February 15th, 2015

Solid progress

Rupert Thomson’s teenage years and events after his father’s death, plus a decades long estrangement from one of his brothers in ‘This Party’s got to Stop” was light relief after that Bach book.

party

I don’t know why, but I’d taken some comments in the reviews a little more literally than I should have – anticipating a hostage / life threatening situation, I was on edge the whole time I read it. Surprisingly, it ended with some gentle reconciliation. The thing that set it apart from any old recollection was Thomson’s fearless honesty about his feelings towards his siblings, perhaps motivated by guilt at his own behaviour. An easy read – 3.5 stars.

 

I’ve read a fair bit of history since the last volume of The History of England by Peter Ackroyd, so this time, with “Civil War” (volume 3) I was curious as to how his style holds up. Luckily it wasn’t a struggle – the early section on James I and his miscomprehension of the workings of the English parliamentary system was really interesting, and it was only the rhythmic drudgery of the continual popery accusations and plots in the time of Charles II and James II that it became a little tiresome. Will our current political battles appear similarly when written with sufficient distance? Probably – but with less blood spilt! The constant back and forth battles between Parliament and the king, the need for royal funding, the diplomatic marrying of enemies daughters for peace, but which then gave source to gossip about sympathisers and the possible spread of their religions. It was an exhausting time.

civil war

This history shows Oliver Cromwell as the most competent of the lot, trying many governing options in his new republic, but after a decade, losing out to popular sentiment and a certain melancholy for a royal figure – hence the Restoration. Growing up a Catholic myself, until a few years ago, I’d been largely oblivious about the historic distrust of my kind in Britain – all over a little thing called transubstantiation, which I find completely ridiculous, especially when compared to the more radical Calvinist or Presbyterian faiths of the time. Let’s not forget the Levellers too!

I like how Ackroyd wrote a few small chapters to give context to the times and provide relief. The design of Inigo Jones for the lavish masque sets. The observations of Samuel Pepys about Charles II’s mistresses. The self experimentation of Isaac Newton and the growth of the evidence-based Royal Society in 1660. The small chapter about how people walked, talked, drank and pissed. The observations that Worcester and Oxford were the most royalist of cities.

The book ended with the flight of James II to France, and with most of his men defecting to William (of Orange) and Mary. I really have to read about the Georgians soon, as apart from a mad king, I know nothing about them really. 4 stars.

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February 12th, 2015

I need to stop mumbling or something

So, I arrive at my hotel in Perth at 8pm after a slog of a work day which started in Melbourne at 7am.  I’m eating dinner at the equivalent of 11.30pm so it’s a simple room service Fish and Chips.

I wait 35 mins and a lovely tray with a silver platter arrives..wearily I thank the porter(?) and ready myself. It’s been 11 hours since I ate on the plane and I’m famished. A lift of the lid reveals a plate of French Fries.

I eat the fries and rush to blog about it before I neck myself. It isn’t the first verbal misunderstanding I’ve had lately. I would call my wife to whine about it but she’s amidst her REM sleep right now.

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January 17th, 2015

Reading catch up

For a year that reading-wise started so solidly, it ended in a whimper, however I’m going to blame a few library books (which I don’t include) for my low throughput. Having said that, two weeks into 2015, I’ve polished off a couple already. I’m really enjoying my reading when I can put my damn phone back in it’s cradle at night. Finding myself in a bit of an Anglophile phase, I’ve been hoovering up 1880’s copies of The Magazine of Art, bound copies of Punch and most of the “Pilgrimages to Old Homes” series by Fletcher Moss, and flicking through them. I find the references to a different time and to lost places charming and it’s sent me to all sorts of daggy places, like watching incredibly unfashionable English TV series like “From Lark Rise to Candleford” or “The Great Fire“. Do not watch these!

 

flood

I made the mistake of reading the second book in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy about 8 years after the first, meaning I could not remember a thing about the former, however the second was a great read – imaginative and sometimes unexpected. “The Year of the Flood” follows the parallel lives of various female survivors after an apocalyptic event, framed as a thriller where I ended up egging them on against difficult odds. I find I can barely read sci-fi any more, and Atwood is my preferred hybrid form of it – not too gadgety and close enough to our current predicament to be believable. She’s pretty much one of the only female writers I seem to like now, since I stopped reading Annie Proulx. Oh – Hilary Mantel, I forgot her.  3.5 stars.

 

peripatetic

I subscribed to the London Review of Books a few years back – lured by an impossibly cheap price and a fortnightly (!) copy, shipped all the way to Oz. In many ways its opened my eyes to more serious literary and historical criticism and made me aware of my many failings as a student. I was lured into buying a reprint of John Thelwall‘s “The Peripatetic” in the LRB by claims of it being a masterpiece of it’s time (1790’s England) and an example of the social and political reform that agitators like Thelwall fought their whole lives for. The introduction by Judith Thompson was worth the $9 (hardback) price of the book alone. Thelwall was pretty much run out of society by the folks he was rallying against and encountered a lifetime of opposition. The language of this romantic period was quite a laugh – many encounters on the road with tramps or hobos, and long florid expositions about the weather. I was never going to be able to finish the damn book, but I’m glad I gave it a fair hearing. 2 stars.

 

saturday

By chance I came across a cheap copy of The Saturday Book (#34), published in 1975 (I believe the last one they made following the death of Leonard Russell the founder) and knowing nothing about it, liking its many pictures and a saucy article about the history of La Vie Parisienne, and sensing another series I might wish to collect cheaply, I nabbed it. What a delight – full of quirky historical and literary curiosities, all designed to be picked up and put down at whim over a year of English weekends until the next annual rolled around. I’d love to collect (and read) a few more. Much fun and easy reading. 4 stars.

 

satta

Switching to Sardinia, a place I will probably never visit, I got sucked in Salvatore Satta’s “The Day of Judgement” after reading it had been compared to Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” which is considered an Italian classic, and which I enjoyed about 10 years ago. This one is set a bit later in the early 1900s, in a remote village of Nuoro, where the semi-autobiographical recollections paint a vivid picture of the corruption, and personalities of rich and poor. Even though I seemed to take forever to read this book, the second half really galloped along and despite the many magical and tragic stories within, it was wonderfully satisfying in the end. 4 stars.

 

fall

Kim managed to find me a Fall biography that I hadn’t yet read, and I pretty much dropped all else to consume this surprisingly thick, plainly written diary “The Big Midweek” by ex-Fall bass player Steve Hanley. The guy is a saint – he lasted 20 years in a band environment that can only be described as toxic and comes out of it with only minor scarring. Despite pulling punches on Mark, you’re left in no doubt about his misanthropic bullying ways, and it only made me wish I had seen them on their 1982 tour – I was just a bit young really. The 2010 gig was pretty average and he was well and truly drugged up, being physically shepherded about the stage by a nervous looking Elena. 4 stars.

 

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Finally – I finished a monster, the 400 page (plus 80 page notes/index) kooky-covered “Reinventing Bach” by Paul Elie. The Readings bargain table strikes again. It had me buying a full copy of JS.Bach’s piano works, and I nearly got sucked into buying the cello suites after some loving commentary about Pablo Casals. I already had Gould’s Goldbergs to refer to. I enjoyed learning about Albert Schweitzer and Leopold Stokowski and the roles they played in bringing Bach into people’s consciousness. 3 stars.

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August 24th, 2014

Oh god it’s time to go back to work

I’ve decided that holidays in July are the way to go; to stand any chance of getting reasonable doses of vitamin D and keeping a smile on my face, I should do gardening and dog-walking in the sun. Plus some reading, and a few more books were read on my hols; not perhaps the Moby Dick or War and Peace I originally had in mind, but some smaller works that were more achievable without me becoming a social pariah in the Lakeside Caravan Park.

Invasion

 

 

The Great Invasion by Leonard Cottrell (1958) was good because it focused purely on the fighting and establishment of a Roman presence in Britain from 47AD up until Agricola’s time in 87AD. Some great pictures and analysis of the battles themselves and speculation on the likely leaders of each legion. It was quite a pleasure to poke through with a cup of tea. 4 stars.

 

secrecy

 

I had booked in to see Rupert Thomson at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and so I figured beforehand that I should read his latest (Secrecy), which was not subject-wise something I’d normally pick up, but it was interesting enough (and it should be – the guy admitted to writing 10 drafts of it) and in particular the scenes where wax-sculptor Zumbo is being stalked in a remote and deserted village in Italy got my heart pounding. 3.5 stars.

I was waiting at the festival bookshop, trying to work out what I would say to Gerald Murnane if I bought his latest book “A Million Windows” and lined up to have him sign it, when I noticed that Bob Carr and Malcolm Fraser were sitting right next to him. I am poor at most things visually, and have never really spotted (on my own) any public figures previously, so I had a small moment of celebrity worship and gushiness and couldn’t help but tell a festival volunteer nearby what a thrill it was to see them in person. She of course was mildly nonplussed. Stupid, blase generation Y.

by dfv | Posted in Books, General | 2 Comments » |
July 31st, 2014

Amongst the bronzed and retired

It hasn’t taken long to lose track of the days and to accept what nature presents, nestled under some trees just over the dunes in a caravan park in Woolgoolga. So far we’ve been blessed with crisp nights of 7 degrees and sunny days of 23 and light winds. I have never enjoyed the beach much but on arrival I forced myself out there on the broad sands three times a day, at first purely for tiring out the dogs; worried they’d bark at strangers or from anxiety at the new surroundings and get us booted out. But as this threat receded I found the gentle surf, the salty lake, the casual fishing and retiree camaradarie alluring and unexpected. So this is the Australian surf lifestyle we’re always hearing about, which seems so alien to Melbournians.

image

According to my father in law, July is peak season when the Mexicans flee north and fill the north coast for 3 or 4 months before doctor’s appointments draw them back. The vans are mostly spotless, annex ropes crisply pegged and lined up, a clean, modern 4WD adjoining. When the weather doesn’t provide, TVs, Smartphones and Oil heaters fill the gap. Dogs are in every second van, poo on the ground non-existant, and blokes mop their own showers at the hint of dirt underfoot. Not saying hello to anyone sitting out front or walking along your row is a big social faux-pas which feels forced and unnatural at first. Clusters of ladies sit in the sun and sew or knit and make small talk or plans for a group lunch in a few days. People invite couples into their annexes for a glass of red at dusk. It’s very agreeable really. And if you want some major shopping excitement? – Head into Coffs for the morning… so far I haven’t bothered. Having a wonderful time and so are the doogies.

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July 22nd, 2014

The stars have aliigned

Three writers that I enjoy, admittedly some more in the past, have consecutive daytime sessions on at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year. I will be in the last week of my annual leave, freshly returned from caravanning to Woolgoolga and am going to enjoy a solo matinee of sorts. And should be able to beat those pesky comuters home on PT too.

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June 27th, 2014

Brown books about history

I took a photo of my reads for the past 6 months (missed a couple though), and perhaps it’s books from the early 20th century, or maybe it’s just history books, but boy do they LOOK dull. I’ve loved them all regardless, but they hardly bring the excitement factor.

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Jonathan Raban – Coasting (1986)- I was worried I might have fallen out of love for this writer since not reading him for 15-odd years, but his book about circumnavigating Britain delivered (yet again). My favourite travel writer I think. 4 stars.

Nicholson Baker – House of Holes (2011) – Delightfully pervy and erotic with a lot of imagination. I thought this was his best book of all. 4 stars.

Arnold Fellows – The Wayfarer’s Companion (1937) – I learnt a lot about the architecture of cathedrals and monasteries in Britain, amongst other things. 3 stars.

Julien Gracq – The Shape of a City (1985) – Magnificent tribute to his home city of Nantes, France in the early 1900’s. Almost unbearably nostalgic. 4 stars.

Maurice Ashley – Louis XIV and the Greatness of France (1946) – A shortish summary of his life and legacy. A great read. 3.5 stars.

A.R.Burn – Agricola and Roman Britain (1953) – Another short summary of this well documented Roman born AD40 just before the conquer of Britain. Loved it. 4 stars.

E.S. Turner – Amazing Grace (1975) – A bit of an embarrassing admission of mine to read about all the silly and eccentric Dukes of England. 3 stars.

Arthur Hayden – Chats on Old Furniture (1905) – Some nice old pics and strong words about the merits of  Jacobean, Stuart and French furniture. They all seem to love Chippendale too. Some of the pieces are ghastly! 3 stars.

Robert McFarlane – The Old Ways (2012) – It’s won many accolades however the best stories are in the first half, and it gets a little dull and repetitive beyond that. What’s with 68 pages of Glossary, Bibliography and Notes at the rear? 3.5 stars.

A.H.M Jones – Constantine and the Conversion of Europe (1948) – The first of the Teach Yourself History series that I had to slog through, possibly since the author seemingly had many reservations about this not very intelligent, and easily angered Holy Roman Emperor, but also because the road to Christian unity was littered with squabble after squabble with purist offshoots who all sounded similar after awhile. 2 stars.

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April 21st, 2014

Been awhile I know…

So, the pancreatic episodes continue, and Kim needed to rush me in to Emerg in January and March (on my birthday) – both times I stayed less than a day (3 hours for the first, and 12 for the second). Both times I needed no painkillers as the intense pain simply subsided after an hour of agony. On both occasions I had a glass or two of red wine the night before, so my latest theory is that mild alcohol levels are triggering things and I’m now 6 weeks into a lull in that regard, and things seem fine. Still too scared to go far from home for the moment though.

In more positive news, I started running again – beginning at a low base and working my way back. Doing 20+ minutes around the Tan was humbling, and after 8 runs I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to 15’s, but it’s slowly coming back to me. I’ve been offered membership in the Dad’s Army Running Team at work, which is humiliating since I’m not yet even 50, and I’m not ever going to be a father of a human, but I accepted since the pain is lessened listening to the stories of other runners. I even had a great conversation about the Roman Empire and the conquest of Britain whilst tottering around the MCG last week in my lunchbreak.

Our neighbours are selling up their Pascoe Vale cafe and house and heading over to Greece for a year, so have been tidying up their highly abandoned front yard, and generally are home a lot more. I’ll miss Yoda and her mother and their gregarious warmth, and think about their open future. I still think of former neighbours and wonder about their health – Betty (who is surely dead by now), Bill the TAB-loving Taxi driver with angina, and his strident, forthright Yugoslav wife Zora, who seemed to do everything around their place, and who wanted me to acquiesce to her views on plants to put in my garden and colours to paint the house. I bet they are still bickering in Coburg somewhere.

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January 6th, 2014

On the 100th anniversary to the day

That Marcel Proust’s first volume of “In Search of Lost Time” was published, I decided I would start on it, as there was a good chance it would stay unread otherwise. There was never any question that I would finish the full 3000 pages of the 7 book work, but the first, “Swann’s Way” seemed achievable.

proust

In many ways I was quite charmed by the book and it’s famously long sentences. I immediately recognised it as something Gerald Murnane must have been heavily influenced by, though when I Google the two names now, I discover more crossover between Samuel Beckett than the Frenchman. Apart from mild irritations about a boy’s obsessive wish for nightly kisses from his mother, and the overly long and repetitive jealous episodes of Swann when seeking to know the whereabouts of Odette, it was really quite a good read. The parts about small town French life, the eccentricities of Aunt Leonie, maid Francoise and the social life of the Verdurins were such fun. 4 stars.

 

Hot on the heels of this I found a charming little volume at Alice’s Bookshop recently. My version, published in 1929, “A Short History of Hampton Court” by Ernest Law (which I now see is an e-book if you’re into them) was a quick read with many quaint drawings of the rooms, the cupolas, the Great Hall and the many splendorous windows. Surprisingly, the history started with Cardinal Wolsey’s occupation at around 1514, with only a line or two about its former use by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. It seems odd to me how quickly the info drops off before the late 1400’s, since the value of a nationwide census was shown with the Domesday Book of 1086. I guess religious orders are boring.

wolsey

If you didn’t know English History, you’d be frustrated by this book, as it really only deals with who stayed at Hampton and what happened there – the masques / plays – Shakespeare’s visits, and numerous stories of haunted rooms. The sheer size and opulence of the Palace was just staggering, and it was considered the finest in all Europe at the time – 1200 rooms, kitchen fireplaces that were 7 foot tall by 18 foot long, capable of roasting entire bulls within. All throughout is made mention of Wolsey’s exquisite taste in furnishings, artwork and precious stones and how he lived in finer splendour than Henry VIII, which may have even brought about his downfall . I’d just love to visit it next time I go to London.

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November 26th, 2013

Well, Chloe’s costing us $2800 this week

She was pfaffing about, darting in and out, and pecking Fergus when we heard a small yelp and then the back left leg limp began. But it didn’t abate overnight and she was unable to bear weight, which pretty much reduced her to a 2 legged dog over the weekend since her front right is completely stuffed also.

The cat flap for toilet breaks was out of the question, so before we went back to work, I got her looked at to find my 13 year old has a footballing injury, and has torn her cruciate ligament and needs immediate reconstruction surgery. Then they said it would be like an 85 year old having a new hip and she’d be in for 3 days “just in case”. So, I’m working from home on Friday in a nursing role and hoping it doesn’t go downhill as quickly as it can when your dog loses its independence. I’m hopeful though.

 

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