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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Letterman or Leno?

Book publicity 101

A somewhat bizarre Comment piece in the Bainbridge Islander that I took to be an April Fool-type test by the editor to see who's paying attention. But first the article's headline:

Letterman, Leno; which would your choose?

I don't know what Lynne Truss would make of that semi-colon but even my 14-year-old daughter looked askance at the "your" (corrected in the online edition, I'm glad to see).

Credibility sagging before delivering even its first sentence, the article poses an "ethical dilemma":

I've spent a good many years in the business of book publicity and have juggled just such options. Here's a brief primer on how it usually works.

Even before final proofs are ready, the publisher's publicity department has talked up that season's books with the chat show researchers and noted any interest . The order in which these top shows are approached is a mark of the publicist's skill, tact and influence.

When I let it be known that I was bringing over Woodward and Bernstein for the launch of Secker & Warbug's UK edition of All the President's Men, I was inundated with offers and invitations and had to decide the precise sequence of coverage, not just between TV chat shows but radio and press interviews. A highly sensitive pecking order exists between the various media and publishers ride roughshod over it at their peril.

Perhaps a better example is the order of interviews I set up for Erica Jong's Fear of Flying:

  • Sunday before publication: Observer Colour Supplement
  • Publication Day
    • BBC TV (Michael Parkinson)
    • BBC Radio 4 "Start the Week'
    • Radio London
    • BBC World Service
    • Guardian woman's page
    • And so forth - each interview in order of usefulness and so as not to scoop a more important programme or publication.
Three days before she arrived, Erica let me know that she'd met Edna O'Brien at some States-side function who had invited her for a cosy literary lioness power-chat on the Russell Harty Show, a direct rival of Parkinson much as I imagine Leno and Letterman often need to spar over choice guests.

This was a disaster: not only had I corresponded over the weeks with Erica to make absolutely sure she knew and approved of my plans, but the timing of the O'Brien interview cut into plans I had made with other, admittedly less important media, but people with whom I nevertheless worked on a regular basis as part of my duties to publicise Secker's full range of titles.

No one book is worth breaking ones word over and earning distrust and lost credibility for the rest of the titles (and, indeed, anyone else's you might one day be hoping to plug via the people you rat on).

The Parkinson people had had early copies of the Jong, in time for Parkie himself to read and decide on passages and discussion points, not to mention the choreographing of other guests etc.

I went up to see my boss, explained what appeared to have happened and warned him I was budging not one inch from my original, painstakingly organized campaign.

To return to this Islander piece, it's all very well to talk of a book "getting movie adaptation offers, write-ups in newspapers, the whole shebang" and then in the next paragraph blithely trot out, "One day Jay Leno's people call." As I say, this is a field I worked in for almost 20 years, on both sides of the Atlantic: it simply does not happen that way.

Returning to the Jong dilemma, I called up my contacts on both shows, explained what seemed to be happening and where I stood on the whole mess. If Edna wanted to talk to Erica (and the Harty production team were hazier than I was over what was going on!), she could do so *after* I had delivered my author to Parkinson as agreed - a fact perfectly well known to the Harty crowd. Obviously, Edna O'Brien was not someone to thwart and I very much wanted her on my side for future suitable occasions. We had not met but her own book publicist gave me a contact as well as tips on how to handle the fiery Celt. I called her, explained who I was and my dilemma and asked her to, please, let me know of any way whatsoever that we might salvage the situation and keep the TV interview.

Edna didn't seem overly concerned about it being the *Harty* show so much as just being on TV and getting exposure for herself and her *own* forthcoming book.

My compromise was this: I already had Erica booked to appear on Granada TV as part of the Manchester leg of her nationwide tour, so I called up the producer and offered Edna as well and asked what chance there was of trimming other guests' spots to give my ladies maximum chat time. She wasn't wild about it but the chance of having two such names on the show won the day. It also meant that Edna could fit in some regional advance press and radio for when her own book came out, leaving her free to spend the crucial week of publication in London where the real action and launch parties take place.

This is a bit off the Letterman/Leno track but it does show what goes on behind the scenes and how the business actually operates.

To complete the Parkie/Harty saga, I kept my full publicity schedule; strengthened my relationship with Parkinson's producer (who admitted that in my place she would have been sorely tempted to go for the double-act and ditch the BBC); established the ground rules with the Harty people; and added Edna O'Brien to my list of pals and contacts.

In fact, the ladies got better coverage by Russell Harty than had been originally planned.

No sooner had the Granada TV people agreed to the double interview than a few days later I had Russell Harty on the phone. You can imagine how my heart sank.

"Chris - it's Russell. Hey, you're taking Edna and Erica up to Manchester ... "

"Yes, as part of the deal to make up for calling off the tête-à-tête on *your* show, if you remember."

"But Chris, that's where I'm from - Manchester. I was with Granada before landing my present gig. How about this? I travel up with them and we fix a chat interview."

"Well, it's awful tight, Russ - I think they can only spare 10 or 15 minutes after the commercial break."

"No, I'm talking about a completely *separate* one-off 45-minute discussion of both books, me moderating and Edna and Erica doing their thing."

"Russ, that would be amazing. Erica's not getting 45 minutes with *anyone*."

"Well, let's do it, then! It should be hilarious - and *also* I get to go home and see my mum."

And that - give or take different operating styles and idiosyncrasies, whims and tastes of the producers and chat show hosts themselves - is how books and authors get plugged in the media.

It's laughable to talk of a major chat show 'phoning out of the blue. Purely in the interests of organization and sanity, any efficient production team would not only have heard about it via the book trade press but received catalogs, press releases, exploratory and/or pleading phone calls weeks if not *months* in advance.

"Respond either way and hope Dave calls?" This is cloud cuckoo land. If a book is enjoying widespread and favorable write-ups, it's pretty obvious that publication day has come and gone. Well before then, review copies will have gone out to the literary editors who in turn will have placed the book with the appropriate reviewer in time for the book to be read, assessed and the write-up itself delivered in timely fashion to appear on or around day of publication.

Cut-throat programs such as Leno or Letterman's simply do not doze around until the story's old hat. The research and production teams are in stiff competition to keep better informed, better connected and several jumps ahead of each other. If a rival gets a hot property, the bosses want to know why.

When I brought over two of the Uruguayan survivors from the Andes crash, I had been in negotiation with every major TV and radio station in the country, every national newspaper and important publication and every major bookshop that could offer me the window displays to do justice to the sensational story.

  • Starting from eight weeks before Nando and Roberto arrived, my phone was ringing non-stop with editors and researchers calling me up and telling me straight that their bosses had told them to "sign up the 'cannibals' or else."
  • My own boss was contacted over my head on the Old Boy Network to make a deal.
  • Piers Read, the author, was taking calls at home from people anxious to know or influence my plans.
  • Movie rights had been peddled before the manuscript even went to the printers and the moment I knew they'd been sold (or "movie adaptation offers", as the Comment piece has it), I was on the phone making damn'd sure that the Lenos and Letterman's in *my* life knew exactly what was going for the book and had time to get their act together.

    "Hope Dave calls without prodding?" I tell you, if either Letterman or Leno's team was found to have needed 'prodding' to be aware of a suitable interviewee, there'd very swiftly be prodding of another kind - out the door and off the payroll.

    "Do you say 'no' and call the Letterman folks telling them you turned down Leno to be on Dave's show?" Words fail me. Where does this come from? It *is* the editor, trying to trick us with mumbo-jumbo to see if we're still awake. First, it's highly unlikely that an unknown is going to get through to anyon with any say in the matter. These are busy programs, vigorously courted by the professionals me as well as every nutter on the block, among whom would definitely be anyone coming up with the rubbish under discussion.

  • Equally unrealistic and ill-informed is the idea of saying "Yes to Leno, but then call Dave to see if he wants to put you on his show first. If you do, do you tell Leno you're calling Dave?" It's hard to know where to begin. For a start, it would be a singularly incompetent switchboard operator or assistant who allowed such a fatuous question to get through to the top. Far more likely that it would be fielded by some efficient assistant skilled at spotting time-wasters. If the fact that the book had already been widely covered didn't make it a dead story, the caller would be encouraged to send a copy along for consideration and someone would get back to them.

    My guess is that the sheer incompetence of leaving it so late, not to mention the nerve of trying to 'negotiate' in this way, would be given very short shrift. Personally, I would also make sure I had the name of the publisher and as soon as the caller was off the phone, I'd call up the PR department and ask them

    • What the *hell* they thought they were doing letting idiot authors think they could make direct contact.
    • Why the heck hadn't they been in touch earlier with copies of the book and full details of its success.

    Having made such a pig's breakfast of how book publicity works, the article somewhat puzzlingly goes on to ask, "Are there honorable ways to defend all four options. Would any of the options be considered unethical?"

    I would have thoughts that ethics and honor were the last of the piece's problems

  • Friday, April 29, 2005

    Do NOT Click

    You heard me.

    On no account press the button.

    Sound & Fury

    A young man whose reputation preceded him and whose agile wit and grasp of what matters had been much recommended by those I trust.

    I have to confess, I'm clearly over the hill and far from the mainstream of current thought.

    I fail to find one line of unforced humor in what reads to me like an earnest surfeit of misdirected protest

    lemony snickett

    Lemony Snickett

    Gosh I'm delivering some PC-challenged postings.

    I can feel delicate nostrils wrinkling even as I compose this paean: first my child-thrashing 'fess ups, now a bouquet to vedettes gamines young enough to be my grand-daughters.

    I have of course moved my entire job search persona to the nom-de-boulot of Basil Wilson. I really can't be bothered to go thru my entire catalog and shift 152 dodgy posts to invisible 'Draft' status.

    I am *trying* to enjoy Lemony Snickett's clever Unfortunate Events movie but find myself captivated by that Ms Emily Browning who plays 14-yr-old Violet Baudelaire.

    I'm dating m'self here, but does anyone remember Mylene Demongeot?

    Miss Brown has the exact same pout and all.

    EB and that other Emily - Watson from the Harry Potter barn - are our tomorrow's sizzlers.

    I'm so disappointed that Bainbridge BrowBeat won't be at the Saturday Bloggia. I have an exact image of my liege and it's my tutor Doc Lonsdale down to the donnish frown:

  • Amused tolerance of my more flamboyant pyrotechnics, cocked eyebrow at my wilder scoots into fantasy
  • Gentlemanly tremor of disapproval where I overstep the mark ("I wonder, Christopher, if that was entirely necessary ... you were making *what* point ?")
  • Learning carried lightly but readily shared in context
  • Diffident but prepared to socialize on the *occasional* basis ("Dear boy, this has been *most* pleasant - and of course the uisgebaugh entirely welcome and reviving ... but can we agree that this, erm, be not a *regular* occurrence. Thank you *so* much, knew you'd understand. Now, I have for my sins some essays to assess ... you'll see yourself out? Splendid.").
  • I really thought I'd be able to combine some tech stuff with mild chiding by dottore BB advancing me an inch or two towards 'growing up'.

    I'll just have to compile his donnish comments in a self-help booklet and publish them for an advance beyond the dreams of avarice. Come my appearance on the Oprah smooch-in, no doubt she'll have him appear as a surprise guest from behind the curtain and we'll totter towards each other for a choreographed embrace. Rather that than a Jerry Springer confrontation.

    URL ABCs

    Ace posting by the brilliant Matt Baldwin.

    Paperback Striker

    Intriguing little Blotter item in the Review for April 27: Officers despatched to a 911 by a woman who said her husband "struck their infant in the head with a paperback book."

    Hmm, I suppose it depends how infantile. No, of course it doesn't: infants are infants and one doesn't go round whacking them round the bonce.

    But it set me trying to recall all the objets de biff with which I've caught the attention of my own children - usually on the hand but now and then on a juicy bum or back of thigh. Certainly never the head, not even a clip round the ear (which is bloody painful, I tell you. 'Magpie' Mason would come up behind you in Latin and if you so much as got a gerund wrong or forgot to agree with the dative - wallop! "Silly ass!". And you never saw it coming). Anyway.

    1. Fingers and palm of hand
    2. Furled copy of the Financial Times
    3. Rolled copy of Punch (hey, never thought of that - *terrible* pun)
    4. UN-rolled copy of Punch (top of Georgina's head, so yeah, I lied, I *have* done the head)
    5. Napkin (table manners)
    6. Various bamboo implements of indeterminate purpose - carpet beater, I expect - but splendidly flexible and *long*, ideal for fleet of foot escapers
    7. Toothbrush (again on head. Goodness, I'm in denial about where I struck them)
    8. Wallet, cheque book
    9. But never a paperback book - I don't *think* (I no longer trust myself on this whole chastising histoire)

    The vital thing is to strike with the speed of a cobra at the time. Absolutely no use leaving it 'til later or "when your father gets home." Why the school beatings were so sadistic wasn't so much the pain but the all-day waiting until the end of the day and prep. And of course everyone knew so you'd wander around an outcast, collecting sympathetic glances from pals and sneers from one's enemies.

    I once flattenned some worm for sidling up to me with a "Bet it'll hurt."

    "As much as this?" I inquired mildly, delivering what I'm still convinced was my perfect riken-zuki ever. But enough digressing on the best years.

    I wonder which author the Blotter villain chose? Unlikely that an infant-striking cad would go for Dickens or the classics, more like some penny dreadful or one of those macho westerns by the likes of Brad Thrust, Jeb Derringer or some such barrel-chested nom-de-plume - usually a cloak for Doris Snodgrass or Percival Montclair.

    Who would I have chosen? To whom would the honour have gone of lightly brushing the velvet skin of my darlings?

    Mum used a hand on the back of the leg; Dad only struck me once, with a furled copy of the Daily Telegraph atop head when I was being unspeakably bullying to my younger brother, now a beefy six-footer and fortunately forgetful or at least forgiving of my years of tormenting him.

    I have a pal who owes his death-dealing skill in the martial arts entirely to the genuinely criminal abuse he suffered at the hands of his drunken yob of a father. His hours of toil in the dojo had the sole purpose of one day laying his dad very flat for a very long time for all the black eyes and bruises his mother had had to put up with. Someone up there (or down there) obviously liked the sod because he DUI'd himself into a wheelchair before justice could be delivered. Simon still chafes about that.

    Post-script: Back in late March, I commented on David Foster Wallace's Atlantic Monthly cover feature, Host, and singled out a passage that impressed me.

    BainbridgeBeat's chiding of my 'book bash'd baby' piece illustrates what that passage was getting at.

    Foster Wallace is talking about a talk-show host in the context of racism but its application is universal. Be it a topic such as child abuse or under-age actresses, sexual innuendo, risqué language. age or appearance - wherever sensitivity might be called for - Wallace makes a valid point and presents a universal truth:

    "John Ziegler does not appear to be a racist as 'racist' is generally understood. What he is is more like very, very insensitive — although Mr. Z. himself would despise that description, if only because 'insensitive' is now such a PC shibboleth.

    Like many ... John Ziegler seems unable to differentiate between (1) cowardly, hypocritical acquiescence to the tyranny of Political Correctness and (2) judicious, compassionate caution about using words that cause pain to large groups of human beings, especially when there are several less upsetting words that can be used.

    Even though there is plenty of stuff for reasonable people to dislike about Political Correctness as a dogma, there is also something creepy about the brutal, self-righteous glee with which Mr. Z. and other conservative hosts defy all PC conventions.

    If it causes you real pain to hear or see something, and I make it a point to inflict that thing on you merely because I object to your reasons for finding it painful, then there's something wrong with my sense of proportion, or my recognition of your basic humanity, or both". [My coloring].

    Uncle Jack

    Dai Ripper

    Thank goodness we're over the Pat Cornwell silliness of pinning the Jack the Killer rap on dauber Wally Sickert . I always thought Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer had something fishy about it from the start.

    Anyway, here comes Tony Williams to tell us it was Uncle Jack wot dunnit - none other than eminent surgeon Sir John Williams, pillar of Victorian society and ob/gyn to Victoria Regina herself, egad.

    Seems that Tony was researching the family tree, came across papers of his grandma - Sir John's great-great niece - and got the goods on the old sawbones.

    I wonder if this poser will ever be put to rest? I know, someone tie the real Ripper to the *real* Shakespeare and that'll settle *both* debates.

    Embargoed names - note the book jacket's embargo of the author's names, Williams and Price. This would have been an advance proof sent out for orders and publicity and the publishers must have known there was enough theorizing over the Welsh surgeon for even the Williams name to give the game away. Interesting - I've never seen that wording on a jacket before.

    welsh gifDai Note - I don't know how, but my maternal grandma's side was teeming with Welsh and they were the wittiest, most glamorous, debonair brilliant people imaginable, all speaking with that mellifluous accent of the Valleys.

    The word Dai comes from the Old Celtic 'dei' meaning "to shine". It's the Welsh pet form of David *and* attachable as an all-purpose prefix. For example, as a surgeon Sir John might have been affectionately referred to as 'Dai the Scalpel' or, in his Ripper role, more likely Dai the Razor. A mechanic might be Dai the spanner. In our family rugby games, I fumbled the ball so often cousin Gethyn dubbed me Dai the Drop.

    Thursday, April 28, 2005

    Those big Bainbridge skies

    Riding home, 7:30pm, April 27, on the pillion of a Ducati ST4S, no less!

    john bolton

    Bolton looksee sames

    Is it just me, or does Bainbridge not have more than its fair share of Bolton look-alikes?

    Perfectly nice chaps, sotto voce on the cellulars, competent queuers and all that - but dead ringers for our current fave bogey man.

    Must be a north-western look or something - boyish forelock, 'tache to ward off the winter winds, professorial specs ...

    Rather like Saddam surrounding himself with similarly moustachioed doubles, if things get hot for JB, he can always hide out up here and no one'd look twice.

    Life thru Windows

    Honestly, if I have time to squander coding this hoary old chestnut, I have time to suit up and beard The Man in his uptown office for honest employment such as will scotch this blogging lark once and for all.

    But it's doing the rounds again and a new generation finds it funny so here goes:

    A few months ago, I upgraded from Drinking Mates 4.2 to Girlfriend 1.0 which I had been told for years wouldn't give me any trouble. However, there are apparently conflicts between these two products and the only solution was to try and run Girlfriend 1.0 with the sound turned off.

    To make matters worse, Girlfriend 1.0 is incompatible with several other applications, such as Lads Night Out 3.1, Football 4.5, and Playboy 6.9.

    Successive versions of Girlfriend 1.0 proved no better.

    I tried a shareware program, Slapper 2.1, but it had many bugs and left a virus in my system, forcing me to shut down completely for several weeks.

    Eventually, I tried to run the new Girlfriend 1.2 and Girlfriend 1.0 at the same time, only to discover that when these two systems detected each other they caused severe damage to my hardware.

    I eventually upgraded to Fiancée 1.0, only to discover that this product soon had to be upgraded further to Wife 1.0.

    Whilst Wife 1.0 tends to use up all my available resources, it does at least come bundled with Free Sex Plus and Clean House 2005. Shortly after this upgrade however, I found that Wife 1.0 could be very unstable and extremely costly to run.

    Any mistakes I made were automatically stored in Wife 1.0's memory and could not be deleted. They then resurfaced months later when I had forgotten about them. Wife 1.0 also has an automatic Diary, Explorer and E-mail filter, and can, without warning, launch Turbo Strop and Whinge 2. Worse still, these latter products have no Help files, and I have to try and guess what the problem is.

    Additional problems are that Wife 1.0 needs updating regularly requiring Adobe Shoe Shop, Handbag Searcher and Hairstyle Express, all of which need to be reinstalled every other week. Also, when Wife 1.0 attaches itself to my Audi TT hard drive, it often crashes. Wife 1.0 also comes with an irritating pop-up called Mother-In-Law, which can't be turned off.

    I've recently been tempted to install Mistress 2005, but there could be problems. A friend of mine has alerted me to the fact that if Wife 1.0 detects Mistress 2005; it tends to delete all of your money before uninstalling itself.

    Hotel Rwanda

    At last steeled myself to take out the Rwanda DVD and watch Don Cheadle's stunning performance as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina.

    I was in Hong Kong in 1994, preparing to move my family in good time lest the 1997 hand over to Mother China go uneasily for supporters of democracy. The Hutu/Tutsi conflict seemed geographically distant while emotionally all too close to one or two more extreme nightmares of my own.

    The movie was not easy to watch and the flawless acting simply made it easier for me to writhe in helpless rage.

    Two scenes stand out, of course:.

    Relief troops have arrived, everyone believes the day saved. Rusesabagina sees the resident UN officer (Nick Nolte playing a Canadian) exchange brief words with the military commander, then hurl his blue beret to the ground in disgust. PR follows Oliver into the hotel bar where he offers him a celebratory drink.

    Scene 2: Hotel staff listening to a news broadcast.

    At which point the radio is turned off in disgust.

    Before watching, I did some recapitulatory homework on the genocide.

    The genocide was not a killing machine that rolled inexorably forward but rather a campaign to which participants were recruited over time by the use of threat and incentives. The early organizers included military and administrative officials as well as politicians, businessmen, and others with no official posts. In order to carry through the genocide, they had to capture the state, which meant not just installing persons of their choice at the head of the government, but securing the collaboration of other officials throughout the system.

    As the new leaders were consolidating control over military commanders, they profited enormously from the first demonstration of international timidity. U.N. troops, in Rwanda under the terms of the peace accords, tried for a few hours to keep the peace, then withdrew to their posts—as ordered by superiors in New York—leaving the local population at the mercy of assailants. Officers opposed to Bagosora realized that a continuing foreign presence was essential to restricting the killing campaign and appealed to representatives of France, Belgium and the U.S. not to desert Rwanda. But, suspecting the kind of horrors to come, the foreigners had already packed their bags. An experienced and well-equipped force of French, Belgian, and Italian troops rushed in to evacuate the foreigners, and then departed. U.S. Marines dispatched to the area stopped in neighboring Burundi once it was clear that U.S.citizens would be evacuated without their help. The first impression of international indifference to the fate of Rwandans was confirmed soon after, when the Belgians began arranging for the withdrawal of their troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force. Ten of these soldiers, a contingent different from those of the evacuation expedition, had been slain and, as the organizers of the violence had anticipated, the Belgian government did not want to risk any further casualties.

    I also happened across the Human Rights Watch Rwanda report.

    What distressed me most was the feeling of helplessness, of shame - of wanting to lash out at someone. But even to 100 degrees of separation, all our hands were on the tolling bell; we all pulled out.

    Now we have Darfur, whose Rights Watch report is not easy to read without hanging ones head in shame. Come the movie, Nick Nolte will again hurl his beret to the ground and storm off for a stiff one before delivering *that* Speech.

    These things go in circles. It's not just a wrecked eco system we could be handing our grandchildren.

    Mood Adjuster: Well, you can't say that pointy-capped Life doesn't dish the best scripts - or post-scripts, in this case - so as to have the last laff and keep the rest of us from getting too heavy.

    Having bashed out my solemn review and filed the Kleenex back with the patchouli and viagra, I set off to return the DVD to Silver Screen by way of Safeway for provisions. Come check out I was explaining that the DVD was from the 'other place' but Jodee knows me and had seen it and asked me what I thought. Before i could pronounce, the bagger youth - a new face to me, fashionably flat of tum and moussed of thatch - spoke up, "'Hotel Rwanda'? Yeah, good for what it is." I give him my 'look'.

    "Good," I say, "but disturbing,"

    "Yeah, like I said, good for what it is."

    "Good for *what* is?" I inquire, feeling my nostrils pinch. "It's good - very good - *and* it's also disturbing."

    My groceries are bagged and we are holding up the next in line.

    "All I'm saying," he says, "is that it's good for what sort of movie it is. Like, I'm not getting heavy."

    "Well," I huff, sounding ominously like my aunt Daphne, "I'd have thought this was exactly the sort of film *to* get heavy about."

    I have lost the battle and walk away with what dignity I have left. High in the firmanent sounds the distinct trill of seraphim giggles, celestial high fives and the basso profundo chuckle of a Very Important Personage.

    "That'll teach him. Moody creep."

    Wednesday, April 27, 2005

    campaign poster


    Show time! (Yawn). Here it comes - and I don't know why everyone acts so surprised and indignant.

    Polling Day: May 5, but it seems that as many as 6.5 million people will get a flying start more than a week before the rest of the country courtesy of the Postal Vote.

    It's just rocketed for the 2005 election - around four times as many applications compared with 1.7m postal votes in 2001 (itself a near doubling of 1997's total). Watch the pundits equivocate and backtrack!

    As for the muckraking and name-calling, I don't even turn to the election pages 'til the first mud pie has flown and the sound bites ricochet with that unmistakably British spluttering of hypocritical astonishment at how low those cads on the other side are prepared to stoop ...

    In fact, some say that the poodle Blair is secretly *pleased* at the Tories turning nasty.

    I *am* looking forward to the fisticuffs and have chosen a tight team of sherpas on the trek ahead:

    Not yet tracked down any freelance political blogs of weight but they'll be exiting the woodwork ere long.


    Rudyard Kipling was the first author I recall reading and Kim was the first full length book I got through.

    How old would I have been? No idea. Seven? Eight? I'm hopeless at guessing - I either guess too old and sound a very late starter, or much too young and seem to be making myself out to have been an early genius (albeit one whose early promise was clearly unfulfilled on every front).

    We were living in Mountain View and my bedroom had a view down the Peak to Hong Kong harbour.

    I was ill and my mother asked me what she could get me and I apparently said "a book". Up to then it had been comics - Eagle, Beano, Dandy, not forgetting all those Marvel marvels that I could only see at Hamish's and John Soong's.

    Mum came back with

    I devoured them. I remember sitting up in bed and being surprised at my parents' surprise at how quickly I had got thru them.

    And it was overnight: one day I was flipping thru comic albums with no interest in boring old words sans pics, the next I was on the rampage - Blyton, Dickens, Haggard, Buchan, Verne, Scott, all those lovely green and orange Penguins - and barely raising nose from page.

    Guess the Google

    Another stunner from Mark Hurst's ever-pleasing Good Experience.

    Hugely enjoyable time consumer, albeit nigh impossible to guess the word.

    eco graphic from boucher

    Automobile et destruction de la planète

    Look at that splendid drawing summing up everything about motor madness's effect on our planet.

    It's from the very civilised Philippe Boucher's Blog Vert, from which I also got this link to Singer et al cartoons.

    First-rate stuff.

    American English as she is spoke

    Mike Houser's fine CasdraBlog links to an intriguing test of the American English I speak.

    Altho' my English accent has, if anything, got even plummier since moving to the US, I never stop absorbing and adopting new vocabulary that takes my fancy or just plain gets the job done, so I was keen to see how well I've adapted.

    Before going into my score, two questions stumped me:

    The act of covering a house or area in front of a house with toilet paper is called ...

    Say WHUUTT? (to borrow from my host country's vernacular). The act of what?

    I have never even heard of such a jape. Seriously? Someone swathing a house in bog bumpf?

    And there's an actual VERB for it? I see. Well, and is there also a verb for smearing my enemy's satchel with chunky peanut butter mixed with Hershey's genuine chocolate flavor syrup? Or the act of draping spaghetti around the spokes of my ex-wife's mountain bike?

    I'm also asked What do I call "an easy class", the possible answers being

    • A crip course
    • A gut
    • A blow off (which sounds terribly rude)
    Well, I'm not sure what I call an 'easy class' - I'm not even sure what's *meant* by an easy class? A lesson in which one understood everything? In which the professor asked no nasty questions?

    I dunno - A breeze? A cinch? A doddle? A push-over?

    Now, the moment you've all being waiting for: My Linguistic Profile:

    • 50% General American English
    • 25% Yankee
    • 20% Dixie
    • 5% Upper Midwestern
    • 0% Midwestern (phew, right?)
    I love the Dixie rating. I might even email my score to Karen-Jo in case it'll lure her back from her folks' spread in Ralegh. Or her brother who so rudely described us as sounding like Jeeves making out with Miss NASCAR. Hrrmmph.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005

    anna at work

    Daughter To Work

    Thurs, April 28: 'Daughters & Sons to Work' Day.

    Daughters! Don't dads love 'em!

    I took Anna one year and I couldn't have picked a better day: I was the only parent in the department so no one else was really conscious of sprogs.

    It was a bright sunny day and by happy coincidence a pot luck lunch had been set up with our neighboring CoerCia team (Motto: "We're customer-centric like a cat is *mouse* centric") followed by an extreme-frisbee comp.

    Being the first time, I didn't know that on arrival the darlings are whisked away for a briefing on what the company is about, followed by a round-room description by each child of what mom or dad actually does in the mothership.

    All credit to Anna, she was one of only two who had an inkling. The other was some HR progeny who explained that mama "fired people" which, according to A, raised a few eyebrows from the assembled staffers. Pretty succinct summary, I'd say, but we do try to cotton wool that stuff.

    Thence to their parents where I don't know what the others did but I had primed Anna to be "useful". I was working on a satisfaction survey at the time and needed some slave labor data entry which I'd coached A in the basics.

    After she'd been tapping for 10 minutes under pater's stern eye, the piratical Dave (seen background) came up and looked over her shoulder and pronounced it "heavy" and wouldn't she prefer to be gaming (of which he had a bundle)?

    Nervous glance at Dad.

    "No, that's OK."

    D: "Say what? You're not doing your *dad*'s work, are you? Yo guys! I'll call security and someone call CPS."

    So much for my efforts to present a cool image.

    Come the pot luck, Anna helped out during which she maintained her abused waif look as Dave made sure that all and sundry knew of cruel Papa's scheme to slack as his babe toiled in the e-vineyard. You can imagine the ribbing I got *there*.

    Post déjeuner, out everyone else went - plus Anna - to Cajola's verdant pastures for Frisbees akimbo (if that's correct usage; if not, BB will pounce soon enough. Kidding, sir)

    Next day at school, they were agog for a glimpse of e-commerce in action. So, what do they *do*?. Anna hadn't missed a trick:

    Actually not a bad summary of the work day, but I had hoped to present a rather more professional image.

    On this subject, did anyone hear the NPR discussion of extending it to Take a Parent, or **Friend** to work?? Much more interesting.

    schwarz bear looking away

    Sentimental Journey

    All young missee's idea, knowing how capable I am of losing my way - even from gangplank to terra firma.

    Check out precise GPS location of Saturday's inaugural grand meeting of the Bainbridge Bloggia.

    Ace directions by our hostess and only the teensiest quibble from mademoiselle pathfinder about the precise hexadecimal RGB values of the house.

    We drove back via our old haunt, Chatham Cove, to check the elders' progress in driving out everyone under 60 and were just cresting High School when A tugged my sleeve to pull over.bear outside store

    Yes, indeed - there was the old FAO Schwarz bear from 6th and Pine.

    I knew it now guarded some Bainbridge Isle kindergarten but was bear facing
    hazy on the precise location.

    I also recalled some silliness at the time in the Letters columns about the bear not facing the 'right way' i.e. that it had its back to the road. Anna and I did a full inspection and agreed there was no possible reason why the frontward view should be squandered on drivers whizzing by when the whole point of the bear was for the benefit of staff and pupils. cropped long view
    But what memories flooded back for both of us, and what a reminder of Time's wingèd chariot.

    I used to work just across the road from Schwarz and would give that big ol' bear's brassy rump a good luck rub each time I passed by. At Christmas, of course, the lights were up and the whole block was a-chatter with children, including one year a wide-eyed Anna. There's something about going round a toyshop with a child that banishes all cynicism and takes one back to one's own early Yules. In fact, there's something about Christmas - period - with children. My Schwarz equivalent Aladdin's Cave was London's world-famous Hamleys.

    So there we were - dad and daughter - on a bright Sunday afternoon, suddenly transported back over the years.

    But back to Saturday and the glittering highlight of my calendar - I'm all a tizzy !

    As any reader of clever Mr Gladwell's Blink will tell you, page 213's coverage of FACS cannot be ignored, with its insistence on "contracting units six and twelve (the orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis in combination with the zygomatic major)" - or risk social ignominy.

    And why did I ever buy the Demarais book on perfecting First Impressions?

    I've made some progress on the 'Four Universal Social Gifts' and can do a passable imitation of 'Accessibility' but - shock horror! - 'Conversational Dynamics'? And woe is me on the chapters on

    All I can say is, thank goodness Chapter 13 covers 'Overcoming a Bad First Impression' with that paragraph on "Postimpression Jump Start".

    I can see no alternative but a snifter or five of Dutch Courage before setting out, a few slugs from the hip flask in the Leung driveway, and blame any stumbling on the old croquet wound.

    Monday, April 25, 2005


    I draw Anna's attention to Bainbridge Beat's joyful news that Jaywalking is not, in fact, illegal in the city of Bainbridge.

    We are heading for The Glass Onion and post office anyway, and A makes sure we park on the north side of Winslow Way and cross well away from any "zebra crossing", as I still call them, much to mamzel's amusement.

    Only disappointment is that no authority figure hails us or busy-body local reminds us of "the law".

    She is bored of my tales of Hong Kong where jaywalking is a way of life and one would never get anywhere without playing bulls and matadors with the traffic.

    Periodically the South China Morning Post would run a cartoon to comfort newcomers:

    Man A (shouting across an impenetrable stream of traffic): How did you get across there?"

    Man B: "I was born this side."

    Sunday, April 24, 2005

    Nitpickers Unite

    Grumpy Bookman good as always, this time on copy editors.

    Good comment by BB and I can't think of a better example than the Oxford comma (aka serial comma, also aka the *Harvard* comma, I heard somewhere) where the editorial blue pencil is more hotly disputed.

    Actually, I've learned something here - that most folks *favor* it, dammit:

    That's it then. I'll start using it more consistently.

    Saturday, April 23, 2005


    the layer cake

    Craig for Quiller

    One of the trailers before Kung Fu Hustle is for a tempting gangster movie, Layer Cake, featuring our next James Bond, Daniel Craig.

    As I watched the promo I realized two things

    1. I wrote hastily about Craig's unsuitability as the new 007. We all have the smoothie hardman image firmly in mind and this may have played itself out. I think the producers have been clever and are going for a slightly more uncouth version, albeit with the usual Bond-style birds and gizmos.
    2. But what an even better Quiller DC would have made - that cerebral spy and brilliant creation by the late Elleston Trevor under his most famous (of many!) pen names, Adam Hall.
      • Last time I spoke to Chaillé Trevor, Solitaire seemed to be the doldrums - fingers crossed they get the right actor for the role.
    I suppose ET has been most lately in the news with the remake of his novel, The Flight of the Phoenix.

    In fact, I'm the worst person to talk about turning Quiller into film, being too blinded by admiration for Hall's style and too convinced that his elliptical style doesn't actually transfer to celluloid - as proved by the botched job on the TV The Quiller Memorandum.

    But I glimpsed something of the loner Quiller in Craig's build and features and rather regret losing him to 007.

    On the other hand, at *least* it didn't go to that wet Orlando Bloom who I think surpasses drippiness (which puts me in disagreement with 97% of the world's otherwise discerning and red-blooded women).

    Or let him star in the version for the *12 year* olds.

    **Stop Press! Dame Judi says Brosnan to stay on.

    Friday, April 22, 2005

    maria callas


    Groggy awakening to sun streaming in thru every crack and window.

    Perform usual ritual on such occasions:

  • Run huge bath into which I pour every unguent and bubbly stuff I can lay hands on.
  • La Divina at full volume - Aida. Who can hear the 'Celeste Aida' aria and not feel hope for the day ahead?
  • Pour large glass of orange which I take into the bathroom along with a bowl of yoghurt mixed with honey and sliced banana.
  • The new Spectator has arrived and I do the forbidden and take it in for bath reading. Any crinkled pages from being dripped on and I will be in another sort of hot water.
  • Tomorrow, April 23, is Shakespeare's birthday and the Speccie cover story is "The Man who made England" by Germaine Greer. As usual, la Greer is full of juicy quotes
    "Self-mockery remains an intrinsic element of Englishness. The Englishman, unlike Queen Victoria, is always prepared to be amused. His characteristic response to the unbearable is to make a joke of it. This chronic lack of seriousness baffles the rest of the world, who see it as a kind of callousness, but it is what protects the Englishman from the fanaticism inherent in tabloid culture. But it can be a near thing. We could have done with more jokes about the Pope’s funeral, for example, instead of taking the whole preposterous jamboree at face value."
  • I worked on Greer's book about women painters, The Obstacle Race.
  • Abrasive and fearsome - possibly brilliant - Greer is one of those Aussies a fluting pom does *not* tell that he was born in Sydney. Nor did I tell her on what she took to be our first meeting that we had in fact encountered each other before - when she booted me and other drunkards out into the street so as to properly hammer her new husband, one Paul Chevalier, famous for being the first man to appear nude in some girlie magazine. I can't believe that union lasted. Certainly never heard of Paul after the centre-fold nonsense.
  • The Spectator gets thoroughly soaked so I lay it out in the sun to dry, thus ensuring corrugated pages and my place in the dog house.
  • Exhausted by my rigours, I collapse onto the ottoman and peruse the dictionary of literary quotations.

    I like Chandler's "The Bible ... is a lesson in how not to write for the movies" and George Kaufman's "Everything I've ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker" but am astonished that my old publishing pal Judith Young is attributed with the 'publisher's view' that , "It's just called 'The Bible' now. We droppped the word 'Holy' to give it more mass-market appeal."

  • pimp my page

    1. I need to start a "dump" post to shove bloggy stuff in that catches my eye. pimp page is a good starter.



    "That ideal reader," writes Joyce in Finnegan's Wake, "suffering from an ideal insomnia."

    I'm not sure what makes up an 'ideal' insomnia but JJ's is the only reference in the Oxford Dict of Literary Quotations and I wanted to kick off this insomniac posting with something posh.

    4am and I cannot reach even that jerky pre-stage of sleep that comes so easily in meetings.

    I slither out of bed and pad to the kitchen where I make tea and lay out biscuits and Mascarpone cheese and prepare to write letters to my distant family. I need to ride my insomnia with a disciplined firmness, like a wrangler with an unruly horse. The more tedious the task, the more readily my sniveling organism agrees to cut a deal and behave itself if just allowed back into bed.

    I am silent as a thief but she is there, looking as sleep-deprived as I.

    "Couldn't sleep," I mutter for lack of anything sensible to say.

    "Not surprised, with all that racket. I'm amazed you get *any* sleep at all."

    "What racket?" I hear nothing. I check for the sound of sirens or the thudding bass of the neighbor's hip-hop. Complete silence reigns.

    "You're joking - I haven't slept a wink. Listen! They're deafening."

    They. Plural. Over my tinnitis I strain to pick up the rustle of scuttling mice 'neath the floorboards. Still all is silent.

    "The frogs?" she offers.

    In that instant I hear them - a mere 50 yards away in Blue Heron Pond (see also Bainbridge Beat). Biggest bloody racket you ever heard. They must be like that night after night but I've got used to them, of course.Stanley Beach

    Same thing happened in Hong Kong when we lived in Stanley, *directly* facing the beach and even closer to the lapping sea than we are to the frogs.

    Pals would come out and be unable to sleep for the constant wash of sea on sand. Then they'd head back to Acacia Drive, Blighty, from where'd they complain of the appalling silence.

    I once went to see some shrink about going barmy working round the clock for peanuts and, rather like faulty goods that run perfectly when you take them into the shop, was at my sanest most urbane during the debriefing interview. The good doctor handed me a cassette.

    "Try this. A lot of people find it very beneficial. I think you'll notice the difference. An hour or so a day and at bedtime if you have a machine that turns itself off."

    It was a tape of waves breaking soothingly on the shore. I had to laugh.

    "Doc - I practically *live* in the sea. I get this round the clock courtesy of Neptune in person. If a couple of hours is meant to be so good, Stanley should be the sanest conclave in town. As it is, we're a bunch of raving nutters."

    He smiled wanly: "Try it anyway. In the car? Those Queen's Road traffic jams?"

    Just recounting this has brought somnolence. Mission accomplished.

    The Lost Art of Note Taking

    Just the link I need in my quest to become super exec and desirably hireable by the gentry.

    In fact, just the blog to keep me on track.

    Clever Michael Hyatt. (Publishing chappie, wouldn't you know).

  • Good point by Hyatt about note-taking keeping one focused and stopping one drifting off.
  • Symbols: Without always understanding what they stand for, I have *always* envied others their nifty symbols. Mind you, I've also glimpsed some note books in my time that have been suspiciously more fancy hieroglyphics than actual text and have wondered just how efficient a reference source they are the owner.
  • I use only one book at a time which I date and use clear headlines. I tried copying a colleague once and using different notebooks for different chores but there were too many occasions when I couldn't decide which book to use - or e even duplicated entries. I have this dilemma with Favorites folders and irritate the hell out of myself by never agreeing from day to day where these links should be stored.
  • Very good description, "survival skill": I am incapable of focusing for long on anything said at meetings and am just glad I didn't grow up with email and the internet to skive off on, which I notice quite a few people doing - all the while maintaining thoughtful furrowed brows.

    Luckily - or not - I have always been landed with the job of note taker: when I was a junior publisher, it went with the lowly status; when I got a bit more senior, I didn't trust the offical amanuenses; and when I came over to the US and started work for Cajola Inc., we took it in turns until muggins here made the mistake of delivering a pithy and almost witty report over which everyone gushed and prompted my manager to puff her chest and flutter her lashes and beseech me to do it full time. It was a right pain because I hand wrote and then had to hammer them out double-quick as email to be distributed before EOB. But I ended up the only one who remembered actual details so it was usually up to me to settle disputes, which is power.

  • A rather dramatic use of notes took place during my Asia stint when I used to travel to Indonesia for a French contractor client. I had had earlier dealings with the opposite number and set up a routine whereby official notes were taken of all meetings, printed signed *there and then* by all concerned as agreement of what had been said. It was the only way to ensure that people kept their word. They'd still wriggle out of loosely worded clauses but not nearly as many as might have been the case.

  • maman et bebe

    Old News, Bébé!

    Google Google burning bright, which is the hottest link tonight?

    I love quirky sites and the unequalled ResearchBuzz is a champion source.

  • Ever wonder who gets to those cool links *first* that then flood the Internet?
  • Old News, Baby wants to be the one to nail the hot stuff, figure out who's finding it, and who's finally getting to it when it's 'old news, baby'.

    Sign up, and when you spot a link you think is going to go global, you enter it. If that link *does* become hot, you get bragging rights (whatever that is and for whatever that's worth).

  • Reminds me of LinkFilter.

  • pandora's box

    Google's Pandora's Box

    Nigel Newton is CEO of Bloomsbury Publishers - home of Harry Potter - and no fool.

    He warns of

    the implications of Google Print’s digitisation programme ... opening “a Pandora’s box” that could lead to the “complete undermining of the intellectual and cultural tradition of the last 600 years”.
    Some publishers assume the freedom to allow Amazon and Google to digitise texts by virtue of electronic rights clauses in contracts, but Newton argues that digitisation of whole texts goes way beyond ‘publicity’.

    I rather agree with Newton that Google Print’s mission statement of “organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible” sounds “more akin to something you would hear from governments or religion."

    Full report in Publishing News.

    Thursday, April 21, 2005

    Ropey Pope-ry

    Had to happen:

  • Kitsch papal souvenirs hit the streets.
  • Benedict XVI’s unofficial website crashes under demand for T-shirts and other tat - even a trucker’s hat with "PAPIST" on the front.

  • Zooey Deschanel plays Trillian

    Hitchhiker Première

    Aargh! Hitchhiker's Guide premièred in London and I wasn't there!

    What do I have friends in London for but to alert me to these life-affirming events? What is the point of unemployment if not to jet off at a whim?

    And *when* will I next have a chance to RSVP a Seattle blog meetup with

    "Will try, but am in London that day for Hiker première. May stay on for the parties."

    Drat. Curses! Sounds OK according to Beeb review Roll on the 29th.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    Natascha McElhone


    My head spins between the media barrage around newly elected Benedict XVI and the effective trailers for NBC's Revelations.

    Pope-pooped and drifting in and out of sleep, I murmur to my companion from the TV divan

    "Poor bugger - only just elected and they throw *this* at him."

    Perfect casting of Natascha McElhone as the earnest soeur. She has that grave beauty I like in my nuns.

    And you just *know* that, however conservative Ratzinger may be, Sister Josepha Montafiore will be right there, genuflecting 19 to the dozen and twice as austere.


    The Office

    Tuned in to see what new inanities the cast get up to but watched it sandwiched between the DVD of The Corporation, a look at big corporations and the doomed planet we're letting them leave our great-grandchildren. In truth, as a PR hack out in the far east, I am not that far out of the firing line ...

    Full of chilling observations including that

  • The corporation model is legally a person
  • This film makes a psychological examination of the org model through various case studies.
  • What the study shows is that, in its behaviour, this type of "person" acts like a dangerously destructive psychopath without conscience.
  • Which made for an odd mood to watch the comedy show in.

    Not that bad a show this week but still bungled at every possible level. If next week's is the final episode, then it has failed utterly.

    This week's show should amuse and educate its eventual UK viewers - a 'friendly' basket ball game between Carell's sales team and the warehouse, with some silliness chucked in about a wager as to who'll come in to work that Saturday.

    jenna fischerSome pretty good hoops shot by hunk Krasinski and good darting glances by that sweetiepie Jenna Fischer, which makes the miscasting with her supposed fiancé all the more wasteful. A few wittily observed macho gamesmanship touches - particularly with the Afric-American warehousers - but I think I've plumbed why it never takes off.

    Like many of the UK shows that amuse over here, it's the sheer breathtaking (to American sensibilities) incorrectness that scores many of the laffs. Whether it's Alf Garnett or the Gervais character, they can't be recreated over here in our current toothless correctness. In fact, the more 'incorrect' the attempted joke, the pussier the footing. Hence all the excruciating honks and screeches of the Carell character as if to shout louder first and defuse any complaints. Carell's caterwauling is the program's canned laughter, telegraphing ahead:

    "Helloo! Now crossing the line. We know, we know - we're on thin ice, but listen how loud *we're* shouting."

    Absolutely no one must be trusted to think for themselves or reach their own conclusions. For example, the stereotype comments to the black staff on their basketball skills: these should have landed with the force and subtlety of John Henry's hammer. Instead, feather-lite prissiness was the usual order of the day.

    On a more technical side, the camera work is much too quick between the faces and the asides to camera *never* come off. Dwight (Rainn) has none of the Gareth qualities that made him such a clown in the Brit show and the endless repetition about his assistant *to* status is way over-repeated.

    We got a glimpse of next week's show and it promises to be the limpest yet: hot sales chick turns up at the office flogging purses or some such. Boobs to the fore, delicious cleavage; Rainn fancies his chances (which will be utterly cringe-making), is thwarted or goofs which leaves Carell to leap in (ditto with bells on).

    What? Tits and bum, office innuendo? Rolls of eyes by the other female staff? What a gift - and can't you just see the script writers agonising over each carefully "risqué" joke?

    My bet: blandness will rule and the show will exit on a whimper ne'er to be heard of again.

    To repeat the bad news: BBC3 will be inflicting this nonsense on my compadres.

    Parking stool pigeon

    Diabolic. A camera that spies on you and alerts the traffic warden when to nail you.

    Almost gives vandalising a good name.


    Culinary Shibboleth

    My belovèd 500g ~125-servings vat of Marmite looks depressingly low, but enough for a decent tiffin with core Brit pals.

    As soon as their partners hear why I'm calling they drop the phone and run screaming from the room.

    Hugo is the richest of us, said to have made his first fortune straight from school peddling some get-rich-quick scheme to the City that he got off his maths master.

    His next fortune was in advertising, which none of us can understand why he bothered since he's so mean he can hardly have spent more than two or three quid off the first pile. He's the one who told us about Marmite's reliable shibboleth qualities.

    Apparently - and it's such a good story none of us believes it - apparently, at his 21st birthday shindig, some glam peaches 'n' cream Americaine was eyeing him for size and commented along those lines to the crone next to her (who *happened* to be Huggy's mama).

    "Needn't bother , m'dear - if and when he marries, it'll be to an *English* gel."

    "Not a problem," trilled the gold digger, slipping into undetectable débutantese, "the accent thing is eezie-peezie."

    "In that case, you shall come for tea, where we serve Hugo's favourite - lightly toasted brown bread ... with Marmite."

    Gasp and immediate collapse back into transatlantic drawl. "My gahd! What sort of people *are* you?"

    Mrs Hugo is Den Haag via Houston via New York and speaks perfect crisp unaccented English. She is brought out for formal occasions, or maybe it's us who are allowed *in* at special get-togethers requiring cuff links and detachable starched collars. I think she allows Hugo to these jaunts to "let off steam". She phones him but we never have a clue what about because he has a set standard response on every call:

    He listens, then: "Well that seems pretty par for the course. Give it an hour or so and see what develops." She rarely calls back. It could be anything - children, domestiques, earthquake in the Dordogne not many dead, crisis at the office, mechanical failure of the caviar scoop in their perfect kitchen in their bijou residence in bijou Belltown ...

    marmiteSuki is our "mule", bringing back fresh supplies on her husband's business trips. We're meant to be able to buy it over here via Britsbuy but for some silly reason we regard that as cheating.

    Mr Suki swears it's illegal and that he'll look the other way as Homeland Security hurl her in the slammer - but what's that to a true Marmite lover?

    Suke's the one who sends round Marmitey trivia like the Guardian's 100-years celeb piece.

    On the question of security, Mr Suki is also the one who joked that all a terrorist group need do is pin a note on the door - "Welcome! Marmite tasting session in progress - walk right in" - and even the hardiest SWAT team will cross themselves and back gingerly out of the building.

    Philippa and David - Gloucestershire + dour Yorkshire, so both turn up (which I think Dave slightly resents on these bachelor occasions). Pippa is guardian of correct etiquette and does the light spreading which probably contributed to my getting more like 150 spreadings out of the jar. She also chooses the music which allows Dave to do his embarrassed spouse thing ("Blooody hell, Pipps - not Kate Bush again" or - piercing look at me as the first notes of "Please don't Tease" ring out - "Nay, lad tell me that's never Cliff 'n' the Shadows. Ayup, Pipps can't you find any Leslie Gore?")

    Immediate cue for everyone to launch into "It's my parteh and I'll cry if I WANNA", allowing Dave to shake head sadly and do his mature disappointed act. Then we resume seats with elbows off table as Nanny always insisted.

    Bill is the only other guitar player of the group. We picked each other up at a Bill Frisell gig. He has furthest to come but doesn't say much, preferring to let the rest of us jabber. He has this amazing palate: he can tell where different Guinnesses come from and can usually tell when any of us has opened a new jar of Marmite. We meet up once a month to play guitar - my place/his place - where he always has a different nymph wandering about in states of disheveled undress. They all look about 16 and have interchangeable names like Courtney or Kelly or Megan or Morgana. Hannah. Ophelia-Sue. Arianna. They never join us and when I make to make polite conversation he shakes his head as if not to bother.

    We munch our Marmited toast and sip the strong sugary tea and wallow on about home and the loneliness of the long distance ex-pat which segues into the even greater loneliness of the long-distance job searcher - i.e. moi. Everyone rounds on me and tells me it is getting a bit bloody silly and to pull my socks up. Then they whip out PDAs and Filofaxes and grotty little notebooks and scribble and tap.

    It's agreed: one contact name from each of them by week's end, daily progress report from me or else ...

    Pippa makes as if to group high-five but Dave points at the door with utterly straight face:

    "Oy! You. Out! See that door? Out. There'll be no naffin' yankee-istic hi-fivin' in *my* town hall."

    We laugh and Suki imitates the cool youthy handshake on herself as Hugo nods - "Blackness confirmed."

    Right on cue, everyone's phone starts going and there's time to catch the ferry if they leave now. Lightning air kisses and abrazos.

    "Get a photo of the jar!" someone yells over the screech of tyres.

    For dinner that night - and to bolster me for "The Office" - I skip Orange Pekoe and fill the Marmite marmeet with boiling water, shake vigorously, leave stand, and finally pour into my king-size beaker. Perfect fit.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2005

    Fiction Award

    Good thing I've been following the NBCC 1998 fiction award chatter because the very polished James Marcus has entered the fray so I've found his House of Mirth blog.

    Marcus is the author of the excellent Amazonia account of his years at Amazon.com.

    He also turns out to have been on the 1998 NBCC, hence his interesting take on the votes for dark horse The Blue Flower.

    Speaking of Amazon ~

  • That Count the 12 guys is back. Watch carefully as they turn into 13 guys.
  • Then read clever Matty Baldwin's explanation of where the 13th bloke comes from.

    Eee, he's a bright lad, is yon Balders; no mistake about it.

  • aldous huxley

    Aldous Huxley

    There's a headline to conjure with that I never thought would grace this blog.

    I must confess to not having read Brave New World since prep school - far too young - which is where I also discovered Orwell (whose works I *did* re-read 20 years later, thanks to the file copies being by my left ear.)

    Hmm - interesting I mention Orwell ... I wonder if there are two writers less read and more misquoted than this pair?

    Anyway, small thing but it annoys the hell out of me and everyone else who watches Zach Braff's clever Garden State movie: at some point a minor character is racking his memory for Aldous' last name ... natalie portman

    "Huxtable!" he finally exclaims with evident satisfaction, and then repeats it. "Huxtable!"

    No one I've asked can explain what point this deliberate error serves - is it an in-joke? Is there someone in the movie called Huxtable?

    Ack - who cares? I really just wanted an excuse to slip in a pic of the lovely Ms Portman ...

    Monday, April 18, 2005

    Trompe L'Oeil T-shirt

    Amusing T-shirt one of my luncheon guests turned up with and made me wear to the restaurant, where I was much mocked.

    It looks rather convincing, with its collared shirt and tie - and even meaty hands tucked into faux "trousers".

    If I didn't know that Mrs Leung insists on tails and dress medals, I'd wear it for the Bainbridge Bloggers April 30 soirée.

    Dept of credit où il faut en convenir - ^5 to Bainbridge Beat for correcting my howler on "oeil". Nothing to do with creative spelling (but thanks for such a tactful get-out): just got it plain wrong. Dormitat Homerus, and all that.

    Little brit cast

    Loony Britain

    I do hope this loony Brit show reaches the US and is pounced on by the usual dupes as a 'clever' cult import.

    The signs are good.

  • Little Britain is a success at home.
  • It's scored with BAFTA
  • Its inane setting is a weirdo twilight Britain populated by half-hearted transvestites, naïve carers, lazy romantic novelists, and children's show hosts reduced to DIY warehousing.
  • Cast includes deranged Scottish hoteliers and public housing estate oafs hitting on pals' grandmas.
  • Catch phrases galore for the pseuds to take up.

    I used to think sheer foreign-ness would fend off copycat rubbish but I know better: The more preposterous the contortion, the more inacessible the humour, the more determined certain people will be to show they "get" it.

    No complaints this end: I'll mingle, take notes and file suitably pretentious £-packing feedback from the war zone.

  • Fast Company

    I can't for the life of me remember subscribing to it, but Fast Company is an excellent jobcraver's cheatsheet and has all the current buzz chat and rah-rah articles a fogey like me needs to keep focused and fierce.

    A good letter in the May number correcting last month's snippet about it *not* being Kool-Aid that Jim Jones dished out.

    I suspect the meaning and context has evolved over the years, so I'm not sure the writer is right, but he kicks off with a splendid ageist jab:

    Mr Kihn reveals both his age as well as his ignorance of history in "Don't Drink the Grape-Flavored Sugar Water" ... The phase "drink the Kool-Aid" doesn't come from the Jim Jones 1978 Guyana tragedy. It comes from the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests in San Francisco in the '60s, where concertgoers were encouraged to "drink the Kool-Aid" (laced with acid) to see if it would help to 'immerse' themselves in the music."
    Well I never.

    But I still think the current meaning leans towards popping a suicide pill.

    Meanwhile, I am a little worried by Alex Halavais' many good points in his 'Blogging Up' advice on 'how to career-blog without it coming back to haunt you".

    "Having a blog is almost like building a brand for yourself ... Don't reveal anything in a blog you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The NYT. It's pretty standard that anyone interviewing you Googles you beforehand ..." Uh ohh.
    Halavais cites good examples of blogs to emulate, among which As I say, that's me in trouble on the Google front until I concoct a casually cool must-hire showpiece for m'self. I know the ingredients:
    1. Nothing too overtly job grovel
    2. Mature reflections on current affairs, but nothing too opinionated or critical.
    3. Loadsa buzz names: Senge, Welch, Wozniak, Thomke, et co.
    4. Homely photos of the rounded exec at leisure - above-average offpspring at play as pater joins in (but with laptop and road warrior accessories discreetly on view in the background)
    5. Social gatherings showing perfect hostess spouse and smattering of guests - grey-haired captains of industry, the thrusting young (weekend casual for the Yanks, blazers and Oxbridge ties for the Brit contingent), sprinkling of arty long-haired types.
    6. Savvy terse comments on the latest books.
    7. Fumblings with cutting edge technology (" ... not sure if I understand this Bluetooth right but fixed G's download of Canto-Pop chime tones...) "

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    survival kit

    Survival Pack

    Every quarter, Western Washington University writes to parents offering "finals week care packages for your student."

    This Survival Pack is "an assortment of tasty treats designed to help students endure finals ... plus you get to add a personal note sending your love and encouragement."

    I can't remember what silliness I used for Georgina's first quarter, but for the last package I typed a polite note as if from her father's valet, informing her that - as she probably knew - Sir Christopher was currently honeymooning in the Bahamas with the third Lady Holmes but had asked him (the valet) to do the needful.

    Still posing as the ultra-correct manservant, I confessed uncertainty over the note of "love and encouragement", but had consulted 'cook' who informed me that "You go, girl" was current acceptable vernacular on such occasions.

    And so off with the check and note and thought no more of it until Georgina phoned to laughingly thank me.

    Apparently, the WWU authorities had been so appalled at the thought of so heartless a father leaving this personal and meaningful task to the hired help, they were hesitant even to show her the stiff note, preferring to pretend the note had become unattached but everyone distinctly remembering warm and personal paternal good wishes. I gather there were also discreet inquiries as to whether she had given thought to counseling.

    I'm not sure how she wriggled out of that one.

    This year's message is utterly bland and I've decided to quit such tomfoolery. This childish behavior with her educators dates back to her high school prom.

    Her grandmother had generously paid for some glam long gown which, as the date loomed, looked like being less than a perfect fit. As I recall, G's mother made some vague noises about slimming down or else ... but I came up with the sort of threat that carries more meaning for one's offspring.

    I had agreed to be one of the chaperones for the evening so I simply informed Georgina that, one way or another, *one* of the two Holmeses present would be wearing the dress that night. There were a few raised-eyebrow laughs at the time but, come the day, Georgina did indeed fit snugly into her haute couture so off we went, proud pater and dazzling daughter.

    What I didn't realize was that G had shared this novel slimming aid with her teachers, as a result of which I innocently rolled up in my natty tux only to be met with a wave of disappointment and disapproval at depriving everyone of a good old Dame Edna-style cabaret. Can't win.


    PEN and the Sword

    Salman Rushdie, President of PEN America, is this week's author of The NYT Book Review's back page Essay, The PEN and the Sword.

    Rushdie talks of coming to New York in January 1986 for the 48th Congress of International PEN. He writes that,

    "As one of the younger participants I was more than a little awestruck. Brodsky, Grass, Oz, Soyinka, Vargas Llosa, Bellow, Carver, Doctorow, Morrison, Said, Styron, Updike, Vonnegut and Mailer himself were some of the big names reading ... "
    In the course of the article, Rushdie mentions other literary figures, which prompted my breakfast companion to teasingly test me on crossed paths with my own bookish background:

    Secker & Warburg authors

    • Günther Grass
    • Amos Oz
    • Wole Soyinka
    • Saul Bellow
    • J.M. Coetzee
    • Cynthia Ozick

    UK Book Marketing Council

    • Elizabeth Hardwick (1993 Authors USA promotion)

    André Deutsch author

    • John Updike

    Even I was slightly taken aback at the tally.

    deadwood outline


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    Saturday, April 16, 2005


    OFFICE - Part 2

    Flattering dilemma, and one I'd not anticipated in all my years of chugging out words by the yard:

    I can see it now:

    Camilla to Charles from the royal mousepad, "I say, Chazzah, that squit Holmes is at it again - being awwfleh unfair about some Am-er-ican TV show."

    Chas: " What's that m'dear? Yes, by all means ... you go right ahead ..."

    Millie: "No, seriousleh, darling - here's your chance to do something reelly reelly *useful* and tot up some much-needed PR on the way. No need tell Tony about it - *you* take the initiative this time. Call up their Bush fellow direct and tell him you're one *hundred* per cent on his side and it's absolutely not-on for one of Mummy's subjects to be over there writing beastly things about everything they hold most dear.

    Tell him he has your Royal go-ahead to evict Master Holmes forthwith. Just sound decisive, darling - they love that sort of thing over there."

    Ch: "What's that, m'dear? Yes, of course, damn'd good idea. I'll have the Privy Council get right on to it ... "

    M: "No, Charles - *now*. While it's cheap rate."

    Cut to White House:

    "Who the hell'm I talking to, Karl? Who? Oh, OK ... good morning to you, Your Princey-ness. How's it going over there? Great, great. And your good new wife? I mean your new good wife? Great. So what I can do for you, Your Eminence?

    Uh huh, uh huh, okaayy ... uh huh, uh huh, yes indeed - that is the kind of thing we take very seriously and I surely do appreeshianate your bringing it to my attention. I'll have the apro- ... the appropr- ... I'll get someone right onto it. Thanks again. Yes 'tootle pip' to you, too. Tell y'r mom Laura says hi.

    Karl! Do we have a "blaggerd" redcoat name of Holmes holed up on some island? What's that? *Blogger* not blackguard? OK - no big deal. I think we can score big with the immigration lobby as well as the couch potaters (p't-ah-ters, in this case, heh heh. Remember that one Karl for the press release).

    I can see it now. Me and the cast on the tarmac. They're dragging this limey away in chains and I'm shaking hands with Steve Carell. Maybe have Condi tear up his green card application on the evenin' nooz.

    Front page of Variety, op-ed in the Times - *and* I get to stick it to those pinko treehuggers up there."

    Yes - not a pretty picture. Plus which, no thanks to my inarticulate disgust at this recyled abomination, I had to pad like crazy by a) Making mockery of various other reviewer buffooneries; b) A rather effective dovetail detour via a phenomenon I've been meaning to tackle, namely the presence in this country of outwardly normal coves who suddenly spout whole gobbets of the Monty Python canon (accents and all, groan), not to mention dissections of plot minutiae from The Prisoner, The Avengers (ahh, that Diana Rigg) , AbFab, Day of the Triffids - and don't even get me started on the codswallop I'm dished on
  • Doug Adams
  • Red Dwarf
  • Doctor Who.
  • Fawlty Towers
  • Blimey - if I'd known at the time I was watching kudos kult history in the making, I'd have gone easier on the old GCEs. All it was back then was Aunt Molly calling up the stairs,

    "Tea time, Chrissie - and yer favourite show coming on the tele."

    "What show's that, Aunt Molly?"

    "You know, the one you like with the bloke who talks posh - ever such a handsome dresser, 'e is - and that bird you fancy who's always taking her clothes off so 'e can escape ... "

    "Which one's that?"

    "Oh YOU know - the one where he's in this car whizzing down the M4 but there's these foreign gemmun after him so he hides in this stately manor where he meets Lady Wotchamacallit who takes her clothes off except her husband comes in but it turns out they was at the same school so that's all right - that one. *You* know ... "

    Uncle Hugh: "Leave the boy alone to do his homework"

    Me: "I've done my homework, Uncle Hugh."

    UH: "Oh yeah? Well what's pythagoras squared, then? What's the capital of Timbuctu? How many acres to the groat? Wossa date of the battle of Frinton?"

    AM: "Perhaps he don't want to do his homework. Perhaps he wants his tea and watch telly ..."

    UH: "Course he wants to do his homework, you silly moo. How else 'e going to have a posh office in Harley Street and drive round in an effing Roller?"

    AM: "Perhaps he don't want to drive round in an "effing Roller", as you put it."

    UH: "Give over - What? Doctor Sir Christo-bleedin'-pher Holmes, MD - 52 Harley Street and 12 Eaton Square - by royal appointment to the rich 'n' hypochondriacal - Christmas in Bermuda, feeling famous actresses up the khyber? Stands to reason!"

    AM: "Perhaps he just wants to watch television."

    UH: "Bleedin' 'ell, gel - what good's *that*?"

    AM: "Well, one day our boy might travel to distant lands and when the natives find out he's watched all the Avengers and all that Pallisers *and* read 'Brideshead Revisited' before it was on telly, the wise men will bow down before him and the people will make brazen images and the pharisees will cry 'Verily, come for tea and chocolate cake and tell us all about those wondrous days' ... and then he won't need no Rolls Royce coz he'll be chauffeured about. Won't you, love?"

    Me: "Yeah, sumfink like that, auntie".

    UH: "Yeah, n pigs might fly! Blimey, you two deserve each other. Awright, lad, get yer bum down here while the pot's brewing."

    Atop of all which, what spendid timing for the heretical TV Turnoff Week.

    : Post-scriptural nod of thanks to Bainbridge Beat for encouraging understanding feedback on all this brouhaha.

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