In Any Human Heart, Oxfam Greenwich bookshop, London
Made a trip to Broadstairs, Kent:
It was the weekend of the week-long folk festival.
In The Chapel on Albion Street (a bar I’ve heard being disparaged but that I like for the fact they sell beer, very good cider and books) as well as discovering The Prodigy I bought this book:
I bought it for that title really. And the aforementioned cider might have, at first, influenced my decision, but my mind was made up when I saw this great photo inside:
In actual count of time, he was no longer in his first youth. The Spring now enlivening England with its alternate sunshine and blizzards was one of many that had passed over his head, leaving it a becoming iron-grey. But just as the years had failed to deprive him of his slender figure, so had they been impotent to quench his indomitable spirit. Together with a juvenile waistline, he still retained the bright enthusiasms and the fresh, unspoilt outlook of a slightly inebriated undergraduate – though to catch him at his best, as he would have been the first to admit, you had to catch him in London.
So goes the introduction to Uncle Fred in P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred in the Springtime. It’s my first Wodehouse novel I’ve read and I’m beginning to sense that quality (which was mentioned to me) a Wodehouse novel possesses – its ability to pull you up out of despondency; this no doubt connected to, as Stephen Fry writes in praise on the book’s back cover, its ‘sunlit perfection,[…] its warmth and splendour’.
I also wanted to give this particular passage a mention because it kind of touches on a point that came up in a conversation I was having recently: when someone refers to maturity, or perhaps more often levels the charge of immaturity (not that the narrator of Uncle Fred is doing so here), what exactly do they mean? What was this measured in then, when Uncle Fred was on the loose, and now? Responsibilities? Appearance? As a work colleague said to me the other day: “My Dad never wore jeans; if he had I would have been shocked.”
Trying to define what swimming means to me is like looking at a shell sitting in a few feet of clear, still water. There it is, in sharp focus, but once I reach for it, breaking the surface, the ripples refract the shell. It becomes five shells, twenty-five shells, some smaller, some larger, and I blindly feel for what I saw perfectly before trying to grasp it – Leanne Shapton
‘Swimming’ is an ancient technique in which the coordinated thrashing of the arms and legs provides propulsion through water. Effectively, the human participant becomes a boat – Alan Partridge
The great depths of the sea began to beat like music […] The music invaded him, commanding his hands, his arms, his pelvis to keep time. Water streamed of his forehead and into his hair. The cold of the ocean became, with its new rhythm, a fierce heat. Never had movement been so exquisite a thing – ‘The Colonel’s Daughter’, Rose Tremain
a significant capture in the lungs,
that elegant trap deep inside.
Reading Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies I began thinking of other writings on swimming I’ve liked: Alan Partridge’s swimming training in Nomad; and the moment in Rose Tremain’s short story where Jim Reese keeps swimming out to sea. The two lines following this are the two closing lines from a poem, ‘Swimming,’, I’ve been writing for a few years, and which I’m beginning to suspect I’ll struggle to finish. Where I want the poem to end up is mixing between that I’ve quoted; where it’s been and is now is another matter.
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