Friday, 28 August 2009

Yet more historical news

Despite the constant round of parties, tourism and fetes available to the Victorian middle and upper classes, life in the city was nasty, brutish and short, even for these delicate flowers, as Michel Faber's and Sarah Waters's books depict.

Yet the new science of detection was all the rage, and ex-coppers were available to hire, just like Hauk in the The Wire:

PRIVATE INQUIRY OFFICE, established 1852, Eldon-chambers, Devereux-court, Temple, under the direction of CHARLES FREDERICK FIELD, late chief inspector of the detective force of the metropolis. This office has had the conduct of some of the most remarkable cases of the day–namely the Smyth and Worcester forgeries, the Rugeley murders, horse poisonings, incendiary fires, &c. Agent for New York, Mr. G. Hays, Bank detective police.

Still, if you survive into comfortable middle age, you can indulge yourself:

SMALL YACHT, for £20, with sails complete, or with anchor, chain cable, dingy, sweeps, and all stores, £25. Apply to W. C., 51, King William-street, E. C.

MR. GLADSTONE.–A beautifully-executed PORTRAIT of the Right Hon. W. E. GLADSTONE, on toned paper, with a biography and a review of his recently published edition Homer, will be given with the CRITIC, weekly literary Journal of August 7. Price 4d., or 5d. stamped. A copy in return for 5 stamps. Office, 29, Essex-street, Strand.

PICTURES.–To collectors and Connoisseurs.–An original, by Berrittini ; one by Van Heemskerke–both on panel ; six others on canvas. The largest an Italian landscape, by Stuart, 3 ft. 10 in. The whole for immediate cash, £50 ; cost £400, On view, after 12 o'clock a.m., at 20 Queen-street, Camden-town.

That's enough for today. I'm off to celebrate Emma's birthday - say happy birthday everybody - then home to see the Aged Parents and all my happily married siblings for a couple of days, then it's the UK School Games for a week. I'll check in once a day probably, but will be spending most of my time making children happy and safe. And not in an Austrian fashion. I'm the Welfare Officer.

Thanks Ashar Ehsan

I wrote to our head of communications asking for clarification about various things. In April. When I saw his name in my inbox today I thought he'd actually seen fit to respond to one of the people he works for.


Thank you for feedback provided in relation to the Repositioning Exercise. We have endeavoured to answer the questions posed to us. The updated FAQS can be found on the Outlook Folder called: Repositioning Exercise.


Ashar Ehsan, Director of Marketing and Communications
Roger Williams, Director of Personnel

No such luck. It's a circular directing us to… well, precisely nothing. 'There are no items to view in this folder', which could be a polite way of telling us to mind our own business.

'Repositioning' now means 'sacking 250 people', 'reducing module choice' and 'bigger classes'. Way to go, Ashar.

The use of the word 'colleague' is, I assume, an attempt at humour.

An actual, honest to goodness, FRIDAY conundrum

This is the first one to fall on a Friday for weeks!

So: confronted with an alien visitor demanding entertainment, what would you show them as the best and worst features of the town or country in which you live?

The best things of Britain have to be cheese and Wales (or Shropshire). For such a small country with dishonourable history of poor food, British cheeses are varied and wonderful. The worst thing? The cities: polluted, filthy, uncared-for and atomised, actively hostile to their own inhabitants, and horrible on Friday nights, which is a shame as places like Manchester would otherwise be great places to live. Narrowing it down to Wolverhampton, the best thing about it is that it's easy to escape. The worst thing is the dreadful, dismal architecture and town planning: the inhabitants treat it badly because it encourages nothing better. I love the multicultural nature of the UK - but hate the British attitude to education and languages (roughly: they all speak in English really, why should we bother?)

A lot to love, a lot to improve. Your turn!

Chris Morris: Bow Down, Mortals

As sophisticated media-savvy types, you'll know all about Chris Morris: The Day Today, On The Hour, Brass Eye, Nathan Barley - the scourge of the vacuity of modern media, politics and culture.

I thought I'd share with you an extract from Blue Jam, his hypnotic, disorienting, freakish and sometimes nightmarish mid-period radio monologues, from the days when Radio 1 actually had a brain. These were on late at night, always soundtracked with this vaguely ambient stuff, so that I would doze off and the monologues would leak into my already disturbing dreams. It's a very unpleasant experience.

Sometimes I even bore myself

I've been reading UBS Bank's annual Prices and Earnings report (click on the title when you get there). I've learned several things, one of which is that I can't afford to live in Oslo, the world's most expensive city. Lovely Copenhagen is out of my reach too.

However, I've also learned that transport costs in the UK are twice the European average, and 3.4 times the global average - despite the supposed competitive edge of privatisation, a compact country and a historically well-developed network. What are these bastards doing with our money? Buying yachts is my guess…

Godwin's law proved again

The US healthcare debate is becoming stunningly offensive. Thrill! As a woman shouts 'Heil Hitler' at an Israeli who points out that his former country has a good national health service, tells him that Obama hates Jews and Israel, and yells 'Boo Hoo' when he mentions the Holocaust. Thanks to Jadedj for the original post - he also has a clip of her claiming to live by 'biblical values'.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

I'm such a scenester

Because I've just bought The xx's album xx. To balance it, I'm keeping an eye on England v. Ireland in the One Day International. A not very good 203 for England, but Ireland's innings is delayed by rain.

Books, sweet, sweet books

The five day book drought's over. Emma presented me with a sports book that even Ewarwoowar won't have read - Michéal O'Muircheartaigh's bilingual memoir of Ireland and being GAA's most famous commentator.

Also, I called into The Works today and accidentally bought five of the six special Bill Amberg designed Penguin Classics special editions, in soft loose leather with a box (The Great Gatsby, A Room With A View, Brideshead Revisited, The Big Sleep and A Picture of Dorian Gray). They're absolutely beautiful and a snip at £6.99 instead of £50. I just need Breakfast at Tiffany's to complete the decadent set.

Roll up, Roll up! All the fun of the fair!

So what do they do for fun in 1858 Britain? They could go to the zoo:

THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS, Regent's-park, are open daily, except on Sunday. Admission 1s, on Monday, 6d. Among the recent additions to the menagerie are the Mooruk from New Britain, and a magnificent leopard from Morocco. The band of the Royal Horse Guards will perform, by permission of Colonel the Right Hon. C. Forester, every Saturday, at 4 p.m.
The Mooruk is a variety of cassowary. This drawing is from the very bird advertised above, and New Britain is part of Papua New Guinea.

Alternatively, you could see the technological marvel of the age, launched this very year and destined to be a greater tourist attraction than commercial success:

THE GREAT EASTERN, lying off Deptford.– This STEAM SHIP will be OPEN for inspection daily, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission, 2s.6d., each, by tickets, which may be obtained on board the ship ; of Mr. W. R. Sams, 1 St. James's-street ; or at the offices of the Company, 13, Gresham-street.
JOHN YATES, Secretary.
N. B. The Greenwich steamers call alongside the ship to embark and disembark visitors at the usual fares.
Alternatively, you could attend a summer fete and hear all the latest hits sung by the hottest stars, some of which are still sung, and all for charity, which was important for the rich to keep the poor subservient:

ROYAL SURREY GARDENS.– Grandest Fete of the Season,–20,000 persons are going to hear Madame Rudersdorff sing Robert toi qui j'aime, She wore a Wreath of Roses, and the Mile of Edinboro Town ; Miss Louisa Vinning sing Bel raggio, Home, sweet Home, and I wish I were a Fairy Queen ; Miss Dolby sing the Hundred Pipers, and two popular songs ; and Mr. Sims Reeves sing Death of Nelson, Good bye, Sweetheart, and the Last Rose of Summer; the Misses Wells, S. Cole, and L. Baxter ; Messrs. Wilbye Cooper, Lawler &c., Complete orchestra, on Wednesday August 11th, in Aid of the Cheesemongers Benevolent Institution. Magnificent Parisien Fete, commencing at 5; grand Concert at half-past 7 o'clock. Grand double display of fireworks, and Signor Duvalli's terrific ascent, surrounded by fireworks. Tickets 1s. ; numbered stalls, first circle (retainable the whole evening), 3s. ; second circle 2s. each, including admission to the Gardens,–of Messrs. Keith, Prowse and Co., 48, Cheapside ; Mr. Philpott, post-office, King William-street ; Mr. Wilcocke, Newington-causeway ; Mr. Pigott, Kennington-park ; any member of the Committee ; and of the Secretary, Mr. George Simpson, Bath-street, Newgate-street.

Duvalli was a tightrope walker and Rudersdorff was a famous soprano, 'an amazing woman weighing between two and three hundred pounds' whose son Richard Mansfield was a Ripper murder suspect. Underneath the fun of the fair was a dark side - but I'll leave that for tomorrow.

Take that, Republican'ts

It's early days, but the College Republicans' attempt to collect 'horror stories' about the NHS with which to scare Americans has backfired badly - all the entries so far are positive!

I particularly like this 'horror story':
I went to the Doctor's last month for a, well, downstairs problem. I was given an appointment for that day at 11.30. I got there with plenty of time to spare, but wasn't seen until 11.45. I was livid.

Do add your own honest accounts of NHS care.

Tories = scum (reprise)

Like a one-man demolition crew hellbent on knocking down Cameron's house of lovely cards, Daniel Hannan comes out with another gem. Not content with treating Europe like a leper colony (he's an MEP) and describing the NHS as a 60-year disaster, he's announced that his political hero is Enoch Powell, the Wolverhampton MP who prophesied 'rivers of blood' if immigration wasn't halted, before leaving the Tories to become an Ulster Unionist MP - presumably immigration's fine as long as it's British people invading others people's countries.

What a charmer. Don't fool yourself that he's a loose cannon or the last hurrah of the buffers: he's young and a rising star, a new generation of the mean-spirited, racist, Thatcherite men in sharp suits who caused the 1980s. Behind Cameron's devious, plummy niceness, there are sharp teeth and dangerous views.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I ain't no suit-wearin' businessman like you... you know I'm just a gangsta I suppose...

Quote of the day, from the passionate, leftwing author of The Wire, to which I'm quite attached:

"It is possible," he has observed, "that a few thinking viewers, after experiencing a season or two of The Wire, might be inclined, the next time they hear some politician declaring that with more prison cells, more cops, more lawyers, and more mandatory sentences that the war on drugs is winnable, to say, aloud: 'You are hopelessly full of shit'."

I do worry a little about watching the show - it's pretty voyeuristic to watch the travails of a mostly-black city. From top to bottom, it depicts a capitalist dystopia in which life is cheap, getting paid is all that matters, and from which all oversight is absent. The newspaper jettisons standards and journalists at an appalling rate. The politicians are obsessed with their careers and kickbacks, whether they started idealistically or not. The legal system is politically compromised, and the police - some of whom are broken, others corrupt - care little for their citizens, with a few exceptions. The unions are mob-controlled, the schools act as mini-prisons for kids who really want to be earning on the corners, and the black men are determined to kill or be killed for money and prestige. Add the racial tensions and you have a recipe for disaster.

Yes, it's fiction, but it's based on long experience. The Tories are currently claiming that the UK is like The Wire, which is astonishingly irresponsible, and proof that they haven't actually watched it: the show's implied solutions are leftwing, calling for altruism, a strong and caring state and a sense of community. The Wire's problems, meanwhile, are those of Thatcherite capitalism, in which unbridled capitalism, the free market, privatisation, contempt for public services and 'there is no such thing as society' (Thatcher) feature prominently. Think about it: drugs are a selfish bit of indulgence. There's demand, and businessmen have spotted a gap in the market and behaved like good little capitalists by filling it. Legality, guns and the like don't matter - we've all been taught that profit is more important than morality or community. The dealers shouldn't be alienated: they're just further along the continuum that is us.

Valete, Ted Kennedy

So Ted Kennedy is dead. His life, as summarised in this obituary, is a classic lesson in the complexity of mankind. Monstrous son of a monstrous Nazi-supporting bootlegger, brother to two assassination victims, he juggled a cruel and selfish private life, leading to the death of a young woman, amongst other things, but he was also a principled liberal leader who reached out from a position of the utmost privilege to the poorest and most oppressed in his country.

Seymour Hersh's Camelot is a no-holds-barred examination of the Kennedy dynasty, well worth reading, but the Kennedy mystique is as golden as it is appalling. JFK started the Vietnam war, but RFK would have ended it, had he not been shot dead. It was RFK who took on the Mafia, despite the fact that his brother's election (opposed by Nixon) in 1960 was achieved through widespread vote-rigging and corruption. Edward Kennedy would have been one of the best presidents had he won the nomination in 1980 - but his alcohol, sex and drug-fuelled private life put paid to that, and nice Jimmy Carter went on to lose to that evil hack Reagan.

So Ted Kennedy - proof that bad/good co-exist in us all…

Don't worry - there's already at least one of the next Kennedy generation in power: Patrick is a state senator in Rhode Island, and Caroline ran for New York, unsuccessfully. Arnie's wife is a Kennedy too!

Koala v. Shark? Who would win

I'm in a scientific mood today. And a Christian-baiting one. So I've been reading this article on why it's specially hilarious that Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, keeper of the Creation Museum and America's leading moron, is from Australia. (Amongst other things, Creationists believe that black people are descended from Ham, Noah's bad son). Mmmm, racist.

So anyway, the article's fun, and starts a really good debate about whether koalas could take out a shark (which would be required for them to reach Australia from Mount Ararat, where the Ark landed in 2300 BC).

I've always wondered about barbecued koala. They're pretty lazy, so you could light the barbie underneath the branch they're clinging too, and they must be beautifully tender, stuffed with eucalyptus leaves.

Dolorous Dolores

The Cranberries' first album was a pleasant bit of fluff to which you could slip into sleep, providing you didn't listen to the lyrics too closely. Then Dolores O'Riordan decided that she was a world figure to whom we should all listen, and all their subsequent music was toe-curlingly embarrassing. Why do Irish musicians always get this Messiah complex? Geldof, Bono, O'Connor, the list's endless…

Anyway, Everett True is rather annoyed that The Cranberries are back. Go there. Kneel before him.

Shake it

'Nobody But Me' is one of my favourite songs of all time. It's a Northern Soul staple, containing all the arrogance, swagger and energy of that genre - so imagine my surprise to discover that Human Beinz were a bunch of semi-psychedelic white kids covering an Isley Brothers track!

Oh James

Neal, James and I are feeling pretty flat after our return from Oslo (and my trip to Germany), but James is hit hardest: he's flitted off to Basel/Basle (Switzerland), a wonderful town I visited for a fencing competition several years ago. He's already charmed a German woman into putting him up, showing him the town and feeding him… You British females should hurry up, or he'll disappear abroad forever!

More news from the nineteenth-century

Morning all. How about another instalment from the 1858 edition of the Times?

First up, a beautiful bit of name-dropping from the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition:

CRYSTAL PALACE–Ceramic Court.–Under the direction of Thomas Battam, Esq., F.S.A.– The EXHIBITION of ENAMELS, Porcelain, and Pottery, now contains examples from the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Devonshire, Earl Granville, Gen. the Hon E. Lygon, Baroness de Goldsmit, H. Danby Seymour, Esq., M. P., F. W. Fairholt, Esq., S. Addington, Esq., Dr. Sibson, F.R.S., J, Falcke, Esq., the Athenaeum, Stoke-upon-Trent, Messrs. Rittener and Saxby, Messrs. Hewitt, Madame Temple, &c., together with choice examples of the manufactures of Messrs. Minton, Copeland, Kerr and Burns. Ridgway and Co., Rose, Philips, &c., including the series of Ceramic works executed for the Art Union of London.

Health fads aren't restricted to our own times: the stupid and gullible rich have always been with us - no doubt Gillian McKeith and the Daily Mail would have given glowing endorsements for this detox treatment. The 'chronic diseases', I suspect, means syphilis.

DR. CAPLIN'S ELECTRO-CHYMICAL BATH ESTABLISHMENT, 9 York-place, Baker-street, Portman-square, for the extraction of mercury and other metallic or extraneous substances, and the treatment of chronic diseases. For the demonstration of this new system vide the second edition, price 1s., 8vo, of Dr. Caplin's Treatise on the Electro-Chymical Bath, and the Relation of Electricity to the Phenomena of Life, Health and Disease, Sold at the Authors Establishment.

Schoolboys have always lost their belongings:

MARGATE.–LOST, on board the Little Western, on Tuesday, July 27, a CARPET-BAG, containing
several articles of wearing apparel, belonging to a young gentleman on his way to school, and some
books with the name of "Herbert Radclyffe" in them. A REWARD will be given to any person returning
the bag to Mr. Dunn, packet-office, Margate.

That appalling vulture programme, Heir-hunters, has a long and dishonourable history too:

NEXT of KIN OFFICES, Doctors'-commons.–NEXT OF KIN WANTED, of many persons who died abroad,
for upwards of 80 years, leaving considerable property unclaimed, which may be recovered, and all
information obtained, through P. Mouillard and Co., Bell-yard, Doctors'-commons.

The world of commerce was bloody and unregulated - copyright was a relatively new idea and advertisers, then and now, were liars.

CHARLES READE on Monday last, Aug. 2, and is now his SOLE PROPERTY.–6, Bolton-row, Mayfair.

SEWING MACHINES.–Thomas v. Foxwell.– In consequence of the erroneous impression produced
by the advertisements which have been produced by Mr. Foxwell, Mr. THOMAS deems it necessary to
CAUTION the public that the verdict in the above action declared that Mr. Foxwell's machines
were an infringement upon his patent, and to state that there has been no decision that his patent is
void. The Court of Queen's Bench held the claim in Mr. Thomas's patent for the general arrangement
of his sewing machinery to be good, and the adverse decision referred to in Mr. Foxwell's advertisements
had reference to a subordinate claim only, which, with the permission of Her Majesty's Attorney-General,
has since been struck out of the specification. Proceedings will be taken against all parties continuing,
after this notice, to USE or SELL SEWING MACHINES made in violation of Mr. Thomas's patent, or
containing any material part of his invention.–Dated August 4.
WILSON and BRISTOWS, 1 Copthall-buildings,
Solicitors for Mr. Thomas.

Holidays and attraction tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

I get readers. Rather surprising ones

I have been recommended on a Twitter stream called iliveforgoodsex, which is, um, surprising. I noticed visits referred from that site via Sitemeter. The lady in question describes her feed as

A BBW/MILF model living and working in Florida. Offering tips for serious lovemaking and sexual health.

This is emphatically not what my blog's about, but welcome to Nadine and her readers in any case! Come for the sarcasm, stay for the political and literary commentary.

New logo. World saved.

Yes, despite having a multimillion pound deficit, 250 redundancies, fewer modules and larger classes, everything's going to be OK, because we've paid some trendily-bespectacled wankers a large amount of money for a new logo to make everything alright.

Anyone like to speculate on what the new slogans might be?

In defence of Media Studies

You'd expect me to defend it, of course, as it's half my job. So I won't, other than to point out that everything we experience (yes, everything) is mediated, and that a course taking in Adorno and Baudrillard can't be that easy.

So anyway, have a read of this.

Don't forget: Tories = scum

Amongst the other books I've got on the go at the moment, I'm reading Iain Sinclair's Downriver, a sprawling exposé of the full Thatcherite horror that was London in the 1980s. Now it looks like that pink-cheeked proletariat-rapist Cameron looks like being the next Prime Minister, here's a passage about the Tories from Sinclair's book - the Minister reminds me of Cameron:

Closer inspection… revealed no youth, but a shrink-wrapped young man - who had forgotten to climb out of his lightweight suit before sending it to the cleaners. Or some kind of quantum leap in the field of headshrinking. The Minister looked like a ventriloquist's dummy - which, in a sense, he was: the latex exception that proves the rule. The rest of the Widow's gang split neatly into the Uglies (shifty, weasel-twitching Goebbels clones who breakfasted on razor blades and seven-week embryos) and the Bunters: smooth, fleshy, near-identical, bum-faced nonentities in Savile Row suits and bulletproof glasses. Apocalypse-resistant unflappables. The Uglies had lost ground recently, the time for cracking skulls was past. They were ennobled, sent to the city like feral cats. No longer the nights of broken glass, lycanthropes and zoo-rejects with burning brands: it was the mid-term era of soft sell, Brylcreem-condomed, safe-handed boys, and public men of conscience (and private fortune).

This boy, the Minister, had been picked because he smelt like a political virgin: he was fresh, oven-ready, blatant with coal tar and Old Spice; bubbling enthusiastic, popping up everywhere with endorsements that kept him spinning him dizzily around the outer circle, never quite 'one of us', but very useful as a fag and disposable messenger… he remained, basically, a whipping boy, buoyant enough, and stupid enough, to deflect heat-seeking missiles from such entrenched citadels of the left as the Church of England, the Royal Opera House, and the Sunday Telegraph.

Go Prezza

You may know that I'm sceptical of Twitter, but there's an article in today's Guardian on former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's use of Twitter and blogging to harass the Tories, amongst other things.

This one's my favourite:
At White House. Last time here Cheney spoke to me via videolink from secret location. Asked if Osama was with him. He didn't laugh 10:31am 17 July from mobile web

Another instalment from 'The Times', August 7th 1858

Some births and marriages today:

On the 17th June last, at Guanaxato, Mexico, the wife of William
A. Jones, Esq., of a daughter.

On the 23d July, at da Fundo, Lisbon, the wife of Thos. Creswell
Esq., of a daughter.

On the 3d inst., at 13, Loughborough-road, Brixton, the wife of
Joseph S. Rimington, Esq., Bombay Medical Establishment,
H. E. I. C. S., of a daughter.

Fascinating - the names, the locations (Brixton, posh?) and the occupations. Most interestingly, the mothers and children aren't named - they're just for showing off the man's virility, though it's possibly that children weren't named until later, due to the high incidence of child mortality.

Let's try some marriages. Still very pompous, aspirational, snobbish and male-oriented, but fascinating anyway:

On the 3d inst., at Tenby, by the father of the bride, William Hast-
ings Hughes, Esq., fourth son of the late John Hughes, M. A., of the
Priory, Donnington, Berks, and of Boltons, West Brompton, to Emily
Adelaide, eldest daughter of the Rev. George Clark, M. A., rector of
Tenby, Pembrokeshire.

On the 4th inst., at St. Lawrence Church, Thanet, Kent, by the Rev.
R. C. Brackenbury, A. M., rector of Brocklebury, Lincolnshire, chaplain
to the Earl of Yarmouth, assisted by Rev. F. G. Haslewood, S C. L.,
curate, Captain H. T. Howell, of the East Kent Militia, only son of
Captain Howell, R. N., of Spring-grove, Jersey, to Phoebe, second
daughter of the Rev. G. W. Sicklemore, of Cleve, vicar of St. Lawrence.

Now for some deaths, redolent of Empire:

On the 25th May, from the effects of sunstroke, Lieut. George Henry
Haynes, 7th Hussars, on his passage home from Calcutta, eldest son of
the late Mr. Haynes, of Lambeth, Surrey, having survived his father
only six months, most deeply lamented by his family and friends.

At Ootacamund, on the 11th June, Mary Eliza, the wife of Richard
Cotton Lewin, Esq., Madras Civil Service, aged 28.

On the 1st. inst., Anne Ingleby, relict of Columbus Ingleby, Esq., at
her residence, 306, Regent-street, suddenly, of disease of the heart, aged 71.

On the 4th inst., at Elstree, aged 6 years, Arthur Frank, youngest
child of the Rev. Henry Robbins, M. A.

On the 6th inst., of consumption, Samuel Sidney, youngest son of
Mr. Archd. E. Prangnall, Coldharbour-lane, Camberwell, aged 22.

ENTOMBMENT– Orders in Council having been
issued for the permanent closing of the vaults under certain
metropolitan churches, but prior to the 1st of September next, giving
the friends of the deceased buried therein the right of removing their
remains, the NECROPOLIS COMPANY beg to intimate that they are
prepared to undertake such removals in a careful and respectful man-
ner, with all necessary sanitary precautions. Every particular, and the
charge for vaults and monuments may be ascertained at the offices of
the Company. 2, Lancaster-place, Strand.

Chow down, piggies

KFC are, of course, seriously concerned for customers' health. They say so:

At KFC, we take great pride and care to provide you with the best food and dining experience in the quick service restaurant business.

We believe eating sensibly, combined with appropriate exercise, is the best solution for a healthy lifestyle. KFC offers a variety of menu items for those that want lower fat, lower calorie choices, including Tender Roast and Honey BBQ Sandwiches, corn on the cob, BBQ baked beans and green beans.

To help you further, we've provided nutritional information so you can make informed choices about what to eat.

However, they also believe very strongly that bread is too boring to put in a sandwich. Now, what would you replace it with? How about… fried chicken? The Double Down Sandwich is, according to The Vancouver Sun, 1228 calories, not far short of 3 Big Macs and consists of fried chicken with bacon and cheese in the middle.

I tought I taw a puddy cat

My youngest sister, marooned at home for the time it takes to do a nursing degree, has shamelessly used my 96 years old grandmother in a campaign to get a kitten. This is the result.


This is my lovely, damaged Litteraturtraeet (Danish for 'tree of literature'). I'm going to buy another copy, and get the accompanying Renaessancetraeet (work it out), and demand the university pays for the replacement. You may be able to click on them for a larger image.

Buy your own at

Monday, 24 August 2009

Where are you on the political spectrum?

Take this test to find out (though it's very Americocentric)! As expected, I'm a far-left moderate social libertarian - e.g. I don't care what you smoke or watch, as long as you pay taxes for health care, worry about the environment, and don't invade anywhere. Actually though, I thought I'd score far more highly on the authoritarian side, as I'm genuinely looking forward to herding most of you into camps.

My Political Views
I am a far-left moderate social libertarian
Left: 9.18, Libertarian: 1.27

Political Spectrum Quiz

Old Jokes Resurrected

My colleague Steve passed me this gem. I present it to you without further comment.

Barack Obama is visiting a Glasgow hospital.

He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness,

He greets one.

The patient replies:

Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin race,
Aboon them a ye take yer place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm.

Obama is confused, so he just grins and moves on to the next patient.

The next patient responds:

Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat an we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

Even more confused, and his grin now rictus-like, the President moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:

Wee sleekit, cowerin, timorous beasty,
O the panic in thy breasty,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickering brattle

Now seriously troubled, Obama turns to the accompanying doctor and asks,
'Is this a psychiatric ward?'

'No,' replies the doctor, 'this is the serious Burns unit.'

No thanks, Coppers

The police have been roundly criticised, including by their own investigations teams, for their handling of legal protests - they've beaten, harassed and maliciously arrested innocent people. So they're on a charm offensive, and are running a slick PR campaign which claims that all those nasty male coppers wading in boots-first are going to be replaced with nice mumsy officers bearing cups of tea for thirsty sloganeers.

Climate Camp aren't impressed and have declined Plod's request for advance notice of the address of the new super-secret action base:

And finally.

A few more images for you. They show you how beautiful this city is, but can't come close to explaining how joyful it is. Riding around on our Grifters, we were truly happy. The place feels confident without arrogance, clean and neat without being reactionary, indulgent without selfishness or smugness.

Internal shot of the Opera House - this is the outer shell of the auditorium

Clock/advertising hoarding on the main shopping street.

Inside the architecture museum

The opera house again

Quisling's Castle. He was the Norwegian Nazi leader who declared himself Prime Minister when the Germans invaded, and he grabbed this royal residence. They kept him on as a puppet 'Minister President'. He was executed in 1945 and the castle was turned into the Holocaust Museum! He's why traitors are called Quislings.

Thanks for your conundrum posts by the way - very interesting and thoughtful. I'll respond when I get a bit more time tomorrow.

Map Twats in Scandinavia

A skateboard company!
Light-fitting at the Architectural Museum

From the roof of the opera house. It's a public plaza.

Neal and James prepare for the Panto season

A wall inside the opera house.

Some gulls for Dan

Dan loves gulls - he's even doing a PhD on them (and other urban wildlife). Even the sealife's friendlier in Norway.

The locals were somewhat shocked at where we stayed - near the train station. It was clean, calm and quiet. We were offered drugs and 'a good time' (really, I doubt it), but more politely than the average British waiter offered a large tip… we declined. We're clean-living and we were already having a good time at huge expense.

Beautiful, beautiful Oslo

Oslo is partly made up of lots of tiny islands. If you're rich, you can live there.

The Opera House. Designed by Snøhetta to look like a glacier sliding into the water. Everyone likes it - opera isn't just for spoilt Tory bastards there.

The only gay fisherman in the village?

What we did on our holidays

What did we do in Norway? We ate fine food, in small quantities. We visited a sculpture park and proved that you can take the boys out of Britain, but you can't take the Britain out of the boys - especially our 'Carry On…' sense of humour. We nursed half-litres of bog-standard beer at c. £6 a glass and talked to interesting people (not just women). We walked, and cycled a lot, and took a boat trip which included a 'rip-the-head-off-yourself' lunch of shrimps pulled out of the sea and on to our plates. We went to the architectural museum, the botanical gardens, the opera house and many other sophisticated places, and a great soul night.

Here are some pictures. The rest are here. First up - James responding sensitively to Norway's completely sober and mature understanding of sexuality and the human body.
Vole at the Ibsen grave.

Neal on the City Bike, Oslo Botanical Garden

Norwegian Flag.

James at the Vigelund Sculpture Park

How many arses can you see in this picture?

Oslo? Oh No. Wolverhampton.

James tells me that he feels the black dog today, and I can't look out of the window without comparing the squalid scene before me with Dusseldorf or Oslo. Neal feels the same way.

How to explain? We landed at what Ryanair calls Oslo (Torp) Airport. There is an Oslo airport, and it's in Oslo. Those brackets elide a distance of 110km: that deception was the last bit of non-Norwegian shenanigans we encountered for three days. Even the airport was lovely - clean lines, food which didn't, unlike British stations and aerodromes, treat you as a captive to be charged small fortunes for the worst kind of pseudo-food.

On the train, a Norwegian man started a conversation with us! He told us about his idyllic life on a western island, where he formerly worked for Rolls-Royce. Bucolic, friendly, everybody knows each other, everybody has a boat and catches their own fish etc. For a treat, he'd been to Britain to watch Manchester United and four other football matches, at places like Huddersfield. He does this kind of trip ten times per year. We began to understand what it means to live in the world's richest country.

Didn't I mention that? Norway is a massive country of mountains, fjords, fish and oil. It has a population of 4.5 million, about half of London. Unlike certain countries I could mention, the state didn't privatise the oil. Rather than using the cash to flog off the family silver (BP, BA, the railways, water companies, telephones etc. etc. etc., Norway invested some of the oil money in public works and services. Most of it, they've saved for when the oil runs out. Everybody earns a lot, and people pay a lot of tax, especially on alcohol and petrol (just under a pint of beer or a small cappuccino: between £5-8). Nobody minds. Nobody starts fights in pubs either, or vomits in the street. There's no litter. The police don't patrol the streets much because they don't need to. The trams are frequent and the city bikes are not only practical, they're cool - like Grifters. We saw a huge chunk of the city by bike, and the rest by going on a cruise around the Oslo fjord.

Perhaps it's a bit naughty to get so rich off dirty old oil, but the Norwegians are getting clever about that too: 99% of their power is hydroelectric, so it's basically free and as clean as it's possible to be.

So anyway, apart from this guy's claim that Oslo was overrun with East Europeans (er, no), he was friendly, helpful and kind. As was the train conductor and everybody else. They all spoke flawless English, which was kind of a shame as we all wanted to try to get by in Norwegian - it's very like Danish and comprehensible if you've a little German. It sounds beautiful too, very musical.

An example of local charm? We went to a small bar called Bonanza, on a big square. It turned out that it was the bar's opening night. In Britain, despite James and Neal being handsome and charming, people don't talk to us unless they're very drunk, and usually not then. In Norway, attractive strangers wanted to talk to us - and then did so in an interesting and intelligent fashion, without any of the predatory or ridiculous nonsense all this would entail in the UK, as though we were all grown-ups. It was a vision of mature equality I've never experienced here.

In Bonanza, two attractive girls approached us for a chat. Before long, and without any giggling, immature Anglo-Saxon immaturity, they were showing us the sex toys they'd purchased at a 'sexhibition' that afternoon. We chatted about various other things and then they left. Not long after that, we got talking to another group of ridiculously beautiful, intelligent women who invited us to join them at another party. They were all students or graduates, and although we ended up not attending the party, James made friends with one and the rest of us had genuinely interesting, friendly conversations - despite none of us being drunk or desperate. The very same thing happened to us again on the next night.

Norwegians all appear to be direct, outgoing, intelligent and good-looking, without any preening, posing or pretentiousness. They don't seem to need Dutch courage either. Weirdly, though, they all seemed rather down on Norway - as though it's a boring and ugly backwater rather than one of the most cosmopolitan and beautiful places I've ever been. They were really surprised that we were there on holiday! Sure, it was expensive - £350 for almost three days, plus flights, but I'd rather be poor, hungry and sober in Norway than drunk, stuffed and rich anywhere else.

Save a few American lives

The US healthcare debate is still being distorted by malign ideologically-motivated forces, aided by the vested interests of the insurance industry, leaving 46 million Americans (20% of the population) uninsured and many others not covered for serious industry. Old people, let's remember, organise coach trips to Canada and Mexico to buy their prescription drugs, whereas here, they're free for pensioners and only £6 for everybody else, whatever the real cost.

The College National Republican Committee is openly asking for 'Your Health Care Horror Stories' via email or on their blog. How about filling it with our actual experiences, or adding your story here, a joint effort between British political site 38 Degrees and US magazine Mother Jones? I know the NHS has its limitations, but it's essentially brilliant - I know several people whose lives have been saved, and others who have received brilliant treatment (I'm looking at you, Zoot Horn). I've made a polite, measured start on the CNRC blog.

This is the news

Before I go back to bemoaning my forcible return from Norway (and believe me, I contemplated claiming refugee status), I'll tell you about the parcel I just unwrapped. I received copies of In The Loop on DVD, and Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, and also a second-hand copy of Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives, a brilliant piece of anti-biography in a way.

I said earlier that Norway is a country in which life-enhancing projects are undertaken ambitiously and successfully, whereas Britain is a tired place full of begrudgingly doled-out second-hand junk - there's no pride. There's a sense that every political speech, every idea is expressed with a silent 'whatever' or 'that'll do' at the end. We are the 'whatever' culture. Here's a clip from The Thick of It (the TV series from which In The Loop came) which expresses our depressing cynicism. This is the densest chunk of sustained swearing I've ever experienced, so don't play it if that kind of thing offends you, OK?

However, it's the wrapping of the Shakespeare book which fascinated me. The bookseller packed the volume in a beautiful fragment of a 1934 map of Capel Wood, near New Romsey, and in a few pages of The Times, from Saturday August 7th 1858 (price 4d)! Every page is in beautiful condition, the language is formal and measured, and it's really hard to read - as was traditional in those days, the first few pages are tightly-packed classified ads. I think I'll post a couple of them each day for your amusement and interest. Some are enigmatic, some heartbreaking


Let's start with a few of the personal notices, and just imagine the stories behind them - perhaps there's a novel in these:

WILLY,– RETURN or WRITE at once.

Your father is heartbroken.

SEMPER EADEM, "always the same" "All's
well."– 8th and 27th August.

LIAM may RETURN immediately, as all is satisfactorily

M.P.–Your father is now in a very dangerous state.
Let him have the consolation of seeing you. Not an hour is
to be lost.–E.O.

INDIA.–Initials.–J'éspere que vous parviendra
et que vous me donnerez de vos nouvelles à la meme addresse.
Soyez assuré de mon estime, et que je vous regrette toujours. Je ne
puis plus ici. Dieu vous garde. Newbury.

(This last reads: I hope that you succeed, and that you will give me your news at the same address. Be assured of my respect/admiration, and that I miss you always. I can do no more here. God keep you.)

Feel free to come up with mini-stories for these in the comments section. Perhaps births, weddings and deaths tomorrow.

I'm back. How I wish I wasn't.

My friends, Norway is awful. Never go there.

OK, it isn't. It's wonderful in so many ways that I don't think I can express them sufficiently. I just don't think that we're worthy. Perhaps other Scandinavians might make the grade, but the rest of us would just mess it up with our fat guts and junk food and linguistic failings and reactionary tendencies etc. etc. etc.

Coming back to the UK was like being expelled from Paradise. Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden with a lighter heart than James, Neal and I did on Saturday. I can't even be coherent about it - just everything was better. Many of them even support Stoke City, because it was a top club when British football matches started to be shown in Norway during the 70s.

I suspect that most of my posts today are going to be 'another great thing I've just remembered about Norway', and I'll post a few pictures.

One of the big things we all noticed is that Norwegians believe in using government to do big things - transport, opera houses, stunning cities that are actually brilliant to live in and get around. They undertake big projects at government expense and get them right. It's such a huge contrast to this place. Here, we wonder about doing something, then decide that if it's got to be done, better some consortium of lying thieving bankers should make money off it, and then wonder why it's shit. I refer you, of course, to 'NHS' hospitals and schools built on the PFI principle. If you don't know what that is, it involves faking the maths to make it look better to get a private company to own and run a hospital or school, renting it to the government for 30/40 years at a massive profit. It doesn't work. The hospitals are rubbish, smaller, dirtier - read this if you don't believe me.

Norway seems to be a confident, bright, caring country. The population seem to actually like and care about each other, which makes them happy to get together for the public good. We live in a selfish, atomised society in which we actually don't want to take responsibility for each other. Sure, we'd like clean hospitals and decent schools, and trains which run on time and cities you'd actually want to live in/walk around/be proud of - but we certainly don't want to pay for it. We'd rather get our kids into private schools, and get private medicine (over-rated, by the way), buy more plasma screens and generally turn away from public space, towards private, short-term pleasure.

It's embarrassing. If you haven't been to Germany, Denmark or Norway, you probably think Britain's a first-world nation. You'd be wrong.

I'm sorry. I'm in a bad mood because I've returned to litter and pollution and filth and poor architecture and an office in which some of my artwork has been smashed. Glass everywhere.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Thursday's a big day

Not only are Australia going to retain the Ashes tomorrow, there will be other results to celebrate.

Yes, it's A-level results day for England and Wales (Scots do Highers at 17 years old). Cue the usual howling voices about dumbing down, and the inevitable Telegraph and Daily Mail pictures of attractive blonde schoolgirls celebrating. Apparently nobody else does well.

Are A-levels dumber than previously? They're certainly different, and they aren't as wide-ranging as the rather good International Baccalaureate, but I'm just not equipped to judge. I do, however, feel that we spend a lot of the first year encouraging independent thinking and trying to undo the psychological damage caused by the secondary system.

However, don't despair if you haven't achieved what you needed. I was rubbish in school, only doing well in the things I enjoyed, and even managed to misunderstand the instructions for one subject, resulting in a lower grade. My headmaster, a very unpleasant man, even used my university reference as an opportunity to recommend that I not be given a place at university.

So I ended up using the clearing system to find a place at Bangor University (then University College of North Wales) and it was the making of me. In between sport, writing for the union paper, boring people to tears on committees, making lifelong friends, going on demonstrations and drinking perhaps more than was healthy, I ended up with a few prizes and a first-class degree, then an MA, and now a PhD.

This isn't meant to be boastful - I'm still amazed I passed my BA - but to remind you that all exams are artificial: being bad at them doesn't mean you're thick. Using Clearing isn't a mark of shame, and you might find that the new atmosphere at university is exactly what you need to shine.

The important thing is this: find a subject you love, and you'll stick to it. It might not even feel like work, as mine didn't: I just wanted to read books, and an English degree demanded little more than literacy and an opinion.

Once you get there, remind yourself that just like you, everybody else is keeping quiet because they think they'll sound stupid. I'm horrendously shy, but forced myself to speak in seminars and to ask for clarification during lectures.

I hate the fact that you're having to pay for this, and you'll be surrounded by people talking about employability blah blah blah. Bollocks to that. You've got three years to think about, read, talk about and write about things in a way which won't happen again for the rest of your life. Grab it. Once you're there, you can change courses, clothes or personality as often as you need. After the first week, nobody cares what you got for your A-levels, or your background. You're free.

If, after a lecture, you don't feel like your head's been messed with, you haven't been listening. A good education should change you profoundly - but it's your responsibility as much as it is mine and my colleagues'.

Good luck for tomorrow.

As I won't be around for a Friday or even Thursday conundrum, here's a themed one: what are the best and or worst teachers/educational experiences you ever had? I'll add my many pages when I get back from Oslo in a few days.

Public relations victory of the week

After one Tory MEP told Americans that the NHS is shit (clue: it isn't), and another millionaire MP told someone on film that MPs were treated 'like shit' and lived on 'rations', here's another headache for millionaire man of the people David Cameron: his rich South Staffordshire MP, Patrick Cormack, has called for MPs to be paid £130,000.

This is the man who, rumour has it, is so safe in bourgeois South Staffs that his canvassing consists of leading a cart horse festooned with posters along the high street. He is also a useless, smug, arrogant, bumptious Bufton Tufton.

His colleague Douglas Hogg, of moat-cleaning-at-taxpayers'-expense fame, wants MPs to earn £100,000 + expenses because
the current MPs' salary was "so low in absolute and relative terms" that members of the professional and business classes would be deterred from entering parliament.
MPs earn £64,000 plus expenses.
The average wage in the UK is £23,000.

Too cool for Schule?

I spent some of Monday in a German state high school. Ladies and gentlemen, I was stunned (by them) and ashamed (by us). There were no laptops, no interactive whiteboards, relatively few accoutrements of the kind we've come to expect here.

There were incredibly enthusiastic (and glamorous) teachers with a lot more freedom over the curriculum, an inspirational manner, and a range of students who seemed range from interested to very interested. Completely fluent in English, many were also equally fluent in Spanish and Japanese. They were an elite lot - being educated bilingually in English and German, but this was still a state school. My friends, they could easily have coped with the curriculum at my university, and in some cases actually were doing very similar things. I did try to encourage them to apply to this august institution, but their teacher implied that there are better places to choose - perhaps because I'd informed her of recent changes.

How have we gone so wrong? Why do we have an education system designed to churn out mobile phone salesmen and drones when clearly any child can achieve better when given the attention, resources and encouragement. Sure, parental aspiration helps, but it was plain to me that the average in this school was far higher than the average in Britain.

The essential difference, it seems, is that these German students were explicitly encouraged to become independent thinkers - research, synthesis and creativity were built in to every class, whereas our students are trapped by league tables, centralisation and standardisation, forcing teachers to teach-to-the-test. The results are obvious at university entry-level: many students have lost whatever love of literature and study they may have had. Over-dependence on teachers, lecture notes and study guides is widespread, and it takes a lot to regain enthusiasm, or to inspire people - something I intend to work on this year.

What were your experiences of school? And how should I change my approach to, say, Shakespeare or critical theory?

Under the covers

Over at the Guardian's Readers Recommend section, it's unlikely cover versions.

These are mine - any comments or contributions?

Spare Snare - Independent Women. I loved Spare Snare and this was the first jangly indie band does R+B cover I'd heard.
Th' Faith Healers - S.O.S. It rocks. It's on the Peel Sessions CD.
REM doing Pylon's Superman - much better than the original. Their cover of Wire's There's Something Strange Going On Tonight (can't remember the title) really works with their twitchy opacity of the time.
Despite being slightly screechy, I adore Joan Baez's version of Hard Rain.
Faith No More's Easy, Pale Fountains, We Have All The Time In The World.
Altered Images doing Jeepster?
Wedding Present's Come Up And See Me
Tindersticks covered an early Manics track on a split 10" but I can't remember which track. On the other side, the Manics did the theme from M*A*S*H - both brilliant.
Frente's version of New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle is heartbreaking.
The Boo Radleys' cover of True Faith (Boo Faith) is noisepop genius.
Rheinallt H. Rowlands did a synthpop Welsh language cover of New Dawn Fades which has to be heard to be believed. It's called Gwawr Newydd yn Cilio and it's brilliant.
Much as I love Thompson's Waltzing's for Dreamers, June Tabor does a lovely version.
Damon and Naomi deconstruct While My Guitar Gently Weeps quite spookily and in the same melancholic vein, Low's cover of I Started a Joke is so sad as is Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me. Then you can add Galaxie 500 doing several Smiths tracks, though their best cover is of the Rutles' Cheese and Onions or their version of Ceremony (mmm… even more miserable).
St. Etienne's Only Love Can Break Your Heart works so well because it moves post-hippy melancholy into the Ecstasy generation. Juliana Hatfield's version's OK too.
I know it's really sad, and I hate the original, but The Delgados do a really good Mr Blue Sky. They make up for it with a wet California Uber Alles cover.
The Well-Oiled Sisters, I Walk the Line - lesbian country classic!
Kirsty MacColl - You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby and A New England.
Picture Center's cover of Incense (West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band) reeks of patchouli - it's ace. Mojo Nixon's sarcastic Girlfriend In A Coma always makes me laugh, and The Gourds' bluegrass version of Snoop's Gin'n'Juice is brilliant before you go out for the night.
Pulp - Bad Cover Version?
The Residents did a version of Paint It Black that could stand a listen.
Trespassers William did a cool version of Ride's Vapour Trail.
Didn't either the Sisters of Mercy or someone similar do Gimme Gimme Gimme as part of their live set?
For the Irish - The Stunning's cover of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Fun, though entirely unnecessary.

Nerd love

Click here for a larger image, and move your mouse over it for a hidden message. Rather poignantly, it reads 'You know what really helps an existential crisis? Wondering how much shelf space to leave for a Terry Pratchett collection'.

It's sad because it's true. I genuinely believe that if, in 15 years, we have an enlightened young government which believes in public services, kindness, quality of life, basic decency and the value of nerds, it will be because those people have grown up, as have millions, on Pratchett's books. His last ten or fifteen novels have all been witty, fantastic expositions of liberal-left values - and they've sold millions of copies.

Now he has a variant of Alzheimer's disease, and we don't know how much more he can write. I think of him sitting in his bizarre study, pulsing with intelligence and yet feeling it all gradually slip away from him. Which is kind of selfish - his life matters, not the fans who just want more of his work.

Halfords: liars

A few days ago, I wrote about how friendly and helpful Halfords were when I took my bike in for the brake and gear cables to be changed. I didn't mind having to wait ten days because they were busy. I was pleased when the guy said he'd be able to do it 'today or tomorrow at the latest'.

I was less pleased but still fine when I called four days later to be told that the bike was 'half done' and it would be ready the next day.

I was downright annoyed when I called in today, assuming I could collect it, only to find that, far from being 'half done', it was completely untouched. A simple phone call to apologise for the delay would have kept me happy. Being blatantly lied to, on the other hand, just makes me angry.

So angry that I'm going to spend the day buying books. Oh, and looking at a flat.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hello again!

How are you all? I had a wonderful few days, and loved travelling through four countries (Britain, France, Belgium and Germany) by train on a single day. Old friendships were re-established, beer was drunk, books were discussed and Vole felt rather inelegant surrounded by willowy, stylish Germans.

And now, thanks to a madcap plan by James, we're going to Oslo from Thursday to Saturday! How cosmopolitan am I?

More tomorrow - haven't been home yet, just straight to the office.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Just plain nuts

This picture of an interloper at Lake Minnewanka (no sniggering) has been round the world this week - the lil' fella was investigating the sound of the camera's autofocus.

Little known fact: grey squirrel is delicious, a little like rabbit. Neal furnished a fat one last autumn, stuffed with nuts. We roasted it with salt and pepper. Free-range, organic and in this country, unwanted. I bet red squirrel is tender though. Rare…

"This must be Thursday," said Arthur musing to himself, sinking low over his beer, "I never could get the hang of Thursdays."

I am forsaking you, leaving you to wander the streets clutching bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 (great website, by the way), staring with mute desperation at passers-by, imploring them to pretend to be Plashing Vole for just a few seconds.

In other words, I'm having a long weekend, returning to my keyboard on Tuesday afternoon, probably.

Which means you'll be needing a Friday conundrum to keep you going.

What snippets of high or popular culture summarise your understanding of the world?

There are so many for me. I loved Marvin the Paranoid Android's observation that 'the dew has fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning', and the talkshow host's claim on The Simpsons that 'your tears say more than real evidence ever could'. Arthur Dent is quite a hero, and I'm just not getting into the Peep Show debate. Chris Morris has a peculiarly accurate though misanthropic approach to life.

Arthur Dent (from Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series:
I seem to be having this tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle. As soon as I reach some kind of definite policy about what is my kind of music and my kind of restaurant and my kind of overdraft, people start blowing up my kind of planet and throwing me out of their kind of spaceships!
"This Arthur Dent," comes the cry from the farthest reaches of the galaxy, and has even now been found inscribed on a deep space probe thought to originate from an alien galaxy at a distance too hideous to contemplate, "what is he, man or mouse? Is he interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life? Has he no spirit? Has he no passion? Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, fuck?"
The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.
Those who wish to know should read on. Others may wish to skip on to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it.

Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. And vast intelligence, of course. And infinite sorrow.

Why stop now just when I'm hating it?

Life, loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it.

Douglas Adams:
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

George Eliot:
The world outside the books is not a happy one, Maggie felt (from The Mill on the Floss).

Meanwhile, here are a few lines from Iain Sinclair's Downriver, just because I like them:
A shifty unshaven polymath nebbish, with a cocky drone, and a patter so tedious it could have been marketed as a blood-coagulant, was lecturing a dangerously healthy-looking Californian couple. They were shrink-wrapped, sterile, irradiated like a pair of Death Valley grapes. They socked vitamin-enhanced aerobic vitality at you, so hard you could wish on them nothing but a catalogue of all the most repellent diseases of skin and bone and tissue; all the worst back numbers from the cursing books of Ur, Uruk and Kish. You were obliged to super-impose on their boastful skeletons the historic treasures of old London: growths, malignancies, rickets, nose-warts, furry haemorrhoids, palsies, fevers, sweats, bubos, wens, mouth-fungus, trembles, and pox scabs.

It's a great book - much more wordy, as you can see from this excerpt, than my usual taste, but it's got breadth of imagination and a real nasty swipe at the wideboys, bankers, property developers and all that crew who happily demolished old London to build poxy designer flats for yuppies. It's therefore a very good book to be reading in the midst of our current situation.