16 June 2010

Entirely Off Topic

This blog's descriptor confines, but today I ignore all to draw attention to three paragraphs written by John Gale, an Englishman with no apparent connection to Canada or Canadian literature:
One night this year, on the walk home from the Underground in the falling snow, I had to lean against the wall of the crematorium where my father went up in smoke. I had had a few drinks. The wind pierced the short, old-fashioned black coat that had belonged to my grandfather. When I walked on a little unsteadily in the dark on the creaking snow, a girl passed on the other side of the road, her high black boots gleaming faintly. She looked across at me, and then went on in the bitter cold.
Our three children had measles; Jill was tired. The wind moaned beneath the doors; we were keeping fires going day and night, and the insects cried in the blazing logs. Our house is small, virtually a cottage, among terraced houses built, originally, for artisans; the road is the appendix of the suburb, with wealthier houses not far off. I like our house: scarcely a piece of furniture, not a picture, carpet or curtain did we choose ourselves; all was given or passed on by relatives; all, or almost all, is incongruous, tasteless, but well used.
At times I feel the small house is the centre of the world. It seems a turning-point for aircraft coming in to land at London Airport. Their engines change pitch as they come in from east and west, booming and whining through the dusk, their navigation lights winking hope. When I lie in bed I distrust all aircraft: where are they going? People should stay at home. I prefer the sound of trains far off at night, the clink of a shunting in a cold siding.
The beginning of Gale's 193-page autobiography Clean Young Englishman (Hodder & Stoughton, 1965), the words come courtesy of Steerforth who happened upon the book yesterday. I've ordered my copy: £10. The remaining 192 pages could be blank and I'd still consider the money well spent.


  1. Wow. There's a man who knows how to smith a word.

  2. Is it not a remarkable piece of writing? I know very little about Mr Gale other than that he was a London-based journalist. The Globe and Mail picked up the occasional piece. Subjects range from Lulu to the decline of the Admiralty - polished, entertaining, they're far from workmanlike.

    As Steerforth notes, Clean Young Englishman was reissued by Hogarth in 1988. This edition includes an intro by Alan Ross, which I expect provides much more information. The only thing I can add is that Gale did not live a long life. The British Library catalogue lists him as "Gale, John, 1925-1974".

  3. As first sentences go, yikes! "Bleak Cottage"?