Monday, 31 August 2009

wimsical

A super line from The Nine Tailors, a Dorothy L Sayers whose last couple of episodes are still on iPlayer. Someone's been up a church tower with a dead body, and I think he might have dropped something onto a bell, and I think he has then described the eeriness of the sound, and said that Lord Peter Wimsey probably thinks he sounds fanciful. Lord Peter replies:
Bells are like cats and mirrors. They're always queer and it don't do to think too much about 'em.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

ok, so you had a great holiday, but what are the best two bits in James Lever's Me Cheeta?


A difficult question, because it's such a good book (I thought it was very good almost all the way through, and then I realised by the end that I had been solidly and persistently underestimating it). It's the 'memoir' of the chimp who acted alongside Johnny Weismuller in most of the main Tarzan movies, in case you've missed it, and I'm really glad it's Booker-longlisted. I imagine I will have a different position on this the next time I think about it, but I am going to go with:
There's me and Don looking fifteen years younger, a commission in oils, and here's our sofa, with our twenty-six-year-deep indentations on it. It seems impossible. The years accelerate like coins vibrating on countertops.
And:
So it's a perfect day coming to an end now, in Palm Springs, and I'm flat out on the lounger having flipped through this memoir of mine. It's not Shakespeare, sure, but I'm totally amazed at how it's turned out, given that I've just been randomly prodding at the keyboard.

Friday, 21 August 2009

cars, horses, ebooks

CARS ARE STUPID!
by Phil Space, our Horse and Carriage Correspondent


People keep saying that something called cars are the future of transport! Well, they're stupid because I've driven one of the first cars and it ws stupid! Look at a picture of it or something like it.

It looks stupid compared to a horse or even a proper carriage. Horses are lovely, we love horses, they are living things with a special touch and feel and so on.

Then I had a go in the stupid-looking car, which I despised on principle, making me the obviously best person to give an opinion. It was slow and complicated, and it only went for twenty miles. What a totally stupid thing! I literally cannot imagine that the one I saw, one of the first ever built, is not the best one to use to judge the entire possibilities of this kind of device for reading books. I mean for going on journeys.

I mean, people say that you'll be able to have thousands of books along with you, I mean go for hundreds of miles in air-conditioned splendour, but first I can't imagine that (not because I have no imagination!!!), and second because everyone loves horses and I have arbitrarily decided that it's either books or ebooks. I mean cars or horses.

The ebook I had a go on was stupid, therefore all cars are stupid. I mean the internet. Email I mean. Mobile phones will never catch on, aren't those people ridiculous?

Etc.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

you're almost certainly ahead of me

Since I expect, like most of my readers, you are a top international endocrinologist, you are aware of how nightmarishly hard it is to say what sex someone is.

Since you are a top international endocrinologist with a keen interest in athletics, you know that I am raising this because a South African teenager called Caster Semenya is having to face gender testing after she suddenly became brilliant this year and smashed everyone in the World Championship 800m final. She didn't do press conferences afterwards.

The IAAF media guy, Pierre Weiss, said this:
We know you want to talk to her, but she is young, she is inexperienced and she is not able to reply properly to all your questions. I will answer for her. The decision not to put her up was taken by the IAAF and the South African federation. I repeat, she was not prepared for a situation like this.
Fair enough. This is one of those things that seems like a funny joke when it is probably the tip of a sad and confusing iceberg.

Miss Jones will be all over this post like a cheap suit, and will be waiting for me to chat about the eight athletes who failed sex tests at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and were subsequently cleared; about Ewa Kłobukowska, a Pole who won some medals in Tokyo, 1964, and was the first person to fail tests; and about Tamara and Irina Press, some multi-medal-winning Russians who suddenly stopped turning up for competitions when people started doing the checks. Now I have done that. I am going to put up a picture of the Presses, since their story is more naughty than sad.

But other stories, and probably Semenya's are bedeviled by intersex issues. There are women who grow vestigial male genitalia. There are physiological females with male genetic make-up. The Journal of American the American Medical Association says:
gender verification tests are difficult, expensive, and potentially inaccurate. Furthermore, these tests fail to exclude all potential impostors (eg, some 46,XX males), are discriminatory against women with disorders of sexual development, and may have shattering consequences for athletes who 'fail' a test.

Something differently funny to finish with: Dora Ratjen came fourth in the 1936 Berlin Olympic high jump. She set a world high jump record at the 1938 European Championships. She was a man called Hermann Ratjen who was forced to disguise his gender by the Nazis. He looked like this:

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

you think our bankers are ropey

From Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance, which I am still loving reading, comes the cautionary tale of Lord Cunliffe, Governor of the Bank of England for most of WWI. Ahamed explains about the Bank's governors, who served two-year terms:
Though the directors of the Bank were charged with governing the supply of credit in Britain, and by extension around the globe, they did not pretend to know very much about economics, central banking, or monetary policy. An economist of the 1920s once described them as resembling ship captains who not only refused to learn the principles of navigation but believed that these were unnecessary.

The Bank was very proud to point out that it was by no means an organ of the British State. Ahamed goes on:
An apocryphal story, much circulated in the City before the war, best captures that attitude. A governor was asked by the chancellor of the exchequer to testify before a royal commission. When questioned about the Bank’s reserves, he was only willing to say that they were “very, very considerable.” When pressed to give even an approximate figure, he was supposed to have replied that he wold be “very very reluctant to add to what he said.”
As the stresses of raising money for the war mounted, tensions between the bank and the government escalated, finally coming to a head in the 1917. The governor was then Walter Cunliffe, a tall barrel-chested, John Bull sort of character who sported an imposing walrus mustache, was a renowned big game hunter, and looked more like a gentleman farmer than a City grandee. Over the years, he had become increasingly autocratic and erratic in his judgments and had developed an exaggerated sense of his own importance as governor to the extent that his status required him to deal with the government through the prime minister alone, not even though the chancellor of the exchequer.
In 1917, Cunliffe became infuriated with what he believed was the cavalier way he was being treated by officials at the Treasury, among whom the chief culprit was none other than that brilliantly impertinent young upstart Maynard Keynes. Cunliffe was well known in the City as a man of few words and even more limited intelligence, a bully who acted first and thought later. In a fit of temper, without consulting any of his fellow directors, he dispatched a telegram to the Canadian government, then the North American custodian of the Britain’s gold reserves, forbidding it to accept any further instructions from the Treasury in London. The British government came close to the extremely embarrassing position at the height of the World War of not being able to settle the bills from its American suppliers.
Lloyd George, by now prime minister, and justly furious, summoned Cunliffe to 10 Downing Street, and berated the governor, threatening to “take over the bank.” After some delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations over protocol, the shaken Cunliffe wrote the chancellor of the exchequer as cringing a letter as form would allow, asking him “to accept my unreserved apology for anything I have done to offend you.” Cunliffe, who, because of the war and contrary to all tradition, had been appointed for a second two-year term, was not reappointed again.

According to Wikipedia, Cunliffe also wrote, personally, one of the first office dress codes for women, because he was 'pained by some of the costumes he encountered' in the corridors. It was conservative.

come in number 9, your time is up

I am the war on the following joke:
It's 2009. When I was a kid I assumed by now there would be jetshoes and flying cars, meals-in-a-pill and sexbots. But there are still rail strikes / Bruce Forsyth is still on the telly / Mick Jagger still isn't dead.
I'm not saying it's a bad joke, but I have heard it too often - once per series of The Now Show* for a start - and I have decided that it should take the long last walk.


*I really like The Now Show.

Monday, 17 August 2009

tesco eats manchester united


I have just read Why England Lose: and Other Curious Phenomena Explained.

I loved it. My favourite sections were on incompetent management - how hopelessly managers are chosen, transfers are conducted and incredibly valuable players are relocated, for instance. But a particularly revealing page discusses the canard that football is 'big business.'

By 2008, the average club in the Premier League turned over £75m. The average Tesco supermarket turned over £50m. And Tesco has 600 supermarkets, so the big ones will average a lot more. And Tesco is benefiting from economies of scale rather than fighting with itself. And so on.

The story is obviously more complicated than this, but if you're interested, read the book. Read mine first, though. I'm reading from it at West End Lane Books tonight. It's a really great book shop (they were lovely at my launch, and they have filled their window with TKSC, so I am pretty biased).

are you canadian?

Quick question, and maybe not a good one: The Kilburn Social Club is published in Canada on September 22nd. If I were going to try in some way do tell Canadians about it, and that I hope they'll like it even if they don't care about football, how should I be dreaming of doing it? Is there a particularly brilliant books programme on Canadian radio, for instance?

I imagine that nothing will come of my trying to tell people, but I'm all about best practice.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

winnie cooper

This is a sort-of follow-up to the Hedy Lamarr post.

(I have just thought this: when the creators of The Wonder Years were coming up with character names, did they consciously think, 'Winnie Cooper rhymes with Mini Cooper'? I will not believe that there was not at least an unconscious echo. I will not, whatever you do to me. Whatever you do to me, you can't take away my dignity.*)

Whatever, this is Winnie Cooper, who I had a little crush on at a time when it was age-appropriate.

Time passed, and I had, without spotting that it was the same actress, a little West Wing crush on Elsie Snuffin (funny name).

Then, on rewatching West Wing for about the fifth time, I worked out where I'd seen Elsie Snuffin before.

Because I am not a moron who thinks that characters played by a person indicates what the person is like, I didn't have a crush on Danica McKellar. I don't fancy Honeysuckle Weeks. I do fancy Samantha Stewart. Etc.

But then I found out that Danica McKellar did maths at UCLA, co-authored a paper and wrote Math Doesn't Suck, which tries to encourage teenage girls to do and be good at maths. At this point, I definitely had a little crush. Reader, I married her.


(No, I didn't. That was just my little joke. This other guy married her.)


*You can take away my dignity. Lots of people have proved this.

Friday, 14 August 2009

UNESCO Heritage Breasts

In today's Pravda, the harrowing tale of Simona Halep (17, 34DD). She is planning a breast-reduction. Apparently - and I use this word advisedly when repeating anything from Pravda - this announcement 'caused panic among Halep's fans', who have started to collect signatures to petition her not to have the surgery.

She says they weigh twelve unwieldy kilos and she can't play normally any more, and this is her career; they say her breasts are part of UNESCO's legacy. In case my implicit editorialising is at all subtle, which I doubt, I think 'they' are bunch of weirdos who should get a grip.

(You can search for pictures yourself, by the way. Almost all the ones you'll find were taken to catch her breasts in full extension. Yes, yes, it's an entertainment business, blah, but this is a seventeen year old girl and although I started this post finding it funny, I now am finding it a bit grim.)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

heady

I knew very little about Hedy Lamarr till Boing Boing wrote about her yesterday. I mean, I knew she was a film star. Here is a picture of her looking like one:

What I failed to realise is that she, like me, was a top international scientist.*

According to an essay by an artist called Michaela Melian, Hedy was born in Austria (real name Hedwig Kiesler), and some guy said she was the most beautiful girl in the world, but guys are always saying that and I wouldn't set too much store by it. In 1933, Melian says, 'she was the first woman to simulate an orgasm onscreen.' I'm not a top international expert on pornography, but I think this claim is at the very best wildly unlikely.

But forget about that stuff. Melian is just an artist, give her some license. The real thing is that during WWII Hedy worked on devices to beat Hitler. Lots of nutters probably did that, but she invented a frequency-hopping device for making it harder to jam or eavesdrop on radio communications. Electronics weren't up to building it then, but it's now in mobile phones. Or so the story goes. It's a nice story, certainly.

(She wanted to join the National Inventors' Council in WWII, but she was told she would be more valuable selling War Bonds, etc. At one event, she raised $7m. That's loads.)

My favourite bit of her Wikipedia entry is entitled 'Marriages'. It runs:
Briefly engaged to the German actor, Fred Doederlein and later, actor George Montgomery in 1942. Lamarr was also married to:

Friedrich Mandl (1900–1977), married 1933–37; chairman of Hirtenberger Patronen-Fabrik, a leading armaments firm founded by his father, Alexander Mandl. Mandl, partially of Jewish descent, was a supporter of Austrofascism, although not Nazism.
Gene Markey (1895-1980), screenwriter and producer, married 1939–41; son (adopted in 1941, after their divorce), James Lamarr Markey (b. 1939). When Lamarr and Markey divorced — she claimed they had only spent four evenings alone together in their marriage — the judge advised her to get to know any future husband longer than the four weeks she had known Markey.
John Loder (born John Muir Lowe, 1898–1988), actor, married 1943–47; two children: Anthony Loder (b. 1947) and Denise Loder (b. 1945). Loder adopted Hedy's son, James Lamarr Markey, and gave him his surname. James Lamarr Loder later challenged Hedy Lamarr's will in 2000, which did not mention him. He later dropped his suit against the estate in exchange for a lump-sum payment of $50,000. Anthony Loder is featured in the European documentary film Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004).
Ernest "Ted" Stauffer (1909-1991), nightclub owner, restaurateur, and former bandleader, married 1951–52.
W. Howard Lee (1909–1981), a Texas oilman, married 1953–60. In 1960, he later married film star Gene Tierney.
Lewis J. Boies (b. 1920), a lawyer (her divorce lawyer), married 1963–65.

She sounds energetic.

*Actually I am not a top international scientist.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

hooray! hooray!

Finally some interest for the #impossiblefishquiz:

- Lisa asks: Can you spot the deliberate mist-hake?
- Lotte asks: How many angelfish can dance on the head of a pin?

These are both very inspiring questions. My one for today is: If a treefish falls in the forest, does it make a sound?*

*This is a treefish.

why are you torturing me like this? why? what have i ever done to you?

Because I can is the short answer.

The torture consists of pictures of where I am going on holiday at the end of next week.





I am really, really looking forward to it. It will be a reward for a year of doing almost nothing, not only out of laziness though that is a factor it would be well not to ignore, and then working very hard for a month. Maybe I have worked hard for a month simply to give myself the illusion that I deserve a break. I wouldn't put it past me.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

midnight wallaby

This is what it says on one page of my notepad. Another page says: Carnival of Surprises - good title. I agree with myself, but for what?

Today's #impossiblefishquestion is: How now, brown trout? Is it really only me who finds these funny? I'm not saying that I'll stop if, as it seems to me, it is.

(Cerys Matthews show on Radio 6, about 2 hrs 20 in, demonstrates extremely good taste in books.)

Monday, 10 August 2009

russia's most desirable single women

A bit deeper into Pravda today. What was it that attracted me about the headline? Looking back, I still can't say.

Anyway, the list was compiled by Russian Tatler, and the first name on the list is Ksenia Sobchak. Apparently She is known across Russia as a socialite, TV host and presenter. Ksenia is Russia's No.1 'it girl', an analogue to Paris Hilton. Literally none of these things make her seem desirable.

The next on the list: just a photo. And then Alina Kabayeva, Russia's rhythmical gymnast and State Duma deputy. She quit her sports career after she won every medal that she could. Now she is a TV host. She is friends with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. I doubt you'd get much trouble. Except from Putin.

As Wikipedia helpfully explains, she possesses a 'high inborn flexibility'. There was a report that she was going to marry Putin, which Putin rubbished at a press conference. The press conference was being co-held with Silvio Berlusconi. I can't think what those guys talked about.

Gorbachev's granddaughter is on the list. So is Alyona Akhmadullina [who] is friends with many Russian oligarchs. She owns her own brand and a three-storeyed boutique in the heart of Moscow. You may be interested to know that when she came up with her collection for Autumn 2007, she had in mind 'intergalactic athletes'. I haven't the time or energy to find you the relevant pictures.

Ksenia Sukhinova won Miss World last year. What this makes me think is that Ksenia is an unusually well-represented name on this list, and I had never heard it before five minutes ago. It's Segolene all over again. What is its cultural freight? If you are Russian, is it equivalent to Brittany or is it equivalent to Jemima? If someone can answer this question, I would be both surprised and grateful.

There are other TV hosts, fashion designers and socialites.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

where oh where has will cuppy gone in all this endless solipsism?

Mea culpa.
In his day Charles V was the most powerful ruler on earth. He owned most of Europe and a lot of America, yet nobody has ever been able to get excited about him. To most of us he was just an old man who was very fond of fish.
He died in 1558, leaving four clocks, sixteen watches, fourteen feather bolsters, thirty-seven pillows, a small box for carrying preserved lemon peel or candied pumpkin, four bezoar stones for curing the plague, six mules, a small one-eye horse, twenty seven pairs of spectacles, some old buttons, and Philip II.
...
Full-grown, Philip was a smallish man with Hapsburg lip and a light yellow beard. Titian painted his portrait three times, but the results were only so-so.*

*Even if you are Titian, you have to have something to work with.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

what about those east germans?


Here is the train of thought:

1. Swimming records are being set in these rubber suits, and the suits are going to be banned, and the records will stay on the books for a long time.
2. Records which stay on the books for a long time are fun. Bob Beamon's long jump, obviously. The 200m, where there have only been three records in 30 years: Pietro Mennea in 1979, then Michael Johnson in 1996 and then Usain Bolt last year.
3. And then there are the well dodgy ones still cluttering up women's athletics. Flo Jo, who suddenly improved beyond all recognition, was amazing for 1988, won her medals and set the records and retired, just before the introduction of mandatory out-of-competition testing, and who died of various internal explosions aged 38. And the East Germans, led by Marita Koch. And the incredibly masculine Czech, Jarmila Kratochvilova, who I always supported against Koch.

Wikipedia coyly calls JK 'late-developing'. In 1983, in her first season running 800m, at the age of 32, she took on a seemingly impossible (read 'impossible') schedule in the World Champs, and lo and behold she suddenly held 400m and 800m records. Koch broke the 400m in 1985, but the 800m still stands, like Flo Jo's.

Documents later uncovered describe the timings and dosages of steroids fed to Koch, though she never publicly admitted taking them. However, Wikipedia does say:
However, a letter to the head of the state-owned pharmaceutical company was discovered by researcher Werner Frank, in which Marita Koch complained that Bärbel Wöckel received larger doses of steroids, because she had a relative working in the company
East Germany was a hell of a place.

Friday, 7 August 2009

i am sold out on amazon again, and reviews again

(I am not sold out on Amazon again yet, actually, but there are only two left. They only had copies again this morning. Obviously this is satisfying, on one level, but since my ranking is only about 1000, I presume it means Amazon's only ordering small numbers of copies each time. Maybe you are less interested in this than I am. It's certainly possible.)

Today has been very hectic, which given last night's book launch hedonism - I am a much worse dancer than I think - means I wish this evening wasn't also going to be hectic, but it is. (Revealing fact about me: 'hectic' is one of my favourite words to hear spoken in a French accent.)

People said last night they have not been able to find the Times review. This is how, those people.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Blacktail. Capriped. Especially and geyser. Lambative

The abbrvtd language of text and online forums isn't as new a phenomenon as people make out. I heard a great radio-or-podcast thing whose origins I can't remember which was about letters sent by Boswell or similar, and which included shortenings every bit as gnomic as txt-speak.

And telegrams had a similar code, partly for economy, because you paid by the word, and partly for secrecy. Ben Schott writes about this in the NY Times, which I was put onto by Jenny Davidson's Light Reading over on the right.

Schott's good at spotting the ones that are fun/oddly specific. Here are a few:

ABUSAGE - His absence is rather mysterious
ANDALUSITE - You seem to be annoyed
HURST - The hunting expedition will not set out
TITMOUSE - I accept with pleasure your invitation to the theatre tomorrow evening
INSIDIATOR - How much is your life insured for? (This is my favourite, because of how the word somehow echoes the tone of the question)
DEWS - Destroyed by a cyclone

I have become obsessed with, no, I mean interested, in trying to tell stories using these phrases. The story told by the headline (which contains six words for good reason) is:
You have made a blunder. Cattle are scarce. Do not try the experiment and do not pay in gold. Engage a good lawyer.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

#impossiblefishquiz fail


I have never started anything on twitter. I am currently enjoying #welshfilms (Bread of Heaven's Gate, ha ha).* A few days ago, because I loved the tuna anagram quiz question, and inspired by something a friend said, I started the #impossiblefishquiz. Here are some questions:

- What fish, apart from tuna, is an anagram of the word AUNT?
- How much wood could a sailfish chuck if a sailfish could chuck wood?
- How many blennies can you fit in a lake?
- How long is a piece of ling?

Uptake from the wider Twittering population: zero. Am I hurt? A bit, yes. Am I discouraged? Well, we'll see, shall we.


*If you don't twitter, and why should you: # denotes a subject. Periodically the subject, such as #welshfilms, is one which aims to inspire people to pun in manner of contestants on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

the mighty river lena

You might never have heard of it. You almost certainly don't give it the respect it deserves. I read a book about it once. It cuts a swathe through Siberia. A thousand miles from the sea, it is twelve miles wide. Think about that for a second.

It is one of the rivers which still contains taimen, largest of the salmonids. These are proper trout-like fish which can leap from the water, and tailwalk and everything. They can be 6ft long and weight 200lbs. They pluck squirrels and ducks from branch and river bank. How about that?

(Long-term readers of my match reports will know this stuff already. For some reason, the Lena popped into my mind yesterday, and I thought it was worth repeating.)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

inspiring photo essay ii: party time

THIS INSPIRING PHOTO ESSAY NOW INCLUDES THE FAMOUS LOST PARAGRAPH DESCRIBING THE FOOD.

So, my mum wanted to have a party to celebrate my book being published. I was incredibly grateful and excited, since my mum is very beloved by all and sundry, and it would give me the chance to see lots of family friends, and to sell them my book, which is widely regarded as the best book I have ever had published.

One of the first things I noticed when I got home was that there were more gazebos than usual to the tune of one.



This gazebo had been bought by my mother in case of rain, and because it was much more sensible than to hire if she was ever going to need a gazebo again. It was erected by my uncle Alec, who is over from Johannesburg for a few months, along with his wife Elizabeth, who he met because she was my mother's best friend. It's heartwarming just thinking about it.

Because I am such a terrible photojournalist, and am only rescued by the excellence of my source material, none of my pictures of Alec and Elizabeth were good enough to feature here. My brother Alex is going to save my bacon by sending one. It will arrive shortly.

Alex had saved my bacon on Saturday also by helping me get the books from West End Lane Books, West Hampstead (who have been brilliant at organising books to sell at this and my party in Kilburn next week). Here is Alex and the car.



Here are the books. You can see how they got in this weird white plastic by going to see my previous inspiring photo essay.



The most noticeable thing about the house apart from the endless new gazebos was how much more food than you normally need in a house containing fewer than three thousand people. Here, for example is some trifle being made.



This is one of the two fridges.



Lots of food didn't fit into the two fridges, and was in boxes with ice. These two salmon, for instance.



It wasn't just food. There were also many hundreds of lists of things that needed to be done. Over the course of Saturday evening, my mother read and re-read these lists to the rest of us. Her problem, and it was a problem, was that she had succeeded in getting ahead of the game. She was, about this, in a state of disbelief. Are you in a state of disbelief about the lists? I cannot see why you would be. Anyway, here is pictorial evidence which I didn't fake. I am like Robert Capa.



To demonstrate that I am like Robert Capa in how good I am at spotting a pictorial moment, here is a picture of beads of water on the gazebo roof in the the Sunday morning sin.



I mean sun. If you saw the above picture in full definition, it would probably blow your mind, so you should thank your lucky stars. The sun is a star, fact fans. Here is the gazebo in the sun, including chairs.



(Parenthetical, for colour: did you know that if you throw an egg over a house onto grass, the egg almost certainly won't break? You think this is nonsense. I certainly did when my friend Chris told me during a previous event at my house. Everyone else did too. We all went and got an egg, and we all threw eggs over the house onto the grass. None of them broke. We have done this several times since. Very few eggs have broken. Here is a wider shot of the house to demonstrate what an exciting story I am telling. I am a very exciting storyteller. You should probably buy my book.



End of parenthesis.)

Anyway, the above picture of the empty gazebo is how my mother imagined the gazebo would be looking at one o'clock when no one had turned up. This is what the gazebo looked like at one o'clock.



And this is what things looked like inside.



But I am getting ahead of myself. At this stage, we were still running around collecting the wine and and change (big up Waitrose, Bishop's Stortford), and blowing up balloons, and erecting signs. These signs were painted on Friday by Hebe, who is a sort of de facto small cousin, when she and her sister Poppy and their mother Cherry were doing whatever my mother made them do. They were and remain excellent signs.



We were also assembling the enormous food-jigsaw. This is my cousin Fran getting stuck in.



(Parenthesis 2: Fran is an artist. She has designed her own wrought iron fences, which were in the garage. Here is a picture that in no way does them full justice.



I am aware that sometimes I say I am a brilliant photojournalist, and sometimes I say the opposite. I do it because I am changeable, like the sea. End of parenthesis.)

Here's the front of the house. Nice flowers.



These chairs came over to England from Zimbabwe when we moved. They are part of a small list of things I remember from being a small child in Africa. Either that or we bought them when we came over and this is a false memory. That happens too.



This is my mother, who is the inspiring heroine of this particular photoessay. The other guy bought a book.



You'd have thought, looking at it, that this guy had also bought a book, but no. He had wandered off with a book to think about matters. My top international photographer subordinate had taken over by this point of the photoessay and took the picture in case it was needed in a criminal trial.



The guy returned the book. Lucky for him.

I signed some books. You can get a crude understanding of what the process must have looked like to an outside observer by looking at this picture.



You can also get a crude picture of what some Crabbies alcoholic ginger beer looks like in a champagne glass. What it tastes like is: ginger beer. If you can't see where this might lead into dangerous territory, you have never had a dark and stormy. I can't find a picture to give you a crude sense of what it looked like when the champagne glass contained Saffron Brewery's Silent Night. The description (a beer with added port and chocolatey overtones) makes it sound disgusting. It is.

To get a crude understanding of how things looked when I was signing for my sister, this picture is better.



And for the history teacher who is the reason I became a historian instead of a chemical engineer (true fact: chemical engineer is the only job I coveted at any point in my youth).



You must be very impressed with my shirt. It was made for me by a Congolese shirtmaker in the literal Congo on the instructions of my friend Rachel who used to a diplomat there and is now based in Rwanda. This is 'colour' for those who are finding the relentless focus on my book a bit boring.

At this point, my mother gave a speech. It was lovely to the extent that my emotionally susceptible sub-photojournalist only managed a dim and distant view. Viz.



She recovered fine to take pictures of me thanking all the inspiring heroes and heroines of the photoessay much less and less eloquently than they deserved, but looking at everything, how eloquent would I have had to be? I am not that eloquent.



This was a typical reaction to my speech.



There was plenty of party after this. I just wanted to say, though, that in a previous blog post I mention that it included Somerset brie, and here is the proof via more Capa-esque journalism.



Incidentally, you might be thinking that the volume of food compromised the quality. More fool you, you fool. Let me take you back to the summer of 1994, when 50 different people came round for my twenty-first:

Everyone had a drink in the glorious sunshine, and then went inside to get food which they ate dotted around the house watching a purple thunderstorm all around. One of my friends who isn't one of the idiots stood in the kitchen for five minutes that seemed like an hour, huge plateful of Russian fish pie, lasagne, curry, coleslaw and whatever else tottering in his puny hand, telling my mother that 'this is the best meal I have ever eaten Mrs Hudson. I'm not drunk. A little maybe, but not properly. Not like I will be later. But not really now, and this food is AMAZING!'

(For this reason, this is my mother's favourite of my friends alongside all the other ones. She is really grateful whenever there is any evidence that I have friends.)

Another picture. I include it because it contains coleslaw. Several guests remarked that they thought they hated coleslaw, but it turned out that they had just never eaten it when it was done right, and that coleslaw turns out to be delicious.



It was sunny, and I had signed lots of books, so I took a tour around the garden with my cousins Monica and Dylan (keen readers of my book will note those names), and with Poppy and Hebe, whose family have always been virtually cousins also - they also moved over from Zim, we stayed with them when we came over, we still live in the same village as them.



I showed them the gravestone of Mary Something, which we dug up when we were re-doing the rockery.



There is another bit of gravestone nearby which I had forgotten about, but Dylan, who is a noticing kind of boy, noticed it. A better photojournalist would have a picture of it here. Last Christmas, I had a long debate with Dylan about the congestion charge. He was, broadly, opposed. The debate went on to include third world debt and international trade. It was a very good debate.

In this picture, I explain to M, D, P and H about the excellent fence my brother started building a couple of years ago and extends from time to time. It is one of those ones made by weaving long bits of supple branch through upright rods. 'Where is the picture of the fence?' you ask. Well might you.



You will notice that Dylan is more interested in an SS Jumbo cricket bat I bought off Ed Peachey at some point in the late eighties. He knows I am not really a foeman worthy of his steel. Hebe with the tennis ball is waiting for me to shut up so she can inveigle my unwise brother into a gymnastics contest. This will happen in less than a minute and will go better for Hebe than it does for my brother.

I notice there is no picture so far of my other brother, Mark. Here. I have rectified same.



He is talking to Jane, half my sub-photojournalists. This is Sally, who was the other half.



'I want to go to the loo! I want to go to the loo!' Don't worry, I can help you.



Here endeth the photoessay.