Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Banned Jeremy Clarkson Article from the Sunday Times

For those of you that are intrigued, I have managed to track down a copy of Jeremy Clarkson's latest article that was banned / rejected for publication by the Sunday Times. Here it is...

"Get me a rope before Mandelson wipes us all out"

Jeremy Clarkson for the Sunday Times

I've given the matter a great deal of thought all week, and I'm afraid I've decided that it's no good putting Peter Mandelson in a prison. I'm afraid he will have to be tied to the front of a van and driven round the country until he isn't alive any more. He announced last week that middle-class children will simply not be allowed into the country's top universities even if they have 4,000 A-levels, because all the places will be taken by Albanians and guillemots and whatever other stupid bandwagon the conniving idiot has leapt.

I hate Peter Mandelson. I hate his fondness for extremely pale blue jeans and I hate that preposterous moustache he used to sport in the days when he didn't bother trying to cover up his left-wing fanaticism. I hate the way he quite literally lords it over us even though he's resigned in disgrace twice, and now holds an important decision-making job for which he was not elected. Mostly, though, I hate him because his one-man war on the bright and the witty and the successful means that half my friends now seem to be taking leave of their senses.

There's talk of emigration in the air. It's everywhere I go. Parties. Work. In the supermarket. My daughter is working herself half to death to get good grades at GSCE and can't see the point because she won't be going to university, because she doesn't have a beak or flippers or a qualification in washing windscreens at the lights. She wonders, often, why we don't live in America.

Then you have the chaps and chapesses who can't stand the constant raids on their wallets and their privacy. They can't understand why they are taxed at 50% on their income and then taxed again for driving into the nation's capital. They can't understand what happened to the hunt for the weapons of mass destruction. They can't understand anything. They see the Highway Wombles in those brand new 4x4s that they paid for, and they see the M4 bus lane and they see the speed cameras and the community support officers and they see the Albanians stealing their wheelbarrows and nothing can be done because it's racist.

And they see Alistair Darling handing over £4,350 of their money to not sort out the banking crisis that he doesn't understand because he's a small-town solicitor, and they see the stupid war on drugs and the war on drink and the war on smoking and the war on hunting and the war on fun and the war on scientists and the obsession with the climate and the price of train fares soaring past £1,000 and the Guardian power-brokers getting uppity about one shot baboon and not uppity at all about all the dead soldiers in Afghanistan, and how they got rid of Blair only to find the lying twerp is now going to come back even more powerful than ever, and they think, "I've had enough of this. I'm off."

It's a lovely idea, to get out of this stupid, Fairtrade, Brown-stained, Mandelson-skewed, equal-opportunities, multicultural, carbon-neutral, trendily left, regionally assembled, big-government, trilingual, mosque-drenched, all-the-pigs-are-equal, property-is-theft hellhole and set up shop somewhere else. But where?

You can't go to France because you need to complete 17 forms in triplicate every time you want to build a greenhouse, and you can't go to Switzerland because you will be reported to your neighbours by the police and subsequently shot in the head if you don't sweep your lawn properly, and you can't go to Italy because you'll soon tire of waking up in the morning to find a horse's head in your bed because you forgot to give a man called Don a bundle of used notes for "organising" a plumber.

You can't go to Australia because it's full of things that will eat you, you can't go to New Zealand because they don't accept anyone who is more than 40 and you can't go to Monte Carlo because they don't accept anyone who has less than 40 mill. And you can't go to Spain because you're not called Del and you weren't involved in the Walthamstow blag. And you can't go to Germany ... because you just can't.

The Caribbean sounds tempting, but there is no work, which means that one day, whether you like it or not, you'll end up like all the other expats, with a nose like a burst beetroot, wondering if it's okay to have a small sharpener at 10 in the morning. And, as I keep explaining to my daughter, we can't go to America because if you catch a cold over there, the health system is designed in such a way that you end up without a house. Or dead.

Canada's full of people pretending to be French, South Africa's too risky, Russia's worse and everywhere else is too full of snow, too full of flies or too full of people who want to cut your head off on the internet. So you can dream all you like about upping sticks and moving to a country that doesn't help itself to half of everything you earn and then spend the money it gets on bus lanes and advertisements about the dangers of salt. But wherever you go you'll wind up an alcoholic or dead or bored or in a cellar, in an orange jumpsuit, gently wetting yourself on the web. All of these things are worse than being persecuted for eating a sandwich at the wheel.

I see no reason to be miserable. Yes, Britain now is worse than it's been for decades, but the lunatics who've made it so ghastly are on their way out. Soon, they will be back in Hackney with their South African nuclear-free peace polenta. And instead the show will be run by a bloke whose dad has a wallpaper shop and possibly, terrifyingly, a twerp in Belgium whose fruitless game of hunt-the-WMD has netted him £15m on the lecture circuit.

So actually I do see a reason to be miserable. Which is why I think it's a good idea to tie Peter Mandelson to a van. Such an act would be cruel and barbaric and inhuman. But it would at least cheer everyone up a bit in the meantime.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Nick Griffin's Appearance on Question Time - a Huge Success...

I found last night's televised footage from the BBC quite disturbing and in fact, quite insulting to the concept of democracy Britain tries hard to maintain. No, I'm not talking about the amusing escapades of last night's Question Time, but the anti-BBC protests happening outside of Television Centre.

A large selection students could be seen widely condemning the BBC for allowing Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, onto Question Time, arguing that we should not offer a man that peddles such hatred a platform on national television. Whilst I abhor the BNP and its racist, hate-filled views, denying this man a chance to appear on television would have seen us move onto very dangerous ground indeed.

Democracy is built upon the notion that all people have equal rights and that people are also granted freedom of speech. Whilst the BNP and Mr Griffin clearly don't subscribe to these ideals, had we banned him from appearing on the programme, we would in fact have been denying him his freedom of speech. Although that speech was clearly filled with vitriolic hate and racism, he had the right to say it. It is down to us, as a democracy, to argue through reason and debate against such views, exposing the man and his party for what they truly are.

I defy anyone who actually watched the programme to argue that Mr Griffin shouldn't have been allowed on. The week's preceding news focused on why we shouldn't give the BNP the 'credibility' of appearing on Question Time, but his performance was about as credible as the claim MPs have never fiddled expenses.

Mr Griffin is today arguing that the programme was biased and set out to victimise him, but in truth, this sorry man was in fact exposed for the racist, hate-filled bigot that he is. Those worried he would come across credibly saw him attack Islam, homosexuals and ethnic minorities with gay (excuse the pun) abandon. He admitted denying the holocaust but claimed to have 'changed his mind', stated that the Ku Klux Klan member he shared a stage with was part of a 'non-violent' chapter and also claimed that Churchill would be a member of the BNP today. Wow.

I think it's safe to say that Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time was a huge success. The man crumbled under pressure and was revealed to be an ignorant, racist bigot with no idea how to answer a justifiably angered public. Those that argued he shouldn't have been on the show need to take another look at the programme and ask themselves why that farce wasn't in fact a huge victory for democracy and common decency.

In addition to this, 8.2 million people tuned in to watch Question Time – three times the usual amount. Whilst many will undeniably have watched to see Griffin baited, this issue has forced people to engage with British politics, have an opinion and examine their own beliefs – all in all, Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time was a very good thing indeed.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ignorance is NOT Bliss...

(This article appears on the working writers' website 'Writing Mafia', http://www.writingmafia.com/ignorance-is-not-bliss/)

When you join the ranks of employed wordsmiths across the globe, it goes without saying that your expertise regarding language and writing is unquestioned by those paying your (albeit paltry) salary. My inbox is regularly frequented by queries concerning apostrophe usage, pleas for proof-reading and Shakespearian dilemmas – ‘to hyphenate or not to hyphenate’ is a question that is very much in vogue at the present time.

I shall make no attempt to hide the fact that being consulted as the ‘expert’ when it comes to writing, language and grammar serves to massage my ego; a welcome by-product that any writer relishes. However, even the most ‘authoritative’ of sources can be found to fall short when scrutinised more closely. Any craftsman (or crafts ‘person’ if we’re being politically correct), will admit that they’re always learning their trade and writers should be no different.

In the early days of my writing career, I feigned ignorance on more than one occasion, happily glazing over a particular turn of phrase or unknown word in order to save face and remain the ‘expert’ that I hoped my employers were taking me for. But in reality, whilst saving career face, what was I actually gaining in the long run? Answer? Not a lot.

A particular instance this week pointed out just how far I’ve changed my thinking in terms of accepting the limitations of my so-called ‘expertise’. A manager used the phrase ‘luddites’ to refer to some colleagues he was exasperated with when trying to push through a new agenda at work. Now, whereas the copywriter of old would have glazed over this and happily got the gist of the overall message, the first thing I did in this instance was to check my dictionary.

For those of you not au fait with emails concerning petty office politics (you lucky things), ‘luddite’ refers to:

“A group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed labour-saving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.”

This unfamiliar word now clarified, I immediately understood my manager’s difficulty in passing a digital marketing proposal, adding a new word to my vocabulary in the process.

So you see, whilst we may enjoy playing on our ‘literary expert’ status amongst peers, ignorance isn’t always bliss. The English language is growing daily, and as writers, we need to ensure that our vocabularies are added to just as quickly. Pretending that we know a word may save face in the short-term, but when the alternative is learning and actually expanding the very expertise we’re trying to portray, the option is simple – ignorance is for the ignorant.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Book Review - 'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

When ascribing meaning to any art form, be it visual, musical or literary, context is of paramount importance. The scandalous novel of ninety years ago, today lines bookshop shelves as a nostalgic literary classic; the risqué painting of yesteryear is now mass-produced and hung on a million walls worldwide.

Eighteen years since its publication, Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' remains a significant novel of western society, undiluted despite its two-decade history. Any novel examining the soulless nature of capitalism and materialism has only to be read in the context of the current recession we're wading through, to resonate with modern readers.

The story of 'American Psycho' is now firmly ingrained in popular culture, thanks largely to the Christian Bale film of 2000. Whether you've read the book, watched the film or discussed it with your friends, the name Patrick Bateman is as famous as the author who created him.

Young, successful, extremely rich and devilishly handsome, Patrick Bateman leads a life where no luxury is spared. He dines at the most desirable of restaurants, fulfils his sexual desires with a string of attractive and successful women, lives in an exclusive apartment and has every material object that his heart desires. Bateman is also a murdering psychopath.

The graphic, sadistic and sexual nature of Bateman's murderous rampages are one of the most distinguishing features of Easton Ellis' debut novel. These evocative descriptions of depraved bloodlust scandalised a world upon the novel's release, and although society has undoubtedly become yet more de-sensitised since 1991, the uninhibited torture scenes and violent passages remain disturbing to this day.

But it's easy for such a contentious issue to detract from the novel's, arguable main, theme. In Bateman's world, all human interactions have been stripped down to materialistic components. His relationships with women are based purely on pursuing unattainable physical attention. All relationships with peers, since they surely cannot be deemed as friendships, revolve purely around materialistic one-upmanship – who has the better clothes, who has reservations at the most exclusive or restaurants, who has the most expensive business cards – the limits of obsessive neurosis are unlimited.

On a psychological level, the most obvious feeling we're supposed to have is one of shock and horror at Bateman's depraved homicidal acts. The beauty of 'American Psycho' however, is its ability to lay the most base of horror and evil before us, whilst using this as a mere backdrop to the 'real' terror of the materialistic life that Bateman leads. A world devoid of any genuine human interaction, emotion or feeling whatsoever – something that our desensitised society ironically finds infinitely more terrorising than the thoughtless murders and tortures of human beings – real food for thought.

A revolutionary novel, 'American Psycho' is a vivd commentary on the materialistic times we live in and one that remains as relevant and accessible today as it did two decades ago. The graphic nature of this novel makes it difficult reading for anyone who's not as desensitised as the soulless characters that populate this novel. If you can stomach scenes of an extremely violent nature however, and are looking for an important novel that makes a poignant comment on the social mores of modern society, 'American Psycho' is an important work of literature that's not to be underrated.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Gordon Brown - Sitting Duck

Without a shadow of a doubt, it's been a tumultuous week for Britain. Many famous names have been forced out of the spotlight by an unrelenting public exercising their democratic right to voice their opinions and demand their say.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I am in fact, referring to the 'stars' of Britain's Got Talent' or 'The Apprentice', however I'm actually discussing another of Britain's most farcical and intriguing of entertainment outlets – Her Majesty's Government.

I've desisted from writing about the MPs expenses scandal until now, since this political 'hot potato' has been commented upon by the world and his metaphorical dog. The blogosphere has been saturated with comments, opinions and backlash regarding this issue, making yet another article futile in terms of potential interest, yet the topic has reached fever point in recent days, making it impossible to ignore.

I shall publicly state for the record that I suffer no political inclinations towards the Labour party and am certainly no fan of Gordon Brown, but I really am starting to pity the man. The Prime Minister's current grip on the political reigns of power is about as stable as a man holding the reigns of a bucking bronco covered in baby oil, margarine, butter and any other substance as slippery as our Darling Chancellor and his cronies in Westminster.

You see, the man spent years waiting in the wings for his opportunity to run the country, hiding patiently in the shadows of the country's Blairite years, which in retrospect, look comparatively rosy (surely we've forgotten the Iraq war by now...) Biding his political time however, Brown has inherited a legacy that's turning out to prove as infected as as a Mexican pig. In fact, you could say that the only benefit the man has had in his stint at Downing Street, has been meeting the Obamas.

No sooner than Tony Blair stepped aside, the political excrement started to well and truly hit the fan. Brown's inherited an economy that's in worse shape than American waistlines. His MPs are running around like political bandits, claiming public money for everything from toilet seats and mock Tudor beams to tins of baked beans. His leadership is constantly undermined. Basically, the poor bloke is a sitting duck (upon the 'duck island' that Peter Viggers claimed £1,645 for perchance?) that come the next election, has more chance of winning the X Factor than reclaiming Number 10.

So pity Mr Brown. He's not at fault for the economy, nor is he at fault for swine flu or Susan Boyle losing Britain's Got Talent. He may not go down in living memory as one of the nation's most successful Prime Ministers but please, spare a thought for the beleaguered politician. He may be going down, but he's maintaining the British stiff upper lip as he sinks into obscurity. The only real question surrounding the country's current political climate is 'will the next chap do any better'?

Over to you Mr Cameron...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Brand Ethics or Bottom-Line?

During these ‘tough economic times’ (surely the marketing community can think of a better moniker for ‘recession’ than this), one of the truly remarkable things is the miraculous recovery of the environment.

The hole in the ozone layer has grown back, endangered species are now thriving in their natural habitats and all produce sold in the UK is organic, natural and locally sourced. Or at least the absence of these once unavoidable corporate agendas would seemingly now imply…

Those of us who move in marketing circles will no doubt be fully aware that sustainability and green agendas have been noticeably swept under the carpet, no matter how discreet the corporate broom being used.

It seems that the days of lavishing big budgets on corporate social responsibility or building an ethical brand are long gone – or at least on hold until Brown and Obama smooth out this royal financial pickle we’re in.

Whilst this is an understandable reaction to constricting budgets, the abandonment of ethical agendas leaves the more loyal consumer wondering just how dedicated their favourite brands were to these itineraries in the first place – a dangerous game to be playing when every consumer coin is worth its weight in gold.

Many independent businesses have invested heavily to associate themselves with the ideals, values and ethics they hold in common with their target consumer groups, regardless of whether these beliefs are genuinely held or commercially motivated. This is all well and good when companies can afford to market lifestyle and image as opposed to product, but as marketing budgets shrink and brand ethics dissolve, so too does their perceived integrity.

This has already proved disastrous for many brands, as more and more companies are beginning to find out. Whilst no one would doubt the need to focus on the bottom-line during this recession, certain ‘ethical’ businesses may well end up seeing a plummet in brand advocates, as well as in profits.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Viral Virals & Swine Flu Marketing...

The recent hype surrounding the outbreak of swine flu highlights two very different forms of marketing. On the one hand, consumers are being bombarded with topical adverts as brands jump on the bubonic bacon bandwagon, whilst office in-boxes around the world are now contagious with spoof swine flu emails – the viral goes viral…

So which of these is actually more effective as a form of mass communication? It’s no secret that the key to successful marketing lies in being both topical and relevant. Kleenex are currently advertising their ‘anti-viral’ tissues (a product that’s not to be sneezed at), whilst Dettol’s website lists disinfecting surfaces as a ‘golden hygiene rule’ in the fight against swine flu – juxtaposed against some beautiful pictures of its product range…

Compassionate or commercial (who am I to question the integrity of a corporation’s altruistic intentions), one thing remains clear – some brands have sensibly jumped on the bandwagon, just as they did when Obama came to power or when the ‘credit crunch’ kicked in etc. Standard ATL advertising thrives on its relevance, but is it actually viral marketing that is more infectious these days?

Within a few days of swine flu fever hitting the media, the Stig’s inbox has been hit by a deluge of emails containing amended Piglet cartoons, Photoshopped images of Lemsip and Porky the Pig and countless other emails that I’d rather not disclose in public (the boss reads this blog after all). I shall, of course, be forwarding these emails to friends and colleagues, which begs the question - is viral marketing now a much more effective method to reach mass audiences?

As fleeting as they are, virals are actively interacted with. You only have to look at recent cultish phenomenons such as ‘Thumbman’ and Compare the Market’s Alexandr the meerkat (who has more Twitter followers than Boris Johnson and Hillary Clinton) to see that consumers are becoming more and more online savvy – handy, considering everyone’s marketing budgets can no longer afford print.

Whilst we hope that the viral swine flue epidemic is eradicated quickly, perhaps the marketing community should choose this moment to usher in a new era of virals in its place. For marketing messages that permeate mass audiences and encourage widespread engagement, surely viral communications are now the method that will bring home the bacon when it comes to brand awareness.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Book Review - 'Factotum', by Charles Bukowski

Sat on a gloomy and lonely Brighton beach, chained to the shackles of a mundane retail job, having just made the decision to move back home to my mother as I could no longer afford to live in London – this was the backdrop to my first brush with Bukowski – how beautiful is nature’s irony. Before I had left the Big Smoke, a dear friend had given me a copy of ‘Post Office’, saying that I would relate to the lost musings of a poet chained to the shackles of a mundane job and an alcoholic drink – how right he was.
Justify Full
Whilst that moment now exists as a memory, my fascination with the enigmatic Bukowski remains as vivid and alive as it did back then. Those new to the author may wish to start off by reading the aforementioned ‘Post Office’, however this particular book review concerns the late, great man’s second book, ‘Factotoum’.

Following the book’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, on a tour of menial jobs, alcoholism and desperation, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Bukowski is indeed drawing upon his own experiences in writing this unique novel. Full of amusing anecdotes and ‘real’ experiences (the blurb states that no-one has covered ‘being down and out’ as well since George Orwell), Factotum is easy to read and full of a thousand different stories that keep the reader hooked from start to finish.

Whilst all of Bukowski’s novels are laced with realism and portray a remarkable underworld that the majority of us will never experience (thankfully or not, depending on your personal outlook), it’s the resigned sadness of Bukowski’s situation that shines through in a novel that should be so much more wide-read than it is.

Bukowski’s shortcomings are obvious to all who read him – laziness, alcoholism, womanising - however it’s his honesty and resigned acceptance of his lot in life that makes the reader empathise with him, making his stories pack so much more of an emotional punch.

Whilst ‘Factotum’ may not be for the prudish amongst us (its coarse language and graphic descriptions of sexual encounters push the boundaries of the status quo’s ‘accepted literary boundaries’) it most definitely paints a picture that so many more people should appreciate.

As previously stated, if you’ve never read any Bukowski, ‘Post Office’ is the natural starting point, and if you’ve read this book already, you don’t need a review to tell you how essential Bukowski is. All I can say in summary, is that as the publishers state, grinding their agenda as there are, Bukowski is one of the most unique voices literature has ever seen – love him or hate him, you cannot deny him this accolade.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

New Posts?

If you've noticed a less frequent than usual posting on Musings for a Modern World, fear not! Pieces of writing will still be posted up here, but the majority of my current time and writing is focused on a new side project, the London Vegetable Garden - showcasing just how much I can grow on one, small, London balcony. Just click here to visit!Link

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Gig Review - 'The Baron and the General' - Macbeth, Hoxton, 09.04.09

Whilst ‘The Baron and the General’ is a name that conjures up images of a bygone British Empire, stiff upper lips and sepia-tinged nostalgia, the sound that this pioneering London quartet produces is far from antiquated.

Appearing at Hoxton’s Macbeth pub, a live music venue that I’ve frequented a few times on previous occasions (and one that is rapidly gaining more and more kudos on the live circuit), The Baron and the General are the first new band to genuinely blow me away in a long time.

Whilst they may initially appear as a standard four-piece, it soon becomes apparent that, donned in Victorian military apparel, they offer music lovers and gig-goers something completely new. Whilst most unsigned London acts are content to strum a guitar and squeal a few songs as if they’ve been pressed out of a ‘my first indie-band’ mould, The Baron and the General launch into an incredible set that offers something genuinely different straight from the off.

But how to sum up this glorious sound? Imagine if you please, that Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Jack the Ripper and Charles Darwin all met one night in a Limehouse opium den, were handed instruments and told to produce a psychedelic garage / zouk act under the influence of the most creative substances known to man. If this fantastical band actually performed in front of a packed East End pub in the 1890s, perhaps you’d be a third of the way to the incredible and individual sound that is The Baron and the General.

Thrilling the heaving masses inside the Macbeth, the band proceeded to play well-known songs such as ‘The Despair of Leena Estee, Memoirs of Bilbalily and evident crowd-pleaser, ‘A Ragtime Odyssey’, switching effortlessly from twisted hallucinogenic rock to psycadelic ska blues as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

The Baron and the General are quite clearly, one of the most unique, talented and enjoyable live music acts of recent years and one that is thoroughly deserving of much bigger and better things. Watch out you scrupulous masses of music maestros – you heard of them here first…

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Wartime Spirit - Social Implications of Credit Cruch Gardening...

Whilst the whole London Vegetable Garden project is simply an interesting hobby to see if I can actually grow a few vegetables on my London balcony, there are many more people doing exactly the same, meaning important social conclusions can be drawn from this trend.

Sales of vegetable seeds / plants in Britain now outnumber those of flowers, whilst waiting lists for London allotments have reached truly unprecedented levels, indicating a very marked shift in the UK’s horticultural habits. Whilst I’ve nodded towards what I refer to as the ‘River Cottage Effect’ in a recent blog post, this cannot be the sole reason behind the increased interest in gardening and ‘growing your own’ produce.

Some commentators speculate that the ‘credit crunch’ has had a significant effect upon people who are looking to save a bit of money by growing their own cheap vegetables. With supermarket vegetable prices fluctuating almost daily, it’s not hard to believe that many people are turning to their own back gardens for fresh produce rather than paying over the odds for imported, poor quality veg.

It’s a well-known fact that in Britain, we throw away a shocking amount of food each week; not only a sad indication of our excessive consumerist natures, but also a dreadful waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. One of the greatest monetary advantages of growing your own is that the back garden is, in effect, one big fridge. Whilst supermarket produce goes off within a week, green-fingered horticulturalists can harvest the freshest produce by simply pulling it out of the earth, saving money by using only what they need, only when they need it.

‘Celebrity’ chefs / gardeners (delete as applicable) are all urging us to go organic and grow our own produce. Current affairs programmes and TV presenters are all saying that we should ‘make do and mend’. It seems that we’ve recently gone back to bygone days of wartime Blitz spirit and ‘digging for victory’ to quote the famous poster. One thing’s for sure – the ‘credit crunch’ has resulted in a lot more British people crunching into home-grown vegetables once more, and that can only be a good thing.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Winning back our souls as consumerism dies

There’s no doubting that the current wave of depression and apathy gripping Britain (and indeed the rest of the world), stems from the bleak financial picture – a picture that has painted worry onto the collective face of the masses – but perhaps this is the perfect time to examine the root cause of our (seeming) dependence on money, capitalism and consumerism.

Unemployment, pay cuts, lay-offs and closures have all had a profound effect upon a huge majority of the British working class, leaving many struggling to cope with spiralling mortgages and increased food / fuel costs on severely dilapidated incomes. People in this unfortunate position face a very real problem – and one not to gloss over – but in terms of consumer ideology and the soulless pursuit of capitalist gain, where does the current situation leave ‘young professionals’ – affected, yet not in the ‘real’ sense as defined above.

Although I loathe the phrase ‘young professional’, I’m forced to use it here in the absence of a more suitable alternative. This group, typically of graduate calibre, have been bombarded with consumerist media messages for years now, and consuming the latest electronic goods, fashion, cars and clothing is an essential part of life that these people have been indoctrinated to undertake. Being able to consume is the cultural currency of life in 2009. But what if we stop to consider, that actually, it isn’t?

We don’t actually need to possess a new plasma TV that’s 2 inches larger than the previous one. Our social lives will not be empty should we fail to wear a particularly overpriced garment that was assembled in an overseas factory. For so long now, we have been conforming to the political machine that determines our very being – the mass media. But now that the wheels have fallen off of the vehicle of capitalist consumerism, a void is opening up where once there was ‘purchasing’ – with what do us apathetic souls now fill it with?

Life is undoubtedly that little bit harder in times of economic shrinkage, but perhaps now is the time in which to enrich our souls with more meaningful pursuits. As the consumerist behemoth slows down as a natural reaction to current affairs, worshippers on the alter of capitalism can now finally break free from their shackles of oppression and venture into a new age.

As people become more economically aware, from their own personal standpoints at least, the perpetuating myth of necessary consumption is slowly, starting to begin to fade. We may be a long way from the socialist ideal that would cure this unnecessary need to purchase beyond our means, but at last there is light at the end of the tunnel and society can choose to leave excessive consumption behind, replacing it slowly instead, with a focus on human relationships rather than materialistic greed.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Book Review - 'Night Has 1000 Eyes' by Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich (here writing under his oft-used ‘George Hopley’ pseudonym) has often been described as the ‘master of suspense’ and on this showing, the moniker is justly attributed.

Detective Tom Shawn is making his way home one night along the riverside and saves Jean Reid from a suicide attempt. As they start talking, Jean relays her fears concerning the sanity and life of her father. It transpires that a local clairvoyant has foretold Mr Reid’s death at the jaws of a lion, an alarming statement considering all of this strange man’s predictions have thus been proved true. A suspenseful story ensues as Shawn and Reid battle to save her father as the date of destiny fast approaches.

Despite being a gripping story in itself, this novel is a wonderful example of Woolrich’s artistic language and beautiful mastery of the noir genre. From the very first page we are plunged into an intense pulp fiction world, with Shawn’s innermost thoughts and feelings laid bare against a sensually descriptive noir landscape.

As one enjoys the delicate prose and evocative language, the reader is soon swept up in the story, masterfully spun, and set on a rollercoaster ride of suspense as the story reaches its climactic finale.

Cornell Woolrich is a wonderful author just waiting to be discovered and there’s no better book to discover him with than this one. ‘Night has a Thousand Eyes’ is a vital addition to any collector of quality noir fiction.

Book Review - 'The Jewel of Seven Stars' by Bram Stoker

When a writer’s name becomes synonymous with one truly classic piece of literature, it’s easy to forget that there will of course, have been many more strings to their bow. ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars’ is one such example in the portfolio of famous Irish writer Bram Stoker, creator of cultural icon, ‘Dracula’. ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars’ is set in the opulent high society of Edwardian London at the home of Professor Trelawney, famed archaeologist and Egyptologist.

Published in 1903, much of British society was at the time infatuated with Egypt and the East, providing this novel with its key cultural references and societal backdrop.
Agents unknown attack Professor Trelawney within his home and TJOSS starts off innocently as your classic turn of the century ‘whodunit’. Beautifully and evocatively described, the book sees worried daughter Margaret call for the assistance of her willing admirer, dashing lawyer Malcolm Ross (the development of their ensuing romance is a key and enjoyable theme throughout the text), seeking help as her father lays in a trance.

As the book progresses, it shifts from classic crime to supernatural thriller. Upon his awakening, Professor Trelawney brings the characters into his confidence and confirms their fears – the attacks are occurring due to the displaced Mummy Queen Tera, stored as a trophy in Trelawney’s study, awakening in preparation for her re-birth.
The novel ultimately shifts to Cornwall as the protagonists aim to complete the awakening and I shall desist from discussing any more of the plot for fear of spoiling the ending, which in my opinion, is the only let down in an incredibly enjoyable book.

Whilst Dracula is the superior text of the two, TJOSS is much easier to get into from the off and a thoroughly enjoyable Edwardian romp. The novel stands on its own feet in terms of story and plot, however the book also offers an incredibly detailed look at Edwardian society and the advancement of archaeology and subsequent interest in Egypt and the East, which make it worth the read in itself.
I really do count this as one of my favourite books and consider it a travesty that so few know of it.

Dracula may indeed be the seminal work that Stoker is rightfully associated with, but TJOSS is right up there with it and deserves the attention of discerning readers worldwide. Thoroughly recommended.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Book Review - 'The Beetle', by Richard Marsh

Published in the same year as Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, and incidentally, more popular at the time, ‘The Beetle’ is an atmospheric and chilling piece of gothic Victorian Literature that is often (and unjustifiably) usurped by its literary cousin.

In writing ‘The Beetle’ and giving life to an evil protagonist, eminent Victorian novelist Richard Marsh created a despicable embodiment of horror quite equal to Stoker’s blood-sucking vampire. Plunged straight into a world of gloomy horror from off, the initial pages reveal a vivid and genuinely disturbing account of terror that remains as fresh and effective as it did 112 years ago.

Taking up the multi-narrative format indicative of the period, the novel proceeds to build nicely, weaving a complex yet easy-to-follow plotline that points towards the mysterious past of an eminent politician – a shady past that is evidently to account for the current morbid occurrences that plague our cast of likeable characters.

Unravelling mystery after mystery, the book reads extremely well and Marsh has to be credited with building an exceptional state of tension and anticipation. The finale is nothing short of epic, clawing at and subsequently shredding the reader’s senses and nerves as it reaches its dramatic, evocative and rewarding ending.

Having consumed this book avidly over a week, I have to say that ‘The Beetle’ is an excellent piece of literature that remains able to cause chills despite the desensitised nature of modern readers. Another example of late Victorian / early Edwardian fascination with all things Eastern and oriental (see Stoker’s ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars), this is a thoroughly readable member of the gothic school, and fully deserves a reputation equal to ‘Dracula’. Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Soliloquy of Sadness

Soliloquy of Sadness

Your grassy banks murmur a thousand tales,
Your silent song is carried through the wind,
A thousand tales of solitude and soliloquy,
Stored in the memory of the warm soil underfoot.

Your expansive and unending intimacy comforts me,
Offering respite in slopes and grassy plains,
Each footstep speaks of weights upon my soul,
Yet fears are calmed with ethereal beauty.

A thousand of my troubles past,
Have been shed amongst your haunting wilderness,
Bathed in windswept sunset now, you sing of problems passed,
And welcome me to share my future fears.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Gordon Brown, the buck stops with you & Labour...

Right. It’s time to draw a line under the whole blame game surrounding the current farcical economic situation once and for all. As a humble Copywriter, I’m under no pretence that I have the solution to the world’s monetary woes, but it seems to me that the British Government is overlooking the fact that so much of society’s financial troubles have arisen from the society that ‘New’ Labour has built.

I graduated five years ago with a mountain of student debt. Plenty of my friends, people I’ve worked with and people I’ve met are in the exact same situation to me. Unless you come from an extremely moneyed background, the only options available to you in your pursuit of further education are student loans, overdrafts, credit cards and debt.

Even the most prudent of students will leave university with several thousand pounds worth of debt, meaning that we have an annual army of graduates with huge debt and limited employment prospects. I found it hard trying to find a creative job that I’d trained for in an extremely competitive sector, having instead to spend several post-university years shackled to the oppressive chains of retail work. I genuinely pity the graduates of today – coming out of halls and into the real world to a job market more barren than a Tony Blair fan club meeting - weapons of mass destruction anyone?

I digress. The issue I wish to make is that the UK now has a whole generation of indebted students, clambering to get on a career ladder that’s as wobbly and creaking as a rope ladder in an Indiana Jones film. It inevitably won’t hold everyone, and as seen, the economy has now ‘snapped’ in spectacular fashion, dropping several UK workers into the unemployment abyss that lurks beneath all of us.

I’m an indebted student. I have finally got onto a decent career ladder after three and a half years of retail work. That low-paid work required borrowing from overdrafts. I don’t have any deposit to get on the housing market as I’m continually seeing my pay packet drained as the Government take back their percentage of a fat student loan – a percentage that leaves me short each month yet barely covers the interest on the loan.

Whilst I know there are so many factors to consider in this complex financial meltdown, why don’t we learn from this and ensure that positive change comes about as a result? Why not offer our citizens free education, enabling them to graduate debt-free, clued-up and able to buy a house – able to feed the economy rather than drain it further. Gordon Brown and his cronies want us stimulating the housing market and buying properties? Sorry Gordon, we’re too busy balancing Labour’s student debt on our shoulders to even think about buying our first house yet.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

I don't want to share Twitter - go away!

Its praises are currently being sung by every newspaper, magazine, website and blog in the universe. A revolutionary micro-blogging site has truly hit the big time, following a meteoric rise of publicity, as its evangelical supporters wax lyrical about the phenomenon that is Twitter.

For those of you that have been living under a digital rock for the past two months, Twitter is a unique social networking site that lets users ‘tweet’ messages of 140 characters. By ‘following’ certain people, their updates appear on your screen, allowing you to keep track of what your friends (and favourite celebrities) are doing.

The site’s poster boy is English actor and television personality Stephen Fry, whose endorsement of the site has been truly remarkable. On his first show following suspension, Jonathan Ross interviewed Fry, who promptly started to discuss Twitter in front of the BBC’s millions of Friday night viewers.

But this, dear reader, is where (my) problem with Twitter officially started. Following that Friday night, Fry’s following on Twitter went from 50,000 to nearly 200,000 in a couple of weeks. The mainstream media clamoured to discover what exactly this Twitter was and I was suddenly left feeling like I’d been cheated on.

You see for those of us in the know before this, it was almost like we were part of a secret club. Twitter was cool – it was our thing that no one else knew about it – sub-cultural capital for the digital age. It’s the same premise as when the band you’ve been following for years suddenly becomes huge and people everywhere start humming the latest single – I don’t want to share Kings of Leon with the chavs down the pub – this is my thing, not theirs!

And so we come back to Twitter. Everyone now has a Twitter page, everyone is tweeting and the secret club that we used to hold in our metaphorical childhood tree house has now been bombarded by the whole world - we’ve been forced to share our favourite toys once again. Bah humbug.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Freedom of speech? It's hard enough writing it!

In a previous column (SEO – Integrity or Dominance) I’ve bemoaned the negatives that client side copywriting can bring, but tongue in cheek firmly back in check, I can’t deny that there are many benefits to working, as my job title states, “in-house.”

The sheer variety that being the only wordsmith in the office brings means that I’m often kept engaged by different writing challenges for several target audiences. The other week however, I was asked to do something I’d never really done before. As much as my colleagues would revel in it, I shall desist from here inserting a humorous quip about ‘making the coffee’ or staying late in the office but get straight to the point - I was asked to write a speech.

The company’s Australian branch is attending a forthcoming advertising conference and as part of this, has to film a thirty-second commercial to be broadcast at the aforementioned event. Anything the company requires writing plops into my inbox amongst all of the virals and “funny” animal pictures my girlfriend insists on spamming me with, which is were I unearthed this latest copywriting task.

I relish any new writing challenge with real vigor.I can do this,” I thought to myself as I stared at the blank screen before me. Look at World President Obama – he recognizes the importance of speeches, hence the appointment of Hollywood favorite Jon Favreau to his speech-writing team – Barack’s boys really are “with it.” Quite fancying myself as a Favreau-esque maverick speechwriter, I started penning my prose.

Two and a half hours later and it transpires that I’m not quite ready for my move to the glitz and glamour of L.A. Having asked my Marketing Executive to read through the initial draft with me, it turns out that we speak a lot more slowly than we read, leaving my humble speech way over the required thirty seconds.

Literally back to the drawing board, I whittled and whittled – tipping my hat to ancient Homeric similes, if my mighty speech had once been a sturdy oak of idiosyncratic marketing musings, rhythmic rambling and poetic prose, it was now a veritable acorn. As the previous sentence illustrates quite wonderfully, I like to populate my copy with flowery and often unnecessary verbiage, which as I discovered, are NOT good traits in a speech.

This said, I finally completed my task and whisked the copy off to the Sydney office, where luckily, it was received with approval and commendations on the speed of turnaround – little did they know that there was a frustrated copywriter, six cups of strong coffee and a severely chewed biro behind that tiny assortment of three sentences. I guess my plans for CSI London are going to have to remain firmly on the shelf for the time being, since this copywriter is sticking firmly to writing for reading…

(This article was written for and appears on www.writingmafia.com/author/callum)

SEO - Integrity or Dominance?

Let’s face it, when your day-to-day clientside copywriting job involves a predominant focus on digital work, you’re going to be handed some laborious and uninspiring SEO tasks from time to time. Just as Obama inherits an economy that’s on its metaphorical knees, so too the noble copywriter inherits the occasional boring task – both are unfortunate territories that come with their respective jobs. (Should writers get a ‘Write House’ too?)

No stranger to digital copywriting (or laborious literature), I’m regularly tasked with optimizing adverts (that’s ads to you yanks) for publication on several leading websites and job boards. Regardless, however, of whether I’m optimizing yet another generic ad or working on an exciting strapline for a flashy print campaign, I, like most writers, apply the same passionate approach and professional integrity to every piece of copy that leaves my fingers.

This approach ensures that each piece of work is well written, readable, user-friendly and above all, optimized. But what if other, less noble copywriters turn the tables? What if lazy companies (and those really looking to get the edge on their competitors) cheat to get their advertisements above yours?

In fear of compromising my current employers and incurring libelous accusations from those my words wish to accuse, my illustrations on this point may lack the venom and clarity that they would otherwise achieve in an uncensored and perfect copywriting world. I, like most writers, have bills to pay and until Obama really does save the global economy (Gordon Brown’s not having much luck), I shall illustrate my point anonymously.

I noticed a competitor’s batch of ads had suddenly started appearing above those of my own company – an occurrence that knocked not only the status quo of our business interests, but also my creative ego. Whereas (I’d like to think) my digital copy was optimized, coherent, readable and populated with an appropriate keyword density, these scurrilous ads simply repeated the keyword three or four times every single sentence, to the degree that their copy read like a piece of SEO overkill.

The ink in my pen positively boiling by this point, I was presented with the first ethical copywriting dilemma of my career (drum roll please) – do I sacrifice coherent grammatical structures and flowing language for nonsensical keyword saturation? Do I play my competitors at their own game, resulting in my return to the top of the rankings, yet with significantly poorer English attributed to my name?

In the end, although this is an ongoing issue in my working life, my heart won over my head. I remain digitally battling my enemies of English and although their ‘unethical’ methods may rile the purist within, I take great heart from retaining my literary integrity and staying true to my beloved profession.

(This article was written for and appears on www.writingmafia.com/author/callum)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Why I Write

Followers of my Twitter account will have previously been informed about my recent Orwell purchases from my local second hand book shop. Volumes 1-4 of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters have now been added to my bookshelves and it was with great relish this weekend that I started perusing the tanned, musty pages that evoke such pleasure in book collectors worldwide.

The opening essay, ‘Why I Write’, struck me as particularly fascinating. As I writer myself, why do I write? Orwell lists four reasons why he, and indeed anyone, would write and I thought it interesting to compare with my own.

The first of these he describes as ‘sheer egoism’ – the desire for fame, to be remembered and to get your own back on those who previously snubbed you – “It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one”. Now, I’d like to think that my ego is very much in check, although I can’t deny that I would indeed love to produce some masterpiece that could be held up as an example of contemporary literature, as well as laying siege to those who have doubted me in the past. First blood to Orwell.

Point two is given as ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’ – “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement”. On this point, I concur wholeheartedly. In A-Level History, I was accused by my lecturer (and rightly so) of using poetic and ‘flowery’ language to pad out the word count of a rather dull essay on Germany’s Weimar Republic. I remember it clearly – “This is a wonderfully written essay, beautifully worded; however, it tells me nothing about Weimar Germany.” The ensuing nine years have led to many more similar accusations from readers, employers and lecturers, all I haste to add, fully justified.

Orwell lists the third point as ‘Historical Impulse’ – the desire to see things as they are, find out the true facts and store these for posterity. This point didn’t strike me as immediately applicable, but then why else would one blog about American Presidents, BBC advertising and current affairs that pique my interest? Perhaps on a subconscious level, I too am recording my personal history as I also flex my writing muscles.

The last point Orwell makes in his essay is ‘Political Purpose’. Whilst many will immediately evoke Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ as examples of political writing, he argues that there are underlying politics in every piece of writing, borne out of the society and upbringing of the writer who records it.

I must say, this again, is another valid point. From an inherently bitter view regarding the educational system and its resulting accumulated debt, to the writing I produced as a worker under the oppressive regime of retail dictatorship, my own personal politics play out on the page before me.

So it appears, regarding my own literary ramblings and fanciful writing, that he reasons I write, are indeed, the same cited by Orwell. Whilst every writer wants to believe that they are better than their peers and their reasons for writing are individual when perhaps they are not, I take heart from the fact that my reasons for writing share such prestigious company – now for the bestselling novel…

Friday, 30 January 2009

Apostrophes in peril?

A nice little news article to round off the week - those who know me, as a writer, know of my anal fascination with punctuation, spelling and grammar.

This story caught my eye this morning on the news - apparently a local council in Birmingham are phasing out apostrophe usage on road signs to ensure consistency and save money...

I'm literally literary crying right now - is it 2 L8 b4 R country loses all sense of English???!!!

Something a bit different...

The start of a guerrilla marketing campaign perhaps?

Monday, 26 January 2009



I reside behind glassy eyes,
Their outer veneer and glossy façade,
Shutters drawn down over the world,
And the inner turmoil that resides within.

And I search for a release, an escape,
From the banality of normality,
A relaxation found from intoxication,
And a quiet detachment from reality.

The BBC should be ashamed...

The ‘British Broadcasting Corporation’, iconic beacon of integrity and public service fulfilment, is waking up to a Monday morning full of controversy, politics and protests and rightly so.

Director General Mark Thompson this weekend refused to air a humanitarian appeal for the DEC (Disasters Emergency Commission) on behalf on the thousands of afflicted, homeless and innocent Palestinians living in the Gaza strip.

His reasoning’s, he attempts to explain, is that by advertising this appeal, the BBC would be sacrificing its impartiality that it (allegedly) strives so hard to provide.

Now, this refusal would be fully understandable if Thompson were being asked to broadcast a political advert from Hamas, appealing for supporters in the fight against Israel, just as it would if the shoe was on the other foot. What we’re dealing for here however, is a humanitarian plea to help support the poor afflicted people who have lost their homes, livelihood and families through the effects of a war they didn’t ask for.

This whole affair reeks of the petty and pointless bureaucracy that is increasingly exemplifying British society. These poor civilians already have their lives turned upside-down by the politics of out-of-touch middle-aged men, and now their access to aid is being prevented by yet another out-of-touch, middle-aged man.

I understand that post ‘Sachs-gate’, old Aunty is trying to make sure nothing controversial slips through its production net. (Whoops, did he really say that about Manuel’s daughter?) Thompson, speaking from the corner he has so expertly manoeuvred himself into, also claims that he has no way of knowing that money donated through the BBC would get to the correct recipients. Call me cynical, but this wasn’t exactly a problem when the BBC was ‘fixing’ children’s competitions and still inviting kids to text in at a credit crunch busting £1 a text. Hhmm.

Rightly or wrongly, the Israeli / Palestinian conflict shows no signs of abating any time soon. As a public service broadcaster with its entire ethos focused around that very notion of ‘public service’, Thompson needs to realise that the BBC has a duty to serve the wider international public, using its international visibility and influence as a vehicle for good rather than bleating on about this prolonged Jonathan Ross affair.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Creative Writing - 'Displacement'...

The wind howled and bit like a dog, the canine comparison apt, as the ferocity of the weather whipped around the cold platform like a beast let loose from the banks of Hades. The man standing at the railway station pulled the collar of his thin coat higher up, burying his face into the small neckline to try and keep the bitter cold away from his exposed flesh.

He broke momentarily from his overdramatic reverie and turned to his right, looking at the mindless throngs of commuters that were spilling onto the platform. Increasing by the minute, it seemed as if the cold glass world of sleep had been broken and the mass of people congregating on this cold platform was the blood oozing out from the night’s solitude and warming society up again for another day of pointless existence.

The daily commute. How he despised fighting and jostling with a mass of mindless public, although the irony of these feelings were not lost to him. As he looked around, he knew that all these people were probably feeling just like him, loathing being part of a faceless crowd and yet as individual and human as he was himself.

As the train pulled in and he fought his way onto the train, he wondered how he always ended up crammed into a tiny corner next to someone with a huge bag, their music playing loudly through cheap headphones, or inconsiderate phone users bleating monotonously about their mundane lives.

The train pulled out of the station slowly, the engine juddering and jerking, almost as if in resigned defeat. He kept his head down, staring at the floor and the multitude of feet around him. His job was becoming unbearable. This wasn’t the life he had planned for himself when he had plunged innocently into the world of work after graduating.

He looked up for a moment and glanced around at all the placid and neutral faces staring bleakly into their own little worlds. Probably none of these people felt any joy. Why were they doing it? They were just part of the system, not bothering to fight their situations, but accepting the facts and getting on with it like good little citizens.

He stared back down at the floor, worrying once again about possible redundancies at the company and how the hell he would manage to pay his rent, what he’d say to his girlfriend, the one thing he could care about, if he lost his job. How he’d possibly find more work in an economy that was on its knees.

His stomach was in knots and he hadn’t slept for two days. He’d never felt such displacement in all of his life.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama hysteria - founded or fickle?

To miss out on Barrack Obama’s presidential inauguration yesterday, you’d have to have been living under a rock or alternatively, in a cave – (did Osama watch Obama?) – such was the global interest in this momentous historical event.

Literary license and juxtaposed jokes aside, the event was clearly one of those iconic moments that future generations will look back on and those of us who tuned in will be able to recall where we were, with whom and what we were doing. Such are the advances in technology and media, I was in fact watching the inauguration on a projector at work with 35 colleagues, through a live Internet feed – this presidential election has been a ‘first’ in more ways than one.

But I digress. The overwhelming hysteria surrounding this election, whilst of paramount social, racial and historical importance, seems to momentarily mask what in actual fact, is a job, and a tough one at that. My personal views aside, (I genuinely believe that Obama is a man of integrity, democratic ideals and a peaceful visionary) we need to remember that once the celebrations die down, work begins.

Clearly an educated and capable politician, Obama is nonetheless inheriting an economy that is on its knees, ongoing legacies of two wars, a continued threat of terrorism and significant social problems - factors that are not exclusive to his country by any means at all.

All I hope to ask is that whilst the world is celebrating the social significance of this historical election, real issues are not lost amidst the celebrity and celebrations. Popularity of politicians and those in the public eye has the ability to turn on a dime – I am of course, lovingly ‘coining’ a phrase in honour of our transatlantic cousins here.

I just hope that the global faith invested in this one man remains as resolute and concrete as his own resolve to make this world a much better place. God bless Barrack.

Perhaps this post takes the proverbial...

My obviously overbearing yet frequently flimsy use of accurate alliteration (not to mention my penchant for constant bracket usage) are literary liabilities that need to be stopped in their tiresome tracks. (Perhaps next post will bring new nuances...)

Monday, 19 January 2009

Digital books? No thank you!!!

As an avid brand evangelist for all things Penguin-related (the books, not the chocolate bars), it’s natural that I should be a subscriber to the company’s blog. Courtesy of an RSS feed straight into my work inbox (the wonders of Web 2.0) my attentions were momentarily distracted from banal tasks and turned to the issues of new publishing technologies and more importantly, the ramifications for books in their current pulpy format.

The increasing shift of everything to digital platforms is nothing new – the ease of illegal data distribution and online file-sharing has been a key factor in the decline of physical music sales over the past few years and has surely driven a huge metaphorical nail into the music industry as we know it. Whilst music purists may lament the demise of limited edition 7” singles and rare disc artwork, literary advocates have been sitting relatively safe – until now.

As Penguin explain, the extinction of the book still remains a long way off, however the publishing industry, like many others, faces many challenges in these digitally-driven times (http://thepenguinblog.typepad.com/the_penguin_blog/2009/01/bookcamped.html).

As an avid book collector and literary enthusiast, the possibility of book banishment and paper persecution terrifies me, as I’m sure my alarming use of alliteration also does you. Apart from the centuries of knowledge and shared learning that has been exemplified in the passing down of beautifully inscribed books, the collector in me fears for the loss of a very real passion.

The advent of machines such as e-readers, where thousands of volumes can be stored electronically and read in the palm of the hand, whilst undoubtedly beneficial in some repsects, are simply no match for the original thing.

The feeling, for instance, when one is browsing through a second-hand bookshop and uncovers a first edition of a favourite author, or the feeling of wonderment one gets when perusing the pages of an intricately illustrated Victorian medical volume.

The philanthropic implications for digitally producing and distributing literature are enormous – imagine a world where everyone has access to all works of literature and can share cultural experiences. However, nothing will ever compare to the feeling of leafing through a rare proof edition or an antique periodical, breathing in the age-old ink and dust along with the centuries of tradition and knowledge that make books such an integral part of global culture and human civilisation.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

This recession isn't all bad...

The media has been up to its usual tricks once again, convincing everyone that this ‘credit crunch’ (oh, how I detest the word – it’s a R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N) is a bad thing. But if you take the time to scratch the surface, it’s really not that bad.

Good things to come out of the recession? One thing is most definitely the influx of meal deal vouchers that various high street chains are issuing faster than you can say ‘panic marketing strategy’. (Especially good if you still have a bit of spending money left in your dilapidated wallet – disposable income – remember that?)

Another fantastic result of the farcical economic situation is the demise of Estate Agents. Apparently, corporate Mini-driving London buffoons ‘Foxtons’ are in very real trouble, with recent results showing that they’re selling less houses than Northern Rock are selling mortgages – ouch.

Now before you all start accusing me of being a heartless writer who’s chronicling the demise of Estate Agents to fill a blog post and raise a few laughs, (what about the human interest angle – all those Estate Agents out of work?) – let me remind you that to qualify as a human interest story, those in question have to be human.

The greasy, unethical, incompetent, liars that form the Estate Agents population, fail to register (on my radar anyway) as human. I have NEVER had a pleasant experience with an estate agent, have spent hours of my own time chasing them up following reams and reams of consistent lies, inadequacies and general balls-ups and find their unhelpful attitude a complete contradiction to what ‘service industry’ employees should be like.

The age-old phrase ‘chickens coming home to roost’ springs to mind here, and for once, I am the cock (so to speak) that is crowing.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Racist Royals?

So once again, a member of our ‘diplomatic’ and ‘modern’ Royal Family has appeared on the front pages of daily rags up and down the country, accused of making an inappropriate remark to a member of Britain’s ethnic community.

No, Prince Philip hasn’t been up to his usual tricks meeting and greeting ‘Johnny Foreigners’ – the bigoted buffoon has handed the stupid remarks baton to his grandson, third in line to the throne, Prince ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ Harry.

Now, I of all people detest the monolithic bandwagon that is ‘political correctness’. Good ol’ Harry has already said, regarding the incident in question, that he was referring to a friend with a term of affection, which is easily believed.

Living in London, one soon picks up friends from all walks of life and from several different national backgrounds. Those closest to me enjoy some good old fashioned banter that I’m sure the ‘PC Police’ would easily misconstrue as ‘risqué’, whether racial, ageist or sexist, but the point I make is just that – it’s banter.

I have an ambivalent attitude towards the Royal Family – whilst I disagree with the undemocratic nature of landed privilege, I’m also a bit of a stickler for tradition, Rule Britannia and all that, even if she has been forcibly removed from our 50 pence pieces – bah humbug!

So for once, I’m making a stand for Prince Harry. It can’t be easy growing up in the public eye, especially when you’re continually derided for things as trivial as this ‘racism’ business. Let’s leave the sensationalism of banal issues to the tabloids and their illiterate editorial teams. This whole issue is much more ‘breeze in a thimble’ than the storm in a teacup the low-brow media has hyped it up to be.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Football vs Classics

When one thinks of the average football fan and their common interests with fellow followers of the beautiful game, high-brow literature is surely not a notion that immediately, if at all, the mind entertains. However, as I read another few chapters of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ the other night, enjoying classical literature as much as I do playing and watching football, the apparent comparisons struck me as unbelievably obvious.

To start with, the ‘Iliad’, and indeed a large proportion of classical texts, contain two famous sides pitted against each other and prepared to battle for an ultimate prize. Whilst there is luckily no mortal combat involved in today’s football matches (surely the number of substitutions would need to be raised if this were the case), huge matches are indeed, two high-profile powers clashing to claim some much-publicised spoils.

The heroes of yesteryear’s Homeric prose – Diomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, Hector and Menelaus for example, were all famed warriors, revered and celebrated by their relevant followers for their skill, accomplishments and talent. Similarly, football superstars such as Ronaldo, Gerrard, Lampard and Fabregas are likewise championed by their respective clans for the very same attributes.

And again, ancient warfare relied on immense tactical skill, courage and cleverness in order to win battles – all concepts that the modern day football manager must employ successfully if he is to win the match, along with the allegiance of his team’s followers. So why is it that classical texts and football are considered mutually exclusive? Surely Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger et al could learn a thing or two by perusing the ‘Iliad’s’ ancient pages…

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Conversing with a stranger...

This is an official address to all of those Londoners who remain bleak and pessimistic regarding the sociability of our capital’s occupants – myself included. Like a solitary candle that burns brightly to shed light on the most darkest of recesses, a single act of friendliness and mutual human sociability can serve to once again, restore one’s faith in the existence of our social abilities.

‘Twas in the pub this afternoon, (last week’s overused grammatical tick was alliteration – this week it’s ‘Olde English’) watching the football match on offer, perched on a stool on my own. After a few jars of ale and a few markedly animated gestures at the referee on the screen before me, I began to strike up a conversation with the chap seated next to me.

Whereas London society normally dictates a ‘heads down, no eye contact, please don’t speak to me’ mode of contact (especially when public transport is concerned), the relationships between solitary men in the pub can somewhat, pleasingly, differ. The gentlemen next to me, from a writer’s perspective, was a beautiful specimen to describe.

Old, white-hair scraped back into a ponytail, white beard, lines on a face that tell a thousand different stories and a continual pint of Guinness well on the go, I started to converse with this gentleman on a number of football related matters. Despite the enjoyed conversation and discussion on our mutually supported team, this afternoon’s incident served so much more than an enjoyable natter over a beer.

It warmed me to sit in an East End boozer and strike up a conversation with an unknown stranger without being ridiculed / heckled / shot / stabbed / berated. Maybe the human race is going to be alright after all…

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Cold cold cold moon...

...that said (that being the previous post) this evening has thrown up the most incredible full moon, the vividness of which is actually quite breathtaking and also humbling...

Cold cold cold...

Forgive me dear reader, for all too easily jumping on the bandwagon known as uninspired and inane conversation, but this arctic weather that is holding Britain in its icy, vice-like grip, is quite simply getting too much now.

I’m sat in my flat typing this with my hat on my head, cursing the limited heating options that this flat, and my current bank balance, offers.

The flat’s two ‘storage’ heaters store nothing except for the copious quantities of dust that this flat seems to accumulate (which I must add, is remarkable) and the soap on the windowsill above my kitchen sink has actually now frozen into some form of scented jelly creation.

The two wall-mounted electric heaters can generally kick out a degree of warmth when coaxed, however the effect their usage has on the electricity bill, and consequentially my beer fund, is enough to persuade me to don extra socks and a thicker jumper before depleting my limited bank balance further still.

It amuses me that in six months, when Britain is no doubt experiencing a three-day heat-wave, I shall almost look back to this cold snap with nostalgically-tinted glasses on. Until then however, I shall remain quintessentially British and continue to practice the national habit of complaining about the weather every single day – it’s cold.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Please just be quiet and let me read!!!

As is usual on a weeknight, I was manacled into my usual corner of a London Overground train, my 55 minute journey home served under worse conditions than European bureaucrats allow for the transportation of farm animals. Preferable as it is to be heading to work as opposed to a slaughterhouse (however work in the current economic clime might seem), I still envy these animals that travel in comparative space and luxury.

Over-dramatised gripe aside, one of the only pleasures in an otherwise pleasureless bi-daily occurrence is that I can suit down and read solidly for a while, even if I seem to attract elbow pushing, space invading fellow passengers on the seat next to me. I certainly enjoyed vigorously consuming Orwell’s ‘Coming Up For Air’ this week (see previous post) and have now moved onto ‘Women’ by Charles Bukowski – a contrast in literary style that could not be more marked, the book buffs amongst you will note.

Shoved in my usual corner by the window at the back of the carriage, I opened up my book after a really busy day at work and started to relax as I read about Bukowski’s adventures with the fairer sex, shortly to be joined by three of the same next to me.

Now this is where things got irritating. These three women did nothing but talk loudly and moan and nag at each other for practically the entire journey, every word disrupting my concentration and spoiling my evening literary pleasure. Yes, I'm fully aware that I sound like a grumpy old man, yes, I’m aware that people are entitled to converse when journeying on public transport but damn it! Why is it always next to me?!

Unfortunately, the train journey I travel on is a dilapidated route, where things such as ‘quiet carriages’, ‘personal space’ and toilets are left on the management’s ‘to do’ list. Am I alone in my desire for a quiet reading carriage? Will the reading masses revolt in an explosion of fury as a final chapter is spoiled by the regaling of an office affair that the other sixty people on the carriage really aren’t interested in? If you ever hear of an incident like this on London transport, chances are you won’t have to look further than my direction!

Coming up for air...

Having decided to continue consuming the paperbacks that line my bookshelves before adding to an ever-increasing book collection with new purchases, George Orwell's 'Coming Up For Air' was my first book of 2009. I've long been an admire of Orwell's writing, and whilst many people simply associate the great man with '1984' and 'Animal Farm', it's easy to forget that he wrote so many other equally impressive pieces of literature.

'Coming Up For Air' documents the childhood reminiscences of the fictional George Bowling, set off by his increasing apathy towards life and the impending doom of the Second World War. As he recounts the way in which England has changed since his childhood, he launches into an idyllic reflection of an English country upbringing and its difference to the life he now lives; stuck in the nine-to-five rat-trap, stuck with financial and marital obligations, stuck in the decline of society.

Bowling resolves to revisit the town of his childhood, 'coming up for air' as he attempts to recapture the England that seems so lost to him now. Whereas one might hope that to some degree he finds it, those familiar with Orwellian novels will realise that this mission is futile, and Bowling is left even more disillusioned and dejected with modern life than ever before.

What particularly struck me, beautifully, was the timing of my reading this book; 2009 is supposed to be a foreboding year full of continued economic doom and turmoil, whilst we nostalgically yearn for the good times of yesteryear - a book written in 1939 and just as relevant today.

In addition to this however, 'Coming Up For Air' spends the majority of its 232 pages regaling a gloriously romantic view of England lost - a poignant account that at the same time as pulling the heart strings of every Englishman reading it, also raises a marked sadness at the loss of the simple way of life that most of us dream of.