A very warm welcome to customers joining at Bad, our next station stop will be…

Those of you who know roughly how my mind works – well, I say mind and (for that matter) works, but we both know those two words are operating well outside their respective comfort zones – will realise that this post will be about verse.  Oh yes, he’s brazenly attempted to gussy-up the hackneyed old “going from bad to verse” pun in the hope of creating some barely viable click-bait.  Then again, if you’re reading this, it may have actually worked.  Go me!

The regular reader will be aware of the start of my unfortunate poetry habit and I regret to inform you that matters have not improved.  I currently seem to be consuming collections of poetry at the rate of one per day.  This may not be entirely healthy and is starting to impact other areas of my life.  It has been good news of J Sainsbury’s plc as their store is more convenient for Octopus Books, where I can go for a new fix of any poesy unavailable from the library, than is Waitrose.  In consequence, they have increased their share of my weekly grocery budget – though oddly, this seems to have coincided with a fall in their share price (should they be paying me to take my custom elsewhere?).

At one point, my need for poetry led to me reading Thom Gunn in the checkout queue.  Not entirely wise as supermarket staff are not trained to understand why tears may be streaking a customer’s cheeks after only a fairly minor delay in the process of paying for his goods.  I have now reverted to stewing in my own thoughts as a more socially acceptable form of waiting.

I don’t claim to understand every line, or even every poem: but enough makes it through my semantic barriers that I can recognise some very compelling writing.  Reading some poetry can almost feel intrusive, almost like reading someone else’s diary (and I don’t just mean a list of appointments), so personal does some of it seem.  There are also some lovely turns of phrase available, one of my favourites is “her petal-bright coat” (by Mark Doty): not sure why, it just feels so good in the mouth.  Actually, along with Thom Gunn, Mr Doty is one of my favourite discoveries – he seems to share a little of my style, with his poems full of the sort of asides that litter GofaDM like spots of used chewing gum.  I’m also rather the fan of Michael Donaghy and Philip Gross – but my range is still expanding.

In an attempt to control the poetry, and very much using the same pest-management strategy that proved so successful for the old woman, I am now attempting to ‘swallow’ some short stories.  I presume I will then have to switch to novellas, followed by novels in an escalating chain of reading that will no doubt result in my eventual demise after trying to tackle the literary equivalent of a horse.  Following a sudden memory restoration, I decided to start this counterattack with some work by Jorge Luis Borges (who I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time).  His works proved tricky to find in the library, being filled under neither L nor B.  Reference to the catalogue revealed they did exist, but were held in the Central Library Stacks.

[Cue spooky music: I’m thinking thunderstorm, heavy rain and some solid work on the organ by someone with a pale complexion, dark clothing and maniacal laugh.]

The library staff were a little reluctant to visit the stacks which lie in the crypt (OK, the basement) beneath the library.  There is some thought that they are haunted after the civic centre (including the library) was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the last unpleasantness and a number of children lost their lives sheltering in what is now the stacks.  There has, indeed, been a strange miasma rising up from the lower floor of the library, but I think this has more to do with recent flooding than an imminent assault by the undead.  Still, they did brave the trip and its potential for spectral complications, returning unharmed from Hades antechamber bearing a copy of Labyrinths for my future enjoyment.

This future enjoyment will be somewhat magnified as my reading glasses have arrived – so if you have any small print which needs reading, I’m your man!  The additional clarity (at close range) is taking a little getting used to – everything seems to be shouting at me – but I’m rather enjoying the blurring effect on my distance vision.  It does give everything the feel of those close-up shots of the female lead in a forties movie – as though through muslin or a thin film of vaseline – which lends an aura of romance to even the most mundane of vistas.

The downside of the reading glasses is the ever-present reminder of the temporal transience of existence (and, in particular, mine).  Here, poetry can be a comfort (so I shall probably stick with it, albeit aiming for a lower dosage): in the words of the aforementioned Mark Doty, “that flower wouldn’t blaze if time didn’t burn”.

Munro bagging

In many ways, I wish this post was about ascending Scottish peaks in the steps of Sir High Munro – but it isn’t.  I do have an ambition to bag a Munro or two, but something has always put me off – not the distance nor the hard-work, but the hideous ubiquity of small biting insects which (I fear) would be all too keen to taste of my virgin blood.  So, sadly, my plans to ascend the Scottish heights is on hold until science (or religion – I’m not fussy) comes up with an effective, idiot-proof defence against the midge.

No, over the past couple of weeks I have been “bagging” the works of Saki, aka H H Munro.  Some months ago, I heard an extended snatch of his short story The Stalled Ox on Radio 4 (where else?) and rather enjoyed it.  Since then, I have been rather ineffectually seeking out more of his work – but recently Southampton library delivered his Complete Short Stories into my hands (well, to be completely honest, I did have to take it off the shelf and carry it home myself).  The stories are from the Edwardian era – Saki himself was killed in 1916 sheltering in a shell crater – and I believe he was a tad reactionary.  Nevertheless, the stories are a joy – somewhat like Wodehouse, but with the brakes off and the bounds of taste and decency run roughshod over.  Many are extremely funny and some very dark and a lot of the themes remain surprisingly current a century (and more) after they were written.  Like PG he has a marvellous turn of phrase – and many of the stories feature an aunt.  I do feel that aunts had a much more pivotal role in the first quarter of the 20th century than they do in the present one, and I suspect this may not be a positive development (for comedy, if nothing else).  There was also a lot more bridge played – another negative effect of our soi-disant progress.

Sadly, I have only a very few short stories remaining and tomorrow the book must return to the welcoming bosom of the city’s central library.  Still, I’ve had more than a fortnight of fun and the next time I am in London I shall hold a mini-pilgrimage to Mortimer Street to check out H H’s blue plaque.  Via this post, I can (perhaps) share the joy of Munro bagging with a small (but select, even “amazing” [sic]) new audience.  Slightly concerned that this may lead to a decline in the morals of the GofaDM readership, but Clovis Sangrail is my new hero…