Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I had forgotten about my favourite piece of editing. In [many years ago] I sent a piece to the Sunday Times which included the paragraph:

Archbishop Foley’s point is that the Catholic confession depends on feedback. Many secular confessionals, to their infinitesimal credit, do give this; Daily Confession asks for comments on the revelations people make.

The edited version read:

Archbishop Foley’s point is that the Catholic confession depends on feedback. Many secular confessionals, to their infinite credit, do give this; Daily Confession asks for comments on the revelations people make.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

rise, kill and eat

Have you ever thought about the typography of Alien? Not enough, you haven't. 

I'll go out on a biblical limb and claim right off the bat that you cannot show me, through the balance of the Bible, that the God of the Scripture is against the responsible killing and the grilling of the animals He created, says Doug Giles.

Much less nutty is Ralph Myers, who wrote a really excellent thing about the effects of arts management (in Australia) being in the hands of business people rather than artists. Here's a long messy portmanteau quotation.

There are a raft of reasons why this is the case, and some of them are broader cultural trends ... However, this itself does not explain their almost total dominance. The real reason is that businesspeople are on boards is very practical – they’re there to raise money.

It has been noted often that government support for the major performing arts companies and festivals has been declining, in real terms, for decades. The companies have adapted to this by attempting to increase revenue from elsewhere – at the box office where they can – but primarily through cadging money from the private sector ... This has lead to overwhelming pressure to appoint well-connected and/or wealthy people to the boards of our companies ... [G]overnments have been encouraging, measuring and facilitating private and corporate giving to the arts as a way to deflect pressure on the public purse. Nugent rightly forced companies to be more accountable and financially responsible, but the consequence is that they rapidly became more corporate too ... I want to focus on its effect on that other key role of the board, the appointment of the artistic director ...

We like people with similar mindsets to us. People who think like us. This is natural thing. We understand them and thus we like people like us better than those who are not. We speak the same language, we can empathise with them, and we instinctively trust them. So, it should come as no surprise to us that boards, when charged with the task of finding a new AD, are appointing people who they instinctively trust and understand. People like them.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

there is a glimmer of hope for us all

I tore something out of a copy of either Metro or The Evening Standard one day last week. It opened:

For proof there's a glimmer of hope for us all, look at the unbelievable transformation Hugh Laurie has had in his career.

Who would ever have imagined, when Hugh Laurie was a mere rowing blue and star of the Cambridge Footlights that there was ever a glimmer of hope for him? Almost unimaginably he went on to be a comic actor and then made the extraordinary leap into being serious actor. It must give everyone the same glimmer of hope that we too could somehow emerge from his humble circumstances to be stars of American prime time dramas like his fellow old Etonians Dominic West and Damian Lewis.

For clarity, I love Hugh Laurie (The Gun Seller is my favourite novel by a comedian), and I think Dominic West and Damian Lewis are also excellent. I am just being mean about a cliche knocked out by some overworked guy who has to produce twenty 200 word pieces a day.

(Unlucky if you were not quick enough to get a Mighty Fin ticket. I said you had to be quick.)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mighty Fun 2014

A bit later than advertised, but tickets for this year's Mighty Fin Christmas Show are finally on sale (we had some issues getting the matinee permit). It runs 17-20 December at the Network Theatre under Waterloo Station, with a matinee on Saturday.

As I hope you already know, The Diary of a Provincial Lady is one of the most joyful novels ever written. We're really pleased with the show. If you need persuading, and you definitely should not, it features a friend of mine called Ellis singing a song called The Aria of Enormous Trauma.

Tickets available here. History suggests it is best to be quick. They've been on sale for about a day and well over half have gone.

Network Theatre details available here. Do watch the video about how to get to it. It is right under the station. The problem you will face is your own disbelief.

Friday, 21 November 2014


[Time passes.]

You will mainly be terrified that tickets for this year's Mighty Fin Xmas Show are on sale and you somehow missed the news. Nil desperandum - we are dealing with a matinee licensing issue.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of the most joyful books ever written, is getting Susannah Pearse songs, which are some of the most joyful things ever written, and the tickets will be on sale next week. Be ready to be quick. The dates for your diary are 17-20 December.

In other news, the new version of Listen & Often will go live and fortnightly in December. We've recorded three. It's been educational and Marie and I do now know what we want them to be.

Tall Tales is next Weds at The Good Ship, as per usual - Burdess, Chalmers, Davies, Finnemore, Kane, Parker, Pearse, 7.30 for an 8.00 start.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

posh girls, cheerleaders, fantastic samurai

This article about Sumo and Japan by Brian Phillips is long and absolutely magnificent. It's also beautifully produced by Grantland. The description of a tragic failed coup is astonishing, and it is only the set-up.

In The Daily Beast is a crazy story about a frightening 38 year old socialite NFL cheerleader.

I hate the knee-jerk tv trope that posh people are ipso facto evil. That's all the throat-clearing I'm going to do.

I love the fact that Game of Thrones is full of girls who sound like they've walked out of an art history seminar at Exeter University saying things like, 'I'll lick your balls and then I will cut them off and serve them to your whore.' Then there's the red-headed one who doesn't sound posh and says 'You know nothing, Jon Snuh'.

She's played by Rose Leslie: Leslie was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and raised at Lickleyhead Castle in Aberdeenshire, her family's 15th-century ancestral seat. Her father is Sebastian Arbuthnot-Leslie, the Aberdeenshire Chieftain of Clan Leslie, and her mother is Candida Mary Sibyl "Candy" Leslie (née Weld), great-granddaughter of Simon Fraser, 13th Lord Lovat (a descendant of Charles II).  Her parents own the 12th-century Warthill Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Taylor Swift (I like her) is well posh. I might have said this on here before, but I think it was on twitter. Anyway, here are some highlights from her Wikipedia page:

Her father, Scott Kingsley Swift, is a Merrill Lynch financial adviser. Scott was raised in Pennsylvania and is the descendant of three generations of bank presidents ... She spent the early years of her life on an eleven-acre Christmas tree farm in Cumru Township, Pennsylvania ... When Swift was fourteen, her father transferred to the Nashville office of Merrill Lynch and the family relocated to a lakefront house in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Friday, 31 October 2014

i'm behind you

Nearly done with this year's Xmas Show. Details to follow. Also, Marie and I are re-editing our podcast. We won't take them live till we've worked out how to replicate regularly. We're nearly there, I promise...

The labour-intensive world of moderating facebook.

Plant crime of the century. One of the scientists in the story sounds like the hero of an enviro-Indiana-Jones-style action series: The thermal water lily was only successfully grown from seed in 2009, after the last living specimen, which had been in Germany, had died. Its survival was down to Kew’s plant “codebreaker”, a charismatic Spanish horticultural scientist called Carlos Magdalena.

Also: “Personally I have no worries about what has happened,” one British collector said. “I feel there is an arrogance about Kew. They deserved what they got.” Carlos Magdalena told me that he had even been accused of staging the theft to increase publicity for his work.

I've said it before, but Brian Phillips is fantastic. He even feels fresh about the aeons-long rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: If it weren’t for Brady, we’d have to think of Manning as a celebrity, but if it weren’t for Manning, we’d have to think of Brady as a guy doing a job — or worse: as a guy who signs paperwork, who wakes up worried in the middle of the night, who gets stuck in traffic, who waits on hold, who wonders where time is going, who feels unexplained pain in his tooth. Instead, we get to imagine Brady as the free citizen of a world of tuxedos, fine wine, lingering eye contact, and beautiful understated cars. We get to do this because there is never a moment, we imagine, when Manning is not signing paperwork, in traffic, while worried, with a toothache. That is how Peyton Manning contributes to our fantasies. That’s the sacrifice he makes for us.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

amazon steals from war hero

Have I written about the Amazon scam where dodgy publishers take books they claim are out of copyright and offer them for (expensive) sale on a print-on-demand basis. Probably. And probably someone else has written about them.

Anyway, my favourite current example is a book called Van Meegeren, Master Forger, which various imprints with curious four letter names (Nabu Press, Ulan Press) are selling, out of the goodness of their scholarly hearts, because it was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some publishers have opted to apply OCR (optical character recognition) technology to the process, we believe this leads to sub-optimal results (frequent typographical errors, strange characters and confusing formatting) and does not adequately preserve the historical character of the original artifact. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form.

How marvellous of them! This is the long tail at work! Our records will never die.

Except I suppose that the diligent old moles at Nabu and Ulan must have missed the title page, since the forgery which the book is about wasn't uncovered until the end of WW2, so the date, in a book about fakes no less, is pretty wild of the mark.

In fact, the book was written in 1967 by John Godley, Lord Kilbracken. You may know him as the author of The Easy Way of Bird Recognition or as a racing correspondent. Or the chap who gatecrashed the Great Red Square parade in Moscow on the 40th anniversary of the October uprising, wearing a pink Leander tie and with his trousers turned inside out. Or as a Fleet Air Arm pilot who won a DSC flying Fairey Swordfish, a Liberal peer who switch to Labour in 1966 and renounced his British citizenship and medals in 1972 over Britain's policy in Northern Ireland. He sat in the Lord's and was a big speaker for the Kurds.

Also, he sold square yards of Irish bog to Americans, hunted Rommel's treasure, squired Jayne Mansfield to buy cows (he christened his best milker Jayne) and married a much younger Australian spy. His Telegraph obit is great, as you would imagine.

Friday, 24 October 2014

mike read loves chocolate

UKIP news 1: I was at a big party to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Wilde, mainly, and so Calypsist Mike Read. He was wearing a poppy long before anyone else, to show how patriotic he is, presumably. You are probably wondering why he was at an Oscar Wilde party? It's because he wrote a musical called Oscar that closed after one performance in 2004 in a hail on non-acclaim. The Guardian wrote: When Mike Read's Oscar Wilde musical closed within hours of its opening night in the West End, five theatregoers suffered more than most: the people who had bought tickets to its second performance.

He's also written musicals about Cliff and Rupert Brooks, and set Betjeman to music. Almost certainly terrible in all cases. Also, as a modern artist, he has worked in the field of confectionary.

 UKIP news 2: I didn't know anything about William Dartmouth, 10th Earl of Dartmouth, who sits as a UKIP MEP for South West England. His grandma was Barbara Cartland, and is married to an Australian ex-model. He has a son whose mother is a 'socialite', or was, and who can't inherit the title for legitimacy reasons.

Short film of joggers in Victoria Park.

Addams Family audition pics. It seems from number ten that Nicholas Lyndhurst was up for Lurch. Lisa Loring played Wednesday. She was born in Hawaii, married her childhood sweetheart and had a baby when she was sixteen. Later, she married a porn star (she met him on a set when she was working as a make-up artist) but she didn't like his work and although he pretended, he couldn't give it up. Drugs, drink, and People magazine wrote a feature on her brilliantly entitled Addams Child Wednesday Has Been Fully of Woe, but she's started acting again. I hope it goes well for her.

Sneakernomics is crazy.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

million sellers


Cover scan of Jacob's Folly

I loved Jacob's Folly. The top cover above gives you a decent sense of it. I think it's the American one. The second cover is the British one I saw, and it's made me think it was a book not aimed at me. Over time, I got over the judging by cover, but it was over time. If I had seen the top cover I'd have read it ages ago. It is by no means anything within a million miles of what looks like the slightly pappy book of the second cover, and I wonder if lots of readers have found that surprising. I should check, maybe. Not now, I have other fish to fry.

I am periodically riveted by huge bestsellers no one today has heard of. My friend Matthew told me about the incredible Peter Cheyney the other day, who grew up in the East End, fought in the Great War, dictated dozens of thrilling tales, shot, golfed, jiu-jitsued and etc., etc.

Among other things, assuming Wikipedia to be correct: Cheyney wrote his first novel, the Lemmy Caution thriller This Man Is Dangerous in 1936 and followed it with the first Slim Callaghan novel, The Urgent Hangman in 1938. The immediate success of these two novels assured a flourishing new career, and Cheyney abandoned his work as a freelance investigator. Sales were brisk; in 1946 alone, 1,524,785 copies of Cheyney books were sold worldwide ... Cheyney dictated his work. Typically Cheyney would "act out" his stories for his secretary, Miss Sprauge, who would copy them down in shorthand and type them up later.

Ernie Hudson played Winston in Ghostbusters and wasn't that well treated in sequels and didn't voice the cartoon. Was race a reason? Well, in this interview, he seems like more or less the gracefullest man on earth. I think of him as Cousin Ernie, increasingly.

What happens when you find a way to beat Vegas because Vegas has screwed up the programming of its machines? Well, among other things, Vegas doesn't like it one little bit, and Vegas is bigger than you, so it takes you to court. Vegas, basically, is the baddies. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


I hadn't heard of Gamergate until last night and the story of a gamer saying he'd massacre people if a woman spoke about tropes games perpetuate against women.

Of course, it's just the usual load of hate-filled bile, and to say this is representative of gamers is like saying ISIS is representative of muslims and so on. But I'm glad to know about it, all the same. And I was already going to link to this great story by Naomi Alderman about British women who were early computer coders because when they started doing it, it was seen as women's work. They started businesses made a lot of money, which totally is and should be part of the story.

Friday, 3 October 2014

almost there

What do I do every day? If you are asking this question about any of the last eight days, I get up, open a script I'm writing, re-plan the relationship of a pair of secondary characters called Banjo and Googoo, feel hopeful that this time I've cracked it, draft between one and all of their scenes, decide that I will have to start again tomorrow.

Also, the internet. For instance, did you know Steven Soderbergh has done a black and white, re-scored cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'd love to watch it in the cinema pictured above, which I walked past in a village in France last month.

Anthony Kim might be fit to play golf again, but his eight figure insurance pay-off might stop him.

American football news: if you can read the cute bits of this story, which you'll know when you get to them, and not be heartwarmed, then you have a heart of stone. (Bonus cute: child asks astronaut about what happens to Voyager if it breaks down.)

Other American football news: I love the series Breaking Madden, in which Jon Bois plays with the settings of a frighteningly lifelike computer game to produce absurd results. One of the best things about it is that it's not entirely predictable. Here, one of the characters Jon has tweaked seems to develop a weird disfunctional artificial intelligence. (Also I love the tiny men running into the giant men.)

The recent This American Life episode on the takeover of a New York school board by Hasidic Jews who don't send their kids to public schools but still have to pay for it is vvg.

Also, I find these posters funny every time I walk past them. Does that make me someone with a heart of stone? Can't I both feel sorry for the dog and the owner AND find the poster sort of hilarious in various ways? I think that's the situation I'm in.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Boutique Nationalism is Undemocratic

Oh God, Scotland. I really don't want to get into it. I'm not going to persuade anyone. Anything I say will just be screeching into the void. And yet. I haven't got another voice. I've almost never written anything up here because I can't bear not to say it.

The first country I had any form of relationship with was Scotland. I was five, my family supported Scotland in the five nations, I was Scottish. I still am, and I still do. My brother was married in a kilt, which surprised people, but he was brought up Scottish, whatever he sounds like and wherever he lived. That's allowed in Britain, especially if you weren't born in England. I am British, and the subset of British I am is Scottish.

I was born in Zimbabwe of parents who'd been in Africa for generations after their families had, mostly, gone out from Scotland. Identity and nationalism aren't rational.* My identity could disappear and I don't get a vote and it makes me feel utterly sick, and angry, and miserable, and weird.

Of course, there's no way I can divorce this from what I like to think are my more reasoned arguments that Scotland should stay part of the union. It  comes down to this, though: I believe that the rise of me-me-me boutique nationalisms like 'Scottish', where people try to redraw borders so they can pick and choose only the things they like or agree with, is fundamentally anti-democratic. Democracy is not living somewhere where everyone agrees with you, it's having as loud a voice as everyone else in the place where you live.

It's a sort of national version of the Great Sort, and although there are arguments on both sides, I think that in countries like the UK - which are by every rational measure free, democratic and highly functional - it is solipsistic and frankly a bad example to the world to claim that you are being oppressed/victimised/whatever because your democratically elected government doesn't happen to agree with you.

But I am also incredibly upset because if Scotland votes Yes, I don't know what I'll be then.**

* I supported Zim against England too for a very long time, although I've gone kind of agnostic now, for Mugabe reasons. I'm not trying to pretend all this is simple.
** I know some people think that doesn't matter, and countries are bullshit. That's fine, they're allowed to. I'll never change their mind and I'm not trying to.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

watch this, watch this

Inexplicably, I had never seen this brilliant thing until @helenlewis posted it on twitter. If you are in the same unhappy position...

Some people say that the new Apple ad (see it here) is a rip off of the latest amazing Ok Go video. Some of those people are OK Go. They are obviously right. Of course other people have done similar things, but the timing means the Apple guys were just copying, and they clearly would consider themselves creatives. Lots of adverts are like this.

Of course, the OK Go thing is a thousand times wittier and more charming.

I am a big fan of the Stanford University mascot - a tree whose inhabiter gets to to design his or her costume every year. My favourite bit from the Wikipedia page:  In February 2006, then-Tree Erin Lashnits was suspended until the end of her term as the Tree after her blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.157 (almost twice the legal driving limit in California) during a men's basketball game between Stanford and Cal. UC Berkeley police observed her drinking from a flask during the game and cited her for public drunkenness after she failed a breathalyser test.

This year's tree has got a hilarious/awful costume. I can't find a picture of it, but this gif is worth a click.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

the spy who loved another spy

Woo hoo, I am going on holiday. I have finished a decent draft of this year's Christmas show; I have done a draftier draft of Bond episode 2 for Tall Tales on 24 Sept; I have watched the rains, the rains, the endless gloomy rains of August.

I have also learnt that, in his later life, Lord Salisbury took to riding a tricycle for his health. He beavered around the grounds of Hatfield House in a purple velvet poncho. A footman would jump off the back of his tricycle to push him up hills and remount for the downhills. This, and there will be plenty more to follow, I guess, from The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan.

For the Dazzle sequel, I went back into the twenties, and reminded myself that I'd downplayed the craziness, if anything. My new favourite is Gerald Tyrwhitt, Lord Berners. He wrote a very hard-to-get-hold-of book called The Girls of Radcliff Hall, satirising his homosexual circle through the medium of a boarding school parody with what might be the greatest title in all literature. The Telegraph obituary says:

... "distinguished" is not quite the right word for Berners. Distinguished men do not normally drive around their estate wearing a pig's-head mask to frighten the locals.

Nor do they place advertisements in The Times announcing that they wish to dispose of two elephants - and, when rung up by a diary column, pretend to be their own manservant and explain that one of the elephants has been sold to Harold Nicolson (who took the joke badly).

Enough for now. I'm out of here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


I read Death Comes to the Archbishop and The Table of Less Valued Knights last week. They are very different, excellent books.

Some excellent sportswriting in Grantland this week. Brian Phillips takes on the hideous Ray Rice mess (Rice and his wife walked into an elevator; he dragged her out, seemingly unconscious; she apologised for causing trouble; he got a tiny little wrist slap from the league authorities). Phillips - well, you should read the whole thing for the sensitive way it tries to understand the knots people have got themselves into over this. It's an exercise in genuine empathy: Internet comments defending Rice and the NFL are — well, many of them are genuinely and chillingly misogynistic, but I think more of them are primarily concerned with protecting football from mainstream cultural norms: Don’t take this away too. Men who post smug explanations of league suspension policy may be secret domestic-violence enthusiasts, but more likely they’re simply trying to keep any trace of sensitivity from softening their cartoon war game. What they’re talking about isn’t precisely what they’re talking about. They don’t support the problem; they just don’t want to think about it. They refuse to be collaterally enlightened.

That last sentence is brilliant.

Michael Weinreb, in a very different piece which has its core a similar attempt to get at just what it is we love about sports, even when so much of it is easy to criticise, writes: at heart, the reason we prefer college football to the pros is that we are sentimental nostalgists, wishing we could retreat back to the time when we felt like maybe we had the potential to be great, too. He's totally convincing, and he knows it has to change because it's built on a system of (racial) peonage.

Back to Elizabeth Gilbert - being a fan is loving something more than it deserves. That's such an excellent insight.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


I know almost precisely nothing about Eat, Pray, Love and the description of it doesn't appeal. I listened to Mike Pesca interview Elizabeth Gilbert, its author, last week. I really, really liked her (and her new novel does sound up my street, she will be delighted to learn). She was wise and gracious about being a one-hit wonder, whatever the hell that means, and fandom (loving something more than it objectively deserves). It's here.

Some French dude wrote a book in ten minutes and can't stop selling copies. I also really like him. Sample quote: “It is no effort,” he smiles, his blue eyes flashing. “Words come out of me like water from a tap. I write largely on my mobile phone as I move about and queue in the supermarket. I’ve written on chewing gum wrappers and even on my shirt.” 

I think Alexa Meade's photos of people who look like paintings are fun. I don't know whether they are a bit hokey when you see them for real, and I am not sure I want one, and the web is no place to make judgements, but I am, to no purpose, a fan.

Monday, 4 August 2014

peter o'toole

I didn't know that Peter O'Toole loved cricket so much. He played with Omar Sharif while filming Lawrence of Arabia and, aged 50, qualified as a coach so he could teach his new son properly. He coached kids at Cricklewood and Brondesbury Cricket Clubs.

I already liked him.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

the game's afoot

It might be, anyway. We'll see. I'm having a meeting about the game, and if it's afoot, it will be so afoot I probably won't even have time to tell you.

I also, probably, and this will be really annoying, won't have time to write Episode 2 of my thrilling new Bond adventure before September's Tall Tales. We did Episode 1 last night and I thought it went well, in my biased way. In my less biased way, I loved the rest of the dudes in the show. I've started saying dudes a lot. I'm not sure why.

I knew nothing about online/real world harassment in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I do now.

Who was Cliff Young? He was an Australian potato farmer[2] and athlete from Beech Forest, Victoria, best known for his unexpected win of the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983 at 61 years of age. Also, says Wikipedia, In 1997 at age 76, he made an attempt to beat Ron Grant's around Australia record and completed 6,520 kilometres of the 16,000-kilometre run, but he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. In 2000 he achieved a world age record in a six-day race in Victoria, and Young was a vegetarian from 1973 until his death. He lived in the family home with his mother and brother Sid. Young had remained single throughout his life, but after the 1983 race, at 62 years of age, he married 23-year-old Mary Howell, 39 years his junior.

Primary producers get exploited. We all know that. The romantic stories are about farmers, like Cliff Young. It's much less hard to feel pity for sportsmen and artists, and I'm not asking for it because my life is brilliant. However, I've read some great stuff recently, and re-read, about paying comedy writers and about Amazon vs Hachette and how neither is the author's friend, whatever they pretend.

Sports. I'll tease you in with Cheerleaders, because that's always interesting. Clue: they're totally exploited. Then I'll say that the owners of US basketball franchises have done a brilliant job of negotiating salary caps. A racist owner forced to sell his bad team still made a huge fortune while star players are congratulated for taking voluntary pay cuts in order to make teams stronger. Then I'll say that colleges make hundreds of millions out of sports while paying a pittance (scholarship) to top players who aren't allowed to sell their labour on a free market. These players are then lowballed when they get into professional football, basketball or whatever. If you're one of the footballers playing running back, your best five years are played, basically, for tiny fraction of what you're worth You might get one decent contract after that but you're already well on the downside of your career.

Monday, 21 July 2014


Sorry, it's been a while. I know, because I have access to snooping tools barely less powerful than the NSA's, that there are not three million of you waiting avidly to hear whatever I come up with next, but I I have been providing an even worse service than usual, I realise.

I'm busy, is the obvious reason. I'm getting the first episode of a new radio thing ready for Tall Tales next week, which means a lot of writing, crossing fingers in the usual way that somehow, miraculously, this time I will have learned to plan something so that it doesn't need at least two radical rewrites, re-read, realise that the miracle hasn't happened, and so on. And also plan a musical I'm writing in the next couple of months, hopefully in such a careful way that I don't need at least two radical rewrites.

And also, at the same time, I am slowly working out the best way to rebuild slash redesign this blog, and maybe Listen & Often, which doesn't need it, exactly, because it was designed by someone who knows what they're doing, but I might try to put them on the same overall platform, along with my website (I worry that I might be boring you by now) and what might very possibly become a new podcast that I've been working on with Marie.

Also, therefore, I've been learning podcasting. I didn't have to learn podcasting for Listen & Often because Toby did all the work. It turns out that if I have to be relied on to do all the work, things take longer.

So, that's where I am. I have an annoying list of open tabs waiting to be turned into posts, so it's me who's suffering, really.

(If you want to audience at next week's Tall Tales, please email so we know you're coming.)

Monday, 7 July 2014

how the rich young live now

On Saturday night, I went to a restaurant on Saturday which had a large private room which was holding an evidently very posh eighteenth birthday party. Of the hundreds of eighteen year olds (the eighteenth birthday parties I went to were in people's gardens) a huge proportion spent a lot of the evening outside smoking.

When I was eighteen a lot of my friends smoked. Ten years ago, it seemed that many fewer people that age did. These things go in waves, blah, blah, blah. But what I wondered about, in addition, was this: is smoking for rich eighteen year olds a sign of conspicuous consumption? It's so much more expensive than it used to be that I can hardly imagine how even my comfortably off eighteen year old friends would easily have afforded it. Is this a thing like fat is a sign of wealth when there is no food?

(Interestingly, while eighteen year olds are conventionally supposed to look amazing by virtue of being eighteen, these eighteen year olds looked an absolute shower.)

(If I wanted to be able to afford to send an eighteen year old child of mine to a massive party like this, I would set up an chain of tattoo removing salons. Literally every fashion looks ridiculous twelve years on. I'm really looking forward to this one.)

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Clearing tabs

The least graceful thing in public life is rich, white, Christian, western men trying to pretend they are victims or underdogs. See also Amazon.

Fancy dress, fascism, gay men, Churchill. (Philip Hoare is brilliant.)

Why Britain can't do the wire. Excellent, especially on writers, but I would also say that it's easier-slash-more locative to go for niches in America because the niches contain so many more people. I do think UK telly culture is not as bold as it should be. But I would.

What is the really important thing about Bitcoin? It's the way it moves information. That's how it will change the world, says Virgin, which is a very odd-feeling source for one of the most interesting things I've read about Bitcoin.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

David Sedaris is the bombYou can tell where my territory ends and the rest of England begins. It’s like going from the rose arbor in Sissinghurst to Fukushima after the tsunami. The difference is staggering

Luis Suarez biting some guy who's spent an hour kicking him: biting a guy in football is definitely different to kicking him or elbowing him in the head, even though the latter are objectively more likely to cause lasting damage. Partly it's that there's no excuse and so it's incredibly easy to judge, and judging things, as Rebekah Brooks knows, is hard.

(By the way, do you know how many criminal defendants get privately paid barristers? A vanishingly small number. Proof is hard when you have lots of highly paid lawyers (not better lawyers, necessarily, but lawyers with all the time they need to make their case). It's what financial criminals depend on.)

Anyway, Suarez should get a ban, but I've seen worse things on sports fields not get punished just because the players could pretend they were part of the game. To be fair, sometimes it has been Suarez doing them. You should still read Brian Phillips on him. And this is good too, from Colin McGowan: Surely, we’re smart enough to enjoy Suárez — to like him, in a way — and to also know he’s a spectacular jackass. 

I'm very busy at the moment.

A book about monsters appearing on mediaeval maps? What's not to like?

Friday, 13 June 2014

nothing to see here

Great links from the Slate Political Gabfest last week. The first was to a New York Times story about Xiao Jianhua. He was the head of the Peking student union when the Tienanmen Square protest took place. He started off a bit pro protest. Then he decided things were getting too anti state and he took the other tack. Did it pay off? Well, that's for you to judge. To help you:

In the quarter-century since, he became the prototype of the politically connected financier. He has assiduously courted the party elite, including the family of its current president, Xi Jinping, becoming something of a banker for the ruling class and a billionaire in his own right.

Now 42 years old, Mr. Xiao controls a sprawling business empire with interests largely in state-dominated industries, including banking, insurance, coal, cement, property and even rare-earth minerals, and largely managed by his holding company, the Tomorrow Group.

The second was to Leonardo da Vinci's job application to the Duke of Milan, which says he'd be a good employee because he can (nine different points) make bridges quickly for troops, destroy walls, cast cannons, etc. Then (one point) he can do peacetime architecture. Then, just as a by the way: I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

Everything is Broken, which was a link from [someone else] is about internet security and why there isn't any. (Clue: people in charge of it are just these guys, like you are. You know how you are just some guy who wants to get home to the kids or finish work in time to watch Game of Thrones and sometimes cocks up? So is everyone else! Even the Melvyn Braggs of this world are just doing their best to get by. This will be my theme when someone asks me to write a commencement speech.)

Friday, 6 June 2014

blonde angel

I had never heard of Luciano Re Cecconi till he was the answer to a quiz question the other day. His nickname was the blonde angel and this is a line from his Wikibiog:

Re Cecconi played for the Italian under-23 side, and was on the roster of the national squad at the 1974 World Cup. He was shot dead in 1977, after pretending to rob a friend's jewelry shop as a practical joke.

Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph has been funny about the awful Lutfur Rahman's reelection as mayor of Tower Hamlets. The Panorama expose of Rahman was great, which I know even though I didn't watch it because a friend of mine paraphrased it for me in a way that only took a few hours longer than my watching it would have done. Rahman's team intimidated voters and misused funds on campaigning, and also:

Some polling stations were moved to new, unfamiliar, and harder-to-reach locations. One, in the not very pro-Rahman territory of Canary Wharf, was placed on a traffic island, at the bottom of a ramp, in the middle of a busy four-lane road!

If you are anything like me, you got to the end of this thinking, 'stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying beware of the leopard.'

In general, books aren't best read in synopsis. On the other hand, I cannot too highly recommend the synopsis of The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie. It was turned into a Marple a few years ago, but believe me, the synopsis provides no spoilers for the Marple version. Seriously, treat yourself.

But if you are too busy and just want some highlights:

Hiram Fish, a collector of first edition books … Unaware she did not write the letters, he wants to blackmail her. On a whim, she pays, and promises more money the next day … The Koh-i-Noor diamond had been stolen from the Tower of London (and replaced by a paste copy) some years earlier, by a French thief named King Victor … he gives the real memoirs (which have no embarrassing anecdotes) to Jimmy McGrath to deliver to the publishers, to earn his one thousand pounds …  presents himself as the missing Prince Nicholas, who had spread the rumours of his own death in the Congo and through coincidence was led into this adventure ...

In fact, the more I read these notes, the more I can't believe this wasn't written by Wodehouse. Everything about it seems like Wodehouse.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

a surprising fact

Question: how rich do you reckon Vladimir Putin is? Think about it for a moment. The answer at the end of this post.

Do you know who wrote the Russian national anthem? I assume you presume it was Roger Doucet, the beloved tenor who belted out Oh Canada before Montreal Canadiens ice hockey matches in the nineties. You're right. On the other hand, there was a long time when the song had no lyrics, because the lyrics were a bit Staliny.

Roger was going to sing the anthems at the ice hockey world cup in 1996 and he wasn't having that. He dug out the old words, got a Russian prof at the university to 'fix them up' and sang away. The diplomats were nervous. Nothing much happened. Next year, the lyrics, almost word for word, were readopted.

Just in case you have forgotten, Flower of Scotland was written in 1967 by The Corries.

And I saw Inside Llewyn Davis the other day. It's set in 1961. It featured a song from my all-time top 5 favourite album, Singing the Fishing, a radio documentary with songs about the East Coast herring fleets. The song was written by Ewan MacColl, although it couldn't sound more trad. I assumed that it wasn't released until well after 1961, but it was actually first broadcast in 1960. Llewyn Davis probably heard it on iPlayer.

The Answer: I don't know. But people periodically say he's the richest man in the world, at anything form $40bn-$70bn. And other people say that there is no evidence he controls all that oil company stock that the main source, who is just some guy in Moscow, says he controls. Putin himself says he's the richest man in the world because, 'I collect emotions, I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia -- I believe that is my greatest wealth.'

He sounds like a nice guy. (He isn't one.)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Dance, man mountain, dance

Gosh, time flies. My much anticipated Bond novel is finished and publishers around the world are dreaming it might land on their desks.

I have voted. I think I am allowed to post this hilarious benefits fraud story, which I am sure most of you saw anyway, without you thinking I voted for UKIP or any Daily Mail-style party. It's hard to know what to like most about the woman who claimed she was agoraphobic and then posted pictures online of her globetrotting. For no obvious reason, it might be that she got her comeuppance in Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court. Or that she's written 'three racy novels, including Last Tango in Buenos Ares.' At some point, when someone is this much of a comedy villain, you just have to say, 'You should be in jail, but hats off.'

Should America pay reparations for slavery? Don't answer until you have read Ta Nehisi Coates on the subject, is my advice, because loads of other people will have and you don't want to sound glib. Also, because it's amazing. (While you're at it, since it's about pricing the unpriceable: Tim Harford on Gary Becker - the economist who priced everything but not because he thought everything had a price.)

I don't want to read Last Tango in Buenos Ares. I do want to read Drachenfels. I didn't realise Kim Newman wrote a load of Warhammer books. Someone I respect (but I can't remember who it was) said this one was, surprisingly, excellent. The reviews on Amazon are raves. I'm going to find out for myself. (Kim Newman's website made me feel pretty lazy, I can tell you.)

That video at the top? It's the Fearsome Foursome: Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones. They were probably the scariest defensive line ever to play American football. Merlin Olsen, the one with no rhythm, went on to star in Little House on the Prairie.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Walter R Walsh gunned down the Brady gang, among other gangsters, when he was working for the FBI. He trained marksmen in World War II, shot a Japanese sniper with a single pistol shot at 80 yards, captained American shooting teams in his eighties, still not wearing glasses, and died recently at the age of 107. His NYT obit (thank you Marie Phillips) is great, and ends like this: Three weeks after Mr. Walsh’s 100th birthday, a grandson, Sgt. Nicholas R. Walsh, a reconnaissance team leader with Charlie Company, First Platoon of the First Marine Division, was killed by sniper fire in Fallujah, Iraq.

My friend Ian Leslie's book Curious is launched today, I think. He's really good and I am one of a billion people who wish he'd stop looking after his daughter and start writing Marbury again. I loved this piece about the Mona Lisa.

Performance Enhancing Drugs are not stigmatised in Hollywood even though they provide the same competitive advantages for actors that they provide for sportsmen. Fairly obvious reasons - sports is about truth, drama is not - but it's fun and lets me link again, just in case you didn't read it, to this Grantland article on Luis Suarez. Non-football fans, believe me, the writing is good enough for you to enjoy the first bit, and the last quarter is brilliant.

What do bankers think of bankers? Barclays has ditched large chunks of its investment arm and its shares have immediately gone up 3.5% (I know it is much more complicated than this. Tangent: a great long article on the scandal of managed funds with huge numbers of lobbyists reducing the value of pension funds which should have been invested gently into trackers.)

The Irish Times reviewed The Dazzle last weekend. It's a lovely review and I am grateful, although the timing is definitely eccentric. I now imagine Claire Looby sitting with an unbelievably massive pile of books, gritting her teeth and going, 'I'm bloody well going to get through them all. I am.'

Monday, 5 May 2014

Dazzle spoilers

Only the least crazy stuff in The Dazzle has no basis in fact. For instance, in Agent Dmitri by Emil Draitser, which is about a real Russian master spy, the spy goes to Danzig hoping to get hold of a passport from the Greek consul general, who's not a Greek at all. He's called Henry Habert and he's a member of an international gang of drug dealers who have wormed their way into the League of Nations.

Later, our spy needs to set up a business as a cover and picks Amsterdam as a convenient base.

To facilitate opening the new business, Dmitri struck up an acquaintance with an influential banker and businessman, Israel Pollack. He happened to be a patron of an underground bordello operating in the neighbourhood where Dmitri rented a spacious apartment...

GADA's [the business' name] official business was wholesale trade in wool cloth. But in reality the cloth was counterfeit. First, the firm collected high-quality wool clippings not only all over Holland but also in Belgium, England, Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries. Then, the raw materials were shipped to Lodz, where Dawidowicz arranged to mix them with a generous amount of cotton. The end result was 'high-quality' wool cloth. A Beligian artist (perhaps a member of the local Communist party; Dmitri calls him 'Comrade Gan van Looi') employed by one of the major British textile firms provided GADA with the next season's patterns. The counterfeited cloth produced in Lodz resembled the real thing. To make it look thoroughly authentic, the rolls of that cloth were transported to a shop in England where a machine stamped 'Made in England' along its borders. The cloth was then sold for a solid profit in remote areas, such as the African continent and South America.

There was also an Italian code-named ROSSI who sold the same secrets to loads of different governments, preferred to receive a million counterfeit dollars to 200,000 real francs and once almost got caught smuggling lace into the UK when he was supposed to be travelling covertly with Dmitri.

The wife of another agent, a Londoner the agent had ruined, speculated she'd have to go on the game at 52 to make ends meet. And lots more.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

sticks and stones

Newsflash: my external hard drive has stopped connecting to my computer for no obvious reason.

Newsflash 2: the place I wanted to be in to start a walk at the end of August is unreachable by public transport forcing me to change my plans in some way yet to be determined.

Newsflash 3: my advice on Osprey luggage and Contigo travel mugs still holds. I may have mentioned also that Dunlop Volleys are the most comfortable basic plimsolls money can buy, but they are not for people who need stabilising shoes. I am working towards advice on walking trousers, but I don't want to hurry it. What else do you need help with?

Newsflash 4: I had an idea for a television programme based on a title which is a pun. I'm not the first person in that boat. In fact, the boat is sinking, it's so full. No bad thing.

In American sports news: Donald Sterling is being forced to sell the Clippers because he was caught being racist on tape. Strong action indeed from the NBA. On the other hand, he has already been prosecuted for racist actions with respect to his work. You are legally allowed to be a dick, you are not legally allowed to discriminate in the workplace. The excellent Mike Pesca, who you've never heard of, writes: I would argue that refusing to rent to black and Hispanic families is a far worse societal ill than decrying the presence of Magic Johnson on the Instagram account of your goomah. The NBA apparently didn’t think so, having never raised any kind of public ruckus about Sterling’s shameful, well-established behavior. It’s telling that Clippers coach Doc Rivers claims he “didn’t know a lot about” Sterling’s racism before he accepted his current position.

However, it's a publicity-driven league so it's the publicity snafu not the crime that got him in trouble. For clarity, in case you don't follow the NBA, Sterling is a terrible, terrible dick.

Also, there is going to be a movie about Chinese guys playing American football badly. It was an aspirational sports choice based on movie watching and they self-consciously or not wrote their own season into the shape of a sports movie. The whole thing is well recursive.

In American non-sports news, the This American Life about tarring and feathering is completely gripping.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Oops. Been a while. I'm sending a new book to my agent tomorrow. Apart from that, I have mainly been constructing impossible murders and wishing I had a different, slightly better knee.

This, which was sent to me by a hard core spy, tickled me.

A former baseball star was racially profiled in his own driveway. He didn't like it.

I love these or any pictures of cute girls hunting with eagles.

I'm reading The Sports Gene by David Epstein. There's a chapter about high jumpers, including midgety Swede Stefan Holm, who was my favourite of those even before I read this: Holm's son Melwin has begun to tag along. (Melwin is not a Swedish name. Holm and his wife liked 'Melvin' and Holm wanted 'win' somewhere in the boy's name.

Also, apparently, he's got some post-high-jump fame as a quizzer. I like that too.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Someone on Twitter (Sorry, I can't remember who) said that this was the best opening paragraph on Wikipedia:

Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 – 5 June 1963) was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent. He served in the Boer War, First World War and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in World War I, he wrote, "Frankly I had enjoyed the war."

It's certainly a good one but it's a long entry and the pace doesn't really let up. For instance, after tunnelling out of the camp, Carton de Wiart evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant (which is surprising considering that he was in northern Italy, couldn't speak Italian, and was 61 years old, with an eye patch, one empty sleeve and multiple injuries and scars). Later, he agrees to carry a message to England so long as the Italians don't dress him up like a gigolo. In fact, there is so much in his life that it's sort of incredible that there are two long periods where he retires to the country (in Poland between the wars and in Ireland after them) to hunt and fish.

What fact have I learned recently that really shocked me? It is that while Henry VIII was paying Holbein £30 a year, his Abraham tapestries (which are amazing) cost £2,000 each.

This is good and angry about politics in the 'neutral' City of London.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

the world's best juggler

Only jugglers know who the best juggler is. Six balls looks not much harder than five but it's ten times harder. Grantland currently features one of my favourite things for ages, by Jason Fagone, about a juggler called Anthony Gatto, who is setting up a new business under his real name. As the piece puts it:

We are committed to offering a cost effective solution to tearing out and replacing old, damaged and deteriorating concrete,” reads the “About” page. “From stained micro-toppings to metallic floor finishes, counter tops and garage floor epoxy coatings, we have the solution for you.” A small head shot shows what looks like a smiling Gatto. Next to the head shot is a name. The name is not the one that has amazed audiences for the last 30 years. “Owned and operated,” the page says, “by Anthony Commarota.”

How did the greatest juggler in the world end up working in concrete?

This American Life is often great, but the episode Except For That One Thing was particularly strong. It has a short story about a date, a finale about a guy who went to prison for a crime he did commit and in the middle was Jon Mooallem talking about the Meat Problem of America's early twentieth century. The USA had run out of frontier, exterminated the passenger pigeon, killed most of the cod and almost all the bison, and it was frightened. What was the answer? Hippos. Breed hippos in Florida.

I was having a drink with two friends the other night. I am 40. They are 36 or so. Neither of them had seen The Commitments. This shocked me. I reckon almost no one who was a student when I was a student missed that film. These two, who were students just afterwards (not even after, because I was a graduate student when they were undergraduates), didn't see it and didn't see that as peculiar. The only way I could make them understand was by asking how surprised they would be if someone five years younger than them hadn't seen The Full Monty.

Friday, 14 March 2014

double penetrator!

Ok, I'm sorry. But I've held off for nearly 36 hours and I couldn't hold off any longer.

 I found it in a second hand bookshop. Two for the price of one. I looked up The Penetrator series, something which leads you to some pretty dark places pretty quickly if you're not careful, and I found a subculture of trash reviewers, like this guy, and this guy. Interestingly, in general, it seems that they are quite good at what they are, which is crazy. (As a result of the second guy's blog, I really want to read the lost sic fi classic, in his opinion, Spawn of the Death Machine.)

There were 53 Penetrators written by two guys (Mark K. Roberts did odd and Chet Cunningham did even, or vice versa) over the course of eleven busy years.

This guy's viewUnlike the Executioner and the Destroyer and the Death Merchant and the Butcher (whew!), I did not read the Penetrator when they first came out in the early 70's. It wasn't until I started this site that I took to reading them and was very pleasantly surprised. Hardin is a very likeable man* and his adventures are very likeable reads. As spy books they are lacking but as the adventures they are meant to be, they are good

Here's a spoof movie trailer done last year. It's funny. The main thing all this made me think of is The Reprisalizer.

* I might read this book just to find out whether I agree that Hardin is 'a very likeable man'.

Monday, 10 March 2014

i don't think i'm dead (i might be, though)

About five years ago, before the last training session of the hockey season, I wrote I might die tonight on a little scrap of paper. I've been adding to it ever since every time I've been afraid I'm going to my last training session or game, or get injured, or whatever. Maybe you think this is tastelessly melodramatic, but it was just for me, and encapsulates something real. I made the first note when I was due to have a big spinal operation a few weeks later, and I didn't know if I would play proper hockey again.*

By proper hockey I mean the kind where I absolutely commit my training nights and my Saturdays to hockey for the season to the end of playing for the best team I can play for. Weddings are an exception, and a couple of work things over the years, but, not counting injury, and I've been pretty lucky on that front, I hadn't missed ten training sessions in the decade before my operation.

Playing sport to the best of my ability is a massive part of who I am. Also, team sport is better than individual sport on a moral level, since it forces you to do something in a group and at inconvenient times that you can't change, which therefore teaches a small degree of humility and submission. When I stop, then something will have changed about something that has made me me since I was ten. That's fine. I know it will happen. The fire doesn't burn quite like it did ten years ago, but it definitely still burns.

This year, actually, I might have died quietly, with a trio of very annoying medium-term injuries that meant I missed preseason, then November to January, then February to now. I hope not but we'll see next year.

 I'm writing all this because I wanted to link to a couple of things. I love - I absolutely love - sportsmen who don't go quietly into the night. The differences between me and Steve Nash could hardly be more radical, but he doesn't care that fans think he should have gone out at the top. He wants to play till he can't contribute. He's not what he was. He knows that. He still thinks he can help. Go Steve Nash. Play till you're dropped, if that's what you want.**

Also, go Helen Richardson-Walsh, who is a GB hockey player who's just undergone her second big back op and is determined to get back into the team, and who is writing about the process here. It's quite new, but I am going to follow it like a hawk. I don't expect you to and think less of you for it.

* The back was fine when I was active; it couldn't be still so I couldn't sleep or work; now it's much crankier for sport but I can do the others; of course, given that I am not a professional hockey player, the others are more important; I miss the sport-adapted back massively, though.

** Do understand this is a problem with Sachin, etc., when it is basically impossible to drop a player for extra-sporting reasons. But this is rare and not the present subject.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


I hope you didn't miss Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe, Mexican skier. In case you did, the Grantland piece on him is vg. Highlights include his matador/mariachi ski outfit, the fact that his mum was a bit underage when she got married but the Pope okayed it (she later acted in movies like The Vatican Affair, My Bed Is Not for Sleeping, and Homo Eroticus, and she now designs jewellery) and the fact that he's been competing in the Olympics longer than most of the contestants have been alive.

American football name watch: I should never link to these things, because names are just names. Here, however, is a single paragraph about College football:

The Aggies' last two recruiting classes have netted seven four- or five-star receivers, according to Rivals, including potential standouts Ricky Seals-Jones -- who missed most of last year with an injury -- Ja'Quay Williams and LaQuvionte Gonzalez from the class of 2013 and new signees Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho. The backfield remains deep with running back talent that took a backseat to Manziel last year, with Trey Williams, Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams and Tra Carson all entering their junior seasons.

Boring housing link I couldn't not click on via twitter because I live in London and want to understand what the hell is going on. (And which I therefore don't find boring, obviously, but I wish property hadn't become so much of a thing again.)

(Are we giving corrupt Ukrainian politicians loads of money which they will immediately use to buy houses in Chelsea? I think that is what my friend Matthew is suggesting to me. I am certainly getting better informed about the Ukraine. The key thing seems to be that the Ukrainian coalition currently in power has some real nasty rightists who are virulently anti-Russian and its not totally crazy to be scared of them if you're Russian Crimean, whatever that means.)

Saturday, 22 February 2014

our ancestors were crazy

I was gazing over an old bookshelf the other day at the family estate in the wild westernmost corner of commuter-belt East Anglia and I noticed for the first time in many years my father's collection of books by John O'Hara.

Among the reviews on the covers: John O'Hara is the greatest living novelist, New York Times. Moreover, lots of his books have been released as modern classics by different imprints, although I bet that very few people I know have read any, and nor have I although I am going to start.

His first book was Appointment in Samarra, and that's one of the two I know something about, the other being BUtterfield 8 (sic. - the capital U is there for reasons to do with telephone exchanges but it looks so bad that publishers almost always capitalise the whole world). Anyway, what I'm saying is John O'Hara was posh, and his reviews were often very excellent, and they came from places like the New York Times.

I have partly blethering on at length so that you will be surprised by the staggeringly dreadful covers which are far enough down the page for you not to have seen them yet. And I have started with the one that isn't quite so bad so I can preserve that surprise.

My wife would let me sit next to her reading Dorothy Dunnett books (see previous post) every day if she could avoid sitting next to me reading the below edition of Hellbox (which is the book, staggeringly, with the NYT quote of the cover). Another edition of Hellbox on Amazon has the slightly less appealing line above the title: All of the passions, sacred and profane, etched in acid by one of the great virile authors of our time! I think Ourselves to Know is the worst of these, but it's a grim collection.

This is what posh books looked like in the seventies, people. It beggars belief. Ten North Frederick is a Penguin Classic.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

cover up

My wife is (obviously) not a very judgmental person. However, there are some books which she really doesn't want me to read when I am sitting next to her on the tube.

Dorothy Dunnett is one of my favourite writers. It is hard to describe her books without them sounding much worse than they are. I spent two months in 2002 obsessed to the point of mania with her fourteen book epic historical romance cycle (not really my genre). And her Dolly books are the cleverest, subtlest and best-written detective thrillers I know. They are not well-served by their covers. Here is a fullish collection.

Above is the exception. The one truly good cover any of the books has. Most of the books were reissued with different titles when Dolly and the X Bird made them look as if they were something they weren't. The reissues are boring but, in the context of a tube, acceptable. So, Bird of Paradise is the same as Tropical Issue.
Now we come to the covers that my wife despises. I particularly love them, partly because they are so deceptive, which actually suits the books in various ways but I can't help feeling it's counterproductive. In each of the following cases, the second is paired with the first.

Ah, I don't have a copy of boring-covered Roman Nights / Starry Bird. Here's a picture of one from a different series of these books - the only series I don't own a cover of. They're not bad, actually. I would definitely be allowed to read them on the tube.
Dolly and the Starry Bird (aka Roman Nights) (aka Murder in Focus) (Johnson Johnson, Bk 4)
The next pair are a bit different. Instead of the boring cover, I have another Nanny Bird cover which is, I think, even more horrifying than the original. (It is also the prelude to another upcoming set of old book covers.)

Rather miserably, by the time DD wrote her final Dolly book, the titles had already been changed, so there is no Bird version. Therefore, I picture the American edition. They had ANOTHER set of different titles, and this one is fun, isn't it?

I've spent the last few years saving them up and reading them in the sun on a summer holiday. I only have Moroccan Traffic to go. I'm a bit sad about it, but I will get by.

Friday, 14 February 2014

faster pussycat, krill, krill, krill

Big fish are getting smaller. Here are some great pictures courtesy of Radiolab. The end of the article points out that we're also eating smaller and smaller species of fish, chasing the disappearing biomass. Apparently there's a Dallas aquarium which serves jellyfish peanut butter. Yum, krill.

In other links:

The Flappy Bird story is crazy and there must be more to it than meets the eye.

Friday Night Lights reunion! Crucifictorious!

The problem with bad writers is that they don't know they are bad. Yeah, ok, this is all true, it absolutely is, and of more things than writing. But it's only true up to a point, but the problem with publishers and producers is often that they aren't prepared to take a risk on things which are good but which don't conform to their pre-existing ideas of what will sell.

I love this rant about David Cameron saying, 'We're a wealthy country, money's no object,' when the Thames Valley gets flooded, but not under lots of other circumstances.

Monday, 10 February 2014

a finnish sort of dead earl, and michael sam

1. In the 1980s, Matt Nykenen won the ski-jumping. Here are some excerpts from his Wikipedia page, which are very funny, and quite sad.

Nykänen met millionaire sausage heiress Mervi Tapola in 1999, and they were married from 2001 to 2003. They were divorced in 2003, and remarried in 2004.

In the summer of 2009 Tapola (then Tapola-Nykänen) petitioned for divorce a 14th time, but cancelled it

On Christmas Day 2009 Nykänen allegedly injured his wife with a knife and tried to throttle her with a bathrobe belt. He was charged for attempted manslaughter

On 24 August 2004, Matti Nykänen was arrested on suspicion of attempted manslaughter of a family friend after losing a finger pulling competition

When Nykänen's ski jumping career was drawing to a close, a group of businessmen proposed to make him a singer. His first album Yllätysten yö was released in 1992 and sold over 25,000 copies … The next album Samurai (1993) was not as successful.

At the end of the 1990s, due to serious financial problems, Nykänen worked as a stripper in a Järvenpää restaurant

In November 2009 Nykänen began to present his own cooking web series Mattihan se sopan keitti

He's also says a lot of half-intentionally funny things: 'And if one thing is for sure, it is quite sure,' 'What is not done cannot be undone,' and, 'I am a marriage adviser these days. If things are going well, then call me. I can fuck it up In seven seconds.'

(Mostly I file colourful people under 'dead earls', in case you are new here. It's just so I can find them quickly.)

2. If you read The Kilburn Social Club, you can probably guess I was pretty excited by the news that Michael Sam, a top college American footballer who will be drafted into the NFL this Spring, has told the press he's gay. He'll be the first active gay athlete in one of the main American team sports.

My favourite bit of the story, and the most important, is that he came out to his teammates before last season and there were a few bumpy bits of ride but it was fine. General Managers are harrumphing, as are some players, but at some point they, like the gay marriage deniers, have to see that demography isn't going to help them on this one. A team of young black athletes was more accepting than a load of old white Christians. (I bet the young black athletes were also Christian, by the way.)

Friday, 7 February 2014


Oops. Missed the fact that The Dazzle came out in paperback yesterday. The Sunday Times liked it too, which is great.

I am bad at these updates, mainly because I find them excruciating. I don't really know why. I am perfectly happy to tell the world I am a brilliant auctioneer. In my first attempt at auctioneering last night I sold a £25 beauty salon voucher for £35. In your face, Bargain Hunt.

I think it's at least partly because by the time things come out, they are so much a part of your past that it's slightly hard to refocus. I finished The Dazzle three years ago. That doesn't mean I'm not proud of it, or that I don't want it to well. I am and do, very much, but I've written a couple of radio series, several spec scripts, a musical, fifteen short stories and another book since then.

I do hope that if you haven't read it, you will. I personally would have waited for the paperback since that is much my favourite reading format.

(If you are in Australia and you are having trouble getting hold of it, then the following libraries have copies: Armidale Dumaresq Council War Memorial Library, Brisbane City Council Library Service, City of Gold Coast Libraries, John Anderson Municipal Library, Gosford City Library, Marrickville Library, North Central Goldfields Regional Library Corporation, Stonnington Library and Information Service, Toorak / South Yarra Library, Dee Why Library, Western Riverina Libraries, Griffith City Library. I am pretty sure these are the main libraries in Australia.)