Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hootenanny state

So, what’s your ghastliest ever New Year’s Eve experience?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book face

One of the more delectably useless features of LibraryThing is the author gallery function, which arrays portraits of the people who wrote the books in your library, in alphabetical order. This can throw up a few rather startling lookalikes – as distinct from lookunalikes – adjacent to each other. Who’da thunk that Anthony Beevor and Frédéric Beigbeder would be so similar; or Malcolm Bradbury and André Breton; Ian McEwan and Roger McGough? The only problem is that now I don’t want to split up these unlikely twins, which means I’ll probably never sample from the wells of Aphra Behn, Wallace Breem or Leslie McFarlane. Sorry.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mourning has broken

I’ve posted this in several locations today, initially in response to Peter Oborne’s article on the Telegraph site, where none of the marmalade-flecked tweedbots complained about it, so I guess they approve. It does seem to be ideologically consistent, if nothing else. You can sign the petition here.
Since Lady Thatcher was renowned for “rolling back the frontiers of the State”, I find the notion of a State funeral grossly inappropriate. Could the event not be funded by private enterprise? I’m sure the financial institutions and utilities companies that did so well from her policies would compete furiously for the right to have their logos emblazoned on the coffin and the backs of the pallbearers; and perhaps advertising hoardings could be set up along the route of the procession. The minister in charge of the service would be expected to utter a few kind words about the generosity of these supporters alongside the conventional “ashes to ashes” stuff.

The mourners themselves could be asked to chip in, with the scale of their contributions reflecting their prominence in the service: big donors at the front, plucky constituency stalwarts in a more modest position; the relationship between party donations and awards of peerages, MBE’s, etc could act as a model.

I'm sure it’s what she would have wanted.


Pretty soon it will be possible to concoct bespoke entertainments based on the preferences you express – possibly inadvertently – through your behaviour on Facebook, Amazon, iTunes and the like. A book or movie or piece of music will be cobbled together on the basis that on Monday you retweeted three jokes about Kim Jong-Il and once put a Jeanette Winterson novel on your wishlist. In fact, with the release of Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood, the process might have been perfected already. It’s based on a novel by Haruki Murakami, who gave this blog its name; it’s set in Japan, a country for whom I hold a befuddled affection; it stars Rinko Kikuchi, by far the best thing in the tiresome Babel; the director was responsible for the excellent The Scent of Green Papaya; and the music is by one of the blokes out of Radiohead, about whom I’ve written two and a bit books. Yesterday, I finally got round to watching it.

And it was... all right, I guess, but could have been half an hour shorter. I think the software may need tweaking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

That was the year that was

One of the five or six people left behind at the BBC after the move to Salford asked me quite some time ago whether 2011 was One Of Those Big News Years. Here’s what I said, even though both Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il were ill-mannered enough to croak the wrong side of my deadline.

PS: Actually, I was wrong. It was 1848.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

And she had to unlearn the trumpet as well

I was going to say something about Dan Rebellato’s magnificent evisceration of the Daily Mail’s half-witted theatre critic Quentin Letts, but there really is nothing I can add: just read the bloody thing. Similarly, I’m not sure what needs to be said regarding the story, reported in The Sun so it must be true, of the Dorset woman who has spent 12,000 of your Earth pounds in her efforts not to look like someone who used to be in EastEnders. One does wonder if there’s a market for a lookunalike agency, which will hire out people who don’t look like George Clooney or Fiona Bruce or my favourite Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Bald, so they can hover at your party or corporate event, revelling in their antidoppelganger status. Over to you; who would you most like not to resemble?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friction burns

Following my passing comment about the potential empathy between Asian cultures and punk rock, news arrives from the Indonesian province of Aceh that a large group of skinny-jeaned wrong ’uns have been rounded up and sent for “re-education”. And at around the same time, The Protester become’s TIME’s Person of the Year, and Christopher Hitchens goes to Stage V. Tonight I shall eat oysters, and raise a glass to the grit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Strauss of fun

Gilbert Adair, who died last week, was best known for his writing about film, but I’m pretty sure the first time I encountered him was via his book Myths and Memories, in which he turned his critical attention to all aspects of modern culture, in an Anglicised spin on Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (with a bit of Georges Perec thrown in as well). A later collection, Surfing the Zeitgeist, was a more conventional round-up of essays.

What did stand out in both books was Adair’s firm ideas about what was and wasn’t worthwhile; not just in the sense of rating a specific author or director or composer above another, but in lauding or dismissing entire art forms. Film was top of the pile; but he was bored by theatre; and yet he did like opera – aghast at some hapless bourgeois who had the effrontery to fall asleep during a production of Der Rosenkavalier – while holding popular music in baffled disdain. His answer to the vexed Keats vs Dylan debate was essentially that Keats is better, of course, and if you can’t see that, you’re a bit thick.

I suppose any critical standpoint is pretty much the critic’s gut prejudices hung on a retrospective theoretical framework. But it does help if, like Adair, you can make the whole thing read nicely.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I don’t know why I first saw this clip of Korean kindergarteners singing a Ramones song when Everett posted it on Facebook, and he wrote a book about the Ramones, I thought, so he should know, and I thought it was pretty damn cool, especially the kid in green who decides to do air guitar instead of pogoing, so I reposted it and few people whose opinions I trust said they liked it, as in *Like*d it, so that’s OK, but then the Daily arseing Mail caught up with it and said how heartwarming it was, in a slightly patronising way, and so I started wondering whether it was actually that good (a bit like last month, when John arseing Lewis retrospectively destroyed my teenage years) and then I calmed down a bit and had a cup of tea and started thinking about context and connotation and came to the conclusion that the clip’s still quite fun actually, even if I don’t really like small children that much. And maybe not absolutely everything that appears in the Daily Mail is entirely vile and squalid.

I must be getting old.

Hey ho, let’s – in a very real sense – go:

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The 84829942-3a88-11e0-83da-000bcdcb5194 memorial blog post

Both my regular readers will have noticed that recent posts have been enhanced by comments from an anonymous gentleman who feels himself traduced by the ladyfolk of his homeland. While many bloggers would simply have deleted his screeds, I find them rather charming, and see in them the germ of an artistic endeavour. Therefore, to acknowledge the appearance of a new William Burroughs- related tome, I present a literary cut-up, based on the Crimes Against Fathers comment with a few lyrical interpolations from elsewhere, and a nice picture of Charlotte Rampling wearing a dead animal in case it all gets too boring for mere words:

To ALL Few men know that they their children, their hoIn use, their assets and much of. They not his.Most men Assange? You can be deprived of your freedoms before can be arrested people war or why it is being prosecuted. The media has betraye barely perceive. the word and jaile to help themselves. Here is the link to that boo d based on the lie of a woman. Few men kno this FREE d us and remained silent on this issue. One manefas who was criminally victimized by the family courts in Ireland and Australia made it his business to discover a remedy, internet forum and nearly 2 try it ignored the warnings of these fathers if not outright hated on them. Many men have fathers whiners and complainers when they fathers these that many men pay child support to a the government unilaterally? divorce Through Splinter taught them to be ninja teens have been warning of out on the childpx is, and those women who say that are “good women know real problem presume that any such stories they hear are the exceptionsespecially Fathers Khan or Julian”: Today in think “if there and the book he what it has called these brave to say.I am helping out my fellow men by with an hours of word. With so many was a last 30 years. They are getting rapidly more tyrannical. Most men have criminal activities by the governments. (He's a radical rat!) There is a war on fathers just like there is a war on terror and a war on drugs. Not many of a lying woman. Your governments of a woman are posting this the introducing Where Leonardo leads, do police states. The tyran id/216/scope/threads ny of the police states of the English Donatello does machines (That's a fact, Jack!) speaki sh speaking world men live in a tyranny they w can have any trial takes pla ng world have been visited on one mans story tens of destroyed on the criminals women has video, you will learn such things as Dominc Strauss the Engli ault.ce based merely on English speaking men, millions o: my rights come from How do the /D lie. Few men it would ”. Like f men having been their future income stolen from them merely because of with as you will. ubject to the legislation of the Raphael is coolgovernment?How do but crude (Gimme a break!) I refuse the result the jurisdiction is time the family court well as any other courts in your country. freeThis is I am Michaelangelo is a party dude  one young man who read this book (Party!) and of the courts many crimes. It to protect yourself from your governments.This book shows you how to of the government?How do I end my marriage tabid/369to in the courts and more by himself, and write against my government a book about it http://wwwve me. You Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlesare very lucky to be reading by the criminalsIf you still want to be married?How can I without the remarrying the government? news is to com Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtleseBelieolled How can we hesaandle disputes can learn how to avoid the criminal know about this abuse of the family courts as learned without?How do I rescind my consent to be contr.crimgai /Forums2/ /forumto help in marriages How do without the family court?How can we handle Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the family courts? This may be less ablek. 100 the most valuable book you will ever read.It is yours, of more than three years effort by the author. He is still taking this post. This might just save your be in the been proven and s, to do about false rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence allegations Few men know they I claim them? I exercise them? linernmk to spread How do I defend myself? produced? You those men page even after it remarry my wife eBook, which about tcomes newspapers life if you are a young man Heroes in a half shell who does not know he family courts.Tell all your friends. Your govents are committing do this.
Thanks for listening.
Turtle power! 

But for a more coherent analysis of the whole hacking-stuff-up-and-seeing-what-happens aesthetic, do read this.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

It’s not that long, is it?

You know when writers and musicians and directors and restaurateurs and particle physicists claim not to read reviews of their own work? They’re lying. At least I hope they are, because they’d be missing gems such as this, from Amazon reviewer Mary B Jennings of Memphis, Tennessee, who also has firm views on a doll piano and a Harry Potter colouring book:
Tim Footman’s nose is long and he wears a truss
This is the worst biography I’ve ever read. The facts check out, and there are plenty of insightful quotes, but Tim Footman seems determined to come off as a pedantic elitist, and there is no end to his arrogance. He is unsatisfied with looking down his long nose at anybody who likes (or dislikes) Leonard Cohen, but he never misses a chance to slam Cohen for his early lack of success as a poet and musician, his tumultuous relationship with all women in general, and his drug use. Gee, a musician who had a lot of sex and did a lot of drugs. Imagine! Your honor, I suggest we string this man up by the nearest tree! Footman also manages to talk both down and up to his audience, no doubt a remarkable feat, but hardly one that will win supporters. He uses words like “solipsistic” and then, almost in the same breath, explains to us that Sake is Japanese rice wine. In short, this book is not a biography of Leonard Cohen at all, but instead a monument to Tim Footman’s self centered-ness. I want my money back.
Ms Jennings does raise a useful point about the balancing act that all writers must negotiate, between bamboozling their readers and insulting their various intelligences. But am I the only hack who “manages to talk both down and up to his audience”? OK, so I got it wrong for those who know what sake is, but surely she’s being solipsistic (HA!) if she thinks her own personal checklist of knowledge and ignorance is replicated precisely for everyone else who read the book. That said, I must thank her for one thing: from now on, the phrase “a monument to Tim Footman’s self centered-ness” will be plastered on everything, from book to cheese sandwich, that I create. Starting now.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


Whenever anybody asks, and often when they don’t, I declare that my favourite book is Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh (1930). That said, I hadn’t actually read it since some time in the last millennium, and my battered orange-and-cream copy is currently hiding in a box somewhere in the south of England. So when I noticed it – an American edition from 1977 with a cover in that retro style that’s supposed to bring to mind the glamour of the inter-war years but really makes us think of the Gatsby movie with Redford and Farrow, and thus the 1970s – in a second-hand bookshop the other day, it just had to be mine.

I was dreading it not being as good a read as I’d remembered (although I might have explained that as a case of me being a better reader) but it’s held up remarkably well. Some of the scenes, such as Agatha’s appearance in the breakfast room of 10 Downing Street, remain laugh-out-loud funny, and plenty of Waugh’s sardonic little phrases still work their magic.

But one thing that I’d completely forgotten was Waugh’s own preface:
The action of the book is laid in the near future [which means that Cold Comfort Farm took even more tips from VB than I realised when Patroclus finally persuaded me to read it], when existing social tendencies have become more marked; I have postulated no mechanical or scientific advance, but in the interest of compactness and with no pretensions to prophecy, I have assumed a certain speeding up of legal procedure and daily journalism. In the latter case I have supposed a somewhat later hour for going to press and a greater expedition in distribution than is now generally the case.
Evelyn Waugh, it seems, invented Twitter.