Sunday, 3 November 2013

Very Much

I have been suffering a gnawing guilt over the paucity of postings this year and Lists are, in my opinion, the last refuge of the blogging scoundrel.  Nonetheless,  an interminable rail journey over a recent weekend, complete with rampaging screaming children and crackly bulletins  of official misinformation, provided a good deal of unlooked for spare time that would have otherwise been spent staring bleakly out of the window at the turnip fields that stretched away to the drizzle-grey horizon.  Here, therefore, is the fruit of that unexpected leisure in the unimaginative form of a list of things that I Like Very Much.

Frith’s Derby Day painting, in Tate Britain

Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, likewise

Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Rembrandt’s The NightWatch

Van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait

Turner’s FightingTemeraire

Charles Sheeler’s American Landscape

Ansel Adams’ Yosemite photographs

The view over the Thames from Richmond Hill

Trevor Howard’s leather raincoat in The Third Man

Vali striding past Joseph Cotton at the end of The Third Man, without so much of asideways glance

Orson Welles’ cuckoo-clock speech in the Third Man

Bernstein’s recollection of the Jersey Ferry in Citizen Kane

The sense of close knit (criminal) community in Goodfellas

The set in Rear Window

The aftermath of the Dunkirk evacuation in In Which We Serve

The Italian Job (1969)

The tear provoking La Marseillaise in Casablanca

Claude Rains in Casablanca

Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon

Early-mid period Woody Allen

The opening of Manhattan
The films of Powell and Pressburger

The Golden Age of the TV box-set: The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men

The uneasy onset of middle age and responsibilities in The Likely Lads

The wit and wisdom of Geoffrey Boycott (and here)

The glorious simplicity of Italian cooking

The relaxed anarchy of Italy


A fine curry and just enough lager


Goats cheese, Manchego cheese

The amazing sense of virtuousness and well-being that comes from baking a cake

Real ale

Pubs with good conversation and without televisions, fruit machines or music

New York bars

Martinis, Negronis, Old Fashioneds


Bacon sandwiches

A good strong cup of tea

George Orwell

Orwell’s essay A NiceCup of Tea

Part 1 of Orwell’s England,Your England

The works of Lou Reed (R.I.P) and The Velvet Underground

James Young’s book SongsThey Never Play on the Radio

The Stones’ four great albums (Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street)

The mighty Fall

Bob Dylan’s Halloween 1964 concert

The “I thought about you last night” step-change in The Smiths’ Reel Around the Fountain

Jackie Wilson’s Higherand Higher

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens

Cannonball Adderley’s Autumn Leaves

Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool

Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers, which still sounds utterly unearthly

Another Girl Another Planet by The Only Ones

Human Fly by the Cramps

Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica

Nirvana Unplugged – the sensitive bastard

The goose-bump inducing “Right Now…” opening to Anarchy in the UK

The marvellous immorality of Balzac’s Cousin Bette

The grim humour of a man trapped in the grip of vast impersonal forces in Catch 22

Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time

Hunter S Thompson at his savage best

Philip K Dick at his paranoid best

Asimov’s first Foundation trilogy

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence and Scorcese’s movie of the same

Joseph Conrad, with a special mention for Nostromo

The Dulwich boys: Raymond Chandler and PG Wodehouse

Hawksmoor’s churches, Wren’s City churches

Scott’s Midland Hotel, St Pancras and Barlow’s train shed

Cubitt’s newly restored Kings Cross

The Pantheon

N.A.M. Rodger’s histories of the Royal Navy

Shelby Foote’s histories of The Civil War

Simon Schama’s Citizens

John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash
The Great Gatsby

Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation

Sid Meier’s Civilization

Robert Hughes’ TheShock of the New

Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn

Ten Signs of Bibliomania

You buy the same book twice, forgetting that you own it already
You clip book reviews and slip them into the endpapers
Your comfort-shopping is a bookshop
You see a favourite book and yearn to be able to read it wholly afresh
You have space-issues in your home
You think e-readers are the spawn of the devil
Your Amazon wish-list contains an elaborate hierarchy of sub-lists
You can recount book-buying triumphs
You love the serendipity of a second-hand shop
You have at least three books on the go at any one time

If you exhibit 6 or more of these behaviours you are probably a bibliomaniac.  There may be books that can help.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

From Bed to Blissfulness

Alongside the usual furore over A-Level results and university clearing, the announcement of the forthcoming rail ticket price rises has become an annual silly-season event.  It seems that the next fare rise, which will take effect in January, is likely to push the cost of my 12-month season ticket (which covers train into London and unlimited use of buses and tubes therein) above £4,500, which amounts to a not insignificant proportion of my salary.

My journey to work in central London takes somewhat over an hour, door-to-door.   I have managed to achieve it in an hour flat but this feat was achieved under the most-optimum of conditions, where I stepped onto the platform just as a train arrived, the fastest of all possible trains (22 minutes), and everything else fell perfectly into place. 

That was done at extreme pace, though, and unless I’m running dreadfully late (which is rare) and in danger of missing a meeting or some-such I do prefer a somewhat calmer start to the day.

While there’s some truth in it – the London newspapers take vicarious delight in highlighting the worst train journeys in Britain, those that are hideously over-capacity or congenitally prone to delay – my experience of commuting, over more than a decade, has fallen some way short of the face-in-armpit, strap-hanging hell on earth of popular legend. 

I’m generally a very early riser, dragging myself out of bed before 6am and catching a train by 7.  The walk to the station is about 15 minutes, downhill all the way, through the most attractive, if not exactly picturesque, part of town, and, although it can be a little grim in the dark depths of wind-lashed winter, it is usually just about right, in terms of stirring the senses into wakefulness.  At that time, too, there is rarely a problem of getting a seat on the train.  Not unless something has gone badly wrong with the service – which does happen but so infrequently as to be an event. 
So, the basic mechanics of the commute are not so bad.  What really rankles are the year-on-year above-inflation (and above the barely notional salary increases I’ve received of late) fare rises.  True, longer and newer trains have made their appearance and some stations (but not mine) have been refurbished but all the same…

£4500 divided by the number of weeks I’m probably actually at work – call it 45, for the sake of simple arithmetic – works out at £100 per week.  Which is rather a lot to pay, when you think about it, just for the privilege of travelling to work and back.  5 days a week works out at £20 per day or £10 per ‘session’.  

But there is a brighter side too.  Commuters – professional commuters – are generally a well-behaved crowd.  Early in the morning conversation is rare, above the barely muted, and these trains into London offer one of the calmest environments possible in a frenetic world, while still being in the close company of others.  

And so, I balance that £20 per day, that £100 per week, against the opportunity it offers – to spend half an hour, twice a day, immersed in the depths of a book, absorbed in the sounds of an album, looking up from time to time at the countryside and the invincible green suburbs rushing by, calm, peaceful, very occasionally utterly blissed out, until the train pulls to a halt right above the Thames with the water eddying and glimmering in the morning sunshine and it’s time for the brain to begin engaging into work mode.  

But first, a coffee.