Stray Thoughts Archive [7-9]
No. 7 - From Cambrensis issue - 53, September, 2002.
* Good to hear Alastair Cooke on the radio earlier this year. He prefaced a thoughtful Letter from America with the probably true observation that with current attitudes typified by Bush's 'axis of evil' the USA hasn't been held in so much contempt since the dark days of Senator Joe McCarthy. Still, McCarthyism was the direct inspiration for Arthur Miller's The Crucible, one of the best plays of modern times. It's hard to imagine the US President as a patron of the arts now, but maybe in fifty years we will look back on him in the same way as we do McCarthy.
* Two cheers for the new digital channel, BBC4. Only two? Why does the channel need news when anyone who can get it an also receive News 24? More importantly, there are already signs that it will be a ghetto for anything needing an ounce of thought to make way for more soaps, celebs, 'Reality TV' and the like on BBC 1 and 2. Two cheers? I'm being generous.
* Hodder Headline, one of the WH Smith's group's tentacles, has bought John Murray, the oldest independent book publisher in the world, and brought 234 years of literary history to an end. Globalisation triumphs. Why not just one major publisher? That's where we're going.
* Two million copies of Saddam Hussein's second (yes!) novel were printed, but sales were going very slowly. His son came to the rescue and bought a quarter-of-a-million of them. Good thing he's got a large family.
* Tim Goldstone's 'Tips for New Writers' may not always be spot on for political correctness, but it makes me smile. Which is more than you can say for most of the women pictured in the last issue.
* Guardian National News 20 April, 2002: Sven 'Playing Away' with Ulrika. National news?
* If you want to hear such gems as 'we're just prawns in the game' (attributed to Frank Bruno but I'm sure I'd heard it 'live' when he was still a naughty schoolboy in Wandsworth) I'd recommend Quote...Unquote on Radio 4.
* I was pleased to see that with the June magazine Arthur circulated a 'flyer' suggesting that intending contributors send their writings to him pre-sized and in single spacing. Now, if he'd have done that before he'd retyped seven hundred or so stories ...
* Is Radio Wales becoming a haven for inflated speech? I heard someone the other day deliver some gems. One of the shorter sentences that I remember contained the grand expression (grand until you work out what it means) 'indigenous community facilities'. What he was saying was really very simple, and could have been said in a few dozen words, but he prattled on for minutes, no doubt thinking he was saying something very wise. I wonder how many people listened to him. He didn't listen to himself, for sure.
* Quorn is a little-used word that I have given a few outings recently. It was originally the name of a Leicestershire village based fox hunt (foxes are still a feature of the cricket club badge today). By extension it came to mean anything to do with the horse and hound culture. Now I see that a packaged food merchant has registered the wordTM as a trade mark. What does that mean, exactly? That we have to think of fish fingers every time we think of foxes?
* The editor of a Scottish magazine to which I've contributed recently sent me a copy of its competition form. The prizes included (quotes) some money. I won't be so cruel as to name the magazine: I put this down to naïveté rather than commercial cynicism. In fact for a moment I even wondered if I should enter. But only for a moment.
No. 8 - From Cambrensis issue - 54, December, 2002.
* Jamie Kellner, an executive with Turner Broadcasting, admonished American audiences for skipping TV adverts, saying 'you're actually stealing programming. Your contract with the network is that you're going to watch the advertising spots.' Don't you just love the way of looking at things in the Land of the Free? Or is this a species of Transatlantic humour that is beyond me?
* Colin Gerlach wrote to your editor after issue 52. He confessed to being guilty of the crime of 'grabbing yer reader by the throat'. But he wasn't talking about story openings. He was talking about titles. Extravagance with these would carry a much lighter sentence in my court. If indeed it carried one at all - a title is almost independent of the story and sometimes it's a good idea to use a zany one. Some of the more cringeworthy ones I have used for prose in the past include Zulus in Pontycymmer, Granddad on the Water, Thus Spake Zara's Thruster and Carp and Tomatoes in the Last Wilderness. So come on Colin, let's see Angela Rippon riding again, or even the title that will set us all blushing.
* I'd like to have been the proverbial fly on the wall at the meeting that Oddsocks Productions, a touring theatre company, had with a disability adviser. The outcome was that the company's play was re-christened The Bellringer of Notre Dame on the grounds that 'hunchback' could cause offence. They could have asked Victor Hugo - his novel was written as Notre Dame de Paris.
* Going into Cardiff's New Theatre the other day, my eye was caught by a display of books. Looking closer, I saw that most or all of them were published by Parthian and Honno. They were at least as attractive (and a sight more interesting) than anything you would see in WH Smug.
* Except that one of the Indian heroes from the recent one day final was a Moslem, this headline from a Daily Express issue of June, 1932 could have fitted the modern situation exactly: Two Singhs Add High Note to Finish. Some things haven't changed all that much in seventy years. And I'm not talking about cricket. I'm talking about journalism.
* My initial reaction to seeing a poem by Rowan Williams in The Guardian of 27 July was to shrug at another example of linking the written word with a 'celeb'. But Windsor Road Chapel by the new Archbishop of Canterbury isn't so bad, though it's not the best poem of all time, nor probably even the best written that week. Anyway, why shouldn't he write poetry? Everyone else does. This churchman does at least have something to say for himself. It's good that he has chosen the medium of poetry to say some of it.
* Do you buy books from Amazon? This on-line retailer is getting dangerously near to market dominance. The ancient tribe of that name burned their right breasts off so they could throw their spears better. I'm waiting with baited breath to see what the modern equivalent is.
* Carolyn Hitt, one of the brighter journalists in the Western Mail, was bemoaning in the paper's 5 August issue the cultural desert for books that Cardiff has become. I agree with what she says. The City has fallen a long way from the high point of 10-15 years ago. But she ought to live in Bridgend.
* For a website that has everything from sharp political comment, to splendid photographs, to games including an arch version of Space Invaders that would have seemed primitive in 1978, try www.urban75.com.index.html if you have the facility.
* In the last issue I mentioned a Scottish poetry magazine that offered 'some money' in its competition. Now I've come across an English one that seems to offer no prizes at all in its own. Is this some sort of fashion lead? It will never catch on.
No. 9 - From Cambrensis issue - 55, March, 2003.
* The 2003 Writers' Handbook (which I think is still better than the longer-running Writers' and Artists' Yearbook) was out in the summer. It's a useful blend of reference material and articles, including one on poetry by Peter Finch. It's handy for those who specialise in short fiction, too.
* Overheard bellowing down a mobile phone in Adare Street, a busy shopping precinct in Bridgend: '... instead of all these e-mails, I thought that we could sort this out over the phone'. Other snippets that I picked up (that fifty or sixty others and I picked up) made it clear that the other party was local. What about something radical like a face-to-face conversation?
* Good to see some new names in Cambrensis 53, the issue delayed by some shenanigans with the Arts Council. Of these, I liked best the stories by Anna Smith and Huw Griffiths. Introducing new writers is one of the things for which the magazine is justly renowned.
* For a lively poetry web site, try www.ubu.com/ Tip: switch your loudspeakers on, but keep them at a low volume until you decide whether sound poetry is for you. A sad footnote: Bob Cobbing, one of the most interesting of the experimental poets, died in 2002.
* Napier University, Edinburgh, published a survey saying that the pop charts are largely made up of the mediocre. Well, they always have been - it's a numbers game, after all. But they probably have something when they say that the dominance of 'manufactured' artists and money-men over genuine talent is getting stronger year by year. It is in all the arts, including literature.
* Quoted in The Independent: 'We seem to believe you can fatten a pig just by weighing it all the time.' Dom Antony Sutch, headmaster of Downside, was talking about the exam system. But he could have been referring to many other aspects of public and commercial life.
* Someone on the Radio Times staff definitely has a sense of humour. Jeremy Clarkson's new series was announced under the heading For Fans of Airbags... They weren't thinking of cars.
* I was unlikely to be alone in liking Angus Deayton the least of the HIGNFY regulars. Even if proficient sneering at the autocue isn't to be sneezed at, he had no other discernible talent. Much of his contribution to the programme was founded on the 'creative tension' with the other two, who clearly didn't like him. Even so, his exit after trial by tabloid leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
* As an example of our obsession with 'Top Tens', the list of eligible bachelors in The Tatler needs thinking about. No. 1 'hottest date' was Prince Harry, followed by Lucien Freud. I'm not going to comment in view of the danger of being thought of as anti-Royalist, agist, against the plastic arts, or whatever. But it makes you wonder about the mentality of 'respondents'. And their number.
* Quiz: Is the town in Northern Spain of oil-spillage infamy A Coruña or La Coruña? Prize: a job on a news team (if you get it wrong).
* Someone asked me about my reference to Quorn™ in number 53. All I was really on about is the appropriation of the English Language for commercial use. It's a growing trend. Not only do we have Posh ™ talking tosh about football, but the lawyers from Polo™ (some sort of fashion house) got heavy with Henry Brett, the UK's top polo player, telling him that he shouldn't use the Word™ for his web site. Don't tell the lawyers from Hello!™ magazine or we'll all be in trouble.
* The new James Bond film has apparently franchised something like 20 'product placement slots'. Shades of the 'advertising magazines' that used to be on the innocent TV of yesteryear. Things are more sophisticated now - you have to pay for a ticket.