Friday, 14 October 2016

News from Nowhere in Tavira

News from Nowhere by William Morris, a utopian romance first published in 1890, is a defiant choice of reading for a holiday that starts on a ryanair flight. I am one row in front of a two year-old screaming No to everything, and beside a plump woman whose breasts quiver as we go through turbulence. On the seat panel in front of us we read instructions for infant flotation devices and emergency landings of several kinds.

I read most of News from Nowhere on the beach in Tavira, sailing between recliners out to the open sea, half Atlantic, half Mediterranean. At home I would listen to a Mozart piano concerto. In creating his utopia, William Morris remembered his childhood in rural Walthamstow Chingford Woodford and Epping, where, in different mode, my earliest years also were spent, all meadow and haymaking and happiness. His, that is. In mine, there were lurking men in Epping Forest; you did not wander there, you read fairy tales, avoiding some, waiting for the penultimate upsurge when you'd be safe. William Morris was safe; or he badly wanted to be. He wanted an epoch of rest in his head, and he placed in the 21st century.

And here we are in October, 2016, in Portugal, finding our view, getting used to our neighbours, overhearing their conversations. On the beach your neighbours are your society, but you're also going up the Thames with William Morris, from meadow to cottage to harvest, your idealism stretched but not under strain. 'Here I am loving you and you haven't learned a fucking thing', my neighbour (leopardskin bikini bottom and gold hoop earrings) is saying over a mojito and pringles and lover boy.

News from Nowhere comes from Ilha da Tavira, for now, from the beach on the Ria Formosa, sandbank of the gods, a holiday not a utopia. A utopia is when everyone agrees. The water is better far than the water of my childhood, glassy and warm, a caress not a challenge. And lover boy, unchastened, did sing his way back into favour.

My mother's brother Phil, with another chemist friend published Money Must Go in 1943. I have idealism in my veins. What is flowing in your veins isn't yours until you have entirely reconstructed it. Until you have read around it and gone in swimming.

My favourite chapter of News from Nowhere is about nine lines long: Concerning Politics.
Said I: 'How do you manage with politics?'
     Said Hammond, smiling: '…I will answer your question briefly by saying that we are very well off as to politics, —because we have none.'
'We need people like you to remind us what we're working towards,' a politico said to me when I was about twenty-five, which was obscure and warming, kinder than my earlier sense of myself vis-à-vis the Revolution (first in line for the firing squad). Mao's little red book had no poetry. I'd better keep my mouth shut.

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