Captain’s Blog. Starship Earth.
The author reveals his decision to travel
I have just been around the world in forty days. Indeed I have circumnavigated our globe one and a half times, since May. It may seem an extreme reaction to Empty Nesting, but it’s tough when the kids leave home, even though you know that now, thanks to the Bush recession, with nobody left having jobs outside Homeland security, they will all come home again after College, still children give you a point to being, and in particular a particular point to being somewhere in particular. The reason I lived in California for sixteen years was so I could drive my child to school in sunshine instead of facing a soggy sprint for school in the dripping dampness of a grey London day. Kids are very conservative. You can drag them round the world when they are still on the teat, even seduce them with overseas toy shops and plane trips and fine foreign beaches, but once they are ready for school, they are worse than the most conservative commuter. They want a regular life and regular friends, and sleepovers and parties, and that becomes your life, except for the intense summer times, when they have three months off in which to forget everything they just learned.
The author considers his house in Provence.
I had the empty nest blues bad. It’s sad when they go . The house is full of absence, even the dogs look depressed; so I decided to travel. Fortunately for me, forty years ago, I was weird enough to buy a property in southern France, which has for four decades served as an escape from the vagaries of the British climate, and became a summer home I have frequently returned to, and where I am at my most content. At first it was just a stone terraced olive hillside, with a pine wood at the brow of the hill, and a two-roomed, dirt-floored cow-shed, with no road, no water and no electricity, but I am very persistent and so I found water with a dowser, (an eighty meter forage brings up clear cold sparkling Alpine melt water), converted the cowshed into a tiny bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, created a road, (after many meetings with maps and farmers and reluctant tossings of heads and muttering French tut tutting) and, after an initial eight years of gas lamps and butane bottles hauled across improbably prickly terrain, I finally got electricity. So now, while it is no Chateau it is certainly a Schackeau. Jean de Florette? I’ve done it all mate. I am the Colonial experience. I was in Provence before the French. Along the way I developed an old stone ruin into a writing shack, as I figured I could write just as badly in Provence as I could in London, and then afterwards drop into a tiny basin, and have a drop of rosé, (called in those days Fighting Pink for its effect on marriages, and a far cry from the fine blush wines of today) and life would be hey diddle diddle. Both my kids are crazy about Provence, and though I am a fairly happy California winter immigrant, in the summer time my heart cries out for Europe, to be up and away from the constant electioneering and solidly uninteresting Fox news cycles. I want to swap the monotonous drones of the self-serving politicians for the drones of the bees in the lavender fields, to drop the shrieking celebrity interviews for the screeching of the cigalles in the olive trees, and to cop the thrilling rills of the nightingales. I want to get out under those stars at night and see our galaxy whirling overhead and realize that the spouting idiocy of the Intelligent Design crowd and their Earth created by a God six thousand years is the nonsense that it seems. For heaven’s sake I have been in countries that are older than that. Even in my local village, the caves are older than that silly figure…Just up the road Neanderthals played, and painted their caves and buried their dead with flowers. Only three hundred thousand years ago there were three types of hominid flourishing here. What happened to the others? Well we killed them obviously. That’s the one thing we are very good at: killing. Warfare seems to be our main activity. That and reproduction. So alright, two things we are good at: killing and shagging. Fortunately we have developed some other wonderful things along the way, like painting and music and of course our greatest invention: reading and writing. Thank God, I hear you cry, I think he is getting near a theme. For yes, indeed dear reader, reading is my theme.
The author discusses his shyness about sharing his book list.
Sometimes I think reading is the only thing I am good at. I love it. I am a serial reader, uncomfortable anywhere without a book to hand. The older I get the more I read. Sometimes people ask me what I am reading, and since I am in the declining years of my memory cells, I have for many years kept a reading diary, which I am semi-reluctantly going to share with you. The reason I am semi-reluctant is that like all diaries it is responsive largely to my mood, and though I adore the activity of writer, and reader, I am anxious about the role of critic. These are not considered opinions which have been carefully judged for public appearance, these are the instant reactions of someone who is shortly about to do something else, go to a movie, play guitar, have lunch, visit the theater or take the dogs for a walk. So I am forced to consider the many writers, who deserve better than my cranky, often bitchy, notes as a response to all their efforts, and as my concern for the soul of the writer is more than my concern for getting off a bitchy one liner I confess I have censored myself, something comedians are bad at, for you know they have no censor mechanism, which is why they make you laugh. They say things well beyond when they should have stopped. And that’s why we love ‘em. They say the right things at the wrong time.
So, yes, I am a little shy about sharing my reading list, though the last time I put it on PythOnline, something wonderful happened. I had been reading a lot of Michael Chabon, with great admiration which was apparent from my notes. I had an email from the esteemed Dave Eggers, saying he had shown the list to his friend Michael Chabon who wanted my email address to get in touch with me. And that was the start of a beautiful thing. All of my heroes are writers. For me they are the glitterati, (as distinct from porn writers who are the cliterati.)
The author shamelessly drops a few names while he recalls brief encounters with writers.
Genius in popular art is, of course, only an electric guitarist with modified ability, but while I do know a lot of comics and guitarists, I am really only thrilled by writers. It started for me at Cambridge in 1963. I was walking down King’s Parade when I saw a little bent old man with a stick progressing slowly into Kings. And my companion said “Oh look it’s E. M. Forster.” Now I nearly died. I had no idea he was still alive. I mean his last novel was published in the 1920’s. But yes, it was indeed him. I once spotted Graham Greene on a plane to Nice and I wrote immediately to Michael Palin. We used to share a giggly kind of correspondence which we pretentiously titled The Palin Idle Letters, volume 12. Sadly the internet seems to have killed letter writing. I had a great American novelist friend Earl Thompson (Garden of Sand, Tattoo etc.) though he died way too early in 1979. I spent a little time in Australia with the great Bruce Chatwin, but I was so daunted by his talent and impressed by his writing that all I could say was: “Your prose reads so easily, I hope it takes a long time.” “Yes it does” he said, which was something of a relief, because if you can write that way effortlessly then we might as well all give up and go home. In St. Paul de Vence I once found myself face to the amazing face of James Baldwin. I have been beaten at ping pong by Geoff Dyer, I was pals for a with Gerald Durrell in France and Jersey, I have spent many happy hours in the agreeable company of Salman Rushdie, had dinner with Dawkin and during the years when I had no electricity in Provence Stephen Spender kindly gave me his reading lamp. (It was a kind of supercharged oil lamp and I still have it.) In London recently Jeffery Archer took me to the theatre, and what a super bounder he is, very funny and kind, and only last week I was having dinner with Marty Scorsese in New York when Philip Roth walked over to say hello to him. Philip fucking Roth for god sake. I spotted him approaching a mile away, and of course I have been having a huge read of his works over the last two years, and of course Marty introduces me as you do with dinner guests when someone walks over, and of course he says hello like you do and moves on, but oh my god, Philip Roth!
So there you have it. I am a huge fan of writers because I am a huge fan of reading. I write uncensored comments in my own Readers Diary and I encourage you to keep one of your own. Not only is it interesting to look back on, but by the time you get to my age and have forgotten everything, you can remind yourself that yes you did indeed read that book and what your younger self thought of it.
A few rules…
Rule 1: Never be without a book.
Rule 2: Skip all Prefaces, Forewords and Introductions.
Rule 3: If you’re bored with a book, chuck it. There are millions of books you will never get to read, so if one doesn’t grab you, put it down.
Rule 4: You don’t have to finish a book. You can always come back to it.
Rule 6: You may read several books at once.
Rule 7: You may skip and skim. This is not a class, this is life.
Rule 8: Try and buy from your local bookshop while you still have one.
Rule 9: There is no rule 9.
Rule 10: Enjoy!
My favorites in the UK: Mr. B’s Bookshop in Bath, Hatchards in Piccadilly, Daunts (on the Marylebone Road)
In the US: Rizzoli on West 57th Street, NY. Vroman’s in Pasadena, Powell’s in Portland.