Sunday, 12 August 2012

Prejudices, Gaffes and Kindness

Since Friday 27th July I have done my best to escape London 2012. It's not that I don't appreciate the youth, beauty, skill and athleticism of the competitors; on the contrary, I am awe-struck and bowled over by the determination and hard work they have so obviously put into their quest for glory. It's the commentary I can't take. I watched an early sailing event, horribly fascinated and repelled at the same time, with a British competitor being the favourite. Throughout the race the Brit's name was repeated, over and over again, hysterically, manically, while two other close rivals were anonymously 'the Dutch and Danish sailors'; during the same race I also tried to count the number of times the two words  'Great Britain' shrieked out at me from the TV screen: I actually lost count.

Gardener gave a wonderful example of this mind-set; naturally, the Olympics came up, although he belongs to the school of grouches who think that the money should have been spent on something more worthwhile, he seems to have followed Britain's unexpected success story and was even grudgingly appreciative. During one of his tirades against hype and overspend he mentioned a particular cycle race and a particular British cyclist.

"All that money from the Lottery, a bike that costs thousands of pounds, years of training, it's not worth it", he said. "What's the point, it's not as if he did anything important."

"But if he won, aren't you proud of him?" we asked.

"He didn't win, he came third," Gardener said.

"Oh, I see", we said, "so who came first?"

"No idea". Gardener waved the question away dismissively. "Just some bloke from abroad."

Looks like the old attitude : Fog in Channel, Europe Isolated still rules okay.

I put my foot into somebody's pet intellectual soft tissue the other day too when I wailed that I regret that English literature is peculiarly insular and parochial and that hardly anyone reads Continental European writers or work in translation. I mentioned that I had just finished W.G. Sebald's "The Rings of Saturn", in which the writer turns a long, wandering walk through East Anglia into a sequence of visionary meditations, which ultimately becomes an essay for the dispossessed.  My neighbour at the dinner table, up to now a good friend, turned a furious face in my direction and told me that he found my remarks 'deeply offensive' and that I should go and immerse myself in Wordsworth's 'Preludes' or 'Tintern Abbey' where I would certainly find philosophy and meditation. We were all on the cusp of being drunk, which accounted for my outburst as well as his; he repeated the 'deeply offensive' remark twice, which I found, and still find, rather over the top, especially as he hadn't really understood my complaint. At the end of dinner we parted on  good terms but I'm left wondering if I actually want to remain friends. Or if he does.

So it is with great pleasure that I can finally get away from gaffes and prejudices and tell you about something very kind which the immensely talented artist/illustrator/writer Elizabeth Rose Stanton of the amazing Pens Paper Studio did: when she heard how sad I am about Benno's death she sent me the card you see here. Elizabeth is a dog lover too and she knows just how I feel.

This is a card to keep. It will make me smile every time I look at it.


  1. We may or may not read continental writers but many of the best writers thought of here as being "British" turn out (on closer inspection) to be Irish. Not strictly "continental" but definitely over the water.

  2. What a lovely card! Yes, this transcends cultural differences, I think.

    I notice when reading European books for teens that they often seem extremely alien, very much more philosophical and somehow old fashioned than UK or American teen books. I don't know enough about it to analyse it but there is a distinct difference in approach to life between us and many Continental countries. This may well come out in literature.

  3. Speechless at the intersection of Lizzie's talent and kindness and the solace you take from it.

  4. aww that is a beautiful card for you...and just the the art on it...ha the commentators are interesting the say the least at the olympics...and you know on the convo...if you cant express an opinion without someone getting bent, i dunno...

  5. Are we safe to assume that your dinner companion would have been less irked if your observations came from a British born intellectual? I'd be pissed and probably quite unliterary in response!
    I do like the quote about fog in the channel, and the card, of course:)

  6. My fourteen year old is enamored with all things British. Probably has something to do with a celebrity I am unaware of.

  7. When I really want to watch some event on the Olympic Games I turn off the sound and leave it on mute. The card you received is so pretty and so sweet – I went to look at her blog, which I did not know – she is very talented.

  8. A couple of our Australian commentators need a good kick where the sun doesn't shine; what an exciting dinner party! and the card ...... squeeze my heart.

  9. I felt the same way about the Olympics, a great contest with irritating narration throughout. Well, it's over now, and in 4 years I'll watch it all again.

    How sweet of Elizabeth to send you that lovely card, from one dog lover to another.

  10. What gets me about the Olympics is that you're a hero if you win the gold and you're an utter loser, a chump, a nobody -- even if you lose by .001 second. It's all or nothing.

    I'm really enjoying your blog, Friko. I love your intelligence and wit -- and what a lovely card your friend sent you!

  11. I read lots of European writers, but I agree that lots of English readers seem to have the HE Bates, Joanna Trollope and Agatha Christie mentality. (I've probably lost a few "friends' myself saying this.) Sebald is magnificent, though that word is too grand to describe his introspective style.

  12. Sounds like Olympic commentators are the same the world over. Love Gardener's comment - says it all really. I enjoyed reading about your book discussion; I'm afraid I find nothing quite as offensive as being told I am being offensive. Almost got to admire the arrogance of those who KNOW they are right and everyone else is wrong.

    I can see why you love that card, it's lovely.

  13. Sometimes I think having a group of friends is highly overrated! Sigh!!
    Love the sweet.
    Hugging you

  14. Elizabeth is right: all dogs go to heaven, they are sinless.

  15. I have (on more than one occassion) also been guilty of deeply offending friends/acquaintances by daring to hold an opinion opposite to their own. The truth is if our views are so different perhaps we ought to reconsider our 'friendship'.

    I have been completely enthralled with the Olympics, but here in London it has taken over our lives. I must admit the jingoism is tiresome ... the other evening the commentators were so wrapped up in the men's 4 x 100m relay, the cameras were on our lads (who came in a fast finishing 4th) that I had to watch the replay before I knew who had won! But Friko I was in Germany for the Munich Olympics and they were just as guilty there - cutting off the end of races to flip to dear old Heid Rosendahl jumping her way into the record books. ;)

  16. That is a card to cherish. It is a truly beautiful reflection of just how important our animals are.

  17. Opinions, opinions, opinions, never a good mix with wine in my experience. What a thoughtful and beautiful gift from ERS, she is such a talent and all round wonderful soul. She captured Benno perfectly!
    Love to you.

  18. Hello:
    Mercifully, this has been an Olympics free household [as it is every two years, summer and winter alike].Indeed, we cannot even [again mercifully] receive the BBC coverage on our computer in Hungary as it is 'not available in our area'!!!

    It was only when we came to Budapest that our knowledge of world cinema developed in any meaningful sense. Until then, we had not fully appreciated how cinemas in England are so inextricably linked to the American blockbusters that there seems to be little opportunity for showing low budget films or those with little known directors or, indeed, those which are 'foreign' Such a pity as there really is such tremendous film making talent in the world and one's life is certainly the richer for having access to it.

    What a wonderful card from ERS. She is a treasure and so incredibly talented. We have now framed a drawing of hers which she so kindly sent to us and it is a joy every time we look at it. We are sure that you will find exactly the same.

  19. Just what you needed...a lovely card to treasure in memory. Amazing this Internet, isn't it? Arguing versus discussion. Keep liquor out of the picture and I think it remains more sane even if less honest and interesting. I can see someone pointing out that your facts are incorrect...but opinion? How can someone's opinion be wrong?

  20. Today I am in agreement with you. Of course dogs go to heaven. I learned that reading the Herriot books. Dog is GOD spelled backwards, don't forget. I love your card.

    I can't read anymore books about the dispossessed so I won't be reading this book I think. I do read books from all over the globe, as long as they are printed in English.

    I can read Spanish, but am "lazy for the language" as my Spanish-speaking colleage once told me when she lapsed into Spanish at the end of a long day. I can also read Italian and French, but prefer them in translation.

    Yes, the Olympics were too much. Over here we get a good dose of everyone and everybody, being a multinational country, although some commentators do focus on the USA players more than others. David was very happy about Andy Murray winning his game against that boy from Switzerland. How's that for someone who doesn't watch sports. Have a good day Friko. Dianne

  21. Dear Friko, the card is lovely. And having it near will surely comfort you. If there is an afterlife, what would be the good of it if we weren't with all the friends we've loved throughout our lives? And among those friends surely will be the animals who have given us such unconditional love and taught us so much about living in the present.

    As to the Olympics, I doubt if any other country is quite as chauvinistic as the United States. All we seem to do is cover the lives and the winning or losing of our own athletes. We seem to forget what the Olympics is supposed to be about--the whole world working together to become appreciative of her/him who is strongest and fastest. Where in all the world can we find the Oneness that our heart's long for? Peace.

  22. I recently had a tiny tiff with a long time friend in just about the same circumstance, although she had had a lot more wine than I. But both of us are apt to express our opinions perhaps too forcefully. I considered not being friends with her any more, but decided to write her a conciliatory email (not an apology, since I thought it was her fault). I got a cool response, but I think I will follow with a suggestion of lunch at a restaurant where we had a pleasant one together a few months ago. I think she will respond favorably. We live on a small island.

    If there is a heaven it certainly has Benno (and many other dogs, cats, canaries, etc.) in it.

  23. Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s card is simply lovely, not to mention a loving gift.

    As for the Olympics, it's the same over here. The awful "commentary" and other filler have become so dominant I stopped watching altogether some years back. It's a shame, really, as the participants put all their heart and soul and talent into it, but there it is.

    As for things literary, as I'm sure you know, it's not only in England that one finds that insularity—although, thinking aloud, now, I wonder, is it so much the literature that is insular, or those readers who read only “their own”? I do love the way you describe The Rings of Saturn (and enjoy, too, thinking that we may have read this now at the same time).

    It is remarkable how, at the slightest provocation, Sebald goes off on a brilliant wander to what seems to be a wholly other time and place. From a BBC documentary about Roger Casement (during which he fell asleep), he is off on the trail of reconstructing Casement's meeting with Joseph Conrad in the Congo, "the story I slept through that night in Southwold." And it is not just that he knows so much to begin with (although that’s surely true), but that he sets out on an exploration to find out all there is to know. From his status as dispossessed wanderer, he seems to take possession of everything there is.

    In the process, he gives one so many evocative threads to follow, it’s bewildering to think where to begin. And speaking of threads to follow, a few days ago (8/7/12), the New York Times reported on a renewed interest in Thomas Browne (to which I may have paid no attention had it not been for Sebald). The article notes, among other things, that “New Directions published an elegantly slim edition of ‘Urne-Buriall’ in the fall of 2010, with a preface in the form of a passage from W. G. Sebald’s 1995 novel, ‘Rings of Saturn.’”

  24. Regarding your take on British literature, what can I say, except that I disagree totally. I was born in Canada, have lived in the US for many years, have traveled extensively in the British Isles and France, and have studied French literature at the university level. In my opinion, the British win the literary sweepstakes hands down. I don't find their "insularity" as you put it, the least bit off-putting. And if that's how you feel, then you're missing the point or reading the wrong books!

  25. The card was that rare item....a kind thought beautifully executed.

    As to the tiff....when on the sauce people tend to release the inner daemon and an underlying antagonism may emerge from the undergrowth.

    My father introduced me to reading in translation and I read a good deal in French in later life which enabled me to return to works only previously read in English and become aware of the filters translation imposed.

    As to the made me think of a written version of the Renaissance Cabinets of Curiosities....a showcase of rare oddities, which brings me in turn to the phrase of Goldsmith...'And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew'....

    In an earlier period, when wide ranging and accurate pursuit of learning was more common I doubt Sebold's erudition would be so much remarked upon.

  26. Every country's Olympic coverage is insular , I expect . I've only seen the Games Dutch and English , Belgian and Spanish television admittedly , but on each the emphasis is on home heroes and their medals .
    Only Eurosport could be neutral .... briefly , in between the advertisements .
    And as for the book discussion ... aren't they supposed to be lively ? Or did he just want your blind admiration for everything from Chaucer to Mills and Boone ?

  27. although on the road we have been able to follow some of the Olympics - while moving through Canada we found the Canadian coverage to be refreshing - uncluttered, complimentary to all & not filled with extra bling. Now in Alaska & receiving US coverage - oh my - how obnoxious! And the negative comments anout "losing with only a silver or bronze" - uncalled for - they fail to see the simple honor of just being there.
    The beautifully drawn card is so expressive of how lovers of dogs feel - how thoughtful that you have received this.

  28. I love Gardener. He makes my day every time he gets a mention on your blog, Friko. The doggy card is pretty cool too.

  29. I love the card
    you will treasure
    and always smile
    when you come across it.
    Agree with Tabor
    how can an opinion be wrong.
    I write my journal
    but with so many
    I listen
    and stay silent...

  30. That card made me cry. In fact I am still crying. And for heaven's sake, drop that "friend" from your life! (But who am I to be telling you what to do? Sorry!)

  31. Friko, if it means anything, I'm a fan of W G Sebald, so if I'd been at your dinner party I'd have been on your team!

  32. The card is lovely. I think it is harder to make friends as we get older and the tiff was about an insignificant thing. It's the people in your life that are important. If this person was ever important in your life then mend the fence.

  33. I've not viewed the Olympics this year. I had not planned to avoid doing so, but when my TV ceased broadcasting a picture, I impulsively decided to conduct an experiment of life without the tube. Frankly, I've been rather enjoying this week or so. Furthermore, I don't feel in any hurry to have the problem diagnosed, or to buy a new set which will certainly be much more technologically up-to-date.

    Always interesting what subjects friends disagree about, whether or not alcohol-fueled discussions have occurred, that define the ending of a relationship. On what exactly has the friendship been based is what I would wonder?

    That is a lovely card -- a thought I treasure embracing, also.

  34. Turn the sound off. It's amazing how beautiful athletics can be without the unneeded chatter and clatter. I particularly like to do that during the Tour du France. Lovely countryside at bicycle speed.

  35. oh i hope that other post that peeked out will go back up...smiles...

  36. As I watched (part of) the Closing Ceremony last night, I wondered how many residents of the UK absolutely despised it ...

    The only redemptive bit was Lennon's surreal appearance, in my opinion.

  37. I too hope you'll post the follower/unfollower post that peeked out on my reader list. It was just getting good.

  38. I have not watched any of the Olympics. too many other things I would rather be doing. plus, I really don't care who wins what. I'm not much of a watcher of things like sports. I like to participate but I don't like to just sit around and watch.

  39. I am so pleased that my card gives you comfort, and I am so very flattered that you put it up on this post. Thank you, thank you, dear Friko <3

  40. It definitely is a lovely card, Friko. It makes me smile.
    As far as the Olympics go, we watched some of the coverage, and found the Canadian CTV network did a wonderful job. The commentators were intelligent and knowledgeable, not just about the Canadian athletes but about those against whom they were competing.
    The host of CTV's Olympic broadcast has covered 14 summer and winter games, knew many of the athletes and their coaches personally, and was gracious and friendly when he spoke to them in the studio provided by the London committee. He also had the young princes in the studio, and they were delightful.
    Having the winter Olympics in my home city, Vancouver, BC, did wonders for Canadian patriotism, which, until then, had been low-key and almost excessively modest. It was the CTV commentators' hope, and is mine as well, that these summer games have brought all British people, of various origins and ethnicities, together as a country, in much the same way the winter games did for Canada.

  41. thank you for stopping by my blog...what a lovely card. As a fellow Dog lover,i can sympathize . Can't say much about the literature (although i love to read)

  42. I watched some of the events -- swimming, diving, volleyball (how could you not watch volleyball -- it was on ALL THE TIME), even some ping pong. Did not watch the opening or closing ceremonies. I know there's nothing that brings out chauvinism more than the Olympics, but surely, we can all be forgiven.

    P.S. Love the card.

  43. Jingoism is very low indeed - whatever nation. We too were inundated with it.

    Glad you are getting along, Friko.

    Fond Aloha from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >

    > < } } (°>


  44. I just laughed and laughed about that "Fog in channel..." remark. That's truly funny. I'd never heard it before.

    I didn't see any of the Olympics myself. Although without television, I could have seen some on the computer, but it didn't seem worthwhile. I read some interesting feature stories about the athletes, enjoyed them, and that was enough.

    The card is pure delight. Such remembrances never seem to fill the great gap left after loss - how could they? - but they do help to make it bearable.

  45. That is a lovely and comforting card. I feel sad for you over Benno's death. While not a dog sort of person, although I have known some nice ones, I remember how we all cried over the deaths of our various cats, over the years, and know what grief and soreness of heart these losses bring.
    That Fog in Channel remark is great. Helps us all keep laughing.
    I managed to see very little of the Games - our commentators are total yobbo chauvinists, and I don't subscribe to any Foxtel Sports channel, and the only other one ran ads every ten minutes. I quickly withdrew into my own mental bunker.

  46. What a lovely card. I'm so very sorry to hear about your beloved Benno.

  47. Your card is beautiful. I'm glad for you and Beloved that you have managed your first walk without Benno by your side - it's always heart-breaking.

  48. Hoo boy.
    In my experience, people who tell you that they are "deeply offended," or find something about you "deeply offensive" need to get over themselves.
    Maybe it was the creature, or maybe it was just somebody being a jerk.

  49. Oh, Friko -- what an incredible card... indeed it was to keep forever. Beautifully done but even more so, done for you.

    Olympics -- love the games, hate the commentary. You're watching in Britain; I'm in the U.S. Sounds like it's universal.

  50. Of course sports commentators concentrate on "our team" and forget the rest. It's a natural instinct: de Coubertin notwithstanding, that's what the Olympics is about and why there's so much money invested in it.

    It seems equally obvious to me that literary culture in this country can indeed be as parochial and insular as you said, but not why someone should react to a mention of the fact as though literature too is some sort of competitive sport. Who knows what other "issues" may be at play there, though perhaps the drink was a bit befuddling. Perhaps it's just that infuriating awareness that there is never enough time to keep up with the ever-increasing deluge of words in our own language, or that as a nation we lack motivation and confidence to keep up with other languages and conversations. And anyway, I don't doubt the French are as bad..........

    But that card shows there are people who think of others before their own feelings, so there are positives.

  51. Hi Friko - that card is just wonderful .. as is Gardener's take on life - so down to earth ... cheers Hilary


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