THE COMIC GENIUS, KUSTURICA

THE COMIC GENIUS, KUSTURICA

 This blog post appears a day early. They normally appear every Monday, but as I am going to the UK to see Monica my girlfriend and Ione my daughter, then teaching here for a week, there will be no new post till Monday 25th April. Meanwhile, you can always contact me about anything, including unique Bargain Online Fiction Tuition at john@writinginkythnos.com. I have published 10 books in all, and was longlisted for the Booker with Jazz Etc.

My daughter Ione put up a recent Facebook post while she was staying here in Kythnos, which joyously announced, ‘Greece is great! You get free cats!’ You certainly do. Whenever I walk down the centre of the port, because I feed the numerous strays supermarket ham, I can have up to about 15 of all shapes, sizes and advanced ages, following on with loud embarrassing greetings from one end of the harbour to the other. At the moment there are also two well fed dogs, Rex and Zara, father and daughter, who are also impressed by my charity, and hang back politely for their share of the spoils. Rex is a huge black Alsatian cross who looks moderately frightening, but is gentle as a lamb, and it was a remarkable sight a few weeks back to see him and a reckless kitten about the size of one of his paws, fighting furiously over the same bit of ham. The kitten won with some brilliantly persistent manoeuvring, and Rex honourably and without any bitterness retreated. Meanwhile back at home, my own cats, all originally strays, are also day in day out providing an education in the unexpected and even in the supernatural.

Those of you not crazy about cats, might be relieved to know all this is intended only as a preamble to talking about some very funny films by an exceptional director. What I observed a few days ago could have come straight out of one of the movies of someone I believe to be the greatest comic film-maker ever, Emir Kusturica, I would say greater even than Fellini and the admirable Coen Brothers at their best. Two of the cats, year old Leni (formerly Lenny, but then one day he appeared to be pregnant, and then I knew he was more than likely to be a girl) and Wally, who is only a few months old, were just inside the back door staring with unbelievable concentration at a completely empty food bowl, and this was immediately after they had dined copiously, not before. This continued for at least five minutes, and as I say it was simply gazing at the bowl, not vainly scraping for non-existent flecks, as is Leni’s regular wont after she has ravenously polished off every last atom of her high tea. Eventually it dawned on me what was happening. The two of them were evidently trying by amateur psychic means to make the food magically reappear. The point is they never moved their position, but stayed six inches from the perimeter of the bowl, waiting patiently and with every evidence of practising advanced hypnosis in the hope that that insentient bit of plastic would suddenly yield what life was all about… a bowlful of food ex nihilo, qv the ancient alchemists trying, always in vain alas, to turn worthless stones into precious gold…

Emir Kusturica, the Serbian director, musician and actor, born 1954 in Sarajevo, clearly loves cats and dogs and geese, and even Balkan bears, and has a rather similar scene to gawking Leni and Wally, in the 2004 film Life is a Miracle. A cat who belongs to the hero, a railway station master in a remote part of Serbia close to the border with Muslim Bosnia, is staring hungrily and poignantly at a pigeon perched inaccessibly off the ground. There is no clue as to what is about to happen until suddenly the endless staring pays off, and the pigeon having been successfully hypnotised, drops down dead at the ingenious feline’s feet. This extraordinary film is a rumbustious, compassionate and inordinately hilarious epic set in 1992, at the time of the outbreak of the Balkan War. The railwayman’s teenage son is a genius footballer, destined within a few weeks to be taken on by a major Serbian team, but unfortunately he is called up for combat just as the war breaks out. Worse still he is soon captured by the Bosnian Muslims, whereupon the local Serbian army handover to his father a beautiful young Muslim nurse they have just caught. He is told to keep her imprisoned in the station house until she can be ransomed and exchanged by UNPROFOR for his son. As it happens the railwayman’s wife is a highly strung opera singer who suffers badly with her nerves, and she has just run off with a comical Hungarian musician, infatuated principally by his erotic but wholly unintelligible language. That leaves the stage empty for the deserted Orthodox husband to fall irreversibly in love with the Muslim girl, which he duly does.

One of Kusturica’s highly original insights, also of course visible for comic effect in the early American silent movies, when they had no easy dialogue to distract them, is that in real life there are always mundane and awkward hindrances getting in the way of supposedly smooth and seamless dramas. So when he gets into bed with his captive the gorgeous nurse, the pair of them are accompanied by the cat and the little station dog, who can’t bear to left out of the cosy domestic scene. On the whole Kusturica’s characters instinctively love their animals, and the lovers tolerantly accommodate these two while they get down to business, rather than boot them harshly out of the bed. The same is true of his 1998 masterpiece Black Cat, White Cat (yes, that name) which is a hectic tale about another unfortunate young man, a Bosnian gypsy whose hopeless Dad is a crook and a shameful liability, being pressganged into an unwanted marriage because of his father’s enormous debts. Once again the frantic movement and squawking and perpetual intervention of animals into the drama, makes for excellent and touching and authentic farce. At whatever point of high tension, for example where the boy is seeking to evade the bride at the thronging marriage feast at the eleventh hour, there are always domestic ducks and geese galore careering across the screen as a kind of ironically farcical counterpoint. It is as if Kusturica, who once was dubbed ‘a tender barbarian’, is urging us humans not to take ourselves too seriously, if only because the geese and cats and dogs will inevitably refuse to do so, not least because their own needs are so much more immediate. Foolishly ignoring the irreverent and always inconvenient, and innocent spirit of the animals, can lead to everything from forced marriage to family feuds, and the variant known as bloody civil war, and the tragic concomitant of genocide.

There are several recurrent motifs in Kusturica’s work, one of them being that of rampant Balkan gangsterism, both in peace and wartime, including WW2 in the 1995 epic Underground. Classically it is expressed in the form of the swaggering macho male, often the Bosnian gypsy variety, sometimes spreading its wings abroad to criminality in Italy, as in Time of the Gypsies (1989) which was later turned into a punk opera. Black Cat, White Cat also has an excellent example of extreme venality, in the form of the elder brother of the wife intended for the pressganged youth. He is a wonderful caricature of a buffoon with his enormous mansion, always bare gorilla chest, his constant snorting of coke that has him cross-eyed at the point of ecstasy, and of course his entourage of doting and willing women, three or four of them (obviously one isn’t enough) always sat next to him in his luxurious car. His manner of courtship is to say the least, fearlessly uninhibited. When he is not sat jiving in his bath to the sounds of raucous pop music and roaring in English that he is a Pitbull, Pitbull! he is fondling his many women (inevitably always compliant because of his phenomenal wealth) with consummate boyish crudeness. Should one of them stoop to rummage into her handbag, he will fondle and/or slaveringly kiss her behind, just as any time he hears live gypsy music he flings himself to his feet and throws himself about with the comic gusto of a little 4 year-old, or even you might argue, of an artless and ecstatic, though in his case not innocent, animal.

As an unusual and entertaining sub-motif of this generalised bawdiness, Kusturica movies regularly focus on the charisma and, how shall we say, fundamental basic anteriority, as opposed to posteriority, of the Balkan female bottom. In Underground, for example, set in Nazi occupied Belgrade, a genial local blackmarketeer, is sat in a chair in his bathroom enjoying the rear view of his naked girlfriend as she rises from her bath. As she bends to look for the soap, entranced by her beautiful behind, he plucks a flower from a handy pot and decides to insert it poetically in between the two cheeks. Unfortunately, just as he is set to put it carefully in place, with the floor being covered in soapy water, he goes flying hysterically on his own less glamorous backside.  Note again Kusturica’s perceptive insistence on how things will always get in the way of the smooth intention, even if it is only a slippery floor that stops a man paying homage to his girlfriend’s divine rear end. A surreal variation on this rampant derriere motif occurs in Life is a Miracle, where the handsome sister in law of the railwayman, is having an alliance with a local politician who is so corrupt he has had his superior the mayor assassinated. The politician is not only ruthless, he has unusual sexual tastes, and hidden away in a bedroom during a massive celebratory party, we see the sister in law mysteriously unrolling a single boxing glove for him. As he smirks his oafish complacence, she fits it teasingly onto his right hand, and then goes to a nearby open window and bends invitingly into the aperture. Whereupon, and it is the kind of thing that might have you dying of laughter when you watch it, she invites him to lay on the powerful punches, which it transpires excite her sexually too. Cue the bent accomplice plying a succession of massive boxing blows to her skirted bottom, each one more powerful than the last. Finally, he announces there will be a master knock-out blow, and with that she goes flying head first through the window and would appear to have an orgasm as a result.

Finally, in Black Cat, White Cat there is the unglamorous if sumptuously dressed elderly lady who appears as star entertainment in the café run by a tough gypsy matriarch along the legendary River Drina (qv 1961 Nobel winner, Bosnian Ivo Andric, and his riveting masterpiece Bridge Over the River Drina). Her incredible speciality is that with suitably dramatic music and furious cries of admiration from the audience, she can pull nails out of a plank not with her hands, nor with her teeth, but with guess what? That’s right, the cheeks of her enormous backside…

Resonating throughout with the gusto of the great Rabelais, Kusturica’s anarchic spirit and reliance on the humble behind as a source of farcical mirth, also goes back to the pratfalls of Charlie Chaplin, or even to the slapstick of everyday circus clowns. On one level we are back to innocence and animal simplicity again, and the art is all the more powerful because of that. Emir Kusturica adds sex and erotic fascination to the basic ingredients, but of course in Chaplin’s day censorship effectively silenced all that. Apropos which I sometimes wonder if there had been no restraints then, what those great silent directors might have been capable of. The mind truly boggles.

 

DO THEY REALLY WEAR LINGERIE?

DO THEY REALLY WEAR LINGERIE?

This blog publishes every Monday, and the next post will be Monday, March 28th. (this post appears a bit early because of the topicality of Iain Duncan Smith resigning from the UK Tory cabinet). You can always contact me about anything, including Bargain Online Fiction Tuition, at john@writinginkythnos.com. I was founder-editor of Panurge fiction magazine (co-edited with David Almond), have been longlisted for the Booker Prize, and have also won the Dylan Thomas Award for short stories

One of the Kythnos domatia owners was spring cleaning last week, and for some inexplicable reason decided to turf out some of the books left behind by guests, and she offered me first pick of her treasures. They weren’t doing anyone any harm in the shelves behind the domatia beds, but by this unexpected route I came across for the first time The Penguin Dorothy Parker, and have since been greatly enjoying her waspish stories and the playfully antagonistic and death-fixated poems. Convent-educated Parker (1893-1967) who loathed her stepmother, and also claimed she was physically abused by her father, long contributed reviews to the New Yorker, and as Brendan Gill puts in his excellent foreword, ‘her robust and acid lucidities had been much feared and admired’. Married twice, one of Parker’s satirical targets was her playwright lover, Charles MacArthur. When pregnant by him, she was said to have remarked, ‘How like me to put my eggs into one bastard’. In a similar vein, she insisted that on her epitaph after cremation should be written, ‘Excuse my dust.’ What’s more, when it came to writing, it wasn’t just her book reviews that scalded their victims, for her stories also contain some first class vitriol, and many of the hapless characters in them read very much as if drawn from life. Here is a sample from her tale Song of the Shirt, 1941 (published 1944).

Mrs Wyman too had a big heart, but it was not well set. She was a great, hulking, stupidly dressed woman, with flapping cheeks and bee-stung eyes. She spoke with rapid diffidence, inserting apologies before she needed them, and so was a bore and invited avoidance

These 3 sentences alone, would tell you that you are in the company of a world class artist, and likewise those 3 terse lines tell us more about the unfortunate yet wholly credible character, than most contemporary writers would manage in a dozen pages. Anyone embarking on a Creative Writing MA or similar, if they meditated day and night on these sentences, would learn enough to dispense with 3 semesters of their very expensive university course. As briskly as I can, let me draw your attention to the unusual but ironic phrasing, ‘not well set’, as if poor Mrs W’s heart was like a risible jelly or a custard. Of a similar potent originality is ‘rapid diffidence’ as most average writers would assume diffidence can only be a leisurely and slow quality. The ‘flapping’ cheeks and ‘bee-stung’ eyes are cruel to a fault, if forensically precise, and they also suggest someone tearful and wounded and probably tiresome. Her blundering elephant quality has a single unflattering adjective ‘hulking’, and then behold the supreme confidence of a writer who does not mind passing omniscient if brutal judgement, as she informs us that Mrs W dresses stupidly. Anyone else would specify how exactly her manner of dress was stupid, but Parker in her scathing confidence doesn’t need to. She lets us picture for ourselves and the other epithets she uses does the work for her.

Parker ended her days alone in a Manhattan hotel nursing herself with booze and more or less forgotten, when she died aged 73. You imagine whatever the fate of the prototype of Mrs Wyman, it was unlikely to be as tragic as her pitiless creator‘s, if only because she would probably be surrounded by doting friends and family as harmlessly dull and accommodating as herself. Although you could argue, and in fact I would, that that merciless dissection in those 3 sentences above, actually induces pity for the object of the laceration, and that for all her artistic cruelty, Parker herself was sorry for the likes of the poor blundering bore with the wobbling cheeks and the sad and swollen eyes.

On a more comical literary note, I was recently researching the extraordinary Avignon writer Henri Bosco (1888-1976), whose prizewinning and searingly powerful, pantheistic novel The Farm Theotime (1945, translated 1946) should be read by anyone who wants to sample the very best of international regional fiction. Bosco also wrote children’s fiction, and one of his best known works is L’Ane Culotte or Culotte the Donkey (1937, translated 1978). Many of the articles about Bosco are written in French, and my French being what it is, when I attempt to read them, I need to use Google Translate. I learnt open-mouthed that culotte has an impressive range of meanings, including ‘pants’ and ‘drawers’ and ‘briefs’ and ‘pantaloons’, and even would you believe ‘the backside’, but I was still stunned to see my laptop translate that fine little book as, wait for it… Donkey Panties. You would think even a computer, or rather, especially a computer, would have a sense of humour and would laugh itself into brainless inanition at such a mad translation.

Talking of madness and the lack of any grown-up sense of humour, you get it in dizzy superabundance amongst current Conservative ministers, who tend to combine a kind of pious Sunday school teacher anal retentiveness with an unabashed Mafiosi harshness that wouldn’t fool anyone but the front row groupies at the annual Party Conference. One of these ministers Iain Duncan Smith (born 1954), erstwhile party leader (2001-2003), give him his due, has just had the grace to resign after Chancellor George Osborne’s planned slashes to Personal Independence Payments to the disabled. Don’t be fooled though by this semblance of newly found compassion, as it reads to me much more like a general peevishness at Smith’s Uriah Heep accounting being messed up by Osborne pursuing his vicious and unilateral Gradgrind whims (that’s called Mixed Dickens’ Characters Metaphors in case you didn’t know). Iain Duncan Smith has also lately been mouthing off majestically, in his new role as vocal supporter of Brexit, meaning the UK, so he hopes, leaving the EEC after the referendum set for June 23rd. IDS as he likes to be known, was in the Scots Guards touring Northern Ireland and Rhodesia between 1975 and 1981, and doubtless in keeping with that, he loves to be seen as overwhelmingly patriotic as well as demonstrably firm yet unfair, to parody his ilk. He was once in his ministerial role asked how he could live with himself after a previous round of slashes of the Disability Benefit, but be assured he wasn’t lost for words. These stand-up comedians, especially if thin, completely bald, and always in an anonymous suit, never are. His take on the so called disadvantages of leaving Europe is impressively poetic, or you might say stridently romantic. Just like Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War back in 1982, when she was washing her hands of any culpability for the tragic sinking of the Argentinian General Belgrano ship (which many have long characterised as a major war crime) IDS is sternly telling us, just as she did, that Britain is without argument the greatest country in the world. As such it is capable of achieving everything on its own, to claim anything else is to be faithless and unpatriotic, and the UK does not need to be hampered by an obsolete Europe with all its bureaucratic red tape, blah blah. Though to do him justice, I made that last bit up, and he doesn’t even mention the red tape, he just warbles on stuck on one squawking opera note about the sovereign greatness of Blessed Blighty. This despite the admonitions and the full page ads in all the papers, of the Confederation of British Industry, who say Brexit would mean countless jobs lost, and Britain suffering catastrophically. Instead qua IDS, let chauvinism run riot, and brainless, truly vacuous rant, take precedence over ideas and argument.

Personally I blame the buggers who voted him into parliament, more than I blame IDS. To a considerable extent, and possibly because of his army years, Iain Duncan Smith joyously operates on wound-up rent-a-slogan clockwork, and isn’t really responsible for his own actions. But the good old British public will predictably vote for anybody on weary partisan lines, and to a certain degree they get precisely what they deserve. Here’s hoping Brexit gets run into the ground in the next 3 months, and that someone with a good oratorical voice in the Labour party stands up and gives IDS all his ludicrous nonsense back with full interest right between his uncomprehending earholes.

 

 

A DEFINITE PRODIGY AND WE ARE ALSO RELATED

.A DEFINITE PRODIGY, AND WE ARE ALSO RELATED

This blog now publishes every Monday, and the next post will be Monday March 21st(in case you are wondering this one appears a bit early as I am very busy for the next day or two). You can always contact me about anything, including Bargain Online Fiction Tuition, at john@writinginkythnos.com

I have published 10 books, and taught fiction for the Arvon Foundation and Cambridge University (Madingley Hall)  for over 25 years

My daughter Ione aged 26 came to stay in Kythnos recently. It’s her 6th visit here including one when her mother Annie was alive in April 2009, and she then had the young men of the port here openly, even riotously agog, as a handsome and single Englishwoman of 19. Very few people apart from émigré Kythniots have been here 6 times, and my girlfriend Monica is following closely on at 4 visits in less than 12 months. The reason is that most tourists prefer to bag as many ‘idyllic’ and ‘undiscovered’ (a lie for obvious reasons, you understand) Greek islands as they can, and work their way through the most popular first, then scrape around a long time before opting for the ones lacking glowing testimonials. As I’ve said once before, Kythnos gets a grudging press in the Rough Guide to Greece, for which I will be eternally grateful. Dull and barren, it says, and with a lacklustre Hora, and Loutra the spa resort is described as ‘scruffy’. Whoever wrote that must have been a bad-tempered freelance, who didn’t get the freebie drinks and meals he wanted, so decided to do a demo job out of sheer spite. Good. The less tourists here the better, apart of course from those ones destined to come here in the first place. While we’re at it, I suddenly recall a beguiling American guy aged 60, that Annie and I met on remote Dodecanese Kassos in 2008, who had clocked up 90 Greek islands (Annie and I eventually managed a humble 35 over a 27 year period). He had first been to Greece in 1968 when it was under the Fascist junta, and a young and officious police captain had been so jealous of the 20 year-old Yank’s splendid new yacht in Mykonos harbour, he had had him briefly arrested and jailed as a suspected thief. We witnessed this doughty American’s most businesslike manner of bagging new islands. He hired a car and drove round tiny Kassos in about 2 hours, then got back on the boat to get to North Karpathos, the top half of an isle which is fearlessly matrilineal, where they speak a kind of archaic Homeric Greek, and where the women do all the work and the men do buggerall, expect yakk and play tavli, and which he had last visited in 1976.

Ione had changed significantly in the 8 months since I had seen her, though I don’t mean her outward appearance. She had stopped smoking for one thing, for which of course I was massively grateful, and far from being a chip off the old block (I suggested to her she was a block off the old chip) she had stopped drinking too. When we dined at night on the ethnic vegetarian spreads I made, I drank bargain Greek red wine at the excellent 2.80 euros per 1 and a half litres (you should see wine connoisseur Monica of London scorn that false economy as she sees it) and Ione drank water or occasionally boxed fruit juice. In fact, and to be specific, she hasn’t given up booze altogether, she will have some if she feels like it, but in practice she finds she never feels like it. In the 10 days she was with me she had one mouthful of my bargain hooch, then got bored with it, and reverted to delicious old water. As for me I would beb water if I was stranded minus a camel or a nifty Honda 50 in the Gobi Desert, and sometimes quaff the stuff when it is given as standard Greek accompaniment to coffee and ouzo, but otherwise my staple hydrating agents are exclusively strong coffee and ideally powerfully astringent red wine.

As a consequence of abstaining, Ione has massive amounts of adventitious energy to expend in her now bright as a button always sober condition. And guess what she does with it. She learns languages. She learns them not just in the house but pari passu on the Kythnos beaches, be they e’er so idyllic and remote, and when any other bugger would just bask or possibly snooze, sometimes in baking heat to boot. She even learns languages walking down the Kythnos roads  and dirt tracks with me. I do not take this personally, although it is a habit I only ever observed once before, in a studious 14 year-old girl back in North Cumbria, who ended up reading Arabic at Cambridge, and it’s not a piece of cake getting in there to do that, I can assure you. At the moment, Ione is studying Greek, Spanish and Polish, the last two easily explicable as she went round Central America at the start of last year, and before that she did 2 years’ TEFL work in stunningly beautiful Wroclaw, Poland. As someone who once read Sanskrit and Old Iranian at Oxford, I can confirm that Polish is a bloody hard language, not least in the nuances of pronunciation of all those czs, sczs and worse. Ione has a very good accent and swots away at the demanding grammar to get all those locatives and ablatives exactly right, whereas if it was me I would wing it and just improvise as I do in Greek, making gleeful solecisms as I go along, and they always understand what I mean, even if it’s incredibly wrong. Most impressively, Ione is truly fascinated by linguistic idioms, the fact say they maybe use the locative ending on a noun, in Polish, to express intention or instrumentality, which doesn’t of course hold in many other languages. Ione talks about these idiosyncrasies with the same passion and fascination others might about favourite authors or beloved bits of music. I am deeply touched, not least because I can remember 10 years ago when she hated French at school, and deliberately mispronounced the words to annoy her exhausted and therefore useless North Cumbrian teacher: par-lace voo Frank Ace? for example and murky bow-coop, Mon Sewer.

If only that were all. Ione and I have long been addicts of top quality TV drama series, which surprisingly in 2016 there is a treasurable amount of, given that most hit varieties pre about 2008, were unremitting garbage (with the exception of the ultimately formulaic and overridingly amoral The Sopranos, that was generally true on both sides of the Atlantic). Ione it was who had introduced me to the excellent US Breaking Bad, with Walt the chemistry teacher stricken with terminal cancer then turned high profit crystal meth manufacturer to help his family once he’d gone ( tragically afflicted chemi teachers reliably didn’t do that in my day in Cumbria…they probably started a new interest like specialist cabinet-making or took up bumper puzzle books to distract themselves from the encroaching The Great I Wonder What). After that came the unsurpassable, simply too good to be true, first series of HBO’s True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, where the laconic yet piercing dialogue between the two cops as they drive along in pursuit of a serial killer, was so nuanced and so excellent it literally defied belief. Both of these we watched a year ago here in Kythnos, and this time Ione had brought along the BBC series Peaky Blinders, whose first 2 six-part series were broadcast in 2013 and 2015. It is about gangland Birmingham round about 1920, and the vicious, internecine battles between the gangsters, Brummie Commies and the Brummie IRA, all set against or occasionally in corrupt alliance with the police, who under Winston Churchill’s direction, would do anything, including murder and assassination, to squash the revolutionary virus before it took over the realm. Cillian Murphy plays Thomas Shelby, the youthful supremo among the Peaky gangsters, and Sam Neill is cast as the police chief imported from Belfast, where he knew how to get results from the IRA under ‘rigorous’ interrogation, as if he had clairvoyantly taken lessons from the Guantanamo Bay experts.

Peaky Blinders is excellent drama with a brilliant script and flawless acting, and be warned that it is also very violent. The bizarre title relates to the gang’s habit of wearing razor blades in the peaks of their caps with which they vauntingly maimed, sometimes blinded their opponents. To be diamond honest however, by episode 4 of Series 2, I felt it was running out of steam, and working to vendetta and counter-vendetta formula, and worse still, rather like The Sopranos it demonstrates nil moral compass whatever. Almost everyone is a cruel and heartless scumbag, women young and old included, and these psychopathic albeit in some cases WW1 shell-shocked scumbags, are invariably exalted as admirable. But the reason I am writing at length about PB, is to point out the remarkable fact that Ione the autodidact managed to watch it all attentively, while also attentively studying her 3 languages. I observed her closely and noted that she managed to do both with total concentration, and I don’t know whether that makes her a prodigy or a cognitive freak, like say such as me her Kythno-Cumbrian Dad. That said, I for one could not endeavour to study a language while watching something very good on the telly. And meanwhile I have omitted to mention two extraordinary and crucial facts. For much of the time, Ione is learning her 3 languages simultaneously, not separately. On each page of her exercise book, she has three separate sections for the same word, phrase or idiom in Greek, Spanish and Polish. So she is studying those three tough languages in tandem, and in tandem also with the demanding and complexly plotted Peaky Blinders.

Finally, I neglected to say she is also belatedly mugging up and very much enjoying my girlfriend Monica’s specialism, Mathematics. She is hoping to take the GCSE and the A level in due course, and why deny it, that takes my 65 year-old breath away. Ione is you might say one of those rare birds, a genuine dyed-in-the bone autodidact, as she prefers solitary study to organised classes, where often the other students and especially language students are, to put it politely, cheery dilettantes, not at all in earnest. Unlike that other great autodidact, George Orwell, Ione like her Dad went to university, but unlike most graduates has carved her own studious way forward, going by her own singular route and her own chosen lights. I am proud as hell of her of course, as who wouldn’t be. I am also pleased she is not a chip off the old block, but is a hero in her own right. Most parents deep down really would like their kids to be a clone, albeit a brilliant, world-shaking, eminent and prosperous clone, of themselves. It takes the passing of the decades, for you to realise you really just want them to be their own woman or their own man, and nothing else. The same applies to one’s life partner too, and that is an even harder lesson to take on in all its significance, and to be ultimately infinitely grateful for.