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.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Live from the Chess in New York

via the internet, and the comfort of my old computer seat, of course.

It looks like Chess24 has crashed under the weight of its own fineness but I'm on Susan Polgar's site where you can still see it.

I thought Magnus had the first game there but, as ever, what it looks like to me is not what is and apparently all the computer programmes said it was dead level.

I'll be explaining the new idea of 'post-serious' here soon enough, my own amalgam of attitudes that follows on from 'post-truth' much more enjoyably and less sinister than that Trump tenet.

But here's an example of it. 5 winners from 5 horses, as usual, in the early part of the week. World Chess on the internet, a few tins of lager and the rest of the wine I couldn't find room for the other night, play Happy from Exile on Main Street and know that you've got the Best Collection of poems finally decided.

There is no need to go anywhere.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Poet, Job Title and Description

One might have thought that the weblog would turn out to be a recepticle for the unconsidered utterances of those not worthy of publication elsewhere. The ramblings of mad men, the cliches and non-sequiturs of any old misfit. I'm sure it is in places but I only find what I generally find using Clarissa Aykroyd's index of sites on her list at The Stone and the Star and she iis a good judge in the main.
Today, though, I was particularly impressed by some well-chosen words by Andy Humphrey at The Poet's Soapbox on Five Words that Poets Hate, which climaxes with 'poetry'.
This is by no means the first time I've raised the subject here but I'm encouraged to reprise the theme because however much it seems a major point to me - and what a luxury it is to have such an esooteric consideration as a pressing issue- things are ne'er so well expressed as when somebody else puts it better for you. There's a lot to like about Andy's attitudes elsewhere among his posts but whoever it was that replied to his survey, they have quite independently from me arrived at the same devoutly held belief.
The Poet's Soapbox, Five Words that Poets Hate

They do not begin, as I do, from the idea that 'poet' is not a proper job but was often in the past and is preferably still, an occasional and amateur enterprise undertaken by people who have other things to do, whether that be dramatist, Collector of Duties of Wool at London Port, Dean of St. Paul's or librarian. Novelist is also a 'proper job' because it takes all day to do it properly. It doesn't take all day every day for several years to produce a 60 page book of poems.
Ben Lerner's recent book, The Hatred of Poetry, came not from dislike of poems themselves but the feeling that poems can never achieve the sublime aims that generate them and that they can only fail. A less specific but wider discontent is how the job description of 'poet' brings with it pre-conceptions, some of it from Romanticism and daffodils if we need to cite an example, that many who write 'poetry' want to have very little to do with.
It's the words and how they are put together into the 'verbal construct' and a poem is no more than a piece of writing in which the author and not the typesetter decides where the lines end.
To come to poetry with any assumption that it is going to be profound, deeply felt, caring, sensitive, intelligent, moral, beautiful, uplifting or worthy is both to invite disappointment and undervalue many pieces of work that are not the slightest bit bothered about any of those pious sentiments. Certainly, many great poems can benefit from one or more of that list of aesthetic qualities but we didn't ought to think that they needed to.
It would be equally pertinent to say that 'poetry' is not by definition a good thing any more than football or dancing are always a guaranteed pleasure but everything has its moments. Thus many bad poems, and there are plenty of those to be found, suffer from the misconception that they are worthwhile because they aspired to, and possibly thought they achieved, one or some of those qualities. But that wouldn't be good enough if that was all the poem had done and had otherwise failed to 'be any good'.
And there's John Foggin, who was down here at Havant last year as a prizewinner at the festival, adding that 'poet is a word he runs from' although he definitely is one. However, there is no point imagining that the job or nomenclature are going to be revised. A poet is still going to be called a poet, like dustbinmen will be dustbinmen and prefer that to being refuse operatives. Poets- some of them idiosyncratic and the last people to want to sign up to any sort of identifiable image- will just have to say, 'yes, but not that sort of poet' and otherwise just sit and suffer. The greatest pity is when it is other poets that don't understand.
It's not easy but, not having remained a pop music fan until the Arctic Monkeys, I am still aware they had an album called Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Perhaps one should take comfort in that.  

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Today's Times Crossword Solution

With a liitle help from Wordfinder

Friday, 25 November 2016

Chess, etc.

Some might say chess is not a good spectator sport but that will depend on how interested you are.
If you don't read the chess columns in the newspapers it is unlikely you'd know thaat the world championship is on at the moment and has, not quite literally, caught fire as it reaches its climax.
Sergei Karjakin, the pretender, had gone one up after surviving a few maulings from Magnus Carlsen but Carlsen couldn't quite put him away. But, from a position in which Carlsen harried and pursued a small but perceptible advantage, the match was levelled at 5-5, which means one win each really, with two games to go.
My Recommended site is moving from Spark Chess, where I'd reached the 2000 rating after which you need to register to go higher, to the very excellent Chess24, on which you can try out your own moves in the current position and see by how much you can ruin the position for one player or the other in one daft guess. It makes it much more interesting than thinking you can see what to do without realizing quite how far ahead of you they are.
Also, on this site, one can enter tournaments and so I've played six games in an hour or less with time limits of three or five minutes or four minutes with two seconds added per move. My results have been flattering when I've been gifted a couple of games but 4 out of 7, 15th out of 45, LWWLWLW, over 4+2 last night and 4/6, WWLWLW, over 5 the night before were good enough to make me realize already that I ought not to let it become habit forming.
The verdicts in the Year's Best categories have become clearer with due consideration but it would be most unfair on Nemanja Radulović to announce any results before his performance of the Khachaturian violin concerto with the BSO because the likely fireworks could be a contender for the Best Event award. He looks a bit like Prince. I'm not expecting him to be inhibited.
Meanwhile, the art of writing a good novel is clearly always going to be beyond me but, at 42% of the way towards 50 000 words, I think I will have achieved the ambition of completing one, however abominable it is, sometime in 2017. All that stuff about getting to know your characters, it is true. Whether anybody reading it would do is entirely another matter. 
I knew all along that novelist was a proper job and poet was not.

The Saturday Nap

Blaklion (Newbury 3.10) is tomorrow's nap in good, old-fashioned newspaper tipster style, going for the big race in the hope of a big price that makes it look as if you knew something. We ought to have a foray into a big handicap at least once in this game and they don't come much bigger than the Hennessey.
The scientific reasons for it are that he is a resolute slogger and this race is a slog. He will have been aimed at this prize, as have many of the others, but we can be happy enough with his runs since winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and only hope that that race didn't leave a permanent mark on him. This is something of a date with destiny. I'd rather have him on my side than against me.
There will be a few little yankees to do tomorrow morning but it's not an easy day tomorrow and it's not been a good week trying to look after the 'sitting pretty' position I'd achieved for the year so it'll be time to let the rigours of it all ebb away while Val Doonican entertains us gently on The Good Old Days.

Monday, 21 November 2016

William Trevor

I was saddened to see on the BBC website the news of the death of William Trevor, aged 88.

Having not published anything for a few years, to my knowledge, he had dropped off my radar and would have been in that category of people who might have died without me finding out that they had. I am glad that he was still held in high enough regard to warrant such a mention because he was a big favourite of mine and I read virtually all of his books in the 1980's and some that appeared since.

His short stories were his greatest achievement, along with the novellas like Reading Turgenev, and The Wedding in the Garden, Angels at the Ritz and Mulvihill's Memorial are pieces that come readily to mind for the lives of their downbeat characters, realized with irony that seemed gentle and reserved but could equally be savage in its implications. If it ever looked commonplace, there was something at least seedy, sinister or guilt-ridden not too far below the drab surface. The past, whether in small details or with larger, tragic implications, often hung over the present quite ominously.
Quite deliberately, he inherited something from Dubliners and thus belongs in a lineage that goes back through Joyce, acknowledged in his story, Two More Gallants, to George Moore, Turgenev and Chekhov.

In those days, when Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis were grabbing the attention of a good proportion of readers of the 'literary novel', they weren't grabbing mine. I was reading William Trevor and tracing back to find much to admire in George Moore, too. It was his example that led me to try writing short stories myself but only one ever apeared in print. It wasn't as easy as he made it look.

Saxo Grammaticus

I hadn't expected quite such a thrilling read from Saxo, the Danish cleric, born c.1150, whose History of the Danes, as much of it as there was for him to report, contains the Revenge of Amleth, which is recognizably the story masde more famous by Shakespeare.
Saxo wasn't called Grammaticus until the C15th when an editor added the honourable epithet to his name to acknowledge his fine erudition. He wrote a better standard of Latin than the Middle Ages had been accustomed to. And, if it wasn't for having been told that in the introduction, I would find it hard to believe that the translation by Soren Filipski, in The Norse Hamlet from a series called Sources of Shakespeare (Hythloday Press, 2013, 'Printed in Great Britain by Amazon'. Blimey. All credit to them for that).

Amleth feigns madness in his maneouvrings to outwit his wicked Uncle Feng who has murdered his father and married his mother, Gerutha. He is lucky to be able to find his enemies asleep whenever he needs to swap their sword, amend a letter or make any other progress with his plan.
In a more lively episode of the trip to England, he is able to erase the names on the letter that the precursors of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking to the King of England and change the message to ask the king to kill the messengers and not their companion, Amleth.
Amleth also persuades his girlfriend to go with him to a 'distant marsh in order to have his desire more safely'. No, I'm giving him too much credit for chivalry, which might not haver been invented by then, it says he 'dragged her off' there.
An unlikely sign that he should do that is a fly with a straw stuck to it, a detail that Shakespeare in his wisdom decided not to use. But there are the ur-Polonius, the ur-sterile prontory and the ur-tribute to Amleth after he is counter-revenged upon in which it says what a fine, noble man he would have made. In fact he would have 'rivalled the Gods in glory'. And I much prefer Saxo's forward look in which 'Wiglek had a long and peaceful rule' to the prospect of Fortinbras in all his right-wing, orderly machismo.
What we don't know is what was added to the story by the Ur-Hamlet, rather disconcertingly not attributed to Shakespeare in the introduction because it appears in about 1564. I wouldn't have thought so, either, until one realizes that is a typo and should say 1594. But we can forgive that in what is otherwise a tremendous book to have.   

Telemann Fantasias

Fabio Biondi, Telemann Fantasias (Glossa)

It's the sound of this disc that imprssed from the first sonorous notes. Whether that is the tone of the violin (by Ferdinando Gagliano, Naples, 1767), the acoustic of the Italian church in which it is recorded or some engineering technique, I don't know. I am not one to get involved in CD v. vinyl debates unless it is to say that the sound of reggae on the Trojan label is somewhow more authentic in its original format which is a small part of its charm. But I'd offer this recording, possibly above any others I've heard, as a case in CD's favour.
12 Fantasias for solo violin are very much to put put alongside those of Veracini, reviewed here not too long ago, and bear comparison with the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. Whether they quite have the architecture of Bach I don't know, but they are written in the same spirit of exploration and discovery whether in the impressive slow movements or, more predominantly, marked allegro, presto or vivace. But in whatever tempo, Fabio Biondi is clear and disntinctive in his performance. It is a pity we can't see his fingers moving or the virtuoso technique that is demanded in Bach, too, in which an accompaniment of a lower string is played at the same time as the theme on higher parts of the stave.
In the middle tempi these are dances but there is time for some showmanship in faster pieces and, from time to time, occasion to relax and reflect in brief passages of in a more langorous mood. I can't hear colour in music, I'm not convinced it's there and suspect it might be a figment of the synesthiastic imagination, but I appreciate atmosphere and this recording has plenty of that. It becomes a late addition to the shortlist for Best CD of the Year although it is going to have to impress further to outdo the Errolyn Wallen, Hans Abrahamsen and new Couperin records already in contention. It does, however, justify a place alongside them.
A new departure on one or two discs I've bought recently has been the booklet being glued into the folding cardboard case. I wasn't immediately enamoured of this idea but it is preferable to the unsatisfactory arrangement on another recent purchase on which it was all but impossible to get the booklet back into the standard issue plastic case.
Telemann's prolific output doesn't diminish the admirable invention of music such as this. These fantasias rate highly among that small sample of his work that I have, which began with a sublime Trumpet Concerto over thirty years ago. It is not as easy to characterise, or define a personality in, his work than it is with Handel, Bach or Vivaldi but here is an account of him that elbows its way back in among them flamboyantly.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

The shops near where I work now are lacklustre but what can one expect beyond charity shops, convenience stores, Tesco and bookmakers. I'd not usually go into W.H.Smith, which was once a bookshop and stationers but is now not much of a shop at all but at least it has the BBC Music magazine with its 'free' disc. When it's Bach on the front, one ought to buy it, because it does also list lots of new releases and re-issues that one won't find out about on the radio or the weekend newspapers.
So, some solo violin music by Telemann is on its way to go with all the other solo violin music of the period that is, for one or other reason, not Bach's sonatas or partitas. Telemann doesn't need my pity but it seemed I'd been neglecting him recently and he is always welcome and then I remembered I did get his Wassermusic earlier this year.
But the free disc is a chamber orchestra version of The Art of Fugue and I am going to have to admit that, for all its technical greatness, Bach did not write only masterpieces and this academic exercise is eventually dull. I don't particularly mind that it doesn't mean anything but music needs to be more than just mathematics you can listen to.

A non-literary excursion in books has been Barney Curley's Giving a Little Back, which I very much doubt if he wrote himself. The redoubtable gambler, trainer and moralist is a compelling figure and not one to cross. He is contrite more often than you might think but self-possessed even more than that. The book, as far as it takes us, is part confession and part chronicle of a life fearlessly spent in pursuit of backing winners and riling the racing and bettiing industries with all the wrongs he perceives in it, like the fact that layers were reluctant to lay fancy prices about the horses that he, by his own admission a very successful gambler, wanted to back. It's hard to see why he is surprised by that.

It will thus soon be time to pick the next book from my waiting pile but Oliver Sack's On the Move, mainly bought to see what he says about Thom Gunn, and I've looked those bits up; Brenda Maddox's biography of Yeats and the hefty Pimlott Harold Wilson can all wait a bit longer. My house was surely not complete, as it won't be until I've won enough to buy the Buxtehude Opera Omnia, without Saxo Grammaticus. He wrote the history of Denmark early on but, more importantly to some of us, the Revenge of Amleth, a source for one of the most enthralling works in all of English literature. I think the next priority, while still brooding over which out of the four short-listed books of poems I like best, will be to see what Saxo gave Shakespeare to work with.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth Poetry Society made a wonderful job of reading Tomas Transtromer this week. I thought it was going to be difficult but it was superb, thanks not only to Transtromer and his several translators but the excellent work that the admirable PPS members put into it. I am never disappointed by the open and honest way they approach such subjects and always come away feeling more enthused and the wiser for it. Get there if you can.

The Saturday Nap

It bears repeating, and is repeated here every year without fail, that early prices, especially when also guaranteed best prices, should always be taken. It is worth tuning in at teatime the night before races and take whatever price the bookies chalk up as their first show. If the horse is going to win, it is likely to be backed and, blimey, haven't they been.
Thomas Campbell might have loked a bit tapped for toe going to the last at Ascot today but he responded well to pressure and won convincingly in the end. At 4/5 whereas last night I had 11/10, which is a big percentage difference.
Last week Rolling Dylan's starting price was 10/11 whereas you could have 5/2 the night before and Valseur Lido was 9/4 for me compared to 2/1 at starting price.
Thus my level stake profit from this little escapade is £18.50 to a £10 stake but at SP the hat-trick of winners hasn't even recouped the losses from the first four losers.

I'll go in again tomorrow with Vaniteux (Ascot 3.15), now that Nicky Henderson has found some form. Since I have as well, one ought to keep going while it's coming in our direction and only stop when it ceases to do so. So 9/4 it is.
I'd like to do Yanworth in the hurdle who I hope is on his way to somewhere near the very top. I don't back Zarkandar but he is clearly no back number yet after his seasonal reappearance and so I'll swerve that race.
I don't quite believe in Seeyouatmidnight in the Betfair Chase (Haydock 3.00) because it's hard to accept that all three of Coneygree, Cue Card and Silvianaco Conti have gone for good. Coneygree hasn't even got beaten since he began his meteoric rise to the top yet and so it's too early to start doubting him but, at 5/1, Seeyouatmidnight goes into a yankee that attempts to exchange insignificant amounts of change for significant lumps of cash.
Robinesse in the first at Huntingdon is the careful, hopefully bombproof banker to hold the bet together and I've put in Tales of the Tweed (Ascot 3.50), despite the fact one shouldn't bet in bumpers, because it has opened much shorter than the betting forecast price.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Saturday Nap

I'm happy with the 11/10 about Thomas Campbell (Ascot 2.10, tomorrow, Friday).

If Capitaine has won the first of Haydock, with which the nap will also be doubled up, that will make 8 winners out of 8 for this week. Defeat is out of the question at present.

There might be something else to do on Saturday.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

England's Cathedrals

Simon Jenkins, England's Cathedrals (Little, Brown)

It is with some disquiet that one orders this book from Amazon for £8.99 when its cover price is £30. I know nobody pays the cover price for a book these days but, really, it's worth £8.99 for the photographs alone. As you read through it or just idly gaze at the sumptuous architecture, it takes some effort not to worry about the Amazon employees and the over-stretched delivery drivers they use, the abuse of who makes such a bargain possible. 
Ever suspicious of how I'm being manipulated, I realize I have bought a book released just in time to catch the Christmas market but, what can you do, that is what the world is like. One can hardly not buy it.
Simon Jenkins is much admired for his previous volmes on 1000 churches and 1000 houses. His cathedrals are a bit more rationalized to not include some that he doesn't allow to qualify for the book without quite denying that they are cathedrals.
Rather than pile praise upon praise, then, which would be easy enough to do, especially for a succinct introduction outlining the whole history of the English cathedral, it is tempting to let one's discomfort find fault if and where it can. The book will be a best seller, be celebrated for its accessible, useful summaries and points of view and no amount of my trying to undermine any of that will do it any damage.
Jenkins admits to reservations about his five star rating system but that doesn't prevent him from persisting with it. It might not be entirely appropriate to measure the sublime as if he were writing for Which magazine or assessing mobile phones. If Chichester isn't quite Ely, Wells or Durham, I'm not convinced that makes it a four. And Gloucester's cloisters are featured on the cover but not considered good enough to raise it to a five either.
There is something partisan happening in the sub-text that I'm nowhere near ecclesiastical enough to precisely identify. Perhaps if A.N. Wilson reviews the book, he might say what it is. The history of the English church, Henry VIII, the relationship with Rome, the diverse fragments of both the Catholic orders and the degrees of Protestant distance from orthodoxy are a vexing array of interpretations that shaped these buildings and not being well-versed in them has its advantages. It's about God, isn't it, but perhaps more significantly for many of us, it is about ingenuity, imagination, design and, of course, wonder - but wonder at the architecture and all of those things that are, for those of us who struggle on in the bleak realms of doubt or disbelief, human qualities and inventions, like some say God is, too.
The book immediately has the effect of making one want to go to many of these places but some are further than a day trip away. However, having been several times to those within striking distance from here, the reports on them seem to miss things that I would have mentioned.
Salisbury was built on soft ground donated for the purpose and its design is too heavy and so it sank a bit and it can be seen that the main pillars at its centre have sunk by different amounts but for Jenkins Salisbury's main problems are compositional. Even though this is the cathedral that was completed as it is now in relatively short order, in the same style, which means almost in one lifetime, rather than the mix of periods found in most cathedrals that grew over centuries rather than decades. And Salisbury only gets four stars, too. It is a rigorous marking system.
Portsmouth has two cathedrals and, no, they would never pretend to be at the glamorous end of the league table and so one star for St. Thomas's, the 'oddest of cathedrals' (where 'ordinary' would do), might not be an issue and St. John's, the Catholic seat, is not included and so presumably gets no stars at all. It might not even want to argue with that itself. But if you live in Durham and regret that Portsmouth is too far for you to come, I can tell you at first hand that it is not true that, of St. Thomas,
The jolliest feature is the tower lantern, long a landmark for sailors on the Solent.
I don't think that is quite as jolly as the face of the cheeky monkey to be seen in the organ pipes (the picture is not from the book but the book illustrates it just as clearly). That might not be Jenkins's fault because I've pointed it out to a cathedral guide and an organist and they seemed non-plussed but, for all that we are implored to look, some cognoscenti seem so intent on telling us about perpendicular or Gothic or modern atrocities that they can't see.

It's a tremendous book to have. You must order one if your conscience can be assuaged. But, as increasingly is the case on the BBC, in The Times or any other place that was once esteemed for its authority, you can't rely on anything these days and perhaps we never should have thought we could. I doubt if this will become the reference book that serious students of cathedral architecture will first go to but it is plenty good enough for me.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Helen Farish - The Dog of Memory

Helen Farish, The Dog of Memory (Bloodaxe)

I realize that I've been lured in by a marketing ploy. I've bought the album on the strength of the single, like I did with the Orange Juice album on the evidence of Rip It Up or like those thousands who bought a hip-hop album about gang warfare on the basis of Killing Me Softly and found themselves with a Fugees CD they didn't like.
Pastoral is a tremendous poem, its terza rima redolent of summer in a lost England, tactile but supremely confident and adept in its own chosen discipline and a compact store house of vivid images and phrases that provide more than many an average book of poems might in its entirety.
I said if Helen Farish's next book is full of poems like this then I will be first in the queue for it. And then I was looking through the almost infinite mentions of prizes, competitions, slams, poets-in-residence and general poetry activity in Poetry News that somebody kindly passed on to me and there it was, a new book by Helen Farish.
Of course not all the poems in it are as glorious as Pastoral. There is not a poet alive that can maintain quite such a standard of masterpieces throughout a whole book and there's not many dead, either. There is, however, a poem called Allington Cross, that brilliantly associates the moment of

                  the pause of a church bell suspended
rim-up after its stroke, mouth open 

with that endlessly possible feeling of a poised summer's day caught quietly and restfully expanding into eternity.
Pastoral does a similar thing but the other way round, accumulating detail of the 'coppery evening, the mayor having dined', 'church towers whose flocks/ of pigeons grow sleepy', and the bee that sashays through town; and the meads; and Allhallowtide. I don't believe for one minute that a poem like this came as naturally as the leaf to a tree but sometimes hard work is worth it and the prosody, the considered rhythm, pace and elucidation of this and many other poems in the book, don't look like the unnatural product of a workshop, too much time spent adjusting or anything too overwrought. It is a 'considered utterance' and is there for the reader to enjoy the measured consideration that the poet has put into it. Poems that achieve such difficult ambitions quite so well don't turn up very often.
Rain, always evocative for the poet, recurs as a motif throughout the collection, as do memories of childhood, Cumbrian roots and a sense of gratitude. The bus to Oualidia is a moving in memoriam with its

  bus that never rusts,
I flag it down still, saving you a place

There is much else to admire in Daughters of a suicide, Tea-time at my aunt's and elsewhere but I have reservations about the poems predicated on other books, mainly C19th literature- Jane Austen, the Brontes, Hardy, Wordsworth, there are several of them - I'm not convinced they do much more than demonstrate that Helen has read those canonical titles and successfully empathized with the characters in them. But one would be doing well to find any book that one approved of entirely with the need to make a collection 'full length', the urge of poets to write poems and the industry demanding more 'product' from such over-worked, sensitive souls.
I'm glad of having been sold such a book on the speculative taster of the best poem to appear in the TLS in the last six months. I'd have been sorry to have missed it. It belongs in any anthology that claims to represent what is still worthwhile about poetry and still being written. Such things make the whole enterprise something to keep investing in.

Best Poem and Best Collection shortlists

It is plenty early enough to be announcing the shortlists for 2016 with a possible candidate for the Best Event category still to come, which is the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert next month, but the lists are always open to late additions and the main action is otherwise mostly done.

The main objective is a review of the year - from my narrow perspective- in poetry but there are the subsidiary categories added in to make an occasion of it. And this year the Best Event category is the most enthralling, given its wide remit and a list of candidates that, even if you think that things within the same genre can be or should be compared in such an arbitrary way, really ought not to be.

So, I'm carrying around four books of poems with me, with no idea which is the best of them.

Best Poem

Judy Brown, After the Discovery of Linear Perspective, from Crowd Sensations
Helen Farish, Pastoral, TLS and The Dog of Memory
Margaret Wilmot, Susannah and Titian, South 54

Best Collection

Judy Brown, Crowd Sensations
Ian Duhig, The Blind Road-Maker
Helen Farish, The Dog of Memory
Bernard O'Donoghue, The Seasons of Cullen Church

Best Novel

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
Ian MacEwan, Nutshell
Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday

Best CD

Hans Abrahamsen, let me tell you, Barbara Hannigan
Francois Couperin, Lecons de Tenebres, Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts
Errolyn Wallen, Photography

Best Event

Cherltenham races, April, with four winners out of five selections
The Good Old Days, BBC4's generous helping of Leonard Sachs et al from the 1970's
The Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, having finally been up it and a new, rewarding perspective on the city
The Shakespeare Twins Theory, finally published, in the TLS, but not for the theory itself (by Curtis-Green), but for the reaction to it, derided on Twitter (by the subsequently ennobled Prof Stanley Wells, Paul Edmondson and Prof Emma Smith) but not refuted
Ulysses' Homecoming, English Touring Opera

There are two of the above categories where I'm fairly sure which is my favourite but there's more thinking to do before dishing out these awards, where it is highly unlikely that the winners will even be aware that they've won.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Trials of the King of Hampshire

Elizabeth Foyster, The Trials of the King of Hampshire (Oneworld)

I was glad to find the blurb on this book use the word 'hilarious'. I was concerned that one ought not to find the pain, suffering and skullduggery of this story the least bit amusing if applying all our politically correct conscience to it.
Words like 'lunatic' and 'idiot' are wielded as playground insults quite thoughtlessly, with not much fine differentiation between one who has become deranged and one who never developed from a child-like condition. It shouldn't even be an excuse that it makes it funny if the subject is an aristocrat but John Charles, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, was not quite right from the start. If he hadn't been heir to the title and estates, it might not have mattered so much, but he was. And so, with the family having to protect the iinheritance against all-comers, it has to go to court to establish whether or not he is a lunatic and thus not responsible enough for any but his rightful family to benefit from his legacy.
Born in 1767, he is looked after from an early age by a rector and his wife who are subsequently to become the parents of Jane Austen, and later in life, in a sort of sublime to ridiculous literary gamut, he is to have associations with Byron, but difficulties with his speech are an early sign that he is not quite right. He is ridiculed at school for his obvious difference but, with a fortune that comes along with his birthright as the eldest child of his family, much worse is to come.
Jeaan Seilaz inveigles himself as a trusted servant until in a position to kidnap the 22 year old in the middle of the night with the intention of getting him to sign over all his estates to miscreants who very nearly succeed in getting him out of the country and from then on, it is a Rabelasian tale of marriages, protectors, plot and counterplot as some try to divert the inheritance their way while his younger brothers have to disrupt all such chicanery.
Portsmouth has little or no idea about where children come from and after his first wife, the older, devoted Grace Norton is worn out by her efforts to maintain appearances, the younger Mary Ann Norton is placed by her family as his second wife, who has her lover come to her bed in the night while the 3rd Earl is there on the other side. The earl's main sexual focus appears to be on blood-letting which he persuades the women on his estates to indulge him in for a generous reward.
There is not much he enjoys more than ceremony and occasions, especially if the bells are to be rung and he takes part enthusiastically in any funeral he can find his way to without any of the requisite display of grief or decorum.
One is less taken aback by his self-interest as a landowner and his political involvement which is little different from what politics has been about from long before his time until the present but,

Portsmouth's letters epitomize the very worst of the English absentee landowner. They are staggering in their insensitivity and selfishness.

and that extends into his routine demands that servants and staff are flogged for the slightest perceived misdemeanour.
Witnesses are brought to the eventual trials to provide evidence of his sanity, which he could be encouraged to simulate in public, or otherwise but if his first trial in 1822 gives him his liberty then that in 1823 declares him a lunatic, which is necessary to establish in order to revoke claims on the estate from those outside of the family.
It can't help to provide a litany of strange and amazing stories which the newspapers naaturally report to a very interested public but it is disturbing, too, for the horrors inflicted on others as well as the sufferings of Portsmouth himself but it is all somehow distanced by two hundred years and perhaps the wealth or devious scheming of its main characters which make it like a cartoon, not least because, Grace apart, it is difficult to sympathize with anybody in it. But it is good news that Portsmouth, with all the drama behind him, and having declared himself King of Hampshire, lives to the age of 86 and enjoys thirty years of solitude on his estates, and that the 4th earl falls ill at the time of his succession and dies in short order so that all his efforts to maintain the family line only serve to benefit the 5th earl, who is cvalled Isaac Newton, as if the saga needed quite such an unecceaarily lame ending.
Lurid, surreal and Machiavellian, it is a sensational but now little-known piece of history that Elizabeth Foyster has re-constructed and provided a lively account of it. I think by now we have gone beyond the time when we need to learn something and finish by saying 'the moral of the story is...' but as the questions of lunacy, idiocy and odd behaviour were addressed and considered, it was likely that one had to compare and contrast those with notions of what is normal.
That appears to be something that we most accurately identify by its absence.     

The Saturday Nap

Suddenly all the good work of the last few weeks is undone. I shouldn't still have been up after midnight but after the opera I had been through Wednesday's racing and then thought I'd see how the American election was going.
It looked okay for Hillary. No, they couldn't possibly elect Trump, not least because he is unelectable. So I went all in at long odds on to make a few quid that I really didn't need. And when I woke up again six hours later my account was just about to be empty. Even more galling was that Hillary won the most votes but even if you win, there's always a democratic system in place (if not the judiciary, who handed the Republicans a previous presidential election) to make sure you don't get the prize.
It's nothing to do with horses. The Autumn plan was all going well and I was steadily on my way to the same healthy profit I made last year and in 2014 but this, and the referendum, have set me back alarmingly.
So it's asking a lot of the horses to mend what they did nothing to break and Cheltenham tomorrow is unlikely to be easy but it's a good game and one must persevere.

No, Cheltenham tomorrow will be great sport, a tremendous spectacle and an open invitation to go broke.
The only bet one can currently have on Thistlecrack is for the Gold Cup and that isn't very sensible yet. More of That might be good value as favourite for the Mackeson, a World Hurdle winner who has had no trouble winning first time out but Jonjo is not a trainer in form. Sausalito Sunrise will probably win because, love him as I do, it is 'backs against the wall' again now and such an open handicap has too many unseen dangers in it and I can't be chancing proper money on such a race. The first will be enlightening and won by a good horse, no doubt, but I'm not going to guess which.
So, away from the best action, I'll be skipping over to Uttoxexter for Rolling Dylan (1.05), and the much-admired Philip Hobbs, which at 5/2 looks a fair chance to restore the equilibrium of this project and be a first step back to where I was luxuriating in a warm glow of satisfaction only three days ago.    

Thursday, 10 November 2016


Thinking ahead to a forthcoming Portsmouth Poetry Society evening on rhyme and back to 'ripple poems', the brainwave invention of Roddy Lumsden in which the consonant sounds of the title are replicated in any order as line endings, I have this.
I can actually, perhaps, extend the form to 12 lines with 'forever loop', 'slurp', 'pillar', 'water polo' and anything else that crops up in idle moments and one can see how the search for rhyme can lead one to outlandish ideas that would never have happened without the discipline. Although we must use them in subtle ways and not be seen to be crowbarring them in.

Another poem to take is Ted Hughes' October Dawn that is half-rhymes throughout before rounding off on a full rhyme.


Some poets regard rhyme as puerile,
something they need to withstand or repel
unlike Chaucer in his undemure pool
of couplets that he begins in April.

But somewhere in this short downward spiral
it might lurk disguised, keen to explore
in the same way that many people are.
Thus rhyme is a gentle interloper.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

English Touring Opera - Monteverdi

Monteverdi, Ulysses Homecoming, English Touring Opera, New Theatre Royal, November 8th.

I never thought I'd see Monteverdi opera in Portsmouth and so am very grateful to English Touring Opera and the New Theatre Royal for bringing it. They were rewarded with an appreciative audience if not a large one.
It is perhaps a slow burner with the real action, that is all the murdering, in the second half but one is lured in. I was on the front row, part of the continuo section of the orchestra really, and could see the strings on the theorbos vibrate and could have turned the pages of the music for the harpsichordist. Close to the singers, as well, it was a fine place to be with a view of the gamba and the cello, who was responsible for convincingly comic string sound effects.
Benedict Nelson is an impressive Ulysses and Carolyn Dobbin a not easily impressed Penelope but Adam Player as Irus (pictured in red), a Commedia del'Arte character representing gluttony, and one might think of a role like Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, does plenty of scene stealing in a relatively minor role.
One is aware that this is not Covent Garden but the production, including lighting and imaginative staging, was compelling in the end. Sub-titles are available even though it is sung in English and as such I might have preferred to have seen Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria but it is possible to become accustomed to the English.
It ends not unlike The Winter's Tale, now one comes to think of it and then, cleverly, I thought, like Joyce's Ulysses on a repeated 'yes'.
At two hours and twenty minutes, it didn't seem at all long because Monteverdi's music floats and meanders in its early baroque recitative way that could flow, one imagines, forever. Mannered, stylised and highly artificial it may be but it has a preservative in it that less restrained, or studied, music perhaps doesn't have.

Beautifully timed to finish just right to get the bus, be home half an hour after the curtain call and the review posted only just over an hour after it had ended, one can't complain about that.
It's Handel's Xerxes tomorrow night. Monteverdi was the priority because I have seen glorious Glyndebourne Handel previously but, if I'm not worn out, I could easily be back. One can sit almost where one wants. I hope that won't deter ETO from coming again.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

In the build-up to that most inconsequential of literary prizes, my own nomination for Best Poem and Best Collection of the year, I read two short-listed poems to the meeting of Portsmouth Poetry Society on Wednesday evening, one of which was Pastoral by Helen Farish and it was received tremendously well (as was the other one). I said I had seen, and heard, Helen read at Oxford several years ago and not been overly impressed. I can't remember if it was her that treated her conference audience to her own analysis of one of her own poems- maybe it wasn't- but I thought, what a nerve. But I said if Helen's next book was full of poems as good as Pastoral then I'll be first in the queue for it. So I look it up and check and, bless my cotton socks, The Dog of Memory was published in September, so I wasn't.
Someone only on the edge of the poetry circuit needs to keep their wits about them to track down the poems they might like the most so heaven help anybody who doesn't know where to look.

But whether or not analysing one's own poem for an audience is proper or not, it doesn't suggest the poet is shy.
In a particularly good edition of the TLS this week (or is it only that I'm finally getting the hang of it), Katy Guest reviews Shrinking Violets, a field guide to shyness, by Joe Moran.
Are we all shy but don't realize that everybody else is, too, but they are all pretending not to be. I very much doubt it. I've met far too many people who had no concept of shyness, nowhere near enough self-consciousness to ever worry about such lacksadaisical drivel.
It might be self-indulgence, verging on a self-importance that makes the individual unwilling to be social and make the effort to connect with others. On the other hand, they might just be terrified.
Alan Bennett is quoted, as he often is found to be, quoting his mother who told him that being shy was preferable to being common but,
'I clung far too long to the notion that shyness is a virtue and not, as I came too late to see, a bore.'

And that's easy for him to say, having made his fortune from writing about social difficulties from the likes of Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf onwards.

One can, with some effort, overcome the condition at the risk of becoming gauche instead. But I'd love to be able to become at least more reserved, if not shy, and not take part in this crusade to make everyone feel as if they should be the life and soul of every bloody party. There isn't room for everyone to be that. The world needs less alpha people and more betas.
I expect I will do a few more poetry readings but I don't particularly want to. If I was shy, I wouldn't even be putting these unnecessary words onto the internet, and so it's not because of that. It's because I'm not convinced that anybody else should have to listen to me reading my poems, never mind analyse them afterwards, when I'm not even convinced about them myself.

It might seem contrarian to write poems, be a poet and go to the lengths of publishing them oneself in booklets but it's the words, I hope, rather than the me in them that I want to preserve.
Ben Eastman, in the TLS, reviews two books in a piece sub-titled Two approaches to self-conscious contrarianism. I haven't even read it yet but I'm looking forward to it.

It might be time to leave such things to others. But, meanwhile, I'm still thinking.

The Saturday Nap

I tipped an 11/1 winner last Saturday. Not here, as you might have noticed, but privately.
Then yesterday, Peter the Mayo Man, who I have been waiting for for a few weeks, sluiced in at 9/4 and today I landed a double at Hexham. The credit/debit graph for 2016 has reached a new high.
So the chances of me nominating a winner for tomorrow must be virtually nil.

The highlight of the weekend for many will be The Breeders' Cup but for me that will only be somewhere to play with any excess winnings that burn a hole in my pocket but Tepin in the 23.40 (our time) would be the target for that, possibly doubled up with the immensely durable Found in the 22.22 where the time of the race looks very much like her form figures.
But I'd rather be at Wincanton for the cracking novice chase at 1.35 which demonstrates conclusively that you can have tremedous four-runner races as well as some of the less appetizing small fields that Wincanton has seen so far this season. I wouldn't mind backing any of them and three are horses that I would be looking out for but the fact they run against each other makes it difficult. Shantou Village is possibly the one highest in my regard but Frodon jumps like a star and I'll be interested to see how the betting goes before a race that is probably best just enjoyed.
Aintree has a good hurdle at 2.40 where I will side with Mister Miyagi, who impressed at Cheltenham in April, and ought to be winning this if he's going to achieve his potential because I'll happily oppose Zarkandar who might need further than this as he gets older. And I'll include Touch Kick (4.15) in the bumper for Paul Nicholls in whatever combinations I hit upon. But, late in the afternoon, it will be one to play up any winnings on.
At Kelso I'll expect Charlie Longsdon to have a winner, which means either No No Mac (2.20) and/or Bestwork (3.30).
Two for fun at Wincanton are The Young Master (3.20), in his attempt to land the prize he was disqualified from two years ago when it was discovered he shouldn't have been allowed to run, and On Demand (2.45), whose light weight and boy claiming 10 pounds more might let him shoot away down the scenic home straight.
But there's Down Royal, too, where it almost breaks one heart to desert Silvianaco Conti, who has done us a few favours over the years, but nothing lasts forever and I'd have thought Valseur Lido (2.35) is as sound an investment as there is among all of these suggestions and so we'll give him the responsibility.
Meanwhile, I must get to work putting these together into a rococo design of singles, doubles, yankees and suchlike in the hope that, if I have stumbled on a few winners, they all end up in the same bet.