Brian’s ‘Memos’

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Brian wrote a collection of mini-essays, which he called his Commonplace Book. He covered a wide range of subjects, personal, political, historical, and whimsical, and we have published some of these writings here. In more than one of these pieces he refers to his thoughts as a ‘Memo’ and we decided to use ‘Memos’ as a collective title.

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Categorized as Memos

28th October

Today, being the day it is, suddenly kicks open a memory-door that I locked and bolted at least two generations ago.

Grannie Loader – she was Grannie on my mother’s side – had a simple but intense piety. As I realized later, it was not derived from the tenets of any one particular religious sect. Like a sea-anemone, it borrowed what it fancied from whatever came its way. More alarmingly, it invented numerous tenets of its own. Indeed the more original they were, the more certain Grannie was of their truth….

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A Sketch of My Brother

So what motivated my brother? It was, I guess, mostly an intuitive, physical confidence. At school, which he had left a year earlier, his academic performance had been poor, but he’d been a star at sport. With a pen he could do nothing, but with a bat or a racquet he could shine….

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Acting

Can anyone explain to me how and why the present style of acting, as displayed on cinema and television screens, came to be what it is? Being on stage in a theatre has always involved being larger than life and magnifying not only the volume of speech but also the registration of emotion far beyond what would be normal in a sitting-room. The focus of the drama itself may require this mode of intensification, but the major practical reason is that the emotion must reach the back row of the gallery. A slight frown of dislike, which would be sufficient in a sitting-room…

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Categorized as Memos

Belief

The definitions of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ given in the Concise Oxford Dictionary suggest that the two words are interchangeable in meaning. But in this memo I shall, rightly or wrongly, use ‘faith’ to mean the acceptance of any concept without logical or other proof, and ‘belief’ to mean the more specific acceptance of tenets forming part of a religious system. Thus it is possible to have faith in the notion of ‘God’ without belief in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary…

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Bétou – an Epitaph

When we arrived there nearly thirty* years ago Bétou was – apart from one house still lived in by an elderly Polish couple – the semi-ruined remnants of an ancient hamlet. It was in a remote, rural district of south-western France. Almost the whole of it, including its eighteen or so acres of neglected land, was spread down a valley slope. There was a wood of small oaks and, protected by briars too thick for a sickle, the blurred outlines of terraces carved out of the hillside…

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Boredom

To start with, what is it and how does one get it? It’s worth asking, for as a social phenomenon, I fear it worse than bubonic plague. There seem to be two sorts or strains. First, (and less dangerous) the Invasive, the Attack-from-Outside, the Visiting Virus.  Something is claiming the attention of your eyes, ears or mind and, although it may not be actively painful, you wish it would stop…

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Describing Bach

Of course it could well be that a Bach born in Istanbul or Delhi would have responded just as wonderfully within that other faith. For all we know, it may already have happened. But we do best to talk within what we do know, including the rise and fall and timbre of the language in which Bach thought – and of which Luther was a master. Think, for instance, of ‘Ein fester Burg ist unser Gott’. Then think of the chants at the centre of the chorale preludes. I think that the rock-like simplicity of the language seeped into Bach before, at the ripe age of nine, he began to write down tunes…

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Doubt

It is to some extent a luxury. If there were enough doubt about enough, then very little of what needs to be done would get done. Our remote ancestors, suddenly attacked by predators, would need to act ahead of doubt. They would quickly have understood that the same, even without predators, is true of driving on a wet and crowded motorway…

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Elderly Poets

There are poets with techniques so copper-bottomed or fire-proof or what have you, that almost anything, regardless of age, can be housed in them. There are poets, such as Yeats, wonderfully engrossed in themes that mature like Lafite. There are, sadly, poets such as Graves who at seventy decided that, in order to write love poems, he must be forever twenty. Most of us oldies who have ever written poems do not have these advantages or emergency exits as we head downhill, push the gear-lever into third and hope the brakes are good. Our choice is either to shut up (which has a lot to be said for it), or to consider very carefully what we still can write…

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Categorized as Memos