Now incorporating The Sudbury Hill Harrow and Wherever End Times

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Good bits from The New Yorker:

This is interesting. The rhythm of a daily walk. Easy to read, unusual format, a little repetitive at first, but mirroring the awful emptiness that assails some of us: Recuperation - by Roddy Doyle. It's not without its highlights and even a shot of redemption. Well worth a read. Brilliant is probably the word I'm looking for.

Sunstroke - by Tessa Hadley begins...

The seafront really isn’t the sea but the Bristol Channel: Wales is a blue line of hills on the other side. The district council has brought sand from elsewhere and built a complicated ugly system of concrete breakwaters to keep it in and make the beach more beachlike, but the locals say it’ll be washed away at the first spring tide. Determined kids wade out a long way into soft brown silt to reach the tepid water, which barely has energy to gather itself into what you could call a wave. It’s hard to believe that the same boys and girls who have PlayStations and the Internet still care to go paddling with shrimping nets in the rock pools left behind when the tide recedes, but they do, absorbed in it for hours as children might have been decades and generations ago.

A new Haruki Murakami: The Hunting Knife. So much to read, so little time.

Screenwriter - by a great writer, Charles D'Ambrosio. I must read this before very long.

Tooth and Claw - by T. Coraghessan Boyle. I probably won't read this, though I have glanced it over a few times. He's not a bad writer, but he spins things a bit too thin for my liking.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A Christmas box from


The A to Z of seasonal dejection

After being comprehensively duffed-up,
eventually facing gloomy happenstance,
I jack-in Kultur,
leaving masterpieces, none;
opining prizes, qualifications, recognition, sinecures, titles -
Valedictory waves x10 - yours,

All barroom characters
die everywhere
from grinning, hapless
intimates' jabbering,
killed like mutton.

old people,
standing time up,
very wistfully.


Season's greetings to all our disloyal readers

Howling Laud Hope's Christmas message to the nation. [For budgetary reasons it's the same as his election message earlier this year - Ed.]

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The sun is setting on Willesden, 2003

These pictures don't do justice to the scene this evening.

Ossian Lennon

Friday, December 19, 2003

Serial confessers confess to everything

Jeffrey Archer missed a trick. If you're on a charge for anything, give Colonel Gaddafi a bell. He'll confess to anything on behalf of Libya, if you tell him you'll buy some of his oil. Nobody believed they had anything to do with the Lockerbie bombing, but as Gaddafi said they were willing to pay compensation - without admitting guilt - and it would smooth their path to the markets, then he'd do it. Now they've cut a deal with him to "dismantle his weapons of mass destruction." How wonderful these WMD are, they're like the Emperor's New Clothes (ENC) - invisible, but all the courtiers are afraid to be admit that they can't actually see them. Listen to the voice of a small child in the crowd: "The Emperor has no clothes!" He's nude as a Mexican hairless dog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Interview with a Literary Agent

"Semi-autobiographical fiction"

He was a man of prodigious obesity, with an ever-present burning cigarette to stop his mouth. Not surprisingly then, he drew an analogy between writers and cooks. In the U.K. he said there are about 4 or 5 million good cooks, whose friends will compliment them on their work when they serve it up. Then there are maybe 200,000 competent cooks, and just a handful of star chefs who achieve any kind of recognition.

"I've had hundreds of people sitting there, and not one of them ever said they were a crap writer."

He kept asking me to build his website. I have no time, and anyway I just don't want to, I told him.

"And you expect me to do something for you?"

As the conversation wore on, I told him I'd brought something for him to look at, and started to take a typescript out of my satchel. It was a few chapters of something very near to my heart.

He said, "I hope it's not semi-autobiographical fiction... Is it?"

Well do you want the truth or some bullshit? (I didn't really say that.)

"It's the easiest thing to write and the hardest to sell," he said, slowly rotating his outsized swivel chair to and fro, and kissing smoke from his cigarette. "Do you know why?"

"Is it because people don't buy it?"

"No, because it's lumpy. There's a lumpiness to it. Things appear, not because they are good for the story, but simply because they are true. Then you get whole sections in great detail about something irrelevant - the calibration of telescopes for example - whatever is the author's specialist subject... You turn over the page and then you're in a thinly written made-up section.

"But the worst problem is that the truth doesn't fit the needs of the story. When you write pure fiction, you can make anything happen next to serve the needs of the story. When it's the truth, you're stuck with it. You wish the hero would do something to help himself, and the reader thinks, why didn't something else happen - why didn't he do this or that."

There was some mention of research - something proper novelists do, apparently, to work up their stories. I recently attended talks by Roddy Doyle and David Means who, by coincidence, both said the same thing about research: they don't do any - not till after they've written their first draft.

My answer was that I was a world expert on myself, that I had cut myself open and delved deep into my own mind, or some earnest-sounding banter like that. But no, apparently that's just where I was wrong. Myself was exactly the sort of thing I needed to research. I thought I would stump him by mentioning Hanif Kureishi -

"Oh, you don't want to be like him, he's a very lonely boy," he said. "Who will sleep with you thinking in a year or two all the sordid details will appear in your next novel?"

And what agent would interview you, I thought. He was trying to light another cigarette in the chain, shaking an empty matchbox, finding another and coming back to his desk. The room was very spacious and high-ceilinged, so that the smoke vanished without a trace.

But what about John MacGahern, Roddy Doyle, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Bernard MacLaverty, I countered. (I'm not even sure why I picked some of those.) The Raymond Carver reference seemed to have a hypnotic effect on him. He repeated the name, thinking something that he didn't say. Oh so this was what he was dealing with, perhaps. I said that great fiction is a flower grown on the midden of real life. (Not really, that was later when I was rehearsing what I should have said.)

"You're not a secret romantic, are you?"

"No," I said.

I think he gave up on me at that point.

"So you won't build my website, but you want me to do something for you."

"Well what are you going to do for me?" I asked.

He said, "I've already done something. I've given you something."

"Oh, what's that?"

"Lumpiness. I've given you lumpiness."

"Okay. No problem. I'll take this away with me." I moved to take the manuscript back. Now he decides to read some of it. You can see the huckster in him thinking, What if there really is something here - I might miss the main chance. I would have said it was peasant cunning, but the last time this guy saw peasants they were his serfs.

"Did they really have those at that time?" He's leaning back reading the page and smoking, asking about mahogany gramophones with Daventry, Hilversum etc. on the dial, and seventy-eights with Connie Francis singing "Who's Sorry Now." (I like the sound of that myself.) Yes, they really did.

Now he starts telling me about how much he has to pay his readers a day, and how it takes them a day or two to read a novel. Yeah, yeah. Do your job. Anyway, now he wants to keep it, and have somebody read it. He presses a catalogue on me and invites me to reconsider building a website for it, and then I'm out of there.

The whole office is lined floor to ceiling with shelves of books and manuscripts, stacked crossways. The wide hallway is fitted with bookshelves too, neater ones, where some of his own imprint books are arrayed. There are cardboard boxes on the floor, in transit. He is pleasant, smiling and takes down one of his publications, a book about some high-tone variation on Positive Thinking, for me to put in my satchel. I try to decline, but he says I can bring him a gift on my next visit.

Stephen Moran

From Stephen Moran's Museum of Illusions

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

So which is it?

Either there are WMD in Iraq and everybody there needs protective clothing, or there aren't and they don't. Which is it? Why are the forces there not wearing protective clothing? It's clear from their disposition that they do not believe there are WMD present. So why does Blair continue to repeat the lie? If it's true after all, then there was criminal negligence in sending the forces in unprotected.

There was 40% too few nerve agent detector units and the MoD's entire stock of 4,000 vapour detection kits, used by troops when they unmask after a suspected chemical attack, was found to be unserviceable.

"Difficulties" in providing enough NBC protection suits in some sizes were found and some gas masks did not fit as well had been thought.
- BBC News / National Audit Office Report.

Were they really in such a hurry to comply with His Master's Voice that they were prepared, just as in the 1914-18 war to sacrifice battalions of British youth for nothing - nothing but a craven face-saving exercise for Whitehall time-servers.

Feargal Mooney

Monday, December 15, 2003

When the tyrant went to ground

This is where he was holed up: Guardian Interactive.

Cardboard City

In the darkness, in the night
On the doorstep shivering
When the moon sails left to right
Simon's soup is on the wing.

That fat lady with the urns
Comes from Kilburn to the Strand
With rosary beads and currant buns
And rabbit fit to beat the band.

Coppers twitch their mobile mics,
Suffer us to come to them.
Would you swap with Jesus Christ
On Calvary or Bethlehem?


Rugby report of the year.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Go to work on an egg

Now that's what I call consideration. It was nice to come down to this today. I was the last to get up (as usual) after the others had left.


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Microsoft sponsors confidential helpline for suicidal users

Brent Samaritans Garden

He gave the little that he had
To build a house for fools and mad;
And shew’d by one satiric touch
No nation needed it so much.

-- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

"As Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Swift's desire to improve conditions for the oppressed, the poor and the alienated grew. These concerns became the blueprint for a dedicated psychiatric hospital free of the abuses of the institutions at the time with an independent board of governors which would protect patients and safeguard the hospital's ongoing development and improvement.

"On October the 19th 1745 the venerable and sick Dean died, leaving his entire estate, derived from royalties of his writings including his great satirical work, Gulliver's Travels, for the founding of a hospital for the psychiatrically ill, the first in Ireland ..... It is now the oldest, purpose built psychiatric hospital continuously functioning on its original site in these islands and one of the oldest in the world. "

Ref: St. Patrick's Hospital - Swift's Lasting Legacy.

Swift himself "lapsed into dementia" three years before his death. He was wrongly thought to suffer from mental illness in his lifetime, having suffered from the early age of 23 what is now known to be Meniere's Disease, "a disturbance of the inner ear that causes vertigo and nausea. There was no treatment for it in Swift's lifetime and his fortitude must have been extraordinary."

Ref: Jonathan Swift (Hertford College.)

According the Herald's Simon Moribund, "Microsoft founder Bill Gates should follow Dean Swift's example and donate some of his billions to help those afflicted with chronic and acute melancholia caused to computer users by his products."

Simon is temporarily indisposed. We can reveal that Microsoft has already sponsored a garden for the suicidal (above).

If you are feeling suicidal [maybe you could] contact The Samaritans. [Not a bad idea, Feargal. I'll make a note of that. Ed.] You can talk confidentially to them on the phone.

Feargal Mooney

Saturday, December 06, 2003

In praise of Chinese names

Ah brave China,
dusty, enterically febrile,
gentle, herpes-ridden, insouciant!

Jealous Kowloon looks,
moonfaced, nightly
on pretty Qing Ro-Ying.

She tumbles
under virile Wang Xiao's
youthful zeal.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Simon's clinic number 6

This is what you should be seeing: screenshots. If not, your fonts are to cock. Trust me, I'm a programmer.

Simon Moribund

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Top-up fees - what a load of fuss over nothing!

All these scare stories about students leaving University with debts for life - what a load of bosh! Surely it is very clear that Daddy and Mummy will pay those amounts for all but the terribly wretched. As for those, they can always apply to the authorities under whatever Poor Law pertains, for state support. It's so simple, I'm surprised the vast majority of people in the country can't see it. That in itself is a testament to the dismal inadequacy of such places as the "Ball's Pond Road University," as referred to by the spokesman for the Higher Charges Campaign on Newsnight on BBC2 last night. Surely people who attend such temples of ignorance cannot be expected to pay the amounts (soon to be) demanded by good universities? The cheapo places will be there for them, and let's not forget they will be in a lot of debt either way - as they are at present. The government already gives larger amounts to the best universities and always will, which nobody minds, but what we are trying to establish is that people who are able to pay more should be able in some way to differentiate themselves from people who can pay less. We're fed up with all the hopelessly vulgar people flooding the best universities, to the extent that it is now a matter of chance whether a public school applicant is chosen over a bog-standard school supplicant. Surely all this is obvious to the vast majority of the people?

H. C. J. O. K. De B-F, OBE, Brondesbury

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

On a subject too small for poetry

O humble Full Stop
you are not the top
of the grammar elite,
neither effete like litotes, say,
nor sweet like hyperbole;
neither comical like oxymoron,
nor chemical like boron;
neither political like Trotsky,
nor artistic like Paolozzi;
not glamourous, smart or absurd,
but you usually have the last word.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Plain English Campaign awards Rumsfeld the Golden Bull

The award is for this statement by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to journalists at a press conference:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

There is nothing on earth the matter with that, is there not, or is there? It does not seem more or less unclear to me than any below average utterance or above.

Red Woodward