Wednesday, December 22, 2010

E'en so here below below

....let steeple bells be swungen etc.

A year is a long time in blogging, and this has very much been a year of two halves on Think of England, halves which we can describe as pre- and post-Dabbler.

Pre-Dabbler, we were swinging along in riproaring fashion. We confronted Tuesday and Mary Beard, sought out the refugees of relative poverty and let loose a blast of the trumpet against the Indecent Left. We examined the Local Character's Zen Bones and the John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood plot thickened.

We learned that the Dungeness Crab is the official state crustacean of Oregon and that every charity shop is obliged by law to stock Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Cupcakes finally jumped the shark and 'jumped the shark' went to Prestatyn. I explained the origins of all sports, discovered a telescope poem, made some films about piglets and had a doss. Obama insulted us, fanatics frightened us.

We had prose poems from a paperblog nutter and Ilfracombe, hungover, and wrote the hit song A Man’s Gotta Do A Dirty Job Sometimes. We correctly identified the fifth and sixth seasons and spotted a Henry Moore potato and some dead animals. Poached eggs! In June I unleashed Chief Trading Post on an unsuspecting world and ludicrously over-analysed my own poem about Boris 'Vuvuzela' Johnson, got tied to the toilet while talking to myself and bought a lobster mug.

And then The Dabbler happened, and poor old Think of England inevitably became a series of pointy signposts to that, interspersed with the odd thing about King Wu of Zhou or Duffy.

Nonetheless, TofE continues, TofE endures. Have a good Christmas, make sure you read the Dabbler's mighty five-post Christmas Compendium, and, as ever, listen to what the Baked Potato say.

See you on the other side.

My abnormality tolerance index

is being severely tested by this snow and ice business...

But over there I wallow in Phil Spector's Christmas Gift For You.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arnolfini portrait

Yesterday at the Dabbler I examined Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait.

Look out for Adelephant's fiendish quiz question there later today...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fiendish quiz

Over at The Dabbler, the latest fiendish Round Blogworld Quiz is in full swing...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bath Ales

Over at The Dabbler I interview the MD of Bath Ales, creators of Gem.

Oh and the other day I posted on Degas, Velazquez and nudes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese

Busy, busy...but over at The Dabbler I have posted on James McIntyre, the Cheese Poet.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Over at The D I conclude our special Germany day (Wehrmacht Wednesday? - no, best not) with a look at the tolerably horrible Messerchmidt 'Character Heads'.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gustave Verbeek

Over at The Dabbler I post on the extraordinary upside-down cartoonist Gustave Verbeek.

Aussie Walloping

It would be remiss of this blog not to note England's near-unprecedented annihilation of Australia in Adelaide, but this year I'm 'doing the Ashes' over at The Old Batsman.

Over there, Jon is supplying pithy daily reports, and we've even cooked up an idea for an exciting TV series - a cricket-based sleuthing drama with the Steve Bruce-inspired title Batting Allrounder!

Happy days.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Quiz time

Over at The Dabbler I set the latest fiendish Round Blogworld brainteaser...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Wikileaks 2

Good article by David Aaranovitch in today's Times. It's behind the paywall so to summarise:

- confounding expectations, the Bradley Manning wikileaks prove that the US is on the side of liberty

- since they can't be construed by the anti-yank left as proving 'Bad America', they will be construed as proving 'Spent America'

Or as Aaranovitch puts it: We will be told that, properly interpreted, the WikiLeaks splurge shows how weakened the US is in the era of China, multipolarity and economic crisis. How it simply cannot do in the future what it did in the past. The suggested lesson in this is usually for the US to retreat still farther from close engagement in the affairs of the world, and leave them to Beijing, Hezbollah or (alas) Mullah Omar. Beware this latest manifestation of America-knocking.

Red Ken was trying to prove Bad America on last night's Question Time of course. The idiots clapped.

The Joshua Tree

I caught a bit of a Sky Arts Classic Albums documentary about the making of U2’s The Joshua Tree the other night. It was nicely done and Bono even said some interesting things.

I’m not sure that The Joshua Tree is in the very top rank of great albums but it has probably the best opening Crash Bang Wallop I can think of.

When that lovely understated jingle-jangle outro of track three fades out, weirdo fourth track Bullet the Blue Sky more-or-less says: “Ok, that was what you bought it for, you can turn this album off now if you want.”

Overfamiliarity with Where the Streets Have No Name (crash), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (bang) and - the wallop - With or Without You has dulled the structural strangeness of those songs, but there’s none better for howling in strained falsetto, the nostalgic tears bulging in their ducts, as one drives one’s Ford through the frosted fields and thin sunshine of this bleak, ageing planet.

More equal than others

Watching Question Time last night, in the usual wincing, groaning, masochistic way, a disturbingly elitist thought came to me, and try as I might, I couldn't shake it off.

There are three clear intellectual classes on Question Time:

1) The small class of people who, for all whatever faults they might have, can handle the possibility that an issue might be complex, with no single easy solution, but nonetheless can make a reasonable judgement about it and say something worthwhile (on last night QT: Danny Alexander, Sir Christopher Meyer) . They never get clapped.

2) The slightly less small class of people who can handle the possibility that an issue might be complex but can't make a reasonable judgement about it nor say much worthwhile (Tory MP Nadine Dorries, Ken Livingstone, John Sergeant, Dimblebobble himself) . They elicit claps.

3) Idiots (all the people who go along to watch Question Time and clap).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

You schmooze you lose

"Come on lads, schmooze! Schmooze like you've never schmoozed before!" cried Cameron, rallyingly.

But alas the last desperate Schmooze Offensive by Cam, Becks and Will was in vain, as the Russkies bought won the 2018 World Cup.

I don't think we should bother again. All that toadying to the fool Sepp Blatter (I always get him mentally mixed up with Silvio Berlusconi) and the various corrupt foopball types is very undignified.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The crushing disappointment is palpable, isn't it? Especially in The Guardian. Last night's Newsnight reeked of it. 'Thousands' of leaked US documents, and not one of them remotely scandalous.

Last night's big lead - a few ill-tempered remarks made off the record by Prince Andrew at a brunch in Kyrgyzstan - has already dropped off the BBC News front page.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Window rant

In the North Devon village of Braunton I spotted this extraordinary display in the window of a local resident. It consists of a barely coherent rant about, I think, immigration. Alas, I suspect its author is of an age where blogging came too late, so he's stuck with sticking his views to the window and relying on passing trade. More or less the same as blogging, but without the Americans.

Impugned by Peasants and Aussies

Latest Dabbles: some colourful Anglo-Aussie quotes as the Ashes begins Down Under, and, one of the trickiest things I've ever had to write, a review of Frank Key's brilliant but almost unreviewable book, Impugned by a Peasant.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cantona speaks

Philosopher-Footballer, indecipherable actor and uber-frog Eric 'King' Cantona reckons we should all withdraw our money at once, thus 'bringing down the banks'.

Not sure why we're supposed to want to do that, but this is the man who said that thing about the seagulls (the second best thing ever said by a footballer. The best thing ever said by a footballer was Joey Barton's succinct views on the England players who released autobiographies after the 2006 World Cup: 'We got beat in the quarter-finals, I played like s**t, here's my book'.) so it seems pointless to question it too deeply.

Cantona of course appears in Looking for Eric, a film which, even by the standards of Ken Loach, patronises the working classes to an extraordinary degree. The plot - in which ManYoo fans gang up to play a trick on a bully, and the main character talks to an imaginary Cantona who helps him win back his ex-wife - reminded me of those Friday afternoon children's films that used to be on BBC. There'd always be a bully who needed a comeuppance, and imaginary sporting heroes would often pop up to mentor the put-upon hero. In fact, the only thing that prevents Looking for Eric from being marketable as a kid's film is that it has more swearing than Scarface.

Win a book!

Go and enter The Dabbler's latest Slightly Foxed competition to win a Christmas Fox.

Also over on The D I post in a brief sort of way on the puzzling painting 'An Old Woman', attributed to Quentin Massys.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Only Connect

Over at The Dabbler I eulogise BBC Four's Only Connect, the geeky quiz show. I've done so before on TofE, but feel it deserves an even wider audience than the billions who read this blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Now this is how you play foopball

There's so much junk and money in the modern game of foopball that it's necessary to occasionally remind oneself why it used to be called 'the beautiful game'...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grounds for impeachment

Can it really be true that Barack Obama has written a children's book called Of Thee I Sing: A letter to my daughters?


As presidential hobbies go, I prefer Dubya's panda-shooting or puppy-clubbing or whatever it was he did.

Art, innit

At the Dabbler I write about Antony Van Dyck's portrait of Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart, the second in a series of short posts about paintings in the National Gallery.

I'm keen as mustard on the visual arts but have never really found a way to write about them before, partly because I'm weak on the technical side but mostly because the primary impact of great paintings is ineffable anyway.

My solution is to dispense titbits and amateurish opinions. Luckily, blogging is the ideal medium for this form of....Dabbling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Dabbling

At the Dabbler I collate an anthology of Remembrance poems, and curate some eclectic music featuring cops and robbers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Go, Trisha!

Further to the below, check out the first item (after Neil's usual Woganish preamblings) on last night's This Week.

Trisha, a 'lifelong leftie' supports IDS's reforms. That's not all that surprising, since apparently 58% of Labour voters support welfare reform, as does 70% of the country as a whole. What is suprising is that John Cruddas also broadly welcomes them. Funny thing is, Blair and Brown could have done all this when we had an economic boom, but they avoided it for fear of angering people like Trisha and John.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Astonishing to think that Iain Duncan Smith has turned out to be perhaps the most important politician of his generation.

Labour used to be about workers but it has somehow become the welfarist party, the only one to pretend that the most glaring problem in British society doesn't urgently need fixing. The creation of a hopeless, welfare-dependent sink-estate chavocracy is a national disgrace; it simply can't be allowed to carry on getting worse and worse.

It's still worth pausing to consider just how radical and active this Coalition Government has turned out to be. Before it was formed you'd have bet your bottom dollar that a Coalition would have fudged, compromised or avoided every issue. Yet the exact opposite has turned out to be the case: being in Coalition has enabled them to tackle the difficult issues head on without worrying about unpopularity. They're also remarkably open and unspun compared to Labour: for example, they've already announced next year's Budget date (23 March). The 'keep-it-secret-til-the-last-minute' political shenanigans of Brown and Darling used to be a nightmare for my business. Viva CamClegg!

Mon Dieu!

Jean Veber, a damned impudent Frenchie.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Religious cartoon

Over at the Dabbler I write enthusaistically about Breugel the Elder's Adoration of the Kings.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Commenters wanted

A tiny percentage of blog readers leave comments. We know this from our stats and from talking to readers we know offline. I've never quite understood why, though many people say they feel 'intimidated' or think they haven't got something clever or funny enough to say, or they perceive regular commenters to be an exclusive clique.

This is all nonsense. Bloggers are pathetically grateful for all comments short of outright abuse, and they're often a little bit grateful even for that. Even if it's just an 'LOL' or 'I agree', writers need to know that people are reading.

The upshot of which is: when you visit The Dabbler, and we know you do because The D is getting loads of traffic, why not leave a comment? Join in the fun; nobody will bite. Today we've got some splendid stuff over there, including our new Dabbler Soup recruits Jassy (who has made some Bonfire Night gingerbread) and, later today, Ian Buxton, a whisky expert. Mmmmm, whisky.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

For Nick Cohen

The mini-roundabout outside the Business Design Centre, Upper Street, Islington.

Courtesy of Google Street View.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Why people move away from London

On Saturday morning I was walking towards a set of crossroad traffic lights on Upper Street, North London when, with minimal warning and indication, a small lorry, northbound but obviously finding itself heading in the wrong direction, cut across a BMW in the inside lane to turn left so that it could circle a handy mini-roundabout and then turn right to go back south again. It was a pretty silly manoeuvre but, since traffic was moving slowly from a standing start at the lights, one that was unlikely to cause serious damage had there been a collision. The driver of the BMW honked his horn and swore a bit, just as any driver in any city would.

But this is London so that wasn’t enough for him. Instead of driving off, he stopped square in the middle of the road, blocking both lanes, to continue his gesticulating. There he remained, cussing expansively the while, as the lorry turned and trundled unwittingly back towards him. If they were surprised to find him waiting for them, the lorry’s two eastern European occupants didn’t show it. They merely looked on impassively as the BMW driver – a black man of medium build and maximum ferocity - got out of his car and snarled up to them. “Yo Bruv,” he began, banging on the cab window. “What kind of move was that bruv?” Thereafter he was considerably less polite. The haranguing lasted for several minutes as the traffic piled up, hooting and hollering, behind the parked car. The haranguer was as oblivious to this rage as the lorry’s haranguees apparently were to him.

Eventually he got back in his car and drove on. Whether or not he was satisfied with his work I cannot say. The traffic jam behind him followed. When the lights changed the lorry drove on. And I walked off to get the Tube to the National Gallery. This wholly pointless scene took place at 9.30am on a lovely sunny autumn Saturday in salubrious Islington.

If you lived in London all your life you might have no conception of how nuts the city seems to visitors, of the sense that it is forever teetering right at the very edge of complete nervous breakdown.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Mrs B took this picture of me and Brit Jnr on Saunton Sands with her phone the other month. Isn't it great when you fluke a really good photo?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Johnny Foreigner, Sport

What have I been Dabbling? Sports stars who hate sport and English as she is spoke, that's what.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Gosh, aren’t these cuts radical? The nasty Tories are trying to Roll Back The State for Ideological Purposes, is the line that Labour, Toynbee, the usual suspects, are taking.

And do you know that if all these desperate cuts announced are fully implemented (which I doubt) we will end up with a State that is the same size as it was all the way back in...wait for it...2007.

Radical eh?

(This startling fact I learnt from Economist editor John Micklethwait on Wednesday’s Newsnight.

He also explained the Big Society idea in a succinct way such that, for the first time, I grasped the point (‘Red Tory’ progenitor and ubiquitous commenter Philip Blond is, I note, woefully inept at explaining this area).

The Big Society is a project to reduce the demand for the State, not just the supply.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dear Points of View, I wish to complain....

...about the plummeting standards of journalism on the BBC News website.

One element of my day job (now only an occasional element) is to fire off digestible little daily business news stories for various websites. Coming up with these used to be a cinch because you could simply re-hash the Beeb's efforts a bit. But take a look at this risible piece of 'Peter and Jane' writing posted in the Business section today:

The government will now pocket the money raised instead. The British Property Federation said this was unfair. The government said money had to be raised from somewhere. The scheme in question is called Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC).

Blah de blah. The cat sat on the mat. Then I woke up.

Doubtless this decline in standards is due to the sheer quantity of daily verbiage expected of news websites these days and they're now farming out copy to Indian schoolchildren but really, things have come to a pretty pass indeed when the Beeb isn't even worth plagiarising.

Tim Lane

Over at The Dabbler I interview illustrative artist Tim Lane.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Win free stuff

Slightly Foxed have kindly stumped up a free subscription for The Dabbler. Get over there and try to win it. You can also win a Stan Madeley book if you're clever

Friday, October 15, 2010

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells writes...

Over at The Dabbler I complain about all the swearing and rudeness in the modern world.

Mugged by power

I suppose the Lib Dem predicament on university tuition fees is as stark an example as you’ll find of being ‘mugged by power’ – ie. of being exposed on issues where you thought you had freedom to trumpet wholly impractical policies because you never thought you’d ever actually have the power to implement them. I do think the Lib Dems have been very good in the Coalition thus far– they’ve been eminently sensible about everything (which is another reason why the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ could never have worked – too many actual loonies hung up on, ugh, ‘principles’). But in the long-term I worry for them.

It will be interesting to see how this affects the next Lib Dem manifesto, now that they know there’s a danger of being in government. If they want to avoid similar embarrassments,the manifesto will presumably have to be as watered down as the Tory and Labour ones. But if they do that, then they’ll lose the protest element that gives them much of their support, and still not give floating voters a distinctive reason to choose them over one of the two main parties.

I therefore tentatively predict a split, with some Lib Dems (Clegg, Laws?) joining the Tories and perhaps a few going to Labour, leaving a small rump that will be free to pointlessly and safely protest from a luxurious position of complete unelectability. And I suppose the question then is: who would care anyway?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Scousers and miners

Margaret Thatcher turned 85 yesterday and, as some wag pointed out, it was nice that she could spend her birthday watching the celebrations of Scousers and miners.
The Chilean story restores faith, doesn't it. Wonderful stuff. Though having said that, I never thought Lord of the Flies rang true.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Road to nowhere

I was on the road yesterday. Leicester via Swindon. I suppose that Leicester via Swindon could well be the least interesting-sounding journey I'll ever make (though I still harbour ambitions of Hull via Slough).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shades of green

Over at The Dabbler I have posted on William McGonagall, the gloriously bad poet – guaranteed to cheer you up on a Monday.

Have to confess I wasn’t in tip top condition this morning. I was left in sole charge of Brit Jnr yesterday and it fair killed me. It’s not twice as hard to handle a mobile and headstrong tot by yourself; it’s at least fifty times as hard. At the park I was required to play ‘hold my teeny hands while I run down this hillock giggling madly’ approximately a trillion times in succession, which, combined with the ravages of Sunday morning five-a-side, left Daddy’s lower back and virtually all other joints and muscles feeling like those of a 90-year old former bareknuckle boxer this morning. However, a creaky stroll just now has restored a tolerable equanimity. I wish you could see it round these 'ere lanes in the autumn sun. By Ratty, Moley and all things holy, there’s nothing like resting your eyes, as the Small Faces put it, in shades of green.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

King Wu of Zhou

Futher to Martpol and Peter's comments in the post below, I managed to find this in the lesser known Dr Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat Returns to some Chinese Vassal States during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties...

Where are you, King Wu of Zhou?
Oh where, oh where, oh where are you?
In a flue?
Or at the Zoo?
Making gooey gluey stew?
A new goo stew!
A blue goo stew!
A new blue, glue goo, blue goo stew!
Is there blue goo in your shoe?
Oh where are you, King Wu of Zhou?

Are you floating in a moat,
In a boat,
with a goat?
Up a lamppost with a ghost?
Are you at Chief Trading Post?
Or in six-eight-four BCE
being rude to wee Xī Guī?
The wee wife of the Duke of Xī?
Duke Aī of Cài! Duke Gui of Xi!
Oh where oh where now can you be?
With your xizzle-xozzle-xoo,
Oh where are you, King Wu of Zhou?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Dabbler round-up

I have recently Dabbled on the myth of LOLing (and an irresistibly hilarious Woody Allen scene), confessional pop records, and, via David Cohen, the importance of not following your passion.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lynn Barber's mother's shopping list

In the Sunday Times mag yesterday (here, but paywalled) ungrateful child Lynn Barber laid gleefully into her late parents yet again. I particularly enjoyed this...

Then there were the weird shopping lists — Fisherman’s Friends, Nigroids, senna pods, elderflower water, tartan slippers. “Could you just pick up a darning mushroom?” my mother would say, or a summer-weight yellow cardigan, must be Courtelle not Crimplene or Dacron. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of man-made fibres but the names she gave me never seemed to appear on the labels.

…Shopping for my parents took me to dingy shops in far-flung suburbs where they still had stock left over from the 1950s. A new eiderdown — not on any account to be confused with a duvet — took me from north London to Southall….

Underwear was always a huge problem. My father demanded a particular sort of knitted cotton vest and longjohns that M&S eventually stopped making. I was in despair till I noticed they had some thermal underwear intended for skiing that looked much the same. “What’s this poofy rubbish?” he shouted as soon as he laid hands on it. Apparently it had a silky texture.

Wot, no Wild Swans by Jung Chang?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Alphabet of Nations

In the American Exceptionalism post below, Ian Wolcott remarks that there are "shockingly few country names beginning with the letter X."

This is true, although They Might Be Giants came up with an ingenious solution for their song 'The Alphabet of Nations'...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peaches and puppets

Over at The Dabbler I have posted on the brilliant Each Peach Pear Plum. Children take even 'funny' stories and comic strips very seriously. This is under-reported. When I read the Beano, Roy of the Rovers etc as a kid I didn't laugh; rather, I entered wholly the strange little comic universes with their internal logics, and I studied them with deep concentration, possibly frowning.

Oh and the other day I also posted on The Uncanny Valley. Do I need to keep telling you about my Dabbler posts? I expect you all read it anyway by now - if not, you should, as it is by some distance the best site on the web.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

American Exceptionalism

The 21st Century Nightmare post and thread below was not an attempt to have a general debate about the rights and wrongs of capital punishment, as if bringing it back in the UK was some sort of a viable option, because clearly it isn’t. It was more that I began to wonder if the occasional bellow (only remaining argument?) from the populist Right – that a majority ‘support’ it – is not only morally and constitutionally irrelevant but actually incoherent, because ‘supporting capital punishment’ is, in terms of practical application, meaningless.

(If I did want to have a debate about the rights and wrongs of capital punishment generally I would certainly mention the usual and well-rehearsed philosophical arguments, such as the internal conceptual problem of a society thinking it is demonstrating that it holds life sacred by punishing murderers with death.)

But our beloved American contingent inevitably broadened the argument because in the States it is still a live issue (if you’ll pardon the expression). Difficult thing to come up against, American exceptionalism. We all hate having our business criticised by forriners, but boy, Americans really hate having their business criticised by forriners…as I suppose you would if you believe your founding documents to be, effectively, sacred texts.

All of which preambling brings me on to the point of this post. Here is a random A-Z list of some of the 137 countries that have banned the death penalty outright:

Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuala.

And here is a random A-Z list of some of the 69 countries where capital punishment is still technically permitted (although nearly 90% of actual executions worldwide occur in China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US alone):

Afghanistan, Burundi, Cuba, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan
Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, United States, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

Full lists are here:

So my question is this: is there a more striking anomaly anywhere, in terms of global approaches to ethics and politics, than the fact that the US is on the second list rather than the first?

The wrong Miliband

...isn't he? Time may prove me wrong but I always thought - well, felt really, based on blogger's intuition - that David was the only viable candidate and that there's something not quite right about that Ed.

Others think it's the other way around, mind, and that David is the creepier geek. But I was most impressed by the way he shushed Harman when she idiotically clapped Ed's Iraq hand-washing. A glimmer of principle in the murk of the current Labour party.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stan Madeley

Over at The Dabbler I interview Stan Madeley, the UK's number one Richard Madeley lookalike and author of the brilliant new book Second Class Male.

It is a particularly hilarious book of real letters and replies from the rich and famous. I'm priveleged to have been peeping at the progress of this book since its inception - it's wonderful to see it come to fruition.

If you liked things like The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society or even the silly side of Think of England, you'll love it. So do go ahead and buy it - online or from WH Smiths if you're going down the shops. In fact, buy several as it's a perfect Christmas pressie too.


You don't see many of these, do you? But Chief Trading Post has one. Not sure there's much bamboo in it, mind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A 21st Century Nightmare

I suppose the latest tawdry tale of a US execution will briefly raise the 'Capital Punishment Debate' again, though it’s a defunct one in this country. As I’ve become more right-wing over the years, as most sensible people do, I’ve only become more convinced of the wrongness of the use of execution as a punishment. That shouldn’t be surprising really since the strongest (and a wholly sufficient) argument against it is a conservative one: that the State, being composed of flawed humans and corruptible systems, sometimes gets the wrong man even when it has the best of intentions, and therefore ought not to be trusted to kill its own citizens because killing them is a uniquely irreversible punishment. There aren’t many good arguments in favour of capital punishment and the most commonly used one is the very worst: that it meets a need for societal revenge (my perception is that a great many intelligent rightwing Americans only end up using these bad arguments because the debate is part of that country's narrow but intense left-right polarisation in political discourse, and therefore arguing against execution puts you on the same ‘side’ as such buffoons as Sean Penn, which is less tolerable than acknowledging that Penn’s conclusions may be righter than his reasonings).

Ultimately the Worst Argument reduces - because it is based on our sense of outrage and the (correct but not pertinent) notion that some crimes really deserve death - to a defence of mob rule. In which case we may as well junk civilisation now since the great achievement of the rule of law is to acknowledge that the little voice in your head, of justified outrage and desire for immediate righting of wrongs, must be suppressed while some sort of least-worst objective rational process, flawed as it is, takes its course. All of which brings me on to the hellish ordeal of Eddie Thompson: a true 21st Century nightmare that demonstrates, for the zillionth time, why everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that mob rule is the opposite of justice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Warwick Avenue

When I get to Warwick Avenue, meet me by the entrance of the tube. (Avoid the District, there’s problems on the line.) I’ve built a machine that will blow, as it were, your mind. When you get to Warwick Avenue bring safety goggles, and a tube of superglue. We’re doing everything we said but then did not: it’s quite absurd that you only get one shot.

We’re going back by reversing Time, baby. There’ll be fewer Starbucks and no ITV 2. We’ll get a grip on it this time, baby, almost exactly like we didn't do. And all we have to do... is ride the Bakerloo.

Then when we get to Warwick Avenue, we’ll emerge in 1992. We’ll live it again, the whole way through; only this time around we’ll have a clue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


As an adult, it is hard to truly enjoy outings and activities at the time, because one is always thinking about what to do next and whether it is too expensive and the temperature and your hunger and whether you ought to be enjoying yourself more and whether something better could be happening.

Instead, we rely on enjoying things in retrospect, perhaps the next night before we drop off to sleep, when the day in question is compressed to a nostalgic highlights reel.

This is what Samuel Johnson was getting at and it occurred to me as I was bouncing up and down on a trampoline at Exmoor Zoo, watching the pure, uncomplicated glee on my daughter’s face as Mrs B pushed her on a swing.

Two more things occured to me on the trampoline: one was that there is a girl in New York city who calls herself the human trampoline, and sometimes when I'm falling flying or tumbling in turmoil I say Whoa so this is what she means. The other was THAT I can see WHY people BUY these things and THEN use them ONCE and then NEVer again again againagain…

Donovan, organs and so forth

Well I'm back from hols. I expect some posts will materialise here soon, but in the meantime I appear to have Dabbled in death songs, one-man bands, unusual organs and, today, Donovan (the real fourth Beatle).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I am on holiday deep in the wilds of Devonshire so am only fleetingly online over the next week, but I have stocked up some Dabbler posts which Gaw will schedule as he sees fit. Tons of other good stuff on there too, of course. Check out James Hamilton on the intelligence of football managers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Death of Sex

The Sunday Times mag this week carried a lengthy article by feminist academic Camille Paglia about Lady Gaga and 'the death of sex' which, as far as I could tell - and I read it carefully though, of course, as a layman - made absolutely no sense at all.

That article is behind the paywall, but you might enjoy this 1993 fax flame war between Paglia and the equally monstrous Julie Burchill. These two are what some people might admiringly call 'ballsy' women - 'ballsy' apparently meaning 'having the worst and most pathetic masculine characteristics', such as a vast but paper-thin ego.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sundry Tribulations #867

Isn't it rubbish when you go to the place in your home where your booze is kept, and discover that you have considerably less in stock than you were banking on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Great Tasting Blood Builder

...that was the queasy slogan that spewed at me from the rear end of a bus this morning.

I'd forgotten the name of the product (the delicious-sounding Feroglobin Liquid) so I googled the slogan and found this:

which is from this blog. Like some sort of precog, Allan had posted exactly what I was going to post, 16 months before I was going to post it. There are only three possible explanations:

1. everything has already been blogged before somewhere.
2. the Blood Builder post has some sort of sentience or life force of its own, and keeps itself alive by parasitically skipping from blog to blog
3. Allan is a version of me in a parallel universe, and the Blood Builder advert acts as a kind of portal between these two realities.

I currently favour theory 2.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


That last post was the 1,000th on Think of England. Gosh, what a lot of rubbish I've written.


Yesterday I posted on the Dabblerish elements of the band The Libertines. Up the Bracket is one of my favourite albums and though their second one was patchy to say the least it did contain some excellent tunes, including 'Can't Stand Me Now' - an unusual song in that it is a bromantic duet. I can't think of many others... perhaps the Oasis track 'Acquiesce'?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The lanes in Tack

Tack is turning to Hub, if you follow TofE’s adapted Blodgett method for defining the seasons, and the blackberries are beginning to ripen. Who knows what adventures might befall me this year when I venture out with my picking-punnet? Yesterday I strolled towards the scene of my thrilling encounter with the Warning Berry (which I’m sure you haven’t forgotten).

As I walked I saw on the lane ahead what appeared to be a black panther or possibly a puma, peering with malevolent intent into the hedgerow. Getting closer it inevitably became a domestic cat (it only takes a slight trick of perspective to turn moggies into tigers, they are perfect scale models; no wonder these Beast of Bodmin-type stories won’t go away.) Anyway, the cat suddenly leapt at the hedge and ripped away with something in its mouth that squealed appallingly. I wasn’t close enough to tell if it was a bird or a rodent struggling in those feline jaws, but the noise was awful, until, awfully, it stopped. Thus cats; nature’s horrible bastards.

When walking I often like to chew on a straw or stalk plucked from the hedgerow. It’s amazing how having a straw or stalk between your teeth makes you feel…bucked. One can’t help but saunter, swagger even: a mind-body trick, like the alpha male posture of walking with your hands clasped behind your back, front fully exposed as if to say “Look at how confident I am that I won’t be punched. I am invulnerable.” Very few men can walk into a strange room with their hands clasped behind their back, probably just Prince Philip, Barack Obama and a handful of Rear-Admirals.

In Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty there’s a nice little observation about a character who keeps describing the sort of person he is (“I’m the sort of guy who always says what he thinks”; “I don’t bear grudges, I’m not that type of person” etc). The effete narrator marvels at his self-confidence and wonders, absurdly, if he could pull it off: “I’m the sort of guy who prefers Pope to Wordsworth.” Next time the opportunity arises I might declare that “I’m the sort of guy who saunters along chewing a straw or stalk plucked from the hedgerow.” Reminds me of Ron Burgundy’s chat-up line in the brilliant comedy film Anchorman: “I’m kind of a big deal….I have many leatherbound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

Hmm…though maybe such self-awareness isn’t necessarily so desirable... “I’m the type of person who picks blackberries and then writes about it on the internet.”

Monday, September 06, 2010

This Book Has No Plot

Over at The Dabbler I write a Row Z feature on cricket and America, largely inspired by Joesph O’Neill’s much-praised novel Netherland.

Gaw said he came to ‘despise’ Netherland. I wouldn’t go as far as ‘despise’ but did get frustrated with it. It was uneven in the sense that there were brilliant passages, but in their isolation they stood out as self-conscious literariness. There was also a sense, augmented by the blurb and cover, of murder-mystery tension which didn’t go anywhere, essentially because, it eventually turned out, there was no plot. I would probably have enjoyed the book more had I been reading it purely as a literary psychological novel – rather than as a thriller with literary pretensions – because then I wouldn’t have been waiting for the story to develop. They should put stickers on such books: “Warning: This book has no plot.”

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hawkins and Dawking

“There’s no God” announced Stephen Hawking,
The result was a great deal of squawking,
'Til someone came clean
That his voicebox machine
Had been sabotaged by Richard Dawking.*


The Surrealists

Draining the last of my hilariously-expensive Czech lager and wrenching myself away from the Cockney and his fascinating stories of the wife’s failure to buy an electric fire, I strolled idly, with time to kill, over the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern. I had a vague idea of mooching about the artworks then walking down to Waterloo to catch the tube back to Paddington. However, it had been a long day and by the time the escalator deposited me outside Level 3: Poetry and Dream - Surrealism and Beyond (Room 2), I was feeling lightheaded and clammy and my daytrip manbag was getting intolerably heavy. Forcing myself round the Max Ernsts and Man Rays I experienced a surge of revulsion and, standing in front of Magritte’s wholly pointless The Annunciation, I found myself muttering, like one of those nuts you sometimes see in galleries, “Christ I hate the Surrealists.” Miro’s indistinguishable splodges even took on a sinister tinge, seeming to radiate an intense and personally-directed evil.

Realising I was on the verge of a London breakdown, I headed quickly for the café, for there is nothing so fortifying as a cup of tea and a sandwich in such a situation. What a load of crap the Surrealists were, I mused as I munched. Like Escher and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, these clangingly unsubtle ‘artworks’ are fine for adolescents but excruciating for adults. The worst offender by a mile being of course the Great Masturbator himself Salvador Dali, whose entire output consists of stupefying works of painstaking bad taste and technical skill. But as the tea and sarnie did their stuff and blood sugar levels stabilised, I softened. On the whole, it’s probably a good thing that the Surrealists existed, even if their popularity is wildly out of proportion. And Magritte’s Man with a Newspaper is pretty funny I suppose.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Scotland bans all small pleasures

...or will at some point. Read this SNP initiative and weep for the Jocks.

I'm not sure exactly why people who want Scottish independence should also be anti-human, joyless busybodies, but it seems to be the case every time.


Forgot to say, on The Dabbler yesterday I wrote about 'A Dubious Codicil', during the course of which i accidentally wrote of a history of Britain 1939-2010 in 77 words.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The second post

Reading the opening chapter of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty I stumbled upon this line:

The second post was still scattered across the hall…

It took me a good five or six seconds to process what he meant by ‘the second post’. The novel is set in the mid-1980s, but, almost unbelievably, Royal Mail deliveries were only reduced to the once-daily mid-morning job six years ago, in 2004. Yet ‘the second post’ seemed to me like a quaintly archaic feature of a period piece - surely an indication of how spectacular has been the decline in significance of snail mail in our personal lives?

Cellists and team stars

Over at The Dabbler I have recently posted on cellists and launched the Row Z sports feature.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peter's Hill

The thing about London, as everyone knows, is that nobody talks to anybody or even makes eye contact, right? Yet I never seem to be able to sit for five consecutive minutes in the capital without some character wandering over for a chat. Possibly it’s to do with my face – it might be more guileless than I’d wish.

At Paddington on Friday morning as I tucked into my bacon butty (courtesy of the West Cornwall Pasty Co franchise – a top tip if you arrive in London early and unbreakfasted), a faintly Dickensian-looking chap with a plastic bag and a cowpat hairstyle settled next to me and told me many things about the business of buying train tickets to Slough. And in the evening, as I nursed a hilariously expensive Budvar on Peter’s Hill (St Paul’s bulging to my left, the Millennium Bridge to my right, a swarm of humanity between: ah, Gemütlichkeit), a well-oiled Cockney treated me to a story about his wife’s failed attempts to purchase an electric fire, during the telling of which he suddenly got up and trundled off to the loo, returning three or four minutes later to continue at the exact point – as far as I could tell, to the word - where he left off, as if there had been no interruption. Such encounters seem to happen to me all the time in London: I think the trick – or the trap, depending on your disposition – is to look like you’re not in a hurry.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Dabbler is live

Worm - with no great help from me but a lot from a friendly Croatian genius - has finally defeated Wordpress.

The splendid new Dabbler is now live at

So update your bookmarks and join us over there! You will also need to update any RSS subscriptions you might have.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Foghorns of My Youth

And still continuing matters lavatorial (Ok, last one, this is getting ridiculous - Ed "Ed"? What do you mean "Ed"? You are the Ed - Brit We've been blogging too long - Ed) the ballcock/spindle arrangement in the cistern of our office loo has positioned itself so that it emits a long, low groan upon being operated.

Flushing the chain just now, I listened to its deep cry and was immediately transported, Proust-like, to the Portsmouth of my childhood, where the sad foghorns of the ceaselessly churning ferries would sound across the Solent. I confess my eyes moistened. O! O, the Foghorns of My Youth!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Talking to oneself

Continuing both the studenty and lavatorial themes of last week’s post, at university I briefly shared a flat with the chap who complained about being ‘tied to the toilet’.

It was the cheapest, dingiest, mouldiest basement flat in the western world. There was no central heating and in winter it was so cold that I slept in two jumpers, a dressing-gown and a woolly hat, and even at times resorted to laying towels on top of my sheets, duvets and blankets. There was a shower built in to an alcove under the stairs and the toilet was in a scarcely-converted back porch and therefore so preposterously cold that the innumerable slugs inhabiting it were probably stiff with ice (for all I know).

On the ground floor, above us, lived a man in late middle-age. He was hearing-impaired, though he spoke clearly and was not so deaf that he didn’t once complain that our music was shaking his floorboards (at that time we were heavily into Abbey Road, the second half of which I still regard as the high point of popular music, and for a few weeks we played it every night at terrible volume.) Our upstairs neighbour was a decent enough chap but alternately friendly (issuing indefinite, dateless invitations to come up and share a bottle of red, though he’d need advance warning so he could allow the wine ‘to breathe’) and sullen (which meant that we never felt inclined to accept these invitations).

I suspected he was lonely and going a bit mad. One day I was in the loo and I heard sounds from above of our neighbour in his loo. Gradually it became clear that he was talking aloud to himself while going about his business.

"Oh God, he's talking aloud to himself now," I said, aloud to myself.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I hate the Edinburgh Festival

Well I’ve never actually been to it, so that’s a somewhat absurd claim, but am I the only one whose heart sinks a little every time the Edinburgh Festival comes round to hog every possible spot in the arts and culture media? The more I read the reviews of tiresomely ‘innovative’ Fringe shows and the ‘look-at-me!’ competitive desperation of the stand-up comics, the less is my desire to actually go to the blasted thing. Anyone been? Am I being wildly unfair? Edinburgh itself is nice of course, always worth a visit during the rest of the year.

Celebrity slaughter

There appears to have been some sort of awful A-List massacre this weekend. Arriving at the office this morning I check my inbox to find separate emails from all sorts of strangers with the following subject lines:

Alicia Keys died
Angelina Jolie died
Kanye West died
Tiger Woods died
Miley Cyrus died
Jennifer Lopez died
David Beckham died
Nicole Kidman died

The 21st August 2010 will surely be known henceforth as ‘Black Saturday’.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dabbler latest

Over at The Dabbler (beta) two terrific posts to brighten your weekend - Susan discovers a gloriously anachronistic tailor, and the Yard makes his Dabbler debut with an analysis of a stunning movie still.

We have been working hard on the proper, full-blooded Wordpress version of The Dabbler, and though holiday, illness, technical incompetence and the slings and arrows of et cetera have delayed things somewhat, we hope to launch in the next few days. Stay tuned...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hollywood mugshots

A few more interesting police mugshots over at The Dabbler.

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 7

A bloody great stork!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Les Oreades

Over at The Dabbler, a snippet from Michael Wharton's A Dubious Codicil, in which he describes a Bouguereau painting as a stupefying work of painstaking bad taste and technical skill.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Soap Suds

Now wash your hands....Over at The Dabbler I post a poem by Louis MacNeice.

Tied to the toilet

I apologise for the scarcity of posts this week, and also for the scatological nature of this one. I have been ill, you see: a stomach bug originating, we suspect, at Brit Jnr’s nursery and passing through the family with a dramatic snowballing of effectiveness. A few interesting nappies for Baby, a day or two of discomfort and appetite loss for Mummy and last, for Daddy, 24 hours of leg-aches, bowel-liquidation and toilet-clutching puke-spasms. I like to think that I have killed the thing by heroically taking its full brunt. Not the worst I’ve ever had (I once had salmonella poisoning and there were moments there where I really would have welcomed death), but it was a nasty sharp one. The type where between the merciful oblivious periods of sleep children’s songs pound remorselessly round your head (Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle, the cat and the fiddle, the Hey diddle diddle the cat and) and memories of incidents from your past are replayed with a vividness bordering on hallucination.

One of these at least caused me bleak laughter in my delirium. An old university pal once declared, unexpectedly, that he was tired of being ‘tied to the toilet’. “It’s like there’s an invisible elastic cord attaching me to the bog, and every day, several times, I have to keep going back to pay it homage.” Well it’s the kind of thing Eng Lit undergraduates do come out with, but I found it funny. We are all slaves to our bodies, nothing like a violent vomit to remind us of that, and so much for free will et cetera. Sorry if you read this while eating your office sarnies.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

P H Emerson

Over at The Dabbler I post on the photographer P H Emerson.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Songs about the postal service

With Gaw off on his hols, I'm on Lazy Sunday duty again on The Dabbler (the full launch of which is so very close now, oh yes). After last week's mad pianists I've gone back to pop and have selected four fine songs about snail mail.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Musical Mugshots

Over at The D I post some remarkable police mugshots.

Four things I have thought this week

1. Willard is right, putting lectures you have attended as qualifications on your CV – a la ‘award-winning activist' Micah White – is an excellent idea. A good tactic for budding actors too. “I have attended plays directed by Trevor Nunn and featuring actors including Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judy Dench, and have watched numerous feature films starring the likes of George Clooney, John Malkovitch and Sean Penn.”

2. More than you’d think, people are happy to be asked to do things, even for no money.

3. “Ducklings” and “piglets” are good names, but “ducklets” and “piglings” would be even better. That one occured to me this morning, very early.

4. There are an awful lot of undescribed cases mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Also, I enjoyed the BBC Sherlock, despite part 2, because it didn’t take itself seriously, had an unusually sharp script, and anything featuring an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch has to have some good in it. Part 3 gave us our money’s worth with a whole seriesful of plots crammed into one episode.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism

Bloody hell, the Guardian’s editors really will let anyone loose on Comment is Free, won’t they? The long-term problem I suppose will be the complete erosion of whatever credibility the name has left.

But in the meantime, somebody called Micah White writes one of the great comic blogposts of recent times, following in the illustrious footsteps of Kingsnorth/Monbiot and Marc Nash.

Clicktivism,” announces White, “is ruining leftist activism.” This is important because “at stake is the possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes.”

The problem, you see, is that “exclusive emphasis on metrics results in a race to the bottom of political engagement.”Gone”, cries White, “is faith in the power of ideas, or the poetry of deeds, to enact social change. Instead, subject lines are A/B tested and messages vetted for widest appeal.”

Clictivists are comparable to both McDonalds and Wal-Mart (both of which are, as we all know, worse than Hitler and almost as bad as George W Bush). But White is determined to resist, and ends with a stirring call to arms:

“Against the progressive technocracy of clicktivism, a new breed of activists will arise. In place of measurements and focus groups will be a return to the very thing that marketers most fear: the passionate, ideological and total critique of consumer society. Resuscitating the emancipatory project the left was once known for, these activists will attack the deadening commercialisation of life. And, uniting a global population against the megacorporations who unduly influence our democracies, they will jettison the consumerist ideology of marketing that has for too long constrained the possibility of social revolution.”

But who is this Micah White, bravely resisting the use of internet campaigns for leftist causes? He’s a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an 'award-winning activist'. You can join his online Fan Brigade here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catholic families

Over at The Dabbler I post on John Le Carre and the 'permanent and benevolent disorder' of large Roman Catholic households.

I remember that during one pre-Mass lull at a tiny Devon church I dared a fellow altar server - a ginger, outdoorsy lad - to climb a tree in his full cassock. No easy task but he obliged with skill and dexterity. I should write it up sometime; it's only now that I'm beginning to realise how much comic potential there is in childhood memories. Perhaps you've found that too...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flying squirrels, monkeys

Over at The D I reveal important flying squirrel/monkey news.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Lobster Mug

My second work-related visit to America was in 2003, three years after my first. Boston was the destination and this time Mark, my objectionable employer, accompanied me, along with two humourless accountants. We flew Air America – Mark not stooping to Air India when booking for himself – and stayed in one of those US hotels where all the money has been lavished on the lobby, the rooms left to crumble quietly. The mission was the same as in Chicago: to attend a conference and steal ideas from the Yanks. Mark was also scheduled to speak, in the guise of ‘Expert in the British Market’. With some modest script input from me and a great deal of pretend confidence he successfully winged it.

Mark was on good form throughout; American grins and vigorous handshakes and ‘awesomes’ suit him perfectly. He dressed exactly as an American might hope an Englishman to dress – smart yet colourfully odd. He dazzled the women with white but wonky Limey teeth. He made suggestive remarks that might have attracted lawsuits were they not put-downable to English eccentricity. He waltzed the three of us around the dinnertime conference networking sessions and post-session networking dinners with tireless bonhomie. He took us to a proper Boston seafood restaurant and paid. But this was the only time Mark came unstuck; he ordered lobster and it arrived intact and barely dead along with some terrible metal instruments. The dismantling process was traumatic and not helped by the quantity of sauce, but he pulled through in the end and converted it into a Big Joke.

On day three of the conference Mark good-morninged us with a tremendous announcement. Rather than returning to Heathrow, he would be flying on to New York for further networking and theft. The two humourless accountants were scheduled to leave ahead of me anyway, so this meant that suddenly I had two clear days in Boston all to myself; a free holiday. I shook Mark’s hand and waved him and his tyrannical bonhomie off to the airport.

Did I waste my two free days alone in Boston, Massachusetts? Did I hide in my crumbly hotel room reading A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe, or lounge about the lavish lobby drinking Sam Adams beer? I did not, despite the temptation. I got out and had a holiday is what I did. I walked to the malls. I took a Trolley tour of Beantown. I went to the theatre to watch the Blue Man Group, who were funny and made excellent use of the music of KLF. In a downtown bar, almost a pub, where I stopped for an early-evening beer an All-American guy explained the rudimentaries of baseball to me as we watched the Red Sox playing Houston on the TV. I had a bash at explaining cricket. He then offered to give me a ticket for the very game that we were watching. “Don’t you want it?” I asked. “I'm good right here. It’s raining. They play all the time. Here you go, you’re in the Bleachers.” “Can I give you the money?” “Nah go on.” Yanks are often like that, which is why I like them so much. I paid for his beer and dashed out to get a taxi for Fenway Park, where I sat in the open-air Bleachers and tried to fathom out the scoreboard until the rain got too much even for me and I snuck over to a covered stand and found a seat amongst chuntering Boston fans whose chant repertoire was much less impressive (“Let’s go Red Sox” and “You suck Astros” both to the same tune being the extent of it) than their ability to consume hot dogs.

Before leaving for the airport I bought a gift for Mark. It was a humorous mug with illustrated instructions on How to Eat a Lobster. Back in England I presented this to him along with a postcard on which I had scribbled Thanks for my free trip to Boston. He seemed taken aback by the gesture. Later his stepson told me that Mark had been much moved by the gift, saying that nobody else he had taken to the States had ever thanked him. But then they were mostly humourless accountants. From then on I was a protégé. My wife and I were invited round for dinner and given random cash gifts for meals out. Then three years later Mark sold the company but continued to work, sort of secretly, for a division that had now become our rivals. I wrote the slightly mean but not really ill-intentioned dig “Good luck in your new job” in his leaving card. Mark took great offence, his stepson later told me. He hasn’t spoken to me since, except for one awkward accidental meeting in a DIY store where his wife rescued things by making a fuss of my baby daughter.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Mad Pianists

Over at the Dabbler, I have a Lazy Sunday Afternoon feature about some of the great, mad pianists.

Talking of which, Brit Jnr fans can see the great One Year-Old playing with her new toy here.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Tempus Fuggedaboutit

Brit Jnr will be one year old tomorrow, if you can believe such a thing. A whole annus mirabilis has passed since that dizzy day when the world began. I forget what the previous world was like, but suspect it had more sleep and less fun in it.

We're having three parties in two days (ridiculous, I know), at the end of which I shall doubtless be plumb tuckered, while Brit Jnr will be as full of beans as ever, the rascal.

Updates will appear on her blog for those in that particular gang.

The mind of the Librarian

Frank Key posts at The D today, with some excellent advice on effective blegging.

Meanwhile, I must point you to this wonderful account of the formative years of a young librarian by fellow Dabbler Nige, which was prompted by a piece prompted by this post.

This, I feel, is exactly the sort of thing that blogs are for.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Bodgett and Scarper

A day of DIY yesterday. I had three duties to perform: paint the living room; re-seal the bath; put up a coat rail.

Simple enough tasks, you say. Yes indeed, but I got a full day’s value out of them, and managed to beat my Personal Best in terms of quantity, variation and inventiveness of cussing.

This being a profanity-free blog I cannot, alas, reproduce the transcript of my day’s DIY here. But, rest assured, it will be anthologised in years to come.

Karl Weschke

Over at The Dabbler (Beta), the (Beta) blog the whole world is talking about, I post on the unusual life and art of Cornish-based ex-Nazi Karl Weschke.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Infinite Sadness of Chief Trading Post

Everything in the above box, or boat, is 50p (that everything consisting of a couple of crumbling candles, an egg thing, some dust and pebbles).

I'm reminded of Tom Waits' melancholy classic Soldier's Things.

Davenports and kettle drums
and swallow tail coats
Table cloths and patent leather shoes
Bathing suits and bowling balls
And clarinets and rings
And all this radio really
needs is a fuse

A tinker, a tailor
A soldier's things
His rifle, his boots full of rocks
And this one is for bravery
And this one is for me
And everything's a dollar
in this box...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I note a startling fact about public libraries at The D (as I'm now calling it).

Time and Colour

On Saturday at The Dabbler (no I’m really not turning TofE into a series of plugs for The Dabbler, but blogs are formed from one’s current preoccupations, and The Dabbler happens to be the thing about which I currently preoccupied am) I posted some autochrome colour pics from the very early 1900s.

Malty’s reaction is I’m sure the same of most – “they were more or less us” . The application of colour does have a remarkable effect of bringing the past closer and making strangeness more familiar - or perhaps, black and white has a dramatic distancing effect.

This makes me wonder whether, for Brit Jnr, the 1970s and 1980s will be much ‘closer’ for her than, say, the 1930s or 1940s are for me, simply because she’ll be able to see Michael Jackson videos and whatnot. And the 1920s will be just as distant to her as they are to me. As indeed, the 16th Century, visually accessible through weird portraits, is the same to all of us. Everything before our own living memory happened in a world that we have to take on faith, and colour is much more important than time in determining the degree to which we believe in it.

Font snobs

Over at The Dabbler I post on Font Snobs and the strange condition of Font Paralysis.

Monday, August 02, 2010

For the assiduous clicker

My stats inform me that several assiduous readers clicked on every single one of the links in the Private Pyschedelic Reel post below. That's pretty hardcore; I hope you emerged unscathed.

I will attempt to post this week, but I'm also busy building The Dabbler, which launches properly this month and today, in its nascent format, features a bit of Nige.

"The 1p Book Review" will be a recurring Dabbler feature. If you would like to recommend a book (fiction or non) that can be bought on Amazon for a penny (or a cent?), drop a line, with your choice and justification, to

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Private Psychedelic Reel

...don’t look at the sun if you have an Ilfracombe. Fat Charlie the Archangel sloped into the room. Bonedigger, bonedigger, buried underneath; born with ‘Portsmouth Football Club’ engraved on his teeth. Scab and matter custard, topped with cockroach legs. I can tell you a funny story about poached eggs. Dungeness crab and weasel a la Bristol Temple Meads; that’s the kind of breakfast a man such as me needs. If man is five, if man is five, the devil is six; Paul, Ed, Will and Ginger are picking up sticks. The cornet player’s cornet player, banging on the door. Plato ate a potato shaped like a Henry Moore. Sign says woo!
stay away fools,
off of my land!
Turn and fully return knob, hold child on stand...

Frank Key

We've been busy. Having already made this week what in fashionable football parlance is referred to as a 'marquee signing' in the shape of The Yard, The Dabbler is quickly establishing itself as the Manchester City of the blogscape.

The legendary Frank Key is the latest big name recruit of the transfer window - he will be writing a weekly column called 'Key's Cupboard', including brand new Dabbler-only content.

But for a kick-off, you can sample his unique genius in the infamous cautionary tale "Impugned by a Peasant".

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Over at The Dabbler (beta) I post on a terrifying 16th century family portrait, which I saw at Longleat House.

Have you been to Longleat? You get to drive around amidst lions and tigers and wolves and, most thrillingly, deer. Not monkeys at the moment, alas, they all have herpes, naughty things.

We took Brit Jnr a few weeks ago. What a waste of time; tots can’t see anything. At one point you can wind your windows down and feed the deer repellent pellets. One monster was literally poking its enormous head right onto Brit Jnr’s shoulder, but she only had eyes for a plastic cup. It crinkled. The lions, tigers and giraffes were quite lost on her but she got very excited about some chickens. More on her scale I suppose. Plus, she’s got no frame of reference by which lions should be more interesting than say, Yorkshire terriers. It’s a good day out though, if your kids are a bit older than 11 months.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Dabbler

Those of you who enjoy Think of England and other associated sites in this corner of the blogosphere will be very excited to learn of the imminent launch of The Dabbler.

The Dabbler - – is a new multi-contributor culture blog. Your pals Gaw, Worm, Nige, The Yard and I will be amongst those multiple contributors, along with numerous internet visionaries, luminaries, lunatics and special guests.

Over the coming weeks it will be launched properly in a swanky magazine format, probably using Blogger’s trendier cousin Wordpress.

But for now, you lucky Think of England readers can check it out in a nascent Blogger incarnation, including the very first post in which I select my 6 Clicks for the Endless Voyage (a feature). Subscribe, add it to your favourites, and remember you were there at the beginning; in a few months The Dabbler will be bigger than Dawkins.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Palms and needles

Outside my office is a palm tree, and next to it is a wintry conifer. This seems a bit of a jarring, climate-messing juxtaposition. Is it unusual? I know little of such matters.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birthing Partner reunion

A flurry of birthday parties these weeks as the bumps of the antenatal class reach the grand old age of One. The mums have seen each other a great deal in the last year and a bit; for the Birthing Partners this is a reunion of changed, chastened men. The beards, interestingly, are mostly gone. The consensus amongst us is that the ‘classes’ might just as well have been coffee mornings for pregnant women, since the sole but very worthwhile thing to come out of them is the mum’s network.

On Saturday we were in the garden of the cheeky church loudmouth for Evie’s birthday. There are a lot of Evies about, it was the hot name of 2009. The babies scramble on the lawn for our inspection. Lee and I feel a natural affinity as his Ben and my Brit Jnr (the two youngest, funnily enough) are the only tots to have worked out how to walk. The rest of these Dads don’t know what’s about to hit them. We talk about destruction and sleep and vuvuzelas.

Lee’s wife trundles over. We blench. Somebody says “Oh, wow.” She is enormous. “Yes,” says Lee. “We’ve got another one coming. Already. Due in October. ”
“October?” says the church loudmouth. “Wow….”
“Gosh,” I say.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” says Lee.
“Wow,” says somebody, again.
“Yes,” says Lee.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My biggest break

When, much later in my career, fawning interviewers ask me the inevitable question: “So, Brit, what would you say was your biggest break?” I shall reply “Sixteen.”

It two reds and two blacks. Nobody was more shocked than me, it was a full-size table and for the first red I had to use the absurd long wobbly rest. This gargantuan score was easily sufficient to win an intra-company snooker biggest break competition yesterday, by a margin of twelve. My prize: a 2010 Wacky Races calendar, good for five months.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 6

A No Smoking Gorilla.

A Sailor (Chef?) Teddy Bear Rocking-Chair (one Sailor/Chef Teddy Bear Arm missing), a Rocking-Aeroplane.

An Obscene CD-Rack (carved).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Local Hero

Watched Local Hero the other night, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. If I had a top ten of films, which thank God I don't, Local Hero would now be in it. I could happily have watched it again straight away, but it was really late - like, 10pm or something crazy like that.

Much of the rest of my top ten, if it existed - which it most certainly doesn't - would consist of the movies of Wes Anderson. He must surely owe a debt to Local Hero in terms of tone. "We have an injured rabbit also" could easily be a line from Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The three-legged dog of Westminster

What is there to protest about these days? This is an interesting piece on the 'Democracy Village’ protesters in Parliament Square. Tasty titbits include the description of some protesters protesting against other protesters within their own protest for being Christian; and the fact that uber-protester and London landmark nut Brian Haw views the Village as yet another dastardly plot by the State (the sole, overriding and thus far remarkably unsuccessful purpose of the British state being, of course, to prevent Brian Haw from protesting).

But for me the most striking thing about Tanya Gold’s article was the line “A three legged dog lies on the grass.” Unexpected and jarring, it looks like it’s been put in the wrong place:

There are 20 tents, some homemade signs and a sailing boat near a sound system which the inhabitants use to make speeches and read poems. It is not, as the mayor and other critics have claimed, filthy, but it does have a chaotic, never-to-be-seen-again curiosity: a campsite surrounded by the Treasury, the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. A three legged dog lies on the grass.

Why is this three-legged dog suddenly brought to our attention? Who is its owner? Is it part of the protest or merely an innocent observer? Or is it a metaphor for something? How significant is the missing leg? Did the State remove it? Does the dog represent the protestors, weakened but defiant? Does each of the three remaining legs correspond with one element of the Treasury/ Palace of Westminster/Westminster Abbey triumvirate? What breed is it, what colour? Above all, is its tongue lolling out so that it looks like it has a big silly doggy grin on its face?


Philip Hollobone’s arguments for a France-style burka ban make little sense – “it’s part of British culture to see people’s faces and say ‘Good morning’”? Oh really? Has he been to any British cities lately? Anyway, by that logic we’d have to ban low hats and high scarves in bad weather. But France generally gets it wrong. From the British perspective the only thing that matters is whether all the women who wear burkas are being forced to wear them against their will. If some but not all are being forced, then the possible ban available would be on the forcing of burka-wearing. And by all means, feminist or moderate pressure groups can feel free to encourage Muslim women not to wear it. But if at least some women are choosing to wear the burka, then that’s the end of the ban idea.

The thing was neatly summed up by a correspondent to a BBC Radio 2 programme yesterday morning. “When I’ve been to Arab countries,” she wrote, “I have had to cover my head and body. I strongly feel that when they come to this country they should obey our rules.” Her error, and the nub of it being, of course, that we don’t have rules like that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My middle name is Hussein

Flicking idly around the sports channels, I was amused to note that the Chicago Cubs baseball team includes a player called Starlin Castro. This, surely, must be one of the most UnAmerican names ever?

Friday, July 16, 2010

For the Corsa Lady

Last night a queue at some traffic lights was just long enough to block the clear left branch down which I wished to scoot. The Vauxhall Corsa in front noticed this and obligingly inched, squeezed and squoze forward so that I could scrinch, scrunch and scronch past and away. As I passed, the Corsa Lady gave me a big smiley wave, which I returned. Ah me, it was a warm human moment.

I hate the way that driving brings out the worst of us – mostly, I suspect, because of fear. Saintly and rare indeed is the person who is as good-natured inside her car as she is outside of it. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Terrible blow for warmists

...Prince Charles is on board. And thus the zeitgeist disappears over the horizon.


On the subject of the Times paywall, I’ve been asking myself: why do I buy newspapers? In fact now I only regularly buy the Sunday Times, which costs £2 a week, the same as the paywall that I’m still unwilling to breach. So why do I buy the Sunday Times for £2 a week?

1. telly guide
2. cryptic crossword
3. a general Sunday ritual
4. columnists
5. film, book and music reviews

For those reasons in that order. I’ll read the sport and some of the news, but it will be stuff I already know from the TV and internet, mainly the BBC. I don’t care about most of the ST lifestyle supplements. I’ll leaf through the mag.

The Times paywall can only offer me 4 and 5, in a different format. But The Guardian is just as good for reviews, if not better, so 5 is irrelevant. That leaves the columnists. The Times probably does have the best roster of hacks, but are they worth £2 a week compared to free papers and blogs?

Possibly, but the other side to this, strangely, is that if I did pay £2 a week I would feel obliged to read them regularly in order to get my money’s worth, and I don’t want to feel tied.

The Times Online needs to tempt me with something new that only it can offer. The web offers interactivity, so perhaps it needs to make its columnists work much harder. Get them all to interact with readers in the way that Peter Hitchens does - in the way that, um, bloggers do for free.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chief Trading Post: Bronze tart update

In an earlier post I erroneously stated that the price of the full size tart in bronze, reclining was "just under £1,900". Not sure where I got that from -low-res image and faulty memory - as I was miles out.

Having been back to Chief Trading Post, I can confirm that the price is in fact an eye-watering (and oddly specific) £12,312.86.

Chief Trading Post also claims, rather dubiously in my opinion, that the bronze is a "Lady Coffee Table, Lyling (sic) Sexy". I don't doubt the Lyling Sexy bit, but it's far from clear where you'd balance your coffee.

While we were there I purchased a tropical fishy mobile/windchime thing (£2) for Brit Jnr's room. I asked the assistant how often people bought the large, sexy bronzes. "Not that often," she admitted. "It's always a bit of a surprise when someone wants one, to be honest."