No Complaints #19: Lauren Bacall, Oswald’s Stone and T.H.R.U.S.H.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I didn’t forget, I swear. I went to New York, and then to a mountain in Cumbria to help a sheep give birth, and then to Yorkshire to hear how an 84-year-old woman made a secret lesbian famous. And now suddenly the UK is having an election and I don’t get to sleep any more. I did read, watch and listen to some things on my travels, though. Here they are.

Things to read

“Saroj has been living like this all alone on the footpath outside the hospital for the past four months. He carries a photograph of his taken a year ago, and gladly shows it to anyone who chats with him. ‘See,’ he says, ‘wasn’t I fat?’ He was not fat. But his face was not bony, and his eyes weren’t as sunken as they now are. He is happy today. He phoned his sister a few hours ago and she promised to visit him over the weekend.”

Life and death on the footpath outside Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. Email to Pocket.



“Translations and reburials are a moment at which to think about the intersection of the past and the present, to come literally face-to-face with the remains of history. Most translation narratives are about that, to some extent, and this week's events are no different. The parts of the Richard III pageantry which were (I suspect) supposed to seem the most ‘medieval’ – the costumed reenactors, the three soils in the coffin – are actually the least so, revelatory only of what we think the medieval past was like.”

The only thing to read about Richard III – an excellent exploration of how the much-mocked pomp going on in Leicester is actually an extension of the saintly relic obsession of the Middle Ages. Email to Pocket.



“Nobody remembered what the stone was meant to mark or even who Oswald was. Indeed, the rock was also called Oswulf's Stone. Unsure about what to do with the ancient monolith, the authorities interred it in 1819 – only to dig it up again in 1822. In later years, it was found leaning against Marble Arch. After an archeological journal highlighted its historical importance, Oswald’s Stone disappeared. It has never been seen since that fateful day in 1869. ”

The case for putting the middle back into Middlesex. Email to Pocket.



“You're writing an opera on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Or maybe you're not right at this minute, but bear with me: now, aside from what you do with the words, and how you make Wilde's crystalline, lethally precise words into music, you've got to decide how to cast the roles of the opera. The young lovers might take care of themselves in an assortment of tenors and sopranos, and you'd almost certainly cast the redoubtable Lady Bracknell as a throaty, booming alto of the old school. Well I would, at least. But Irish composer Gerald Barry turns Lady Bracknell into the lowest of bassi profundi – to surreal, hilarious, and brilliantly insightful effect.”

A compelling argument for why we all need to spend a bit more time with the wacky intensity of Gerald Barry’s music. Email to Pocket.



“U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and T.H.R.U.S.H., from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. (The meaning of T.H.R.U.S.H. was never revealed on the series; but, in the novelisations it was stated to be ‘Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity’.)”

Not a conventional #longread, I know, I still managed to spend hours reading this and its various branches – Wikipedia’s list of fictional espionage organisations. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I’ve come to realise that what I value most in a podcast is good storytelling, no matter the subject. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction or if it’s about something I’m already interested in – if whoever has charge of the mic knows how to tell a story, I’ll be your listener for life. And so it has proved with You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s podcast about the history of 20th century Hollywood. I am whatever the opposite of a film buff is (I am currently involved in an email thread with my semi-regular cinema-going partner that includes the phrase “Isn't there a Spongebob movie or something out soon?”) but Longworth’s cleverly told, brilliantly edited explorations of a cinematic history I know next to nothing about have got me hooked. Some recommendations based on my listening so far: this episode about the trippy futurology album Frank Sinatra recorded in 1979; this episode about Isabella Rossellini’s “secret feminist plot” against the cosmetics industry; and this pair of episodes entitled “Bogey, before Bacall” and “Bacall, after Bogart”.


Things to watch

This fox likes having her tummy rubbed.

The Simpsons, but real.

What Anita Sarkeesian couldn’t say.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

“Hang on, Baby Jesus. Mummy just needs to wrestle the devil for a second.”

The guest gif

This is me, sliding back into your inbox like...

THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.