateful to social media for.
Presents came in the form of The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which I can’t wait to start reading, some unusual excellent-looking wines, a top (item of clothing type) that I’ve been searching for but couldn’t find, a hamper of Cornish cheese, and other interesting foodstuffs. I was spoilt, and grateful to the givers. Thank you again. P.S. Big parcel from another son just turned up. About to open.
M and I booked a trip to Venice in March: a birthday present from each of us to the other. It’s a favourite city of ours. We had our honeymoon there, and another visit since. I’m always in awe. Such amazing, beautiful buildings, built on water, functioning entirely on water, and still standing after over 1000 years. I never tire of the main sites, and think they’re always worth another visit. I’m sure we’ll find some areas we haven’t explored.
Halfway through reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. I’ve never read any of her books before. A sad, probably very real, story of two girls growing up in a poor part of London who were close friends when young but drift apart. Compelling, much to make the reader think about, and, I suspect, a sad ending.
Looking at the garden, seeing snowdrops all over the place, and wondering what else is about to break the surface, I feel inspired. February is that time of year.
Almost done with my own book, Truth is not always true. A few more tweaks, I think, and then off to my editor for a second look.
That’s January almost done. I’ll be a year older in February. Concerned for the future with Trump causing mayhem, upset, and distress in America, and with repercussions reverberating around the world. I’ve had a good, safe, peaceful life – it’s my children and grandchildren I fear for. Our PM’s response to him is disgraceful. She’s just not standing up to him. And holding hands with him in the White House. That was shameful! I know she desperately wants a trade deal with America, but our values of fairness and respect for humanity that we’ve believed in for ages, and fought for, are surely more important. And then their’s Brexit. That’s not going to be good. We’re heading for a cliff edge, and the fall won’t be pleasant.
On a more positive note, clumps of snowdrops are popping up all over the place in the garden, and I bought some agapanthus bulbs (see image) from the supermarket this morning. I’ve several already, but these were cheap, and even if they don’t flower this year, they will later. From now on, there’s new activity in the garden every day. I have to wander down to the bottom of the garden to where I work, so I can’t miss it all.
My birthday weekend to look forward to. Daughter coming home from Brighton, and a big family lunch on Sunday, and that’s before the actual day, later in the week.
Started reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. Compelling so far. Quite stimulating reading a professor of literature and multi-award-winner while editing my own work. Humbling really.
Just finished reading Alan Bennett’s diaries 2005-2015, Keep on Keeping On. Nine hundred odd pages. Never thought I’d get through it, but he comes across as such a nice man, self-effacing, and who writes in an easy-to-read style that I kept on turning the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I’d read the last page, it felt was like saying goodbye to an old friend.
Completed another read through (at least my sixth) of my own latest work, Truth is not always true. Quite pleased. I’d expected to be disappointed. Next week doing the amendments, adding a few lines, then back to my editor. Should be out this year.
Read that PM May is off to the US to see the Trump. Shameful situation when a British PM has to grovel to a man who believes in TORTURE because she wants a trade deal.
Went to the Chichester Festival Theatre last night and saw Keith Stott and Reece Shearsmith in an outstanding performance of The Dresser. Also listened, yesterday, to Bruce Springsteen on Desert Island Discs. Another nice man, and good choice of music. But it would be!
Popped out to buy some fish fingers for lunch. Bitterly cold.
Bracing walk with M along the beach at West Witterings. Came home to home-made bread and humus followed by a chunk of the cheese our Australian friends brought us.
Now watching Australian open tennis. Tomorrow might be making marmalade, bought the oranges.
Trump day. Didn’t watch any of it!
Had some friends from Australia drop in. Took them to Bosham, (see picture), a pretty typically English village with a small harbour that drains to the sea at low tide. Cold and brisk walk before good, old fashioned pub lunch around a roaring fire.
Noticed our new PM, Teresa May, didn’t manage to make many friends at Davos. Rough times ahead, I fear. Getting out of the EU with a deal that’s good for the UK won’t be easy.
January 16. Young, lively feeling in house over the weekend with Laura’s friends around. M and I cooked what they said was a delicious brunch. We ate it as well! Sautéed mushrooms and potatoes, fried halloumi cheese, avocado broken into random chunks, scrambled egg, toast, croissants, buck’s fizz, coffee. I was the chauffeur for them, but didn’t mind. They’re all nice guys.
Trying to contact the builder who’s doing the path. Not answering the phone. So frustrating.
All for now.
Read more about Donald Trump’s supposed antics. Bonanza time for the media, and could go on for some time. Though it might not. I hope so! I’ll check the betting odds on him not running a full eight year term?
Dealt with all my long-time-untouched admin, ready for me to start work again on my latest novel, Truth is not always true, on Monday. Slightly concerned how it’ll read after not going anywhere near it for a month. Quiet liked it when I put it away after doing amendments after first edit. But I’ve read some good books since. Always think my stuff’s not as good as others. Can improve, though. In the words of Alan Bennett, whose latest diaries I’m currently reading, ‘Keep on Keeping On.’ That’s the name of the diaries.
With this cold snap taking a grip, I wondered how my new adapted study at the bottom of the garden would be – too cold to work, I thought. It’s great. Cosy and warm, but I had to break the ice in the pond outside this morning, just in case the fish couldn’t breathe.
Fun weekend coming up. My daughter’s birthday. She’s here with a few friends, who’re always good company.
Saw a story about the death this month of the world’s longest-living killer whale. Apparently it was over 100!