Excerpts: Writing Home (Alan Bennett)

Writing Home is one of John’s favourite books, and I’m glad he made me read it despite my complete unfamiliarity with Alan Bennett’s work. In some ways it’s an experience akin to reading the very best (I use that word loosely, and won’t bother to clarify it) blog/online diary combinations, except that you can curl up in bed with this, and it is consistently charming. Thought I’d put a few favourite entries up here before I return the book to John (with many thanks!):

5 April, Yorkshire. I walk round the village at half past ten, the shadows from the barns sharp and clear under Larkin’s “strong, unhindered moon”. “This must wait”, is my foolish thought, “until I have written something that permits me to enjoy it.”

20 December, New York. I am reading a book on Kafka. It is a library book, and someone has marked a passage in the margin with a long, wavering line. I pay the passage special attention without finding it particularly rewarding. As I turn the page the line moves. It is a long, dark hair.

25 September. Gore Vidal is being interviewed on Start the Week along with Richard (Watership Down) Adams. Adams is asked what he thought of Vidal’s new novel about Lincoln. “I thought it was meretricious.” “Really?” says Gore. “Well, meretricious and a happy new year.” That’s the way to do it.

7 December. To a party at the Department of the History of Medicine at University College. I talk to Alan Tyson, who’s like a figure out of the eighteenth century: a genial, snuff-taking, snuff-coloured, easy-going aristocrat – Fox, perhaps, or one of the Bourbons. He is a fellow of All Souls, and when Mrs Thatcher came to the college for a scientific symposium Tyson was deputed to take her round the Common Room. This is hung with portraits and photographs of dead fellows, including some of the economist G.D.H. Cole. Tyson planned to take Mrs Thatcher up to it saying, “And this, Prime Minister, is a former fellow, G.D.H. Dole.” Whereupon, with luck, Mrs Thatcher would have had to say, “Cole, not Dole.” In the event he did take her round but lost his nerve.

4 March. Read Winnie the Pooh to an audience of children at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. Many have never been in a theatre before. I battle against the crying of babies and the shouts of toddlers and end up screaming and shouting myself hoarse. It is Winnie the Pooh as read by Dr Goebbels.