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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The two loves of Andre Maurois

In the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog yesterday: my essay on Andre Maurois, his tortuous love life, and his novel 'Climates', which is about to be reissued by the wonderful Other Press in a new translation by Adriana Hunter (4 December 2012).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kerouac drifting off

I've just been marvelling at Jack Kerouac's original scroll draft of On the Road, on display at the British Library in a special looooooooong display case. (It doesn't display the whole 120 feet, but a large portion of it, with the rest rolled at one end.) 

It's impressive to see it, but there's one thing I don't understand.  Every source I've ever seen says that Kerouac taped tracing-paper together to form the scroll so he wouldn't have to be distracted by changing paper in the typewriter.  But at regular intervals all the way along, probably equivalent to about 2-3 sheets  of ordinary paper, a neat shift occurs in the margin.  Seems his typewriter was typing crooked, and when the text block drifted too far over he had to stop what he was doing, raise the bar that locks the paper in place, and shove the whole thing over a bit before clamping it back down and carrying on.

So - how is that not distracting?  I think I'd find it even more so, as you'd end up constantly monitoring how far you were floating off to the side.

Am I interpreting what I'm seeing correctly?  Or does anyone know a better explanation of these breaks?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jelly Baby Boost

On Saturday 29 September I attended a wonderful all-day symposium at London's Wellcome Collection, called 'Human Limits'.  Here's a piece I wrote for The Guardian on Monday 1 October, which (rather to my own surprise) turned out to be about goggles, jelly babies and other small technology.

The headline in the print version (which I much prefer to the online one) was The Jelly Baby Boost. No contest, I'd say.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kings Cross Lighthouse 26 July 2012

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Waiting for the Olympic torch to pass Kings Cross this morning, I got distracted watching this - the lighthouse on the corner of Pentonville Road, under refurbishment but not yet finished, being covered with a picture of what it's supposed to look like.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Here's a link to another little meandering of mine, in today's Guardian, prompted by the theft and patient police re-assembling of memorial plaques in Croydon.

If anyone's interested in seeing more pictures of the plaques, and reading a bit more about the story, here is a report in the Croydon Guardian.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Larkin Centre

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Larkin Centre at the University of Hull, to talk about Montaigne with the wonderful novelist Ray French.  Do read his Going Under if you don't already know it - it's a gem.  The university made a video of our evening and uploaded it to their website - you can watch here.

I also like this photo by Mike Park. I am not sure whether the characters in the Stanley Spencer painting behind us are pleading with me, begging me to stop, or trying to push me off stage.. 

Image courtesy Mike Park / University of Hull

This picture gives just a glimpse of the excellent art collection at the Larkin Centre.  They put on lots of events - do see what's on, if you are in the Hull area.  You can also follow the Larkin Trail around the city.  Ray and I popped in to the Royal Hotel near the station, immortalised in one of the bard's works.  A fragment of the poem is reproduced outside, in an ugly way, but ifyou go inside and look to the left of the bar, you can see it in full.  The hotel has hardly changed a bit, except it doesn't have overflowing ashtrays any more.  Here's a lnk to the poem, Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Affordable Art Fair

Affordable Art Fair
Originally uploaded by sarabak

I went to the Affordable Art Fair in London's Battersea Park. Couldn't afford anything. But I met this strange wistful creature outside ...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Carl Dreyer at the BFI

I've been going to a lot of films in the British Film Institute's Carl Dreyer season, and what better place to resurrect a dead-looking blog than with the director of classic I-vaunt-to-suck-your-blood drama, Vampyr?

Dreyer was an extraordinary Danish director, an innovator who is now best known for somewhat sparse and serious films like The Passion of Joan of Arc, Day of Wrath and Ordet.  I first came across him through his last film, Gertrud, which may be his best.

What I didn't know until recently was that he also directed truly fabulous early silent comedies. Last week I saw his third film, The Parson's Widow (1920), and it was so funny and so moving that I can't stop thinking about it.  It's about a young man who becomes parson of a small village, but only on condition that he marry Dame Margaret, a gaunt crone, the widow of the previous parson. With trepidaton, he agrees, and moves his sweetheart into the household too, pretending that she is his sister.  What ensues is a set of farcical mishaps as he and his girlfriend try to set up secret trysts, which of course go wrong.  They even try to scare the widow to death to get her out of the way.  By the end, they repent of their callous ways.  And this is where the film changes tone entirely, as we see things from the old lady's point of view and realise that she too once played a very different role in life.

It's beautifully filmed, deeply humane, and very well acted.  Apparently Hildur Carlberg, who played the widow, was herself terminally ill at the time of filming, but promised Dreyer that she would not die until the job was done.  She kept her promise, and died just a few weeks later, before she could see the final film.

Her performance is so good that I am sad not to be able to see her at other points of her career.  There is something eerie about the thought of her much younger self, lost to the camera because films hadn't been invented yet.

The Dreyer season continues .. and I will be going to several more.

In praise of things

Here's a piece I wrote in last week's Guardian, about the beauties of railway engineering - with added songs of praise for web pages, archivists and writers of guidebooks.