Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Year of the Pod

Although 2011 has been a quiet year for Think of England in terms of posts - The Dabbler inevitably takes up the majority of my blogging time (and I contribute to the Christmas and year end stuff over there this week) - nonetheless remarkable things have been happening deep within its bowels.

For 2011 has been the year of Poddington, whose bizarre thoughts continue to accrue on the infamous Why the Scottish Hate the English post. He's had a second wind over the holidays, and I feel that with the prophesy of the forthcoming Great War between all nations - quoted in full below - he's really taken Poddingtonery to a new level...

The Great War...

In a nutshell...

Europe becomes one, well, The United States of Europe consists of ten key nations and possibly others. However, not twenty Seven like unto today.

Roman Catholicism has a great revival in Europe, becoming the state religion.

The Anglo Celts leave - they are the Christian Protestants.

Mean while, in The Middle East, The Shiites are growing and they become powerful. The Shiites are allied with Europe. This alarms the Sunnis to new and greater degrees, to the point that not only do they look to Anglo-Celts for greater alliances and ties, they are happy to become Anglo-Celtic protectorates.

For some reason the Roman Catholics, i.e. USE, move a great armed force into the Middle East. The Anglo-Celts confront them, and ask them if they have come to do them and their allies harm. The USE respond in typical German fashion, shocking everyone and using the element of surprise "how cleaver," they attack the Middle East using nuclear missiles and typically, cause great harm.

This rocks The Commonwealth of Nations. However, the Indian's attack from the East, and the North American's shock the USE by attacking Europe from the North. The USE
withdraw from the Middle East to fight the forces to the east and north. They manage to control those situations and return to the Middle East.

While this is happening, the Brits have reinforcements on the way to the Middle East.
However, they are too late. For, the USE attacks and captures Israel. By this
time, Jesus Christ has had enough and He and His armed forces attack and destroy
the USE.

Jesus then reigns from Jerusalem as the King of the Universe and the Anglo-Celts are the first to take unto Jesus great gifts of wealth, gold and silver and to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of the Universe.

So, that is the war between the Brits and the Germans within and according to the Christian scriptures, yet, this is according to my understanding at this current time of course.



Happy New Year all!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Brit Jnr Minor arrives

We have doubled our number of daughters, to two.

Elizabeth Orla, arrived Saturday at 11.55am. 7lb 9. Spit of her sister.

All well, if sleepless.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My litany of grievances against Thom Yorke

I list my complaints about Thom Yorke and talk about Radiohead's album The Bends here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Yard

I grill Bryan Appleyard over at The Dabbler about his new book and also why he keeps stopping and starting blogging.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back to Ilfracombe

Another airing for my queasy Ilfracombe prose-poem at the Big D.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Soldier music

Entertaining the troops over at the Dabbler, with Gracie Fields, Glenn Miller, George Butterworth and Elvis singing gospel.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Newsnight, Bryan Appleyard

I have become addicted to the nightly financial doom-fest that is Newsnight. This is eating into important reading and sleeping time and also making me depressed. What, I keep wondering, does 'the abyss' actually look like? Are we going to be just a bit poorer over the next decade or are we going to be eating each other?

Anyway, Bryan Appleyard popped up on it last night, talking (too briefly, Paxman was useless) about the brain. He has a new book out today called The Brain is Wider than the Sky. I'm halfway through the review copy (reviews and other exciting Yard-related things will appear on The Dabbler soon) and I can tell you you should buy it.

You should also go and read and comment on his blog, which is alive again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Papandreou's Unforgiveable Sin

Could anything be more revealing of the true nature of the Great European Project than the Markozy reaction to Papandreou, who has broken the iron law of Pan-Euro politics: whatever you do, don't ask the people what they think.

J'accuse David Attenborough

Over at The Dabbler I commit heresy by criticising David Attenborough - or specifically, his neo-Malthusian theory of human population.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Specky four eyes!

Over at The Dabbler I peer at some bespectacled popstars, including Buddy Holly (of course), Elvis Costello, Graham Coxon, plus a nasty surprise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Martyrdom of Dr Giles Fraser

There are many highly comical elements of the Occupy London/St Paul’s debacle – the Trustafarian queues for Starbucks, the empty tents, the misconceived ‘Elf and Safety’ fears, the general sense of it all being such a pointless waste of time – but one that has really tickled me is the martyrdom of Dr Giles Fraser, the Cathedral’s canon chancellor.

He resigned from his post yesterday with “great sadness and regret”, on the righteous grounds that he wanted no part in anything that might involve the Church “using violence” against the protestors. Given that this wasn’t at all likely to happen, his resignation must be one of the most frivolous in memory. But you only need to look at Fraser to know that here is not only one of those clergymen who, given half a chance, would be bringing electric guitars into St Paul’s or trying to get down with the kids by organising (alcohol-free) “raves for Jesus”; but also a man who hungers for celebrity.

He needlessly announced his needless self-sacrifice on Twitter. Bet you anything he’ll be popping up in the media whenever a talking head is required on “What it means to be a Christian in the modern world….”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Stone Roses

I put Second Coming into Record Rehab here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why is Private Eye so unfunny?

I address this and other questions about political satire in my review of The Comic Strip presents... The Hunt for Tony Blair.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sam Warburton

I was sorry to see Wales lose to France - not least because victory would have made my pal and Dabbler co-editor Gaw happy - but I confess I was nonplussed by the ITV commentators' furious reaction to the red card shown to Sam Warburton for his spear tackle on Vincent Clerc. It was a quite eye-wateringly dangerous act of violence, but they seemed to think a sin-binning would have been harsh. Rugby is a violent game but that makes the drawing of clear lines more important.

It seems pointless to compare the apologising for Warburton with the opprobrium heaped upon Wayne Rooney for his pathetic kick on the the Montenegran (described by the UEFA authorities as "an assualt") since football and rugby have wholly different moral codes, but a more telling thought experiment would be to imagine the reaction if it had been an England bruiser dumping one of the plucky Welsh lads on his neck.

Greece versus Germany

Over here I wonder what the music of Germany and Greece can tell us about their current relationship, locked in a loveless economic embrace.

And I ponder the epistemological implications of England's defeat to France in the rugby last week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Foxy Knoxy

It surely tells you all you need to know about the prurient interest of the meedja in the Meredith Kercher murder case that it is nigh impossible to find a picture of Raffaele Sollecito in any report on the subject. Yesterday's Times devoted most of its front page and a couple of pictorial inside spreads to the news that Amanda Knox had been cleared of the crime, but you had to read a long way to discover that so too had Sollecito. Doubtless the tabloids were even worse.

Flashman versus America

Over at the Dabbler - Flashman makes some modest remarks concerning the concept of American exceptionalism.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Johann Hari

Those who've been following the Johann Hari farce (including Nick Cohen, whose wikipedia entry was maliciously tampered with by Hari using the pseudonym David Rose) might enjoy today's Noseybonk on the Dabbler, in which the 'Bonk exclusively reveals Hari's first assignment at journalism school, entitled What I Did on My Holidays.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tinker Tailor and booze at the flicks

At the Dabbler I review the new film of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. I also drink alcohol at the cinema.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Over at The Dabbler I provide a short and, I think, rather poignant history of those typographical curioisities, ambigrams.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A trip to the seaside

A few weeks ago I found myself clamped in the teeth of a North Sea gale, on a bitter July Tuesday, trying to make a sandcastle from the brown sludge of Skegness beach.

Read on for more of my adventures...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

More thoughts of Poddington

Poddington's Thoughts continue apace, despite my having deleted three of his posts for being racist drivel. Not viciously racist, just really weirdly racist.

A couple of good ones from the last few days:

Right, I am going to write one last piece to explain my theory.

I believe I owe the readers of this site that much.

and, brilliantly:

Another thing that I have noticed is that I have spelled angel wrong above - using angle. Then I stated that I wonder if there is a connection between the angels of heaven and the Germanic tribe of the Angles. Simply ignore that piece.

I think that I should know that one by now, growing up when Christianity was a big part of school, going to church, reading the bible for ten years and graduating from a bible college.

Sometimes the simple things give you the slip.


Ballardian ballads

...would have been a good name for my music post In every dream home a heartache at The Dabbler, but it's too late now. L'esprit d'escalier again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Thoughts of Poddington

My infamous Why the Scottish Hate the English post really is the gift that keeps on giving, in terms of random comments. I sometimes delete the overt filth, but even so there are now 90 on there, mostly rabid anti-English or anti-Scottish rants. However, over the last few weeks one 'Poddington' has been conducting an extraordinary Beckettian monologue, or perhaps dialogue with himself.

Sample passages:

...The greatest battle I ever heard was the Norse vs the Saxons - I believe, at Essex.Hence, where the great merits of both people was truly established, i.e. the Norse for their bravery and the Saxons for their loyalty.Look at Germany too, they were different peoples not so long back. However, they became one and now they are doing rather well. They seem happy together, yet, I do not live there so I do not know if they have the friction that we have.Yet, let me not forget, I am not an expert on the numbers of Norse and Saxons and so forth in all the great battles. However, what did they do in the end? The royal lines married and there by brought peace and an interlinking of the two peoples.There has been some wars in Britain and Ireland, above are just the tip of the ice berg as the term goes.

...I apologize for my style, grammar, and spelling on piece above. To be blunt, I was absolutely knackered and I did not know whether or not, this site only gave you a certain time-frame in which to contribute.Oh, furthermore, not to cause offence with the term "Dummies," in the sense of folk that simply have additional needs - slight or severe. It is actually quite outdated now; however, it was a common term when I was child. Yet, again, not used much because such a term can break hearts can it not? Poddington

...Look upon Europe as Tesco and split apart as little corner shops. Which is it that gets the finer deal at the wholesalers...? Correct - Tesco.

..Hooliganism seems to have died now in England. That was simply the hardcore guys getting the rest into trouble.It was still a total disgrace mind.Now I am finished. Poddington.

Right,This is the last piece I will write.Where to start...

...I am going to write another two pieces.

...Is it true... Smooth looking men are in fairy-tales and rugged looking men are in the communities of the real world, with all its harshness and troubles.For, they do not quite fit into the smooth type do they? I cannot imagine them walking into a bar and asking for a Rose wine.Yet, please take this in jest if you do like a glass of Rose wine.

....My writings seem not so good to me... I have not reviewed the latest ones, I am firing from the hip, as the term goes. I get the feeling that they are a little rough and rugged. I feel that way. Hopefully, you will be able to see that I have tried to write from a humble disposition. I will admit though, that I am tired of all the problems that we face through being different peoples and the history that we have. However, I believe our history is a success story when you really look into things.

...Like I say though, I am not an expert on many of things I have written and I think in the future I will pass contributing.So, take my writings with a pinch of salt; however, I am only off by a tad if anything.

...One thing many folk in the UK do not realize is that Scottish Whiskey has been one of Britain's biggest exports for more years than I know, i.e. a serious number of years, possibly one hundred. It is staggering one way or the other.Poddington

It is well worth popping over to marvel at the ongoing work that is The Thoughts of Poddington. You will learn about the mysterious 'Man from Cleveland', the quality of Australian iron ore and the noble Irish-Norse race. Go down to the bottom of the comments and work your way up - somehow it's even better in reverse order.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The many odd, meaningless things that people say

In today's Times a snarky columnist called Sathnam Sanghera rightly takes ex-Blur bassist turned Cotswold cheese-maker Alex James (yes really) to task for saying: "the people who used to spend money on Blur records now buy cheese at the weekends". It is indeed a strikingly bizarre statement meaning, what? That cheese and music purchases are mutually exclusive? That Blur fans are particularly cheese-loving compared to those who prefer other 1990s bands? That they spend all weekend buying cheese to the exclusion of other leisure activities, such as listening to music?

Now Alex James is a thundering plonker, but in fact people make similarly baffling statements in public all the time. A little further on in the paper David Seidler, writer of the excellent The King's Speech, says this:

"I believe certain written works produce a polarising effect. Seldom do you find someone who equally adores Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. In children's literature it's Alice in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows. I was always a Willows lad, preferring naughty Mr Toad in his shiny motor car to a silly white bunny who can't keep track of the time. You can tell what sort of little boy I was."

Say what? Leaving aside the Tolstoy/Dostoevsky 'polarisation', is it really the case that you'll rarely find any child fond of both Alice and Wind in the Willows? If so, I must have been one of the lucky few. And is "a silly white bunny who can't keep track of the time" the salient feature of Alice for many readers? And can I tell what sort of little boy David Seidler was from any of this? No I can't, except perhaps the sort of little boy to make exceedingly strange statements.

But of course these weird non-sequiturs, presented as generally-recognised truths, litter all conversation everywhere, only in everyday life we are too polite and, frankly, time-pressed to continually interrupt others' flow by asking "Sorry, but what the hell are you talking about?"

University Challenge Drinking Game

My University Challenge Drinking Game, originally published during my stint on Mr Appleyard's blog a few years back, gets an airing on the Sabotage Times.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In praise of meaningless words

I'm back on music duty on The Dabbler, with 'nonsense' tracks from Cocteau Twins, the Australian Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros and Underworld.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Sid Waddell

And another old Dabbler article at the Sabotage Times (where, apparently, I look like a psychopath).

This time the great Sid Waddell. The subs seem to have lost all the italics in which I encased the Waddellisms, which makes for a suitably disorienting read.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More Shane MacGowan

My Dabbler piece about Shane MacGowan appears today in a slightly amended form at the Sabotage Times. The eds there have retitled it 'Shane MacGowan: Champion Boozer and Lyrical Genius'. That wouldn't have been my choice as I don't like talking about alcoholism, a disease, in celebratory terms like 'champion', but hopefully the article still makes that point.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's not often...

... you review a TV programme and the series producer himself comes along and gives you a bollocking. But it has just happened to me.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Harman v Gove

My God, did anyone see Harriet Harman's disgraceful performance on Newsnight tonight? Michael Gove nearly exploded, which I must say showed a remarkable degree of self-control on his part. I think I would have throttled her. You can watch it (from 32m 37s) here.

Meanwhile I Dabble here on the London riots, Great Thinkers and the Beeb.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Flashman, Balls and Telly

Thanks to all you brothers and sisters in bloggery who commented on my Flashman post at the Sabotage Times - much appreciated.

I've been brushing up on George MacDonald Fraser for a longer, less laddish piece which will hopefully be published in another organ, and in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord I came across this description of a politician: "[He] was your complete politico, with the pudding face of a bad tempered baby..." Well of course the image of Ed Balls was instantly conjured - could there be a more perfect encapsulation?

Meanwhile, I post a very funny video of Telly Savalas pretending he loves Birmingham, over at the Dabbler.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For Amy

Long-time readers will recall that Amy Winehouse featured regularly on ToE about five years ago. I championed her singing generally and her wonderful album Back to Black particularly - it was possibly the best pop record of the noughties. She made it big but her self-destructive years since have been painful to watch and on Saturday she died, at the age of 27. I pay tribute to her at The Dabbler.

Groovin' with William McGonagall.

Over at the Dabbler I contemplate the chillin'-loungin'-groovin'-funkin' spectrum. Yes, there's not a word-endin' 'g' in sight.

And there's a repeat of my post about the world's worst poet, William McGonagall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I write about Flashman over at the ST (that's the Sabotage Times, not the Sunday ones). Unusually, I do this under my real name and, watch out, there's a mugshot.

Since the Sabotage Times is James Brown's organ (others have included Loaded and GQ) I focus on the laddish elements of the series.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Two Tax Gatherers

And I've also written about a painting by Marinus van Reymerswaele.

Rupert Thomson

Tough few weeks lately, but I have managed to contribute to the Dabbler review of Rupert Thomson's excellent This Party's Got to Stop and also conducted a Q&A with the author.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Singular voices

My Lazy Sunday features two unexpected covers, a voice that can melt the wax in your ears and Tom Jones dancing like a maniac.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Interesting discussion about the game of Spite, over at The Dabbler.

Oh yes and on Monday I posted the extraordinary story of the Hobyahs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Return of Isner Mahut

ToE readers will not be surprised to hear that Isner and Mahut have been drawn together once again in the first round of Wimbledon.

Isner and Mahut are perfectly balanced yin-yang anti-doppelgangers who, since they 'found' each other in last year's impossible tennis match, have been living together in a wooden hut high in the Himalayas, where they spend their days playing out endless chess stalemates and drawn games of noughts-and-crosses.

According to The Times on Saturday, the odds on Isner and Mahut being drawn together again, taking into account Isner's seeding last year, were 1 in 13,871.

But on ToE, we know that the Fates do not play dice. The odds were, of course, 1 in 1.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Yesterday I posted about electronic music at the Big D.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Double Dactyl - the next generation

Over at Nige's place I appear to have accidentally invented a new poetic form - the 'Double Dactyl Plus', with this poem:

Double Dactyl E-Coli Theory

Benedict Cumberbatch
brought a cucumber back
from his vacation
in Las Palmas de Gran.

Engelbert Humperdink
mugged him and nicked the thing,
Took it to Krautland;
That’s how it began.

(To explain: previous Double Dactyl poems had merely rhymed the last line of each stanza, whereas the new 'Double Dactyl Plus' form rhymes AABC, DDEC, where AA and DD are, at a minimum, dactylic half-rhymes, and rather than that business about single-word dactyls in the second stanza and nonsense first lines, there must instead be at least one mention of a cucumber.)

UPDATE: Here's another one, which abides strictly by the rules, including the cucumber one:

Incident at Blue Peter Presenters Function (Double Dactyl Plus)

Cucumber sandwiches
for high tea at Claridges!
All spesh’ly laid on for
the Blue Peter crew!

Valerie Singleton
burnt all her fingers on
a hot buttered crumpet,
And now she might sue.

FURTHER UPDATE: This one is a Double Dactyl Plus Plus, combining both the orginal Hecht/Pascal rules and my additional rules:

Boxing Commentator Salad Poem

‘Rumpeta rumpeta,’
said Harry Carpenter,
Making his way to
The greengrocer’s stall.

But then he was struck by a
And now he can’t eat
any green things at all.

(Meaningless opening line: check.
Subject's name in second line: check.
Single word double-dactyl in second stanza: check.

AABC DDEC rhyme scheme: check.
Mention of cucumber: check.)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Found poetry

Over at The Dabbler I expound on a topic previously explored on Think of England, namely Found Poetry.

Yes I know, I know, but look I can't keep coming with brand new topics all the time, dammit.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Champion

I contribute to the Dabbler Book Club review of Tim Binding's novel The Champion here.

I alone praise it. Tough crowd, the Dabbler Book Club.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Geoffrey Boycott tattoo

On the Beeb's cricket text commentary today, the banter turned to tattoos, and some wag emailed in to suggest that if Geoffrey Boycott were to get a tattoo, it would be one of his own face... On his own face.

I found this idea both amusing and philosophically intriguing. I shall muse on it at length, and see what emerges.

Shane MacGowan

Over at the Dabbler I write about Shane MacGowan.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gawd help us, another one!

Brit Jnr Minor is due on 29 November 2011.

Elif Batuman

I review Elif Batuman's fantastically entertaining book The Possessed here. If you're in the Book Club you can win a copy. I've exchanged a few emails with Elif (she's lovely and very, very smart) after getting her address from the inestimable Dave Lull, a fan of hers.

Via Elif I got in touch with her UK publicist, Henry Jeffreys, another lovely person whom I met in London last week at the inaugural Dabbler booze-up summit. Henry is now The Dabbler's wine correspondent, and Granta will be supplying monthly books for the club.

Thus the interconnections of the web and indeed, life. If you want to meet interesting people who might well change your life, you could do a lot worse than join the League of Dabblers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Bob

I contribute to the Dabbler's compendium post marking Bob Dylan's 70th birthday.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Word spreads 2

Blogmanship is currently top of the tree in The Browser's Arts and Entertainment page.

Take that, New York Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement!

Blogmanship - the word spreads

It's very gratifying to see some budding blogmen taking enthusiastically to Noseybonk's recommended ploys. See these highly amusing comment threads at Metafilter and Reddit.

The fifth and final extract, including Hostmanship and Blogwomanship, was on Friday's Dabbler. Plenty more unserialised material in the book proper.

Buy it today you tightfisted swines! If you really do hate eBooks, you can always follow Recusant's excellent eLuddite example: buy the PDF for a mere £2, print it, staple it together to form a sort of pamphlet and read it on the Tube (or bus or train etc).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blogmanship 4 - Advanced techniques...

...including Moral Indignationship, Above-the-fray play and Wriggling Out of Arguments you have Clearly Lost, in today's Blogmanship extract on The Dabbler.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blogmanship - buy it now!

All this week The Dabbler is serialising Noseybonk's hilarious and essential new handbook Blogmanship – Or, How To Win Arguments On The Internet Without Really Knowing What You Are Talking About.

Part 1 is here.

You can buy the complete eBook for just £2 as a PDF direct from The Dabbler, or as an eBook from or for £2.81 (or $3.99).


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ulysses and lonely cities

Over at the Dabbler I 'review' James Joyce's Ulysses, if you can believe such a thing. Some very good comments trail it.

And today's Lazy Sunday is about feeling miserable in New York, Paris and London.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monday, May 09, 2011

The blowy instruments

I'm on Lazy Sunday duties at the big D - horns in pop, including Dexys, Love, The Specials and Radiohead ft Humphrey Lyttelton.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Wasting my vote

Funnily enough, I voted ‘Yes’ to AV in the end - as predicted a last-minute decision, and largely because the other vote – the council election – gave me a clear indication of the particular failings of FPTP.

Bristol St George West, not a salubrious area, is a straight fight between Lib Dems and Labour. I would naturally want to vote Conservative, but it’s a waste of time. Therefore I voted for the Lib Dems, purely as a tactical vote against Labour.

What I really wanted to do was put Conservative as my first choice, to indicate my preference, but Lib Dem second, so that I can say “Assuming my guy doesn’t win, I’d rather the Liberal got in than the Labour man”.

Which AV would have allowed me to do.

In the end Labour got in to Bristol St George West, and doubtless the AV vote will be No, which doesn’t concern me unduly.

I didn’t ‘waste’ my vote on the Lib Dem candidate – I just voted for the losing side. But I was forced to vote for him despite not wanting him, because going for the Tory really would have been wasting my vote.

The Shadow Line

Over at The Dabbler I review The Shadow Line (BBC 2). Not glowingly, it must be said.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Never meet your idol

Via Jon Hotten I find this flesh-crawlingly weird Huffpo article by one Steve Mariotti, about his encounters with his intellectual idol Ayn Rand.

After the first meeting:

This incident cut me deeply. I was so scarred by the rejection that I couldn't even tell anyone about it for 15 years.

And after the third:

It was like someone had taken a hot knife to my stomach...This final communication hurt so much that I have never talked about it until now.

You really have to read the whole thing to believe it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Also at the Big D, I contribute to the Dabbler Book Club's review of Germania by Simon Winder.

Germania is a book that pulls off the remarkable trick of being simultaneously very entertaining and very boring. Weird.

The Book Club is doing a novel next, and we've also got publishers queuing up to give away freebies, prize draws etc, so make sure you join today - it's free.

Weekendus Mirabilis

Lots of things to be patriotically proud about this weekend. Our gutter press is not one of them but Kate is – a sensible pretty English upper middle-class girl who, having been going out with a Prince for a decade, bravely enters her gilded, paparazzi-patrolled prison with eyes open.

So, a cynicism-defyingly joyful Royal Wedding, Manchester United lose and they kill Osama bin Laden; yes, I’d call that a pretty good weekend.

But it’s back to work now, a mega-Tuesday, the hangovers have accumulated and, to put the tin lid on it, it’s my birthday.

Cheer yourself up over at The Dabbler with my selection of four songs that will make you LOL.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dilettantes with day jobs

Popping over to Nick Cohen’s place I notice two things. First, that he’s had a redesign (a significant improvement, too). Second, that in the process he’s cut Think of England from his list of ‘Comrades’. Such are the thanks one gets for buying his book twice and pointing out the mini-roundabout in Upper Street, Islington.

This cruel, cruel snub I’m sure has nothing to do with the argument we had over the sale of the Huffington Post, in which I criticised Nick for his, with hindsight, quite indefensibly absurd argument that Ms Huffington ripped off those people who blogged on her site for no pay. I say ‘in hindsight’ it was ‘indefensibly absurd’, because I have since realised that she could easily have actually charged amateur bloggers for the privilege of using her platform to find an audience for their twaddle, and made money from them that way before even coming to selling out.

During the course of this ‘debate’ Nick rather childishly busted my pseudonym, but since my 23rd year when I suddenly grew two inches and started ‘filling out’ I’ve generally been the bigger man in most company, so not only will I keep Nick on my list of ‘Friends and Foes’ (right), but I will even go so far as to dedicate to him the following random list of Dilettantes with Day-Jobs.

Matthew Arnold – school inspector
Charlotte Bronte – governess
Anton Chekhov – doctor
TS Eliot – Colonial and Foreign Accounts Clerk for Lloyds Bank of London
William Faulkner – Postmaster, University of Mississippi
Henry Fielding – Magistrate
Nathaniel Hawthorne – weigher and measurer at Customs House
Franz Kafka – Chief Legal Secretary of the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute
Philip Larkin – librarian
Baruch Spinoza – lens grinder
Henry David Thoreau – tutor, repairman/gardener
Anthony Trollope – Postal Surveyor

Royal Wedding on The Dabbler

Today Jonathon Green kicks off The Dabbler's Big Royal Wedding Jamboree with an eye-watering dictionary of nuptial slang...

Frank Key, Susan Muncey, Worm and Mahlerman will also be contributing special Wills'n'Kate related posts over the weekend...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alternative Vote – who cares?

It’s virtually impossible to find any sort of meaty arguments for or against replacing FPTP with the AV system, principally, I now suspect, because being a compromise system that nobody really wants, there aren’t any.

I’m opposed to pure proportional representation because it produces corrupt, irremovable coalition governments and severs the already often weak link between the MP and his local constituents. But AV isn’t a proportional system, merely a more complex version of FPTP which might or might not be marginally better than the simple system we have at the moment. Some argue that the simplicity of our current system is itself a virtue, others complain about the ‘wasted’ votes in very safe seats (which as a complaint has some legitimacy, but there is a difference between having your preferred candidate lose and ‘wasting’ your vote, and anyway it’s still a lesser problem than those produced by proportional representation).

There’s no real reason why the usual progressive London suspects (Fry, Izzard etc) should be particularly keen on AV, other than that they just like making constitutional changes. And there’s no real reason for conservatives to vehemently oppose AV, other than that they dislike making constitutional changes.

On balance I think AV is probably a slightly better system than the current one; but if it’s supposed to be, as Lib Dems hope, a ‘step towards proper PR’ then I have a stronger reason to oppose it. The conclusion being, I don’t really care much either way, and will probably decide at the very last minute. Which apathetic attitude captures the general mood, I suspect.

So long, predictive text

On my new phone (Nokia N8 – the camera is amazing, 12 megapixels!) I write text messages with a qwerty touchscreen, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might never use the predictive text number-pad method again.

I liked predictive text a great deal. First, it worked against yoof ‘txt-speak’, which was supposed to be about to wreck the language (Shakespeare rendered as '2b or nt 2b' etc) and instead encouraged you to write in proper full English words which you had to know how to spell. Second, it facilitated amusing mistakes, especially for people’s names. 'Anna' always came out as 'Bomb', for instance.

But now that the seemingly-indestructible qwerty has already rendered it obsolete, it may be that my generation will be the first and last to have mastered the skill (older people were generally terrified of its interfering ways; younger people will not need it).

To preserve its memory for posterity, therefore, I have composed this short poem.

So long, predictive text

So long, predictive text,
Ingenious but short-lived tool.
You’re gone, and whatever comes next
is unlikely to be as book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Greens versus Israel, BBC versus UKIP

Norm Geras has been running a series of posts about how Greens are instinctively anti-Israel. There's further evidence today that anti-Semitism is now a left-wing thing as the Scottish Green Party launches its manifesto and, on page 25, announces that it will seek to boycott Israel but mentions no other countries as being problematic.

Greens are fanatics unable to think clearly and are therefore dangerous. They're also London. UKIP (who are ridiculous but less so than the Greens) are Not-London. This is why the BBC - being London - thinks that UKIP is a small bad party in the same bad, Not-London category as the BNP, but the Greens are in a different, essentially good, London category.

As Daniel Hannan observes, you will frequently hear BBC reporters make throwaway remarks that are variations on: "...minority parties like UKIP and the BNP", but never " the Greens and BNP".

This is odd considering that the Greens and the BNP have similar support in most opinion polls (4%) whereas UKIP is at 8%; and at the 2009 European elections, UKIP came second behind the Tories with 16.5%, whereas the BNP (6.2%) and Greens(8.6%) got two seats each, making them very comparable 'minority parties', in that respect at least.

Fiendish quiz

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

London and Not-London

Rod Lidl writes a lot of sloppy, pointlessly provocative tosh (as Nick Cohen knows, it's not easy to keep generating controversial angles and moral outrage to deadline), but this is very good:

Not-London does not think like London; it has its own ideas. And these ideas have diverged from those of the capital over the last 20 years; they were always a little distant, but never so much as they are now. Economics is, as ever, at the heart of this widening chasm.

It is often said, by its critics, that the BBC has an inherently left-wing bias across its output. I don’t think this is correct. It is certainly biased, but it is not, to my mind, a left-wing bias: it is a metropolitan liberal bias. It is not noticeably biased on issues such as the minimum wage, or redundancies, for example, or the need for the government to invest in industry, which you might expect if its bias was truly from the left. Its bias is that of London’s: a sort of mimsy faux-leftism based on economic self-interest. We are ruled by the ideas of London — or, to be more accurate, a certain affluent and arrogant part of it. A gilded crescent that stretches from Ealing in the west to Hoxton in the east, south to Dulwich, Greenwich and Wimbledon, and north to Hampstead Garden Suburb. From within this place emanate all the shibboleths of Politically Correct Britain, and its epic sense of rectitude that no person in public life dare challenge.

Evangelistically secular, socially ultra-liberal and unwilling to allow even the mildest challenge to its political hegemony. And you can see why; for the London middle class, immigration, for example, means nicer food on the high street, much cheaper nannies and plumbers and mini-cab drivers and so on. (But this is just the London middle class: to be sure, there are plenty of parts of London that should also be designated Not-London; the poorer, nastier bits, where these views do not hold sway). Beyond London, out in the desolate wilds of Not-London, ie in the rest of England, the economics do not work in quite the same way.

(from a duelling article with AA Gill about the BBC move to Salford, alas behind the paywall)

Monday, April 18, 2011

We’ve all been there

Via Nige I discover this riveting BBC article about cardboard boxes, which includes perhaps the greatest introductory paragraph ever written:

We've all been there. Surrounded by clutter, left with nothing to house the mess. Enter the cardboard box.

I’ve been trying to come up with an homage that might do justice to its majesty (see the comments). Alas my imitations are pale, the best I’ve managed so far being:

We've all been there. Holding a bowl of soup, left with nothing to somehow transfer it into our mouths without creating a mess. Enter the spoon.

Can anyone come closer to the original’s thrilling perfection? What about something like…

We’ve all been there. Standing on the first floor of our houses, wondering how to safely reach the ground floor where we might find the kitchen and other useful rooms without actually plummeting from a window and in the absence of an elevator or fireman’s pole. Enter the staircase.

No, I just can't seem to get that je ne sais quois...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Any excuse

Has anyone yet managed to see a single story in any paper or media outlet about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal that doesn't feature a large image of the lovely Sienna Miller?


Over at The Dabbler I review Spiral (BBC Four). It's being hyped as 'the new The Killing', but in fact this is the third series. I provide the complete lowdown on it thus far.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Over at The Dabbler, I write, in conjunction with Jassy, about Sipsmith Gin and Vodka.

A remarkable little operation. Two extremely well-spoken CamCleggy types called Sam and Fairfax operate out of a small shack in Hammersmith, which contains this bloody fantastic gin-making machine called Prudence.

London really is an endlessly amazing place.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Name-drop Nuclear Option

Whenever I encounter such shameless name-dropping as this, I simply end all competition by stating the fact that Terry Nutkins once came to my house.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

J’aime Bruce Springsteen

It is 1989 and I am at school. Our French teacher – a real French Mademoiselle, with all that entails (worshipped resentfully by the boys, loathed by the girls) – requires us to say, en français, the name of our favourite act from the world of le musique pop.

So far every single member of the class has repeated the same phrase : “J’aime INXS.” I have watched them all say it, one by one, with growing disbelief. They cannot all ‘aime’ INXS, surely? What I am witnessing, I begin to realise, is the true ovine cowardice of modishness. I will come swiftly to despise it. Later, I will also come to despise kneejerk anti-modishness – i.e. the rejection of cultural items simply because they happen to be a la mode - which is itself a pose and a form of modishness.

When Mlle points to me, I declare that J’aime Bruce Springsteen. This is the simple truth, yet it is greeted with cruel sniggers from the INXS ‘fans’. I am not humiliated. From that moment, I swore loyalty to The Boss, by which I mean, I swore loyalty to myself. Ayn Rand would have been proud. Now I am a Daddy and I don’t need to be cool and my daughter sings “Woah woah woah woah Badlands!” from her car seat. I turn approvingly. “Let’s go,” I say, as I join the main road. “It’s a town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win….”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Budget Style

Today i am going to be writing about the Budget. Strictly yawnsville, man.

Much more importantly, you should work out what 'Brow' you are with The Dabbler's Style Guide.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Golden Ocean

Over at The Dabbler I spend a penny and review The Golden Ocean by Patrick O'Brian.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tony Benn - wrong to the end

It was a sorry thing, seeing Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn on last night's Newsnight. He was representing the Stop the War Coalition, which has decided to oppose any international attempts to save Libyans from Gaddafi's thugocracy (even though this time it's 'legal' and even the French and the Arabs are for it and the Russians not against it (so that whole UN legality thing was in fact irrelevant in the anti-Iraq invasion protests, it turns out)).

Benn looked really, really old. Old and confused and just wrong for the sake of it; as if, feeling the burden of being the nation's favourite tireless, articulate man who is always wrong (and has been wrong about absolutely everything in his long career), he feared he was now running out of chances to be wrong and had better have this last fling at glorious, thick-skulled, obstinate, morally bankrupt wrongness.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A stopped clock

Over there I review new BBC4 comedy Twenty Twelve.

Oh, and commenters on the Dabbler can now win a bottle of Glengoyne whisky, simply by saying stuff on the internet.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Careless Whisper

On Sunday morning I was singing, as a chap sometimes will for reasons of his own which require no justification, George Michael’s hit song Careless Whisper.

Now few realise that George Michael wrote Careless Whisper in an unusual key, namely B Flat Whine Major. Achieving the strained falsetto demanded by this key requires long and dedicated practice, particularly for the prolonged “yoo-hoooo-oooo” which marks the climax of the line “No I’m never gonna dance again, the way I danced with yoo-hooooo-ooooo.”

It was during this practice that Mrs B entered the room and unfairly remarked that it was “the worst singing she had ever heard.” Naturally I swatted away her criticisms and redoubled my efforts.

You can enjoy more of my musical expertise here, where I curate a quartet of tunes loosely connected by the theme of sheep, including works by Bach and the Super Furry Animals.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rampant commercialism

O, Think of England, if I have been neglecting you it is only because I have been devoting my time to furious capitalist activities over at the Dabbler, all alcohol-based, including signing a spectacularly lucrative deal with Glengoyne whisky - see Ian Buxton's review here.

You should all also enter the Bath Ales competition pronto. You'll thank me for this one day.

Meanwhile, me old mucker Craig has a brilliant post today about researching his book on the KKK.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Fame at last

Today I have a Normblog profile here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Jamie's Dream School

Over at The Dabbler I review Jamie's Dream School (Channel 4).

And when I saw 'review', I mean I take a sledgehammer to it, smash it into smithereens, then take each of those smithereens and smash them into super-smithereens, then I gather the super-smithereens into a bag, put them on a bonfire, burn them, put the ashes into an urn and fire the urn into the heart of the sun.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cupcakes: The Massacre

Elberry sends me news that the cupcake craze has, inevitably and predictably, descended into hopeless bloody violence.

Mother smashes up shop that ran out of her favourite cupcake.

I can't honestly say I'm shocked, merely saddened.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Free beer

Win some free beer, get some free recipes and support the Dabbler by entering an exclusive Bath Ales competition here.

Work ethic: start 'em young

Good to see the BBC doing its duty re the Anglo-Saxon Protestant Work Ethic. The concluding moral of this morning's edition of Chuggington - a train-based entertainment on CBeebies, in front of which I sometimes stick Brit Jnr to divert her while I make our breakfast - was "Remember Chuggers, hobbies are what you do in your spare time. The daytime is for learning and working."

I wonder if they have the same lesson in the Spanish version?

This incessant nagging is, I suppose, why at one time the sun never set on the British Empire, and we must carry the joyless moral from cradle to grave, so that when literally on one's deathbed one should feel vaguely guilty about not being up and about, hoovering the living room or washing the net curtains.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Blue Sunday and A High Wind

I was on Lazy Sunday duty again yesterday, with some Chet Baker, Scott Walker and even Erasure.

And today I spend a penny and review the extraordinary, neglected classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Glencairn whisky glass - an object of desire

Over at the dabbler I interview Andy Davidson and write about the extremely desirable Glencairn whisky glass.

We're getting some lovely Dabbler-branded editions, and you'll be able to get your hands on one later....

Fanatics (revisited)

Yesterday evening, after a long day’s roaming, I was relaxing with a pint in the Bonaparte bar at Bristol Temple Meads rail station when in walked Caroline Lucas MP, flanked by flunkies. She was there, it eventually became clear, to be interviewed by a national newspaper journalist whom I recognised but can’t for the life of me name (poss early 60s, genial but jowly, white hair, black eyebrows.) They sat together at a table for two; she iterating sincerely-held beliefs in a series of firm finger-jabs, he generously indulging this with the honed eyebrow-raised superiority of the senior hack.

But what a curious entourage it was, fussing around the UK’s sole Green MP. Ranging in age from adolescent to decrepit, and clad in alarming garments including a bright purple fleece and a tattered tweed blazer, they really did look like the sort of oddball assortment that you might find, as I previously speculated, meeting in the backroom of a public library to discuss the workers’ revolution. Caroline, it was clear, is the acceptable telly face of the Greens.

Easy to sneer at that lot – as I’ve just proved above – but I suppose they do at least they add a bit of variety to the political landscape, otherwise now entirely composed of identical PPE graduates.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sir John Soane

Keen TofE followers may recognise today's Dabbler subject - the wonderful Sir John Soane's House museum.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scarlett Johansson and Diana Dors

That got your attention, didn't it? Today I set the latest fiendish Dabbler quiz.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The King’s Speech

We don’t get out to the cinema much at the moment so it’s vital to pick a movie you know is going to be good. And what a wonderful film The King’s Speech is, fully deserves the acclaim. The most gripping film I’ve seen since No Country for Old Men.

It’s very often the case that telling a Big Story (in this case, two Big Stories: the abdication and the declaration of war on Germany) through the prism of a small human story, such a man trying to overcome his stammer, is incredibly effective. See also Cabaret, Life is Beautiful etc.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Harry Beck

Over at the Dabbler I write about Harry Beck, designer of the Tube map.

I love the Tube map, it's one of the best things about London. I have a print of Simon Patterson's Beck-inspired artwork The Great Bear at home. It's a nice piece, but I think now I'd prefer to just have the real map on my wall.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Henry Hitchings

Another great guest on The Dabbler today. Author and critic Henry Hitchings (The Language Wars) provides an exclusive post looking at blogging and language.

Musical evening with the Captain

Yesterday I was on Lazy Sunday duty, and picked out the best bits of the Master and Commander soundtrack (Corelli, Boccherini etc.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

King Kenny - a victim writes

Occasional dabbler James Hamilton publishes on his own blog a really rather brilliant piece on the return of 'King' Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool, from the perspective of a Man Utd fan.

Important announcement concerning San Miguel beer

Have you noticed that San Miguel four-packs are nearly always on 'special offer' in the supermarkets? And yet it's one of the best bottled (non-Czech) lagers, isn't it? Got a bit of taste to it, unlike the only one that's usually cheaper, Brahma, which, it seems to me, tastes of absolutely nothing at all.

So, I declare, importantly, a four-pack of San Miguel beer is a sensible purchase. And that concludes my important announcement concerning San Miguel beer. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More fiendishness

as I set the latest Dabbler Round Blogworld Quiz.

Arianne Huffington and Nick Cohen

I have been having an exchange with Nick Cohen about the sale of super-blog The Huffington Post to AOL for $315m. Nick argues that any bloggers who provided free content to Arianne Huffington over the years ought to feel aggrieved, even humiliated in the light of the sale, on the grounds that she has exploited their labour to get rich – ‘ripped them off’.

I don’t know what agreements Arianne Huffington had with her contributors, but Cohen wants to make a wider point so we’ll assume she didn’t make false promises or mislead them, merely asked them if they’d like to contribute free material. Assuming that, she’s done nothing wrong and they have no right to feel aggrieved. They might even feel proud to have been involved in such a success story. They’ve almost certainly made friends, had their horizons immeasurably broadened and gained a degree of status that would have been impossible without the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post started from nothing. Entrepreneurs sell the businesses they’ve created for fat sums all the time, and nearly of them relied on favours and payments-in-kind when starting up, simply because they lacked the capital and income. It’d be nice to think that once they’re in a position to reward those who’ve helped them along the way, they will do so, but there’s no contractual obligation and only an ambiguous moral one. To say that Huffington gave her writers nothing in return for their copy is nonsense - she gave them what virtually all writers crave: an audience.

Nick Cohen is a professional writer who, it seems, insists on cash payment for everything he emits. Fair enough, but his argument that everyone else who wants to write ought to think the same doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. You can justifiably make a case for news reporters, staff copywriters, sub-eds etc being ‘labourers’ in the same way that widget-makers are labourers, but when it comes to opinion columns, movie reviews, fiction, poetry, memoirs etc, the line between professionals and hobbyists is extremely fuzzy and has always been so. The blogosphere didn’t create this fuzziness, it merely proved it was there and vastly increased the number of outlets beyond fanzines, local mags and diaries.

Cohen sneers at ‘dilettantes with day jobs’ but the line between pros and hobbyists is not defined by talent and there are many reasons why talented writers might choose to stay amateur: top of the list being the freedom to write about whatever they like while paying the mortgage. Turning pro would force them instead to write whatever they can sell. Then at the other end of the scale are the pros who write free bloggery in addition to paid work because they want things from blogs that paid work can’t give them: instant commenter feedback perhaps, or, such as in the (extreme, compulsive) case of Norm Geras, the freedom to write about whatever pops into his head from moment to moment – very often instant responses to other bloggers.

The most interesting thing about Cohen’s argument is that it reveals why he still considers himself a man of the ‘Left’ despite rejecting so much of the off-the-shelf ‘leftist’ package of contemporary views on America, Israel etc. (See his excellent and highly recommended book 'What's Left?' - available online for 1p, funnily enough - welcome to the modern world, Nick.) The idea that Huffington has ‘exploited’ workers, in effect stealing their surplus value, looks like old-fashioned Marxist economics.

Cohen says I wouldn’t make a very good financial adviser. I’m not sure anyone makes a good financial adviser any more, but I can at least claim to be able to read a basic set of business accounts. The Huffington Post’s $315m might be an extreme example of the value of ‘goodwill’ – ie the difference between the purchase price of a business and the book value (sum of the net assets) – but nearly all businesses have some sort of difference because goodwill (generally meaning a readymade customer base) is usually what bigger businesses want to buy. AOL have bought Huffington’s goodwill, which consists of its name, URL and audience. Its current roster of writers are a fair way behind these lot in terms of significance (even lower than its turnover, whatever paltry sum that might be), just as The Guardian or Spectator’s writers of the moment make no difference to the value of those organisations. Writers come and go, the Guardian endures.

Huffington created this value through her own energies, luck, acumen, organisational skills etc. Sure she will have got people to help her along the way by writing for free, but let’s not pretend their copy wasn’t interchangeable with any number of other writers prepared to work for fame and glory rather than dough – the supply hugely outweighs the demand in that commodity. She owes them nothing; but she can reward them now if she chooses. Had the Huffington Post never sold out, the writers would still have nothing, and she wouldn’t be able to make that choice.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hard Times

Over at The Dabbler I spend a penny and review Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Includes relevant footage of John Cleese and Marty Feldman.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Frogs and Rosbifs

Think of England readers will enjoy today's guest post at The Dabbler - Stephen Clarke on 1000 Years of Annoying the French.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beer and Valentines

I write a guest post about what men want for Valentines Day for the Bath Ales blog here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Intro of the Year

According to Baltic legend, when the Arctic storm wind blows down from the mountains across the tundra it heralds the arrival of the Great Wizard, Nischergurje, from the north. In his left hand he carries a gold drum hammer and in his right a Magic Drum, with which he summons his comrades.

‘Do you hear it on the wind? Do you hear its beat! beat! beat!’. The call goes out, enticing the listener to inclusion with those who are already under its spell.

Tim Headley in This is Anfield on Fernando Torres' possible transfer from Liverpool FC to Chelsea.

Brooker Blues

At The Dabbler I'm back on the DJ decks, spinning some Blue Sunday choons.

And I review Charlie Brooker's new BBC 2 show How TV Ruined Your Life.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The belly of a hungry chaffinch

Over at The Dabbler at pay homage to Sid Waddell, who has probably said more great things than anyone who has ever lived.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A crack at the Jocks

It's a Burns Night special over at The Dabbler.

Ian Buxton looks at Rabbie Burns and whisky, Jassy's made supper and I examine Raeburn's The Skating Minister.

Ozzy's Coffee

Not having slept through a night for the last 15 months or so, I've got into the habit of drinking a pretty ferocious coffee at about 11am, by which time I will already have consumed a decent four mugs of tea. I find this keeps me going til my next cup of tea at about 3pm.

Given another 15 months or so, I might graduate to the Ozzy Osbourne method, as related in the ST the other week:

...the best way to wake yourself is to brew a pot of fresh coffee, then run it through the machine a second time using the old grounds. While you’re doing that, make an espresso. Then add the espresso to a mug of the double-brewed coffee. In my house, we call it a “red-eye”.

Anyone given that a go?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Eds

So with Balls back in the saddle, Labour have now managed to end up with perhaps its two most unlikeable people in its two top positions.

Strange thing is that due to electoral boundaries and the Coalition attacks on the public sector, there's a more than decent chance they'll win the next election.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gutter press

I note that the 32-year old man arrested in connection with the murder of Jo Yeates hasn't been named. Rightly so, but how do the rules work on this?

The treatment by the media of landlord Chris Jefferies - photos that made him look as odd as possible, and lots of irrelevant tittle-tattle from former school pupils etc - was just about as low as British hackery has stooped in recent memory. The broadsheets were as bad as the tabloids too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Things to Say with Absolute Confidence at Dinner Parties

Via Frank Key I find this magnificent quote from Elaine Scarry’s Dreaming By The Book (1999):

It is not hard to imagine a ghost successfully. What is hard is to imagine successfully an object, any object, that does not look like a ghost.

It occurred to me that this would be an excellent thing to declare, with complete certainty, at a public gathering. So, further to a suggestion from Frank, I’m hereby launching a new occasional series of Things to Say with Absolute Confidence at Dinner Parties, perhaps with a view to compiling a handbook for confident twaddle-merchants.

Do feel free to suggest your own party-stunners. Here are some to be getting on with…

1) It’s not what you know. It’s not even who you know. It’s who you don’t know in this business.

2) Muggsy Spanier was the cornet player’s cornet player (source: Dearieme)

3) I am actively hostile to the ‘New Year’. (source: Peter Hitchens, via Hooting Yard)

4) Of course, cupcakes have completely ‘gone to Prestatyn’, as the kids say.

5) Entering a room populated by other people sets in place a circumscribed illustration of how embodiment, spatiality, and otherness work together to produce what is peculiar to both the typical and atypical body. Yes, I noticed that distinctly when I came in. (source: Dr Dylan Trigg)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dabblehub update

I was on Lazy Sunday duties this week, and indulged in an operatic countdown.

Meanwhile, another great exclusive guest post this morning. The author of The Invention of Murder - Judith Flanders - takes a look at the origins of detective fiction.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Over at The Dabbler I review the first installment of new BBC 2 comedy Episodes.

I had a bit of a sitcom moment myself the other day - could have been straight from an episode of Miranda. Our house is on the market so we're desperately trying to keep things in order, to fool viewers into thinking it's bigger than it is. Anyway, back from work and with 5 minutes to go before the evening's viewers arrived, I was hurrying around making everything ready (hampered the while by Brit Jnr's amiable pesterings) and had got it all pristine and perfect, when I remembered the plug-in fragrancy device in the dining room. So I scampered in, hit the switch and as I did so heard a sickening smash. Down I gazed in horror as a bottle of red wine, which I'd knocked with my big stupid clumsy boot through the back of its rack, emptied itself inexorably over the cream carpet.

I literally gasped in disbelief. That cannot just have happened. And there was the knock on the door. And here was Brit Jnr, gleefully tottering in to see what was the fun. What did I do? I did what anyone would have done in my predicament. I put a child's trampoline over the widening stain and legged it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Over at The Dabbler - the latest fiendish quiz question...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Thursday, January 06, 2011

For Paul Collingwood

One of the many journalistic conventions at the end of a Test series (and this one is virtually finished) is to make up a composite ‘dream team’ XI of the best players from each side. Such has been the superiority of England in this gloriously unprecedented annihilation of the greatest cricket nation, that there won’t be any debate for these Ashes: it’ll be the England’s line-up for the last two matches, except Paul Collingwood will be replaced by Mike Hussey.

Paul Collingwood is the only England batsman not to have made a significant score, in a series in which batting records have been regularly smashed. But such has been the English superiority that it hasn’t made a jot of difference to the outcome. Colly’s trusty dibbly-dobblers and exceptional catching (surely only South Africa’s AB De Villiers can rival him as a fielder in international cricket?) have been much more useful to the team than a stack of runs would have been.

Anyway, this always-admirable man has timed his retirement perfectly, and his interviews have been terrific: modest and honest. "I knew this was probably going to be my last innings. I was hoping it was going to be a fairytale story and I'd go out there an crack a hundred, but I don't have fairytales."

As I’ve noted many times before, cricket – and specifically Test batting - is the one sport that, above all others, reflects life and death. All the analogies work: you live on a knife edge, the end could come at any moment through any arbitrary twist of fate; you can be cut down in your prime or have a good innings.

Sporting careers are likewise – absurdly short, and suddenly there, in your mid-30s, the glory years of your life gone. Colly is one of the lucky few afforded the greatest gift international sport can offer: the opportunity to choose the moment of his own End. Most are pushed long before they have the chance to jump. Collingwood – a true-grit Englishman - has fallen on his sword at precisely the right moment.

So long, Colly, Think of England salutes you. See you in the interminable, anti-climactic one-dayers.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Gerry Rafferty RIP

Gerry Rafferty's 1978 album City to City (which includes Baker Street) has an extremely evocative sound for me, especially side 1. My dad had the LP and when we had barbecues in the yard at our house in Pompey, under the slate grey skies of an early 80s English summer, we used to stick the record player speakers out the living room window and play it over and over. I used to insist on that Rafferty, a Buddy Holly Best of and the Beatles' 20 Greatest Hits.

The opening track, The Ark, will forever be my 'barbecue music'.

Green's Dictionary of Slang

A bit of a coup for the Dabbler, as we have an exclusive post from Jonathon Green, the English language's leading lexicographer of slang, and author of the astonishing Green's Dictionary of Slang.

When I emailed Jonathon to ask him if he'd like to contribute a post about slang, he said he'd be happy to oblige, but pointed out that his only problem would be choosing, out of 125,000 slang terms, which areas to concentrate on, as the brief seemed rather broad.

'Ah yes', I replied. 'I suppose there are quite a lot of ways you could cut it. How about English slang terms for 'drunk'?'

'Drunk is no problem', he said. 'None at all.'

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Happy New Year. How was your holiday? I had laryngitis and was unable to speak. Everyone was very grateful.

Over at The D I have been musing musically - on Slade, meandering folky-rock and some irreverent and highly entertaining cover versions.