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Stray Thoughts Archive [4-6]

No. 4 - From Cambrensis issue 50 - December 2001

* Did you see John Pilger on the TV the other day making waves about Globalisation with The New Rulers of the World? I hesitate to criticise the ITV network, which at least had the guts to put this important programme out, but it's a pity that they didn't forget their ratings for once and put it on at peak time instead of at the unhelpful 10:40pm.

* Elegant and fragrant Jeffrey Archer has been sent down for four years. Does this mean he'll get more time to 'write'? And will the reading public buy more of his books? The answer to both questions is probably 'yes'. Funny to see the establishment now baying for his blood, saying what a sweet man he wasn't, and even casting doubt on his genetic make-up. Don't tell me no-one knew about this one-time pretender to the Throne of London before now.

* The Media Regrets. How else can you think of the rather strange article that appeared in the Radio Times at the end of July to mark the anniversary of the wedding of Charles and Diana? It practically dripped with nostalgia for this 'great occasion'. Not a mention that the marriage was hardly a success. Or perhaps they were really pining for the days when there were only three television channels to shape opinion.

* I expect my Stray Thoughts to ruffle a few feathers. But I didn't expect anyone to leap to the defence of Anne 'toxic I'll accept poison' Robinson, who was the subject of a passing jibe of mine a few issues ago. It seems I was wrong. Surely people realise that the 'nasty lady' is purely for televised consumption. I'm not suggesting that she is (or isn't) a saintly person in real life, but my faith in human ability to tell fact from fiction has been shaken somewhat.

* The 'Government wept crocodile tears for the farmers. Now it is bearing its teeth'. So said the Daily Telegraph, or at least the extract of the report that I read did (it's worse if this example of a journalist putting his foot and mouth into it was simply repeated). After a momentary vision of a set of governmental false teeth being borne on a silver platter, you realise that what was meant was baring - as a moment's thought would have told the writer. We all use clichés - we would be lost without them - but should at least know what they mean.

* Naomi Klein's book may not be the greatest ever written, but it serves as a symbol (no, the irony isn't lost on me) of the resistance against the power of international business. I hope though that the publisher has done the decent thing and registered the title for non-use. It is certainly a grim prospect to see a T-shirt in the street emblazoned with No Logo.

It was good to see a number of familiar names on the contents page of issue 49. It would be quite the wrong thing to name any of them, but if you are a long-term subscriber you can probably guess from my former Review which ones I was especially pleased to see. But did you know that Arthur R. Smith - that's not a typing error - edited some of Steve Sneyd's work (see page 6) in a magazine that he published before he started Cambrensis? Yes, there was a before.

* This is the fiftieth issue of Cambrensis. A really remarkable achievement for its one man editorial team. Take a bow, Arthur.

No. 5 - From Cambrensis issue 51 - March 2002

* Iain Duncan Smith, strangely always referred to in print as 'IDS' (is it a secret code?) has been doing the rounds of publishing agents for a year or so. The novel for which there hadn't been any takers before his leadership win is apparently a political thriller called Ithica - I'll resist the obvious crack about it obviously not being autobiographical. But there is a more serious point. What's the betting that he finds a publisher now that his 'celebrity status' has gone up a point or two? If he doesn't he might as well give up his career aims. And I don't mean writing.

* Are all Tories turning their hands to the pen? One of the six finalists for the Queen's English Society's Goodchild Prize for Excellent English, along with regular Cambrensis contributor Alan Cliff was William Hague (remember him?) Well done Alan. Oh, all right, and William.

* TJ Davies tells me that 'Gookie' (see issue 49) really did exist. He was a New York tobacconist called Gehrke, who couldn't perform the delicate operation of rolling cigars without contorting his features. Harpo Marx imitated this very much as described in the story, and it later became one of the brothers' cinematic trademarks. It's all there in The Marx Brothers Encyclopaedia. Just goes to show what a wealth of material is available to the writer of fiction.

* David Holliday, editor of Iota, a simply but very competently produced poetry magazine which has carried the work of a number of Cambrensis writers including myself, announces that he is to 'retire'. But, unless a new editor comes forward (which looks likely) he's not doing it for another four issues. Number sixty may be the last one under the original editorship. (Come on, Arthur, catch up. You're slacking.) David's'notice period' is therefore longer than the lifetime of many small press magazines. Now that's an achievement.

* Or perhaps Arthur has more issues than I thought to produce. Mike Shields is to hand over the editorship of Orbis, one of the UK's leading poetry magazines, after 120 issues and 30 years. New editor will be Carole Baldock, manager of the excellent web sites www. poettext. com and

Congratulations Mike. Good Luck Carole. Come on Arthur.

* I'm pleased to report that Roundyhouse is thriving. Well, I've taken out a subscription, at least. What about you poets out there? It's only £9 a year.

* Chris Williams is delighted to have found a new medium for his quirky brand of poetry - the telephone answering service. I questioned one of his verses in which he used 'doff' with coat instead of hat. Obviously thinking of the kind of ceremony that used to go on in the street when men wore hats as a matter of course, I had the vague notion that it must have had its origin in something like 'do office'. It seems that I was wrong and Chris was right - doff comes from the Middle English 'do off', which clearly can be done with any piece of clothing.

Maybe Words on Words should ride again, as Ray Jenkin was saying to me at the recent Merthyr CWD. Any takers among the readership?

* The extreme of 'celebrity' (I use the term loosely) culture? Neil and Christine Hamilton posing naked in GQ Magazine.

No. 6 - From Cambrensis issue 52 - June 2002

* An interesting phenomenon brought about by the success of the Lord of the Rings film is the renewed interest paid to the book by critics. It's funny to see some of them approaching Tolkien's love child as if it was just another novel of middle class angst. Of course it's not great literature but it's a great story and you have to consider it on its own terms.

* I've recently decided to enter more competitions. The three that I've entered since November or so just about double my lifetime entries to date. I was also thinking of entering this year's London Arts' competition, ironically entitled Diaspora City. Then I found that entries could only come from the Greater London area. Metrocentric isolationism rules, OK?

* As part of the BBC's determined effort to 'dumb down', The Whitbread Prize has disappeared from the schedules this year. What was that about public service broadcasting?

* Think twice before you use the same WP package as me. Not that I don't think highly of Lotus WordPro. But I was a subscriber to ITV Digital. At one time I was the owner of a Betamax video recorder and before that I'd bought a Super 8 ciné camera, obsolete in just a few years. Still, it seems that the companies had more than my knack for technological death-kissing and the laughable 'deal' with the football clubs to contend with. When ITV Sport was launched, they sent me a leaflet prominently displaying a balding, beer-bellied football fan. Would you be tempted by such 'advertising'. I wasn't. Fortunately.

* 'I'm a great fan of Iris Murdoch,' says Kate Winslet, quoted in the IoS. 'But I haven't read any of her books. I just don't have the time.'

* I was taken to task the other day for (among other things) misquoting Oscar Wilde's dart: 'The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable'. Hands up: sheer laziness on my part. Still, quotations are often adapted with use. It's a good illustration of English as a living language. We might not like all the twists and turns that a language spoken so widely in the world makes, but better that than a dead language.

* Glamour model Jordan plans to give birth live on a pay-per-view Internet site in May (you may have the dubious pleasure of reading about it, but I hope not seeing the pictures, by the time this appears in print). She says 'I want fans to share my joy'. That's a relief. I thought for a minute she was doing it for the money.

* Someone on the staff of the Radio Times has a sense of humour. The blurb for the Bad Girls episode of 28 February, 2002 read 'Yvonne, facing a murder charge, acts desperately'.

* Meanwhile on Radio 4 they were debating whether the Tories should be known as 'right wing'. Hmmm. Still, this was on the programme Word of Mouth, a kind of broadcast version of Words on Words. I would recommend this next time it appears. But then I would, wouldn't I?

* John Light has been kind enough to send me the 2002 edition of his List (see last issue for review of 2001 edition). Arthur just managed a mention of the newer one, now with guides to over 1500 journals. Says a lot about deadlines, that.

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