Aug. 25, 2004


by Wendy Cope

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Poem: "Idyll," by Wendy Cope, from If I Don't Know. © Faber and Faber, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

(after U. A. Fanthorpe)

We'll be in our garden on a summer evening,
Eating pasta, drinking white wine.

We won't talk all the time. I'll sit back,
Contemplating shadows on the red-brick path,

And marvel at the way it all turned out.
That yellow begonia. Our gabled house.

Later we'll stroll through Kingsgate Park.
My leg won't hurt, and we'll go home the long way.

Asked to imagine heaven, I see us there,
The way we have been, the way we sometimes are.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis, born in Oxford, England (1949). He wrote The Rachel Papers (1973), Money (1984), London Fields (1989) and The Information (1996). He's the son of Kingsley Amis, who wrote Lucky Jim (1954), a satire about a junior faculty member at a small university.

While growing up, Amis attended fourteen schools. One headmaster called him "unusually unpromising." His own father said Amis read only science fiction. He didn't think his son was university material. Amis' stepmother introduced him to Jane Austen. He took a crash course in Latin and poetry and graduated from Exeter College after three years with first class honors.

Amis worked as a book reviewer and editor. He later became a writer for the London Observer and published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), in his mid-twenties.

It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918). When he was 40, he became the youngest music director ever in charge of the New York Philharmonic. He was the director at the Philharmonic for ten years. Bernstein wrote scores for many musicals, including "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Candide," and "West Side Story."

He also wrote a book called "The Joy of Music" (1959), a collection of essays and conversations about music. He said, "Any great work of art . . . revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world - the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air."

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Frederick Forsyth (1938), born in Ashford, Kent, England. He writes thrillers like The Day of the Jackal (1971), The Odessa File (1972), The Devil's Alternative (1980), and The Fourth Protocol (1984). At 17, he quit school and left home to see the world. He learned to fly a Tiger Moth biplane. He considered becoming a matador in Spain, and instead joined the Royal Air Force as England's youngest pilot.

He said, "I'm a writer with the intent of selling lots of copies and making money. I don't think my work will ever be regarded as great literature or classics. I'm just a commercial writer and I have no illusions about it."

He wrote The Day of the Jackal (1971), his first book, in 35 days. Forsyth said the book took twelve years of research. The book grew out of his experience as a correspondent in Paris during the Algerian Crisis in the early 1960's. Political tensions were high when French President Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent from France. Feeling betrayed, leaders of France's Secret Army Organization plotted to kill de Gaulle and hired a professional assassin whose code name was "Jackal." As it turned out, De Gaulle died of natural causes in 1970. The identity of the Jackal is still a mystery.

Later, Forsyth drew on his work as a journalist in East Germany and Nigeria as he wrote The Odessa File and The Dogs of War. When The Dogs of War was finished, Forsyth had fulfilled his contract (for three books) with his publisher. He told the press his writing career was over. He said, "I just don't like writing ... I'm not a compulsive writer, never was, never could be. I don't need the bread any more. Let's see—compulsion, money—those are the only two reasons to go through the hell of trying to fill 500 blank sheets of paper."

It's the birthday of novelist Brian Moore (1921) born on this day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He wrote The Feast of Lupercal (1957), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960), and The Doctor's Wife (1976). His books were never bestsellers, but he managed to live off the money his writing brought him. Brian Moore said, "If misery loves company, then triumph demands an audience."

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