Wednesday, February 28, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt three)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

It made little difference whether it was two weeks or three. Either the second San Francisco voice was lying, or the whole scenario had a logic which just didn’t fit. A senior Petnay executive seems to quit two months previously, remains undecided for a month and a half, writes to his sister, and only finally decides to leave—abruptly—the day after Carvalho’s phone call. Carvalho was suspicious as much by nature as by his profession. Rhomberg was obviously very worried about something, he thought, as the morning clouds lifted from his stomach and made way for a sizable hunger. He couldn’t decide whether to ask Biscuter to improvise a meal, or whether to walk up the Ramblas in search of a suitable restaurant. A sudden telephonic idleness prevented him from ringing Charo to invite her out, whereupon a restless nervous energy took him to the Ramblas and a thoughtful deliberation regarding a possible choice of restaurant. He had a beer on the Plaza Real, and pined after the long-lost tapas that used to be the speciality of the most crowded bar in the neighbourhood—squid in a spicy black pepper and nutmeg sauce. Instead he had to make do with squid floating in a brown, watery liquid, which was all that was on offer under the new management. The problem with cultures of the transient is precisely that they are transient. This restaurant had once witnessed a genius in the art of cooking squid, a man who had created the illusion of a taste that would last forever—but then he had gone, leaving a void. There was no one left who could match his genius. Once lost, a good barman is gone forever—especially these days, when all you need to be a waiter is to wear a white jacket that is dirtier than yesterday’s but not as dirty as tomorrow’s. As he tormented his brain in mourning for the squid of yesteryear, Carvalho decided to eat at the Agut d’Avignon, a restaurant which he appreciated for the quality of its cokking, but which disappointed by the paucity of its helpings. When Gracian wrote that ‘a good experience is doubly enjoyable when it’s short-lived’, he can’t have been thinking of food. Or, if he was, then he must have been one of those intellectuals who are happy living on alphabet soup and eggs that are as hard and egg-like as their own dull heads. More than one musty philosopher has declared that ‘man should eat to live, not live to eat’, a sentiment nowadays taken up by dieticians, whose principal endeavour seems to consist in the oppression of fat people.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt two)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

The amused expression that appeared on Carvalho’s face prompted no particular reaction from his visitor. His repeated glances in the direction of an empty chair forced Carvalho to offer him a seat, and, once seated, the visitor slowly and deliberately lit a cigarette, took a deep breath, in order to get his narrative started, and gave Carvalho a detailed resumé of his encounter with Jauma miles above the Mojave Desert. Carvalho began to wonder whether he was in the presence of some kind of oral novelist, a habitual monologist with a taste for performing to gatherings of Trappists, a cultured leftist fallen on hard times, and he sensed that the story was probably going to end with a coup de theatre, a carefully weighted punchline which would tie up the threads and give meaning to the whole.

Monday, February 26, 2018

the last book I ever read (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Angst-Ridden Executive, excerpt one)

from The Angst-Ridden Executive (A Pepe Carvalho Investigation) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán:

The fog is not the only obstacle on your way to work. You have little chance of avoiding a more or less long wait at the level crossing, and regular commuters treat the red traffic light as an acceptable risk which they calculate into their working day. Those traveling on bikes or motorbikes put their feet on the ground and hold their machines between their legs like sleeping animals. Those in cars switch on the demister, or turn up the heating to clear their windscreens. One or two leave the safety of their vehicles to clean their windows or to pull up their aerials. It’s always amazing to discover that there are programmes at this time of the morning, with some radio announcer, his mouth full of coffee and the small hours, attempting to maintain a degree of enthusiasm sufficient to sell the latest hit single.

Friday, February 23, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt eleven)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

The thing we had got to think of now was getting out of Spain. There was no sense in staying here with the certainty of imprisonment sooner or later. As a matter of fact both of us would greatly have liked to stay, just to see what happened.

But I foresaw that Spanish prisons would be lousy places (actually they were a lot worse than I imagined), once in prison you never knew when you would get out, and I was in wretched health, apart from the pain in my arm. We arranged to meet the British Consulate, where Cottman and McNair were also coming. It would probably take a couple of days to get our passports in order. Before leaving Spain you had to have three separate places—by the Chief of Police, by the French Consul and by the Catalan immigration authorities. The Chief of Police was the danger, of course. But perhaps the British Consul could fix things up without letting it be known that we had anything to do with the POUM. Obviously there must be a list of foreign ‘Trotskyist’ suspects, and very likely our names were on it, but with luck we might get to the frontier before the list. There was sure to be a lot of muddle and mañana. Fortunately this was Spain and not Germany. The Spanish secret police had some of the spirit of the Gestapo, but not much of its competence.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt ten)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock—no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shriveled up to nothing. The sandbags in front of me receded into immense distance. I fancy you would feel much the same if you were struck by lightning. I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space of time much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt nine)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

What the devil was happening, who was fighting whom and who was winning, was at first very difficult to discover. The people of Barcelona are so used to street-fighting and so familiar with the local geography that they know by a kind of instinct which political party will hold which streets and which buildings. A foreigner is at a hopeless disadvantage. Looking out from the observatory, I could grasp that the Ramblas, which is one of the principal streets of the town, formed a dividing line. To the right of the Ramblas the working-class quarters were solidly Anarchist; to the left a confused fight was going on among the tortuous by-streets, but on that side the PSUC and the Assault Guards were more or less in control. Up at our end of the Ramblas, round the Plaza de Cataluña, the position was so complicated that it would have been quite unintelligible if every building had not flown a party flag. The principal landmark here was the Hotel Colón, the headquarters of the PSUC, dominating the Plaza de Cataluña. In a window near the last O but one in the huge ‘Hotel Colón’ that sprawled across its face they had a machine-gun that could sweep the square with deadly effect. A hundred yards to the right of us, down the Ramblas, the JSU, the youth league of the PSUC (corresponding to the Young Communist League in England), were holding a big department store whose sandbagged side-windows fronted our observatory. They had hauled down their red flag and hoisted the Catalan national flag. On the Telephone Exchange, the starting-point of all the trouble, the Catalan national flag and the Anarchist flag were flying side by side. Some kind of temporary compromise had been arrived at there, the exchange was working uninterruptedly and there was no firing from the building.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt eight)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

The days grew hotter and even the nights grew tolerably warm. On a bullet-chipped tree in front of our parapet thick clusters of cherries were forming. Bathing in the river ceased to be an agony and became almost a pleasure. Wild roses with pink blooms the size of saucers straggled over the shell-holes round Torre Fabián. Behind the line you met peasants wearing wild roses over their ears. In the evenings they used to go out with green nets, hunting quails. You spread the net over the tops of the grasses and then lay down and made a noise like a female quail. Any male quail that was within hearing then came running towards you, and when he was underneath the net you threw a stone to scare him, whereupon he sprang into the sir and was entangled in the net. Apparently only male quails were caught, which struck me as unfair.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt seven)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

We began searching the position. There were several dead men lying about, but I did not stop to examine them. The thing I was after was the machine-gun. All the while when we were lying outside I had been wondering vaguely why the gun did not fire. I flashed my torch inside the machine-gun next. A bitter disappointment! The gun was not there. Its tripod was there, and various boxes of ammunition and spare parts, but the gun was gone. They must have unscrewed it and carried it off at the first alarm. No doubt they were acting under orders, but it was a stupid and cowardly thing to do, for if they had kept the gun in place they could have slaughtered the whole lot of us. We were furious. We had set our hearts on capturing the machine-gun.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt six)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

In the day-time the guns thundered fitfully. Torre Fabián, now our cookhouse, was shelled and partially destroyed. It is curious that when you are watching artillery-fire from a safe distance you always want the gunner to hit his mark, even though the mark contains your dinner and some of your comrades. The Fascists were shooting well that morning; perhaps there were German gunners on the job. They bracketed neatly on Torre Fabián. One shell beyond it, one shell short of it, then whizz—BOOM! Burst rafters leaping upwards and a sheet of uralite skimming down the air like a flicked playing-card. The next shell took off the corner of a building as neatly as a giant might do it with a knife. But the cooks produced dinner on time—a memorable feat.

Friday, February 16, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt five)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

There were about thirty of ourselves, including one Spaniard (Ramón, Williams’s brother-in-law), and there were a dozen Spanish machine-gunners. Apart from the one or two inevitable nuisances—for, as everyone knows, war attracts riff-raff—the English were an exceptionally good crowd, both physically and mentally. Perhaps the best of the bunch was Bob Smillie—the grandson of the famous miners’ leader—who afterwards died such an evil and meaningless death in Valencia, It says a lot for the Spanish character that the English and the Spaniards always got on well together, in spite of the language difficulty. All Spaniards, we discovered, knew two English expressions. One was ‘OK, baby,’ the other was a word used by the Barcelona whores in their dealings with English sailors, and I am afraid the compositors would not print it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt four)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

It was an extraordinary life that we were living—an extraordinary way to be at war, if you could call it war. The whole militia chafed against the inaction and clamoured constantly to know why we were not allowed to attack. But it was perfectly obvious that there would be no battle for a long while yet, unless the enemy started it. Georges Kopp, on his periodical tours of inspection, was quite frank with us. ‘This is not a war,’ he used to say, ‘it is a comic opera with an occasional death.’ As a matter of fact the stagnation on the Aragón front had political causes of which I knew nothing at that time; but the purely military difficulties—quite apart from the lack of reserves of men—were obvious to anybody.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt three)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

Meanwhile, firewood—always firewood. Throughout that period there is probably no entry in my diary that does not mention firewood, or the lack of it. We were between two and three thousand feet above sea-level. It was mid-winter and the cold was unspeakable. The temperature was not exceptionally low, on many nights it did not even freeze, and the wintry sun often shone for an hour in the middle of the day; but even if it was not really cold, I assure you that it seemed so. Sometimes there were shrieking winds that tore your cap off and twisted your hair in all directions, sometimes there were mists that poured into the trench like a liquid and seemed to penetrate your bones; frequently it rained, and even a quarter of an hour’s rain was enough to make conditions intolerable. The thin skin of earth over the limestone turned promptly into a slippery grease, and as you were always walking on a slope it was impossible to keep your footing. On dark nights I have often fallen half a dozen times in twenty years; and this was dangerous, because it meant that the lock of one’s rifle became jammed with mud. For days together clothes, boots, blankets, and rifles were more or less coated with mud. I had brought as many thick clothes as I could carry, but many of the men were terribly underclad. For the whole garrison, about a hundred men, there were only twelve greatcoats, which had to be handed from sentry to sentry, and most of the men had only one blanket. One icy night I made a list in my diary of the clothes I was wearing. It is of some interest as showing the amount of clothes the human body can carry. I was wearing a thick vest and pants, a flannel shirt, two pullovers, a woollen jacket, a pigskin jacket, corduroy breeches, puttees, thick socks, boots, a stout trench-coat, a muffler, lined leather gloves, and a woollen cap. Nevertheless I was shivering like a jelly. But I admit I am unusually sensitive to cold.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt two)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

Barbastro, though a long way from the front line, looked bleak and chipped. Swarms of militiamen in shabby uniforms wandered up and down the streets, trying to keep warm. On a ruinous wall I came upon a poster dating from the previous year and announcing that ‘six handsome bulls’ would be killed in the arena on such and such a date. How forlorn its faded colours looked! Where were the handsome bulls and the handsome bullfighters now? It appeared that even in Barcelona there were hardly any bullfights nowadays; for some reason all the best matadors were Fascists.

Monday, February 12, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, excerpt one)

from Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell:

As we went out he stepped across the room and gripped my hand very hard. Queer, the affection you can feel for a stranger! It was as though his spirit and mine had momentarily succeeded in briding the gulf of language and tradition and meeting in utter intimacy. I hoped he liked me as well as I liked him. But I also knew that to retain my first impression of him I must not see him again; and needless to say I never did see him again. One was always making contacts of that kind in Spain.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt ten)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

A noise like the Day of Judgment, and then a noise like a ton of coal falling on to a sheet of tin. That was falling bricks. I seemed to kind of melt into the pavement. “It’s started,” I thought. “I knew it! Old Hitler didn’t wait. Just sent his bombers across without warning.”

And yet here’s a peculiar thing. Even in the echo of that awful, deafening crash, which seemed to freeze me up from top to toe, I had time to think that there’s something grand about the bursting of a big projectile. What does it sound like? It’s hard to say, because what you hear is mixed up with what you’re frightened of. Mainly it gives you a vision of bursting metal. You seem to see great sheets of iron bursting open. But the peculiar thing is the feeling it gives you of being suddenly shoved up against reality. It’s like being woken up by somebody shying a bucking of water over you. You’re suddenly dragged out of your dreams by a clang of bursting metal, and it’s terrible, and it’s real.

Friday, February 9, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt nine)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

I drove along at a gentle fifteen. The morning had a kind of peaceful, dreamy feeling. The ducks floated about on the ponds as if they felt too satisfied to eat. In Nettlefield, the village beyond Westerham, a little man in a white apron, with grey hair and a huge grey moustache, darted across the green, planted himself in the middle of the road and began doing physical jerks to attract my attention. My car’s known all along this road, of course. I pulled up. It’s only Mr. Weaver, who keeps the village general shop. No, he doesn’t want to insure his life, nor his shop either. He’s merely run out of change and wants to know whether I’ve got a quid’s worth of “large silver.” They never have any change in Nettlefield, not even at the pub.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt eight)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

I got to a spot where the grass beside the road was smothered in primroses. A patch of clayey soil, perhaps. Twenty yards farther on I slowed down and stopped. The weather was too good to miss. I felt I’d got to get out and have a smell at the spring air, and perhaps even pick a few primroses if there was nobody coming. I even had some vague notion of picking a bunch of them to take home to Hilda.

I switched the engine off and got out. I never like leaving the old car running in neutral, I’m always half afraid she’ll shake her mudguards off or something. She’s a 1927 model, and she’s done a biggish mileage. When you lift the bonnet and look at the engine it reminds you of the old Austrian Empire, all tied together with bits of string but somehow keeps plugging along. You wouldn’t believe any machine could vibrate in so many directions at once. It’s like the motion of the earth, which has twenty-two different kinds of wobble, or so I remember reading. If you look at her from behind when she’s running in neutral it’s for all the world like watching one of those Hawaiian girls dancing the hula-hula.

There was a five-barred gate beside the road. I strolled over and leaned across it. Not a soul in sight. I hitched my hat back a bit to get the kind of balmy feeling of the air against my forehead. The grass under the hedge was full of primroses. Just inside the gate a tramp or somebody had left the remains of a fire. A little pile of white embers, and a wisp of smoke still oozing out of them. Farther along there was a little bit of a pool, covered over with duckweed. The field was winter wheat. It sloped up sharply, and then there was a fall of chalk and a little beech spinney. A kind of mist of young leaves on the trees. And utter stillness everywhere. Not even enough wind to stir the ashes of the fire. A lark singing somewhere, otherwise not a sound, not even an aeroplane.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt seven)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

“Listen, son,” I said, “you’ve got it all wrong. In 1914 we thought it was going to be a glorious business. Well, it wasn’t. It was just a bloody mess. If it comes again, you keep out of it. Why should you get your body plugged full of lead? Keep it for some girl. You think war’s all heroism and V.C. charges, but I tell you it isn’t like that. You don’t have bayonet-charges nowadays, and when you do it isn’t like you imagine. You don’t feel like a hero. All you know is that you’ve had no sleep for three days, you stink like a polecat, you’re pissing your bags with fright and your hands are so cold you can’t hold your rifle. But that doesn’t matter a damn, either. It’s the things that happen afterwards.”

Makes no impression of course. They just think you’re out of date. Might as well stand at the door of a knocking-shop handing out tracts.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt six)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

Father died in 1915. I was in France at the time. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Father’s death hurts me more now than it did then. At the time it was just a bit of bad news which I accepted almost without interest, in the sort of empty-headed apathetic way in which one accepted everything in the trenches. I remember crawling into the doorway of the dugout to get enough light to read the letter, and I remember Mother’s tear-stains on the letter, and the aching feeling in my knees and the smell of mud. Father’s life-insurance policy had been mortgaged for most of its value, but there was a little money in the bank and Sarazins’ were going to buy up the stock and even pay some tiny amount for the good-will. Anyway, Mother had a bit over two hundred pounds, besides the furniture. She went for the time being to lodge with her cousin, the wife of a smallholder who was doing pretty well out of the war, near Doxley, a few miles the other side of Walton. It was only “for the time being.” There was a temporary feeling about everything. In the old days, which as a matter of fact were barely a year old, the whole thing would have been an appalling disaster. With Father dead, the shop sold and Mother with two hundred pounds in the world, you’d have seen stretching out in front of you a kind of fifteen-act tragedy, the last act being a pauper’s funeral. But now the war and the feeling of not being one’s own master overshadowed everything. People hardly thought in terms of things like bankruptcy and the workhouse any longer. This was the case even with Mother, who, God knows, had only very dim notions about the war. Besides, she was already dying, though neither of us knew it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt five)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

What? It was simply that they didn’t think of the future as something to be terrified of. It isn’t that life was softer then than now. Actually it was harsher. People on the whole worked harder, lived less comfortably and died more painfully. The farm hands worked frightful hours for fourteen shillings a week and ended up as worn-out cripples with a five-shilling old-age pension and an occasional half-crown from the parish. And what was called “respectable” poverty was even worse. When little Watson, a small draper at the other end of the High Street, “failed” after years of struggling, his personal assets were ₤ 2 9s. 6d., and he died almost immediately of what was called “gastric trouble,” but the doctor let it out that it was starvation. Yet he’d clung to his frock coat to the last. Old Crimp, the watchmaker’s assistant, a skilled workman who’d been at the job, man and boy, for fifty years, got cataract and had to go into the workhouse. His grandchildren were howling in the street when they took him away. His wife went out charing, and by desperate efforts managed to send him a shilling a week for pocket-money. You saw ghastly things happening sometimes. Small business sliding down the hill, solid tradesmen turning gradually into broken-down bankrupts, people dying by inches of cancer and liver disease, drunken husbands signing the pledge every Monday and breaking it every Saturday, girls ruined for life by an illegitimate baby. The houses had no bathrooms, you broke the ice in your basin on winter mornings, the back streets stank like the devil in hot weather, and the churchyard was bang in the middle of the town, so that you never went a day without remembering how you’d got to end. And yet what was it that people had in those days? A feeling of security, even when they weren’t secure. More exactly, it was a feeling of continuity. All of them knew they’d got to die, and I suppose a few of them knew they were going to go bankrupt, but what they didn’t know was that the order of things could change. Whatever might happen to themselves, things would go on as they’d known them. I don’t believe it made very much difference that what’s called religious belief was still prevalent in those days. It’s true that nearly everyone went to church, at any rate in the country—Elsie and I still went to church as a matter of course, even when we were living in what the vicar would have called sin—and if you asked people whether they believe in a life after death they generally answered that they did. But I’ve never met anyone who gave me the impression of really believing in a future life. I think that, at most, people believe in that kind of thing in the same way as kids believe in Father Christmas. But it’s precisely in a settled period, a period when civilisation seems to stand on its four legs like an elephant, that such things as a future life don’t matter. It’s easy enough to die if the things you care about are going to survive. You’ve had your life, you’re getting tired, it’s time to go underground—that’s how people used to see it. Individually they were finished, but their way of life would continue. Their good and evil would remain good and evil. They didn’t feel the ground they stood on shifting under their feet.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt four)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

Father had already spoken to old Grimmett, the grocer, who wanted a smart lad and was willing to take me into the shop immediately. Meanwhile Father was going to get rid of the errand boy, and Joe was to come home and help with the shop till he got a regular job. Joe had left school some time back and had been more or less loafing ever since. Father had sometimes talked of “getting him into” the accounts department at the brewery, and earlier had even had thoughts of making him into an auctioneer. Both were completely hopeless because Joe, at seventeen, wrote a hand like a ploughboy and couldn’t repeat the multiplication table. At present he was supposed to be “learning the trade” at a big bicycle shop on the outskirts of Walton. Tinkering with bicycles suited Joe, who, like most half-wits, had a slight mechanical turn, but he was quite incapable of working steadily and spent all his time loafing about in greasy overalls, smoking Woodbines, getting into fights, drinking (he’d started that already), getting “talked of” with one girl after another and sticking Father for money. Father was worried, puzzled and vaguely resentful. I can see him yet, with the meal on his bald head, and the bit of grey hair over his ears, and his spectacles and his grey moustache. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. For years his profits had gone up, slowly and steadily, ten pounds this year, twenty pounds that year, and now suddenly they’d gone down with a bump. He couldn’t understand it. He’d inherited the business from his father, he’d done an honest trade, worked hard, sold sound goods, swindled nobody—and his profits were going down. He said a number of times, between sucking at his teeth to get the crumb out, that times were very bad, trade seemed very slack, he couldn’t think what had come over people, it wasn’t as if the horses didn’t have to eat. Perhaps it was these here motors, he decided finally. “Nasty smelly things!” Mother put in. She was a little worried, and knew that she ought to be more so. Once or twice while Father was talking there was a far-away look in her eyes and I could see her lips moving. She was trying to decide whether it should be a round of beef and carrots tomorrow or another leg of mutton. Except when there was something in her own line that needed foresight, such as buying linen or saucepans, she wasn’t really capable of thinking beyond tomorrow’s meals. The shop was giving trouble and Father was worried—that was about as far as she saw into it. None of us had any grasp of what was happening. Father had had a bad year and lost money, but was he really frightened by the future? I don’t think so. This was 1909, remember. He didn’t know what was happening to him, he wasn’t capable of foreseeing that these Sarazin people would systematically under-sell him, ruin him and eat him up. How could he? Things hadn’t happened like that when he was a young man. All he knew was that times were bad, trade was very “slack,” very “slow” (he kept repeating these phrases), but probably things would “look up presently.”

Saturday, February 3, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt three)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

You can’t know how wild we were to catch those fish. Or perhaps you can, if you’ve ever been at war. You know the frantic boredom of war and the way you’ll clutch at almost any kind of amusement. I’ve seen two chaps in a dugout fight like devils over half of a threepenny magazine. But there was more to it than that. It was the thought of escaping, for perhaps a whole day, right out of the atmosphere of war. To be sitting under the poplar trees, fishing for perch, away from the Company, away from the noise and the stink and the uniforms and the officers and the saluting and the sergeant’s voice! Fishing is the opposite of war. That was the thought that sent us into a kind of fever. If the sergeant found out he’d stop us as sure as fate, and so would any of the officers, and the worst of all that there was no knowing how long we were going to stay at the village. We might stay there a week, we might march off in two hours. Meanwhile we’d no fishing tackle of any kind, not even a pin or a bit of string. We had to start from scratch. And the pool was swarming with fish! The first thing was a rod. A willow wand is best, but of course there wasn’t a willow tree anywhere this side of the horizon. Nobby shinned up one of the poplars and cut off a small bough which wasn’t actually good but was better than nothing. He trimmed it down with his jack-knife till it looked something like a fishing-rod, and then we hid it in the weeds near the bank and managed to sneak back into the village without being seen.

Friday, February 2, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt two)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

The pool was swarming with bream, small ones, about four to six inches long. Every now and again you’d see one of them turn half over and gleam reddy-brown under the water. There were pike there too, and they must have been big ones. You never saw them, but sometimes one that was basking among the weeds would turn over and plunge with a splash that was like a brick being bunged into the water. It was no use trying to catch them, though of course I always tried every time I went there. I tried them with dace and minnows I’d caught in the Thames and kept alive in a jam-jar, and even with a spinner made out of a bit of tin. But they were gorged with fish and wouldn’t bite, and in any case they’d have broken any tackle I possessed. I never came back from the pool without at least a dozen small bream. Sometimes in the summer holidays I went there for a whole day, with my fishing-rod and a copy of Chums or the Union Jack or something, and a hunk of bread and cheese which Mother had wrapped up for me. And I’ve fished for hours and then lain in the grass hollow and read the Union Jack, and then the smell of my bread paste and the plop of a fish jumping somewhere would send me wild again, and I’d go back to the water and have another go, and so on all through a summer’s day. And the best of all was to be alone, utterly alone, though the road wasn’t a quarter of a mile away. I was just old enough to know that it’s good to be alone occasionally. With the trees all round you it was as though the pool belonged to you, and nothing ever stirred except the fish ringing the water and the pigeons passing overhead. And yet, in the two years or so that I went fishing there, how many times did I really go, I wonder? Not more than a dozen. It was a three-mile bike ride from home and took up a whole afternoon at least. And sometimes other things turned up, and sometimes when I’d meant to go it rained. You know the way things happen.

One afternoon the fish weren’t biting and I began to explore at the end of the pool farthest from Binfield House. There was a bit of an overflow of water and the ground was boggy, and you had to fight your way through a sort of jungle of blackberry bushes and rotten boughs that had fallen off the trees. I struggled through it for about fifty yards, and then suddenly there was a clearing and I came to another pool which I had never known existed. It was a small pool not more than twenty yards wide, and rather dark because of the boughs that overhung it. But it was very clear water and immensely deep. I could see ten or fifteen feet down into it. I hung about for a bit, enjoying the dampness and the rotten boggy smell, the way a boy does. And then I saw something that almost made me jump out of my skin.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Coming Up For Air, excerpt one)

from Coming Up For Air by George Orwell:

I’d walked ten miles and I wasn’t tired. All day I’d trailed after the gang and tried to do everything they did, and they’d called me “the kid” and snubbed me as much as they could, but I’d more or less kept my end up. I had a wonderful feeling inside me, a feeling you can’t know about unless you’ve had it –but if you’re a man you’ll have had it some time. I knew that I wasn’t a kid any longer, I was a boy at last. And it’s a wonderful thing to be a boy, to go roaming where grown-ups can’t catch you, and to chase rats and kill birds and shy stones and cheek carters and shout dirty words. It’s a kind of strong, rank feeling, a feeling of knowing everything and fearing nothing, and it’s all bound up with breaking rules and killing things. The white dusty roads, the hot sweaty feeling of one’s clothes, the smell of fennel and wild peppermint, the dirty words, the sour stink of the rubbish dump, the taste of fizzy lemonade and the gas that made one belch, the stamping on the young birds, the feel of the fish straining on the line—it was all part of it. Thank God I’m a man, because no woman ever has that feeling.