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Thursday, 1 December 2011

December. Well, if we must remind ourselves that there are only 24 days until Christmas - and if must email me, as I write these very words, to say that the “Twelve Days of Christmas Sale” is now on - I shall take heart from the fact that there are only 26 until it’s all over for another year.

I shall now clear my throat, empty my mind of such dour reflections, and turn our attention to happier matters - like football, lady violinists, and the objects upon my desk.

My visit to Bootham Crescent, home of the mighty York City (undefeated in ten league games now), was a joyous one. First a pint of Guzzler in the Maltings with my pal Alan (aka Fordy), then - oh dear, yet another meal of fish and chips in a cafĂ© on Gillygate. I feel compelled to say that I rarely eat fish and chips; it’s just that recently I’ve been out and about so much and in such a hurry, that England’s favourite dish (well, it was until the curry houses arrived) has been the easiest option. I will add an etymological note for my American readers. Many a street in York, as in other northern towns, is called something-gate. It’s from the Scandinavian ‘gata’, meaning - yes, street or road.

But, the game. In the end it was your basic stroll in the park. We scored an early goal - albeit via a huge deflection off one of their defenders. Then we more or less controlled things, playing a good passing game and scoring a very well worked second shortly after half-time. We’re still in fourth place, and Fleetwood, a crummy little outfit from Lancashire (boo hiss) and this year’s surprise package, are still seven points ahead of us, as are Wrexham, who lost their manager a few weeks ago but have kept on winning regardless. However, we still ain’t halfway through the season. Many a slip and all that.

Last night, by way of contrast, we crossed the Tyne (above) and made our way to the Sage in Gateshead to see the second of half a dozen performances by the Belcea Quartet ( They are working their way through the entire set of Beethoven’s string quartets, and they really are a joy to watch: intense, brilliant, wonderfully co-ordinated, and in the case of  violinist Corina Belcea-Fisher rather easy on the eye - in her purple, off-the shoulder velvet dress and wielding a 1666 Strad. Yes, 1666. Imagine making something by hand that is still around three hundred years after you’ve gone. So well do they blend as an ensemble - and I suppose you should expect this of a quartet - that I frequently found it impossible to work out who was making what sounds. Even the cellist confused me at times, reaching higher, more delicate notes that seemed to emanate from the violins. Attending these concerts was A’s idea - she plays the fiddle herself - but I am now quite sold on them, although I see that we shall miss the final performance in June: we expect to be on our bikes, pedalling along the coast of Denmark or Sweden.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer issued his Autumn Statement yesterday, on the day that I signed my year’s returns and popped them through the accountant’s door. One of the interesting things about having been outside of the mainstream economy since 1984, when I embarked on an academic career and sashayed into being a full-time writer, is that while the Thatcher boom was no more than a faint echo in distant skies as far as I was concerned, the same seems true of this present calamity. Yes, publishing is all at sea, but by some twist of fate - and such twists govern your life when you cut the ties to regular employment, pensions schemes and the like - I seem to be writing books (for Mike Pannett) that the public hunger for in recessionary times: simple tales of a rustic backwater where nothing too ghastly ever happens and hearty meals appear regularly on the table. I am reminded of the 1930s and all those glitzy musicals which presented a world that was, likewise, out of reach for 99% of cinema-goers. They too were hugely popular.

Thanks to You Tube I was able the other day to watch a 20- (nay, 30-year-old) film about the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein ( I well remember getting the train up to London in 1968 to see his exhibition at the Tate. Pow!! Bam!! Oh, Brad! and all that comic-book stuff. The film, and interview with the artist, made me think about the significance of everyday things; and so I decided to list everything on my desk, as of Monday 28 November. Brace yourself. There were 130 items, including the computer, various calling cards, credit cards and old DVDs, my rechargeable batteries, a cricket ball, an audio recording of Mari Sandoz which I recently unearthed, as well as a box of vitamin pills and two Clovis period spear-points (both 10-12,000 years old), mementoes of the Sandhills sojourn.

Talking of the Sandhills, I continue to ponder the way ahead for my 90,000-word narrative, The Red House on the Niobrara. But more of that another time. I need to steel myself and produce another thousand words of copper memories. I think this is the chapter in which a naked nurse has to rescued from a first-floor window after she sets her flat on fire. Any volunteers?

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