Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Monday 29th November 2004

Days roll on, and pass without me noticing. I can imagine myself waking with a start early one morning, shuffling to the bathroom and standing in front of the mirror, examining my withered blotched face in horror. I'm in old age, and the years have quietly passed, politely adding up without complaint. What's provoked this is that it's been over 6 weeks since I got back from East Asia - longer than I was away, but I wouldn't notice this unless I had a calendar in front of me, because days in London just drift past, mainly as a rainy parade of computer screens and concrete, scowls and abuse.

Don't get me wrong - it's hardly the worst place in the world to live - I've seen Pyongyang and the slums of Nairobi. And what would the citizens of Falluja or Baghdad give to be anywhere but there? But I can't help but persist in my view of London - a claustrophobic and oppressive sewer of exhaust fumes, delays and selfishness. For me, the stickers on the tube train windows supporting the farcical bid for the 2012 Olympics sum up the city's shambolic indifference to efficiency, standards of living and social values. It's just a little thing, but the stickers can't be viewed for the most part on the tube. They are see-through, the text on them is in black - so when you're in the darkness of a tunnel (and on the London Underground you normally are, often motionless) they serve no purpose at all. Someone's been paid lots of money to come up with them, the job has been half-heartedly done, no-one's thought it through, and no-one really cares.

But away with the self-indulgent wankery - surely I've been doing some worthwhile things? As seen below, I've spent an evening with Sir Roger Moore - I've also been to see him read Kipling at the British Library. I've enjoyed Bill Bailey's fantastic Part Troll, been pleasantly surprised by The Thrills' set at Brixton Academy and vaguely disappointed by the Gwen and Augustus John exhibition at Tate Britain. And along with its beautiful districts (all too expensive to live in) and its acres of parkland, the diversity and accessibility of art and culture is a seriously redeeming feature of London.

And so it was that I turned up at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the other day to hear some authors reading their work. Laila had a spare ticket, so I said I'd go along, without knowing who I was going to see. Noticing 'Faber & Faber's 75th Anniversary' imprinted on the ticket was intriguing, but I still didn't expect the startlingly impressive line-up. The whole thing was MCed by Andrew O'Hagen, who fumbled through his opening speech before welcoming PD James onto the stage. In a 1930's continuity announcer's voice she read a forgettable scene from a forgettable murder novel, and soon O'Hagen was back, introducing the next reader.

An Asian man, in black jeans and black t-shirt, with floppy centre-parted hair lolloped to the podium and read from his most famous work. Despite appearances, he wasn't a physics student reading from a dissertation, but Kazuo Ishiguro reading from The Remains of the Day. His reading was slightly stilted, but it didn't detract from the excellent material - although the audience seemed a little underwhelmed. Conversely, they opened up to Alan Bennett who was on next, snorting with laughter and love at his cuddly English ways. Amongst other things, Bennett read a compelling passage from The History Boys, which turned from an analysis of Hardy's Drummer Hodge into an easy-going muse on the nature of reading.

After the interval, literature's most famous transsexual took to the stage (assuming Nadia Almada's autobiography, Chop and Change, has yet to be published). Jan Morris was charming and self-deprecating. She read from her poetic and thoughtful books on Trieste and Venice, all the time with her hand against her face, apart from when making witty asides. Next Hanif Kureishi read from the Buddha of Suburbia, before the Nobel prize winner himself, Seamus Heaney, was wheeled out to gruffly mutter through his poems (including the obligatory Digging), which he did excellently. What struck me about all the readers was their lack of arrogance and pride. They are all hugely successful (whether commercially or critically) authors, but they all seemed down-to-earth and personable. I wondered if it would be the same if the evening had presented a handful of famous actors or artists.

Fighting through the scrum for signed books after the event, I realised that evenings like this make London worthwhile, even for a 'miserable, moody old shit' like me (to quote one of my 'friends'). At least the streets can be escaped, and the exhausted city-dweller can find refuge in a cinema or theatre, at a gig venue or in a gallery. Given the buses that arrive with the regularity of a solar eclipse, the elusive 'for hire' taxis and the feckless underground system, the only problem is getting there.

69 - posted at 17:13:16

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