Thursday, 16 August 2018

Reading the 80s - 1986

I’m a day later than I meant to be with this post, for Stephen King related reasons, but better late than never. 

In 1986 I hit 13, and was much more aware of world news than in previous years. The Challenger explosion, the fire at Hampton Court Palace, and the Chernobyl disaster are all stand out events in my mind, although I’m indebted to t’internet for confirming the year for me. 

It was also the year Fergie and Andrew got married, which despite the media saturation seems to have made little to no impression on me at all – just a vague conceptual picture of a parallel world of Sloanes and Filofaxes and Perrier water and expense account lunches, from which Sarah Ferguson had sprung forth. 

Which leads me – sort of – to my first book:
The Theory and Practice of Lunch – Keith Waterhouse

I’ve had this book on my shelves a little while now, with no memory of how I picked it up or why, although of course I knew I recognised Waterhouse’s name from somewhere. There seemed to be a lot of this in the media when I was a teenager – white middle aged chaps that you knew were probably genuinely famous for something, but who were at the comfy expense account stage by the 80s and mostly fronting bland documentaries about unusual buildings or writing semi-amusing newspaper articles about wine or the South of France.

To the teenage me they were all completely interchangeable, but sometimes I would bother to ask Dad what such and such a one was famous for, and usually he seemed to know. 

So if I had asked about Keith Waterhouse I am pretty certain that Dad would have told me he wrote Billy Liar. And these days, again thanks to Wikipedia, I can see that he also wrote That Was The Week That Was and the film of Whistle Down The Wind.

So perhaps I’m missing something, because The Theory and Practice of Lunch seems popular online, but to me his other cultural credits only strengthen my suspicion that Mr Waterhouse dialled this one in.

I admit there’s a certain nostalgia value - a lost world of three hour lunches, cigars and brandy and cheese board, comments on steak and black forest gateau, amusing asides about one’s lunch companion and other diners, but in the end it all adds up to not very much at all. 

A stocking filler of a book.

The Blind Watchmaker – Richard Dawkins

This, on the other hand, is one of the books everyone should read – whether you agree with it, or part of it, or not, it is important to know what the argument is for evolution (or more specifically for Natural Selection) and you’re not likely to find a better written and more accessible version.

It does have its clunkier moments though, and sometimes my attention wandered and I had to go back a few pages to make sure I’d really absorbed what Dawkins is saying - in particular he lost me somewhere in the bit about crystals, and I suspect that’s when I gave up on the book the first time I tried to read it (or more likely put it down and didn’t pick it up again.) All I can say if that happens to anyone else is persist – it is relevant, honest. He does loop back and show you how. 

It would also be a good idea to pick up a more recent, revised copy. I am certain we know more about DNA now than we did in 1986, or even in 1991 when mine was published. 

As a book of ’86 – there are hints. References to RAM and floppy discs, but even more than that there is something else that I'd forgotten about the recent past, something less tangible: 

First let's note that Richard Dawkins was 45 when he wrote this book, which means he was a very young man indeed in the 60s - and yet he writes about 'pop' music with apostrophes round the word pop, and the Top 20 and Space Invaders almost as though these are artefacts from an alien culture - and the really strange thing is that thinking back, this this was quite normal for university fellows (and wine buffs and art critics in fact). They tended to write as if they were sitting in a bubble apart from mainstream culture rather than a subset within it. 

Funny how I'd forgotten that. 

On a completely unrelated note this is the view towards London 
from the top of the pagoda at Kew, which has now reopened. 
In theory you can also see Windsor through the window almost opposite - 
and maybe we did, but too far away to recognise

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