Sunday, 25 November 2012

Voice of the day

Reading books for public consumption is one of the hardest disciplines there is. You might think it was a breeze, just reading words on a page. There are no lines to learn, no stage directions to memorise, no grandstanding actor, chewing the furniture or doing little bits of business to ruin your scene. It's just you, and a page, and a microphone. What could be more of a walk in the park?

In fact, reading well is so remarkably difficult that only about four humans and a dog can do it. The amount of beautifully-written books of the week I have had to turn off, because some exuberant actor is strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, is beyond count. There is always the terrible danger of breathiness. Then there are the ghastly pauses in all the wrong places, or the misconstrued emphasis.

Worst of all, is the conviction of certain thespian readers that the text must be acted. This is the highest sin. Books, poetry especially, must be read flat. The reader gets out of the way and lets the words shine. Prose is an oddly delicate thing; the wrong tone of voice can slaughter a perfect paragraph.

All of which is a long way of saying really I would like to start a petition to draft Samuel West in to read Everything in The World. It should be a law; it should be inserted into the constitution. He has always read very well, but in this week's Radio Four version of Paddy Leigh-Fermor's memoirs, he has reached his crest and peak. The voice is light and pleasing, the tone even and rhythmic, the pronunciation filled with clarity, the ego entirely absent. He even goes at the exact right speed. It's so good that you may want to listen to each episode twice, for the full beauty to dawn.

It is such a rare talent, and one very much overlooked. Hardly anyone except me bangs on about the beauty of a lovely reading voice. But when one is found, I must hang out more flags.

If you have the iPlayer, you can listen here.

Sadly, it's only on for a couple more days. I wish the dear old BBC would let us have access to their programmes for longer than a week, but I suppose it's something to do with bandwidth or one of those technical things. The iPlayer is such a miracle, and so much better than anything even nearly comparable, that it seems churlish to cavil. But perhaps a fortnight....?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

From the archive for Remembrance Sunday: the story of Lance Corporal Liam Tasker and Theo the dog.

Written on 4th March, 2011.  

A few weeks ago, on one of the many, many news feeds that I follow, I came upon a small article about an incredible bomb sniffer dog called Theo. He and his young handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were doing sterling work in Afghanistan, and had saved hundreds of lives. It was a lovely piece, but it came from a small news agency, and did not get any play in the national press, which I thought was a pity. I was going to put it up on the blog, and filed it in my Things For the Blog file, but I must have got distracted, and never did. I remember thinking it was a curious coincidence, because the other bomb dog I had been enchanted by was called Treo. Treo and Theo I thought; a perfect pair of heroes.

This is the tragic part. This week, Liam Tasker was shot to death while out on patrol. On the Helmand blog, which I follow religiously, his commanders and comrades and family paid tribute to him. It turns out he was not only an exemplary soldier, cheerful and courageous and dedicated, but a remarkable human being. He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him, one of those people who light up a room. He was twenty-six years old.

To add to the sadness, Theo suffered a seizure and died very soon afterwards. No one really knows why. It might have been the shock of the fighting, or just a horrible coincidence.

I wanted to tell you this story because it made me think of two things. One is that, because of the fact that there is so much other news at the moment, Afghanistan is off the front pages. It is almost possible to forget that we are in a shooting war, with no end in sight. For some reason, I think it very important that we do not forget.

The second is on the dog theme. Because of my dear dog's illness I have been meditating this week on the love and delight and joy that canines bring into our hearts. But they do more than this. In the case of Theo and Treo, they also literally save lives. Out in the dust and heat of Helmand Province, serious working dogs are sniffing out lethal improvised explosive devices, set by callous men bent on death. If one can say that dogs are heroes, then they are.

You can read about Liam Tasker and Theo here. I'm afraid it will break your heart, but it is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable pair. This is what they looked like:



This is why no one can ever, ever say: oh, it's only a dog.

To make you smile again, there is a lovely thing on Treo the dog here. I put the little video of him getting his medal up on the blog months ago, and it is still one of the sweetest things on the entire internet.
Here he is, with his award for bravery:


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The most shocking thing on the internet today

I have two reactions to this. Shock that such a thing should be happening in a modern industrialised nation, and awe and wonder for the American people who will not be denied. Some of them are waiting in queues for eight hours to cast their ballots. They chant: 'We want to vote'. I take every hat I own off to them.

I take my hat off too to the magnificent Rachel Maddow, who, as always, manages to temper her outrage with humour. Although in this case, the outrage is almost too much for her.

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