Tag Archives: Tom Stoppard

Free day, Friday

Fat and difficult. Well, that can describe many things. It could be me. Or, in this case, it could be Dust, i.e. La Belle Sauvage. How I wish I’d had a review copy! Or gone to an airport to buy the trade paperback. If a book insists on being quite so large and quite so fat, I need it to be soft. (I’m soft. Just saying.) I am actually having to read more slowly because I can’t handle the weight or the sharp corners for any length of time. (Not talking about me here.)

But I’ll get there. Just as my second interview from August will eventually ‘get there’ too. Typing slowly. Very slowly, in fact.

Speaking of interviews, a dream interview I’d never even considered, is Keren David’s with Tom Stoppard for the Jewish Chronicle this week. It’s clearly how the professional works. Conducts good interview. Transcribes it promptly. Loved it! (That’s me.) What’s more, the man sounds like a really pleasant person.

I had a pleasant afternoon out yesterday, when a local author bought me some interesting fruity tea at the ‘coffee burghhouse’ as I like to call it. It is, of course, really the Burgh Coffeehouse, but I get so mixed up. Nice conversation about property and pyjamas, and why I can’t ever prepare my sprouts on Christmas Eve.

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Czech this

Oddly enough, until yesterday I never really looked into Tom Stoppard’s past. I mean, no more than what seems to be generally known, like him having been born in Czechoslovakia, and writing highly amusing drama. It’s odd, because he was my favourite dramatist when I was at university, and it was only my tutor’s perception that Tom lacked depth that meant I never ‘did’ anything about him in an academic way.

Perhaps it was the lack of Google and Wikipedia? Although, I did have a volume on British dramatists where I could look people up. Or maybe I simply felt that Tom’s work spoke for him?

I used to think he was awfully clever; to have been born a foreigner and still be able to write the way he did. Yeah, I know. I sound almost xenophobic, but that’s not what I meant. I believed that if a language was not your native one, then there would always be something that you couldn’t do with it. I knew I couldn’t.

And it seems that Tom agreed with me in some way. I found this quote on Wikipedia: ‘His stepfather believed strongly that “to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life” – a quote from Cecil Rhodes – telling his small stepson: “Don’t you realise that I made you British?” setting up Stoppard’s desire as a child to become “an honorary Englishman”. “I fairly often find I’m with people who forget I don’t quite belong in the world we’re in”, he says. “I find I put a foot wrong – it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history – and suddenly I’m there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket.’

Two years ago I’d have found that amusing. Now I don’t.

It’s noteworthy that his stepfather was happy to marry a foreigner, and to take on two little foreign boys as his sons. But what’s more, Mr Stoppard appears to have believed that the act of doing so made these little foreigners British. How many people – who matter – share his thoughts today?

As for the pronunciation, the arcane history, or being naked; I’ve been there too. At least I share something with Sir Tom.

So, as I was saying, I adored his humour back then. I must have read almost every single play he wrote, up until the mid 1980s when I moved on to other reading material. But I always wanted to be able to write like Tom Stoppard, even if he ‘lacked depth.’

I had a bit of an epiphany thinking about my tutor’s comment. I’d like to think she has changed her mind over the years, and with hindsight I see that humorous drama like Tom’s could very well be viewed like children’s books, or crime; not quite properly grown-up.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have everything you could want.

The very same tutor was terribly ambitious, so after I teased the group with my frequent trips to London, going to the theatre to see new and exciting plays, she organised a drama week for us. She bought tickets for about eight plays in six days and charmed a lot of money from someone at some party or conference, which meant that we could all have a week in London for next to no cost.

And one of those plays was a Stoppard, Night and Day, starring John Thaw, but sadly not Diana Rigg.

Where am I going with this? Not sure. But Sir Tom is clearly an immigrant, with a refugee past, a Jew, who made it in Britain. Made it to Britain. And he dares to be clever with the language spoken here. Whether he has stopped feeling inadequate I have no idea. And I suspect he won’t be one of the first to be forced to leave when Brexit really gets going.

Another Hamlet

Something, I forget what, made me remember the other Hamlet. I think of him every now and then, and I blogged about him once before:

‘Swedes have long admired the British for their wit. The English department at Gothenburg employed several such witty Englishmen to dazzle the Swedish students with their Englishness. They were usually called David something-or-other.

The short Hamlet was written by David Wright while he was still at school, if I remember correctly. He provided us students with copies of his admirably brief play, which was very funny, primarily because everything had to happen with such speed. I may still have it somewhere.’

I read through it again, and maybe it’s not the work of a genius. With added maturity I can see it’s more schoolboy wit, but still. It’s English schoolboy wit rather than Swedish. Not saying they are better. Just different.

The grown David Wright was amusing and entertaining too. I’d happily have gone to his lessons just for the fun of it.

At that time one of our set books was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For someone as witty as Tom Stoppard (I must have been collecting them at the time!), I seem to recall that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern struck me as more boring than expected. Perhaps it’s just me. I might have a Hamlet block somewhere.

Moving tales #2 – the books

The books. Some will simply have to go. About half would be good.

So, one question: Does it make more sense to hang on to old books already read and thoroughly enjoyed, or those not yet read at all? I’m beginning to think that some used ones ought to go, and some new ones should stay, in the hopes they will come into favour at some point. But not too many.

Some books have moved around with me before. A lot. I used to be of the opinion that if I’d liked something, I’d hang on to it. Part of the family and all that. Now that this looks like an impossible ambition, I suspect I can chuck out quite a few books. I look at them and ask myself if I’m at all likely to re-read, even were I not so blessed with new incoming books on a daily basis.

More often than you’d think, the answer is no. And for every 19 books successfully Oxfammed, there is bound to be a 20th I will regret. But there are libraries and secondhand bookshops, and even firsthand bookshops, whence mistakes might be rectified.

Books

Libraries. I must have imagined I actually am a library in the past. Thoughts like ‘that could be handy to have if …’ have confused me. I have hung on to books because I am a snob. It would look impressive – or at least marginally good – to have certain books on my shelves.

And, it’s so useful to have a nice selection if visitors want to read while staying with us. Pah! I don’t like lending books, and we don’t exactly run a hotel here. The only people impressed by our books have been Son’s reception teacher and our former GP. The Grandmother sometimes finds something she will read (which she then takes home with her to finish).

I have been known to feel that if I adore a writer, I must keep all of his or her books, when a few of the best will do. Now that I own a lot of signed books I have felt I can’t part with any of those. But I’ll just have to. (The embarrassing fact is that anything signed to Bookwitch will be rather obvious. Please don’t hate me.)

I can’t get rid of books written by the very nice people I am now reasonably acquainted with. But I will have to. You are still absolutely lovely people. So are your books. Lovely, I mean, not that they are people.

Several copies of the ‘same’ book makes little sense. So does keeping [all of] Offspring’s books. Unless they at least spring clean a little, so we don’t keep every single one. Son could prune his multiple copies of Terry Pratchett and Eoin Colfer. Daughter could decide she won’t bl**dy re-read Cathy Hopkins, again. Actually, no, perhaps she couldn’t.

Some of my fiction is quite easy to decide on. But what about Shakespeare? One collected works is enough, which means the other can go. But the plays we also have separately? What will we want to return to at some point? Which Tom Stoppard play do I like best? Shaw? Do we need two Swedish hymn books?*

*This backfired a little. When the Resident IT Consultant was reminded of Shaw, for instance, he promptly sat down and read one of the plays. He told me off for wanting to deprive him of the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Oh, dear. He claimed the Zen motorbike book was his, and not mine to chuck out. And so it went.

But some books went.

Dissertations and stuff

On account of us (that’s Daughter and I) setting off for Oxford later today, I’ll ponder the business of writing really clever stuff. For some obscure reason the previously mentioned Daughter started asking questions about dissertations the other week. And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure of the finer differences between things.

My educational background never stretched further than essays. Or possibly it did, and I’m just incorrectly using the word essay for my humble efforts. I wrote a dreadful thing on the American space programme, but the poor physics teacher was impressed. It didn’t take me long at all to work out what a feeble piece it was. It taught me the valuable lesson that sometimes the hardest thing is to write about what you love.

So later on at university I simply picked a topic off the tutor’s list and ended up with Under Milk Wood, of all subjects. But it was OK, and I enjoyed it. At the next stage I went for The Angry Young Men, which was less fun, but still interesting. On the other hand, I won’t be sorry if I never read another play by John Osborne. I would much have preferred Tom Stoppard, but apparently he was too fluffy and fun to take seriously.

Needless to say the Resident IT Consultant did stuff on IT kinds of things. I’ve never bothered reading it. And I couldn’t find a copy when I was going to show Daughter how clever her old people once were.

As I was busy flipping out with the effort of having two small Offspring at home, I met someone at one of our Swedish meetings, who taught at the university. She spent the first two years of her first child’s life polishing her PhD, while also effortlessly giving birth to child number two. In fact, I got the impression that for each child (she has four) she spent the maternity period on something academic.

I did try to read her thesis. She was actually very pleased when I inquired about it, and provided me with a copy. As I dug it out for Daughter’s investigation I noticed that I hadn’t even got halfway. It was sort of in my kind of subject, it being linguistics, but I still didn’t understand the finer points of Swedish noun phrases.

So I don’t know. Might be best if I stick with low-level blogging.