January 21: what pears once tasted like

When I go to the Tesco and look at the pears I cannot stop myself from saying aloud to all the fellow-shoppers examining fruit these pears are like bullets. They are all like bullets. Nobody answers me or looks at me. It is as if I am a maniac. The maniacs are Tesco. I have not tasted a pear in decades. The closest I get to the taste of a pear is in a pear chew or a pear drop boiled sweet. Actual pears, like actual apples, all come under the title of generic crispy fruit now. There is also generic softer fruit like plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots, none of which give out distinctive tastes. You are living in George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 is such a long time ago. The power that we once worried about putting into the hands of the state has gone to the huge private corporations and, more worryingly, to the individual. In a generation or two individuals can be invisibly bled of all their reaction, all their rebellion, all their critique. They can even forget what pears once tasted like.

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January 20: too much meaning

I ordered ‘Heine:the tragic satirist’, a study of the poetry of Heinrich Heine by Siegbert Prawer which I have a fond recollection of. What came in its place was the autobiography of Lance Armstrong from the year 2000, before the revelation of his drug cheating. This edition was in German and entitled ‘wie ich den Krebs besiegte und die Tour de France gewann’ (How I beat cancer and won the tour de France). How this mix-up happened is unclear, but the upshot was me having a look at the Armstrong autobiography. What it brought home to me is the degree to which poor writing reveals most about the person who writes it. You only need to read a few lines to get the flavour of the man: a braggard; a control-freak; a man obsessed (for whatever reason, cynically or not) with the myth of America and Texas, with the sanctifying connotations of family and fatherhood. He is right out of a cheap Hollywood picture aimed at the middlest of middle America. The writing reeks of it from page one on. Sometimes, as a reader, you want to eschew the human. You want prose that is terse and monochrome, that does not reach for the standard, easily communicated junk myths. I am in that mood at the monent and I find myself reading the French new novel, notoriously flat, what was called at the time ‘chosism’ (thingism or objectism) because of its interest in complex descriptions of objects and mechanisms and rejection of facile human interest. There is a Cezanne retrospective on in London at the moment. He, too, in his portraits, was accused of avoiding the human, of painting people as if they were ‘still lifes’ (it was said he told his models ‘Be an apple. Be an apple’). And when you look at the portraits the figures in them give nothing away, they are inscrutable. It is ‘chosism’ applied to people. Is this anti-human? I don’t know. But sometimes you just want it. You want things to be uninterpretable, unsymbolic, unemblematic, just there. You do not want the equivalent of the self-obsessed Lance Armstrong autobiography, where every sentence is screaming hysterically its needs and desires and intenions. Too much meaning.

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January 1: fireworks on the telly

At midnight on New Year’s Eve there are fireworks on the telly. People switch on to see the coloured lights on their screen. Even people who live round the corner from the actual fireworks and can hear the World War 2 detonations going on all around them switch the telly on to get the authentic experience of the New Year celebrations red hot from off the telly. It is another variation on buying a ticket to go out into the cold and stand and be jostled, sometimes crushed, by a load of atrangers in a confined space where you cannot get to the toilet. It reminds me of my one experience of the Notting Hill Carnival where you have the added pleasure of thousands of people blowing whistles into your ear. Finding a toilet again becomes the main aim of the festivities. Maybe festivities should be broken down into two types: those where the main aim is to find a toilet and the others where a toilet is available with no challenges to the act of relieving your bladder. Of course, New Year is no fun for anyone. You see groups of young men hunting in packs looking for the right party. There are plenty of wrong parties with the host looking forlornly out of an upstairs window with a flashing disco light behind his ear as illumination. It makes for a lovely cinematic tableau. Those in parties will be singing ‘Wonderwall’ together at the top of their voices or (something I heard last night from the neighbours over the way) ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Boyfriends have to give their girlfriends a good new year and girlfriends have to look better than Sharon or Tracey in their contending sparkly Topshop dresses. It’s goose-pimpled legs in a miniskirt eat goose-pimpled legs in a miniskirt out there. I had heard the phrase ‘drink a toast’ at some stage in the evening and so my tyrannical and moronically literal imagination forced me to bring in the New Year with three rounds of toast with apricot jam on. Only when the crumbs were wiped from my lips was 2017 finally seen out the door. Then we could get back to reading our books on the settee.

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