2: THE GIFT OF BEING A NOBODY: Alan Bennett, his poets and "The Diary of a Nobody"
Charles Pooter out for an evening of fun with his wife Carrie in
"The Diary of a Nobody"
Just as this Ricky Gervais' film, "David Brent: On the Road," reminds us of the vulnerability, the fleeting nature of happiness and the transience of human life, so does Alan Bennett’s repertoire of stories and plays. Bennett's 'Talking Heads,' tells stories of very ordinary people; stories told with warmth, affection and a keen sense of observation. He claims not to be much of a reader, yet I owe him a debt of gratitude for directing me once more towards my English roots and my love of English poetry. His recent BBC4 series, “Poetry in Motion,” opened up floodgates of nostalgia for my ‘race memories,’ memories embedded in literature lessons in English schools, in the stories I read and listened to on the ‘wireless,’ or watched on television in the company of my mother and grandmother Ethel. For me, these were times when I felt truly happy and most settled.
Alan Bennett reading the poetry of Philip Larkin
Consequently, I was thrilled to obtain a copy of “Six Poets, Hardy to Larkin: An Anthology by Alan Bennett. Some years ago, whilst teaching at Melbourne Grammar School, the Anglican priest had been audacious enough to challenge the boys with a reading of a poem instead of a homily; it was Philip Larkin’s "They Fuck you up, your Mom and Dad.” Not quite the sort of thing one read in our school English lessons!
Philip Larkin reading: "They Fuck you up, your Mom and Dad."
Meandering through those memories evoked intangible sensations. Sometimes a poem, a few words, some small expression will pique your interest, trigger old connections and open up a rich veins. This happened to me while reading from Alan Bennett's anthology. I happened across John Betjeman’s poems ‘How to Get On in Life’ and ‘Middlesex,’ as well as his English train journeys on Youtube. He was of my grandmother Ethel’s era, although she lived much longer. I am certain that she and many English people who struggled to maintain their middle class position, would easily fall into the trap of Charles Pooter, his wife and son Lupin and his pal, Murray Posh. The idiosyncracies of this era and the quirky vignettes of the characters, were affectionately portrayed in George and Weedon Grossmith’s little tome, “The Diary of a Nobody.” Sit back and listen to this delightful narrative here. MM