Uncle Fred

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.”

Swimming,

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.

Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

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I do not dread the judgements of the ignorant multitude; I ask, however, that they spare my little works in which it was always the design to pass in turn from jests to serious matters and from serious matters to jests

Translation of the epigraph to Volume III

I picked up Laurence Sterne’s novel again this week. “Again” because when I finished reading volumes I and II last year I thought I might read the rest of the novel following the original publication of the volumes (the novel being published between 1759 and 1767), and there was a year gap between the publication of the first two volumes and III and IV.

This has also handily (and you might say it was the sole purpose of my decision) given me a strategy to navigate a novel – one that is often labelled as one of the greatest comic novels in the English language – that I feel purposefully pushes back at its readers.