Zina's Small Book
To a book launch - Zina Rohan's new novel, and one she has been talking about ever since I got to know her thirteen years ago. It's called The Small Book. What's it about? Here's the blurb:
July 1915, the Somme. Private Ken Hoskins has been detailed to a firing squad to execute a deserter from his own company. This experience so appalls him that when he returns to his native Lancashire he joins the nascent Communist Party and on his marriage determines to bring up his children 'in the faith'. His daughter, Pam, later moves to London to become secretary to Harry Pollitt, the Party leader.
Summer 1998, London. Ken Hoskins's grandchildren, Margaret and Roy, look alike but could not be more dissimilar. She is a defence analyst; he is a celebrated photographer. She still lives in the King’s Cross council flat where they grew up; he occupies a Holland Park mansion. Yet they are unusually close, kept so by dramatic changes in their lives and the subsequent oddities in their upbringing.
But things do not develop as Ken Hoskins had hoped, and for Roy and Margaret the past they thought was their inheritance turns out to be something quite different
I've not read it yet, but am really looking forward to. When I have, I'll share with you how I found it.
LATER: Just finished it, a powerful and moving novel about how the past haunts the present - about the danger of concealing, and the still great dangers of revealing. There's a lot more about the CP than I was expecting - one of the very few novels (OK, just about unique) in which Harry Pollitt is a character of some importance. And as the write up indicates, the key historical event is the shooting of an alleged mutineer by a firing squad of his own colleagues during the First World War. 'The Small Book' refers to the service history which every WW1 soldier
What do curators do? It's a bit like asking what musical conductors do. If you are outside the specialism, you don't really know. But you can tell that it makes a difference.
Richard Thompson's curating of the 'Meltdown' South Bank festival has been much applauded. But the evening of political song was a flop. He didn't get that political song is something very different from social commentary, protest, satire. It's about mass movements, and needs to energise - it's about anthems.
Rude Britannia at the Tate Britain has a range of guest curators - lots of great material - but add it all together, and, sadly, you get less than the sum of its parts. The absurd, the erotic, the satirical ... ok, but what's the common thread?
If you want to enjoy it, do what I did - go with an eleven-year-old. His sense of wonder and delight that farting, bums, bad words and bawdiness can be celebrated in the hallowed walls of an art gallery was wonderful. His favourite? The slightly hidden away ante-room of sexual vulgarity. And above all that tin of beans from which a frankfurter kept popping out. Kenneth Williams (who was on a nearby video screen, his dialogue from Carry On Up the Khyber dubbed into Pashto profanities) would have approved.
Sodomy and soccer in the Valley
It's not often that the epitome of the muscular Anglican missionary, Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe, gets a write up in the daily papers - but he makes it to today's Guardian, thanks to the ever engaging Ian Jack. Tyndale-Biscoe spent much of his life in Kashmir. He is remembered as an educationalist. The boys school in Srinagar which bears his name still flourishes.
Ian Jack writes of the missionary as the man who introduced football into the valley - a very suitable way to mould men. Tyndale-Biscoe also spent a great deal of time tackling what he saw as the vices of his time - a lack of manliness, and the prevalence of sodomy and brothels. His autobiography was entitled, with an immodesty of which he would have been entirely unaware, Tyndale-Biscoe of Kashmir.
He didn't "stay on" in independent India, but moved to what was then Rhodesia - a story in itself - and died there in 1949.
Sad news from Delhi - the death earlier this week of Mrs Khorshed Italia. She's the mother of a good friend, Shenny. A lovely, warm hearted woman, who had lived for more than seventy years in a top floor flat in CP, Connaught Place, for decades the colonnaded heart of the Indian capital.
Mrs Italia was 88 and the longest standing resident of CP, where the dwindling number of householders are being squeezed out by the pressure for offices and commercial lets. The Italia household was the last Parsee family in CP.
A newspaper article two years ago described Mrs Italia as 'the grand old lady of Connaught Place'. A very apt title. She also features affectionately in Sam Miller's wonderful Delhi: adventures in a megacity.
She once told me how from her balcony she saw the looting of Muslim shops in 1947 and witnessed Jawaharlal Nehru chasing rioters wielding a policeman's 'lathi'. She worked for several months as a medical volunteer, helping refugee women who reached Delhi from the violence-wracked plains of Punjab. I was greatly moved by her modest, unvarnished account of her work, the women she helped, and the injustices she railed against - the interview is available here.
The photograph by Ros Miller dates from 1997 - and below is a charming photo of Mrs Italia when young which I was given by Shenny a few years ago.
World Cup canvassing in Cal
Here's a clever piece of election canvassing! A candidate in the recent municipal elections in West Bengal - the state whose capital is mighty Calcutta - issued the election leaflet I've copied below (thanks Nazes!). Folded over with Bengali on the front and Englisn on the back - and inside, a World Cup match schedule.
You might not think that India is World Cup crazy. But it is! Especially its football capital, Calcutta. In thousands of homes, this election leaflet was given pride of place by the TV.
Which party alighted on this campaigning master stroke? A regional party, the Trinamool Congress. Which party came out on top in the elections? Correct!
Arnold Circus at 100
Arnold Circus, perhaps the loveliest bandstand in London, is 100 years old. An event to be celebrated! It was built a century ago by the London County Council amid the still fairly new Boundary Street Estate in Shoreditch. The bandstand itself is nice enough - what makes the spot particularly enchanting in a locality not known for enchantment is the landscaping of the small hill which once stood in the middle of the circus. Now Arnold Circus has been spruced up to celebrate its centenary - and very nicel too,
Next month the circus will be the venue for the annual 'sharing picnic'. And the Friends of Arnold Circus have organised a busy summer programme of events.
The Boundary Street Estate was built on the site of the Old Nichol - the area that the novelist Arthur Morrison described, and damned to perdition, as the criminal slum of "the Jago". One of the most evocative remnants of Morrison's "Jago" - the little snicket of Boundary Passage - is a short stroll away.
This photograph of Arnold Circus was posted by LoopZilla under a Creative Commons license.
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