Language Life Philosophy

Just Do It

Loved this from Matthew Kimberley’s Get A Grip:

action is the difference between ‘screw it, let’s do it’ and ‘fuck it, let’s have a kebab.’

Also loved this from Jeanette Winterson’s latest, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal:

Manchester spun riches beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, and wove despair and degradation into the human fabric

A great sentence on the mix and contrariness of Manchester, the world’s first industrial city and the city where she was born.

Landscape Life Philosophy Uncategorized

Hello darkness my old friend

Down here the first week of November has been suitably wild and stormy, with a sharp, bright, beautiful full moon occasionally visible, hanging low over the trees in the darkness, and casting its quiet, implacable glow against the scudding clouds blown across its face. A view like an old negative held up to the light, ethereal and mysterious.

What to do with all the extra darkness? Embrace the intensity.  That’s the message of two excellent articles in the ‘Guide to the Night’ supplement with the Guardian and Observer last weekend – Sarah Hall on night swimming and Jeanette Winterson on evenings by candlelight – ‘when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing …  in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling’ – and making love in the afternoon:

To begin as the afternoon light is fading, to wake up, warm and heavy, when it is completely dark, to kiss and stroke the shared invisible body, to leave the person you love half asleep while you go and open wine … then the moment of standing barefoot in the kitchen, just a candle and two glasses to take back to bed, and a feeling of content like no other.

and concluding

Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

On night swimming Sarah Hall brilliantly describes the visceral shock and the intensity of physical sensation as you enter the water:

At first the sensation is electric, almost unbearable, yet bearable. Lung and nerve and blood mechanisms go into shock. Your body enters an elation of rage, because an extreme thing is happening. An andrenaline supernova follows, a burst of emergency energy. After a second or two your system recalculates, adjusts; there is a brief physiological acceptance.

And then you are swimming. There may only be a minute’s worth of swimming … but that minute is a rare, certain period in life. You are extraordinarily alive during it.

Inspiration enough to join the OSS swim at Parliament Hill lido on 5th Dec. It’s daytime, but it’s a start. See you there.

I had hoped to link to the full articles, but couldn’t find them on the net. You’ll have to make do with Sarah Montague’s interview with Will Self and Ralph Steadman on the Today programme. It becomes increasingly surreal and hilarious as Steadman gets involved.


Books Design Language

The beauty of good design

Danger - weir

… is that it ages gracefully. And stylishly. Because it has integrity.

This sign, alongside the Stour at lower Bryanston, says what it needs to say in a plain, simple, appropriate font, and just keeps on geting better as the years pass.

Photograph taken during a morning walk with the dog in the present cold snap. The winter festival (just kidding), with added illness, provided some time for reading, including Kingsley Amis’s classic first novel, Lucky Jim where he is already firing on all cylinders:

‘I just wondered,’ Beesley said, bringing out the curved nickel-banded pipe round which he was trying to train his personality, like a creeper up a trellis. ‘I thought I was probably right.’

Skewered in a single aside. An object lesson in making words work. Not far from Proust’s less harsh but equally damning characterisation of Dr Cottard in Swann In Love who was ‘never quite certain of the tone in which he ought to reply to any observation, or whether the speaker was jesting or in earnest …

And so by way of precaution he would embellish all his facial expressions with the offer of a conditional, a provisional smile whose expectant subtlety would exonerate him from the charge of being a simpleton, if the remark addressed to him should turn out to have been facetious. But as he must also be prepared to face the alternative, he dared not allow this smile to assert itself positively on his features, and you would see there a perpetually flickering uncertainty in which could be deciphered the question that he never dared to ask: ‘Do you really mean that?’

I was very pleased to be given This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes. A good, easy read which bounds along engagingly: Chocolat meets The Life of Pi, with added donuts. Enjoy.

Finally, with best wishes, a thought for the new year (where danger ahead also threatens). This from one of Jeanette Winterson’s recent newsletters:

Do it from the heart or not at all

Happy New Year.

Music Uncategorized


A week after the event, Obama’s victory is still thrilling and has brought with it a ray of hope. Even some supportive words from Tony Blair have failed to completely dispel the mood of optimism.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

As Leonard Cohen sang last night on stage in Bournemouth.

Try as I might, and believe me I’ve tried hard, I have never been entirely convinced by Cohen as a novelist or, even more so, as a poet on the page. But as a songwriter he hits it, note perfect.

(Well, ok, not every time; ‘Chelsea Hotel’ is a horror, clunky and tasteless, the least refined song he has ever written. But thankfully they didn’t play it.)

He hasn’t been on tour for about 15 years – as he said at one point, “The last time I was here, I was sixty years old, just a kid with a crazy dream,” – but from the moment he bounds (yes, really!) onstage and you hear the signature honeyed-gravel tones of his voice, you know he’s back at the top of his game.

What becomes clear, over the course of the evening, in the most exciting and involving way, is the quality of the songwriting. And that, as song follows song, the performance becomes truly an event in which we are all, performers and audience alike, there to serve and keep alive these songs that achieve a very special resonance, that penetrate and make a real human connection and, hell, I’m going to say it, songs that fill your being with a profound sense of joy and celebration. Of the possibilities of language and music, and of human beings and the tangled web of contradictions that we live.

In short, if songs are a promise, that promise was kept.

‘So Long Marianne’ is heart-stoppingly perfect. ‘Suzanne’ thrillingly on edge, that somehow seemed to make afresh that most iconic of songs. ‘Who by Fire’ was given a sumptuous introduction by Javier Mas on the bandurria (or the laud!). The musicianship throughout is truly excellent, and the evening is carefully plotted and shaped, the attack of the more recent songs counterbalanced by the more contemplative classics.

‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’, a gorgeous mixture of celebration, longing and regret; the ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ bathed in blue light. And what better night than the 11th of the 11th for ‘The Partisan’, realised beautifully. What’s to say about songs that you haved live with throughout your life? A certain amount of relief that they still stand up; a certain amount of surprise that they seem to be getting even better with time.

Almost at the end, in the final encore, they played ‘Democracy’, with the gleefully satirical refrain ‘Democracy is coming to the USA’. Obama’s victory maybe offers a chance to join in on the chorus:

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on …’

Of course, other celebratory options exist – as subscribers to Jeanette Winterson’s November message will know:

‘… I delayed the site updates this month because I wanted to wait until after the election. I did not, though, shave my pubic hair as instructed by more radical friends in the US, to shout the statement NO MORE BUSH.

But I think we can all have a drink…’

I thoroughly recommend Jeanette Winterson’s monthly newsletter. Her writing is always witty, elegant and full of insight. Most importantly it celebrates life, living and good writing. Sign up to it by following the link from

Cohen’s autumn tour, meanwhile, heads off to London, Birmingham, Paris, Brighton and Manchester. Catch it if you can. You won’t be disappointed.