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Monday, April 06, 2009

Another View




I wonder how much Don Marquis is read today.

I was introduced to him (I suspect by Aunt Bet) as the creator of the wickedly engaging characters of Archy and Mehitabel. The fact that we are talking about a cockroach and an alley cat who often had poetic conversations about the meaning of life gives a certain je ne sait quoi to the literary creations.

The ‘poems’ of Archy were supposedly written by the cockroach by means of his head butting the keys of Don Marquis’s typewriter during the night! Archy often brings in the philosophical contributions of his friend, the alley cat Mehitabel who also happens to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Archy types Mehitabel’s song which includes her favourite refrain of “tourjours gai toujours gai.” Archy doesn’t do upper case and punctuation and we should be grateful that he manages the carriage return – just imagine how difficult that is for a cockroach! The following is a sample of the verse that he produces, though this extract is his relaying the voice of Mehitabel:

my youth i shall never forget

but there s nothing i really regret

wotthehell wotthehell

there s a dance in the old dame yet

toujours gai toujours gai

I thoroughly enjoy these poems and you rapidly discover that there is a sort of secret society of people who know and like them – all part of the Masonry of Poetry!

Last night I read something different from Don Marquis: a novel.

Called ‘The Cruise of the Jasper B.’ it was a bewildering piece of work. Half children’s fairy story and half detective adventure story the third half is surrealistic fantasy!

It concerns a copy writer suddenly coming into a fortune left by a teetotal uncle and deciding to spend his money refurbishing a decrepit boat lodged firmly on the bank. His purchase creates havoc with surrounding hoodlums while the sudden appearance of an English Lady with the body of a noble stalker complicates matters.

The style is difficult to characterize but if you imagine Dashiell Hammett meeting Daisy Ashford, hitting it off and deciding to write a story together then you will still be only part of the way to appreciating the light touch of lunacy which informs the narrative style of this extraordinary novel.

To be truthful I am not sure if I would recommend it. As I was reading it I constantly reminded myself that I was reading something from the pen of the creator of Archy and Mehitabel.

I also thought that it could make quite a good film. It reminded me a little of the books of Lemony Snicket. The 2004 film of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ with Jim Carey is exactly the sort of production which ‘The Cruise of the Jasper B.’ deserves. Carey could have a part too, though this time he could play the hero Cleggett, rather than the villainous Count Olaf. I have since discovered that there is a film of the book but it is very much 'from' the novel by Marquis rather than 'of' the novel.

The weather has been substantially better today which is just as well as I have resorted to unusual forms of locomotion.

The holiday is an opportunity to get done all those things which you can put off with a clear conscience during term time because there ‘simply isn’t time’ to do them. One of the most pressing was for the car to have its first major service. As this was the first time that I have ever owned a car which has needed its first major service this was an occasion of some moment for me.

Saturday saw the appointment made and at 8.30 am this morning I was at the Peugeot dealers leaving the car. I decided, rather rashly as it turned out, to walk back to the flat.

Within twenty steps an urgent necessity made itself felt with every extra step! As I was in the centre of an industrial area the number of public conveniences was strictly limited – or nonexistent! Luckily I realized that there was an hotel within a reasonable distance. Gingerly making my way towards it I eventually catapulted my way into the place after missing the cunningly placed step just the other side of the sliding doors.

The toilets there were like something out of Blade Runner all dusty lighting and gloom with bright red square basins and slate walls – but for me it was like the Promised Land!

The walk back was much longer than I had estimated, but I felt thoroughly virtuous. But then I remembered my folding bike and felt thoroughly foolish that I hadn’t brought it with me to make the return journey!

Collecting the car saw me donning my crash helmet and, throwing caution to the winds, actually taking the bike out on to real roads, rather than the paseo on the beach. I remembered my dad’s dictum that if it was easier to walk with the bike rather than ride it, then you should walk it. For most of the way there is a cycle lane – but it was very narrow and when I met another cyclist coming in the other direction I had a moment of unstable panic!

Arriving at my destination the most disturbing aspect of picking up the car was not the paying of vast sums of money for very little, but rather folding up the bike to put it in the back of the car. I always seem to do it in a slightly different way each time I disassemble the bloody thing so that various parts of the machine are flapping around and failing to fit into the compact footprint (or whatever you call it) that makes it easy to fit into the boot.

Returning home, eventually, I felt fully justified in lounging on the balcony in the glorious sunshine which should always accompany a holiday.

Roll on the next week of fine weather!

I hope.
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