Robert Pimm

Central European melancholy 10/10

In the course of a recent quiet weekend, I dipped into the soul of central European melancholy.

I watched 210 minutes of a 1964 black and white TV adaptation of Radetzky March, a novel by Joseph Roth.  Later I listened to Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter’s Journey).  Spoiler alert: this blog mentions key plot points of both.

Radetzky March is about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, illustrated through three generations of the Trotta family.  The eldest Trotta, a humble infantry lieutenant of Slovenian origin, saves the life of Emperor Franz Josef at the battle of Solferino in 1859 (more…)

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How to find your way

In his story The Feeling of Powerwritten in 1958, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov imagines a future where computers are so ubiquitous that people have forgotten how to count.  When a man works out how to perform simple sums using a pencil and paper, he has a sensation of power.

I often recall Asimov’s tale as I do my accounts; and sometimes do sums manually instead of using a calculator in the hope of keeping my brain working.   But nowhere is my sense of technological advance erasing a skill more focused than in navigation.

Map-reading is a skill I value.  To navigate a road or path from A to B gives you precisely the feeling of power of which Asimov wrote.  Yet when you are in difficult terrain; far from home; the maps are not good; or all three, you crave information.  No wonder GPS is so all-conquering.  But how useful is the latest technology for hiking the UK, compared with traditional methods?

Walking into cloud at Little Dun Fell. The rucksack cover blew off five minutes later

I recently walked the final 100 miles of the Pennine Way, from Dufton in Cumbria to (more…)

Jumping Jack Flash 8/10

‘Is it cold in here?  I’m a bit cold.’

Mick Jagger, in a skin-tight stage suit displaying his gaunt chest and an ornate cross around his neck, is drenched in sweat.  You can’t hear the crowd respond.  Are they delirious, or puzzled?

“Ladies & Gentlemen” on a 300-square-metre open air screen in Vienna

Until now I’d never heard of the Rolling Stones’ 1974 concert movie Ladies & Gentlemen.  Drawing on performances from four 1972 concerts in Texas, it was released in quadrophonic sound (remember that?)… then disappeared.

Most concert movies are boring.  This one – not so much.   (more…)

How to increase your attention span

A man is writing a novel.  He decides to check a fact.  He consults his computer, or his phone, to find he has six new messages from friends.  An extraordinary news story has come out.  Some thrilling sport is available, live, on-line.

You know the rest.  By the time our writer friend returns to his novel, 45 minutes have passed, and he has forgotten what he originally set out to research.

Our apparent inability to focus on anything for an extended period of time is one of the problems of the 21st century.  It risks hampering our creativity and channelling our energy into bitty activities which leave us unsatisfied or unhappy.  What can we do?

Two things.

First, we can learn from the masters of concentration.  One of these is the novelist Anthony Trollope, about whose awesome qualities I have written before, including this: “Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope.  His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time.”

(more…)

How men think? Part 2: Lucky Jim 

‘Do you hate me, James?’

Dixon wanted to rush at her and tip her backwards in the chair, to make a deafening rude noise in her face, to push a bead up her nose.  ‘How do you mean?’ He asked.

I first read Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim several decades ago.  I enjoyed it immensely; and noted this exchange as summing up both how some women speak; and how some men react.

Re-reading the book recently I felt it had not aged well; but that it was still full of laugh-out-loud moments, including the one above.

What I was less sure of was how similar Kingsley Amis’s eponymous first person narrator is to Kemal, the first person narrator of Orhan Pamuk’s scary and thought-provoking novel The Museum of Innocence, which I reviewed recently.

In particular, are they similar in the way they treat women?

What do you think?  I would welcome thoughts from readers.

As I am on holiday without a computer or iPad I cannot give this subject the attention it deserves for now; but will aim to do so in August when reunited with a computer.

Watch this space.

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Transience and Fat Lama

The novel Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, opens with the following lines:

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha– and the –atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.

I was thinking of Lord of Light the other day, and the new start-up Fat Lama, when planning to walk the last 100 miles of the Pennine Way.

I do not have pictures yet of the Pennine Way. This is the Lake District in 2007

I was due to walk the Pennine Way with my brother, with whom I walked the Dales Way in 2003 and who has done all the hard planning, including scoping the route, booking accommodation and so on (and has walked the first 168 miles of the Pennine Way, on his own).  But for various reasons he now cannot go – disaster.  Fortunately, my daughter (more…)

How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide

I recently inherited a splendid shelf-full of P G Wodehouse in a hand-tooled Folio edition.

My shelf of Wodehouse 

But where to begin?

Pondering this problem, I was delighted to come across fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse.  I discovered two invaluable articles:

(more…)

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