Blog Number 8 [Saturday 4 April]
M and I start off every day with music. It’s supposed to lift our spirits. Today [Saturday] we listened to two Purcell songs, Plainte: O, Let Me Weep and Dido’s Lament. Not exactly jolly little numbers. Spirits not greatly raised to be honest. I imagined Dido’s evocative cry Remember me! echoing through the locked down houses of the country. Depressing news yesterday of two young nurses catching Covid-19 and dying. The mood has turned against the government. The rolling out of tests has been a complete shambles. We no longer watch the daily 3-podium’s briefings where the minister and advisers play an inverted form of pass-the-parcel hoping not to be landed with answering the question when the music stops.
Yesterday was delivery day. We awaited the Waitrose guy with his bags of goodies. He arrived early, dropped the bags on the step and drove off whistling cheerfully to the next cocooned household. We had potentially contaminated bags with potentially contaminated goods inside. M though has a strategy: don plastic gloves, pick up bags, take into house, dump on the floor, take items out one by one, wipe them down with diluted bleach, put them away, take all bags down to the cellar, discard gloves, wash hands thoroughly. Overkill? Who knows? Kill or be killed, I say. Incidentally, who sings ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while washing their hands? What a naff choice that is. I prefer ‘Auld Lang Syne’ though, like most people at New Year’s Eve, I can only get as far as the first chorus. That’s long enough. I link my superclean hands with the rest of the world. Symbolically, that is, in case you are wondering.
Beech Croft Road came out in force again for the clap-along on Thursday night though Dot didn’t march down the street in a yellow tutu playing the accordion this time. We can be thankful for small mercies. Everybody smiled and looked happily around. But will we still do so three months down the line?
Trump trumps himself each time he opens his mouth. This time, urging every American going outside to wear a mask, Batman or Joker if you can’t get a proper safe one [my words, not his], he declared he wasn’t going to wear one himself. After all, how could he greet “presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens” in the Oval Office while wearing one? Surprised that “dictators” were not first on the list. It’s voluntary, he said, which means, he explained for the simple [himself], you don’t have to do it. And he wasn’t going to. Mixed messages doesn’t quite cover it.
Catching up on last Saturday’s Review section of the Guardian. I came across this wonderful put-down of Harold Pinter. It concerned his poetry of which he seemed to be in need of reassurance.
“Every time it [a poem] appeared in the Observer he would buy a bundle of copies and send them to friends who were expected to tell him how great they found the verse. On one occasion, Pinter send a two-line poem to the playwright Simon Gray. (“I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time, another time.”) Not getting any reply, he rang Gray and asked him if he’d received the poem. And then: “Did you read it?” “I am only halfway through it,” Gray replied.”
This appeared in Sudekhu Sandhu’s review of Conclusions, a memoir by the film director, John Boorman, he of Deliverance fame, a film I would not hesitate never to watch again.
There’s an art to the put-down. Dorothy Parker was renowned for them. Of Katherine Hepburn, she once said “Come, let’s all go to see Miss Hepburn and hear her run the gamut of emotions from A to B!”[i] Ouch! And Evelyn Waugh. On hearing that doctors had removed a benign tumour from Randolph Churchill, Waugh noted, “A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.”
Spring is here
Yesterday morning M and I took our essential exercise and walked to our old stomping ground, the University Parks. The good weather brought people out, but one jogger apart, all kept a respectful 2 metre distance. It seems very English somehow this idea of friendliness at a distance. In the old days – I mean the really, really old days, 50-60 years ago – when you met people, you didn’t actually touch them. Not even shaking hands, which was seen as a strange continental import or used only to seal a business deal, preferably spitting on your hand first.
Somewhere along the line that changed and touching became the norm. Shaking hands when you meet people, then, with friends, there was the ‘moue-moue’ air kiss, something that failed to take off in parts of the UK. Northern Ireland comes to mind. Paddy will no doubt tell me why, possibly because kissing is seen as a terribly Catholic thing. Like worshipping icons and genuflecting. I speak from ignorance as you might have gathered. Then came the man hug. The technique is to hug from the chest up – you certainly don’t want contact lower than that! – and maybe a quick pat on the back. Politicians are a different matter. Here touching is a power game. Shake hands firmly then clamp your other hand on the other guy’s shoulder and manoeuvre him into Downing Street or wherever. Bill Clinton had it down to an art form. Does this bring to mind that awful video of Teresa May – remember her? – and Trump? How he clasped her tiny hand in his tiny hand as they strolled out for the cameras, like uncomfortable would-be lovers in a school play. It must have been the most embarrassing moment in May’s brief premiership. And there were many to choose from. I’ll just say, Dancing Queen.
Some of you – to date, only Jini actually – are sending in clips to be used an Antidote. I will get to them though what you find funny, others [i.e. me] may not. Remember The Book of Mormon, Bahram? You laughed like a drain whereas I did not. And as for the NT’s One Man Two Guvnors M and I watched in stony silence and switched off before the interval. Alright, before you write in, it may be me. I have never been a fan of farce. Why Brian Rix dropping his trousers should be funny escapes me? [For the younger ones amongst you Brian Rix was an actor who played at the Windmill Theatre in London, a place that put on farces, and also nude shows]. Sadly, my brother and I never could persuade our parents to take us to a nude show despite appealing to their liberal views on education.
Antidote No. 8
Pete and Dud’s one-legged Tarzan audition sketch. A classic
[i] Works better in American English where Z is pronounced ‘zee.’