Friday, 31 July 2009

captain black is over fifty (and a moron)*

The BBC discuss 'tw*t' and it's real meaning. They open the article to commenters:
I am over 50 and when I grew up it was (and as far as I am concerned still is) certainly an extremely offensive remark and did refer to female genitalia, as did the word "pr*t", which is now more commonly used as a reference to your backside and as used by the Americans.
Captain Black, London

* or this whole thing is a very dry joke, which is conceivable, but the level of idiocy involved is by no means unusual for BBC commenters, so I am running with Occam's Razor.**
** which is much less dangerous than scissors

Thursday, 30 July 2009

in which i do not conquer a new medium

(But things are fine.) I've just got back from the Richard Bacon standing in for Simon Mayo book panel. I had a really good time, and was well impressed at how efficient and casual everyone was, wandering in and out, juggling x ongoing stories, pottering into the studio to chat about the traffic, etc. I put a lot of effort into seeming similarly sang froid.

You can hear the podcast on iTunes, or you can go and get it here. If you want to. The reviewers (Tony Bradman has written more than ninety books more than I have; Tim Bowler has won the Carnegie Medal; Helen Dunning seemed from overhearing to have an important role at half of all book festivals) were as incredibly nice before the show as during it. For obvious reasons, I formed a very positive impression of them.

I had lots of things to say about The Monster of Florence, which was the other book discussed, and which I didn't get time to review. It's by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. The first half is about a serial killer; the second half is about the investigation, which is still ongoing twenty years later, and which is a black, Kafkaesque farce of conspirasoid ravings and official incompetence that casts a pretty scary light on some bits of modern Italy and makes you worry for Amanda Knox, who is being investigated by one of the horrifyingly crazy investigators.

It's also about the fragility and vital importance of independent journalism, which is something we should all remember, kids, when we ask the internet to give us stuff for free. Non-Italian papers lazily swallowing the official line are put to shame by Spezi's passionate determination to ridicule the ridiculous. I'm not a fan of true crime, but this feels like a really important story.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

it is a tragedy for you that i don't have a scanner

'Why?', I hear you cry. Well, it's because if I had a scanner, I could reproduce the page of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News from 1930 which I have sitting in front of me.

The top half sees a big photo of six great danes standing in front of a large grid. Below this, a slightly smaller photo pictures then arranged in various positions on the grid. 'But why?' I hear you cry. In my opinion you should stop crying and grow a little patience. The text beneath runs:
The first Great Dane 'race' meeting was held last Saturday at Send Manor, Ripley, where Mr Gordon Stewart has the most wonderful range of kennels in the world, stocked by some hundreds of Great Danes. The 'race' is primarily a test of obedience. The dog's handler stands about twenty paces away, and when the dog's number is thrown on a die he moves him forward, in the way the dog has been trained, to the square obtained by the throw of a second die. A dog moves which moves uncommanded from his square, or 'bumps and bores' another, is penalised by being sent back so many squares. Flat and hurdle races were all run in this manner and pari-mutuel betting was provided.
This is what I call a sport.

Now I want to read this book.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

babies; gurgling

Wodehouse. Been a while:
A young woman of singular beauty and rather statuesque appearance came out of the club-house carrying a baby swaddled in flannel. As she drew near the table she said to the baby:
'Chicketty wicketty wicketty wipsey pop!'
In other respects her intelligence appeared to be above the ordinary.
'Isn't he a darling!' she said, addressing the Oldest Member.
The Sage cast a meditative eye upon the infant. Except to the eye of love, it looked like a skinned poached egg.
'Unquestionably so,' he said.
'Don't you think he looks more like his father every day?'
For a brief instant, the Oldest Member seemed to hesitate.

Shortly afterwards, the Oldest Member explains to a third party...
'Here is the picture I wished to show you. That is Ramsden Waters, the husband of the lady who has just left us.'
The portrait which he indicated was that of a man in the early thirties. Pale saffron hair surmounted a receding forehead. Pale blue eyes looked out over a mouth which wore a pale, weak smile, from the centre of which protruded two teeth of rabbit-like character.
'Golly! What a map!' exclaimed the young man at his side.
'Precisely!' said the Oldest Member. 'You now understand my momentary hesitation in agreeing with Mrs Waters. I was torn by conflicting emotions. On the one hand, politeness demanded that I confirm any statement made by a lady. Common humanity, on the other hand, made it repugnant to me to knock an innocent child.'

Monday, 27 July 2009

local heroes, star wars, hippopotami

I watched Local Hero the other night. It's smashing. Peter Capaldi being gawky and young is funny. Jenny Seagrove is incredibly attractive.

But what I also thought was: Local Hero has a lot in common with The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. The protagonists are getting disillusioned with their soulless corporations, though on epically different scales, and with different home lives, and so on. And they are beholden to crazy gnomic bosses with crackpot ideas, gnomic diction and moustaches. I think it is a very good comparison.

Did you know that the main Scottish guy in Local Hero, Denis Lawson, is most famous for playing Wedge Antilles in the first Star Wars trilogy? Did you know that his sister is the mother of Ewan McGregor? Isn't that quite interesting?

encore de wodehouse = cooper

One of my important but underpaid field agents has pointed out that when Gussie Fink-Nottle is arrested for swimming in the fountain in Trafalgar square he gives his name as Alfred Duff Cooper.

My agent is reading Evelyn Waugh's letters to Nancy Mitford. Evelyn says that the pseudonym is notable because Wodehousian characters in these circumstances usually use Trotsky, Lenin or similar.*

*Another of my IBUFAs has explained this whole affair in the comment below, which I strongly recommend. His generous assumption that I knew it already is kind. Life is learning.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

when children's presenters go bad / the creative process *live*

I was listening, because I couldn't be bothered to change channel, to Radio 7's Big Toe Radio show while I made breakfast (was I making breakfast just for me? Well may you wonder*).

The presenter, in a sickly-but-not-too-gruesome-compared-to-some speaking-to-children voice implored children to post their book reviews. 'Here's one from Sophie,' she said. I think it was Sophie. It doesn't matter. I don't remember the book. Sophie said she liked how the book mixed magic and sadness. Then she said, 'It made me happy because I live in a beautiful town with beautiful people.'

The presenter, still in gooey voice, said, 'Well, Sophie, I don't know many people who are happy with where they live.'

I now have a set of very different plots featuring this character. Some are for romantic comedies, and some are for horror movies. In fact, I might persuade my writing partner to do them as sketches, if she ever stops being on holiday. Look, though, you could steal the idea. This is the writing process happening in front of you. It's probably what I would have done if I'd got a slot on the plinth.

* I was making breakfast just for me.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Friday, 24 July 2009

what did you do in scarborough?

In the fullness of time, dear readers. One thing I did not do:

I mainly remember Dana from one of the bottom corner seats of Blankety Blank. I vaguely remembered she won the Eurovision Song Contest, but didn't know she did it when she was doing her A-levels (All Kinds of Everything replaced Bridge Over Troubled Water at the top of the charts). I didn't know she played Snow White for fourteen years, on the West End amongst other places. I didn't know she was a leading songwriter and singer of Catholic music - her album The Rosary sold over a million.

She ran as an independent in Ireland's 1997 Presidential elections, and did much better than everyone expected. By the millennium, she'd become Connaught-Ulster's first female MEP (family issues; anti-abortion). She didn't succeed in becoming an MP in 2002 - her very small vote was perceived as a backlash against her anti-abortion and anti-morning-after-pill stance - and she was voted out as an MEP in 2004 (odd; I'm getting all this from Wikipedia, obviously, and it seems a bit rum that she could have stood for election as an MP when she was an MEP).

She returned to showbiz, probably mainly with the aim of playing the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough. She's a judge on the All Ireland Talent Show.

(Don Maclean, by the way, is not Don McLean. No American Pie, but lots of smooth presentational skills. Don Maclean doesn't like the way the BBC has gone secular, among other things.)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

order, order

Bluntly, do you want a KSC shirt? Quite a lot of people do, and a number have already been reserved by email. I have 40 for sale, in a variety of sizes, ranging from women's small to women's large, and the same for men. The women's shirts are properly cut for women. I have had this verified by a woman.

I am going to get them printed and numbered. The numbers will run from 2-41. If you have a special number in mind, then first come, first served. And tell me your size as well, and that way it will be reserved for you. The cost will be, I am almost certain, <£30. This is cost price, of course. My labour and the labour of others were labours of love.

'But what does it look like?' I hear you cry. The answer is as below, except for obviously it will look even better than this, because you are both handsomer and more beautiful than I am, which is sad for me, but no one else seems to mind. And the crest will be in brown on the white, and will look as discussed in this post. And the number will be white on brown on the back.

russia's obama

Obviously, Pravda is ever-changing. Today's headline is, for future reference: Russia May Soon Have Its Own Obama from Guinea-Bissau. The story under it runs:
The campaign to elect the municipal government of Russia’s Volgograd region has turned into a scandal. The candidates use all possible methods, including the racial issue, to attract electors’ attention. A native of Guinea-Bissau set out his wish to run for the head of the regional government. The "black Russian" was born in Africa and moved to Russia’s Volgograd region 12 years ago. Local people joke that if he is elected, "he will work like a slave" for the region.

Those Russians.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

exciting opportunity no. 1 (for you)

The nature of my selling something is that, in the end, you will have many opportunities to buy. Shirts and mugs, mainly. And the book. This is not yet the end, though, and this opportunity is an opportunity that is free and for nothing. If you go to this place, then you can listen to my first fumbly attempt to describe KSC in public, and read from it.

If taking this opportunity does not satisfy you, then there is an opportunity to listen to me answer questions about the book. These opportunities were provided by Birkbeck's creative writing unit, who are excellent. You should be as grateful as I was. There are billions of other authors on the site who are nearly as interesting as me.

In news of similar upcoming opportunities, I will be doing the books panel of the Simon Mayo show next Thursday. It will be available to radio listeners, listeners-again and podcast-fans. If it seems like I am playing this cool, that is because I am cool. But, be assured, I am very excited about it.

Monday, 20 July 2009

waves cafe, scarborough

I recommend it. It's very cheery and has free web access. The view of the town's North Sands is also excellent. And, if he wants to, my uncle can throw water at me from our balcony three floors up. Quite a lot of small children are in the North Sea. I imagine it is bracing. Tomorrow morning, I will not have to imagine. This is because I am afflicted with whatever that disease is that makes some people always go in the sea when they are near the sea.

(My friend Will and I once only had a tiny window at five in the morning to go in the sea near Stranraer, and it was not a warm time of year, and the only sea we could find was some oily harbour, but we did go in the sea. I'm not saying it was a mistake, but it was hard to see what anyone was gaining except for whoever it was came to laugh at us.)

It really is a lovely evening here. I'm working, obviously. Work, work, work.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

jetting off

to glamorous Scarborough. Not sure what the connectivity will be like when I get there. Might be great. If it isn't, don't go changing.

(Still a Woman, by Rene Chambe, was published in 1932, and is described thus by its publicity copy:
A novel translated from the French.
She was a Roumanian Countess - charming - lovely.
He was a Frenchman, and very human.
[They meet in times of war. It is very stressful and romantic.]
What is she to do?
This is a modern novel telling one of the most appealing love stories that have been written in this decade.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Almighty Fin

I think people who know me know that, from my perspective, a meeting doesn't get any better than when one of the other people in the meeting starts quoting a poem about fish, and the line he quotes contains the words 'Almighty Fin'. This was yesterday's meeting.

Heaven by Rupert Brooke

Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat'ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! -- Death eddies near --
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

(That picture, by the way, is not just of any old fish. It's of two taimen, the largest of the salmonids.)

Friday, 17 July 2009

fish heaven and fashion

In one of the most interesting and important news stories of recent years, the KSC shirts have been delivered, and they look excellent. The delivery has been a week long saga which has confirmed me in my long-held view that if you need anything delivered anywhere in the world, the best people to do the job are not a delivery company.

Anyway, there will be a post later in the week detailing how you might get hold of one of these incredibly sought after items (it is incredible that they are sought after), which will be heading to the printers to be logo-d on Friday or similar.

I know the title of this post is fish heaven, but I am going to turn that bit of the post into another post entirely, and I will do it tomorrow morning when I am brushing my teeth prior to standing in the queue to get into Lord's for several hours. I will be standing in the queue for several hours. I will be at Lord's for many hours.

more poisonous lovemaking

When we left them, our heroes were in a prison cell. Lord Peter had professed his desire to marry the accused poisoner Harriet Vane. The mood was playful. 'It seems very probably that I shall not survive to make the experiment,' said Harriet.
'Don't be so damned discouraging,' said Wimsey. 'I have already carefully explained to you that this time I am investigating this business. Anybody would think you had no confidence in me.'
'People have been wrongly condemned before now.'
'Exactly; simply because I wasn't there.'
'I never thought of that now.'
'Think of it now. You will find it very beautiful and inspiring. It might even help to distinguish me from the other forty-six suitors, if you should happen to mislay my features or anything. Oh, by the way - I don't positively repel you or anything, do I? Because, if I do, I'll take my name off the waiting list at once?'
'No,' said Harriet Vane, kindly and a little sadly. 'No, you don't repel me.'
'I don't remind you of white slugs or make you go gooseflesh all over?'
'Certainly not.'
'I'm glad of that. Any minor alterations, like parting the old mane, or growing a toothbrush, or cashiering the eye-glass, you know, I should be happy to undertake, if it suited your ideas.'
'Don't,' said Miss Vane.
'You - er - you'll think it over, won't you, if you have a minute to spare? There's no hurry. Only don't hesitate to say if you think you couldn't stick it at any price. I'm not trying to blackmail you into matrimony, you know. I mean, I should investigate this for the fun of the thing, whatever happened, don't you see.'
'It's very good of you-'
'No, no, not at all. It's my hobby. Not proposing to people, I don't mean, but investigating things. Well, cheer-frightfully-ho and all that. And I'll call again, if I may.'
'I will give the footman orders to admit you,' said the prisoner, gravely; 'you will always find me at home.'

Thursday, 16 July 2009

what a tangled web we ride

Before you read the next paragraph, I want to reassure you that this post is a love story.

Today, Mark Cavendish drew level with Barry Hoban at the top of the all-time list of British Tour de France cyclists - they both have eight stage wins. Cav has done it in two years, and he's big favourite for this year's green jersey. (I might explain about all the different jerseys one day. I'm told by people who want me to stop that I do this very interestingly and they get it now, please stop, please, please stop.)

So I looked up Barry Hoban. He's a 69 year-old Yorkshireman who completed eleven Tours - also a record. He perennially battled Tom Simpson as top British rider. Simpson was a great crowd favourite, loved for his heroic solo attacks. In 1967 he died on Mont Ventoux, where this year's Tour will climax. Ventoux is a relentless, inecorable climb up a horrible bald mountain in the middle of a vast plain. Simpson - they were all on drugs and brandy for a mixture of misconceived reasons - pushed himself to the limit, fell over, said put me back on the bike, set off again, collapsed and died. The next day, out of respect to Simpson, the other riders let Hoban win.

Two years later, Hoban married Simpson's widow.

I am going to Lord's.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

strong poison encore une fois

('Strong Poison again'* (in French))

How satisfyingly yesterday's reading links to today's. I have finally started Strong Poison, par Dorothy L Sayers ('by Dorothy L Sayers') and it's a lot of fun. I was impelled, as long-term sufferers of this blog will know, by the excellent radio version with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and, as far as human ear can tell, Joan Hickson as Harriet Vane. Anyway, the plot famously has Vane incarcerated awaiting retrial for poisoning some weasel. Wimsey goes to see her, and says he wants to marry her once he's proven her innocence. 'Oh, are you another of them?' she says. 'That makes forty-seven.'
'Oh,' said Wimsey. 'Dear me that makes it very awkward. As a matter of fact, you know, i don't need any noteriety. I can get into the papers off my own bat. It's no treat to me. Perhaps I'd better not mention it again.'
His voice sounded hurt, and the girl eyed him rather remorsefully.
'I'm sorry - but one gets rather a bruised sort of feeling in my position. There have been so many beastlinesses.'
'I know,' said Lord Peter. 'It was stupid of me-'
'No, I think it was stupid of me. But why-?'
'Why? Oh, well - I thought you'd be rather an attractive person to marry. That's all. I mean, I sort of took a fancy to you. I can't tell you why. There's no rule about it you know.'
'I see. Well, it's very nice of you.'
'I wish you wouldn't sound as if you thought it was rather funny. I know I've got a silly face, but I can't help that. As a matter of fact, I'd like someone I could talk sensibly to, who would make life interesting. And I could give you a lot of plots for your books, if that's any inducement.'**
'But you wouldn't want a wife who wrote books, would you?'
'But I should; it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people. Though, of course, clothes and people are all right too, in moderation. I don't mean to say I object to clothes.'

[More good stuff, but the sun is moving in his heavens. Harriet goes on...]

'But, by the way, you're bearing in mind, aren't you, that I've had a lover?'
'Oh yes. So have I, if it comes to that. In fact, several. It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. I can produce some quite good testimonials. I'm told I make love rather nicely - only I'm at a disadvantage at the moment. One can't be very convincing at the other end of a table with a bloke looking in at the door.'

There is more very good stuff in this exchange, but you will have to wait for it. This is quite long enough for a post.

*In certain circumstances, 'Strong Poison once more with feeling'. These are not they.
** Harriet Vane is a writer of detective stories. Like Dorothy L Sayers. She is marrying a heroic nobleman. Do we all know the expression Mary Sue? Do we?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

strong poison

Following on from the below, Cuppy says about la Cantarella, the Borgias' supposed favourite poison:
They also said it was capable of causing death after any interval desired by the party of the first part. If he wanted to victim to die three weeks from next Friday afternoon, he would give him some La cantarella wound up for that particular period. I find there is only one poison of that kind, and it doesn't work.* Let's not be too certain that Cesare and his father poisoned anybody at all with their Borgia bane. Besides, it was probably just good old arsenic.

* Peter of Albano lists cats' brains as extremely lethal. Cats' brains are harmless if used in moderation.

(You are probably interested to learn about my debut as a very minor literary figure last night. It went well, I thought, but I am very biased. I enjoyed my fellow readers, the people who ran things were incredibly helpful and nice, and I strongly recommend writLOUD as an event. When they put up a recording of my reading, I might link to it and I might not, as the mood takes me.)

Monday, 13 July 2009

watch me dance

Not really. I'm doing my first reading later as part of Birkbeck's creative writing programme and working out what to say turns out to be tricky. Intriguingly, I am billed as a journalist, writer, librettist and sportsman. I sound like quite the Renaissance figure. But does playing lots of sport make me a sportsman? Not really. I never used to call myself a writer until I sold the book, for the same reasons that I don't think you can introduce yourself as an actor just because you do a charity Christmas show every year (plucking an example from the air). There are grey areas all over the lines, but none of those greys include me being a sportsman. Or a librettist, really.

I think it's going to be podcast at some point. This means that, by the end of the week, you will have two exciting podcast opportunities. The other involves me singing. It really does. But not much. In the not too distant future, you will have many, many podcast opportunities. I find it hard to imagine how excited you are by this.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

er ... no it isn't

After today's excitement in Cardiff (I was reminded as I took off my shirt a few minutes ago that when I am tense my sweat becomes acrid), the BBC writes: 'Whether this extraordinary denouement makes any difference to the final series score is difficult to say'. It definitely does make a difference. It reduces the number of Australian wins by one, and increases the number of draws by exactly the same amount.

(I also like the headline, 'Another incomparable Ashes Test'.)

oh! look, look!

While I was typing the end of the bit below, I thought: 'Did I not, only yesterday, see a poster for a film called Coco Before Chanel? Presumably it would have to have Boy Capel in it.'

It does.

cocktails before lunch

This is not random Duff, since it is the entry following this one:
October 8, 1918
We all meet every morning before lunch for cocktails at the Crillon bar. Drummond and I lunched at the Ritz. There I found Diana Capel* whom I most wanted to see. I arranged to go and see her in the evening.

We have now got rooms at the Ritz and during the afternoon I moved my things thither from the Mirabeau. I had some tea with the others at the Ambassadeurs and then went to see Diana in her apartment at 88 Avenue du Bois.

I dined with Drummond whom I like very much, at Maxim's, and we went to a revue - called Plus Cela Change at the Michel. Diana was there with Capel whom I don't like the look of. Afterwards we went to an establishment in the Rue de Hambourg where he was suited but I was not. I came home to bed - tired and pure.

* Diana Wyndham, later Countess of Westmoreland, had married 'Boy' Capel in 1917. He was a successful English businessman and keen polo player who lived in Paris. He had had an affair with Coco Chanel, and financed her first fashion boutique in 1910.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

un peu de cuppy

(It means 'A little bit of Cuppy', in French.)

I'm in a hurry because I have to go and sing in Jermyn Street (unlucky for someone). Which reminds me there is some Cuppy about singing, but I haven't time for it now. Here Cuppy is writing about the Borgias:
Much has been written about the kind of poison employed by Cesare and Rodrigo. Some called it La Cantarella and said it was made by a secret process involving a dead pig or possibly a deceased bear.*

*Frederick Baron Corvo makes a point, though not a decisive one, when he states that neither Rodrigo nor Cesare ever killed a bear. No bear, no poison, he argues.

(By the way, how good was Brad Wiggins yesterday? Could he really turn himself into a General Classification threat? Will he do it when there's the prospect of all those medals at 2012? With that and Contador versus Armstrong and what the hell the mood must be like within the Astana camp, I think we can all agree that it was a smashing first day in the mountains.)

Friday, 10 July 2009

what's the story, carlton kirby?

I am counting on Carlton Kirby egosurfing, finding this and filling me in on the details of a story he (I think it was him, but I came in only halfway through) was telling during the Tour de France commentary the other day, which I paraphrase below.

'I was,' said CK,
in the Pyrenees testing my ability to cope with loneliness, because I'd just got a contract to do two years on a radio station in Tuvalu, which is a very small island ... Actually, after fourteen months on Tuvalu I paid a Swedish freighter captain to get me off the island as quickly as possibly. It wasn't boredom that drove me away.
His fellow commentator said, 'I'm now imagining something to do with Chieftans and daughters,' to which CK replied that this was not so far off the truth.

I want to know more, Carlton Kirby. I really, really do.

(Non TdF fans, you probably don't realise the amazing job the Eurosport commentators do of chuntering along through days that make Test Match cricket look like thrill a second stuff (which it is). I got into the TdF about eight years ago and could watch all day. Lots of hardcore cycling fans hate the waffle, and slag off the likes of Carlton and David Duffield, who is off-mike this year, but I couldn't enjoy the rambling more.)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

other people's good things

1. This is really good

2. This I mentioned a while ago. It is a real advert for a real dentistry product, not a joke:

3. This was from Marbury:

a good joke given away for free

On the tube yesterday, I saw this.

It took me a moment to work out it was even a joke, because I am a moron. (I say it took me a moment - my less moronic friend instantly pointed out it was a joke. Maybe I would have never known otherwise.) Because I am a vain moron, it slightly reminded me of this.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

he got so fat that the bottom fell out of his car

I watched Whisky Galore the other night with two people who HAD NEVER HEARD OF JAMES ROBERTSON JUSTICE. I was shocked and saddened. He is one of the great picaresque characters, and here is a digest, culled from Wikipedia, the Spectator Review of What's The Bleeding Time (which I have ordered) and the website for same.

For a start, he's the one who looks like this:
He usually played doctors, admirals or other high status posh Scots. He was in Guns of Navarone. He was born in south London in 1907 to a Scots father who didn't like being Scots (which might have been one of the reasons for JRJ's professional Scottishness), studied Science at UCL and Geology at Bonn, both for a year. He played rugby at Blackheath alongside Johnny, the future Mr Fanny Craddock. He might have spoken twenty languages. He might not have, though. He was an accomplished linguist, but he was also a fibber.

He went to Canada, where he says he was a Mountie, but I don't think he was. He was head of the British Ice Hockey Association (he tended goals for London Lions - all sportsmen will tell you that goalies are nuts) and wanted to be a racing driver, but that didn't come off.

he fought, staggeringly briefly, in the Spanish Civil War. In WWII, as a navy reservist, he claimed to have been the last man shot at in anger with a bow and arrow. I think this was maybe by an Esquimau.

He started acting. He had presence but he couldn't remember lines, which had to be held up on boards. He said lines the way he said them, and that was that. It was a good way, though.

He was a great hunter: he was a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh and flew his peregrines at Sandringham; he was an expert fly fisherman but dynamited salmon; he shot ducks with a punt-mounted cannon and netted geese with rockets. Some of this is probably based in truth.

He was quite fruity. He was cited in lots of divorces and eventually married a long-term Prussian princess mistress who was described by someone as a bright version of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Here's a picture of her:

He also went on dates with Molly Parkin. This is her

After one at The Ivy she said he had 'his fingers in my Marks and Spencer knickers all through the meal'.

On a film set, someone laughed at his willy and he said, 'What you Cockney f***ers do not appreciate is the co-efficient of expansion'.

He had a temper.

He played Mozart on the bagpipes and was sometimes credited as Seamus Mòr na Feusag, which is Scots Gaelic for Big James with the Beard. He claimed to have been born under a distillery on the Isle of Skye (I'd be interested to know if he came up with this before or after Whisky Galore, and I'd like to have heard his tone of voice - I bet he sometimes made jokes other people took for fibs). He stood for Labour in North Angus and Mearns in 1950.

I'm going to quote the end of the Spectator review now:
The couple had settled on the Dornach Firth. Justice’s weight ballooned to 19 stone and the bottom of his car fell out as he was driving along. He suffered a stroke, started to babble in Danish, couldn’t get work, and was declared bankrupt. He and Irina were taken in by the heir to the Russell and Bromley shoe-shop chain — a man whom Irina married after Justice’s death. His ashes are interred under a cairn on Birichen Moor, in the Highlands.

Beat that with a stick.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

doctor, doctor, can you cure my desire to learn something amazing?

Yes, I can, but not now. I have found a really great thing, but I haven't got time to do it justice. A clever soothsayer would know what it is from the subtle embedded clues.

To salve whatever needs salving, let me open The Duff Cooper Diaries at random:
October 7, 1918
In the afternoon I went to 18 Rue Pasquier - an establishment I knew before the war and which apparently has if anything improved since. There I was satisfied by a tall fair thin girl - rather like Nancy but better looking. Later, I met Healy at Ciro's which seemed amusing - full of tarts accompanied and unaccompanied. I dined with Healy and Carroll at the Ambassadeurs. We saw there another Grenadier - Drummond in the 2nd Battalion and asked him to join us which he did.

Monday, 6 July 2009

nightmarish agonising dilemma

I am having a set of KSC shirts made. They are going to look like this:

On the white of the breast, there will be the KSC logo, designed by the brilliant John Finnemore who Forgets What He Did over there on the right and computerised with enormous skill by The Wolf (not as exciting as he sounds). There are currently two versions. One of them is artistically nicer. One of them has probably more of the seventies retro-y feel of the shirts. I'm in two minds.

amazon is another country

I said I would get obsessed with Amazon rankings, just like eveyrone else who ever lived and published a book. Here is the unbelievably boring news.

At various points, people pre-order copies of KSC. I know this because the ranking goes from 500,000 to 10,000 in a moment, slips quickly into the high 100,000s and then steadily down. Except Amazon famously keep changing their algorithms, and I know a few people have ordered in the last couple of weeks, but no movement. So maybe these purchases will only count when the book is actually released. If so, that's probably how my publisher would like it (grouping looks better) which makes me think that this might be a change suggested by publishers of books with large pre-sales.

Oh, wait //checks something// this doesn't work. The next Dan Brown is at eleven in the charts. In which case: I've got nothing.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

by timothy!

This is what well-heeled detective Paul Temple says when he's astonished or angry. His wife, Steve, ended a story I heard last week by saying, 'Not pygmalion likely!' It's very sweet. The stories are great in a mad way - they ran on radio and telly between 1938 and 1971 - and rely on deathbed confessions, huge coincidences and lots of intricacy.

Enough of that, because the most famous Paul was Peter Coke (pronounced 'Cook'), and I feel in my bones that you want to know more about him. I'm your guy. Via the Telegraph, mostly.

Before being a big radio star when that meant something, his young years were spent in Kenya as the son of a former naval commander who went to the colonies to plant linen, as we all do someday. He went to school and then tooled around the south of France, doing a stint as unpaid assistant vice-consul (what the hell does this mean?). Then RADA, which took him because of his command of long-forgotten techniques taught him by a grand old actress he'd met somewhere.

He was in Bonnet Over the Windmill at the New Theatre, so he got offered a seven year Hollywood contract, but the Daily Mail said he shouldn't take it or he'd be forgotten. He did British films, joined the artillery and fought in Italy, opened a stall on Portobello market which became an antiques shop and started writing plays like The Isle of Umbrellas.

He played Temple on the radio from 1954 till 1968, and when the stories started repeating on Radio 7 in 2003, he got a whole new lease of fan mail.

At some point, don't ask me when, he got obsessed with 'Sailor Valentines', which were sea shell arrangements made by sailors in the eighteenth century. He started making them. They got a lot of attention from people like Alec Guiness. You think you have an idea what I am talking about, but you probably don't. Even I laughed until I saw a picture. These were shells the size of a grain of sand which he had to apply with tweezers, and there is a gallery of his work in Sheringham.

He died a year ago, aged 95. In 2003, he was predeceased by his long-term partner Fred Webb. All the obituaries end like this. It made me re-think about the assisitant vice-consul period a little.

Friday, 3 July 2009

guide to this blog, and other matters

In response to upswing in visitor numbers related to imminent publication, here is a guide to this blog.

1. This is the inspiring photo essay where I describe seeing the book turned into a book.

2. That link on the side to 'my best work' links to my best unpublished work. Believe me or not.

3. Mostly the blog is amusing bits of Will Cuppy and or facts about squids/tunas/whales. Sometimes I make eerily important prognostications admired only by my friend Tom.
4. Quite rarely, I blog about my book. I imagine less rarely in the coming weeks. Viz.

A. I have to prepare for various events and readings. I have no idea what to say. By which I mean: I can describe how and why I write, but at the moment I can only do it in a fluffy and directionless way, and I wonder if that's what people will want to hear. And I really don't know which bits of KSC to read out. One of the things I've tried to do is write an exciting story, so I don't want to give any of it away. I could just read out the start, but someone told me it was better to read a few extracts and talk in between, and that does seem a more sensible way of holding attention.

B. I am organising a party to celebrate the book being published. Some people will be on holiday because it's in August and they're obsessed with getting the most expensive flights they possibly can. Various of these have asked if there is any way they can get hold of a book even so - Can I put a copy aside?, etc. I am hoping there will be other methods of getting hold of the book than this.

C. My favourite invitation response to date: 'Great to hear that your creative juices have finally come to fruition'.

D. Once every few months, my rogue five-times-normal-thickness eyebrow gets long enough to pull out, which I find very satisfying. Yesterday, after a couple of days of it flickering into my eyeline, I discovered a real live head hair of similar thickness - it is five inches long if you can imagine such a thing, and if you hold one end, it can support its own weight, standing almost erect. I have shown it to three people. The most generous response was: 'Well, I can see why you might be interested in it.' That's the trouble with sharing. Once you start, you can't stop.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

when we could write

Keynes writing about Versailles is rip-roaring (Clemenceau was 'dry in the soul and empty of hope, very old and tired').

When I was reading highlights in Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance, Keynes's descriptions of Lloyd George made me think of Tony Blair:
with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next
and this, which was cut from The Economic Consequences of the Peace,
rooted in nothing; he is void and without content ... one catches in his company the flavour of final purposelessnes, inner irresponsibility, existence outside or away from our Saxon good and evil, mixed with cunning, remorselessness, love of power.

Comparisons are odorous, and so on and so forth, and it is not like with like, and if history repeats itself it is Chinese whispers at best, but it's what I thought.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

very like a whale

I wonder if I have mentioned at all that I loved with a fiery passion Philip Hoare's Leviathan? It won the Samuel Johnson prize last night. This reminded me that it has been AGES since I told any whale stories. What must you think of me?

The Williams Scoresby. Dad was a great whale captain, who got close to the North-West Passage, who devised the enclosed crow's nest and was satirised by Melville as 'Captain Sleet', and who often wrote his ship's log in verse, viz.
So now the Western ice we leave
And pleasant Gales we do receive.

He kept a pet polar bear which he walked through Whitby, and retired in 1823, regarding man's capture of whales by men, 'when their relative proportions are considered, is a result truly wonderful.' He had a very big house and on 28 April 1829, aged 69, he shot himself through the heart. No one knows why.

His son was navy boy, had sailed with his dad, and was also an Edinburgh scientist who met Joseph Banks. He whaled to finance his scientific interests, and his book, An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery (1820) was one of the monumental works of early cetology. It was a major source for Melville, who fisctionalised him as the various authorities Zogranda, Fogo von Slack, Dr Snodhead and Captain Sleet (and people say Melville can't do comedy).

I will leave you with a fact that Scoresby fiddled around with: he found buried spear heads in whales and said they were the sort of weapons used by Esquimaux a century earlier. Modern science came to terms with this much, much later. Some large male bowheads, it transpires, have been caught in their late hundreds, and one at 211.*

There are probably older ones. As Hoare writes: It is 'an exquisite revenge: born before Melville, the whales have outlived their pursuers.' Phyrric, though.

*Dr Jeffrey L Bada of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California ages whales by measuring changes in the aspartic acid levels in their eyes. Don't do this with your friends or pets, even if you suspect they are lying to you.