Archive for January, 2014

“An Armeninan Sketchbook” by Vasily Grossman

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, published by Maclehose Press, London

The novel Life and Fate was “arrested” – as Grossman used to put it – in February, 1961. Three KGB officers had entered Grossman’s flat, and had taken away not merely the manuscripts, but even the typewriter ribbons. The idea was that Grossman’s masterpiece must never be read by anyone: even its existence was not to be known. Like so many countless human beings, the book was disappeared.

034Later that year, Grossman found himself in Armenia, for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious. He had received a commission from the Soviet authorities to translate from Armenian a novel by Hrachya Kochar, and had been requested to travel to Armenia to familiarise himself with the country, and to meet with the author. It is a bit mysterious why Grossman should have received such a commission: a perfectly competent translation of a shorter version of the novel already existed; and, on top of that, Grossman did not even know Armenian: his task was to put into shape an existing literal translation of the full novel – hardly a job requiring the talents of a writer of his reputation. Perhaps, as has been suggested, it was the authorities’ way of recompensing him for the loss of Life and Fate. Grossman himself seemed happy to go: he was no doubt glad to get away for a while.

The projected Russian translation of Kochar’s novel did not materialise. What did materialise was a memoir of his visit to Armenia, entitled Dobro Vam, which means, literally translated, “Good to You”. In this, the first English version of the work, translators Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have gone with the title An Armenian Sketchbook.

Robert Chandler says in the introduction:

Just as Everything Flows, which he began in the mid-1950s but continued to expand and revise during his last years, is Grossman’s political statement, so An Armenian Sketchbook is his personal statement, a discussion of the values he holds dearest – in art and in life. It is possible that, at some level, Grossman sensed he did not have long to live.

It is an informal and loosely structured work, giving the impression that the author is conversing with the reader about whatever comes to mind – the landscape of Armenia, the history and culture, the churches, the art. Possibly, as Robert Chandler suggests, Grossman did sense that he didn’t have long to live: amongst other things, he describes the physical discomforts which, in retrospect, we may see as the first signs of the onset of the bowel cancer that was to claim him two years later. In the final section of the memoir, he describes the pain that had suddenly seized him on the way to a wedding:

I have experienced horror and terror more than once in my life, not to mention fear and confusion. I took part in the war. I crossed the Volga under German fire, several times. I have experienced both massive bombing raids and barrages of mortar and artillery fire.

And yet, even though both during the war and at other times I have experienced my fill of fear, I have never – strange as this may seem – felt such utter horror as on that wedding coach.

One may expect a work written in such times to be angry and bitter. Heaven knows, Grossman had every right to be both. This is a man who has lived through the worst years of Stalinist terror, who had been present at and had witnessed some of the most horrendous carnage at Stalingrad, who had reported from Treblinka immediately after liberation, and had seen at first hand the grisly details of that unspeakable hell-hole; this was a man whose own beloved mother had been murdered in one of the many Nazi atrocities, and buried in some anonymous mass grave; a man who had lived through anti-Semitic pogroms in his own land; a man whose great masterpiece, to which he had devoted ten years of his life, had been torn away from him, and which he believed would never be read by anyone. And now, he was facing a disease which would soon kill him. Who had greater right to be angry and bitter? Yet, the wonder of this book is that Grossman is neither. He retains an unfeigned and unaffected love of people, and a determination to see them in the best possible light; he retains an optimism and a belief in human worth that may well have appeared hopelessly naïve and sentimental had it come from anyone other than him.

Not that he was blind to the darkness in our lives. Given all he had lived through, how could he be? But that’s not Grossman’s subject. For instance, of the many people he describes, there’s a cleaner, Astra, whom Grossman describe as “a beauty”. Her husband is in prison, serving a sentence for murder. Astra hadn’t wanted to marry him, but:

…but Aramais [Astra’s husband] was infatuated; he wept, threw himself drunkenly at her feet, and vowed to kill both her and himself. Astra, her mother and everyone in the village knew this was no empty threat. And so now she goes about in ragged clothes and worn-out boots, saving every copeck so that she can take a little more food to her husband.

Her in-laws, whom she lives with, are described objectively: they are a nasty and violent lot. The misery that is Astra’s life Grossman does not delve into: he does not need to – the few details he gives us are more than enough for us to piece together the story. But the point of the portrait is not to present her as a mere object of pity, but as someone of immense nobility of character. Anyone could take pity on someone like Astra; but Grossman loves the person that she is. He is well aware of the evil to which she is subjected, and he depicts it unblinkingly; but his focus is the beauty of her moral stature.

It is this insistence on the essential goodness and nobility of humans that shines through the pages. Everything Flows, which he must have been working on at the same time as this book, is a work of barely contained fury: how else can one react, after all, to mass transportations, to man-made famines, to mass terror, to slaughter on an unintelligible scale? But this is Grossman’s personal rather than his political testament. If Everything Flows expresses his fury at the violation of humanity, An Armenian Sketchbook honours that which has been violated. The two works are complementary.

For the Armenian people too had been violated. Of the many pictures Grossman paints are those of people who had lived through and had been traumatised by the genocide that had been visited upon them.

The final section of the book describes an Armenian wedding, in the shadow of the Biblical Mount Ararat. The local customs Grossman finds alien, and some even repulsive; and, as Grossman could keenly sense, the bride’s future did not seem to promise much happiness. But then, Grossman notices the bride and her young brother:

Through their tear-stained eyes they smiled at each other, a smile of love. My heart filled with joy, warmth and sorrow.

Later come the speeches. In Armenian, of course, so Grossman, the translator, can’t understand. But one of these speeches was about him, Grossman, the special guest at this wedding. Hrachya Kochar, the author whose book Grossman was to translate, translates for the translator:

The carpenter was talking about the Jews, saying that when he had been taken prisoner during the War he had seen all the Jews taken away somewhere separate. All his Jewish comrades had been killed. He spoke of the compassion and the love he had felt for the Jewish women and children who had perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. He said how he had read articles of mine about the war, with portrayals of Armenians, and had thought how this man writing about Armenians was from a nation that had also suffered a great deal. He hoped that it would not be long before a son of the much-suffering Armenian nation wrote about the Jews. To this he now raised his glass.

Like so much else in this book, this might have seemed naïve and sentimental had we not known who the author of this book is, and all to which he had borne witness in the course of his life. That someone who could know so well the very worst that humans can do and be, but who could yet find it in himself to celebrate all that is fine and noble, is humbling. “Probably I have said much that is clumsy and wrong,” he says at the very end of this book, “but all I have said, clumsy or not, I have said with love.”

***

Vasily Grossman is an important writer – not merely because he has borne witness to certain things which should not be forgotten, but also because he was a great writer. And he was also, I think, a great man. We owe Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, and to the various colleagues of theirs who have worked with them on other translations, an immense debt of gratitude for making accessible to the Anglophone reader these remarkable works.

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Fiction for adults young and old

No doubt my memory is failing me, but I can’t remember from my teenage years any category of fiction labelled “Young Adult”. Indeed, I cannot even remember the term “Young Adult”. I gather this term refers to teenagers, but why one cannot simply say “teenager” – which, as well as being more descriptive and less cumbersome, has the advantage of not sounding like something concocted by some faceless marketing department – I cannot imagine.

The reason I mention this is that in my peregrinations around the net, I frequently come across posts and articles fulminating on how absolutely ghastly those people are who look down on Young Adult Fiction. Now, I enjoy looking down on something as much as the next person, and if there really is anything in “Young Adult Fiction” that is worth looking down on, I wouldn’t want to miss out. But the problem is that I don’t know what “Young Adult Fiction” is in the first place.

Quite apart from the unwieldy nature of the term, I am a bit puzzled by its import. After one has matured mentally into adulthood – and that, of course, occurs at different ages for different people – there seems to me little point in classifying further in terms of age for the purpose merely of creating yet more literary ghettoes. If a book can be of value to an Old Adult, why can it not also be of value to a Young? Or, for that matter, vice versa ? If the adult population of readers is to be subdivided in terms of age, can we now look forward to “Middle-Aged Adult Fiction”, and “Mature Adult Fiction”, and, perhaps, “Geriatric Adult Fiction”?

In any case, what do Young Adults themselves – or teenagers, as a middle-aged fogey like myself prefers to call them – think of all this? Looking back on my own teenage years, I would have found it patronising to have been described as a “Young Adult”, and would have felt grossly insulted by the idea that some committee somewhere has met to determine which books are most suitable for my age. If teenagers feel no longer patronised and insulted by this sort of thing, the world has indeed changed over the last forty or so years – far more so than I had realised.

Christmas with Charlotte and Emily

There are certain works that are so very familiar that we tend to take them for granted: we think we know them even though, in many cases, we don’t. Jane Eyre is one such work. I read it when I was 13, and haven’t revisited it since – although that hasn’t stopped me from pontificating on it as and when the occasion has arisen. So I thought it might be pleasant to re-acquaint myself with this book, so that, at the very least, when I next pontificate on it, I know what the hell I’m talking about.

And the Christmas-New Year break seemed the ideal time. This is a time when one wants to read something if only to get away from what passes for festive cheer on television; and, while one doesn’t want to read tripe, neither does one necessarily want unduly to tax the intellect. Or, at least, I don’t: some people may positively welcome the idea of settling down after a heavy Christmas dinner with a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics, but, intellectual lightweight that I no doubt am, I am not amongst them. Not that Jane Eyre makes no demand on the intellect, I hasten to add: as with any book worth reading, the brain should be in at least some sort of working order if one is to take it in adequately. But, as in so many things, there are different shades of grey between absolute black and absolute white, and Jane Eyre, I imagined, occupied a position on this spectrum ideal for a good holiday read. And when that holiday is spent in the north of England, only some thirty or so miles from Haworth Moor; and when, in addition, a bitter and keening wind howling outside almost continuously places the Gothic firmly in one’s mind; then the Brontë sisters do seem ideal companions.

(In the event, I finished Jane Eyre more quickly that I thought I would, and decided to indulge myself somewhat – it was Christmas, after all – by reading also its sister novel, Wuthering Heights. Rarely are sisters so dissimilar from each other: but more of that later. Given my reading earlier last year of Sister Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 2013 has been a bit of a Year of the Brontës for me.)

***

It is hard to imagine a time when Jane Eyre will cease to be popular. No matter that the position of women within society is now quite different to that depicted in the novel; no matter that the moral imperatives that drive Jane’s actions have largely fallen by the wayside; the story itself hits upon a number of what one may call “archetypes”. It encompasses the archetypes of the Cinderella story (the wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters are easy to identify; a dissolute step-brother is thrown in also for good measure); and also of the Bluebeard story, with the inquisitive wife discovering her husband’s terrible secret behind a locked door in his castle. And many other myths too, I imagine.

Not surprisingly, a story that hits upon so many mythical elements is bound to spawn many others: a full list would be tiresome, and, since I am not well read in stories of romance, it would be beyond me to compile such a list in the first place; but, apart from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which is a conscious homage to the earlier novel, one may note works as diverse as the Sherlock Holmes story “The Copper Beeches”, which features a governess in a mysterious house and a terrible secret behind a locked door; and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, in which the governess, her unspoken love for her employer frustrated by the latter’s absence, finds instead, as a sort of diabolical compensation, spirits of the most unspeakable evil. And one may also cite in this context Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, which also features an outsider entering a house, displacing the mistress of the house, and winning the affections of the master. Sigmund Freud, in his essay “Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work”, analysed the character of Rebecca West in this play, and identified this displacement as a powerful archetype; he may have added – although he didn’t – that this archetype had already appeared, very powerfully indeed, in Jane Eyre.

I’ll leave it to those more familiar than I am with the principles of psychoanalysis to carry out a Freudian analysis of Jane Eyre: I’m sure they’ll find rich material there. What interested me more was the moral framework of the novel. For Jane, despite her often overwhelmingly passionate nature, undertakes here a moral journey. In a sense, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress seems a sort of antecedent to this novel: it belongs to the same Puritan tradition. Jane’s painful travel to the Celestial City is punctuated by two great temptations, in each of which she has to pit her moral conscience against her own desires. The first of these temptations, of course, is the temptation to become Mr Rochester’s mistress when it becomes clear that she cannot marry him: while it is true that Jane doesn’t even pause to consider Mr Rochester’s offer, her intense passion for Mr Rochester, her hurried and secret escape from Thornfield Hall, and a state of mind so disturbed that she forgets to take anything with her that might have sustained her in the wilderness, all indicate that the decision to resist this temptation is not one easily made. But it is the second temptation that I find even more interesting: it is a subtler temptation than that of merely gratifying one’s desires – it is the temptation of sainthood.

Over the years, I have been in the habit of saying that Jane Eyre is let down by the final section; that, after Jane leaves Thornfield Hall, the novel slows down at the very point when it should have been accelerating towards the end. I think I said this because when I last read this, inexperienced as I was in reading serious novels, this part of the novel had bored me. And it may well have been that I had skipped some passages. Reading it now, some forty years later, it seems to me that Charlotte Brontë has superb control over the pacing; and that, furthermore, the entire sequence involving Jane and St John Rivers is a high point of the novelist’s art. For St John Rivers is more than merely a foil to Rochester: he is a fanatic. If Jane has sacrificed her desires for the sake of her moral code, we see St John Rivers doing the same – except in a more extreme, more fanatical manner: so single-minded is his moral purpose, that he does not allow his mind even to become perturbed by his rejection of Rosamond, to whom, it is made clear, he is attracted. And he tempts Jane: he tempts her not with desire, but with the opportunity to achieve sainthood by jettisoning the last remaining elements of her desire; to carry her own sense of moral purpose even further than she already has. He tempts her to renounce completely any earthy desire she may still have.

For St John’s fierce fanaticism cannot accept compromise on anything, either from himself, or from anyone else: it is, for him, all or nothing. He is, indeed, Ibsen’s Brand. There is, as many have commented, something a bit inhuman about sainthood – something cold and implacable about its absolute refusal to compromise with the fallen nature of our human selves.  To achieve sainthood, to follow St John in his missionary work, Jane would have to amputate away from herself earthly desires, just as St John himself has done. I think I failed to appreciate when I was thirteen that Jane resisting this temptation is, indeed, the climactic point of this novel, and that, far from this entire sequence being a boring irrelevance that served but to slow down the narrative, this is what the entire novel had been leading towards. After Jane’s rejection of the temptation of sainthood, St John leaves for India on his own to carry out his missionary work, that fanatic glint still in his eye. (The final paragraphs of the novel suggest that, in India, he becomes very ill, and is unlikely to survive. I couldn’t help looking beyond these final paragraphs and hoping that he would survive, and become caught up a few years later in the Indian Mutiny, in which all sorts of fanaticisms on all sides combined to produce one of the most appallingly blood-drenched episodes in human history. St John in the Indian Mutiny could potentially be a great novel: I’d write it myself if only I had a talent for that sort of thing.)

What we get after this climactic rejection scene is a sort of coda: Jane returns to Mr Rochester, and finds him to be the protagonist of Milton’s Samson Agonistes – blind, in despair, painfully aware of his own guilt and bewailing his hopelessness. He is given here some of the most tender of lines that recall another work of Milton’s:

…but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now; and kissed her, as thus–and felt that she loved me, and trusted that she would not leave me … But I always woke and found it an empty mockery; and I was desolate and abandoned–my life dark, lonely, hopeless–my soul athirst and forbidden to drink–my heart famished and never to be fed.

Would I appear very sentimental if I were to say that I find these lines wonderfully moving? Very well – sentimentalist I am.

***

Unlike Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights has long been a great personal favourite of mine, and is a novel I have revisited frequently. The two are often mentioned alongside each other as if they were two of a kind, but they seem to me very different. A major theme in Jane Eyre is morality: in particular, it explores how moral integrity may be reconciled with our human needs and desires. But rarely if ever has there been a novel so devoid of a sense of morality as Wuthering Heights. It is not even that this novel takes a subversive delight in turning up-side-down conventional concepts of morality: rather, it refuses even to acknowledge the very existence of such a concept. Here, the id is set utterly free from all moral restraints, and the result is utterly demonic. It is a tremendously violent novel, but the violence isn’t merely physical: anyone can depict physical violence, after all. What this novel depicts, more disturbingly, is a sort of spiritual violence, a violence of the mind: it depicts a world where a state of extreme violence appears to be the natural condition of the human soul. “The action is laid in Hell,” Dante Gabriel Rossetti once famously said about it, “only it seems places and people have English names there.”

Repeated encounters with this book never diminish the sheer strangeness of it, nor mitigate its savagery. Yes, it is passionate, but where the passion of Jane or of Mr Rochester is often expressed in terms of tenderness, here, expressions of passion are more like howls of wild beasts. Here, for instance, is the famous depiction of Heathcliff mourning Cathy’s death:

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears. I observed several splashes of blood about the bark of the tree, and his hand and forehead were both stained; probably the scene I witnessed was a repetition of others acted during the night. It hardly moved my compassion – it appalled me…

Could anything be further, I wonder, from the infinite melancholy of Mr Rochester’s longing for the lost Jane? Unlike Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights makes no appeal to our compassion: instead, it appalls. And it seems to me quite unique. That is an adjective we often apply to works that are merely distinctive, but here, I think this adjective is justified; for while, when thinking about Jane Eyre, all sorts of other works can come to mind, from Milton’s Samson Agonistes to Ibsen’s Brand, I cannot think of a single other work that sheds light on Wuthering Heights, either as a parallel or as a contrast. It is out on a limb, quite distant, as far as I can see, from any of the main trunks of literary traditions. Yes, it appalls, but so extraordinarily vivid is the imagination, and so brilliant its unorthodox craftsmanship, it also enthralls.

***

I am usually uninterested in authors’ biographies: I do not believe they tell us more about any work than we need to know, and that, further, should we succumb to the temptation of allowing what we know of the author to influence what we think of the work, we are likely, I think, to be led astray. But it’s hard not to wonder what the personalities of these sisters may have been. Perhaps I should overcome my aversion to literary biographies and reach for Juliet Barker’s much acclaimed biography of the Brontës.

“The Bronte Sisters”, painted by Branwell Bronte
Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

I don’t know to what extent the personalities of the sisters may be gauged from the portraits. In Branwell Brontë’s famous group painting of his sisters, Anne, on the left, strikes me as a bit querulous and restless, while Charlotte, on the right, is a stolid, matronly, and somewhat severe figure. But of Emily in the middle, I can make nothing at all. Rather surprisingly, given that Branwell was a professional portraitist, she doesn’t even seem very well drawn.

Charlotte Bronte, by George Richmond Cortesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

Charlotte Bronte, by George Richmond
Cortesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

There is a later portrait of Charlotte by George Richmond, but it is clearly an idealised version: not a beautiful face, perhaps, but quite a pleasant one I think, and, though not quite as severe as she appears in Branwell’s group portrait, nonetheless giving the impression of someone with a considerable strength of character. But it’s hard to say much from so sanitised a portrait as this.

Emily bronte, painted by Branwell Bronte Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

Emily bronte, painted by Branwell Bronte
Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

There exists also another portrait by Branwell of Emily. Here, she is presented in profile, with no expression discernible in her features. As a consequence, she appears remote and distant, her personality inscrutable. Given how unsuccessful Branwell had been in capturing any kind of personality at all of Emily in the group portrait, this is possibly a sensible way of painting her; but what we have here is a sort of icon rather than the depiction of a personality. From the internal evidence of her only novel, all we can really infer is that hers must have been a strange personality indeed: perhaps that personality was too elusive for Branwell Brontë to capture.But whatever the personalities of the sisters, the last two weeks spent in their company have been quite fascinating. I must do this more often.

A Happy New Year … I think …

Despite wishing everyone I know, and many I don’t, a Happy New Year, I always find this a rather miserable time. There is no particular reason why this should be so:  in theory, no day in the calendar is privileged over any other; but since we find it convenient to parcel out time in discrete entities rather than see it as a continuous flow, and since the traditions of the Western world have determined that January 1st should mark the beginning of each of these discrete entities, it is inevitable that, around this time, our minds are haunted, more perhaps than usual, by thoughts of the passage of time. And thoughts of the passage of time are rarely conducive to good cheer.

We try our best to disguise this. We party; we drink ourselves sometimes even to oblivion (Scottish readers will know what I mean); we tell ourselves with a tiresome repetitiveness that we are looking forward to a better and brighter tomorrow; and we join hands with each other to spread good cheer, and swear fellowship with all of humanity. But I can’t help thinking that we have picked the wrong Robert Burns poem for this occasion: for it is “To a Mouse” rather than “Auld Lang Syne” that comes to mind at this time of year … well, to my mind at least:

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Perhaps one needs a close acquaintance with Scottish patterns of speech to feel the full force of that seemingly inarticulate “Och!” – so perfectly placed in the verse – but the meaning is fairly clear: backward cast your eye, and it lights only upon on prospects drear; and forwards, we can but guess and fear. (How strange, incidentally, that Burns should associate prospects with the past rather than with the future!) This is all a far cry from Auld Lang Syne (that’s just “Auld Lang Syne”, and not “for the sake of Auld Lang Syne”, as so many ignorant sassenachs will have it!); and no, there’s not much cheer in any of this. And, as we hear the usual tributes to those who have passed away over the previous twelve months – and think, inevitably, of our own friends and acquaintances in these ranks – we can but wonder how this same list will read in twelve months’ time. Not all the spectacular firework displays in the world can disguise this as a happy and celebratory time, and attempts to do so seem but a forced jollity. And there’s nothing quite like forced jollity to make one feel even more depressed than one had previously been.

Perhaps it is merely my nature that is excessively saturnine. But I doubt it: I know many who feel similarly gloomy about Christmas, and my saturnine nature does not extend quite that far. Possibly the New Year’s gloom is but a natural reaction, and, some may say, a corrective, to the excessive merrymaking of Christmas. Perhaps. Some may say that this New Year’s gloom is but a sign of advancing years; but even in my youth, I do not think I have attended a single New Year’s Party where I have not felt my jollity to be counterfeit. And, as Samuel Johnson reminds us in Rasselas:

Every man … may, by examining his own mind, guess what passes in the minds of others: when you feel that your own gaiety is counterfeit, it may justly lead you to suspect that of your companions not to be sincere.

If Johnson is indeed correct in this, then it seems there is an awful lot of counterfeiting going on around this time of the year.

There’s little cheer on this matter in literature: I cannot, off the top of my head, think of a single happy depiction of the New Year. Even when Dickens, that most genial of authors, turned his attention from Christmas to New Year in The Chimes, he produced a work so unremitting in its gloom that he never repeated that experiment again in any of his subsequent Christmas Books. What about films then? Not much cheer here either, I’m afraid: the two depictions of the New Year that come immediately to mind are far from uplifting. One is Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, in which the Tramp, ridiculous as always, has invited for New Year a beautiful lady and her friends to his ramshackle home, not realising that they wouldn’t even consider forgoing the bright lights of a New Year party for his homely fare; and as they enjoy the pleasures of the party, the ridiculous little man is left alone, nursing his prospects drear. And the other instance that comes to mind is in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, in which Joe Gillis (played by William Holden), desperate to break away from the curiously unreal world he has found himself in through his affair with the self-deluding and mentally unstable Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), attempts to re-enter the world of “normality”: he goes to a New Year’s party, with ordinary, normal people enjoying themselves in ordinary, normal ways. But the unreal world he has entered draws him back: the lover he thought he had left has tried to slash her wrists, and this he cannot walk away from. Normality is for others, not for him.

Perhaps I have just been reading the wrong books, and watching the wrong films. Well, I’ll break a long-standing rule and make, here and now, a New Year’s resolution: I shall, henceforth, be as happy and as cheerful and as optimistic as I possibly can. After all, there’s so many things that can go wrong with our lives, and with the world in general, that once one starts being pessimistic there’s no end to it. So one might as well be happy. Why not? After all, it’s less than twelve months now to Christmas!

A Happy New Year, everyone!