Monday, June 27, 2011

Mitchell steals away

David Mitchell, the poet, died earlier this week after a long illness.

Friends of his, Nigel Roberts and Murray Edmond, published an anthology of his poems, Steal Away Boy, last year. The book had a long biographical introduction. I appear briefly in those pages as a sort of comedy extra ("poor old Tosso", the perceptions of one Paul Gray, an unreliable witness I say). You will see a little of the film I shot of him back in 1980 or so down the page a way here.

Dave was foremost a charming man. He was also an exceedingly irresponsible one, a nasty one, a greatly talented and enormously annoying one. I spent far too much time and money with and for him but I was perhaps the least of the many victims of his charms, wiles and – later – his insanity.

I met him first in about 1964 when he returned to Wellington from Europe with his beautiful new-won and newly pregnant wife Elsebeth. I bumped into him again the following year in Kings Cross, Sydney, on my first day there, and I was around King Cross at the time his marriage began its inevitable collapse. I saw the bad side of him then. I was however persistently, habitually I suppose, nonjudgemental, so I would hardly spurn him in the pub or at parties. It wasn't just me. His charm and wit won most people.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cryptic logic, questions arising

That great systematiser of cryptic crosswords, Ximenes, proposed that clues should have a logical structure. He then laid out in his book Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword what the possible structures could be. Most clues in most cryptic puzzles since Ximenes published his work (and many before for that matter) adhere to the so-called Ximenean precepts. The best have a wonderfully algebraic elegance and economy.

Of course I tend to follow the Ximenean precepts myself when composing my own puzzles. I like to think that I mainly succeed, though I do also enjoy a less stringent form in my own and in others' puzzle from time to time.

Sound judgement

Despite myself I feel strongly inclined to curmudge. So here goes.

I dined happily alone this evening in a small and spartan Chinese restaurant. Nearby was a table of seven young people, probably – given the drift of their conversations – university students (does this matter?*), all speaking very loudly. I wondered why they were so annoyingly loud and concluded that most people today are so used to an accompaniment of amplified thumps and caterwauls -- the sounds that pass for background music these days (curmudge curmudge) -- that even in its absence they must shout.

This need, I suggest, is brought on merely by socialising in a public venue.

I have come across this phenomenon many times before but tonight''s episode was an extreme example. I suspect that those students would have been deafening were I not already undergoing some hardening of the hearing.

* It matters a little because their shouting was inconsiderate and thus uncivil. Whither civilisation then if the very best and brightest of our youth cannot contain their exuberance, eh? What's that?