31 March, 2009

Antonia Forest

Laura very kindly lent me a couple of Antonia Forest books I hadn't read: The thuggery affair (one of the stories about the Marlows) and The Thursday kidnapping. These were both reasonably good fun, as Antonia Forest usually is, but not as enjoyable as some of the others because of the appalling snobbery that pervades both stories. This comes up in other Forest novels - the depiction of Marie Dobson in the school novels, for example - but was specially noticeable and unpleasant here.

The Thursday kidnapping is about the relationship between the Ramsays, a family of nice, middle class children in Hampstead, and Kathy, the vulgar, lower-middle class girl who lives next door. Kathy is quite similar to Marie Dobson, in fact - she has all her unpleasant habits, sneaking, stealing, lying and sucking up - and is depicted with a level of snobbery which really gives one pause. Her family are sneered at for being an 'advertisement' family - of course the outward perfection shown by their shiny mod cons home is a sham and they all despise each other. They are even too lazy to walk their dog properly. Kathy is a fantasist and a liar, but is instantly reduced to whining and sycophancy when threatened with punishment. And where the depiction of Marie Dobson in the school stories has the redeeming quality of examining the way we feel guilty for disliking other people, even when we have no reason to like them, the Ramsay children are here given no reason to tolerate Kathy: in fact, the events of the day described essentially vindicate their dislike of her.

The thuggery affair is back in the world of the Marlow family, and describes Peter and Lawrie Marlow and Patrick Merrick's efforts to thwart a gang of drug smugglers. Bits of the plot really defy belief: the gang are despatching their dope via carrier pigeon, for example, and they talk in an embarassing made-up slang. Here Antonia Forest does try to moderate the snobbery that runs through the whole book: she gives the chief thug a long passage in which he explains why he went to the bad. But even this passage is compared very unfavourably with Patrick Merrick's stern (priggish?) morals, and the message is clearly that anyone can afford morals; only the weak succumb to criminality. I'm more in agreement with Bertold Brecht: erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.


Reading: I'm finally emerging from a bit of a reading block, which is good. I've been reading quite a bit of poetry recently and finally finished James Meek's We are now beginning our descent.

Listening: a great concert at the RFH on Sunday, Beethoven's Eroica, Strauss's Four last songs, and some Ravel.

Watching: as part of my project to expand my film knowledge, a recommendation from Niall, Dog day afternoon, which I thought was fantastic.

25 March, 2009

Betsy Blair

I'm very sad to hear about the death of Betsy Blair (Guardian obituary here), whose autobiography was one of the first books I wrote about on this blog. I first heard of her when she was on Desert Island Discs where she came across as such a warm, intelligent person (and picked such nice music) that I bought her autobiography. (Also because I love Gene Kelly, of course.)

24 March, 2009


Reading: skipped my way through a couple of Antonia Forest children's books. Apart from that I've hardly been reading at all: too tired and fed up. And when not fed up, gardening.

Listening: La Somnabula live from the Met on Saturday was really gorgeous.

Watching: The last ever Deadwood. I felt quite bereft. Such a beautiful series. Then, this weekend, Marty in memory of Betsy Blair (such a lovely lovely film), and Sophie Scholl.

19 March, 2009

Girl in red

Little Red Riding Hood was my first love, I felt that if I could have married her, I should have known perfect bliss - Charles Dickens

I was born to a mother in mourning.

The mood in our house was black
as soft tar at the edges of pevements
I stirred with a stick.

Red was my favourite colour:
scarlet, vermilion, ruby.

At school I painted a red girl in a red wood.

'Trees are green,' the teacher said.
So I painted them green
and she said, 'Red and green clash.'

But I wanted them to clash.
I wanted cymbals, trumpets,
all the noises of rowdy colour
to drown the silence of black.

I got my mother to make me a scarlet dress.
(I didn't care that Grandma said
it made me look like a tart.)

I stole a lipstick -
the sizzling vermilion
that made boys and old men look.

I squeezed into ruby high heels
that on hot days filled with blood.

I drank tumblers of pink gin
and told my sister (sent to spy on me)
it was Cherryade.

I dreamed in red: scarlet, vermilion, ruby.

And now I dream in black.

From The book of blood by Vicki Feaver [15]


You think of me
as clean and tasty,
don't want to know
about the mud, the tail,
the terrible trotters

don't want to know
about the neat little hats
in my wardrobe, the orchid
collection and the lengths and lengths
of breaststroke, the days and nights
in the Railtrack buffet
and the mad rapture for molluscs.

Jo Shapcott

From: Jo Shapcott: her book. Poems 1988-1998 [14]