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Bittersweet date

On a day like today thirty-six years ago, I alighted from a transatlantic flight at Heathrow, took an airbus to Victoria Station and then a black cab to a hotel in Piccadilly. Although foreseeably overcast, it was still mid-afternoon and I had just fulfilled a long-cherished aspiration by setting foot on the city of my dreams, not as any casual tourist, but as a postgraduate music student. It was a proud moment.Only four years before, I had had a comparable arrival in Tokyo. It would be hyperbolic to refer to the Japanese capital as the city of my dreams, but I certainly had been excited. On that occasion I had dropped my bags in a hotel in Shibuya, taken a bath and rushed out to discover the city. In London, by contrast, on that 4 October 1984, all I wanted to do was sleep. An uncontrollably heavy pall had fallen over my brain and my senses – especially my hearing, which was to take two weeks to open up again. I went to bed around four in the afternoon and did not wake up until late …

Annus horribilis, annus mirabilis

We'll meet again.Ross Parker & Hughie Charles (1939)
recorded by Vera Lynnquoted by Queen Elizabeth II ( 5 April 2020)

End of September. A few days ago my brother put up on social media an appeal for the year 2020 to be declared to be over, “before it wreaks any more havoc”. It is a cry from the heart he makes, his head still reeling from what will probably go down in history as the fastest and least expected divorce ever seen. Only a few days before, we had mourned the loss of my uncle Guillermo, the youngest of my father’s six siblings. Two events that shook at least two families to their foundations, changing their lives in irreversible ways. In ordinary times, this September might be counted as a grisly month. In the year’s context, however, it looks dismally consistent. Not only is the whole world in the grip of an indescribable pandemic; this year saw the United States’ descent into the kind of chaos, street violence and repression you might normally associate with collaps…

In praise of treason

— You don’t believe me? – he muttered –. Don’t you see that I carry, written on my face, the mark of my infamy? I have told you the story in this way so that you would hear it to the end. I denounced the man who had taken care of me: I am Vincent Moon. Now go ahead, despise me. JORGE LUIS BORGES, The Shape of the Sword, 1942Treason has an intriguing allure for Borges. He writes about it with a recurrence that makes you wonder what personal betrayal might have left him branded with that preoccupation. A quick look at his biography reveals no major drama; he seems to have led a reasonably sheltered life. The odd romantic disillusion and occasional employment worries seem to be about the worst that happened to him – apart from the onset of blindness, of course, but that was much later than any of the writings I am mentioning. Granted, we don’t know what lies beneath the surface of biographical highlights; we should not be making judgments on the basis of a superficial scan. There are goo…

Fiction making history

That history should have copied history would have been astounding enough; that history should copy literature is inconceivable…Jorge Luis Borges, Theme of the Traitor and the HeroBorges has been attracting much of my attention, in ways that any sensible person would consider fortuitous. For example, when writing about undoing a series of steps in the past, I remembered his poem Chess and quoted one of its final lines, What god behind God begins the web… (“Qué dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza…”). This is a famous phrase; many Borges lovers have it in store and regurgitate it in conversation. My recent use of it coincided neatly with the circumstance that, having finished reading everything else I had, I was wondering whether to embark on Borges’s Complete Stories. The uninvited arrival in my mind of that line from Chess had the effect of an invitation. So I embarked on the Complete Stories. Complete collections can feel forbidding; you don’t quite know what to expect. You have an …

The Garden of Forking Paths

If you find the above title unusually good for this diary, there is a good reason for it: it is not mine. It is the title of one of the best-known stories by Jorge Luis Borges. I had typed the phrase “that undisputed master of Latin American fiction” before his name, but then I deleted it, because that would be a cliché, and because it would do him an injustice. To call his fiction Argentinian, or Latin American, is as reductive as it would be to call Elena Ferrante’s fiction “Neapolitan”. More reductive still if you consider Borges’s mind-bogglingly cosmopolitan frame of reference, darting between epochs, regions, languages, countries and continents like that of no other author I know. His greatness belongs to the world, and it did before he became famous all over it. From that splendidly-titled story, written in 1941, I offer a home-made translation of a passage that resonated strongly as I reread it, earlier this week, for the first time in many years:– In a riddle whose subject is…

Barristerial daisy-chain

Just a short entry, if only to mark St Augustine's day. Since completing the “bladed object” series, it struck me that in that narrative I miscounted my barristers. I let myself be momentarily misled by the need to be discreet about the “other” case. In that other case, you may remember, my official barrister was not available for the date of the Pre-Trial Hearing (PTH). The only barrister in whose appointment I had a say, she is, of course, Barrister 1. Following my Defence team’s unsuccessful application to the Crown Court to reschedule the PTH, she had to appoint a replacement. The barrister who acted for me at the PTH has the rightful claim to be Barrister 2 in my story. The gentleman who failed to attend at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court would be Barrister 3, and the one who did attend would be Barrister 4. I may or may not find the time to go back to the relevant places of the narrative and re-number the two characters affected by the error. Nothing further to say on that. Nex…

Epilogue to "bladed object"

Rereading the charge sheet, I find that the “bladed object” charge is mentioned first, not last. Helpfully, the last few words in the relevant paragraph tell us exactly where to look: Section 139(1) and 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. You will find that here. I am not qualified to analyse the law for you, Reader. And yet, since two barristers took a while to decide whether the law applied in this case, and since it may well have been a comment from me, a layman, that swayed the argument, I see no reason why I should not take a look at the law, insofar as I can understand it. You have the link; you can see for yourself if I am getting something wrong. You need to look at the version marked E+W for England and Wales. Subsection (1) is introductory. (1)Subject to subsections (4) and (5) below, any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.The next subsection points to a later proviso and then specifies the kind of…