Thursday, March 29, 2007


I've just finished William Boyd's most recent novel, Restless. Boyd seems to have morphed into John Le Carré in this story of spies and cold-hearted spy masters in much the same way, now I come to think of it, as Le Carré went a little Boydy in The Constant Gardener and its story of expats in Africa. Talk about transcending the genre but since I'm an admirer of both authors I don't really mind if they want to switch.
I have seen William Boyd a couple of times, once at the Salon du Livre in Bordeaux in an excruciatingly tedious round table on the subject of the English novel, with Derek Raymond a.k.a. Robin Cook (Old Etonian accent in English, Aveyron peasant accent in French), Beryl Bainbridge and another author whose name escapes me (patrician, old, English). And once in the departures lounge at Gatwick, bound for his house in South-West France, around the time Armadillo came out.
Le Carré I have only ever seen on French television, interviewed by Bernard Pivot. He speaks good French which isn't perhaps surprising if he really was a spy before he became an author. One of the things that I definitely didn't buy in Restless was the ease with which the main character speaks Russian at home, learns French as a child and then English as an adult to such perfection that she can pass as English in England — even to her husband and daughter — and American in America.
Here are three sentences from Restless that took my fancy:
1. Agents were "crows"; "shadows" were people who followed you — it was, as she later learned, a kind of linguistic old-school tie, or Masonic handshake.
Because I spend a lot of my working life making sure that people can do other linguistic handshakes properly.
2. of those girl-women who made me feel like a strapping milkmaid or an Eastern-bloc pentathlete.
Because it elicited that yes-I-recognise-that feeling
3. She...lowered her trousers and shitted into the fast water.
Because I can't be the only one who thinks that past tense just sounds wrong.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Resisting Back Passage Double Entendres

The saga of the mouldering wall continues. We're pretty sure it's due to a leaky pipe which carries rain water from our back garden into the street out front and runs the whole length of our living-dining-room wall. The wall is stone and porous; the pipe is probably ancient.
Our insurance man came and had a look and then our next-door neighbour's insurance man came and had a look. They took the standard couple of months to think about it and then they sent a man with a camera to do a videoscopy.
He trailed all of his equipment through the house into the back garden. He inserted a long tube with a mini camera on the end into the pipe and recorded the pictures it sent back on his laptop. Afterwards, in an experience which is as close as I hope ever to come to seeing the insides of my own bowels on a monitor, I got to watch the video footage of the crumbling pipe that lies under the house and the dead leaves and débris that litter the bottom. And just like a doctor, the man announced after the procedure that he had good news and bad news: the good news being that he had diagnosed the source of our affliction, the bad news that the treatment was going to cause major financial haemorrhage.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tweed Vocal Cords

I had a little post brewing on the ubiquity of characters with British accents in the American series I've been watching. I was going to cite Callum Blue who plays the cheeky cockney alcoholic in Dead Like Me and Roger Rees the new surgeon with a British accent in Grey's Anatomy (the one they're calling McAgra).
I was also going to tell you about how I thought for a long time that Susan's new bloke, Ian, in Desperate Housewives must be played by an American actor who was useless at British accents, until I looked him up on and discovered that his name is Dougray Scott and that he actually comes from Glenrothes and it all became clear — he's an English-accent-challenged Fifer. If you've ever been to Glenrothes, you will already have deduced that Dougray is not his given name, a boy just couldn't thrive there with a name like that.
I would also have mentioned Ashley Jensen the Scottish seamstress in Ugly Betty and how I worry now that when I speak to Americans they may be experiencing the same comprehension problems as her bitchy boss Wilhelmina.
But there's no point now since the BBC beat me to it with an article entitled Best of British. I could have gone to press just as quickly as them if I had teams of researchers doing all that tredious tv watching for me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Yesterday was Pi day and it was also my birthday but I’ve arrived at an age where numbers and birthdays don’t mix well. I’m on my own with the kids this week, so it was a subdued affair. Had P. been here, he would have whisked me off in a limousine to a secret destination overlooking the sea for cocktails and a romantic dinner. Oooops, do I sense a recent scenario from Desperate Housewives insinuating itself into my psyche as a future false memory?

But I’m not nearly as old as the subjects of 49 Up — the documentary series that has been following a mixed group of people every seven years since they were seven years-old. I’ve been watching the latest instalment and I have to say that the participants all seem a little jaded now. And old.

Perhaps having their lives dissected by millions of TV viewers was an interesting experience when they were young, but now being subjected to that level of scrutiny seems to be an intrusive annoyance for most of them. So what’s the attraction for the viewer? As the 49-year old John says towards the end of the most recent programme, it’s probably akin to the appeal of any reality show only with the added bonus of seeing people put on weight and go grey and bald.

A metamorphosis taking place on one side of the tv screen only, clearly.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Weird, moi?

Jordan tagged me to tell you 6 weird things about myself and here they are:

1. I have seven nipples. This is apparently much commoner than you might expect and I’ve finally got over my embarrassment about it.

All right, that wasn’t entirely true (I do have two nipples though) but do you have any idea how difficult it is to come up with five interesting weird things about oneself?

1. I set my alarm to go off at 7 a.m. every weekday. I never get up before 7.30 a.m.

2. I don’t like milk and most dairy products but I do like Roquefort.

3. I don’t own an umbrella.

4. In summer, I like to sleep with one leg on top of the quilt and one leg under it.

5. Someone once slashed the tyres of my car.

6. I say "anyway" and "however" to fill gaps in conversation.

God, I'm boring. Maybe those of you who know me in real life could come up with weirder weirdness. Please.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Camp Granada

Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly take another grey winter's day, the weather got spectacularly better. As we drove to the lake at Hostens, the car thermometer rose to 27°C. This wasn't spring, it was full-blown summer barging in. Pasty-skinned city-dwellers were out in force at the lake with their picnics and pushchairs and dogs and ice-boxes and mountain bikes, all wearing last-year's bermuda shorts.

It wasn't quite Camp Granada but the feeling in the air was a little like the end of the song:
Wait a minute; it stopped hailing.Guys are swimming, guys are sailing.
Playing baseball, gee that's better.
Muddah, faddah, kindly disregard this letter!

And talking of Granada and very high temperatures [pause to allow you to admire that segue] I’ve just finished reading Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, a book about living in the arid, mountainous region called the Alpujarras in southern Spain. A few months ago, I heard this this
podcast interview with the author and started reading his books about Spain — the others are A Parrot in the Pepper Tree and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society — in the wrong order. They are very funny.

I am fascinated by books about people giving it all up to live in a shack half-way up a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I think mostly I'm captivated by them because when I read about the deprivations, the enforced asceticism, the long winters and dry summers, I can't help feeling that I've actually had the experience; lived the life. And the more I read about it, the more I've experienced it and the less urge I have to ever actually contemplate doing it.

I have become an expert armchair shunner of city life. Reading Kenneth White's
Lettres de Gourgounel, I vicariously spent a couple of years living alone in the Ardèche. Through Gerald Brenan's South from Granada, I paved the way for Stewart and his ilk, living the hermit’s life in an old farmhouse in Andalucia before the Second World War.

Inevitably, however, there comes a point in each book when I realise that rustication and the dry and dusty life are not for me. In Driving Over Lemons that point came with the following passage:
The host of creatures that had moved into the cane and brush ceiling of our bedroom began to breed and multiply, scuffling and skittering not six feet above our upturned and tremulously wakeful faces. As the heat of the night increased, the breeding and multiplying above us became even more frenzied , and soon, as the population soared out of control, we found ourselves spattered with larvae, maggots and other young deemed surplus to requirements. This was hardly conducive to a good night's rest.


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...