Friday, January 31, 2014

Bored with the same old shite you keep listening to? Well, introducing Jeff Lang, the final proof (if final proof is needed) that Australians aren’t just sheep shearers and better cricketers than the English. Oh, and for those interested there’s also Sevara Nazarkhan (from Uzbekistan) and Anouar Brahem (from Tunisia). And what are all these rumours about Cliff Richard?

The big news today here in Old Blighty this morning is not that most of the country is now under water, not that we now have - or should have had - swarthy Romanian and Bulgarian bandits on every street corner and not how the Labour Party is going to make a last-minute offer for France’s President Hollande before the transfer market deadline of 11pm. It is this: forget Spotify, the really cool site to visit if Forgotify (which as it happens takes you straight to Spotify) which lets you play all or any of the four million gongs on Spotify no one plays. Well! Can life get any more exciting!

Actually, it’s not such a bad idea. Until recently I have long bemoaned the fact that although I like the music I have always liked, I wasn’t getting to hear any new stuff. When you are young, you’d go round to someone’s house and hear something new. But as you get older, you would be stuck with what you liked (‘I know what I like’), but however much you like it, it is great to hear new stuff.

More recently I have come across new artists somehow or other. There was Dave Fiuczynski, for example, who I came across when I bought a cheap MP3 player which came with a voucher for 30 free jazz tracks (although the irony is that the Fiuczynski track I heard that way is bugger all like the music he usually plays). I would occasionally listen to Radio 3’s Late Junction and hear music which interested me and subsequently bought a CD or two.

That, for example, is how I came across Sevara Nazarkhan, and Uzbek singer and musician, and Anouar Brahem, a Tunisian musician (he plays something called the ‘oud’, a guitar without strings or something, it’s all very complicated for us silver surfers). There are two songs, one from each, below.

Now with Forgotify I can listen to stuff at random and maybe come across new stuff. It’s not as though there isn’t a great deal of stuff out there. But still there’s word of mouth and that’s how I came across Jeff Lang. What with now having reached that grand old age of 94 and being unable to walk more than a few steps without having to sit down to catch my breath, I have, these past few years, taken to breaking my journey home from London (known to some as The Smoke, known to me as The Bitch) to Cornwall at a small place just off the A303 — it’s a puzzle really whether it is a big village or a very small town, not that it matters either way — called South Petherton in Somerset, more specifically calling in at a pub there called The Brewer’s Arms which has Sky TV and allows me to watch the second half of any Champions League or Premier League match which might be playing on the Wednesday night. And, as one does, you make acquaintances, and one such acquaintance is a newly retired social worker who likes folk music.

As it happens I don’t like folk music, or very, very little of it, although having said that it is the brand of re-constituted folk which passes for folk here in Britain to which I am particularly not partial and some of which can even make my skin crawl. But recently Paul, for that is his name, told me about Jeff Lang, and to cut a long story short (and thus to break with a longstanding tradition of this blog), I caught a live performance of Jeff Lang a few nights ago. It was at the Half Moon, in Putney, West London, and Mr Lang, and Australian, was something else. He has two and a half things going for him: he is an extraordinarily good guitarist, he has a superb voice and — the half — an attractively unassuming manner and a very dry sense of humour. Oh, and as far as I am concerned he is as far from folk as one can be although he plays, in his very own manner, a number of what I’m told are folk standards. But it was his guitar playing which is so extraordinary.

I have bought two of his CDs but they simply do not convey just how good he is. He uses guitars, usually electrified acoustic guitars, which have been customised to have two leads. That allows him to manipulate the sound in an extraordinary fashion (and, yes, I have used the word ‘extraordinary’ several times, but it is, unusually, perfectly apt here because I have seen and heard nothing like it). His technique allows him to build up a track and using I don’t know what trickery — delay being perhaps one of them — he can then play against himself. I say ‘trickery’, please don’t get the idea that it is all in some way tricksy or flash. Mr Lang is, as I say, wholly unassuming (on the night he was dressed in a grey three-piece suit and a grey flat cap. But the suit wasn’t a gimmick, and the flat cap was merely the means many men resort to when, after many years of sporting a full head of hair, they begin to lose it. Think Paul Simon). Add to his guitar mastery a great voice and ability to sing and you do have, in my view, a quite extraordinary performer.

Here is a link to a You Tube video of him performing which might give you a better idea of what I am talking about.

Here is Sevara Nazarkhan

and Anouar Brahem

. . .

This is just an experiment and I won’t say what, but: Ron Harrison, Wallington County Grammar School for Boys. There are allegations elsewhere on the web that he knew of the involvement of several well-known public figures, especially in entertainment, in paedophile activities. And just to extend the experiment, after the Sun on Sunday reported that a well-known pop star was slowly being drawn into the web of the Jimmy Savile investigation, many people are naming Cliff Richard as that pop start.

It’s long been accepted that Richard is gay, but alleging he is a paedophile is something else entirely. There are also claims that he was one of Lord Boothby’s lovers and might even have had an affair with the gay Kray (can’t remember which one was the gay one). Looking around the net, I also came across the claim that the Krays were involved in organising paedophile rings and were responsible for the murder and dismemberment of Bernard Oliver, whose body parts were found in two suitcases in a field near Tattingstone, Suffolk. You can find out more about that here

There is even a claim that Richard had sex with the gay Kray. But a word of warning: the blog on which I read some of this is obviously anti-semitic with its derogatory references to Israel and repeated insistence that the Krays had Jewish blood, and such references should always ring alarm bells. I’ll give that piece of advice for free.

A further caveat: doing the rounds of different websites - and not following links from one site to another, but simply following links supplied by an initial Google inquiry - time and again I’ve come across text in unconnected websites which was obviously simply copied and pasted from elsewhere.

That’s all fine and dandy if the simple statement ‘two and two make four’ is copied and pasted. But it gets a lot more dangerous when utterly unverifiable statements are copied and pasted and subsequently accepted as ‘fact’. So be very careful.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Of modern Dark Ages, the A30 between Honiton and Exeter, open fires, and The Afterlife: what if I meet Tom and Jerry up there? I do hope so

Every Sunday morning I haul myself out of bed, dress and set off on my four-hour, 236-mile trek up to London to earn my weekly crust. (Earn might be overegging the pudding a tad.) Then, every Wednesday night, at around 6pm it’s back into the car to drive back home again. But I don’t usually roll up at Powell Towers on the outskirts of St Breward until around 12.30 on the Thursday morning, because I now stop off for an hour or two at a pub called the Brewers Arms in South Petherton, about 104 miles away. I watch a bit of Champions League football on the pub’s 96in TV, have a pint or two of cider – well, two or two and half – and a couple of cigars before I am back on my way.

But all that has nothing to do with what I am about to write except to explain why, at about 11pm, I am on the A30 dual carriageway between Honiton and Exeter tootling along at around 60mph (tootling because although I used to hare along at 70/75mpg like all the other freaks, I realised, rather late in life 1) that you burn a damn sight more petrol driving fast; and 2) even driving more slowly, I am still no later home than when I drive like a lunatic (and bearing in mind modern sensibilities and how some words or phrases can be – albeit inadvertently – offensive, my apoligies to all mentally defective folk who feel my use of the word ‘lunatic’ is insensitive).

About eight miles west of Honiton and about six miles short of the M5, and not as far as Exeter airport, the A30 goes into a slight dip and then out of it again, and it is at that point that your get a distant view of Exeter, a huge expanse of golden/orange lights and all. I must have seen that sight close more than almost 1,000 times these past few years – around 48 times a year for the past I don’t know how many years – and each time – each time – I am struck by the same thought: how utterly bizarre or magical or frightening or exhilarating or downright odd it would have looked to some poor sap or other had he or she (though it is my firm belief that ‘saps’ are almost always male) transported to the 21st century from 200 or 300 or 400 years ago. ‘What the fuck’ – they would most certainly have used the word – ‘is this! Those lights! Surely the Devil’s work!’

If I were then to tell them that just three hours previously I had left London and they would most likely have fainted in disbelief. These, remember, were the days when the trip from London to Exeter would, at best, have taken several days. And only if you could have afforded to pay for coach travel.

My father-in-law, Roy Finnemore, is now over 90. His father had been a tenant farmer on Bodmin moor until he was about eight and was then able to buy Higher Lank farm (just over the lane from where I live) for a good price. That was in the early 1930s. He once told me that he and his father Wesley would usually fill a horse and cart with vegetables and a fruit and take them to market once a week. The journey would from the outskirts of St Breward to Bodmin would have taken at least an hour if not more and the road being hilly could not have been easy. These days I think nothing of zapping ‘into town’ to Asda or Morrsions to buy batteries or something if I am short. I realise these observations are all rather commonplace and they, too, are not really the point of this entry.

The point is this: however ‘modern’ we feel we are, however much we are now able to communicate with everyone else on the other side of the world (that’s you, who might tomorrow be reading this in the US or Poland or China or Turkey or in any of the many countries Google’s statistics tell me readers of this blog are based), however many oh-so-trivial tweets I can send, we are, for future generations, still living in the dark ages. London or New York or Paris might well be now ‘smokeless zones’ where no one lights a coal or wood fire any more. Yet at home and at my stepmother’s cottage I light a fire most every day in the cold months to save on electricity and oil. But I can hear them say – make that sniff with derision – ‘good lord, they used to burn wood and coal in the middle of the room! Just think of it! Savages!

I once had an utterly pointless argument with someone who thought I was nuts to claim that every age sees itself as modern. And I meant every age: do we really think that folk living in the ninth century were conscious that they were still living in the ‘Dark Ages’? But he wouldn’t have it and couldn’t see my point. ‘Of course they’re not bloody modern’ he insisted.

. . .

Being brought up a Roman Catholic (but, no Maria Marron, I am no longer a Catholic however much they insist ‘once a Catholic, always a Catholic), I still, despite my new agnostic sophistication, believe that once we all die and – eventually – go to Heaven, we will all benefit from two things: we will all be re-united with everyone we were ever fond of, and everything will finally be explained. And I mean everything. And that is one reason why I am not only not afraid of dying, I am rather curious as to what I shall find out.

But before you think me a tad morbid, I should add that I trust the moment of my death will not come for another 20 or 25 years (probably a lot sooner than for some of you) and I bloody well hope it doesn’t come after a sustained period of chronic, painful illness. But I am curious as to what comes next. Is there an afterlife or is it all a load of hooey?

I must, being a sophisticated agnostic, confess that I rather fear it is all a load of hooey, that when we shuffle off this mortal coil, that is it, that as Tom and Jerry cartoons remind us: That’s All Folks! But I wouldn’t be at all disapointed if there were more. Just for the craic, of course.

. . .

PS Do gays go to Heaven? Do you know, I rather think they do, too. Sorry Bible Belt.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

‘Everything must change, for everything to stay the same’. Well, that’s how Egypt’s army sees it and, apparently, the hypocritical West. And as for that Hollande . . .

Well, the very good news is that the Egyptian army is has been winning the votes and the whitewash is well underway. Although only around 37pc of eligible Egyptians turned out to vote in the referendum on the constitution proposed by the army, it has, according to the army, won something like 90pc of votes cast and bolstered by such confidence in them, their main man, General Sisi, is on the brink of putting his name forward in the ballot when the country’s new president is voted in.

That the percentage agreeing is so high is no surprise: the opposition, who feel they were cheated when the army overthrew the president, demonstrated their objections by not taking part. So it’s best to take the ‘90pc support’ figure with several truckloads of salt, not that you would know it from the coverage in the Western media who merely seem pleased that folk like themselves can continue to drink their G&Ts (or whatever the Egyptian equivalent is) for the foreseeable future.

Well, as for Sisi probably agreeing to ‘let his name go forward’, undoubtedly for the good of the nation, isn’t that good of him. Such a selfless chap, who, hearing the call of his people, is prepared to take the reins of power. There is a great line in the novel The Leopard (though I haven’t read it and have only seen the film) which seems to me pertinent to what is happening in Egypt.

The novel takes place in a time of turmoil in Italy, with the old order of the landowning nobility is threatened by the rising fortunes of the mercantile class. One character (either the Sicilian prince at the centre of the novel who would like to hang onto old values or his hotheaded nephew who supports the revolutionaries, I’m afraid I can’t remember which) remarks (and I am obliged to paraphrase as I don’t have the original Italian and have so far come across three different English translations): ‘Everything must change for things to stay the same.’ It could well be out of Machiavelli’s The Prince. And like most of the principle outlined in The Prince it is horribly, horribly true.

Here is the timeline of recent political events in Egypt (nicked from those nice chaps at the BBC news website):

January 25, 2011: Anti-government protests begin. We democracy-loving liberal types here in the West can’t help but feel  ‘freedom will out’. You can’t keep people in chains for ever, don’t you know. Look, this chap Morsi was one of those Muslim types - no, don’t get me wrong, what I mean he wasn’t just mainstream, straight-down-the-line Muslim, like Ali in IT, I mean at the end of the day they’re just like you and I, but, you know, Morsi’ was, you know, an Islamist’, and well, you know . . . The U.S. of course is rather disconcerted as Mubarak and Egypt are rather useful allies in that neck of the woods. Israel is similarly disconcerted.

February 11, 2011: President Hosni Mubarak resigns. Well, we liberal types tell each other at the bar and in the gym ‘you know, it’s not really a surprise, is it, I mean…’

June 24, 2012: Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi wins presidential elections. As the chap’s an ‘Islamist’, although the Muslim Brotherhood are at pains to insist they have no truck with Al Qaeda.

December 6, 2012: President Morsi signs a controversial new constitution into law following a referendum. Note: he won the referendum. Or to put it into terms even the most benighted Western democrat should understand: a majority of voters supported his referendum. Three cheers for majority rule and democracy? Er, the West gave two cheers or possibly even just one. Well, they had to, didn’t they?

July 3, 2013: President Morsi is deposed after street protests. People power in action? Or something rather too close to being a coup. Outrage and condemnation from the West of the ousting of Morsi notable for being completely absent.

August 14, 2013: Hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters killed when troops clear sit-in protests. That’s ‘killed’ as in ‘now dead’ and, unlike you and I, ‘no longer alive’. It’s a fair to say they probably had husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, friends, hopes, plans, ambitions, mobile phones, posters on their walls and favourite soaps stars, and that in many respects they were rather like you and I.
November 4, 2013: Mohammed Morsi goes on trial. Outrage and condemnation from the West . . . see above. There was a little tut-tutting here and there, to be fair, but it really didn’t go any further than a little tut-tutting here and there, but at least there was a little tut-tutting.

January 14/15, 2014: Referendum held on new constitution. This is the one proposed by the army and - now here’s a surprise - it contains a clause that military courts and try civilians. Oh, dear. Still, they will almost certainly just restrict themselves to trying all those rough types who - let’s be fair - are nothing but trouble anyway.

It hasn’t yet happened, but let me suggest how it will probably continue: General Sisi will resign his commission, stand for election as president, win handsomely and the country will settle into another two decades of stagnation, corruption, repression, friendly relations with the U.S. and Israel. As the man said: ‘Everything must change for things to stay the same.’ As for the poor saps who took part in the election and voted for Morsi to become their president - well, they shouldn’t have fallen for all that ‘majority rule’ and ‘democracy’ bullshit in the first place. I ask you!

. . .

To be frank, I don’t really give a flying fuck. Just as each man and woman gets the partner he or she deserves, so each country gets the government it deserves. And please don’t hate me for admitting I don’t give a flying fuck. Please, instead, appreciate my honest and candour in saying so. And if you are not Egyptian, have family in Egypt or live in Egypt, please be honest and admit to yourselves that neither do you give a flying fuck. I’ll fully understand if you don’t want your liberal friends to know that’s how you feel, and by all means keep it to yourselves, but at least be honest with yourself, even if you find it a little too difficult to be honest with others.

You might, of course, insist that you most certainly do give a flying fuck, rather as you insist you are most certaily outraged by the fact that America’s NSA has been collecting ‘metadata’ on you. But be honest: your outrage over the NSA and ‘them’ will lasts less than a minute while you and your equally outraged friends confirm to each other your liberal consciences before your joint attention skitters on elsewhere. And your concern for what is happening in Egypt (and, more seriously Syria) will also be something which, if you are honest - admittedly a big if given how all of us are so easily able to bullshit ourselves - is pretty damn intermittent.

There is, however, one thing about which I do give a flying fuck, which makes me so pissed off, I might well in a minute open another bottle of cheap Rioja to drown my anger: it is the hypocritical West. Or to make it a little clearer in case you don’t quite get my point: it is the fucking utterly hypocritical West.

The West which has, apparently, precious little to say about this particular coup and the overthrow of a president about whose election there was nothing murky at all is the same West that invaded Iraq for totally bullshit reasons and whose invasion lead to the deaths of several hundred thousands innocent Iraqis as well as several thousand of their own kind; the West which occupied Afghanistan for no reason at all clear to anyone at all and whose occupation led to the deaths of a great many Afghanis as well as many hundreds of their own kind; the West which feels it is utterly blameless when a great many men, women and, above all, children are killed as ‘collateral damage’ when they launch their drone attacks in Northern Pakistan and regards itself as utterly blameless because in ‘the fight on terror’ it sees itself as on the side of the angels. This is the West which, as one reason for invading Iraq insisted it wanted to ‘introduce democracy’ to the country. Well, here’s a thing: when Egypt’s ‘democratically’ elected Mohammed Morsi was kicked out by the army. There was a deathly, deathly silence. The West had absolutely fuck-all to say. Zilch.

There were a few apologists who pointed out that it was ‘the will of the people’, but to date they are unable to square that claim with the will of the majority who elected Morsi: what, two majorities? Well, that should give the metaphysicians amongst us something to waffle on about. So should anyone who comes across this blog reckon that I am a tad to cynical for the comfort of decent, hardworking people and wonder why: go back to the start of this piece and read it again.

. . .

A year or two ago I mentioned The Kinks in a blog entry and visits rocketed, although I don’t know why. So I shall do so again: The Kinks. And as I’m on that particular kick, I shall add several more terms that should most certainly bump up attendance (rather like the promise of ‘free booze’ does at political rallies): MILFs, porn, free sex, and - I’m out on a limb here - Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Now he’s a lovely chap: apparently, he’s so humble, he wipes his own arse despite all the wealth in St Peter’s. Does he care? Does he fuck.

. . .

Here’s a piece of advice you can all have for free, and which one Segolene Royal and her nemesis Valerie Rotweiler wish they had taken, and, I should imagine, a certain Juliet Gayet will also soon wish she had: never trust a man who dyes his hair.

Monday, January 13, 2014

France’s Mr Normal DOES have a dick! Maybe he got one by trading in his spine. As for Mme Valerie Rottweiler – well! What a cow! And will the REAL EU please show itself. Please

Today I thought you might l like to play a round of Spot The Shit. Take a close look at the picture below and decide for yourselves. Hint: it’s a trick question.

Spot the shit

Actually, it’s a trick question because there is not one, but three shits in the picture: the chap in the middle, the - admittedly very attractive and hugely shaggable - woman on the left, and the woman on the right, one Valerie Rottweiler, also known (especially to her predecessor in Francois Hollande’s bed, Segolene Royal) as La Bitch and La Vache. And if Hollande is puffing out his cheeks because he’s feeling a tad exhausted, well, I think by now we all know why.

Can’t say much else about the woman on the left because I don’t know much about her, but I can’t imagine she is as pure as the driven snow. For the record, I am not against men and women (and men and men, and women and women) splitting up, but if children are involved, as far as I am concerned all bets are off until those children are independent adults.

Mme Rottweiler knew exactly what she was doing when she decided to open her legs to Hollande. I have no idea of the state of the relationship between Hollande and Royal, but as they had four children together, it can’t have been all that bad. So I think it is a fair bet that Mme Rottweiler is the fly in the ointment. Which is why there is a delicious poetic justice about her now feeling quiet how horribly it is to be betrayed.

She says she is ‘prepared to forgive’ Hollande. I bet she is, but I also bet at heart she is not prepared to give up the trinkets and baubles being the consort of France’s secular king bring her, nor the trips abroad, her state-funded private office and the rest. I think we should take the ‘hospitalisation’ after ‘collapsing’ with several grains of salt. Old boot.

Spot the wronged woman
 ‘Are you seeing anyone else?’

                                                     © Matt Pritchett / Daily Telegraph
. . .

While France tears itself apart on the question of whether or not its President should be allowed to keep private exactly where he dips his wick, we here in Old Blighty are preoccupied with rather more mundane, not to say less trivial matters.

We have started yet another round of agonising over the European Union and matters relating to the EU. This time it isn’t outrage over the huge chocolate mountains they insisted on erecting in The Netherlands to protect French farmers (or something) which gave us all sleepless nights in the early Eighties, nor can we blame our patriotic insomnia on any of the other 101 whacky decisions coming out of Brussels. This time it’s serious.

Apparently, those horrible bureaucrats, all employed on several hundred thousand euros a year, are insisting that if we British have any decency and fellow feeling to speak of, we must stick to the agreement and not only allow our country to be overrun by Bulgarians and Romanians – that’s not up for debate - but also ensure that each and every one of them is given a bus pass, a council house and an Argos giftcard! We agreed, so it’s settled! At least that’s how they see it.

From here in Old Blighty it looks mighty different: we KNOW for a fact – and I’m certain we will eventually find proof of some kind or other – that those Bulgarians and Romanians are all up to now good and will spell nothing but trouble in this green and pleasant land! To a man and woman they will disrupt everything which is decent in Britain! Not only will the clog up our schools and hospitals and upset our Asians and West Indians, they will most certainly start doing all our building and plumbing, and where will that leave our Polish friends, who have been doing sterling work in those areas since I don’t know when! And who has the gall to push us around and tell us what to do! Those bloody eurocrats, that’s who! And so it goes on, year in, year out.

My own view of the European Union is not what it is, but what it has become: a horribly bloated, thoroughly inefficient and ultimately self-serving monolith which is well past its sell-by date. Ideally I should like to see it deflated and return to something it was intended to be all those years ago. But that isn’t the point of this entry, either. The point is that, in a sense, there is no EU. In that sense there are, in fact, several EUs, tens of them, possibly hundreds of them. There are as many EUs as there are people who have an opinion about the EU and its role in Europe. But that is not actually good news. For every Nigel Farage and swivel-eyed UKIP stalwart at the bar, there will be some ejit who thinks the EU is quite possibly the nearest most of us in Europe will come to Heaven On Earth. Or at least it could be if we all pulled together and stopped rocking the boot.

There will be others who – though they will never admit to it – who work for the EU and regard it as a source of a personal prosperity they could only have dreamed off when they were still scummy post-grad students busily writing their Phd on some obscure aspect of sociology or political science. Then there will be other EU employees who, though not badly paid, are most certainly not in it for the money, but sincerely believe that getting the various countries and the organisations of those various countries to work together and co-operate will improve the lives of millions in Europe.

That is just four conceptions of the EU, all different. And for each of those four there will be tens of others. Until a few years ago, the Irish, the Spanish, the Greeks, the Portuguese and others will have seen the EU as the builders of the infrastructure which made their countries better place in which to live. Many of them will now have changed their view.

Nowhere will any of us get a neutral, objective account of what the EU is and what is wants to achieve. I have heard several documentaries on BBC’s Radio 4 (which, according to many, is ‘lefty’ and ‘left-wing’ and ‘pro-EU’) detailing huge corruption involving EU money, especially in Southern Europe and the former Communist bloc.

It is not denied by Brussels that the EU’s accounts have never been signed off because its accountants were never satisfied that all its expenditure could be accounted for. There are a many stories of how employees were hounded out of office for doggedly pursuing stories of corruption. There are innumerable stories of MEPS simply turning up at the expenses office, signing on the dotted line, then buggering off again, one day’s ‘attendance allowance’ richer.

But nor should we forget the EU’s achievements: the scurvy Med countries might now well be in the shit financially (though some are said to be emerging from the worst – and it has to be said that they were all the architects of their own misfortunes) but they now have, at the very least, roads to be proud off where before things weren’t quite as bright and breezy (and one hopes they will keep those roads well-maintained so they do last a while). Those roads are just an example of what the EU has achieved despite its other batty and moronic inclinations.

I can well do without all the brave post-hippy ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ talk of a United States of Europe which, as far as I am concerned, is sheer pie in the sky. I could also do without a certain distinctly undemocratic tendency in Brussels, many parts of which, I suspect, feel that the end really can justify the means. I feel that domestic politics in each of the 27 member states will ensure that the drive to ‘an ever closer’ Europe will end up in the sand, and that the EU will be cut back down to size. I just hope that when that happens the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I make you an offer you can’t (I hope won’t) refuse, an offer for all those who like reading and pride themselves on having an open mind. Read on and get a — very good — novel for free (wherever you live. And if you like it, for God’s sake tell your friends.)

I have in a past entry or two alluded to ‘my novel’. And given then every fart and his dog has written ‘a novel’ and, furthermore, thinks it is quite possibly the best work of art since God took a knife to Adam to get at that a spare rib and produce Eve, I cannot blame you for assuming that my allusion or two are just a writer’s wholly uncritical conceit and unabashed egocentricity.

All artists, as we all know, are utterly convinced that the whole world is just fascinated to hear every last detail about every time he or she breaks wind (though, sadly, it is usually he) and are utterly baffled that so far no cunt has the faintest clue as to who he or she is. I wrote ‘my novel’ (the inverted commas are for my sake not yours) in two spates, that is two blocks of work, sitting down every week twice a week for six or seven hours each time of solid writing, each spate about two or three months, and finished it a few years ago.

Once I had finished for a year or two (or three or four£ I, rather half-heartedly, tried to find an agent (subscribing to the conventional and sensible advice that 1) publishers are only interested in what might sell, 2) agents are your best bet as they will only take on what they think will interest a publisher. So if an agent agrees to represent you, you might have a sporting chance of being published. Funnily enough, I had no luck at all. All the agents I wrote to after looking up their name in the Artists And Writers’ Yearbook all asked you to submit a chapter or two of your novel and a synopsis. Well, that left me pretty much high and dry.

You see the trouble was — and is — that given the nature of ‘my novel’, what it is and what I tried to do, providing a ‘synopsis’ was pretty much impossible. You’ll perhaps understand that point rather better if I repeat Woody Allen’s joke about speed reading: he said he had taken a course in speed reading and would recommend it. It was so good, he said, that he finished Tolstoy’s War And Peace in just under an hour. The novel, he added, was about Russia.

I then heard of Lulu and I did all the necessary (uploading Microsoft Word files and had several copies printed. (Lulu and similar enterprises such as CreateSpace take the vanity, bullshit and profits out of vanity publishing by doing nothing but print your book, printing however many or however few you want.) It was not the first novel I had written, but it was the first of which I was — and am — proud. The first was bollocks, though it could still be resurrected, and the second wasn’t very long and I wasn’t as aware then as I am now of — well, I don’t know how to put it without sounding like a dickhead, so I shan’t put it all quite yet (but I’m alluding to words, their use beyond ‘meaning’, their sound and their baggage, what I like to call ‘their import’).

With my mention of Woody Allen and his speed-reading course, you either get my point or you don’t, but I don’t really want to tell you more. I shall however — and this is, in fact, relevant — describe a short email exchange I had a few years ago with a former — well, there’s only one way to put it, although in many ways it’s misleading — former girlfriend, a Frenchwoman, and bit actress and TV presenter who (so she told me and so my researching on the net told me) became some kind of cultural attache at the French embassy in Tokyo.

While we were still ‘together’ (the inverted commas are also relevant in as far as in the few months we were ‘together’ I saw her for about a total of three and a bit weeks in an association — I can’t but it better than that — of about nine or ten months, if that. And I must here be honest here and confess that I rather fell for her, and although she must rather have liked me, didn’t actually fall for me — perhaps she was rather taken with the naive and when she eventually gave me the heave-ho I wasn’t too chuffed) I had sent her to read a short novella, which might well have been a long story I had written and she was reasonably encouraging.

That was about 23 years ago. After having no success at all in finding an agent who could take my hand and lead me to a publisher, I thought that, given Rozenn’s previously encouraging opinion of my previous writing, if she like I might get an in from another direction. She, however, now in her early 50s, the centre of many artistic and cultural networks, was, understandably, a tad reluctant to get involved in any way with a chap she had already written off as a no-hoper. But we did exchange emails. Would you, I asked, be willing to read a short novel I had written? What, she replied, was it about? Well, I wrote, that’s a little difficult to say. Well, try, she insisted. The trouble was, I wrote, that I found it very difficult, if not quite impossible, to sum up in a few short sentences what it had taken me more than 60,000 words to convey. And, I added, if despite that she was interested in reading it and giving me her opinion, fine. If, on the other hand, she wasn’t, that was fine too. She wasn’t and that was the last I heard.

Then a colleague and friend alerted me to CreateSpace which has some kind of link-up with Amazon. CreateSpace do the same as Lulu, which is to print on demand. Unlike all the bullshit ‘vanity company’ publishers, they don’t promise to get ‘your book reviewed’ by the national and regional papers. They just print up on demand however many copies you might want. I went down that route, and that brings me to my offer.

. . .

The usual comparison I quote is that of a cook, a meal he or she has cooked and a lack of folk actually to eat it. It must be quite awful to cook a meal but then find there is no one to serve it up to. So you might understand my disappointment at having written my bloody novel and finding there’s no one to read it. Which is where you come in if you want to.

This is my offer: should you enjoy reading, and should you like to like to read my novel, simply send my your address and I shall, courtesy of Amazon, send you a copy. It will cost you nothing. You won’t have to buy it and you won’t have to pay for delivery. In fact, you won’t have to pay for anything. I simply hope that you enjoy reading it. However.

. . .

We are always advised, in a rather different context, not to judge a book by its cover. And if you take up my offer I should like to advise you to assume nothing about ‘my novel’. Don’t go by the cover, the blurb on the back page or anything. It is not a ‘difficult’ book to read, but nor is it written in the way many of the other novels you have read is written. )

The style might strike you a being a bit different. (If you like verse, it might help, but even saying that might well put off people who shouldn’t be put off, so perhaps I should better not mention it.) But I do stand by it. I — who, admittedly, wrote the bloody thing — think (in that very British way) that it isn’t half bad. Rather good, in fact. I should add that I decided to write this blog entry and make my offer after, yet again, dipping into parts of ‘my novel’ (note the inverted commas — I do hope you will agree that I am not an egomaniac) and decided that it isn’t, in it’s own very distinct way, not just quite good, but very, very good. Trouble is that, as the saying goes, we all like the smell of our own farts.

So that’s where you come in. But one caveat: as the cliche goes it’s always ‘horses for courses’ and what I have written might not, perhaps, be your course. You might want Conan Doyle, or Penelope Fitzgerald, or Brett Eason Ellis, or whoever is your favourite. But if you feel this might be your course, email me your name and address and a free, gratis copy will be on its way sooner than you can say ‘Good Lord, the man’s a genius’. And I mean anywhere in the world. We don’t cook just for the hell of it, you know. At least I don’t. And let me stress: this offer is open to everyone wherever you live. I carry the cost, you don't.

PS Several people have read it so far. Comments were: (from my 80-year-old aunt) ‘How did you know women so well?’ From my sister (who I don’t think finished reading it) ‘Nothing happens.’ From my (we’re told schizophrenic brother) ‘I burst into tears when to the final line’. From an acquaintance (an actor, once Captain Birdseye, now — occasionally — Bert Horrobin on BBC Radio 4’s The Archers) ‘Have you thought of turning it into a play?’

None of those comments was particularly encouraging. And no one, but no one, cottoned onto anything I was trying to do. Which means either they were all thick, or it wasn’t as well-written as it might have been. Trouble is that, after reading much of it tonight, I would only change a word here and a comma there. So you be my judge. It won’t cost you a penny, which must be some kind of incentive.

Here is the cover and title: make of it what you will.

You’ll be entirely wrong. You can find out more about it here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A holding blog entry to ensure those gagging for more of my wisdom don’t turn to drink (or at least not before six) . Oh and a piece by hack of this parish Peter Wilby on another hack of this parish Paul Dacre

Not a lot going on here, you might think. And judging by the number of posts these past few weeks, you might be right. But stay true, keep the faith - I shall be back. I am planning an entry — of sorts — on one Paul Dacre who might soon be abandoning his editorship of the Daily Mail to start a B&B in the Scottish Highlands if the rumour I am about to start is to be believed.

To whet your appetite, you might care to do a little prep by reading a profile of the great man / total bastard (delete according to your own particular prejudice) here. It is not actually a link to the piece on the New Statesman website because that might not last forever and a day, but a link to my website where I have simply copied and pasted the piece by Wilby to ensure it is available. If you want to look at the original (which is not in the slightest bit different, try here.

For those who would like to know what Paul Dacre doesn’t look like, here is the cartoon by Ralph Steadman the New Statesman is using to illustrate Wilby’s piece. As Steadman is the cartoonist of choice by the Observer, you might feel the Left don’t like Dacre. And you might well be right.

PS Here’s a piece of trivia: Paul Dacre is exactly one year and one week older than I am. He also earns £1,817,000 a year more than I do, but that is perfectly understable as he is taller than I am (over 6ft, whereas I am merely 5ft 9in). Irrelevant? Perhaps, but I do feel these things should be acknowledged if we are to live in a frank and fair society where it might piss with rain for weeks on end but we can still have a laugh as the mood might take us.