Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stanley Morgan's tale : Part 1

As promised, here is Part One of a story emailed by Stanley Morgan, see photo.

I've added some links but, after much searching, have failed to find a picture of Morton Lowry who died in San Franciso nearly 20 years ago.

"Dear Anne,
Your smoke-belching Spanish fuse box brought back a vivid memory - and a torrent of empathy.
A quick anecdote, if I may.
In 1959 I was cast in a film titled 'The Sleepwalkers' (how apt that turned out to be!) to be shot in Portugal. In the month of December I travelled to Lisbon accompanied by a veteran British actor, Morton Lowry, a likeable soul who had tons of greasepaint but not a single practical cell in his ageing body.
The weather was appalling. Required to stay overnight in a Lisbon hotel, Morton got nicely sploshed on vino and fell off the tall stool in the hotel bar. I put him to bed.
At 4am I was awakened by a battering on my door. It was Morton, telling me he'd gone down to the bar for a 'nightcap' and on return discovered his room, his luggage, and all his possessions had 'disappeared'. He was terrified. I managed to calm him and eventually found his room, and possessions, on a floor different from the one he'd reached after his 'nightcap'.
The following afternoon and into the blackest night imagineable, in torrential rain, we travelled by train in a southerly direction, to a location we had never before heard of.
(It turned out to be Portimao, now extremely well-known). Morton managed to consume a quantity of beer en route, and he, at least, arrived happily at 9pm.
We were met by the producer's assistant, aged seventeen, and driven to a large, unoccupied villa located, from the close roar of the pounding sea, on a cliff edge. Suddenly, there were Morton and I, abandoned, in this creepy, cold, practically unfurnished house. What to do? Go to bed.
We each chose a room, said goodnight. I tested the rock-hard straw mattress, wondered how life could possibly get worse.
And then it did.
The lights went out.
Utter blackness.
A wail from Morton's room. 'STAAAAANNNN!!'
Fortunately, Morton was a smoker and possessed a box of matches! It contained six.
It took five matches to locate the fuse box, set in a wall in the cellar stairwell. I opened the cupboard. Eureka! A stub of candle. We lit it with our last match.
Smoke drifted from the fuse box. I could see the reason immediately. Littering the floor of the box were lengths of wire - no, not fuse wire- electrical cable of varying thicknesses. Someone, obviously as practical as Morton, had experimented with different colours and had decided brown would be nice.
I chose the thinnest wire, managed to peel off the insulation, and wrapped it around the terminals. Shoved in the fuse. Flicked down the switch.
I think Morton cried.
In a state of euphoria we mounted the stairs, reached our rooms, turned to say a relieved goodnight.
And the lights went out.
I think Morton cried.
May you and your husband dwell in a smoke-free zone eternally.
Best wishes - Stanley"

Part 2 of this adventure to follow.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lunch break [online] reading

I didn't intend to blog again until Monday when I planned to regale you with an amusing story told to me yesterday by Stanley Morgan.

However in today's lunch break I read Richard Charkin's and Grumpy Old Bookman's blogs, and a GOB link led me to this. Note the last sentence.

"Books, especially fiction, are unfortunately something that many, many people want to write and relatively few people want to read, at least not in commensurate amounts. (See last year's NEA survey, "Reading at Risk.") People tend to point their finger at the part of the process where the book they've written has gotten stuck. If it doesn't make it to the agent, it's the agents' fault; if it doesn't make it to a publisher, it's the publishers' fault; if it doesn't get reviewed, it's the press. But, in reality, the whole system is overloaded. Everything that most people dislike about the system really derives from this fact. If people were as enthusiastic about reading (or rather, buying) books as they are about writing them, the industry overall would not be in the poor economic situation it's in now."

That comment was made by Laura Miller, a journalist who frequently writes reviews for Salon, and published in Finn Harvor's blog on December 20.

I am, as you know, extremely enthusiastic about reading, but in recent years only a handful of titles on the bestseller lists have appealed to me.

More and more often I'm re-reading books bought years ago. What is the point of spending money on new authors who are not a patch on their predecessors?

Stanley Morgan's hilarious tale [prompted by my recent "scary Sunday" blog, will appear here shortly.]

Right now I must stick to my new Day Plan which includes half an hour's housework every day. How long this good resolution will last...quien sabe? But I'm sticking with it for the time being.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back on topic : A J Cronin's The Citadel

It might have been on Christmas Day, spent contentedly à deux, that Mr Bookworm and I had a discussion about the medical profession. At the time neither of us could remember the author or title of a book we had both read years ago. [Although not as far back as 1937 when its publication caused a bit of a sensation.] But we knew that, if we stopped racking our brains, the details would retrieve themselves from the crowded, disorganised cupboards of our memories.

As they did. Within the hour, we had both remembered the author was A J Cronin and the book was The Citadel, one of his two most famous titles, the other being The Keys of the Kingdom.

Reading Cronin's page at Wikipedia, I was surprised to discover that he didn't die until 1981, and that the Dr Finlay character, made famous by a series on UK radio and TV, originated in a Cronin short story, Country Doctor, published in 1935.

At Amazon UK, I picked up some
enthusiastic reviews
of The Citadel, including -

"A great book for all doctor-to-be and everyone living with a doctor! Difficult cases, lovelife, exams, trials...follow the clumsy lad reach the top of the medical profession, only to discover that..."
"This book is fantastic. It is extremely well written, but more than that it is captivatingly human, heart and soul. So real that you get swept along with the story from the very first page, the characters are flawed yet you love them for it. This book has everything: originality, character, humour, an interesting and accessible insight into the medical profession, love, heart-rending tragedy, but ultimately, hope. It's definitely going up on my top shelf with my other favourites! I really recommend it and am surprised so few people seem to have heard of it - everyone should read this book!"

Although I have a friend with a stall on a Spanish rastro who sometimes has interesting books for sale, the chances of finding a copy of The Citadel are slim.
However the online catalogue of the Guille-Allès public library shows they have three copies of it, one being a large print edition and another part of a Cronin omnibus. So before our return to the island in the spring, I shall put in a request for the standard edition.

Blogging dilemma

This blog started out in May 2005 as Sundays-only. After May 2006, I took two months off before changing the timing to monthly. That lasted from September to December last year.

Now I'm not sure how to proceed. Unlike one of my favourite bloggers, Grumpy Old Bookman, who blogs from Monday to Friday, I am not yet retired. On the other hand, two other favourite bloggers, Richard Charkin and Susan Hill, are ten times busier than I yet they blog every day. How they do it is one of life's mysteries.

Being committed to blog every Sunday fidgets me. Yet once a month is not enough to build up a readership. Despite my stated view that regularity is important, I'm coming to the conclusion that blogging as and when my other commitments allow is the best option. Anyway I'll try it for a bit and see how it goes.

Places to lunch/dine with publishers

Yesterday Richard Charkin, CEO of Macmillan, blogged about Michelin House in London and the restaurant Bibendum "opened in 1987 by Sir Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn."

I left the following comment. "In the days when I was into clothes shopping, Beauchamp Place, Walton Street and Fulham Road was a favourite route, so I often passed the Michelin Building. Strangely, although I’ve enjoyed 50 years of delicious meals [paid for by publishers and magazine editors] at pretty well every notable restaurant in London, none of my hosts fancied Bibendum. I wonder why not? The picture at the website does make it look a bit ordinary with the guy in the foreground in a tee shirt. But I guess that’s 21st century London."

To which Mr Charkin replied, "Bibendum is very expensive but can be absolutely excellent."

A case of whatever turns you on, I guess. Take a 360 degree
virtual tour of the restaurant and see what you think. Not my idea of heaven, partly because I don't think blue and white are good restaurant colours. The décor at Le Gavroche is cosier.

Prices at Bibendum are given as £55.00 for a meal, wine £17.95, champagne £39.50. Doesn't sound wildly expensive by publishers' standards to me. But then, as I blogged in June 2005 -

"Over the years I've had many memorable lunches with publishers. The Ritz…

...Le Gavroche… Inigo Jones…Le Caprice. I've lost count of the visits to London restaurants and the snippets of book world gossip. One of the most amusing lunches was with the late Desmond Elliott who died in New York in August 2003 when he was 73. It was Desmond who introduced Tim Rice to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Desmond who, 30 years ago, encouraged Jilly Cooper to write her best-selling novels."

More about Desmond here

Problems continued

Thanks to advice from J, husband of N, mentioned earlier, the links in the December blog are now functioning as they should. The cause of the problem was simple : while coding the links I had inadvertently used smart quotes instead of straight quotes.

J’s eagle eye spotted this, he suspected it was the cause of the problem and, via his wife N, sent me a detailed explanation of how to correct it, for which I’m extremely grateful.

If I explain how the mistake happened, it may be helpful to other bloggers. Skip the next section if you’re not one, or not interested in techie stuff.

Buying a new laptop

In 2004 I bought my second Dell laptop, the Inspiron 1150, and was very happy with it until suddenly, towards the end of last summer, the screen died. The cost of replacing it was going to be high and the laptop had just passed the end of its two-year gaurantee period. So the best course seemed to be to replace it. Luckily I still had an ancient Gateway monitor cluttering up my Guernsey workroom so that, attached to the Inspiron, made it possible to keep writing.

Having mail-ordered both the Dells, this time I felt it might be better to buy the replacement from a local computer shop. After looking around, I settled for a Hewlett Packard Pavilion 6101. [In the past I’ve had two HP printers, both of which were excellent.]

The Dell had been fitted with XP Professional but the Hewlett Packard had XP Home. Foolishly, I assumed that Home would be much the same as Pro but without some of the high tech bells and whistles which I hadn’t been using anyway.

So it was an unpleasant surprise to find there were significant basic differences in word-processing and picture management. Also, instead of having most of the cable connections at the back of the laptop, as both the Dells did, the HP 6101 has two important cable connections in the middle of the left hand side, obstructing the space on my desk where I normally have an open file, book etc.

These dissatisfactions are entirely my own fault for shopping in a hurry [our departure date was looming] and not requesting a test-run before paying the bill.

But if I, online for ten years, can find myself struggling with an unsuitable machine, what a minefield buying a computer must be for those just starting out. Or maybe, because they have no expectations or particular ways of working, it isn’t.

Anyway I must now live with, or remedy, the problems. I shall return to my proper topic, books, very soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A scary Sunday night

My apologies for being offline for so long. The past few weeks have been fraught with techie and other problems, the most scary being last Sunday night when the kitchen lights went out while supper was being cooked and torchlight revealed the fuse box by the front door belching dark brown smoke.

Thank goodness Mr Bookworm was around to cope with the situation. When the threat of fire had been averted, as least for the time being, we sat at the kitchen table reading our books by the light from a French-made Lumogaz lamp which reminded me of the Tilley lamps we used in an isolated house in the wilds of Malay[si]a long ago when we were in our early twenties.

Even in sunny Spain, January nights call for some form of room heating and an electric blanket to warm up the bed. As we brushed our teeth in an unheated, candle-lit bathroom and climbed between chilly sheets, we resigned ourselves to several nights, possibly even a week without the comforts to which we’re accustomed.

For me, the worst deprivation would be not going online early the following morning to read various newspapers and do some research for my current book.

However, thanks to a recommendation from a local builder, the following day an electrician arrived who, in a couple of hours, put things to rights. To our surprise and relief, by late afternoon all was well again.

Other problems to do with my computer still have be sorted out, so I don’t have a complete new blog to offer you. That will come, in batches, as the month proceeds.

For the moment I recommend that you read the first part [there are six in all] of Theodore Dalrymple’s Diary of a Journey Through Europe at the
New English Review. I have long been a Dalrymple fan but discovered these diaries only recently.

More anon. Meanwhile a special word of thanks to the husband of a reader whose first name begins with N. When she mentioned my problem with inactive December links, this nice man took the trouble to look at the code and suggest a cause. I’m fairly certain he is right but haven’t yet worked out a way to correct it.

Back soon.