Archive for January, 2012

Books in Some Charity Shops of South London: Part 2, Peckham

January 29, 2012

I only managed to find the Sense and Scope shops–I think there is or was another one somewhere.

The Sense shop is at 43 Rye Lane and had 13 shelves of books (say 450 volumes in all), leaving aside the separate children’s section and a rotating stand of romance novels (not all of which were in fact romances).  There was rather a high concentration of books that looked interesting to me, and in fact I even found two to buy–Bowling Alone (Robert Putnam) and The Red Tent (Anita Diamant).  Each of these cost £ 1-50–note that the price is labelled on the cover rather than written inside.  This shop also had a sign up saying that they urgently needed donations.

The Scope shop is at 93 Peckham High Street and didn’t seem very book-oriented.  There were 3 shelves of books, say 120 volumes in all, and I didn’t see anything that interested me.  The common theme in Peckham seemed to be Andrea Camillieri (as opposed to Ian McEwan and Ngozi Adichie Chimamanda in Forest Hill).


This study can now include the ALD Life shop at 45 Peckham High Street.


It had say 30 shelves of books and 1500 volumes overall.  The nearest I came to anything I might want was The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert, but in general the selection looked quite promising.  The opening hours are pictured below:


Port Authority Southwark Playhouse 3pm 28 January

January 28, 2012


Picture from Southwark Playhouse FB page--you can see rather more than this photo implies

This new play by Conor McPherson began with some ineffective pentatonic noodling to establish atmosphere and I slumped against the railings next to me as I realised I was not going to have a rewarding 90 minutes.

The play comprised young Kevin, middle-aged Dermot and old Joe relating episodes from their lives.  Kevin had moved out of his parents’ home and perhaps had the possibility of true love, but in the end had moved back and stayed with curly-haired Tricia.  Joe had decided after a dream of absolute love that Marion Ross from next door was the one meant for him, but had not dared to accept a photograph of her as a girl.  Dermot had found himself out of his depth in his new job and then his rather unsuitable wife reminded him that she had originally condescended to save him, not the other way round.

Well.  I think the point here is that these men were not strong enough to seize happiness because they were crippled by Irish smallness (and also God in the case of Joe).   I didn’t find it engaging.  The lack of any contact between the characters didn’t help.  (OK, so Kevin’s housemate’s  calamitous band ends up being big in the States.  But when O’Hagen’s deceased mother is said to have wanted a photo sent to an ex-neighbour–well, he would have been Ross and not O’Hagen).

Kevin (Andrew Nolan) was given some nice lines about being young and in love, but his part was especially hampered by the Joycean-epiphanic shtick, where minor details occupy the foreground of the narration as though they mean something.  He seemed to be a nice clean boy and so rather out of place–that was probably the point.  Ardal O’Hanlon as Dermot delivered an impersonation of 1970s comedian Dave Allen.  I wondered whether John Rogan as Joe was forgetting his lines or depicting the effects of age.  I finally settled on forgetting.

I didn’t understand the title either.

Books in Some Charity Shops of South London: Part 1, Forest Hill

January 25, 2012

Since people very sensibly decline to lose all their money by opening a bookshop–secondhand or otherwise–in the vicinity of Brockley SE4, I’ve decided to undertake a desultory survey of what the local charity shops have to offer.  My first investigation took me to Forest Hill SE23.

The Red Cross shop at 6 London Road was the only one I could call readily to mind.  It turned out to have say 11 shelves of books, say 450 volumes in all.  I noticed about 6 titles that I would have bought if I hadn’t already read them.  I came nearest to buying The Child that Books Built by Frances Spufford, but at £1-50 it was rather expensive for the condition (heavily tanned pages).

Then completely by chance I came across the Aldlife shop at 81-83 Dartmouth Road.  I didn’t know there was a charity shop there and I didn’t know there was such a thing as adrenoleukodystrophy either.  Anyway, the shop had about 800 books, excluding the separate children’s section.  It also had a nice polished wooden floor to sit on while looking at the books.  There was one copy of Atonement (as against two in the Red Cross and a couple of interesting-looking books in German (surely you should have German books in Forest Hill).  The nearest I came to buying anything was The Richness of Life, a selected Stephen Jay Gould in one volume for £1–but it had too much bulk and too little content that was new to me.

Finally I visited the Sue Ryder shop at 30/32 London Road.  I knew the shop was there, but I’ve never been sure of the difference between Sue Ryder and Ann Summers.  This one had 10 shelves of books, say 400 volumes in all, and the shelves were equipped with speakers relaying music loud enough to stop me concentrating.  There were quite a few books in the might have bought category–it looked like someone from Try Books! must have been taking their discards there.  The nearest I came to came to buying anything was Self Help by Edward Docx at £ 3-95 for a bulky hardback (I think paperbacks were £ 1-45).  On further inspection, I found a shelf of travel guides hidden away beneathe the displаy of DVDs in another part of the shop.  No Ian McEwan this time, but plenty of Ngozi Adichie Chimamanda.  Like the Red Cross, this shop had a sign up saying they wanted more stock.

Invitation to a Beheading, Theatre Collection/Lord Stanley 23 January

January 24, 2012


Cincinnatus (LH convict) and some clowns annoying him--picture from Theatre Collection Facebook page

After an impossible day at work something unpleasant and incomprehensible seemed just the job.  But this must be the least dramatic text ever to be staged in the legitimate theatre, though you do get this kind of thing when a composer decides to do without a librettist and set his own worthy maunderings to music in the belief they will become an opera.

As I understand it, our hero Cincinnatus has been condemned for the crime of being real in a land where everyone has to be the same.  Some Zamyatin-style anti-Soviet satire there.  Representatives of superficial vulgarity afflict him and try to drag him into their world–but he resists, shuts them out and at the end there’s a modest coup de theatre unfortunately heralded by the director having to tell the cast to turn the stage lights off.

As a piece of theatre, there are far too many entrances and exits and short scenes that fail to make their point.  Of course it’s not in any way a naturalistic depiction of life in the condemned cell, but the way the audience rigidly returned to their chosen locations after the interval as though that would ward off misfortune would have been more like it.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind going some other time and seeing what this company makes of a play.

King John Union Theatre 22 January

January 22, 2012


The Bastard (Rikki Lawton) gazes at the deceased King John (Nicholas Osmond), who has recently failed to find cold comfort--picture from

It is shortly after 1200 and we are at war with France. The good news is that we are fighting on their territory and the bad news is that it’s not going very well.  The question is who should be King of England.  King John (supported by his mother, Queen Elinor) is King, but maybe it should be his young nephew Arthur (supported by his mother Lady Constance and various foreigners).

I think the story is about the moral disintegration of King John, who as played here starts off perfectly reasonably and then plots to murder Arthur once he has captured him, which is paralleled by the dissolution of the realm as nobles fall away and the French invade and all of this has to be put right by the Bastard (illegitimate son of Richard I) who both energises the English campaign and relinquishes all thought of power for himself to ensure the succession of King John’s son–so he’s the opposite of King John and has been called into being to repair his misdeeds and restore the realm.

King John does literally call him into being at the beginning of the play when, adjudicating a dispute with his suppositious brother, he bids him arise Sir Richard, and Plantagenet.

We also learn something of the proper behaviour for women:  sweetly retiring and obedient as in Blanche of Spain is good–her marriage to the Dauphin Lewis almost brings peace, while Queen Elinor and Lady Constance almost manage to wreck everything with their scheming and Cardinal Pandulph the Pope’s legate does.  Women should know their place and the Pope should piss off and leave us alone.

The play was presented straightforwardly–there was little choice of course, since in this case the audience didn’t know the story.  Samantha Lawson as Lady Constance first of all attracted attention by being young, black and extremely beautiful and then delivered an outstanding, intense, abandoned performance on a different scale from everyone else.  Otherwise the actors had to be sure to put the story across and didn’t have the richest of Shakespearean material to work with–I thought they put in a very good team effort.

Well done to the Union Theatre for putting on something different and worthwhile, and for making a good job of it!

Reading Lolita in Tehran

January 21, 2012


Another Try Books! book and the general reaction was that people were disappointed and had hoped it was going to be more interesting.  The same reaction of general but reasonably mild disappointment is all I can remember from reading it when it first came out in about 2004.

The book is in principle about how the author set up a reading group with some of her favourite (female) students after being forced to leave her university position after the Islamic Revolution.  In fact a lot of it is about her life and experiences at various stages:  as  a student in the US; during the Islamic Revolution; during the Iran-Iraq War; and so on.

The Try Books! members complained there was too much about books and not enough story.  Personally, I thought that the points she had to make on literature were generally both interesting and sound; but I did wonder about the idea of lack of empathy being the great sin condemned in literature from which (by extension) novel readers were at least partially free.  The problem with this is that (for instance) by all accounts Stalin had a genuine love of Russian literature and was also a fine Georgian poet in his youth.  So I don’t believe it.  Nafisi rather approximately refers to Nabokov’s concept of aesthetic bliss, which in his thinking is a free-standing spiritual experience, and I think this is closer to what you can hope to get out of literature.

Along the same lines, on page 48 of my edition (as illustrated above) we find:  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiosity about other people and their lives. However, the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book starts off: Aspects of characters and events in this story have been changed…to protect individuals…from the eye of the censor…also from those who read such narratives to discover who’s who and who did what to whom, thriving on and filling their own emptiness through others’ secrets.

That’s interesting in a number of ways:  most obviously, we are left wondering whether curiosity is a good thing after all.  But more importantly the language is dreadfully inexact:  it should really be I have changed aspects…since it didn’t happen as some spontaneous process.  It’s not really the censor who goes through stuff that has been published looking for indication of people to punish.  In English, I think it should be filling emptiness with whatever.

There are many examples of not-quite-English:  In my memory the iron gate acquires an elastic quality [p29]–no, from what follows it remains entirely rigid, whatever else it might do.  Then Nassrin jumped in with a screed about one of the female guards [p211];  a screed is normally written, though it can also be spoken.  The female guards at the door, finding a blush in her bag…[p9] has a positively Lewis Carroll charm; presumably she means ‘blusher’ in place of ‘a blush’.  The air was mild, the trees a verdant green [p 339]–but ‘verdant’ means ‘green’; or perhaps ‘fresh green’.

None of this is so awful from someone whose first language is not English, but in her acknowledgments at the end Nafisi does in her own phrase wax lyrical about Joy de Menil and her meticulous editing.  One of these ladies has some explaining to do.

But my main problem with the book is that you have three levels:  the external events, the students and the books and they remain separate.  If you’re going to do do this kind of thing properly, you need to show the external events reflected in the characters and their relations with each other and how this affects their reactions to the books.  It doesn’t happen.  On the one hand, the attempt to obscure who these people actually were means that the reader never gets a clear idea of the different students in the book group while on the other I am too much of an academic:  I have written too many papers and articles to be able to turn my experiences and ideas into narrative without pontificating [p266].

What to do with a surplus ticket to the opera?

January 9, 2012

Let’s imagine you’re going to the opera and the person you’re going with says late in the day they can’t come.  It happens, to me at least.  What do you do?  It depends on the circumstances of course.  Let’s imagine that you bought the tickets.  Then you can generally get a replacement even if Mr or Ms X has got the original.  But you can’t return a replacement ticket for resale.

So the obvious thing is to email or text round your mates to see if anyone else wants to come instead.  If that doesn’t work, you can see if you can get a stranger to come with you and/or buy the ticket.  I suppose if you’re in need of (effectively) an immediate date you can try Craigslist .  Then you can try selling the thing for either a nominal or a real amount on Gumtree.  I think the nice people at BalletcomForum will allow you to dispose of opera tickets there as well. (But their site is down at the moment.)  Then there are sites such as seatwave and viagogo , which would probably take too much time.

Then you can try Twitter, or your own website/blog if you have one.  After I was left with a spare ticket for Die Meistersinger over the weekend, I got as far as offering it on here for 4 minutes before a friend from the beginning of the second paragraph decided he could bear to pass up a film about General de Gaulle in favour of free Wagner and keeping me company.

I’m sure I’m missing something here–have a large number of friends with similar interests to yours, perhaps.

The Iron Lady, Peckhamplex 07 January

January 8, 2012


That looks like an American woman's gesture...

The first thing to say is that if you see this at Peckhamplex Screen 2 then it’s better to sit at the back:  there’s a defect or pimple in the middle of the screen that can be distracting if you can see it.

As everyone knows, the film follows the daily routine of an elderly, widowed Thatcher succumbing to dementia.  At the beginning she escapes from her minders to buy a pint of milk and at the end…well best not to say…

Meryl Streep certainly gets both the accent and the voice.  She also does a brilliant performance of your mother (well certainly my mother) when she’s losing it and the old charm will still work on you but it’s just embarrassing when she speaks to outsiders.

The politics is just put in as flashes of backstory–one woman doing it her way against all opposition.  The film doesn’t really tell you much about how or indeed why she did it.  And it’s not exactly true either–according to the Wikipedia article, it was marrying a rich (older, divorced) man and having her children young that enabled her to devote herself to a political career.

Denis looks just as young as Margaret here

I think there was some general melioration as well:  Alderman Roberts for instance was a much better speaker than small-town politicians are in my experience.

If you compare this with Aleksandr Sokurov’s  Taurus, which deals with a stroke-afflicted and dementing Lenin, it’s clear that the dementia is also somewhat prettified.  And if you want to convey the effects of dementia, it would be better to use some dimness and distortion, not just leave everything Hollywood-shiny.  The film suggests that Thatcher’s overconfidence on the Poll Tax was connected with the onset of dementia, when simple dizziness due to success is a much more straightforward explanation.

It’s also interesting that the trailer and the stills you can find on the Internet show scenes from political life when most of the film is the dementing old lady.

I think this is a film representing  Carol Thatcher’s viewpoint:  at the very least, since she’s the only one of the family in any position to sue she must have consented.  The justification for the film is probably that it will give an opportunity for discussing issues around dementia, just as Dreams of a Life was meant to foreground the modern absence of community.  These films share the problem that they try to conflate the older dead or demented heroine with the younger bright and sparky one and leave out what happened.

I really don’t know any more about Margaret Thatcher’s life and personality than is in in the Wikipedia article, but it seems more than likely that she was a driven, demanding, obsessive and perfectionist individual willing to sacrifice a very great deal for her career, and as such very like many people in Hollywood–possibly including the one Meryl Streep sees in the mirror several times each day–and not very like the one portrayed here.

In spite of all of this, I found myself buying into the film because of Streep’s brilliant portrayal of my late mother (if not Margaret Thatcher) in her declining years, and because it was about my time which will never come again.