On Human Transience and Mortality: Clive James’ JAPANESE MAPLE

Have been playing catch up with a few New Yorker back issues in the last couple of days – like buses, you get none, and then suddenly several arrive in the post in a pile. So I was stopped in my tracks by Japanese Maple, a new poem by Clive James. He’s a remarkable writer and commentator – his is a sizzling combination of high intelligence, unsnobbish cultural magpie-ism (if that’s not a thing, it jolly well should be) and laugh-out-loud-wit.

But he now has terminal cancer. As a result he knows he’ll never make it back to his native Australia before he dies. (Here is an interview he gave back in 2013) He is confined to Cambridge and the UK. So here he writes of the tree planted by his daughter in their garden. (more…)

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Death could not hold him: Easter, Hockney, and why Californians don’t really get the Spring

There’s really no need to fret about the timing of Easter being the result of the co-option of a pagan Spring festival (as some think is the case). So what, to be honest. And in fact, there is something entirely appropriate about this. Why? Because Spring is an almost magical time of year, when life bursts from the ground in verdant greens and brilliant yellows. Such a relief after the stark and bleak beauty or gloom of winter. Being an urbanite, it’s far too easy to forget the wonder of the seasons. But I’ll never forget how much I missed the seasons during our years 30 miles north of the Equator in Kampala.

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A Grieving Mother in Russia’s Patriotic War, in Grossman’s Life and Fate

If you listen to any BBC radio, it was hard to miss the big splash made a few months back by the Radio 4 serialisation of Vasily Grossman’s epic twentieth century masterpiece Life And Fate. So I endeavoured (rashly) to read it before listening to the programmes (which were issued as podcasts at the time). So I’ve started … and to be frank, it has taken a bit of work to get into – I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it through the 850+ pages. Set around the time of the bloody battle for Stalingrad (Aug 1942-Feb 1943), (more…)

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Orwell on The Unspeakable Wrongness of Taking a Life.

I get restless if I don’t have something to read on the bus. So I grabbed the closest thing on my desk as I ran out yesterday – which had been a recently thumbed anthology of George Orwell’s Essays. (I’d been looking at it because of the seminal piece Why I Write, recently recommended to me by the Real Grasshopper). I found myself, somewhat incongruously, sitting upstairs in the front row motoring down Park Lane, and reading a short account of an experience Orwell had in the British Imperial Police in Burma – starkly entitled ‘A Hanging‘. (more…)

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