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Diary

Jenny Diski: A Plot in Highgate Cemetery, 23 June 1994

... darkly and leafing restlessly through the Gazetteer of London Cemeteries.* It began when my friend Jenny (not me in my Post-Modern mode, but someone else entirely) made me the offer of a lifetime. She’d bought a plot in Highgate Cemetery, she told me, which was a mere snip at £700, especially since it accommodated three ex-people. Would I care to share it ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Gail and Jade and Me, 12 March 2009

... I was six the last time I experienced such a naked and indefensible aversion to someone. I was given a new girl to look after at school. She was fat and happy, or so my memory goes. There’s nothing else I can remember about her at all apart from the round contentedness of her sticky, continuous presence. My hatred was immediate and visceral. I can summon it now: something acidic sloshing around in the solar plexus ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Fragrant Antonia Fraser, 25 February 2010

... Anyone might want to celebrate their life in print. Or a long-term relationship brought to a close by death. Lots of people write about their lives and their loved ones, and some pay to have their writing printed and distributed to their friends and relatives. It’s called vanity publishing, but it’s not very different from Antonia Fraser, say, going through her own diaries written daily during her 33-year relationship with Harold Pinter, and editing them with a few linking comments into a book published by Weidenfeld (£20 ...

My Word-Untangling Machine

Jenny Diski, 10 September 2015

... of her, make his eye colour different, turn a her into a him.You can read the next instalment of Jenny Diski's memoir here (and the first one ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Melanie Phillips, 13 May 2010

... We should give thanks for Melanie Phillips, who writes for the right in a column for the Daily Mail here in the UK, and now has a book out in the US with Encounter Books (other new titles: How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security, How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting the US Economy, The Bad Science and Bad Policy of Obama’s Global Warming Agenda – which would make Phillips’s The World Turned Upside Down a really snappy title if it hadn’t already been taken by the Diggers, Christopher Hill and Chumbawamba ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Periods, 22 October 2009

... It’s only lately that there has been any choice about menstruation: if you were a woman before the wide availability of the contraceptive pill you bled once a month from the age of 12 until you were around 50, except during pregnancy and lactation (which might mean, of course, that you actually bled rather rarely). For her book The Modern Period: Menstruation in 20th-Century America (Johns Hopkins, £31), Lara Freidenfelds interviewed 75 American women – the oldest born ‘before 1910’, the youngest ‘after 1970’ – from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds on the subject of their menstrual life ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: HRH, 4 November 2010

... There seems to be little doubt that the planet is in a parlous state and that we need to change how we live on it. Who wouldn’t be pleased by a very well-funded, attention-grabbing campaign to raise ecological awareness and encourage the more thoughtful use of natural resources? Any steady drip or sudden deluge that might help to nudge industrial and personal behaviour towards a more sustainable way of life is very welcome, but I do wonder if HRH the Prince of Wales is really the best (though he’s obviously the wealthiest) advocate for the new sanity that might save the planet ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: The Falklands, 8 March 2012

... I can’t say that I’ve ever had a strong opinion – or any opinion – about Sean Penn. I may have watched a film he was in, and I booked but didn’t get as far as the cinema to see The Tree of Life. In future, I’ll be hanging on his every word. He finds Britain ‘colonialist, ludicrous and archaic’ for hanging on to the Malvinas, and refusing to try and come to an agreement with Argentina ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: The Future of Publishing, 5 January 2012

... A few years ago I taught a writing workshop with a graduate of the UEA creative writing course, who offered very firm advice, such as ‘Always keep the active part of the sentence for the end so that the reader will find it easy to want to read on to the next one.’ It hadn’t occurred to me that this was the main job of a writer. In fact I don’t know how to teach someone to write, although I can make suggestions for improvements to those who can ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Google’s Ngram Viewer, 20 January 2011

... Some years ago Stephen King announced that he would put his new book online before publication, for anyone to read freely. His publishers were spitting dollar signs and the fans delighted. In my memory he did as he said, and put the entire book on his website, but the 100,000-or-so words of the manuscript, though all there, were in alphabetical order ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Internet Misfit, 18 October 2007

... The word ‘resources’ sets my spine tingling. My old hippy-but-curmudgeonly soul had high hopes of the World Wide Web. The future, in some respects, was living up to expectations, providing videotapes of movies you didn’t have to leave home to see again, music remastered to a complexity not heard even in the concert hall let alone your own bath; and now here was a space that couldn’t be pictured, and didn’t require going out to be in, where minds from anywhere on the planet, full of knowledge and knowhow, wit and wondering, could chatter together, collaborate, pass information and the time of day ...

On Knickers

Jenny Diski, 10 October 2013

... Was there ever a time when clothes were worn purely for warmth? La Mécanique des dessous, the book of the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (until 24 November) begins its investigation into underthings in the 14th century. You have to start somewhere and the actual beginning is too difficult: speculative, lacking the beautiful, horrific, enticing objects that could be photographed for this gorgeous occasion ...

He could afford it

Jenny Diski, 7 April 1994

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life 
by Charles Higham.
Sidgwick, 368 pp., £16.99, September 1993, 9780283061578
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... This is the story of a man who insisted on having precisely 12 peas on his dinner plate every evening. He threaded the peas all in a row on to his fork and ate them, but if one of the peas was too big to fit on the prong with the rest, it was returned to the chef to be replaced by a pea of standard size. Once you know this everything else follows. Howard Hughes’s life is a series of obsessions, each overridden in its turn by a bigger and better fixation ...

At Free Love Corner

Jenny Diski, 30 March 2000

Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 258 pp., £12.99, October 1999, 0 571 19288 2
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... Reading, according to Barthes, is like those other solitary occupations, praying and masturbation. Certainly, there are those who are troubled when they come across people publicly performing the act of silent reading. When the youthful Augustine found Ambrose reading without moving his lips, he made every effort to excuse his mentor: Perhaps he was afraid that, if he read aloud, some obscure passage in the author he was reading might raise a question in the mind of an attentive listener, and he would then have to explain the meaning or even discuss some of the more difficult points ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: Back to School, 30 April 2009

... It has been my habit, since I was very young, to keep easy sentiment, nostalgia, optimism even, in a secure box, and to forget where I left the key. This isn’t a confession, as it might seem to be in these emotionally overindulgent days. It’s simply a strategy; I’m a non-believer in the recuperative power of easily expressed instinctive feeling ...

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