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05 November 2007 @ 07:47 pm
The Uncommon Reader  
A writer I like a great deal wrote a piece saying that he had stayed up far too late reading the new Alan Bennett novella in one fell swoop. This was good to hear; since the writer and I have similar tastes and Alan Bennett is a godlike wonder (The HIstory Boys, The Madness of George III and Talking Heads are among his most famous scripts), and, most importantly for me, I have run out of Simon Armitage and new YA fiction to read and everything else requires more time and mental energy than I currently possess.

So I popped into a bookshop and picked up a copy of the book on the way home. The Uncommon Reader, in which QEII finds herself in a mobile lending library at the back of Windsor and develops a passion for literature. It then proceeds through 124 small and beautifully typeset pages to a conclusion that was wholly startling and yet completely right. Like my writer friend, I sat down and consumed it. And, with a short break to consume dinner, 150 minutes later I have a very large smile on my face.

Bennett's writing is filled with delicious one-liners. Imagine Her Majesty pronouncing any of the following (I found it very easy to):

She read Ackerley's account of himself, unsurprised to find that, being a homosexual, he had worked for the BBC.

There were many who hoped for a similar meeting of minds by saying they were reading Harry Potter, but to this the Queen (who had no time for fantasy) invariably said briskly, 'Yes, One is saving that for a rainy day,' and passed swiftly on. [Pure Bennett editorialising there!]

It was Henry James she was reading one teatime when she said out loud, 'Oh, do get on.'

Men (and this included Mrs Thatcher) wanted show. [I think this was my favourite.]

'Don't you want to look at the St Lawrence Seaway?' said her husband.
'I opened it fifty years ago. I don't suppose it's changed'

'I have gone through, I do not say seen off, ten prime ministers, six archbishops of Canterbury, eight speakers and, though you may not consider this a comparable statistic, fifty-three corgis ..."


I was particularly happy reading this book because I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Queen of late. I seem to have spent a disproportionate chunk of my childhood waving at her, and performing at gymkhanas, fetes and galas she would attend. God Save the Queen still makes me smell starch and polish decades on. She once gave me an award for civic mindedness or some such imaginary scholastic virtue, my usually hippie father plaited my hair so tightly my scalp hurt.

Yet for my generation, at the same time as seeing her as a monarch, we have also always seen her as a prisoner. Because our parents and grandparents whispered stories to us of how it was different during the war, before The Sun and sundry scandals made her world a fishbowl, when she could pull her ATS cap low and be almost one of the girls.

And it is this sense of captivity that has always made me think of her with ready sympathy. She seems so strong in her duty, yet imagine the fun she could have had in her life were she, say, the Duchess of Devonshire (would that mean that Nancy Mitford would have been Queen? Hmmm ...) Or even a horse trainer of note, or the mistress of a girls' school. Having said that, though, she is so thoroughly the Queen that it's not possible to step too far away from her persona. Roald Dahl's BFG sums up the difficulties.  Alan Bennett even references the same anecdote of Her Maj that I did in a recent story, where she spent VE day dancing with the hoi polloi and loving it. It's the only time we know of  that she did so. I think that he, like me, hopes there were more.

If nothing else, I hope that she decides one morning that she will channel her mother just a little bit, and roll her eyes in public and consume gin in her tea. Because after that many dreary fetes with well-bred schoolgirls dancing at her, surely she deserves a bit of fun.
 
 
Current Mood: tiredtired
 
 
 
old_enoughold_enough on November 5th, 2007 10:57 am (UTC)
Sounds like fun! I'll have to see if I can get a copy of it.

Did you ever read "The Queen and I" by Sue Townsend? It was quite popular about 15 years ago. I really enjoyed it. Quoting from Wikipedia "The setting is England, after the 1992 General Election, where the House of Windsor has just been deprived of its Royal status by the People's Republican Party and its members are made to live like normal Britons." I don't suggest you read the rest of the Wikipedia article though; far too many spoilers.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 5th, 2007 11:11 am (UTC)
I think I may have, but I took a taxi and major thoroughfare to the head in quick succession in 1995, and so most things from the first half of that decade are a blur. This is annoying regarding books, but embarrassing when it comes to ex-lovers. Yes, there are shameful anecdotes. Reason number 412 why keeping a diary would have been helpful ...

I shall see if the local library has a copy!
down the hills and round the bends: Handsnorton_gale on November 5th, 2007 11:57 am (UTC)
That sounds like the kind of book which had to be written by a Brit, with 100% certainty. No other nationality has wit so wry and dry...
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)
Nor such a disturbing obsession with corgis!! It was a mistake to start reading it on the train, though. They already look at me oddly with my parasol, I think I may have teetered over the edge into eccentricity so far as my fellow commuters are concerned.
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on November 6th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, of course the Queen is obsessed with corgis. And we Yanks think all Brits are eccentric, perhaps Aussies do as well? ;)

On the train I read H/D fanfic on my Blackberry. I'm not sure what my fellow commuters would think of that!

And I am in the process of reading your very plotty WIP, finally. Review when I finish the latest part.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
Eep! That damn WIP has more notebook pages of upcomingness than my real novel. But FIRST I am writing you a special DVD extra from SoTF, well, more of a sequel, which started off as a simple conversation and, you will not be surprised, grew.

Will DEFINITELY whip the next WIP chapter up once that's done, though, it has centaurs and action scenes and Narcissa Malfoy. Also political machinations and Canterbury Cathedral (this is known in my head as the chapter full of things I like!)
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on November 6th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
I've noticed a definite political subtext in this fic!

I wish I could write political satire. My fics are all about feelings, nothing more than feelings...
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)
Trying to forget my ...

We are doomed to duet. I'm good with that.

Yeah. I have this problem re politics. I love em. Love love lovedy love!! But at least they set the scene for all sorts of drama and shagging along the way! (At least, so my reading of The Alan Clark Diaries and hanging out with various MPs has led me to believe!)

There is also lots of romance and personal stuff, too. Just so I don't bore people to actual death. Let us never discuss the coming-of-age short story I once wrote set in the London anti-apartheid movement (the one I gave up on in despair in the end and, with 15 minutes' rewriting, rejigged to be a very satisfying topical essay. Sigh.)
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on November 6th, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, you will have to read Corridors of Power by blythely (don't have a link handy, but can be easily Googled). I confess I have not finished it , but it's good. It features Harry and Draco as British politicians in Parliament, and is loaded with political in-jokes.

And there's no danger anyone will be bored to death by your lively fics. :)

Perhaps we could meet up in Florence or Paris next year if you have time off from your assignments. It's very easy to get to Europe from where I am.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC)
I'll let you know when I have times and dates sorted (which will invariably be late. I am hopeless.) But that would be great!

I COMPLETELY have to read this fic. In my head I am now running a little miniseries in which Harry and Draco are starring in a bent version of House of Cards and it is making me very happy indeed. Did you have House of Cards over there? It is brilliant! Although Harry would never throw Draco off the Commons. Thank you for the rec!!

Must shower and sleep now, talk soon when saner.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 02:28 pm (UTC)
Aussies think Brits (aka Poms) are whingeing and eschew soap. But we beat them in the rugby, so who cares?
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on November 6th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
Hee, I remember when I was travelling in Europe years ago and this cute Australian boy that I had a crush on went up to two women and asked if they were 'Poms.' He got a very icy, sneery response.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 6th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
As is right and proper! (Although if he was V cute, I'd have shagged him first and THEN delivered an icy, sneery response, because that would have been crueller.)
rossurusrossurus on November 7th, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)
She (Q) is one of those topics i struggle with. It's because she is fairly good at PR...because she doesn't do PR...or at least her spin is so good as to be unnoticeable.
She (Q) probably does command me...and i am not a monarchist...and i hate them for it...but she stands there drenched in stoicism, devoid of all apparent feeling and commands a perverse kind of respect.
I'm sure her behind-closed-doors gin drinking skills compare to her mother's and i have never met her and consequently make judgment on hearsay and speculation.
I live with a bunch of posh people who just cannot understand why i am anti-monarchist...they stare at me as if i have suggested that they should desist from eating foie gras...meritocracy, egalitarianism, modernity...t'will be awfully difficult to change a mind until she (Q) has left us....a remarkable icon...a ridiculous position

what does an aussie brit think?...distance and time help?...
when i lived there i tried to get my friend all excited about how the aus constitution is mandated and therefore theoretically could be revoked by our parliament...

me: you have this foreign woman as your head of state and technically you are still controlled by the uk parliament
scuba (in a bogan-y qld accent): ah...she'll be right...

fucking aussies
blamebramptonblamebrampton on November 7th, 2007 08:07 am (UTC)
She is a hard one from a political angle.

Obviously Australia should be a republic, because it's just silly to have all the disadvantages of a monarchy with none of the advantages (tourism, fabulous gardens, no arguments over who should open important functions). The problem is that the Q is perversely likeable. All those grumpy stoic moments are strangely appealling to the household Aussie, and I can't argue with him because I wholly agree. So until she departs this mortal coil, there's not much hope of running that debate here again (And reading through the history of the last time, I do think that personality was the major reason the republicans lost. They were all fretty and arrogant, she was stoically silent off in the corner. Australians will ALWAYS have that underdog thing ...)

As a younger Brit I used to entertain thoughts of republicanism, too. Who needed this old family with their traditional usurpation of my perfectly good tax dollars? But Thatcher changed my mind. I liked the fact that if it really came down to it, there was a mechanism by which That Woman could be stopped, though in the end it came down to her own party shafting her first.

Then I looked at other European monarchies and I realised that the tradition does act as a useful brake, and that the alternatives were a bit terrifying. You either ended up with fractious and at times self destructive republics (a la Italy and Germany) or soulless war machine bent of money-making nepotism (Er, hello superpowers, how are you today?)

So for the sole reason of having a purely arbitrary but already firmly established means of keeping politicians in their place, I decided to come out in favour of the Queen. And she, Charles and Anne all do a lovely line in fete opening ... (god save us from the Wessexes, though).