Tuesday, 17 December 2013


A Writer’s Notebook

No. 45, December 2013

James Watson
Friends and contributors

Notes in passing: The Birthright of the Briton
Review: An Imitation of Life
Poems of place (21): The rows of icon
Ned to Nurse Nightingale


Number 45 on ‘The 45’

A timely moment to praise a pioneer of press freedom

In Douglas Adams' radio and subsequent TV series The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy the meaning of life turned out to be – 42. If we were to look for a similar answer to the question, when did freedom of speech truly make its mark on British shores, we might offer the answer – 45, and the date when John Wilkes (1727-97) brought out the first edition of his radical paper The North Briton. In the first editorial Wilkes wrote, 'The liberty of the press is the birthright of the BRITON, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country'.

Issue No.45 attacked European peace terms then being discussed by the government of the day. Wilkes was an MP, but as editor of what the general warrant called 'a seditious and treasonable paper' he forfeited his right of parliamentary immunity, for this did not cover 'the publication of a libel, being a breach of the peace'.

As was to happen so often in the next century, and the one after that, government acted as though surrounded by warriors intent on overthrowing them and the system they represented. Wilkes was arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

What was interesting in Wilkes' case was the degree of popular support he had in his struggle for freedom of speech, not the least from the so-called under-classes or, as the writer and parliamentarian Edmund Burke later termed them in his Reflections on the French Revolution (1792), 'the swinish multitude'.

Wilkes' plea for liberty was for all, not just the privileged and the educated:

My lords, the liberty of all peers and gentlemen and, what touches me more sensibly, that of all the middling and inferior set of people, who stand in most need of protection, is in my case this day to be finally decided upon a question of such importance as to determine at once whether English Liberty shall be a reality or a shadow.
At the first court hearing in Westminster Hall a huge audience composed of supporters from the City cheered Wilkes to the rafters when he announced that the liberty of an Englishman 'should not be sported away with impunity'. As he left the court, the air rang with the call, 'Liberty, Liberty, Wilkes for ever!'

A public burning
The government shifted its ground. A proof copy of part of an Essay on Women by Wilkes was obtained and judged by the House of Lords a 'most scandalous, obscene and impious libel'. Wilkes was in the dock now for two publications. Following a Commons vote of 273 to 111, No.45 was condemned to be publicly burnt by the official hangman at Royal Exchange.

It was a bitter December day, just right for a bonfire of 'false, scandalous and seditious libel'. As the sheriffs arrived at Cornhill a vast crowd of the 'middling and inferior' blocked the way. The fire party turned on its heels and the crowd – so the story goes – rescued the North Briton from destruction by urinating on the flames.

Such were the attempts by government to destroy Wilkes that he went into exile. The Annual Register wrote of the 'ruin of that unfortunate man'; a little prematurely because Wilkes returned to London in 1768 and was hero of the capital. He was returned as MP for Middlesex.

 Light you your windows
There followed two days of joyous celebration which included the chalking of 'No.45' on every door from Temple Bar to Hyde Park Corner and a demand for those who supported Wilkes and his cause to light up their windows at night in celebration. The Austrian ambassador was dragged from his coach and had 'No.45' chalked on the soles of his boots.

Heady days! There was, of course, much smashing of windows. In terror at what was happening when a huge assembly waited to greet Wilkes in St. George's Fields, the government ordered the presence of troops. Several volleys were fired, leaving eleven dead.

The story of Wilkes suggests a more complicated popular response than merely that of calling for Liberty. Wilkes himself was prone to journalistic exaggeration. 'English liberties' were as much in his head – he was from a wealthy and privileged family – as identifiable in the real world, and much of the tenor of his support was characterised by a harsh, chauvinist nationalism: after all, No.45 was attacking a peace initiative rather than urging peace not war.

One of the dragon’s teeth
Just the same, Wilkes deserves his place in the pantheon of those British writers (such as Thomas Paine, William Cobbett and Richard Carlile) who risked much to declare freedom of expression a human right. He was a worthy successor to the poet and pamphleteer John Milton (1606-74) who had penned the most famous argument in English for the liberty of speech and publication. In his Areopagitica (1664), Milton wrote of books and their significance in words that have resonated down the centuries:

I know they are lively, and vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon's teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost to kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.

Wilkes and the generation of editors and writers who followed him took Milton's words as their creed. The issue which Milton raised, which Wilkes and others fought for, is of course as alive in the 21st century as it was then: censorship is in the air we breath. Governments are as scared of exposure as ever.

After Leveson, we are witness to the freedom of the British press being placed under the interdict of a royal charter, a move not greeted by street protests but with public complacency, yet a blow to liberty of expression that would have had Wilkes roaring his protest, not sparing his tabloid vitriol, and railing at privilege, secrecy and a raft of censorial legislation; but not, readers, censorship by royal charter.

An extract from Media History: From Gutenberg to the Digital Age, to be published as a Kindle Reader in 2014.

Issues 42 and 43 carried extracts from Laura’s novel, reviewed below.

Laura Solomon’s Imitation of Life (Solidus, 2009) is a very singular novel. Its central protagonist, Celia Doom, arrives in the world a grotesque. Delivered in a banana box, she falls into the category of ‘unmentionable things’ with one black eye and one white; her teeth are fangs and her craving is for insects, butterflies, spiders and moths, and for Fanta in gallons. At the age of three she is five feet in height; at six she stands 6’3” and weights 150 kilos.

For those around Celia, destruction and death are commonplace; even the locality of Provencia suffers devastation on her watch. Befriended by Jacob who wreaks havoc with his chemistry set, she learns the art of explosions. Molotov cocktails become their plaything; what they blow up (including Celia’s adoptive parents, Lettie and Barry) they film on super 8. ‘This one’s for you, Celia,’ says Jacob as he blows himself up.

The event that puts Celia on a meaningful track is the gift of a camera from her Uncle Ed – ‘the instrument I would cling to for the rest of my days’. Ed we eventually discover is her real father; a conjurer of remarkable powers (of appearance and disappearance) and worrying proclivities.

Celia proves herself a photographer of vision, focusing on the everyday, and a career develops until those that market her work exploit it, and her, to the point when they use a rival, a stripper, Lucinda Fortune, whose photos are so uncannily reminiscent of Celia’s that both images and careers shape themselves into double-focus; until, that is, Lucinda removes her dark glasses – and reveals one black eye and one white. Welcome to Celia’s Mum.

Celia confesses to have lived a ‘muddle old stew of a life’. Her talents as a photographer are duly exploited by relatives and ‘carers’. Arty pampers her with Fanta and bags of bugs at the same making a good living for himself out of her work. Then there’s George, her critical friend, selecting her photos for exhibition: ‘Where’s the sense of flow? Where’s the continuity?’ Such questions the author takes on board arguably as comments on the novel itself, and it’s true that at times the switching, in a scenario teeming with characters, most of them eccentric and bordering on the grotesque, is often abrupt and momentarily confusing.

It is a tale, then of the unexpected, the core of it treating the reader to an account of the life, talents and exploitation by others of a photographer, eventually to the point when we get used to, and momentarily forget, the physical grotesqueness of our heroine.

Imitation of Life treats us to a galaxy of originals, such as Celia’s two grannies, united by mutual loathing, Uncle Ed, careless with snakes in the company of kids, not averse to setting himself on fire but who invites his own demise by entering a glass house containing 300,000 bees, applauding himself as he dies.

It’s a story teeming with eccentrics, though its message is not easy to locate. Perhaps Ed sums it all up in his final letter to his daughter Celia: ‘Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light.’ It’s a rumbustious text and on film the novel would take off as a piece of surreal effects that might shock as it surprises.

The writerly talent demonstrated in this novel is impressive, prompting the reader to wish to reach beyond the narrative to the author herself, the creator of a macabre scenario that walks the edge between comedy and tragedy, defying a commitment to either. The critical question might be – what’s next?

 Poems of place (21)

                                          THE ROWS OF ICON

                               You can walk the rows of icon.
                               Witness the changeless centuries:
                                Not a sliver of evolution, except
                               An arresting detail, a tentative risk
                               Withheld; always solemn, pursed lipped.

                               The saints George and Mamas
                               Awkwardly perched on horse and lion,
                               Close down all narratives but one.

                               After marvelling at occasional line and colour,
                               An eye or a hand well-wrought
                               And jewel-fresh in dry Cyprus air,
                               The mind cries out for sensations of another sort,
                               A return of greater gods and better tales.

                                With respect it has to be admitted
                               The sombre story of Christ crucified
                               Never matched the wild absurdities of Olympus.

 Dear Nurse Nightingale
Pardon me, Madam, for rushing straight in to things, without even a by-your-leave, but we are in considerable trouble; and I thought, as I was at one time a near neighbour of yours, albeit separated by a good three miles as the crow flies, I would appeal to you; as it were, throw myself on your mercy.

The situation is thus: arrangements are being made for the most notable event in the history of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Pantomime and Light Opera Society – but virtually at the last minute, the St. John’s Ambulance service in these parts have only discovered a prior arrangement with the Lower Beasley (in my frustration I might be tempted to say ‘Beastley’) Gymkhana which has been switched from June to July on account of a variation of swine flu among the horses.

The local constabulary have informed us – no medicals, no Miguel Cervantes! In short, it is the hope of our committee, and of our chairman, Councillor Gilbert Stokoe, whom we affectionately refer to as Lord Gilbert, that the Heroine of Scutari will come to our aid; and such is your reputation for getting things done in the teeth of prejudice, inertia, downright ignorance of the importance of cleanliness, using swabs only once and generally being antipathetic to swarms of flies and other undesirables, that we feel you will be pleased once more to be the darling of all that is wholesome in the life of the nation.

 The committee can assure you that you and your team of ministering angels will encounter none of the horrors that greeted you during the Boer War. On the contrary, we are hoping that there will be little for you to do other than to look pretty in your blue costumes (Mrs. Stokoe is assembling these at this very moment).

Usually our shows pass without incident or injury, though my boy Benjie fell through a poorly erected marquee at the Annual Flower, Vegetable and Livestock Show, quite without intention destroying Lord Gilbert’s prize exhibit of Icelandic Nasturtiums. (He was, nevertheless, presented with the first prize in compensation, Lord Gilbert that is, not our Benjie – who, you will I know be pleased to learn, sustained only a bruised elbow and a telling off from his Mum).

We are fully aware of how busy you must be lobbying parliament for a decent health service, but confident that you, the Soldiers’ Sweetheart, will not only receive a warm welcome from the crowds that will be coming to Wickerstaff from far and near. Now that we have buried the hatchet with the Russians, we hope a few who have settled in the area will take time out from property speculation and even bring along their ballylayakers to serenade early arrivals.

 In fact, the only worry we have with regard to possible injuries concerns how the Russians, the Poles, the Bulgarians, the Romanians and the Geordies will get on with each other. With regard to this, we are still in two minds whether to go ahead with the five-a-side soccer tournament which ended up last year with a set-to the like of which hasn’t been seen in these parts since Peterloo.

 Dr. Ivan Arbuthnot, a committee member, and incidentally my wife Betty’s tutor – she is at present studying for an Open University degree – believes that your presence, Miss Nightingale, will bring about peace and harmony. Dr. Arbuthnot, by the way, is an expert in 18th and 19th century corantos and chapbooks, but he has also written a slim volume entitled ‘Why The Invasion of Iraq Was The Stupidest Action in British History Since The Charge of the Light Brigade’. We plan to sell this, as it were, ‘under the counter’ in order not to upset certain arms manufacturers who have second homes in the vicinity and who recently generously contributed to the parish church roof fund.

 Madam, we are fully aware that the challenge we are offering, which carries no remuneration except for the satisfaction of doing a good, Scutari-style job of work, means your coming briefly out of well-earned retirement. We are confident, however, that you might regard as ample compensation the fact that none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is likely to write the incidental music and that the show’s scenery will be the work of Mr. Billy Blake, who has promised not to read any of his Proverbs from Hell in public.

Oh, I had almost forgotten: our musical play which features Lord Gilbert as Don Quixote and your humble servant as Sancho Panzer (my Betty was planning to audition for the part of the fair Dulcy Naya, only for it to be awarded to our next door neighbour and Lord Gilbert’s half-cousin, Jill), will be followed by The Epic Battle of the Titans, The Greeks versus the Anglo Saxons, Robin Hood and his Merry Men doing the honours for the Saxons (along with King Harold if he can make it).

We have positively banned bloodshed, but once these warriors get the scent of battle in their nostrils you cannot be sure what excesses may scupper their good resolve.

As you will see, Nurse Nightingale, we have every need of your good services. Refreshments for the ‘workers’ are being provided at her personal expense by Lord Gilbert’s wife who also auditioning for Dulcy Naya (though in confidence I confess that not only is she too old for the part, but too round). Ideally, we’d have cast Helen of Troy for the part but since the shinanegins over the Wooden Horse and that, her husband doesn’t let her out at nights, and we’ve only got the village hall for rehearsals between seven and nine.

 Mind you, with reference to Mrs. Gilbert, there’s nobody in Wickerstaff, or in adjoining villages, who can make scones, rock cakes, plate custards or Chorley cakes like Beryl. In fact, a display of her specials would, I have no doubt, have stopped your Lord Raglan in his tracks before he led the poor Brits into the jaws of death and glory.

Please write to the above address as a matter of urgency. Without your assistance in this matter, The Charge of the Light Brigade will be nothing in comparison to the cancellation of what Joe, the captain of our pub team, has called ‘the biggest thing in Wickerstaff since sliced bread’.
Yours etc.
Ned Baslow

PS: My Grandad Barney used to rent a house just outside Crich, home of the Tramway Museum, which is just up the road from your stately manse. He often used to say, ‘Why don’t we drop in at Florence’s place for a cuppa tea?’ But we never did. I think he was joking.

Happy Christmas!

















Tuesday, 19 November 2013


A Writer’s Notebook

No. 44, November 2013

 James Watson
Friends and contributors

Notes in passing: double-click on Klee
Feedback: what's in a title?
Poems of place (20) Alien presence, Gunwalloe
Ned to Inspector Morse
Kindle editions (3) Ticket to Prague

 NOTES IN PASSING: Double-click on Klee

Always thought that Paul Klee was best sampled in small doses; but not a bit of it. The show at Tate Modern stokes up an appetite for Klee in plenty. Some major exhibitions of artists have a stretching effect, quality and inventiveness flag; though it could also be eye-wearout on the part of visitors; that and the crowds.

  Klee sustains interest despite the fact that his work, in the main, is small-scale. One could run off with most of his works tucked under the arm, and the temptation offered by so many of them, like the 10”x 5” Translucancies: Orange, Blue, a tiny poem of colour composition, tempts one to furtively check the CCTV cameras. The artist wrote about his art, taught it (at the Bauhaus) and was a ceaseless experimenter. This exhibition focuses on his work from 1913 to his death in 1940.

Boosted by Blue Rider
Klee’s confidence as an artist was contributed to by the other artists he met, in particular the Blue Rider group which included Kandinsky, Marc and Macke, the latter two killed during World War 1. Klee too was called up, but someone with a vision of his future had him employed as a clerk.
    We are all the beneficiaries of that decision. Klee was also lucky in those who admired and wrote about him. In his book Flight Out of Time published in 1917, Hugo Ball wrote that Klee in ‘an age of the colossus…falls in love with a green leaf, a star, a butterfly’s wing.’ Louis Arragon commended his ‘lightness, grace, spirit, charm and finesse’, while Jankel Adler referred to his ‘creative quiet’.

What we get in equal measure in Klee is craftsman and artist. In this sense he was an exemplar for the Bauhaus at Weimar, then Dessau, that championed both. Klee was not, however, a slave to craft, to exactitude.
    He wrote, ‘We construct and keep on constructing, yet intuition is a good thing. You can do a good deal without it, but not everything. Exactitude winged by intuition is at times best’.  

Art ‘makes visible’
Tate Modern gives emphasis to what Klee said or wrote in his diaries about his art, leading off with a classic: art, he believed, ‘does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible’. His pictures are processes in making, assembling colours, lines, shapes – some representative, some semi-abstract, some wholly abstract – on meticulously prepared surfaces. They are the fruit of constant experiments employing what he called an ‘oil transfer method’ and ‘gradation’, approaches he encouraged his Bauhaus students to follow.

In fact, though one is intrigued and entertained by the foreground images, the juxtaposed squares of colour, the rhythmic shapes, the fish (that have swum out of his personal aquarium); despite the effects, the fabric-like pointillism, the fishing rods, the exclamation marks, the stars, the crescent moons, one’s attention keeps returning to the surface treatment that makes all possible, renders all magical.

The Klee favourites are here: They’re Biting (1920), The Seafarer (1923), Portrait of an Equilibrist (1927), Jumper (1930) and Memory of a Bird (1932). The last picture in the exhibition, Twilight Flowers illustrates Klee’s pact with harmony, his preference for pastel colours combined with effecting colour radiance; odes to quiet joy.
   Such radiance Klee encountered on a trip to Tunisia early in his career. The impact of it seems to be a constant in his work. After his visit, Klee wrote in his dairy, ‘Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always. I know it...Colour and I are one. I am a painter’. (1914).
   Klee is famous for his memorable observation that in his art he is ‘taking a line for a walk’; however, it is colour that does the talking. Catch the Tate Modern show before it closes on 9 March next year. It’s worth every (expensive) penny.

FEEDBACK: what’s in a title?
Issue 43, looked at the ways titles enhanced or risked undermining their texts, whether novels, plays or films. Eye-catching, informative, evocative, mystifying or simply over-obvious, off-putting, dry-as-dust, uninspiring, misleading? Thanks to the readers who responded to the Good, Bad and Ugly challenge, serving up some humdingers and some dot-balls.

From Carl Briggs: My all-time favourite is a seven-worder: Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author. It suggests dramatic innovation, a process about to take place, an exploration. It hints at an uncertain outcome. I guess what I’m getting, as much an experiment as the telling of a story.

Like you, I’d find the film Misery a turn-off, but then the reputation of the director, John Huston, would suffice for me to give it a try; and that goes for authors generally and as far as films and plays are concerned, who’s in them counts for as much as the allure of the title.

From Helen Chan: It’s true, a good title can mask a bad film, and a good film can suffer from abad title. There are more of the second than the first. It would be interesting to talk to creative people and ask why, when it comes to titling, inspiration  deserts them. It’s not easy: I’ve just seen Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra. I tried to think of a better title for this excellent movie. Not easy, unless you rename it The Liberace Story, or Liberace and his Lover.

For me, good: The Mad Woman off Chaillot, derived from the Jean Giradoux play, which could suggest that the best film titles earn their keep from the stories they adapt. Same thing goes for The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Irving Lerner’s film version of the Peter Shaffer play, The Looking Glass War from the Le Carre novel and Laughter in the Dark Tony Richardson’s film version of the Nabakov novel. Lastly, as a promise of fun, There’s as Girl in My Soup Roy Boulting’s take on a Terence Frisby play.

Thanks, Helen. Sometimes the film title improves on the original. Get Carter has more oomph than the title of Ted Lewis’s story Jack’s Return Home.

From JP: For me, Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell and the recent movie, Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow; challenging because its meaning isn’t obvious, but suggests something menacing. Or, talking in numbers, how about a 12-worder from 1922, I’d Love to Fall Asleep and Wake Up in My Mammy’s Arms. Beat that?

From Bron O’B: The sixties produced some great film titles: Where Eagles Dare, Carve Her Name With Pride, The Lion in Winter, Nobody Runs For Ever and the daddy of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 From Gwen R: I checked a list of recommended Goodreads and picked out those book titles that caught my eye straight away: The First Phone-call from Heaven by Mitch Albom got my prize. I liked This Wicked Game by Michelle Zinc, but wouldn’t want to take it forward on reading that it’s about voodoo. One-word titles? I liked Wil S.Hylton’s Vanished because it is intriguing and aided by a cover that hints at the book’s content – an enquiry into a US bomber that went missing in World War 11.

I decided to pass on another one-worder, Foreplay. A four-worder The Cute Girl Network wasn’t for me. Toltanica left me bemused, though Code of Darkness was perhaps the best of the three-worders. What matters, of course, is the meat in the sandwich of title and cover; but unless you’re drawn in in the first place, you’re unlikely to give the meat a chance.

From LRC: Can’t remember details, but there’s wit in the following: I’ll Never Forget What’s His Name, Charity Covers a Multitude of Sins and Never Complain to Your Laundress. One of my all-time favourites is Kind Hearts and Coronets, but having seen this wonderful British comedy it would be my favourite even if it had been called The Hell of It.

A quick vox pop produced the following favourite titles: Knife in the Water, Riddle of the Sands, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Ship That Died of Shame, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Missouri Breaks, They Crawl (a horror movie) and the English title of a French film, The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun (1970).

 It seems that you can’t go wrong if you put ‘Great’ in the title: The Great Imposter, The Great Muppet Caper, The Great Dictator, The Great Gatsby, The Greatest Show on Earth and The Greatest Story Ever Told all got a mention.

 How about the 8 best films to take to a desert island (equipment and blackout provided)?

Poems of place (20)

His eyes would seem to be closed
In contemplation, as on long arms
He extends in one hand a bell,
In the other a fist for nestling snails.

The lids resemble less the visage
Of an early saint, than a storm-smoothed Buddha,
The jetsam perhaps of a shipwreck
Washed ashore on barbarous rock,
Resurrected here by the church
To shiver in a graveyard, washed
By cold tides, and far from home.

Walk close, and suddenly the eyes watch
And follow with seeming malice
As if each wanderer to the sea is held
To blame for this exile among Christian bones.

The Ned Baslow Letters (cont)
Theatre, opera and poetry lovers from Land’s End to John O’Groats are emailing ticket requests for ‘The Greatest Arts Festival’ ever to be mounted in the west midlands during July 2014 at Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven; and this is in no small way due to the marketing genius of our regular correspondent, Ned Baslow.

 Over the past few months he has harnessed the talents of not only geniuses of the worlds of art and music but the contributions of some of history’s most iconic names. This month we see Ned replying to Inspector Morse, whose sergeant, Lewis (a man after Ned’s own heart), has applied for tickets on behalf of his senior officer.

 Dear Inspector Morse
What a a pleasant surprise to hear from your Sergeant Lewis that you are interested in attending our Summer Festival production of The Spectacles of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and the Sights of La Mancha, followed by the Epic Battle of the Titans, though at the moment there are no plans to allow your second favourite composer, Herr Mozart, to, as your Sergeant picturesquely put it, ‘wield the baton’. We are not even certain that Wolfy as we call him is prepared to play ball over writing the incidental music.

You will understand that our conductor of many years, Mr Entwistle, who incidentally taught my boy Benjie the piano (until he gave this up for the trombone – Benjie, that is, not Mr Entwistle), will be supervising Wolfy and leading both the Women’s Union Chorus and the Lower Fernhaven Brass Ensemble, with interval music from the Gilbert Stokoe Jazz Quintet, featuring Lord Gilbert’s sons Julius, Hadrian and Octavian and his daughters Penthesilea (Penny for short) and Cybille.

We are hoping that Lord G will be able to entertain us with a medley of ballads on the theme of Robin Hood, composed by himself (Lord Gilbert, that is, not Robin Hood), though his main task will, of course, be in the starring role of Don Quixote and, by honoured tradition, leading the National Anthem at the conclusion of the performances.

It’s my opinion, Inspector, that we in Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven are on the way to matching any cultural event available in your native Oxford; and while the village hall theatre is smaller in area than your famous Playhouse (I saw the panto Dick Whittington there, or was it Dick Turpin?), it at least has more comfortable seats than the Sheldonian which, if you don’t mind me saying, is the most uncomfortable venue I’ve ever had to plonk my bottom in.

My only visit was a disaster. Having been forced to sit through a piece of music forty-five minutes long, I suffered chronic back pain from which I fear I shall only slowly recover. Also. I shall remember to my dying day the looks I got from others in the audience when I dared to clap during what only turned out to be a pause in the music.

I would never have gone to the concert at all had I known that my wife Betty had misheard the lady in the box-office, and dragged me to hear music by Steve Reich rather than Steve Race, always one of our favourites on Radio 2.

  Reich ought to be ashamed of himself – forty-five minutes, I ask you, and he scarcely used 45 notes, relying on repetition, reminding me of somebody opening and shutting a squeaky cupboard: it was sheer torture:  if they’d used this technique at the Guantanamo prison camps, they’d have got confessions soon enough.

Course, everybody around me thought this Reich rubbish was wonderful: I guess your Sergeant Lewis will appreciate how I felt, a real fish out of water.

 Unfortunately our VIP tickets have had to be curtailed owing to pressure of demand, as relatives of ‘Lord Gilbert’, Chair of the Panto and Light Opera Society, are coming in droves from far and wide, including cousins from Nova Scotia while my Betty’s godmother Bernadette and her Spanish husband Antonio (no relation to the famous tap-dancer) are due to fly in from Benidorm where, incidentally, they had a lovely bungalow overlooking the sea, until Spanish bureaucracy force them to evacuate before bulldozers came in at dawn.

They are now slumming it in Gibraltar, but are determined to make the Festival as they have a soft spot for Sancho Panzer, personal servant to Don Q, and source of considerable comedy throughout. I am happy to say, incidentally, that the part has been awarded to your correspondent, though it was auditioned by at least three others (including a current spear carrier at the Royal Shakespeare Company).

Another candidate for the part was my Betty’s tutor at the Open University, Dr. Ivan Arbuthnot, who I might have mentioned in my previous letter is an expert in 18th and 19th century corantos and chapbooks. As compensation he has been given the part, appropriately, of a wandering tinker and will be rendering one of Wolfie’s arias though this may have to be curtailed or cut altogether if Jill, our next-door neighbour, gets her voice back so she can, as the fair Dulcy Naya, the heroine, render her three duets with the Don Quixote.

 Tickets are available in sterling or euros, but I’d advise Sergeant Lewis (who usually seems to pay your bills, at least the cost of your ‘food for thought’ as you call it) not to leave things till the last minute. If you’ve managed to hold on to one of your stylish lady-friends from one instalment to another, she will be welcome. As my Betty always says, ‘Morse, he may not be successful with women, but he’s got taste’.

 Yours ever

Ned Baslow


Kindle editions (3)  Ticket to Prague
In trouble with the law, talented swimmer Amy Douglas is put to voluntary work in a small home for mental patients. Josef, a middle-aged Czech stares all day at a blank TV screen. Amy learns that he was once a poet who, on a visit to England from Communist Czechoslovakia too refuge here.
 Her love of reading ignites the poet’s interest. A friendship develops followed by the invitation, as the Velvet Curtain is drawn back from decades of Soviet oppression, for Josef to receive a literary prize in Prague. Amy accompanies him, and finds fresh challenges and a new love.

Shortlisted for the Lancashire County Council Book of the Year.

‘A very enjoyable way of researching Eastern European history in a fascinating story laced with risqué language and rich vocabulary.  Ann Fisher, Carousel.

‘Although it is often funny, Ticket to Prague is also a very serious novel, and it shirks none of the tragic implications which it puts forward. [The novel] is deeply thought-provoking, dealing as it does with real personal and political problems and wisely leaving most of the answers to the individual reader.’ Junior Bookshelf.

‘I just finished reading your book Ticket to Prague for the third time, and I wanted to tell you how much I love it. You described Prague in such vivid language, I want to get my own ticket to Prague!! I won the book quiz at my local library last year and like I mentioned before, have read it several times. I'm a young writer myself, and books like Ticket to Prague give me something to aspire to. I'm waiting for school to start again, so I can hunt down some of your books in my school library, and I can’t wait!! I suppose you might get this a lot but you are a brilliant writer Mr. Watson and I love your work.’ Young teenager, emailing the author from New Zealand.
Further information: http://tinyurl.com/nwlr59f

Thanks for reading Blog 44.

In Blog 45 there will be a review piece on IMITATION OF LIFE by Laura Solomon; two small extracts from the novel were published in Blogs 42 & 43.