Monday, March 30, 2015

Small synchronicities

I was sitting on a bus recently, thinking about the many errands I had planned for the day. I suddenly remembered that all the episodes in one of the later series of the science fiction programme Red Dwarf were being shown later that day. I didn’t want to miss anything – I had seen this particular series only once before - so I decided to go straight home after visiting the first shop on my list and save the other tasks for another day. Just as I made this decision, someone in the seat behind me started whistling the Red Dwarf theme song:

It's cold outside
There's no kind of atmosphere
I'm all alone, more or less
Let me fly far away from here…

I didn’t like to turn round and see what sort of person might have picked up and reacted to what I was thinking about.

Reading and thinking in synch with the TV
I wish that I had made notes of the numerous occasions many years ago when I was reading or thinking about something only to hear the same word or phrase synchronously being spoken on the TV. It happened so often that I came to think of it as normal. I have started to record recent occurrences of this phenomenon.

For the first time in 20 years, I started to think about someone I used to work with. He once made a ‘T’ sign with his hands and told me that it was a way to ask for time. Just as I remembered this, someone on the TV made that same sign.

I was just reading “Open your eyes” in a book when a TV advert featured this expression.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett R. I. P.

Terry Pratchett has died. There will be no more Discworld novels and no more stories about his witches.

Reading and writing about certain fictional modern-day witches can be depressing and demoralising, especially when they remind us of people who have injured us in real life. Terry Pratchett’s witches provide a pleasant, entertaining and amusing contrast: their sayings and doings lift the spirits of and bring enjoyment to his readers.

I quoted some extracts from some of his books here and here a while back, and added some thoughts of my own. 

Goodbye Terry, and thank you.

P. S. I saw Terry Pratchett once, and we exchanged brief smiles!

It was in Hampstead, in north-west London. I was walking past some shops to the bus stop, and he was sitting with someone at a table outside a café. His appearance is distinctive, and he was a trustee of a charity in the area, so it was definitely him.

Mary Webb’s legacy: curse or coincidence?

Stella Gibbons wrote Cold Comfort Farm as an antidote to and comic parody of a certain type of fiction: the rural novel as written by authors such as Mary Webb and Sheila Kay-Smith.

I have never been able to see the attraction of what is known as the ‘Loam and Lovechild School of Fiction’ myself  - not even Thomas Hardy’s books have the power to hold my attention – but when I read in an article I found online while researching Stella Gibbons that Stella once expressed her regret to the writer Michael Pick that she had parodied Mary Webb "because she had such an unhappy life", followed by “This was perhaps oversensitive. Webb had, after all, died five years before the publication of Cold Comfort Farm. Her life, though dogged by illness and depression, was by no means without happiness, and her childhood, compared with Stella's, had been idyllic”, I became curious about Mary Webb and decided to investigate further.

I read biographies The Flower of Light and Mary Webb, both by Gladys Mary Coles, and the novel Precious Bane, which is generally considered to be Mary Webb’s masterpiece. I found some familiar scenarios in Precious Bane; I decided to produce this article after reading about what happened to Mary Webb’s husband after her death.

Precious Bane and Prue Sarn
Prue Sarn is the first person narrator in Precious Bane, which is set in rural Shropshire in the early 19th century. She has a harelip, which causes the locals, including the gentry, to believe that she is a witch, dances with the Devil and can put the evil eye on people. This seems like ignorance, stupidity, prejudice and primitive superstition, and yet…

To me, one of the most significant features of her story is that her affairs go well at other people’s expense. This is a big red flag. Stuff ‘just happens’ around her; ‘by chance’ certain events arrange themselves for her benefit. Four people she is involved with come to a bad end; two of them have said things that hit her where it hurts most, which is to me another big red flag.