Those mortals who have not read Wodehouse have missed a unique English writer. To define him as a comic genius belittles his mastery of language and of character.
Indeed, Wodehouse remains in a class of his own. His books are set in world not so much long vanished, but as never existed: an England unsullied by war, where trains run on time to old village towns unchanged with the centuries, delightful and absent-minded earls live in grand country estates with sweeping vistas hiding secretaries to be feared, domestic staff hatching plots, where love is always in the air, and one has a crisp fiver in the pocket. In every idyll a devil always lurks, yet however complex the plots, they always finish with all in balance, the demons resolved, and glorious summer shining over an English countryside in full bloom.
Wodehouse wastes not a word, each landing on the page with an effortless beauty balancing all Wodehouse writes. His skill was honed by a lifetime of writing. As he once said in an interview, “I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.” In publishing almost a hundred novels (as well as plays and musicals), he created the immortal Jeeves, the world of Blandings, and the likes of Psmith, Ukridge, Uncle Fred, Mr Mulliner and the Empress of Blandings. Continue Reading →
When in Hong Kong, I spend most of my time on The Island. One of my aversions to visiting Kowloon is how, for all its attractions, it is essentially one large tourist trap. From the moment I step off the Star Ferry to the struggle up Nathan Road, I’m subjected to a constant barrage from touts who make a living ripping-off tourists. At every step someone thrusts a would-be bargain into my face.
The crowds here are not the practical, walkable crowds of The Island. Tourists loiter every few spaces, with hawkers hovering around them, ready to pick off the unwary, the weak or the wounded. Despite the milling crowds, too many places offer the perfect setting for a murder. Even the walkway under the main street feels dubious, lacking both light and ventilation.
Some places carry so much collective history their names evoke memories even before you visit: Casablanca, Paris, Rome. Others have been re-baptised, yet it is the old name which beckons: Saigon, St Petersburg, Constantinople. Others entice on the melody of their name alone, such as Timbuktu, or Koya-san, Japan’s Holy mountain.
Then there’s The Letter A. That’s what the sign says. The Letter A. It’s one of the reasons we bought our retreat. Continue Reading →
What struck me most was the way the sunlight danced across the water. It had been raining in Paris, and the rain had followed me as the train sped past windmills and back-roads lined with poplars decked in autumn finery. Old stone farmhouses sat in tilled fields of soft green.
Yet when I reached Bruges, in Belgium, the sun broke through the grey clouds. The whole city had emerged into the sunshine to promenade through this medieval city, or else pass by in horse and carriage.
To meander along the canals of Bruges is to step back into the Middle Ages. Willow branches tickle the water as swans drift grandly by. Stepped rooves zigzag against the sky in classic Flemish style. The canals, dressed by the fallen leaves of autumn, sparkle in the morning sun. Having a hotel room with a window opening onto a canal is delight. Continue Reading →
This novel was for me a most delightful find. My knowledge of cummings until now was limited entirely to his poetry. I did not realise that Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings, American, 1894-1962) was also a poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright.
Indeed, to my mind this autobiographical novel is largely poetry written as prose.
The novel opens with a (factual) letter from his father to President Woodrow Wilson, begging help in finding news of both his son and friend, who were arrested while volunteering with the French during WWI. Cumming’s father had received various notifications from French officials regarding his son, including one stating he was dead.
The novel proper begins in October 1917, when both cummings and his friend are arrested. Fluent in French, cummings had volunteered for the ambulance corp, along with his friend, who is only ever referred to as B. (Both were arrested pending investigation as traitors, following letters written by B to relatives back in America, which a censor thought too critical of the war. B wrote of ‘war weariness’. Despite being detained for over four months, cummings was never charged.) Continue Reading →
The Lan Kwai Fong Hotel @ Kau U Fong is not only my favourite place to stay in Hong Kong, it is one of my favourite boutique hotels.
Firstly, the location. The area around the hotel combines all that is Hong Kong, from its colonial heritage to the high-class hotels and shopping malls of Central, to the remaining tenements once rife with cholera, plague, and other delightful diseases; the sites of the old death houses are now apartments; anything can be bought from the shops selling opening straight onto the streets, fantastic cafés and restaurants compete for your attention, not to mention the dry and wet markets a few streets away. Then there are the hills. Walking the streets here does require stamina. The Lan Kwai Fong is just a few streets away from the nightlife and beautiful young things of the LKF area, yet is a world apart. Continue Reading →