Friday, October 31, 2008

Thieving punts

49% of students at Cambridge University have admitted to plagiarism, according to an online survey.

“Sometimes when I am really fed up,” said one student, “I Google the essay title, copy and throw everything on to a blank Word document and jiggle the order a bit. They usually end up being the best essays.”

But isn't that how everyone always writes everything?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hit the Wife in the North

Following Betty's foray into identity politics ("I AM A BLOGGER, NOT A WRITER"), comes an interesting short piece by Adrian Slatcher on the Manchester Blog Awards that apparently wants to blur the boundaries:

I think what is interesting is how a format that began as a semi-public "diary" now has almost no pretence about its pretension - the blogger is now craving an audience, and all last night's readers were more accomplished than some more literary types I've seen over the years.

Which raises an interesting question - at what point does a blogger become a writer? When money changes hands? When the presses roll? Or just when readership exceeds a certain level? That said, he isn't quite brave enough to contradict the Betster. Not all bloggers are necessarily writers but:

...I'd be surprised to find a young writer who now wasn't putting out some of their work via a blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Guns and buns

In which I contrast American and British methods of registering disapproval of our elected representatives, and have a dig at a former NUS President while I'm at it:

I am of course delighted that the alleged plot to murder Barack Obama and over 100 other African-Americans has been foiled. And yet, deep down, I can't help thinking that at least it shows someone's taking this election seriously.

One nation separated by a common cheesecake recipe here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And I guess that's why they call it...

(I wrote this about four years ago, for the lamented literary magazine Zembla. Recently, while looking for something completely different, I found it again. Normally such rediscoveries are excruciating, but I think this one just about stands up.

Which is a contrived excuse for not being able to come up with anything new.)

When you're fifteen, sixteen, pop music speaks to you. Not just figuratively, in that it's aimed towards you with all the black arts that the marketing Nazis of the music biz can muster. But it really talks. To. You.

When I was fifteen, sixteen, I was listening to The Smiths, and heaven knows my bicycle was punctured and I walked home alone. The boy with the thorn in his ear and the hearing aid in his side, he knew me. He said plenty to me about my life.

But then I wasn't fifteen, sixteen any more, but I was still listening to The Smiths and Primal Scream and The Stone Roses and De La Soul and The House of Love and Syd Barrett and The Velvet Underground and James Brown and Northern soul and Jamaican ska and Stravinsky, and I still enjoyed them all. But they didn't sit down at the foot of my bed and say: "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I know your problems. Of course I understand." And that, I thought, was that - another thing you leave behind when you're fifteen, sixteen, like acne and anarchism.

Spool forward a while and it's 2000 and I'm working for a big publishing company and life is OK, you know. I make decisions. I exchange droll badinage with the likes of Ian Hislop and Johnny Vaughan. I consider getting a suit made, a proper one. Occasionally I Google my own name and the result is not displeasing. And pop music is still there but I'm not listening to it, just hearing it. In fact, I'm starting to prefer instrumentals because they make better background music while I work. Print runs. Blurbs. Find a picture researcher. What about the Spanish edition. Talk to the Daily Express. Stay late. Drink coffee. Talk to The Bookseller. Reissue, repackage. Pick a colour for the cover.

And at the same time, I'm playing a triple CD called 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields. And, crazy as it seems, it contains sixty-nine songs about love: sweet, bitter and the other. And there I am, trying to choose a colour for the cover of the next book, when track five of the first disc begins. It's called 'Reno Dakota'. Female vocal (Claudia Gonson). Something that sounds like a ukulele or an autoharp or a banjo (as played by Gabriel the toad on Bagpuss). Crazy rhymes, some of them for "Dakota". One minute five seconds. And Claudia sings the couplet...

It's making me blue

Pantone 292

...just as I'm looking at the swatches of colours to pick the Pantone reference for the book (numerical Pantone references indicate a specific combination of primary colours, to enable designers and printers to get a precise match). And, for about two of the sixty-five seconds that the track lasts, Claudia is talking to me. Me. She said that to *me*. She's saying a little something to me about my life in a way that nobody has for a decade and a half.

And then I decide we'll do the cover in orange. Which is significant, I think, although I'm not quite sure how or why.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ceci n'est pas un blog

Just in case you haven't heard, blogging is dead, and Twitter killed it. Says so in Wired. Must be true, then.

Before my time

Clive James in The Guardian, on the late literary agent Pat Kavanagh:

Every literary career is different but the same principles apply. The first principle is to have principles. The writer should not expect to have junk published; the publisher should not expect to get away with publishing junk; and the agent should not expect to be praised for extracting a huge advance from the publisher for a piece of junk that will never get the advance back.

Ouch. You know what, Clive, you can't get Spangles any more, either.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Race uncertainty

The news media seem to be obsessed with a) the credit crunch; b) the US election; c) Tories on Russian yachts. So I decided to write something for Cif about a Mongolian accountant. In north Wales. Which sounds like a dire, yet lucrative fish-out-of-water memoir arriving in the grubby slipstream of Judith arsing O'Reilly. But don't worry, it isn't.

PS: Ooh hang on, it's gone.

PPS: ...aaand it's back again. Go here, if you fancy.

Monday, October 20, 2008


An exam question set by Vladimir Nabokov when he was a college tutor in the 1950s, quoted by Martin Amis:

"Discuss Flaubert's use of the word 'and'."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Strange (he)brew

Sorry, I did promise you a big chinny-strokey post about The Wire this weekend. It's coming, honest; I just need to trim back the 450-word digression on Roland Barthes, and think up an ending that doesn't rabbit on about how Sydnor is the new Daniels. Incidentally, I was Googling for an image related to the phrase "McNulty copycat" and somehow found this:

And you know what, I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holding out for a zero

Readers of Welcome to the Machine will be aware of my fondness for the taking-an-idea-for-a-walk-just-to-see-where-it-goes school of interpretation, and my impatience with the banausic notion that the easiest way to get a definitive explanation of what a song's about is to drop an e-mail to the songwriter. So I am smitten with admiration - and not a little jealousy - at the following paragraph, on the talk page for OK Computer's Wikipedia entry:

Has anyone in the band spoken about the level of intent of the title reflecting a 0K Computer? I think that the theme of memorylessness is prevalent with them (e.g. titling an album Amnesiac) so it seems like the most sensible interpretation of the name as a computer with no memory. Yet in an interview with Yorke when asked point blank about the title's meaning he doesn't bring that up (though he doesn't actually answer the question at all, just kind of says the title isn't that relevant to the musical content). I'd be very suspicious that it wasn't intended as a play on the OK/0K duality—I just can't find it stated explicitly anywhere on the web.

HostileFork, whoever you may be, I salute you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Widdecombe inna Babylon

I did think of writing this piece (about a Jamaican version of the Bible) entirely in patois, but I'm old enough to remember the eat-your-own-teeth embarrassment that was 'Informer', by Snow:

I'll put my (prayer) cards on the table. I really like the King James Bible. It's something about the mouth-feel of the language, like a dark chocolate or a potent Armagnac, dense with begetting and smiting and howbeit and whosoever. If God were ever to make my acquaintance, I'd prefer that he spake unto me in sonorous tones, rather than having a quiet word. I'm the same with hymns; give me To Be A Pilgrim or Dear Lord and Father any day, over happity-clappity singalongs that Barney the Dinosaur would condemn for their crushing banality....

Go here for the authorised version.

While I've got you, I'm planning to post my no-holds-barred neo-Brechtian analysis of the final episode of The Wire at some point this weekend. If you get all the box sets today, and throw a sickie for the rest of the week, you should be up to speed in plenty of time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Repeat to fade

From The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland:

Or maybe memories are like karaoke--where you realize up on the stage, with all those lyrics scrawling across the screen's bottom, and with everybody clapping at you, that you didn't know even half the lyrics to your all-time favourite song. Only afterwards, when someone else is up on stage humiliating themselves amid the clapping and laughing, do you realize that what you liked most about your favourite song was precisely your ignorance of its full meaning--and you read more into it than maybe existed in the first place. I think it's better not to know the lyrics to your life.

Talking of which, my current favourite song might just be in amongst this lot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The ambassador's faulty reception

Harry Enfield suddenly finds himself reinvented as the Bernard Manning de nos jours:

These days it seems as if every government, every religious body, every charity has someone on the payroll whose sole purpose is to watch the telly, keeping an eye out for stuff by which they might advantageously be offended. The latest culprit is that monster of depravity Harry Enfield, whose show Harry and Paul has aroused the wrath of the Philippine ambassador to the UK, Edgardo Espiritu, with its allegedly racist depiction of a Filipina housemaid...

Full thing here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A new day will dawn

I've been listening to recordings of John Peel's Festive Fifty shows from 1978, and developing a grudging admiration for the old-school rockers who managed, in the face of a barrage of gob, to vote 'Stairway to Heaven' into 14th place. They remind me of the Japanese soldiers who stayed on their remote Pacific islands for decades, refusing to believe the war had been lost.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I am, I said

I don't know whether it's prompted by a genuine sense of curiosity, or a brazen desire to rack up a whole load of comments, but Scott Pack has asked his readers to provide links to their blogs and (here's the tough bit) brief descriptions. In return, he's promised to visit each one.

I'm not sure if it was meant to be a meme, but I'm nicking his idea. If you're a lurker who blogs, make yourself known; even if you're one of the usual suspects listed to the right, a succinct summary of what you (think you) get up to in your sector of The Blogopolis would be fascinating.

PS: I'm especially keen to hear from the previously silent visitors who, according to my NeoCounter, come from such unlikely corners of the globe as Mongolia, Guam, Belize and, uh, 'Europe'; if only to disprove my hunch that you're really soulless bots. On second thoughts, if you're a bot, I'd be fascinated to meet you.

Monday, October 06, 2008


For some reason, I've been thinking about thirtysomething. Well, rethinking two somethings that I thought about thirtysomething the first time around.

The first was how terribly edgy and contrarian the whole lower-case title thing was, and how only the bravest of designers would ever dream of copying it. And the other was how old all the characters were, and how I'd never get like that.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thank Crunchie

Ah, Friday. I was going to concoct a megapost about McLuhan, Brecht and Baudrillard in the final episode of The Wire but: a) I've been a bit busy with proper work; and b) apparently, only about four people watched the final episode of The Wire.

So, what can a time-poor boy do? Crack open a few YouTubes, of course.

The first has literary overtones, and comes courtesy of the lovely Garfer:

Then, an old joke, but nicely done:

And finally, this one has been kicking around for a few weeks, but you may have missed it (especially if you've been watching The Wire instead):

Closing concept: an internet phenomenon that revolves around links that claim to be taking people to a video of Rick Astley performing 'Never Gonna Give You Up', but don't. What would it be called?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Coulda been a contender

The splendid Ian Hocking Twitters me to the fact that Google has resuscitated its index from January 2001. Another world. No Twitter, no Blogger, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, no Facebook. There was, however, a World Trade Center.

The inevitable temptation is to type one's own name in: I know who I am, but who was I nearly eight years ago? Well, in January 2001, I was in a bit of a slump, having recently been made redundant. However, I did have my name attached to one of the best-selling books of the previous year, so my results soared to a startling 450. To offer a bit of context, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama only made 672.

PS: Correction... Blogger did exist. But who knew?