Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Well, James Naughtie, ultra-Scottish presenter of BBCR4's flagship Today programme is an Angle! His DNA shows him to be descended from the Danes who settled in Northumbria and JN's forefather was transplanted from there by David I in the 11th century to bolster the Canmore kings' power in the northeast of Scotland. A commentator on the programme explained that national identity is a mindset, not a collection of genes, giving as an example the uber-English reaction 'Typical!' to news ranging from losing a sock to the outbreak of WWIII, said in tones of triumphant resignation and lack of surprise ('I knew it would happen'). On then to V.S. Naipaul last night at the Royal Geographic Society 'in conversation' with Geordie Greig, editor of the London Evening Standard who I had up to then wrongly assumed to be a woman. Be that as it may, the conversation lurched awkwardly forward, Naipaul coming to life at the news that he had supposedly buried the hatchet with US travel writer Paul Theroux who once ruined my summer holiday on Cape Cod, but that's a story for another day. The gossip columns had reported that Naipaul and Theroux had been reconciled in the green room at the Hay on Wye book festival on Monday (May 30). As Naipaul told it last night (May 31), he had not recognised Theroux when Theroux was propelled towards him, hand outstretched. It was Naipaul's wife who had murmured 'We've missed you', not Naipaul. Etc. Walking away down Exhibition Road (in the process of being converted into a pedestrians-first highway) after the event, the most appropriate comment seemed to be 'What a character'. Naipaul is a great writer, whose work I treasure above all for his 'Among The Believers', his expose of the obscurantist aspects of Islam. His latest The Mask of Africa' is a sly, often comical, profound look at the reality of 'modern' Africa which europeans would be unwise to read as though of something alien to our own shortcomings. Naipaul tells it straight, and, he said last night, tries to load every sentence with 'more than one thing'; other books of his are now on my 'must read' list - A Bend in the River; A House for Mr Biswas and The Enigma of Arrival which my sister, whose birthday we were celebrating, told me last night was Marcel Duchamp's daughter Yeo's favourite book. Dinner afterwards at Madsen, a miraculous Swedish restaurant just by south Ken tube station.

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