Friday, 29 July 2011

who are the rolling stones?

Out of touch judges are funny and always have been (a lot of them know they're being funny and playing up to it). Frederick Mead, in his seventies in the 1920s, was all for conservatism and decency, and he went into hives at the thought of women having to hear anything about vice cases, even if they were involved.

When a patrolwoman came up before him (oo-er) and described 'backwards and forwards' movements made by a couple accused of having sex in Hyde Park, which had been observed by two other eye-witnesses, Mead dismissed the charge and called the patrolwoman one of those 'abnormal women who seem to suffer from some sort of moral obliquity'.

This is from Dope Girls again. It's really fun.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

lola sin


Sax Rohmer (Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) was batty - his Fu Manchu books are hysterical, he claimed to be a Rosicrucian, and so on.

I am reading Dope Girls by Marek Kohn. It's about the similarity of drug scares over time, and it's terrific. In the 1920s, the hyperbolic kingpins were villainous Chinese, often with more or less willing white wives. In Rohmer's Dope, this is Sin Sin Wa, who had one eye, a pigtail and a raven on his shoulder.* His wife, Lola, is a voluptuous Cuban Jewess from Buenos Aires.** Kohn likes the following mixed metaphor, and so do I:

She was 'one of the night-club birds - a sort of mysterious fungus ... flowering in the dark and fattening on gilded fools.'***


* Romer wasn't thinking of Odin, right?
** Buenos Aires isn't in Cuba.
*** There was a lot of nonsense in these books, but people like Rohmer could hear and turn a phrase. I think it's to do with listening to the words as you write them in longhand rather than poring back over them and editing easily on a screen, which produces more clarity, but often in a painfully tin-eared way.

Monday, 25 July 2011

eat your pebbles, you little ratites!


How long since there was any Cuppy? Too long.

After the children are hatched, Mr. Emu leads them out for their morning meal of fruit, grass, and the small stones required by the Ratites or flightless birds for digestive purposes. He watches them carefully, admonishing them from time to time in a low buzzing tone. This means, 'Eat your pebbles, you little Ratites!' Emus have been domesticated with considerable success, but there is a drawback to having them around. You must not run away when the Emu approaches or he will chase you and behave rather roughly when he catches you, as he undoubtedly will.* He always senses it when anyone is afraid of him and acts accordingly, so you must pretend to be quite indifferent.** The correct procedure is to stand perfectly still when an Emu comes at you with his wings outstretched and blood in his eye. He may possibly change his mind or drop dead before it happens. If you feel that you simply cannot face the Emu, of course you can try to escape. In making the choice, a good deal depends on where you would rather be kicked. Anyway, getting kicked by an Emu is no worse than lots of other things. Life isn't a bed of roses, you know.

* His kick is less severe than that of the Ostrich, which easily breaks a man's leg. The Emu's kick seldom breaks more than the fibula, the smaller bone of the leg, leaving the tibia in first-class condition.
** He senses that too.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

tuppence a bag

I was walking around in Kilburn the other day, and there was suddenly a flock of birds. They were following this woman.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

warhorses of newsflash 2

The news you all feared is now the news. The titanic battle over Warhorses of Letters casting has seen me hurled onto the bitter stones of life's highway, and Marengo is being played by Stephen Fry. I have to say that his work when we were recording the first three episodes this morning was pretty good. In fact, I'm not 100% certain that he isn't a giant, massive improvement over me. My co-writer Marie Phillips's feelings on the matter are hurtfully clear. She spilt fruit tea on her shirt she was laughing so much.

Copenhagen is playing Daniel Rigby. Something about that sounds wrong but I can't for the life of me work out what it is. Maybe it is because his and Stephen's brilliance so far has melted my pleasure sensors.

Transmission dates are 14th, 21st, 28th December and 4th January, time 11pm. Giddy-up.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

press standards

1. I have finished my novel.

2. On Tuesday 4th September, 1934, The Daily Mail reported that a Glasgow newspaper was reporting that Nessie was a German airship which fell into the loch during WW1 based on a story in a Danish paper which quoted the British Air Force Gazette, which didn't exist.

3. This was the same day that Sir Henry Wood announced his famous Klenovsky hoax. In case you've forgotten it, Wood got annoyed whenever he did an orchestration and was told he'd spoilt the original, so he invented a tragic Russian called Paul Klenovsky and put his name to the orchestrations, which were hugely admired. Good work, Sir Henry Wood.

(Incidentally, that year he separated from his wife Muriel and she took all his stuff and wouldn't divorce him. He started seeing Jessie Linton (who sang professionally as Jessie Goldsack). Apparently (Wikipedia alert), "She changed him. He had been badly dressed, awful clothes. Jessie got him a new evening suit, instead of the mouldy green one, and he flourished yellow gloves and a cigar ... he became human." Wood was not free to remarry, so JL changed her name by deed poll to "Lady Jessie Wood" and was generally assumed by the public to be Wood's wife. Fair play.)

4. As a treat for 1., I started watching How To Train Your Dragon, or whatever it's called. The accent decision they have made seems to be grown-up vikings: Scottish; sulky teen vikings: American. Well, it's a system.

Monday, 18 July 2011

'countess as trapper'

Story in Daily Mail, 3rd September, 1934:

A castle in France* has been exchanged for a trapper's camp in Northern Manitoba by Countess Guyot de Mishaegen, now in Montreal, who proposes to spend the winter on a trapline north of Sherridon in search of new experiences.

* Maybe France, but I think the Guyot de Mishaegens are an aristocratic Belgian family, rather than a French one.

Friday, 15 July 2011

we could not crack your safe

Story in Daily Mail, 1st September, 1934:

'We could not crack your safe, but have taken the equivalent in chocolates.' This message was found on a safe in the depot of the Eldorado Ice Cream Company in Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham, Kent, yesterday morning, when the police arrived and discovered the office in a state of great disorder.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

listen & often


You might be so thrilled you can't speak to learn that the first Listen and Often podcast is on iTunes - you can search for it in the store. I designed the logo myself. I am a top international designer, but I am too proud to do it for money.

It's basically the first Tall Tales podcast, which we're rebranding for URL reasons. We are going to put it on its own webpage shortly.

Toby Davies and I will do a show every month, and this first one first features Helen Arney and Gareth Edwards. Toby the Tiger says, 'They're GREEEAAAAATTTTT!!!'. I want Toby to use this as his catchphrase. We'll see.

everything is a lens


Bill James was on Slate's Hang Up & Listen last week. Bill James is the guy who changed baseball stats, and as a result sports stats, starting in the 1970s, trying to make them reflect important game outcomes rather than the often tangential ones which were traditionally measured. His new book is Popular Crime, which Hang Up & Listen's pundits said is not just about the history of popular crime. In fact, they said, it uses the story of sensational crimes and the public's reaction to them as a way to throw light on wider society.

Well, duh. If you look at anything which is part of the incredibly complicated warp of society, you can use it to look at what that society is like. This is what underpins the commodity monographs about cod, coffee and the rest. It's not an interesting observation, whatever you read on the back of the books making special claims for their particular subject.

Which doesn't mean that Popular Crime won't be an interesting book. I bet it will. Interesting in particular will be miscarriages of justice and perennial hysterias. I am not a devotee of true crime books, but my views on the Amanda Knox case are public record and I am currently reading Marek Kohn's excellent Dope Girls, which is great fun on the twenties, and which is basically about how western drug panics have been very similar in different places and times.

Anyway, what I meant to say was that Bill James talked about a book called, He Made It Safe to Murder: The Life of Moman Pruiett. You need hundreds of pounds to buy a copy. It's about an Oklahoman defence lawyer who defended 343 murder cases and secured 303 acquittals. Only one was sentenced to death, and that guy's sentence was commuted by the President.

It sounds a hell of a story, and was written by a young lawyer in the 1930s and shelved for libel reasons. When the lawyer, Howard K Berry, went to war, Pruiett himself cut a load of the stories and published it as an autobiography. Gosh.

This article refers to him as 'The Black Stud of the Washita' and 'the murderer’s messiah'. Another good bit:

At the height of his career, Moman loved to repeat (and disavow) this anecdote. After receiving a telegram from a man in a distant state ("I am charged with murder. Have $5000. Will you defend me?") Pruiett wired a reply: "Am leaving on next train with three eyewitnesses."

Monday, 11 July 2011

stupid manly women


Good grief. Kate Ferguson (Mind Tidying: great but very irregular) has just pointed out this story on the England women's team's exit from the World Cup.

Regular readers will know what I think about penalties: there is an inane culture of machismo in British football, one result of which is that penalty takers are regarded as brave and heroic, irrespective of the outcome. This means the macho players - defenders and clogging midfielders, 'step up to the plate'. They are, almost invariably, the least skilful players and worst penalty takers.

Apparently, no one volunteered to take penalties until a couple of defenders 'stepped up to the plate' and missed. Hope Powell, England manager, has framed this in the usual terms of 'cowardice' and so on, borrowed from wider English football culture. What she should have done is practiced penalties, and had a list, which all the players knew about, which ordered them and told them who was going to take the penalties. They would have avoided this nonsense, and they would have had better penalty takers. Penalties are more luck-based than lots of things in football, but the teams that practice them and have a halfway competent attitude to them are the ones who win them more often.

Did this come across as a) a bit ranty? and b) a bit repeaty? I bet it did. Sorry. I will probably have to do it again though, until someone managing England listens to me.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

for goodness sake, bbc

You might not read the transfer gossip page on the BBC, which is sort of surreal otherworld culled from the backpages of newspapers who can print any old nonsense without checking it ('Paper X says Machester City have agreed a £23m deal for Samir Nasri ... But Paper Y says the Gunners set to make Nasri their highest paid player at £110,000 per week ... But Paper Z...' and so on). This is in today's:

Manchester City have been accused of scoring an embarrassing own goal after inadvertantly 'honouring' rivals Manchester United by renaming Eastlands the Etihad Stadium. Fans on social networking site Twitter claimed the Arabic word 'Etihad' means 'United' in English.
Full story: Metro


Yes, yes, you're repeating something you heard from soemone else reporting something some guy on Twitter, but SURELY someone, either at Metro or the BBC, can check what Etihad means? And if someone at Metro DID check, then SURELY the BBC can pass on the fruits of their labour. I mean, in two seconds I learned that the CEO of Etihad stressed that this Etihad means 'Union'. Thus, the story is about some misguided idiots on Twitter. That's fine, but just us give that small piece of information or we waste (some of us waste) the amount of time necessary to write or read (sorry) the above.

Friday, 8 July 2011

I went to sea to see the world, but what did I see?

I saw Kilburn.

Really? Yes, really. If you go to Kilburn Park Tube Station, you are more or less opposite this pretty extraordinary building, decrepit and down at heel, but Grade II listed:



It's the Tin Tabernacle, one of Britain's few tin churches. Why not more? But what was that you said about the sea? That doesn't seem relevant? Well:



Yes indeed, because this is TS (Training Ship) Bicester, home of the Willesden and St Marylebone Sea Cadets. This is the picture of the inside:



The home page for the W and St M Sea Cadets is jazzier-looking than the Tin Tabernacle, and a lot more maritime. I really like the building, and love that it's a Training Ship.

Incidentally, next door is the RSPCA's Kilburn Clinic, which was set up as a memorial to the animals that died serving in the Great War. Local colour.

what, exactly, is a legend?

Usain Bolt is fast at running. He says on the BBC, 'I think I'm one of the greats, definitely,' but his 'personal goal' is to be a 'legend', and this means he needs to defend some titles. 'People have crowned me a legend already,' he says. 'I haven't really placed myself that high yet.' I like the idea of 'legend' being a technical, definable term, because:

a) it sounds so ridiculous.
b) it absolutely is. There are rules surrounding the designation - different rules in different contexts - and Bolt knows that. He knows that 'legend' is better than 'great' and that's what he wants.*

As it happens, I think he's probably a legend already, but he's not definitely one, and if he never re-achieved he'd only be a minor sort of legend when he really could be Hercules.


* I've been interested in this since university. 'Legend' was casual and not particularly awesome honorific awarded to lots of those who hung around for longer than three years, since once you'd done that, you had existed in what amounted to a kind of student pre-history. Time is absolutely part of the technical definition. See also, 'icon'; 'national treasure'.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

more on edwins walker


We had some Edwyn Walker news the other day. Now is time for Edwin Walker news:

He was a US Major-General who commanded commandoes on the Riviera in WWII, advised the First Korean Corps and commanded the Arkansas Military District (sounds like a tough gig).

In 1959 he was sent to Germany. He was well anti-communist, which seems fine but he did distribute hard-core right wing literature to his troops, supplied by an evangelist called Billy James Hargis, whose name would be funnier if it were Haggis.

He tried to become Governor of Texas, but was knocked out in the Democratic primary. If you're surprised he was a Democrat, don't be. Without being too reductive, there was a good long period where, for Civil War reasons, the white South was very Democrat. He protested against letting African-Americans into Mississippi University in 1062. It was a proper protest. Six federal marshals were shot.

He is very slightly famous because he came to Lee Harvey Oswald's attention, and LHO tried to assassinate him. He failed because the bullet hit the arm of a chair. It was a good plan and no one linked LHO to it until after Kennedy's death.

He sued newspapers who covered his views negatively, which were that a sinister group of powerful Americans were trying to sell the country out. He also, it is said, inspired the movie Seven Days in May, which is about a US military coup.

Oh, and:

Walker, then 66, was arrested on June 23, 1976 for public lewdness in a restroom at a Dallas park and accused of fondling an undercover policeman. He was arrested again in Dallas for public lewdness on March 16, 1977. He pled no contest to one of the two misdemeanor charges, was given a suspended, 30-day jail sentence, and fined $1,000.

I doubt he was a happy man.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

great first lines

Bleh. There are millions of great first lines, so lists like this are almost all subtitled '(from great books)' but that doesn't mean they aren't fun.

As it happens, I'm not sure how important first lines are and don't worry too desperately about them, because that way madness lies. My favourite one isn't on this list,* and I wouldn't mention the list at all if it weren't for this one, which I dearly love, and which is from a set of books I dearly love:

If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn’t give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway.

(The Austere Academy, Lemony Snicket)


* I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled.

just in case you are an idiot

, and do not slavishly follow, like a slave, every link on the right of this blog, stop being an idiot and go to Marie Phillips's page now. It's pretty hot stuff.

(If you are a visitor from the future and Marie's links have changed, this is what I'm talking about.)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

poor dorothy



Bloody hell, I thought, when I saw this in a church in York last weekend. When Edwyn Jr was killed at a point-to-point, it must have seemed like such an untimely tragedy, as if he were the child who would die early. In fact, it's Edwyn Sr I feel most sorry for. But it's a close run thing.

(Why Miss Jones, incidentally, your photography is peerless. Thank you.)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

what is the best first novel you have read recently?


It is interesting you ask. I have just loved Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman. To repeat things I'll definitely have said earlier, I think the fetishisation of first novels is annoying, because they are seldom best novels, because if people keep practising at things they get better, but that doesn't mean I don't get why it happens, because human nature, novelty, etc., and it doesn't mean I don't often really enjoy first novels for said reasons. (I have a human nature.)

It's about lots of things happening in the mid-1930s. It's really fun. This is a review of it that made me read more reviews by the reviewer, because, quite apart from anything, she quoted the three lines I remembered best ('She had so many freckles that Erskine wondered if she might have stolen some from other children'). Her reviews are jolly good. I haven't read her (main) book because I was put off by the black edges, but on the back of these reviews, I will.

(Low activity on blog because of high activity on tuna book, and Warhorses, and the first Tall Tales podcast, and a short film, and the next Tall Tales, and a luxurious summer barbecue. You must just live with this.)