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Stray Thoughts Archive [10-12]

No. 10 - From Cambrensis issue 56, July 2003

* Anthony Burgess, the new biography by Roger Lewis, demolishes the reputation of the writer by means of attacking his personal life. The editor of the HG Wells Newsletter, John Hammond, enters a plea for the great man's biographers to say more about Wells' writing and less about his sexual activities. Maybe one day we'll get back to detailed analyses of writers' work.

* The other day I heard a radio debate between someone from BBC News 24 and a Sky man. They were going on about the Government's edict that the BBC digital channels shouldn't simply replicate what the commercial channels already did. Hard to argue with, and News 24 certainly needs improvement. But one of the drawbacks of radio is that I couldn't see how far Murdoch's minion had his tongue into his cheek when he was arguing that the BBC shouldn't try to cover 'breaking news'.

* Peter Finch, quoted in the flyer for Poetry Salzburg Review: 'You can learn most of what you need from a book simply by carrying it about.'

* What does 'Premium' mean? It means that salesmen can charge more for the product. Same with 'Luxury', 'Premier' and 'Original'. And 'Fun Size' is only fun for the balance sheet boys. So I'd have to take out a mortgage for a packet of 'Premium Plus Deluxe Glossy' printer paper.

* Somebody at the Radio Times DEFINITELY has a sense of humour. A December cover featured a picture of a 'celeb' with the elaborate double-bluff question (making out they were talking about his tan) 'is it all over for David Dickinson'. Am I the only one who'd never even heard of him? 'Celebs' burn out fast these days.

* The media are dumbing down. I know. I read it all the time in the media.

* It surely must be a joke! I hear that someone else has registered No Logo as a trademark.

* Take heart, all you reviewers. Your words are read. Marc Jones, of Cymru Goch, e-mailed me within days of Lynne Walsh's review of Red Poets 8 - No. 9 out soon - and Y Faner Goch appearing soon. Marc wasn't after Lynne's blood, just a copy of the magazine. Arthur also had a letter about the review from Mike Davies, Marc's co-editor. Never mind, Mike - what was that about all publicity being good publicity? The Cymru Goch web site is worth a look at

* I was taken to task the other day (yes, again) for making a facetious reference to the lovely Catherine Zeta Jones on my web site ( Didn't I see her in Chicago? I was asked. Yes I did. It was a superb film by any

standards, and our Kate was the real star of it. And she's very attractive. But none of this means that she is worth listening to on other subjects. In fact, to go by her laughable utterances in the Exclamation Mark! trial, it's definitely a closed-ears job when she has something to say that isn't in a script. Incidentally, who picked up the legal cost$ for this?

* Even the genuinely funny TV adverts quickly pall. But not the ones that are unintentionally funny. I'm thinking of the expression on the face of Wonderspraywoman in the Haze advert as she takes a deep sniff of the lavatory pan.

* Is this story in the Daily Mail true? Bob Larbey had a proposal to the BBC for an adaptation of Three Men in a Boat rejected. They said they weren't considering more game shows at present.

* Sheenagh Pugh wrote a letter to the Western Mail 'congratulating' Peter Tyndall of the Arts' Council for writing a full-page article without once mentioning literature. Fair point. But perhaps this is a reflection of the lack of activity amongst Welsh Writers.

No. 11 - From Cambrensis issue 57, Sept 2003

* The personification of dumbing down in TV documentaries? Robert Winston swinging from a rope in the introduction to Walking With Cavemen.

* From one sentence of a letter I received the other day: 'sumptuous sets... gorgeous costumes ... incredible lighting ...fabulous music and dance ...magical backdrop .' No, it's not an advance offer for heaven (I'm still waiting for that) but an advertisement from a theatre company whose visitors' book I happened to sign several years ago. Moral: something to do with postage bills for a start.


* Here's a quote from Mae West, journalist of the year (1893-1980): 'People who are shocked easily need to be shocked more often'.

* Top Tens aren't all bad. The BBC Big Read mentioned some worthwhile reading material. I was particularly pleased to see someone talking briefly about Patrick Süskind's Perfume. But why did the programmers think we wanted to hear Jason Jumpsuit, Juniper Gynne, and some other 'celebs' prattling on about something they'd half remembered from a film adaptation, or from school three weeks ago? Come on Auntie, you're losing your grip.

* Chris Williams took a more idiosyncratic approach (as is his wont) to the subject in his Writers' Choice. Now, if we all sent in lots of votes using different names on different library computers ...

* Steve Groves, in the Western Mail, tells us that a minor politician from Mount Sterling, Iowa, was suggesting that there should be a law to stop people lying. Don't tell the major politicians.

* Even if we're optimistic enough to believe our future is safe in the hands of our wise and noble leaders, the English language certainly isn't. First we have the allegations about 'sexing up' the notorious intelligence report into 'WMD' (what are these semi-mythical objects, by the way? Nuclear warheads, biological weapons, or an old can of chemicals on a garage shelf somewhere?) Now we have the leadership of the Welsh Assembly accused of 'sexing down' a report about economic aid.

* Hilary Clinton was reported to have been offered a £5m advance for her memoir, Living History. Not bad for a calculating politician who is using the book as part of a scheme to portray herself as wronged and innocent woman as part of her long-term Presidential campaign.

* Brian Smith, in the editorial of the Summer Roundyhouse, talks about influences on writers changing with succeeding generations. Few would argue with his central point that the clock didn't stop with Bob Dylan, John Keats, or anybody else. But he's a braver man than me to name Eminem as a likely influence on wordsmiths of the future. It's not that I'm saying that Marshall Mathers is without talent (or that he has it), but the mu$ic business is so driven by hype and 'marketing' that it's hard to see him as other than a commodity at the moment.

* Good to see so many familiar names - and many not only familiar from previous pages of the magazine - in Cambrensis 56. You've arrived Arthur. It's only taken 15 years.

* I liked Vicky Baggot's cover. But I hope we'll see Alan Perry's name there in the future also.

* Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (whoever she is) was delighted to be chosen as the 'face' of the Walker's Crisps campaign: 'Oh my God! To be picked for something like Walkers is an honour.'

* I don't know about nostalgia not being what it used to be, but proof-reading isn't. There are a few errors in Gordon Bowker's new biography of George Orwell. One of the more amusing is on page 14 where we are informed that Henley is 'just 65 miles downstream of London Bridge'. Better tell the Regatta boys to bring serious wellies next year.

No. 12 - From Cambrensis issue 58, Dec 2003

*On the radio the other day I heard a guest using faucet quite naturally as a synonym for tap. It is an English-language word, but a near-obsolete one on this side of the Atlantic.

*Huw Griffiths gives me an example of PC-ness (pernicious crankiness) at its worst. He's read somewhere that trainee teachers are being told not to use the expression brainstorming because it could give offence to epileptics. I don't know whether this story is true or not - it has some of the qualities of an urban myth about it. But it does go to show that an idea that started with the best of intentions can be made into a laughing stock by those who try to build an industry around it.

*Here's a lovely Chinese expression: Tian Hao Xiang Bei Wo die Xia Lai. It means 'the sky would fall in as a blanket'. Not a bad philosophy of life.

*Carolyn Hitt, in the Western Mail, says that David Blaine's endurance stunt has more in common with the culture of Big Brother than the spirit of Ellen McArthur. She's got a point. Blaine used to be a good illusionist, too.

*The other day I counted no less than five 'celeb stories' on my Internet 'welcome' screen. Perhaps one explanation for the rash of such features at the moment is nothing more than the laziness of some meeja people.

*I had a holiday on the Danube this year. Nice too, and not just because the wine with meals was complimentary. One thing that struck me was the number and quality of book shops in Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna. It's true that these are capital cities, but even the book shops in some much smaller towns along the way were the equal of those in Cardiff, never mind our other towns.


*The Hutton enquiry may be a distraction from the real questions that should be asked more widely, though it's amusing to see the discomfort of establishment figures. But spare a thought for Andrew Gilligan, who is being made to carry the burden of all journalism's ills. It won't be much consolation to him, but at least the profession will be more careful about what it writes in the future.

*If only politicians could similarly be relied on to learn from their mistakes. In a radio interview, Tessa Jowell made a hash of trying to change her previous 'highly improbable to impossible' reference to the chance of the method of BBC funding being changed, to 'unlikely'. It will be a great shame if this bastion of democracy is sacrificed for the sake of short term spite. Don't these people think we hear what they say?

*Why is it that now all films have to be either 'blockbusters' or 'art-house'?

*I use the sticker shown here to send back the junk mail that is shovelled through my front door. It's more fun than using the Post Office service and it makes the unwanted advertisers pay postage costs as well as putting them to the trouble that they would put me to. And it works. But can anyone suggest a way of eliminating or reducing all those junk phone calls, apart from using the 0845-07-007 07 service, or abusing the hapless people in call centres around the world?

Junk Mail Please.
Take me off your lists.

*Or will that number now be privatised, like the former 192 service? It's so wonderful to have more choice about a service that I use about once every two years.

*Al Gore, quoted in The Independent: 'Air travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo'.

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