Dickensian Britain returns at the hands of Grovegrind

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Enjoying the light relief of Stephen Fry’s latest bio as the sun shines outside in a frosty Cumbria; having read Moab is My Washpot awhile back I was looking forward to the humanity and self-deprecation of his story, someone who is probably overly exposed as the thinking woman’s Jeremy Clarkson but nonetheless interesting. He shares my fascination with Wagner and recently rescued W’s reputation from being the nasty backing track to the Nazi era. Having loved Blackadder when it first came out, sitting to watch Fry as the Archbish with my girlfriend of the time (now a far better half by a country mile), he cuts an interesting figure and observer of our times and our relationship with an Englishness that still disturbs us. A kind of accessible toff. Unlike his Oxbridge counterpart Ozzy ‘Kloisters’ Osbourne for whom darker thoughts emerge.

It reminded me that this Fry book was a Crimbo gift which jogged my thoughts into a reflection that one of the blessings of being married for a year or four (*cough*) is having a partner who knows your taste in reading. In fact I wonder if marriage progress is marked by the gifts you get. You spend a number of years cringing and being disturbed by gifts that appear to have little or no relation to yourself; maybe bizarre videos (VHS in my case) on some obscure interest you don’t have. And then after much honesty and openness and intimacy you arrive at a state of artful insight by your lover where Christmas is a joy of discovery as there are no long socks, stripy pullovers, noisome after-shaves that could strip 14 layers of paint in one dousing. My daughter mocks my boring nature as gifts can now simply fall into two categories only: CDs and books. What else is there frankly? But on page 87 of Fry’s hardback version his turn of phrase really appeals in a short evangelical moment which is worth blogging. He says:

“Picture the world as being a city whose pavements are covered a foot deep in gold coins. You have to wade through them to make progress. Their clinking and rattling fills the air. Imagine that you met a beggar in such a city. ‘Please, give me something. I am penniless.’ ‘But look around you,’ you would shout. ‘There is gold enough to last you your whole life. All you have to do is to bend down and pick it up!’ When people complain that they don’t know any literature because it was badly taught at school, or that they missed out on history because on the timetable it was either that or biology, or some such ludicrous excuse, it is hard not to react in the same way. ‘But it’s all around you!’ I want to scream. ‘All you have to do is bend down and pick it up!’.”

I make no apology for gushing imagery. Especially as libraries face budget slashing by the current Philistine government. I suspect ConDem don’t read much in fact… especially as Gove loves his ‘facts, facts and more facts’. His lines unknowingly plagiarised from Dickens’ Hard Times and sounding more like Gradgrind than Gradgrind himself. Despite Fry’s privileges in life he has a point. So at least we prize Fry for such clarity and restoring something amidst a world awash with popular culture’s terrifying offering (not that it’s all bad… there is… erm… ?). Of course this emotion and entreaties are now aided by the fact Waterstones is usually adorned by Costa Coffee – the middle class junkie’s drug of choice (along with Chardonnay from the fridge… on tap!). Tea /Coffee and reading / studying being the loving bedfellows. We have a brilliant independent 2nd hand store here with a Buddhist coffee shop attached. (Not sure what Buddha himself would think of caffeine induced hyperness?) It and W’stones are the Temples or Fountains or Wells or whatever that keep the city centre public spaces from being one large advertising hoarding for tat. The only drawback is the 2nd hand store is usually minus 20 degrees as its grumbling boiler never gets fixed and the staff have developed blood thicker than oil in their veins and have stopped noticing the ice particles in the air. Thankfully Waterstones heat their customers to a toasty crust so sitting for an hour or two with your reading material is probably the closest we have to heaven on this earth. Starbucks is now awash with sticky detritus and seems to be populated by the local yoof too plus their service levels have plummeted to what you might expect from impersonal American franchises whose long arm of management control can’t quite reach North Cumbria very effectively.

Right… W’stones it is……

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