Seven Days A Week II

Christopher Fowler
A dinner party last week! A proper old-fashioned, 'Darling, this pavlova is heaven' dinner party for friends from Atlanta, Georgia. These are the Good Americans, kind to a fault, charming, interesting, concerned, politically aware, smart. Only one thing had been overlooked. We'd forgotten to mention to them how ill I am now. As if to prove the point, I provided a spectacular example of How Ill I Am Now right there in the dining room. As soon as I'd cleaned myself up and come sheepishly back Mrs Dinner Guest sat me down and massaged my feet. Not the English way at all, and hurrah for that.
I'm reading Charles Palliser's 'The Unburied', a light-touched pastiche-Victorian novel that smacks of MR James and Trollope. Does anyone remember his big hit, an immense Dickensian pastiche called 'The Quincunx'? So brilliantly conceived yet so befuddling that over the years Palliser has had to publish a key to the events. The book has its complicated family hierarchy laid out within its pages but graphs are not enough. I adore 'The Quincunx', the kind of book that could get you through a long illness, but I still never fully grasped the implications of the 'Five of Five'. Simple summary from anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
The week bought the loss of Hilary Mantel, which is bloody horrible - one of the greatest writers of the century, halted in her prime. Anyone who has tried to form sentences beneath the grim caul of illness will appreciate what astounding feats she achieved. When the reputations of the Martin Amis generation have crumbled to dust, Mantel will continue to shine out like a beacon. If I had not read ‘Eight Months on Gaza Street’ I could not have written ‘Calabash’ or ‘The Sand Men’. 'Beyond Black' still leaves me with questions in idle hours. And it’s almost impossible to understand how she wrote the Thomas Cromwell trilogy except under a form of hypnosis that threw her back to Tudor times. She transcended a lifetime of terrible health to explore new worlds for us. Her frequent closeness to supernatural and science fiction tropes charmed even the most curmudgeonly genre writers. I’m off to reread the extraordinary ‘Beyond Black’.
I finally understand why sick people ‘disappear’. It becomes exhausting merely listening and talking with others. I’ve now ruled out gatherings of mates down the pub, and a pending dinner will sadly have to go. Strangely I’m suddenly happiest at home - I'm more comfortable surrounded by my books. Maggie just offered to come around and sit with her mouth taped shut for an hour. Then she changed it to half an hour. Then she offered me £100 if I would simply invite her over. Of course I adore her but an hour of mind-bending transmissions is worth at least £500.
While Southern Europe is still enjoying a seemingly endless summer, the UK has snapped into autumn, with skies banded in blue and yellow, temperature plunges at night, emptier streets and parks. But whatever the temperature, it looks like being a cold, dark winter for us economically because a handful of voters indulged in the ludicrous fantasy of becoming an American ally again.  What is ‘the English way’ now? What do we stand for? Greed, inequality, a legacy of obvious lies and hubris that allows a handful of selfish, privileged white women and men to hold the rest of us to ransom? Can we put it behind us, as America must do? I hope we’ll look back on this time as the 21st century’s Dark Ages. At what point will the supine Keir Starmer and his snoozing red wall wake up and take to the streets? (I started to disbelieve that sentence as I was actually writing it.)


Rich (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 10:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Years ago (early 1990's) there used to be a Sunday lunchtime book review programme on BBC2. I think it was hosted by P.D James. I tuned in as a programme about books was a rarity. The only book I remember them reviewing was The Quincunx. I would have bought it at the time but couldn't locate a copy anywhere. Years went by until I tracked down a copy in a charity shop. I read and loved it. I'm sure most of it went over my head, all I remember is questions about parentage.
I read 'The Unburied' last year, more straightforward but just as enjoyable.

Paul C (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 10:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I read The Quincunx when first published and loved it although I can't pretend to have understood it all. The rich atmosphere was immersive.

I remember the PD James book show and they are still a rarity today. Wonder why ? The best shows were Bookworm with Griff Rhys Jones and Book Tower (1980s ?) hosted by a slightly dotty Tom Baker

Thanks for recommending Beyond Black - I'll try that one. Beyond Black seems an apt description of the current political and economic climate in the UK. Dark days indeed. I'll retreat into my books too.....

Mary Ann Atwood (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 12:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps Hilary was a time traveler and her research trips to Tudor times were the cause of her ill health? Her words will be missed.
Thank you for continuing to share your life with us. My older sister is quite ill. I find comfort in your reflections and your openness to include us in these chapters of your story.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 13:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

While I was reading UK financial/economic news this weekend, Seventy-Seven Clocks came to mind. The people who are doing the most damage are descendants of the Empire that swam home. Like the algorithm gone wrong in SSC, they're sabotaging the UK from within. Ironically, they often use the phrases of Empire; no doubt they learned them at the elite schools they attended..

Did you get the full Mom treatment...lavender scented wet cloth on the forehead (calming sleep aid), cold cloth on the hands (bring temperature/pulse down) along with the foot massage? Great to have loving friends. Sorry about Ms. Armitage.

Jo W (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 14:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks for more of your thoughts, Chris.
Well I can’t say I’ve read any of Hilary Mantel’s books but if she inspired something in you to produce Calabash, then I wish I could have thanked her.
Stay warm and quiet and reading, Chris. Hugs to you and Pete from afar, (I’m still positive for covid,) XXXX

Joan (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 15:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have read the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and found it very immersive. A fascinating take on Lord Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey. I tend to read a lot of historical fiction, so it was inevitable that I would give it a go. I haven’t read anything else by her however, this has made me curious enough to try some of her other work. Sad about her passing, just at the time where she was enjoying International Acclaim. Very much enjoy your thoughts Chris and takes on things, the local Politics quite often go over my head being Canadian, but I do get your drift. Hope you can keep on enjoying friends and the small things that matter.

Des Burkinshaw (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 16:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't know how on earth I never heard of a book called The Quincunx. I use a device named Quincunx in my books that you've been so kind as to mention a few times - I thought I was the only one who'd ever heard of such a thing:) A Dickensian pastiche that needs explanations sounds right up my street.
Sorry to hear about your party incident but they do sound like lovely hosts.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 18:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was just beginning to appreciate MS Mantel.The pronoun reference thing really annoyed me at the time but The Mirror and the Light made up for it. Hanging onto another age with the clarity and perception of which Mantel was capable is a remarkable thing.

I'm looking for a copy of Calabash because everyone seems to love it so much. I'm not sure why we are so quick to accept the valuation of people we only know from a few comments here but we certainly do and I now have a long list of titles to research, although my library does not recognize The Hungry Empire.

When the body is dealing with illness the mind gets tired and rejects social input. People should continue to try, I think, because they might offer at just the time when the patient (that's you) is feeling abandoned and would love fifteen minutes of idle, connecting chatter. I chatter pretty well but it's just too far away. Did you manage that walk last week?

SteveB (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 19:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I enjoyed the Quincunx very much also. My first edition is in storage where a lot of my things have been for several years now. I don’t think the 5x5 thing has any “special” significance but SPOILER I remember the plot hinges on a grandparent whom the reader assumes to be paternal but is in fact maternal. I have Unburied in storage too, I remember also enjoying it but nothing of the plot - was it set in a cathedral?

MartinT (not verified) Mon, 26/09/2022 - 20:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Always thought The Unburied was a bit of a cheat by introducing a previously unknown character at the end but The Quincunx is wonderful.
Interesting piece about Hilary Mantel and her unfortunate illness on Woman's Hour today-seems she was haunted by the ghosts of the children she could never have!

Granny (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 00:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have seen and heard of Americans with amazing generosity, one example was being offered board and lodge with a chap I used to game with, another was a couple I used to work with, were on an aeroplane and they were given apartment key so they could sleep over. There are some ghettos with very low crime rates as they have a community that mucks in and look after each other, including telling young 'uns off for skipping school (bit like the old ten-foot days when Mrs Fagen would tell our mums when we were scaling up walls). A well off woman I gamed with regularly mucked out at her local homeless shelter ... These examples are pre Trump, wonder if it has changed.

This government seem to be a group of criminals, 34 billion on track and trace that did not work, contracts given to shell companies, Good Law still chasing, but we have minimal checks and balances and seemed doomed to live out the Britannia Unchained dream, India being the blueprint: no work protections, no nasty red tape controlling pollution, etc. A determination to reset the economy and head for gold. Endless really ....
Meanwhile the climate heads for crisis, sorry Chris, glad to hear of foot rub, kindness and continuity with others is so important

Andrea (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 00:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts and reading recommendations with us.

John Griffin (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 09:54

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Starmer isn't supine, he is waiting for the nod from Murdoch and the rest. Having been inside that organisation, only the recent Aljazeera doc has come close to how viperish the organisation and leadership are.
When my wife was at her most ill, we became almost total social recluses, as we could not risk travel or any vaguely extended visits. You are a warrior, Sir.

A Holme (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 11:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The first paragraph of 'Bring up the Bodies' is utterly sublime. Cromwell names his falcons after his two dead daughters and watches them swoop and fall from the sky as they hunt. When the King comments that " your girls flew well today." It re-connects you to the horror of their death and of lives cut short.

snowy (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 11:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Maggie is a lady not long or easily thwarted, be particularly wary about taking in any large parcels you don't remember ordering.

[Especially giant cakes... I think she might have previous].

Gary Locke (not verified) Tue, 27/09/2022 - 14:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, my lord, I had almost forgotten about The Quincunx. And there it is, of course, a book that surely must have left some impression on you. I can see it in your penchant for the unreliable narrator. Although, clearly, your narrative structure is not so abstruse.

Be good to yourself, Chris.

David+Ronaldson (not verified) Wed, 28/09/2022 - 12:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What is the "English Way"now? As always, it is forelock-tugging subservience, occasionally defeated by Wat Tyler-esque rebellion. What else can explain the popularity of Alex de Pfeffel? "My daughter, Squire? Help yourself you old rogue" We seem to expect the rich and privileged to be telling us what to do while they rake in money and complaining is seen as being rude.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Thu, 29/09/2022 - 01:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I must admit Hilary Mantel is not an author I have read, she is one of the people I keep meaning to read, I've seen her interviewed, documentaries about her, the way she was brought up as a catholic, the strictness and so on. She seemed like a person I would have loved to meet and talk with. Her fascination with Cromwell and the change from catholic nation to protestant.

Beyond Black looks like my sort of book and people whose taste I trust have extolled its vertues, including admin. I even have it on my kindle, so I think I will read it, it will probably be about Christmas tide. (I have previous about watching documentaries about things they I haven’t sampled, I finally saw ET last year, even though I had seen 2 documentaries about it, one twice and a programme on Spielberg that gave plenty of time to the film, turns out he was not happy with his dad and later found out it was not him who was the ‘bad one’ shall we say, but took the blame to protect the 'guilty party').

Having been ill, especially mentally, I can understand the reluctance to meet people. There have been times I’ve wanted to shout, will you just shut up. But people are more than worth it, but having a break from them is sometimes needed. I know I can suffer with verbal diarrhoea, I also love arguing just for the sake of it, so do tell people if I go too far, please tell me to shut up, or at least let me know.

Speaking with my mother-in-law, she says you can feel autumn in the air in Portugal. The weather is still on the Algarve but there is a little more freshness in the breeze as the sun disappears.

As for Starmer (Labour leader of the opposition, ex-head of the Crown Prosecution service) I can see why you started thinking that, he finally has a policy, to re-introduce the higher 45% tax band. I’m a Labour voter and up until now I had no idea what he stood for or any police, apart from a dislike of Corbin (a rabid left winger, scourge of the Tory press and reminds you of a right-on geography teacher.)

Hope the poster from Canada and the southern parts of the USA are fine. Fiona and Ian don’t really sound like storms, but then we have a Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who recently stated climate change is debatable, and uses phrases like climate alarmist. But then as Brexit minister, pro of course, his business moved to Ireland, Jacob Reese-Mogg (His father was editor of The Times) has previous, and likes to think of himself as a gentleman, even named one of his children Sixtus. Isn’t our politics fun.


Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 30/09/2022 - 18:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What is a "right on geography teacher"? My husband is a geographer and taught it for a while so I'd like to know. I suspect you experienced one who created a negative mental image and I'd like to know what the poor soul did.

chazza (not verified) Sat, 01/10/2022 - 10:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think one only needs to read Robin Cook's sublime "State of Denmark" to know the direction the UK is heading...i

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 04/10/2022 - 09:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen not really negative but of a certain type, corduroy jacket with patched elbows, left leaning and on message with the social issues of the day but in a very middle-class way. I had a few teachers like that, my old arts teacher springs to mind and he is a teacher I remember fondly.


Paul C (not verified) Thu, 06/10/2022 - 15:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

.............and a curved pipe