Underwater

There are those who have been prematurely forgotten… and those who too few people ever heard of in the first place… and also some people who just can’t be celebrated enough. This is a page for those people.

1. SOLVEIG VON SCHOULTZ

Solveig von Schoultz (1907-1996) was a great Swedish-language poet from Finland. This (below) is one of her poems (translated by Anne Born) from a collection called Snow and Summers (Publisher: Forest Books) which sadly seems now to be out of print:

You Always Thought

You always thought dull fields were radiant green.
Believed more good was in store for you.
That earth welcomed the thunder of your hooves.
That there was room for your shining mane.

The sun dwelt in your great body.
Your flanks shone with life’s sweat.
Your muzzle was strength’s tenderness
and mares fell silent at your call.

Unsuspicious one, what did you know of boundaries?
What did you know of envy’s barbs,
of mean fences that tore at your leaping hooves?

No accusation in your mute eye.
Richly
your warm death runs out into the grass.

Your sun streams out of you
And your end is as your beginning:
trust

 

2. SENGAI

Information about the Japanese calligrapher (and Zen monk) Sengai Gibon (1750 – 1837) can be found here and here. This is one of the most famous of his works, entitled The Universe:

sengai_universe

 

3. GWEN JOHN / MITSU SUZUKI

I came across a book of translations (Temple Dusk: Zen Haiku) of haikus by the Japanese poet Mitsu Suzuki many years ago in the Poetry Library in London. Her writing is muted and delicate in a way that for some reason reminds me of the British painter Gwen John (whose painting of a girl holding a cat is a favourite of mine).

Young Woman Holding a Black Cat c.1920-5 by Gwen John 1876-1939

Here’s a haiku from Mitsu Suzuki (the long dash before the final line is my attempt to replicate the original layout):

Spring
lingering cold
———I’m hurt with my own words

 

4. ANJU MIRA

Anju Mira (安寿ミラ) was an otokoyaku or male role player in the Japanese all-female theatre company Takarazuka. This is an institution in Japan but little known in the UK. I saw her when she starred in a Takarazuka production at the London Coliseum in 1994. I didn’t sleep for days afterwards, such was her impact on me. The following year she retired from Takarazuka and became an ‘ordinary’ female actress and dancer. This is a shot of her during that early period of her new ‘female career’:

miral

 

5. MORECAMBE & WISE / LAUREL & HARDY

Morecambe & Wise were the most popular comedy double act Britain has ever seen – and one of the longest-lasting (1941-1984). Along with Laurel & Hardy they’re my all-time favourite feel-good comedy stars.

Morecambe & Wise do their dance2

 

6. URSULA HOWELLS

Ursula Howells (1922-2005) was an English actress and the daughter of the composer Herbert Howells. I remember her primarily as an old lady, for example as Miss Blacklock in “A Murder Is Announced”, an episode of (the definitive version of) Miss Marple which starred Joan Hickson. Always elegant, intelligent, talented and more beautiful old than young:

Ursula_Howells_Cazalets

 

7. HASSAN MASSOUDY

Hassan Massoudy is an Iraqi calligrapher. See below for an example of his work or find out more at his web page.

massoudy1

 

8. CONRAD VEIDT

Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) was essentially the first German movie star. He managed to be seductive, sensitive and scary all at the same time. The first time i ever saw him as the murderous sleepwalker in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari it was like falling in love. Depressing to think that most people now only know him as Major Strasser in Casablanca, right at the end of his career. He was a strong opponent of the Nazis and left Germany to live in England and later the United States. He died of a heart attack aged only 50.

Conrad_Veidt_early

One of the best places to find out more information is Moniqueclassique‘s site here:

https://conradveidt.wordpress.com/tag/monique-classique/

 

9. ADELIA PRADO

Adélia Prado is a Brazilian poet. Her poems flow unpredictably but somehow make perfect sense. They are full of ideas, God, food, family and sex. Filled with a defiant love for the physicality and sensuality of this world and this life.

Adelia_prado_2014_flickr

Most of all i always think of the final lines of her poem The Alphabet in the Dark (as translated by Ellen Watson in a volume of the same name:

So I write: afternoon. Not the word,
the thing.

I can’t find any of those translations online but i did find this website:

http://www.antoniomiranda.com.br/poesia_ingles/adelia_prado.html

 

10. TWM MORYS

Twm Morys is the creative force behind the Welsh folk-rock band Bob Delyn a’r Ebillion and also a poet. Actually, calling that band ‘folk-rock’ doesn’t do the music justice at all. The ‘folk’ element is as much invented as interpreted, a kind of mad, slightly exotic, vaguely mystical version of folk spun from Mory’s imaginings of what Welsh culture could be. And that voice! This is a link to an article about one of their albums: https://folking.com/tag/twm-morys/ My personal favourite is Dore though.

 

11. CLEMENT MEADMORE

I love Clement Meadmore‘s sculptures. They remind me of Arabic calligraphy. Sadly, so far i have only ever managed to see them in photographs. He doesn’t seem to have much (any?) work available to view in the UK. He was Australian and lived/worked in the US for most of his life.

Cm_Dervish

 

12. ANA MARIA PACHECO

I also love the work of the Brazilian sculptor Ana Maria Pacheco. I first encountered it at an exhibition at the National Gallery where I found myself in a dimly lit room among slightly more than lifesize figures, all frozen in the midst of scene of horror. As I walked around i found myself mistaking the figures for real people more than once and also, more than once, found myself mistaking real people for figures in the scene.

I can’t find a ‘Commons’ image of her work but this is a link which shows detail from the exhibition i attended: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/associate-artist-scheme/ana-maria-pacheco

 

13. VASILY GROSSMAN

I first encountered the writing of the Russian novelist Vasily Grossman when Kenneth Branagh adapted his classic Life and Fate for the radio. They had to use every available spot in the schedule to fit in this epic account of Russia during WW2 but it was worth it: huge battle scenes that felt as though you were there juxtaposed with poignant moments of intimacy, such as the one in which the secular Jewish doctor Sofya Osipovna Levinton (Greta Scacchi) befriends a young boy as they journey to their deaths in a gas chamber.

It took me more than two months to read the novel itself which Grossman never got the chance to edit as it angered the Soviet authorities and had to be smuggled out to the West to be published in translation. I can honestly say i was never bored and the unfinalised quality of the text made it somehow more powerful.

 

14. ESTHER PHILLIPS / BETTYE SWANN

What an amazing singer Esther Phillips was! Why did it take me almost my entire life to discover her? That voice which seems to have lived centuries and known every hardship imaginable but yet is still so seductive! Above all i love tracks like Use Me, No Headstone On My Grave and her version of the Beatles’ song And I Love Him. I read somewhere that Aretha Franklin, on winning an award one year, said it should’ve gone to Esther Phillips instead. A singer that good and now mostly forgotten.

Bettye Swann was a totally different kind of vocalist – silky smooth and slightly shy sounding, but also brilliant. She is if anything even more obscure than Esther Phillips now. I haven’t even been able to find out if she is still alive. Favourite songs include All the Way In Or All the Way Out and Cover Me.

 

15. FLANN O’BRIEN (and other aliases of Brian O’Nolan)

There are books you never forget reading, writers you never forget discovering. Flann O’Brien via The Third Policeman was one of those moments in my life. Everything is before or after that. The writing was just so… surreal, but not in a look-how-clever-i-am kind of way, just incredible and so funny.

Just as funny in a different kind of way is the same writer’s journalism, published under the name Myles na gCopaleen and since collected into a book The Best of Myles. You have to read his articles about a proposed service to help people build an impressive library. And those about pairing unemployed ventriloquists with culturally intimidated theatre goers. Satire turns into journeys into madness. Irish writing at its best.

 

16. THE TIGER LILLIES

Is there a band on earth like the Tiger Lillies? English Punk meets Weimar Republic cabaret, bleak and perverse and joyful and gay. That falsetto singing – comically absurd and yet it touches me to the core. That look.

 

17. AKRAM KHAN

Akram Khan is a British-Asian dancer trained in Kathak, a classical South Asian dance art which he has extended into a complete form of modern dance. He is one of the most incredible dancers i’ve ever seen in my life. I still remember seeing him live in a show i think was called Kaash. More recently i watched the DVD Desh in which he takes us through the process of creating a dance piece based on his Bangladeshi roots.  I was spellbound. He is so graceful and fluid and yet his dance always seems connected to the earth. It doesn’t try to negate it in the way ballet does.

 

18. AIKO SHIMADA

Aiko Shimada is a Japanese singer-songwriter, last heard of resident in the US. Her track She Is A Cloud is my favourite song bar none. It’s almost unbelievable that someone could write lyrics so poetic in a language not their mother tongue and the music is beautiful. I love many of her other songs too such as Rare Flower, Spell and Destiny and Black Moon and a Wooden Face. Sadly, the website she used to have appears to have disappeared. The best i could manage is this Amazon page for one of her albums.

 

19. THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN / INSIDE NO. 9

I was visiting my brother when he asked me if i liked the the League of Gentlemen. I had never heard of them and, as i soon discovered when he put a DVD on, i had never seen anything like them. Who can ever forget characters like Pauline at the job centre, Mr Briss the butcher or Edward and Tubbs?

I didn’t think anything could surpass the League’s Northern Gothic madness but if anything Inside No. 9, a follow up project from two of the team, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, is even more mind-blowing. Who else could devise an entire (brilliant) episode in iambic pentameter?

 

20. DYLAN THOMAS / RS THOMAS

I discovered poetry through these two (unconnected) Welsh poets, both surnamed Thomas. I came across both of them in my early teens but i can never remember which came first.  Dylan Thomas came courtesy of our local newspaper. One week, out of the blue, it published the poem The Hunchback in the Park. I had never read phrases like wild boys innocent as strawberries before. I could feel the words, the lines, the poem in my mouth. I could see it in my mind, i could feel it in my soul.

RS Thomas i found in an anthology used to teach us English at school. It was an uninspiring collection full of the kind of twee, little poems that make much modern British poetry so disappointing. Then, in the midst of it all, there was RS Thomas and his sarcastic lines about Cynddylan on a Tractor. This, i felt instinctively, was real poetry – and it isn’t even one of the man’s great poems. Naturally the teacher didn’t like this poem. He mocked it as dour. It’s quite a moment when you realise your teachers aren’t as all-knowing or all-comprehending as you’ve been educated to believe.

 

21. SKUNK ANANSIE / THE CURE

Skunk Anansie: they emerged in the 90s which was probably about 20 years too late for their style: gutsy, arty, sexy. On the other hand, they’d have probably died a death in the 70s too with a black female gay/bisexual singer (Skin). They were too rock and not ironic enough for the Brit-pop crowd, too ‘Lesbian’ and probably too female for a lot of the rock crowd, too visceral and too honest for some of the LGBT crowd. I love them.

The Cure: i don’t know how anyone can make music that is simultaneously so gloomy and joyous.

 

22. ROY ELDRIDGE / LOUIS ARMSTRONG / MAURICE ANDRE (trumpeters)

I don’t know why Roy Eldridge isn’t more celebrated as one of THE great jazz trumpeters. He had a sound like no-one else’s and it was utterly beautiful: full of air and a kind of rose-coloured warmth (i know this isn’t really describing anything but it’s so hard to describe sound). Louis Armstrong is celebrated (thank God) but he can always be celebrated more. There is such warmth and humanity in his playing and singing. Finally, Maurice André, the great French Classical trumpeter. The first time i heard him play i cried. Such purity –  it’s like listening to God.

 

23. ER PUNSHON

ER Punshon was an English ‘Golden Age’ detective fiction writer. I discovered him via his novel Diabolic Candelabra and then just had to read all the other novels in his Bobby Owen series (there are a lot, he was a prolific writer). I’ve even read most of his non-Bobby Owen detective fiction and even some of his earlier adventure novels. Basically, i just love his writing style. It’s rich and inventive and often rather funny. He sets novels everywhere – one takes place amid tomato farms on the Channel Islands if i recall correctly.

 

24. TERENCE DAVIES

This man is one of my absolute heroes. I saw his film Distant Voices, Still Lives when it first came out in the late 80s and i can still vividly recall sobbing in the cinema as i watched it. The tale of violence in a post-War working-class Liverpool family was so close to home it was agonising and yet the structure of the film, fragments of memory connected together by association rather than via a linear narrative created something utterly beautiful out of it all. I have since watched all his films and continue to watch them over and over again.

Not only are they marvellous (in lots of different ways) but thanks to The Deep Blue Sea i discovered Simon Russell-Beale, possibly my favourite actor in the world. I’ve also discovered some great music (the films use music extensively).

Davies is too honest and uncompromising to be fashionable. He is gay but hates it and says so. He dislikes the modern world and says so. I think it’s a shame that he has such a negative feeling about his sexual orientation but i admire the fact that he doesn’t just tow the line and say what he knows people will want to hear.

 

25. MICK ASTON / DAVID OLUSOGA

When the archaeologist and Time Team presenter Mick Aston died a few years back i felt as though i’d lost someone close to me. It was extraordinary. I thought that kind of familiar feeling for someone on the telly had died in the 80s, but no. I loved Mick Aston because he made me feel like archaeology and history belonged to everyone, not just the elite who generally write the books and present the TV programmes.

In his soft Brummie accent he pointed out what ought to have been obvious – that the signs of the past left in the landscape were most often left there by ordinary people. Through him archaeology became a way of retrieving a history of the kind of people that history books don’t tend to bother with.

I think the historian David Olusoga is carrying on the same work in a different way. I loved his series Black and British: A Forgotten History and the two series (so far) of A House Through Time (what a fantastic concept!) have been eye-opening.

 

26. MARK REES

Mark Rees transitioned female to male in the 1970s, possibly the all-time low point for trans people in the UK. His autobiography Dear Sir or Madam?: The Autobiography of a Female-to-Male Transsexual is often painful to read but the dignity with which he has lived his life and his refusal to surrender his self to the bigots never ceases to inspire me. The book came out round about the time i was transitioning (mid-90s) and although things had moved on a bit by that point life as a trans person was still challenging. I suppose it still is. At any rate, Mark Rees’s book helped me put my own problems into perspective and gave me a sense of pride in the community i was joining.

 

27. JOHN ELIOT GARDINER

This man introduced me to the music of Bach. I switched on the telly one day and he was conducting the Brandenburg Concertos at the Proms. One of those oh-my-god moments and no mistake. I went online and bought everything i could find. One of the first things to arrive was the DVD of the Christmas Oratorio. I think it took me five goes before i could get through the opening without crying, it was so beautiful.

 

28. SARAH LANCASHIRE / SALLY WAINWRIGHT

I discovered them via each other as it were, so they belong together. Sarah Lancashire, i could probably watch brush her teeth. She is one of my absolute favourite actors: such warmth, such humanity.

And Sally Wainwright may well be the best TV screenwriter in the world: Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack, etc. Especially Gentleman Jack. I still can’t get over its happy ending.

 

29. NURI BILGE CEYLAN / POWELL & PRESSBURGER

I’m cheating a bit here because i originally wanted to keep this list to 30 items. Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Michael Powell are my favourite film directors other than Terence Davies and you can’t really talk about Michael Powell without also talking about his screenwriter Emre Pressburger.

That scene in Uzak (one of my favourite films) in which Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak) runs in the snow along the side of the Bosphorus! That scene in Black Narcissus in which Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) emerges crazed to confront Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr)!

My favourite Powell & Pressburger film is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I’ve never seen a more moving or profound meditation on war and integrity. Roger Livesey is unforgettable as Clive Candy, the honourable but blinkered English army officer.

Uzak is a study of the way we create identities and a sense of belonging. The way in which closeness/belonging and distance work together, the latter allowing us to imagine connections and sameness that proximity wouldn’t permit. Ceylan looks at distance geographically but it works just as well if you consider the way we imagine ourselves part of the same group as people who lived in the same place in previous times.

 

30. ÖDÖN VON HORVATH

We studied one of Ödön von Horváth‘s novels, Jugend Ohne Gott (Youth Without God) in German at school. It is set in Nazi Germany and has haunted me ever since: the teacher under siege from his own Nazi-indoctrinated pupils whom he fears as though they were ghouls in a horror film… The pupils who are only ever referred to by initials or by nicknames, especially the terrifying Fisch

 

31. LIVA WEEL / SARA GRABOW

These singers have nothing to do with another other than the fact that they were/are both Danish. I admit it.

Liva Weel was a popular singer of the first half of the 20th Century. She had a wonderfully warm voice and a presence that is part Gracie Fields/George Formby and part Edith Piaf. I love her recording of Man Binder Os På Mund Og Hånd.

Sara Grabow is a modern singer-songwriter. Her album EneRum, recorded in a chapel i think, is one of the most beautiful recordings i’ve ever heard: ethereal, searching music that really needs to be listened to at night. The tracks Kære Stille Hjerte and Søvnige Øje are my favourites.

 

32. HENRY MOORE / BARBARA HEPWORTH / EDUARDO CHILLIDA

These three weren’t even the same nationality! But they were all 20th Century sculptors.

Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth were English sculptors, both from Yorkshire. I discovered them around the same time and fell in love with their sculpture. I particularly loved Henry Moore’s maternal shapes that were almost prehistoric in their feeling. I always want to touch his work.

Eduardo Chillida was Spanish (Basque i think) and i think i first came across his work in Madrid. I love it so much i struggle to find words. The power of those metal sculptures and the way they interact with the space around them!

 

33. KENZABURO OE / SHUSAKU ENDO / EMILY BRONTE

In the mid-90s I went through a phase of reading works by Japanese writers. Two authors in particular have stayed with me ever since. Kenzaburo Oe electrified me with his strange, almost dream-like tales of alienation: Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids and The Silent Cry above all. His novels seem to inhabit a world of night and forests, as interior as Emily Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights, another book i love.

Shusaku Endo‘s novel Silence, about Catholic missionaries in 17th Century Japan is very different, but the ethical questions it raised fascinated me: do we have the right to sacrifice people to principles? To what extent can another person be held responsible for another person’s actions? Do they become responsible if it is their power to prevent them from doing something? Or does the action remain the responsibility of the person who acts?

 

34. KENNETH KAUNDA

I daresay he is a controversial in his native Zambia, as he doesn’t seem to have been the most successful of leaders and was an autocrat by nature i think. Plus i don’t get the sense he was LGBT-friendly. But Kenneth Kaunda‘s book Kaunda on Violence really made me think when i came across it as teenager.

I didn’t necessarily agree with all his conclusions but he certainly shook up any kind of complacent security I might have had in the moral superiority of pacifism and turning the other cheek. He made me see how easily the powerful can manipulate the ethics of non-violence. It’s much easier for them to fight non-violently as they have control over the mechanisms of power, such as the political and legal institutions and the media. And even the definitions of ‘violence’. I’ll always remember his line:

Call an elephant a rabbit only if it gives you comfort to feel that you are about to be trampled to death by a rabbit.

 

35. THE QUAKERS

The Quakers shook me up in almost the opposite direction. Their attitude towards war is completely uncompromising but you can hardly accuse them of ducking difficult issues. They were the first LGBT-friendly religious group i had ever come across. I love their ‘Red Book’, a kind of Bible that gets reviewed and re-edited every generation or so. I’ll never forget reading: consider that you may be wrong.

 

36. LILY GLADSTONE

Because i’ll probably never see another performance that touches me as much as Lily Gladstone‘s as the rancher in Kelly Reichardt’s film Certain Women. That scene in the car park. The scene in which she attempts to tell an anecdote (the only anecdote) about her life to a distracted Beth (Kristen Stewart). The final scene of her back mucking out the horses.

 

37. SALLY (chimp at Monkey World)

Because you don’t need to be human to be a person. In 2005 i was trapped in the worst depression of my life. I couldn’t read, listen to music, bear to be around people. One day i turned on the telly and Monkey Business was on, a programme about the ape rescue centre, Monkey World, in Dorset. And there was Sally, not at all human, but one of the most remarkable people i’d ever seen.

 

38. GEORGE (Famous Five)

People can say what they like about Enid Blyton but she gave me the only fictional character i could identify with as a kid. A kind of hero even. George had her own dog, her own island, she was her own self and it was the closest self to how i understood myself at that time. I also loved The Far Away Tree books with their magical carousel of ever-changing lands at the top of that strange tree.

 

39. ELIS REGINA / ELVIS PRESLEY

Female and male, the two sexiest, most sensual singing voices ever recorded (or at least that i’ve ever heard). Skin voices.

My favourite track by Elis Regina, the great Brazilian vocalist, is Madalena (written by Ivan Lins and Ronaldo Souza). So erotic. The lyrics too:

Ê Madalena
O meu peite percebeu
Que o mar é uma gota
Comparado ao pranto meu

Certo
Quando o nosso amor esperto
Logo o sol se desespera
E se esconde la na serra

Ê Madalena
O que é meu nao se divide
Nem tao pouco se admite
Quem do nosso amor duvide

Até a lua
Se arrisca no palpite
Que o nosso amor existe
Forte ou fraco
Alegre ou triste

With Elvis it’s In the Ghetto. I love the way he’s singing about poverty and marginalisation but the song feels like it’s about being stroked or kissed.

 

40. HONORE DE BALZAC (1799-1850)

The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac set out to portray the whole of ‘la Comédie humaine’ and he succeeded. I don’t know why more people in the English-speaking world haven’t read his books. There are some very good translations available (Penguin Classics) and he’s far better than Dickens in my opinion. My favourite is La Rabouilleuse (the Black Sheep) which features a plot involving Lottery winnings that feels almost contemporary.

 

41. LES DAWSON / VICTORIA WOOD / CAROLINE AHERNE / STEVE COOGAN / ALAN BENNETT /  LILY SAVAGE

Because i love Northern comedy in all its forms.

 

42. KENNY DALGLISH

Because he was a great football player and a great manager for the greatest football team in the world (in my unbiased opinion!). And because he has stood up for the victims of Hillsborough and their families.

 

43. IANNIS XENAKIS / TOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIA

Listen to Jonchaies by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis and then try telling me contemporary Classical music isn’t any good. OK, i suppose it’s not contemporary now strictly speaking but it belongs to the era that people tend to write off as ‘too difficult’.

Tomás Luis de Victoria was a 16th Century Spanish composer. His choral music is transcendant. I particularly love Aestimatus Sum.

 

44. ADRIENNE RICH

Although i’ve come to different conclusions than her on lots of issues, i love the poetry of Adrienne Rich. I feel sad actually that it’s come to be overshadowed by her activism. I first discovered her when i was in my very early 20s. I remember opening the first book i ever came across by her, sitting on a bench somewhere, and being blown away by her poem Waking in the Dark which begins:

The thing that arrests me is

how we are composed of molecules

(he showed me the figure in the paving stones)

arranged without our knowledge and consent

like the wirephoto composed
of millions of dots

in which the man from Bangladesh
walks starving

on the front page
knowing nothing about it

which is his presence for the world

 

45. TATSU (Shinjuku Boys) / PAUL HEWITT

I don’t know whether he identifies as one but Tatsu, one of the subjects of Kim Longinotto’s documentary Shinjuku Boys, was the first FTM / trans man i ever saw in my life. Followed by Paul Hewitt, whose book was life-changing for me. Actually, they were both life-changing for me.

 

46. BILLIE HOLIDAY / NINA SIMONE / DUSTY SPRINGFIELD / SINEAD O’CONNOR / IDA COX

Five of my favourite singers.

Billie Holiday could teach actors how to act. I don’t think anyone has ever been able to interpret lyrics in the way she could. I love her singing songs like: Until the Real Thing Comes Along, He’s Funny That Way, You’ve Changed.

Nina Simone seemed to sing from some deep fracture in her soul. Nothing fake and something so deep and fierce. I love her version of Suzanne (even the little fluffed line seems right) and her rendition of He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands is amazing. My favourite track however is Don’t You Pay Them No Mind, a song for all those whose love has been denied and derided.

Dusty Springfield‘s voice was silky yet she seemed to capture every nuance of emotion, even in a straight forward up tempo song. I love (doesn’t everyone love) You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. I also love In Private.

Sinead O’Connor sometimes seems to be in the throes of madness and yet her singing is so true (i can’t think of a better word). I love the track Your Green Jacket. Fire on Babylon is another one. I’m not sure i’d say i love it, but i’m in awe of it.

Ida Cox was an early Blues singer. Not as well known as Bessie Smith, but such a marvellous voice and presence. I love songs such Last Miles Blues and One Hour Mama.

 

47. JORGE LUIS BORGES / ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Two of the greatest short story writers ever. Borges can make you think deeply within a story that might last just a couple of pages – strange, otherworldly, philosophical stories.

Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories are masterful: gripping, amusing and oddly beautiful, especially if you get an edition which pairs them with the original illustrations.

 

48. PADDINGTON BEAR

I’ve been told i only love him so much because i’m like him. I assume the person who told me this meant marmalade-loving, accident-prone and misunderstood rather than covered head to toe in thick brown fur.

 

49. MAGGIE SMITH / HELEN MIRREN

Nothing really in common other than that they are both British and both brilliant actors.

I first saw Maggie Smith on stage in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women back in the mid-90s. That still ranks as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, stage acting perfomances i’ve ever seen. So funny and so sad.

Helen Mirren i discovered via Prime Suspect on TV when i guess she’d have been in her 40s. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off her: such acting and probably the sexiest woman i’ve ever laid eyes on. Great writing too from Lynda La Plante.

 

50. CHARLES MINGUS / WILLIAM PARKER / CHARLIE HADEN

When i discovered jazz in mid-teens i also discovered that i loved the sound of the double bass. My best friend’s dad gave me a little pocket book about the history of jazz and in it i read about Charles Mingus. Off i went to WH Smith (i don’t recall there being a record shop) which had just one album (it had to be on cassette, we didn’t have a record player) by him, called Mingus Dynasty. I got it for Christmas and my life was transformed. Music that managed to be wild and complex at the same time! Full of ideas and full of feeling! Earthy and fiery and liquid and airy.

William Parker i came across many years later, i forget how. What i do remember is that even though he was being billed as a free jazz bassist his music seemed nowhere near as abstract as that tag tends to suggest. Nor is it as jarring as free jazz can often be. It is beautiful in fact – grounded just like Mingus’s and deeply spiritual.

Charlie Haden i discovered just a year or two ago. His piano and double bass album of spirituals (Steal Away) restores my soul. I also love his work with Keith Jarrett.

 

51. ALISTAIR SIM / REGINA FONG

I love drag comedy/comic acting and i don’t think there’s every been a creation any more marvellous than the delicately criminal Miss Fritton, headmistress of St Trinian’s. In drag or not, Alistair Sim was a marvellous actor. Those eyes, those hands, that head like a bald eagle’s!

I saw H.I.H Regina Fong twice: once at a Pride celebration (1995?) and once at the Black Cap in Camden. So so funny. That red wig, that wide grin, that wonderful air of ruin.

 

52. TZVETAN TODOROV

I bought Tzvetan Todorov‘s book Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in Concentration Camps in an airport, awaiting a flight to Glasgow many, many years ago. By the time I got to Glasgow I’d read most of the book. Only now does it occur to me that a book about the ‘human capacity for cruelty, compassion and kindness’ (to quote the blurb on the back) isn’t something you’d ordinarily expect to find at one of those airport shops (it wasn’t even a proper bookshop). It really is a fascinating read and forces you think deeply about the best and worst that human beings are capable of and what makes behaviour good or bad – i mean beyond the obvious.

 

53. SHUNTARO TANIKAWA / JIBANANANDA DAS / TADEUSZ ROZEWICZ / SAUNDERS LEWIS

Four poets who have absolutely nothing in common!

Shuntaro Tanikawa i came across via the Poetry Library. Some of his poems are beautifully abstract but i love the simplicity of this one (translated from Japanese by William Elliott & Kazuo Kawamura):

Child on the Steps

You cannot talk to the child
at the top of the stairs
You can only cry over the child
at the top of the stairs

You cannot give anything to the child
at the top of the stairs
You can only die for the child
at the top of the stairs

He is alone
at the top of the stairs
and nameless        You cannot call him
but you can be called

Jibanananda Das was someone whose work i first read as a teenager. He was a Bengali poet of the first half of the 20th Century. I particularly love his poem Grass which talks about grass in terms that are almost erotic. In English translation (by Fakrul Alam) the poem has lines like:

…I too would like to drink the essence of this grass, glass after glass,
Revel in its body, rub it in my eyes, make it my feather-bed…

The poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz is dark and demanding. He talks about war and inhumanity. I always think of his poem Beyond Words (translated from Polish by Adam Czerniawski) which begins:

What are you doing
emerged from darkness
Why don’t you want
to live in full light

and ends

One tear
inexpressible
beyond tears

And then finally the Welsh poet Saunders Lewis. He sullied his reputation by letting his Welsh nationalism lead him into anti-Semitic/fascist sympathies but i can’t help myself from loving his poem Mair Fadlen (Mary Magdalene). It’s just so sensual. And so Catholic. In translation (by R Gerallt Jones?) it begins:

About women no one can ever know. There are some, / like this one, whose pain is a locked tomb : their pain is buried inside them, there is no flight / from it nor any giving birth to it. There is no ebb / nor flood to their pain, it is a dead sea without / any movement to its depth. Who – is there no one  – / who will roll the stone away from the tomb for a while?

A Welsh-speaking Catholic born on the Wirral – what an identity that must’ve been.

 

54. KATARINA JOHNSON-THOMPSON

I got to the point where i thought her nerves were always going to get the better of her, but Katarina Johnson-Thompson overcame them in the end and showed what a great heptathlon champion she is.

 

55. TOM BAKER

As in Doctor Who, the Fourth Doctor. Let’s face it, he was the Doctor.