Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In The Thirties by Edward Upward (Heinemann 1962)

Most of the others, when all of the group had arrived here, sat on the tree-trunks, but Alan and Elsie chose the grass, which was warm and thistle free and had been grazed by rabbits till it was as short as the grass of a lawn. Alan had been carrying his and her lunch in a small rucksack that he now removed from his back and handed to Elsie, who had prepared the food and knew which of the greaseproof-paper-covered packets contained what. She grinned as she gave him the three hard-boiled eggs that he had told her he would want when she had asked him in the flat how many. And he did want them. The walking he had done gave relish to his eating, made it a pleasure so keen that it was like an aesthetic experience. With the eggs there were brown bread-and-butter sandwiches and afterwards he ate a banana and an apple, and he drank hot coffee which she poured out for him from a vacuum flask into a plastic cup. And the pleasure did not end when his appetite was satisfied: it changed, evolved, became a happiness deriving not just from food but also from the presence of the comrades eating and talking around him.

‘How fine they are,’ he thought. ‘How devoted and honest, how different from what anti-Communists say that Communists are, how much better as human beings than their traducers.’ He looked at Lamont, conqueror of dreadful disabilities, and at Lamont’s wife, whose self-sacrifice for her husband had made possible his outstanding work for the cause; at Len Whiscop, born in a slum, mainly self-educated, who was among the Party’s most effective economics tutors and who once, when trespassing on principle, had led a group of ramblers including Alan and Elsie past a gamekeeper holding a shotgun; at Sammy Pentire and his Polish wife Rosa, both of them nearer seventy than sixty but slim and fit, who were vegetarians and had been active for socialism since their twenties; at George Farmer, an Old Etonian who could have made a bourgeois career for himself if he hadn’t chosen the Party; at Enid and Bertha, teachers, who had remained loyal to the working class into which they had been born and whose scrupulous intellectual honesty would allow them to accept nothing on faith, not even from the Party leaders. He thought of other comrades who were not here on this ramble: of Wally first of all, and of Eddie Freans, and of Jimmy Anders. Then he thought of people opposed to the Party: of Mrs Greensedge, who cheated at whist drives and who had once said that her husband would be furious if he thought she was getting mixed up with Communists; of a university don who had alluded to Marx and Engels with complacent contempt and in words revealing that he had not bothered to study their writings; of Christian imperialists paying lip-service to the Sermon on the Mount and expressing horror at the Marxist view that the use of force was in certain temporary revolutionary circumstances justifiable; of young careerists despising the working class they had risen from and abhorring Communism because it contradicted the only principle that made sense to them – their own advancement. Such people were of the class which Alan himself had belonged to, but which he had broken with. ‘I have cleansed myself of their customs,’ he thought, remembering Dante’s line: ‘da’ lor costumi fa che tu ti forbi.’ He belonged at last, without reservation, among these comrades he was sitting with here. They accepted him as one of them, and he knew that in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, his diffidence, they liked him. He loved them, and he would never again allow himself to repine because of the amount of work the Party expected from him, or to hanker back after what he had been fond of in his bourgeois days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Beiderbecke Tapes by Alan Plater (Mandarin 1986)

Whenever Jill felt the need to recharge her campaigning batteries, she sought out Sylvia. Like many such friendships, it had started on the Aldermaston road, a road that had doubled for Damascus in many people's lives.

They loved to talk about the great heroines, yes, and about the occasional hero too, of their own and earlier times: trading tales of Red Emma Goldman, Annie Besant, Sylvia Pankhurst, the one member of the family who never deviated and whose name Sylvia herself had inherited. On seeing any hostile element, Sylvia would cry out 'No Pasarán' - the famous Republican slogan from the Spanish Civil War, coined by a woman, and translated meaning: 'They shall not pass.' They very rarely did. Sylvia was no phoney. She had gone to Spain in the 1930s and had paid her dues.

Her view of the world was clear-cut: people were marvellous and politicians were shit. Asked for evidence she would say: read a history book. In her younger days, when her activities were more public and noisy, and she occasionally went to prison, the newspapers frequently claimed she was in the pay of Moscow.

'Alas,' she said, ' would that it were so.'

She had written to the Kremlin several times, suggesting that they might slip her the odd bar of gold, if only to add substance to the allegations, and ease her later years; nothing ever arrived - not even a nominal kopek. She suspected her mistake was to add a regular PS about sending dissidents to mental institutions. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Beiderbecke Affair by Alan Plater (Mandarin 1985)

The Adult Education Institute was built in the nineteenth century by a paternalistic mill-owner with the stated aim of bringing a spiritual uplift to the artisans of the area. A hundred years later, it still had not succeeded. The building, designed in the Gothic Inspirational manner, was now a hive of small rooms in which groups of predominately earnest people discussed D. H. Lawrence, watched The Battleship Potemkin or threw pots. It was not unusual for six people to be plotting revolution in Room 5, while across the corridor in Room 6, another six people were plotting counter-revolution. All twelve would meet in The Bells afterwards for a pint.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (Liveright 1933)

Miss Lonelyhearts, help me, help me

THE Miss Lonelyhearts of The New York Post-Dispatch (Are-you-in-trouble? - Do-you-need-advice? - Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. On it a prayer had been printed by Shrike, the feature editor.

Soul of Miss L, glorify me. Body of Miss L, nourish me. Blood of Miss L, intoxicate me. Tears of Miss L, wash me.

Oh good Miss L, excuse my plea, And hide me in your heart, And defend me from mine enemies. Help me, Miss L, help me, help me. In saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Although the deadline was less than a quarter of an hour away, he was still working on his leader. He had gone as far as: 'Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.' But he found it impossible to continue. The letters were no longer funny. He could not go on finding the same joke funny thirty times a day for months on end. And on most days he received more than thirty letters, all of them alike, stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife.

On his desk were piled those he had received this morning. He started through them again, searching for some due to a sincere answer.

The One I Love (2014)