June 30: beach reads

It is at this time of year that newspapers turn their minds to the compilation of their lists of good reads for the beach. The beach read is characterised by its light and airiness, by (I suppose) its happy ending, its themes (holiday romance oblige), the so-called ‘feel good’ quotient. The idea is that we have licence to shift down in our reading matter for the beach. You may well read Kafka during the year but on the beach you are allowed to read Jeffrey Archer or Robert Ludlum who in one of his novels has someone paying a London cabbie with a £100 note. Of course, if you are used to reading Kafka, Robert Ludlum (God bless him) will not be a page-turner; it will be unbearable. It will be like reading Proust if you are used to Harry Potter. It will actually be impossible. and yet, strangely, there is the assumption that your deep naughty-but-nice desire is to trade down and you have permission to do that on the beach. Awkwardly propping yourself up on you elbows on a beach towel at 32 degrees Centigrade while you flip through Jeffrey Archer is not my idea of a good time. And as a PS, feel good films don’t make me feel good either.

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June 27: the desire for another thing

We are propelled by the desire for another thing as much as the desire for a better thing. It can even be that the other thing is a worse thing but is still more desirable than the same thing. If it is different, in a sense it is not a worse thing, because we know it is doing us good and combatting the squat monster stasis. The trouble then is that we get used to the worse thing and realise it is worse and it also becomes stasis, and so you have the worse of both worlds. Then – let us imagine – you propel yourself into another change of state, equally blind. This must be how it is for those people who keep getting married. I am the polar opposite to those people. I leap cautiously from one state to another. In fact, I do not leap; I sidle surrepticiously. I make a movement such that I could also probably manage to slip back to my former position without anyone noticing. My desire for another thing is not as much as my desire to keep hold of myself. What I want to do is build a very complex edifice, ornate in parts but efficient and formidable to the outside world. It’s so good I don’t need to step out that much. I could have a tunnel to get me through to other places but I can always get back before midnight. That’s a way of understanding all those fairy stories and folk tales. Cinderella; werewolf narratives, vampire narratives. They are all about one thing. The anxiety of change.

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June 25: not Napolean but a pair of socks

Young men in Europe in the nineteenth century all wanted to be Napolean. He was the Christiano Ronaldo of his day. In fact, he remained the Christiano Ronaldo for nearly a hundred years after his death. Beethoven hero-worshipped him till he made himself emperor. You see it in Stendhal in France in the 1830s as you hear it from Svevo in Italy in the 1920s. In England, of course, Bonaparte was the bogeyman, used to threaten children. Christiano Ronaldo, then, or Messi or Delli Alli is the model for today’s boy. I wonder who mine is. Sometimes people ask who your hero is or your life model. It arises in quizes in women’s magazines. It’s in the famous Proust questionnaire. I never know what to say. Maybe I’m too old for a hero. Rather, my heroes are fragmented. I don’t take the whole man. I like Proust’s insight but I suspect him of snobbery and I’m not so keen on his moustache. I like Nabokov’s prose but he was pretty snooty too. So you wander around without a hero. I wonder if this is a condition of modern adulthood. You may also wander around with nothing to believe in and this can be held against you. It seems to me the height of balance and sophistication, having nothing to believe in. You end up believing in small material things. Marshmallow; nice figs; oysters; Mahler’s 6th symphony; a nice pair of socks. Not Napolean but they won’t let you down.

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June 23: time lag glamour

Johnny Depp is getting some bad press from ‘The Daily Mail’ I see. He’s looking bad; he’s drinking too much; there is rocknroll: drugs are involved; some are not soft. Pictures show him looking his age: sometimes drawn, sometimes flabby. We are surprised because normally we see him in films on the telly where he looks Peter Panish. But, of course, many of the films we see repeated constantly on Film 4 or on the Movie Channel are twenty years old. This is time lag glamour and all film stars are subject to it. Once I saw an old man on the tube and I thought that must be Jonathan Millar’s dad until I realised it was Jonathan Millar himself. i was just used to seing him as he had been in the 70s and 80s. I say all this because I saw Grant Mitchell of old Eastenders fame in Victoria Station the other day. What struck me was that he looked like Grant Mitchell, not Grant Mitchell’s dad, or even Phil Mitchell. He looked like himself. It was very unreal.

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June 12: my plate

My plate has changed over recent months. I was always a traditionalist; a meat and two veg. The meat dark, unstained by any sauce or gravy, potato in any of its guises, a green or a carrot, maybe a green and a carrot. Maybe some cooked apple with that, for pork or even for chicken. When you have this kind of plate before you, you try and make each part of the meal last so that you finish meat, potato and veg at the same time. You alternate forkfulls of each, so that your forkfull of cabbage is followed by a piece of chicken, followed by your favourite, the roast potato. This way you inch yourself through to a clean plate. Then there would be the pudding smothered in custard. These days my plate looks mostly different: a bed of brown rice topped with some heavily peppered vegetables. No meat. My heart sinks when I see it and I think how can I get through this? Where are my tiny morsels of reward, my mouthfuls of roast potato? And yet, I do get through it. There is a gap between the promise and the result. My mind isn’t keeping up. It is like when you buy a pizza because of some memory and then half way through find you are eating cardboard. I must be in transition between various plates, their promise and their reality. Unlike many, I do not take snapshots of dinners. Why would you do that? To preserve a memory? But then, after some time you find yourself with long scrolls of meals and birthday cakes on your computer file. When was this one with the red velvet cake? Oh, that must have been the Christening that time when it was raining. No, that was when we had leg of lamb. Look, here’s that leg of lamb here. Correct. There is that leg of lamb. Still whole on the screen, looking unappetising as only photographs of food can do. Looking like a club. No, all my plates are in my head, where they belong.

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June 8: ‘there is no reason why we cannot win this world cup’

The footballer who is not selected for the World Cup squad is a forlorn individual. At this time of year you will find him in Florida. He is on holiday. The World Cup squad has just taken the plane to Volgograd. The tabloids are taking us deeper into the psyche of the players. The tattoos; the stats; the depressions; the stepdads; the motors; the fiancees.The players are giving press conferences, wowing the public with their avowals of committment. The say things like ‘there is no reason why we cannot win this World Cup,’ the double negative telling. But the footballer who is not selected is baking in the unnatural heat of a Florida afternoon, in a place where nobody’s mind is on Russia. He is thinking: they are there, the 23. What number was I? Would I have made the 38? Or the 47? No matter. Here in Florida the number 23 has no resonance. He is by the pool. The painted sky is a sheet of blue. Sometimes he hears a German, or a Frenchman. They too may know what is soon to happen in Russia. But they did not get close to the 23. Maybe even as close as 28, or 29. In Florida they will fill your coffee cup as many times as you want for no extra charge. But this is irrelevant. His place is not here. It is there. And then, when the competition starts, he will find a bar with the match on. And at Tunisia 0 England 0 after 67 minutes of play he will decide to turn away, to leave the bar and find his loan car parked where he left it on the street. He will pull out onto an empty freeway. The summer stretches long and empty ahead of him. He is, he supposes, free.

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June 2: on the curve

I bumped into one of the directors of my appartment building yesterday who urged me, not for the first time, to register to the building facebook page to receive all the latest information about what’s happening in my block. I responded with a knowing raise of the eyebrow, as if to say Facebook? No thank you. Surely that has become contaminated now. All that data hoarding and deployment is making Facebook look distinctly old school. And for the first time I felt that rather being behind the curve with my distrust of social media I was actually ahead of it. In fact, my sceptical world view which has not changed over the years is making me say all the right things for once. The other day someone told me I should ‘get on board’ about some new movement or other and I found myself telling them that getting on board, as he put it, was exactly what you don’t do. You take a critical look at any movement and stay off the vehicle over which you have no control. On board is the last place you want to be with anything. Could it be that I am ahead of the curve. Even the old-style shorts and sunglasses I have been wearing for years seem to have come full circle. Could it be that by some unlikely conjunction of events I find myself, for the first time in my life,actually on the curve. But don’t quiz me too closely; this curve-balancing act won’t go on for long.

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