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Despatches From the Homefront

16 September, 2012 (10:57) | Books | By: Ian Burdon

Although I have the usual accumulation of tools in assorted boxes in the big cupboard off the kitchen where we put things that don’t go anywhere else, I am a reluctant handyman. I never touch Gas, Electricity or Water and, despite being confident enough to build a couple of musical instruments, don’t really do much of any other stuff either.

Oddly enough, one thing which I do undertake, even though it is a job I detest to the very roots of my being, is that every four years or so the old, blackening silicone sealant around the bath has to come out and be replaced.  That time has come around again and so I spent a substantial part of yesterday getting it done.

I actually bought the odds and ends needed for the job several weeks ago but only just gathered the mental fortitude to do it yesterday. Or perhaps I just succumbed to Kirstin’s reminders – she wasn’t impressed by my assurances that I would get it done by Christmas suspecting, not without reason, that I meant Christmas 2013.


I have enjoyed some good books in recent months and only one that I really didn’t take to. Generally I’m anchored within ‘genre fiction’ and particularly science fiction but take an expansive view of what might fall into the SF bucket.   The world of literary fiction is not somewhere I venture much because all too often I find the books to be well written but dull. Genre fiction can, notoriously, feature mediocre writing but be entertaining and tell stories that I want to read.  And then there are those marvelous moments when you find a writer who both tells interesting tales and knows how to write and the pages start to turn and you hate the fact that it has to end.

Many years ago I was smitten by Bill Bryden’s “Mysteries” cycle with the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Company.  One of the staples of that company was actor Jack Shepherd who later wrote of their approach

The line was the line. You just said it. Comfortably. Easily. You didn’t try and ‘do things with it’, or draw attention to it. It was simply an expression of the need to communicate something and as natural as breathing.

If, after the rehearsal of a particular scene, a watching member of the cast was seen shaking his head and muttering ruefully, ‘There’s and awful lot of “acting” going on’, this was a sure sign that things were not right. In other words, if the people watching are aware of ‘the acting’, then you clearly aren’t doing it properly, because your performance is demanding more attention than the play.

I have become increasingly aware of reading “literary” authors only to find myself prowling the edge of their stage muttering “I can see you writing”.  Frequently this is enough for me to lay down the book and not pick it up again.

However sometimes I have not engaged with a writer because, I think, I wasn’t “ready” for them in some sense. I am beginning to suspect that this might be the case with John Steinbeck.  Long ago I tried to engage with The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men and didn’t get very far.  Yesterday on a whim I picked up a copy of East of Eden in a charity shop and am simply stunned by the early chapters – and I can not see him writing.