The introduction to the neo-decadent anthology, DROWNING IN BEAUTY, by Daniel Corrick gives some idea of what is meant by neo-decadence, and why I read it beforehand, to find out what that might be, though he does obfuscate meaning by too much dealing in metaphor. ‘Decadence is art about the idea of art,’ he makes clear however, and ‘ecstasy in extremes, art about art and the artist, hidden beauty; these are the defining features of Decadence. Contemporary art and fashion scenes present an inexhaustible supply of eccentric personalities and scenarios.’ He means him. ‘Fandom and counter culture are havens of the aesthetic extreme. Decadence is a mode of consciousness,’ as all writing, of necessity, is though he does go on to specify, none too specifically, ‘dying, decaying, growing and mutating as its objects do,’ those of a decadent consciousness that is. ‘Neo-Decadence will look forward to where life in the 21st century is moving.’

Brendan Connell’s manifesto adds that the writing should be artificial and shallow, without contrived emotions. ‘Then maybe something will be realised.’ What? I’ve pencilled in the margin.

‘Writing can be neither sincere nor authentic,’ Justin Isis concurs with artificial and shallow in his manifesto. Oscar Wilde was content with one; neo-decadence has advanced to two.

The first story, MOLTEN RAGE, by Brendan Connell is a good story competently told in an arc from a character’s being not very high to as low as he could go, short of death. I scored out ‘like sewage’ as otiose if ‘his writing had a mephitic tang to it’. I liked the artful casualness of ‘as the latter was throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’, especially the ‘and finally stabbed.’ I felt I’d read the story before and might have located where sooner if I’d read the publisher’s page. It interested me to compare comments. I corrected the American spelling of ‘dived’ in both but this book doesn’t indicate where it’s published, so not a British book for British people, unlike the first, published by Chômu, a British publisher you might expect consistency of spelling from. In the first book, above ‘philosophy of violence’ I wrote ‘Sorel’ and corrected the horrible Americanism of ‘off of’ to ‘from’. I was more affected by the ‘throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’ at the first reading – a ‘contrived emotion’? – but more appreciative of it as art this time around, when I also remarked as unlikely that the ‘crucifix suspended above the chancel contained a nail from Christ’s cross’. The narrator’s use of see-me language does not detract from the story telling and does emphasise the artificiality of the writing in conformity with the author’s manifesto.

The third leg of the tripod on which the prophetic arse of neo-decadence is seated is Justin Isis. The inconsistent spelling of ‘coloured’ I put down to sloppy editing. THE QUEST FOR NAIL ART is a study of a shallow disagreeable character. The writer’s control is complete; not a word is wasted, none see-me. This is art. His varnish reveals no crack to give the appearance of life beneath, an illusion which also would be art. I’m not sure his conclusion quite nails it. I looked up ‘decal’, an abbreviation of a longer word, basically a transfer.

In A MANSION OF SAPPHIRE the character’s feminine name was at odds with a male sensibility to begin with but the soft-edged style righted that while inappropriate to the intensity that goes with obsessiveness I’d’ve thought. I wasn’t sure whether the concluding sentence of Damian Murphy’s story was good or bad: ‘All that remained was the ardour of her aspiration, flaring like a dying match head,’ asking to be blown out if you ask me. It does imply imminent death, but, if only to sustain the flame, wouldn’t she drag herself off after that last sentence, however reluctantly, to the fridge?

Yarrow Paisley’s ARNOLD OF OUR TIME is more like the thing. He wouldn’t mean a Matthew or Malcolm. Most likely a Benedict, with the section heading of Arnold Addresses Congress. In fact he means any old Arnold and proceeds to juggle his balls, linguistically and metaphorically - the metaphors having literal effect - until they drop with a light conclusive thump at the end of his performance. ‘Dispirited, Arnold donned his shirt, mismatching the buttons with their corresponding holes’ is a nice touch. Good.

You don’t... well, I don’t expect to see ‘o u r’ followed by an ‘o u s’ in good writing, as Ursula Pflug’s FIRES HALFWAY is but there it was instead of ‘glamorous’. I blame the editor.

I questioned a book’s pages would crumble in a night and a draught blow it away in Colin Insole’s THE MEDDLERS but it was salient aspect of things found where they were found by a character destroying that place and its social efficacy.

I thought the main character of DP Watt’s good story, JACK, would become a jack, of the cards he was playing, and in a way he does.

In Avalon Brantley’s GREAT SEIZERS’ GHOSTS it was unlikely a dying king would have such command of language, the writer thus meeting the required inauthenticity of the neo-decadent credo.

Really? I questioned Daniel Corrick’s character’s saying in CHAMELEON IS TO PEACOCK AS SALAMANDER IS TO PHOENIX ‘it was a private matter one didn’t talk about, like masturbation.’ I have a friend who enquires how many times a week I do it and encourages me to keep my hand in more often, for the sake of my health. Dan gave me this book on my birthday and his story was surprisingly good until I was reading Quentin’s AMEN, which is brilliant if of dimmer lustre at the end, I think because based on an unbelievable mythology not made believable. Still, very good, Borgesian and best. I might look up ‘abertive’ in the Oxford to see if it exists. He means ‘aberrant’. ‘Acedia’ is sloth. The listless character’s asking how he can write his best without pride could apply to the writer himself or the justification of any writer of a self-importance that is seeking endorsement. Maybe I’m myself too decadent to be able to distinguish but all the stories seemed normal.

On reading James Champagne’s XYSCHATON I paid little heed to the title and not much to the headings, Topology, I took to mean study of place, and none at all to their enumeration. It opens with a quotation that you’d have to be of a particular temperament to find apposite, ‘the unbearable death of youth’. The writer might’ve been doing something complex and interesting, melding one conscious entity, possibly alien, with a more recessive other, maybe human, ignorant of what was being done to it. It couldn’t be an unconscious directing consciousness, the wrong way round for that, unless from the point of view of the unconscious, hardly likely since the writer uses the word, ‘subconscious’, meaning below but also under (the control of) consciousness, and it’d be ludicrous to believe the receptive entity was in control of Z. I stopped short on ‘Z have’. Surely that should be ‘Z has’. It was a grammatical mistake that looked deliberate somehow ...because who’d make it? A small child might, referring to himself as a third person while maintaining the first person conjugation, but the consciousness of Z as monitored by the writer didn’t have a childish tone to it. It was a solecism too far. The writer presumes to be sure that some of us are curious why he’s been replacing the word ‘I’ with the letter ‘Z’. ‘Is that it?’ I wrote in the margin and abandoned expectation on this simplism the writer thought clever. If I said that my exclusion from this book in no way whatsoever impairs the objectivity of my criticism of it, you might smile and deduce it does, so you know exactly what I thought on reading ‘Perhaps you’re under the impression that Z am simply being twee or that Z have employed this strategy to make this story more difficult to read/understand. But Z can assure you that it is no mere postmodern pretension.’ What, behind his mask, are the writer’s pretensions? It’s not to pornography. I did feel the merest twinge in that direction but have had a more sustained one after writing up my diary for the day. He’s deliberately eschewing pornography.

Z needed to build a time machine if he wanted to fuck himself when a boy. Easier said than done, as he himself remarks, and one would think impossible to do. You’d think he’d know if he succeeded and that no such intimation he was fucked is given leads one to believe he failed. He sits inside a box with ‘time machine’ printed on it and ...succeeds. How? By thinking? This is a character who describes a boy as ‘blonde’. If he can’t get that right.... He has no unconscious whatsoever and thus no spirit to effect anything. It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic and the ship not sinking. He does smoke a pipe. It’s fair to assume he’s having some sort of hallucination which might explain why he goes, psychologically implausibly otherwise, from conscious narcissism to promiscuity and dying, from an overdose. It does not explain how, in that event, his story comes to be told.

At Topology 21 my eye took in it was composed of symbols that made no sense and passed on, glancing back to check it was meaningless before proceeding further. That was a waste of space but I’d read something like it before that wasted space. I turned back to the Isis manifesto and drew a blank, literally. I did read the manifesto again and may again have wondered what was meant by its NO SUSTAINABILITY but what I saw was a blank page, a visualisation that the story I went back to reading wasn’t correlating to the manifesto. The meaninglessness of Topology 21 makes more sense if you read the topologies in numerical order but why should you? That’s not how they’re presented. Z doesn’t fuck himself after all. He makes do. He dies thinking to make love to a boy is to drown in beauty – for fuck’s sake, I wrote – as I suppose it would be, for the sake of a puerile fuck. Has he seen boys? In the main they’re not beautiful. By and large they’re plain, if not excessively so. Besides, if he’s drowning in a sea of boys the ones below should’ve suffocated to death already. The dream of a self-induced coma does not have to be consistent but it would have to be unconscious in the first instance and realised by consciousness, and there’s no intimation that that’s the case. It’s an implausibly conscious fantasy merely. The words ‘frivolous’ and ‘trivial’ came to mind, shortly followed by ‘doodle’, to describe this story considered so good it’s culminatory and gives the title to the whole book but ‘doodle’ implies some sort of unconscious organisation. ‘Drivel’ also came to mind but that’d be insulting. I settled for ‘meretricious twaddle’ to account for its appeal to the magpie eye of the editor who’d think it glinted with value. ‘Twaddle’’s also insulting. I should think of something more substantiating like it doesn’t really hold together and I don’t just mean because he’s shuffled the topologies, presumably to give some idea of disparate spaces at disparate times while continuous read numerically and also to make the story important. None of the others so much as refer to the unconscious and one doesn’t know how deep their individual consciousnesses go. If neo-decadent, not far.

The story ends with another quotation, ‘Someone who is attracted to small boys is simply attempting to travel back in time and re-experience his own past pleasure,’ a specious justification for paedophilia. Oscar Wilde said one must not equate an artist with his subject matter and in any case there’s nothing to suggest the writer is emotionally involved with his subject. I have to say on writing this and having to find out how the time travel was effected by reading some topologies in numbered sequence, I do have a greater appreciation of the story. I’ve also spent more time on it, as anticipated.

I must not neglect to say something about Colby Smith’s SOMNI DRACONIS I made no marginal hooks to hang anything on.

After breakfast I was about to ready myself when Jean came. A later appointment had been brought forward and, so, her visit to me. Should she take her shoes off? “Are they difficult to put back on?” No. She wouldn’t eat or drink, because slimming. Par for the course. Unwontedly though she didn’t sit on the corner of the bed but perched on a stool, perfectly willing for me to go on with my preparation. I considered that might militate against the attention I gave to my invited guest and if she, a friend, didn’t mind me in déshabillé, nor did I and said as much, sitting myself down in the central chair facing her. Jean talked of a friend she hadn’t seen for years but that they picked up easily enough, which I took to refer also to us who don’t see each other often yet were talking at ease. She went on to her search for success, however that might be defined, assuming I did as much as she in its pursuit, citing a friend of hers who’d had loads of illustrations for other people’s books, was published but making no money from it. Publishers didn’t go for fifty year olds who’d trained to negotiate terms but for the young, the better to rip them off. And what had I been doing? I couldn’t think of anything except going back with John to make sure he didn’t do anything silly, self-harming and self-destructive, before going on with him to his PIP interview, Personal Independence Payment, when he dragged me in to be witness to the truth he didn’t eat much despite being fat, because of his drinking he hadn’t told Probation about. I could testify he’d had two drinks that morning and when he visited me would bring a bottle of wine he drank before going on to mine but that that was better than his shoplifting and taking heroin and crack. John dragged me out before I went on to marijuana. Jean gave me her mob no.

After she left, I shaved and dressed. Michele came, like Jean, with a card, some gluten-free shortbread, a box with a tumbler engraved with John 80th on one of its parabolically curved sides and a miniature Jack Daniels in it, plus two books by Jeffrey Archer I now must read though she kindly said if I didn’t want to I could give to John who came while I was feeding Michele the salad of caramelised carrot and fennel on corn couscous I’d made for her but with french and not mung beans. He came bearing gifts: a watch, a black zipped hoodie and steps to replace my use of a shoogly stool as well as a card. She doesn’t drink. I gave her a pineapple juice and soda. “My favourite drink!” She’d told me it was. John had a slice of savoury picnic cake I’d baked, mistakenly adding a second layer of crushed Jersey potatoes before inserting the filling I simply put on top beneath the cherry tomatoes to be charred, with its herb dressing, and greedy Michele had some of that too. I had a bit of both. She made a gesture of taking some champagne with us I added to on bringing out the caviar I doled out with a half-teaspoon, topping it as wanted with sour cream, on pieces of melba toast I’d browned from a gluten-free cob all night in a slow oven. John went on munching the toast. Michele had talked of other things but the relationship to her dead mother was the final refrain. She left before her parking time ran out.

There was a hiatus of John and me, neither of us much minding if that was it. I danced to Eminem for him.

Dan came with the book he’d published I wasn’t in, a neo-decadent anthology. I liked that his hair matched his cinnamon shirt. He had a wedge of the vegetarian pie I’d made of herbs whisked with egg, feta cheese crumbled over before the baking. I told him my book was coming out the end of the month and Jacyntha, the publisher, intended coming to the party. Had he met her before? He hadn’t. “It must’ve been a dream.” He asked if I was writing anything. Nothing apart from reviews. He wasn’t much into writing himself. He had some of the savoury cake. Since I’d been born at five, and it was shortly after, I lit the candles arranged on two cakes, one chocolate, the other not, in the shape of an eight or infinity and a nought. Dan made a remark I had to have them all ablaze before I’d blow them out, with a breath while making a wish. I brought out the good champagne, a Taittinger, to go with that and followed through by giving Dan a taste of the caviar. He brought up his book again John said I could afford to buy. “It’s a gift!” Dan said. I liked the cover and put it with the Jeffrey Archer.

Quentin started wiping his feet on the mat I knew enough about to ignore while attending to his drink, the last of the champagne, except to shout through, “Quentin’s a vampire somebody should ask in.” There was no response. Handing Quentin his drink stopped the incessant foot-wiping. Dan rushed to greet him. Later I glanced at his feet to see if he’d taken off his shoes and didn’t think he had so far as I could judge, quite unable to distinguish a lizard skinned shoe from a like-patterned sock. He had a quarter wedge of the pie like Dan and like Dan a slice of savoury cake, of cake, provided there were no almonds in it – there weren’t. “I’m only allergic to almonds” - and spoonful of caviar. I giggled at the wording of his card, not sure how ironical he was being in its fulsomeness, written on a train to Hounslow.

John was rolling a spliff. I may have mentioned he was in line for a job giving £125,000 a year. What did they think of that then? Dan said he wasn’t rich. “Dan’s not rich,” I added to what I knew of Dan, taken from the horse’s mouth. Quentin’s mention of an influx later made me wonder if he was countering a disappointment I didn’t have at the fewness of numbers or knew of one coming. Joe? It seemed he was expecting Dominika but I explained she hadn’t been asked; she’d asked herself to last year’s and hadn’t come. I had asked Joe again, despite his not coming to one before. We went out to smoke on the balcony. Quentin guessed the caviar cost £70. Nowhere near. I forbore to brag. I may have prompted John to talk of the coming interview for the job of reviewing prisoners for the Royal College of Psychiatrists. His monologue was going on too long. I thought he should give space for the two others to speak. They were adults who could fend for themselves without my intervention. Dan asked him, “What are your thoughts about it?” which I didn’t think helpful since that was what John was already doing, giving his thoughts, at length, and went on doing, quite oblivious to Dan’s interjection. “Once he starts,” I said to Dan, “he doesn’t stop until he’s finished.” Fiona arrived. “You don’t drink,” I said. “What!” she said, contemplating an evening of not drinking. “I do drink.” A delivery of wine shortly followed. “Does anybody have two fives for a ten?” I wanted to tip the man but not with £10 and kept him waiting till John came up with a five.

Fiona had a wedge of the pie. “Can I have another?” Of course. I resorted to sparkling wine faute de mieux. She also had some of the savoury cake and cake. I dispensed tots of rum to all four though Fiona asked if she could leave hers. Quentin moved from the chair to the bottom of the bed. John was talking again but so were the other two. When I inquired about what, I was gestured by John to zip it, “This is a private conversation.” In response I went into some sort of performance of some sort of wheedlingly protesting character. When Fiona and I were talking, silence fell, as Fiona noticed, “Are they listening to our conversation?” “No,” I assured her, taking a look, “they’ve just stopped talking and are refocussing. They haven’t got round to listening yet.”

Steph came, a carnivore at last. I broached the guinea fowl, cutting off a b-east and ladling out carrot, potato and french beans, not without difficulty, and reheating in the microwave. “Is it the same as last year?” That gave me pause. “Yes.” Steph’s great. She showed her clothes designs from a phone, helped herself to cake, sat in the chair, got up to move it - “It’s a swivel chair.” – swivelled it, looked for party music and found Shostakovich, worked the cd player with a will, only needing a quick direction at one point. She left a little b-east and potato. I threw the former out for the fox. Jon came. More guinea fowl. More left. Fox. He asked for beer. “John was going to bring some.” I had another time bought beer for Jon who hadn’t come. He settled for red wine. Steph had some of that. They move their barge every two weeks. It’d be too costly to stop any one place. He sat by Steph on the stool, swerving every time I passed going about my hostly duties, washing plates and forks to have clean ones available, making sure Quentin was totted up but not being detained by his arresting look. That Jon and Steph were affectionate with one another after so many years together was a pleasure to see. I recommended the savoury cake to them since everybody went for it but they weren’t having that. Fiona was on the steps. Wait a minute: I was sitting on the stool, trying hard to take in what Jon was saying. What was he sitting on? The stool too. Unless I was on a chair pulled out from the console which, by the way, I’d unfolded out that morning before Jean. I was fuddled by weed and wanting to find something pertinent to say. Jon had done research on 15th century Germany and wished it to conform to his ideological bent. I didn’t know what but presumed Corbynista left. But in all intellectual honesty the evidence didn’t support his theory. His intellectual honesty was commendable. “Did it put a dent in your ideology?” I asked, in retrospect quite pertinently. Apparently not. Wafting across was that somebody had a PhD in engineering, the likeliest candidate of those present being Dan, however improbably. [Jon] Jon tried the caviar but wouldn’t hazard a guess to cost.

Fiona said something to me in the kitchen. She looked nonplussed by my reply. “What did you say?” She repeated. “I misheard.” I read 8:28 on a timer, working out that that was the time and I didn’t have to take off two hours as from a twenty-four hour clock in what after all was after noon. “I think we can assume Jacyntha’s not coming.” Fiona said she was bonkers anyway. I’d thought she’d come for the food, being greedy, but had had no expectation either way and couldn’t speculate why she hadn’t. Dan and Quentin left, then Fiona, and Steph and Jon substantially later. I offloaded Fiona’s rum on him at leaving. John wasn’t up to going home and asked to stay. I couldn’t decide whether it’d been a good party or not. It seemed ordinary, nothing standing out, “except Quentin’s feet-wiping”, not worth having, no dream fulfilled of three publishers in the one room, no discernible art behind it to be revealed by writing, not worth writing out then. John assured me everybody had enjoyed themselves. That wasn’t the yardstick. We had the risotto nobody wanted for supper, the washing-up left, despite John, till the morrow.

It’s true, in Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, that thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. In fact that’s pretty well a truism, isn’t it? since the art, if art, would in this case be of written language. We are being nudged into believing what we’re to read is art, that he’s an artist. The first time I read this novel I found it cold and repellent. That doesn’t mean it isn’t art. It might be all the greater an artefact to make for that effect.

How is it the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors? What does that mean anyway? The artist in his art is mirroring the spectator – of the art? the reader? or the artist, as a spectator, of life? Wouldn’t it have to be the former since the artist is making the mirror for the spectator to look at and see himself? That’s likely a shelving of responsibility from the artist to the reader, by likening the artefact to a mirror, a reflective surface, diverting attention from itself, its makeup, who made it and why he made it as it is or was, cold and repellent. Was I seeing myself or the artist himself in his artefact? or neither? This is a preface to a fiction which deals with the relationship of an artist to what he puts himself into and that of a spectator who sees himself in it.

How flame-like can laburnum be? I’ve struck a match to see. Honey-coloured the flame may be above the blue but nowhere near as yellow as laburnum which hangs down.

For goodness’ sake! I exclaim, incredulous at an affected character’s saying ‘I can believe anything provided that it is quite incredible.’ Really? Is that supposed to be wit? A paradox? That the basis of belief is unbelievability? Mind you I have heard somebody insist the resurrection is so unbelievable it has to be true. The Xian did affect to believe what he was saying; the character doesn’t.

His friend, a painter, is inspired by another character into putting love for him into his art. The witty one observes how useful passion is for publication. ‘Genius lasts longer than beauty.’ You use the love to make the art rather than waste it on the beloved. Never trust what a poet says about love. Poets don’t know. They’ve never finished that course. They’re running quite another. Venus may rule both love and art but under separate signs.

Beauty is not so superficial as thought is, says the would-be witty one. Really? Food for thought there. I remember noticing one in ten men on the tube gape at me. It couldn’t be at my clothes which, like theirs, were drab. It had to be my face. None acted further on its effect. I was with somebody I thought beautiful. Now, was my beauty less superficial than my thinking on it? I set no store by it. How superficial was that! since it’s also an aspect of soul and its goodness, that this novel explores.

Wit is an accomplishment in saying something from your perspective that others suddenly understand from theirs but once you’ve established wittiness you can, experimentally, say something that’s not funny and they’ll laugh anyway. Written wit is a greater accomplishment, even the greatest, because you’re laying a mine in one time for any reader’s eye at a future time to trip over and trigger an explosion in his brain that bursts out as an involuntary guffaw. Oh, the power, the power! ‘The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer’ evoked not a laugh but an ‘och’ and face averted in disgust at the failure of intended wit. I’ve since done my research; I looked up the dictionary. Incontrovertibly a life-long passion lasts the length of a life. If, as may be inferred, for somebody other than yourself, for your mother, till she dies or hers, for you, till she dies, if you’re lucky. A caprice is by definition an unaccountable change of mind or conduct, on a whim, a turn on a sixpence, in an instant. If I have a life-long passion for anything it’s for life itself and to make art of it. This book is about making art from life though you’d have to suspend you disbelief an artefact which isn’t life can do that.

The idea is brilliant, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and deftly worked out.

Aristotle defined man as a rational animal.

There are nice touches. A character smiles at missing where he was going from having been lost in thought. Without giving the content the author conveys the brio of an improvisation by a wit keen to fascinate one of his hearers. I’ve done that, working out why I was being witty and turning about to find the one I entranced following me upstairs.

It can also be a bit forced. A character excuses himself for being late because he had to haggle for hours over a piece of brocade simply for the author to get in ‘people know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ as a witticism bolted onto the character though it makes little sense in the context of him as a prospective buyer arguing to reduce the price of what he thought valuable.

It’s true women are always bothering us to do something for them, though that nothing is ever quite true is also true, but …acting is so much more real than life? Please! The statement it is, however, is relevant since the actress Dorian loves can no longer take acting for real on loving him and acts badly. Unfortunately it’s for her acting he loves her. I was morally outraged at his ensuing behaviour, as I was supposed to be, though it did bring to mind my own with the girl from Millau I encouraged to come to London and on our meeting up there unceremoniously dumped. That was entirely different!

The actress has an uncouth brother who you know just exists to make an appearance later as nemesis.

The fear of god to us all? We no longer all fear god. How times have changed! It’s still possible to appreciate the exasperation in ‘women never know when the curtain has fallen. They always want a sixth act, and as soon as the play’ of love ‘is entirely over they propose to continue it!’ He was too clever and too cynical for Dorian to be really fond of him, Lord Harry. I’ll say! All that wit becomes quite wearisome, as his wife agrees by action if not words. You keep wanting to see the reality behind the mask. His clever tongue gets on one’s nerves. Looming over all is what you know of the author. There are moments, the narrator says, when the passion for sin, or’ – he excuses himself – ‘for what the world calls sin, so dominates a nature, that every fibre of the body …seems to be instinct with fearful impulses. Men …at such moments lose the freedom of their will. They move to their terrible end as automatons move. Choice is taken from them.’ Wilde is anticipating himself when, urged to flee by Robbie Ross, he would wait to be arrested. He quite rightly, artistically, doesn’t make explicit what Dorian’s corruption of young men might be, leaving that to our imaginations.

It wasn’t Nero who had the velarium stretched across the Colosseum which was built where his golden palace had been razed. Probably Domitian. Dorian Gray was looking on evil as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful. I had to laugh at his ‘Poor Basil!’ of the painter character, as if he’d nothing to do with the ‘horrible way’ he died.

‘Ten years’ marriage ‘with Monmouth must’ve been like eternity,’ isn’t witty but ‘with time thrown in’ is. There’s a nice indirectness about Dorian’s reaction to what Harry said being conveyed through another character’s dialogue but, while her teeth showing like white seeds in a scarlet fruit is supposed to be beautiful, I had the ugly impression of a smashed fruit, a water melon say, with its seeds thus revealed. The reappearance of nemesis is nicely disguised and dealt with. I was a bit disoriented by the upper class milieu depicted but the working classes weren’t yet educated enough to write fiction with a different setting though Hardy was doing pretty well.

There are nice throwaway lines like ‘Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the grey Ulster who left for Paris …was poor Basil’ and ‘“What do you think has happened to Basil?” asked Dorian.’ And funny ones: ‘The man with whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely’ and ‘I dare say he fell into the Seine off an omnibus and that the conductor hushed up the scandal.’

Dorian ‘had often told the girl whom he had lured to love him that he was poor and she had believed him. He had told her once that he was wicked and she had laughed.’ It was no laughing matter. The soul may keep receptivity but badness hurts it and makes for unhappiness. I’d say it was driving Dorian insane because how else explain a most satisfactory ending.

I remembered the chiromantist goes pale on reading Lord Arthur Savile’s hand, as well he might. The contemporary historical reference is to General Boulanger, the figurehead of a movement against the republican constitution of France, I used my prize for being dux in history sixty-two years ago to look up. Lord Arthur just wants to get the crime over with. He sends his club’s waiter out to research the means but has to dirty his own aristocratic hands with the work. His efforts are amateurish as befits a gentleman. He finally puts his hands to good use in a spontaneous action that nonetheless brings about the predetermined end.

Miss Fanny Davenport is another contemporary reference.

I found the charity from an old beggar at the end of The Model Millionaire oddly moving, because of the benevolence depicted though I hadn’t been affected by the initial charity. ‘Uh-huh, wishful thinking’ was all I had to say at the end of The Young King. It should be ‘one white petal of his rose’ and not ‘pearl’ in The Birthday of the Infanta who, heartless herself, declares ‘let those who come to play with me have no hearts’. In The Fisherman and his Soul, Wilde describes Syria as an island. One already knows what the nightingale has to do for a red rose. The narrator does say of the student he only knew things he read in books. The end of The Selfish Giant i greeted with an ironic ‘great!’ Of The Beloved Friend all I have to say is that Hans deserved death.

In The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell presciently remarks educating the working classes would probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square as. Cecily makes a contemporary reference to the great depression which started in the 1870s, Lady Bracknell to the prevalent nihilism. This play unexpectedly reads as well and wittily as it would be performed, at least as it was, on screen in its film version. It’s plotted with the precision of clockwork, like an Orton or Ayckbourn farce. It’s perfect.

Lady Windermere’s Fan has the Aristotelian unity of time. Its tone is more serious than the soufflé of Importance. Lady Windermere finds men’s flattery patronising. She’s being set up as a puritan for a fall, like Oedipus. Play is made of the fan, like Desdemona’s kerchief or Chekov’s guns. I’m guessing Mrs Erlynne’s her mother. I may be more familiar with this play than I think. I did have another complete Wilde. Grandma thought as indulgently of whores as Lady Plymdale of courtesans. I feel Wilde is talking of himself in the character of Lord Darlington when he says, ‘but there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life… or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.’ Lord Darlington’s ‘now or not at all’ reminds me of Jo’s to me, “it’s now or never, Johnny.” “In that case it’s never.” In Lady Windermere’s it’s, ‘Then, not at all.’ Lady Agatha’s the running gag, her line the same throughout, peaking when her mother asks did Mr Hopper definitely ask – and is assured he did, only to find out her daughter’s assented to going to Australia! Lady Windermere’s ‘what a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us’ is sapient. I find the conclusion of this play moving.

A Woman of No Importance also has a unity of time. It’s all persiflage but with an undercurrent. You might think the fancy Lord Illingworth takes to a young man homo in nature but this is a Wilde play so more likely to be that of a father. I feel the American’s criticism of English society expresses Wilde’s. Lady Hunstanton says, ‘I have a dim idea, dear Lord Illingworth, that you are always on the side of the sinners, and I know I always try to be on the side of the saints, but that is as far as I get. And after all, it may be merely the fancy of a drowning person.’ ‘Illingworth’ might be a play on ‘ill in worth’. The undercurrent surfaces in a confrontation between him and the woman of no importance. I’d’ve thought the look on her face would be anger and not sorrow. It’s dramatically good one doesn’t take her side. I’d think she was overdoing it anyway if I hadn’t just been reading in The Observer the effect being deprived of their child has on women. The difference between them and my mother, a generation earlier, was she was self-dependent. She didn’t think she was disgraced either by not being married since she chose not to marry my father she didn’t think good enough for me, so this play may still be relevant and not as melodramatic as I think it though how it’s resolved isn’t overly convincing. The woman of no importance is nicely sardonic, however, in quoting the man’s words back at him and does have the last dismissive word.

An Ideal Husband is gripping to read. Check Lord Radley. It has the unity of time as well as unity of action. There’s an allusion to Othello. In our day being under-secretary of state for foreign affairs at forty would not be considered such a brilliant success. The alternate use of the brooch was broached earlier. Sir Robert’s taking his wife’s missive to himself confirms Mrs Cheveley’s interpretation of its meaning. ‘A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s’ elicited an exclamation mark in the margin. I’ve found women to be pragmatic and doubt Lady Chiltern for all her youthful puritanism would’ve needed Lord Goring’s counsel to let her husband pursue political ambition. That’s a weakness in the play hard to get round since she repeats his opinion of the relative value of a man’s life. She has, however, learned her lesson otherwise. The play has quite a good ending though I have to doubt Lord Goring would prove any more ideal a husband than Sir Robert. The women though deserve no better. Mrs Cheveley’s much the best character, having the worst.

The translation of Salomé is by Bosie. Oh dear. All the main characters, except Herodias, are obsessed. She just wants Jokanaan to shut up and doesn’t notice when his insults are redirected onto Salomé. ‘Can a man tell what will come to pass?’ Yes. Salomé is motivated by rejection. ‘(Salomé dances the dance of the seven veils.)’ Strauss must’ve seized on that simple stage direction. Good. I had the idea she went on to be a married woman of thirty-five. I didn’t find the thirty-five but did that she was married twice and had three sons, according to Josephus. The bible doesn’t name her but says she asked her mother what she should ask for after the dance, and there’s no call to disbelieve it on that score. Wilde puts the want entirely down to her. He also conflates two Herods, the Great who did die with worms in his genitalia and Antipas who didn’t. The play not only has unity of place and of action but of – curtailed – time.

The eponymous duchess of Parma does give Guido a second glance to alert us to what follows. ‘Get hence tonight from Padua’ reminds me of Kiss Me Kate. Why does Guido have to wait till told to do the deed and in the event why doesn’t Moranzone do it himself? There are many dramatic switches and not all plausible on a reading. You’d have to see the play in performance to find out if it works. The language is a bit too flowery to convince and often prosaically limps. ‘Get hence, I say, out of my sight,’ seems a bit extreme from an erstwhile lover. ‘I will not kiss you/Until the blood grows dry upon this knife/And not even then.’ What? It’s in blank verse. ‘This way went he, the man who slew my lord,’ informs the duchess. Good for her. I did see it coming. That the poison ‘smells of poppies’ is a dead giveaway it’s opium and not immediately effective. It’s a five act tragedy.

The prologue to Vera, or the Nihilists is very good. There’s a contemporary reference to the French republic set up by 1875. That the people should have one neck is an allusion to Caligula’s ‘Would that the Roman people had but one.’ (I couldn’t check at home because my Suetonius hasn’t been returned.) Through the Czarevitch’s ‘from the sick and labouring womb of this unhappy land some revolution …may rise up and slay you,’ Wilde is anticipating the Russian. I was astonished the Nihilists should so readily accept the Czar’s prime minister. Vera’s ‘The people are not yet fit for a republic in Russia’ has proved true. I was surprised by her father’s fate in a belated back-story. I anticipated whose blood would be on the dagger. There are sardonic lines, ‘You remind us wonderfully, Sire, of your Imperial father’ and just plain funny ones like Vera’s ‘I am a Nihilist! I cannot wear a crown.’ The outcome is basically unbelievable in retrospect as is the character of the Czarevitch. Could it work?

A Florentine Tragedy could if it had been finished and an actor go from believing another man is there for goods other than his wife to realising what the audience suspects from the start, the play’s poetry improving with the ironic realisation. We also know the outcome from Simone’s ‘Who filches from me something that is mine… perils his body in the theft.’ The larger political consequence that might take murderer and accessory with it is well indicated.

Last and least La Sainte Courtisane.

‘with a little rod/I did but touch the honey of romance’! ‘These christs that die upon the barricades/god knows I am with them, in some things.’ I like that ‘in some things’. ‘Down in some treacherous black ravine/clutching his flag, the dead boy lies’ is effective. ‘This England…/by ignorant demagogues is held in fee’ makes me wonder who he means. He has a sonnet on the massacre of the Bulgarians, 1876. He writes a lot of poetry, showing cleverness and versatility but it’s etiolated, mythopoeic rehash in the main. Itys I thought a swallow or nightingale but is a goldfinch. Charmides is a fictionalising of history, of a sailor who was enamoured of the statue of a Aphrodite and did the dirty, leaving a smear on her thigh. I like the euphemism, ‘Nor knew that three days since his eyes had looked on Proserpine.’ ‘Great Pan is dead and Mary’s son is king,’ no longer. ‘And here and there a passer-by/shows like a little restless midge’ is good, as is ‘I remember your hair… for it always ran riot’. The Sphinx is rather good, with some drive to the poetic conceit of his cat metamorphosing into it and having an affair with a long since defunct god she can yet resurrect. Then life stepped in and made Wilde a real poet with The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Too much god for me in the Teacher of Wisdom and too much christ in De Profundis which is not as I remember it half a century ago when it read as if being written there and then, to Bosie, with recrimination and passion. It’s still good but could be to anybody. The moral law doesn’t apply to him. He’s being unjustly punished. He won’t say prison is the best thing that could’ve happened to him, but it was since The Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis came out of it. He admires Christ’s megalomania. He doesn’t seem to know opera keeps the Greek chorus. He deplores the Renaissance and everything since made from without by dead rules and not from within through some spirit informing it. We are quite unworthy of any love shown us, as I think I am of John’s. Then again: not. Unless goodness evokes it, love has nothing to do with deserts, its quality varies, isn’t necessarily wanted and one isn’t under any obligation to it. It’s difficult for people to grasp the idea he’s sure of, that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made wasting his substance on harlots and swine-herding, hungering for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy moments in his life. I laughed: it may be worth people’s while going to prison to grasp that idea. When people saw him standing at Clapham Junction in convict dress they laughed. Nothing could exceed their amusement until they knew who he was when they laughed still more. I had to laugh. It’s the way he tells them. I agree: to mock a soul in pain is a dreadful thing. What brought me near tears was a poor thief’s saying to him as they tramped round the yard at Wandsworth – no accident it was a thief – “I am sorry for you; it is harder for the likes of you than it is for the likes of us.” To conclude, he thinks nature will cleanse him and make him whole. It didn’t.

In The Decay of Lying a character limns ‘the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind,’ which could be a delineation of Trump. ‘Passable’, not ‘possible’, carpets p 918? The aim of the liar is not simply to charm, delight, give pleasure; it is to deceive, to self-protect: and he is finally a bore.

In The Critic as Artist, the straight character would have said ‘great artists work unconsciously, that they were wiser than they knew’, which the smartarse rebuts with, ‘All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. A great poet sings because he chooses to sing,’ as an act of conscious will. Wilde knows no other. He has no realisation of an unconscious working though consciousness, because, trapped inside, that’s all it’s reduced to if it chooses to have pen put to paper. All he’s conscious of he attributes to consciousness or the character expounding deconstructionism does. Life is not necessarily deficient in form. His catastrophe didn’t just happen. His conscious will left him but that doesn’t mean his unconscious will wasn’t making him fushionless to achieve its ends for him. ‘The tears that we shed at a play …are sterile emotions …it is the function of Art to awaken. Through Art …we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.’ That worked! ‘Emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life,’ certainly of the unconscious, though in his case for inaction at a critical moment. ‘Art is mind expressing itself under the conditions of matter,’ and so far as he’s concerned without any spirit informing that mind. That the sphere of art and that of ethics are distinct and separate can’t be true when we see badness, an immoral act, as ugly. It’s aesthetically offensive. It may be true bad artists always admire each other’s work.

Reading The Soul of Man Under Socialism I couldn’t help thinking of an ancient elite living off the backs of a peasant society and wondering if what it intellectually produced was worth the burden of its parasitism. Wilde’s society didn’t display ‘far greater extremes of luxury and pauperism than any society of the antique world’ since Augustus was richer than Croesus and relatively richer than any American plutocrat of his or our day. ‘Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt’ reminded me of a street cleaner taking a pride in his conscientious sweeping, sweet to see. ‘Five hundred men… having no work to do become hungry and take to thieving’ reminded me of the anecdote of Uncle Willy’s stealing a sheep to feed his family during the Depression. ‘The public …degrade the classics into authorities.’ Mr Hood read out ‘golden lads and girls all must like chimney sweepers come to dust’ that I criticised as the poet’s pushing a conceit for the sake of a rhyme since what chimney sweepers come to is soot it’d be stretching things to call dust. “It’s by Shakespeare,” Ian Dalrymple smugly said. “So?” Even Shakespeare nods. I agree ‘the true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself because he is absolutely himself.’ ‘To call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject matter,’ recalling Quentin (S Crisp) to mind, ‘is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear.’ ‘An unhealthy work of art …is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned and common and whose subject is deliberately chosen …because [the artist] thinks that the public will pay him for it,’ though I can’t help admiring Jeffrey Archer for thinking to make money from writing and succeeding.

Wilde in The Rise of Historical Criticism says Plutarch felt all that is natural is really supernatural whereas I know what might be considered supernatural is really natural but am hard put to find an example analogous to Plutarch’s of the statue whose tears are down to condensation that might also be a manifestation by god working through nature as the unconscious through an ignorant but conceited consciousness.

“I told Mark you were lying and he said ‘and bullshitting’,” apropos of nothing apparently. John took offence, “You should stop playing these gam-s.” What g-mes? “It was a flippant remark,” the one I was referring to, “though I can’t remember the context.” He wasn’t taking my word for it. Even allowing seriousness, why was he taking offence at having been called a liar and bullshitter when these, lying and bullshitting, were his stock in trade until the day before yesterday when he’d stopped being dodgy, in so far as that was possible, on finally getting his freedom pass? He knew I knew of his inclination to dodge faster than a flying bullet, a wonder to behold. It wasn’t he was morally outraged then that I could no longer be deceived. Either way, it was incomprehensible. I was at a loss what to do. Was it that I had impugned his going straight? He was as straightened as a corkscrew ready to twang back into shape. “I try to be nice, and this...,” I can’t remember how he ended it: with the implication alone, or ‘ my reward’. “You know how to end a friendship,” he said, shifting his bag toward the exit. “Yes, I do,” I agreed, lightly, not thinking I was confirming this was one such example of what had been a skill. “I’m going to ...” sock Mark one on the jaw or something such he said, putting on his shoes. I wasn’t quite believing any of this, half thinking he would drop the taking of it seriously and claim he’d fooled me. “You’re very touchy.” He went out the door and along the balcony, half way to Mark’s where he stopped, thought better of it and came back. Thinking that might be the ebb, I went back inside, but instead of following me in he went into the bathroom, slamming the door excludingly. I sat on the bed, getting up again to find out where he was. The bathroom door was wide open and he wasn’t behind it, nor in the kitchen, of course not - I’d’ve seen him there – nor outside on the landing. He was gone. I couldn’t quite believe it.

I phoned, getting voicemail, ‘You left because of that!’ I recalled what I thought was the context the day before. He’d gone out at half-four to see if there was a film or play for us to go to and didn’t come back by half-seven when I went out on the balcony. Mark was sitting on his chair. I didn’t care John hadn’t come back, thinking the film an excuse to go and that he’d gone on home. “He was lying!” I mock-expostulated in conclusion. “And bull-shitting,” Mark continued, though I did wonder if that was what he thought of John’s conversations with him I paid no heed to.

Having ascertained the context in my own mind, I phoned John again, giving it, while ending with that I wouldn’t know what not to say to him, implying ‘in future’ to be inferred, underlining the difficulty in going back on his decision.

I went out to have Mark confirm I’d got the context right. I had. “It was a joke,” he said and I was to forget it, John had been drinking. “He’s always drinking!” I dismissed that as explanation. I wasn’t upset. It didn’t affect me. I couldn’t take it seriously. I was more concerned to find out how to get letters back from numbers for texting on my new phone. John had maybe been looking for an excuse to end the friendship or my unconscious, knowing what would effect that, had slipped past a consciousness that barely hesitated to let it go my report of a flippant remark after John told me he’d phoned his mother on his way home day before. “In the state you were in!” That had maybe recalled the day before enough for me to report my flippant remark then. Having found no film or play, he’d come back, shouting, “John! John!” just when Mark and I had finished joking about his going awol. He was so pie-eyed, “Have you been drinking?” He confessed to smoking a pipe of crack. I helped him recover with wrung towels soaked in cold water – “You’re a good friend” - enough for him to be able to go home and on his way phone his mother who ranted on about trans women not being women, he said.

I like the poems which are dated and can be correlated with the prose of Aiaigasa which occasionally refers back to them. ‘On the path I kissed/You, but didn’t say/How I felt like an actor’ epitomises self-consciousness. ‘The Café de Paris was/Closing in thirty/Minutes. I left. Then came back. /“Tomorrow?” I asked. “We’re closed,” amusingly shuts the door on that afterthought. ‘As/Time passes so you/Begin to doubt free will.’ It is only conscious, I remark. By then I’ve worked out 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 is the tanka syllabic scheme. ‘Poetry’s a thing/Of such high definition/You can keep zooming/In, endlessly. This is how/We slow time.’ Telepathy is/how we slow time to a stop. ‘Time ...does not stop,’ he says. It does, when you think fast enough.

Quentin S Crisp’s travelling companion is Beehive Crick who provides the good illustrations.

‘I knew, as I might know of someone I loved, that however I stared and caressed, I could not finally possess them because I could not become them.’ He’s talking about ceramics. Why possess who you love? Is the assumption of possession that he’s making true? As a child I was interested by love and asked my mother why she loved me. Because I was hers. Would that answer do? It’d have to since it was the only answer she had. That would seem to corroborate his assumption of possession if not that of a drive to become the beloved. A piece of pottery? Not all children are lovable, she went on, so a child could be intrinsically lovable and incite love, along with the wish to possess. I don’t think I want to possess whom I love. I don’t know I love anybody. I might do but if so it’s a different kind of love from past ones and not possessive. Anything such in the past I left to my unconscious which did possess others with their consent to further its ends. It did possess an inanimate object once, the shaft of spade I’d borrowed, found the weak point, broke it, so that it was hanging by a thread when I returned it.

He interprets another’s tanka: that the poet, ‘like the pines [at Takasago beach]’ still stands and I agree ‘But,’ the poet goes on, ‘they are not my friends.” They don’t know him from those long gone days, nobody does. That poet was lonely, as was ours, writing prose, when a student in Japan, feeling like a ghost in relation to the other students. He’s only saved from becoming a ghost by being recognised by another human being, a homeless alcoholic. He seems to be taking his reality, not from his own spirit, but from others’ recognition of it. Rich used to keep his eyes on me, either to ensure his own existence or confer existence on me, I was unsure which. My intimation was his unconscious thought itself king but had difficulty placing me in its self-conception. The narration of Aiaiglas is a bit too consciously deliberate – laid on thick - to be taken as true to fact, a suspicion substantiated when he admits he did have a friend after all.

On p 46 it should be ‘heedless’. [He says not. 'Headless' it is] P 51 a ‘be’ is missing after ‘smell’. I questioned ‘(How else could I bear to be English?)’ to explain why the rationalisation that the reality of a Japan deformed by social repression is a sophisticated culture persuades him. I’m British, so that doesn’t affect me. Interesting that Japanese farmers were of higher status than artisans or traders. The writer explains why an epigram equating a butterfly’s taking wing with the leaves (that its caterpillar ate) taking wing might indicate how an intuited benevolence intrinsic to existence unfolds into life. I see.

I could only exclaim ‘for god’s sake’ at the solecism of a misspelt ‘benefited’ on p 63. ‘In a reliquary are kept some bones said to belong to the Buddha.’ Yeah, right.

Aiaigasa is an umbrella built for two and I could’ve done with more interaction between the two it sheltered or shaded. But that’s me. I was delighted – ‘heh, heh, heh’ in the margin – at ‘It had been her’ Beehive’s ‘suggestion stay in a ryokan [inn] at some point whether it was strictly necessary or not and this room [in Nagoya] appeared to be exactly what she had in mind.’ Starving, I devoured that morsel. The next bit of this chapter of the travelogue, The Robot, the writer read out at the book launch. Reading it is different but the impression it gives, if subdued, is much the same, of good writing. ‘That I was seeing one [a robot] now naturally suggested that this world and that of science fiction had merged.’ Oh, ‘naturally’! I wrote in the margin and I couldn’t’ve done that at the hearing or thought to. Nor did I note then the American spelling of ‘sceptically’. It’s not as if he hasn’t been told!

‘To know how indifferently I am forgotten by the world, and how hard is the ground I must tread while I’m alive – this is to meet death. ...And what then? Well ...if it is possible, I will then come back as a ghost for you, dear reader, whose eye too seldom I meet with mine ’ to which affectation this reader can only reply, No, you won’t, I assure you.

‘It is one ...skill to recognise what is evocative for oneself ...but ...another judge what will be evocative to a broad mix of people [and] linked to ...understanding of the dreams ...humanity shares.’ He believes that’s what TS Eliot meant by the objective correlative. I looked it up. The purpose is to express a character’s emotions by showing rather than describing feelings, thereby creating an emotion in the audience [of a play] through external factors and evidence linked together and thus forming an objective correlative, producing an author’s detachment from the depicted character and uniting the emotion of the work. Eliot thought ‘King Lear’ met this criterion and ‘Hamlet’ didn’t. It couldn’t since Hamlet characterises the conscious will and the author his unconscious Will. Does Aiaiglas? The emotion I’m experiencing at this point, Local Trains and Place Names, is I think exasperation. The only thing the two railway lines, one in Japan, the other in Devon, have in common is that the author rode them. The umbrella theme goes for a burton unless he’s the umbrella but where’s the romantic connexion?

He asks if we could explain to an alien why ...’Life’s Not Hollywood, It’s Cricklewood’ is funny, implying we couldn’t. I think we could. He has an inexplicit romantic memory of Eggesford his friend doesn’t share. He spins a conscious fantasy about Morchard Road. Then has the cheek to suggest the reader spend time alone in a quiet room or on a train journey to examine the lists of station names and to dream of what they might mean, to which the only answer is - in the margin - no. Oh, really? He’s compelled only by artistic integrity to narrate another fantasy he remembers having when first learning Japanese in which he giggles at the inherent supplication in saying ‘water, please.’ I had to laugh, however, when he describes the irony entailed in using a space heater; when you turned it off, you had to open a window to get rid of the fumes – and the heat. His Proustian madeleine is the fumes of a paraffin stove.

It’s more interesting for me when Bee-chan’s involved. She likes her lie-ins and he doesn’t, occupying himself with morning things but taking less trouble to be quiet as time went on, making me laugh. There really was nowhere else he wanted to be and no one else he wanted to be with. Ah! He thought some hours are golden because we let them slip, retrospectively gilded. He lost the umbrella! symbol of their shared journey and felt helpless distress. Oh just accept it as an unconsciously deliberate symbol. He ditches another umbrella.

Describing a standing bar as slightly larger than the wardrobe on one side of the hallway of his small flat is not useful to a reader though the elaboration does evoke Night Hawks. Interesting that Japanese wear masks to protect others from their germs. Abdul always shakes my hand but wouldn’t because he’d a cold till I insisted. I knew what was causing the locker’s smell, as will you. ‘These - are a nightmare,’ says B in a pickle, throwing them away and making me laugh. There’s a glossary and her map of the voyage, usefully dated.

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