Future Meetings in 2017

Contact us to join our future meetings: bristolbookclub@hotmail.co.uk

  1. June 21 (Harbourside Venue)Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  2. July 12 (Bishopston Venue)My Beautiful Laundrette by Hanif Kureish (We shall be choosing future books too)
  3. August 16 Bishopston Venue Death In Venice And Other Stories – Thomas Mann

September 19 or 26th (including vote for best book of the year)

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About us

The group started off about ten years ago and has members from a mixture of ages and backgrounds. The turnout varies between six and fourteen people, though we have about forty people on  the list of members.  The books we read vary from ‘light’ to ‘heavy’, usually written either by or about gay men. Anyone is free to choose a book but they don’t necessarily have to introduce it themselves. Discussions are quite lively: we have one member (me) who loves virtually every book fairly uncritically and one who virtually savages every book (but he is quite gentle really!). We meet monthly, usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, at 7.30 for 8 in a member’s flat  on Bristol’s harbourside or at two members’ house in Birshopston and chat over a glass of wine, beer or cup of coffee. Some people turn up to every meeting; others choose which meetings to attend according to whichever book is being discussed at any given time. Either is fine Ffi: bristolbookclub@hotmail.co.uk

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The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

TEOESet in Hallencourt in the Somme, a small and isolated factory town of 1,300 people where Louis grew up, the book is a stark tale of his life below the poverty line, punctuated by his father’s drunken violence – the rage of the humiliated working-class male: racism, homophobia and casual daily brutality.

Eddy Bellegueule (Louis’s real name, which means “beautiful face” in French) is an effeminate child; as a “faggot”, “queer”, “poof”, as he is regularly reminded, he is even worse than an “Arab”, “Jew” or “black”.

Another oft-repeated phrase – “just who do you think you are?” – serves to remind him who he is, where he comes from and where everyone assumes he is going. Instead, Bellegueule forges a new path, via a scholarship and one of France’s elite university schools, writes everything down and changes his name.

Its unemotional style is similar to Zola’s work, though the author claims not to have read him.

It’s non-stop misery, like Gypsy Boy. It’s vidid, powerful. The writing is violent and there is no escape for the reader. There’s no humour, c.f. Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

He suffers not for doing something but for being something and looking like something.

The shed scene is unbelievable: not because boys don’t get up to this but for the seeming enjoyment of a ten-year-old, getting an erection whilst being raped. However, he seems to have wanted this to happen. On p., 130 he speaks of repressed desire, relishes the smell of the older boys and leaps at the chance of wearing women’s clothes and jewellery.

We wondered why he didn’t avoid the bullies. Well, on p. 25 he says that he didn’t want others to see him being beaten up because they’d then know he was gay. On p. 136 he speaks of fear of retaliation.

It jumps about in time a bit. Then again, people with a traumatic past get confused about chronology.

The only black person in a racist village is seen as OK because different.

There’s a vivid and memorable description of his first orgasm.

Were they really that poor in the 1990s? More like the 1950s. And homophobia was much less marked in British schools then.

Is it novel or autobiography? Was it written too son after the event? Not enough perspective?

One chapter title quotes the King James Bible ‘Stait is the gate’. A postgrad student, of English no less, though this was about sexuality.

Who is Tristan at the end? Is he a positive to balance the book’s negative beginning?

The French title has a different nuance: Doing Away with Eddy.

TEOE2Quotations:

‘Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.’

From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming.”

“from my eye towards my lips, ready to enter my mouth”

“As far back as I can remember I can see my drunk father fighting with other drunk men leaving the café, breaking noses and teeth,”

“into a plastic supermarket bag” and swinging it against some cement edge “until the bag was filled with blood and the meowing had ceased”.

“the still-warm blood” “it’s the best, the blood you get from an animal right when it dies”.

“Every day I came back, as if we had an appointment, an unspoken contact . . . There was just one idea I held to: here, no one would see us, no one would know. I had to avoid being hit elsewhere, in the playground, in front of the others.”

[S]he was already standing frozen, unable to make the slightest sound or the smallest gesture . . . Her gaze never left mine; I don’t remember what that gaze held. Disgust perhaps, or anguish – I can no longer say.”

“Don’t you ever do that again . . . ”

“Wasting petrol for this theatre shit of yours, really why should I?” Yet he does drive him.

TEOE 3“On the day when the amount of the allowance at the start of the school year was raised, my father, with a joy we rarely saw because he usually played at being the man of the house who could not show his feelings, shouted: ‘Sunday, we’re going to the seaside.’ And indeed we went, six of us in a car big enough for five. I rode in the boot.

It dont make sense, when he says we should kill all the ragheads but then when he lived in the Midi his best mate was a raghead.”

He wasn’t embarrassed, he didn’t feel the violence the prosecutor was exercising, the class violence that had excluded him from the world of education, the violence that had, in the end, led him to the courtroom where he now stood. In fact he must have thought that the prosecutor was ridiculous. That he spoke like a faggot.

There’s a revealing interview with the author here.

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The Imitation Game

TIG(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Director Morten Tyldum takes on the story of Alan Turing, the genius cryptographer who cracked the infamous Enigma code during the Second World War. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a career-best performance in the lead, betraying his character’s innermost feelings through delicate inflections. He also has fine sparring partners in Charles Dance (as Turing’s superior) and Keira Knightley (as his confidante and fiancée). Fascinating and thrilling, The Imitation Game keeps you gripped by always offering a reminder of what’s at stake, as well as exploring the mind of a brilliant but unfairly treated war hero who should never be forgotten.

In 1951, two policemen, Nock and Staehl, investigate the mathematician Alan Turing after an apparent break-in at his home. During his interrogation by Nock, Turing tells of his time working at Bletchley Park.

In 1927 the young Turing is unhappy and bullied at boarding school. He develops a friendship with Christopher Morcom, who sparks his interest in cryptography, and Turing develops romantic feelings for him. Before Turing can confess his love, Christopher dies unexpectedly from tuberculosis.

When Britain declares war on Germany in 1939, Turing travels to Bletchley Park, where, under the direction of Commander Alastair Denniston, he joins the cryptography team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards. The team are trying to decrypt the Enigma machine, which the Nazis use to send coded messages.

Turing is difficult to work with, and considers his colleagues inferior; he works alone to design a machine to decipher Enigma. After Denniston refuses to fund construction of the machine, Turing writes to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who puts Turing in charge of the team and funds the machine. Turing fires Furman and Richards and places a difficult crossword in newspapers to find replacements. Joan Clarke, a Cambridge graduate, surpasses Turing’s test but her parents will not allow her to work with the male cryptographers. Turing arranges for her to live and work with the female clerks who intercept the messages, and shares his plans with her.

Turing’s machine, which he names Christopher, is constructed, but cannot determine the Enigma settings before the Germans reset the Enigma encryption each day. Denniston orders it destroyed and Turing fired, but the other cryptographers threaten to leave if Turing goes. After Clarke plans to leave on the wishes of her parents, Turing proposes marriage, which she accepts. During their reception, Turing confirms his homosexuality to Cairncross, who warns him to keep it secret. After overhearing a conversation with a female clerk about messages she receives, Turing has an epiphany, realising he can program the machine to decode words he already knows exist in certain messages. After he recalibrates the machine, it quickly decodes a message and the cryptographers celebrate; however, Turing realises they cannot act on every decoded message or the Germans will realise Enigma has been broken.

Turing discovers that Cairncross is a Soviet spy. When Turing confronts him, Cairncross argues that the Soviets are allies working for the same goals, and threatens to retaliate by disclosing Turing’s homosexuality if his role as an agent is revealed. When the MI6 agent Stewart Menzies appears to threaten Clarke, Turing reveals that Cairncross is a spy. Menzies reveals he knew this already, and planted Cairncross among them in order to leak messages to the Soviets for British benefit. Fearing for her safety, Turing tells Clarke to leave Bletchley Park, revealing that he is gay and lying about never having cared for her. After the war, Menzies tells the cryptographers to destroy their work and that they can never see one another again or share what they have done.

In the 1950s Turing is convicted of indecency and, in lieu of a jail sentence, undergoes chemical castration so he can continue his work. Clarke visits him in his home and witnesses his physical and mental deterioration. She comforts him by saying that his work saved millions of lives.

During a flashback to Turing’s former school, Sherborne, we see him separating the carrots from other satuff on hi plate. Then some bullies pile a whole tray of food over him.

The film was criticised by some for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and Turing’s character and relationships. However, the LGBT civil rights advocacy and political lobbying organisation the Human Rights Campaign honoured The Imitation Game for bringing Turing’s legacy to a wider audience.

Despite earlier reservations, Turing’s niece Inagh Payne told Allan Beswick of BBC Radio Manchester that the film “really did honour my uncle” after she watched the film at the London Film Festival in October 2014. In the same interview, Turing’s nephew Dermont Turing stated that Cumberbatch is “perfect casting. I couldn’t think of anyone better”. James Turing, a great-nephew of the code-breaker, said Cumberbatch “knows things that I never knew before. The amount of knowledge he has about Alan is amazing”.

In January 2015, Cumberbatch, comedian-actor Stephen Fry, producer Harvey Weinstein, and Turing’s great niece Rachel Barnes launched a campaign to pardon the 49,000 gay men convicted under the same law that led to Turing’s chemical castration. An open letter published in The Guardian urged the British government and the Royal family, particularly Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to aid the campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign’s Chad Griffin also offered his endorsement, saying: “Over 49,000 other gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same law. Turing was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. The others were not. Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000.” Aiding the cause are campaigner Peter Tatchell, Attitude magazine, and other high-profile figures in the gay community.

In February 2015, Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Jessica Alba, Bryan Cranston, and Anna Wintour among others joined the petition at Pardon49k.org demanding pardons for victims of anti-gay laws. Other historians, including Justin Bengry of Birkbeck University of London and Matt Houlbrook of the University of Birmingham, argued that such a pardon would be “bad history” despite its political appeal, because of the broad variety of cases in which the historical laws were applied (including cases of rape) and the distortion of history resulting from an attempt to clean up the wrongdoings of the past post facto. Bengry also cites the existing ability of those convicted under repealed anti-homosexuality laws to have their convictions declared spent.

The film has received criticism from historians and academics regarding inaccuracies in the events and people it portrays.

  • Naming the Enigma-breaking machine “Christopher” after Turing’s childhood friend and suggesting that Turing was the only cryptographer working on it, with others either not helping or outright opposed.

In actuality, this electromechanical machine was called “Victory” and it was a collaborative, not individual, effort. It was a British Bombe machine, which was partly inspired by a design by the Polish cryptanalyst Marian Rejewski. Rejewski designed a machine in 1938 called bomba kryptologiczna which exploited a weakness in German operating procedures that was corrected in 1940. A new machine with a different strategy was designed by Turing (with a major contribution from mathematician Gordon Welchman, who goes unmentioned in the film, with the contribution attributed to Hugh Alexander instead) in 1940.

  • Suggesting that only this one machine was built, with Turing playing a large role in its construction.

More than 200 British Bombes were built under the supervision of chief engineer Harold Keen of the British Tabulating Machine Company. None of them were built at Bletchley Park.

  • Suggesting that the work at Bletchley Park was the effort of a small group of cryptographers who were stymied for the first few years of the war until a sudden breakthrough that allowed them to break Enigma.

Progress was actually made before the beginning of the war in 1939 and thousands of men and women were working on the project by the time the war ended in 1945. The computing advances did not obviate the need for human labour, as the many teams of largely female operators certainly knew. Throughout the war, there were breakthroughs and setbacks when the design or use of the German Enigma machines was changed and the Bletchley Park code breakers had to adapt.

Moreover, the breakthrough depicted in the film provides the impression that first the Bombe was developed, then only became effective after it was later realised that deciphering could be made easier by looking for known or speculated items contained in an intercepted message, a practice known in cryptanalysis as employing a crib. However, in reality, the opposite is true; the use of cribs was the central attack model upon which the Bombe’s principal design was based, rather than being an afterthought to the design.

  • Suggesting that Enigma was the only German cipher broken at Bletchley Park.

The breaking of the Lorenz cipher, codenamed “Tunny”, was arguably just as important as the breaking of Enigma in terms of contributing to the value of Ultra intelligence, and the code-breaking effort was in many ways more difficult. Neither the Tunny effort nor its main contributors, mathematician W. T. “Bill” Tutte and electrical engineer Tommy Flowers, are mentioned in the film. The Colossus computer they built goes unmentioned by name in the film, although there is an implicit suggestion that Turing was responsible for it, which he was not.

  • Showing a scene where the Hut 8 team decides not to use broken codes to stop a German raid on a convoy that the brother of one of the code breakers (Peter Hilton) is serving on, to hide the fact they have broken the code.

In reality, Hilton had no such brother, and decisions about when and whether to use data from Ultra intelligence were made at much higher administrative levels.

  • Showing Turing writing a letter to Churchill to gain control over Enigma breaking and obtain funding for the decryption machine.

Turing was actually not alone in making a different request with a number of colleagues, including Hugh Alexander, writing a letter to Churchill (who had earlier visited there) in an effort to get more administrative resources sent to Bletchley Park, which Churchill immediately did.

  • The depiction of the recruitment of Joan Clarke as a result of an examination after solving a crossword puzzle in a newspaper.

In reality, Joan Clarke was recruited by her former academic supervisor, Gordon Welchman, to the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS).

While a few writers and researchers have tried to assign such a retrospective diagnosis to Turing, and it is true that he had his share of eccentricities, the Asperger’s-like traits portrayed in the film – social awkwardness, difficulty working cooperatively with others, and tendency to take things too literally – bear little relationship to the actual adult Turing, who, despite enjoying working alone, was sociable and had friends, was also viewed as having a sense of humour, and had good working relationships with colleagues.

  • Scenes about Turing’s childhood friend, including the manner in which Turing learned of Morcom’s illness and death.
  • Portraying Turing’s arrest as happening in 1951 and having a detective suspect him of being a Soviet spy until Turing tells his code-breaking story in an interview with the detective, who then discovers Turing is gay.

Turing’s arrest was in 1952. The detective in the film and the interview as portrayed are fictional. Turing was investigated for his homosexuality after a robbery at his house and was never investigated for espionage.

  • Suggesting that the chemical castration that Turing was forced to undergo made him unable to think clearly or do any work.

Despite physical weakness and changes in Turing’s body including gynaecomastia, at that time he was doing innovative work on mathematical biology, inspired by the very changes his body was undergoing due to chemical castration.

  • Clarke visiting Turing in his home while he is serving probation.

There is no record of Clarke ever visiting Turing’s residence during his probation, although Turing did stay in touch with her after the war and informed her of his upcoming trial for indecency.[91]

  • Stating outright that Turing committed suicide after a year of hormone treatment.

In reality, the nature of Turing’s death is a matter of considerable debate. The chemical castration period ended fourteen months before his death. The official inquest into his death ruled that he had committed suicide by consuming a cyanide-laced apple. Turing biographer Andrew Hodges believes the death was indeed a suicide, re-enacting the poisoned apple from Snow White, Turing’s favourite fairy tale, with some deliberate ambiguity included to permit Turing’s mother to interpret it as an accident. However, Jack Copeland, an editor of volumes of Turing’s work and Director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing, has suggested that Turing’s death may have been accidental, caused by the cyanide fumes produced by an experiment in his spare room, and that the investigation was poorly conducted.

Denniston’s grandchildren stated that the film takes an “unwarranted sideswipe” at their grandfather’s memory, showing him to be a “baddy” and a “hectoring character” who hinders the work of Turing. They said their grandfather had a completely different temperament from the one portrayed in the film and was entirely supportive of the work done by cryptographers under his command. There is no record of the film’s depicted interactions between Turing and Denniston. Indeed, before the war, Denniston recruited lecturers at Oxford and Cambridge, and Turing, Welchman, and others began working part-time for him then. Turing was always respected and considered one of the best code-breakers at Bletchley Park and in short order took on the role of a leader there.

Many interviews conducted with many of the people who worked at Bletchley Park have said many times that they had been instructed not to ask about activities in other huts. There’s several scenes where other characters do just that, such as when the code breakers are celebrating in the pub and ask Helen about her work in her hut and also when Joan mentions about how the girls in one hut had been in a row over events in another hut.

Joan was not hired after solving a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. She was at Bletchley Park already when she was promoted to work with Turing’s group. Turing, however, did publish a crossword puzzle in the January 13, 1942 London Daily Telegraph in an effort to recruit more code-breakers.

While the group is trying to decipher the daily Enigma code, the wall clock strikes midnight setting off an alarm. In frustration, Hugh throws all of the days work to the floor because the German military change the Enigma code daily at midnight (German time) rendering the work useless. However, the work done could be completed (as was often done) in the early hours of the morning or at a later date – the information would not be as timely, but the intercepts and any work would be saved, not discarded.

In the opening scene, the police sergeant describes Turing as a ‘professor at King’s’ and he is then addressed as ‘Professor Turing’. At this time Turing had been at Manchester University for several years where he was a Reader, not a Professor. In any case, it is most unlikely that King’s College Cambridge would have been referred to simply as ‘King’s’ outside that town, there being other notable colleges of that name such as King’s College London.

At the end, Turing is portrayed as working on his own computer in Manchester. In reality, while he had such a project called ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the National Physical Laboratory, he abandoned this due to lack of progress. He moved to the University of Manchester after they demonstrated the first stored program computer, as he was primarily interested in programming the machines rather than building them.

The narrative conceit of the film is that Alan Turing explains his curiously empty military record by describing all his wartime codebreaking activities to a police detective in 1951. But there is no evidence that a single one of the workers at Bletchley Park ever breathed a word about what they had done during the War to anybody – even their own families – prior to the late 1970s. It is safe to assume that Alan Turing certainly never did.

“If any young person’s ever felt like they aren’t quite sure who they are, or aren’t allowed to express themselves the way they’d like to express themselves, if they’ve ever felt bullied by what they feel is the normal majority or any kind of thing that makes them feel an outsider, then this is definitely a film for them because it’s about a hero for them,” Cumberbatch stated at the European Premiere of the film at the London Film Festival, October 2014

Christopher Morcom: Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.

Alan Turing: Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes… hollow.

Final quotes: His machine was never perfected, though it generated a whole field of research into what became known as “Turing Machines”. Today we call them “computers”.

Joan Clarke: I know it’s not ordinary. But who ever loved ordinary?

Alan Turing: When people talk to each other, they never say what they mean. [pause] They say something else and you’re expected to just know what they mean.

Alan Turing: Are you paying attention? Good. If you are not listening carefully, you will miss things. Important things. I will not pause, I will not repeat myself, and you will not interrupt me. You think that because you’re sitting where you are, and I am sitting where I am, that you are in control of what is about to happen. You’re mistaken. I am in control, because I know things that you do not know.  [pause]  hat I will need from you now is a commitment. You will listen closely, and you will not judge me until I am finished. If you cannot commit to this, then please leave the room. But if you choose to stay, remember you chose to be here. What happens from this moment forward is not my responsibility. It’s yours. Pay attention.

John Cairncross: The boys, we’re going to get some lunch. [no response] Alan?

Alan Turing: Yes?

John Cairncross: I said we’re going to get some lunch. [no response] Alan?

Alan Turing: Yes?

John Cairncross: Can you hear me?

Alan Turing: Yes.

John Cairncross: I said we’re off to get some lu-… [disrupts himself]

John Cairncross: This is starting to get a little bit repetitive.

Alan Turing: What is?

John Cairncross: I had asked, if you wanted to come have lunch with us.

Alan Turing: No, you didn’t, you said you were going to get some lunch.

John Cairncross: Have I offended you in some way?

Alan Turing: Why would you think that?

John Cairncross: Would you like to come to lunch with us?

Alan Turing: What time’s lunch time?

Hugh Alexander: [Frustrated] Christ, Alan, it’s a bleeding sandwich.

Alan Turing: What is?

Hugh Alexander: Lunch.

Alan Turing: Oh, I don’t like sandwiches.

John Cairncross: Nevermind.

Alan Turing: I like solving problems, Commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.

Commander Denniston: Enigma isn’t difficult, it’s impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.

Alan Turing: Good. Let me try and we’ll know for sure, won’t we?

Alan Turing: Of course machines can’t think as people do. A machine is different from a person. Hence, they think differently. The interesting question is, just because something, uh… thinks differently from you, does that mean it’s not thinking? Well, we allow for humans to have such divergences from one another. You like strawberries, I hate ice-skating, you cry at sad films, I am allergic to pollen. What is the point of… different tastes, different… preferences, if not, to say that our brains work differently, that we think differently? And if we can say that about one another, then why can’t we say the same thing for brains… built of copper and wire, steel?

Joan Clarke: Alan, what’s happened?

Alan Turing: [pause] We can’t be engaged anymore. Your parents need to take you back. Find you a husband elsewhere.

Joan Clarke: What’s wrong with you?

Alan Turing: I have something to tell you. I’m… I’m a homosexual.

Joan Clarke: Alright.

Alan Turing: No, no, men, Joan. Not women.

Joan Clarke: So what?

Alan Turing: I just told you…

Joan Clarke: So what? I had my suspicions. I always did. But we’re not like other people. We love each other in our own way, and we can have the life together that we want. You won’t be the perfect husband? I can promise you I harboured no intention of being the perfect wife. I’ll not be fixing your lamb all day, while you come home from the office, will I? I’ll work. You’ll work. And we’ll have each other’s company. We’ll have each other’s minds. Sounds like a better marriage than most. Because I care for you. And you care for me. And we understand one another more than anyone else ever has.

Alan Turing: I don’t.

Joan Clarke: What?

Alan Turing: Care for you. I never did. I just needed you to break Enigma. I’ve done that now, so you can go.

Joan Clarke: [slaps him] I am not going anywhere. I have spent entirely too much of my life worried about what you think of me, or what my parents think of me, or what the boys in Hut 8 or the girls in Hut 3 think, and you know I am done. This work is the most important thing I will ever do. And no one will stop me. Least of all you. [pause] You know what? They were right. Peter. Hugh. John. You really are a monster.

[last lines]  Alan Turing: You got what you wanted. A husband, a job… a normal life.

Joan Clarke: No one normal could have done that. Do you know, this morning… I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work… a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. And while you wish you could have been normal… I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.

Alan Turing: You really think that?

Joan Clarke: I think, that sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things no one… can imagine.

[first lines] Alan Turing: Are you paying attention? Good. If you’re not listening carefully you will miss things. Important things. I will not pause, I will not repeat myself, and you will not interrupt me. If you think that because you’re sitting where you are and I am sitting where I am that you are in control of what is about to happen, you ‘re mistaken. I am in control, because I know things that you do not know.

Hugh Alexander: If you run the wires across the plugboard matrix diagonally, you’ll eliminate rotor positions 500 times faster.

Alan Turing: This is actually not an entirely terrible idea.

Joan Clarke: That’s Alan for “thank you.”

Alan Turing: Hardest time to lie to somebody is when they’re expecting to be lied to.

Alan Turing: Was I God? No. Because God didn’t win the war. We did.

 

Alan Turing: Advice about keeping secrets: it’s a lot easier if you don’t know them in the first place.

 

Stewart Menzies: [candidates are taking a timed test] Six minutes… is that even possible?

Alan Turing: No, it takes me eight.

Joan Clarke: [raises her hand]

Alan Turing: You’re finished?… Five minutes thirty four seconds.

Joan Clarke: You said to finish under six minutes.

 

Alan Turing: [after telling the story] Now you decide: Am I a machine? Am I a human? Am I a war hero? Or am I a criminal?

Detective Robert Nock: I can’t judge you.

Alan Turing: Well, then. You were of no help to me at all.

 

Alan Turing: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

 

Alan Turing: Uh, that’s my sandwich.

Hugh Alexander: You don’t like sandwiches.

 

Alan Turing: Think of it. A digital computer. Electrical brain.

Alan Turing: [Explaining the Turing Test] “The Imitation Game.”

Detective Robert Nock: Right, that’s… that’s what it’s about?

Alan Turing: Would you like to play?

Detective Robert Nock: Play?

Alan Turing: It’s a game. A test of sorts. For determining whether something is a… a machine or a human being.

Detective Robert Nock: How do I play?

Alan Turing: Well, there’s a judge and a subject, and… the judge asks questions and, depending on the subject’s answers, determines who he is talking with… what he is talking with, and, um… All you have to do is ask me a question.

 

Stewart Menzies: Mr Turing, do you know how many people have died because of Enigma?

Alan Turing: No, I don’t.

Stewart Menzies: Three.

Alan Turing: Three?

Stewart Menzies: While we’ve been having this conversation.

Stewart Menzies: [he looks at his watch] Oh look, there’s another. I rather hope he didn’t have a family.

 

Alan Turing: You will never understand the importance of what I am creating here!

 

Stewart Menzies: Oh, Alan… we’re gonna have such a wonderful war together.

 

Commander Denniston: This is Stewart Menzies. MI6.

Charles Richards: There are only five divisions of military intelligence. There is no MI6.

Stewart Menzies: Exactly. That’s the spirit.

 

Alan Turing: He likes you.

Joan Clarke: Yes.

Alan Turing: You – you got him to like you.

Joan Clarke: Yes.

Alan Turing: Why?

Joan Clarke: Because I’m a woman in a man’s job, and I don’t have the luxury of being an ass.

 

Alan Turing: It wasn’t just programmable, it was reprogrammable.

 

Hugh Alexander: Damn you, you and your machine.

 

John Cairncross: What’s wrong?

Alan Turing: What if… what if I don’t fancy being with Joan in that way?

John Cairncross: Because you’re a homosexual? I suspected.

Alan Turing: Sh- should I tell her that I’ve had affairs with men?

John Cairncross: You know, in my admittedly limited experience, women tend to be a bit touchy about accidentally marrying homosexuals. Perhaps not spreading this information about might be in your best interest.

Alan Turing: I care for her, I truly do, but… I-I just don’t know if I can pretend…

John Cairncross: You can’t tell anyone, Alan. It’s illegal. And Denniston is looking for any excuse he can to put you away.

Alan Turing: I know.

John Cairncross: This has to stay a secret.

 

Alan Turing: Codes are a puzzle. A game, just like any other game.

 

Peter Hilton: You’re not God, Alan. You don’t get to decide who lives and who dies.

Alan Turing: Yes, yes we do.

Peter Hilton: Why? Why?

Alan Turing: Because we’re the only ones who can.

 

Detective Robert Nock: Mr Turing, can I tell you a secret?

Alan Turing: I’m quite good with those.

Detective Robert Nock: I’m here to help you.

Alan Turing: Oh, clearly!

Detective Robert Nock: Can machines think?

Alan Turing: Oh, so you’ve read some of my published works?

Detective Robert Nock: What makes you say that?

Alan Turing: Oh, because I’m sitting in a police station, accused of entreating a young man to touch my penis, and you’ve just asked me if machines can think.

Detective Robert Nock: Well, can they? Could machines ever think as human beings do?

Alan Turing: Most people say not.

Detective Robert Nock: You’re not most people.

 

Stewart Menzies: Why are you telling me this ?

Alan Turing: We need your help, to keep this a secret from Admiralty, Army, RAF. Ah… as no one can know, that we’ve broken enigma, not even

[Commander]

Alan Turing: Dennison

Stewart Menzies: Who’s in the process of having you fired ?

Joan Clarke: You can take care of that.

Alan Turing: While we develop a system to help you determine how much intelligence to act on. Which ahh attacks to stop, which to let through. Statistical analysis, the minimum number of actions it will take, for us to win the war – but the maximum number we can take, before the Germans get suspicious

Stewart Menzies: And you’re going to trust of this all to statistics ? To maths ?

Alan Turing: Correct.

Joan Clarke: And then MI6 can come up with the lies we will tell everyone else

Alan Turing: You’ll need a believable alternative source for all the pieces of information that you use

Joan Clarke: A false story, so that we can explain how we got our information, that has nothing to do with Enigma, and then you can leak those stories to the Germans

Alan Turing: And then to our own military

Stewart Menzies: Maintain a conspiracy of lies at the very highest levels of govt ?… Sounds right up my alley.

 

Commander Denniston: Well, you realize that six hundred miles away from London there’s this nasty little chap called Hitler who wants to engulf Europe in tyranny.

Alan Turing: Politics isn’t really my area of expertise.

 

Hugh Alexander: Love will make a man do strange things, I suppose.

Alan Turing: In this case, love just lost Germany the whole bloody war!

 

Hugh Alexander: You know to pull off this irascible genius routine, one has to actually be a genius.

 

Hugh Alexander: Because there’s nothing like a friend’s engagement to make a woman want to do something that she’ll later regret with the fiancé’s better looking chum.

 

Headmaster: [grilling young Alan about note-passing] You and your friend solve maths problems during maths class because the maths class is too dull?

 

Title Card: After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing committed suicide on June 7th, 1954.He was 41 years old. Between 1995 and 1967, approximately 49,000 homosexual men were convicted of gross indecency under British law. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous royal pardon, honoring his unprecedented achievements.

Title Card: Historians estimate that breaking Enigma shortened the war by more than two years, saving over 14 million lives. It remained a government-held secret for more than 50 years. Turing’s work inspired generations of research into what scientists called “Turing Machines.” Today, we call them computers.

 

Alan Turing: Some people thought we were at war with the Germans. Incorrect. We were at war with the clock.

 

Hugh Alexander: [reading a decrypted message] “… is directed to 53 degrees 24 minutes north and aufpunkt one degree west.”

Hugh Alexander: “Heil Hitler.”

Alan Turing: Turns out that’s the only German you need to know to break Enigma.

 

Stewart Menzies: Burn everything.

Hugh Alexander: Burn? Why?

Stewart Menzies: You were told when you started this was a Top Secret program. Did you think we were joking?

Hugh Alexander: But the war is over.

Stewart Menzies: *This* war is. But there’Il be others.

Alan Turing: And we know how to break a code that everybody else believes is unbreakable.

Stewart Menzies: Precisely. Tear it down, light it up. Sweep away the ashes. None of you have ever met before. None of you have ever even heard the word “Enigma.” Have a safe trip home.

Stewart Menzies: [as they rise to go] Behave. With a bit of luck, you’ll never have to see me or one another again for the rest of your lives…

 

John Cairncross: If you tell them my secret, I’ll tell them yours.

 

Young Alan Turing: What’s that you’re reading?

Christopher Morcom: It’s about cryptography.

Young Alan Turing: Like secret messages?

Christopher Morcom: Not secret. That’s the brilliant part. Messages that anyone can see but no one knows what they mean, unless you have the key.

Young Alan Turing: How’s that different from talking?

Christopher Morcom: Talking?

Young Alan Turing: When people talk to each other, they never say what they mean, they say something else. And you’re expected to just know what they mean. Only I never do. So… How’s that different?

Christopher Morcom: Alan, I have a funny feeling you’re going to be very good at this.

 

Alan Turing: You can’t leave, I won’t let you.

Joan Clarke: I’ll miss you. That’s what a normal person would say in this situation.

Alan Turing: I-I don’t care what is normal!

Joan Clarke: What am I supposed to do, Alan? I will not give up my parents.

Alan Turing: You have an opportunity here to make some actual use of your life!

Joan Clarke: [offended] And end up like you? No thanks. I’m sorry you’re lonely. But Enigma will not save you. Can you decipher that, you fragile narcissist? Or would you like me to fetch your beloved Christopher to help?

 

Commander Denniston: Have you ever won a war, Turing? I have. You know how it’s done? Discipline, order, chain of command. You’re not at university any more, you’re a very small cog in a very large system. And you will do as your commanding officer instructs.

Alan Turing: Who – who is your commanding officer?

Commander Denniston: Winston Churchill. Number 10 Downing Street, London SWI. You have a problem with my decision, you can take it up with him.

 

Peter Hilton: All my friends, they’re making a difference while we just wile away our days, producing nothing! Because of you.

Alan Turing: My machine… will work.

 

Alan Turing: I’m not a spy. I’m… I’m just a mathematician.

Stewart Menzies: I know a lot of spies, Alan. You’ve got more secrets than the best of them.

 

Joan Clarke: [to a convalescing Alan] Why don’t we do a crossword puzzle? It’ll only take us five minutes. Or in your case, six.

 

Joan Clarke: Are you trying to build your universal machine? [Alan looks puzzled] I read your paper at university.

Alan Turing: Is it already being taught?

Joan Clarke: Oh no! I was precocious.

See also

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The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale – Gerard Reve

TEGerard Reve (1923-2006) is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors, and was also the first openly gay writer in the country’s history. His 1947 debut The Evenings was chosen as one of the nation’s 10 favourite books by readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands’ best novel of all time. It’s been dubbed ‘one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. There is a lack of much to do after the War. Meeting friends, going to the cinema and dancing are the only options, if you have enough money. Otherwise there is sitting at home and listening to the radio. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Some of our group found it quite boring –  but that’s the point! How do you write a book about boredom that isn’t boring? It was a page-turner because people wanted to see if the protagonist did something daring, like kill someone. Was his adolescence (he’s annoyed with and rude to his parents) delayed by war and occupation? Is the obsession with food a result of previous starvation and rationing?

It’s well-written. The descriptions of the weather are vivid. One person found it quite hypnotic.

Is his teasing s form of flirtation?

That the gay author is the same age as the protagonist and this being his first book, is there a suppressed gay element? For example., the bar upstairs where you have to ring a bell to get in – one assumes it is a casino but there’s dancing but only two women. Is it a clandestine gay bar?

He is obsessed with baldness.

Although not a churchgoer, he knows and quotes his bible.

The cover and feel of the book are pleasing.

All in all, people were pleased that they’d read it though one gave up half way through.

Maybe he should join a book group!

Quotations:

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.”

“It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”

“If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.”

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“will be a day well spent.   This will be no wasted and profitless Sunday.”

Oh but you are becoming quite bald,” he tells one man. Listen Joop, without meaning to be nasty your scalp is really almost bare. It will not be long before you can count your hairs on the fingers of one hand… Do you count the hairs in your comb each morning? If you did you would see that there are more of them each day. Slowly but surely. I would be horrified to know that I was going bald. I would lose all desire to live. But please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to discourage you.

A loss,” he mumbled softly, “a dead loss.  How can it be?  A day squandered in its entirety.  Hallelujah.

A pity that I have to leave.”  “But where are you going?” his mother asked.  “Well,” he said, “we shall see.”  “So you don’t know where you’re going yet?” she asked, “but you say that you have to leave.”  “The one does not necessarily rule out the other,” Frits said.  “One may need to leave without having to go anywhere.  Those are the cases in which one must go away from somewhere.”  “Stay and have a nice cup of tea,” she said.

“What is the weather like?”  his mother asked.  “Normal,” Frits said, “not so very cold.  “When it’s cold like this,” she said, “I don’t much feel like leaving the house; father and I were planning to go out this evening to Annetje in Haarlem.”  “That’s true,” Frits said, “you told me this morning.”  “What’s it like outside now?” she asked, “is the wind very cold?”  “It’s blowing, but it’s not a cold wind,” Frits said.  “But what do you call cold?” she asked, “is it that humid cold?”  The air is moist,” Frits said, “but the wind is actually quite sultry.”
“Let’s go anyway,” his father said.

“‘The empty hours,’ he murmured, turning away”

“‘I just sit here and don’t do anything,’ he thought”.

Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. “That is unclean,” he thought, “a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless.”

I’m only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God’s sake, let it be that. So why hasn’t it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.

“The devil take me,” said Frits, “it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports,” “the seven-year-old son,” he said in an impassive voice, “of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer.”

“What an evening,” he thought, “what an evening. When is it going to end ?”

“There is no going back,” Frits thought. “Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression.”

Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.

“I just wish I could figure out when you’re being serious”.

“‘Don’t pay him any mind,’ his father said, ‘he’s only blathering'”.

“‘And now the moment for tears has arrived,’ he thought. His eyes grew moist.” — breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain

“All in all, it is dreary,” he thought, “most dreary.”

“It is no disaster to be unhappy,” Frits thought, “but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?”

“Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.””

“Deliver me from baldness,” he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. “It is a gruesome infliction.”

The Year is no more, I am alive, I breathe, and I move, so I live… whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.

‘I just sit here and sit here and don’t do a thing,’ he thought. ‘The day’s half over.’ It was a quarter past twelve.

‘Why do I think that way?’ he thought then. ‘What right do I have to be so blasé?’

‘This day was empty,’ Frits thought, ‘I realize that.’

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Sex training in the home; plain talks on sex life covering all periods and relationships from childhood to old age by Hall, Winfield Scott, b. 1861

stith(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Remarkable for its time though obviously rather dated now. Separate beds and sex no more than fortnightly. It ends with eugenics, much in vogue at the time. No mention of homosexuality, though there is a warning that there can be ‘lewd boys’ even at Grammar School.

Quotations:

From what source would you prefer your child to receive his knowledge of the sex functions of life?

THIS?

From the lips of the parents, toward whom he naturally leans for advice, and from whom he has the right to expect love, care, education and preparation for life’s struggle, or

THIS?

Indecent and vulgar stories; 2. Degenerate companions; 3. Advertisements by quack doctors; 4. Signs in toilets advertising quack cures; 5. Drug-store displays of aids to the sexually weak; 6. Quack doctors’ booklets; 7. Suggestive acts at theaters; 8. Vulgar postals and obscene literature.

the mother must gently bathe away the accumulations which adhere to the inner surface. When she bathes the little boy she must draw back the foreskin and carefully wash away that which accumulates and irritates.

Between the age of ten and fifteen the boy possesses the qualities essential to the barbarism of the race. He is barbarically crude, barbarically rude, barbarically vulgar, barbarically blundering and blustering. He glories in war and the chase. He is a hero worshiper. He has no use for girls, even being restive under the mild restraints of his mother.

At fifteen all this is changed. The boy begins to ^^slick up.” He wishes to impress the girls. His rudeness to the girls now disappears and he becomes a society young gentleman.

stith2The child who learns obedience at home is more easily handled at school, and is still held by a strong power under the influence of his mother. After a child has entered his adolescent period and begins to feel the dawning of individuality is no time to teach him obedience. If by that time he has learned the lesson of obedience the tension of government may be loosened and with his own consent he will follow the advice of his parents. If he has not learned it, extra pressure brought to bear upon him is likely only to make him the more restive. He has then passed the age for learning obedience except with the greatest difficulty.

The best and easiest time to tell a child his origin is when a new baby has arrived in the family, and when one day the older child is standing at the bedside looking at the wonderful new baby. Her eyes are full of wonder at the miracle and her heart full of love. She feels the tiny fingers and laughs at the pretty toes, and then in wonder she asks, ^^Where did you get him?” You reply, ”1 am glad you asked, for it is a story that I want to tell you. He grew in mother’s body. God made a room in mother’s body purposely to hold a baby and this room is so arranged that no harm can come to him, but he can get food and air until he has grown big enough to handle and perfectly ready to live.

‘baby was made out of very precious material that is drawn out of the mamma’s blood. So you see, little daughter, why it is that the mother loves her baby so, because she has given her own life blood for it.”

The mature corn plant furnishes good material for teaching sex in plants because the parts are so large and the process so apparent. The tassel that grows on the top of the cornstalk is the father part, i. e., the male organ which develops the pollen or fertilizing substance. The corn silk at the end of the ear of corn is the receiving part of the female organ. One may speak in a general way of the tassels as the father and the silk as the mother. The wind blows the pollen when it is ripe and has fallen and scatters it in the air where it reaches the corn silk and fertilizes it. Without the pollen there would be no kernel of corn at the end of each thread of silk. The kernels on the cob are the seeds for a new generation of plants, the cob is the ovary, or contains the ovaries in which the seeds develop.

Teach the child that the sex apparatus is sacred to the future womanhood or manhood.

Coming once every month, as it does, it is frequently referred to as the monthly period. When a girl really crosses the threshold from girlhood into womanhood, the experience which marks this change is her first monthly period. It happens about the time of the maturing of the first egg that leaves her ovaries. As this egg passes down the ovarian tube into the uterus the uterus is itself modified — more blood flowing through it and the inner lining changing somewhat. After the girl has developed into womanhood there are a number of years, during her unmarried young womanhood, during which the eggs will come down one each month into and through the uterus, or, as mamma used to call it, when she was explaining to her little girl, the little ^mother-room/ or ^mother-nest/ These eggs, not being fertilized, pass out. They are very tiny, so small that one of them could drop through the eye of a cambric needle without touching the sides, so there is no special loss in the passage of one or two ova per month.

^’Listen/’ said his father, *^this big bass that you have caught is a father fish or a male fish. After the mother fish has laid her eggs in her pebble nest the father fish must deposit over those same pebbles the fertilizing fluid from his testicles, or the eggs will not develop. It’s just as necessary for the father fish to deposit the fertilizing fluid as it is for the mother to deposit the eggs in this nest. Both are necessary if new life is to start.”

“They don’t ever castrate boys, do they, father.?”

“No,” said his father, “not these days, but the time was, two thousand years ago, when they castrated boys. That was an age of barbarism, and it was the custom of that barbaric age that when one nation went to war with another the victorious army would batter down the gates or scale the walls of the vanquished city and having gained entrance would massacre the men that had not already fallen in battle and take away the women and children into captivity and sell them into bondage. The boys thus sold into bondage were as a rule castrated, just as Dick the gelding, and for the same purpose really, because they were slave boys and the men who bought them wanted them to be just docile, beasts of burden, easily managed and controlled, so they had them castrated.

In every school, as for example the grammar school, there are a few boys who, misled by some vulgar minded older boys, are taught by those boys to play with their sex organs, irritating and exciting them. This habit, which we call ‘self-abuse,’ seriously interferes with the boy’s development of the manly qualities. He is almost sure to grow into a little namby, pamby sissy boy if he becomes a slave to the habit of self -abuse.

“While a little boy does not lose any fluid, he will, when he gets about fifteen years of age, begin to lose fluid. This fluid which the fifteen-year-old boy loses when he does this act of self -abuse is the fertilizing fluid or semen, which ought to have been retained in his testicles. After it is lost the testicles must prepare some more, and to do that they draw upon the blood of the youth for material from which to build this fertilizing fluid. This makes the blood of the boy thinner and poorer as the weeks and months go by so that he doesn’t develop as big, hard muscles or as active a brain as he would have developed if he had not been the victim of this bad habit.”

The urinary bladder must be emptied every few hours. These little bladders that I have just described usually empty every few weeks, perhaps the period may be a two weeks’ period or it may be four or six weeks with different men; and in the same man under different conditions of life, the length of the period will differ.

“Now, there’s a curious thing about the emptying of these little bladders. When the urinary bladder empties, we are conscious of it before it empties — we are conscious of a *call of nature’ and we consciously prepare for the emptying of the urinary bladder, but these little albumin sacks empty without any warning, and, curiously enough, perhaps wisely planned for on the part of the Creator, they empty right in the middle of the night as a rule. The young man suddenly awakens from sound sleep or perhaps from a restless, dreamy sleep and finds that something is pouring out of his sex organs. The first time that he has this experience, he may wonder if the fluid is from his urinary bladder, but he usually has no difficulty in making up his mind that it is not from the urinary bladder at all. Then he naturally thinks of his sex apparatus and assumes that the fluid comes direct from his testicles. As a matter of fact, only a small portion of it comes from the testicles, most of it is from these little albumin bladders.

Now, during this day, before the emptying of the bladders relieve the tension in the sex organs, the young man is restless and perhaps irritable and lacking in power of concentration. He feels like a caged lion. It is very important for him to understand about this because at such times he is very likely to have his thoughts directed to sex matters. He may even have sensuous thoughts come into his mind. If he harbors these sensuous thoughts he is sure presently to experience sexual excitement or even sex desire, which the young man in his middle teens or we might say any unmarried young man, should carefully avoid. Now here are two simple and practical little rules, my son, that your father and many other men have put to the test, and we want our boys to have the benefit of our experience in this matter.

^^Control the thoughts. — Do not permit the thoughts under such conditions ever to dwell upon sex matters. Always divert them by sheer will power, if necessary

No chivalrous, honorable young gentleman would touch the person of his girl friend with his hands or in any other way subject her to undignified familiarity. He will always be deferential and courteous, protecting her from danger, if necessary by endangering his own life.

One of these diseases called syphilis has been known and feared for ages past. A young man may catch that disease on his first contact with a lewd girl. She may herself have recently caught the disease and may not realize that she has it. One symptom of the disease is sore throat, a peculiar kind of sore throat with white mucous patches. During the time a person has this symptom, the moisture from the lips is as venomous as the poison of a rattlesnake. If a fellow at a public dance, for example, were to kiss such a girl just in fun and have no other physical contact with her than that, a bit of moisture from her lips gaining access to a weather check or ^’chap” on his lip could easily give him that terrible blood disease, syphilis, which would not only wreck his life but might unfit him absolutely and irretrievably for home building and fatherhood. Such a calamity would of course be far worse than death. The usual way in which this terrible disease is caught is in sexual intercourse, but whether caught in that way or in a kiss, the final result is the same.”

‘Why, father, I should think that a person with the mucous patches of syphilis might contaminate a public drinking glass or a public towel so as to make them dangerous for a well person to use.”

^’That is quite true, my son,” said Mr. Brown. “And in several states of the Union the public drinking glass and the public roller towel have been outlawed. Furthermore, now that we are discussing this point of public sanitation, every person who uses a public water closet should take pains to protect himself against touching the seat. This can be easily accomplished by laying strips of toilet paper upon the seat.

There is always the danger that young people after marriage will be influenced by their intimate relationships and license that marriage gives them, to indulge very frequently in sexual intercourse. Some young people carry this to such excess that in a few months the wife is in a condition of neurasthenia and the husband is consciously depleted in his powers and his business efficiency noticeably decreased.

Nature has pretty definitely set the time for these relationships. It is a law of nature that the female has a period of heat periodically. In women this period comes every twenty-eight days and is closely associated with their menstrual period. It may come just before or just after, perhaps both before and after. Now, there can be no question on the part of anyone who has studied the physiology of all the higher animals, including man, that the Creator when he planned man and woman, planned them for sexual intercourse about once a month. At the very upper limit twice a month.

Dr. Dawson and his wife have even occupied separate though adjoining rooms all these years, but I supposed that was because Dr. Dawson was so frequently called out at night in his practice and that this was a device for enabling him to respond to the night call without disturbing Mrs. Dawson/’

The full text is here

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The Child’s Child – Barbara Vine

tcc

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Homosexuality and illegitimacy were once taboos and it is strange how each party looked down on the other – I suppose an oppressed person has to find someone else who is lower down the food chain.

Life intervened and I had to out this book to one side for as few weeks but it was easy to take up again from where I had left off.

When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair — until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace’s doctoral thesis soon puncture the house’s idyllic atmosphere. When he and Andrew witness their friend’s murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house.

Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript — a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child’s Child — never published, owing to its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories.

The Child’s Child is an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society’s treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed — and how sometimes it hasn’t.

I found the present-day story less convincing than the story wrapped up in it.

tcc2Quotations:

“By the age I was then I ought to know the truism that things always look different in the morning. As the night comes on and the deeper it gets, the more mad we are, the more prone to dreadful fears and fantasies. In the morning, not when we first wake up but gradually, things begin to look unlike what they looked like at eleven, at midnight.”

Mrs Lillicrap said Hope must go to All Saints to be churched the first time she went out and Maud thought she would abandon Methodism and go at least once to the Church of England. All the Methodists had done for her was be unkind and punishing, so she might as well try another kind of God she no longer believed in

Maud thought, but didn’t know how else to put it, and he had behaved like God to her, a jealous god, punishing disproportion­ately. Reaping where he had not sown, she remembered from her churchgoing days, and gathering where he had not stored. ‘Mother could come here,’ she said, `if she misses me so much.’

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Untold Stories by Alan Bennett

A lot of this book has already been told in ‘A Life Like other People’s’

Compiled in the aftermath of an operation for bowel cancer, Untold Stories is, in effect, a giant autobiography, taking us from his childhood in Leeds to his present eminence by means of essays, dairy entries and family memoirs: the result is endearing, entertaining and pleasingly provocative. However, that makes it a ragbag: bitty and repetitive (How many funerals did Thora Hird have?).

It’s also extremely funny: he taught medieval history at Oxford and when, at the end of his first lecture, he asked for questions, a long silence fell, broken only when an undergraduate piped up with “Can you tell me where you bought your shoes?”

Bennett combines comicality with sadness, righteous indignation about the state of the world – Iraq, Tony Blair, the destruction of Victorian Leeds – with an observant delight in its minutiae. He recalls how the teacher who took him in the 1940s to the Leeds City Art Gallery had “the kind of old lady’s legs that seem to have gone out now, which begin at the corners of the skirt and converge on the ankles”.

The author describes his late start, anatomically, not maturing physically till he was 18, a circumstance that has lent a quality of perpetual precocity to everything he does, seeming to warrant special admiration as if it were a wonder that he’d done it at all. His remarkable writing here about his parents – Mam and Dad, as he invariably refers to them – reveals the extent to which he is still their lad Alan. Their sense of the home as a fortress, their horror of attention-seeking, their rejoicing in their ordinariness is shared by Bennett: he also shares his parents’ disdain for the enterprise, the ebullience, the sheer extroversion of Mam’s shop-assistant sister, Myra, and her “desire to be different, to be marked out above the common ruck and to have a tale to tell”.

Like many bright children, Bennett always felt himself to be a loner and a non-joiner: a late developer with both sex and shaving, he realised that he was one of those who would never learn to “dive, throw a cricket ball, piss in public, catch the barman’s eye”. His mother might diagnose his shyness as “the mark of a natural aristocracy”, but he worried that he might end up as a “denizen of tea shops and haunter of libraries”

His observations about education, which became obvious in ‘The History Boys’ are astute.

His experience of (assumed by the police) ‘queer-bashing’ is vivid and shows up police prejudice.

The ending, about cancer, is a bit depressing.

Like me, he loathes Earl Hague and Paul Johnson.

As he complains about dumbing down, I won’t let him get away with the notion that March 30th 1997 was ‘Easter Saturday’.  It was a week later. (Not the day after Good Friday.)

Quotations:

“You do not put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there.”

“the more institutions and freedoms and benefits one can take for granted – of which in my view free state-supported galleries and museums come high on the list – the more civilised a society is.”

Alan Clark and Kenneth Clarke resurrected this lunchtime to comment on the arrest of Pinochet. Both routinely acknowledge Pinochet’s crimes, although Clark A. is careful to refer to them as `alleged’, probably because he didn’t actually hear the screams of the tortured himself. Both have that built-in shrug characteristic of eighties Conservatism, electrodes on the testicles a small price to pay when eco­nomic recovery’s at stake. They both talk contemptuously of gesture pol­itics as if Lady Thatcher having tea with the General isn’t gesture politics too, the gesture in question being two fingers to humanity.

Appalling scenes on the Portsmouth housing estate which is conducting a witch hunt against suspected paedophiles and the nation is treated to the spectacle of a tattooed mother with a fag dangling from her lips and a baby in her arms proclaiming how concerned she is for her kiddies.

The joy of being a mob, particularly these days, is that it’s probably the first time the people on this estate have found common cause on anything; it’s ‘the community’ they’ve been told so much about and for the first time in their lives each day seems purposeful and exciting.

Also reading Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars, which is hard going but full of interesting stuff about the ceremonial life of the late medieval church and its systematic dismantling under Edward VI and Elizabeth. I hadn’t realised that the Elizabethan Settlement also meant the end of the mystery plays, which were pretty well forgotten by 1580. It shames me that I am more outraged by these events of nearly five hundred years ago (particularly by the iconoclasm) than I am by anything that’s currently happening (and to flesh and blood) in Yugoslavia or SierraLeone.

not for the first time I wonder if Blun­kett would be a more liberal man if he were not blind.

Ludicrously I assumed that these recycling men would (because greener) be a cut above the ordinary bin men. In fact it’s the reverse. The traditional crew is jolly, know me by name and call out if they see me in the street. They also close the gate and don’t leave any mess. The green men are unsmiling, wanting in any obvious conviviality, shove the crate back any old how and don’t close the gate. Green, in Camden any­way, isn’t necessarily nice.

Much talk of republicanism, recalling Brooklyn-born Joan Panzer’s remark twenty years ago: ‘England without the Royal Family? Never. It would be like Fire Island without the gays.’

That Tony Blair (as today talking to troops in Basra) will often say ‘I honestly believe’ rather than just ‘I believe’ says all that needs to be said. ‘To be honest’ another of his frank-seeming phrases…. T Blair claims to the Hutton Inquiry that if the BBC had been right and the Iraq dossier had been ‘sexed up’ he would have resigned. This is presumably intended to pre-empt any calls for his resignation at the conclusion of the Inquiry, which, whether it reports so or not, has conclusively shown that this is exactly what happened to the Iraq dossier. I suppose ‘sexed up’ is a euphemism for ‘hardened up’ (`stiffened up’ even), fastidiousness about language not being one of the characteristics

 John Schlesinger dies. The obituaries are more measured than he would have liked… Short, solid and fat, John looked like the screen Nazi he had once or twice played in his early days as an actor; he was a scaled-down Francis L. Sullivan, managing nevertheless to be surprisingly successful in finding partners. Not invariably, though. Sometime in the 1970s he was in a New York bath house where the practice was for someone wanting a partner to leave the cubicle door open. This Schlesinger accordingly did and lay monumentally on the table under his towel waiting for someone to pass by. A youth duly did and indeed ventured in, but seeing this mound of flesh laid out on the slab recoiled, saying: ‘Oh, please. I couldn’t. You’ve got to be kidding.’ Schlesinger closed his eyes and said primly: ‘A simple “No” will suffice.’…. A memorial service for John Schlesinger. It’s in the syna­gogue opposite Lord’s and though it’s Liberal Jewish I don’t feel it’s quite liberal enough for me to tell the bath-house story. Still, there are a lot of laughs in the other speeches, so I do feel able to give John’s own account of his investiture with the CBE. John was so aware of his sexuality that he managed to detect a corresponding awareness in the unlikeliest of places. On this occasion HMQ had a momentary difficulty getting the ribbon round his sizeable neck, whereupon she said, ‘Now, Mr Schlesinger, we must try and get this straight,’ the emphasis according to John very much hers and which he chose to take as both a coded acknowledgement of his situation and a seal of royal approval.

At Cambridge as an undergraduate he was once in the Rex cinema when the adverts came on, including one for Kellogg’s Ricicles. ‘Rice is nice,’ went the jingle, ‘but Ricicles are twicicles as nicicles.’ Whereupon Cedric boomed out: ‘But testicles are besticles.’ By their jokes ye shall know them.

Finish reading Toast, Nigel Slater’s memoir of his child­hood. It’s such an enjoyable book I regret reading it so quickly, bolting it in fact, the metaphor appropriate. Food apart, it’s also a very sexy book. The young Nigel must have had some sort of glint in his eye because he’s always getting shown a bit of the action until at fourteen he starts spend­ing his evenings hanging round the local lay-by spying on couples having it away. Life finally takes off when he fucks a girl-friend with his best friend watching from the other bed. An idyllic childhood I would have said. The rest is history. Or cookery.

Around nine I go out to put some rubbish in the bin to find someone curled up on the doorstep. I say someone because, swathed in an anorak, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s a man or a woman; he/she doesn’t speak and when shaken just moans a little. He/she is surrounded by half a dozen plastic bags, most of them empty and not the carefully transported possessions of the usual bag lady, if it is a lady. So, having talked about it, we eventually ring 999, where the Scotland Yard opera­tor is quite helpful and within ten minutes (on a Saturday night) a squad car comes round with two policemen. They’re sensible and firm with what turns out to be a young man. He’s filthy, his hands so black he might have been shifting coal, and is no help when they try to get him on his feet, moaning still and saying he has an abscess.

Now an ambulance arrives, and it’s this that seems to bring the young man round. He plainly doesn’t want to go to hospital and, abandoning whatever possessions he has on our doorstep, vanishes into the night. One of the policemen conies back and explains that, because among the rub­bish is a squeezed-out lemon, he is likely to be an addict, the juice used to purify the drugs. He counsels caution when we’re clearing up the mess lest there be any needles about and then says, ‘Actually I can do it,’ goes to the car for some gloves and tidies everything away himself and in such a sensible, straightforward way it seems genuine goodness.

It makes me ashamed of my habitual prejudice against the police when here is one dealing with what for him is presumably a regular occurrence and going out of his way just to be helpful. I think what a dispiriting job it must be night after night coping with the thieves and addicts of Camden Town and how hard it must be not to despise respectable folk who call them in to solve what for us is just a problem of hygiene. With a final instruction to swill down the flags, he goes off in the squad car, I go up and have my bath and then we sit down to our shepherd’s pie.

There is a wood, the canal, the river and above the river the railway and the road. It’s the first proper country that you get to as you come north out of Leeds and going home on the train I pass the place quite often. Only these days I look. I’ve been passing the place for years without looking because I didn’t know it was a place; that anything had happened there to make it a place, let alone a place that had something to do with me. Below the wood the water is deep and dark and sometimes there’s a boy fishing or a couple walking a dog. I suppose it’s a beauty spot now. It probably was then.

‘Has there been any other mental illness in your family?’ Mr Parr’s pen hovers over the Yes/No box on the form and my father, who is letting me answer the questions, looks down at his trilby and says nothing.

‘No,’ I say confidently and Dad turns the trilby in his hands.

‘Anyway,’ says Mr Parr kindly but with what the three of us know is more tact than truth, ‘depression isn’t really mental illness. I see it all the time.’

Mr Parr sees it all the time because he is the Mental Health Welfare Officer for the Craven district and late this September evening in 1966 Dad and I are sitting in his bare linoleum-floored office above Settle police station while he takes a history of my mother.

‘So there’s never been anything like this before?’

‘No,’ I say and without doubt or hesitation. After all, I’m the educated one of the family. If there had been ‘anything like this’ I should have known about it.

‘No, there’s never been anything like this.’

‘Well,’ Dad says, and the information is meant for me as much as Mr Parr, ‘she did have something once. Just before we were married.’ And he looks at me apologetically. ‘Only it was nerves more. It wasn’t like this.’

The ‘this’ that it hadn’t been like was a change in my mother’s personality that had come about with relative suddenness. In the space of a month or so she had lost all her fun and vitality, turning fretful and apprehensive and inaccessible to reason or reassurance. As the weeks passed the mood deepened, bringing with it fantasy and delusion: the house was watched, my father made to speak in a whisper because there was someone on the landing, and the lavatory (always central to Mam’s scheme of things) was being monitored every time it was flushed. She started to sleep with her handbag under her pillow as if she were in a strange and dangerous hotel and finally one night she fled the house in her nightgown and Dad found her wandering in the street whence she could only be fetched back into the house after loud resistance.

Occurring in Leeds where they had always lived, conduct like this might just have got by unnoticed, but the onset of the depression coincided with my parents’ retirement to a village in the Dales, a place so small and close-knit that such bizarre behaviour could not be hidden. Indeed the knowledge that they were about to leave the relative anonymity of the city for a small community where ‘folks knew all your business’ and that she would henceforth be socially much more visible than she was used to might have brought on the depression in the first place. Or so Mr Parr is saying.

My parents had always wanted to be in the country and have a garden. Living in Leeds all his life Dad had never even had an allotment, but in his childhood he had spent holidays on a farm at Bielby in the East Riding, which he always talked of as a lost paradise. The village they were moving to was very pretty, too pretty for Mam in her depressed mood: ‘You’ll see,’ she said, ‘we’ll be inundated with folks visiting.’ The cottage faced onto the village street but had a long garden at the back and it seemed like the place they had always dreamed of. A few years after they moved I wrote a television play, Sunset across the Bay, in which a retired couple not unlike my parents leave Leeds to go and live in Morecambe. As the coach hits the M62 bearing them away to a new life the wife calls out: ‘Bye bye, mucky Leeds!’ That had always been the dream. Now Dad was being told that it was their longed for escape that had brought this crushing visitation on his wife. Not surprisingly, he would not believe it.

In their last weeks in Leeds Dad had put Mam’s low spirits down to the stress of the impending move. Once the move had been accomplished, though, the depression persisted, so now he fell back on the state of the house, blaming its bare unfurnished rooms still with all the decorating to be done.

‘Your Mam’ll be better when I’ve got the place straight,’ he said. ‘She can’t do with it being all upset.’ So, while she sat fearfully on a hard chair in the passage, he got down to the decorating.

My brother, who had come up from Bristol to help with the move, also thought the state of the house was to blame, fastening particularly on an item that seemed to be top of Mam’s list of complaints, the absence of stair-carpet. I think I knew then that the stair-carpet was only the beginning of it but my brother galvanised a local firm into supplying and fitting the carpet in a couple of days. Mam seemed scarcely to notice and when, stair-carpet or no stair-carpet, the clouds did not lift my brother went back to Bristol and I to London.

Over the next ten years this came to be the pattern. The onset of a bout of depression would fetch us home for a while but when no immediate recovery was forthcoming we would take ourselves off again while Dad was left to cope. Or to care, as the phrase is nowadays. Dad was the carer. We cared, of course, but we still had lives to lead: Dad was retired – he had all the time in the world to care.

‘The doctor has put her on tablets,’ Dad said over the phone, ‘only they don’t seem to be doing the trick.’ Tablets seldom did, even when one saw what was coming and caught it early. The onset of depression would find her sitting on unaccustomed chairs – the cork stool in the bathroom, the hard chair in the hall that was just there for ornament and where no one ever sat, its only occupant the occasional umbrella. She would perch in the passage dumb with misery and apprehension, motioning me not to go into the empty living-room because there was someone there.

‘You won’t tell anybody?’ she whispered.

‘Tell anybody what?’

‘Tell them what I’ve done?’

‘You haven’t done anything.’

‘But you won’t tell them?’

‘Mam!’ I said, exasperated, but she put her hand to my mouth, pointed at the living-room door then wrote ‘TALKING’ in wavering letters on a pad, mutely shaking her head.

As time went on these futile discussions would become less intimate (less caring even), the topography quite spread out with the parties not even in adjoining rooms. Dad would be sitting by the living-room fire while Mam hovered tearfully in the doorway of the pantry, the kitchen in between empty.

‘Come in the pantry, Dad,’ she’d call.

‘What for? What do I want in the pantry?’

‘They can see you.’

‘How can they see me? There’s nobody here.’

‘There is, only you don’t know. Come in here.’

It didn’t take much of this before Dad lapsed into a weary silence.

‘Oh, whish’t,’ he’d say. ‘Be quiet.’

A play could begin like this, I used to think – with a man on-stage, sporadically angry with a woman off-stage, his bursts of baffled invective gradually subsiding into an obstinate silence. Resistant to the offstage entreaties, he continues to ignore her until his persistent refusal to respond gradually tempts the woman into view.

Or set it in the kitchen, the empty room between them, no one on-stage at all, just the voices off. And what happens when they do come on-stage? Violence, probably.

Her fears – of being spied on, listened to, shamed and detected – were ordinary stuff. This was not the territory of grand delusion, her dread not decked out in the showy accoutrements of fashionable neurosis. None of Freud’s patients hovered at pantry doors … Freud’s selected patients, I always felt, the ordinary not even getting past, or even to, the first consultation because too dull, the final disillusion to have fled across the border into unreason only to find you are as mundane mad as you ever were sane.

Certainly in all her excursions into unreality Mam remained the shy, unassuming woman she had always been, none of her fantasies extravagant, her claims, however irrational they might be, always modest. She might be ill, disturbed, mad even, but she still knew her place.

It may be objected that madness did not come into it; that, as Mr Parr had said, this was depression and a very different thing. But though we clung to this assurance it was hard not to think her delusions mad and the tenacity with which she held to them, defended them, insisted on them, the very essence of unreason. While it was perhaps naive of us to expect her to recognise she was ill, or that standing stock still on the landing by the hour together did not constitute normal behaviour, it was this determination to convert you to her way of thinking that made her conduct hardest to bear.

‘I wouldn’t care’ Dad would say, ‘but she tries to get me on the same game.’

‘You’re imagining stuff,’ he said, flinging wide the wardrobe door. ‘Where is he? Show me!’

The non-revelation of the phantom intruder ought, it seemed to Dad, to dent Mam’s conviction, persuade her that she was mistaken. But not a bit of it. Putting her finger to her lips (the man in the wardrobe now having mysteriously migrated to the bathroom), she drew him to the window to point at the fishman’s van, looking at him in fearful certainty, even triumph; he must surely see that the fate she feared, whatever it was, must soon engulf them both.

Few nights passed uninterrupted and Dad would wake to find the place beside him empty, Mam scrabbling at the lock of the outside door or standing by the bedroom window looking out at a car in the carpark that she said was watching the house.

How he put up with it all I never asked, but it was always the aggressiveness of her despair and her conviction that hers was the true view of the world that was the breaking point with me and which, if I were alone with her, would fetch me to the brink of violence. I once nearly dragged her out of the house to confront an elderly hiker who was sitting on the wall opposite, eating his sandwiches. He would have been startled to have been required to confirm to a distraught middle-aged man and his weeping mother that shorts and sandals were not some subtle disguise, that he was not in reality an agent of … what? Mam never specified. But I would have seemed the mad one and the brute. Once I took her by the shoulders and shook her so hard it must have hurt her but she scarcely seemed to mind. It just confirmed to her how inexplicable the world had become.

‘We used to be such pals,’ she’d say to me, shaking her head and refusing to say any more because the radio was listening, instead creeping upstairs to the cold bedroom to perch on one of the flimsy bedroom chairs, beckoning me to stay silent and do the same, as if this were a satisfactory way to spend the morning.

And yet, as the doctor and everybody else kept saying, depression was not madness. It would lift. Light would return. But when? The young sympathetic doctor from the local practice could not say. The senior partner, whom we had first consulted, was a distinguished looking figure, silver-haired, loud-talking, a Rotarian and pillar of the community. Unsurprisingly he was also a pull your socks up merchant and did not hold with depression. At his happiest going down potholes to assist stricken cavers, he was less adept at getting patients out of their more inaccessible holes.

How long depressions lasted no doctor was prepared to say, nor anyone else that I talked to. There seemed to be no timetable, this want of a timetable almost a definition of the disease. It might be months, but one of the books I looked into talked about years, though what all the authorities did seem agreed on was that, treated or not, depression cleared up in time. One school of thought held that the depression should be allowed to run its course unalleviated and unaccelerated by drugs. But on my mother drugs seemed to have no effect anyway, and if the depression were to run its course and it did take years, many months even, what would happen to my father?

Alone in the house, knowing no one in the village well enough to call on them for help, he was both nurse and jailer. Coaxing his weeping parody of a wife to eat, with every mouthful a struggle, then smuggling himself out of the house to do some hasty shopping, hoping that she would not come running down the street after him, he spent every day and every fitful night besieged by Mam’s persistent assaults on reality, foiling her attempts to switch off the television, turn off the lights or pull the curtains against her imaginary enemies, knowing that if he once let her out of his sight she would be at the front door trying to flee this house which was at the same time her prison and her refuge.

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A Life like other People’s – Alan Bennett

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

A sardonic portrait of his parents’ marriage and his Leeds childhood, Christmases with Grandma Peel, and the lives, loves and deaths of aunties Kathleen and Myra. Originally released in 2005 in the compilation `Untold Stories’ it was released on it own in 2009.

The petty, lower-middle-class worries over what was common or not common; the aspiration to hold cocktail parties; the horror of putting oneself forward: these were the things that dominated Bennett’s early life, expressed as they were by his shy, unsure mother.She imagines that other families – those that weren’t common – enjoyed cooked breakfasts and hosted cocktail parties, this last a constant obsession. “What my parents never really understood,” says Bennett, “was that most families just rubbed along anyhow.”

Bennett blames his mother’s timidity on his aunties, Kathleen and Myra, who bullied and shamed her with their more dazzling lives. But their ends were not dazzling, nor was his mother’s, and this memoir, dominated by the women in his life, is Bennett’s cry against the worst that age and illness do.

Within their own family, however, there are those who are different. Bennett’s two aunties, his mother’s sisters Myra and Kathleen, are regarded as “sisters of subversion”.

When war comes Aunty Myra joins up as a WAAF and is posted to the Far East, where she has servants, returning after the war with various exotic souvenirs and an intimidating (to Dad’s thinking) collection of photographs. She marries an RAF warrant officer, while Aunty Kathleen marries an Australian widower.

Later there is a family rift when Myra, staying with Dad and Mam, takes it upon herself to dismantle and clean their Belling gas oven, an act charged with social ramifications, both intentional and misconstrued. Kathleen is mocked for buying a Utility armchair with compartments for cocktail paraphernalia and reading matter.

Mam thinks it common, Dad sees it as impractical and therefore pretentious, being the opposite of its purported utility. “Splother”, says Bennett, was his Dad’s invented word “for the preening and fuss invariably attendant upon the presence of aunties”, but it also serves to describe anything pretentious and showy.

In 1966, when Bennett’s Dad retired from his job as a butcher, he and Mam moved out of “mucky Leeds” and settled in a cottage with a back garden in a village in the Yorkshire Dales. There, in a supposedly idyllic setting, Mam descended into semi-madness as Dad became “both nurse and gaoler”.

Over the next years she was in and out of institutions, where Dad would visit every day, even when it meant a 50-mile trip. But Mam’s mental illness is unfailingly “modest” and unassuming: “She might be ill, disturbed, mad even, but she still knew her place.” It’s called ‘depression’ but sounds more like paranoid schizophrenia.

Questions about his mother’s mental illness open the 242-page book and remain central to the story. Popular in the 60s/70s were psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, known as “radical therapists.”

Laing advocated “an anarchy of experience” and thought family dynamics created mental instability. Szasz focused on love and loss within families as the spark that ignites the fuse of illness. Both themes — anarchy, and love and loss — inform Bennett’s memoir.

I know most of the places and churches he talks about. I can hear Bennett’s flat Leeds’ vowels and steady, homely drone throughout the narrative.

Psalm 91 ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day’ at Compline simply wasn’t true.

I had to look up ‘kist’ = a chest used for storing clothes and linen.

Quotations:

“Frank died last week, haven’t we been having some weather.”

“Seldom can a comma have borne such a burden.”

So while she rests at the undertaker’s my brother and I consult our diaries and decide on a mutually acceptable date for the funeral, and I take the train to Weston-super­Mare for what I hope will be the last time now, though get­ting off at Nallsea, which is handier for the crematorium. It’s a low-key affair, the congregation scarcely bigger than the only other public occasion in my mother’s life, the wed­ding she had shrunk from more than sixty years before.

Of the four or five funerals in this book, only my father’s is held in a proper church; the rest, though scattered across England, might all have been in the same place, so uniform is the setting of the municipal crematorium.

The building will be long and low, put up in the sixties, probably, when death begins to go secular. Set in country that is not quite country it looks like the reception area of a tasteful factory or the departure lounge of a small provin­cial airport confined to domestic flights. The style is con­temporary but not eye-catchingly so; this is decorum-led architecture which does not draw attention even to its own merits. The long windows have a stylistic hint of tracery, denomination here a matter of hints, the plain statement of any sort of conviction very much to be avoided.

Related settings might be the waiting area of a motor showroom, the foyer of a small private hospital or a section of a department store selling modern furniture of inoffen­sive design: dead places. This is the architecture of reluc­tance, the furnishings of the functionally ill at ease, decor for a place you do not want to be.

It is neat with the neatness ill-omened; clutter means hope and there is none here, no children’s drawings, no silly notices. There are flowers, yes, but never a Christmas tree and nothing that seems untidy. The whole function of the place, after all, is to do with tidying something away.

In the long low table a shallow well holds pot plants, African violets predominating, tended weekly by a firm that numbers among its clients a design consultancy, an Aids hospice, the boardroom of the local football club and a museum of industrial archaeology.

In the unechoing interior of the chapel soft music plays and grief too is muted, kept modest by the blond wood and oatmeal walls, the setting soft enough to make something so raw as grief seem out of place. It’s harder to weep when there’s a fitted carpet; at the altar (or furnace) end more blond wood, a table flanked by fins of some tawny-coloured hardwood set in a curved wall covered in blueish-greenish material, softly lit from below. No one lingers in these wings or makes an entrance through them, the priest presiding from a lectern or reading desk on the front of which is a (detachable) cross. A little more spectacular and it could be the setting for a TV game show. Above it all is a chandelier with many sprays of shaded lights which will dim when the coffin begins its journey.

Before that, though, there will be the faint dribble of a hymn, which is for the most part unsung by the men and only falteringly by the women. The deceased is unknown to the vicar, who in turn is a stranger to the mourners, the only participant on intimate terms with all concerned, the corpse included, being the undertaker. Unsolemn, hygienic and somehow retail, the service is so scant as to be scarcely a ceremony at all, and is not so much simple as inadequate. These clipboard send-offs have no swell to them, no tide, there is no launching for the soul, flung like Excalibur over the dark waters. How few lives now end full-throated to hymns soaring or bells pealing from the tower. How few escape a pinched suburban send-off, the last of a life some half-known relatives strolling thankfully back to the car. Behind the boundary of dead rattling beech careful flower beds shelter from the wind, the pruned stumps of roses protruding from a bed of wood-chips,

My mother’s funeral is all this, and her sisters’ too; grue­some occasions, shamefaced even and followed by an unconvivial meal. Drink would help but our family has never been good at that, tea the most we ever run to with the best cups put out. Still, Mam’s life does have a nice postscript when en secondes funebres she is brought togeth­er with my father and her ashes put in his grave.

Sometimes as I’m standing by their grave I try and get a picture of my parents, Dad in his waistcoat arid shirtsleeves, Mam in her blue coat and shiny straw hat. I even try and say a word or two in prayer, though what and to what I’d find it hard to say.

`Now then’ is about all it amounts to. Or ‘Very good, very good, which is what old men say when a transaction is completed.

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