Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Desert City Names

In this area, where the Hollywood stars used to play golf and spend millions on air conditioning, there's a Frank Sinatra Drive, a Bob Hope Drive, a Dinah Shore Drive and a Gene Autry Trail. We should do this - a Philip Larkin Boulevard in Hull, a Lytton Strachey Trail in Bloomsbury, a Susan Boyle Turnpike cutting through West Lothian and an Avenue Jade Goody in Bermondsey. (Putting the 'Avenue' first makes it classy, see?)


TV ad for New York Times:
'The best journalists in the world work for The Times and there's no debating that.'
It's hard to know where to start....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Against Accessibility

But think on: that which is difficult
preserves democracy; you pay respect
to the intelligence of the citizen.

Geoffrey Hill.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brit's View

Oh and I meant to refer you to this. It's nice to be explained to oneself. The non-obvious seems okay by me, though, in this case, it could also be called Constructive Hypocrisy. I have, at last, a belief system.

Ah-MEH-RikA, Ah-MEH-RikA

I'm beginning to like the Great White Whale, the Chevy Impala I rented here in SoCal, Palm Springs to be exact. You can get at least ten illegals in the boot - sorry, trunk - and it just sort of rolls along the freeway in a perfectly satisfactory manner. Okay, it digs in horribly on tight corners and feels as though you're towing a caravan, the chassis having failed to resolve the Whale's great length. But it's not malevolently bad like the Sebring I drove around here last year. It reminds me, in fact, of the GE washing machine in this house. This is white also and it is, more or less, identical to the machine my mother was using in the sixties - big, top-loading, spinner thing in the middle shaped vaguely like certain stupas. Unlike the Whale, it's fantastically noisy, but both the Whale and the GE are out of date, big, inefficient and built in defiance of the mood of the times. The Whale is to an Audi what the GE is to a Miele. But they are both consoling, they represent a very American longing for the solidity of the modernist industrial age as opposed to the tricksiness of the post-industrial, post-modern world; both are anti-European.
The dark side of this atavism is that it produced the anti-diplomacy and official torture of the Cheney-Bolton years (Bush seems, somehow, to have faded from memory). Diplomacy then meant a swift indication that, being America, you could do what you liked and, if you said nasty things about us, you were too evil to consider. Hence the Republicans acting like mouse-spotting schoolgirls when Obama shook hands with Chavez. The point is, of course, that if you make it clear that Chavez is too evil to talk to, then you've handed him Round One on a plate. If you're unexpectedly nice to him (Game Theory, Benign Tit for Tat), then a)you make him look like a craven supplicant, as he did on this occasion and b)you look fair and reasonable if, later, you are nasty. Anyway, he doesn't matter, another reason Republican shrieks are absurd.
Driving the Whale east on 10 (I love the way Americans talk about their roads), I heard a radio discussion about guns on a show hosted by Michael Medved. Medved is not a 'shock-jock' like Limbaugh, but he's just as right-wing and he's very pro-guns. Since Obama came to power, apparently, guns and ammo sales have soared. Maybe the survivalists are expecting breakdown because the Prez is now a commie black or, more likely, many people fear higher taxes and fiercer restrictions on guns. All the pro-gun arguments were nonsensical - and, in the light of the actual figures, downright wicked. Put it like this, I'm happy to be burgled if I don't have to be shot. But I've given up trying to understand Americans and guns. Except, on this occasion, the Whale - I hadn't met the washing machine at this point - came into it again. This country loves guns as a further aspect of their sentimentality about the industrial age. They love them so much they have invented a constitutional right to lethal violence. Guns also are anti-European and 30,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries a year are a small price to pay.
And so came a moment of blinding revelation. During the campaign, Obama intended us to hear that supposedly private fund raiser speech about people clinging to their guns and religion. He wanted to appear condescending and elitist and I'm beginning to see why. Frank once made a big point to me about Obama's Chicago roots. We all know the Chicago way from The Untouchables - if they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue. Obama put Bill Clinton in the morgue and seems to have hosptitalised/neutralised Hillary. He does it by giving people enough rope to hang themselves. Come on, he says, say it - as when, for example, he invites the charge of elitism or shakes hands with Chavez - and, when they do say it, through some weird political alchemy, they end up looking ridiculous. That is, in fact, exactly what he's doing with Cheney by releasing the torture memos. Cheney, having spent his years in power using silence to such deadly effect, is now babbling, attempting to justify himself and looking more stupid by the day. He doesn't get it, because he's not Chicago. Perhaps sacking Rick Wagoner was a way of inviting GM to make fools of themselves.
Cheney can't even bring himself to call Obama the President. He just calls him 'Obama'. Even Michelle, when telling some story about their new dog, Bo, waking them in the middle of the night, called him 'the President'.
Ah yes, dogs. The English are supposed to be funny about dogs, but, in fact, the Americans are totally hilarious on the subject. I watched Marley and Me - the latest Jennifer Anniston vehicle - on the way over. This dog was better, more real than any of the people. In fact, the film seemed to be an indictment of the human species when compared to the canine. Yesterday, at a smartish restaurant, a rich-looking man bought in a perfectly-groomed King Charles Spaniel and business halted as everybody cooed and stroked. They are dog-demented here.
At the next table a lawyer - let us call him Hiram P. Shark - and a very old, very rich man - Wilberforce T. Magnate - were talking. Magnate was accepting Shark as his company lawyer. As soon as he agreed, Shark rang the PR and said the announcement should be put out on Monday. Coming off the phone and now in power, he started discussing Magnate's directors. One by one, he knifed them all. Amazing - I know it happens everywhere, but it was just so naked, so easily overheard.
And, speaking of corporate brutality, Obama made a big show of telling the credit card people to stop acting like loan sharks. The next day I saw a TV ad for all these companies. It invited people to come to them if they had debt problems. One minute they're Al Capone, the next they're Mother Theresa. At the critical moment, brutality has to be smoothed over with PR honey. Yet, at the same time, there's a sort of sentimentality about brutality and violence. Read Lewis Lapham's intro to the current edition of Lapham's Quarterly - amazing mag. People will still sort of admire the credit card companies for profiting when times were good, even as they nod in gratitude at their offer to help them with debt.
But, as I say, the Whale's okay. To be honest, the washing machine is pretty good also. American plumbing in general is much better than European. I'm also sentimental about the industrial age with all its shortcomings. I'm sentimental about Ah-MER-RikA, especially about the deserts of SoCal. I'm not far from the hippie shop in Joshua Tree where I bought my first pair of cowboy boots - second-hand and a bit small. JT is also where Gram Parsons died. I've felt the tweak on the thread. I'm home. Sort of.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

English Heritage

In The Sunday Times I discuss English Heritage, conservation and the fly on the wall documentary stitch-up involving a couple of Tarqunns.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Brown Out: Yes We Can

I have just become the 1,789th person to sign this petition. Join me, I urge you. The cause is just.

My Current Preoccupations

Why does American politeness collapse at airports? Miami International might as well have been staffed by Brits.
Why is the light in Los Angeles so white?
Who makes Lindsay Lohan do these things?
Where did they put the sign for 405 North on Manchester Avenue? I've never got lost in LA before.
Why did I hire a Chevrolet Impala? (Because I had a Dinky toy of one when I was small.)
Do I like Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives? ( More to come on this.)
Why are there so many Haitians in Miami and why do they talk so loudly?
Has anybody ever been to downtown LA? If not, what's it for?
What, exactly, does this mean?
When you have core strength, does it make a difference?
WTF? I suppose I should look her up, but I'm not sure I could listen to Sharan Osborne banging on about Heidegger again.
Should people be allowed to eat in swimming pools? Or smoke?
What's the difference between a duck?

On Breasts

Is anybody, anywhere, attracted to breasts that have been artificially pumped up and pushed out to the point where they can function as a serviceably rigid shelf on which the lady in question can rest her chin should her neck get tired? Surely not.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


With brief interruptions for Susan Boyle and Miss California, American television news has been dominated by torture. That torture was approved by Bush downwards is now certain as is the the fact that Abu Ghraib soldiers were imprisoned for acts that were based, directly or indirectly, on that approval. Whatever else is decided, it should be quite clear that if Lynndie England went to prison, then so should a lot of much more senior people, probably including, at least, Rumsfeld. Beyond that, things get a little murky. Did torture work? Unknown and possibly unknowable. Was there a ticking bomb justification? I doubt it - Al Qaeda would have to have been much dumber than they are to spread information about forthcoming attacks beyond those who needed to know. Was torture, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, justifiable? The Cheney/Rove defence is that it was because it worked, but, as I say, this is probably unknowable. The previous defence - that it was not really torture - is no longer viable. But the ultimate question is, of course: is torture absolutely wrong beyond all considerations of efficacy? The answer in western liberal democracies has to be yes. That answer does not require a metaphysical justification. It is just the way we are and how we define ourselves. That we might so define ourselves while averting our eyes - as Peggy Noonan has suggested - describes a likely state of affairs but cannot represent an explicit position. Torture is and will always be inevitable, it is a default human response. As John Gray has pointed out, that it should, once again have become quasi-respectable, is as clear as sign as any that ethical and moral progress is a myth. It is also as clear a sign as any that moments of respite from our fallen natures - like the moment provided by the institutions and mores of the liberal west - should be defended at all costs, not least against our own torturers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Scruton on the Beach

Thanks for Frank, for this from Roger Scruton.
'The danger is that people will get lost in a morass of addictive pleasures and not ask themselves questions about the meaning of their own lives and not make the effort to make themselves interesting to others.... people are finding it very difficult to make themselves interesting to each other.'
On Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, I see staggeringly beautiful women, wearing very little, accompanied by nondescript men in toddler clothes - baggy, crumpled shorts with pockets, flip-flops, variations on the tee-shirt theme. The men are on their phones, talking or texting; the women are just being beautiful. Every man they pass is thinking - 'She's too good for that dork on the phone.' Scruton, it is clear, has a point. These couples don't seem to be interesting to each other. But if they are interesting to themselves...
PS And on the subject of addictive pleasures, here's Maureen Dowd on Twitter - 'Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Rockets are everywhere. This guy is about to launch the biggest ever working model of, believe it or not, a Saturn V. This guy has turned a missile silo into a home. And these guys are offering them for sale. They have 'blast vestibules', rooms I suddenly realise I can't live without.

Swooper Brown

Oh dear. I knew things were bad back home, but I didn't know they were this bad. Why does he keep swooping like that?

Stewart and Colbert - I Begin to Get It

I still struggle to find Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert funny - they always seem to be explaining their jokes - but I now realise I've been watching them in the wrong way. They're not comedians, they're commentators and rather brilliant ones. These are current affairs shows which are, in fact, the most reliable guides to what's going on in America. When I'm here I watch them both and I understand. This, in the maelstrom of US politics, is saying a lot. Stewart's riff on torture, for example, is not funny but it hits all the right spots.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I have been sitting in Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, watching the evidence of Detroit's stupidity drive by. Here's the paradox: America makes the most and the worst cars in the world. I have posted before on the Chrysler Sebring as the worst car in the world, but I was too kind. It's the worst machine in the world, its suspension lethal, its gear box laughable. All the most horrible cars I have ever driven have been American. I'm pottering around here in an American Ford Focus which is okay because it was breathed on by Richard Parry Jones, the British genius behind the Mondeo, the greatest car in the world. The spectacle on Collins Avenue was grotesque. One hideous Detroit disaster succeeded another. At one point I saw a Cadillac Escalade followed by a Range Rover. The former was designed by an idiot who wanted everybody to look like a drug dealer who never went round corners, the latter by a genius. Not that anybody else can feel superior, aesthetically at least. Porsche has just launched its Panamera, which looks almost as horrible as the Cayenne, but which, apparently, is designed to appeal to Asians who need a chauffeur. German cars in general have looked terrible since the Mercedes of the early nineties (I think). BMWs are vile, they make me want to be dead. Japanese cars look stupid, not really designed at all. All Land Rovers are lovely and I'd like to like the look of current Jaguars but I don't. Does it matter? Well, yes. Cars are everywhere and they ought to be beautiful, even if they are engineered by imbeciles. The best looking cars on Collins Avenue were the Ford Crown Victoria taxis. Okay, they're horrific on corners, but at least they look as though they know what they're for. People who care about beauty don't notice cars. They should.

The British Library is Watching You

Okay, the British Library has just asked my permission to archive this site so perhaps we'd better raise the tone. Or perhaps not.

Miami Blank

Nige texts me to say his mind's blank and he's not even in Miami. This is a roundabout way of saying I can't think of anything to post about. Give me a clue, somebody, anybody.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Wrong Book

A few years ago, lying by a hotel pool in Spain, I suddenly realised everybody around me was German. This struck me as embarrassing because my holiday reading on this occasion was Primo Levi's Auschwitz memoir If This Is a Man. I was holding the book high to shield my eyes from the sun. The Germans were thus having their precious downtime spoiled by a rather gross reminder of their guilt. Here in Miami I find myself once again reading The Wrong Book. I won't tell you what it is because I am writing about it but, suffice to say, it is hardback, very fat and possessed of an unusually depressing title. This, to say the least, clashes with the local style of 'movies and laughter, sex and fun' (Ashbery, The Skaters). I was sitting, immersed in this very good book, at a very trendy bar at which everybody was preparing to have life-changing sex with everybody else. The barman stared at me in dismay and then at the book.
'How long it take you to read a book like dat?'
'Er, about a week.'
He shook his head in wonder.
'I never read a book.'
'You should.'
But why should he? Life, for him, seemed good.

Nailing Balls

Oh good, while I am away you've nailed Balls. Well done, chaps.

Letter from America

Having abandoned conservatism in favour of a series of weird cults led by wackos like John Bolton (who, I am delighted to report, is also loathed by Peter Ackroyd; he says Bolton appears to be in disguise), the Republican Party in defeat is going mad. Governor Rick Perry has suggested Texas would secede from the Union if Washington keeps raising taxes. He says Texas (which is, oddly, an anagram for taxes) has some special arrangement that makes this possible. This has caused universal hilarity because a)there is no such arrangement b)Texas gets back from Washington almost the same amount it puts in c)the ten biggest net tax donor states are all Democrat and d)in recent history it is Republican presidents who have been the most profligate. But, apparently, Texas does have some special right to split into series of smaller states. This means, crows some Republican I just saw, they could send a whole set of new 'rock-ribbed' conservative senators to Washington to sort things out. (I hate 'rock-ribbed' because it evokes that sentimentality about violence that still scars the face of the country I love most apart from my own.) The Texas Republicans are also accusing Obama and Nancy Pelosi of trying to turn America into France, a rhetorical device I have noted before. This is quite funny since, as Obama noted, France is America's oldest ally and contributed considerably to the ideology and achievement of independence. Conceptually, America is very French - they just don't have the cheese and wine. That said, I'm with Perry. This has nothing to do with taxes and everything to do with Willie Nelson. But that's another story.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lewis and Me

Still in Miami. I have a review of Lewis Wolpert's new book in the New Statesman in case you're missing me already. I like to think of Lewis, 3500 miles away, exploding with his special combination of glee and exasperation.

Our Man in Miami

I appear to be in Miami. Some kind of bureaucratic oversight I imagine. Everybody is talking about Damiangate. The bars in South Beach are buzzing with speculation about who will succeed Brown. Truly we have a special relationship with these people.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should Obese Passengers Pay More?

I voted yes. But, then again, I am a bastard.

Two Columns - Google and Damiangate

Maureen Dowd returns to form. '...the only reason he knew that I wasn't so easily replaceable is that Google had been looking into how to replace me.'
Alice Miles has a withering and brilliant piece on Damiangate. Dead tree political journalists should cringe - 'We knew what he was up to.... and we did nothing to stop it.'
This is truly a turning point.
PS I notice Miles outs Ed Balls as smearer. How odd that he should just have been on the radio condemning this vile practice!

Bed Bugs and Lurie

Nice article.
Weird article. Bed bug outbreaks. Really? 'The fact that we got rid of them for fifty years in the United States is now looking miraculous.'

The Delusions of the Italicised Left

Reading Labourlist, the blog run by co-smearer Derek Draper, in the midst of the tide of disgust generated by Damiangate is a strange experience. The posters seem to live on some other planet where an entity known simply as 'the left' both is and is not connected to the ruling party. Brown's dirty tricks (read this post by Guido for yet further horrors) are, apparently, nothing to do with 'the left' and yet, at the same time, the Labour Party - the one that Brown leads and that has been in power for the last twelve years - is the best hope of 'the left'. Which part of 'have', 'cake' and 'eat' don't they understand? The point is that the corruption of Brown is structural. 'The left' love their meetings, their plots and plans, their cults of personality. Above all, they love the narrow politics of secret meetings and side of the mouth conversations. Damian McBride is the perfectly predictable product of such a culture, that he should be embraced by Downing Street seems to be a perfectly predictable expression of Brown's personality. ('The left', I should make clear, has no connection with the non-italicised left which consists of brave and sincere thinkers like Nick Cohen.) With the wise and saintly Frank Field now effectively calling for Brown to go, Damiangate is swinging like a wrecking ball through a still baffled administration. The Labour Party may have resigned itself to losing the next election, but does it really want to go down enmired in these corrupt shenanigans? I don't think so. I'm standing by my 'gone by June' prediction for the worst Prime Minister of my lifetime.

A Life Without Sex

'There are advantages to life without sex, as Dr Himler explained.'
She's talking about ants, but it seems, somehow, heartfelt.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Wine

In a moment of madness yesterday I bought a glass of wine from a tap. It was made by Stowells and some blonde chick from Emmerdale seems to like their stuff. It tasted of rancid butter with high notes of WD40 and an undertone of vomit. How on earth does anybody get grapes to taste like this? Perhaps grapes were not involved, only rancid butter etc.. Never, ever, drink wine from a tap.

South Korea Stops Banks Buying Dollars

I've decided to be more pro-active as a blogger. With luck, the above headline should result in my imprisonment. And I am demanding my own personal apology from Gordon Brown. Damian McUgly wasn't about to smear me, but I have yet to recover my tolerable equanimity since I discovered this creep worked in Downing Street. (And, while I am on the subject, this is the nastiest political scandal in years. It should be a resigning matter for Brown.) I think the King of Thailand is a seriously flawed individual - they chuck away the key for saying things like that. Obviously, I'm going to spring Phil. Now more than ever we need that wall of sound. I just heard somebody say he pulled a gun on the Ramones. This seems an uncharacteristically superfluous gesture since the band did such a good job of dying unaided.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Red Rag

Thanks to Dizzy for pointing out that the Red Rag web site, said not to exist, does, in fact, exist. I've put a comment on the only post. I think you should too - something along the lines of, 'Why Draper?' or how come Gordon Brown needs an ugly sleazeball like McBride? Unfortunately comment moderation is on and I suspect we may not be published. Never mind, the war (on Brown) needs a few futile gestures at this point.

McBride-Rove: How to be Thick

Of course, McBride looks like Karl Rove - balding, overweight, piggy eyes, raw pork fat skin texture etc.. And, like Rove, he seems to be regarded as very intelligent. Over the years I've met quite a few people who look roughly like this and who are also regarded as 'formidably' - the preferred mot - intelligent. Since, until at least my thirties, I regarded an excessive interest in politics as a sure sign of stupidity, I was sceptical. Nevertheless, I listened carefully to these loquacious uglies. Sure enough, they were talking crap. Moreover, they were talking crap about extraordinarily trivial things - basically personality clashes, not politics at all in my view. Yet, if they spoke quickly and with a certain supercilious grandeur, all around fell silent and nodded admiringly. I have a tentative theory. Out of excessive regard for IQ tests, people have adopted a simple-minded value-free view of intelligence. So McBride or Rove could spend their lives in low trickery and be called intelligent. In fact, to anybody of any worth at all, such preoccupations are plainly very stupid, evidence of an inability to grasp life in its higher aspects. But, if the metric of IQ is accepted as decisive, then how intelligence is applied is irrelevant. Or, to put it another way, study the story of Marilyn vos Savant - an IQ of 228 deployed in writing a glorified agony column. Or, to put it one more way, Gordon Brown is routinely described as 'formidably intelligent'. Thick as two short planks I'd say.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Damian McBride - Now Wash Your Hands

Guido is to be congratulated. He appears to have disposed of a genuine bad 'un. Shaking hands with McBride should be followed by a quick alcohol rub. So WTF was he doing in Downing Street? And why is this Draper still around? I dimly remember he once tried to have dinner with me. I just laughed. The answer is, of course, that they are both products of the dance of death between politicians and the press that began in the mid-nineties. So-called sleaze (I say 'so-called' because it wasn't really worthy of the title, what we have now is much much worse) brought down John Major and Blair launched a control the press project using Mandelson and Campbell. It worked, the press acquiesced by allowing themselves to be convinced that the proper subject of political coverage was the Westminster soap opera and so, for almost fifteen years, we have had crap politics and crapper political journalism. We arrive at the point where a Brown strategist's idea of strategy is to pump out dirty lies about the opposition, apparently safe in the knowledge that the mere fact that they are lies will not compromise their effectiveness one jot.'There's no smoke without fire,' people would say, but, these days, smoke is very seldom accompanied by fire. About Westminster, it is safe to assume nothing you read, see or hear is true. The Brown regime is decadent and depraved. It does Blair but badly. As a result , the idea of political wisdom or dignity is now laughable. It will take British politics a generation to haul itself out of this quagmire.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chris Hale's Blog

My pal, occasional commenter, film maker and all round kosher dude, Chris Hale, has started a blog! Go there at once.

Unintended Consequences

My blog tongue has been tied - the usual excess of dead tree work. But, anyway, I did an 'in conversation with' Peter Ackroyd at the British Library (eat your hearts out, Eric and Ernie). Peter remarked to me afterwards that his favourite expression is 'unintended consequences'. Mine too. It's a two word autobiography of everybody who has ever lived. Ask anybody how they would summarise their life and 'unintended consequences' is the complete answer. The phrase suffuses me with gleeful peace, an oceanic feeling and a profound love for all mankind. The next time I hear somebody whining about their lot in life - I get this all the time - I shall murmur 'unintended consequences' and they will sob with gratitude - 'Yes, yes, you understand me perfectly....'

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

For Evan Davis 2

I am pretty sure Evan Davis is the best broadcast journalist around at the moment. Yesterday on Today he said 'I never knew that' about some story or other. Today he ended a piece about chaplains in hospitals by saying it had been too short but very interesting and it wasn't a debate he'd heard before. Davis doesn't spray attitude at every story, as so many do, but he isn't impersonal either. In both those examples he simply defined himself as a curious observer, a fair-minded surrogate for the listeners. Of course, with Brown he came close to losing it, such was his incredulity. Some things are just too much even for the curious observer.


The police seemed to be spoiling for a fight at the G20 protests and, plainly, knocking Ian Tomlinson to the ground was just stupid thuggery. That it precipitated a fatal heart attack is a different matter. Similarly, Neil McNulty threw a bottle at a pub and killed Emma O'Kane. His sentence of four and a half years appalled the family. Tomlinson must have been on the verge of a heart attack and it was pure chance that a shard of glass severed an artery. Doubtless McNulty and the policeman are guilty, but how guilty? And how guilty are the boys of Doncaster? Guilty of murder, guilty for ever? Old questions, I know, but strange ones nonetheless. For the purposes of public orders, answers must be invented.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


One of the things I did at the Oxford Literary Festival was chair a debate on the short story with Lionel Shriver, Ben Okri, Andrew O'Hagan and Wells Tower. Each panellist read out a favourite passage. Shriver read from Richard Yates, O'Hagan from Alice Munro, Tower from Tobias Wolff and Okri from Pushkin. It was all good stuff but there was something about Okri's selection. It was the first sentence of The Queen of Spades.

'They were playing cards at the house of Narumov, an officer in the Horse Guards. The long winter night passed imperceptibly; it was after four in the morning when they sat down to supper. Those who had won enjoyed their food; the others sat absent-mindedly with empty plates before them. But champagne appeared, the conversation grew livelier, and every one took part in it.'

One was conscious in all the other passages of the effort of the writer. Here there appears to be no effort at all and yet so much is communicated. That, I suppose, is the difference between talent and genius.

Jade and Bourgeois Corruption

The point that lay behind my news piece on Jade Goody's funeral has only just become clear to me. (I had only 1200 words and an hour to write, I was sitting in a pub garden surrounded by screaming brats, the wind kept blowing my papers away and it was for the news pages, all serious obstacles to speculation.) The points lies in my two sentences - 'To say that her life was a tragic absurdity, that she was an artefact of vacuous celebrity culture, is true but it is not the whole truth. The other truth lies in the fierce possessiveness of her people.' Celebrity culture is routinely kicked in conversation and in print - sometimes by me - as the source and symptom of all our contemporary woes. It deserves kicking, it's pretty stupid and very destructive. This kicking has become a great consolation to the chattering middle classes, it seems to give them a handle on the great confusion of their lives. This, at least, they can tell themselves, is plainly horrible and wrong. It can also provide them with the effortless superiority of delivering moral homilies to their social inferiors. They are like nineteenth century temperance campaigners, except that the temperance campaigners probably did some good. Or they do not kick, they indulge. They gossip archly about the celebrity stories of the day, but, if asked about this, we are assured it is all being done in a cool, ironic, postmodern kind of way. One way or another, celebrity culture fills many middle class hours. But this, as it were, emotionally remote contact with the phenomenon is nothing next to the working class engagement that I encountered at both Diana's and Jade's funeral, the ecstatic piety at the Pope's funeral and the tribal defiance at George's Best's. It's easy to say that Jade wasn't worth it, but it's not Jade that's the point, it's that 'it'. She was merely the occasion for a ritual of identity and belonging. In the past such rituals were inspired to imperial pride, patriotism and they are still linked to football. This is not just about big events like funerals, but also about little observances in pubs and in the minds of the people. Celebrities, beneath all the the hype and the irony, are a way of fulfilling the need for story and ritual. Of course, the existence of this need is cynically, cruelly exploited for profit by the media and, of course, there are reptiles out there. But to see only that is to fail to see the truth and purity of the people's passions. And I do mean purity. For the truth is that it is not the working classes who have been corrupted by celebrity culture. It is the middle classes.

Geoffrey Hill - the Shiver

I never know quite what to say about poetry; so much for a Cambridge English degree. What I like seems to go through two phases - an initial fondness which may go no further, but, if it does, I suddenly find myself utterly stricken. In neither phase am I capable of explaining my enthusiasm. I have just moved to phase two with Geoffrey Hill. It happened when I was killing time between events at the Oxford Literary Festival. I idly read In Ipsley Church Lane - it's in three parts but I can only find the first online. Fondness was replaced by the authentic shiver and I read again, and again. I have now read the three poems at least twenty times and it's still not enough. Don't ask me why. Well, I will say 'feckless grief' is at the heart of the matter, the impossibility of consolation, that and the great scream of things.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Italian Earthquake

I just heard a geologist on the Today programme say Italy was 'splitting apart'. The words made me gasp. They said nothing extraordinary - we all now know about plate tectonics, the world is in constant motion, the summit of Everest is made of marine limestone etc.. And, if he had said Peru is splitting apart or even Germany, then I would not have batted an eyelid. But Italy splitting apart is, somehow, intolerable, as if beauty itself is threatened by this 'quake.

Bill Nighy and Mark at Oxford

There were two blog-related incidents at the Oxford Literary Festival where I discussed a)the future of the book b) the short story and c)Peter Conrad. The first was that I met Bill Nighy. I had assumed I knew him, indeed, that he was a a regular on this blog. But, of course, this was because of commenter Susan's undying passion. Nice chap, very thin, very suave. Secondly, during the Conrad event, a rather tough and intelligent question was asked by a member of the audience. This turned out to be none other than super-commenter Mark. Nice chap, quite thin, very suave.
*I won all my three gigs giving me a straight nine points from Oxford, a flying start to the lit fest season.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Jade Goody Meets Russell Crowe

Once more too busy to blog. This may be explained by the fact that in tomorrow's Sunday Times I have (I think):
a)An account of Jade Goody funeral by one who was there.
b)A review of Kenan Malik's book on the Rushdie affair and after.
c)A travel piece on Australia.
d)An interview with Russell Crowe and Kevin Macdonald about their film State of Play.
Links tomorrow. Here they are:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shrinking Phil

Everybody is talking about Shrinking Phil, the big shock of the G20 circus. The TV shots of POTUS and Michelle meeting the Queen and her consort were deeply troubling. Mr and Mrs Pres loomed over Liz and Phil, making them look like a couple of garden gnomes- you know, small and slightly furtive. Now, I knew she'd shrunk a bit, but what happened to Phil? I think we should be told.

On the Matter of Jeffrey

Freddie Raphael, who has not yet succumbed to pointlessness, says nobody called Jeffrey is ever any good. Wrong spelling. 'Jeff Goldblum,' I said. 'Oh he's all right, but that's Jeff, not Jeffrey,' he replied. About three hours later he conceded that Jeffrey Katzenberg wasn't all bad.

Pointlessness and the Blot Man

I have been too busy and brainless to blog. In fact, having written that sentence, my mind goes entirely blank. It's the G20. In any geographical area only so many points can be made within a given period. Millions of points are being made at the G20. This is overloading London's point-making capacity. As a result, I have become entirely pointless. For example, I learn that 87 years ago today Hermann Rorshach died. I can't think of a single point to make about that, though I do note that, surprisingly, he looks a little like Brad Pitt.