Friday, 30 April 2010

walter jones retires

But why do you care? No real reason. I mean, after all, there's a very good chance you don't know who he is. I only mention it so I can say that I heard the other day that his children are called Walterus and Walteria.* Beat that with a stick.

(Another great NFL name I hadn't heard because I am such a new fan: Peerless Price. One that bears repeating: Vitamin T Smith. I know that funny names is the world's cheapest joke.)

(You know, right, that George Foreman's five sons are all called George?)

* Heard via Twitter. Don't quote me in your PhD.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

paperback cover

I imagine you haven't slept for months wondering what it will be like. It will be like this:

I love it, but there is a chance I might be biased. In other business:
- there will be another night of Tall Tales on May 27th. I will put up links but if you want to be kept informed about the details, email talltalesnight at gmail. There is a 73% chance I will have had time to write my long-awaited Kilburn story about two naval ratings who adopt a talking duck and, as all mathematicians know, 73% is better than nothing
- I'm being a guest on The Music Group in a few weeks, as far as you are concerned, and as far as I am concerned, tomorrow. I'm looking forward to this a lot and will repeat the information closer to broadcast so long as I don't screw up the recording

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

midnight oil

Fellow Australians,

I noticed a Light Reading post headlined 'Midnight oil' and was instantly transported to the driver's seat of the blue 1973 Ford Falcon (number plate IRA 500) which my friend Dave and I drove from Melbourne to Melbourne via the East Coast, Alice Springs and Adelaide in the spring and summer of 1992. This is a Ford Falcon of that era. It looks better than ours, though ours was great. The German guys who bought it off us got a good deal, though I definitely feel guilty about not mentioning the spare tyre had been blown out and about the legerdemain with which we hid the fact that the passenger-side door couldn't be opened from inside.

(We had the 5.7 litre V8. The size of Australian engines at the time was hilarious.)

Anyway, I was transported back because Midnight Oil are one of the great Aussie rock bands and we had a couple of Oils tapes. (We also listened to Cold Chisel, of course.*)

The main thing about Midnight Oil, anecdotally, is that Peter Garrett, their bald lead singer, is now the Australian minister for Environmental Protection, Heritage and the Arts. In case you don't recognise the oddly familiar t-shirt he's wearing, that's the Aboriginal flag. At Sydney 2000's closing ceremony, after PM John Howard had publicly and repeatedly refused to apologise for the treatment of Australia's aborigines, Midnight Oil performed in front of Howard in black tracksuits with SORRY written on them in white.

The song of theirs you are most likely to know is Beds Are Burning. My favourite is Blue Sky Mine or Forgotten Years.

* We endured, on the radio, the final stages of Alice Springs' radio's Battle of the Bands - all bands of all time. The audience voted, and whoever came up against Cold Chisel was minced. This took out the Beatles and Rolling Stones, among others. The final was Cold Chisel against Status Quo. I suppose Status Quo probably must have got a vote. I am not 100% sure of my favourite Cold Chisel song, but I definitely like Khe San, which is the most famous one.

Monday, 26 April 2010

a picture of my arse

I mean my seat. Stupid thesaurus.

I live in Kilburn. I vote in Hampstead and Kilburn, which anyone round here who reads the Lib Dem election literature will tell you is a seat that only the Lib Dems or Labour can win, unless they also read the Conservative election literature and know it's a seat that only the Conservatives or Labour can win. What it actually is is an exciting three-way marginal.

We get a million bits of post a day from Chris Philp (Conservative, pronounces Kilburn with a very long second syllable) and Ed Fordham (Lib Dem, have never heard how he pronounces Kilburn). Glenda Jackson gives us nothing because she's a screen actress and has learnt to underplay, underplay, underplay. On a forum I've just been looking at, Complacent and Presumptive has written:
Fordham will walk this no problem. Philp is virtually invisible and the smear about Jackson being lazy has stuck
C&P hasn't noticed Philp's massive face on thousands of local billboards.

Our BNP candidate is called Victoria Moore. This is funny because one of my oldest friends is called Victoria Moore. These two people are unrelated.

Our Green candidate is Beatrix Campbell. We also have a Commons candidate called Tamsin Ormond. There was clearly some bad feeling somewhere, maybe at Green HQ, because another forum post reads:
I happen to know that [Tamsin] was actually asked to run by local people who despite long-term membership in the Green Party just didn’t feel that they could vote for Beatrix Campbell, who seems fairly deranged in my opinion (satanic ritual abuse much anyone?)
Anyone? And afterwards maybe we could pop to Spicy Basil?

hale and pace play dalziel and pascoe

I mean, 'played'. In 1994, ITV thought they were the perfect men for the job. Or, if not that, then at least the marketable men for the job. I learnt this in 2002, and then I forgot it, and then it was today and I had to find something in ancient email and I learnt it again.*

It was, apparently, terrible:
arguably one of the worst original dramatisations in television history. On Saturday, April 9, 1994, Yorkshire Television introduced us to the unlikely coupling of Hale and Pace as Fat Andy and Peter. Never have two people been so hopelessly miscast or has an original novel been so badly adapted. Thankfully, Gareth and Norman did the decent thing and skulked off with their acting tails between their legs, never to darken our dramatic doorsteps again.**
Did you know that Hale and Pace also did an In at the Deep End type show? I knew this too in 2002. I can't find details of this. I loved In at the Deep End.

Other main thought from September 2002, inspired by thinking about 9/11 being called 9/11 because, quite rightly, the American's get to name it: was D-Day on June the 6th because that translated cock-up-avoidingly into 6/6?

* Dalziel and Pascoe: I've never minded either the books or tellies, but I haven't really liked them either. I think it's because the stories all tend to depend on some clue that only D or P could have access to, via their family or personal lives. The point of choosing a detective protagonist is that you don't have to manufacture a personal connection between the protagonist and the crime.

I once went to Barbados to play hockey. I took The Wood Beyond with me. Because of the way the cover was printed, my mate Mike thought the title was The Wood Beyond Reginald Hill, which he thought was great, and I still do.

** I don't know where this review comes from. I quoted it in an email in 2002, and that seems like pretty good provenance.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Two small things

1. Charles Hawtrey was the great boy soprano of his day. (Sub-thing, he flirted outrageously with George Best, made a lot of enemies and had a bleak funeral. Wes Butters is doing a radio show about him and I just heard the preview.)

2. The Telegraph online has posted this story: The 10 best cat videos on YouTube. They don't miss much at the Telegraph.

Friday, 23 April 2010


I have read one Icelandic novel, and it's supposed to be the main one. It's called Independent People, and it's by Halldor Laxness (Nobel, 1955).

It's brilliant, basically, but there's more, and you will be thrilled to hear it. The protagonist crofter Bjartus is self-destructively determined to accept no help from anyone, to survive and endure on his own terms. And you sort of have to endure in early twentieth century Iceland, bacause it's hard, cold country, and if you don't fight for every inch, you get no inches. All kinds of things go wrong. It's not depressing, somehow, it's actually grimly comic quite often, but it's nightmarish for Bjartus and family. And then, halfway through the book, the litany of woes having reached what feels like it must be a crescendo, you turn the page and read, VOLUME II, Part 1, HARD TIMES. Wow, you think.

Bjartus's fellow Icelanders make a fortune during the Great War because their scarce produce is now worth a ton more than it was. They all think the world has changed, buy property and things, and then reality returns and they are all screwed, because Iceland is a cold, small, hard country. Ring any bells?

Here's a cheery bit:
In its own way misery, no less than revelry, is varied in form and worthy of note wherever there lurks a spark of life in the world, and these children who for some mysterious reason were still alive on the moors had experienced many of its noteworthy phenomena, not only during festivals, but between festivals as well. It is always very instructive to lose one's mother in the first sunshine of the hay-making; and when father goes away after one's eldest brother's disappearance, then that too is a special kind of experience, a new type of misery, quite the same as in revelry, where people are said to draw an enormous distinction between song and dance. A little loss borrows its power from the greater loss, and so, after their father's departure, their motherlessness came like a creditor clamouring its demand upon memory; few like father, none like mother; and in the depths of winter the children see once more in imagination that summer day when their mother was laid out on a bier in the lamb-house, among the toadstools at noon, and still the sun went on shining.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

bad review

Last night I saw The Real Thing at The Old Vic (funniest moment: trying to make way for Tom Stoppard but being squeezed into him by Kevin Spacey pushing through the crush from behind me). It's terrific. Here are my more specific thoughts:

1. The design sets the play inchoately in the sort of period it was written - 1980s. Mostly, it is more or less timeless and undistracting, except in a massive way, for me, in scene one. What things have totally changed since the early eighties? Telephones and email are the big one, which is why it had to be set then not not now. Luggage is another.

At some point in the early/mid-nineties, pretty much all luggage went from being old-fashioned suitcases, sometimes with wheels that didn't work all that well, to the modern style with the pull-out handle. The first time you saw this luggage, it looked a bit silly. The first time you used it, you realised it was simply better. In about eighteen months, every luggage factory in the world must have switched, and that was that. The luggage in scene one, which was set absolutely pre-luggage watershed, was post-luggage watershed luggage.

I can't remember a precise date, and the web isn't telling me one. My friend Ellis Sareen once told me, when we were discussing luggage, that the switchover came about because of the sudden availability of wheels that were up to the job. The reason for this: in-line skating. You are probably wishing you spent a lot more time with me and Ellis Sareen.

My equal favourite small museum in the world (Natural History Museum at Tring shares this coveted title) is the Ace Luggage Museum in Tokyo. It is, I think, the private collection of a boss of a luggage company and is on the top floor of an office building. It's all about the curation.

2. I had similar-but-different thoughts about the cricket bat in the famous cricket bat scene. I might go on more about these later. I would have used a first generation Powerspot, but the bat used didn't jar.

3. Just after a Press Night is not the time to have fun saying, which I wanted to every time someone asked if I had liked this excellent production of an excellent play: 'Silk purse from a sow's ear.' At least I knew it was not the time. Mostly.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

marmaduke wetherell

You might not think you've seen Marmaduke Wetherell's work - he was, after all, a big game hunter early in the twentieth century. But he was responsible for this:

Wetherell had found some Nessie tracks and told the press. The National History Museum said they were a hoax, which the Daily Mail reported gleefully. Wetherell got his model-making stepson Christopher Spurling to produce something he could fool the Daily Mail with. They presented it via another friend, Robert Kenneth Wilson.

Spurling admitted the hoax in 1994. This is by no means an unknown story. I only put it up here because I had not previously registered the name Marmaduke Wetherell, and it's a good one.

Monday, 19 April 2010

'nothing like these spiders has, apparently, ever been seen before'

What with one thing and another, I have been doing some old fashioned (circa 2003) link-following this morning. As previously mentioned, there's not a lot wrong with old Antipodean newspapers. Last time out, we were in New Zealand. This time, Australia and The Canberra Times. The story I came to read is, in full:

Huge, poisonous spiders were lately invading the town of Antofagasta, in Chile. They are attacking the inhabitants. Their bite inflicts great wounds like the cut of a knife. Twenty persons, including nine children, were sent to hospital suffering from such wounds.

Nothing like these spiders has, apparently, ever been seen before. They are of a species unknown to Antofagasta. The Antofagasta doctors have telegraphed for help from the Central Government, declaring themselves powerless in face of an invasion " of spiders of the most virulent kind."

"Large and black " was the further brief telegraphic description of the invaders.
Other stories from the same page:
Bees as Messengers
(Berhard (probably Bernhard?) Guehler, a german beekeeper, has been tying messages to bees. Never once has a bee not delivered the message, and bees are less likely to attract attention than pigeons.)

Dwarfs Form a Union
(an 'amusing story about the dwarfs of Hungary' who have, inspired by the Nazis (we're in 1934, incidentally) formed a dwarfs union to promote dwarfish racial purity. 'Their leader, their Hitler, is said to be 30 inches high!')

Banning the Beards
(Present Russian regime considering banning them as unproletarian. 'Beards have always been a source of trouble, even in Britain. It is not so very long ago that the 'beaver' game reduced elderly gentlemen throughout the country to a state of fury.')

Friday, 16 April 2010

Worms of Mori

One of the all-time great hybrid sci fi/fantasy trilogies. Also, as described by Marbury, not a very revealing way of understanding the impact of debates, however seductive they are as a narrative tool on West Wing, which, lest we forget, is a programme wired into the political-awareness DNA of a generation of American and British (at least) political operatives.

This, via @hollylinklater, is The Onion's take:

New Live Poll Allows Pundits To Pander To Viewers In Real Time

change this, bbc. change it. i'm going crazy with rage about it

I wrote a while ago that the BBC Radio homepage 'rotates' recent blog posts so that I'd been reading for ages links to something saying that 'Weddings seem to be all the rage at the moment'. As it transpires, this bit of the screen, which I paid not much attention, is paid attention to by no one. Since writing, I have really been noticing, and where I thought that this must be the result of an inept rotation system, what the 'Recent blog posts' link links to are a selection of blog posts from February.

There are more recent BBC blogs, but this link has gone to meet its maker in some way, and I for one have had enough of it to such an extent that I am telling you, rather than the BBC, for no good reason, unless you are a website person at the BBC. Here, in full:
Recent blog posts:

Weddings seem to be all the rage at the moment...
Greg James' blog - Radio 1
10:22 03 Feb 2010

Playlist 01.02.10
Stuart Bailie - Radio Ulster
18:13 02 Feb 2010

PM - Radio 4
10:22 03 Feb 2010

Is the UK ignoring Dementia?
5 live Breakfast - 5 live
08:03 03 Feb 2010

Thursday, 15 April 2010

david mitchell; stieg larsson

The second line of David-Mitchell-the-novelist's new book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is
In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.
I'm a big fan, and maybe I am missing something, but this seems very rum. If I were his editor, it wouldn't be there. I have only read one page of The Thousand Autumns. I'm really looking forward to the rest.

The second Girl Who novel starts with a prologue. The book proper's second sentence is
She saw the woman from room 32 come out of the hotel side entrance and walk to one of the green-and-white-striped chaises-longues beside the pool.
Really? I am pretty sure Larsson and his translator mean 'sunloungers'. Again, I might be missing something. I'm loving the book. I am in no doubt as to the brands and models of consumer electronics favoured by the protagonists, or which choices they would make in Ikea.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

tactical nuclear penguin

Time Magazine: almost every time I find myself there, I have a good time. Today's good time, when I was researching an important thing that will make the world sit up and really take notice of me at last, and change a lot of things, was with respect to beer.

Beers have funny names, and some of them are too arch. It's a bit embarrassing in pubs sometimes, if you happen to like beer, asking for drinks like Pumpkin Fuddler, but on the upside, you're only doing this because you happen to like beer, and you are getting some beer, so it all evens out. Time's piece is about BrewDog, a Scottish company which claims to have produced the world's strongest beer.*

This was Tactical Nuclear Penguin, at 32%. But then some Germans created Schorschbock at 40%. But then back came BrewDog. This video is funnier than I expected. The beer costs a lot, but it's not normal beer. I'd like some.

Sink the Bismarck! from BrewDog on Vimeo.

(They had to pull an 18.2% beer called Tokyo because of their marketing, which went:
It is all about moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times
They then produced a 1.1% beer called Nanny State. I find Loaded/Top Gear-style laddishness a bit tiring, but I like these guys a lot.)

* They've been in the papers. Maybe this is old news to everyone but me. If it is, I am sorry for wasting your time.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

the mecca of the world's harlotry

This was the Amazonian city of Belem in the early twentieth century, according to a writer you've never heard of who's quoted by Greg Grandin in Fordlandia, a book you can expect to hear more about from me in the coming days (oh yes, be still your beating heart).

Fordlandia was a Connecticut-sized territory in the Amazon that Henry Ford won a concession to run in order to grow rubber and break the British cartel. The cartel didn't really hold anyway, because of the Dutch. The Brazilians wanted to get back into the rubber that made its fortune before some British adventurer nicked a load of seedlings and took them to East. Ford wanted to build an industrial Utopia in the jungle.

So far, the book is magic. I read a lot of this stuff, so the quiet rubber-paved streets around the huge opera house in Manaus weren't news to me. But I didn't know about Belem, and I certainly didn't know about the chancers and loonies doing Ford's bidding. My favourite so far is William Long Reeves Blakely, who was one of the negotiators who set up the concession. He spent his time in Belem getting drunk and having sex with his wife in front of the uncurtained floor-to-ceiling windows of his hotel room, which was on the corner of a building poking into the city's central plaza. Were there complaints? Indeed there were.

Monday, 12 April 2010

no, john humphrys

I caught the tail-end of John Humphrys doing a pointlessly antagonistic interview this morning. The interviewee said something along the lines of, 'We intend to make cuts–'

'Hope,' Humphrys interrupted. 'Not "intend". There's a difference.'

Yes, there is a difference. But I don't think it's the one John means. Just conceivably he was saying, 'You might not get in, so let's couch this conversation in the conditional,' which might follow logically, though it would be an utterly facile and pointless thing to say - I mean, we all get that elections are conditional events - but from the rest of the interview, I don't think that is what Humphrys was getting at.

I think Humphrys was trying to say that this guy might not be able to achieve what he says he wants to achieve. But that didn't follow from his clever-clever comment. It's not like he simply said, 'You're lying, you're not going to try.' He conceded the 'hope', and how can that hope be disentangled from the intention to try, and how can that be disentangled from simple 'intention'? It's a schoolboy-debating trick - something the shape of forensic rhetoric which, unpacked, has no content at all.*

Why am I shouting this into a void? By which I mean, 'Why am I shouting this to a load of blog readers who, if they listen to the Today Programme, are almost certainly already incensed by John Humphrys's hectoring style and better than me at dissecting it?' It is because sometimes John Humphrys makes me want to shout into the void.

*Do correct me if I have made a massive logical error here, by the way. I am capable of this.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

what's on in london (assuming this is 1906)

I re-read George MacDonald Fraser's Mr American on my holiday. Now I really want to re-read The Pyrates, partially to clear the disappointment of The Reavers from my memory. An aging GMF was hurrying that one, and it shows. But the others are humane, mature and have crackerjack stories with Surprises, Tension, Wisdom and cetera. In addition, they are, lightly, crammed with Information and Knowledge.

For instance:
The great theatrical attraction of London in that week, or in that Autumn for that matter, was undoubtedly The Whip, a drama of racing and high society which in addition to a highly sensational plot also offered the astonishing spectacles of a rail crash, a pack of hounds on stage, and a thrilling horse race
Why is this not revived more often? Our protagonist also enjoys the London crowds belting out a big number about the Kaiser's naval ambitions by two young things he's never heard of - an American called Kern and his English lyricist, Wodehouse.

The book I will read before The Pyrates, since you are so interested, is Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood. Sabatini wrote rip-roarers, apparently - GMF certainly indicates this in Mr American - and Captain Blood and Scaramouche are the famous ones, and Captain Blood seems like an ur-text for The Pyrates, which is every pirate story ever rolled into one, along with some Hollywood post-modernism in a tightrope way that somehow avoids being maddeningly arch (which it is, a bit, in The Reavers).

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

backson (have you made people buy ksc for your book club?)

Yo sushis. I am away for a few days, and I should have gone yesterday but I was sick as a dog. I also haven't had time to put together my thrilling tale of Amazon-watching. I will go into details in inexpressible tediousness when I return but suffice to say my sales ranking soared wildly last Friday and remains in an elevated state today. I imagine this was a massive weekend for doing other things than buying books, and my best guess is that a book club somewhere has chosen it.

Whatever to that. Until Friday, this blog has: gone fishing

Sunday, 4 April 2010

i am not braveheart

Last Thursday, Jazzer McReary*, the Archers' Scottish milkman and sort of wild boy, was slated to sing Killing in the Name at Ambridge Has Got Talent.** Would he? In the village hall? If anyone would, Jazzer would. The crowd was on tenterhooks. He nodded to Fallon (who he adores but who thinks she doesn't adore him back), she started strumming, and he sang, brilliantly, The Roses of Prince Charlie. I have listened to this about forty times. Below is The Corries singing the song. They are a Scottish folk band who rose to (a certain degree of) prominence in the early sixties. Their version isn't a patch on Jazzer's.

My first sporting allegiance, as a child born in Zimbabwe growing up in the badlands of the Herts-Essex border, was and is to Scotland in the Five/Six nations. Jimmy Renwick, Finlay Calder, Andy Irvine, etc. Thus, for cultural reasons that make only a small amount of sense, the hair on the back of my neck rises every time I hear pretty much any Jacobite war song. Please do not take this for a serious political viewpoint.

Anyway, back to the plot. The Corries wrote The Roses of Prince Charlie, and another of their big hits was The Bluebells of Scotland. Because they weren't a group to fix something that wasn't broken, they also wrote Flower of Scotland. It's newer than I Wanna Hold Your Hand. That's invented tradition and imagined community for you right there.

* After a long time in Ambridge he still ONLY speaks in Scottish dialect. ONLY. He has not been affected by the local accent AT ALL.

** I am not saying The Archers is good. I am saying I listen to it, and like doing so. How is this different from watching Eastenders? It is not, much, I suppose.

Friday, 2 April 2010

if you were a mouse

If you do not slavishly follow my links, then I suppose I could leave you to your squalid half-life. But once in a while I can't bear the thought of it. Go and read Forget What Did's analysis of the House of Lord's recent mouse debate. As John Finnemore points out, Lord Brabazon of Tara* is a funny man. He quotes him and suggests you should read the original Hansard, which is very short, and great. In it, among many other good things, Lord B says, 'If you were a mouse, you would rather eat the crumbs of a smoked salmon sandwich than the bait.' Not just funny but true, assuming I am a mouse.**

After the mice, incidentally, the Lords start chatting about the mineral wealth hanging around under the warring tribes and opium fields of Afghanistan. Up to a £1 trillion, apparently. The Chinese have bought a copper mine for £3b that might realise £88b even though the Chinese are not paying for the military assistance that makes their investment feasible. Says a Lord with an axe to grind, but it's interesting all the same.

Afghanistan has a lot of silver, rubies, emeralds and lapis lazuli. I find it hard to believe you can build an economy on lapis lazuli, but there's obviously a lot of stuff in Afghanistan.

* Image brought to mind is original version of the Gone With The Wind mansion somewhere in Dorset.
** My mother's favourite joke:
Q. Are you a man or a mouse?
A. I don't know, but I like cheese.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

london's new intestines

1. No one is going to call this, on a regular basis, the ArcelorMittal Orbit. They might call it The Orbit.

2. But, historically, these things get named by the people - something just fits. I don't think it will be called The Intestines, either, though I'd like that. The Blood Fountain? No again.

3. The first question on the forum prisonplanet asks: 'It has the 5 Olympic rings all entangled in a very strangely combined red steel sculpture, sort of imitating the Eiffel Tower but in a different way. Does this new tower represent an occult symbol of some kind?'. No.

4. Probably, thinking about it, it will be called the Orbit. But now's the time, if you have any bright ideas, to get them out there.