Thoroughly unpleasant

Clerk of Oxford, Ellesmere Chaucer http://dpg.lib.berkeley.edu/webdb/dsheh/heh_brf?CallNumber=EL+26+C+9&Description=&page=2
The Clerk with his books, Ellesmere Chaucer
http://dpg.lib.berkeley.edu/webdb/dsheh/heh_brf?CallNumber=EL+26+C+9&Description=&page=2

Ivo Stourton The Book Lover’s Tale Doubleday 2011

Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,
On bookes and on lernynge he it spente.

Anything with ‘book lover’ in the title is bound to attract, is it not? And The Book Lover’s Tale has such echoes of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that it comes as  little surprise that a late 15th-century printed edition of the Tales plays a crucial role at the climax of the novel. But take note: Chaucer is nothing if not ironic. The Clerk, who appears so idealistic, the antithesis of greed and worldliness, a man who would rather “have at his beddes heed | Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,” is — like all the Pilgrims — not quite what he seems. His tale, following on soon after The Wife of Bath’s Tale with its theme of women’s sovereignty over men, appears to favour the model wife: The Clerk’s Tale tells the misogynistic story of Patient Griselda, uncomplaining despite everything thrown at her by a husband determined to test her obedience. However, the Clerk then adds some surprising comments: women should really stand up for themselves and follow the example of the Greek nymph Echo who, of course, always answered back. His further advice is that wives should aim to make their husbands worry, weep, wring their hands and wail.

All this background, I think, is important in trying to understand what is at first sight a pretty grubby tale told in the first person by a real Lothario, a book collector by the name of Matt Le Voy. Continue reading “Thoroughly unpleasant”

First day

BerkeleySquareWestside
Berkeley Square, Bristol (Wikipedia Commons, cropped image)

It was a little over half a century, but it may as well have been the Dark Ages. Bare knees raw from the wind and knocking together beneath scratchy woollen shorts, the lad of ten years circled the gloomy Georgian square clockwise. His companion was confident, having walked this route many times, but the newcomer’s heart pounded in his chest as loud as a drum beaten for an execution. As he walked to the topmost corner of the square the anonymous Bath stone buildings intimidated, staring impassively but judging this poor specimen of a schoolboy as wanting, inadequate, unprepared. As indeed he was.

Surrounded by stony-faced frontages was a fenced-off garden, its bleakness needing no Keep Out notice to suggest somewhere forbidden to the likes of him. A Victorian copy of a truncated medieval high cross stood in one angle, dominated by the grey pillared tree trunks and overlooked by stripped bare boughs.

As they climbed the few steps to the entrance he gave another shiver. His blue gabardine mac gave no protection against the bitter weather, nor did his black blazer which, as he was to find out, made him as overheated in summer as it failed to safeguard him against winter cold. As the pair entered the lobby through double wooden doors his companion hissed at him to remove his cap. Out of the wind his ears stung with sudden warmth; however, when his gloves – sewn to pieces of elastic – shot up his raincoat sleeves, his fingers remained as bereft of feeling as if he’d never worn them in the first place.

A glance around confirmed what in retrospect he would recognise as a Dickensian scene: the dark panelling of the entrance; the shining shoulder-height paint on corridor walls; and, above all, the crow-like creatures who suddenly loomed into view. These were Irish Christian Brothers, neither necessarily Irish nor very Christian, and rarely brotherly. In the capacious pockets of their black habits they each carried a wicked leather strap which they named Fred or Excalibur or some such companionable name. The youngster would get to know these instruments of chastisement very soon, all too well and always with fear. For this he had left a near idyllic existence, for this he had travelled over ten thousand miles from the other side of the world.

* Another submission for creative writing classes, the theme genre writing, the genre Gothic, the prose overlarded …

Colour palette

Paint palette
Paint palette (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

For TV dramas set in hospitals the general rule is that nothing – neither sets, costume nor location shots – should include the colour red. Why? This is because it may limit the impact when blood is first introduced into the action. Apparently the shock of that crimson fluid staining a largely monochrome palate produces an atavistic reaction in most people, especially when it’s allied to a storyline that raises expectations of an immanent coup-de-theatre.

Of course, I knew all about colour palettes, Continue reading “Colour palette”