Yesterday’s storm continued throughout today, giving a prod to making a start on the last month’s ironing pile, after which I spent the afternoon reading.
When selecting the next book to embark upon from my library one of my prompts comes from what I have just finished. So it was that on discovering in “At The Jazz Band Ball” that the author Philip Oakes had worked alongside Bernard Levin in his early years I decided to open the first of my collection of the latter’s journalism.
Ever contentious, Levin has entitled the first volume ‘Taking Sides’, which he certainly does. Published by Jonathan Cape in 1979, at 40 years old my copy was due an airing. I finished reading it today.
The blurb inside the dust jacket justifiably claims That this ‘is a book rich in views no less compelling if you don’t share them than if you do; in eloquence in the service of just causes, in humour, wisdom and unfailingly vivid perception. It will find a place on the shelves of those countless numbers who have for years opened their newspapers wondering what Mr. Levin has to say to them today….’
Reader, I was among those numbers. That is why I bought the book. After so long gathering dust I rightly imagined that these reprinted pages from the newspaper columns would have been long enough forgotten to come to me as if fresh off the press. Except that much of the writing is now history, and some views remarkably prophetic.
As befits his argumentative, apparently arrogant approach, Levin was intensely disliked by many. Besides his columns in The Times and the Observer he was a theatre critic for the Sunday Times and film critic for The Guardian. Television appearances, notably the late-night satire show ‘That Was The Week That Was’, earned him public dislike sometimes escalating into violence. All I knew of him until I came across him in The Times was that he had been punched on the TV set. The Guardian’s obituary of 2004 presents a far more balance view of the man, his life, and his personality. I was sad to read that, like so many great minds – such as Iris Murdoch – this possessor of an amazingly capacious memory and grasp of such a broad range of interests ended his days with Alzheimer’s disease.
Although I have never been a reader of the New Statesman I have, unwittingly paralleled Mr Levin’s newspaper progression. He began writing for the Daily Mail; that was my parents’ source of news which I followed into my adult journey’s commuting life. I then thought The Guardian, as a more intelligent journal, more fitting to the ambitious Marine Insurance clerk I then was. With important life changes I gravitated to The Times where I discovered Bernard’s writing.
Eventually I decided that my newspaper was becoming thinner and thinner and really not much more than a compulsory route to the cryptic crossword. When my discovery of blogging superseded crossword setting and solving I gave up newspapers altogether, to be delightfully surprised at the amount of national and world news and opinions I receive gratis from my WordPress friends.
Jackie’s savoury rice made with Becky’s frozen Christmas turkey stock is a meal in itself. This evening she served it with pork spare ribs in barbecue sauce with which I drank more of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Culinary Queen had finished her Hoegaarden while cooking.