I left the house twice this weekend, on specific short errands. The rest of my time I spent in bed, listening to the wind howl... no snow, though there was plenty of that Friday, just wind and drizzle. Since Saturday morning consisted largely of an intake of neurofen and a re-iteration of the mantra that past 30 one should not mix wine and whisky this was possibly a wise move. (Highlights of Friday evening included my gun-toting secretary picking me up and carrying me round the boardroom in an effort to persuade me to stay, but we'll draw a veil over that.)
My resolve not to buy more stuff before my imminent return crumbled on Friday afternoon and I ended up walking out of Ottakars some 25 quid the poorer. All now read.
First up was the second Captain Alatriste, Purity of Blood. These are essentially Arturo Perez-Reverte's Spanish version of Dumas (you can't help trying to work out whether, and if so at what point in his career, Captain Alatriste will actually run into the Three Musketeers). They've apparently been a massive craze in Spain for years, but its only very recently, presumably on the back of Perez-Reverte's success with his other novels, from The Dumas Club (filmed, by all accounts unsuccessfully, as The Ninth Gate (not seen) and the novel featuring a cameo appearance by one of its obvious inspirers, an unnamed great Dumas fan, described only as the Professor of Semiotics at Bologna) to Queen of the South, that they've been translated. I think they're fantastic fun.
Second was Naomi Novik's Temeraire (how does she get livejournal to do that?) - Napoleonic fantasy with dragons. The blurb cites Stephen King referencing Susannah Clarke. I don't think this is anywhere near up to the strength of Jonathan Strange, but then I think few things are. I do think that early-modern to Victorian fantasy (as opposed to science) influenced alternate history is a sub-genre that's going to be quite popular for a while, and why not? Lots of mileage. As Joff semi-argued elsewhere it has the advantage over steampunk in that the bounds of the latter if construed strictly, are pretty narrow -and lets face it, few conform. It's not new as such -Clarke's partner, Colin Greenland produced what I think remains his most imaginative and best-written work yet, Harm's Way some years ago now, even before one goes delving into prototypes in older stuff. So the real question, as with all genres, is what to call it. Steam and Sorcery?
To be honest, the other blurb, from McCaffrey, was more indicative of where the novel was going, as was the reference to Patrick O'Brien (who, I'm afraid, completely fails to grab me, give me Hornblower and Ramage any day, though I'm aware the vast majority of my reading list disagree) though she's a better writer than MacCaffrey ever was. Her characters are far less complex than Clarke's, and it feels far more a straight historical novel with added dragons (though to be fair this is but the first of a series). One thing Clarke did that Novik is less strong on is try and give some historical context: it's difficult without a bit more background to believe that notwithstanding a serious aerial bombardment capability used, we're told, by Francis Drake to beat the armada, we've nonetheless ended up in much the same historical situation at the time of Trafalgar (which takes place, offstage, during the book) as we do in our universe -though one notable outcome of Trafalgar seems to be different. Certainly worth keeping an eye on though.
Last up was part of my on-going effort to re-read a significant chunk of The Canon: on this occasion Trollope's Barchester novels, specifically Barchester Towers. It must be more than 15 years since I touched these, and I'd utterly forgotten how they read. I'd still take Austen, George Eliot, and Thackeray above him but he's a close follower (and streets ahead of Dickens in my personal ranking). Where he falls down most is on the romantic element -I don't find those relationships particularly convincing, though he does have a few brilliant one-liners even there. But the social and ecclesiastical politics, and the humour -even when he wanders away on one of his digressions- is marvellous. Incidentally I'm half convinced Tolkien had Barsetshire in mind when he created the Shire, though a Barsetshire shorn of the city pf Barchester and the ecclesiastical elements that for Trollope were the foundations of the place. (In particular I think the "Long-Expected Party" owes a conscious debt to the Thorne's great do at Ellathorne - I imagine someone has pointed this out before but it was a new realisation for me.)
Incidentally, I forgot to write about Gothic Nightmares at The Tate at which I spent much of last Saturday courtesy and in the always good company of Frankie. Well worth a visit anyway, particularly for room 6 ("Fairies and Fatal Women", including Blake and Fuseli's Midsummer Night's Dream inspired-work and associated pieces, plus some of Fuseli's porn (as in explicit, rather than as in "almost everything he ever painted")), though definitely better to try and find an off-peak time to go.
Spent Sunday evening with Midsomer Murders, in which
Bergerac's DCI Barnaby's sidekick is these days played by that chap what played Warren in This Life. Which makes his claim that he used to visit Midsomer Whatever's annual show regularly as a child feel a bit spurious, as it's difficult enough to believe that he stepped outside the Valleys once before the age of 18, let alone that he was an annual visitor to a small village in pastiche-Glos/Oxon. I mean, there's suspension of disbelief, and there's flying trapezi of disbelief. Also if I knew Barnaby was investigating a murder in my small village I'd be on the road away from there as fast as possible, the man is more Death on a Pale Horse than Morse ever was. Absolute nonsense, guest-starring a hamming-it-up Simon Callow (does he ever do anything else, but I love him to pieces, plus he once gave me a cigar) can't do better on a Sunday evening.
Madeira-aged Glenmorangie is a marvellous thing, and tolerably affordable when regularly passing through duty-free. So, by and large, is Chilean Merlot followed by Dubonnet. Yes, I did spend a large part of the weekend mildly sloshed. I just have to remember not to mix the two... Still, at least I discovered the Sekrit, or rather, misplaced, stash of cds: Mozart Requiem and Beethoven Late Quartets both of which, particularly the latter, bear repeated re-listening.
Some bits and pieces of writing done as well, none of it particularly good.
Well, so I bought a new laptop (I did look at second hand etc but for various reasons decided against it). And all went well, installed linux and all worked like a dream.
Until the power unit completely failed on Sunday morning.
After throwing the fucker out of the window I decided to revert to hunter-gatherer. Sadly I haven't caught anything on Primrose Hill yet. I am still reflecting on whether fire and the wheel fall within my definition of an acceptable level of technology*.
To settle my fit of temper I decided to go and visit two places I didn't manage to fit in on Open House London weekend: Wellington Arch (v. unfamiliar perspective on familiar views from the top) and Apsley House ("No.1 London", the Duke of Wellington Museum).
Both are well worth the visit. The oddest thing I found in the latter was the colossal -and I use the term advisedly, and technically- statue of a nude Napoleon holding Victory (or Peace?) in the palm of his hand, which lives in the stairwell (couldn't really go anywhere else). When I saw it my immediate comment was "Oh my gawd" and it would seem Napoleon's must have been similar: apparently the Emperor found it so embarrassing he had it hidden behind screens at the Louvre. Then the British Government bought it from Louis XVIII for 66000 livres (he must have laughed all the way to the bank), and the Prince Regent gave it to Wellington, who put it where it now is.
Now, leaving aside the odd distinction between the British Government buying it and the Prince Regent giving it (this may have something to do with the removal of control over Crown finances from him and the institution of the Civil List, which must have happened around then) it seems to me that there are more than two levels of messages here, bearing in mind that the Prince Regent's relationship with Wellington was somewhat ambivalent. I'm just not sure what they are, or on whom the joke is.
There is, incidentally, a much better (and more recognisable) portrait of Napoleon at the head of the stairs.
Wellington was a noted art collector (so Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell says in passing, anyway). When he defeated Joseph Bonaparte, he captured the Spanish Royal Collection, and the King of Spain told him to keep it (so sayeth the museum, this may be something of an exaggeration as the last time I looked the Prado was hardly empty). Wellington had them put in the Waterloo Gallery, where he held his annual Waterloo Dinner, and what struck me here was that one of the three pictures in prime positions (ie in the centre of the three walls with pictures) was of Mary Tudor (the others were of Rudolph II, and of Charles I on the long wall). It's reasonably obvious what it was doing in the Spanish Royal Collection but prominently displayed in the formal collection of the High Tory of High Tories, in a room used for a specific formal purpose? Was there more than pragmatism to Wellington's support for Catholic Emancipation? No, almost certainly not, but still...
It's a good portrait actually. I haven't seen that many of her (I doubt there are many): one can easily see the resemblance to her sister. I always think Mary gets a raw deal: not only does her equally bloodthirsty sister get to rule for a generation after her and thus control the history, and have the most gifted generation of English writers to help her establish her image; but their unbelivably stupid, arrogant, and irritating cousin, her namesake, gets all the tragic status. Bah humbug.
*The computer is covered under warranty of course, and they've agreed to replace it, but I left the manuals etc, which they want back, at home, so I'll have to do it tomorrow. What's bothering me are the mildly confidential documents I'd put on there and can't delete until it has power, though they are protected by passwords... They're on the linux partition, and in any case I'm fairly sure that they'll reformat the hard disk as a matter of course: anyone with the requisite knowledge have any views or ideas?
The July flood of work continues unabated: many solicitors seem to suddenly appreciate the approach of limitation and procedural deadlines and the possible interference that might cause with their holiday plans at the beginning of July (and also the beginning of December). August and January seem, at least in my line, to be utterly dead by contrast.
The upshot of this is that for the last three mornings I have been dragging myself out of bed at ungodly hours in order to reach county courts in the middle of nowhere by 9.30 in the morning. Surrey and Herts are now my oyster. Or something. Then returning to Chambers to plough through mounds of paper, with more arriving every day. As a result little of interest has been happening in my life, save that I skived off a bit early on Tuesday to wander round the Islamic Art exhibition with Frankie
Frankly, I don't really think it deserves the blurb of "one of the cultural highlights of the year" and much of it left us cold. Interesting though, and as Frankie pointed out, we'd probably have appreciated it more if we were more attuned to the culture that produced it, particularly the miniature illustrations of legends and the like.
When I woke up, the vague hints at the back of my nose had turned into a full-fledged summer cold, coupled with a massive headache, so I'm taking advantage of the fact I have no hearing today to have a slow start at home. Unfortunately I have a long meeting to go to this evening...
Whatever. I have little to say. Go read Frankie's response to the vile Amanda Platell who apparently doesn't think the recent crop of large awards to women in the courts are deserved. Though frankly the intersection of Amanda Platell and the Daily Mail should be warning enough for any sane reader.
As I understand it, though, the decisions were based more on clear gender discrimination, rather than the sexual harrassment issues: while the two inevitably often occur together and together often give rise to constructive dismissal cases, they aren't the same thing.
It's been a full weekend, and as a result at gone 10 on Sunday I still have preparation for a telephone con for tomorrow morning. But soddit, I need a break from preparing claims against crashingly negligent solicitors.
In my usual lacksadaisical fashion, I left it until the last possible days to see two exhibitions I really wanted to catch: Brancusi: the essence of things at Tate Modern and El Greco at the National. Which meant enduring hordes of people as foolish as me at both but that can't be helped.
Brancusi died in 1957 and is one of the major figures in modern abstract sculpture. Stunningly beautiful stuff, though at points I did begin to think "yes Constantin, I get it, smooth egg shapes with vestigial human features. That's five now plus another few with the added twist of uncarved marble on one side of the egg, something different would be good now yes."
But there are other things, most particularly the various Birds: a pair of this theme in coloured marble, one blue-grey, the other flame-yellow. In the last room the final development of this theme, where the flame-like abstraction has become further elongated, to become Birds in Space. The version here was cast in bronze, as was the version that forced the US courts to decide that they were not competent to decide on what was art in the late 1920s (the federal tax authorities had decided the sculpture was so much metal and taxed it accordingly, Brancusi, encouraged by Duchamps, sued, in Brancusi v. US to recover the money on the basis of an exemption for art, and won, a decision which ranks with Whistler v. Ruskin as a seminal art law case).
The El Greco, which I went to this morning, was more in my line though. Just looking at his stuff, particularly paintings like The Opening of the Fifth Seal (1608-14) you could be forgiven for ascribing it to Picasso, appositely enough, for Picasso was one of the major rediscovers of El Greco. Other things seem to prefigure the Impressionists... The Agony in the Garden is probably my favourite.., but then that requires discounting The Resurrection.. decisions, decisions.
When I'd had enough of the crowds I wandered up to the British Museum, Actually, the main reason I went there was because I was caught short when I was nearby and their loos are clean...
Anyway, while I was there, I wandered through the Great Court and was struck by, yes, the Troy Costumes exhibition there, and the proud proclamation that the BM advised on the film. I don't yet know who it was who wrote the claim that the film "for the most part follows Homer closely" but I shall set those who should be able to find out to their investigations.
What was interesting was Achilles' shield. While watching the film last night, in Achilles' first fight, I'd noticed a shot of the shield and thought... no, surely they haven't bothered. And since it wasn't referred to again, I assumed that they had indeed, not bothered. Why would they? Christ, Illiad 18:478-608, entirely devoted to a description of the shield, is fascinating stuff on which oceans of ink has been spilt (several books and theses), but it's hardly the stuff of epic film.
The thing is though, someone did. The shield carried by Brad Pitt in the film is a serious attempt to realise those lines... and it gets one half-second frame early on in the film... Given the rest of the film this seems utterly perverse.
Hmm. It would seem that my Chambers has enough of a critical mass of members who are more interested in discussing racing scandals -with particular reference to Kieran Fallon (and also Fox)- than actually doing any work to sustain teatime conversation for an hour and a quarter.
I admit to being a prime offender.
Toddled off to The Tate (look, it takes a definite article you fuckers, and nothing you can do is going to make me agree to the contrary) last night for the pre-Raphaelite landscapes exhibition last night, in company with Frankie. Lots of pretty pictures, but my eventual conclusion, and I think Frankie's too, was along the lines of "well, that was nice." It is, perhaps, worth pointing out that "nice" is almost an insult so far as I'm concerned. It was interesting, to be fair, but it didn't blow me away at all.
Still, wine before, whisky in the pub after, ended up far more pissed than I should have been and had a good time all round.
Feel like shite today, but I don't think that's connected.
Ho hum. Everything went relatively smoothly in this afternoon's hearing. Was feeling vaguely out of sorts with the world on my way back, so thought 'to hell with it, what on earth is the point of being self-employed if you don't skive from time to time.' So, like I half thought I might, I swanned off to the Tate at Millbank for a few hours.
I don't usually do review type things, and there is no particular reason why I should this time, but I feel the urge to run through my flying visit... So...( and what I saw there )
Feeling.. itchy feet. Nothing to do with work, I'm afraid I like being a lawyer. But I want to go somewhere, do something, get novel published, climb a mountain.
At least there's me holiday coming, if not till August. I'll always have Athens....