Yesterday I was browsing through my copy of The Odyssey, a hardback edition published by George Bell (Covent Garden) in 1874; I purchased this book in 1980 for 50p, and found that it had at one time belonged to Jean Harris at the University of B’ham (1944). Bet she had an interesting life.
The endpapers of this book are given over to an assortment of adverts for other popular books.
One of these is ‘Walker’s Manly Exercises’, a splendidly-named tome which conjures up pictures of the Two Ronnies in red-and-black bathing costumes wearing waxed moustaches and carrying black Styrofoam bar-bells.
It is interesting to note that almost every page of this volume has at least one footnote explaining some contextual detail of the main story. Some of the notes relate to the culture of the Greeks, others explain some of the puns or ambiguities in the text. And one of the readers of this book has even inserted corrections: the word ‘yellow’ on p.142 has been crossed out and replaced with ‘thick or substantial’ in confident black ink.
On Sunday I found myself at the Cornerhouse Cinema, where I decided to watch the new Sean Penn movie, This Must Be The Place. The title refers to a Talking Heads song – later covered by Arcade Fire, but not the Pet Shop Boys – and the film follows the adventures of a faded rock star (think Ozzy meets Alice meets Susie Sioux) as he embarks on an epic voyage to meet his dying father and redeem himself. Apparently Penn played Valerie Plame’s husband in one film, and was a thug in Carlito’s Way, and received an Oscar for his Harvey Milk…
He was also once married to some pop star, and I think everyone imagined at the time that his career as an actor was well and truly over. Indeed, for some years he was regarded as just a footnote in the gaudy narrative of her biography….but now he has emerged as a solid, thoughtful actor-cum-crusading journalist (which some people regard as a monstrous pose).
But perhaps a pose is all one needs to succeed; the stern expression and the plastic bar-bells will inspire respect in people, just as Fred Chilton’s parade of certificates served to impress all his visitors. Like the Wizard of Oz, with his diploma for the Scarecrow; or the MoT certificate I receive once a year; nothing has been done to the workings of my bike, but it feels like a new machine because I have a piece of paper that says it’s roadworthy.
At one point in Book VII of The Odyssey, it reads: ‘But her the much-planning divine Ulysses addressed in answer…’ is this a reference to the traveller’s strategic mindset? Perhaps we are all just footnotes in each other’s tales. Perhaps only by reading Tennyson’s poem can one appreciate the true nature of The Lotus Eaters – seduced by the narcotic lotus-blooms, the sailors wallow in amnesia. And some of the footnotes look forwards, to the references in Paradise Lost where Milton evokes Homer’s narrative.
Journal Entries – 1 Nov 91: “Well, since moving into this house I’ve finished the thesis but it’s no good (according to Keith); have applied for loads of jobs – Holden’s actually interviewed me twice and had me examined by works doctor before turning me down. The new gay Centre at Northgate Hall opened last night (Ian McKellen snipping the ribbon) but I was broke so went swimming instead.
Discovered that as a student I’m not entitled to Housing Benefit so have had to leave the Poly in order to pay the rent. Next Tues have got a restart interview at the dole office.
This morning’s mail: acknowledgements from Scott-Bader and Kodak, rejections from Wallwork and 3M. Today BT announced half-year results; making £102 profit every second of every day.”
5 Nov 91: “Today Robert Maxwell ‘fell’ off his yacht and died. I had an interview at the dole office; they produced a job advert which I had already applied to, so they’re going to put me on an interview training seminar. On Thurs have interview with Countrywide for their Postal Clerk job.”
9 Nov 91: “Last night had a ‘phone call from Peter Dawn’s secretary inviting me for an interview on Monday. She gave me his home number and asked me to call him tonight with the train times. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I had a letter this morning from Dowty Polymer – signed by Peter Dawn – telling me that I had not been selected for interview.
Also had rejection letter from Castrol Ltd.”
Meanwhile, in book IX of The Odyssey, we find Ulysses and his manly chaps scrambling over the beach to join the Lotophagi; this episode occupies a mere half-page, but in a footnote our esteemed translator (Theodore Alois Buckley) informs us that:
“…on the Lotophagi the student will find very copious and interesting information in the notes of Loewe on this passage, and of De Pinedo on Steph.Byz.”