October, 2003

Rome

I’ve got to be excited by the news that HBO and the BBC are making a major 12 part drama series – Rome. Only two more years to wait now!

American Environment

There was a fantastic article in The Guardian last Friday detailing the environmental travesties that are taking place across the USA. It seems that the US simply can’t face up to what’s happening.
Actually I say “article” but it’s more of a mini-book, being several thousand words long.

Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things is Stephen Fry’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.
If you hadn’t already realised, I absolutely love Evelyn Waugh’s novels – indeed all his books. It’s a while since I last read Vile Bodies, and needless to say that I’ll be rereading it fairly shortly.
But this is about the film, which has received mixed reviews so far. I’ve got to say that I totally loved it. Yes it’s thoroughly inconsequential, and many of the people are unlikeable if you sit down and think too much about their lives, but it’s all such a riot.
Our hero Adam, begins the film having his new novel confiscated by customs as he returns to Britain. Now he can’t afford to marry his fianc�e Nina (incidentally, why do I always fall in love with fictional characters called Nina?). There are some fabulous other characters including the incredibly camp Archie, the thoroughly mad Agatha and the hilarious Peter O’Toole cameo.
I couldn’t possibly begin to explain all the intricacies of the plot, but it’s not a million miles away from Wodehouse, a TV version of which Stephen Fry famously starred in. And incidentally, Anne Dudley has done the soundtrack (with the Pet Shop Boys according to the IMDB listing). But sadly there doesn’t seem to be a soundtrack available to buy at the moment!

Middlesex

I remember this coming out in hardback, and wasn’t too sure about it at the time. I haven’t read The Virgin Suicides, and I hadn’t seen the film either (still haven’t).
But I heard good things about it, and when I was down in Sheringham, I had plenty of time to get some reading in, even if I still brought too many books with me. What a cracking read it is. I’ve never really properly considered hermaphrodites before, even if there do seem to be quite a lot of them around.
It’s a fascinating story beginning in Greece of the twenties, and leading up to more recent times, but thoroughly engaging the reader with the history of recent American life in Detroit.

100 Books

Well the BBC for ages have been collating the nations favourite Big Reads, and some while ago published to top 100. This has now been further whittled down to the top 21.
In the meantime, The Observer has published its list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. This was followed up by readers listing the books that they felt had been missed off the list.
Many of these I have read. Some I would never read. Some I own, but haven’t yet felt able to either pick up and start, or just get beyond a few pages. So based on all that criteria, here are the books that I’ve yet to read, but feel I must. In no particular order:
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Crime And Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Don Quixote – Miguel De Cervantes
Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
Nostromo – Joseph Conrad
Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell
The Deptford Trilogy – Robertson Davies
The Magus – John Fowles
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
Underworld – Don Delillo
Obviously I reserve the right to change these as I see fit!

The Queen in Enfield

I thought that I ought to record this.
I was on my way to Enfield Town station, taking a back route through Holly Walk when I approached the market place. I couldn’t help but notice that crash barriers seem to have been placed up, there were police in evidence, and all the market stalls were bedecked with Union Jacks.
Aha, a film, I think. There must be some kind of film crew out and about.
But as I walk closer I see that the market stalls have been totally rearranged, with the stalls layed out in circle, and the middle of the square quite empty.
Well empty aside from The Queen and her entourage. Yup. I had stumbled upon The Queen visiting Enfield’s market. I was probably the only person there who didn’t know that she was coming, as a crowd of several hundred had gathered to see her.
I suddenly felt quite guilty because I was carrying both a suspicious rucksack and a suspicious holdall. I felt the eyes of the police (and no doubt unseen security services) looking at me.
This article (in The Scotsman of all places) explains it all. The market is 700 years old this year!

Channel 4 Getting Worse

Although it’s not the best argued piece I’ve ever read, it’s certainly true that Channel 4 is dropping its standards quite badly just now.
Yes they broadcast suff like The Deal, and Tony Robinson’s historical pieces, but their mass market stuff is getting worse and worse, with a real common denominator at the bottom their programming fraction. (OK that was a terrible pun).
With their upcoming Pornography: The Musical, and last week’s totally worthless and tasteless Teen Big Brother, I really don’t see how they can maintain their public service remit.
I was even disappointed by last week’s Cutting Edge which addressed the atrocities resultant from attempting to run the Miss World competition in Nigeria last year. It just wasn’t seriously or properly addressed. They seemed to love having lots of models around taking video of one another, and didn’t take a proper look at the issues. It was simplistic.
So while there is Channel 4 News, we get more of The Salon (soon to be replacing the lamentable RISE?), Fashion House and yards and yards of Graham Norton messing up their 10.00pm slots.
Lets see some proper drama, that wouldn’t look better on Sky One (Teachers), some comedy that comes round a little more frequently than every couple of years, and a few less sex documentaries.
Frankly BBC Four and even Five are better at the moment, with much smaller budgets.

Ladysmith

So then I continued my backwards voyage into Giles Foden’s work with Ladysmith, which I got in some book buying spree a year or so ago.
Set in the middle of the Boer War it tells the story of several participants both inside the embattled Ladysmith town itself, as well as outside. At first we focus around many of the characters but slowly we begin to concetrate more on Bella, the daughter of the Irish landlord of the town’s hotel.
Real newspaper journalists and even Winston Churchill are included in the characters, as well as a chap called Gandhi, and not knowing a great deal about the Boer War, the book was well conceived.
I’m a bit surprised by the low user ratings that this, and Zanzibar are getting at Amazon. If you can honestly say that this is a 2 out of 5 book, then you’re not reading a great deal of dross that gets published.
I will seek out Pakenham’s The Boer War at some point to get a fuller picture of what was going on back then.

Zanzibar

I’ve had this Giles Foden book kicking around for a while now, and thought it was about time to read it. It’s set in, well, Zanzibar, with a backdrop around the embassey bombings in east Africa from a few years ago – particularly the one in Kenya.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, with its attempt to try and get inside the heads of the members of Al-Qaeda who carry out the atrocities.
I suppose the one thing that you know is going to happen in this book is that at some point a bomb is going to go off. Yet when it does, it still surprises and the horror is well conveyed.
All in all a thoroughly good book.