DOWN MEMORY LANE SIXTEEN

In 1988, I spent a great deal of time travelling the country to promote the paperback edition of my book, Women. This experience reinforced my conviction that every city, town and village needs well-stocked bookshops. It was disagreeable to see the big bookselling chains jockeying for prime high-street sites in towns that were already adequately served by existing bookshops. (At the time there was a battle going between Dillon’s and Waterstone’s to see who would become the dominant retail chain.) Following on the previous year’s success with the Quartet Encounters list, I decided the time had come to stand the list firmly on its own imprint and issue a separate catalogue with point-of-sale material while orchestrating a major sales campaign in June.

Other highlights from the Quartet list in1988 were Julia Voznesenskaya’s Letters of Love, an anthology of messages smuggled out of prisons, asylums and institutions by women prisoners in the Soviet Union; On the Outside Looking In which told the harrowing but ultimately uplifting life story of Michael, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan; and Women & Fashion: A New Look by Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton, who had written a fascinating exploration of an intriguing subject that was an instant classic text for anyone with an interest in questions of style.

The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature that year to the great Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz created a buzz for Quartet as we had one of his novels in our backlist and suddenly there was a demand for copies. ‘Penguin,’ said ‘Grovel’ in Private Eye, ‘who had sniffily turned down the paperback rights some time ago were begging to be given a second chance. Attullah-Disgusting, whose feeling for the language is beyond question, gleefully told his staff that Penguin could “stick their bums up their fingers”.’

My greatest personal excitement, however, lay in presiding over the publication in English of the Mexican masterpiece Pulinuro of Mexico by Fernando del Paso. When it was originally published in 1977, it had won the Romulo Gallego Prize, which was awarded only once every five years for the best Spanish-language novel. The French translation won the Meilleur Livre Étranger in 1985. I was determined that when this epic Joycean tale was published in Britain, in a translation by Elisabeth Plaister, it would meet with a similar success.

In the Latin American canon it had been compared with the best work of Gabriel García Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. It was set in Mexico City, where a medical student, Palinuro, has loved his first cousin Estefania with a consuming passion since childhood. Together they gratify their rampant desire in a room in Plaza Santo Domingo. Palinuro comes from an eccentric, polygenetic family. His Uncle Estaban fled from Hungary during the First World War and travelled across the world to Mexico; his Uncle Austin is an ex-mariner from Britain; his grandfather, Francisco, was a freemason and companion of Pancho Villa. Added to this are his grandmothers and a host of aunts and other cousins.

The great labyrinth of the city in which they live their lives becomes like an additional living character in the novel, evoking a cultural cornucopia and drawing in themes from mythology, science, politics, pornography and the collective unconscious. In its French edition L’Express had called it ‘an immense book in scope, length and beauty [with] pages of romantic lyricism, heady erudition, unbridled eroticism’. ‘Read it:’ exhorted Madame Figaro, ‘it is a breath of fresh air; it has a universal voice rarely heard . . . it runs the gamut from laughter to tears, from the crude to the tender, with an incredible virtuosity.’ The English-language version soon gathered many similar tributes. The Los Angeles Times Book Review summed it up by calling it ‘an inspired rollercoaster of a book about life and love in Mexico City’.

Dreamlike and fantastic, filled with sensuous, poetic language, a positively orgiastic love of life, bubbling humor and a special brand of literary alchemy, this pulsating novel still carries the same explosive punch of its first appearance in Spanish nearly twenty years ago . . . What’s impressive about Palinuro of Mexico is that it transforms a potentially daunting literary experiment into something that’s enormous fun to read . . . Few other novels have so much color, so many metaphors, so much of the feel, smell, sight and sound of human experience, so much life.

‘This tour de force is the novel of modern Mexico and its sprawling capital . . . warm and very funny . . . Elisabeth Plaister’s translation is brilliant,’ said the Sunday Telegraph; and in the opinion of The Times Literary Supplement: ‘At its deepest level, the narrative of Palinuro of Mexico embodies a totalizing ambition, reminiscent of Joyce, to investigate the conditions of culture and knowledge, to explore the relationship between myth and history, and to demonstrate the potential of literary language to revolutionize our ways of seeing the world.’

For a publisher the book represented a rare privilege which dwarfed all other considerations.

A TRICK TO BOOST MEMORY?

One of the irritating aspects of old age is the inability to remember names of people we once met as easily as we used to do, without much effort. It also applies when we walk around the supermarket, and try to remember, with perfect ease, every item we need to buy. Or faced with a speech to make, we can’t remember every point we are supposed to emphasise.

A solution to these dilemmas is apparently no mere pipe dream – as scientists have found anyone can develop a memory of world-beating proportion in just six weeks, using a simple technique. Known as ‘LOCI Training’, it is done by learning the visualisation of a map or journey, and assigning things to be memorised by landmarks on your route. Experts have found astonishing results – in one study, ordinary people who learned this method could almost match the performance of world memory champions.

The research, published in the journal Neuron found trainees could recall 62 words from a list of 72 within twenty minutes of learning them. This is only nine words behind the top-ranking performance for memory in the world – known as ‘memory athletes – and thirty-five more than a normal person could expect to remember.
The researchers, based at Stanford University, California, and the Max Plank Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, found the LOCI tactic helped people to learn more than three times the number of additional words than other types of memory training. And brain scans showed that even four months later, the brain had changed to be more like the experts, and could still remember twenty-two more extra words than before. This change was seen in the medical prefrontal cortex, known to be active when individuals relate new facts to pre-existing knowledge, and the right dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, involved in efforts to learn strategically.

The LOCI method is thought to work as it uses the logical left side of the brain for navigation and the creative right side to visualise landmarks. Using the whole of the brain, rather than just one side, is linked to better memory. Lead author Martin Dresler, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: ‘After training we massively increased performance on memory tests. Not only can you induce a behaviour change, the training also indicates similar brain connectivity patterns as those seen in memory athletes.’

He added: ‘Once you are familiar with these strategies and know how to apply them, you can keep your performance high without much further training. To have your memory LOCI training, you start by assigning items to be memorised to objects in your house – for example, the bookcase, the coffee table and the lamp. Then go through the house in one direction, avoiding doubling back on yourself. Use permanent items such as the TV as prompts, rather than clothes which have been left on a chair which could be moved. This technique can then be expanded to other locations such as your route to work or ways through the supermarket. So a route with 52 points would allow you to memorise the order of a deck of cards. Memory champions can use several thousand points as memory hooks.’

Scientists are not exactly clear whether this method can help the memory of older people, but the elderly themselves can at least find out if the LOCI training works in their case. If nothing else, their knowledge is enhanced if not their memory.

A Literary Giant to Reckon With

Brian Sewell contrary to public perception in certain quarters is a most edifying character one is unlikely to come across in the competitive art world.

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When Quartet became his publisher, we were warned by many of his detractors that he would prove to be hard to handle and will ultimately cause us no end of grief . The reverse as it happened turned out to be  untrue and without foundation.

Having been a publisher since 1976 and encountered many rather pompous and presumptuous authors, I can easily vow that Brian was a meticulous professional who invariably endeavoured to give his best in everything he touched and as a consequence was a joy to deal with.

What was remarkable about him, despite being the most accomplished art critic in the western hemisphere, was his total loyalty and devotion to his friends often to his detriment financially.

I can cite many examples of his generosity and grandiose spirit but feel deep inside that had he been alive today, he would have not wished me to do so.

His death two years ago marked the end of an era where men of his calibre are now rare to find. He was a one-off who defied the establishment and had the courage to call a spade a spade unperturbed by the circumstances that followed many of his pronouncements.

One of his books Naked Emperors, which we published in 2012, is a selection of Brian’s criticism during his tenure at the London Evening Standard and was the first collection to be published in over twenty years and was chosen from his art reviews of exhibitions by English contemporary artists. Most first appeared in the London newspaper for whom he first wrote for in 1984. They are gathered chronologically under artist or institution and discuss nearly every important contemporary English art exhibition for the past quarter of a century. Besides being a record of one man’s developing response to the explosion of blockbuster contemporary art shows and multi-millionaire artist escapades of the past two decades, the reviews’ sequence also reveal how much this often maligned critic did, at first, wish the new establishment well. How he came to see so much as dross or fiddle-faddle, is written with such knowledge, style and humour, readers will also come to understand why mugs with ‘Brian Sewell is fab!’ are on sale in gallery gift shops.

Brian Sewell became a devoted friend with whom I spent many a good time and learnt a great deal from him. As a consequence I miss him terribly.

It is time now, you buy a copy of this book for your library or to give away as a gift. This will give the receiver an insight about a great man who lived for his art in deciphering the good and the mediocre for the benefit of us readers.

May his legacy remain as bright as the full moon on a beautiful summer night.

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SIZE AND THE FAIRER SEX

Size does not always matter, except some claim that men’s willies make a difference when engaged in love-making, whereas bragging about it put some women off and is not considered good gentlemanly etiquette. However, it is a standing joke among the bravest of men that their other half’s have smaller brains. In fact, in this case, size is irrelevant since women perform better in memory tests despite the fact that men do actually have larger brains, experts say. That’s even though men have a higher IQ by nearly 4 points, a study found. The research from the Netherlands was based on MRI scans of almost 900 men and women and found male brains around 14% larger. But experts have previously suggested that women’s brains function more efficiently.

The latest research, led by Erasmus University, found women are less intelligent than men by approximately 3.75 IQ points and do significantly worse in tests of spatial ability. Lead author, Dr Dimitri Van der Linden, said: ‘We found that men’s brains are larger than women’s and our analysis suggests this is the reason for lower average general intelligence across a range of tests. We are aware of previous research suggesting women’s brains are better organised or process information more efficiently, but we did not look at this in our study.’
The study supports the controversial and now broadly forgotten claim by Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century, that men’s brains were larger than those of women. (Darwin once reasoned that a wife was ‘better than a dog anyhow and women’s brains were halfway between that of a child and a man.’)

Today’s scientists have MRI scans to calculate brain volume and past studies have agreed that men’s brains are larger. The latest study took scans and cognitive tests from 896 people aged 22-37 as part of the Human Connectome project. Published in the journal Intelligence, the research says men had higher scores on most measures of intelligence, including spatial awareness. Women did better in memory tests including recalling a sequence of 18 pictures, but analysis found this made no difference to their general intelligence.

Brain size in the sexes is hotly debated in the scientific community. Dr Joseph Devlin, head of experimental psychology at University College, London, said: ‘This is a well-researched study but the evidence is not strong enough to prove that larger male brains are more intelligent than smaller female brains, which makes it a leap of faith using a measure of general intelligence which has little basis. Men’s and women’s brains are different and we know spatial navigation is slightly better in men than women, while women tend to have a better vocabulary. But we should be sceptical of claims that men are smarter than women, especially when there is little to no evidence for that and lots of evidence to the contrary.’

Research at the University of California found women’s brains are smaller, but could perform more quickly because of better connection between brain cells. Having interviewed hundreds of women in my own case I believe that women have a higher degree of intelligence when it comes to analysing a question and formulating a response quicker than most men, and they are certainly more efficient when handling a crisis.

Perhaps the smaller size of their brains is more organised, which enables them to move faster. Could it be that it reinforces the view that small can be beautiful?

THE TIGER MOTHER

It is often very hard to follow in the footsteps of your father, especially if he happens to be the great composer Mozart. Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was four months old when his famous father died aged 35 – and his whole life became a struggle to live up to the Mozart name, an Austrian exhibition reveals.

One of only two of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s six children to survive to adulthood, Franz Xaver was picked by his mother, Constanze, to follow in his father’s footsteps, documents at the Mozart Residenz Museum in Salzburg suggest that Constanze was the ultimate pushy parent calling the boy ‘Wolfgang Amadeus’ and hiring piano teachers for him from the age of two.

In 1801, when he was 9, she wrote in his autograph book: ‘A child that offends his parents, one that wishes them bad luck, one that does not seek the blessing of his parents will be publicly cursed by God. His end will be horrible. He will encounter pain and shame. This is a warning to my dear Wowi from his loving Mother.’

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His first public performance came at the age 13. ‘Young Mozart’s mother presented him to the public which greeted him with fond applause,’ recorded the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, a nineteenth century music magazine. ‘He played the great and beautiful concertos by his father in C major in a somewhat slow tempo, yet well and with precision. He also showed a lot of potential.’

Franz Xaver left home at 17 to work as a piano tutor to a wealthy family in Lemberg, today the Ukrainian city of Lviv and spent two decades teaching and performing in Europe, trying in vain to build a reputation. ‘That last spark of genius was missing in him. He was considered a gifted musician and composer but not one of the great ones,’ Armin Brinzing, the curator said.

He died in 1844 and his tombstone was inscribed: ‘May his father’s name be his epitaph as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.’How sad yet moving.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Three things render me sleepless when I contemplate the state of the British economy: a divided government; a failing pound, and a Stamp Duty that’s already having a serious, adverse effect on the property market.

Starting with my first concern, a Tory administration that has truly lost its way – cabinet ministers who seem to relish controversy in Babylonian confusion, shattering policies aimlessly to gain political recognition in a totally incomprehensive language, yet each determined to rule by the grace of God.

Secondly, the pound – once the pride of the British economy – is faltering and is on course to fall below the Euro, a leading City analyst has predicted. British holiday makers will continue to get less for their money on the Continent according to the US investment bank, Morgan Stanley, which claimed the Euro will strengthen as uncertainty around Brexit undermines the pound. As a result, Sterling is likely to reach parity with the Euro before early next year, the Bank said. It has slumped almost 16 percent against the Euro since the EU referendum. It is also forecast that by the end of next March, the Euro will be trading at £1.02.

Thirdly, unless the misguided nincompoops who manage the economy reduce Stamp Duty, the present tenure of the Tory government is likely to be short- lived. A messiah of the Left (as personified by Jeremy Corbyn) will be ushered miraculously to the premiership without fail. Theresa May’s dream of glory will quickly disintegrate, and Britain will be left isolated, back to the days when Labour will revert to statist dogma that I believe has truly had its day.

God help us all!

IT’S THE ECONOMY, DUMMY !

The trade deficit in the UK is like everything else suffering at present from an instability that is hard to define. No one seems to know where we are going as a result of Brexit, which by and large the divided Tory government is constantly changing gear as it goes along without a specific workable objective to adhere to. The International Monetary Fund has warned that Britain needs to save more, train up its workers and become a more competitive economy to bring down its very large current account deficit. Analysts studied 28 of the world’s largest economies and found the UK had the biggest deficit, running at 4.4% of GDP. The IMF fears that large imbalances between economies could lead to dangerous corrections in future, as well as dangerous political demands to reduce imports.

‘A greater concentration of excess deficiencies in advanced debtor economies may engender protectionist sentiment and raise the risk of disruptive corrections down the road,’ the Fund said. ‘Excess deficit countries should move forward with fiscal consolidation, while gradually normalising monetary policy in tandem with inflation developments and focusing on structural policies that strengthen competitiveness and overall savings. Protectionist policies should be avoided as they are unlikely to reduce external imbalances and are detrimental to domestic and global growth.’

The current account deficit is made up of the trade deficit – as the UK imports more than it exports –combined with the balance of the flows into the economy from overseas investments and out of the UK to foreign investors. Britain’s deficit of 4.4% is the largest, followed by Turkey’s at 3.7% of GDP, Mexico’s at 2.7 % and Australia’s at 2.6%. The US deficit has dropped sharply to 2.4% of GDP, from more than 6% in the pre-crisis years.

UK structural reforms focusing on broadening the skill base and investing in public infrastructures should boost productivity, improving the competitiveness of the economy, the IMF said. ‘Maintaining financial stability through macro-prudential policies should also support private sector savings. These efforts are particularly important in light of expectations that access to the EU market will become more restrictive.’

Britain should get help from the weaker pound, which makes imports more expensive but should boost exports, and also increase the sterling value of earnings on foreign investments. The IMF also said that countries with high current account surpluses should work harder to reduce them. Singapore’s surplus of 19% is the largest, followed by Thailand’s 11.5% and Switzerland’s 10.7%.

I believe we should never kid ourselves that the economy is vibrant, and we need to worry about the escalation of the deficit. Furthermore, with the current instability in world affairs, the future is rather grim and we need to take every conceivable precaution to ensure the health of the economy, without daydreaming that all is well the way we are.