Friday, January 11, 2008

In The South Bank Centre Guide there's a notice about Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith and Jackie Kay onstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in March. The only work of theirs I've read, that I can remember, is Oranges are not the only Fruit.

Just what I need - an incentive to read some modern women's fiction. Just lately I've read books by men, and some female crime writers. I never used to get on with chick lit even when I was a chick - or a bird as men who risked getting a bollocking in the 60s might call me. Come to think of it, that was mainly in films. I don't think I ever met anyone who said it. Maybe even then the media just had its own life and language.

I book a ticket online and decide to go to Charing X Library to beat the rush for the books. On my way out I grab the book on the Vienna Woods serial killer I've finished and a novel I'd read ten pages of. I'd only picked it up in the library because the front said 'Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2005' The heroine's a twelve year old girl on holiday in a cottage in Norfolk with her family, a terrific little snob who keeps referring to everything as 'substandard' and contaminated because used by other people. Also, the chapters start with the second half of sentences, which seems a bit pointless.

On the train I have a sudden thought. I take the novel from my rucsack and look at the cover. It's called The Accidental but it's not the title that I'm looking at so much as the author's name - Ali Smith!
It must be an example of how the retina can take in information without the brain engaging and then ping- it all comes to the forefront when required.

Anyway, I read 100 pages last night and it isn't all as bad as the first chapter. The second is from the point of view of the girl's older brother who was indirectly responsible for a classmate's suicide. He decides to kill himself.

The third chapter's from the point of view of the stepfather, a college lecturer and serial seducer of his students. He's about to carry on with the cleaner at the holiday cottage.

The next is the wife, who seems to know all about the husband's indiscretion and is an academic herself. It's all a bit alienating. All the chapters have the half-sentence start. I think it must be modelled on Shakespeare's method of starting his plays in the middle of conversations.

The library had another one, in paperback, called Hotel World with a suspiciously Barbie pink cover, one by Jeanette Winterson called Tanglewreck which looks a bit whimsical and some Jackie Kay short stories called Wish I was Here. That's handy as I'm into reviewing short stories now, but there's a strange comment on the back, by a Guardian writer : 'She gives hugely of her talent; pours it onto the page.' As if a writer might think to herself, 'No, I'll be a bit mean with my talent. After all, how do I know they'll be worthy?'

Doris Lessing is on this month but I heard her speak years ago in Singapore. Besides, as I used to read her books when I was younger it wouldn't give me the same incentive. I should have time to read a few by March 5th.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Yesterday's Independent had a little booklet called A New You, Part 1: The No Diet Diet. Just the thing to settle down with after a night at the Bromley Cafe Rouge. As it was Mr T's retirement treat I'd over-indulged. Only one glass of wine, though, because I was driving us back to Lewisham.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours, as enny fule kno, is not good for the corpus. What's to be done? This slim volume sounds promising, although the drawback is I have to buy the Independent every day for a week to complete the series.

The preamble pours scorn on dieting. Good. Continue with the fried egg sandwiches, then. Next there's a quiz to see whether you are ready to go to 'embark on phase one'. I try the questions out on Soldier Neddy as he tries to get his vest off without falling over.

I'm already sceptical as he doesn't fit the author's profile of thin people. Roy is usually thin, despite the after dinner python-swallowed-a-goat bulge of his stomach. According to Prof Fletcher he will: 'See opportunities where others see barriers', will 'have a go'', 'challenge himself daily' and 'try things and experiment' . This is all quite the opposite of his normal approach. It's true he 'can be a bit of a social chameleon'. I once threatened to give our address to a Scout Master in a youth hostel so Roy could prove he really did relish a week in the Lake District under canvas, as I'd heard him claim.

The quiz answers prove he is a right stick-in-the-mud. Or, in his case, stuck-in-a-vest. He definitely won't qualify to embark on phase one. What that is I have yet to discover.

Friday, January 04, 2008

I've deviated twice this week from the Cineworld Path of Righteousness. First time was excusable, I think, as they didn't change the programme after Christmas and I couldn't face another dollop of fantasy. One of them is even called 'Enchantment'.

The film Roy chose on Saturday turned out to be much the same, though, in terms of wish-fulfilment . It was 'Closing the Ring' about a woman who felt she had to go ahead and marry her husband's best friend because that's what he'd decided before he was shot down over Belfast in WW2. It was directed by 84 year old Richard Attenborough, who is supposed to be a 'national treasure' but I've never liked him since he was in the union- bashing 'The Angry Silence'. He was well-cast as Pinkie, the slimy criminal in 'Brighton Rock'.

We had the auditorium to ourselves at the Peckham Multiplex, which was odd considering it was Saturday afternoon, but I suppose all the kiddies were watching the fantasy films.

Yesterday's jaunt to a pricey arthouse cinema was less excusable, but I thought it would be 'educational' , ie with Spanish dialogue.

When Roy announced he was going to see a film called 'Stellet Licht' at the Renoir I thought good, I can go to back the Tate Modern where we saw half an exhibition the other day. Then, when I was looking up start times for him, I saw it was directed by a Mexican director and I changed my mind. Bound to have lots of Spanish dialogue.

The German title and Mexican setting were in a way the least odd aspects of the film. It started with a long drawn-out sunrise followed by an ill-favoured couple and six children in an Amish-style kitchen taking as long to say a silent grace as it did for them to eat their cornflakes , more or less in silence apart from 'Pass the milk, Johan'. It was all so slow I could hardly believe it. The last time I'd seen anything like it was a Tarkovsky film where someone waded across a lake with a lighted candle.

A formulaic although unlikely love-triangle (the 'mistress' was even plainer than the wife) was presented as a kind of Greek tragedy with a touch of magic realism thrown in.

Turned out they were speaking a form of German because they were Mennonite settlers, a persecuted religious sect, living near Chihuahua. I found this out from the Internet. At least I recognised from the little Spanish dialogue there was , mainly the radio in a tractor repair shop, and from the maize crops, that it was set in Mexico. Roy said he had no idea where it was. He'd arrived after the maize harvest in Tonghua. But he liked it, and could I look up the review in Sight and Sound.

Halelluja! He's resuming his bridge programme this afternoon after a whole month off. No more twilight tourism for a while, and after my morning stint I'll be off to town with my flask and butties.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Noble Calling

At the check-out desk a female assistant scolds her helper. A pale-faced girl, aged about ten, is rubbing the book- spines back and forth across a de-magnetizing plate.

'No, no, you only have to pass it over once!' The woman has a French accent.

I smile as the girl raises her eyes. 'So enthusiastic! She'll make an excellent librarian some day'

'Huh! I hope she has a better future than this!'

I'm surprised and say, half joking, 'What? Providing the world's knowledge to the public? What nobler calling could there be?'

The woman relents a little and shrugs. 'Well, yes, the job has it's good points. ' Small- boned and efficient, she reminds me of a down-trodden version of Stephane Audran. 'I like to talk to the customers about their choices.' She glances at my pile of books, the top one a collection of short stories called 'Paris Noir'.

'I've been to Paris a few times, and the stories all have a Paris setting,' I explain.

'The woman looks rueful. 'Ah, yes, I lived there seven years, until this July.'

I stepped back in mock horror. 'What? How can you bear to have left?'

Another shrug and a resigned frown. 'Pfft! I was made redundant!' She turned to the girl. 'She prefers the school here, though. The change was the right way round - it would have been hard the other way. In France the students' bags are so heavy with homework they all have back problems. Here, she does nothing all day!' The girl is nodding happily.

My husband brings a book and we have a discussion about Camberwell, where the woman tells me she lives and where my husband was born. The advantage of growing up there, I explain to her, is that it made Roy forever indifferent to his surroundings, no matter how drab.

With my checked-out books the girl hands over a hand-drawn book-mark, illustrated with a Christmas tree and, on the back, 'Happy New Year from Charing X Library.'

'How lovely! Thank you so much!'

'Mm- it's what she does', the woman says half-apologetically, looking pleased despite herself.

As I go I wish her Happy New Year and hope she soon finds somewhere more scenic to live.

'What, with the price of property in London? You are joking! '

Roy reminds me that Camberwell these days is pretty pricey. One of my closest friends, also a rather waspish Frenchwoman, lives there and could make a killing if she sold her home, a council flat in a terrace of Edwardian town houses. In fact, she likes the raffish atmosphere of the area.