Postcard from ‘democracy’

In England, the ruling regime stepped up its campaign of censorship against the state media channel when a member of the Party took issue with comments made in a personal capacity, on social media, by a part-time, freelance commentator.

The commentator accurately compared the Government’s asylum policy to attitudes prevailing in 1930s Germany. In a moment of supreme irony, the Government chose to double down on the comparison with a nascent Fascist state by using the comment as leverage against the media channel.

The media channel itself, which faces constant risk of de-funding from a beleaguered government seemingly determined to throttle independent reporting ahead of next year’s elections, was forced to suspend the commentator. Colleagues and the general public quickly ranged themselves in support of the presenter.

This latest troubling example of the Party’s unwillingness to allow criticism follows reports from earlier in the week that the state media channel has been discouraged from airing one of the episodes of a significant new nature documentary. The episode of the documentary, which covers the destruction of wildlife in the British Isles, is considered likely to provoke a government and right wing backlash. It will be available for streaming only.

In both examples this week, the regime is attacking not just the media channel but presenters who are highly-regarded public figures. It remains to be seen whether that will translate into sufficient public support to defend the media channel against the regime.

I remember…

The mighty Backlisted podcast is having a summer break, but they’ve left weekly drops of their Locklisted podcast to fill the gaps in listeners’ hearts and minds. This week they talked about I Remember, by Joe Brainard and I scurried upstairs to grab my copy.

Brainard was primarily an artist not a writer, and if you want to spend a lot of money on clothes, it looks like there’s stuff out there with Brainard prints. But the book is a lot cheaper and more stylish. It is simply a list of things he remembers, with each sentence starting ‘I remember’. It’s a deceptively straightforward approach, because while it allows for randomness, it also allows Brainard to capture the way that sometimes memories lead to others, which then lead to others. They might be interesting, banal or tap into a shared vein of nostalgia with the reader.

The Locklisted hosts tried writing ‘I remembers’ for themselves and it was good listening, so I thought I’d give it a go, as a prompt. The trick is not to think too much and just the let memories flow.

I remember a biscuit tin full of buttons that my nan had, and how beautiful and fascinating they were.

I remember the moments I knew I was going to fall off my bike.

I remember reading a book in which a girl had a sugar mouse that she kept, and really wanting my own sugar mouse.

I remember starlings flying over and through Birmingham city centre at dusk, when I’d taken the long way home from school.

I remember a Mickey Mouse alarm clock that I had, which ticked so loudly that when my friends stayed over we had to bury it under clothes. I used to find the ticking really comforting, but I’ve never been able to have another ticking alarm clock since.

I remember being projector monitor at school. The hymns were written out on acetate paper and I had to find them and put on the projector screen the right way round.

I remember the excitement of starting a new school term, with a new bag and pencil case.

I remember and old picnic box we had. It was four layers, of alternate white and orange plastic and each layer had compartments for different sorts of food and cup holder for a plastic beaker.

I remember when the cats were kittens and they seemed weightless in the air when they jumped.

In which I draw up the drawbridge

Home from my short stint in Oxford and Bampton, and I was in bed before 8pm last night. I can’t believe I used to get up at 5.30 or 6.00am and drive two or three hours each way to work and back. What utter madness. I had a lovely day of shopping and lunching with my sister, she got most of what she was after and I got a stack of books. Although not much Greek going second-hand, so I ended up with a couple of new Loebs: the Oresteia in one volume, Trojan Women, Iphigenia among the Taurians and Ion in the other.

But that was the best part of 24 hours in company and now I need silence until Monday. I’ve got a ticket to see Black Widow at the drive-in on Friday night, like I was ever going to do two things in one week. I don’t know what I was thinking but that’s a bucket of not happening. I’ve prodded the idea of getting in the car, driving to Newark, showing my ticket, parking up and sitting amongst a load of other cars for a couple of hours, and nope. Nopety-nope nope nope.

Today has been a chain-reading day, which I very much needed.

I started The Left-Handed Booksellers of London when I got home last night, so finished that this morning. It was a nice jumble of bookishness and folklore elements, infused with genuine love of London and awareness of the physical and mental solace of books. I liked the reference to a cricket bag with the monogram PDBW, and at one point one of the characters got some bad news and ‘went and built a sort of pyramid of Dickens and Trollope second or later editions – he didn’t disturb the firsts – climbed in, and has refused to talk or come out…’ Who hasn’t wanted to climb inside a book pyramid? What could feel more reassuring?

Then I read Summerwater by Sarah Moss, which clocked in at under 200 pages and packed a punch longer books could only wish for. One of my favourite narrative techniques is the episodic, multi-person perspective giving the reader a kaleidoscope view of the same scenes. This was various people staying at some chalets near a loch during a week of non-stop rain. Families, couples, all dealing with their own depths and demons, beautifully charted and with a shocking ending.

Finally Hamnet to round off the day. Brilliant in a different way, strong and evocative, with bereavement and grief at the heart of it. Not a plague novel, not a theatre novel, not anything you expect about Shakespeare, because it’s the women who have centre stage and drive this story. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. Maggie O’Farrell’s notes at the end say that the plague is not mentioned at all in Shakespeare’s plays, which does seem an omission. Then again, it doesn’t seem likely that theatre goers would want to see that level of reality.