Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Books 2018, 25)

    I didn’t really know what to expect with this. I knew it was about, or set around, a party — in part because I’ve seen The Hours.

    But it’s about so much more; and not really about the party very much at all. It’s an intriguing look at the mental lives of a range of people in London on a day in the 1920s. Not a very wide range of people, in that they’re all very much upper-middle to upper class. There are a few people from what would have been called the lower classes, but they’re just passersby, background colour. There is, however, a sympathy towards all people — from at least some of the characters.

    Given the limited range of types of people, we get a remarkably effective insight into their mental lives. And it’s all done with reported thought. There is some actual dialogue, but very little. And we jump around from head to head promiscuously, but incredibly smoothly. There’s usually some handoff: the current viewpoint character sees someone, and then we’re in that person’s head. Or they might just think about someone, and now we hear the other person’s thoughts.

    I guess this, along with Joyce, is one of the originators of the stream of consciousness as a literary device. An interesting thing to me is how it reminded me of other, later, works; which of course shows its influence. Most noticeable: Illuminatus! Now Robert Anton Wilson was a Joyce scholar, so he was probably coming more from that direction, but there are definitely some similarities of style, or at least echoes.

    And — also from this year’s rereading — Walking On Glass. Especially in the contrast between the thoughts of people who are or are not “sane.”

    It can be surprisingly confusing at times, such as when someone suddenly thinks of a person or an idea that hasn’t been mentioned before. But that just simulates the way our minds work. Our thoughts jump from topic to topic without an introductory paragraph, after all.

    So it’s psychology, feminism, and a critique of (parts of) the British class system. Oh, and it’s also partly a love-letter to London. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Trumping Through London

    On Friday I went for a walk through central London with a couple of hundred thousand of my closest friends.

    The march was due to start at 2pm from Portland Place. I was a little late. I went straight to Oxford Circus. I came out of the tube station and just stood and watched the people walking down Regent Street. It was amazing, and seemed endless. Then I saw these two with great signs:

    Anti-Trump protestors with signs: 'If Adolph (sic) Hitler flew in today... They'd send a limousine anyway'; and 'Bloody Trump, combing over hair, taking our tax money.'

    A Clash quote and a bad pun? Count me in.

    I walked down the pavement alongside the march for a bit, taking more photos.

    Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

    Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

    Before long we got to Trafalgar Square.

    Anti-Trump protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

    Anti-Trump protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

    There were many speakers and a few musicians. Len McCluskey told us that the police had estimated the crowd was over 250,000, which was surprising, since they tend to underestimate. Anyway, if so, it was the biggest since the Iraq war demo. More amusingly, we were a bigger crowd than at Trump’s inauguration.

    That said, I looked around and it didn’t feel that crowded. I’ve seen the O2 full, and I would guess that there were a similar 20,000 in the square.

    But it turned out when I left that there were many, many people in the streets around the square. I guess they didn’t want to push forward because the square looked full. I’m quite glad about that.

    The atmosphere was fantastic all day. The police presence was pleasingly low (or at least low-key), despite the stories of leave being cancelled and people drafted in from all over the country.

    Did it do any good? Probably not, in the sense that it won’t have any direct effect on Trump. But it made a lot of people feel good, and it showed the world that we care.

    The Luxury of Outrage

    The Doctor is a burning sun of outrage, but claims never to have had time for it. Season 10, episode 3, “Thin Ice,” sends him and Bill into London’s past, to 1814, and the last great frost fair on the frozen Thames.

    There is a beast below the ice1 There is a racist lord. There are cute dirty-faced urchins, and acrobats, and a fleeting glimpse of an elephant.

    I loved almost everything about this episode. In fact the only negative point to me was the use of the old diving suits. You need someone onshore, operating an air pump, to use those, and there was no evidence of such a thing. It’s one of those things that Doctor Who is prone to. Not a big deal in this case, but it wouldn’t have hard to have included a few words about The Doctor modifying them with a compact air supply, or something.

    No matter, as I say, it was an almost perfect episode. And we got back to The Doctor’s office at the end, where Nardole was making the tea (with added coffee for flavour).

    And who or what is in the mysterious vault? The knocking of course echo’s “He will knock four times,” at the end of Tennant’s run, and that was The Master. And we know that The Master — or at least John Simm — as well as Missy, is gong to be in this season.

    But it would be very strange if it were him in the vault.

    1. I’m sure you saw what I did there. ↩︎

    The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell (Books 2014, 8)

    I'm now so far behind in posting these that I'm just going to put very brief notes up for most of them.

    As a sequel to the excellent London Falling this suffers slightly from what feels a bit like middle-book-of-trilogy syndrome; though I believe Cornell intends this to be an ongoing series, rather than a trilogy.

    That said, there is an overarching mystery, which we must hope will be resolved over the course of several books. And at that point, maybe he’ll stop. But the actual story here is perhaps slight compared to the origin stories of the first one, and the horror that Quill and his wife, in particular, experienced.

    A mysterious ghostly figure – invisible to all who don’t have The Sight, of course – is killing people in London. There appears to be little to connect them at first, but graffiti at some of the scenes suggests there might be a link to Jack the Ripper. Has his ghost come back and this time gone after rich white men? Or is it something else entirely?

    It’s a fun read, despite my reservations above, with some amusing reference to fandom, and the terrible, terrible abuse of a giant of the fantasy genre.

    Come Gather Round, People

    If you're like me, you've never seen Bob Dylan live, and you'd like to, sometime before he dies.

    So here’s your chance, if you’re in or near London, or can get here: The London Feis, which seems to be the modern version of the Fleadh.

    And not just Dylan; The Waterboys, The Undertones, Nanci Griffith… £70 for adults, and children go free. Booking fee is crazy, but, you know: Dylan!

    Heat, streets and beats

    I was in The City,1 this morning. The client’s offices were at Vintners’ Court; the street sign next to it says, “Formerly Anchor Alley”. Which is a much better name: almost worthy of JK Rowling herself.

    The newer name is pretty good too, mind.

    Afterwards I walked across Southwark Bridge and to Waterloo along the South Bank. London sparkled as it sweltered.

    In other news, Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses has posted a lovely piece in her blog, ThrowingMusic, about her son’s birthday:

    I met a toddler named Ryder in the airport last night, of all things. Then I came home to a six foot man named Ryder that I call my son. Crazy how the past keeps walking out the door and not even saying goodbye. It colors our present images to an extent that allows us to believe it’s real, but it isn’t. It’s gone. Pioneertown is burning. Today is the anniversary of my stepfather, Wayne’s, death. How can Baby Ry, Pioneertown and Wayne be nowhere?

    1. The City of London, that is: the Square Mile. ↩︎

    Pachyderm Prestidigitation

    Like much of the rest of the London Blogosphere, I went with the family to see The Sultan’s Elephant on Sunday. I had had a quick look at it on the way home from work on Friday, when it was just standing still at the end of Pall Mall. Then, it was clearly impressive; but wasn’t clear quite how glorious, how majestic it would be once it was moving among crowds.

    We drove in to Holborn and took the Tube to Green Park. The Tube was crammed, and I assumed (and feared) that everyone there would have the same aim as us. But no, it was just a commonplace weekend crowd, with many destinations in mind. When we got out, Piccadilly was busy, but not obviously in an unusual way.

    We could see that the road was partly closed in the direction of Piccadilly Circus, so we headed that way. In the distance we could see crowds of people, but no obvious forty-foot elephant (and it’s hard to imagine a forty-foot elephant being anything else). One of the stewards told us that it was going to turn down Haymarket and then into Pall Mall.

    Then, as we got a bit closer to the Circus, I caught a glimpse of a large leather ear flapping, and soon we could all see its head. But Piccadilly had never seemed so long, and it began to feel as if we wouldn’t catch it, though it was obviously going very slowly.

    I hoped to get a picture of it with the statue of Eros in the same shot, but it was not to be. By the time we got to Piccadilly circus, it had already turned into Haymarket. So we decided to cut down Regent Street and get ahead of it. Guess what? We weren’t the only ones to have that idea. By this time we were among crowds, but not so dense that it was very hard to move; just dense enough to make us keep a tight hold on the kids.

    A bit of zigzagging through back streets and we found ourselves on Charles II Street. Iit was clear from the music coming from Haymarket that the elephant hadn’t passed yet, and from the layout of the crowd that it would be coming along that way. So we positioned ourselves at the edge of the pavement and waited.

    Sure enought, after a few minutes some stewards came along the street asking people to stay back on the pavements. Another few minutes and several police officers came along with the same message.

    It’s worth pointing out both how good a job the stewards and the police did, and how little they actually had to do (from what I saw of it). It just goes to show that you can stage a big event with minimal crowd control. Treat people with respect and give them something interesting to watch and you don’t need to herd them through crash barriers like cattle in a slaughterhouse.

    Anyway, a few minutes after that, and the elephant’s head began to appear round the corner. It was, as I said above, majestic: that’s the word that came to my mind as soon as I saw it.

    I don’t know if it was the beauty of the beast, or the fact that there were bagpipes among the music that was playing (the pipes always get me like that); but I felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as it approached.

    Then the fucker sprayed me with water.

    Actually, being sprayed was quite fun. Fortunately it was a hot day. But I got hit so directly that I could almost hear the operators saying,”Get the guy in the orange t-shirt and sunglasses.” If you don’t want to get hit, don’t dress up like a target, I suppose.

    As the beast itself passed next to us, and I got a brief chance to admire the action of the legs (it moves on wheels, but the leg movement is very convincing), I realised that the music was coming from a truck behind it on which a live band was playing. I had assumed it was just recordings, but the band added an extra touch, and we got to listen to them up close. They were good, and I’d like to find out who they were.

    After it passed, and the crowd thinned a bit, we decided to head round to Waterloo Place to see the Little Girl’s crashed space capsule; not realising that it had been moved. No matter, though: it meant we got another view of the elephant as it turned onto Pall Mall.

    And so to home. We didn’t stay to see the finalé, so we didn’t see the Little Girl at all; nor did we see her spaceship. All that was left on Waterloo Place was a hole in the road, which people, in their infinite capacity to make a mess, had already started dropping rubbish into. As it turned out, the ship had been moved to Horseguards for her to leave in.

    It was a fabulous thing to see, though, and I’m so glad that the Mayor and the GLA saw fit to have it here.

    My son asked me at one point, as the music surrounded us and the elephant towered over us, “Why did it come to London?” I answered with joy and almost without thinking about it, “Because this is the best city in the world.”

    Sometimes it is.

    Transport against london

    I take a couple of weeks off (a week at home with the kids, a week in Dorset: very nice, thanks, since you ask) and when I first get back to posting, I find I’m channelling the excellent Disgruntled Commuter. This morning’s journey into work was a vision of madness and chaos straight out of Dante’s Inferno.

    I exaggerate, of course. The Waterloo and City Line is a key link in my standard route to work, when I go purely by public transport. Hackney to Wimbledon is not the simplest route between two parts of London, but it doesn’t have to be insane. That line, though, is currently closed. Until September. If we assume it won’t reopen until the end of that month at the earliest, that means it will be closed for half the year. I understand that things wear out and break down and have to be maintained: but it only goes between two stations. There’s not that much to it. How long can things take?

    So for two days this week I cycled to Waterloo (I work at home on Wednesdays) which is the best way to get in anyway, for all the usual reasons why cycling is best1. But lately I’ve fallen out of the habit. To break myself back in gently (in other words, to give myself a rest from it today, or out of sheer laziness), I decided to chance public transport today.

    I’m a great fan of public transport generally, of course: but there are times and services that… don’t show it in its best light, let’s say. The North London Line is one that has a bad reputation at best: indeed, the aforementioned Disgruntled one has written about it in the past. Yet gettting that line to Highbury and Islington and then the Victoria Line to Vauxhall for the last leg to Wimbledon seemed the best alternative route for me.

    You’ll have guessed, since I’m writing this, that it was not.

    The North London Line is characterised by infrequent, jam-packed services, and it deserves the characterisation. Don’t get the idea that this was a surprise to me: I knew perfectly well what it would be like. What do you think was the biggest prod to get me back onto my bike?

    So that wasn’t really the problem (though the difficulty of seeing the station name signs when you’re jammed in standing up makes it extra hard for the infrequent user to be sure they are at the correct station). No, the problem was my old friend2 the Victoria Line.

    It was, in short, fucked.

    So I got on that curious bit of non-Underground underground line that also runs out of Highbury and Islington (and that I can’t remember the name of), and got a train to Moorgate. Thence by Northern Line to London Bridge and Jubilee to Waterloo. I left home at about 8:15 (significantly later than I originally intended to, admittedly) and the train from Waterloo pullled into Wimbledon at 9:35. Bah!

    1. Exercise, knowing fairly exactly when you’re going to get there, and not being at the mercy of the transport network chief among them.

    2. Before I lived in Hackney I lived in Walthamstow. You get on at the start of the line (and thus are almost guaranteed a seat) plonk yourself down, open your book, and don’t look up until Vauxhall.


    I’m afraid I did what the Commissioner told us not to do: I went in to Central London.

    See, I live in Hackney, in the East, but work in Wimbledon, in the South-West.  So I was going to have to go into the centre sometime, to get home.  I just left work early.

    The trains were running into Waterloo, pretty much as normal (but largely empty).  Of course, once there, there was no way to get across town: the Tube was closed, and no buses were running in Zone 1.  I took to Shanks’ Pony.

    Zone 1 is bigger than you think.  I guess I knew it extended as far as Angel, but it goes all the way up Essex Road.  I ended up getting a bus halfway along the Ball’s Pond Road.  It took me about two and a half hours to get home.

    Which isn’t bad, all things considered.

    Fortunately, the kids were going home from school with a friend’s mum, so they were fine.  I left early mainly so as not to leave them with her too late.  And of course, to avoid the probable madness of the rush hour.

    I am, of course, intensely angry at the scumpigs who would do such a thing.  But on a positive note, a lot of people seemed to be doing the same thing as me, and it was strangely pleasing to see so many people walking through London.  We should do more of it.  And for much better reasons, of course.

    I feel I should have more to say, but am blank.