Christopher Hawtree

the pillowbook of Christopher Hawtree, writer and Green Party councillor for Central Hove

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Posted on | October 14, 2014 | No Comments

Lynne Truss
Caused more than a fuss
By decreeing a misplaced apostrophe
Nothing short of a catastrophe

As The Earth And The Worm Turns

Posted on | October 6, 2014 | No Comments

Scanned Image 2

As chance has it, at much the same time that I started to read Naomi Klein’s hefty study of climate change, This Changes Everything, there surfaced a copy of the third, 1947 printing – in an elegant typographical wrapper – of Common-Sense Compost Making (1946) by Maye Bruce. In any word-association game the phrase Faber and Faber is likely to prompt replies of T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin or William Golding.

Miss Bruce, as she was generally known, was however somebody keen to do her bit for the planet – and the firm’s turnover. How much is now lost by publishers not using their dust jackets to advertise other books. Among the forty-one listed here are many by those determined to create anything but a waste land: Soil and Sense by Michael Graham; Back To Better Grass by I. G. Lewis; Charter For The Soil by John Drummond, as well as Alternative to Death posited by the Earl of Portsmouth.

From the start there is a clear link with Naomi Klein’s book. Miss Bruce avers: “Here is a curious fact. It has taken a World War to revive and strengthen the human love of the soil. Throughout the ages, we find that work on and with the soil has meant fertility, health, prosperity; but as soon as man began to exploit it for gain, or neglect it from sloth, fertility ceased, the life departed from the earth, soil erosion followed, and vast tracts of land were invaded by sand and dust, with the result that once fertile country was turned into desert and dust bowl, and the process still goes on”.

Serendipity brought Miss Bruce to study productive decomposition. Born into a well-off Irish distilling family, she came to England and settled in the Cotswolds near Cirencester. She had a hard task in making good a 150-acre plot (some of it let for pasture, some wooded). Supplies of manure were used up, and so she turned to creating compost at a time when, strange to think, the word was not as widely known: one gardener told her that he did not come to an advertised talk on the subject because he thought it was about jams.

As she said, “vegetables and fruit give their vitality directly to us, but if they grow in unnourished soil, devitalised soil, they have no vitality to give. The slow process of an almost universal malnutrition has started; it goes from soil to vegetation, from vegetation to human being. The result is a vast increase in malnutrition diseases – cancer amongst them; an increase in spite of modern amenities and the development of scientific knowledge, but knowledge that appears to be directed towards cure rather than prevention”. For Miss Bruce, it was a vision of world-wide tragedy if steps were not taken to save the life of the soil.

“I believe it is the force of public opinion that will tip the scales. there is much to overcome; vast vested interests; refusal to face facts; indifference and ignorance of urban populations; laziness and conservatism amongst the country folk; and the tentacles of a hundred years of synthetic manures.”

Her particular contribution, created by dint of observation and experiment, was to fill a milk bottle with rain water – and a very small amount (1:10,000) of a compound of nettle, yarrow and honey. Inserted by channels into a compost heap, this sped the process remarkably, and in turn made for soil of exceptional quality.

Her prose is a combination of succinct description and lively parallels. “Some compost makers believe that animal manure is essential to making a good compost. i do not agree. I have tested entirely vegetable compost against compost made with manure, and found no difference in its effect. After all, cow manure is just plants, composted by the cow. She is the best compost-making machine in the world! She breaks up the herbage by the combined heat of her body and the incessant chewing of the cud.”

Miss Bruce’s method is summed up in her Appendix but to read all of her small book is to become imbued with her relish of the soil, of the Earth. To use nature to produce healthy plants does away with the need for pesticides which, in turn, blight human beings. One farmer told her that, by following her methods, he found that land rented for twelve shillings an acre had become as productive as that commanding five pounds an acre. Meanwhile, one man, keen to obtain proof of his enthusiasm for the method, went to a greengrocer and secretly bought some potatoes. “At the midday meal he watched his wife. She ate a little, looked puzzled and dissatisfied, and finally said, ‘What potatoes are these?’ He answered grimly, but truthfully, ‘they came from a different row.’ After a time, when she showed obvious distaste, he remarked, ‘you don’t seem to be getting on with your potatoes, my dear. What is wrong?’ She burst out, ‘well, they are entirely different from the ones we have been having. They have no taste, they are exactly like the stuff we used to buy at the shop!’ He had his proof. He confessed his trick, and both are more compost-minded than ever.”

At a time when a third of dustcarts’ contents are food waste, her book is as pertinent as ever. (She also did not balk at using garden waste, even weeds, in her compost heaps.) To cut down on plastic bags is one thing, but even more can be done by making full use of their contents.

A decade after her death in 1964, Miss Bruce’s book was still in print (albeit without the photographs of composters fashioned from railway sleepers and tin roofs which are as evocative as glimpses of the garden which these fostered). It has re-appeared lately, and, as I tip more oddments onto one of my heaps, I cannot help but feel that the worms are rising to pay tribute to the spirit of this splendid woman who, with Lady Balfour, brought the Soil association into being.

Terror At Thirty Feet

Posted on | September 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

Ever quizzical, at the edge of a roof, a seagull again peers down at me with a bemused eye, as if questioning the wisdom of what I am doing. He, or she, has that in common with some of those who pass closely by the ladder upon which I am perched, paint-roller in hand, in an alley off George Street in Hove.

Every so often, I step back and look with strange fascination upon the wall. To watch paint dry can by hypnotic. This has been some while a-coming. Near the south end of this pedestrianised Street there is wide alley which leads to a road the other side of which is a supermarket car park.

This might not sound momentous stuff. Any urban thoroughfare, however, gains a spirit of its own which is familiar to those why ply it day after day: a thousand miniature dramas.

For too long, this alleyway has been a blight, and it took extraordinary effort to rid it of the commercial trash-wagons whose contents so often billowed from their plastic confines. With that done, the chance came to bring greater brio to the alley: as I put it, to release its inner twitten (a fine Sussex word which deserves wider currency). One way and another, with cogent work by Hove and Brighton Council’s Safe In The City department (in particular Nile Amos), funds were obtained from the EC to create a celebratory mural upon one of the high walls which line the alley (permission to do so duly obtained from the freeholder).

The artist in charge of this is Charlie Rallings. The other day, we convened in the alley to begin work, for the Hove Business Association had provided some of the materials, as did Brewer’s for whom an amiable Labour councillor Alan Robins works – and who provided vital advice about ensuring that the Sixties engineering bricks are fully primed before anything decorative takes place.

From the start, there was a terrific, collaborative spirit.

As soon as we began to roll the white primer across the bricks and brush it along the mortar, passers-by commented upon these efforts.Geo start Some assumed that a spot of white paint would be the sum total of it, and so, step by step, I explained that this was but a beginning: there would then be a light-blue, marine background to images of what I think to be serene Hove.

One woman, Eunice, said: “that’s great, I didn’t do serene until I moved to Hove!” Many have been the comments – some saltier than others – and the spirit is very encouraging as, roller in hand, one steps back to get a perspective upon how much has been covered.

By dint of concerted effort, including help from a policewoman who donned a Barnardo’s t-shirt lest her uniform become spotted ahead of a meeting with her Superintendent, Geo moreour first day made such progress that we were able to bring ahead of schedule the Scissor Ladder.

Come the second day, this arrived.

Essentially, as you can see, this is a wagon which, at the press of a button, springs skywards, thirty feet high.Crane

And, as I found when doing my bit to transform the higher bricks, it appears to wobble so much that it makes a Palace Pier-ride feel a doddle. Even as I type this, I find my hand move from keyboard to quell a troubled stomach.

Thirty feet up, George Street assumes another dimension. Weatherspoon’s turns out to have a roof garden (sort of, if air vents are your thing). SpoonJPG I shudder at the memory as I toiled with the masonry brush, every look downwards at the tin a mental epic; a heroic wimp – a contrast with Nile, Charlie, and Ali Ebrahimi Ali.

It’s a highpoint of this local-government experience to have lurched skywards and then enjoyed the commentary upon it with the variety of people who stroll by (some of them with good-spirited assistance dogs).

Despite the logistical hurdles of any such work and the denigrators, the abiding sensation is one of enthusiasm for the idea and for setting about – well – doing it.

Come the third day, it was galling to find that – overnight – some bottom-feeders had daubed our efforts with sub-Pollock circles which, on closer study, were found to be something called “barbecue sauce”. Sickening, in many senses.

It could be washed away, and work resumes.

Onwards!

And, no doubt, that seagull will continue to take an interest

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Posted on | September 27, 2014 | No Comments

Councillor Tony Janio
Again sought advice from a rhino,
Who said: “if you see a Marxist,
Charge in – and do not desist!”

The Railway Line

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | No Comments

As a part of the Coalition’s Localism Act, there came into being the chance for residents to form Neighbourhood Forums around Planning strategies. This might all sound to the good – even if it contends simultaneously with the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of a developers’ charter to get it up quick.

In Hove this has proved particularly interesting. An area for great potential is that around the Station. Fifty years ago, terraced housing was demolished as “slums”. With work upon these, they would now have become more “desirable” than the replacement towers.

At any rate, around these, on both sides of the railway line, there are sections that could yield tremendous potential for employment, housing and retail use – as well as schools and recreation.

Unfortunately, a developer with a claim upon several key sites within the area made an utterly bosh shot by way of an Application two years ago.

However, this did bring into being a residents’ Forum whose proposal had at its helm an architectural Professor (this sort of thing is par for Hove serendipity).

To cut to the chase, this group’s imagination ran counter to those slightly to the north who shuddered at any well-judged changed to an area which they overlook – a situation exploited by two Tory councillors who lack an eye for the constituency as a whole.

Some while ago, I went along to a meeting – which I learnt today was intended as a conciliation one between the two groups. What I took away from that meeting was the bizarre assertion by the Park group that “we are suburbanites and they are ‘urban sophisticates’”.

As I said at that meeting, this strikes me as Mapp and Lucia – Tilling – writ large.

And so it has dragged on – at considerable cost in Council officers’ time.

Today’s meeting – amidst clouds of verbiage – showed that the whole subject turns around a relatively modest amount of land which, if included in the Station area, could make so many possibilities viable.

The Chair, my great colleague Geoffrey Bowden, had said, “Chris, don’t refer to Mapp and Lucia”, and so I didn’t: I took a wider tack than E. F. Benson could have envisaged.

I never write speeches in advance. I work from some headings made on the spot.

Here is something of what I said this afternoon, reconstructed from those notes:

“Thank you, Chair, I was in at the beginning of this, which feels several lifetimes ago – and at great cost in officers’ time.

It feels pertinent that this has come to the Committee when – north of the Border – the Scots are this very day engaged in such debate – and, what’s more, it is indeed a 100 years after 1914, when, as we know, vexation over borders had a cataclysmic consequence, whose ramifications endure to this day – and beyond. The psychology of human groups and a sense of place, this amounts to a working definition of the course of history.

And, as I’ve suggested, this can turn hairy. Without any levity, I can say that this is what has happened today.

Local Council wards are an artificial construct – most people are unaware of these, and they are necessarily determined by the need to have an equal number of residents – their borders change.

While walking around Hove and Portslade, I have become aware that people do have an eye upon the greater good, they are sensible to the Station area’s potential, they are not locked down into their own backyard – and all this bootless dispute about which we have heard so much.

While talking on a doorstep, I sensed that a resident has an eye on more than this, and I cited a recent remark by Bob Dylan in an interview: ‘any day above the ground is a good day’.

That struck a chord: the resident said: ‘he’s absolutely right.’

And so, I said at today’s meeting that the proposed recommendation – a good compromise – will make real use of linked, under-used areas north and south of a railway line, which is not the Tories’ ‘natural border’, but one which can work to the benefit of all in an urban area whose demands are manifold.

With any luck, this will work out – and endure beyond the burial of all of us here today. We need to look at buildings and think of those who did not live to see their construction – just as there are those we ourselves shall not see.

We are here for such a short time, it behoves us to take a longer view for the sake of those sprung from our loins.”

It was interesting to find that Labour came round to this point of view – and the Tories crumbled. (I suspect that most of their members grasped this, but they were under orders to vote otherwise.)

All of which confirms my sense on the doorsteps that Hove and Portslade could prove to be a national marker in 2015. It is a place up for cogent debate.

Church Road, Hove

Posted on | September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Here is a note which I have sent to the Hove Civic Society in support of its proposal for something which is more of a boulevard. After all, stroll is the essence of Hove.

“i continue to be delighted by the energy and knowledge – and imagination – which the Hove Civic Society now brings to our urban area.

Hove is a succession of thoroughfares as different from one another as George Street, Richardson Road, Victoria Terrace and those nooks around Hove Station.

Paradoxically enough, the most overlooked road has been the biggest one: Church Road.

Unlike other roads, this is not one that encourages people to linger; it has a hurried atmosphere to it, far less congenial that the others’. As the Hove Civic Society points out, a central cause of this is the narrow pavements along so much of it, and the chances which have been missed to make more of the junctions so that it could have more of a boulevard to it.

I welcome the proposals which the Society is bringing forward – and, in fact, have myself already set in motion (as it were) improvements to the junction with Sackville Road and Hove Street. At present this feels such a risk to pedestrians. My proposal, made at the Transport Committee last year, has been incorporated in the next phase. I look forward to elaboration of this within the Society’s proposals.”

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Posted on | September 15, 2014 | No Comments

Frank Gehry
Soon grew weary
When he strove
To make a go of it in Hove

From The Bran-Tub: Twenty-Six – Betty Comden

Posted on | September 14, 2014 | No Comments

‘ahelluva town!’ The phrase from the song New York, New York in the musical On the Town (1944) is synonymous with Betty Comden, who has died aged 91. She and Adolph Green (obituary, October 26 2002) supplied lyrics and librettos for some of Broadway’s most enduring musicals, and the story and screenplay for films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952). She and Green, whose writing partnership lasted more than 50 years, won Tony Awards with three of their shows, Wonderful Town, Hallelujah, Baby! and Applause.
Verbal adaptability was in Comden’s blood. Born in Russia, she emigrated to Brooklyn, New York, as a child, and grew up in an extended family, which included an unabashed flapper and a cinema proprietor. She revelled in Chaplin and Keaton. An uncle saw star potential if only “I would grow up good-looking”. Troubled by her nose, she took the then unusual step of plastic surgery.

When she was still a student at New York University, she appeared in a revue in Max Gordon’s jazz club, the Village Vanguard, in Greenwich Village. There she met Adolph Green, a young performer called Judy Holliday and composer Leonard Bernstein, and realised that lyrics could be her forte.

It was in 1938, at the Village Vanguard, that Comden, Green, Bernstein and Holliday formed the Revuers, which became a successful show – and the first example of a Comden-Green partnership. A transfer uptown, however, flopped. Then, she and Green got lucky. Bernstein wanted to develop his 1937 ballet Fancy Free into a musical, a new prospect for them all. The result was On the Town (1944), the story of three sailors on leave in wartime New York. The pair’s lyrics echo every sound of a city in which love can be found within the 24 hours that the sailors have on leave. The musical, in which Comden and Green also performed, ran for over a year, and was duly filmed, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Success continued swiftly with Billion Dollar Baby (1945), with music by Morton Gould, although Bonanza Bound (1947) flopped. Their second, and again, successful collaboration with Bernstein was Wonderful Town (1953).

Film work began to go hand in hand with their success on Broadway. Notably, there was the pair’s script for the exhilarating Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds; Band Wagon (1953), and the story for It’s Always Fair Weather (1953), with music by André Previn, which popularised the phrase “thanks a lot, but no thanks”.

Always adept at creating something of its era without being a period piece, Comden and Green were alert to contemporary developments. In the 1950s, the emergence of telephone answering services inspired a leading role for the former switchboard operator Judy Holliday. She sang Comden and Green’s opening number, Perfect Relationship in Jule Styne’s musical, Bells Are Ringing (1956), and with Just In Time and the heartbreaking resignation of The Party’s Over, it was clear that the American musical was in perfect hands. Say Darling (1958), also with Styne, was based on Richard Bissell’s novel about the making of The Pajama Game from his own earlier novel. Racketeers resurfaced in another Styne work, Do Re Mi (1960) in which a scheming husband and wife – Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker – visit Casablanca and fall foul of the mob, an unlikely setting for the tender number Make Someone Happy. In 1961 further work with Styne, although possibly not their best, resulted in Subways are For Sleeping.

They returned to the 1930s for Styne’s Fade Out – Fade In (1964) starring Carol Burnett, in which a chorus girl is accidentally plucked from the Hollywood chorus for a starring role. Underrated at the time, Styne’s next, Hallelujah, Baby! (1967) was written with an enthusiastic Lena Horne in mind and chronicled 60 years of race relations in America. In the event, Horne turned it down and the unknown Leslie Uggams was plucked from obscurity to give a tremendous performance. Faced by controversy on all sides, it ran for nine months. A musical version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1974), with Styne, was less successful.

A Cy Coleman revue led to their collaborating on his musical On The Twentieth Century (1976). A sort of operetta, its witty lyrics depend upon the staging although Our Private World took on a life of its own; Comden wrote the song in the shadow of her son’s death.

Redoubtable, and always elegant, she continued to work and cheerfully chronicled bodily failings (both she and Green found their eyesight fading). The musical version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House renamed A Doll’s Life (1982) yielded their fine Learn to be Lonely, and it was in great style that they reunited with Coleman in 1992 for the huge success of The Will Rogers Follies.

As Comden once said of her partnership with Green: “It’s a kind of radar. We don’t divide the work up, taking different scenes. I used to write things down in shorthand. I now sit at the typewriter. Adolph paces more.” Their writing partnership made for something so strong that it was flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the most diverse composers; indeed, it was a helluva pen. Tributes to the duo culminated in a two-night Carnegie Hall concert in 1999, and their work continued to be revived on Broadway.

Many thought the two were married; in fact, Comden was married to Siegfried Schutzmann, whom she had met on a tennis court in 1942. He died in 1979. She is survived by their daughter, Susanna.

· Betty Comden, lyricist, born May 3 1915; died November 23 2006

On Being Asked To Take Up Residence in Downing Street

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | No Comments

A site affiliated with the Brighton Digital Festival sent me three questions. These set me thinking, and I have answered them in general and specific terms.

IF YOU WERE ELECTED AS PRIME MINISTER IN MAY 2015, WHAT WOULD BE THE FIRST THING YOU WOULD SAY TO THE NATION?

“I am speaking to you from Ten Downing Street, and I shall start by refusing to pardon my predecessor. That might sound unusual, but, in effect, for several decades, each new incumbent here in Ten Downing Street has tacitly pardoned the previous one by continuing with much the same policies. These have led to a country in which the social divide is daily growing, larger than it has been in close on a century.

“Central to all this is successive Governments’ refusal to come to terms with the crucial issue of our times.

“This is climate change.

“By refusing to do so, they have created a situation in which it becomes all the harder to address social issues, all of which amount to the fair use of finite resources.

“The very readable Australian scientist Tim Flannery put it succinctly, as long ago as 2004: ‘the best evidence indicates that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 70 per cent by 2050. If you own a four-wheel-drive and replace it with a hybrid fuel car, you can achieve a cut of that magnitude in a day rather than half a century. If your electricity provider offers a green option, for the cost of a daily cup of coffee you will be able to make equally major cuts in your household emissions. And if you vote for a politician who has a deep commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, you might change the world.’

“Now that, thank you very much, you have voted for such a politician, we have that task before us. I was always shocked in Hove and Brighton that the Labour Party derided climate change as a Green ‘pet project’. It is not that, it is crucial, and we should not regard it as daunting; it can yet be done, even though time has grown far shorter. It is not only something in which everybody must play a part but this can provide a renewed and sustainable economy – across the spectrum, from designers to fitters – which will enable our society to function in a mutual fashion.

‘We cannot risk the Earth becoming a bare cupboard. We have been burgled, and we have to replenish it now.”

DOES DEMOCRACY MATTER?
Yes. E M Forster gave it two cheers, “one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism”. He highlighted a belief in Parliament which is “often sneered at because it is a Talking Shop. I believe in it because it is a talking shop. I believe in the Private Member who makes a nuisance of himself. He gets snubbed and is told that he is cranky or ill-informed, but he does expose abuses which would otherwise never have been mentioned, and very often an abuse gets put right just by being mentioned. Occasionally, too, a well-meaning public official starts losing his head in the cause of efficiency, and thinks himself God Almighty. Such officials are particularly frequent in the Home Office.”

The situation has changed even more for the worse since Forster wrote that. Not only have officials – in the form of “Advisers” – infiltrated Government premises but international corporations, who have no interest in climate change, have done likewise. The result of this is that the main parties’ Private Member is no longer told that he is cranky or ill-informed – he is simply ignored.

We need more Members of Parliament who are prepared to speak out rather than be paid off by appointment to some trumpery post or other. A few Green MPs can, in this way, be far more visible, far more effective than the general run of Backbench stodge.

And, of course, democracy is not simply a matter of there being effective MPs. It is a matter of residents, at the hour of their death, being able to look back not with regret (“I wish I had…”) but at a fulfilled life which had made the best use of precious time and brought the best use of diverse, different talents rather than being forced into falsehood of targets and grades. Residents should not have to contend with lives of quiet desperation but achieve quiet satisfaction.

WE NEED A REVOLUTION BECAUSE… (finish this sentence)

the need and the spirit are there to prevent the devastation of the Earth: the most effective revolution is a new cast of mind.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Posted on | August 31, 2014 | No Comments

Naming things. Obvious as it might sound, this is one of a novelist’s tasks. The success of a novel can be judged by the extent to which it augments the reader’s own senses.

Within a few pages of Clay, which is Melissa Harrison’s first novel, one has the delight of knowing that here is somebody who will carry aloft 250 pages. Formed of twenty-one chapters, these chronicle a year in the lives of a dozen characters who, did they but know it, live cheek by jowl in a part of London around – as the Prologue has it – a “little wedge-shaped city park… as beautiful and as unremarkable as a thousand others across the country”.

That said, Clay effortlessly brings on a cast of thousands, for Melissa Harrison has wonderful eyes for all those – subterranean or airborne – who share this space with the strata into which human beings are wont to align themselves.

Where to begin in describing such amplitude? The novel itself opens a year hence – on St Bartholomew’s Day – when a young boy who likes to be known as TC is being interviewed by the Social Services. Clay swiftly cuts back in time to set out the way in which his destiny will be forged by a passion for nature which he has discovered despite unpromising circumstances: brought up distractedly, in a tower block, by a reluctant mother who has ditched a seemingly miscreant husband in favour of a rough lover who does have some concern for the boy. All of which is a contrast with the life – across the invisible tracks – enjoyed by Daisy, whose upwardly-mobile parents have found themselves living not far from her widowed, nature-loving grandmother Sophie. An unexpected link in all this is Jozef, who has lost his Polish farm amidst that country’s upheavals and now helps out in a houses-cleared shop run by a local wide-boy. A dog comes into the narrative at this point.

As the year goes by, the friendships and allegiances discovered by these people and animals transcend the generations – and also those human class- barriers which, in turn, are invisible to the dogs, cats, birds, and more who breathe that very same air.

Buoyed by quiet wit and close observation, Clay’s plot is hardly complex but – switching point of view from one short section to the next withinin each chapter – it is neatly paced in such a way that it becomes redolent of very much more than a particular place. It has one pausing time and again to savour a phrase, an insight, observations which appear, Proust-like, to have landed fully fledged upon the page. “The pavement – scarred with tarmac, a patchwork of slabs and wounds and make-dos – was a palimpsest, a downtrodden witness to the hardware feeding the street and all its faults and secret requirements.” That is splendid, but made all the more so by the next sentence: “As she walked Sophie pictured the pipes and wires down there beneath her feet, none the less actual for being invisible, like the locket with its tiny diamond chip she had lost in the park twenty years ago and which must have worked its way down into the soil by now, treasure for some future city dweller to find. Perhaps at death she would know what had become of it; perhaps every mystery, every last thing she had ever wondered about or tried to imagine, would be revealed to her. Perhaps that was what heaven was, or would be for her: a lifetime’s curiosity about the world finally sated.”

There it is: start to quote from Clay and you keep on going. All this, the past in the present, is as redolent of – and as easily read as – Penelope Lively’s novels. What’s more, it has one yelling aloud with delight, which is what Kingsley Amis found himself doing when reading the work of his friend Elizabeth Taylor with whom Melissa Harrison can bear equal comparison. To their profound, lightly-borne social observation, Melissa Harrison adds a unique take upon flora and fauna. This is a novel that makes one want to look all the more closely at the world around us, to savour petrichor, which is that wonderful tang provided by greenery at dawn after a night’s rain. Open Clay at random and one finds such observation as “a leaf-green caterpillar dangled on an invisible thread, its gently twisting body lit by the sundazzle filtering through the tessellating leaves above.” That tessellating is characteristic of a relish for the right word; elsewhere, one finds that “in pots and front gardens the last surviving pelargoniums now drooped bletted and blackening…” Read on a few sentences and there is “the birds became bold; hundreds were lost to the ammil every night, and hunger drove them to new braveries with each unrelenting day. They froze where they slept in the hedges and trees, their bodies falling secretly to the ground like leaves”. It is a tough world elegantly depicted, and not shirking the violence so near the surface of human experience.

You can sometimes make bold to judge a novel by its cover. In the case of Clay is a wonderful snowy urban landscape – dog following owner, the merest hint of colour amidst the black and white – taken by the author, who also has a website – http://www.talesofthecity.co.uk/ – which augments the novel, a thrill even for those readers who might deem such techiedom irrelevant.

Clay might not be perfect, which means that it has all the greater claim to be something close to a masterpiece – and deserves to have been printed on better paper.

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    Christopher Hawtree is the Green Party Councillor for Central Hove but items are posted here in a personal capacity as an individual.

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