Sunday, 25 July 2010

That Was The Week That Was

It's been a funny old week. To summarise, I've learned
  • to play indoor bowls (as in the game rather than impromptu musical instruments)
  • that when bowling wearing an above-the-knee skirt, it is always wise to refuse to let elderly gentlemen stand behind one
  • that beginning a conversation with "It wasn't me who threw the testicles and vagina into the conversational hat" will make one laugh like a drain for days
  • that an-almost-certainly-deranged-man-masquerading-as-a-woman thinks that heaven is some sort of slimming club for those of a Catholic disposition (..."I also believe that Catholics will be weighed on different scales...")
  • that if one loans a handkerchief to a strange man who is weeping during Toy Story 3, it is best not to ask for it back
  • that beginning a  swish poetry event with a rendition of Poppy Tupper's limerick about Jeremy Hunt will not meet with universal approval 
  • and that buying second-hand books in Oxfam is far more exciting than buying books from Amazon or Waterstones.
Today, I found a first edition book dated 1888 entitled Archie Macnab Edited by He Himself for less than a bobbins book by Harlan Coben in Asda. Inside is inked William Morgan Xmas 1888, but I also found a business card tucked inside the pages:


Correspondant en Chef pour la France
Directeur Général Adjoint á vie
Correspondant en France

presents h8s (sic) compliments to Lord Boyle
and hopes he will enjoy the book.

Paris Nov. 1973         3, rue du Sentier, 75002 Paris

This is diverting on all sorts of levels, not least because the suggestion that the Yorkshire Post ever had an International Correspondent is - frankly - unbelievable.

When I lived in Yorkshire, there could have been a political coup at Westminster, an earthquake in Cornwall, and Prince Charles's secret life as a cross-dresser who molests animals revealed all on the same day and the Yorkshire Post headline would have been


That aside, Archie and I are getting on great guns. We have rather a lot in common (not least the dreadful habit of procrastination):

Naething worth daein' is ever dune in a hurry, sae the Author sat doon, and walked aboot, chew'd his nails, thocht an' thocht, and repeated owre to himsel', o'fen and of'en - "Archie M'Nab, are you a man worthy o' this privledge, this honour, this high office? Hae you got the penitration, the intuitive insicht, and the delicacy required to perform this michty task? Hae you got the geenus that'll keep ye frae being rideeklus, when yet fankel'd up in the warp an' waft o' sic an intricate and complex fabrication as a woman is? Great writer and a' as ye are, hae you the courage to attack sic a kittley subject?"

If you think you may also have an affinity with Archie, click here. And if you've ever found anything interesting inside a book, please comment in the, erm, Comments.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

There Once Was a Tory Named Hunt ...

In a whistle-stop tour of the Capital's artistic venues and ventures, Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, gave every indication that he was approaching his new role with energy and vigour.

In an astonishing act of oneupmanship, the Culture Secretary had already pledged to cut his departmental workforce by 50% and move the rest of them into a cupboard off the M25 corridor.

"I've nothing against ex-ballet dancers an' operatic types, but they're not very clever with an 'ole-punch, an'll 'ave ter go," he announced to BBC Radio 4's James Naughtie at the beginning of a culturally diverse day. "I want ter start me day with a mug of tea, not a friggin' demi-plié."

As he left the radio studio, an unattended mic picked up something that sounded suspiciously like: "An' don' think yer job is safe either, yer jumped up little haggis!" although Mr Hunt's personal assistant refused to give confirmation of this.

Next stop : Tate Modern. In a long and convoluted speech which clearly owed much to the Surrealist and Dadaist artistic movements, Mr Hunt concluded: "Me? I know nuffink bar t'art, bu' I know I don' like it."

He received a muted applause from Sir Nicholas Serota.

Mid-morning, at a meeting of the T.S. Eliot Prize committee, Hunt hinted that there would be no Government funding for poetic sagas, sestinas, villanelles or laureates.

"If yer can't say it in five lines, is it worth sayin' at all?" he shouted at a packed room of delighted poets who had only heard his final category of cut.

At Covent Garden he pleaded a flash migraine and asked "the fat cow in the toga to put a sock in it" during a dress rehearsal of Verdi's Aida and told the "fairy in tights to take the sock out" during a similar rehearsal of The Nutcracker. Hunt laughed uproariously at his final remark and said, "Now that's what I call Culture. The great Bernard Manning never got a subsidy!"

Mr Hunt's visits received a mixed reception. The African Parrot and Tango Collective were sniffy about his reaction to a piece of Public Art assembled from 250,000 redundant vuvuzelas.

"He offered to torch the lot, " said Segun Franko, Chief Zela-sculptor. "And the English football squad with it."

Hunt has told The Arts to fund their work with charitable donations as Government funding is cut to the bone.

"Philanthropy should fill the gap easily," he said. "Get all the unemployed actresses out on the streets rattlin' tins. I'd slip a farthin' to a pretty girl."

In a bid to lead by example, Hunt offered a year's supply of Toffee Crisps and a £15 Book Token as first prize in the Jeremy Hunt Inaugural Limerick Competition.

Mrs Rollocks (57) of Putney Hill, was very impressed. "The Country's not been unified by the death of a celebrity for ages now. Let's get behind Mr Hunt. A National Limerick Competition is just what we need," she grinned. "And it will certainly take the poetic spotlight off me."

Monday, 12 July 2010

Every Lidl Helps

In a bid to combat accusations of an elitist grocery system, David Cameron has ordered the Home Secretary to investigate why there are no decent supermarkets in London.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister confided in a local resident: “I'm terrified living in central London. Am I going to find a good food emporium for my house-keeper, nutritionist and personal chef? I feel it as a gourmand, let alone a politician."

The comments have provoked outrage from the shop-keeping profession and opposition politicians, and anger from Tesco-controlled Westminster city council.

Mrs Doris Glossop has invited Mr Cameron to tour the Lidl store, just over ten miles from Downing Street, where she has been a checkout operator/shelf-stacker for three years. “Our carrier bags may not have the cachet of Marks & Spencer, but they are every bit as sturdy,” she said. "We have fresh food, frozen and tinned here. We even do international weeks with Indian and Chinese delicacies – subject to limited availability. I would be very happy for the Camerons to come and visit. We extend an invite to them.”

The Camerons still have several months’ worth of store-cupboard essentials to get through before they’ll need to shop around. Their spokesman denied that the couple had always planned to be Ocado customers.

“David dearly wants to support the local grocers but he rarely finds polenta on their shelves and their sundried tomatoes tend to be marinated in vegetable oil rather than single estate virgin olive oil he prefers.”

Cameron's family shopped at Fortnum & Mason whilst his wife's frequented Harrod's Food Hall. Last year, Cameron told a newspaper: "In an ideal world, I would like my children to shop at Asda, but the pyjama-clad clientele are - frankly - off-putting."

Sunday, 11 July 2010

He's All Stalk

My dear friend, Poppy Tupper, is being cyber-stalked. She finds it all a terrible bore. I - being easily excited and often showing questionable judgement -  think it's a sign that she's arrived.

'Arrived where, darling?' drawled Poppy, tapping her Fabergé cigarette holder against my skull. 'I've not left the chateau for days. If I've failed to leave, then how - foolish chit - may I arrive?'

At least, I think she said chit ...

I changed the subject swiftly - to Trollope, gin and the Sport of Kings (Poppy's areas of expertise) and spent a pleasant hour in her company. Only a debate about celery and its collectives and singulars  -  does it come in heads, ribs or stalks? - brought our discourse back to perverted practices.

Still, I maintain that anyone who's anyone has a stalker. I've got Leonardo (the poor boy will not take a hint) whilst Leonardo himself has several potentially dangerous stalkers (given his startling resemblance to a potato).

At least Leonardo shows some artistic merit. (His films notwithstanding). There is nothing more dispiriting that an unimaginative stalker. Years ago, whilst working for a Commercial Estate Agent, I was the recipient of heavy breathing phone calls.

'Good Morning, Henry Moores and Son*. How many I help you?' I'd say and get Fuh, Fuh, Fuh, Fuh in response.

After several weeks of persistent asthmatic gaspings, I became exasperated.

'O, you are dull!' I said. 'All this breathing is boring the pants off me.' (Not the cleverest thing to say to a would-be pervert.) 'You could at least say something obscene.'

So he did. And it was.

The police caught him in the end. A solicitor across the street. 'They're the worst,' confided the policeman. 'All mouth and no trousers.'

Which was accurate as the no trousers bit was why the lawless lawyer got caught.

One of our prime commercial office suites, service charges as standard

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Overheard Conversation # 20 (or How To Speak European)

Location: the kitchen of a picturesque (i.e. draughty and damp) farmhouse in small hamlet in the middle of Tuscany.

Characters: (This is an Italian epic, hence the cast of thousands)
Donatella (46), Sergio (54), Zio Elio (indeterminately old), Zia Carla (ditto), Cesare (4), Laura (6), Au Pair (18)

Dinner has been eaten. Over small cups of espresso and torta di noci, the extended family - and the English au pair - discuss the pressing issues of the day: opera, theatre, literature, politics, and - erm - yoghurt ...

N.B. The conversation is in Italian, but for ease of understanding (unless you are actually Italian), it has - mostly - been transcribed into English.

Zio Elio: Where did you get those yoghurts?
Donatella: The lemon ones?
Zio Elio: Yes, the ones we've just eaten.
Sergio: I didn't eat one.
Zio Elio: Yes, you did.
Sergio: No, you ate mine. You ate two.
Cesare: Zio Elio's a greedy pig! Zio Elio's a greedy pig!
Zia Carla: Basta! (Which means enough, not what you thought it meant.)
Donatella: From the shop.
Zio Elio: Which shop?
Donatella: In Lizzano.
Laura: I didn't like mine. I gave it to the dog.
Zio Elio: It's a sin to waste food, Laura.
Laura: I didn't waste it. The dog ate it. Is it a sin to feed the dog?

(FADE OUT as the nature of Sin in regard to dogs is discussed at some length. FADE IN.)

Sergio: I prefer Swiss yoghurt anyway.
Zia Carla: The Swiss don't make good yoghurt!
Sergio: The Swiss make excellent yoghurt!
Zio Elio: That lemon yoghurt was definitely Italian.
Cesare: What yoghurt?
Laura: Cretino!
Donatella: We need a neutral opinion.

Au Pair: O! Hmm, gosh, English yoghurts are not so good. They are full of -


- preservatives.

Si, si sono pieno di preservativi!


All: Eh?
Au Pair (EMPHATICALLY): Sono pieno di preservativi.
Zio Elio: Preservativi?
Au Pair: Si. It is almost impossible to find a yoghurt in England that is not full of preservatives.
Sergio: É vero? Is this true?
Zia Carla: This cannot be true!
Au Pair: É vero! English yoghurts are full of preservativi.
Donatella: Preservativi? Gli Inglese sono animali!

Roll Credits

An Italian woman eating an English yoghurt

Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe

Is a sensible piece of advice. You'll only get wet.

On the subject of advice, I've been given more - only slightly solicited. I was bemoaning (like moaning but posher) the fact that I hadn't written any good poems for ages.

'Write some bad ones then,' said The Man With the Beard.

He went on to explain the logic of this suggestion: if you are writing bad poems, at least you are still writing, and eventually you will go on to write good poems again, or at least fair-to-middling poems. But if you're not writing, you won't be producing good or bad (or even fair-to-middling) poems.

Just write.

So I took The Man With the Beard's advice, arrived two hours early at a poetic event, armed with my pen (it is, after all, mightier than the sword) and second-best notebook, all ready to write a poem before The Acts - sorry, poets - rolled in.

Writing a poem is not easy when every man and his dog - not to mention The Acts - had arrived two hours early, too, and wanted to chat.

Still, I wrote something; not quite a poem, not quite prose and - do you know? - I feel all the better for having written it.

If one (i.e. me)  knows one ought to be writing and doesn't, each time one even thinks about writing, one is consumed with feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

Well, guilt mainly.

All potential joy is leached out of the act of writing - which is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Reader, if you are also experiencing feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness for not doing good, erm, things, then my considered advice is to do some bad things first. The badder the better. It'll make you feel marvellous. Promise.

The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of war, the beard of earth.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Once Upon a Time

Today I was given a piece of very liberating advice by my good friend The Librarian. (Welcome to our country!) I was moaning, amongst other things, about a truly dreadful book that is taking me an age to read, that I dread picking up each night, and that provokes outbursts of temper several times per page. (Antisocial, as my best reading is done at night.)

The Librarian listened as I listed a catalogue of crimes against writing. "Hmm," she said, "stop reading it then."

What? Stop reading a book? Before I get to the end?

"Yes," she said. "Life's too short. And there are too many good books to bother with a bad book."

But what about the author? All the hours he put into writing such an - admittedly awful - book?

The Librarian shrugged and sipped on her peppermint and chilli tea.

I sat, stunned. Why hadn't I thought of this before?

Possibly because as Voltaire said, 'It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.'

Anyway, this is what I've been putting up with for the past four nights (and I only managed to get to page 54):

A smile played on his lips, but he was not foolish enough to turn around, to expose himself to her devastating weapons. (No, not a gun, but her breasts, her hair and her long, slender legs.)

She threw a silk robe over her shoulders, partially covering the gorgeous figure that had made her the world's highest paid fashion model up until her early retirement four years ago at the tender age of twenty-three. (Dan Brown, eat your heart out.)

'Don't worry,' she said, opening her sparkling blue eyes with flecks of silvery gray. (I wondered why she needed silvery gray flecks to open her eyes. Had her lids gummed up?)

Their oral barrages never slackened. (What???)

Laura's hands trembled, her face and eyes harried  and swollen from the torment of the seemingly endless night she had just endured. (I know how she feels, just from the torment of reading this seemingly endless book.)

But the very worst thing about this book is that the author (Harlan Coben, stand up and be shamed) says in his introduction, after admitting that this is a reissue of a much older book: "...So this is, for better or worse (worse, Harlan, definitely worse), the exact book I wrote when I was in my early twenties ... I love this book. There is an energy and risk taking in Play Dead that I wonder if I still have."

No, there isn't. It is a dreadful book and you should have left it in a drawer with other juvenilia instead of foisting it on unsuspecting members of the public. You owe me £7.99, Harlan, and a huge bunch of flowers.

Whilst I'm on the subject of dreadful books, let me direct your attention to Close-Up by Esther Verhoef. It's published by Quercus, whom one would assume know a thing or two about crime novels, having had previous run-away success with the Steig Larsson trilogy.

It's not dreadful all the way though but I lost all patience with it on page 301. Here, (page 301!) the psychotic serial killer gets the protagonist's (a very silly woman called Margot) ex-boyfriend (John) to inject himself with an overdose of insulin. On page  330 (330!) Margot says Not many people knew John was a diabetic ...Only family and friends knew.

Indeed, the character of John was so discreet about his diabetes that it is not mentioned in 300 pages. And, as the psychotic serial killer was neither family nor a friend, and had met John a mere five minutes before murdering him - well, it's really quite a marvellous coincidence that he happened on a insulin overdose as the ideal manner in which to dispatch his victim.

At this point the only sound I can utter that will demonstrate my utter frustration is Pshaw! Are there any other books you would caution me to avoid? My literary constitution is much weakened and I now need a rest-cure.

For more crimes against writing click here