Thursday, 24 December 2009

So here it is.....

Merry Christmas! Hope we get some more of this, but only after everybody's home.
Have a wonderful Christmas, whether religious or secular.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Oh come ONNN.

'Tis the season to be pedantic, so who am I to fly in the face of tradition?
I have bought many packs of Christmas cards over the years, and they fall into two categories: Silly and Religious. This year is no exception, and I have some nice Nativity ones, which say "Merry Christmas" inside them, and some nice non-Nativity ones (geese, Miss Piggy and 1950s skaters, since you ask), which say "Season's greetings" or similar.
I am not particularly bothered about what Christmas cards say inside them - yes, we all know it's one of the Big Two of the Christian year, but I don't (as an agnostic myself) feel personally affronted if this is either pointed out to me or studiously (and with great PC) avoided.
After all, it's nice to think someone thought of you and sent you a card, whatever the feeling behind it.
HOWEVER. I bought some nice Robert Sabuda pop-up Christmas cards (well, I think they're nice, so that's the important thing), which combine some seriously Nativity pop-up images with some inoffensively snowman 'n' reindeer pop-up images (perfect for the rabid Zen Vegan in your life). And the one with the pop-up The Baby Jesus In A Manger says "Happy Holidays" in it.
Let's be honest, the sentiment "Happy Holidays" is designed to show Those Of Other (Or No) Faiths that while you wish them a nice break over the December 24th - January 2nd period, you wouldn't dream of trying to convert them at swordpoint like your ancestors might have done. Affixing this to a picture of The Baby Jesus is as pointless as asking people to come to church with you for a coffee. I appreciate the strenuous efforts the manufacturers were making to remain politically correct (and I am, as I may have already said, a fervent agnostic), but there are limits.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The unpronounceables

I come from a family to whom second languages are a breeze, and often third/fourth languages (if you count Swiss-German/French dialect as a language and not just a dialect). I will just say here that my pathetic contribution is French, and that's it. I once had a lengthy conversation while Interrailing, sitting outside the umpteenth cathedral I refused to go into, with a charming ancient Italian bloke in my A-level Spanish. We understood each other perfectly. It helped that the girls and I had had some wine at lunch, also that he was slightly deaf. And at the point where it turned out he was trying to set me up with his son (not present) I feigned a sudden lack of interpretation skills.
Having a facility for languages, however, is actually no help at all in the world of bookselling. Many customers, and this is not at all a criticism, don't know how to pronounce the names of foreign writers, and frankly nor do we most of the time. I know in theory that Houellebecq is pronounced Wellbeck, but prefer to pronounce it Ooouelleblablablabecque. Ditto with Chuck Palahniuk, who is now officially Plalalalalalaniacccchhh. Or maybe it's easiest to say "It's in paperback fiction under H. Just before Elizabeth Jane Howard." - all of which brings back to me the early days of Salman Rushdie's fatwah, and how suddenly it was The Done Thing on the BBC news to refer to him as SoolmAAhn RooshdEE.
Certain words are also a minefield - I mean we all know in theory how to say "genre" but tend not to, as you end up sounding like a Saatchi underling trying to sell Tracey Emin's used pants to an awestruck art novice. Especially if you add the unforgiveable word "oeuvre" which, if not considerately and inclusively pronounced "hoover", marks you out as so pretentious you need shooting. I love Nabokov (sorry), and wouldn't dream of saying "oeuvre" about his body of work.
We recently invented some incorrect pronunciations (it was a quiet afternoon) for use on the more studiedly poncey customer : my personal favourite was Alain-Benet (to be pronounced like JonBenet), although he was run a close second by Dan Brun and Jean Greeshamm.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Dear Father Christmas

I've moaned about this before, but the Mighty World Of Retail starts Christmas early. In our defence, a combination of postal strikes and far-flung relatives have caused the local customers to panic slightly about posting Christmas cards, so we now have a lot of them out. And advent calendars. Well, they start on the 1st of December, so there's my excuse. Oh, and obviously wrapping paper - those presents bound for New Zealand have to be seasonal. Oh, and books people might want to send like A Child's Christmas In Wales, yadda yadda yadda...
All in all, apart from not having Now That's What I Call Yuletide braying loudly in the background (we have no radio, no CD player, no speakers - not even on the PC - and the woman from the Performing Rights Society who rang to check didn't believe me, either), we have gone the way of all flesh and are now more or less 100% festive. I apologise. I also apologise for the microscopic specks of spectral green glitter on my face (thank you, Roger LaBorde stationery) that leap into vivid and scary life at certain angles but seem resistant to scrubbing. I am currently pretending I am a sparkly-faced Twilight-style vampirette, albeit one who was "turned" too old to stay young and glam for all eterniddeee.
In this scarily early spirit of festivity, I have composed my Christmas list (Mr Fishwife's favourite trick when asked what he would like for Christmas/birthdays is to reply vaguely "Oh, something nice.."). No excuses for me, here it is in all its magnificence. No hints.

1) This, to live in. I'd settle for a copy, built in a stately clearing of my choosing.

2) One of these. Alive, obviously, not in the form of a coat for some creepy oligarch's ho.

3) The Koh-I-Noor. 105 carats of pure bliss. I wouldn't wear it, far too big, but possibly I'd use it as a doorstop or something..

Go on, spoil me. And I honestly don't mind if I get two Koh-I-Noors. And I could always use the second St Pancras to keep my snow leopards in.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

My Ears Were Not Made For This, an addendum...

"Hold on there, baby, while I hide the bicycle pump from thieves... mmmHHMMMMM..."

I had completely forgotten about this, but was reminded by Mr Fishwife yesterday: if you listen very carefully to Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye, as it's starting fading out and he's crooning seductive words of LERVE to his lucky laydeee, there is DEFINITELY the sound of one of those parpy parpy clown bicycle horns. Seriously. Every time I hear it I imagine he's suggestively honking the horn on his Grifter as he parks it behind the garage and starts taking his cycle clips off. Thank you, Mr F, for actually making me laugh out loud.

Monday, 26 October 2009

My Ears Were Not Made For This

Currently, for some reason, I seem to be running on a very short fuse. Things that normally I would allow to wash over me are annoying me more than is strictly reasonable. And bizarrely a lot of them seem to be musical. There are too many songs out there that aren't trying hard enough. I'm aware this is very subjective so I apologise in advance if any of them is your personal favourite, but the tetch demands to be released...

1) Songs that fail to live up to the initial promise of the intro
Well, at the moment just the one: Sweet Child Of Mine by Guns and Roses. A sublime introduction that promises great things. And then, after a perfectly OK but not special set of verses and choruses, winds down to a dreary "we can't decide what to do with the end of this and are even singing about it... where do we go where do we go where do we go...". Poor effort all round, Mr Rose, must try harder.

2) Songs that are totally let down by an inappropriately jaunty bit
Here Comes The Night by Them/Van Morrison. What went wrong here? Excellent intro. Excellent chorus. And then the verse has a ridiculously misplaced Benny Hill oompah quality to it. Every time I hear it I want, in a Frankenstein way, to rip out the verses and replace them with something from the Doors.
Spirit Of Radio by Rush, and Jane by Jefferson Starship. What was wrong with those post-prog people?? Why couldn't they leave things alone and not meddle? These songs are the musical equivalent of a cake that has been iced, decorated, and then iced some more, and then soaked in rum, and then served in a lettuce basket with a smoked salmon garnish. Although when I say "smoked salmon garnish" I mean "startlingly embarrassing misguided reggae-style bridge". There's a point in the middle where you actually have the feeling that you're watching your father breakdance at a wedding. Dear God, somebody stop the horror.

3) Songs that are just downright lazy and were phoned in by artists too complacent to care if their work was sub-standard or not
Do I need to say any more than All You Need Is Love by the Beatles? Combining a dirgey sub-Maharishi melody with the most offensive tuba-driven chorus, this resembles nothing so much as a badly-organised minibus singalong on a mental hospital's Chessington day out. Except the singers aren't even pretending they're enjoying themselves. The wah-wah-wawah-waaaah trombone on the chorus sounds like the incidental music from a Carry On film, where Charles Hawtrey has just put on a hat full of custard. Poor, poor, poor.

That's all for now. There'll be more. I haven't even started on the worrying tendency to try to make things youth-accessible by adding rap sections yet.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A brief rant

So the bookselling world rejoices in the extremely well-deserved Booker win of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. A marvellous and thoroughly absorbing read (as opposed to "absorbent" - Dan Brown's entire oeuvre springs to mind). And once again, a situation arises that any bookseller out there will be wearily familiar with. What, I ask the rest of you, would most people do on hearing that a book has been given a prize? Why, they may wish to buy it, or if not actually buy it, to pick it up and leaf through a few pages. So what do the publishers do, with distressing and lemming-like regularity, in the face of this sudden burst of publicity and interest? They re-issue the book with the words "Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize" on the front cover. And while the book is being thus reissued, it is usually impossible to get copies. Which means that a good percentage of people who might otherwise have bought the book in a frenzy of literary good will, unable to get a copy right now this minute, may change their minds and not buy it at all. Seriously, has no publisher ever thought that it might be a good idea (and a huge financial saving) simply to print rolls of stickers saying "Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize" and send them out to bookshops/distributors etc? I can't possibly be the only person who's had this idea...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Livin' La Vida Nigel

There's a time when you really have to take a deep breath and shout "SENSE OF PROPORTION" at yourself, preferably aloud so you worry that the neighbours might have heard; hopefully you are therefore less likely to do it again. It happened to me this morning, when I was vaguely considering making chicken soup for lunch and found, to my horror, no chicken stock in the freezer. Imagine that. Appalling. I was brought up with a very Nigel Slater "get the most out of a meal" ethic - you never throw a roast chicken carcass away without first having stripped all remaining meat off for sandwiches, and having boiled the bones for stock, which then ends up as peculiar unlabelled bags in the freezer. At one point there were six, which was fine. But evidently we have eaten a lot of soup recently, hence the shocking stock drought. Good God, am I going to have to use (gasp) Knorr????? Pause for deep zen breathing and a lie down.
The Slater ethic has now filled my freezer and half my fridge with suspiciously anonymous bowls of whatnot. I acquired a Sharpie recently (the finest indelible write-anywhere marker in the world, excellent for surreptitiously correcting spelling on laminated airplane instruction cards) but the problem is that being indelible it can't be, obviously, erased - so Tupperware boxes have multiple scribbled-out messages on them that read "apple sauce, NO, RATATOUILLE tomato soup 1994". Items are only readily identifiable when defrosted, and sometimes leftover beef stew doesn't add a great deal to a fruit cake. A nice woman came into the shop the other week and (this happens a lot in Barnes) said "Does anybody want a bag of windfalls? We've got too many." And like the freezer-stuffing fool I am, I took two. Some painful hours of peeling, coring and throwing away the bruised half of each apple ensued - I now have six bags of apple sauce in the freezer too. Would it have been so hard to say no?
I should really point out that none of this is the sign of great virtue - it's further proof of my insidious OCD. I so can't bear to throw food away that sometimes I even put things in the freezer in order to avoid putting them in the bin. A couple of weeks ago I bought what I stupidly thought was a bunch of chard at the rip-off farmers' market up the road - of course it turned out to be pak choi, which don't get me wrong is fine, but even Sainsbury's has it. I wanted chard, with cheese sauce. Having chopped it up, washed it, and even blanched it, I was forced to accept the inevitable - I now had a saucepan full of limp Chinese cabbage. So I froze it. It's still there, silently reproaching me. Maybe one day I'll get it out and do something faintly repulsive with it. I even labelled the bag "CHARD JUST DEFROST AND COOK WITH CHEESE SAUCE actually it might be pak choi". What am I hoping for? That it may just morph into chard through the power of positive thinking? Or that Mr Fishwife will throw it away when he can't fit some hot cross buns in the second drawer down? I need help. Or, failing that, a bigger freezer. It could be worse - Mantua Maker was staying the other week, and raving about the delights of the huge freezer she and Professor MM have acquired - "We needed a larger one because we're involved in this pork scheme with another couple" she said (I can only assume this isn't a Northern euphemism for swinging). At least nobody has tried to involve me and Mr Fishwife in a pork scheme.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Holiday Miscellany

Yes, this is the staggeringly photogenic village we stayed in for a week. Stunning, old-world charm, all that Guide Verte palaver. And, much to my surprise, at no point did we stumble across a Boden photo-shoot complete with toothily beaming blondes in casual slouchy moleskin trousers and jaunty Fair-Isle tanktop playing boules with toothless old men ("Amelia: My favourite colour is : The colour of my boyfriend's wallet!").
HOWEVER there are several drawbacks to the exquisite charms of a mediaeval village that the cautious traveller should know about. Firstly, I defy you to try manoeuvring any vehicle larger than a skateboard through those picturesque arches. I spent many a happy hour leaning out of the passenger side of our hired Renault Sardine-Tin tucking the wing-mirror in and yelling "You're fine... you're fine... seriously, you've got at least two inches here...". And this is a left-hand drive hire-car, so I'm feeling strangely empowered by sitting on the side I always think of (at home) as The Seat Of Power, and getting all bossy as a result. At one point as we went the giddyingly "wrong" way round a roundabout (yes, of course it was the right way for France, it just felt wrong) I said "Mind the kerb!" once too often, prompting Mr F to say (for the first time ever) "Oh please just leave me alone" in a tone of utter exhaustion.
Another drawback was the fact that, while it did indeed boast (yes, boast) two boulangeries, a butcher and a general store, all of these were MASSIVELY overpriced, because they were well aware that any and all visitors to their bijou hamlet were going to be not only well-heeled but also unable to get anywhere else in a hurry. We cheated our way round it by heading for the gigantic LeClerc supermarket every morning to stock up on reasonably priced loo-roll etc (I swear, around £1.25 in the supermarket, somewhere around £4 for four rolls of basic in the shop. For that price I'd want it hand-hemmed in lace by Belgian nuns).
I should point out we did, in fact, have a lovely time. Apart from the two days where it rained nearly horizontally, forcing us indoors off the sunny grapevine-bedecked terrace and into the tiny sitting-room, where the only TV channels were English (which in itself tells you a lot about the main holiday lets they do), and found ourselves watching "The Hairy Bikers Do Wales" or something similar. But apart from those two days of strangely deja-vu British-style cottage holiday-ness, it was fantastic. Our main concern (apart from the extraordinary muscularity of the Euro; HOW MUCH?????) was how to get through a bottle of Calvados in a week so as not to leave any behind or to make the concierge think we were alcoholics by leaving an empty bottle (we snuck it out and hid it in a bin).

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Turn on, tune in, get tetchy

Technology is very unforgiving to the sizeable proportion of the population who can't afford to upgrade to a widescreen TV, or HD TV, or Blu-Ray, etc etc etc. I was watching something or other last night and realised, at a vital point in the plot where a RELEVANT PIECE OF INFORMATION was shown, I could only see the middle section because the picture was cut off at the sides. I got unreasonably grumpy about this, and actually found myself making "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" noises out loud - along the lines of "Well! They'd better not think I'm going to rush out and buy some vastly expensive piece of widescreen kit just because they're bullying me into it, oh no."... more or less what I was saying 15-20 years ago (my memory is hazy) about upgrading from vinyl/cassette to CD. However. It does have some diverting side-effects, such as the fact that the onscreen guide can't fit long programme titles side by side, so overlaps them. Curious hybrids we have sadly been unable to to watch include:

Real Housewives Of The Bill
Britain's Sexiest Newsnight
The X-Files: I Want To Meet The Fockers
Three Men And a Little Taxi Driver
I Know What You Did In Bruges
Slap Her, She's Being John Malkovitch
The Lion, The Witch, And Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Shrek (an all-star cast in that one!)

And, doubtless, many many more. (late addition: here are some of them)
Sleeping With Dirt
Churchill's Antiques Roadshow
Unseen Russia For God's Sake
Masterchef The Hairy Gary Rhodes
Holy Warriors: Richard The Disappearing
Oblivion: The Ten Biggest Hits Of The 90s
Liar Liar The Bachelor
I Now Pronounce You Chuck And The Breakfast Club

Unfortunately since the remote (or, as we and many millions of others call it, "the doofer") has pretty much ceased to work, we may be forced into buying a giant flat slab of LCD and hang it on the wall as if it's some kind of artwork. Sigh.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Dummies' Guide to the Booker longlist

(with grateful thanks to Mr Fishwife for his contributions)
So many books, so little time. I present here the easy crib notes for the vast quantity of (some of them also vast) books on this year's Booker longlist. Yes, I know it's the Man Booker really, but I hate calling it that, and I have actually been asked twice "Is there a Woman Booker prize too?". So don't bother reading them: amaze your friends and astound your colleagues with these nuggets of information*.

A S Byatt "The Children's Book" : Not many people know that A S Byatt was approached to continue Enid Blyton's much-loved Noddy series. This book is about Noddy and his desperate but hilarious attempts to find Big Ears's lost teaspoon! (warning: contains scenes of incest and sniper action).

J M Coetzee "Summertime": Reproduces faithfully the first school essay J M Coetzee (or "Johnny" as he was then) wrote about wot he done in the school holidays. Apparently his father's sandcastle-building skills weren't up to much, but the ice creams were delicious. He got an A-.

Adam Foulds "The Quickening Maze":
Honestly, the faster you try to get out, the more lost you get. Just keep turning left.

Sarah Hall "How To Paint a Dead Man":
It's a doddle. They don't fidget like live models do. Just make sure you keep the windows open and the central heating off.

Samantha Harvey "The Wilderness":
Could really do with a pergola and some radical pruning to those brambles, otherwise fine. Maybe a water feature?

James Lever "Me Cheeta":
Yu lose tu me at cards. I taik yur money.

Hilary Mantel "Wolf Hall":
Hotly tipped to be this year's winner. The prequel to her spellbinding "Who Let The Wolves Out?"

Simon Mawer "The Glass Room":
Lovely to look at, nice to hold, but if you break it, we say "sold"!

Ed O'Loughlin "Not Untrue And Not Unkind":
true, and kind.

James Scudamore "Heliopolis":
The renaming of Sun City has almost doubled its tourist income!

Colm Toibin "Brooklyn":
Not a lot of people know that Brooklyn is a bit like Hoxton. Bit of a schlep on the Metro though. If I were you I'd stay in the Village.

William Trevor "Love And Summer":
See above, for Coetzee. Billy Trevor was a little older, though, and as a result this touchingly ill-written account of wot he done on his summer holidays with next door's Dutch au pair contained language the teacher felt it better not to read aloud. He got a D.

Sarah Waters "The Little Stranger":
"Darling? Darling? I thought all Saffy's party guests had gone home? Hmm? ...No, he says he's waiting for his mummy. Well we must have invited him, he's got a party bag and everything..."

*Disclaimer: some of the information contained in this post may be (wildly) inaccurate and is not for quotation or press distribution until a finished copy is issued.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Nuptials, saucy Restoration poetry, and the return of Gertie Blood.

So, sunny summer weddings. Are they great or what? Particularly when the bride (let us call her Steak, for she is a vegetarian) concludes her touching speech of love to her new husband with the words ".. and I can't wait to start my life with you and start having lots of pasty little ginger freaks." The groom (let us call him Kidney), a more or less dead ringer for Frankie Boyle (or either of the Proclaimers), did a "fair comment" kind of shrug. Could any love be greater? Not a dry eye in the Gladstone Library of the Liberal Club. My only quibble was with the three flights of giant stairs one had to navigate in either direction to have a cigarette - surely if I provided proof I voted Lib Dem I'd be allowed to light up under the vast oil painting of Winston "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" Churchill? Sadly (and, in fact, legally) no. Not even in the vast Edwardian grandeur of the Smoking Room.
How stately and gorgeous is that? Less so when you've been up and down it 100000 times because the lift is full of band equipment...
Highlights of the day (for me) included some random tourists approaching the bride on the lawn outside and asking if she'd take a picture, er, of them. "I'm a little busy right now", she said, as if the long sparkly white dress hadn't given it away. And the bride's sister-in-law saying "Yes, the hen weekend in Newcastle was great, except that Sir Bobby Davro had just died so all the football fans were in mourning"*.
My part in this excellent day was the reading of "The Good Morrow" by John Donne. Complicated not at all by my fear that I would blush in an unseemly way on reading the line "Suck'd we on country pleasures childishly?" - yes, I know, I know, we're all grownups, but frankly John Donne meant it to be a tad racy (as any student of Shakespeare kno, reference to "country pleasures" and "country matters" are generally intended to be a euphemism). Luckily I was so enthralled by the sheer loveliness of my own voice in the scholarly setting of the Gladstone Library that I failed to even clear my throat. Although I took the precaution of looking at Steak throughout (smiling radiantly yet tearfully like a proper bride), rather than Kidney, who would have gurned at me.

HOWEVER. All weddings have that moment where you bump into someone and realise you knew them years ago; in my case, while sneaking into an empty sideroom (trying to find a balcony rather than brave the stairs for the billionth time), who should I see gazing down at me from the wall but the lovely Lady Colin Campbell (aka Gertie Blood). She's been gracing my sidebar (as have Steak & Kidney) for over a year now, and I've got used to dropping into the National Gallery to say hello every now and then - but there she was.

Surely that has to be an excellent omen of something.

* Note for non-football fans - Sir Bobby Robson = recently deceased giant of British football, latterly much-loved manager of Newcastle United. Bobby Davro = mediocre TV impressionist. Non-deceased, non-giant, non-much-loved.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Targeted by psychopaths

I may have mentioned before how much I love the Internet. Maybe several times, who knows? There's a wonderful birthdayish feel about ordering things, paying for them, forgetting about them, and then a week or two later getting lots of presents in the post. However. I seem to have become the target, recently, for any and every pointless "homeware" catalogue the postie can shove through our letterbox. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that my address has been pimped out by somebody I actually subscribe to (Lakeland, I still love you!! Call me!!), so can only assume it was a one-night-stand (i.e. something I bought for Christmas from some company I'll never use again) who has stitched me up like this. I religiously tick every box that says "I do NOT wish to be contacted with exciting offers by your carefully-chosen partner companies thank you very much, now or ever", but there's obviously some loophole even the pathologically cautious like me have missed.
My most recent unsolicited arrival was the catalogue for Really Linda Barker, which seems to specialise in cast-iron rabbits and "wall art". As I flicked idly through it I realised that far from being an advertisement for Ms Barker's range of metalwork chinoiserie (well, it's all made in China), it's actually one gigantic cry for help. In her own words : "Looking back through my previous collections, I've noticed I have a growing obsession with hooks, and for some reason, chickens". Which, to the trained eye, says "STOP ME BEFORE I KILL AGAIN". It's a short and fatally easy step from an obsession with hooks and chickens to ending up like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, experimenting with livestock and wearing a waistcoat of badly-cured human skin. And why restrict this worry to the otherwise wholesome-looking Linda Barker? God knows what festers in the mind of Johnnie Boden. Why does he so keenly want to share his views on feather-stitch and patent leather with you? WHY????? Is he making himself a girl-suit like Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs???
Best not to ask really.

"Oh look, there's a daisy-chain of human hands in the rigging!"

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Dies Irae

I have no intention of moaning about the weather; I think it's a regrettable part of the British psyche that we are inclined to moan about whatever weather we have and yearn for what we don't. Rain is rubbish, and I think I speak for everyone when I say this (apart from ducks and gardeners - and in the latter case, hurrah! Enjoy your garden! And the fact that there hasn't yet been a hosepipe ban! In the former case, migrate already!).
I will, however, just offer you an instance under which rain and/or typically British low summer temperatures might be preferable.
Imagine you are on a journey; it is a short journey (average under one and a half hours). Between two major English cities - let's say London and Oxford. On a coach company who will remain nameless, but let's call them BUM RUBBISH CRAP BUM BUM POO Limited.
Many different choices would have been made in my life had I been in possession of all the facts before making a decision.
For example, had I been in possession of the fact (as the coach company were) that a large part of the M40 was closed off due to a lorry bursting into flames.

(Not actually this lorry. Looks dramatic though, doesn't it? It had bloody better, is all I can say.)

Or the fact that this meant that ALL traffic between the two hypothetical cities was diverted down what amounts to, frankly, a cart-track (or, as it is officially known, the A40). A very scenic and pretty road, but there's a reason it isn't the main artery between the two cities.
Or that, due to the day in question being Oxford University Open Day, every form of transport between EVERYWHERE IN BRITAIN and Oxford would be heaving with excitable teenagers absolutely bursting to get to Oxford and do their big Mary Tyler Moore twirl in the street, throw hat in the air, yes YES I'm going to take this city and make it my own... Oh you know.
In a nutshell, I ended up jammed up against a coach window while Saffy or Ottoline or Tash or whatever (pick one) spent the journey shrieking on her mobile phone, No but she's like sooo not like capable of y'know like expanding on the question, I mean I like said to her but like did Darcy and Elizabeth like DO IT and she just went like quiet and she like just can't think outside the like text as the coach crawls (or, at times, just sits) down a succession of very pretty country lanes, somewhere in the middle of a huge trail of traffic doing the same thing.
I checked - at one point we took an hour to go 4 miles. I was on the verge of getting off, walking a couple of miles up the queue, and seeing if there was another coach further up. As the engine idled, so did the aircon. Saffy/Ottoline/Tash started to do that aggrieved heavy sigh thing which teenagers the world over don't seem to realise doesn't actually make things happen any faster.
Oh all right, I'll cut a long story short. We finally got to London, by which time I had the desire to kiss the tarmac, smoke five cigarettes at once, and hurl forcibly into the nearest bin the Iris Murdoch I had read twice on the journey.

On the plus side, my increasingly unhinged and rambling texts had alerted Mr Fishwife to my impending meltdown, so he had the wine ready.
I won't complain again. This is beautiful weather. Not for travellers in coaches who might have taken the train home had they been apprised of the true nature of things by the BUM RUBBISH CRAP BUM BUM POO Ltd coach company, but you know. Mustn't grumble.

Monday, 8 June 2009

It's all terminology, innit.

I may already have shocked and horrified thousands (or, let's be realistic, mildly amused tens) by quoting Mr Fishwife : "I don't see the point of fiction, myself." I should point out here that, in his defence, Mr Fishwife is an intelligent, articulate, well-read person. It's just that his idea of a good read tends to be the breeze-block-sized tome entitled Stalingrad, The Somme, or Hitler: The Dancing Years (... Obviously I made the last one up - far too frivolous). "Why would I want to read books about a bunch of people having nervous breakdowns in Islington?" was his initial defence; fair enough, I thought, me neither, although to consider this tiny tiny microcosm of the genre as representative of the whole of Fiction is to consider Betty Blue representative of all subtitled movies. The point of these books is not the plot development (surely everyone knows the name of Hitler's hairdresser by now?) but the nerdily desperate hope that this particular historian may have new material. No twists, no turns, no denouement.
Over the weekend, I enjoyably worked through not one but three works of fiction*. None of them, I might add, set in Islington. Every now and then I would look up at the television and it took me a while to notice that he was watching the same rugby match for the third time. "Haven't England already played Argentina?" I said. "Oh all right, all right," he replied defensively "You know how you like to reread a book for the style and the language? Same thing." My conclusion is that there is a frustrated literary stylist in all of us. In some people it only reveals itself as a love of the finer points of a rugby match.

* The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - excellent, very creepy in a postwar Daphne du Maurier kind of way, and unusually not a Sapphic interlude in sight.
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler - I do like her. And found myself distressingly identifying with the slightly tetchy 60-year-old male main character.
Turbulence by Giles Foden - Actually still only halfway through this one so will have to reserve judgement until I've finished. Beats Ladysmith into a cocked hat though. Up there with The Last King Of Scotland so far.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


For some reason that last post came up as 23rd May. No idea why. Sorry.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

More Guilty Pleasures

As promised! : Guilty Pleasures 2 - Son of Guilty Pleasures.

This one is a lot more difficult as, with film and TV, one man's guilty pleasure is another man's CULT VIEWING. These are the ones I genuinely feel slightly guilty about.
Film :

Ratatouille. God I love the rat. My secret kitchen alter ego.

Murder On The Orient Express. I spend far too much time perfecting my Wendy Hiller impersonation : "You will have the goodness to bring me.. the poached.. sole. With one small new.. poTAto. And a grrrreeen salad." And Sean Connery saying to Poirot "Can you give me your word - as a foreigner..." And, most importantly, the fact that even though Poirot works out who dunnit, he lets them off because JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED. I always get a lump in my throat at the end where they're all drinking champagne. "Her name was, I believe, a Miss FrrreeBody."

The Amazing Mr Blunden. Made in 1972 by the same crew and producers as The Railway Children, and with an amazingly similar look and feel: strangely 20-something girls playing 13-year-olds in Edwardian pinafores and tam-o-shanters. Great plot though - all about ghosts, redemption, etc... makes me cry every time. A great Bank Holiday film. Also stars Diana Dors as a gin-soaked old hag with a very stupid, very pretty, blonde daughter - slightly poignant as 20 years earlier she might have played the part herself.


Oh this is a hard one to admit to, but luckily there's just the one - My Super Sweet 16. I am so embarrassed by this that I may as well have a bag on my head as I type. I usually hate reality TV of all kinds, as while I thrive on schadenfreude I hate the fact that everybody looks a fool, a pompous twit or a bully, regardless of their intentions. I have friends who are TV editors, and I am starting to think they're probably possessed of some kind of evil genius; editing is key to how someone looks on TV. That and appropriate soundtrack (amazing what the Benny Hill theme can do to, say, a dignified solicitor or adoring parent).

The fundamental point of this programme is to show, in all its blingy horror and grotesque excess, the lengths the VERY RICH will go to to ensure that their (for the most part) unprepossessingly spoilt offspring have the best 16th birthday party of all their peers. Action is invariably as follows: scene in a vastly overpriced dress boutique (it's always a boutique, never just a shop) where daughter screams at her friends for wanting to wear the same dress. Instance of daughter shrieking "I HATE YOUUUUU" at whoever happens to be handy (parent, BFF, boyfriend). Plan for party to be Moulin Rouge themed, only to remember that cow Kelly had the same thing for hers. Sulk. New theme for party (LA Gangsta!!! Great, we can all dress in as little as possible and dance in a way that our parents will disapprove of!!!) proposed. Invitations ostentatiously only given to less pretty girls and every boy in school. Guest list lost by bouncers. Tantrum. Tantrum. High spirits, saucy dancing, embarrassingly obviously hired cast members from Hollyoaks to boost popularity rating. Boyfriend misbehaves. Tears in ladies' loo. Then the high point of the evening - DADDY'S BOUGHT ME A PORSCHE!!!!!!! Credits roll.

I'm so humiliated by admitting this that I need to lie down. Off to watch series 4 of "The Wire" now to remind myself that I do have taste really...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Guilty Pleasures (not technically a meme)

Lovely Foxy emailed me a link to a Guardian article about how top chefs secretly love crisps/salad cream etc. Actually quite fun (and secretly reassuring) to read, although I say Spot The Pseud. I don't think homemade blueberry pancakes count as guilty - doesn't a REAL guilty pleasure have to have a brand name in front of it? So as a tribute (mostly to Angela Hartnett - I think I love her) I am giving you a selection of guilty pleasures. Not really guilty pleasures, because obviously I'm too embarrassed to admit to them (lard! Marion Zimmer Bradley! "Clouds Across The Moon" by The Rah Band! Aaaaaaarghh!!!) but the socially acceptable ones...

Food : BabyBel cheese. Walker's Prawn Cocktail crisps. Fanta. Findus Crispy Pancakes. Hellmann's Mayonnaise. HP Sauce. Lemon barley water. That horrible (yet compulsive) tinned chicken supreme you can get from M&S. The chunky peanut butter KitKat. Cheap shish kebab in limp pitta with hummus and extra pickled chillies, hold the salad. Bearing in mind that I'm on a very low carb diet, most of these are things I have feverish withdrawal dreams about (as are pasta, roasties and toast).

Books : How dangerous is it when you work in a bookshop to admit that while you do mostly read interesting and worthwhile literature, sometimes you crave the book equivalent of a bag of crisps? To which end:

"Gone With the Wind" - a pot-boiler, true, but the absolute queen of pot-boilers. It has transcended its pot-boilerdom in the same way that Bizet's "Carmen" has.

-anything by Jilly Cooper - to be read behind the adult equivalent of a bikeshed, chewing your hand so you don't shriek out loud with delighted schadenfreude as she blithely describes inner-city comp school children as "black and terribly sweet really", and play Spot The Hero (he's inevitably the one with a dog - also English, posh, charmingly slobbish) Or Villain (foreign, greasy, cruel to animals, into kinky sex).

And. With a deep breath, I will admit that I am currently sniggering in secret over "Fools Rush In" by Anthea Turner. It was notorious in my W*terstone's days as the book that sold about 47 copies nationwide (well, in W*terstone's, anyway), never even made it into paperback, and ended up mostly pulped. It is, nonetheless, an object of awful majesty. It cost me 1p plus p+p on Amazon. Not only is it a testament to the most hilariously twee, self-congratulatory personality I've ever come across, but it is also ghostwritten - and even that didn't stop it being compellingly terrible. Only a genuine fool would ask a very very bad chick-lit writer to ghost her autobiography. Some choice phrases: "My little hand strayed to the chocolate box" (she's in her 30s at this point), "My eyes filled with tears as I watched him drive away in his Jaguar" (good to know that as your One True Love drives out of your life you can appreciate a fine automobile) , "The gentle British holidaymakers (this is in Magaluf! - ed.) were devastated by the news of Princess Diana's death. I gave them what comfort I could." She also has a disturbing tendency to refer to her more successful sexual encounters with the phrase "It was good to be in experienced hands". I am torn between recommending it (seriously, it's a whole Fray Bentos steak 'n' kidney pie of awfulness) and really not wanting to give it any more press than this. Examine your consciences. 1p on Amazon. I will say no more.

Music/TV/Film: - I think I'll do that next time. I'm exhausted by the literary equivalent of a binge on salad cream and tinned pineapple rings.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Flailing of hands

As long as I can remember, I have waved my hands around too much.

- Cue montage of Lucy Fishwife at assorted ages gesticulating wildly and (a) smacking, or worse, innocent bystander in face* (b) knocking over glass of, inevitably, red wine on tablecloth/bride's white dress/small baby (c) accidentally bidding for a Rembrandt. Well, not the Rembrandt but you get the idea.
Shortly after I graduated I had a job working in the Royal Ear Hospital in Bloomsbury. I was "Clinic Supervisor", which actually translates as "temp who makes appointments/tea and fetches medical records". As you may well imagine, most of the patients had hearing problems, and after I'd been there about three days one of the speech therapists came to see me. "We've had a complaint from one of my clients," she said sternly. "He can't understand your signing". It turns out that while I had remembered to speak clearly so he (and other profoundly deaf patients) could lip-read, I had forgotten that my wildly flailing hands were a distraction to people used to looking at hands for meaning. My lips were saying "Yes, Tania is just finishing up with a client and can see you in five minutes", while my hands were saying "Cheese! Nailgun! Exterminate my beans and vote tapir!!!". I sat on my hands after that when anyone with a hearing aid approached me (although I couldn't help wondering - how DO deaf Italians manage? Surely it's a constant barrage of meaningless information?).
However. While idly Wiki-ing Hinduism the other day (I was reading Hindi cyberfiction and had forgotten what Ganesh rides on. A rat. Further reason to love rats!) - I came across the concept of mudras. In pictures of Hindu gods (also Buddha), the position of the hands (and, in the case of Shiva, feet) is vitally significant. I have decided, although luckily no longer in the ear trade, to adopt certain positions which are symbolic of something soothing - for example :

I will look slightly odd, but the likelihood of me poking someone in the eye with my biro or knocking coffee into the computer is greatly lessened.

*Aged 16, I was waving my hands around and poked a lit cigarette up the nose of Bronwen Roberts's boyfriend. Bronwen, if you ever read this, I'm still sorry!!!!

Saturday, 11 April 2009


It's awards season again and the marvellous Tania Kindersley of Backwards In High Heels has very kindly passed on a gong to this blog. The award exists to be passed on (as they all should) so below are the rules:

1. You have to pass it on to 5 other fabulous blogs in a post.

2. You have to list 5 of your fabulous addictions in the post.

3. You must copy and paste the rules and the instructions below in the post.

Instructions: On your post of receiving this award, make sure you include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them. When you post your five winners, make sure you link them as well. To add the award to your post, simply right-click, save image, then “add image” it in your post as a picture so your winners can save it as well. To add it to your sidebar, add the “picture” widget. Also, don’t forget to let your winners know they won an award from you by emailing them or leaving a comment on their blog.

Alors – the 5 fabulous blogs.

If you have been left out, it’s only because there are so many of you whose blogs I enjoy and want to spread around.

1) The lovely Rol at Sunset Over Slawit. Rol is an astonishing fount of knowledge on music, (especially if it's Morrissey), and ways to cope with being unable to scratch your arm when it's in a cast. He also writes (novel on the way), and nobody seems able to explain how he fits a day job in.

2) The excellently red-haired Laura at The Poet Laura-eate. She is fab. The Wendy Cope of Blogger. Poetry, Oxford current affairs, and a lovely fleur-de-lis backdrop. Plus she knows how to do those Flickr slideshows.

3) The genius that is JRSM at Caustic Cover Critic, a blog whose raison d'etre is to celebrate (or, where necessary, ridicule) the art of the book jacket. An invaluable guide to the beautiful, the unimaginative, the unusual and the derivative. Just lovely, and always funny.

4) Usedbuyer2.0, at the blog of the same name. A bookseller of many years' standing, his blogs are a delight to read; in the last few alone I found references to Cavafy, Edward Lear, Auden, AND quotes, AND room for wonderful digressions on bookshop life in all its strange and peculiar splendour. Also many, many, wonderful clerihews, an artform that is unjustly neglected at the moment.
5) Last but not least, Jonathan at Bookseller Crow. What more can I say than - there is no intentional bias towards the booksellerish in my choices, but Jonathan always makes me laugh.

My Five Fabulous addictions:
It's not like I'm particularly secretive about my addictions, so you probably know all this already, but here are a few of the more socially acceptable ones (the Gitanes and their ilk will be glossed over).

1) Obviously books! Unable to leave a bookshop with fewer than three, usually more. My job and subsequent perks/discount mean I very rarely buy anywhere else, especially since I get free proof copies of many many things, and am on good enough terms with most of the publishers' reps that I can ask them for freebies; under most other circumstances (old, out of print, etc) I recommend Abebooks - worlds superior to Amazon and a bigger range - plus more of your money actually goes to the bookdealer than on Amazon.
2) Perfume. Sorry, I know I'm a bit nerdy on this point but I consider it as important as clothing - ie wearing different ones to suit your mood, the weather, the time of year etc. As a result I have rather a lot. I have nothing against people who have a "signature scent" - in fact I admire their tenacity. But I like the fact that the larger your range, the more you can make olfactory jokes with yourself (nobody else is likely to get it) - like wearing "Rain" by Marc Jacobs when it's raining, or "Rousse" by Serge Lutens because you have red hair. My absolute Mecca for this (apart from, in The Real World, Liberty's) is The Perfumed Court, who will sell you tiny tester-sized bottles of pretty much any perfume so you can try before you commit. Invaluable.
3) COFFEE. Enough said. In an ideal world espresso all the time, but sadly I'm over 25 and can't sleep if I drink it after lunchtime.
4) My/our thick quilted mattress-topper (John Lewis). I have never slept so soundly.
5) If I have an alcoholic addiction here, please note that while I would find life very drab without alcohol, I am by no means an alcoholic. Apparently considering the number of boozehounds and manic-depressives on both sides of my family, this makes me quite unusual. But I do like a nice Calvados.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

My Life, As Described By Elvis Costello.

It's Sunday and I'm still in pyjamas. I have stolen a meme from Rol because I'm a lazy sod but also because it appealed to my twin life-skills of "Doing things that don't require leaving the sofa" and "Minimal research that only requires going as far as the CD rack". My great love for Elvis Costello factored in as well...

Pick an artist, and using ONLY SONG TITLES from only that artist, answer these questions.

1. Are you a male or female: "Shabby Doll"

2. Describe yourself: "Indoor Fireworks"

3. How do you feel about yourself: "Brilliant Mistake"

4. Describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriends: "I Hope You're Happy Now", "Two Little Hitlers", "Goon Squad", "Boy With A Problem", and "I'm Not Angry", depending on who we're describing.

5. Describe your current boy/girl situation: "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?" , also "Long Honeymoon"

6. Describe your current location: "Welcome To The Working Week"

7. Describe where you want to be: "Payday"

8. Your best friend(s) is/are: "The Loved Ones", "Miracle Man", "Sulky Girl", "Veronica", "Poisoned Rose", "New Lace Sleeves", "Our Little Angel", "You Little Fool", "Leave My Kitten Alone", and "King Of Confidence".

9. Your favourite colour is: "Blood And Chocolate" and "Almost Blue"

10. You know that: "Accidents Will Happen"

12. If your life was a television show what would it be called: "Every Day I Write The Book"

13. What is life to you: "Mystery Dance"

14. What is the best advice you have to give: "Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver)"

Hurrah! Quite enjoyed that. Go forth and run with it.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Son Of "Wot I Done On Holiday" - the return

Things I enjoy doing on holiday but am slightly ashamed of include hanging around foreign supermarkets. NOWHERE do you get a better idea of what a nation's preoccupations are, and what it considers essential and/or exotic. Thai supermarkets (based on many years of keen observation while Mr F drags his feet behind me wailing "I'm booooored") have vast amounts of hair products - not surprising when you consider that all Thai women have sleek and glossy raven locks. Very little for frizzy hair, sadly for me, as I routinely turn into Harpo Marx two seconds after leaving the air-conditioning in my room, and nothing short of WD-40 or a bag will stop this. All skin products, including baby lotion, promise "extra whitening!" as oddly enough my leprous pallor is considered as desirable in Thailand as a golden tan is here. What we consider exotic (ie lemongrass, fish sauce etc) they consider deeply boring and mundane, so there are aisles full of fantastically cheap "staples" for those of you who, like me, would rather come home with a suitcase full of dried shrimp paste than souvenirs. What we consider mundane is classed as extraordinary foreign delicacies (ie Paul Newman salad dressing, Dolmio sauces, etc). And nowhere else have I ever seen Vanilla Mint Listerine, so I had to buy some. Odd, but palatable. I have a secret suspicion that if I chilled it and added vodka nobody would notice it wasn't a cocktail.

So as I was clearing out my handbag last night (big red one has pretty much broken my collarbone) I found the flyer for BIG NIGHT THAI BOXING AT STADIUM NEXT TO TESCO. Sorry to disappoint you all but this was Ban Niang beach, Khao Lak, not a Tesco near you. We didn't go, mostly because the last time I was persuaded to go to a Thai boxing match it was so hot and the fumes of Tiger Balm were so strong that I actually passed out. There are better ways to spend an evening than being driven back to your hotel in the open flatbed of a pickup, with your head between your knees weeping "I'm not on drugs! Please don't send me to the Bangkok Hilton!". What caught my eye this time round, on the flyer this is, was the thumbnail bio of each contender - under their names were their taglines, which mostly said things like "King of the ring!!" and "Born to fight - born to win!!" My favourites, however, were "The elbow specialist!!" and (on further investigation of the website) "The knees that knocked a hole in the sky!!", at least one of whom (guess, go on) is probably an osteopath or something. Or should be.

And finally - I do spend a lot of my time on holiday people-watching - I have come to the conclusion that there are certain sartorial choices no adult male should ever be allowed to get away with.
1) Crocs on any male over 6 years old, especially in natty shades of lime green, acid blue or hot pink.
2) Hair accessories, especially alice bands. Want to play with someone's hair? Get a Tressy Barbie.
3) Short shorts anywhere but a sports field/court. Makes any man, no matter how young or attractive, look like Donna Summer on rollerskates.
4) Any t-shirt that proclaims you to be a Breast Inspector, or that tries to do your chat-up for you (ie "If I Said You Had A Beautiful etc etc")

Yes I know I'm a fine one to talk in my custom-hacked Comic Relief Morecambe and Wise t-shirt and lost property box sunglasses...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Wot I done on holiday

Hurrah! Back at last. I only brought home 8 of the books I took with me, thus freeing up suitcase space for red/green curry paste, cheap fags, a bottle of Maekhong whisky (which, like Metaxa, ouzo, Fernet Branca, slivovitz and the totally indefensible Vanna Tallinn, is nice on holiday but not at home - but do we ever remember this?). Imagine my surprise when there didn't seem as much space as I was anticipating. I can only assume that my clothes expand and thicken mysteriously over the course of a fortnight. Something to do with humidity I expect. Or large amounts of curry paste.

You'd think at my advanced age (ahem) I'd have learnt a few things about holidays, but here are some I seem to have forgotten. Maybe the advanced age has, in fact, something to do with it.

1) When your accommodation is next to a "lagoon" (landscaped, hence the inverted commas, or not), you can bet your bottom dollar there will be mosquitoes. Therefore, when stepping outside to admire the sunset or have a fag, you should really consider use of repellent spray, or not be surprised when you get relentlessly bitten.

2) Just because you haven't ever had a stomach ailment on holiday before, there is no reason to get complacent. God made Imodium for a purpose. That freshly-grated green papaya salad may have seemed a good idea at the time, but its reappearance will be more rapid than you can predict. Mostly unchanged due to speedy transit. On the plus side, it was delicious, at least the first time round.

3) If the management of your hotel deems it necessary to inform all guests, on a more or less daily basis, that IT IS NOT HOTEL POLICY TO ALLOW GUESTS TO PRE-RESERVE SUNLOUNGERS, then you probably have a pretty fair idea of the predominating nationality in the resort.

4) Never underestimate the fun you can have with a badly-translated menu. Classic comedy menu items I failed to order included Caption Morgan rum, cream de mont, fritted ice cream, and pork fitter (presumably what you put under "Occupation" on your passport if you are in fact a porn star). Once in France I was tempted to order "Small Chirttling Savage", but since it was a starter portion of andouillette I gave it a miss.

On a lighter note (I actually had a lovely time!) I have never seen as much wildlife in one go as I did on this holiday. Part of the charm of being further away from built-up areas is the sudden appearance on your verandah (oh yes) of things like kingfishers, mynah birds, black swans, giant snails (5 inches across, damn, I didn't have any garlic butter), a monitor lizard 2 feet long, and on one memorable evening outside a bar, an aptly named Slow Loris taking half an hour to cross 10 feet of telephone wire.

Photograph courtesy of the National Geographic as my camera is appalling. Apparently they are an endangered species, so look your last on all things lovely every hour.

Tune in later for a further instalment, in which I unravel the mysteries of unseemly holiday clothing, how to be completely British on holiday without resorting to tattoos, sunburn and bad behaviour, and unfortunate names for Thai kickboxing champions.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

"I was a holiday vampire" confesses local bookseller

Hurrah for the hols, as the Famous Five were prone to saying with irritating regularity. I have 22 books, factor 50 sunblock and a selection of garments that more or less approximate a burkha. All I ask is a profoundly shaded seating area with an ashtray the size of a bucket and a relentless stream of waiters bearing ice-cold Chang beer. Yes, on Saturday Mr Fishwife and I will be struggling to Heathrow with our gigantic and overweight suitcases (mine = books, his = diving gear). In our separate and characteristic ways we have been preparing for this departure for weeks. I panic-buy local currency, usually at a vastly inferior rate of exchange to the one I'd have got at the Bangkok airport ATM, and fill my suitcase with books so I'm not tempted to read them before the holiday. Mr F spends every night poring over the long-range weather forecasts, establishes that there will be heavy thundershowers DIRECTLY OVER OUR HOTEL for the entire duration of the holiday, and sulks. And this is before he decides that we are heading into an area of Political Unrest and will be unable to get home due to coup-related airport closures (suits me fine). Invariably I forget my nuclear-blast-proof sunblock and have to buy it locally (you'd have thought with my leprous pallor I'd be forewarned, but this has in fact happened twice).

HOWEVER. All of the above being equal, I am looking forward to two full weeks of blissfully uninterrupted reading. Eating things with indecent amounts of chilli in/on them. Not feeling guilty about drinking cocktails midweek. Getting up early with a smile on my face because I can devote my whole day to deciding what to read and where to have a huge plate of Pad Thai for lunch. My only obligation being to vacate the room for a polite length of time while somebody else makes the bed. Wandering about barefoot or in flip-flops. WARMTH. Seeing the joy of Mr Fishwife as he slowly turns the colour of Ikea Billy shelving (beech veneer option).

Below please find the song that will be on a permanent loop in my head. I apologise for the unnecessary nature of George Michael's white Speedo. I hope you're all thoroughly jealous. I hope our hotel isn't full of people like the ones in the video...

I should just point out the fact that it says "Pat Sharp's House of Fun" in the top right-hand corner. How far back does that take you - and would you rather not have gone there...?

Monday, 16 February 2009

Songs on the brain

Songs this week that have ricocheted irritatingly around my head (due to their sharing a title with a book I can see from where I'm sitting) include the following:

"American Boy" - book by Andrew Taylor, song by Estelle
"Almost Blue" - book by Carlo Lucarelli, song by Elvis Costello
"Angel" - book by Elizabeth Taylor, song by Gavin Friday
"Thieves Like Us" - book by Steve Cole, song by New Order

Equally annoying and more contrived are the ones that suggest a song - I've been singing "Revelation" (by C J Sansom) to the tune of "Isolation" by Joy Division, "Holes" (by Louis Sachar) to "Gold" by Spandau Ballet, and most annoyingly of all, "Two Caravans" (by Marina Lewycka) to "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. Don't bother telling me you love Neil Diamond, I don't care. This is torture. I've resisted having an iPod for years, partly because the length of my commute hasn't warranted it since 2001, and partly because I quite like hearing the world as I go home (how else would I be finding the karaoke pub in Hammersmith such good auditory value?). But I think I may need one, as a kind of homeopathic remedy for the earworms. Because it's either that, or become one of those strange book-industry people who lurks in the stock room singing hymns really loudly to drown out The Voices, and I'm definitely not ready for that.

A couple more snippets because you all seemed to like them (honestly, I bet you're the sort of people who could live on unlimited snacks):

The TV advert for a thrush remedy (yes, the fungal infection, no not the bird) which said "It will leave you feeling yourself again" - possibly unwise on the basis of "If you pick at it it'll never get better"?

The rugby match I wish I'd watched = Nancy vs Nice. I bet that was amazingly civilised. And well-dressed.

Overheard on Saturday night from lovey-dovey couple holding hands over champagne glasses: "..and outside the laundrette I just puked pure water."

Apologies to anyone who got this three times on their feed - never again will I over-edit...

Monday, 9 February 2009


I'm currently having what we charitably refer to as "kaleidoscope brain" chez Fishwife - mostly down to a weekend of slow but steady alcohol intake, and the fact that due to snow, cancellations and lunches I ended up working 2 and a half days last week (result!!!). I therefore have no coherent idea for a single and on-topic post and can only offer you a small selection of things that have stuck in what passes for my mind over the last few days.

1) I had lunch on Saturday with my parents; they were passing through West London to see a newly-adapted indie-thrash musical version of Wedekind's 1906 play Spring Awakening at the Lyric. My stepfather, musing, over a pub lunch: "Well, it'll be interesting to see how they fit the competitive masturbation scene to music..."

2) Overheard by my cousin in (of course) Islington: "Mummy! I've got pesto on my gilet!"

3) Hurrah for the return of the rat! Many of you may argue it has never been away and in fact is more with us than ever. I say every culture gets the vermin it deserves, and given the extraordinary stupidity of most popular culture (etc) these days, thank God at least we value brains and adaptability in our animal infestations. I know I've said this before (and will say it again, and no doubt again) but rats are highly intelligent and resourceful, they are loving and protective parents, and wash food before they eat it (where possible). Also they build separate latrine areas in their nests so food and sleeping areas are never contaminated. How unlike most celebrities.

This, you see, is the problem with the weekday lunch. Any more than a glass of wine in the middle of the day and I suddenly lose all ability to follow a train of thought, at least any one that doesn't go STARTER - WINE - MAIN COURSE - WINE - COFFEE - BRANDY - BRANDY - BRANDY - FAGS - INEVITABLE FLU FROM SMOKING OUTSIDE IN THE SNOW. Just had lunch with my friend Nicky Nicky Veronica Veronica, who is the nearest thing to me it's possible to get apart from being a few years older and a Virgo, and after half a glass of wine I had forgotten I had to go back to work. Luckily I remembered, and if my boss is reading this I'd like to say that I'm actually blogging in my tea break.
Best stop now...

Oh but PS - if there's another blog out there that manages to mention pesto and Wedekind in the same post, I'm very surprised...

Saturday, 31 January 2009

me me me me me me me me meme

The lovely Red Rum ("Your money's no good here, Mr Torrance...") has tagged me. I must write ten interesting and honest things about myself. "Interesting" is subjective, "honest" less so. This will probably be the last one of these I do for a while, as you all now know me better than is entirely healthy, given that we've none of us ever met in what I like to call "the flesh" (mostly because there's so much of it).

1) I've just this second sold a book to the blonde Aussie one from Sheila's Wheels. She was thoroughly charming and if I had a car I know where I'd be getting my insurance from.

2) I have only ever once made hollandaise sauce - it was perfect. I am now so worried that it'll never turn out that well again that I have never reattempted it.

3) I once shared a flat with an inordinately cool Zimbabwean guy called Dumiso; during the course of one rainy Sunday afternoon doing the ironing and watching Zulu we discovered that we were, respectively, descended from Gonville Bromhead and King Cetshwayo. We decided never to speak of it, although whistling "Men of Harlech" became shorthand for "I'm trying to annoy you".

4) I will eat anything except tripe (I hate the consistency), brains (not sure I like the idea of eating something that has ideas) and andouillette (made of bowel, smells of bowel). In my defence, I'm not particularly squeamish otherwise - I will happily eat kidneys, tongue, sweetbreads, black pudding, snails, etc, and in my time have eaten crocodile steak, water buffalo, snake, peacock, a scorpion, and a bee (on purpose, crystallised in honey).

5) I went on an anti-Vietnam War march in 1972 or -3; I was a small child at this point (!) and my deeply peacenik Canadian babysitter took me (I grew up in Montreal). At the age of 6 I knew who Nixon and Ho Chi Minh were, what "impeach" meant, and why there were so many American men suddenly living in Canada...

6) Further to the Canada thing, I was also living there when the October Crisis happened - so am the only one of my contemporaries who has, albeit briefly, lived under martial law.

7) I would sell my soul for the ability to drink a double espresso after midday without turning into a sleepless and jittery speedfreak. I love coffee, love it, love it, and it has ceased to love me since the day I turned 30, fickle swine that it is.

8) My family motto is Nil Desperandum. Which is a toughie to live up to on a drizzly day like today. Mostly I'm an optimist though.

9) I collect nice shiny facts like a magpie collects sparkly bits of tinfoil. In fact if I lived in Philip Pullman's world my daemon would undoubtedly be a member of the corvid family - maybe a rook, because they're sociable, highly acquisitive, and according to myth they like to tell stories.

10) My idea of perfect hell is massage. If there's one thing I hate more than being covered in oil, it's having to make polite conversation with a complete stranger while naked.

I'm going to tag Naweed, because I know for a fact he's never done one of these. Go, dude, make me proud...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Life 2.0

Before I start I will just give you two little stories to illustrate this post:

1) My darling friend Foxy Highflyer was recently due to meet a man for a date. He blew her out, pleading a backlog of work commitments, which would have been a perfectly good excuse - if he hadn't, the following day, updated his FaceBook page with the status "Mike is SO HUNGOVER after last night's big bash" (or similar).
2) My equally darling (and foxy) friend Ziggaaah has been seeing, on and off, a man who conveniently lives nearby, and the other morning on her way to work saw his alleged ex-girlfriend emerging from his house well before breakfast time, and his FaceBook status was the same day updated to "Frank is In A Relationship".

Wait! Come back! This wasn't meant to be a moan about MEN. What this is, and here I finally get to my point, is a moan about what we have decided to call LIFE 2.0.©
Life 2.0 is exactly like life, just more so, and more technologically enabled. After all, what these guys were doing is just the cyber-equivalent of getting their mate to "casually" tell you they're not looking for a long-term relationship, or "accidentally" leaving the receipt for a dirty weekend in their suit pocket for you to find. It's not, of course, restricted to the field of relationships. Forgetting your PIN number is the Life 2.0 equivalent of the cashier at the bank refusing to believe that that is your signature. Killing your Tamagotchi.. well, need I go on? I realise I'm in no position to comment, as having a blog doesn't really equate to anything old-style apart from writing a diary which, unless you're very careless, never gets read by anyone else, or maybe writing a newspaper column - except millions of us do it, which certainly isn't the case in the press. I have no idea what the moral of this observation is - and I doubt there actually is one - I suppose it's plus ├ža change, or something pithy about the equipment changing but not the operator...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Star Crossed

Every now and then you can't beat Gone With the Wind as a great, lazy, sandwich-eating way to spend an afternoon. Apart from Gandhi it's the only film I've ever seen that admitted it needed an intermission (and even had special intermission music! You can't fault David O Selznick for grandeur of scale). And I think the intermission in Gandhi was only there because the cinema management thought, quite rightly, that we might need it. I went to see The Unbearable Lightness Of Being as a student, and secretly rechristened it The Unbearable Numbness Of My Bum, although that may have less to do with the undeniable length (and lack of intermission) of the actual film and more to do with the fact that, if you're not a big fan of Daniel Day Lewis, the sight of him saying "Take your clothes off" FORTY-SEVEN BILLION TIMES can get a little wearisome.

Anyway, back to Gone With the Wind - my delightful friend Marky Mark told me that apparently Margaret Mitchell was a total fan of astrology, and had deliberately written the novel so that each of the main characters was a perfect archetype of a particular star sign, as follows:

Scarlett O'Hara = Aries
Rhett Butler = Sagittarius
Ashley Wilkes = Pisces
Melanie Wilkes = Cancer
I think I more or less got that right. It's a great theory but I worry for the future of fiction if, on top of unsolicited quibbling about inaccuracies in period detail etc, the author was also subject to letters arguing that no Libra would behave like that... but then I would worry, being a Pisces.
(The picture above, by the way, comes from my favourite scene in the film, when Scarlett's unlamented second husband has just died, and she's drunk the better part of a bottle of brandy - Rhett comes to see her, and as she's desperately rinsing her mouth out with eau de cologne to hide the smell of booze, Mammy shows him in with the line "Mr Rhett's here to see you, Miz Scarlett. I told him you was prostrate with grief.")

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Point Of No Return

At what point in one's life do embarrassing songs simply stop being embarrassing? And why? When we were children we would happily bop about to pretty much anything with a beat (how else to explain the constant popularity of inane dross like the Tweenies, Take 5, Sportacus, etc etc...). And then puberty struck, and everything reduced us to paroxysms of squirming, particularly if our parents liked it. In fact, as I remember, you were only allowed to admit you liked songs/bands of almost proscriptive obscurity - if you'd caught the name late at night on John Peel and nobody else had even heard of them yet, that made it all the cooler. And if they ever got into the charts, you had to stop liking them immediately and whine about how they'd sold out. In my day it was tantamount to social suicide to admit you liked anything that could even vaguely be categorised as "disco" (ie anything poppy with a beat), which led to a huge crisis at parties - in the event that you did anything as uncool as dancing, rather than sneering in eyeliner from the edge of the room, there was very little you could actually dance to. Gothy posturing to Joy Division hardly counts, as it's more in the ballpark of "I will now portray Anomie And Social Despair through the medium of modern dance".
So - when was it that the disco rot started creeping in? I have a memory of a distinct turning point in my second year at college, when I shared a huge house with (among others) a girl who would unashamedly start a Saturday night off with "Never Too Much" by Luther Vandross. It was all downhill from there. And once you've conceded that Abba are possibly the finest popsters in the world, and you stand up to be counted, admitting with barely a blush that you know all the words to "When I Kissed The Teacher", well, the primrose path to Shameless Musical Leanings beckons. Rapidly you find you actually know the dance to Bucks Fizz's "Making Your Mind Up". You play the Nolan Sisters at parties. And songs such as the one below are greeted with whoops of delight rather than the general slinking off in shame that they deserve. Go on, admit when Marks and Spencer used it in an advert you were actually pleased to hear it again...

Friday, 2 January 2009

Christmas with La Boheme

Picture the scene. An opera house stage, swagged in crimson velvet. The house lights go down, leaving only the scalloped brass footlights aglow. As the curtain slowly rises, we see before us a threadbare chaise-longue in a draughty, ill-lit Paris garret of the 19th century, upon which a frail figure in a tattered nightgown lies, coughing weakly into a tiny scrap of bloodstained lace hanky. Alone, uncared-for, the helpless figure of Mr Fishwife prepares for his final aria as a cruel world leaves him to perish of consumption. Beside him, the burly figure of, well, me, weeps in a baritone voice (I'm bordering on basso profundo at the moment).

Happy New Year! As I write I'm clutching a packet of Day Nurse capsules in one hand and a large cup of tea in the other. Oh yes, Mr Fishwife's flu has finally got its claws into me and all my attempts to dodge it have failed. Inevitable, really, when one is sharing the same bed as someone already afflicted and they are coughing lavishly into one's face at all hours of the night. So far I fear I may have infected not only Mr Fishwife's mother but also my entire family, Inexplicably Single Martyn and his parents, four of my closest friends, their nieces and nephews, and most unforgivable of all, a pregnant woman. I won't go on again about the joys of Night Nurse, but it beats champagne hands down as this year's best tipple for the festive season. On the plus side, I sneezed on somebody very rude on the Tube.