Scribble, Scribble, Scribble
Writings on Ice Cream, Obama,
Churchill And My Mother
By Simon Schama
The Bodley Head – £20.00
Barack Obama, William Shakespeare, Charlotte Rampling and cookery, assorted Victorian sages, Hurricane Katrina and the city of my childhood and ancestry, Amsterdam, are all herein, precociously penned by that veritable wordsmith of tumult talent, Simon Schama.
Writer extraordinaire, who is more oft associated with history than with such tangential subjects as film (‘Clio at the Multiplex’) and stew recipes (‘Simmer of Love’), it ought to come as absolutely no surprise, that Scribble, Scribble, Scribble – Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and my Mother really is a rather exceptional read. And for all the right reasons too. As well as being entertainingly cryptic, simultaneously dense and throw away, these eight differing subjects (‘Travelling,’ ‘Testing Democracy,’ ‘Talking and Listening,’ ‘Performing,’ ‘Picturing,’ ‘Cooking and Eating,’ ‘Remembering’ and ‘A League of It’s Own) are as equally magnanimous in the pursuit of their sharing, as they are regal in the actual writing thereof.
A highly informed writer anyway, it goes without saying that whatever Schama chooses to write about will be of the high-octane (yet highly substantiated), opinionated persuasion. An idiosyncratic style of writing, for which he is highly regarded and perhaps already renowned, by way of his regular contributions in The Guardian and The Financial Times. Schama’s quixotic use of language is instinctive, thought provoking, as well as both luminous and humorous. But never dull. Never dull or dry or dour, in the way that language is sometimes utilised in so many daily newspapers in the US for instance – The New York Times being an exception. A medium where language, surprisingly, unfortunately, is demoted to that of being nothing other than a means to an end, and a lifeless, not to mention totally pre-ordained staid end, at that.
A good combination of all of the above, is a section within one of the earlier chapters of the book, ‘The Unloved American: Two Centuries of Alienating Europe,’ wherein Schama neither ducks nor dives, but merely shoots from the informed hip of telling it how it ought to be truly told (but never is): ‘’In 1776, the English radical Thomas Day had written, ‘If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.’ After the Civil War, European critics pointed to the unprotected labourers in mines and factories as industrial helots. Just as obnoxious as the fraud of liberty was the fraud of Christian piety, a finger-jabbing rectitude incapable of asserting a policy without invoking the Deity as a co-sponsor. This hallelujah Republic was a bedlam of hymns and hosannas, but the only true church was the church of the Dollar Almighty. And how could the cult of individualism be taken seriously when it had produced a society that set such great store by conformity?’’
Said words, could no doubt trigger countless tongues into vexed, argumentative over-drive, especially across the Atlantic, where our American brethren would no doubt take great umbrage; which, in this day and non-sage age of counterfeit-humanity and total indifference, might not be such a bad thing. In fact, it can only be a good thing. But here’s the deal: those who’d benefit (society) from reading this book, probably won’t even know of its existence, which really is an avalanche of a shame. As Scribble, Scribble, Scribble is as relative to all that’s going on today, as it will no doubt continue to be in relation to several thousand yesterdays.