Sunday, June 19, 2022

phil yer boots

I note that after the sad death of Welsh rugby legend Phil Bennett last week his legendary try against Scotland at Murrayfield in the last game of the 1977 Five Nations Championship has, as the kids say, "gone viral". So I thought a bit of wholly unnecessary micro-analysis might be in order.
Firstly, yes, yes, all right, the pass from Bennett to Burcher about halfway through the move was probably forward, albeit marginally (and Bill McLaren does say as much during the replay on the BBC coverage).

Secondly, for all the excitement of the build-up - Fenwick's starting the move off after getting the ball from JPR Williams, Gerald Davies' side-steps and hand-off, Bennett's intervention, Burcher's improvised quarterback-style overhead pass - the real magic happens within the space of about a second just after all this. Firstly Steve Fenwick has to wait for Burcher's floaty pass to arrive and then ship it straight on pronto before being ploughed into the turf by a Scotsman:

And then, just after this, it's easy to miss just how much work Bennett still has to do to get past the last two Scottish defenders:

Lastly, even as Bennett touches down and the crowd, and Bill McLaren, go wild, note how David Burcher keeps it real by deeming the try worthy of a prolonged celebration amounting to a single clap before pulling himself together after such an unseemly emotional outburst and trotting back to the halfway line for the conversion. Different times.

Wales won the game 18-9, by the way, giving them the second of four consecutive Triple Crowns, two of which were upgraded to Grand Slams, including Bennett's last Wales game against France the following year in which he scored two tries. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

the last book I read

by Elias Canetti.

A rum cove, this Peter Kien. An eminent sinologist living in a mid-European city (never named but most likely a thinly-fictionalised Vienna), he generally eschews the many professorships and guest lecturing gigs he is offered (thanks to an inheritance he can live off without having to work much, which is nice) in favour of hanging out in his apartment with his gargantuan book collection. I mean, who in their right mind would choose books as more palatable companions than people, right? Oh all right then. 

But there are tedious administrative chores to be attended to - cooking, dusting, unblocking the toilet, that sort of thing - and eminent sinologists have too much of the old eminent sinology (hardest game in the world, the old eminent sinology game) to do to be bothered with such trivial matters. So Kien hires a housekeeper, Therese, a robust woman of middle-aged years, and after she shows an unexpected interest in his books Kien rashly proposes marriage, despite having very little idea of what the, erm, practical details involve.

Things start to unravel pretty quickly after that. After a botched attempt at conjugal beastliness Kien and Therese retreat to separate areas of the apartment, and after things escalate further Kien finds himself cast out of his own apartment and onto the street. This causes a couple of obvious problems: firstly he is separated from his beloved books and secondly he has to interact with other members of the human race, something he is ill-equipped to do. He ends up in a dingy club and meeting with a chess-playing dwarf, Fischerle, who saves him from being beaten up and having his money stolen, but then befriends him with the intention of swindling him out of his money. Kien's mental state is starting to fray round the edges somewhat by this stage and he spends a considerable amount of time every night arranging his wholly imaginary library in his hotel room.

Therese, meanwhile, back in the apartment, has struck up a relationship with the apartment block's concierge, Benedikt Pfaff, a man considerably less prissy than Kien about asserting his conjugal rights for services rendered. Somehow Therese, Pfaff and Fischerle cook up a scheme to relieve Kien of a substantial sum of money by pawning all of his books and when Kien discovers the plot and a scuffle ensues everyone ends up down at the police station. 

In a moment of clarity Kien manages to get a telegram off to his brother George, an eminent psychiatrist, who makes his way across Europe to help. George, in contrast to his brother, is a pragmatic and can-do sort of bloke and he quickly sorts out the Therese and Pfaff situation, retrieves all the pawned books and reinstates Peter in his apartment. So, everything's peachy again, right? Well, in a tragic failure of literally his core area of expertise, George has failed to spot that Peter has undergone some sort of catastrophic mental collapse as part of his ordeal, pushing him from A Bit Odd to Properly Deranged and precipitating the climactic act of self-destruction that ends the story.

So, what do we make of this? The short answer is: fucked if I know. A slightly longer answer might involve a list of books on this list to which this has some similarities: I'd say those would include Demian, Nausea, Hunger and probably a few others: one obvious theme here is young (or youngish - Peter Kien is supposed to be about forty) men with no pressing need to work for a living swanning around having rich internal monologues with little direct relationship to reality. It's unclear, for instance, what's going on with the section where both Peter and Therese seem to believe that each has murdered the other, or in the section where Fischerle gears up to head off to foreign parts to make his fortune as a chess grandmaster only to be messily murdered instead. 

What it's supposed to be All About is highly debatable, though it is certainly the case that a generally low opinion of women is a theme throughout. The general critical opinion seems to be that the character of Benedikt Pfaff, who is certainly portrayed as a violent and brutish type who may or may not have sexually abused his own daughter, is some sort of criticism of totalitarianism in general and the fledgling Nazi regime in particular. People in general struggle to communicate with and understand each other? Well, sure. People who love books are dreadful and deserve to die in a fire? Hmmm, not so sure about that.

This was Canetti's only novel, published in 1935 (but not published in English until the late 1940s). The bulk of his literary output seems to have been collections of essays on various topics, but the other thing for which he is most famous is the non-fiction work Crowds And Power, published in 1960. Overall his literary output seems thin for a Nobel laureate, but nonetheless the committee (who are undoubtedly more knowledgeable than me) awarded Canetti the literature prize in 1981. 

It's not an easy or comfortable read, but I quite enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way. It has a violent energy that's quite bracing, although there are peaks and troughs - I found the middle section involving Fischerle and Kien's extended travels round the city tougher going than the other sections involving Kien and Therese and the apartment. The fact that it took me over two months to get through it is partly a reflection of the density of the prose and partly of the fact the we moved house halfway through and opportunities for reading diminished somewhat among the ensuing chaos. Whatever the reason the only books on this list I read at a slower pages-per-day rate were Sunset Song, The Infernal Desire Machines Of Doctor Hoffman, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Midnight's Children, Zeno's Conscience, The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, The Conservationist, The Human Stain and Tropic Of Cancer. I certainly wouldn't describe all of those as gnarly and impenetrable, so clearly there are other factors at play here, like for instance the intervention of non-book-related life events, a balance Peter Kien would have done well to learn to observe.