Saturday, 10 April 2021

Diary: No Man is an Island

"Any man's death diminishes me," wrote John Donne. And while, as any other human, I mark the passing of anyone with anything but joy, I can hardly jump on the "deeply sorrowful" bandwagon of mourning that seems to have gripped the nation (well, those involved in broadcasting) since the announcement of the Duke of Edinburgh's death yesterday. 

The North Korean-style solemn music across BBC radio, the clearing of the schedules, cancelling of BBC Four and rolling news across all media seem to indicated more the desperation of journalists and broadcasters indulging their own passion than the properly respectful marking of the man's passing. 

It's not just the BBC, either. (Although quite why repeats channel Radio 4 Extra had to be given over to special news bulletins for nearly two days is another matter. What were they doing, repeating coverage of Queen Victoria's passing?) Cathedrals and churches up and down the country competing with each other to say how "deeply saddened" they are, and how quick they've been to open up for "private prayer" and provide books of condolences to sign. 

The man was 99. He'd led a good life. So have many, many others whose passing we either fail to notice or ignore. Ok, he was a public figure but the role wasn't exactly that of an NHS doctor on covid duty, and it came with considerable privilege. Surely the most appropriate response is to celebrate a life lived well (and at our expense) rather than pretend it's the death of Diana all over again. 

In other news, I’ve been trying to get Faber to give me permission (at a price; they’ll do nothing for nothing) to use a line of Larkin’s as an epigraph in my latest book. Things started well: the Society of Authors thought they could help, as his trustees. Then a nice lady at Faber said I needed to use their bot: I did. The book I need t quote from wasn’t there. I chose the nearest I could find, the bot duly spewed out a licence and demanded payment. But I wasn’t going to part with cash for something that some lawyer somewhere might want to challenge in the future. So I emailed again: and again; and again. But the nice lady isn’t answering. 

Perhaps the Faber offices are closed for mourning? 

I wonder what the man himself, who was nothing if not obsessed with death, would have made of that?

Thursday, 1 April 2021

O to be in England?

 "April is the cruellest month," according to T.S.Eliot. It certainly seems to have played the fool today with the sudden (and precipitate) drop in temperature. But... but... it's still April. The birds are singing, the  blossom is budding, the grass is growing. I've heard three blackbirds, seen a house martin, and enjoyed some lovely spring walks in the sun until today.

Today, I've been looking at some of the photos that I've taken. And listening to the words of Robert Browning going round and round in my head as I do... 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Diary: No more heroes...

It’s been a week of concerts from Media City this week (for those of us perpetually tuned to Radio 3) and jolly good they’ve been. Chamber music at lunchtime, orchestral concerts in the afternoon and culminating on Friday evening with a fine live concert from the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. All the concerts have been introduced by the ebullient Tom McKinney, complete with the emphatic local pronunciation of every ‘G’ in the script... choral evensonG, lots of sinGinG and so on. Someone on Twitter a few days ago asked where all Priti Patel’s absent ‘Gs’ have gone. 

Well, we now know the answer. 

When not listening to Tom using up Priti's scorned "g's" I've been tramping the pavements on my daily walk while listening to Stephen Fry narrate his re-telling of the Greek myths, Heroes. Not only is the prose masterful (I've got the book, too) but the reading (as you'd expect) is amazing. The range, the voices and the choices... for example, the pitch-perfect Norn Iron contortions of the language given to  king Eurystheus! You can almost see the wicked twinkle in Stephen's eye. It's not (just) a well-told tale of ancient deeds and derring-do, either. Fry isn't averse to adding the occasional observation of the universal truths the old tales sometimes tell. "[R]ebellions from the outside nearly always fail: familial quarrelling, dynastic feuding, party disunity, the palace coup and the stab in the back... these are what dislodge regimes and topple tyrants." 

And there's been proof of that a-plenty, this week!

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Proud Songsters

National Poetry Day is in October, but that's too long to wait to share this wonderful poem of Spring. It's one of my favourites by one of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy. (Such a favourite that I've edited my own anthology of his poetry, should you be interested). And I know this is technically a poem of April, and it's still March. But it is, at last, Spring. The birds have started singing. And it's #WorldPoetryDay today. And that's what matters...

Proud Songsters

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,

And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,

And as it gets dark loud nightingales

In bushes

Pipe, as they can when April wears,

As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand new birds of twelvemonths’ growing,

Which a year ago, or less than twain,

No finches were, nor nightingales,

Nor thrushes,

But only particles of grain,

And earth, and air, and rain.

Hardy's birthplace, Lower Bockhampton, Dorset

To read more by Thomas Hardy, I can't do better than recommend you start here:

And to hear this poem read, and read beautifully, click here:

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