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 (

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.