Friday, 7 April 2017

Coincidence and likely stories

Yesterday we left the Iberian peninsula in sunshine. Beautiful views of northwest Spain from the plane windows. The north coast clear as a good picture postcard, a whole geography lesson laid out below us. The pilot told us we were flying out over the Atlantic towards Ireland, to avoid problems with France's airspace apparently. Are their air traffic controllers creating problems still/again? On reaching Ireland we would take a right turn and head for Manchester. Ok. It sounded like a reasonable route plan.

As I said, over the north coast of Spain the air was clear as clear could be. Moving out over the Atlantic, little dots of cloud started to appear, rather like a poor imitation of a Magritte painting. The further north we got, the closer together the clouds became, at first a thin, pancake-like layer but gradually growing thicker. By the time we started our descent, it was a good thick roll of cotton wool cloud, looking almost solid. Back in the UK!

And so I found myself, on Friday morning, bright and early, sitting in the cafe at Rochdale infirmary waiting while Phil has his second cataracts operation. After this he should be a new man with almost 20-20 vision. The wonders of modern surgery! It's a good job I have my trusty kindle with me.

I am coming to the end of a re-read of "The Lacuna", by Barbara Kingsolver. When our son was in his early teens he developed the habit of reading a book very quickly, to sort out the events, find out the ending and so on, and then going back for a second read to savour the good bits. Occasionally I do the same now. It's just as well I did so this time, for on my second reading I discovered a whole chunk of book which I had somehow missed first time around. This is one of the failings of the kindle; there is a button which takes you to the start of the next chapter rather than to the next page. Somehow I must have pressed this button by accident! Ridiculous! My brain had filled in background gaps for me as the book moved towards its end on my first reading, but it was so much better to actually have the extra detail! Give me a paper book any time!

It is odd that I have read this book immediately after completing Julian Barnes' "The Noise of Time". This latter book is a novelisation of, or perhaps a meditation upon, the life of Shostokovic, his trials and tribulations in Stalin's USSR and his efforts to remain true to his own ideals. The Barbara Kingsolver novel tells the story of a young man of dual nationality - Mexican mother and American father - who through one of those twists of fate ends up working in the household of Diego Riveira and Frida Kahlo when Trotsky took refuge in Mexico. And so we see the death of Trotsky through his eyes. More importantly we see his own struggle as a grown up writer against the machinations of the FBI and McCarthyism.

In both books we witness the fear generated by a regime that says "If you are not totally, obviously, evidently with us, then you must be against us", a regime that demands total conformity to an establishment way of thinking, and where questioning or criticising the regime in any way leads to persecution in one form or another.

In this age of media control of opinion, "fake news", and the threat of restriction of freedom of speech, these two texts should be set in tandem for political/literary study in colleges around the world!

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