Saturday, June 02, 2018

God's stenographer and the epic of your own life

Another Derby Day.  And another very good Derby Day.  Saxon Warrior wasn't good enough on the day, but he didn't have a very happy race and he'll have other days.  Masar was terrific.  Winning the Craven by a wide margin, finishing third in the 2,000 Guineas and the winning the Derby comfortably is a mark of a very special three-year-old.  And it's lovely to see a three-generation line of Derby winners, which doesn't happen very often.  Mill Reef / Shirley Heights / Slip Anchor was the last one. Previously the line descending from Carbine did it: Spearmint / Spion Kop / Felstead.  And Masar's win made me even more pleased than I already was to own a New Approach three-year-old, even if my one isn't Masar.

And it was great for Sheikh Mohammed.  41 years of ownership on an uniquely massive scale reached its zenith today: owning a home-bred Derby winner, by a Darley stallion out of a Darley home-bred mare, by a Darley home-bred stallion.  And trained in his private stable.  Charlie Appleby was an inspired choice to succeed Mahmood Al Zarooni.  All the way through he has been a wonderful servant of and ambassador for his employer, hitting all the right notes: a proper horseman, 100% conscientious, totally loyal, understated, modest, decent and invariably diplomatic.  Today was Charlie's just reward, as much as it was his employer's just reward.

But it's not all about winning, of course.  The fact that Pat Smullen wasn't well enough to ride Hazapour reminds us of that.  What also reminded us of that this week was a wonderful excerpt from an interview with Anthony Hopkins in the Guardian.  I don't buy a daily paper but I subscribe to the Guardian on-line, so I receive a daily email with links to its stories.  Lawrence Wadey had highlighted this interview (and this particular quotation) so I read it.  It's superb, a worthwhile reminder to us all:-

"I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous, and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there's nothing up there.  Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie.  Accept life as it is.  Just be grateful to be alive."  That's so good.  Being alive is the greatest gift; being alive is what counts.  Anything else is (at best) just a bonus.  Derby Day, particularly a gloriously warm and sunny Derby Day, is a great day to be alive.  Winning the race, in whatever role (owner/breeder or punter or anywhere in between) is wonderful, but is just a bonus.

Someone else who reminds us of that is Clive James, who I think will always be my favourite writer.  His use of the English language just puts the rest of us into the shade.  It seems forever ago that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he's still with us, and he's put out some wonderful stuff even while walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  The list of supposedly related articles beside the Anthony Hopkins interview prompted a visit to a Clive James piece from February 2016, a review of the BBC's lovely dramatization of War And Peace.  Can an article start (and then end) any better than this?

"The BBC's lavish, sexy, heart-rending, head-spinning and generally not half-bad adaptation of Tolstoy's vast novel War And Peace finished last weekend, so this weekend there is nothing to do except discuss whether Natasha was credible when she fell so suddenly for the odious Anatole Kuragin, and to start waiting until someone adapts it again.  At my age, I doubt that I'll live to see the next attempt, but I'm definitely thinking about reading the book one more time.  It really is that good: good enough to get involved with again, even if it's the last thing you do.

"On a shelf near where I sit writing this, there are half a dozen editions of the book, and I've been reading one or other of them for half my life.  Despite the heaps of evidence that Tolstoy was in reality half crackers, you would swear from the pages of War And Peace that he was God's stenographer.  As Isaac Babel said, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy.  So why bother with the screen adaptations at all?  Well, there's the sheer fun of watching thousands of clever people pouring millions into doing the impossible.  And sometimes they can add a dimension to the studies of character, even though they always subtract a dimension from the battlefield spectacle, no matter how much they spend ...

"... And so, with my expectations of further life as tenuous as those of old Bolkonsky falling off his horse, I search my shelf for the copy to read again.  Two are in Russian, and one of those is the Soviet four-volume edition from 1962, the year of the Cuban missile crisis.  Long ago, I taught myself Russian by reading it with a dictionary alongside.  By now I have forgotten the entire language; but learning it wasn't as hard as you might think ... Wade once more through the society gossip of the opening salon and you will soon meet them all again: the dazzling children and their dying parents, and all of them even more magnetic than you saw them on screen, because they are taking you back into the epic of your own life."


D J Dizzy said...

Just amazing writing thanks for relaying both your views on the Derby and Clive James excerpt John. It has already made my day at 6.16am!

John Berry said...

Thank you for that feedback, D J. Lovely to hear.
With best wishes, John

neil kearns said...

loving the photographs accompanying the blogs recently some of the ones of the horses at play have been superb particularly like todays fab four bouncing around .
Always promised myself I would read War and Peace and got round to it when I bought my first ereader always put off by the thickness of the book (which I had on a shelf unread for years) but it was definitely worth the effort for anyone who hasn't yet bothered

Brian Jones said...

11 days, 3 runners, no updates

I'm cancelling my subscription forthwith!

John Berry said...

Fair point, Brian! And you've put me to shame, Neil, re War And Peace. I have an on-going bad conscience about not having read both that and A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. I'd like to think that both omissions will be rectified eventually, but fear that that might never happen. I've always thought that I'd try Proust first, but Clive James has me reconsidering that.