11 May 2006

Water on Stone

Wake gasping from nightmare of being grilled by my housemaster, 'correct' answers to which will free me early from my prison d'acadème.

Even in my semi-wakefulness, I am panicked that I woke too early and my incomplete answers will keep me classroom'd for the full duration.

Later that day I randomly pluck from the bookshelves John le Carré's 1979 Smiley's People, handed to me for review the day before I flew out for that summer's holiday:

"This latest novel is slower and more relentless than anything he has done before. The complexities are extreme ... fascinating and absorbing though it nearly all is, "Smiley's" is not quite the brilliant success it promises to be ... almost certainly, a less self-indulgent writer would have lost a hundred pages on the way. Mr le Carré loves minutiae, handles them wonderfully, but enough is enough."

Lawks, blush, cringe. One has to be very young and very much more self-indulgent than the aforesaid brilliant Mr le C to trot out that rubbish.

But that's not my drift: I came across this on page 12, capturing totally the English private school experience:

"With bitter experience he had learned the other lessons of interrogation, too. A part of him was rehearsing them at this minute, and they appeared to him now as bright as yesterday and as vital:

Never to match rudeness with rudeness, never to be provoked, never to score, never to be witty or superior or intellectual, never to be deflected by fury, or despair, or the surge of sudden hope that an occasional question might arouse.

To match dullness with dullness and routine with routine, and only deep, deep down to preserve the two secrets that made all these humiliations bearable: his hatred of them; and his hope that one day, after endless drops of water on the stone, he would wear them down, and by a reluctant miracle of their own elephantine processes, obtain from them the freedom they were denying him.

And later on page 79 - and I *never* scribble in books - the underlined passage,

"We men who cook for ourselves are half-creatures ... Anywhere else in the house - even in bed - you can cut yourself off, read your books, deceive yourself that solitude is best. But in the kitchen the signs of incompleteness are too strident."

In the margin, "Me" and, inexplicably, my signature initials.

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