Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Commonty

Thanks to The Commonty website for an instant bulletin following the arts in D&G meeting at Dalbeattie yesterday. Something good will come of the upheaval. Or something different, not necessarily the same thing. Yesterday was a textbook autumn day: sunny but with interesting clouds; leaves a wonderful variety of browns and golds; I drove to see a friend in Lochmaben. We have worked together in the past, and have another joint venture or two in the pipeline. She is unpacking books from a property sold down south, and invited me to take my pick from any arrayed on her dining room table. By way of a response, I opened my handbag and showed her my new Kindle with its first book downloaded: Any Human Heart by William Boyd. A Kindle is ideal for the sort of book you know you just want to skim through and then pass on. I needed to sample Any Human Heart in case I attempt a similar fictionalisation, of a character living through the 20th century, and meeting real historical characters as he does so. I have to admit it's a brilliant idea but it starts slowly as the character drags himself through childhood and adolescence. But I am not begrudging William Boyd because it has only cost me the equivalent of an egg and cress sandwich. My friend arrived in D&G about 10 years ago, and has made a full and generous life for herself, a model of Christian hospitality (not hair shirt) and empathy. I recounted a painful episode from my recent visit south, of the family 'secrets and lies' variety and she buried her head in her hands in sympathetic recognition. Out of her kitchen window stretched a long field of dark brown earth, with patches of silver water standing in pools on it. I had taken her a bunch of pale mauve chrysanthemums, and half-remembered a poem* by D H Lawrence - we talked of New Mexico where one of my friend's children lives, and where DHL (not the freight company) also lived. Apparently it is a magical place. I am struggling to retrieve where it was that I was reading recently about a family living somewhere in the northeast of north America where a member of the family - a male relative, father uncle or brother disappears to New Mexico to avoid some complication, perhaps a dying mother, sister or similar turning point. Families, eh? Who'd have 'em. On the other hand: who'd be without 'em. *It isn't a poem, it's a short story called the Odour of Chrysanthemums, in a collection entitled The Prussian Officer and Other Stories, which I studied as a set book for my English A level in Switzerland in 1960. In that year I won a prize for an essay 'The Pen is Mightier than the Sword', and chose Keats and T S Eliot's The Waste Land. Lastly, a must-read: Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage, an account of his failed attempt to write a book about DHL

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