Friday on my Mind 163: Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son/Les Sucettes. RIP France Gall

France Gall who has died recently won the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg in 1965. She was French as was the song’s composer Serge Gainsbourg. I blieve this video is of her performance on the night.

France Gall: Poupée de Cire Poupée de Son

Gall was apparently the subject of a particularly cruel trick by Gainsbourg when he persuaded her to record the song Les Sucettes (Lollipops) about whose double meaning Gall claims she was unaware. (Though the Guardian obituary linked to above says that when requested to lick one for a TV performance, she declined.) The film below makes the lyric’s inference obvious.

France Gall: Les Sucettes

This video outlines the story, along with Gall’s viewpoint.

Isabelle Geneviève Marie Anne “France” Gall: 9/10/1947 – 7/1/2018. So it goes.

All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky

Chatto & Windus, 2008, 206 p. Translated from the French Les Biens de ce Monde by Sandra Smith. (First published by Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, 1947.)

All Our Worldly Goods cover

I have frequently alluded to love, sex and death as the three main novelistic concerns. In All Our Worldly Goods Némirovsky focuses on the first of these but throws class and family dynamics into the mix. Interestingly, despite the scope of the narrative extending over the two World Wars, there are only two deaths explicitly dealt with in the text. (A myriad others occur off-stage of course.)

We start in the first decade of last century, on Wimereux Plage, where the Hardelot and Florent families are spending the summer. Normally not mixing much due to their different social standing, on their annual pilgrimages to the beach such niceties are not so strictly observed. Pierre Hardelot’s fiancée, Simone Renaudin, is also present. The engagement is at the behest of the domineering Hardelot patriarch Charles, owner of the paper mill in their home town Saint-Elme, desirous of Renaudin money for investment in the company but also a stickler for protocol. But grandson Pierre does not even like Simone. He and Agnès Florent are in love but resigned never to be together.

Back in Saint-Elme the planned futures all unravel when someone sees the pair on what they believe is their last meeting in a local wood and their association is revealed. As a result Pierre is cut off by Charles, as he marries Agnès and they go to live in Paris. The ramifications of their attachment will resound throughout their lives and the book, which, despite the passages involving their parents and children, is the story of their commitment.

Along with everyone else’s the certainties of Charles Hardelot’s life are thrown into turmoil by the Great War. Pierre is called up, the women from Saint-Elme join the refugees from the German advance. Charles remains behind and spends the war under German occupation. After the war Saint-Elme and the family business are rebuilt and Simone’s husband, whom she met during the retreat, is taken into the business, along with her money.

The book has several jumps in time in which Némirovsky lays out the history of the Hardelot family and the first half of the twentieth century but the wider world (except in so far as it impinges directly on Pierre and Agnès) tends to remain in the background. Still, the hopes and feelings of the immediate post-Great War period are summed up by Pierre’s thought, “It was the final war. There would never be another. The thirst for blood had been satisfied. Not only was it necessary to forget the war. It had to be vilified in people’s memory,” and the strangeness of the post-war world by, “Paris seemed bled dry.”

One of the episodes concerns the relationship Pierre and Agnès’s son Guy with a woman not known to the family and whose conduct leads to his suicide attempt. Years later in the prenumbra of a future war Guy falls for his father’s former fiancée Simone’s daughter Rose. This description might make the book appear to be soap-opera like but the reality is far from that.

As Guy marches off to the Phoney War in 1939 Pierre notes that unlike in 1914 there were no flowers, no fanfares as the young went off ….. “’they know that all our sacrifices were useless…. they’ve read, or seen, or heard everything that happened then … how do you think they’re supposed to bear it?’” Perhaps this is Némirovsky’s view on why France’s resistance collapsed so quickly in 1940.

Once again in the turmoil of a German advance the women and the men are separated. During this evacuation, in what struck me as an unlikely coincidence, Agnès encounters the woman who betrayed Guy years before but is magnanimous towards her. Agnès’s struggle to return to Pierre in Saint-Elme underlines the book’s theme of closeness between her and Pierre.

“All our Worldly Goods” seems a bit off the mark as a translation for Les Biens de ce Monde (“The Good Things of This World”) but Sandra Smith gives reasons in her translator’s note as she says the spiritual and material nuances of les biens are almost impossible to translate and she wanted to emphasise the marriage connection.

In the end the book is an affirmation. Irony though it may be given the author’s own fate in Auschwitz in All Our Worldly Goods Némirovsky is telling us that despite all the upheavals to which we may be subjected we must cling to the human.

Pedant’s corner:- Charles refers in August 1914 to the start of a world war. It wasn’t called a world war till later; shimmer-ing (no need for the hyphen in the middle of a line,) a missing comma at the end of a thought quote, both start and end commas missing, or the end one placed externally, at other thought quotes, frugalness (frugality?)

Something Changed 1: Linger. RIP Dolores O’Riordan

I haven’t previously had a category for 1990s music – the spur for Friday on my Mind, Reelin’ in the Years and Live it Up wasn’t there. I had been thinking of a starting point, but not this one.

I have been shocked into it by the premature demise of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, who first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s. 46 isn’t 27 but it’s still shockingly early. O’Riordan had a distinctive voice which I shall be coming back to.

The Cranberries: Linger

Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan: 6/9/1971 – 15/1/2018. So it goes.

Cyrille Regis

I was sad to hear of the death of Cyrille Regis, a stalwart of a West Bromwich Albion side which finished third in the English top division in the late 1970s and fourth a couple of years later. Imagine that happening now!

Prior to his career along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson (nicknamed the Three Degrees though that seems excessively patronising now) there had been few black players in the British game since its very early days.

Albert Johanesson of Leeds United and West Ham United’s Clyde Best were trail-blazers and the amount of racist abuse all these had to suffer doesn’t bear thinking about.

Regis and the other two degrees helped to show that players like them could, “do it on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Stoke.” Not that that should ever have been doubted.

Regis’s five caps for England is not a true reflection of his abilities and stands as an indicator of the difficulties he faced in forging a career in football.

Cyrille Regis: 9/2/1958 – 14/1/2018. So it goes.

David Bowie’s 100 Books

The good lady has decided to go along with the online book club started up by Duncan Jones in honour of his father David Bowie.

The full list of David Bowie’s 100 Books was given earlier in The Independent.

This prompted me to take a look and see how many I’d read. The usual notation applies. Bold I’ve read, italic is on my shelves.

Interviews with Francis Bacon – David Sylvester – early 80s

Billy Liar – Keith Waterhouse – early 60s

Room at the Top – John Braine – early 60s

On Having No Head – Douglass Harding – mid-60s

Kafka Was The Rage – Anatole Broyard – 1995

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess – mid-60s

City of Night – John Rechy – mid 60s

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz – 2007

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – 1980s

Iliad – Homer – late-70s

As I lay Dying – William Faulkner – early- 80s

Tadanori Yokoo – Tadanori Yokoo – 1973

Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblin – late 70s –

Inside the Whale and Other Essays – George Orwell – early 60s

Mr. Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood – late 60s

Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art – James A. Hall – 1975

David Bomberg – Richard Cork – mid-90s

Blast – Wyndham Lewis – 2009

Passing – Nella Larson – 1983

Beyond the Brillo Box – Arthur C. Danto – early 90s

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – Julian Jaynes – late-70s

In Bluebeard’s Castle – George Steiner – early 70s

Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd – 1987

The Divided Self – R. D. Laing – 1964

The Stranger – Albert Camus – mid-60sk

Infants of the Spring – Wallace Thurman – 1992

The Quest For Christa T – Christa Wolf – 1979

The Songlines – Bruce Chatwin – 1987

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter – 1984

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov – early 90s

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark – late 60s

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov – late 60s

Herzog – Saul Bellow – early 80s

Puckoon – Spike Milligan – 1973

Black Boy – Richard Wright – early 80s

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald – early 70s

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima – 1972

Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler – early 90s

The Waste Land – T.S. Elliot – mid-70s

McTeague – Frank Norris – 2000

Money – Martin Amis – 1984

The Outsider – Colin Wilson – 1964/5

Strange people – Frank Edwards – early 60s

English Journey – J.B. Priestley – 2011

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole – early 2000s

The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West – mid-80s

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – mid-60s

The Life and Times of Little Richard – Charles White – 1985

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock – Nik Cohn – 70s –

Mystery Train – Greil Marcus – 1976 s

Beano – Comic – 50s (I only looked at other people’s copies.)

Raw – Graphic Comic – 80s

White Noise – Don DeLillo – 1985

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom – Peter Guralnick – late 80s

Silence: lectures and writing – John Cage – 1975

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews – Edited by Malcolm Cowley – mid-60s

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll – Charlie Gillete – 1972

Octobriana and the Russian Underground – Peter Sadecky – 1973

The Street – Ann Petry – early 80s

Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon – 1995

Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby, Jnr – late- 60s

A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn – early 2000s

The Age of American Unreason – Susan Jacoby – 2008

Metropolitan Life – Fran Lebowitz – 1978

The Coast of Utopia – Tom Stoppard – 2003

The Bridge – Hart Crane – mid-2000s

All The Emperor’s Horses – David Kidd – Late 1970s

Fingersmith – Sarah Waters – mid-2000s

Earthly Powers – Anthony Burgess – early 80s

The 42nd Parallel – John Dos Passos – 2006

Tales of Beatnik Glory – Ed Saunders – 1975

The Bird Artist* – Howard Norman – 1995

Nowhere To Run: – The Story of Soul Music – 2006

Before the Deluge – Otto Friedrich – 1976

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson – Camille Paglia – 1990

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford – 1970

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote – late 60s

Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence – 1961

Teenage – Jon Savage – 2007

Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh – early 60s

The Hidden Persuaders – Vance Packard – around 1962/3

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin – early 70s

Viz – comic – early 80s (I only ever flicked through this in shops.)

Private Eye – Satire Magazine – 60s through 80s (Only other people’s copies.)

Selected Poems – Frank O’Hara – 1974

The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens – early 2000s

Flaubert’s Parrrot – Julian Barnes – 1985

Maldodor – Comte de Lautréamont – late 70s

On The Road – Jack Kerouac – 1960

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders – Lawrence Weschler – 1995

Zanoni – Edward Bulwer-Lytton – 1975

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual – Eliphas Lévi – 1975

The Gnostic Gospels – Elaine Pagels – 1980

The Leopard – Giusseppe Di Lampedusa – 2001

Inferno – Dante Alighieri – 1985

A Grave for a Dolphin – Alberto Denti di Pirajno – mid 70s

The Insult – Rupert Thomson – 1996

In Between the Sheets – Ian McEwan – 1978

A People’s Tragedy – Orlando Figes – 2000

Journey into the Whirlwind – Eugenia Ginzburg – 2002

Hmmm.

I’ve read eight (but the three comics/magazines not assiduously) and there are three on the tbr pile.

I can’t see me working through them all.

*Edited to add:- The good lady tells me she has this one on her shelves. Consider it italicised.

Pedant’s corner:- Halls Dictionary (Hall’s Dictionary,) Giusseppe Di Lampedusa (Giuseppe.)

Fly Through Orion

Courtesy of The Daily Galaxy (and the Hubble Telescope) plus some technological trickery here is a visual fly-through of the Orion Nebula in visible and infra-red light.


Living Nowhere by John Burnside

Vintage, 2003, 377 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

Living Nowhere cover

Some books announce themselves from the outset, one way or the other. Within two sentences (and long before their seven lines ended) I knew this was going to be good; for all that I also knew it wouldn’t be straightforward. This is unapologetically a work that makes demands on its reader; but only in so far as it doesn’t lay its cards on the table openly. Burnside approaches his tale obliquely but in a way that reflects his characters, moreover the book’s structure is unusual in that it starts with sections dedicated to four viewpoints, not always following in the same order but doesn’t stick to those four throughout. They are Alina Ruckert, daughter of immigrants, refugees in World War 2; her mother Alma; Tommy Cameron, come down from Fife to Corby to make a better life for his family; and his son Derek. Alina is a somewhat detached young woman who has made a (non-romantic) friendship with her brother Jan’s bosom companion Francis (another of Tommy Cameron’s sons) who bonded most over photography. Alma feels alienated by her non-Britishness and her husband’s determination to give nothing of himself away. Tommy has brought up his sons to be aware of how tough the world is and always to be on their guard. Derek feels to be not altogether a man as he doesn’t experience the rage all the males around him seem to. That first part of the book is set in Corby, a town which, as Burnside tells it, in the late 1960s/early 1970s was in part a vision of Hell, dominated day and night by main employer The Works, spewing copious amounts of smoke, ash and iron ore into the town’s atmosphere so that clothing always reeked of sulphur and with the threat of violence never far away from its nightlife.

There are strong echoes of previous Scottish literature in the book. Tommy has been influenced by his Uncle Arthur whom he used to visit in rural Scotland and remembers his tales of the old days, “Tommy had never understood how the people tolerated the inhuman behaviour of the rich landlords.” Arthur had once admonished him, “‘Take a look around when you’re back in Cowdenbeath, walking down the High Street. Look carefully and see how many ghosts you can see.’” The tales of supernatural apparitions were about more than superstition, or the casual fatalism of people whose lives were governed by the random, they weren’t about something invented. “They were about something that had been lost. Something important.” Tommy knows to be hard only if the occasion demands it and skewers hard men as, “The boys who sat lonely in their own reputations, cold as stone, afraid to smile or say too much. Tommy knew you had to be afraid of something to spend that much time and energy on an image.”

Alina realises men treated everything they touched with contempt because it was life itself they hated and feared (feared more than hated) and is astonished by her workmate’s determination to get married, recognising, “that real, self-deluding affection that every bride-to-be harbours, against all the odds, till the week, or month, or year after the wedding, when she finds out what the man she married is really like.”

Derek contemplates the oddness of the life of the ex-pat. “He didn’t know what Scotland was. The mythology said it was The Sunday Post. The White Heather Club. The Highlands. But they never had shortbread at home, not in Scotland, and not here, except at Hogmanay when everybody turned into cartoon Highlanders, wandering the glassy streets with coal and bread in their coat pockets, leaving their doors open so anybody could walk in as tradition demanded,” he reflects on the New Year rituals. “Scotland was a myth. Burns suppers, tartan, Bonnie Prince Charlie, knowing what clan you were supposed to be in, it was all a bad myth.” But though none of the people around him at New Year came from that misreflected Scotland of the mind, “they were all going back there to die,” and he knows, “they didn’t want home. They wanted the same Scotland the tourists got.”

He has doubts about religion, “He didn’t want anybody’s love, he just wanted to be treated with basic decency. All these people talking about love, they were lying and cheating and robbing one another all the time, and nobody seemed to care. Maybe that was why they’d made up that impossible religion of love: because it was impossible, and everybody knew it, there was no real pressure to live up to it, no real need to do anything but go through the motions.” In another system based on the “ordinary possible decency of which people were capable, everything would be different.” If instead of having to love them, you just treated your neighbours as human beings.

The first half of the book weaves its overall narrative between the four viewpoints, sometimes seeing the same incident from more than one perspective, and the inevitable incident, brewing for 200 or so pages, which precipitates Francis’s flight from Corby occurs, like so much in this book, off the page, or at least we only come upon it in its aftermath.

Burnside seems to comment on his storytelling when Francis thinks, “the world is divided into two camps: (a) people who believe in stories and (b) people who trust the isolated, fleeting moments that stories seek to string together.” Here it looks as if Burnside has made a novel out of such isolated moments. It’s a bit of a pity that he then then over-eggs this underlining by adding, “like the little black points in one of those old join-the-dots puzzles you used to get in comic books,” but almost saves it with, “It never works. The picture turns out awkward and ugly, the story is, at best, a half-truth.” But Burnside’s story is neither awkward nor ugly.

The second half of the novel is couched as a series of letters from Francis to his absent friend Jan, telling of his life as a wanderer and some of the people he meets, before a coda section provides a resolution of sorts.

Francis meets all sorts, including privileged undergraduates in Cambridge, “they were the inheritors, boys who would be middle-aged in ten years’ time, working in the city or Whitehall, or running the family business, property owners, members of the club, men to be reckoned with….. moral within the narrow bounds of a system that refused to consider the intrinsic immorality of their position.” The pull these types can exert he sees as, “Women are always lamenting the fact that men are attracted to looks and nothing else, but they should see themselves when it comes to men with money.” Not big spenders, not flash but, “that quiet confidence that comes of having a trust fund behind you ….of wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, going to the right ski resorts for Christmas……” In a word, “Glamour.” In this context he tells us, “I love that expression ‘chip on the shoulder’: I bet nobody ever said it who was ever hungry and it was somebody else’s world.”

Of his experience of the US where he works for a while, he suggests, “If these people could only give a damn about something other than their own beautiful lives, they would be extraordinary.”

He excuses his lack of commitment by rationalising, “It’s the best luck a man can have liking women. Not just the pretty ones, or the ones who want to go to bed with you, but all women. It’s the worst luck when he chooses one woman and sets her apart, then lets his imagination go to work on her.”

He winds up in a Fife fishing village, making a living mainly through painting, and characterises the locals, “On the coast the people weren’t so much hard as indifferent,: their regard was fixed wholly upon themselves; if you weren’t from there, born and bred, you didn’t really exist, you were an incomer, a non-person.”

The one woman he settles down with for a while, Sally, eventually says to him, “‘You don’t want to stop moving, you don’t want to belong anywhere, because you think that’s how you are. But it isn’t. It’s because you’re grieving, it’s because you’re angry. Maybe you’re guilty too.’” She adds, “‘Your trouble is that you don’t want to live anywhere.’” And his inevitable reply, the one the book has necessarily been building to, comes. “‘No,’ I said, my trouble is that I want to live nowhere,” but, crucially, Francis adds, “‘There’s a difference.’” For, “Home, wherever and for however long we find it, is, by its very nature, provisional and tainted.” His knowledge of himself is hard-won. “We think it’s the big dramatic happenings that make a difference, but it isn’t. It’s the long-drawn-out, drip-by-drip processes of loss and betrayal or grief that break us down; it’s the weeks and months of growth after some revelation, and not the revelation itself, that make us wise.”

Perhaps Burnside’s style in Living Nowhere is analogous to Francis’s musings on his painting. “To get it right, I realised, I had to abandon the literal: the meaningful juxtaposition, the telling contrast, no matter how well camouflaged didn’t quite work.” And then there is Francis’s idea of the pentimento. “What if the pentimento was the very point of the painting? What if you did just enough almost to conceal the thing you wanted the viewer to see, almost to hide the image that, because it wasn’t too obvious, would be all the more haunting?”

Substitute reader for viewer and that could describe Burnside’s achievement in Living Nowhere, a novel well worth its place in that list of best Scottish books.

Pedant’s corner:- homeopathic (homoeopathic, please; or even homœopathic,) staunch (stanch,) math (even if he was in the US at the time concerned the narrator here is British; so maths.) “A range of theories were proposed” (a range was proposed.)

Dumbarton 0-2 St Mirren

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 13/1/2018.

I hadn’t expected anything from this game even if we have recently done reasonably well against St Mirren.

But the results elsewhere mean we’re now above Falkirk only on goal difference.

In recent seasons we’ve been reliant on at least one full-time team in the division performing relatively badly. With Falkirk seeming to have got their act together and Inverness CT scooting alomost out of sight above us that situation may not prevail this season.

I fully expect us to be firmly in ninth position by this time on the 27th after our next league game.

It’s also going to be a tough game up at Peterhead in the Cup next Saturday. They banged in at least four goals again today (even if they did also lose three.)

War Graves, Leslie Cemetery

Leslie is a small town not far from where I now live. My photographs of its War Memorial are here and of its remaining Art Deco buildings here. My post on the lost Regal Cinema is here.

As is common its cemetery gates carry the “Commonwealth War Graves here” sign.

I found four, three fromn the Great War, one from the Second World War.

Privat D F Robbin, Royal Scots, 20/12/1915, aged 22:-

War Grave, Leslie Cemetery

Private W LIvingstone, The Black Watch, 9/2/1917:-

Leslie Cemetery War Grave

Private R Thomson, Royal Scots Greys, 23/10/1920, aged 39. “In loving memory of our dear father from wife & family”:-

War Grave in Leslie Cemetery

Lance Corporal J F Johnstone, Royal Engineers, 21/2/1941, aged 23.
The stone below is inscribed “From the neighbours”:-

War Grave, Leslie Cemtery

Not Friday on my Mind 49: Legend of a Mind. RIP Ray Thomas

Ray Thomas, who died this week was a multi-instrumentalist not very well-served by most of the time on stage with The Moody Blues merely flourishing a tambourine or otherwise not seeming to do very much. That perception would be to undervalue him greatly.

It was his contribution as a flautist where he really counted, a contribution that only added to the already distinctive sound of the band. As a flautist in a rock band he was for a while unique. (Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull came along later as did Peter Gabriel with Genesis.) That flute embellished mightily the power of Nights in White Satin, the song which became emblematic of the revamped Moody Blues.

A founder member of the band in its first (bluesy) incarnation – Go Now etc – his solid bass voice enhanced the vocal harmonies which were so much a part of the re-incarnated band’s sound.

For some odd reason there seemed to be a regular order of song-writers in those early albums by the “new” Moodies with Thomas always having song three* on side one as one of his spots.

Among his songs were Another Morning*, Twilight Time, Dr Livingstone, I Presume?*, Dear Diary*, Lazy Day, Floating*, Eternity Road, with his collaborations with Justin Hayward, Visions of Paradise and Are You Sitting Comfortably? being especially memorable.

It was song five, side one on In Search of the Lost Chord, though, that was his apotheosis. That song was Legend of a Mind with a lyric about Timothy Leary and supposed mind expansion, “Timothy’ Leary’s dead, No, no, no, no, he’s outside looking in.” Apparently Leary once told Thomas the song made him more famous than anything he had ever done for himself.

But who needed drugs when music itself could be this transportive?

Here’s a promotional film for Legend of a Mind made around the time of its first release. Thomas’s flute solo here is sublime.

The Moody Blues: Legend of a Mind

Ray Thomas: 29/12/1941 – 4/1/2018. So it goes. Thanks for the trips round the bay.

free hit counter script