Following a forced and painful interruption, we’re ready to recommence reading Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. At the end of the first chapter, 007 is at the Café Picasso in Chelsea in London. He orders a glass of Valpolicella and a portion of lasagne. This is followed by another glass of wine and an espresso. Now, note what follows: “He threw down a pound note and some coins to cover his bill and a tip, stepped out into the King’s Road and hailed a taxi.” Given London prices today, William Boyd is dealing clearly with a distant past in Solo.
Here’s the cover of the fourth Ian Fleming 007 story, Diamonds are Forever, which was published in March 1956 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. The creator of the cover art is to be credited with making an effort to match the author’s attitude.
“Before a man’s forty, girls cost nothing. After that you have to pay money, or tell a story. Of the two, it’s the story that hurts most. Anyway I’m not forty yet.” Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever
Brrrrr! There’s a nip in the air. Back in mid-October, the UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said that he wears jumpers at home to keep his heating bills down. The next morning, Prime Minister Cameron’s spokesman was asked whether people should “wrap up warm” and wear jumpers. He said: “That’s not a question that I have asked him. Clearly, he is not going to prescribe necessarily the actions individuals should take about that but if people are giving that advice, that is something that people may wish to consider.” The Daily Mirror duly (mis)informed its readers: “David Cameron left sweating as voters hit out at ‘put a jumper on’ energy advice“. The insinuation being that the Prime Minister was a cold-hearted toff. But the dirty nature of what passes for British politics (and the reporting of such politics) is not exactly new as this diary entry by Hugh Gaitskell shows.
14 November 1947: “How easy it is to say the wrong thing! How easy it is not to recognise one has said the wrong thing!
About three weeks ago I made a speech at a municipal election meeting in Hastings, I was very tired when I got there but it was a good meeting. I tried to keep my speech fairly above party despite the coming election and inevitably referred to fuel economy in the course of it [he was Minister of Fuel and Power]. Then I let fall two fatal sentences:
‘It means getting up and going to bed in cold bedrooms. It may mean fewer baths. Personally, I have never had a great many baths myself and I can assure those who are in the habit of having a great many baths that it does not make a great deal of difference to their health if they have fewer. And as far as appearance — most of that is underneath and nobody sees it.’
Of course the first sentence was said in a joking manner and the second was a pure joke, and the audience laughed and took it as such. It is the kind of thing I have said again and again at open air meetings to liven things up. After the meeting one of the local people who was driving me round referred to this, and said he would not be surprised if it was in the headlines the next day. Though he, himself, thought it a joke and took it as such. The press did pick it out though not very flamboyantly. However on Tuesday it so happened that Churchill was making his big speech against the Government and he made great play of these remarks of mine. I was not present at the time but everybody tells me that he was extremely funny at my expense. Since then I have become associated in the public mind with dirt, never having a bath, etc. I am told that at the [Royal] Command Performance no less than three jokes were made about this by music hall comedians, though they all seem to have been in quite a friendly manner.
First of all, I did not worry at all. It seemed inconceivable to me that anybody could believe that it was anything but a joke. However, I now consider I really made a mistake.”
Hugh Gaitskell (1906 — 1963)
Talking of baths and jokes, here’s one: What happened to the leopard who took a bath three times a day? After a week he was spotless!Tweet
If those much-derided artificial flowers on the hospital bedside table lack scent says C.P.Cavafy, there’s no need to get upset. “We’ll pour out perfume, burn romantic myrrh before them.” Oscar Wilde would have loved that approach to such an aesthetic challenge.
I don’t want real narcissi — neither lilies
nor real roses please me,
decorating trite and common gardens. I am grieved,
fatigued, afflicted by their flesh
their perishable beauty bores me.
Give me artificial flowers — porcelain and metal glories —
neither fading nor decaying, forms unaging.
Flowers of the splendid gardens of another place,
where Forms and Styles and Knowledge dwell.
I love flowers made of glass or gold,
true Art’s true gifts,
their painted hues more beautiful than nature’s,
worked in nacre and enamel,
with perfect leaves and branches.
Their charm derives from wise and pure Good Taste;
they didn’t vilely sprout in dust or mud.
If they lack scent, we’ll pour out perfume,
burn romantic myrrh before them.
C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933). Artificial Flowers translated by Peter J. King and Andrea Christofidou
“But if the importance of Cavafy’s poetry is his unique tone of voice, there is nothing for a critic to say,” wrote W.H. Auden, and he continued: “For criticism can only make comparisons. A unique tone of voice cannot be described; it can only be imitated, that is to say, either parodied or quoted.” Then, paying the ultimate compliment, Auden noted: “I have read translations of Cavafy made by many different hands, but every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.”Tweet
There’s a nice living to be made by conflating Big Data with Big Brother and scaring the life out of ordinary internet users. The likes of Andrew Keen and Evgeny Morozov are typical of the scaring species. “Both end up writing bad books because any interesting arguments they might have in them are overwhelmed by their need to position themselves in the attention economy,” wrote Henry Farrell in The Tech Intellectuals.
Now that that’s been said, let’s turn to Badger-Bluff Fanny Freddie, a Holstein bull born in the USA in 2004. After the United States Department of Agriculture examined the 50,000 markers on his genome, it declared him to be the best bull in the land, and his 346 daughters today confirm his excellence. But his superiority was presaged by the data. “When Freddie had no daughter-records our equations predicted from his DNA that he would be the best bull,” Paul VanRaden, a research geneticist with the US Department of Agriculture, told Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, who wrote “The Perfect Milk Machine: How Big Data Transformed the Dairy Industry.”
“Data-driven predictions are responsible for a massive transformation of America’s dairy cows. While other industries are just catching on to this whole ‘big data’ thing, the animal sciences — and dairy breeding in particular — have been using large amounts of data since long before VanRaden was calculating the outsized genetic impact of the most sought-after bulls with a pencil and paper in the 1980s,” writes Madrigal. Vegans and Big Data cynics inclined to condemn the dairy/data industry and its objectives should hold their fire because, as Madrigal points out, a lot of the statistical techniques and methodology developed by animal breeders connecting phenotype and genotype “could reach outside the medical realm to help us understand human’s evolution as well.” Prediction: Badger-Bluff Fanny Freddie will be producing cream long after Evgeny Morozov has been cast into the milk churn of history.Tweet
The arrival in London in 1821 of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni, is said to have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley to compose Ozymandias. The central theme of the sonnet is the contrast between the inevitable decline of all empires with the lasting power […]
When the composer and cellist Arthur Russell died of AIDS in New York City on 4 April 1992, aged 40, Kyle Gann of The Village Voice wrote: “His recent performances had been so infrequent due to illness, his songs were so personal, that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.” Arthur Russell was a peculiar talent and his abilities extended far beyond “conventional” composition and performance. His experimental work was a huge hit in the New York disco scene of the early 1980s and tracks such as Is It All Over My Face, which was recorded on stolen studio time, was a commercial hit, a staple in the club scene and a formative influence on Chicago house. Here, Nat Baldwin of the Dirty Projectors performs Arthur Russell’s beautiful A Little Lost.Tweet
The great Algerian-French writer Albert Camus, whose 100th birthday was celebrated yesterday, wasn’t a typical diarist, but he jotted down enough daily impressions to produce three published collections. Camus, by the way, never felt comfortable with the Parisian intelligentsia. He once called La Nouvelle Revue Française, a “curious milieu” whose function “is to create writers” but where, however, “they lose the joy of writing and creating.”
8 November 1937: “In the local cinema, you can buy mint flavoured lozenges with the words: ‘Will you marry me one day?’, ‘Do you love me?’, written on them, together with the replies: ‘This evening’, ‘A lot,’ etc. You pass them to the girl next to you, who replies in the same way. Lives become linked together by an exchange of mint lozenges.” Albert Camus
Maurice Collis was born in Dublin in 1889 and went to Rugby School and then to the University of Oxford, where he studied history. He entered the Indian Civil Service in 1911 and was posted to Burma, rising to the position of district magistrate in Rangoon in 1929. He returned to England in 1934 and wrote more than 20 books, including volumes of autobiography, travel writing, novels, histories, three plays and a diary. He died in 1973. This is a classic dinner party recollection:
7 November 1953: [dining with Lord and Lady Astor] She [Lady Astor] told of her famous visit to Moscow with Bernard Shaw during the war. The things she said straight out to Stalin were staggering.
‘Your regime is no different from the Czars’.
‘Because you dispose of your opposition without trial.’
Stalin laughed. ‘Of course.’
She also spoke of Bernard Shaw’s last illness. ‘I went to see him the day before he died. I sat by him stroking his head. He was quite clear. Suddenly he said. “That reminds me,” and told me this story. “Lord X gave a great party to all the local gentry. As they were about to eat, the butler came in and said to him, ‘Excuse me, your lordship, but Mr So & So is in bed with your wife.’ At this, Lord X, rising in his place, said to the company: ‘Go home, go home. There is a man in bed with my wife. The party is cancelled. Off you go.’ The guests, much disappointed, for there were quantities of drink, began to disperse. The butler came in again, and spoke to his lordship. He got up. ‘Don’t go, don’t go. The man has apologised.’” Those were G.B.S.’s last words.’
The story was well received. If it was not Shaw’s last words, it might well have been.” Maurice Collis
November 2013 marks the centennial of the birth of Albert Camus, who once said, “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.” Tomorrow, here, the diarist and philosopher Camus ponders the social networking aspect of lozenges.Tweet
On 27 August 1950, Cesare Pavese committed suicide in the hotel Roma in Turin by swallowing barbiturates. His book, Dialoghi con Leucò, lay on the bedside table with the following annotation on the first page: “I forgive all and ask everyone’s forgiveness. OK? Don’t gossip too much.” He was just 42 years old. Given the number of beautiful women who attended his funeral, there was lots of gossip.
Born in the village of Santo Stefano in the Piedmont, Cesare Pavese is considered one of Italy’s most important 20th-century writers, and one of the saddest. The protagonists in his novels are loners, managing only superficial relationships. Unrequited love was also the hallmark of his own life. Pavese’s diaries were published in English under the title, The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950.
6 November 1939: “I spent the whole evening sitting before a mirror to keep myself company.” Cesare Pavese
Tomorrow, here, Maurice Collis notes down George Bernard Shaw’s last words as recalled by Lady Astor, who once scolded Stalin, “Your regime is no different from the Czars.”Tweet
Back in March 2006, Garry O’Connor of the Scottish football side Hibernian agreed a £1.6 million transfer to Lokomotiv Moscow. He was not, however, the first Scot to play football in Russia. Robert Bruce Lockhart won the Moscow league championship in 1912, playing with Morozov — a textile factory team. But all this was a cover for his real profession: espionage. And if one believes the conspiracy theorists, he was at the centre of a plot to assassinate Lenin.
Robert Bruce Lockhart was Acting British Consul-General in Moscow when the first Russian Revolution broke out in early 1917. Working for the Secret Intelligence Service, he had been given £648 worth of diamonds to fund the creation of an agent network. Diamonds are said to be a girl’s best friend and it was almost inevitable that Moura Budberg, the beautiful widow of Count Johann von Benckendorff, became his mistress. With all the dramatis personæ in place, Lockhart was ready to strike, but Felix Dzerzhinsky, the cunning head of Cheka, struck first. Lockhart and fellow British agent, Sidney Reilly, were arrested, but instead of being shot, they were exchanged for the Russian diplomat Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov. Lockhart wrote about his experiences in Memoirs of a British Agent — a bestseller that was made into the film British Agent in 1934.
Spy, author and broadcaster Robert Bruce Lockhart was a talented, prolific diarist with an eye for detail and an ear for anecdote:
5 November 1928: “Heard a very good story on Mussolini and crown Prince [Wilhelm of Germany]. Latter had been to Tripoli and his father asked him what he thought of the natives. He replied, ‘I prefer dealing with black men in white shirts than the white men in black shirts.’” Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart
Tomorrow, here, Cesare Pavese, the Italian writer and diarist, who once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”Tweet