Crossing the stream

When I first read “From here to Eternity” I was devastated, wanted to read it again and discover that the ending had magically changed and that Prewitt lived. It just needed me to wish hard enough. A number of other books the same. But sadly, as I knew, really, the book is unchanging, fixed. But gradually I came to realise I was wrong – the novel is flexible, changeable.

You can never read the same book twice. You age, experience, change, gain wisdom, experience disappointment, loss, triumph, achievement, so that, though it is the same book you pick up again, much later, your reading of it will be quite changed. And its context will be changed, the world around it has moved on, and we read it in the context of that world, read Dickens, for example, partly as historical documents, while to his contemporaries he was up-to-the-moment modern, reflecting the world he shared with those readers. Finally, even if we avoid those traps by finishing the last page and immediately turning back to page one to start reading again, we can’t avoid the problem that this time we are reading with the knowledge of the plot, with the knowledge of how it ends, and so cannot avoid reading in a different way.

This characteristic of books is also true of other creative works – music, artworks, drama – although the complexity and extent of a novel means that the experiences are unique, like a fingerprint, whereas one’s reaction to, say, a painting may not vary all that much.

Homeward bound

Just as well the house

I lived in as a child has

been demolished,

bulldozed, removed from

the surface of the planet

and replaced by two new

houses with no history.

Not that I would want

it still standing but

extensively remodeled

and modernised. No

point in that other than

it representing the spot

on the planet where

I was formed and grew.

What I want, I suppose,

is to magically return

to the functioning 1950s

house, even the 1960s.

Furniture still in place,

pictures on walls, carpets

on floors, ornaments on

shelves, books in bookcases.

And people, people in chairs,

in kitchens, watching tv,

in the garden, welcoming

the New Year, talking of

the past. A house, a home,

reconstructed, revisited,

a place I once couldn’t

wait to escape for new

adventures, new sights

and sounds, new people.

But the past is another

country, and you can’t go back.


Once upon a time

the products of high

technology – pottery,

swords, carriages,

furniture, bicycles,

wireless sets – were

valued and

treasured; kept in

good repair for

many years, decades,

passed on

from generation to

generation. Now mobile

phones, ipads, tv sets, video

games, cars, houses

even, end up in landfill

after months, days,

hours sometimes.