Newsletter 2 – 17 October 2019

Friends! Hello! This is the second newsletter, and I am terribly grateful for your feedback on the first one. Some of you were complimentary, others said they thought there would be more pictures of cats. I value it all. I need to tell you that this newsletter finds me in the middle of a terrible flap. I’m currently writing two new TV series, one of them international, and I’m supposed to be writing a book, but am not, so it’s one of those times when if you’re not careful your vision narrows and your jaw grows taut and your sense of humour grows grudging and dim.

That is precisely when one needs to pause, and look at the lovely purple dusk, and drop a warm note to one’s friends, and thank them for being there. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

1. This week’s post:

Hydra and the Wreck of Angels
“An art form reviled by both the right and the left? That’s the art form for me!”


2. This week’s pick from the archives:

Nick Cave and the unbearable aloneness of Istanbul
Because I’m listening to Nick Cave’s new album (“Ghosteen”), and this column, after seeing him in concert in Istanbul a year ago, was also about how his art of connection seemed to magically change the life of someone else entirely.


3. This week I’m listening to:

A podcast by Jonathan Goldstein that is funny, poignant and tells extraordinary tales of solving mysteries and reversing regret. It’s very hard to explain, but you should start listening to the first series, especially the second episode “Gregor”, in which Jonathan helps his friend track down the musician Moby to get closure on a moment from the past (and also to try retrieve something he lent him before he became famous).


4. I’m watching:

I am currently, for no good reason other than escape from my troubles, immersing myself in all things Joan Crawford.

Mildred Pierce (1945) is the movie for which she won her only Oscar, and it’s a wonderful, tough-minded reminder of the days when strong women in movies didn’t have to dress like superheroes. (It’s also a thousand times better than that drab mini-series remake with Kate Winslet a few years back.)

Mommie Dearest (1981), with a scenery-chewing Faye Dunaway (who I once met, last millennium, in Sandton City, but that’s a story for another day) as Joan Crawford, based on the memoir of her daughter Christina, this is pure camp joy. Over-acted, over-wrought, hilarious. I walk around now shouting “No wire hangers! EVER!”

These movies are in glorious service to Feud, Ryan Murphy’s eight-part series, sheer catnip for lovers of Old Hollywood (like me), about the fifty-year feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and its apotheosis when the two old broads were filming Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, one of the greatest, campiest, most atmospheric suspense films of all time, featuring the two of them as a pair of poisonous elderly dames, one an ex-movie star, the other her sister who loathes her.

(For the record, I’ve always been Team Bette, but Joan is pretty wonderful too.)


5. A moment that made me happy this week:

I was lying in bed, fretfully avoiding the workday, when through the open window came a hummingbird hawk-moth. On the wall of the room is a very poorly rendered painting of flowers. I try not to look at it, because there are very well rendered flowers in the garden outside the window and I prefer those, but the hummingbird hawk-moth is not such a snob. It went straight to the painting and then from one badly-drawn flower to the next, bumping its silly proboscis, trying to get some of that sweet, sweet nectar. Enraged, it made a dart at me, as
though to suggest its opinion of the worth and value of pranks and practical jokes, and then offered a final observation of the respective values of art and life by flying straight back out again.


6. This week I discovered …

That the words “pharmacology”, “pharmacy” and “pharmaceutical” derive from the Greek word “pharmakon”. Originally, a pharmakon was the Greek word for the literal scapegoat, upon whose back the village placed its sins before driving it out into the wilderness to rid them of their guilt. Because the scapegoat is both the toxicity to be expelled and the remedy for what ails the community, the word pharmakon came to mean both “poison” and “remedy”. That feels like a very modern idea.


And that’s it for this time. Thank you for reading, I send my sincere love to you all, and I’ll see you in an antentwig, when hopefully my brow will have cleared and the panic will have eased and time will once more meld itself lovingly around my legs like warm butter. Until then I remain, obediently,