Archive for May, 2015

Eurovision, Australia and Lee Lin Chin

May 28, 2015

leeI haven’t watched The Eurovision Song Contest in years.  Not, I should add, through any especial resistance, it’s just that I haven’t been in on the night, or something else has taken precedence.  And, no – it’s not “I had a library book to return” – I’m really not being snide.  I just haven’t watched it, OK?

And then, on Saturday, I watched it.  Or some of it anyway. Wow. It’s terrific!  If you don’t like all the songs, fair enough.  Who would? But the production, the set design, the arrangements, the lighting, the swooping camera-work, the snappy direction, the sound mix, the (usually) flawless juggling of multiple international TV feeds…  This is a production of unimaginable complexity pulled off seemingly effortlessly. All of which left me with two niggling questions.

First, has the long-standing British joke about Eurovision being irredeemably naff finally worn thin?  Most of the performances were the sort of thing we’d all happily watch on X-Factor or – the more outré ones –  Britain’s Got Talent.  Do we really need Graham Norton’s acerbic voice over?  Sure, he made me laugh, but…

And talking of X-Factor, I say put Simon Cowell in charge of finding our next Eurovision entry.  I bet we’d get more than cinq measly points.

Secondly, what was with Australia’s results presenter?  Into a parade of glossy lookalike 25-35 year-old sparkly, grinning, models presenting their country’s results, Australia threw a very unglossy, rather elderly newsreader, Lee Lin Chin. Was this a humorous, camp masterstroke: a bold, Aussie two-fingered salute to convention? Or was it something much more boring: another example of Australia’s collapse before an onslaught of worthiness? Did someone, somewhere decide that there are far too many curvy young women and handsome young men on Eurovision and that brave Australia will strike a blow for the rights of little old Asian ladies? In other words, was in done with an intent to embrace the spirit of Eurovision, or to undermine its supposed sexist, racist xenophobia.  I do hope it’s the first.


Lost in translation: A Man Called Ove

May 21, 2015

There’s a lot to like in Fredrik Backman’s novel about a cantankerous widower in contemporary small-town Sweden.  It’s a neat story with an unusual protagonist and it will no doubt be made into a lovely film with someone like Stellan Skarsgård in the title role.

But my God, the translation!

Henning Koch, who did it, is a Swede who (according his own blog) has lived all over the English speaking world and writes books in English so I have no doubt that his command of English is superb.  But – as it turns out – that does not mean he can translate someone else’s words well.

If his intention was to leave the translation a tiny bit “off” so that the reader is reminded every couple of pages that he is reading a translation, then he has succeeded.  I honestly don’t know.  Perhaps it was intentional.  There is a slightly odd, spare, staccato rhythm to the prose that I presume is the author’s own, and you kind of get used to it.  Maybe the jarring translation is meant to accompany that.

I suspect not, though.

oveWhat are we to make of similes like “Her temper could flare up like saloon doors in a John Wayne movie”?  I cannot check whether the author or the translator is responsible for such a weird image, but I suspect it’s the translator.  How the hell can saloon doors flare up?

Or take this one: “Jimmy wolfed the sandwich down in one bite.”  That’s just silly, not to mention impossible.  I happen to know, thanks to Mrs W, that there exists in Swedish the expression “eat something in one bite,” which is of course figurative. We would say, “to wolf” or “to scoff” or something.

And worst of all is the swearing.  There’s not much: a few “bloody”s and (I think) one “fuck”.  The Swedes don’t swear much anyway, least of all men like Ove.  But getting the rhythm and tone of English swearing right is crucial, and Henning Koch has a poor grasp of it, and of other colloquialisms .

I cannot understand why someone at the publisher, Sceptre Books (part of Hodder & Stoughton), did not pick up on this.  Its not just me: a glance at some of the one- and two-star reviews at Amazon shows that other people have noticed the off-kilter translation.

It’s a shame.  It marrs an otherwise sweet and funny book.

Learning to dance from YouTube

May 19, 2015

So I figured that next time I go to Jerez I’ll have learned the Sevillanas the regional folk dance which to the untrained eye looks a bit like flamenco.  It’s the same way that the rumba and the cha-cha look similar if, like me, you’ve never done either.  Thing is, the bloke on the video above looks nothing like the men I saw in Jerez.

You see, most men in the casetas who dance with the ladies in the fabulous dresses dance the Sevillanas with the same expertise as I dance the waltz.  That is, they know the basic moves and can get around without actually stepping on anyone’s toes or making an utter prat of themselves, but doing the full monty like the guy above?  It would probably clear the floor and get applause.  Or it might even be considered a little mariquita (a wonderful word meaning ‘a bit gay’).

Neither is my ambition.  I simply want to know the basic turns and crosses.  So far as I can tell, the rest is about smiling, laughing and pretending to have the hots for your partner, be she nineteen or 90IMG_6422IMG_0593

I’ll never tire of Spain

May 18, 2015

My friend Tom Kallene is a Swede who has lived in Spain since forever.  He told me once that the moment he set foot in Spain, he knew he would never live in Sweden again.  Like a transexual who believes he has been “born into the wrong body,” Tom was born the wrong nationality.

It’s a view I can sympathise with.  There is nothing that is not rather wonderful about Spain, and there’s nothing new about pointing it out.  From the weather, through the food, the glorious wines, to the way the Spanish people approach the business of living life as if dying simply didn’t matter.

Prawns ham and yet more sherry

Prawns ham and yet more sherry

Nowhere are Spain’s treasures on better show than at the spectacular Jerez Feria de Caballos every May.  For a whole week (if you can stand the pace and I can’t) this comparatively prosperous Andaluz city, founded on the sherry trade, gives over its massive, dusty show ground to endless small and large “casetas” – temporary structures with tables, chairs, bars, kitchens and – crucially – a dance floor.  The music is loud and never ends, the sherry (almost always the dry Tio Pepe “fino”) is drunk in vast quantities, either neat or diluted with Sprite for a “rebujito” and – thanks largely to the array of ham, fresh prawns and other snacks on offer – public drunkenness is a rarity.

And everything and everyone looks great.  The splendid horses that parade around the feria are groomed just as much as the handsome men and the very, very beautiful women.  (I would add another “very”, but in deference to the lovely Mrs W I’ll leave it at the two.)

Getting an early night at the Feria means getting home before four a.m.

And one day, I promise I will learn to dance the Sevillanas the joyful regional dance (often mistaken by visitors for Flamenco).  I’ve been saying it for years: this time I mean it.


It’s all signed!

May 12, 2015

FullSizeRenderThere’s no going back now.  This is me and my very smart agent Silvia Molteni of Peter Fraser Dunlop as I sign The Book Deal: two books, starting with Time Travelling With A Hamster, (Harper Collins, Spring 2016)

The Shock Of the Fall

May 12, 2015

shockI loved this and read it in about three sittings.  Nathan Filer manages brilliantly to capture the voice of a schizophrenic teenager, Matthew.  (Or at least, I imagine he does, not knowing any schizophrenic teenagers myself.)  I’m still wondering, though: did Matthew kill Simon, or was it a tragic accident for which Matthew feels unnecessary guilt?  If it was meant to be ambiguous, fine – I liked it.  If it was made clear somewhere, then I missed it.  Matthew has a wonderfully acerbic take on his illness and on life generally, with snappy lines sprinkled throughout: “there’s a use-by date when it comes to blaming your parents,” made me laugh.  Mrs W, however, was less keen and said she remained unmoved to the end.  Hey well…