Friday, 12 August 2011

Greed, Rich & Riots

Greed is the sine non qua of our society. Back in the openly greedy days of the power-shouldered eighties, when lunch was for wimps and greed was a healthy appetite, through the caring nineties, and the naughty noughties, the avarice for more has never declined. The gap between the haves, and, in Bush's words, the have-mores, and the have-nothings has increased exponentially; within countries, between countries.

Do we need to look at examples of greed from those who believe themselves so privileged to ignore their digressions? The bankers and their bonuses; the politicians and their expenses; Murdoch and his phone-hacking?

What an example to set before the dumb and the dumbed-down. The dumbed-down are in the interest of all big business as is numbs their critical facilities. An individual who has not the vocabulary to express him or herself and who is bombarded by advertising which suggests they will better identify with their peers if they eat this, wear that, buy the other, and - surprise upon surprise - finds a: the acquisition of such goods or services leaves them as poor in fulfillment as before; b: poor and as wanting as before; c: poor as ever, may well prove frustrated.

I do not condone the riots. But I do not find them surprising. I have discussed the potential of such with my daughters for some months now. Ed Mileband  echoes the thoughts I posted on a brilliant post by Motown, a black blogger, who suggests that the reasons for riots are more subtle and complex than the reactions and comments of knee-jerk politicians whose only interest is to preserve their positions and power.

What has happened cannot be reduced to a series of simplistic political posturing; it is as an outcome of intricate social webs. Read this article by Peter Osborne of The Telegraph. I am not a natural reader of that paper, but he summarises the problems brilliantly.

There used to be a sense of noblisse oblige among those who were rich; the more you own, the more you owe. Now the established wealth mock the new wealth for their bling but behave no differently. The competitive instincts of both parties is to stay floating atop the shit within their own social circles. Read a few books, I recommend Zola's The Kill, to see how nothing changes but everything changes century upon century.

I know. I come from a very privileged background in my not so distant background.

PS Howard Jacobson weighs in with his own considered thoughts in The Independent: They may be criminals, but we're the ones who have created them.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Most Unlikely Agent ZigZag

Eddie Chapman was the most extraordinary WWII spy you will never have heard of. Were he a fictional character, you would not find him credible.

I met him while browsing a second-hand book shop where my attention was drawn to his existence by a book entitled Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre. Implausible title, improbable character, I thought. A wannabe blockbuster, I thought, till I read the blurb where I discovered it was reprint for World Book Night 2011; to quote: 'one of 40,000 copies printed of each of the 25 brilliant titles selected…'. I looked at the list. They included many I have read, like The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon, Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Misty. Good company, I thought, I'll buy it.

Eddie Chapman was by all accounts a charmer. Terence Young, director of the first Bond film, who knew him when Chapman arrived in Soho, observed to a lawyer friend, '"He is a crook and will always be one. But he probably has more principles and honesty of character then either of us." […] Chapman would steal the money from your pocket, even as he bought you a drink.'

And Chapman was a crook, he was a member of the 'Jelly Gang', responsible for burglary the length and breadth of the country. With the police on his heels, he moved with his girlfriend and others to Jersey. It was in a restaurant there, that he made a spectacular exist befitting of Bond through a closed window to escape the law who had just walked in. Eventually he was caught and imprisoned locally. Bad timing. It was 1939. On 30th June 1940, the Nazis occupied the island.

Chapman, together with his less fortunate friend and fellow inmate, Anthony Faramus, decide on a ruse to get out of prison. They would claim they wanted to spy for the Germans. They made their ambitions known with no effect even after they were transferred to the Fort de Romainville prison in Paris. German bureaucracy may have been slow, but it was relentless and eventually Chapman was interviewed. And accepted. (Faramus, despite all Chapman's protests, remained in prison. He was to be the Germans' security for Chapman's good behaviour. Faramus was later transferred to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp but survived.) 

So the story begins.

After training, Chapman is parachuted into a muddy field in Cambridgeshire and immediately gives himself up to MI6. Thanks to Enigma, the code-breaking machine, they are already aware of his existence, but can they trust him, a man, who by rights, should be in prison? Despite all their qualms, they take him on and he proves one of their greatest successes as a double-agent.

Ben Macintyre documents Chapman's career neatly and concisely without succumbing to any temptation to embellish. He is enough of a journalist to know that the facts in this case are more than sufficient to hold the reader's attention. But he is also enough of a journalist to know how to structure the telling in order to keep the pages turning.

You do not have to be a fan of the Boys Own Book of Adventures to enjoy reading the history of this archetype model. Eddie Chapman was an exceptional character. In the words of Colonel Robin 'Tin Eye' Stephens, 'The man [Chapman], essentially vain, has grown in stature and, in his own estimation, is something of a prince of the underworld. He has no scruples and will stop at nothing. He makes no bargain with society and money is a means to an end. Of fear, he knows nothing, and he certainly has a deep-rooted hatred of the Hun. In a word, adventure to Chapman is the breath of life. Given adventure, he has the courage to achieve the unbelievable. His very recklessness is his standby.'

PS Bang on cue, World Book Night publishes the one hundred contenders for 2012, here.

PPS Just noticed it is on a 342 book offer at Waterstones, (342 - neat, huh?  I should have been a copywriter.)

Ooops. Correction, the book was Alone in Berlin which a reviewed a few posts ago. (Nurse! Nurse! It's time for my medication.)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I have known of Rupert Murdoch and his methods since he took over The Times in 1981.

I was a new group head in Leo Burnett, the advertising agency, and the paper was one of my accounts. I wrote the line ' Have you ever wished you were better informed?' Sounds clunky now, but we didn't have Wikipedia in those days. (And schoolboys called William ran round in ragged flannel shorts with a catapult stuffed in their pockets.)

Brian Todd (if I remember correctly) was the marketing manager. A chain-smoking fifty-year old on the business side of the business, and so derided by his then editorial colleagues - there being a serious split between editorial and business employees - was systematically humiliated by Murdoch's henchmen. And I mean humiliated, I could recount the details, before he was handed his cards. Why? The word 'marketing', i.e. selling, was a cardinal sin according to the bible that was Murdoch. Out went Brian, ousted by the king of marketing, in a manner that would amount to grievous abuse today.

Even at my then young age, and so not over-sympathetic with 50+ men, I was appalled. I have waged a one-man war against the owner ever since. He is brutal.

I don't believe Murdoch's downfall is imminent. He is a man who bathes in oil.

I met him once. I was in a meeting a few years ago with his daughter, Liz, at Sky when he popped his head around the door. If only I had a gun, I thought, the world would be better.

I am not joking.

Friday, 1 July 2011


Sue, as in ex, had a bad fall yesterday. She, along with friend, Mary, daughter, Em, and grandchildren, Amy and Katie, was going for a picnic when she tripped over a protruding fire hydrant cover. According to Em, she lay motionless for a couple of minutes. When she came to, she complained of pains in her stomach rather than her head. Diagnosing remotely, It sounds to me that she knocked herself out for a second or two. I spoke to her and she denies the charge; however, I stick to my diagnosis. She, being an enthusiastic tennis player, was more concerned about the damage to her right hand. (She has since informed me it will not impede her aces; the graze not being situated where her hand meets the racquet.)

But, to the point: Amy's immediate reaction to her grandmother's fall was to giggle. Callous, you may think. But her mother, Em, being so much more sensible than me, understood: young Amy's reaction was a means of coping with a situation she had not met before. She, Em, told me had reacted in the same way in similar circumstances in her own young age.

When reported to Sue, she said the same. She related a story of a school friend from Hong Kong who was looking forward to seeing her father after a year's absence when it was reported he was killed in a car accident. The whole class, according to Sue, collapsed in giggles.

Giggling as a means of coping is not a phenomenon I have met before. I have known of giggling as means of overcoming moments of embarrassment - it seems appropriate as a means of self-effacement - but never as an expression of shock.

I am now in shock. I thought I knew it all.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cockney: or Town Meets Country

I am a collector of dictionaries, particularly any relating to slang. One reason being you come across unlikely little gems like this, lifted from a compilation by Michelle Lovric in The Scoundrel's Dictionary.

To quote:

A nickname given to the citizens of London, or persons born within the sound of Bow Bell, derived from the following story: - A citizen of London being in the country, and hearing a horse neigh, exclaimed, Lord! how that horse laughs! A bystander informed him the noise was called neighing. The next morning, when the cock crowed, the citizen, to show he had not forgotten what was told him, cried out, Do you hear how the cock neighs?

(I don't suppose they ever saw a horse or heard a cock crow in the East End back in them days seeing how they was all sapsculls or half out to sea.)

PS A  source of Lovric's work seems to be the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence, for the definition of the Cockney above, among others, is lifted straight from it. Quite interesting is the fact the 1811 Dictionary goes on to to state:

Whatever may be the origin of this appellation, we learn from the following verses, attributed to Hugh Bigot, Earl of Norfolk, that it was in use in the time of king Henry II.

Was I in my castle at Bungay,
Fast by the river Waveney, 
I would not care for the king of Cockney;

i.e. the king of London.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Alone in Berlin

The problem of reviewing books is, when you stumble upon a gem, your immediate instinct  is to lend it to all and sundry with the result that you find myself having to write the review without the book to hand.*

Such is the case of Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, also titled Every Man Dies Alone, or, Jeder stirbt für sich allein in the original German.

It was written in 1947, so I have been slow to come to it; nonetheless, it is an outstanding piece of writing. According to Wikipedia, Primo Levi claimed it to be 'the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis', and he should know better than I.

It is story based on true facts; on a couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who were once enthusiastic National Socialist party followers until Elise loses her brother in France. (In the book, the lose is transcribed to their only child.) Thereafter, they devise a unique and sadly pathetic method of resistance to the regime, which is to leave messages on postcards in the stairwells of office buildings denouncing the Nazis. Their end is never in doubt and though their campaign survived a surprising length of time, two years or so, they were eventually caught and executed.

Fallada, a successful author pre-war, was caught up in the harsh politics of the time despite his attempts to remove himself, which gives him the authority and insight to write the book.

Alone in Berlin gives one a real sense of the fear and suspicion one has to endure in a totalitarian regime. You know at the outset the two protagonists will be caught, but it is the courage with which they face the day to day tribulations that is humbling. The most innocent encounter with a neighbour could prove their downfall at any moment. (Also, what is of interest for one who has studied the Holocaust, is the awareness the general public has of what is happening to the Jews; the debate swings back and forward as to whether all Germans at the time knew, and so were culpable, or not. This book indicates they did.)

Alone in Berlin has a particular significance now given what is happening in the Middle East as Arab nations rise, or attempt to rise, against brutal dictators. Without belittling the courage of Otto and Elise Hampel, one can regard their campaign of messages written on postcards as a forerunner of Twitter. (To expand on the thought, Fallada details how the couple hoped their messages would be passed from hand to hand to be spread across the city much like tweets.)

Read Alone in Berlin not just for the story of two amazingly brave but very ordinary people caught up in circumstances beyond their control, but also for the writing. Fallada writes with a busted flush so to speak, you know how the book will end the moment you open it, so he concentrates on the environment of repression that he knows from personal experience, and while the ending is inevitably sad the book manages to remain optimistic, perhaps because it was written in the knowledge of the outcome of the war.

Fallada wrote the book in just 24 days not long before he died.

* Although 'you find myself' is grammatically incorrect within the context of the rest of the sentence, there is a curious accuracy to the thought. I leave it as is.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Bang Goes My Knighthood

Given the ecstatic news of Will’s and Kate’s wedding, it seem sacrilegious to write on any topic other than the nuptials. Certainly the UK papers are still full of the Royal news: Where is the honeymoon? How much is costing? Will they use the missionary position?

I can’t wait to be told. But trust Osama bin Laden to spoil everything by going and getting himself killed. I imagine the Daily Mail’s newsroom must be in turmoil over what to flag across their paper.

Present headline reads:

Future headline?

William & Kate honeymoon romp disturbed by Osama bed Linen?

Osama bin Laden comes between William and Kate?

I knew I should have been a sub-editor.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Mentors, Guides and Gandalf [Grand Elf for the illiterate]

I posted this comment on the excellent service offered to writers, and I have taken advantage of what is on offer so I speak from experience, by BubbleCow, and it seemed to me a point worthy of wider interest:

My personal gripe from my former career (advertising copywriter) is I miss the Traffic Manager, Hazel, for that was her name - we followed each other from agency to agency. She knew me, could buck me up when down, kick me when lazy, and keep me on the rails generally. A personal mentor who takes no shit but understands my moods would be my lottery prize.

Hazel was the most unflappable individual I have ever met. Her only fault was that she would insist on telling me her dreams from the previous night. As far as work was concerned, she could coax a stone out of blood. And invariably it would be a gem (I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but I was good).

Now that I foolishly throw myself on the sword of my own angst in an effort to write something trully original, I miss her. I need Hazel to tell me when I am doing good and when I am just indulging in pathetic, creative tantrums. A good slap would not go amiss, though Hazel would never slap but just recount her latest dream. It was enough.

She should have gone into publishing were it not for the fact she was not hugely motivated by literature.

I suppose there are two points arising: every writer needs a mentor; and I should get in touch with Hazel again.

I ought to add Hazel became the Production Director of a number of agencies so was no light-weight.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Whither Confidence?

Let's start, like all indifferent news articles, with a platitude: personal confidence is as wobbly as a jelly set before a gang of children at a street party to celebrate a royal wedding. [ I expect a call from one of the tabloids any minute now after such a well extended, topical metaphor. Hello? The phone's ringing.]

If you follow any sport, you will hear trainers, coaches and managers as well as the individuals concerned constantly referring to this mysterious quality described as confidence. You will watch a team of talented individuals either dominate or collapse and so celebrate or scratch your head. Certain individuals seem to be able to instil confidence in others, Sir Alex Ferguson being the exemplar. Indeed, the measure of a good manager in any sphere is one who can inspire confidence in those he or she manages.

But what is confidence?

For those who know no better and have no experience to prove otherwise, confidence frequently emerges as arrogance. Ugly but forgivable in the young. Less attractive in those who are older. But it is a fine line that exists between an overwhelming sense of self, of one's superiority, and the comfortable knowledge of what one is and what one can achieve. This is not to say confidence is the recognition of one's boundaries in the sense that one knows how far to trespass but the recognition of what binds you and how much further you must push. It is at this point that one becomes wobbly and self-belief is your only ally. You can see the circularity of the argument. Pushing further means placing yourself in a position where you have no experience, where, like the young, you must rely again on naked belief in your abilities. How easy it is for the circle to crack and for you to doubt the talent that brought you to this point.

It happens to individuals who play team sports; the multi-million pound striker you goes game after game without scoring a goal. It infects whole teams who find themselves unaccountably losing after reigning supreme. And most especially it paralyses those who rely on their wits to produce.

I have yet to define confidence, only the situation that anyone who writes will recognise. Confidence is like water. It trickles away between the synapses without you being aware until you find yourself dehydrated and depressed for no obvious reason. The situation is made no easier by the fact that the motivation for some of us who write is to assert ourselves, to express our individuality through words. I make this distinction of a writer who writes to push boundaries from those who write for more obvious commercial reasons not to say that one is better than the other but that the latter is more amenable to being motivated than the former.

Given a brief, the objective is clear so the writer who struggles can be encouraged. Given no brief but the desire to bring to the surface some ineffable idea, who can rally? It is this ambition that makes certain authors famously difficult. The struggle they face is with themselves and out of that struggle the work is created - if and when it is.

If this were a well-rounded article, I would now offer the magic solution. Bang and the dirt is gone.

I have this vague belief that a lapse in confidence for a writer is similar to a stitch for a long-distance runner. You have to persevere; run it off. But it is a rubbish metaphor. You never notice your confidence draining away. It is only when, like me, you are trying to write a letter for a part-time job that has your name all over it in embossed lettering and you cannot string an opening sentence together after three days of banging your head against the screen that you discover jellies look positively concrete compared to you.

Having said that, this is a dreadful warning for anyone with aspirations that are out of control: an interview with Tony Hancock, one of Britain's most brilliant radio comics, which took place in 1961 - though according to Wikipedia it was in 1960 - with John Freeman on Face to Face and just before his break with his writers, Simpson and Galton, and subsequent rapid decline into alcoholism and eventual suicide in 1968.

Anon: Fequently on radio and television and nine films you play artists and intellectuals…

TH: Yes

Anon: Does this mean you would like to be one?

TH: Well actually, I think I am deep down. It's never been appreciated entirely but I think it's there. I think I can safely say that. It's only a question of time.

Anon: Before what?

TH: Before it's recognised.

Correction: The quote is not from Face to Face: I've  just watched the original interview on YouTube and though fascinating the above does not feature - I got it from BBC Radio Extra Bollocks (the link will only last for a week). However, the Freeman interview is well worth thirty minutes of your time, be you a fan or not. Part I, Part II, Part III.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Emotive Language

I am sitting at my computer; I have been since 5.30 a.m., listening to BBC Radio 4, thanks to a neat widget, while scanning the papers online or staring down the road opposite that leads the eye out to sea.

So the scene is established.

To the point: I just heard a review of the papers on This Morning, Radio 4's news programme 6 - 9 a.m., where the newscaster read a piece from The Independent, to whit:

'Stray cats provide a flicker of movement as they wander in the newly emptied landscape.'

'The brooding presence of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant…' [My emphases]

Now, apart from the obvious clichéd use of brooding to describe the presence of the power plant, what role do cats have in a factual report on the real dangers of a damaged nuclear reactor whether they flicker or not across an emptied landscape?

It requires no poet to understand the desire of the author to employ such descriptions but to what extent do they detract from his intention? The truth of the horror that has engulfed Japan requires no embellishment and it is only an inflated ego that looks to add his or her paint strokes. Or, do we readers need such hyperbole to colour our jaded palettes?

Journalism has been described as the art of painting a picture (at some point these metaphors must end) but at what point does the personal image interfere with the facts as presented?  As a student of Literary Criticism, I understand that text is all; i.e. it is impossible to remove one's self from a scene, in other words,  you, all the components that make you, will interpret a situation singularly and the language you use to describe it will never fully encompass your thought or motivation. So the idea of wilful artfulness, the desire to manipulate language to a purpose is usually pursued for one's own ends rather than as an exposition of what is presented. One is far too conscious of self to be objectively involved in the other.

Of course, there are people we read precisely because we are more interested in their opinion than their reporting; however, when it comes to news, i.e. the facts of a situation, I prefer the reporter to disappear insofar as it is possible.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Three Very Different Novels

I continue to dip in and out of Perec's Life: A User's Manual as and when ordered by the doctor for my general sense of well-being. [Bang on: that Mr. Scott Pack tries to steal my thunder with this feeble attempt of a post on Perec: The art of reviewing a book that has no punctuation or capital letters.  Too late, Mr. Pack, I sneer, I was there first.]

There is no such sense of holiday dalliance with Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, a book I read last month. This involves total immersion with no snorkel. So, before I take the plunge, let me first deal with Thomas Eidson's St. Agnes' Stand.

From his prose style, it is evident Eidson is a fan of Hemingway; his prose is taut, well-muscled, and walks with a testosterone-laden swagger.

The story is best described as a contemporary western. It opens with a man on the run with his dog who comes across a group under siege from a band of Apaches. The group consists of three nuns, lead by the eponymous Sister St. Agnes, together with seven orphaned children they have recently rescued. The Apaches have already caught and horribly tortured one nun and her Mexican wagon driver who were attempting to make a run for help. Against his better judgement, Swanson, for that is the man's name, decides to assist. To the Catholic sister, Swanson is literally the answer to her prayers and she never doubts for an instant his ability to save them for, as she constantly reminds him, he was sent by God.

The story tells of the increasingly personalised battle between Swanson and Locan, the giant leader of the Apaches, who is rapidly losing face with his party of braves. In some respects St. Agnes' Stand may be regarded as a conventional western. The characters are personalities you would expect to meet. It is no surprise, for instance, to discover the good Sister St. Agnes turns out to be a whisky-drinking, poker-player, thigh-slapping (OK, I made the last up) nun-of-a-gun. What is surprising, even questionable, is the underlying theme, which is one of faith, specifically Catholic faith versus savage superstition, and I do not employ the term savage lightly, because Eidson absolutely demonises Locan and his followers in a surprising manner given the date of publication, 1994. There is an argument to be made that Eidson is thoroughly contemporary in that he is the literary equivalent of Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers in his exploration of violence but where the latter comment, in their different ways, on attitudes today, St. Agnes' Stand reads like a good, ol' fashioned parable of good versus bad. And the bad are still Injuns and those of that ilk.

That said, it is still a good read and worthy of your own appraisal.

I think of Murakami as Marmite – you either love him or hate him, and I love him. (For those who are not Brits, Marmite is a spread*; you either love it or hate it. I hope that clarifies the analogy.)

Like with all Haruki Murakami's work, there is no simple way to summarise the plot. So I will save myself the effort and quote from the blurb on the back:

'Toru Okada's cat has disappeared and this has unsettled his wife, who is herself growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has started receiving. As the compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada's vague and blameless life – spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table – are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.'


As hinted, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle explores the way life develops through circumstance, inexplicable promptings and chance events, and much of its charm, from a westerner's point of view, is the cultural difference in attitude displayed by Okada to each twist in his day. It is not that he is fatalistic but accepting, with an almost naïve curiosity, of whatever might happen next.

It is very seductive and you soon find yourself infected by his ingenuousness. To appreciate Murakami, you too, like Toru, must travel blind trusting that you will be transported safely. And you will be, trust me.

* Something you spread on bread, toast preferably, and not a large tract of land in Wyoming.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety

On the back of reading Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, I have just about finished her A Place of Greater Safety.

It is an historical, factually- based  work charting the rise and eventual fall of the heads of the main characters involved in the French Revolution; Camille Desmoulins, Maximilian Robespierre, Dr. Marat, etc.

Mantel has used her considerable imaginative powers to explore the domestic background, i.e. the female perspective, of these figures during those whirlwind years while sticking to the original script as laid down by historical events.

I have a strong interest in this period. I was once intending to research a doctorate on the difference in attitudes to intellectualism between the English and the French  since the Revolution to the present day and its consequences. So, my appreciation of the book is biased. I wonder how an uninterested reader will take to it. I believe anyone will admire the writing, but there is such a cast of characters, unless you have been previously introduced to them, they can prove confusing. Also, major events, like the desire of the protagonists to spread  their ideal to other countries [so current given what is happening in the Middle East], e.g. the French invasion to liberate the Belgium sansculotte, are necessarily glossed over or the book would run to twice its 871 pages.

I have not read Wolf Hall but it seems to me A Place of Greater Safety is a rehearsal for the work that is to win Mantel her Booker. From my perspective it is fascinating. From anyone's perspective it is a lesson in how to write character and dialogue. Her women, evil, manipulative or innocent,  are marvellous.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Old Farts Smell the Best

I have hit a wall. Not literally, obviously, or I would be a flattened sort of creature with fingers of rubber.

My writing has collapsed into a litter of consonants and vowels that drift across the carpet to clutter in the corners ( how I love alliteration). My novel remains buried somewhere in the recesses of my computer awaiting the final polish from my magic duster. An idea for a series of inter-related short stories remains eleven pages of an idea for a series of inter-related short stories.

Nicola Morgan has posted on the issue of hitting walls and hit a nerve. (Well, you would, wouldn't you, hitting a wall at speed?)

The particular wall I hit was erected by the masons, Expectations, I could say Great Expectations but Arrogance may be more accurate. I had assumed I would be welcomed on a very prestigious course with rose petals strewn before me by the Dean; he turned up with thorns.

Collapse of the stout party, as they used to say. But do not weep on my behalf: the point I want to address is not the one entitled 'Managing Expectations', but 'Managing Growing Old'.

There, I've said it: I am growing old. Not a problem in itself, indeed, I read somewhere that older people are more content than at any other times in their lives. To an extent this is true but, being an awkward sod, I still have ambitions, the major of which is to write a novel worthy of serious consideration.

But what happens when you reach a certain age? All the sins of your past assemble in a single spot and assault you at once. It was once possible for me to breeze through life no matter what was thrown up with no other help than a nose-peg and cunning intelligence. Now, laxity is itself the problem.

Life, it seems to me, is an accumulation of habits and behavioural patterns. What suited when young and becomes comfortable through use is not easily dislodged in later life no matter how inappropriate

F**k it. I will now behave inappropriately. Inappropriate to my age and expectations. This is not say I will suddenly become an eccentric. That was my norm, i.e. to question the status quo, but now I will conform. I will vote Conservative and wear what few strands I have in a perm. I will get heated over issues of immigration and the collapse of English identity. Shiny faced posters of David Cameron will adorn my bedroom. Nick Clegg will be the custard on my pudding.

I will join the rich. Ha! You may laugh but all my life people have told me I would be rich. Now is the time. Personally, I am not a fan of the rich - and I know a few who are mega-rich - but it is time to join their ranks, if only to mock them for their narrow-minded, greedy assumptions.

How is this to be achieved? I don't have a clue but, believe me, it is not rocket science. It is a combination of nonce, greed, exploitation, ruthlessness, and testosterone - all qualities I have in abundance. (I would invite you to view my testicles if this were not a public domain.)

Why this sudden ambition?

i want to move back to London only to discover that all I can afford is a cupboard in a garden shed. Now, woodlice I count as among the best of my friends but I am allergic to rudimentary pots (aesthetically they cause me hives). So money is necessary.

Am I joking?

No. I will, despite others' expectations of what should, could, can be achieved by an old burst of wind like myself, find a means.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sir Richard Dearlove - Tom Phillips?

This article on Sir Richard Dearlove's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry caught my eye in the Guardian this morning, to quote:

Never let it be said that Britain's spies do not have a sense of humour. Ninety-three pages of evidence (pdf) given in private to the Iraq inquiry by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, have finally been released. Unfortunately, they have been so heavily redacted by the censors that some are entirely black, save for a lone, enigmatic question mark.

It reminded me of the work of Tom Phillips on whose work I posted earlier. It makes you wonder if Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, has secret longings to be an artist.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Blue Tit Faction

One of the few pleasures among my duties as a tempaculturalist is to watch with the same fascination of the cats, though perhaps not their appetite, (see final pic in my last post), the antics of the gang of little masked bandits who mount relentless raids on the Balcony Precinct of La Haute Houssais.

This CCTV pic gives little clue to the constant hustling of these would be jailbirds, for they be Blue Tits, one of a very small group of villains who make all their demands for mere peanuts.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Country Matters

This week I am house-sitting for Stuart and Gabrielle, professional permaculturalists, in La Haute Houssais, Brittany, a hamlet so small it is easy to drive straight through and never notice it in your rear view mirror.

While here, I am also chicken-sitting:



And cat-sitting:

I feel I can now justifiably call myself a man of the soil.