About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Is crazy paving Wandsworth's answer to community cohesion and urban regeneration?

All around Clapham Junction the streets are being paved - not in gold, but in some rather expensive-marble-looking multicoloured patchwork quilt effect.
Sous les pavés, quoi? New crazy paving for riot-torn shopping street - St John's Road, Battersea, being repaved by Wandsworth Council

Yes, urban regeneration is afoot, street furniture is being torn up and rep[laced with more street furnitutre. The old, bloodstained riot-age pavings and railings are being torn up in hugely disruptive stages.

That whole area - St John's Road, Battersea Rise, Lavender Hill, Falcon Road - is undergoing a very thorough post-riot tarting up. Except that I think it all started well before the riots. But that would spoil my entry.

So what they - Wandsworth Council - are doing is covering the pavements and roads in that sort of marble paving, three colours, different sizes, the un-crazy paving of a million architect's impressions.

It looks quite nice at first, and then you see more and more it it, and you start to wonder why - what is this saying to us all, post riot?

That this is now a nice place, like those desirable residential developments in provincial towns or new-build gated retirement resorts on the Algarve, or the patios of gangster-villas in Marbella or Bishop's Stortford, all the better for burying dissenters beneath?

The new paving stretches several hundred yards from the epicentre of the August 2011 events, up to the LIbrary on Lavender, all the way up St John's Road, and large tracts of the worst-hit street are now getting this harlequin-check treatment.

Two or three uncharitable thoughts: first,  it must cost.

Second, is it worth it? Already, where this new paving has been in use for a few weeks, the staining is  just the same as  the old pavements, the unmistakeable chewing gum blots and McDonald's grease spots. The vomit-splashes and urine trials.

Third - most urgent - where are the new bike racks? They've taken down all the old railings around Arding & Hobbs, etc - and so far only a dozen or so new individual bike stands have appeared. These are mostly of the dismal 'n' design, hopeless for attaching more than one bike. And this at a time when the numbers of cyclist-commuters in London  is growing at record rates.

The kindness of strangers

The Queenstown Road/Lavender Hill junction, heading south at 5.50pm. An unusually warm late October afternoon, traffic heavy, slide inside two buses to get into the bikes only bit of the intersection in time to turn left into Wandsworth Road when lights change.

The bike's one working brake squeals as I pull up next to a 50-ish looking homeless guy, leaning against the traffic light pillar in a pose straight out of Hogarth. Watery grey-blue eyes, a straggle of long grey hair, jeans trainers teeshirt. He looks exhausted, finished. The hand that's not supporting his wieght seems cupped in readiness for aphantom special brew or at least a fag.

Then the door of the big white Ford Transit van in the outside lane opens, a tall, lean black guy levers himself out and - leaving the door wide open  - strolls across the road towards Sainsburys.

Is he crazy? the lights are about to change, he will never get whatever it is he wants in time.

He's not going to Sainsbury's, but only as far as the guy on the light-post. He hands him this vintage-look suede bomber jacket with a fleecy lining, says a few words, to the effect "can you use this?"

The homeless guy,  surprised,  takes it, blinking,  and as the black boy moves back across the road and into the Transit, the older man holds up the coat he's just been given and mouths a thank-you. Then he tries it on , it fits, it looks good on him.

The lights change, I see the driver - an older black guy, also in working clothes - smile faintly as he  heads off right into Lavender Hill. WHat was it made them do this at that moment, this kind impulse? Or is it something they do regularly?

Whatever, it's just one small random act of kindness that makes today seem a huge amount better than yesterday. Thanks to the two blokes in the white van.

Friday, 18 October 2013

FInally get to see Macca 50 years late and for nothing

Well-earned praise: Paul McCartney and band showered
in smartphone love by a surprised crowd at his free concert
 in London's Covent Garden
Dipped into BBC News website at 12.36 and read that Paul McCartney had announced a free gig in Covent Garden starting at 1.

While I loved the Beatles in the late 1960s I was never a big McCartney lover; typically, I preferred snotty bitchy John. But then I never saw him either - I might just have caught a glimpse of Harrison and Ringo at some festival or other, at the time when they al off playing in other people's bands.

Sir Paul McCartney plays a free gig in London  to publicise his latest recordAnyway, at 12.37 I got on my bike and was in Covent Garden Piazza by 1.15. The crowd was small and well-behaved and a bit puzzled as nothing seemed to be happening. By 1.30 a feeble attempt to start slow-hand-clapping protest fizzled out mercifully quickly - what do these people want, blood with their free music?

Then they came on and you had to say Paul looked incredibly much like he did in the early days of the Beatles, the black suit/white shirt thing and the hairstyle.

They kicked off with the new single - called New - which looked back to some of his jollier tunes of the 60s.

In fact all the four songs they played sounded to me much like some of the stuff he did with Wings - heavy on the 4:4 rhythm, determinedly chirpy and upbeat, and they filled the square very nicely, and everyone was happy, if a little disbelieving.

A total feelgood experience. You have to hand it to Sir Paul - he does work very hard at his trade, and he does seem to have the gift of making people smile and squeal in delight, even at 71. Good day, sunshine.

A few minutes later I saw a tourist showing her incredulous friends pictures of Paul McCartney on her camera - "I tell you it was him, it was, just down there. But he's finished now."

Thursday, 17 October 2013

From Boo Hewerdine to Afro-funk via Damo Suzuki (who, unfortunately, I am not)

It  starts in a pub cellar in Clerkenwell, a Tuesday evening in October, 2013. We are at that charmingly-named pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, to see a band - or rather, two men with guitars - known as State of the Union.

Already four pints down we stumble into dimly lit basement performance zone where an earnest young  band with a curtain haired Kurt Cobain type of lead voclaist are crammed into one dimly lit corner and are playing that sort of neo-country folk-rock as though their lives depended on it (which I suppose in a way they do).

I realised I have sat down in a space recently vacated by a hippyish looking guy and am told I have just nicked the seat of one of the great steel slide guitarists of our times. Brooks Williams. Sitting next to him is Boo Hewerdine. Yes, this place is that intimate, that cosy - the main act and their friends are watching the support act  in a spirit of absolute decorum - they are quiet when they need to be and applaud enthuisastically.

The young band are good - but the two older guys put on a show of  such accomplished performance that you  are in danger of forgetting what went before. It is just two blokes and two guitars and two voices, and yet so solid a sound, the songs seeming to come out of some long-lost American songbook from the dust-bowl era.

Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams are both seasoned performers with fiercely loyal followers: together they're a great  big solid  chunk of Anglo-Americana, whatever that means - it's more American than English, and although Boo is a studious looking native of Cambridgeshire, he sounds like he was also born somewhere along Highway 61.

The songs are catchy, instant classics: the one that really gets me has as its refrain the phrase, 23 Skidoo.

It stuck in my head, and I was even thinking - yes, there was a band, maybe Boo was part of it? And so I resort to Google and learn all about the linguistic roots of the phrase (turn of 20th century New York cop slang, the  Flatiron intersection, blown-up-skirt stuff it is thought) - but also re-confirm that 23 Skidoo was indeed a band, but about as far from Boo's fiercely cheerful rootsy-folk as you could want.

As you all except me know 23 Skidoo was part of that  late 70s, early 1980s post-punk neo-funk Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop-ready alt-rock electro-anarcho-dub-pop goups along with the likes of The Pop Group and the On-U sounds lads. Not surprisingly their first ep emerged from the rancid musical sweatshops of one Genesis P Orage & Co.

How odd that I should be led to them 30 years late by an old folkie.

But how much odder that in seeking out this latest fault-line in my own musical education, I came across another. Looking for 23 Skidoo records in Berwick Street I took a quick look at a Fall disc , live in SF I think, and noticed it had a version of I Am Damo Suzuki.

And this, children, is what they used to call a cassette: The Fall's This Nation's Saving Grace
Best song on Fall's best album?
I Am Damo Suzuki, track 4 side 2
Why - again - had it taken me nearly 30 years to register this direct tribute to (or as some would have it, piss-take of) the Cologne band by Mark E Smith?  I must've heard the song 100 times, mainly  on this cassette: The lyrics are wonderful, the assault and battery delicious, even if the bassline is just a bit too doomy, too Bauhaus perhaps.

But above all, why do I  see these two revelations to be part of the same epiphany? Well it must just be a personal thing. But am exploring the great Damo Suzuki's website. It is sublime, of course.

I am taken off again in directions, the obvious Acid Mother's Temple thing, and on....old E M Forster just did not know what he was kicking off when he issued that command: "Only connect".

Monday, 14 October 2013

Penguin pulls off classic wind-up with Morrissey autobiography

This Thursday, Penguin is to publish Morrissey's autobiography in the black covers of the revered imprint, Penguin Classics.
A Classic tease: Smiths frontman Morrissey achieves every late 20th century angst-ridden teen dream. Becoming a Penguin Classic.

And so, another notch is cut into the stock of the big fat gun used by cultural relativists to blast elitist traditionalists out of their rank and stinking waters. Or is it the other way around?

Penguin justified their decision by suggesting the Morrissey tome could indeed one day be regarded as a classic. A very large question is begged here, blatantly - but there you go.

Penguin founder Allen Lane might well be thumping his coffin lid - but there again, if so, he would have been splintering the boards with much violence already, many times over.

The thing is, all of the people most likely to kick up a stink - people, let's face it, who most probably left school in the 1950s or 1960s and spent most of their 5/- pocket money on a 3/6d Penguin Classic such as Turgenev's Sketches from a Hunter's Album or The Bhagavad Gita - are now, in terms of cultural clout, totally impotent.

And most of that lot - the Penguin fetishists, and there are plenty of them, believe me - for I am one - would tell you that the Classics really lost their way back in the 1980s, when Penguin started messing around with formats and colour bands and so on.

Or maybe the rot set in even earlier, in 1961, when the original "roundel" design covers were replaced by Germano Facetti's first Black Classics.  Or a few years later, when the original Penguin Classics editor E. V. Rieu - translator of  the first Penguin Classic in 1946, The Odyssey – was replaced by Betty Radice and Robert Baldick.

(I am still searching for a copy of a strange Penguin classic, Betty Radice: The Translator's Art. Her reign at Penguin, in my view, was the golden age).

There are still some much younger types ready to put up a fight. For example, Brendan O'Neill, a writer for Spike,  but here blogging for  the Daily Telegraph, maintains that Penguin has at a stroke destroyed its own reputation for upholding the highest literary standards - at least in this area of its catalogue.

But his argument is cliché-laden: "Plato, Julian of Norwich, Darwin – they must all be spinning in their graves right now. In essence, Penguin is sneering at the public."

But is it sneering? The public gets what the public wants, as one of Morrissey's rivals once offered.

The public loves Morrissey, or loves to loathe him or find him loveably odd and irritating and puzzling. He's another of the many national treasures that the post-punk generation was so good at producing. All that Manchester lot, or at least the ones who survived. Mark E Smith. John Cooper Clark. The one who was not Ian Curtis. Shaun Ryder. Etc. Still a bit unpredictable, you know, and therefore - classics.

And then the lads from Sheffield. Jarvis, they are all called Jarvis. .

Look at them - they now run BBC Radio 4. Or so it seems sometimes. Anyway, why should they not be Penguin Classics, all of them?

Wasn't one of Brixton's favourite sons also a Penguin Classic? Didn't Linton Kwesi Johnson get his poetry into one of those slim volumes, a few years back? He did. It was called, Mi Revalueshanary Fren.  Yeah, but he was only a "Modern Classic". In the same league as Kafka, F Scott Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Lorca,  Camus, etc.

A nice distinction that Penguin used to make - a soft grey spine for the writers whose impact in the 20th century was such the they would almost certainly become fully-fledged classics in time - but not yet so long dead and so much studied as to get the full black of Balzac, Gogol, Dostoyevsky or Dante.

Morrissey, on the other hand - well, how could anyone deny him his place at this table?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Still missing you, Kastoori: the unforgettable flavours of Tooting's best restaurant

Some famous restuarateur type has said he's about to open a new fried chicken place in Tooting.

Obviously it will be a posh fried chicken place - a la "gourmet" burger joints - and thus a bit pricey.
But what is more annoying was  his claim that  - until he arrives - Tooting had no "name" restaurants.

NO,  maybe it doesn't - not anymore, perhaps he's right. But it DID once have some of the finest Indian vegatarian places in London. And the best of all was Kastoori.
Whatever happened to Kastoori and its owner, Mr Thanki and his family? We long to hear that it will re-open somewhere nearby soon.
A sad sight - all that's left to remind us of
Tooting's finest  vegetarian restaurant, Kastoori.

How often we'd hit the tube to Tooting Broadway and walk up the high street to this very special vegetarian restaurant.

From the outside, Kastoori looked like any old 1970s style unimaginative British-Indian restaurant. It occupied part of a big old 1930s-look store, the front of which had undergone some pretty hideous transformation later on, in a typical outer  London high street retail style.

Indise it also seemed bland - rows of tables with yellow covers, high backed chairs, just another rather overdone suburban Indian restaurant.

Onle when you startted reading the menu did you begin to realise how different this place was.
There was some explanation of the history - how the owner's family, originally from Gujurat province I think -  had been based in East Africa, how this subtly changed their Gujurati approach to cooking, and so on. And just as you were reading this Mr Thanki senior, the owner, would tend to come over to introduce himself and perhaps make gentle menu suggestions.

The food was very good, very different - the starter dahi puri "taste bombs", the amazing tomato and banana currys, the masala doss, and - my personal favourite - the bean curry, all were excellent and very different from your average Indian vegetarian fare. Something about the spices they used, perhaps.

Mr Thanki was always keen to total, some crazy stories about cooking for maharajahs in India, how people came from all over the world to Tooting for  a Kastoori meal. And now it has gone.

We worry about the family - Mr Thanki , I think , had diabetes. Some of his sons worked in the restaurant, there was talk of them re-opening a Kastoori somewhere nearby. But nothing.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

In (reluctant) defence of Clapham

Murder on Clapham Common - the nicest residents are crows
Murder on the Common: some of my best SW4 friends are crows. 
Heartily in agreement with all the Crap Towns stuff about how awful London is published earlier this week (See Daily Mail, etc). But a much better demolition job on the capital can be found on the Vice magazine website.

Not only did this say everything we all hate about London in a far cleverer,  funnier way than I could ever have managed - it also distilled another of my feelings: that if London is the worst place in the UK - no, the world - then Clapham is definitely the worst place to live in London.

So these days, when I say I live in Clapham (and sometimes I even lie and say I live  sort of in Stockwell/Vauxhall/Battersea borders) - I find myself adding things like, well it 's very convenient for transport or, well when I moved here it was still quite bohemian - etc.

Because all the things  in that Vice piece are true - especially the bit saying that, above all, what makes Clapham so, so ghastly is the people.

Not just the banker families with their SUVs parked nose-to-nose in Lilieshall Road, nor the scrubbed infants being dragged to the private schools on the common by their nannies, not just the stupid city boys renting their £600 a week shitty flats in identikit new build blocks on "Wingate Square",  not just the perfectly-formed gaggles of posh girls jogging and braying in their lustrous pink lycra, not just the shouty ex-squaddies running their profitable boot camps on the Common, not just the posh middle aged ladies with their three or four pedigree dogs moaning about their East European workmen....no, there are loads of other ghastly types living in this once unremarkable and now totally insufferable suburb.

But - and god I know hard this can be - we should remember these appalling characters are merely the most noticeable stratum of the local population, not the whole lot of us. These people are like the vile skin on a rich custard.  But I would also like you to believe that, crushed beneath this foul layer are  many perfectly good people who are indeed in need of your sympathy.

But not too much sympathy, because the area is in fact not too bad to live in, once you learn how to filter out or avoid the above-mentioned annoyances.

So here goes,  here are 10 not quite so awful things which perhaps make it possible to live in Clapham, all the above notwithstanding:

1. The charity shops, including a great Save the Children shop  near Clapham North tube, the FARA shops in Northcote Road and Lavender Hill, and the four Trinity Hospice charity shops. The latter vary greatly reflecting the social mix of their locales - cheap and cheerful on the High Street, a bit posh and pricey in Old Town, yummy mummy-rugby daddy in Northcote Road, and a wee bit Up the Junction on Lavender Hill.

The last bastion of bohemianism in Clapham - Rectory Gardens2. Rectory Grove/ Rectory Gardens -  the last of the Clapham's old bohemian residentsfight repeated attempts by Lambeth council to evict them. Do read this brilliant entry on the Faded London blog, and especially the fascinating comments by jakartaass etc. See also some amazing photos on Sam C.'s Mixbook
of life in this tiny L-shaped street of early 19th century cottages. Arriving as squatters in the early 1970s, they gained short-life housing tencies from Lambeth, but are having to fight for their survival here as the stench of fat fat profits insinuates its way in the nostrils of their local authority landlords.

Slavery abolitionists including Wilberforce remembered at Holy Trinity Church, Clapham3. Clapham Common itself - a great place to get mugged on, to be gay-bashed on whether you are gay or not, to to be hit in the face by rugby balls and frisbees, to tread in dog shit, to be barged out of the way by joggers or shouted at by cyclists. Oh yes, that's just the start of it.
Still a nice place to lie down on and undress on a hot, a rare hot day. And it is home to some of Clapham's least offensive residents - a fine murder of crows.

4. The Clapham Sect  - the group of wealthy Christians who drove the movement for the abolition of slavery in the late 18th century used Clapham's Holy Trinity church as a base. They were also not great believers in alcohol, which is apparently explains the lack of pubs in many of the area's oldest residential areas.

5. Vivienne Westwood: apparently she still lives here, and has always said how much she likes Clapham, unlike so many famous people who once they make it get out. Wonder if Thunderclap Newman still breathes the air of SW4?

6. The new Clapham library: after years of expecting the worst, many of Clapham Public library users agree that the new building, inspired by the spiral-ramp design of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, is
actually rather good. Andrew Logan's installation of broken mirrors and  bric-a-brac is also popular.
Another possibly good thing to come out of this is the  new Omnibus  community arts venutre being created in the old Library building on Clapham Common Northside.

Reflected glory of Clapham:  artist Andrew Logan created these ornate letters, spelling out LIBRARY, outside the new Public Library in Clapham High Street
Andrew Logan's mirror-mosaic-bric-a-brac
 sculptures outside the new Clapham
Public Library
7. Transport:  good that it has three tube stations, shame that they are all on the Northern Line. Buses are good and trains from the Juntion to anywhere in the universe - unless you want to get to Clapham High Street.

8. Angela Carter, Natsume Soseki, Graham Greene, etc, lived in Clapham for a while. OK, they are all dead and at least one of them hated living in Clapham - but at least the place has some literary connections. Amazing how often it appears in novels as the default place for lonely, failing types to live in bedsits, in the early 1960s.

9. Which leads straight on to Trinity Hospice  itself - the oldest hospice in the UK, and occupying a beautiful house  with even more beautiful gardens on the north side of the Common - which might seem more like a good reason, not  so much to live in Clapham, but to die there.

10. Finally, perhaps the best thing of all about this place - it's only about 10 minutes away from Brixton.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Jah will forgive you, Mr Independent man!

A truly weird piece in tonight's Evening Standard, so odd you wonder what the hidden agenda might be. Ostensibly it's a brief lament by Amol Rajan, the editor of The Independent (a Standard stablemate) - bemoaning the lack of decent reggae nights in London these days.

First reaction - yes, agree - you get much better reggae nights in Leeds, or Brighton, or Dusseldorf, or Osaka these days. So much as I sympathize, it just seems odd - and pretty damn obvious. Reggae as we knew and loved it , roots rock reggae -  peaked in the mid-1970s with artists like Marley, Toots, Culture, Burning Spear, and their many many friends, followers, and copiers.
Rastafarianism was at the heart of much of the best Jamaican reggae music of the 1970s - such as Burning Spear's Social Living

Some would put the golden age even earlier, with the Studio One recordings of the late 1960s or with Joe Gibbs, King Tubby, etc, and then Lee Perry's Ark.

So the best reggae is already around 40 years old, the music of a generation who are now pensioners. Why would there be great reggae nights in London? It is a reivivalist thing, just like 60s pop and prog and punk and 80s and disco. But roots rock reggae has yet to have that sort of revival in London. "Cool" young Londoners seem to prefer cheesier stuff,  music they can get ironic about, tacky things that have kitsch value.

But, stranger still, Mr Rajan goes on to berate the new generation of London MCs for pumping  out too much rastafarian propaganda and being rather too, well, anti-establishment.

At one point at a Shoreditch nightclub he says he was almost moved to get up on stage to defend the capitalist system.

As the great Joseph Hill of Culture laugh-shouts on "Two Sevens Clash", "he said wha-a-a-at?"

If he doesn't like the rebellious bit, or the spiritual bit, what on earth is it about reggae that this fellow liked so much 15 years ago? Take way the Rastas, the roots, take away the rebellion, and you take away about three-quarters of the good stuff. You're left with a bit of dear old Greg Isaacs when he got all smoochy and sexy, the lover's rock people, and dancehall.

No doubt many of the tenets of Rastafarianism do seem a bit dotty to sophisticated north London secularists of 2013, but without it you'd not have some of the most beautiful, powerful songs of that era. The Congos, War in a Babylon, Exodus, Do you remember the Days of Slavery, Do not forget Old Marcus Garvey, the Twinkle Brothers' Since I threw the Comb Away etc etc etc etc ad infinitum, all the way to Armagiddeon Time itself!

When reggae did break away from the rastas, from its roots and its consciousness, under commercial and political pressure in the 1980s,  it went pretty bad in place. So bad it was rather good, sometimes, but also pretty horrible in others. Rasta was replaced by sex and crime and violence and boasting and  bling. Dancehall reggae, ragga, all that stuff packed with syn-drum beats and exaggerated bleeps and crude mixes, the big bad trouser mob, MC Hammer etc, the toasting duelling types, you know.

If you reckon a dub-step MC in Shoreditch is getting too rootsy, too damn righteous and religious,  what you be looking for? You want it to snuggle up to the big brands, the big money, the TV ads? Do you want UB40 or do you want reggae?

What did Mr Marley say about hitting  us with music? What was reggae  but rebel music? What did LKJ say about reggae? What did Fela Kuti say about music, being the weapon? There are "conscious" reggae artists around now, including the Marley son Damien, and lots of young people all around the world. Often they try too hard to sound like Bob, and don't really take it any further.

It's difficult to untangle such a universal sound as reggae, which is now used  for so many marketing purposes, a billion miles from the original messages, from the backstreets of Trenchtown, the police, the thieves, and the all-knowing, everlasting mercy of Jah.

Now reggae is just another beat tuned into a billion music apps, the rasta colours just another fashion statement for the likes of Adidas.  Some of the worst offenders should know better: the Marley family themselves, using Bob's inheritance to sell fizzy drinks.

Shame on them all!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Disgrace and the notion that we read what we need to read

How strange it is that, so often, books appear to offer themselves up to readers, as if they know what is needed, they are aware that they are so closely attuned to what is going on in reader x's life.

Back in 1980, even before the dust and blood and rubble had settled in Beaufort Street, I read Anna Karenina and I had no idea why, but it was a sort of literary equivalent of being in the ring with Mohammed Ali. Every argument I tentatively held up to try to justify my indiscretions with an older, more intelligent, supremely beautiful married woman were retunred with such powerful and almost vindictive velocity by the text that I was dumbfounded, floored, forced to think again.

Maybe if I had read Madame Bovary instead I would have had a more comfortable Christmas?

Anyway, I had an echo of the same effect in the last few weeks when reading in quick succession, Zadie Smith's On Beauty and  Disgrace,  the Booker  and Nobel Prize winner by  J. M. Coetzee.

I had no idea that both books centred on the chaos caused by men in their late 50s having affairs with much younger women, girls in fact. On Beauty is thought of as Zadie Smith's tribute to the E M Forster school of big English novel of families, their sense and sensibilities. And indeed there is so much going on that it is possible to pick your own route through it and concentrate on that. Needless to say I concentrated on the far-from-pitiable figure of the art-historian dad.

He has it all, it seems; the reasonable successful academic career, the beautiful Trinidadian wife, the trio of interesting children - and above all, as Zadie Smith leaves us in no doubt about - he's an attractive and witty man, even in his late 50s. Oh yes, and he also has a bigger-than-average penis. Both he and Zadie know that this latter fact is truly at the root of his being.

So this novel has little choice but to show him messing up in a big way, which he does, against a skilfully painted landscape of ealry 21st century Anglo-American life, with all its social, religious, ethnic and political richness.

Disgrace is much tightly focussed on a man of similar age, similar career,  and similar predispositions. It is set in a harder landscape - South Africa in immediate post-apartheid years - and everything is rather sharper, tougher.

He's a divorced womaniser; when his intense but one-sided relationship with a beautiful call-girl ends abruptly, he's thrown into a bit of a crisis. "He ought to give up, retire from the game. At what age, he wonders, did Origen castrate himself?"

Well, that's the sort of question that really hits home. I wonder how many men of this sort of age in these sort of social positions ask themselves this one? Might one, he asks himself, approach a doctor and ask for it? "Severing, tying-off". Yes, we know this feeling, we also eye the kitchen knife, we also remeber Mathieu in Sartre's Roads to Freedom.

Ageing is not graceful, and old men are a hideous sight, with their priapic thoughts, and their wrinkled bodies.  I'd go for it: chemical castration on the NHS. That's why these two books fell quite by chance into my hands.

Of course, like x in On Beauty, he does not go for this drastic option and lands himself in a heap more trouble, in very similar circumstances. Which provides the grounds for the rest of the novel -  his disgrace and his struggle against notions of redemption.

The book clearly ticked all the boxes for the judges, but it does so in such a beautiful and economic stlye that you cannot begrudge its success. His stumbling steps towards redemption, the suffering he inflicts on himself and perhaps also his daughter, all these are  deeply  moving as well as shocking.

Maybe the knife is the answer after all.