Sunday, 5 March 2006

Autumn Term

Listening to:

Honeysuckle Rose played by Fats Waller.

Just read:

Antonia Forest, Autumn Term.

This is children’s fiction from 1948, and a very enjoyable read. It’s also clearly a book for girls, being all about two twin sisters who start at a girls’ secondary school, following four other, older sisters. This means that the canonical school activities are netball and guiding. No doubt this would have been enough to totally put me off the book (and its many sequels featuring the Marlow family) as a teenager, but hey, there have got to be some advantages in being a grown-up.

The central character is Nicola Marlow (her twin sister is Lawrie), who arrives at school with all sorts of grand ambitions, mainly relating to the way in which she will surpass the sisters who have gone before her. Her grand ideas take a variety of knocks over the course of the story, and she has to revise her opinions about some of the other school-girls too. The novel builds to a grand climax involving the production of a dramatised version of Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. It’s all very satisfying, and I’m looking forward to reading some of the sequels (some of which also have a more central rôle for the brothers, apparently).

Sunday, 19 March 2006

Granta 87

Listening to:

Cole Porter’s Always true to you in my fashion, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Just read:

Granta 87: Jubilee (contents)

This edition of the Granta celebrates its 25th anniversary by being slightly fatter than normal, with a rich collection of new pieces by some of the writers who helped makes[sic] its reputation. Grammar on its back cover notwithstanding, there is some good stuff in it too.

The first piece is a miniature biography of a strange guy called Benjamin Pell, who has made a career of rooting through celebrities’ rubbish, finding interesting stuff and selling it to newspapers. Pell has had to fight a number of court cases as a result, and has a nerdish obsession with his cause, and the court system in general. He (or Tim Adams’s portrayal of him) rather reminded me of the unhinged Miss Flite from Bleak House.

I also liked Early one morning by Helen Simpson, which is a short story about a mother driving her nine-year old son to school, also picking up some of his friends on the way. Not knowing anything about it for sure, it still comes across as a very genuine-sounding reflection of modern parenthood. Nothing really happens, but it is an affecting window onto a world, that though fictional, feels quite real.

The photo essay charts the progress of the Granta river from spring to sea, passing through Cambridge on the way, through territory that’s pretty familiar to me. The final piece is also one of my favourites: by Graham Swift, it reflects on Swift’s father’s life, from birth in the 1920s, to being a pilot in WW2 and beyond.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006


Listening to:

Beethoven, 6 Minuets, WoO 10, played by Mikhail Pletnev.


Paul Ford summarises the week’s news:

A poll found that Americans trust atheists even less than Muslims, recent immigrants, and lesbians, and a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found that confident, self-reliant children tend to grow up to be liberals, while whiny, annoying children tend to grow up to be conservatives.