Monday, 29 April 2013

gay sports news

Long-term readers will be avid to know what I think of the fact that finally an active sportsman in one of America's major leagues (Jason Collins, NBA), has come out.

It's obvious what I think, and what everyone should think, which is thank goodness and it's a pity that it's a thing. I'm sorry it's a hassle for whoever was the first to do it, I can see why that's been putting gay sportsmen off more than any fear that people will be unaccepting, but it's basically great news.

My favourite tweet about it has someone, I'm not outing him, praising Collins for his 'modest and noble heroism'. Dude. The fact someone's done something excellent does not mean he embodies all the virtues. And never, ever take sportsmen at face value when they tell you they are being modest, or humble. I mean, pretty much by definition.

For instance, from Collins's piece in Sports Illustrated:

On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: "the pro's pro." I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

read this book

I never review fiction, so this isn't a review. I'm just saying that Mountains of the Moon by IJ Kay is absolutely sensational. It came out in January 2012, so it has had plenty of time to gather word of mouth, get on prize lists, all these things. It absolutely staggers me that it hasn't.

It didn't get longlisted for the Booker or Orange Prizes. It's not worth worrying too desperately about prizes if you're a writer, but longlisting this book (which is sensational) would have got it in front of more people, and it utterly should be. And however subjective prizes are, surely, surely, this book...

Oh, I don't know. I think pretty much the single most important thing to be aware of when you start writing is that some books will be worse than yours and do better, and that some books will be better than yours and do worse, and that all you can do is make your books as good as you can. IJ Kay has done that.

Seriously, read Mountains of the Moon.

I'm not going to say anything more about it. I don't read reviews because they're full of spoilers. But I couldn't put it down. My wife couldn't put it down. The other two people I know who have read it couldn't put it down.

NB. It is published by my publisher; I was given a copy by the book's agent, who I happen to know. I'm given lots of books; my publisher publishes lots of books. I've never done this for any of them.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

mystery item

My mum, as frequently pointed out by everyone, is amazing. Also a bit mental.

When I was a student (basically: all of the nineties) she would periodically come and see me. She would always bring a care package. This would be a plastic bag containing a collection of (in student terms) pricy groceries, like olive oil, coffee, posh dark chocolate and Alpen. Always, in addition, there would be a mystery item of some kind, that she thought might be useful. Which usually meant something that she had a spare spare of because she thought she might need a spare, and then discovered she already had a spare, and she didn't need two spares. Thus: horseradish, mint sauce, mango chutney, etc. Once in a while, the mystery item would be something a bit crazier. Suede protector. An electric tape-measure. Fingerless gloves.

This was bloody great. In my last couple of years, I played a lot of hockey. She and dad came to every home match. I spent two years in unimaginable oily, Alpenish luxury.

I also got a lot of mystery items. Especially mango chutney. My mother has a gene that means she can't tell if she has mango chutney in the fridge, and which causes her to buy spares at an incredible rate. The gene also means she can't tell if she gave her son some mango chutney two weeks ago.

As a student, I actually didn't need much mango chutney. By the end of those two years, I had eaten the chocolate and Alpen, but I had a cupboard full of mango chutney, and then another cupboard full of horseradish, cranberry relish and mint sauce. (I didn't often do roasts.)

Since the nineties, not a lot has changed. Partly because my financial situation didn't improve for a long time, and partly because my mother is a creature of habit. But I see her less than twice every three weeks (sadly) and I sometimes do roasts, so the build up is less frightening.

But once in a while, the mystery item, still, is a proper left-field zinger. Yesterday's was, I think, the all-time Top of the Pops.

(It was on offer.)

Thursday, 11 April 2013


I couldn't agree more than I do with Stefan Fatsis in this article about the muddle-headed plan to make the kids doing America's batty spelling bee learn definitions as well as learning to spell.

Spelling contests are about spelling. They're pure. They're not about reality television or self-improvement. And learning to be good at them does teach really useful skills - commitment, crucially. Learning definitions for all the words you can learn to spell is impossible. It will make the words on in the spelling bee less interesting. And a load of other things.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

pirates! the wild west!

Did you know that concerted international efforts have finally started to deal with the Somalia piracy situation? Great! You can sail your massive yacht around Africa in peace.

Except you can't. Because piracy is booming on the other side of the continent, off Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. How do I know this? Because I read Ship Management International. Why do I read this? Because it reviewed The Dazzle. Did SMI review Bring Up the Bodies? I doubt it. Who's laughing now, Hilary Mantel?

(You are.)