Monday, January 30, 2006

Whoosh...over my head!

Galip went on to read lines he couldn't get the hang of...

This sentence just about sums up how I feel about Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book, the novel from which it is taken.

Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, is looking for his wife who has vanished. Chapters alternate between his search and the newspaper column of his famous journalist cousin, Jelal Bey.

The idea of identity runs through the book. Can you ever really be yourself? (Especially in an Eastern country that looks so much to the West?). A question which I could happily debate. Much of the book, however, passed me by. I can't, and don't want to, understand letters, Latin, Turkish or otherwise, telling stories in people's faces. A black telephone is a black telephone. It doesn't have a hidden meaning. Signs on carrier bags tell you where they've come from (generally) not the mysteries of the universe.

I was interested enough to want to know what happens but fed up with forcing myself to read it. In the end, when reading became more of a chore than a pleasure, I skim-read the last 100 pages or so.

I am left wondering about the translation. I realise how incredibly hard it must be to do a book justice in another language. It was the Americanisms - broad (woman), geezer, it was twelve past three - that grated on me; as did 'bathetic' and 'highfalutin' in the same sentence (different registers?).

When watching a subtitled version of the French masterpiece La Haine with A-level students a few years back, I was horrified to discover the name Asterix had been translated - as Snoopy. I flew into an apoplectic rage, calmed only by the fact the kids recognised the cultural travesty without needing an explanation.

The reason this anecdote came to mind was the start of this sentence:

The host (whose goggling eyes reminded Galip at times of Bugs Bunny)...

Goggling is an ugly word. Do Bugs Bunny's eyes really goggle? In my mind, the two just don't go together. They're not an obvious pairing. My question is, obviously, this: did Pamuk use Bugs Bunny in his original?

For me the most disappointing aspect of the book is the cover's assertion that it's a "novel suffused with the sights, sounds and scents of contemporary Istanbul". There was much mention of Istanbul but I wasn't drawn in. I didn't experience, what surely must be, a great city.
I would never tell someone not to read a book - I like coffee, you like tea - but this really isn't one I'd recommend. Sadly.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Year of the Dog

I hope I'm not alone in not realising adult nappies exist. Due to the long and crowded train journeys to get home within China some supermarkets have reported sales of adult nappies have gone up by 50%. This is clearly the down side of the Chinese New Year. I'm assuming sales of lotions for chapped buttocks have increased accordingly.


Back in October last year the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed twelve cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed including one "showing Mohammed wearing a turban-like bomb, and another as brandishing a sabre, with two burka-clad women behind him". The newspaper had urged readers to send in cartoons as an author had written to them complaining no-one would illustrate his book through fear of the Islamic reaction. Mohammed cannot be depicted.

Apparently, two of the cartoonists are now in hiding and the newspaper has had to hire security guards at it's offices. Muslims have marched on the streets in protest and ambassadors from eleven Muslim countries demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister (who refused).

Friday's Independent carried a tiny little column which noted that the Saudi response was to withdraw their ambassador to Denmark. It was the last sentence, however, that struck me.

"Saudis are boycotting Danish products".

Given I can only think of two Danish products - Carlsberg and bacon - I fail to see this plan denting Danish trade figures.


We all know, because Mr Bush keeps telling us, that the way to solve all the problems in the Middle East is to ensure democracy. Which is why I nearly pissed my pants when I learnt Hamas had won in the Palestinian elections. (I'm not saying it is an appropriate response but an honest one). I'd like to have seen Mr Bush's first, private reaction. I cannot imagine it was as tame as mine.

Civic duty

With the possible exception of Wednesday's bronchoscopy (see below) the highlight of the past two weeks must be the one-hour birdwatch for the RSPB. We don't have a garden but there is a nice green patch with a gloriously tall tree behind the flat to watch.

The results were rather disappointing. I'm sure there are usually more birds around. Anyway, I spotted 6 blackbirds, 2 coal tits, 1 collared dove and 2 crows. The four squirrels and one mangey three-legged fox don't count but they're worth mentioning as they are much more fun to observe.


Much has been made in the press recently about Englishness and what it means.

I think the responses to my suspected TB (sorry to harp on but there's not much going on here at the moment) are typically English: "crumbs", "oh gosh" and "crikey" and two links to a BBC article about Bill Gates giving $600 million to fight tuberculosis along with the lines "why don't you see if you can get a slice?" and "blimey you have a fan...Bill has heard and rushed to the rescue".


I got a morning out at the hospital on Wednesday (isn't life just full of fun?!).

I had to have a bronchoscopy - fibre optic telescope stuck up your nose, down your throat and into your lungs - as part of the tests to ascertain whether or not I have TB. Your throat gets sprayed with this viscious stuff that soon makes it go numb which is really rather alarming because it feels like you can't swallow. Something else gets squirted up your nose and if you're lucky you get a sedative as well. Apparently, it makes you a little drowsy. Thankfully, I went straight to sleep. I remember the consultant asking if it felt like I'd had one G&T too many and then I woke up in the ward.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Need vs Greed

I have absolutely no problems with Eskimos wearing fur. They live a certain lifestyle in extreme conditions and polyester probably wouldn't do the trick. After reading today's reports about the big freeze in Russia (I cannot even begin to wonder what minus thirty feels like), I may even be sympathetic enough to allow them a spot of fur to keep warm. The cold has clearly gone to the heads of some. Yesterday was the Orthodox Epiphany and was marked by the usual Blessing of the Water. This meant lunatics, proving they are Real Men, cut through the ice with a chainsaw and then jumped in dressed in nothing but their Speedos. I think the only sane part is gulping down the cognac when they stagger out.

What I don't agree with is people with more money than sense wearing fur as a fashion statement. And certainly not that acquired from endangered species. Yes, I am referring to that hideously vile, self-serving, arrogant and abusive man that is Pete Burns. The papers today seem to think the coat isn't gorilla. Chimps have been mentioned (not endangered) as have colobus monkeys (endangered). I would really quite like to see him properly incarcerated (without high heels, make-up and accessories) but knowing my luck I'll be sat here fuming as its announced the coat is either fake or not from animals covered by the Control of Trade in Endangered Species.

Books, books and more books

While off from work with an alleged chronic throat infection, I've read the enlightening Bloody Foreigners,

the interesting City of Cities (Stephen Inwood),

Truman Capote's dazzling In Cold Blood ,

and the hysterically funny Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

The good news is that I've plenty of time on my hands to read lots more. The bad news is that it's becuase I don't have a throat infection at all but suspected TB.

You follow your principles and go work in a totally inclusive inner-city comprehensive and what thanks do you get? Some bastard child gives you tuberculosis!

There is a slim chance that I don't have it but the consultant is working on the theory that I do and I'm going along with him. (He clearly knows more about these things than me). At the moment, I officially have pneumonia.

Having got to the age of thirty-one and three quarters without any real illnesses (chicken pox excluded) it's all a bit bewildering. I've had more x-rays, scans, tests and consulations in three days than the previous three decades. I've got my first ever anaesthetic next week when they stick something up my nose and down my throat to my lungs. Sounds bloody delightful.

I'm off to the clinic and shall then settle down on the sofa with Donna Tartt's Secret History.I think book reviews, boredom and odd comments on the news are all you're going to get for quite some time. Unless there's any interesting people-watching to be had in the hospitals of course.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Not being well enough to go to work today, I was asleep in bed when the postman nearly knocked the door down. I knew it must be the books I'd ordered – the leather-bound Walter Besant and Zangwill, both from 1900, and a first edition of the London Nobody Knows – so I roused my self quickly. I shouted after him wrapped in my duvet weakly explaining I was ill in case he thought I was just a lazy cow.

“Stay where you are; don't worry love,” came the reply as he gingerly placed my parcel just inside the door and scuttled off. On reflection, he must have been seeing an infected, smelly wreck as opposed to the svelte-young girl wrapped in nothing more than a duvet I would have preferred.

GJ, my colleague and collector of all things Sinclair, rang at about 4.20pm to check I was ok. Or so I thought. Pleasantries out the way he then dropped the bombshell. The author and psychogeographer Iain Sinclair had popped by the school, sat in my chair, at my desk, in my office as he wanted to see GJ's collection.

So, his books may be a little difficult to grasp in places but I am in awe of the man's knowledge, ideas and perseverance. And I missed him due to a bloody bad cold.

I rang Pat straight away for sympathy but he just laughed at me.

London Nobody Knows Two

G. rang before Christmas to say that the London Nobody Knows was back on at the ICA. She missed it last time. Would I want to see it with her? My wish of early October was likely to a reality soon. I could watch Cohen's film without having it tainted by the awful, horrendous, ridiculous World of Gilbert and George. This time around it was to be followed by St Etienne's Finisterre.

A small boy in front of me on the bus, possibly about six or seven years old, was picking his noise and sticking the bogies and not on the window. Further back on the top deck, an uncle was attempting to convince another young lad that the number 15 actually travels to the moon. Once we reached Trafalgar Square we hit a long ramp and it was up, up and away to the stars...

Being early, as I am generally am, I sat and had a hot chocolate in St James's Park, despite the fact it was freezing. Next to the lake a swarm of ducks, geese, pigeons and seagulls were being fed. An old boy, wearing a cap, was stood to one side feeding a mottled pigeon which had settled on his arm and a squirrel. Both clearly know them. No food was given to anything else. Much to the amusement of the tourists, the squirrel jumped onto the fence and begged on its hind legs for a nut, hopped off, ate it and repeated the performance.

When the doors to the screen opened we were asked to move over to the left. A rather foppish Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen-type left two seats between him and us. A couple attempted to sit there but he explained they were taken. The usher sprang into action and made it very clear seats could not be saved. A battle between the dandy and the doorman – one determined to keep the seats, the other equally determined that someone other than the popinjay's friends would be sitting there – ensued. Everything ended in a bloodless draw. The attendant instructed a single man to sit next to G but the fop still managed to get a friend either side.
The film itself was, of course, excellent. The good news is that some of the places shown in '67 are in a better condition today; others don't exist anymore.

Finisterre was also worth watching. It is influenced by Fletcher's book and also Nairn's London (which is a new one on me). I came out thinking that's the kind of film I could make. I don't mean by that I have the technical skills to make a similar film but the ideas – the places and the people I would capture. Stills, moving footage, words, music. An example would be the passage that runs by the side of the National Gallery towards Leicester Square. Little-used by pedestrians it was home to a huddle of hooded skateboarders as we cut through. The London tourists and office workers from the suburbs never see.