Archive for E-H

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince – Ridley, Jane

THA(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.)

I got this book because I was doing research into the Cleveland Street scandal so most of it is incidental to my purpose but interesting nevertheless. Eddie, who was suspected of involvement ion this, was ‘a delicate child, quiet, apathetic and a slow developer.’ Supposedly, he ‘dawdled’ when dressing in the morning, was ‘a good boy at heart’ and reminded his father (who kept his portrait over his bed after he died) of his own younger self.

Where the author mentions homosexuality, she either dismisses it or moralises about it.

It is well-researched, with 99 pages of footnotes.

King Edward the VII, affectionately called Bertie, was fifty-nine when he took the throne in 1901, upon the death of his mother Queen Victoria. To everyone’s great surprise, this playboy prince sobered up and became an extremely effective leader and the founder of England’s modern monarchy.

Then again, his mother had become such a recluse, in her obsessive mourning for Albert, that anything could have been an improvement.

 You’ve heard of ‘Edward the Confessor’. Here’s ‘Edward  the Caresser.’

The royal world into which Prince Albert Edward was born in 1841 was one still scarred by the mad, bad Hanoverians of the 18th century. Their legacy of illegitimate offspring, inherited insanity and vicious familial power struggles haunted both Queen Victoria and her cousin and consort, Prince Albert — a fascinating, domineering figure in Ridley’s telling, who was raised in a decadent minor German court and became obsessed with purifying the palace. Albert invented the phrase and concept of the “the royal family,” grasping presciently the power that the new house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could hold as a “beacon of bourgeois domesticity” rather than as a byword for debauchery.

Unfortunately for his children, this meant a stringent policing of behaviour and a rigorous program of private education, under which Bertie — who never willingly read a book — stumbled and suffered. His bride, the Danish princess Alexandra, known as Alix, was chosen for him before he was 20 in a match masterminded by his older sister Vicky, newly married to the future German Emperor Frederick III. Theirs was still a Europe governed by dynastic alliances and insistent upon the (outward) sexual purity of royal children at the time of marriage. Although Bertie protested that he was too young, his parents made haste, knowing that the pretense that the union was “a love match” rather than an arranged, political marriage “depended upon keeping him in a state of pent-up sexual frustration so that he fell madly in love at first sight.”

One can’t help feeling sorry for ‘Bertie’. Thick and lazy he may have been but to have his mother breathing down his neck like that.

And one can feel sorry for royalty as a whole, trapped in a life of duty in the public gaze that they didn’t ask for but which is merely an accident of birth.

Victoria didn’t like to confuse monarchy with religion – didn’t she know she was supreme governor of the established church?

Bertie was one of the few of the aristocracy not to be anti-semitic.

I didn’t realise that many customs emanate from him, e.g. leaving a waistcoat’s bottom undone was his practice after putting on weight.  So too rolling up trouser legs. Group photos started at Sandringham.

And very few readers will have known what Catherine of Aragon’s closet is. I was lucky to have a guided tour.

I had to look up ‘camarilla’ = a group of courtiers or favourites who surround a king or ruler. Usually, they do not hold any office or have any official authority at the royal court but influence their ruler behind the scenes.

And find out who Dorothy Hodgkin was = advanced the technique of X-ray.

Quotations:

Exiles from the imperial court were royally entertained at Marlbor­ough House. Among them was Blanche, the half-American Duchess of Caracciolo, who scandalized London society that winter, going out shooting in a kilt and smoking cigarettes. Her ailing husband was cru­elly teased by a prankster who dressed up as a doctor and told him he was dying, while his valet disguised himself as a priest and heard his last confession. Soon the duchess was pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter named Alberta Olga, in honor of Bertie, who was the ba­by’s godfather and rumored—probably falsely—to be her father, too.

For a man as sexually rampant as Bertie, a celibate marriage might seem a cruel mockery. But, as the dean perceived, Bertie was “deeply attached to the Princess, despite all the flattering distractions that beset him in society”; he genuinely wanted to “be more careful about her.” At first, the death of their baby son strengthened the marriage. “What my angelic blessed Bertie was to me all this time no words can de­scribe, a true angel!” wrote Alix. “If anything could have bound us closer together, it is this, our first great sorrow.”

Ever since the Mordaunt case, the rad­ical Reynolds’s Newspaper had voiced a strident republicanism. The paper was the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds, an ex-Chartist dedicated to fighting the class war and exposing royalty as an undeserving burden on the taxpayer. It cruelly recorded the death of the baby Prince John thus:

We have much satisfaction in announcing that the newly born child of the Prince and Princess of Wales died shortly after its birth, thus relieving the working men of England from having to support hereafter another addition to the long roll of State beggars they at present maintain.

“Many of the women with whom he began relationships …refused to go quietly. Blackmail, pregnancy, even a court case were to return to haunt him. There was no such thing as a relationship without consequences.”

“King Edward, who “smoke cigars, was addicted to and entente cordials, married a Sea King’s daughter and invented appendicitis,” pursued a policy of peace that “was very successful and culminated in the Great War to End War.”
“which his Holiness recently received me in Rome.” Wyndham noticed”

“A 1970 survey of dreams about Queen Elizabeth II found that people continued to dream about Queen Victoria seventy years after her death, so deeply was her narrative encrypted in the subconscious of the British people. (Brian Masters, Dreams About the Queen, Blond and Briggs, 1972, pp. 83–84.)”

“Money and sexual scandal have been the twin demons of the monarchy since the 20th century….as Bertie’s successors were to discover, projecting monarchy as a ‘family firm” placed an unreasonable pressure on its members to lead exemplary lives.”

The chain-smoking Eddy was aimless and lackadaisical and distress­ingly prone to put his foot in it. He was remarkably sweet-natured, however, and Alix’s favorite. Bertie, though, was infuriated, and teased him for his dandified clothes and the tall “masher” collars he wore to hide his abnormally long neck (“Eddy-Collar-and-Cuffs”). To stiffen his son and keep him out of trouble, he resolved to send Eddy on a six-month tour of India.

Bertie had a meeting with his equerry Lord Arthur Somerset, the superintendent of his stables, and instructed him to see that Eddy was properly equipped with saddlery for his Indian tour, arranging for him to meet the prince on 30 September 1889. At the last minute, Somer­set wired to excuse himself from the meeting, as he was obliged to leave “on urgent private affairs” for Dieppe.

Lord Arthur Somerset was the third son of the Duke of Beaufort. Known as “Podge,” he was a major in the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), a tall bachelor with luxuriant ginger facial hair. “He was in­clined to fat; his small eyes were on the watch.” No one would have guessed that he was in the habit of visiting a homosexual brothel on Cleveland Street. Podge’s vice had come to the attention of the au­thorities in July 1889, when a postboy apprehended for theft had been found with the princely sum of eighteen shillings in his pocket. Ques­tioned by police, the boy confessed that he and two others had re­ceived the money as payment for “indecent acts” with men at number 19, Cleveland Street, near Fitzroy Square. Under Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, “gross indecency” between two men, whether public or private, was a criminal offense. Policemen kept watch on the house in Cleveland Street and spotted Lord Arthur, who was identified by the postboys and then interviewed by detectives.

Podge waited uneasily during the summer, as the case against two men who had procured the boys came to court. He attempted to bribe a young male prostitute, a waiter from the Marlborough Club, but this led him straight into a police trap. By the end of September, the case against him was complete, but the government hesitated to issue a warrant. A homosexual scandal at Marlborough House was the last thisig Lord Salisbury wanted.

Lord Arthur Somerset’s movements and conversations are docu­mented in the letters he wrote to his friend Reginald (Regy) Brett, later

Lord Esher, a married man and closet homosexual. Brett preserved these letters and bound them into a volume he entitled “The Case of Lord Arthur Somerset.” This forms one of the chief sources for the tangled events that ensued.

In London on 5 October, Lord Arthur saw his commanding officer, Oliver Montagu. They agreed that the prince must be told, and Podge wrote a letter confessing his sins. Montagu undertook to go to Fre­densborg, where Bertie was on holiday with Alix’s extended family, to see the prince, “so as he may hear the right story first.”

“I don’t believe it,” Bertie told Dighton Probyn, the eccentrically bearded comptroller and treasurer of his household. “I won’t believe it any more than if they had accused the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

From Fredensborg, Bertie ordered Probyn in London to clear up Lord Arthur’s case. “Go and see Monro [the police commissioner], go to the Treasury, see Lord Salisbury if necessary.”81 On the evening of 18 October, Probyn saw Lord Salisbury for a few minutes on King’s Cross station before he caught the 7:30 train home to Hatfield. On the same night, Lord Arthur Somerset fled the country.

Later, in the House of Commons debate on 28 February 1890, Salis­bury was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The case against him turned on the fact that Arthur Somerset escaped to France on the same night as the King’s Cross meeting. Salisbury denied the charge, but doubts have always lin­gered. Might Probyn have hurried around to the Marlborough Club, where Somerset was staying, and tipped him off? Salisbury’s biogra­pher considers that the prime minister felt justified in warning Somer­set, out of a sense of class loyalty to his father the Duke of Beaufort.”

Bertie wrote to the PM to say how glad he was to learn that “no warrant is likely to be issued against the ‘unfortunate Lunatic’ (I can call him nothing else) as, for the sake of the Family and Society, the less one hears of such a filthy scandal the better.”85 On 12 November, how­ever, the warrant was issued at last, charging Lord Arthur Somerset with “gross indecency” with other male persons contrary to the Crim­inal Law Amendment Act. By then, he was living in a villa in Monaco. He never returned to face charges.

Lord Arthur Somerset always maintained that his refusal to stand trial was more than a mere matter of saving his own skin. His real rea­son he explained in the letters he wrote from abroad to Brett. These documents reveal a sensational story: that Arthur Somerset was a scapegoat who went into exile in order to shield the name of Prince Eddy, who had also visited the Cleveland Street brothel.

Soon the rumors about Eddy’s involvement in the scandal were cir­culating in London, and an article in The New York Times (10 November 1889) actually mentioned him by name. This caused a “great pother” in the Prince of Wales’s household, and when Bertie returned to Lon­don in mid-November, Marlborough House swung into action to sup­press the gossip. Oliver Montagu implored Lord Arthur Sotherset to return and stand trial in order to clear Prince Eddy’s name.86 Somerset refused. Nor did he make any attempt to protest the prince’s inno­cence. He explained his predicament in a letter to Brett:

I cannot see what good I could do P[rin]ce E[ddy] if I went into court. I might do harm because if I was asked if I had ever heard anything against him—whom from?—was any person men­tioned with whom he went there etc?—the questions would be very awkward. I have never mentioned the boy’s name except to Probyn, Montagu and Knollys when they were acting for me and I thought they ought to know. Had they been wise, hearing what I knew and therefore what others knew, they ought to have hushed the matter up, instead of stirring it up, as they did, with all the authorities. I have never . . . ever told any one with whom P[rin]ce E[ddy] was supposed to have gone there. I did not think it fair as I could not prove it & it must have been his ruin. I can quite understand the P[rince] of W[ales] being much annoyed at his son’s name being coupled with this thing but . . . it had no more to do with me than the fact that we (that is P[rin]ce and I) must both perform bodily functions which we cannot do for each other. . . . If I went into Court and told all I know no one who called himself a man would ever speak to me again. Hence my infernal position.

Bertie was furious with Arthur Somerset. He wrote to Carrington on 2 January 1890: “I hardly like to allude any more to the subject of AS as it is really a too painful one to write about—and his subsequent conduct makes me wish that he had never existed.”

It’s possible, as one account suggests, that the rumors about Eddy visiting the Cleveland Street brothel caused such consternation to Marlborough House “not because they were false but because they were true.” An alternative scenario suggests that the rumors about Eddy and Cleveland Street were slanders that were deliberately spread and embroidered by Lord Arthur Somerset. In his letter to Brett, quoted above, Somerset concedes that he cannot prove the rumors about Eddy visiting Cleveland Street. After his ignominious flight, he needed to vindicate himself and show he was a man of honor. What better way than to claim that he had voluntarily gone into exile in a chivalrous bid to throw his cloak over the young prince?

Whether or not Prince Eddy did, in fact, frequent Cleveland Street—or whether he was gay or, more likely, bisexual—is perhaps not the issue. The real point is that Eddy had become the story, and that made him a liability.

Lord Arthur Somerset was exceptionally well placed to damage Eddy because of his family connections. His sister, Blanche, with whom he kept in close contact throughout the drama, was married to the Marquess of Waterford, older brother of Lord Charles Beresford. In his attempt to damp down the scandal, Oliver Montagu wrote to Blanche Waterford complaining that some female members of her family had been “insinuating things about Prince Eddy.” The woman he had in mind was her sister-in-law: Mina Beresford. Mina had given Daisy Brooke’s incriminating letter to Lord Waterford for safekeeping. She must have known about the Lord Arthur Somerset/Eddy story, and she had every motive to spread damaging rumors. The Cleveland Street scandal was intimately linked to the Beresford affair. Both were fueled by the fury of Mina Beresford.

No doubt Bertie was unaware, but Archbishop Benson was an unfortunate example to choose; his wife, Mary Benson, was a lesbian, and his three sons were homosexuals.

Knollys was accused of leaking against Salisbury. During the debate on 28 February 1890, the Liberal MP Henry Labouchere, the editor of Truth, was challenged to supply the name of his informant for the allegation that Salis­bury had tipped off Probyn about the warrant for Lord Arthur Somerset’s arrest. He theatrically wrote a name on a piece of paper, and then tore it up into tiny pieces. Afterward, an MP picked up the pieces, and revealed that the name was Sir Francis Knollys. This prompted Knollys to give an explanation to the PM in an interview with Schomberg McDonnell. According to Mc­Donnell’s memo, Knollys admitted that he had seen Labouchere in Novem­ber, but claimed he had told him only one thing: that Lord Arthur had fled on the same day as the King’s Cross meeting. “Sir Francis Knollys assures me that with the exception of the above remark he said literally nothing,” noted McDonnell.

A memo by Schomberg McDonnell, Salisbury’s pri­vate secretary, appears to vindicate Salisbury. It records an interview with a certain General Marshall, who claimed to have been alerted by Colonel Pear­son, the assistant commissioner of police, about the damning evidence against Lord Arthur Somerset. Marshall told Pearson to warn Probyn. This memo is minuted by Salisbury in red ink: “If General Marshall’s impression is accurate Probyn played me an ugly trick for he did his best to make me as­sent to a letter which would have implied that he had obtained his informa­tion from my conversation. He told me that he had no communication with Somerset for several weeks before the flight.”

Bertie had at last concluded that Eddy’s army career was “simply a waste of time.” Eddy was worryingly lacking in energy and self-esteem. Carrington watched him visit Wycombe and make a speech: “When he sat down he turned round and said to me, ‘I have made a rare ass of myself.’ It is pathetic to see how little confidence he has in himself.” Bertie suggested three alternatives. Plan number one was to send Eddy on a long sea voyage to the colonies, out of reach of temptation. Queen Victoria put her foot down. Eddy, she said, had been “dosed” with the Colonies. She urged Bertie’s option two: a Eu­ropean tour.

He has been . . . nowhere but to Denmark in Europe. He is only able to speak French badly and German equally so. He has never, like every other Prince . . . been in contact with any other court but Berlin or seen fine works of Art . . . [He ought] not merely go to young colonies, with no history, no art and nothing but middle class English speaking people . . . If the Prince of Wales is afraid of his making a mesalliance which the Queen is not afraid of, Australia, Canada etc. would be worse in its dangers in this respect.

Bertie, however, was concerned not with Eddy’s education, or lack of it, but with his dissipated behavior, a subject he dared not mention to his mother, as Knollys explained in a note to Salisbury: “Unfortu­nately [the Queen’s] views on certain social subjects are so strong that the Prince of Wales does not like to tell her the real reasons for sending Prince Eddy away, which is intended as a punishment and as a means of keeping him out of harm’s way, and I am afraid that neither of these objects will be attained by his simply travelling about Europe.”

Bertie’s third option was a surprise: to marry Eddy off to Princess May of Teck. Princess May was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Mary, the Duchess of Teck, known to many as Fat Mary. The Duke of Teck was the son of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg, who made a morganatic marriage to a Hungarian countess. The blight of “commoner’s” blood meant that, instead of succeeding to the throne of Wurttemberg, the Duke of Teck was reduced to “vegetating incon­spicuously in England, pruning roses.” Incapable of living within their means, the Tecks ran up large debts; they were pursued by their creditors, and, after the humiliation of auctioning their possessions in 1883, spent two years in exile in Florence.

Perhaps Bertie knew too much about Rosebery. In August 1893, at Homburg, he had helped to rescue him from the mad Marquess of Queensberry. The homophobic marquess, who was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), the lover of Oscar Wilde, was convinced that his eldest son, Lord Drumlanrig, private secretary to Rosebery, was having a homosexual affair with Rosebery. He arrived in Homburg de­termined to “out” “that boy pimp and boy lover Rosebery.” He was met by the police and interviewed by the Prince of Wales, who told him, “We are quiet people at Homburg and don’t like disturbance.” The scandal took another turn in October 1894, when Drumlanrig was found dead during a shoot. The official verdict was accidental death, but dark rumors circulated of suicide and homosexual cover-up, and Rosebery lived in terror that the vicious marquess would denounce him.

When Rosebery offered himself as a suitor for Princess Victoria, he was sharply rebuffed by Alix. Toria, as she was known, was intelligent—not as pretty as Maud, but very “light in hand” according to Car­rington. Years later, as an old lady, Anita Leslie recalled Toria reflecting that “there had been someone perfect for her but they would no’t let her marry him—And we could have been so happy— The man, Anita later discovered, was Rosebery.65 At the time, the millionaire widower prime minister seemed far from ideal. Not only did his involvement in politics rule him out,66 but he was nineteen years older than Toria, painfully insomniac, and dogged by damaging rumors of homosexual­ity. And the fact was that Alix did not want her daughters to marry.

Daisy’s son was born on 21 March 1898. The child was christened with only one name, Maynard, which was Daisy’s maiden name, and the godfathers were Cecil Rhodes and Lord Rosebery, both sexually ambivalent men rumored to be homosexuals. The child was passed off as Lord Warwick’s, but plenty of clues pointed to another father of this baby born after a gap of thirteen years. Bertie’s name was some­times mentioned, and the “D” symbol does indeed cluster around the Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, when the baby was presumably con­ceived. Bertie took an interest in the “Diamond Jubilee” baby, as he called it in the letters he wrote to Daisy, but this need not imply pater­nity. Daisy herself was in no doubt that the father was Joe Laycock.” Having a child by another man was the exit route that Lillie Langtry had chosen from her relationship with the prince, and in Daisy’s case, as with Lillie, Bertie behaved generously, showing no sexual jealousy. Daisy by now had three children by three different men. No wonder that she made a virtue of sexual freedom, telling Lord Rosebery, who she fruitlessly pursued, that “Far too much fuss, in my opinion, is ma by women about personal morality which, after all, is entirely a ma for the individual.” Of the damage done to her children or other people’s marriages, Daisy seemed unaware.

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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 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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Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave

HTMPeople who like coming of age novels will love this book – and it was written a lot later than most books of this genre.

It’s really a eulogy to John and, as such, an idealised portrait. It oozes sentimentality.  Love came easily but the pleasant description made the ending all that more impacting.

One member of our group thought that the first chapter was incredibly badly written but most agreed that the book was readable on the whole.

The slang is of its time and place but it is easy to get the drift of what the words and phrases mean. Yet he’s writing about youngsters 15 younger than him self.

The protagonist doesn’t kid himself that it’s a phase.

He tells mother about his first wet dream – that seem very modern to me.

A smoking room at school – 1977–  such a thing happened in England around that time too.

Title from football, though not spelt out

He doesn’t pray even when John is injured. Nor is there any dramatic rejection of religion either, which you might expect, given the circumstances.

Many of us thought that Tim was callous in his putting aside of John when he wanted an open relationship and, later, when he moved away.

The advent of AIDs was distressing, the medical procedures close to the knuckle of those who have experienced them and the last rights was moving. I usually avoid any books with AIDs in them.

Someone who knows the people portrayed says that people have a misunderstanding of what the Caleos are like, based on how Tim painted them in the novel.

“But the Caleos aren’t actually like that … They were just middle class, salt-of-the-earth Australians, trapped in a time. At the end of the day they were there, with John Caleo, right at the end, supporting their son and loving their son.

“Yes, they didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave, but a lot of people didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave. He was hard work, and his friends would say that. As much as they loved him, sometimes he was hard work.”

The lovers have a 2 hour phone call – am I sexist in thinking of teenage girls as best friends?

HTM bkQuotations:

We sat cuddling over the phone.

I felt used

‘I reached out and touched his hair. He turned and kissed my hand. I moved closer until we were standing against each other. He smelt like soap and clean clothes. Gentle. Just holding and kissing gently. If this had been it, if I had died then, I would have said it was enough’

“You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly. Ci vedremo lassu, angelo.”

“I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned.”

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HOLDING THE MAN – Tommy Murphy, adapted from the book by Tim Conigrave

 

HTM3The original production, directed by David Berthold, is one of the most successful Australian stage productions in recent years, playing in most Australian capital cities and London’s West End.

Murphy also wrote the script for the 2015 film adaptation, directed by Neil Armfield.

It’s nowhere near as absorbing as the novel.

 The action is made up of multiple episodes, some little more than snapshots, inhabited by people with no back-story. The parents of both boys are reduced to little more than stereotypes and yet how they must have suffered, as must Tim’s partner, John, whose character is also thinly written.

 Act 2 makes many demands on the actors, reflecting the bonding exercises mentioned in the novel.

Murphy has created a flawed play from a flawed book

HTM 4A foot(y)note: The phrase ‘holding the man’ is not explained in the memoir or the play. It is not just that it comes from John’s sport. In Australian Rules Football, ‘holding the man’ is an offence that incurs a penalty; in his case, a cruel and undeserved one.

(There’s plenty of scenes in this film of male bodies colliding with athletic vigour, though also with the kind of tenderness which may seem foreign to the blokey physicality that comes with contact sports. It’s a smart joke about a society that fiercely regulates the nature of romantic relationships, but it’s also the funniest thing about this otherwise very straightforward gay love story.)

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The Establishment: And how they get away with it – OWEN JONES

teahtgawiAs with Chavs, the author tells us everything we need to know in the forward – the rest of the book fleshes it out.

There’s some repetition of material already in Chavs.

Many reviewers, even in The Guardian, have criticised him for things he never said or even refuted.

He exposes the financial shenanigans of Philip Green long before he came to pubic attention.

The idea of an “establishment” was first popularised in the mid 1950s by the journalist Henry Fairlie, who coined the term to describe how the elite networks at the top of British society closed ranks to protect their own. The particular instance he had in mind was the way the families of the Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean had been protected by their friends in high places, inside and outside of government (Fairlie’s establishment stretched from the BBC to the Church of England). Fairlie did not think ideology was the glue that held the establishment together: after all, these people weren’t helping out because they sympathised with communist defectors. It was an unthinking allegiance based on personal connections. Social ties trumped political ones. What mattered, Fairlie said, was not what you believe, but “who you know”.

Jones quotes the blogger and inveterate political troublemaker Paul Staines (aka “Guido Fawkes”) talking about the political class: “I hate the fucking thieving cunts.”

Yet on Jones’s account Staines is one of the ins, not one of the outs, because he is fully signed up to the idea that the state needs to be pared back to the minimum. He belongs to the ideological “outriders” of the new establishment, in a tradition stretching back to Hayek in the 1940s. By attacking the self-serving rapacity of politicians, he is doing the dirty work of the economic and power elites for them, since he is making it far harder for any politician to take them on.

Why did they go for the comedian Jimmy Carr and not for the many big figures in the City who have engaged in tax “minimisation”? Because, he argues, Carr has fewer friends in high places.

His solution is a ‘democratic revolution’. The trouble is that the masses would need to be educated to withstand the lies of the media.

Chapter 1 – The Outriders

In this chapter, Jones discusses think tanks and groups which function to push the Overton Window, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Jones claims that these are all groups that pose as non-partisan grassroots organisations but that actually have an agenda to push right wing policies. They receive funding from and contain many members with links to the Conservative Party.

Chapter 2 – The Westminster Cartel

This chapter discusses the political system in Britain and how it has changed over the years. It discusses the revolving door between politicians in the UK and big business, quoting for example, that 46% of the most profitable companies in Britain have an MP on their board of directors or as a shareholder. It discusses the Church of England’s relationship with British politics, and claims that many decisions made in parliament financially benefit the MPs that make the decisions, quoting a Daily Mirror report that at least 40 MPs stood to gain financially from changes made in privatising the NHS.

Chapter 3 – Mediaocracy

This chapter discusses the British Media, and its relationship with both the outriders discussed in the first chapter, and the politicians discussed in the second. Jones claims that the wealthy people that control much of the press have interests closely aligned with the establishment, and therefore tend to promote the establishments views, rather than the views of their readers, saying, “The British people are not being served by a media that exists to inform them, to educate them, to understand the realities of the country they live in and the world around them. Instead, much of the media is a political machine, lobbying for the often personal objectives of their owners. The media and political elites are frequently deeply intertwined, sharing as they do many of the same assumptions about how society should be run and organized.”

Chapter 4 – The Boys in Blue

This chapter discusses the British police force and their role within the establishment. It discusses a number of incidents which involved the police including Plebgate, the Hillsborough disaster and the News International phone-hacking scandal, and uses these incidents to highlight the complex relationships the police have with the media and politicians, and how these are often at odds with the ‘policing by consent’ model that the British police adopt. Jones claims that due to recent political changes which effectively privatise and incentivize areas of the police force “Britain faces the prospect of police forces policing by consent of their shareholders rather than their communities.”

Chapter 5 – Scrounging off the State

This chapter discusses the establishment’s relationship with The State. It describes how recent governments have been privatizing previously public services, including the NHS, by following free-market ideologies, whilst at the same time, the establishment demonises benefits fraud and makes cut-backs and imposes austerity measures on those at the bottom of the financial pyramid. Jones points out what he believes to be a contradiction in this position, where big business rely on the state to provide infrastructure, education to their workers, and also to subsidise their low wages with income and housing benefit relief. Jones calls this a form of “socialism of the rich”.

Chapter 6 – Tycoons and Tax Dodgers

This chapter discusses how big businesses in Britain avoid paying tax. It gives several examples of companies who have complex systems set up to avoid tax, and it discusses how the big accounting firms give advice to the government on the drafting of their tax laws and then use this information to advise their clients on how to avoid paying tax. It discusses how these practices are legal but cost the country huge amounts of money. It contrasts this with the other end of the financial scale where people on low income convicted of benefits fraud are jailed, despite the amounts in question being a fraction of those lost to big businesses avoiding tax. Jones also discusses the difficulties in imposing effective legislation to combat tax avoidance in a global marketplace.

Chapter 7 – Masters of the Universe

This chapter discusses the financial sector, which Jones claims is a threat to British democracy. Jones discusses how the role of the City has changed over the years and talks about the bailout of the banks in 2008 and the subsequent quantitative easing employed to revitalise the financial sector at the expense of taxpayers. Jones also discusses the PR companies that represent the financial sector and their close relationship with politicians and the media. For example, he discusses the top financial publicity firm the Brunswick Group, “When Brunswick founder Alan Parker got married in 2007, his wedding guests included then Prime Minister Gordon Brown – whose wife Sarah was a Brunswick partner – and David Cameron. Brown is godfather to Parker’s son, while Parker and Cameron holidayed with each other in South Africa in March the following year. At the beginning of 2008 – just months before financial calamity struck – Brown appointed Brunswick’s CEO Stephen Carter as his Chief of Staff. Parker’s sister, Lucy Parker, is a Brunswick partner who, after David Cameron entered Number 10, headed up the government’s taskforce on Talent and Enterprise. Brunswick has gone fishing for talent in the Murdoch empire, too: one senior partner is David Yelland, former editor of The Sun.”

Chapter 8 – The Illusion of Sovereignty

This chapter discusses the British establishment’s relationship with America and with the EU and how that has changed over time. It discusses historical events which have shaped Britain’s special relationship with America. It also discusses Britain’s relationship with the EU and how that represents a different dynamic with regard to what British people regard as The State and The Establishment.

Conclusion – A Democratic Revolution

Here, Jones gives a broad summary of the preceding chapters and the complex relationships between the groups which make up the establishment, and how through common interest rather than any sort of organised conspiracy, it has become a vehicle to serve the rich and powerful. He then goes on to give a number of examples of groups and ideas which aim to improve the system by challenging the systems described elsewhere in the book, stating that people should be working towards a “democratic revolution”.

For example, he describes the work of think tanks such as Class and The New Economics Foundation; activist groups such as UK Uncut’s work on forcing politicians and media to deal with tax avoidance by big business and wealthy individuals; the Occupy movement highlighting inequality; anti-austerity campaigners such as Disabled People Against Cuts, the People’s Assembly (of which Jones himself is involved) and The Green Party. Jones claims that these disparate groups need to organise to form a coherent and credible alternative to the current status quo which resonates with a mass audience.

Jones then goes on to describe some proposals which he believes would help to reassert the democracy which he claims has been lost in modern Britain. Some of these are: Higher top rates of tax; “Democracy in the workplace”, citing Co-determination – Germany’s model of employee representation within company board meetings; A system of “democratic public ownership” of key utilities such as railways, electricity companies and banks; laws to shut the revolving door of politics including banning MPs from taking up second jobs.

He calls for the government to adopt an “industrial policy based on an active, interventionist state” but explains that this does not represent a “statist” model as has been seen in the past, but rather a new model whereby taxpayers have representation and ownership within the systems they pay into.

Quotations:

It’s important to point out that when post-war Britain had higher taxes on the rich, stronger trade unions and widespread state inter­vention in the economy, it also experienced higher levels of economic growth which was more evenly distributed than today. Today’s Establishment — formed from the late 197os onwards — has presided over a Britain with lower levels of growth, which has been less evenly distributed, as well as the three great economic crises of post-war Brit­ain: the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and post-2008.

Here, it’s worth reiterating that the book is an explicit rejection of the idea that the Establishment represents a conscious, organized con­spiracy. Sure, there are undoubtedly specific conspiracies, from police cover-ups to tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Yet the whole prem­ise of the book is that the Establishment is bound by shared economic interests and common mentalities. There is no need for any overarch­ing planned conspiracy against democracy. The Establishment is an organic, dynamic system.

my deep attraction to the idea of the ‘Overton Window’, a concept invented by US conservatives to describe what is deemed pol­itically possible at any given time.

Governments enter and leave office, and yet the Establishment remains in power.

Developing out of a primary focus on the environ­ment, the Greens offer policies that represent a genuine assault on the Establishment: a statutory living wage, public ownership, workers’ rights, higher taxes on the rich and companies, a clampdown on tax avoidance, a council-house building programme, and so on.

Yet Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system represents a formid­able obstacle to any new party.

Here is what I understand the ‘Establishment’ to mean. Today’s Establishment is made up — as it has always been — of powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote. The Establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to `manage’ democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population. As the well-connected right-wing blogger and columnist Paul Staines puts it approvingly: ‘We’ve had nearly a century of universal suffrage now, and what happens is cap­ital finds ways to protect itself from — you know — the voters.’

Bailed-out banks; state-funded infrastructure; the state’s pro­tection of property; research and development; a workforce educated at great public expense; the topping up of wages too low to live on; numerous subsidies — all are examples of what could be described as a ‘socialism for the rich’ that marks today’s Establishment.

“New Labour thought it could keep winning without tackling some of the things that progressive politics should be challenging. They regarded elections as in the bag. They didn’t need to go further or to challenge the Thatcherite settlement. As a result, millions of citizens find themselves unrepresented by conventional politics. Even mild shifts by the Labour leadership away from the establishment’s group think trigger a frenzied response. A narrow consensus is zealously guarded and policed.”

“Future generations will surely look back with a mixture of astonishment and contempt at how British society is currently organised.”

“Private interests are completely dependent upon state largesse if they are to prosper, and thus they should pay up accordingly.”

Chris Bryant, a Labour shadow minister, knows just how frighten­ing it can be to end up on the wrong side of a media baron. Bryant, a blunt, sardonic man, has an odd background for a Labour MP. As a student, he was an officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association; he then became a priest, before deciding it was inconsis­tent with being gay. When he was elected as a Labour MP for the solidly working-class South Wales constituency of the Rhondda in 1997, he was seen as an unwavering leadership loyalist. But his appar­ently uncontroversial politics would not save him from his whole life being turned upside down by media barons.

The Murdoch empire ‘operated by fear and favour’, Chris Bryant tells me in his House of Commons office; he speaks in the past tense because, rather optimistically, he believes its stranglehold over the political elite has come to an end. ‘Whether granting a political favour in supporting you in a general election through your newspapers, or just inviting you to smart dinners to watch the tennis, whilst at the same time having the threat that if you do us over, we can do you over individually or individual members or your Government.’

In 2003, Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun, had been sum­moned to answer questions before the House of Commons Culture and Media Select Committee, of which Bryant was a part. He asked her directly whether she had ever paid police officers, and she responded that the newspaper had. It was an illegal practice, and yet at the time it was barely reported. ‘God knows, I tried to get it cover­age,’ Bryant says. ‘In the end I think it may well be because quite a lot of newspapers were doing it and no newspaper would shoot at another newspaper, it was a code of thieves really.’ As part of the Select Com­mittee, Bryant also criticized other newspapers for the same practice: ‘I did all of them in the course of five weeks and, by the end of the year, all of them took their revenge by doing a fairly hefty attack on my sexuality.’

It was a humiliating experience. ‘I think they bided their time,’ Bry­ant says, ‘they waited, and then they caught me and the stupidity was I let them catch me.’ Newspapers published salacious details of his use of a gay dating website, including the seeking of sexual encounters with other men. Most embarrassingly of all, they splashed a photo­graph of him posing naked except for his underpants. Other prurient stories were dredged up, whether based in fact or not. ‘Apparently I forced seven men to perform fellatio on me at the same time while singing “Things can only get better” on the night of the General Elec­tion in 1997,’ he says with a wry smile. ‘That’s quite impressive.’ Bryant was reduced to a wreck. ‘It was really horrible at the time,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t sleep for three months. I literally shook for 24 hours after they came and turned up on my doorstep. It felt like I was being violated. I had a stalker, I had people on my doorstep, they pub­lished my address in the newspaper.’ The response to Bryant’s criticism had been ruthless. One former Daily Mail journalist passed on a message to one of Bryant’s friends: ‘We hope you’ll be dead by Christmas.’

[And I bet the photo wasn’t from Gaydar – no self-respecting gay man with any taste would wear cheap, dirty Y Fronts like those.]

You have a fiduciary responsibility as a company director to make sure you do the right thing for the company and there’s nothing in company law about doing the right thing for society.’

And yet this is not an accurate representation of the law at all. The Companies Act 20(36 includes nothing about maximizing profit. Rather, it calls on the director ‘to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole’, including taking into account ‘the interests of the company’s employees’ and, crucially, ‘the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment’.

Russia has a top income-tax rate of 13 per cent — but there is hardly a stampede of British billionaires heading to Moscow, or to Serbia, say, where the top rate is 15 per cent. The wealthy have other factors to consider: where their friends and family are; their social and cultural life; whether they feel at home; whether they feel safe and secure, and so on.

Large companies have long used the threat of pulling the plug and taking jobs elsewhere in order to blackmail elected governments. But it is bluster. According to research by Richard Murphy, a handful of multinational companies relocated elsewhere after the threat of some changes in tax law in zoo8, but they were barely paying any tax in the first place, so the loss to the Exchequer was negligible. It hardly seems likely that corporations would seek to abandon Britain, one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets, if there was a genuine clampdown on tax avoidance. After all, the country has many advan­tages: world-class education, infrastructure and a highly functioning legal system, as well as a national language that happens to be the international business language.

as Francis Beckett, the biographer of Labour’s post-war Minister, Clement Attlee, put it. ‘If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.’

One City stockbroker and energy analyst, Peter Atherton, put in plain English what the Big Six were threatening: brownouts and blackouts.

If trade unions had been issuing such threats, there would have been a tsunami of outrage from the right-wing press. But now there were no tabloid headlines along the lines of ‘Energy Barons Hold the Nation to Ransom’ or ‘The Enemy Within’….. they suffered no blackouts as a result. EDF, effect­ively run by the French state, had to abide by price restrictions back at home.

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Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

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

This is a ‘whydunntti’ rather than a whodunnit.

 Do we really have free will?

The public school bullying is true to life, including the boy who simply masturbates down the back of the protagonist. No wonder he and some others wonder if he is gay.

He talks about teleology a lot – does life have any meaning other that what we make it?

 Themes: education, class, politics

I was at uni. at the same time as these people and, like them, wrote long letters home every Sunday afternoon – no emails and few phones back  then.

Unreliable narration: from the perspective of Engleby himself, who often obscures and misrepresents the events around him. This is most noticeable in the disappearance of Jennifer, to which he gives no indication of his involvement until the very end of the novel.

psychosis. mental illness: Engleby suffers from numerous panic attacks throughout the course of the novel and takes medication to prevent symptoms of anxiety. He occasionally alludes to feeling isolated, but rejects the idea that he suffers from depression.

Treatment of women: Engleby objectifies Jennifer throughout the novel. He stalks her by following her into lectures and attending her societies. He is frustrated when she attempts to leave the car after he gives her a lift home and murders her for being scared of him when he drives her off into a secluded area. Both he and his friend Stellings consider women to be inferior, and dismiss demands for sexual equality as ‘flak from grumpy feminists’, calling ideas of female equality ‘lies’.

eng-2

Was it a deliberate mistake to say that ‘Pitchfork’ was a cleared of murder on DNA evidence? He was convicted.

Quotations:

Once I saw a mother in a supermarket in Paddington — an obese, poor woman with bare legs and a small child who was making a noise. She swore at him and slapped him in the face, which only made him howl more. It wasn’t her fault really; she was clearly exhausted, broke and stretched to snapping point. But I knew that when she got the child home she ‘d beat him more, and if there was a father (a bit unlikely) he too would hit him.

And that child would slowly ascend towards full awareness in a world whose sky was violence and whose horizons were fear. And however resourceful he was, however patient and fortunate in the events of his life that followed, he was like a creature in a nest of imprisoning boxes who could never really break free. That was his world and any attempt to persuade him that it was merely a `subjective’ or ‘individual’ experience could never convince him.

And all of us, I think, are like him. We may think as we grow older that we know more, but in truth no one has an overarching view, no one can see in the round. We are like cards in a pack, and the king of spades is a better thing to be than the two of diamonds; but none of us is a dealer or a player with free will and power to dispose; none of us can see or understand the value of the entire deck, let alone the rules of the game in which it’s employed. Even the best of us is no more than an inert piece of card with some markings.

My name is Mike Engleby, and I’m in my second year at an ancient university,

‘I sometimes saw it as that evolutionary drawing of the crouched ape who by stages turns into an upright human.’

‘Something happened to this country, perhaps in the 1960s. We lost the past.’

“ ‘Late work.’ It’s just another way of saying feeble work. I hate it. Monet’s messy last waterlilies, for instance — though I suppose his eyesight was shot. ‘The Tempest’ only has about 12 good lines in it. Think about it. ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood.’ Hardly ‘Great Expectations,’ is it? Or Matisse’s paper cutouts, like something from the craft room at St. B’s. Donne’s sermons. Picasso’s ceramics. Give me strength.”

“I suppose all human ‘personalities’ are at some level makeshift or provisional”

“I suppose all human ‘personalities’ are at some level makeshift or provisional”

“I’d never chosen to be alone, but that was the way things had turned out, and I’d grown used to it.”

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I’ve never minded about it.”
“Inhale and hold the evening in your lungs.”
“One thing about London is that when you step out into the night, it swallows you.”
“The end-of-summer winds make people restless.”
“My direction? Anywhere. Because one is always nearer by not keeping still.”
“Lonely’s like any other organism; competitive and resourceful in the struggle to perpetuate itself.”
“And sometimes in life, I imagine, good things do happen. Most of the time, it’s the opposite, obviously. But I don’t think you should rule out the possibility that just occasionally chance might deal you a good card.”
“Gradually the feeling wears off, and I feel swamped again by the inexplicable pettiness of being alive.”
“One of the hardest things about being alive is being with other people.”
“Oh, the sweetness of giving in, of full surrender.”
“This is how most people live: alive, but not conscious; conscious but not aware; aware, but intermittently.”
“The thing about opium is that it makes pain or difficulty unimaginable.”
“The physical shock took away the pain of being.”
“We’re deaf men working as musicians; we play the music but we can’t hear it.”
“It was entirely silent and I tried to breathe its peace.”
“We all operate on different levels of awareness. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I never for a moment considered killing myself, because it wouldn’t have achieved anything.”
“Time makes us pointless.”
“Why take drugs specifically designed to send you insane?”
“It’s only after the change is fully formed that you can see what’s happened.”
“…at such moments of extreme panic and anguish you do manage that trick with time: you are at last free from the illusion that time is linear.

In panic, time stops: past, present and future exist as a single overwhelming force. You then, perversely, want time to appear to run forwards because the ‘future’ is the only place you can see an escape from this intolerable overload of feeling. But at such moments time doesn’t move. And if time isn’t running, then all events that we think of as past or future are actually happening simultaneously. That is the really terrifying thing. And you are subsumed. You’re buried, as beneath an avalanche, by the weight of simultaneous events.”
“They’re so attached to their patterns that they’ve forgotten rule number one of human behavior: there are no patterns. People just do things. There’s no such things as a coherent and fully integrated human personality, let alone consistent motivation.”
“Grief is a peculiar emotion.”
“That’s what opium does to suffering: makes it of hypothetical interest only.”
“A bit of the vagueness of music stops you going completely mad, I imagine.”
“We’re not really conscious of what we’re doing most of the time.”
“All reality about me now appeared to be in tatters, taken down and reduced to the civil war of its particles. I held on very, very tight indeed. Because in addition to that feeling, that disintegration, there was rage. I wanted to break something.”
“I wonder what it’s like to be dead.”
“You can’t recall someone whose name has worn away.”
“I breathed and breathed and did feel some calmness enter in, though it was, as always, shot with a sense of loss. Loss and fear.”
“I don’t find life unbearably grave. I find it almost intolerably frivolous.”
“The thunder of false modesty was deafening.”
“Heisenberg and Bohr and Einstein strike me as being like gifted retriever dogs. Off they go, not just for an afternoon, but for ten years; they come back exhausted and triumphant and drop at your feet… a vole. It’s a remarkable thing in its way, a vole—intricate, beautiful really, marvellous. But does it… Does it help? Does it move the matter on?

When you ask a question that you’d actually like to know the answer to—what was there before the Big Bang, for instance, or what lies beyond the expanding universe, why does life have this inbuilt absurdity, this non sequitur of death—they say that your question can’t be answered, because the terms in which you’ve put it are logically unsound. What you must do, you see, is ask vole questions. Vole is—as we have agreed—the answer; so it follows that your questions must therefore all be vole-related.”
“I want to be careful not to throw all this away. This is happiness. I think this is what happiness is. I haven’t got it yet, but I can sense it out there. I feel I’m close to it. Some days, I’m so close I can almost smell it.”
“I’d become more adept at being with other people; I’d lowered my expectations of them and learned to let my mind drift into neutral when they spoke.”
“I felt trapped in a world that I couldn’t mould to my own desires. Others were in sunlight; I was in darkness.”
“She was so beautiful I had to move away.”
“The past was suddenly rushing in on me in a way I found hard to fight.”
“The best thing is the combined effect of nicotine with alcohol, greater than the sum of the two parts.”
“My own diagnosis of my problem is a simpler one. It’s that I share 50 per cent of my genome with a banana and 98 per cent with a chimpanzee. Banana’s don’t do psychological consistency. And the tiny part of us that’s different – the special Homo sapiens bit – is faulty. It doesn’t work. Sorry about that.”
“But I can hardly remember what it felt like. It’s like everything that happens to you. It doesn’t feel real.”
“I don’t like being rumbled, I like to be invisible.”
“There was a pretty young woman I used to see pegging out sheets and I worried that she would grow old there and that no one would know how beautiful she was. And maybe she would die without ever having really lived.”
“I looked at him on the bed. He coughed once and a trail of brownish dead blood came out of his mouth and ran down the side of his chin. Then he stopped breathing. And I thought, I’ll make sure I never end up here, either.”
“Until we can navigate in time, I’m not sure that we can prove that what happened is real.”
“These are things that help me if not lose then leave behind, what else, my self.”
“How grand, to be a Doctor of whatever and to weigh up and decide people’s future.”
“What a pair of frauds.”
“He really was a prize ass.”
“With no blame there’s no shame. A human society can’t exist without shame. Shame is like handedness or walking upright. It’s a central human attribute. In fact, it’s the first human quality ever recorded.’

‘Where?’

‘Genesis, Chapter Three. The covering of nakedness. The acquisition of shame was the first consequence of consciousness, of the speciating moment. Take shame from me and you are calling me pre-human.”
“All that once I’d known, I had forgotten.”
“If only I could have my time again.”
“The more you’re challenged, the more rigidly you assert your beliefs. You have nothing to lose because without your beliefs you’re nothing anyway: they make you what you are. It’s shit or bust.”
“The more I heard, the less I knew.”
“No, I want to take you out back and beat your fucking head on the floor.”
“All reality about me now appeared to be in tatters, taken down and reduced to the civil war of its particles. I held on very, very tight indeed.”
“To wake up and feel enlivened; to be in a hurry to get out of bed and into the day. To have friends you want to speak to, compare experiences with and be on the phone to…Well, to be honest, I’m still some way from that.”
“If you’re mad enough to have killed a dozen people you’re mad enough to be a fraction impatient. Surely?”

“That sense of happiness just out beyond my reach – I’m not sure I’d grasped that exactly, but I’d got something close to it, contentment maybe, or at least a functioning routine with regular rewards.”
“The thought of all that happiness was hard to bear. What’s the point of happiness when all it does is throw the facts of dying into clear relief?”
“I’m not going to miss all this, am I?”
“And in that history you’re trying to connect to something that once was yours – to something purer, better, something that you lost or something, maybe, that you never knew but that you feel you knew.”
“Busy is good, isn’t it? Busy means we’re hard at it, achieving our ends or “goals.” Haven’t had time to stop, or look around or think. That’s considered the sign of a life well lived. Although people complain of it – another year gone, where did that one go? – tacitly, they’re proud. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it: you put your time where your priority is.”
“And sometimes in life, I imagine, good things do happen. Most of the time, it’s the opposite, obviously. But I don’t think you should rule out the possibility that just occasionally chance might deal you a good card.”
Once I saw a mother in a supermarket in Paddington — an obese, poor woman with bare legs and a small child who was making a noise. She swore at him and slapped him in the face, which only made him howl more. It wasn’t her fault really; she was clearly exhausted, broke and stretched to snapping point. But I knew that when she got the child home she ‘d beat him more, and if there was a father (a bit unlikely) he too would hit him.

And that child would slowly ascend towards full awareness in a world whose sky was violence and whose horizons were fear. And however resourceful he was, however patient and fortunate in the events of his life that followed, he was like a creature in a nest of imprisoning boxes who could never really break free. That was his world and any attempt to persuade him that it was merely a `subjective’ or ‘individual’ experience could never convince him.

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