Saturday, 31 December 2011

Kiss Prudence

The other day, I saw Nuts in May for the first time. I only read reviews after seeing shows. IMBD's average score was surprisingly not about 9/10. The reason is a 1 star review which fails to get the point with more heroism than any review I have read since Peter Bradshaw watched Charlie Wilson's War for the Guardian and wrote that the movie didn't seem to understand that arming the Mujahideen against the Russians in the 1980s was to have huge and unintended consequences. (He really did.)

Anyway, off topic: if you like Nuts in May, I really recommend the IMDB review. Here is a highlight:

Towards the end our tree hugging, incoherent, couple get into a fight with some of Ray's friends that have complete disrespect for the rules of camping. Our hero becomes so incensed that a climatic battle ensues between our hero and the head hellraiser. To settle their dispute the two men engage in a stick fight. That's right a stick fight! Now this is where the unintensional humor starts. I laughed so hard at the ineptitude of it all that i thought, "This may make up for the other 80 minutes." After this histerical battle our hero runs behind some bushes to cry his eyes out

I love the thought that this guy was shouting things like 'Haven't these guys ever heard of fight coordinators!' at his screen. The fight in Nuts in May is one of the most painfully realistic things in it, ironically. Go here for the full review

I thought I'd have a laugh at this guy's other work, see if there was anything else to laugh at. The only other film he's written about, however, sees him - to me - sound quite insightful and plausible about a Japanese movie about rape and revenge. The millionth lesson of my life in not being too quick to judge.

***Bonus Feature***
This is a picture of Baranova Nuts in May, son of Evanpark Bruce Almighty, son of Fairweather's A Great Pretender, son of Main Tickle Forbidden Planet, son of Twillin Gate Persuader, son of a dog without a film in its name.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

rose-tinted pigeons

A while ago I missed a brilliant looking exhibition called Ghosts of Gone Birds, which featured dozens of pictures of (mainly) extinct birds. The above is called a Bishop's O'o', and it's by a guy called Ben Newman. Ralph Steadman contributed a number. This next one is less to my taste as a picture, but that's by the by, because it's of the passenger pigeon and I have wanted to write about the passenger pigeon for ages.

You probably know already that when Europeans arrived in North America, perhaps 40% of the continent's birds were passenger pigeons. They flew at 60 mph in flocks miles long that darkened the sky for whole days. Another lost bird project, which again I basically like, says In the 19th century as America’s urban population grew and the demand for wild meat increased, thousands of men became full-time pigeon hunters. It was inconceivable that such natural riches could be destroyed, but they were, and the passenger pigeon is one of the great poster-children for man's unslakeable bloodlust.

One thing these sites do not mention is that if you are a growing population starting to farm on a widespread scale for the first time, then flocks of passenger pigeons are, basically, worse than swarms of locusts. They can eat more than you can grow. I mourn the passing of the pigeon, but we have to remember that these were not jewels of the sky hunted for meat - these were life- and livelihood-destroying pests. Etc.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

don't worry, the bbc's best guys are on it

I flicked to the BBC news website. I saw the headline: Tarzan star Cheetah the chimpanzee 'dies aged 80'. I dare say I am partly seduced by such headlines because I thought Me Cheeta was so brilliant. But also, I wondered what the mystery was. Was he not really 80? Had he not really died? Obviously something suspicious was afoot. I clicked on the link.

Curiouser and curiouser, because the new headline read: 'Tarzan's chimpanzee' Cheetah dies aged 80 in Florida. So... Er...? Does this mean a chimp of that age has died, but he wasn't really Tarzan's? Because Tarzan isn't real? That would fit with the earlier one on the basis that it said he was a star of the film but did not belong to actual Tarzan. But what about the 'dies aged 80' thing?

After long and hard discussion for the amount of time it has taken me to produce this post (with a typing cadence that at least one regular listener has likened to falling rain), I have decided that the most likely thing is that the BBC's website uses inverted commas much too much because it is posted by overworked people who are scared of being criticised.

Friday, 23 December 2011

adopt a snow leopard?

On daytime television at the moment, there are lots of adverts for There aren't enough of these majestic animals to go around, surely? (And if there are, should we be concentrating our efforts on something else?)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

cops and robbers

Amazon is selling Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, which is about 'the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery - and secretive offshore tax havens are at the heart of the trouble.' Furthermore, 'Tax havens are the most important single reason why poor people and poor countries stay poor ... They have been instrumental in nearly every major economic event, in every big financial scandal, and in every financial crisis since the 1970s, including the latest global economic downturn.'

People who bought this book also bought The World's Best Tax Havens: How to Cut Your Taxes to Zero and Safeguard Your Financial Freedom, which is 'completely up to date and packed with information to help you reduce or even escape tax altogether.'

who was the queen of the waves?

A few days ago, looking for a picture of a channel swimmer, I found Gertrude Ederle. Today, with the Daily Mail calling the people upset at there being no female candidates on the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist 'sporting suffragettes', here's a bit more about her. (Hmm. I get that this is not a good, direct or neat link. But you can see how the thought process worked.)

She was the daughter of an immigrant German butcher in Manhattan, and at nineteen she was bitterly disappointed by her haul of one gold and two bronze medals in the 1924 Olympics. In 1926, at her second attempt, she swam the channel in 14 hours and 39 minutes (or 30, or 34, depending on which bit of the internet you are looking at), a record for either sex.

'Gosh,' thought the News of the World. 'We'll offer £1,000 to anyone who can beat that!' This was real money.* Dr Dorothy Logan claimed the prize with a swim of 13 hours and 18 minutes, was feted by the paper, and then announced that she hadn't swum it at all and was just trying to show how badly channel swimming, for all that it was a newspaper craze, was being scrutinised.**

The hoax didn't go great for Logan, and because she signed a legal document swearing to having done the deed, she was fined £100. The court accepted she had committed an offence without realising how serious it was and said she expected her to be a credit to the medical profession. She wasn't struck off. I'm going to write more about her, just see if I don't.

Back to Ederle, from who I have now been distracted for about half an hour reading old newspapers***: she got a ticker-tape parade in NY and a dance step was named after her. In 1933 she fell down some stairs and was bedridden for several years. She went deaf in the 1940s and spent much of her life teaching deaf kids to swim. She never married and died in New Jersey at the age of 98.

* £43,000 via retail price index or £142,000 via average earnings.
** Some German guy broke the record later that month anyway.
*** 'Bearded Patriarch Wields Thong on Boys Who Stole'; Bonnie Prince Charlie relic shield sold for £4,000 (present value £172,000/£568,000)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

gary speed

Gary Speed, manager of the Welsh football team, killed himself last month. He was 42 and suffering from depression. The first thing I thought was: CTE?

In a nutshell, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a rare brain condition which has been found in a shocking number of American Footballers. It seems to be correlated not with huge brain trauma but with repeated sub-concussive impacts. (Thus, helmets make the game more dangerous by persuading players it's safe to suffer these impacts.) Malcolm Gladwell wrote one of the most prominent things about it in the New Yorker a while ago, but he's by no means alone.

The NFL doesn't really want to address it, but it's having to. So is ice hockey, especially in the light of shocking, and stunning, articles/videos like these, about Derek Boogaard, a guy whose job it is to enforce rough justice in the National Hockey League. Job it was, I mean. He died at 28. The story of how he was scouted, aged 15, dreaming of playing in the NHL but not really all that good at hockey, is about 5.20 into the video. It's... Well, it's at least uncomfortable.

Footballs are lighter than they were - I am sure that heading old leather ones used to cause all kinds of problems - but I'm not sure anyone's looked for CTE. Obviously no one knows about Speed specifically unless his brain is autopsied, and depression is by no means confined to people who have been injured. But it seems sensible for football to look into the overall issue, just in case. In the NFL, players are routinely saying making their brains available for study - one shot himself but not in the head because he wanted the brain to be studied. Ex-players, frankly, are best-placed to take the lead. It is certainly not something you can leave to the Blatters of this world.

(By the way, if you look up Gary Speed's death online to see who else has thought this, you find some pretty horrible and/or batty people. Conspiracoids I will not give the oxygen of linking to them answer speculation that he was gay by presenting this alternative:

The typical Illuminati execution is either car crash (air device rams steering to the side triggered by a radio device, with a detonator fixed to the petrol tank), drugs 'overdose' (easily arranged when a star is on medication or has a habit), suicide (hanging or jumping off a balcony) or heart attack. Gary was a bit young for the heart attack treatment.

Gary was getting very big, and wasn't a corrupt character. The World Cup is coming up, with big money involved. Wales was looking like making it to the last few rounds, and could have caused a sensation. Seeking an explanation somewhere around big money, power and corruption is more likely to give us an answer as to why he died, than the suggestion he was unable to face his family, if he was outed as a gay.

It goes on. It's sort of funny, in a black way, and sort of not.)

Monday, 19 December 2011

pen portrait

John Finnemore is doing literal portraits over on Forget What Did and I presume you are loving them. From the Forsyte re-read comes this paragraph, which ends with something special:

Hubert Cherrell stood outside his father's club in Pall Mall, a senior affair of which he was not yet a member. He was feeling concerned, for he had a respect for his father somewhat odd in days when fathers were commonly treated as younger brethren, or alluded to as 'that old man.' Nervously therefore he entered an edifice wherein more people had held more firmly to the prides and prejudices of a lifetime than possibly anywhere else on earth. There was little however, either of pride or prejudice, about the denizens of the room into which he was now shown. A short alert man with a pale face and a tooth-brush moustache was biting the end of a pen, and trying to compose a letter to 'The Times' on the condition of Iraq; a modest-looking little Brigadier General with a
bald forehead and grey moustache was discussing with a tall modest- looking Lieutenant Colonel the flora of the island of Cyprus; a man of square build, square cheek-bones and lion-like eyes, was sitting in the window as still as if he had just buried an aunt and were thinking whether or not he would try and swim the Channel next year.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

who is my favourite author?

Scott Pack is rounding-up of his favourite films, books and so on from the year, and this made me think. I have, as it happens, had a cracking year for reading. War with the Newts is very good for about forty pages and then becomes all-time amazing; Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes joins it in the discussion over the best books I've ever read, and for good measure I have been re-reading The Forsyte Saga, which has been in that discussion for a decade.

All the same, I think Dorothy Dunnett is still my favourite author. Favourite is not quite the same thing as 'best'. I have banged on about the Lymond and Niccolo series' before - fourteen books of high octane historical romance (very much not my genre; you have to push through the first 1.2 Lymonds while DD finds her voice, but thereafter I couldn't put them down) - but I am only just reading the Johnson Johnson mysteries for the first time.

Each is narrated by a different woman, while Johnson himself is a diffident-seeming portrait painter with a yacht called Dolly. Dunnett is clever, the stories are complicated and the characters are super. I am in the middle of Dolly and the Cookie Bird (AKA Ibiza Surprise, AKA Murder in the Round).

The cover, above, is from 1985. It's sort of ghastly, but I love it. If it puts you off, let me tell you that it's got nothing on the most lurid of the Lymonds. The one below isn't the worst, but I haven't got time to dig around my shelves. The covers (and titles) give no insight into the books.

Some people like Dick Francis and liked him even more in their youth. One of the funniest things, which a female friend pointed out to me a long time ago, is the clothes he dresses his characters in. For DF, pretty women wear flounces, frills and a ton of perfume. DD is also very clear on clothes, and lots of the books are set at similar times, and I kept feeling the echo. DD is wildly better than Francis, and she does what she does in a much more self-aware way. It is, quite apart from being fun, an excellent bit of high-society social history. Here we are in Ibiza:

Austin hesitated. I'd expected him to be turned out in white tux, all Washington style, but he was wearing a cream wool-jersey suit by Virgul of Paris, with a strawberry cashmere polo-necked sweater. I saw the label.

Who wouldn't look good in cream wool-jersey and strawberry cashmere? (At this point, incidentally, our heroine, a minor hon, is in white moire silk with clear polythene bands in between. Her daddy would have hit the roof, but it's his murder we're investigating.)

Monday, 12 December 2011

helpful notice

1. The above was taken in Victoria Park by an eagle-eyed regular correspondent. If you can help, you know the number to call.

2. Woo hoo, the Warhorses of Letters book is fully funded. If you want a copy in the first printing, with your literal name in it (or another literal name of your choosing) then head along to Unbound.

3. Woo hoo, the Mighty Fin Christmas Show is on this week. I know lots of you have had trouble with the Drill Hall website. It's still iffy. You may have to phone them up. If you are hoping to pop along casually tomorrow, Weds or Friday, then I'd book this morning and even then you might be out of luck because those have very nearly sold out. If you want to come on Thursday, then you will likely be in luck. Thursday is the new Friday.

Friday, 9 December 2011

the chambered nautilus

Hi. Sorry for low productivity online, which is being caused by high productivity offline in terms of getting the Warhorses of Letters book finished and rehearsing for the show postered below. But this morning, while I was in a very private place, I read a magic bit of Cuppy.

He's talking about an Oliver Wendell Holmes poem about the chambered nautilus - a primitive animal with a shell made up of lots of little chambers - and he discusses the ways in which poets through the ages have got the nautilus' biology wrong.

Then Cuppy returns to the poem, which is about constantly rebuilding the mansion of your soul. The first paragraph here is good, but it's only here to set up the second. You'll see what I mean:

I guess I'm sensitive about my soul. Seems to me it isn't too terrible, surely not in need of any complete overhauling and repair job. I've kept it in mind all along. I won't say it has steadily grown in grace year by year, because I don't believe as much as that was wrong with it in the first place. My soul in early youth was certainly as good as it is now, if not better, and come to think of it I shouldn't wonder if Dr Holmes had something to do with that pleasant state of affairs. As I strode up and down our back yard shouting parts of 'The Chambered Nautilus' at the top of my voice, first in order to learn the words by heart and thus retain my status as teacher's pet, later for the joy of showing off a bit, I don't recall that I thought very much about the meaning of it all. I just liked it. Anyway, it couldn't have harmed me and maybe it helped. Maybe it sank in.

As for those more stately mansions of the soul that Dr Holmes so beautifully recommends, I am not absolutely sure that I qualify there. It doesn't sound like me. I just go along doing the best I can, but nothing too wonderful, nothing sensational. Not that I haven't laid plans for larger mansions than I have achieved. Again and again I did that. I tried. I might have succeeded, too, if I hadn't been crossed up every time by persons I can only describe as lowdown rats - and that's too good for them. If I haven't made the grade you can blame them for it, don't blame me.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A system maintenance is under going. Partial services will not be available during this time.

Today's blog title is my all-time favourite maintenance message.

It is particularly relevant today, because it is part of the concatenation of forces trying desperately to put a barrier between you and things I am in or have written. This is a public service announcement.

1. Warhorses of Letters: the book is selling well and we are having fun answering your questions. Some people have asked whether they can get other names than their own printed in the book. In short, 'Yes.' I have just posted a fuller explanation on the Warhorses of Letters blog.

2. Listen & Often: We were on time with the podcast, and it's a cracker, and it was on iTunes briefly yesterday evening. Now, due to some conniptions at our host (see all-time favourite maintenance message above), it is not. I expect it will be again very shortly. If you are desperate, you can listen to it here.

3. The Devil Gets All the Best Tunes: That's what the brilliant flyer above is all about (big up Jamie Wignall for artwork). It's this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show and it's on at central London's incredibly convenient Drill Hall Dec 13-16. BUT the Drill Hall's booking site has been down most of the last week, so if you want to book, and you really should want to book, you might have to venture a telephone call. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

helen mccookerybook

It's more than likely you're not a fan of The Chefs, part of the Brighton scene in the last seventies and early eighties. I know them because of the brilliant song Thrush, which is rude and properly funny. The lyrics are here.

What have I learned today? That their lead singer, Helen McCookeryBook, is still gigging. I am going to go see her.

(Helen McCookeryBook. Beat that with a stick, Barkevious Mingo.)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

letter of note

I know you are eager to learn what I think of Pippa Middleton's advance, and I do have something lined up on that, but I just wanted to do this first.

Scott Raab has just written a book called The Whore of Akron. Its ostensible subject is a guy called LeBron James, the best basketballer of his generation, who played for his hometown Cleveland Indians, a long-suffering team whose passionate fans he constantly claimed to understand. Then he went to Miami to join a team of superstars, and he did it in a vulgar, self-serving way. Raab knows he's being unfair and his book is about being a sports fan.*

He asked two people for cover blurb: Buzz Bissinger, because Bissinger wrote Friday Night Lights (amazing book, passable film, very good television series) and Philip Roth, because he had just interviewed Roth and Roth is his hero. This, from Slate's Hang Up & Listen sports podcast, is Roth's reply:

Dear Scott,

You’re asking the wrong man to say something about your book. I was curiously incompetent at basketball as a boy, I have never followed basketball as an adult, and I know nothing about the teams or their players. I remember that Bill Bradley played for Princeton while I was teaching there, but otherwise, as far as I know, LeBron James is a hat worn by men in the 1920s.

Sorry to let you down, but you’ll do alright without me.

* Descriptions of how Raab analyses sport's place in his life make it sound like a more memoir-y version of Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, which is one of the best novels I have ever read. I have no idea how good Raab's book is, but people say it's very good.

Monday, 28 November 2011


You really need me to tell you about the economy? You really don't. But it drives me crazy when bankers tell me that current problems is caused by governments misallocating capital. Bankers have seriously told me this.

1. Still, this Bloomberg piece is a proper piece of proper reporting. In 2008, under Bush, the banks took tens of billions of secret loans, told the world they were healthy, lobbied hard for no change in regulation and paid themselves fortunes out of this borrowed money. The kicker is in the line that banks paid the money back - because people realised that banking was virtually riskless since governments would back them up however badly they screwed up:

While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo.

2. Reporting is a real issue. There are endless stories about government waste, but we can't find out about the similar waste in private companies. Do you think private companies don't waste a fortune implementing new IT systems?

3. Business and banks say they need their silly pay because that is the only way to attract talent. They're bright enough, but they aren't that special. People just as good as good as them would do the same jobs for less.

I am not pretending that it's easy to intervene in this flawed market. I suppose it might be the shareholders job. But shareholders are a smokescreen when they is quoted as any kind of actively assenting body - it is simply too much trouble for shareholders and the people voting for their own extraordinary, un-performance-related pay know it. I'm just saying that there should be no problem calling them a cabal of self-interested plutocrats lining their own pockets and not paying their dues.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

'ye gods, a sea cow!' i yelled to my native boatman. 'bring my rifle!'

I finished writing my tuna novel this morning. This afternoon, I flicked through a book written by one of my protagonists. I will do so again, and write down the first sentence I read each time:

'Griffiths, with great celerity, had pulled up the mooring stone.'

'Both in animal and bird life, as many people have, no doubt, remarked, a curious wagging motion of the tail synchronises with swallowing.'

'The four of us were now holding the line, but our efforts were quite ineffectual against the strength of this fish.'

'I now commenced to suffer the greatest pain, my leg swelling rapidly -- so much so that when I attempted to remove my shoes, the agony was so acute that the one on the foot of my bad leg had to be cut off.' [Things get much, much worse as the paragraph progresses, believe you me.]

'Here the genius in the man rose uppermost.'

'They waved to us -- our appearance was a break in the monotony of their lives.'

'I think Lady Brown's fame as a mascot was now firmly established for ever.'

'The little crocodile came to life while Lady Brown was holding it.'

And so on. The book is Battles With Giant Fish, by FA Mitchell-Hedges. If you want to spend a lot of money on a copy of your own, the best thing would be to buy this one. It's not a first edition, but it's signed by Neville Chamberlain, who bought it as a Christmas present for a friend called Percy Smith, and eventually Percy's son Rodney.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

here be dragonnes

I walked past this the other night. It seemed quite disaster movie, especially given the obviously-to-be-destroyed disaster movie set dressing. I kept going, though, like the unwise guy in that film.

Friday, 18 November 2011

tim tebow, narratological quagmire

Oh brother. Most of my followers aren't NFL fans, for whatever insane reason. So, in a nutshell:

Tim Tebow was incredibly successful at college but most judges doubted that his skill set would translate into the professional game, where everyone is bigger, faster and harder. He sat on the bench while the Denver Broncos lost four of their first five games this season. He was inserted into the starting line-up and Denver have just won four of their next five, usually, like last night, after Tebow has played dreadfully by all traditional measures and then engineered a thrilling last-minute comeback, as per a particularly implausible television series.

The commentariat is having conniptions. The storytellers waffle about the fact he's dunked in some kind of intangible winner-sauce; the statheads freak out and say his teammates are digging him out of holes.

In addition, he's a fundamentalist Christian of a fairly extreme kind, which gets some people's hackles up and makes others claim any criticism of him is anti-God.* But then, everyone who meets him says he's a great kid, a genuine, straightforward, real-deal kind of guy who his teammates will do anything for because he'll do it right back. And so it goes. If you are a sports fan and in America, the bile, hysteria and so on are basically unbearable by now.

Still, you don't often get long articles in English newspapers dissecting the way commentators narrate stories. Here's my favourite NFL site doing it re Tebow. My favorite line:

There is just something special about comebacks. We'll call it Captain Kirk Syndrome: We have a hero, we know he's great, but he's getting beaten up. We see he's losing, but in our heart of hearts we know he is the superior man and cannot conceive of a universe in which our hero fails. This dovetails nicely into the American aversion to dramatic tragedy, but that's a conversation for another time.

(In other news, Go Devine Warhorses!, the Official Texas High School Football Team of Warhorses of Letters. They're playing Liberty Hill Panthers in the play-offs tonight.

* The hair in the picture is nothing to do with his religion. It's what his teammates got him to do when he was a rookie and he had to take a few pranks. So, in that sense, it is to do with his religion.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

the jackal and dan mcgrew

Rutherford Film Club's second Marple was Murder Most Foul. It's really terrific, and I heartily recommend. Possibly the highlight is Rutherford auditioning for a dramatic company by reciting The Shooting of Dan McGrew. In the above video, which starts with a trial montage, you can find the recitation at about 2.30 minutes in.

What I thought: I bet The Shooting of Dan McGrew was one of Rutherford's party pieces, and so it was written into the script, in much the same way that CJ Cregg performing The Jackal grew out of a thing of Allison Janney's.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

good grief, bbc

As two of the people on my blogroll pointed out within half an hour of my taking this picture, The Difference would be a good name for a Doctor Who villain.

To clarify, I think the BBC is brilliant. But even brilliant things aren't perfect. There are idiots everywhere.

Monday, 14 November 2011

better detectives than me

There are many of them, even though you probably don't believe it. One was watching Murder at the Gallop with me the other day and where I stopped investigating shortly after learning all about Margaret Rutherford, he read the sentence about Rutherford informally adopting a guy who then had gender-reassignment surgery and he went the extra mile. That is why he is where he is and I am where I am. (Where is he? I don't know.)

Anyway, this informally adopted son became Dawn Langley Simmons. She was born Gordon Langley Hall at Sissinghurst Hall. Her father, Jack Copper, was Vita Sackville-West's chauffeur, and her mother was Margaret Hall Ticehurst, another servant.

Aged nine, Hall wrote a column for the Sussex Express and interviewed Mae West from the star's lap. I don't think it would be allowed now. He became a teacher on a native reservation in Canada, edited the Winnipeg Free Press and returned to England in 1957, aged twelve. Just kidding. He was twenty by then. The next year he biographed Princess Margaret, and followed up in the sixties with Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and others.

He made friends with a rich old painter and she left him $2m and that was when $2m got you somewhere.

He got into Chippendale and had his gender reassigned in 1968, and became Dawn Pepita Langley Hall. Everyone was called Pepita in those days. It was nothing special.

On Jan 21st 1969 she married John-Paul Simmons, a young black mechanic and wannabe sculptor, in the first legal inter-racial marriage in South Carolina. They did it in the front room because the church was threatened with firebombing. Their wedding presents were burnt in the street. They were probably plates anyway.

She had a daughter in 1971 called Natasha Margienell Manigault Paul Simmons. It seems unlikely. An intruder broke her arm and raped her, and she moved to Catskill, NY. She said this happened and it might have done. Her husband did beat her though. I think it was probably him.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of racehorses. Specifically, the death of Ruffian, maybe the greatest filly ever to race. She was out of Shenanigans by Reviewer which sounds like a Warhorses of Letters joke about a horse who wants to be an actor, and she won the Triple Tiara (then the Filly Triple Crown) in 1975.

Basically, she won everything and she won it by miles. Her final race was in 1975, a one-on-one match race with Foolish Pleasure, winner of that year's Kentucky Derby. In a nutshell, she was going to win when two bones in her right foreleg snapped. She didn't stop, pulverising the bones and ripping the leg to shreds.

She was anaesthatised and surgerised, but when she came to she acted like she was still racing and spun herself round and round on her side. She damaged herself so badly that she had to be put down. As a result, horses like Ruffian are nowawadays put in recovery pools so that when they thrash about on emerging from anaesthesia, they don't reinjure themselves.

Of course, if you want to read something extraordinary about the death of a racehorse, this is famously what you read.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

the strange power of being in debt

One of the (many) great things about Lords of Finance was the insight into how much power was wielded in the thirties by countries who were in debt. It's not the easiest power to use, but it's real. Creditor nations would be really screwed by a default and general systemic breakdown, and so they end up having to bail out...

Anyway, do read an article on much the same thing in Prospect by Tom Streithorst, which concludes:

The Germans would like the southern nations to pay the entire cost of adjustment by cutting wages, slashing demand and accepting an increase in unemployment. But the Greeks can see the upside of leaving the euro, even if it will devastate their bank balances. It is starting to look as though leaving the euro really would be the better of several bad options for the debtor nations. The northern eurozone countries don’t recognize it yet, but today the debtors have more cards than the creditors. Watch out.

Another excellent section is about how Detroit could have been saved if it could have devalued its currency, but it was tied to the stupid, strong dollar. The comparison between rich bits of the Eurozone bailing out poor bits and rich US States bailing out poor ones is not made enough. The parallels, exact and inexact, tell very interesting stories about democracy, economic power, group responsibility and so on.

(The other revelatory thing rammed home by Lords of Finance, in case you're new here, is that we tend to see the Great Depression as 'a crash' when actually it was years of shocks and aftershocks, interspersed with periods of people thinking they were out of the woods.)

Friday, 4 November 2011

shoe event horizon

Uh oh. I was in Chichester yesterday watching the Festival Theatre's brilliant production of Sweeney ( I loved: the thirties setting, where the opening makes it clear that people are reveling in telling a gruesome oral folk tale; the realism of Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton; and almost everything else).

The streets of Chichester, it transpires, are paved with shoe shops. The Shoe Event Horizon, which did for the planet of Brontitall in the Radio Hitchhikers', comes about when a depressed society looks at its feet and decides to buy shoes to cheer itself up. The moment of no return is when it becomes economically unviable to open any kind of shop but a shoe shop and the entire financial system is based on the buying, selling and production of shoes. It's a funny idea, and it leads to the evolution of a race of intelligent birds, so what's not to like, but I'd never worried about it before I went to Chichester.

I took a picture of the above shop partly because it was one of three non-shoe shops in Chichester, and partly to entertain one of my more loyal readers. You know who you are.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

all alone

I came across this via @someoneontwitter (sorry, can't rediscover link). It's pretty astonishing.

It's about a murderer called Tommy Silverstein who is involved in a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, in which he contends that his decades of utter isolation in a small concrete cell violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as its guarantee of due process. The description of him cowering under a sheet while a cell was built around him is pretty harrowing, and it's part of a lengthy statement written to describe my experience during this lengthy period of solitary confinement: the nature and impact of the harsh conditions I have endured in spite of a spotless conduct record for over 22 years, and my lack of knowledge about what, if anything, I can do to lessen my isolation.

(In other legal news, you will probably never be affected by the cuts to legal aid which mean that people facing life-wrecking charges will increasingly be unable to get halfway decent representation, because you are rich and/or well-educated. It's only happening because it will never affect rich, well-educated people, and it's really bad. Speak to a criminal barrister about it.)

Monday, 31 October 2011

galloping detectives!

I watched Murder at the Gallop last night. Margaret Rutherford, Robert Morley, what's not to like and so on. Things I did not expect: the fabulously cheesy music; some surprisingly meta moments about the thrillers of Agatha Christie; the odd boyfriend character for Miss Marple ('Mr Stringer'); MR's racy ball dress and a truly great dance scene; the amount of story which was about boots.

Anyway, when we'd watched the film, we wondered what MR's early career had been like. Margaret Rutherford on Wikipedia: gosh.

MR was married to Stringer Davis, who played Mr Stringer, from 1945 to her death in 1972. He died a year later. Love the idea of her saying, 'I'll do it, but Stringer's part of the deal.'


Born in Balham, London, she was the only child of William Rutherford Benn and his wife Florence, née Nicholson. Her father's brother Sir John Benn, 1st Baronet was a British politician, and her first cousin once removed is British politician Tony Benn.

As an infant, Margaret Rutherford and her parents moved to India. She was returned to Britain when she was three to live with an aunt, a professional governess Bessie Nicholson, in Wimbledon, England, after her pregnant mother, Florence, committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. Her father returned to England as well.

Her father suffered from mental illness, having a nervous breakdown on his honeymoon, and was confined to an asylum. He was eventually released on holiday and on 4 March 1883, he murdered his father, the Reverend Julius Benn, a Congregational church minister, by bludgeoning him to death with a chamberpot; shortly afterward, William tried to kill himself as well, by slashing his throat with a pocketknife. After the murder, William Benn was confined to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Several years later he was released, reportedly cured of his mental affliction, changed his surname to Rutherford, and returned to his wife, Ann (née Taylor). His continued mental illness resulted in his being confined once more to Broadmoor in 1904; he died in 1921.

She was an elocution teacher (I bet she was fun) who came to acting in her thirties. As for her personal life:

Rutherford married character actor Stringer Davis in 1945 and the couple appeared in many productions together. They were happily together until Rutherford's death in 1972. Davis adored Rutherford, with one friend noting: "For him she was not only a great talent but, above all, a beauty." Davis rarely left her side. He was private secretary and general dogsbody – lugging bags, teapots, hot water bottles, teddy bears and nursing Rutherford through periods of depression. These illnesses, often involving stays in mental hospitals and electric shock treatment, were kept hidden from the press during Rutherford's life. In the 1950s, Rutherford and Davis unofficially adopted the writer Gordon Langley Hall, then in his twenties. Hall later had gender reassignment surgery and became Dawn Langley Simmons, under which name she wrote a biography of Rutherford in 1983.

Blood D. Hell was Sunday Evening Film Club's reaction to this, and would be the good name for a character in spoof Halloween story. We also loved the line which went something like:

Every chair in this room is stuffed with hair from one of the horses which I have loved and, I think may say, has loved me.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

not funny

People have been incredibly nice about Warhorses of Letters on Twitter.

My favourite by a country mile: @bbccomedy warhorses getting killed by guns and bombs not quite comedy?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

perfect engleberger versus othello cheeks

Is there anything more magical than a truly crazy name? Does any one of us not have a favourite? How on earth could it be that this is not the most visited site on the internet?

This year's Name of the Year finals involved a host of magical match-ups. My favourite bit is that while eleventh seed Monsterville Horton IV is a top wine expert, number two seed Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson is an armed robber.

You are wondering how I finally found this site. Of course, the answer is American Football. The 2009 winner, who defeated Iris Macadangdang, the number one seed out of Kalamazoo, was Louisiana State linebacker and number four seed, Barkevious Mingo.

Oh wow.

Monday, 24 October 2011

I laughed so much I spilt tea down my front

The above is a direct quote from Marie's section of the Warhorses blog we wrote for Radio 4. Pretty pointed, don't you think, given my current relationship with tea? (Things are much improved, thanks for asking. I will almost certainly be walking normally by the end of the week.)

In other news, may I recommend, as I so seldom do, this video game review?

I don't play video games because I need another time sump like I need another hole in the foot, but I am interested in the ongoing State of the Art, because a new narrative form is emerging, even if a lot of what gets produced is clearly crass. Anyway, Catherine sounds weird; the protagonist Vincent turns into a sheep in his infidelity-inspired nightmares; here is some of the review:

The larger plot of the game involves a surprisingly absorbing and even thought-provoking exploration of fidelity, gender difference, responsibility, and the fear of fatherhood. Vincent has nightmares because he is a cheater, and as the nightmares go on, you realize that almost every guy in the game is a cheater, and you begin to encounter them, too, in similarly sheepified form, in your nightmare puzzle world. These unfaithful boy-men are scared and confused, and, as Vincent, you have the chance to comfort them. If you fail to do that, they start disappearing from the bar, for if you lose faith and die in the nightmare, you die in real life.

It sounds like the writer has clearly had a go at something interesting here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

all go at planet warhorse

Things are afoot. I have not been as on top of matters as I used to be in my long-lost and much-lamented bipedal days, so here is the news:

1. Warhorses of Letters, the thought of which has filled your every dream these last few months, will be broadcast in four weekly episodes from next Tuesday. Stephen Fry, Daniel Rigby and Tamsin Greig are in it; John Finnemore and I are not.

2. But if only there were a book as well! There is a book as well! Unbound is offering it for sale within three weeks of our first meeting. Marie and I love our novels being published by Jonathan Cape / Vintage but Unbound are super great. The book will contain the letters, obviously, but also features other correspondence involving Copenhagen and Marengo; notes between Copenhagen and an annoying dog he has to share a stall with; extensive hoofnotes; and an Astonishing Bibliographical Essay.

On the books site, incidentally, you get to see a video of Marie and me. My mother's view of this video will be: 'Why did you not iron your shirt?' If you sign up, there will be more such videos. They are in post-production, whatever that is.

3. Listen & Often. Yes, yes, believe me I know. Illness, injury, births and computer failures have ravaged our schedule. Suffice to say, the October episode is in post-production, and we will, from November, have a reliable release date of the start of the month.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

how do you unwind when your life is perfect?

I've been meaning to get back the SS Delphine, as pictured some days back. This is because as well as the yacht's general beauty, it has amazing spaces on deck...

and for sleeping...

but if you think that's good, it's nothing compared to the main lounge, where, sozzled by the general wonderfulness of how your life has turned out, you can dial the excitement up to twelve WITH A GAME OF RUMMIKUB!!!!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Yes, yes! It's an Inspiring Photo Essay!

Now we're talking. It's been ages since we had an IPE. However, I think it's only fair to put a disclaimer up top: it's not a photo essay for the feeble of heart. You've got that? You're not feeble-hearted? Right. We're all on the same page. So, what do you think that picture is at the top of this page? Well, if that's what you think, you're almost certainly wrong.

What is this picture of then?

You are almost certainly right. It is a cup of tea. But not just any cup of tea. It's... No, wait, it is any cup of tea. We all like tea, don't we? NO! Ok, we do, but it's not all been plain sailing.

Let's go back to that first picture again.

Well, early on Friday afternoon, when I was about to demo Scrivener for a friend of mine who is a top hilarious soon-to-be-published writer of novels for girls, and shortly before I beetled off to Essex to feed the children of most people I know, I...

There's something about me you might not know. You would assume from the fact I can catch et cetera that I have all the grace and balance I could want, and maybe I do, but there is one thing I have never in my life particularly been able to grasp and that is keeping tea in cups. I am a dripper. Fundamentally, this is because I am careless. Something in me refuses to sweat the small stuff. I wish it were not so. I am not trying to be all 'Aw shucks'. I don't want to drip. Now I'm a grown up, I frequently have to clean up after myself.

Back to Friday. I made the tea, and didn't quite put it on the counter. It dropped onto my stockinged foot. 'Stockinged', as you well know, is an old-fashioned way of saying I was wearing socks. I was not cross-dressing. Tea, it transpires, is bloody hot, and that picture you have nearly forgotten about features a couple of bits of the skin that came off the top of my foot while I was de-socking.

I put it under cold water and so on for the next hour while I showed my friend how to use Scrivener. She left. I got out of the saucepan I was standing in. Then I got back in it quite quickly. Then I phoned NHS Direct. They told me that you can't mess around with feet and so I went to A&E.

All very quick in triage, and the doctor said: 'Urgent Care Clinic, straight away, there's no queue.' Nor was there, for the UCC, but the queue to be processed by A&E reception was 40 minutes. This was pretty annoying.

Been a while since there was a picture. This is the ancestral town, where I intended to be by this point in the early evening.

Anyway, I got to the counter, gave my date of birth, and name. Then I waited while the receptionist looked shockedly at me. This was the fun bit, up to a point, because then I got to say, 'There are two Robert Hudsons born that day.' The other one died last year, I happen to know, and I am used to this confusion. It is less fun for the other RH, of course.

Anyway, I eventually got bandaged up. This morning, I had to go back and have the dressings re-done. I was more camera-ready this time. Here is my foot in bandage:

Oh, ugh, isn't it a bit discoloured? Indeed it is. It had been seeping as I hobbled to the hospital. Here is the evidence in my sock / stocking:

A trainee nurse started to undo the bandages...

We all sort of know what kind of thing is coming up - I am putting in interim stages to raise the tension. Here is another, of the gauze:

And here is the tea-damaged foot:

In various ways, especially in terms of toes and nails, the foot has also been damaged by hockey.

Ah, I see you are disappointed. 'Couldn't you,' you are thinking, 'have got a more incarnadine version, assuming that word means "redder"?' I could have and did.

This next picture is of the pot I stood in, this morning, days later. I hadn't been able to carry it down yesterday when I got back from Essex (my foot was sore). On seeing this picture, my girlfriend said, 'Oh, it's your room. At first I thought it was an intensive care ward.' Leaving aside what kind of state she must think the National Health is in, take a moment to wonder at the chaos - atypical to be sure - which had been allowed to take over in a few short days of shortfootedness.

But of course there is a reason for my posting this picture. See this final one. Look into the pan.

Yes, there, on the left, sunk into the water, is another bit of flapped off skin. This pan will soon appear again in one of my much-loved cooking IPEs.