Pictures by Bill Heaney
Summer is not the time for cinema, of any description. Long evenings with lengthening shadows should be savoured before the light begins to fade. Even so I watched three movies on DVD, each one related to a book, and each one, against the odds, being true to the book (although one book was also inextricably a TV series).
‘Master and Commander’, from the Patrick O’ Brian novels about the navy in the time of Napoleon (recommended by a friend). The film broke my ‘90 minutes is long enough’ rule, an infraction that I barely noticed, although I did feel sea-sick from time to time.
‘Brooklyn’, from the Colm Toibin novel. Charlie and I saw Toibin at the Edinburgh Book Festival (brilliant – cerebral, droll, and fascinating about writing). The film had not yet been released. He did not write the screenplay – ‘beyond my skills’. Nick Hornby did. Toibin picked out one scene in the film in which Eilis, having returned to Enniscorthy from Brooklyn, turns a corner in the grey Irish town, wearing a pair of flamboyant American sunglasses. The moment captures in a nano-second the way her life has changed.
‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, from the John Le Carre novel – or maybe the BBC series. That certainly changed my life. I began to copy the way Alec Guinness as Smiley put on his spectacles, very carefully, holding both legs. Great. And the film was surprisingly good.
I am one of these nerds who, as the credits roll at the end of the movie, stays in his seat until the very end, in order to see what music featured on the soundtrack. (This is how I found out what made ‘No Country for Old Men’ by the Coen Brothers unusual.)
An Epidemic of Earworms.
I have endured a summer epidemic of earworms. This is harsh on me who cannot sing a note in tune and harsher for those around me. There is no known cure, no vaccine to hold the earworms at bay. It began with a dose of ‘Different Drum’ by the young Linda Ronstadt. Long ago, I had HD Thoreau’s epigram about the Different Drummer pinned to my office wall. I remember meeting an unhappy mother whose son – lazy, intelligent and a one-person awkward squad – had received some hassle from staff. She saw the wee notice. “Do you really believe that?” she asked. Later the little trill of a bell brought to mind Nanci Griffith’s ‘Love at the Five and Dime’. I was sadly troubled by some 14th century love songs, sung acapella by the Orlando Consort. Was on more familiar ground with ‘Windmills of the Mind’ – I prefer the Dusty version – with its lines “Why does summer go so quickly / Was it something that you said”?
Meantime on the daily walks I continued to be ignored by those out walking or jogging or cycling wearing headphones. Cut off by their me-machines from ‘the music of what happens’.
Birdsong, running water, breeze in the leaves, baying or bleating of beasts in the fields.
Each heart marches to the beat of a different earworm.
Thus far, I have completed 74 books this year. (“Why are you so obsessed with books, Grandpa?”) In addition to the novels of Patrick O’Brian and Alan Furst, I have particularly enjoyed the following –
‘A Dry Heart’ by Natalie Ginzburg, about a troubled marriage; the first paragraph ends with “I shot him between the eyes.” ‘Snowflake’ by Louise Nealon, about a young woman’s rite of passage from life on a farm to studying literature and sex at Trinity College in Dublin. ‘Barcelona Dreaming’ by Rupert Thomson, about three interlinked complicated lives and – the fourth life– Barcelona (of the citizens not the tourists.) ‘A Town called Solace’ by Mary Lawson, about another three interlinked lives and redemption, almost as good as Elizabeth Strout. ‘Elena Knows’ by Claudia Pineiro, about an elderly widow in Buenos Aires with advanced Parkinson’s trying to find out the truth of her daughter’s death. Very moving. And ‘Citizen Clem’ by John Bew, a biography of Clement Attlee, the greatest PM of our lifetimes.
Everyone should have a pet hate. Several, in fact. My latest is cookies. Not the edible biscuity ones. The Intrusive Things that keep bursting into whatever website you happen to be consulting, elbowing your interest aside in order to grab your reluctant attention. Manage them? Block them? Nothing seems to deter the bastards. Privacy is no more. Cookies are betraying our secrets left, right and centre. If the internet is Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, then cookies are in Mister Hyde’s hip pocket.
(Mind, it is possible that my inadequate computer skills contribute to the problem. Who knows? An unanswered question.)
“Embro to the Ploy.”
Robert Garioch belonged to the era when Scottish school teachers were called ‘dominies’. The first poem of his which I came across was about the Edinburgh Festival.
“In simmer, whan aa sorts foregather / in Embro to the ploy, / fowk seek out friens to hae a blether, / or faes they’d fain annoy; / smorit wi British Railways’ reek / frae Glesca or Glen Roy / or Wick, they come to hae a week / of cultivaitit joy, / or three /