Currently reading my final Christmas-present book, title above.
It’s a long-ish short story about a borstal boy who is encouraged to become a long-distance runner in order to win a race on behalf of the institution’s Governor. (For those who don’t know, ‘borstal’ was prison for boys between 14-18, and was meant to imitate life in the army, severe, physically demanding and, somehow, it turned bad boys good.)
Smith, the runner of the title, goes along with the scheme. He’s a talented runner who, when it comes to the race, is winning easily but on the home straight he stops short of the line and allows everyone to finish ahead of him, thereby snubbing the good, albeit-selfishly motivated, intentions of the governor.
Smith recognises the race as a continuation of class-oppression he instinctively rejects. He likens himself to a whippet or a race-horse, a beast whose only purpose is to put the owner, the Governor, the system itself, in a good light.
But I don’t like Smith. There’s something self-destructive in him that just isn’t attractive. The final act, the throwing away of the win, that I can get. But the rest of it, the constant whining about how he’ll never subscribe, how being a thief is somehow more honest than being part of society, it just grates on me. This story was published shortly after his first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and is a continuation of the same theme, but I preferred Arthur Seaton’s abrasive self-reliance to Smith’s equally defiant passive-aggressive self-defeat.
I used to teach, which took up most of my time and energy. Then I began working supply, which meant I could write more and work less, until one day I thought, this is my last day as a teacher. Since I stopped teaching, I’ve written a lot more.
But I’ve also I’ve earned a bit of extra money doing tuition. It’s fairly easy to do, but it eats up my time too, it eats big holes into the fabric of my day.
This morning I thought, that’s it. No more. I have too much to do to, too many stories that need writing, I owe the characters their freedom, and I’m not going to spend any more time or energy doing stuff that isn’t part of my plan.
I think it’s important to not live online, as far as is humanly possible.
As I was playing sax yesterday a bunch of young metal types were listening and one came over and asked if I did requests. ‘If I know it,’ I said, so he asked me to play Careless Whisper, which I did, and I think they enjoyed it, despite being dressed in black and wearing studded wristbands, beany hats, and the like.
‘Are you on social media?’ one of them asked, when I finished.
‘This is my social media,’ I said, patting my saxophone, which was a Howard-Moon level cheesy thing to say. But as far as sax goes, it’s true. When I write, it gets laid down on paper and screen but whatever I play on sax is thrown away.
Coming towards the end of re-reading A Room of One’s Own and I can’t quite describe how I feel about this book. It’s a work that I’m going to have to revisit.
But, first, as noted previously, she can write. I’m in awe of how well she writes. She sees things and writes of things that I can barely comprehend, and she write with an ease that is beyond me.
Second, she touches on things, in passing, that have become huge issues in our time, but she is more balanced, more even-tempered than I remember. This isn’t a polemic, more an exploration; and there’s a smile in her voice.
Third, I can barely keep up with her. I feel like a stupid child listening to wise adults, sensing somehow that they’ll never reach those heights, those depths, of understanding.
Re-reading this book after the passing of some decades has left me a little shell-shocked by my own ignorance and coarseness. I’m not even sure she was such a snob; she was more a creature of her world, at least in her writing – I do know that writing acts as a filter through which we can display the best of ourselves, and in this book she displays her better self, undoubtedly, but there’s an honesty too that isn’t the result of a filtering.
I have about eight pages left to read. Think I’ll set aside this afternoon to read them, then maybe the rest of the year to digest what I’ve read.