David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

My Life in Sport - Cricket

I enjoyed writing my football memoir the other night so much that I'm charging straight on with the story of my cricket career. As previously, any ostensible claims to greatness made here are self-conscious, dubious and well aware that they did not take place at any serious level of sporting competition.

There was always cricket. An early memory, alongside pop songs like Move Over Darling by Doris Day, on the radio. And my grandmother would sit with the test match picture on telly and the radio commentary. The Test Match was a happening of national importance in those days. On Sunday afternoons, the International Cavaliers would play one of the county sides and when the ball was dispatched over the ropes, Jim Laker would comment on the small boy throwing it back. Well, once at Trent Bridge, that boy was me and then in the same over, it happened again. It might or might not have been Gamani Gooneseena I threw it back to but we'd need to corroborate that with the Notts Ceylonese spin bowler. I was destined to play cricket from an early age.
Close observers might recognize some faces from the photograph of Dinglewell Junior School cricket team 1971 from that of the football team 70/71 below, with the captains having swapped places. I had no idea why I was being taken out of the classroom early that summer and it was quite a bombshell to realize I was being invited to be captain of cricket. The captain's role involved little more than taking part in the toss and looking after some kit (not picking the team or deciding who bowled) but it was the first of three cricket teams I was going to be captain of.
My first competitive game had been at the start of the previous season, against near neighbours, Barnwood, in which those two of us stalwarts of that generation of Dinglewell sport opened the bowling and got them all out for 10 and then put on pads and scored 11 for 0, thus winning by 10 wickets. A one-sided affair, and thanks to the other nine players who turned out and watched us do it, but it was not without minor drama. I had decided to use my own bat but soon found it was not as robust as the school equipment against a cricket ball. I asked if I could swap my bat but the same teacher as taught us so many lessons about football took the attitude that I had made my bed and so should lie in it and so I had to defend doggedly until we reached 11, which didn't take long and 10 of them were provided by wides, no balls or byes anyway.
I think it was the following season that began in a rich vein of form and, after 3 or 4 games, I was averaging over 100 as opening bat, having only been out once. I must have felt beyond all restraint. But confidence is just as dangerous in excess as it is when it deserts you and the right level of sensible confidence is essential in anything, not only sport.
From those heights, the season when into a declining spiral of cheap dismissals. The darkest moment was when all the top order batsmen had got out cheaply and a heroic innings from the middle order was retrieving the situation but I, as captain, was setting a very bad example by not watching as my team mate tried to save the day but was seen by the umpire/teacher having a kickabout with the other failed batsmen. As a result, I suffered the disciplinary action of being dropped for the next game. (Now I can reflect that there was something a bit David Gower about that but it was shameful in those long ago, more respectful days).
I specialized even then in the big hit and didn't really regard a four as a genuine boundary. I don't remember very much about bowling apart from making sure I made a red mark on my white shorts by polishing the ball on them. On one occasion, one of us prodding the pitch in between balls as if we were John Edrich, the teacher told us not to bother, we didn't know what we were doing and were only doing it because we'd seen it on telly. However, having been bowled out for 33 and the opposition on 32 for 9, I was brought back on to bowl, presumably as the most likely to bowl a straight one which might remove this no. 11 which I immediately did. With a full toss that should have gone for six but the last boy to bat in a junior team like that is unlikely to be Viv Richards and he wasn't so we won by one run.
But my batting declined throughout the season to such an extent that by the time of the big school jamboree event at the end of term, which centred around a match between the school team and the Fathers XI, I was going in at no.6. The top order had failed and it was a given thing that the school team would win so there has always been a suspicion that the Fathers were told to let us get some runs and, coming in down the order, I was the beneficiary of such leniency.
I remember being quite depressed that a little flick off my legs had gone for six because the boys had a shorter boundary than the Fathers. But it became more serious for me when my own father was brought on to bowl his array of slow, right-arm chinamen and googlies. A tense maiden over was played out as I realized that discretion was the better part of valour and then went on to score 54 until being caught and bowled Higginbottom.
On going to senior school, I found myself made twelfth man for the first match in our first year there but I had better things to do than that, I'm afraid, told the teacher I was going on the Junior Club Run with the cycling club (more of which in a future chapter) and so my cricket career entered a wilderness that lasted about 16 years.
There were some house matches at school; the football club, FC Spartak (as described in the previous chapter), had a couple of games; I turned out for a couple of matches in Swindon with teams from my dad's work but the highlight of those sporadic appearances was putting my name down for the annual, end of term English Department match at Lancaster University, between students and staff, and finding myself asked to be captain of the students.
I had to find ten other people who wanted a game of cricket. I compiled a team that included an Indian spin bowler from the Chemistry department and a girl who ran off in a sulk after a few overs because I hadn't given her anything to do by then. The staff team included Prof. David Carroll, the George Eliot specialist; Richard Dutton, pre-eminent on Ben Jonson, and fashionable critical analysis theorist, Mick Short, whose home brew provided the post match refreshment. I batted number 4, ludicrously adopted Peter Willey's square-on stance, never having tried it before, and was out first ball but mopped up the tail by taking four wickets in a match that slipped through my fingers from an advantageous position.
But, finally, aged 27, the best thing that ever happened to me was being employed by the civil service and allocated to Customs & Excise. One of the many benefits of that was that there were cricket teams and I soon volunteered myself for the Portsmouth Customs Club if they cared to give me a try, which they kindly did.
I went in at about no.7 on my debut, looked at the bowler's arm coming over, all sense of propriety left me and I took an almighty swipe at it, edged it over the slips for a surly one and the rest is history. I ended on 30 not out with two sixes and two fours, contributing to a cosy enough win and was invited back for the next game and, in fact, for as long as the club continued.
I soon made the no.5 batting position my own, with some excursions into opening. Batting initially proved easy and, like 16 years earlier, I began to believe too much in myself as an almost flawless run machine, once achieving the milestone of a hundred runs before the end of May in our 20 over evening matches long before the professional game took up the idea of T20. But the trajectory of that career was going to follow my junior one with batting confidence waning and good scores becoming fewer and further between while, at the same time, I began to realize that I was not a fast bowler, that every time I dropped one short of a length it went through mid wicket for four and so I became economical, a bit more accurate and hardly needed to check the scorebook to know that I'd returned figures of  4-0-1-13.
I was well-fitted to the no.5 position, the captains well aware that if I didn't make a rapid 20 or 30 then I would not detain them long in absenting myself from the crease to let somebody else have a go. But big hitting is addictive and compulsive and, having felt the ball disappear off the middle of the bat into the blue yonder once, I only wanted to do it again and so I never hit more than two sixes in an innings and not all of them went exactly where had been intended. Once, looking round confusedly to decide whether I should run or not, the non-striker said, 'no, you're alright' - it had gone over the wicket-keeper for six.
One Sunday afternoon, I was well set on 45 with ten balls to go when a new batsman arrived at the other end but then proceeded to blast 21 off the last ten without me facing the bowler again and, we will never know, possibly deprived me of a proper, adult 50 in the interests of the team and I've not tired of talking about that day ever since ( Have I, Ian?).
We memorably toured Jersey, in 1989, was it, and then less memorably went to Bristol and onto an abandoned fixture in St. Austell which did for touring for me but it was a wonderful club to be a part of that will continue to provide stories and memories for those who were there for as long as we want. The side we could put out circa 1989 was formidable at its chosen level and it was a privilege to be a part of.
There were civil service 6-a-side tournaments which suited me fine with a six counting for 10 and a four counting 6 and only four fielders to try to catch it. But I managed to be caught in the slips off a wide in Portsmouth once although had some compensation on a particular day in Poole. Sensitive negotiations had to be entered into about who would play in the A team and who in the B team which I offered to resolve, to the A team's ultimate detriment, by saying I'd captain the B Team, who were not so much the remnants as a quirkier collection of talents. But I led from the front with a 14 and a 36 not out, bowled very well and never enjoyed captaincy, a job I'm not really suited to, as much.
But into the mid-1990's, although still made to feel most welcome, I began to feel that cycling was a higher priority. I played much less cricket because I had ambitions on two wheels that could only be achieved by putting in the miles on summer evenings on the lanes of southern Hampshire. When fielding in a match in Denmead a week or two before my date with destiny in the 12 Hour bike race, I was more interested in looking out for uneven ground in the outfield on which I might twist an ankle, and thus ruin 8 months and 5000 miles of training, than asking the captain when it would be my turn to bowl.
But there were a few more years of cricket left, post-bike, in a reduced fixture list and, with some of the talent of the best years having moved on, I relished the responsibilty of opening the bowling and, without the record books to hand, might claim that I went through a couple of seasons without being hit for a boundary. One of my favourite devices was to change from right arm over, medium pace to the right hand batsman to slow right arm round the wicket, bowling leg breaks, to left handers. It had always seemed to me that fast bowling was the real business but spin bowling could be good fun, too.
At some point, I did actually contribute a league point to a club I turned out for one Saturday afternoon. Having batted at 4 and second top scored with 11 against some quick but wayward bowling, much of which seemed to be intended to improve my face but wasn't accurate enough to find it, I came on as first change bowler with the opposition needing 5 to win, took their fifth wicket before they got the required runs and that earned the makeshift side a bonus point and I treasure that league point as if it were a good, if unregarded, poem I once wrote. But I wouldn't have wanted to spend too much time in that atmosphere of dark, competitive league cricket, even if I had been good enough to do well at it, when one could play for sheer enjoyment on a sunny Tuesday evening. 
Perhaps in the end the club continued for one or two seasons too long but, as has been pointed out by a wise observer, no club would pack up while it is doing okay. In our last season I was maybe 43 or 44 and by no means in the older half of the sides we put out. Even if there were sometimes only nine of us, which included our Under 16 youth squad. In four matches, I was the joint top wicket-taker with four wickets, two of them almost identical dismissals in the same game, full tosses that the batsman tried to swipe over mid wicket but miscued and looped out to mid off where they were caught. It was agony, really, and the last match ended in the low-key absurdity of a defeat with the winning run conceded by a wide.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, one might say. And, In Absurdam, except to remember so many glorious moments of comedy, some memorable sport, spectacular moments and I'm very glad of all the good times, and good mates, that it led to.
You might remember how the Australians' 60 All Out last summer was soon fitted into a tweet. Certainly, most of the grand total of mine could have all been fitted into one but few more gloriously than my 38 out of 64 All Out by Customs which hasn't been featured on this website for nearly five years so it's about time we enjoyed it again.
I had another contribution to that match, v. the Revenue, which was to open the bowling defending such a modest total and prove to be quite expensive for three overs. The reason why we won, bowling them out for 63 was no more to do with my runs than the fact I was not asked to bowl a fourth over.

   

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

My Life in Sport - Football

In the first of a new, occasional series, my various careers in sport are remembered through anecdote, reportage and grandiose claims for minor achievements. None of the sports to be featured were undertaken at any but the lowest grade, school and entirely amateur level but a good time was had along the way.

It was not until quite recently that I lost all but a passing interest in football. Larkin says that 'man hands on misery to man' and father hands on football to son which in my case meant being informed that I supported Notts County but I had amended that to Fulham, via a few weeks of saying I supported Forest, before we left Nottingham for Gloucester in early 1967.
Being keen and always ready to practice with the leather ball stitched up with laces, I was soon being noticed in games lessons at Dinglewell Junior School and not many will have played for a Primary school for two and a half seasons but I and another promising 9 year old were brought into their team by a coach with an eye to the future. I began at right half in an old 2-3-5 W formation but moved to inside forward via right wing by the end of that year, scoring two goals in 11 appearances. We were awarded football badges, the Dinglewell equivalent of an Oxbridge Blue, but I lost my badge and lived in terror of being dropped from the team and being asked to return my badge. I had a very tense time at one team meeting ahead of a match where Mr. Bewlay announced the team and I was not playing inside right. But thankfully the panic subsided when it turned out I was playing inside left.
In the third year, that much respected teacher left for another school and we were blessed with the tremendous Ray Wensley, an inspirational coach and man manager who created a team that was to become a well-drilled machine. I put him alongside Brian Clough, Jimmy Sirrel and Roy Hodgson in any list of football managers who created sides that were more than their component parts. I was once left out of the side because he said he thought I was taking it for granted but was big enough to admit we were better when I returned to the strike partnership in our 3-3-4 formation which seemed all very modern and continental for a Gloucester junior school team in 1969/70.
Every player did their bit in their position and once, saying to my striking partner that he should stay up front while I went back to help out the pressurised defence, the ref , I mean our manager told me it was the defence's job to defend and I should wait on the halfway line for when they cleared their lines. That was fine by me, even if not quite my tactical plan, because it meant my role was maybe a bit of build up play but mainly scoring goals.
My mother was most offended in one match where we won by the only goal when I popped up and saw the chance to stick it across the goal inside the far stick and another spectator compared it to Jimmy Greaves, who was not her favourite player; once, in the crepuscular, gathering evening, away at Tredworth, the ball bounced towards me on the outskirts of the centre circle, it somehow occured to me to throw a leg at it and it became one of the six we scored that night but my favourite was away at Holbrook School, Coventry, a 1-0 away win, where all four of the forward line claimed the goal. The left winger curled it in towards the far post right footed and said nobody else had touched it, the left-side centre forward said he'd touched it but noboby else had afterwards; of course, I knew I'd got a toe to it which took those two out of the equation and I reckon it must have been over the line before the outside right made late ground to make sure. But it was my birthday, 17/10/1970, and so Mr. Wensley ruled that I was the goalscorer. We displayed the same unity and team spirit as any modern day Premiership side when, after seeing Coventry beat Forest 2-0 at Highfield Road in the afternoon, the outside right was winding me up about Forest getting beat and so I punched him in the face and gave him a nosebleed.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I resolved the discrepancy between my own record of the 70/71 season which had me as top scorer with 36 goals but the official list had not. Looking at that list again, which I still have, I dubiously included an 8-0 win over our own Reserves when our intended opposition pulled out, in which I scored 4. Like any born goal grabber, I wanted all I could get and was most put out in a 10-2 win when the teacher moved us all into unaccustomed positions and I was put back to midfield. Never mind playing thoughtful balls forward to those temporarily usurping my glamorous position, I still tried to score from midfield. And another unhappy match was the first of the 70/71 season in which I didn't score, away at Innsworth, which was also the first that the lugubrious headmaster showed up to watch the football club rather than his beloved aviary. Increasingly desperate to make sure I scored, I became more selfish and abandoned any sense of team spirit. Afterwards the headmaster said I was rubbish and I suppose he had a point that day but we and him never did get on.
Ever the maverick, there I am in the picture, wandering into free space, back stick, at a corner in the home match v. Theodore Pritchett's School from Birmingham, that ended 0-0, socks round my ankles. I treasured my George Best Stylo Matchmaker boots which felt like slippers compared to the hobnail boots with toecaps that some were expected to play in. And they allowed me to do whatever George had done on telly the previous week, like, one on one with the goalie, take it round him and pass into an empty goal or face up to a goalie trying to drop kick it out but kick it out of his possession when he did so (which, just for the record, results in a free kick to them for foul play).
But the highlight of those golden years was the Gloucester Junior Schools Cup Quarter Final, away at Grange, a school for hard knocks compared to us stylish pretty boys from leafy Hucclecote. A sloping pich, mudbath, pouring rain on a Saturday morning with a busload of the Netball team and parents providing support. I don't think we were ever ahead. We got back level at 2-2 when the ball came in from the left, bounced in front of me, controlled it with the right foot, set it up with the left and, bang, over the goalie's right shoulder into the onion bag. Sadly, watched from the halfway line by me, our goalie fumbled one like Peter Mellor did for Fulham later in the 1975 Cup Final and we were out of the cup, 3-2, after what seemed like inordinate heroics that still fell short.
My career ambitions extended to no more than being a footballer in winter and a cricketer in summer but Gloucester was not a place to live if one wanted to do that. It is a Rugby Union heartland and football as such was proscribed at senior school, the idea being that football allowed too much individual flair and rugby was a team game in which no individual (apart from the one who was to play for England Under 19's) could run the game. Mr. W.G.F. Bradford did a very convincing impression of a bloodthirsty sadist in making games afternoons into a brutal misery which had no place for my immense talent for kicking a round ball but concentrated on brawling over an odd-shaped one. To this day, I can hardly watch rugby union without some horror, resentment or mystified enquiry into where any beauty might reside in such heavyweight machismo. There was a five a side football tournament run by a more enlightened Science teacher but it was like the French Resistance- subversive in a culture of madness but, as I approached the age of 15, I realized that time was running out if I was going to break Billy Bremner's record of being the youngest ever to appear in a First Division match. I needed a team to play for in order to give the talent scouts from the big clubs, or any club, a chance to spot me. and then it happened.
My dad came home from work one Friday night and told me I was playing on Sunday. The Sunday League team that a few blokes from his office played for were one short and, one of the many great things he ever did for me, he had got me in. They were, as it happened, bottom of Division 5 of the Gloucester Sunday League, winless, and pointless, I think, but it was a start. They were called FC Spartak, a disparate bunch of absolutely heroic renegades, and played in green and black stripes and whatever shorts and socks you happened to have until finding enough cash to buy an all green kit.
It was an education, playing left side of a front three, lightweight and wide-eyed in what was effectively a completely different sport to the lunchtime kickabouts at school in which I could dominate. The Gloucester Sunday League Division 5 is not a football academy. But after a debut in which I only remember one incident of possession at an acute angle in the penalty box when I thought it was then or never, apart from first touches and knocking it off to burlier team mates, it was a bit embarrassing to find that I was picked the following week and the good-hearted but profoundly ungifted bloke who had got me into the team was made substitute. We finished bottom of the Gloucester Sunday League that season, probably 1975/76, but won a trophy.  An ex-player who had taken up refereeing tipped us off in the closing weeks of the season that he had seen the tables for the Sportmanship Trophy and that if we played nicely, didn't get booked or sent off for the rest of the season, we could win it. So, for the last few matches, we went and fetched the ball for the oppsition for throw-ins, never complained, usually got beat about 3-0 and somewhere upstairs, I still have my Football Sportsmanship Trophy.
Halfway through the next season, we were doing a bit better. Players had come and gone, the goalie had got injured and become manager (more about him in a minute) and in the pub after a match, just before Christmas, while I was nursing a (presumably terrible) light ale, it was asked who was our top scorer. I said I had six and so that pretty much settled it.
We had been headline makers in November 1975 when the report in the local paper proclaimed FIRST LEAGUE WIN FOR FC SPARTAK, when it says, because I have it here, we were 2-0 down vs. Trophy Taverners after 16 minutes but retrieved the situation to win 4-3. My other archive piece is from Feb 1976, reporting our second win, against G.P.O. Reserves 3-2, in which we 'took an early lead through David Green', but it was my misfortune that the England manager of the time was probably not a reader of the Gloucester Citizen. I've looked up who it was, it was Don Revie. And that, I think, is where it all went wrong. He was not my sort of manager. Either side of him, Joe Mercer or Ron Greenwood, I could have had a chance but not with Don Revie. To this day, I still abhor his Leeds United team from the early 70's that got him that job when everybody knows it would have been far more interesting to appoint Brian Clough who, quite possibly didn't read the local paper from Gloucester either.
They talk about players who make it look as if they have 'time on the ball', people like Tony Currie or Paul Gascoigne. I remember one goal where I made it look as if I had hours. I would have had hours if I hadn't decided to belt it hopefully from 40 yards out.
We got beat 5-2 that day but were probably 4-1 down at the time. I was in possession in centre midfield, looked up and wondered what to do, looked out to my left where one ex-Dinglewell colleague said he didn't want it. So I looked out to my right where another one said he didn't either but advised that I could score from there. It was a timeless moment, like when Edward Thomas's train stopped at Adlestrop and 'no-one left and no-one came', certainly nobody from the other team came to tackle me. I perhaps gave some thought to the essay on Shakespeare I was going to do for Linden Huddleston that afternoon and then I took one of my trademark, textbook swings of that golden right leg of mine, put it over the goalie who was either off his line or watching the match on the next pitch and then I turned round and went back to line up for the restart.
That goal took hours, it seemed, but the best I scored for Spartak was pure instinct, class and very few others could have snapped it up. Corner, or cross, from the left. Busy penalty area. I'm to the right of the penalty spot. Our talented but vain, self-regarding Italian waiter of a midfielder thinks it's all his goal but it comes spinning off the outside of his right foot. I've got less than no time to re-adjust, make the shape to play a difficult ball coming to me at waist height and plant it in the back of the net and then pretend that he'd provided the chance rather than screwed it up himself and made it much harder for me.
I think we got promoted that season, having finished seventh, but teams packed up and new ones were formed and 7th was considered good enough to play at the next level. But, having been brought to Spartak by one who I displaced in the side, I had brought in other old muckers from the Dinglewell days and when we ended up with more forward players than we needed, it was me was who moved eventually through midfield, which I enjoyed enormously, to full back. I had one pre-season friendly playing in the middle of a back three, which should have been terrifying but passed off without undue alarm and so I might claim to have played in every position in competitive matches except goalkeeper but only madmen and Albert Camus do that.
In one match towards the end of my career, at the age of 17, playing right back, the manager (as mentioned from above) brought on a sub in the second half and put him upfront. Stevie had never played upfront in his life, didn't know what to do and didn't like it. He came to me and asked if I wanted to swap. Of course I did. Five minutes later, back in the old routine, edge of the box, me, back of the net. Afterwards the manager says, good goal, Dave, but what were you doing there. I said I swapped with Stevie.
Can you imagine what control freaks like Ferguson or Mourinho would do if their players had done that but our manager hadn't even noticed, or even realized that he had put two players out of position and we had corrected it for ourselves. 
But that would have been the last goal I scored. I wasn't interested enough in football to play full back when I'd been addicted to that happy drug of scoring goals. I belatedly turned my attention to A levels but it was too late, I had been squandering my weekends working in a shop on Saturdays (which was to come in very useful later), playing football on Sundays and not doing the required work on History, French or even the books on the Eng Lit courses that I didn't like.
And so I spent decades wondering, like George Best, where it all went wrong. And it was partly due to football, and partly due to work, and partly due to all the other circumstances, that although I went to what is now rated a Top Ten Grammar School and also what is now a Top Ten University (although it was more like Bottom Ten in 1978-81), that I arrived here like this, happy enough, having not really imagined any more than this and not even knowing what it should have been.
And football continues, with all its controversies and wunderkind, without me. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Oh Babe, What Would You Say

The news this week reported the findings of an enquiry by the opinion poll people into why they got the result of the last General Election wrong.
They didn't ask enough Conservative voters.
Well, I never. But surely that was the question rather than the answer. These days we are regularly offered empty platitudes as if they are wisdom and expected to be grateful that now we understand. But we don't. We are just told we understand.
I go to some lengths now to avoid hearing football pundits, or football itself, but still hear the explanation that such and such a team are not doing very well 'because they don't score enough goals'. Of course, scoring goals is the object of the game and so that much is obvious but the answer required would include the reasons why they don't score enough goals.
Some time ago I heard on the radio that some research done in a university had discovered that women like shopping but men like watching football. Whether this was a serious piece of work or satire was hard to tell but it didn't serve the purposes of demolishing stereotypes. And it wasn't even true.
But, why would anyone tell an opinion poll about their voting intentions anyway. Perhaps too many are flattered to be asked. But it's a secret ballot, we understand.  I have once declined the opportunity to answer a telephone opinion poll and once pointed out to a party representative outside a polling station that it was a secret ballot and I was disappointed that their party didn't respect British democracy.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as a free hit and a chance to occupy the moral high ground.
--
I'm delighted that The Times continues with its Latin crossword, my record number of answers filled in still being the six I achieved in the second one but I don't pursue it for very long because there is no chance I'll ever finish one. But today I did pursue the main crossword even if I got off to a slow start. It's fulfilling and rewarding to keep at it, if self satisfaction is a reward you enjoy, and today it was all in place well before the racing started, with no artificial aids.
Then all the horses ran and none of mine came first or anywhere near it until Duke Des Champs strolled into the distance ahead of his rivals in the last at Ascot and made the day a slightly profitable one.

What more can one ask of a Saturday.
--
2016 looks like being another good one for Portsmouth's thriving poetry community. The small but select gathering that discussed the poetry of Rosemary Tonks at PPS on Wednesday did a fine job but with pamphlets by Pauline Hawkesworth and Denise Bennett likely to be launched by readings later in the year, we should also be welcoming the reading for South magazine's Autumn issue to the city in October. There will be more news here, and on South's own website, when that is confirmed.
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But, I was looking for something in Philip Larkin this week and, as ever, came across so many things that I wasn't looking for that were better than the thing I wanted.
I have expressed doubts a number of times about just how much of the mining of Larkin's writing he would have wanted to see in print, particularly in respect of The Complete Poems but also that there was no need of a Selected Larkin because he did the selecting before putting anything into print in the first place. And so it was good to find in Required Writing, in the interview with The Observer,

A bibliography of your work has just been published. What do you feel about being bibliographed?

On the whole, very flattered, as long as no-one thinks I thought all these things worth exhuming.

So, Quod Erat Demonstrandum. It might be a good idea for some pop svengali to decide what should be the next Taylor Swift single but for an artist of Larkin's stature, it was for them to decide what is published and not an editor.
Larkin's reputation has survived the accusations of misogyny, misanthropy and misearabilism that followed the publication of his letters and going back to these pieces that were available long before only emphasize what enormous common sense he had to say about poetry. I wouldn't have the same twelve poets that he did within arm's reach and neither would I endorse his view of Margaret Thatcher but he told it how it was about poetry and how it really still should be and we should be grateful for that.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Marc and David




I make no apology for not being over it yet.  You never know what you've lost until you've lost it.

Marc Bolan dying was quite an event, in the sixth form in Gloucester but, at the age of 17, one still believes one is going to live forever.

David Bowie was good enough to turn up and do a turn on the cut-price, teatime ITV show, Marc, in which the eponymous hero was on something of a tenuous comeback trail but the show was cut short when the finale, a potentially priceless duet between two of the pop greats of the 1970's, was ruined by Bolan falling off the stage and Bowie turning round and smiling indulgently.

This, from You Tube, appears to be a clue to what we were robbed of by Marc's unfortunate accident.

Rosemary Tonks at PPS

The subject of Portsmouth Poetry Society's meeting this Wednesday is The Poetry of Rosemary Tonks introduced by me. If you can get to St. Mark's Church, North End for 7.30, please consider yourself invited. You'll be away by 9.30 and I can solemnly promise that my introduction is only a matter of me reading the text below and then everybody else has their say.
PPS are a friendly, informal group with no agenda or anything more than the open invitation to anybody with an interest in poetry would suggest.
So, here's where we begin,



Rosemary Tonks (1928-2014)

Rosemary Tonks published two books of poems in the 1960’s before absenting herself from literary life, cutting off all contact with family and friends and effectively disappearing. In 2009, Brian Patten made a radio programme about her that included an appeal intended to discover her whereabouts but it wasn’t until she died in 2014 that it was revealed she had been in Bournemouth.
She had also written fiction, essays and reviews but it is her poems she is remembered for and had been included in such significant anthologies as Larkin’s Oxford Book of C20th English Verse and Edward Lucie-Smith’s British Poetry since 1945.
Her poems can be startling, antagonistic, world-weary and self-dramatising. Critics were divided in their opinions of her and she was affected by negative reviews of her work while also claiming that critics were ‘a second-rate bunch’.  Her work bears little resemblance to the orthodox poetry of her period, neither the ‘safe’, sensible Movement poets or the more adventurous approach of Ted Hughes but there is a similar raw vulnerability to that of Sylvia Plath and she owes some debt to Baudelaire and, as she said herself, to Rimbaud.
In The Sofas, Fogs and Cinemas,

I have lived it, and lived it,
My nervous, luxury civilization,
My sugar-loving nerves have battered me to pieces.

…Their idea of literature is hopeless.
Make them drink their own poetry!

and in Addiction to an Old Mattress,

Meanwhile…I live on…powerful, disobedient,
Inside their draughty, haberdasher’s climate,
With these people…who are going to obsess me,
Potatoes, dentists, people I hardly know, it’s unforgivable
For this is not my life
But theirs that I am living.
And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.

(the dotted lines in both quotes are in the text and not indicating anything edited out)

one can imagine how some contemporary readers were disconcerted by such a devil-may-care manner and striking juxtapositions (like, ‘nervous/luxury’ and potatoes/dentists) but they make for more than just an exuberant novelty act. The vibrant attitude, with its demonstrative outbursts, complaints, exclamation marks and ironic celebrations are seemingly at odds with their jaded themes.
So it is tempting to make a connection between this aloof, despairing attitude to the world and how it led to her renunciation of her own work, the rejection of the life she had and becoming almost a recluse. There, she explored mystical ideas, Taoism, destroyed material artefacts of some value and subsequently attended churches in Bournemouth and London, handing out Bibles and living under her married name of Rosemary Lightband.

In the meantime, her poetry was being rediscovered and the title of John Stammers’ book, Stolen Love Behaviour, is taken from one of her poems.
With her books so difficult, or expensive, to come by, Neil Astley’s edition, Bedouin of the London Evening, was a welcome Collected Poems that made them available again, with its authoritative introduction reporting back from beyond and useful appendices that include an interview, original essay and short stories.
Neil’s introduction tells us that she was buried in her mother’s grave in the churchyard of St. Thomas a Becket Church, Warblington, without any ceremony or funeral in line with her wishes, with a headstone identifying her as Rosemary Lightband, not Tonks. And so it seems a bit indiscreet to intrude but I have done, unsuccessfully, three times so far, trying to find her. And so, if anybody else finds themselves by the old church in Warblington and can find her, I’d be grateful to know if you do. 

Oh, Babe What Would You Say

It's so long since I read most of the books in the house that I could pick up any of them and enjoy them as 'nearly new' and almost certainly reassess whatever it was I thought about them the first time.
I'm waiting for Julian Barnes' forthcoming Noise in Time, on the subject of Shostakovich, dubious about the whole idea of fictional biography but encouraged by the reviews so far. In the meantime, Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square was as gin-soaked and cruel as I had remembered it and a pitiless evocation of obsession, selfishness and the seamy twilight world of hotels, boarding houses and the bottom end of the theatrical world of agents and actresses between jobs. What a pleasure. Hamilton's first book, Monday Morning, written when he was 19, was due a reissue last year but it's difficult to find out what's happened about that. Amazon abandoned my pre-order a long time ago and now searching for it only brings up references to  the plans Faber had to make it available again.
So, yesterday I made the intrepid journey into the rich wilderness of the upstairs room that stores the less often required books and came back down with The Diary of a Nobody, A Confederacy of Dunces and Mansfield Park. And it's Jane Austen that I'm revisiting in the hope of defining the differences between her and George Eliot, which might be rephrased as why Eliot is so much better than Jane but let's not pre-judge the issue too hastily. You never know, this year might be my year of Jane Austen.
She has already delivered the observation that Tom, who
was just entering into life, full of spirits, and with all the liberal dispositions of an eldest son, who feels born only for expense and enjoyment.
I don't recognize myself in that perception of eldest children but a big question hangs over what Jane and I respectively understand by 'liberal'. And that might be the problem with Jane, 200 years on - which bits are her observations of contemporary custom and which are the social satire, because I'm not sure I'm in any position to say.
--
The avalanche of Bowie tributes and coverage meant that much overlapped, not least the often repeated leitmotif of his politeness. He was clearly someone of immense intelligence and it emerged how many of his pieces quoted any number of lesser-known books he had read. As happens with such great figures, it was also remarked more than once that his presence in a room made an immediate difference, which compares with those of us who can enter a room and it seems to everybody else in it that someone has just left.
But a comparison can be made between Neil Spencer's verdict on Station to Station, that it was 'awesome' (and, not quite so appreciably, 'Wagnerian') with Giles Coren, talking about buying CD's of what one already had on LP, that 'nobody' buys it twice. It's a shame that while Spencer, who editor of the NME during the Golden Age, can be so respectful and retains a grasp of pop history, Giles can only use the opportunity to denigrate wherever possible, as is his wont, while going to great lengths throughout to make it clear he was as impressed with Bowie as anybody, and he's not instigating the backlash. I'm sure we all have our favourites and so, reviving the old Top Six feature that was once a regular on this website.

Top Six David Bowie

Wild is the Wind
Rebel Rebel
Changes
Word on a Wing
Life on Mars?
Drive In Saturday

and even that leaves no room for many that the rules of the game always said couldn't be mentioned in naming only six and it counts All the Young Dudes as a Mott the Hoople record.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Stop! in the Name of Poetry

I'm not a big fan of the idea of the 'easy win' or the 'found poem' but neither do I think that the best poems are achieved by hard work. The best poems occur, almost naturally, almost as given things, if not quite by osmosis and, as can happen late on a Friday night, I was listening to some old favourite pop records and I wondered if some wise advice to all my poet friends, heroes and fellow travellers could be derived by replacing the word 'love' in Diana Ross and The Supremes' unsurpassable Stop! in the Name of Love with the word 'poetry'.
I know that if I hadn't written the worst half of all the poems I've ever written, I'd be the better poet for it. But it's not for me to say that the same thing applies to other poets.
Let's see what happens.

Stop! in the Name of Poetry

(Holland/Dozier/Holland/Green)

to all the poets I've known

Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart

Baby, baby I'm aware of where you go
Each time you leave my door
I watch you walk down the street
Knowing your other poetry you'll meet
But this time before you run to her
Leaving me alone and hurt
(Think it over) After I've been good to you
(Think it over) After I've been sweet to you

Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Think it over
Think it over

I've known of your
Your secluded nights
I've even seen her
Maybe once or twice
But is her sweet expression
Worth more than my poetry and affection
But this time before you leave my arms
And rush off to her charms
(Think it over) Haven't I been good to you
(Think it over) Haven't I been sweet to you

Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Think it over
Think it over

I've tried so hard, hard to be patient
Hoping you'd stop this infatuation
But each time you are together
I'm so afraid I'll be losing you forever
Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Stop! In the name of poetry
Before you break my heart
Stop! In the name of poetry

Thursday, 14 January 2016

BSO Beethoven and Shostakovich

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Valeriy Sokolov, vln, Kees Bakels, Beethoven 5, Shostakovich Violin Concerto no.1, Portsmouth Guildhall, Jan 14th.

Expectation can be a heavy burden. I've never had a bad word for any BSO concert here, and still haven't, but in this great time for Shostakovich, with Julian Barnes' book due out shortly and the great man looking all the more like the colossus that is such a strong candidate for Greatest Composer of the C20th, Valeriy Sokolov's account of the first violin concerto might not have lived up to the crazy standard one could have hoped for.
It begins in subdued fashion and the orchestra were fine with that. Sokolov's playing was soulful and almost gentle but, as it progressed, I began to wonder if this was the same concerto given such an electrifying performance at the Proms a couple of years ago. One passage sounded wooden and perhaps that was the desired effect but as the third movement began with its singing style passacaglia and moved into a sharp cadenza, there was no doubting Sokolov's technique. What on earth was he supposed to do, it was brilliant and led into the dramatic burlesque brio of a bravura finale but it hadn't quite taken me with it. You can't win them all.
I will be interested to find out what the encore was. When I guessed it was Ligeti's arrangement of Bach, I meant Kurtag, of course. The haunting crossover of something like Bartok with baroque phrases will be well worth finding out about.
Liadov's Kikimora filled the difficult position of hors d'oeuvres but opened the set poetically and atmospherically with its story of a 'diminutive but malicious witch with a body the size of a pencil'. In ten minutes, the piece uses much of the orchestra's range and Liadov can be looked at with some respect henceforth.
But if ever an old warhorse can be relied upon to guarantee an evening, it must be Beethoven 5. Everyone knows the first four notes, some of the most famous in music for their characteristic Beethoven chutzpah, and the rest of it only gets better.
I'll be forever haunted by a third form music exam, having to follow the score of the first movement and having to note down the bar at which the music was stopped. Being a musical illiterate, then even more so than now, I missed the indication that the first bars are repeated, immediately got hopelessly lost and soon sat back and just listened to the music. I scored 0 for that but was still in demand for end of term quizzes because the class knew that I was their best bet to have on their side for music questions, and other stuff most of them had never heard of, and probably still would be.
The first movement was fleet-footed and Kees Bakels nimbly defied the advancing years  (it appears it was his 71st birthday today but it wasn't mentioned), enjoying the music as much as anybody. The second movement has the gorgeous yearning phrases that I imagine Dvorak spent much of his life trying to imitate, not without some success, but Beethoven's not written a symphony until he's expressed something muscular, noble and spirited. This is when the Romantic temperament of the individual emerged from the discipline of Classicism but before it got out of hand. I can always understand why Beethoven is for so many the Greatest even if I'm more of a Bach man in the final analysis. And he never lets you down with an understated ending. No composer ever started the final flourishes of a symphony earlier than Beethoven. One climax, then another, a few more chords before building to what might or might not be the big finish until finally it is. It is a very good way of rousing the audience to more enthusiastic applause than they might have awarded had the music finished when it first sounded like it was going to. Thank you, Beethoven. In 1974, or thereabouts, when other teenage boys had pictures of Suzi Quatro, or possibly Led Zeppelin, on their bedroom wall, I had a poster of Beethoven. It's unlikely we will see the likes of him again.
And then, overheard at the bus stop,
Pierre Boulez died. The conductor who thought he was a composer.
Yes, 'thought he was'.
And David, erm, David Bowie.
Well, he won't be much missed.
I don't mind much what they say about Boulez as a composer but elderly people can be as delinquent, thoughtless and downright disrespectful as the young who don't yet know any better. On the other hand, there's nothing quite as entertaining as other people's conversations.
And, if you are nearby Portsmouth Central Library in the next few days, go in and pick up a handful of the CD's they're selling off at a pound a time, even the two-disc set of Messiah and 3-disc set of Alfred Deller were still only a quid each. They only need to be playable to be worth picking up a few. Mind you, those two, plus some Harp Concertos and the Berg and Stravinsky Violin Concertos aren't there any more.

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie



It must sometimes look like an arbitrary list of those awarded an obituary on this website but I generally know straightaway who qualifies and who doesn't. As word spread round the office early this morning that David Bowie had died, it was like those famous JFK stories about where you were when you heard, or Winston Churchill, or more latterly, John Lennon, Diana Spencer or Michael Jackson. For a moment there was the suspicion that it was one of those 'Paul McCartney is Dead' stories and I understand that news sources were checking it to make sure it wasn't but David Bowie was immediately someone I knew I had to say something about even if the internet will already be awash with so many others saying their piece.
For many of those of us who became teenagers early in the 1970's, Bowie was as significant as The Beatles. I had Beatles wallpaper in my bedroom in Nottingham until we left in 1967 but I wasn't even 4 when She Loves You was number 1 and so not in a position to quite appreciate The Beatles as they happened but from Hunky Dory, through Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs to at least Station to Station, he made a set of albums as good as anybody's comparable list and I was there by then.
Credited with a 'chameleon'-like talent to re-invent himself, he was really a borrower who took and re-used the styles of others to make his own, from Anthony Newley, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, German avant garde, soul and eventually leaving it to Brett Anderson and Suede to make more Bowie albums while Bowie made drum'n'bass records. One might have loved Marc Bolan more but you had to admire Bowie. Whether as Ziggy Stardust, The Dame, The Thin White Duke or a member of the ill-advised Tin Machine, he was always self-consciously Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, a Cracked Actor or something other. It was art and the world of Andy Warhol brought flamboyantly into the hit parade.
1975 looks in retrospect like a pop music desert after the passing of glam rock and before the Sex Pistols but while Led Zeppelin were making their ludicrous film, The Song Remains the Same (it's easy to say so now), and pop music was in such doldrums that I had absented myself to a diet of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Faust, Bowie was making Station to Station, which I will suggest is the real masterpiece above them all, that includes the original of the attached  Wild is the Wind.
Many stories will be heard over and again over the next few days, not least the memorable TOTP performance of Starman, some regrettable utterances about fascism and the 'homo superior' but I will remember Changes as Tony Blackburn's Record of the Week on the Breakfast Show which, now I check the Guinness Book of Hit Singles, I find failed to make the Top 40; I didn't understand a concert review in Sounds that said that Bowie had 'camped out on stage' (I pictured him sitting outside a tent) and, before I was corrected by some who knew better I thought Station to Station said,
It's not the side effects of her cooking,
I'm thinking that it must be love.

when, of course, now we all know it was not 'the side effects of the cocaine'.
Rebel Rebel remains an irresistible favourite alongside Drive-In Saturday, the futuristic vision of humanity having to re-learn how to 'make love' by watching old films,
His name was always Buddy
and he'd shrug and ask to stay
and she'd sigh like Twig the Wonder Kid 
and turn her face away.

I want to quote Panic in Detroit, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, and so many others, like Heroes, Suffragette City, the Lou Reed tribute Queen Bitch, Life On Mars, because there were so many things of such cleverness, the most astute arbiter of that elusive quality that some call 'cool', whatever that was. And like any genius, I dare say he could be naff at times. But so could the Beatles.
Quite brilliantly, it didn't mean much but it meant everything. I was never enough of a devoted fan at the time but he was a part of all of it and just about the most essential figure in pop music for those of us lucky enough to be the right age to know as much. He wouldn't have got away with it now but in amongst Alice Cooper, T.Rex, Roxy Music, the New York Dolls, Kiss and all, he really didn't seem that unusual, just better than most. I'm not even sure he was a trendsetter of any kind, but he was clever enough to make it look as if he was leading the way.
In a week when we lost Lemmy, only really notable in my book for singing on Silver Machine, and Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart, a childhood stalwart from Junior Choice and Crackerjack, I'm sad that those significant names are so completely overshadowed by David Bowie who made such a vast contribution to the soundtrack of our lives. He even made it possible for Queen to make a good record.
I'm a bit more stunned now, having written this, than the disbelief I felt this morning when I thought I must have misheard what was being said.
 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

George Eliot





2015 was my George Eliot year. Having re-read Middlemarch 35 years after sitting in front of it for hours during the summer of 1979 in preparation for the Victorian Literature course of B.A. (Hons) English Lancaster 1981, I was impressed ten times more than that first experience of it when I was more overwhelmed than unconvinced and so I moved on to Daniel Deronda. Keeping a wary eye out for bargains, I was lucky enough to find Scenes from Clerical Life, Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss on a bookstall for 50p each and, when they didn’t have change for my two pound coin, waved away the 50p in lordly fashion. I can’t remember where my Felix Holt came from but remember reading it on a train in September and I finally finished Romola late on New Year’s Eve.
In trying to draw some conclusions about Eliot’s novels, with their various moral, political and intellectual themes, I first want to bring together a blueprint in which a virtuous, sometimes scholarly, and sometimes apparently based on Marian Evans herself, central character has their ostensible destiny compromised and re-routed to an alternate fate. This might be the sub-text to the whole body of work that one’s end is not in one’s beginning but is decided more by what happens than what was seemingly meant to be, that ‘nurture’, or something like it, is always going to modify ‘nature’ decisively. To simplify seven novels, and some of them very big ones, to such a glib paraphrase is absurd but I’m not involved in a dissertation here, only a note. Middlemarch on its own would reveal ten times more on a third reading and I will make a point of reading it every thirty five years to allow it to disclose more each time.
But Silas Marner’s carefully hoarded savings are cruelly stolen only to eventually bring him a greater reward in bringing up a child; Adam Bede stoically misses out on the girl he adores but finds a life of contentment with the girl one might not have expected; Romola, somewhat misguidedly perhaps, devotes herself to the wrong man more than once before becoming fulfilled without being attached to a man; Dorothea Brooke idealizes the academic work of Casaubon but discovers too late in marriage to him quite how desiccated such a bookish life can be, and Daniel Deronda pursues the vain, spoilt but, of course, beguiling Gwendolen but it is Gwendolen’s loss when she marries the dreadful, manipulative Grandcourt and Deronda finds discovers his inheritance in Jewish culture.
If I left out The Mill on the Floss there, it is not because it doesn’t fit the vague template of an Eliot plot but because it does it differently. Maggie Tulliver is a wonderful, signature creation, an ardent learner full of possibility and promise. Her relationship with the sensitive Philip is valuable and she cares less about his disability but her father is in dispute with his and it causes a rift in the family, particularly with her much-loved brother.  Her destiny, appallingly, is to be re-united with her brother in drowning in the  pre-Lawrentian. Although one must regard Middlemarch as Eliot’s greatest achievement, it is difficult not to like The Mill on the Floss, in a very competitive field, as much as any of her books.
But that is not to say they are perfect. Each novel has had its critics, on points of credibility within the plot or other technical objections. But disbelief has to be suspended and Eliot’s prose is glorious enough to be enjoyed for its own sake and overcomes any such prescriptive requirements. It is not only how she can write a sentence but how she will pass comment with informed liberalism and, more often than one might expect, with knowing humour.
In The Mill on the Floss, Mr. Tulliver winks and smiles,
With the natural pride of a man who has a buxom wife conspicuously his inferior in intellect.
And in Silas Marner,
A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters a desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic.
Her biographers mention how Herbert Spencer decided against marrying her because she was too intellectual- that might have been his loss, not hers- and it was unfortunate that  while I was reading Romola Giles Coren, the well-known acerbic columnist in The Times, expressed ironic surprise that anybody read George Eliot for pleasure. Romola is certainly a challenge at times but comes to life in its climactic second half and it did take three years of research into Florence in the 1490’s to make into quite such a dense account of Savaranola, the Bonfire of the Vanities and Romola’s story woven into it. But I wouldn’t have spent a year reading almost no other fiction than hers if it hadn’t been for pleasure. And Giles is noted for being less reluctant than his more dignified sister in reaching for the unnecessarily cheap shot whenever he’s run out of ideas for anything more witty to write.
Coming historically, and thematically, between Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, it’s easy to see George Eliot as a novelist that brings together elements of both but is surely more satisfying than either. Dickens has been given more attention as a writer, possibly as a more populist story teller but not necessarily as such a sophisticated writer. It is inevitable that she is something of an icon for feminists but hers is not the sort of feminism than regards the masculine as a tyranny that needs to be subverted by replacing it with the reverence of everything female instead. Many of Eliot’s male characters are sensitive, benign and well-meaning and the female can be as selfish and deplorable as any man, and so her attitude appreciated the more noble aspirations of diversity before such an idea became a vehicle for the use of any perceived minority to make inordinate claims for their victim status. As Jenny Uglow says,
Part of George Eliot’s aim is, in contrast, to celebrate diversity, to pick out the cygnet among the ducks, and to deny the existence of a norm.
And that, alongside the consummate prose, the profound portraits of humanity and the sheer intelligence is what makes her not only the greatest of C19th novelists but of any period. It is not Eliot, it is Jenny Uglow, that is disrespecting ducks there. Unfortunately, Jenny has rather missed the point. In a George Eliot book, a duck would have lived some sort of happy life, paddling about in a pond whereas a cygnet would have always been in danger of growing up into a self-regarding, graceful but potentially aggressive swan.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

If It Wasn't Christmas

My mate's daughter is at University doing Pop Music. It has been suggested that if she needs help with the words to any of her compositions, I might be able to provide it.
Before Christmas, watching Danny Baker's SKY Arts programme on Christmas Hits, I noticed that such records are still being made. It's not just Slade, Wizzard, Mud and The Pogues, there are recent records of some note by Leona Lewis and Darlene Love. When I say 'recent' I mean within the last 25 years. So I wondered whether to attempt such a thing rather than wait for my assistance to be requested.
Below is the resulting first draft, ready to be edited, changed, adapted howsoever the musician sees fit, or quite understandably, perhaps discarded, but it appears here to lay some claim on the title, idea, lines or anything about it deemed to be original so that, in the event of the Worldwide Christmas no.1 hit, some of the royalties arrive here.
Lds & Gnlmn, you heard it here first.



If It Wasn’t Christmas


Don’t be mad at me
I love you, baby, but I’m not quite free
You know I won’t be kissing him with the same feeling
I want to hold your hand
I don’t want to hear your reprimand
With you everything has a new meaning

It’s not going to snow and the mistletoe
Is the only thing that can see I’m pre-occupied
If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side

You won’t be far away
It might as well be Acapulco Bay
But the distance between us will not last forever
It’s hard to compromise
I want to be the only one in your eyes
You know I’m not trying to be clever

And then I’ll follow a star to be where you are
And have no need of any other thing as my guide
If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side

The past’s behind us
With our regrets and mistakes
But for the rest of our lives
I’ll do whatever it takes

There’ll be no need for presents
Underneath a tree
Because I will have you
And you will have me

If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side
                (If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side)
If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side
                (If it wasn’t Christmas, I’d be right there by your side)

Friday, 1 January 2016

Larkin's Photographs

Richard Bradford, The Importance of Elsewhere, Philip Larkin's Photographs (Francis Lincoln)

The Complete Poems was an exhaustive edition of more Larkin poems than might have needed to see print. There have been the books of juvenilia, the fiction, the letters, the Letters to Monica, the Required Writing, then more of it and the jazz reviews. With three biographies and a number of memoirs by those who knew him, it could have seemed as if there was nothing else that needed doing but that was betting without his photography.
But this is a very welcome book and not quite what one could have expected. Richard Bradford makes it into a 'life', with chapters devoted to family, friends and girlfriends in a chronological order accompanied by a useful commentary. I expected full page reproductions of black and white studies of cemetries, country churches, Hull, the hinterland of Holderness as well as portraits of those he knew well but it is more personal and less art for art's sake than that.
The story, and the way it is presented, stresses Larkin's compartmentalised life, keeping his relationships separate as best he could, not only one girlfriend from another but all of them from Kingsley Amis, his friend with who he can be compared and contrasted. There was a hiatus in correspondance with Amis, more or less coinciding with more time being spent with Monica, who was not a favourite of the novelist's. And we appreciate how it wasn't clear in their early days which of them was going to be the poet and which the novelist, either.
Early impressions of Martin Amis compare him with Mick Jagger but the photographs, more tellingly, show Monica to be the most imposing and photogenic of Larkin's womenfriends, with Ruth Bowman, seen in 1947 aged 16, illustrating a time before teenagers as we have known them since the 1950's, looking particularly mature in retrospect.
Alongside Betjeman, Larkin is at ease; next to Ted Hughes, there is no need for the text to suggest that there was no chemistry between them. Larkin's cars are a stately Vanden Plas and a Singer- distinguished, choice vehicles seen on holidays in the British Isles, which were taken from Mull to Sark and places in between. Where, in Going, Going, he wrote of
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
               this is one of the books in which he imagined such things lingering on. And it is a treasure.
With some gadgetry, he takes self-portraits, posing as he takes breakfast, for example, and for the most part is very much the bookish Oxford man but, in early middle age he presents a debonair image of one who knew what he was about. It has been remarked how girlfriends are pictured in similar poses, as if there is something sinister about that, but it takes some noticing and reviewers bringing such suggestions with them are importing them from other suspicions they nurture from elsewhere. Give the man a break.
All biographies are sad, recounting the years of achievement and success before their subject is a household name, to be followed by the necessity of living up to it and then the inevitable demise but, once released from the tangled web of contingent relationships that Larkin allowed to build up around him, these photographs make an admirably understated album that describe how a very major figure can lead a relatively ordinary life, extraordinary though it may seem.
In the Foreword, Mark Hayward-Booth calls it, 'this first book of photographs by... Philip Larkin', so we can perhaps look forward to further volumes. There is less art in this one than there might have been. It is inward looking and probably not the selection that Larkin would have made himself. There are clearly more letters and archive material available but by now enough is known of the man to make publication of such material a recondite exercise. More of the photographs that he took on his bicycle rides or on holiday would be welcome, though, just to enjoy some good, old pictures rather than use them for yet more psychoanalysis.