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March 2004

31st March




My spy in the publishing world Anyacat brought to my attention today one of the more unlikely stories about mutual favourite song-and-dance man Bob Dylan - he's now putting his name (and that of one of his albums) to a wine (as opposed to a whine, ho ho!). "‘Planet Waves’ 2002 is a blend of 75% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 25% Merlot," reports Wine International. Anyacat originally found the story in today's Guardian, but it now seems to have disappeared from their archives, and along with it a comment from either the winemaker Antonio Terni or some other bacchic pundit to the effect that the wine's character is "unpredictable, like Dylan himself". You mean it's, like, velvet one night and paint-stripper the next? At £35 a bottle I expect more consistency, frankly. And it all does have rather tannic overtones of Dame Cliff Richard's similar foray into vinery a few years ago, and even Paul Newman's Newman's Own brand of salad dressings, pasta sauce and now even popcorn, for Chrissakes. At this rate, maybe this time next year I'll be spreading Bobalade on my toast in the morning.



25th March


Venerable former madam Cynthia Payne writes a (mostly unintentionally) hilarious article today in the Guardian about the Belle de Jour phenomenon. Writes Dame Cyn: "I think this is filth, and I certainly don't want to be associated with it. I was never involved in anything like this. In my day, we did it the proper way - £25 without extras, food and drink, and a choice of ladies. We knocked off £5 for old age pensioners and we charged men half-price if they were past it, and just fancied watching. We had a high-class clientele - no rowdy kids, no yobs, all well-dressed men in suits, who knew how to respect a lady. You had to be at least 45 to come to one of my parties. It was like a vicar's tea party with sex thrown in - that is how my biographer, Paul Bailey, described it. Terry Jones, who directed Personal Services, the film about my life, and was a witness for the defence when I was acquitted in court of running a disorderly house, said my parties (which he had attended in the name of research) were very genial - a lot of elderly, lonely people drinking sherry." Alan Bennett couldn't have put it better himself... another one for TC's "only in England" collection, methinks.



23rd March


Further to my entry on the 21st about not attending the anti-war march in London, Fionacat (one of TC's virtual aunties and an occasional contributor to the blog) writes with the following comments:


Dear Richard,


I read your review of the Independent's report on Saturday's anti-war march which was of interest to me as myself and Johncat decided at the last minute (about 11 on Saturday morning) to go. I saw the latest marches not so much as demands to stop the occupation but more as a way to mark the first anniversary of the invasion. (I'm sure there will be more, anniversaries I mean, but maybe also invasions.)

There were I suppose 20,000 to 30,000 people there, I don't believe for an instant the Stop the War Coalition's own estimate of 100,000. The police figure was 25,000 but even that was I thought quite respectable really considering. I hadn't expected that many.
I take your point about feeling disappointed and disillusioned that no heed had been taken of all last years marches and demos, including the 'mighty' marches of February and therefore yet another one wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. You are right that it, and any others there may yet be, probably won't make any difference but I'm not at all disappointed or disillusioned simply because I had no illusions in the first place, and never thought that even the millions that came out all over the world last February and March would actually make Blair and Bush cease and desist from actually going ahead with the invasion and occupation. I simply didn't expect them to pay the slightest heed except in the sneering, negative way they did, to the will of the people. It constantly surprises me that people thought and still think, that they would. Journalists and commentators and dissenting politicians are still calling for the coalition to get out of Iraq and for Bush, Blair et al to listen to them and do the right thing, it's not going to happen. The bases are going in and one way or another the 'coalition' will be there for the long haul, or at least until the oil runs out.

Anyway, however many we were last Saturday we packed Trafalgar Square and the area immediately around it, we'd marched from Hyde Park this time. There were the usual speakers saying the usual things, including a very strong and moving speech from the widow of the Al Jazeera journalist killed on the roof of the Palestinian Hotel during the initial bombing. And also statements by four school girls who were instrumental in getting the school students involved last year. Entertainment was provided by Nigel Kennedy. Did you see the sneering way the 'Observer' referred to him by the way? And to the marchers in general in fact. From its report I really think there can't have been anybody from the paper actually there. He was great, playing first a Bach sonata and after that, for the Palestinians, a haunting Arabic folk tune. It was amplifed of course and from where we stood not at all distorted, which it could have been. He sounded like a whole orchestra of violins!

I still think it was/is worthwhile turning out occasionally just to take a stand, and who knows all those of us who turned out last year and the many more who disapproved of the whole enterprise *might* have acted as a kind of brake on some of the excesses of the invaders. Maybe it would have been more brutal otherwise, or maybe they'd have gone into other oily countries by now and maybe there might have been more terrorist outrages than there have been. Can't say for sure, but there well could have been hidden influences and hesitations owing to the huge amount of protest that there was.



21st March


US-based Brit journalist and author Sarah Champion writes in the Observer today about her bizarre (and mistaken) "outing" as the author of Belle de Jour, the explicit "weblog of a London call-girl" in the news recently for garnering its real author a big publishing deal. The Times famously, er, "uncovered" Champion this week, printing a (rather unflattering) photo of her on their front page. But how did they suss her out? "'Your commas gave you away,' a mysterious one-line email from the Times man teased me," she writes. "Only when the paper hit the streets did I discover what he meant. It was all down to punctuation. And a team of journalists who, like Agent Mulder, desperately wanted to believe. The Times [had] recruited 'the world's foremost literary sleuth' to the cause - Professor Don Foster, or 'Doctor Comma', as he quickly became known in my household. Daft as it sounds, merely to discover the identity of a blogger the paper had gone to the extremes of hiring a New York academic described as the world's number one 'textual Ghostbuster', an expert previously brought in to study Monica Lewinsky's writings..." I don't know what's more surprising here, the Times hack's ridiculous behaviour or the revelation that Monica Lewinsky actually wrote something.




Elsewhere in the Observer today an experimental theatre group is reported to be looking for a dead body to star in a new play about, well, death. "The production, called Dead: You Will Be, which is being put together by 1157performancegroup, will run for 24 nights in mid-May and will be staged inside a warehouse studio in Hackney, east London. Tickets will be available to the public and the directors are not anticipating legal problems since, they say, the law only prevents dead bodies from being dissected in public and they plan simply to put the cadaver on display." This is all in terribly bad taste. Apart from being a totally spurious publicity stunt, they of all people should know how many unemployed actors there are out there who would be more than happy to play dead for a couple of hours a night for a few quid. You can imagine the directions: "Roger love, you don't look quite dead enough. Can you corpse a little more for me?"




The Independent today has a report on yesterday's anti-war marches in London and around the world a year on from the mighty pre-war protests on 15th February 2003. I have to say I wasn't there this time, although it looks from the article as if quite a few previous protesters like myself didn't see the point. I'm not cynical about the power of protest but I am disillusioned and disappointed by the fact that those original marches weren't heeded by the very people who claim the defence of democracy to be the reason they went to war in the first place.


Another article in the IoS has the following interesting observations on the "inevitable" terrorist attack on London that the big guns (no pun intended) have been banging on about (ditto) for months: "Given these fears, why are the authorities making such apparently alarmist statements? For any Londoner who lived through the Blitz or the Cold War, when scores of nuclear missiles were targeted at the capital, or the IRA campaigns from the 1970s onwards, when huge bombs devastated parts of the City and Docklands, explosive devices and incendiaries were left on the Tube and in shops, and six people - including three policemen - were killed by a car bomb outside Harrods, today's reactions might seem somewhat hysterical. Even in the capital, let alone the market towns of Middle England, the chances of any individual being caught up in a terror attack remain minimal." Although this sounds callous, when you work in London as I do it's the only way to look at the issue.




Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was famously absent from the Chancellor's Budget speech in parliament this week, only a few months after missing an equally big Gordon Brown speech on the Euro referendum. These mysterious disappearances have given rise to much speculation about Kennedy's health, enthusiasm and "ability to do the job". The Independent today profiles the maverick Kennedy thus: "Even his bad habits - his heavy smoking, his David Bowie record collection [meow! - TC], his reputation prior to his marriage 18 months ago to Sarah Gurling as a ladies' man and his fondness for Scotch whisky - have contributed to his public image as a rounded human being. While Tony Blair looks like an artificial construct, Kennedy seems real, if flawed." Yes, he does, but I really hope, as someone who doesn't want to vote either Labour or Tory at the next election, that he knows what he's doing. There's never been a better time than now for the Lib Dems - who opposed the war in Iraq - to capitalise on both the deep lack of trust the British public now has in Tony Blair and its fears of returning to the old Thatcheresque ways with Michael Howard.


Incidentally, it was only last week that I found out Kennedy was a heavy smoker. It's not a big issue to me especially but it is unusual in public life these days. I guess Kennedy picked a good party to be the heavily-smoking leader of, though - nobody can complain if he turns everything nicotine-yellow, can they? (Even more incidentally, rumours that Thoughtcat's recent face-lift was inspired by the design and colours of the Lib Dem website are completely unfounded.)



20th March


A review of Hans Blix's fine new book Disarming Iraq in today's Guardian Review contains an unexpected treasure: apparently when he visited Tony Blair at Chequers early in 2003, he was served crumpets, which he was so taken by that he describes them as "like knighted muffins". It's a shame that that turned out to be his best experience of British diplomacy in the whole sorry issue, but at least he got a tasty metaphor out of it. Incidentally, anyone interested in finding out more about crumpets should be wary of looking up the search term on Google Images. You never know what you might find...




Today's Guardian also has a Dr Seuss Cat in the Hat competition/quiz. My feline reputation lays in tatters following my total inability to get any of the questions right (being a Brit, I wasn't brought up on green eggs, ham and such) but I know from my web stats that a fair few readers are from the US, so you guys might have more luck in winning the Dr Seuss-flavoured prize.






As you've no doubt now discovered, the Thoughtcat weblog (i.e. what you're reading now) has been moved from the main Thoughtcat home page to this page of its own,, while what used to be the main blog address ( is now a general introduction to all things Thoughtcatular, which now extends to several sites and over 60,000 words of content. Please therefore adjust your bookmarkings accordingly.



19th March


Argh! I was wrong all along... the Independent does have an online version of its letters page after all, which can be accessed at  The series of excellent missives on the Tony Blair despatch box controversy can be viewed at the bottom of most of the pages linked from this main page. The correspondence may have fizzled out now but 'twas alive and well yesterday, with the following contribution from one Nick Hewes from Hull:


Tide of history

Sir: It is now quite obvious that the inscription (letter, 17 March) is a misspelling of "Tony Blair is a Cnut", a reference to the Prime Minister's repeated attempts to repel the rapidly approaching tide of electoral nemesis, following his ghastly misjudgement over Iraq.


Seriously I hope nobody has been offended by this thread. The word in question is not one I use in general conversation and I truly apologise if (excuses cont. p.94)



17th March


Top marks to the Guardian today for a brilliant Flash animation poking fun at Chancellor Gordon Brown's 2004 Budget. Gord of the Rings presents Gordon and his colleagues and adversaries as characters from Tolkien: "Deep in the heart of Middle England the shadow of Mount Doom's budget black hole is growing bigger," runs the text on the first page. "Only Gordon and his golden rule can save the Fellowship..." The final frame is the best of the lot.




And talking of fantasy fiction, it's great to see JK Rowling has finally won an "adult" prize for a Harry Potter book in the form of a WH Smith People's Choice Book Award. "Unabashed adult Harry Potter fans are very, very dear to my heart," she commented after picking up a cheque for £5,000. God knows she needs the cash!



16th March


I've still had no luck trying to find onlinular evidence of the Independent's original printed story about the Tony Blair-insult-carved-into-despatch-box revelation from last week. However, the letters page today features the following superb contribution to the debate which, because the Indie still has no online version of its letters page (unlike most other newspaper sites) I am obliged to reproduce in scanned format...


Letter about Tony Blair Commons graffiti in The Independent


I still think it's too good to be true, though. Maybe it's all a mass hallucination brought on by 94 solid years of Blairism?



15th March


The Guardian printed an edited version of my letter from yesterday, and it (along with several others about Madrid and terrorism in general) can be read here. The Independent didn't print my letter to them, but they did print several other much better ones, including the following which I think just about sums it all up:


Sir, If our leaders actively wanted to promote and succour terrorism, they could not be doing a better job. In the wake of the hideous events in Madrid we hear politicians intoning that "terrorism is now the greatest threat in the world today". It is not, and the millions of innocents dying daily from filthy water, real wars, AIDS and preventable diseases can tell you why. To call it the "greatest threat" gives the bombers the destabilising platform they crave, and spuriously justifies "security" policies which the Bush administration and others like it would find impossible to impose any other way... If Bush et al consistently referred to 9/11, Bali and Madrid as "criminal acts" and dealt with them accordingly, the world might be on the way to containing the threat, instead of gibbering in its shoes. Millions of angry Spanish demonstrators seem to know this better than the rest of us, and I salute them for it.

Charles Dawson, Jevington, East Sussex




Meanwhile, further to the story of the anti-Blair insult carved into the House of Commons despatch box, I have had a couple of emails from US-based TC readers asking for more information about said box. Basically it's an old wooden box at which the prime minister and other cabinet members stand to address the House, and where they keep texts of speeches and answers to tabled questions (or, in Blair's case, a copy of Roger the Dodger's 1001 Dodges for PM's Question Time). Here are a couple of useful photos:


House of Commons chamber (despatch box arrowed)


House of Commons debating chamber (despatch box arrowed).


Gordon Brown at the despatch box (arrowed)


Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown standing at the despatch box (arrowed again).


Those looking for even more info, such as history and all that, should go to the comprehensive UK parliament site, in particular its page on the House of Commons.






Oh God, he's done it again. In his capacity as poet laureate, Andrew Motion has written an ode to England rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson. A Song for Jonny however is one of the worst bloody poems this side of Vogsphere. Okay, so he calls it a song, which might let it off the poetry hook a bit (that is unless you're familiar with the magnificent work of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen), but it's not even much of a song, i.e. something that can actually be sung by terraces of proud fans. I mean, how drunk would you have to be to get your tongue round the meter of this (let alone remember it?) "O Jonny the power of your boot / And the accurate heart-stopping route / Of your goal as it ghosts / Through Australian posts / Is a triumph we gladly salute." Come on, Andrew. If it's not a contradiction in terms, will the real Motion please stand up? (please stand up, please stand up! etc ad eminem).



14th March


Regular Thoughtcateers (and I know there are a few of you) may be interested to know that I have now installed a "chat" room (geddit??) for discussion of current affairs, books and the arts, favourite people, miscellaneous thoughts and sundry cats. I may not always be in myself for a chinwag but I will endeavour to indicate when I am, and in any case the room (courtesy of is always open. Click here to drop in - it's good to talk...




Like everyone else, I was sickened by the recent events in Madrid. This morning I sent the following letters to, respectively, the Guardian and Independent:


Dear Sir, While Tony Blair continues to bang on about weapons of mass destruction (even when he's "trying to draw a line under the issue"), terrorists are killing hundreds at a stroke with mobile phones and rucksacks. What chance do innocent civilians stand against that level of technology?


Yours etc.


Dear Sir, It is outrageous for Tony Blair to say in response to the Madrid bombings, "we must be prepared for [terrorists] to strike whenever and however they can" (14th March). Far from defending democracy - or, heaven forbid, apologising to the people who elected him for putting them in the front line of his own war on terror - he is, in effect, conscripting the general public to be the official footsoldiers in that war. There is no justification for a single person, either here or in Spain, paying the ultimate price for the foreign policies of our governments which millions of us opposed, and still do.


Yours etc.



13th March


Today's Guardian Review features two fabulous articles which entertained, informed and inspired me in equal measure. First, a piece on the mysterious process of writing by one Jim Dodge, whom I'd never heard of, in which the author of a book called Stone Junction waxes lyrical about the unearthly level of concentration required for great writing - one which is "so ferocious and total that you seem to disappear". This idea is reminiscent of Pablo Neruda's lines from his poem We Are Many which I often find going through my head: "While I’m writing, I am far away; and when I come back, I’ve gone." As Dodge continues, tongue half in cheek: "While the writer has surrendered his or her imagination to the story, some part [of him] must still make, by my careful count, 257 exquisitely difficult aesthetic decisions per second about diction, usage, sonics, punctuation, and a few hundred other craft choices required for coherence, compatibility and clarity. If you have to stop to wonder whether a semicolon is called for, or if a Mountie would use the expression 'Your brain is like baked, dude' in 1934, your pure concentration on the story flowing through what used to be you is shattered." It's a beautifully-written piece and it made me want to go and investigate Stone Junction without further delay. The other article is a fantastic two-page essay on the work of Patrick Hamilton by Dan Rhodes, author of one of TC's favourite books, Anthropology. Although I knew Hitchcock's film of Hamilton's play Rope, I hadn't heard of his "magnificent" 1929 comic novel The Midnight Bell, but Rhodes's obsessive love of it (as well as its relationshipular subject matter and Hobanesque London setting) made me, for the second time in half an hour, want to go out and buy it immediately, and I can't remember the last time I read an appreciation of someone else's work which made me feel that way. Sadly it turns out that the novel is now out of print, but Amazon are doing copies of the book as part of a trilogy with the beautiful title Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky with a 4-5 week delivery date. As DR says, "As long as there are men left on earth, legions of us will be falling in love with women who don't even particularly like us, let alone love us, and we will thoroughly disgrace ourselves in front of them. Every once in a while one of us will break ranks and decide to share our ignominy with the world by writing thinly veiled autobiographical fiction about it, but what really sets The Midnight Bell apart from its innumerable likenesses is the incredible humour leaping from every page. The overwhelming majority of Miserable Man writing takes itself far too seriously but, for all its horrors, in Hamilton's novel the gags come thick and fast." Something to aspire to, I feel...


Meanwhile, I am definitely not providing a link to Chuck Palahniuk's stomach-churning short story Guts which inexplicably appears in the Guardian Weekend magazine today accompanied by about fifteen (rather disingenuous) health warnings. Click instead on this much nicer and more Thoughtcat-friendly article about black cats.




Was I dreaming the other day, or did I read in the Independent and at least one other major national paper (I think it was the Daily Mail, which I hasten to add I was leafing through in a purely professional capacity) that someone sneaked into the chamber of the House of Commons earlier this week and carved a four-letter protest against Tony Blair onto the despatch box? I'm sure this wasn't just wishful thinking on my part, but trying to find the story on newspapers' websites a few days after the event is proving very difficult. The only virtual organ with real guts seems to be The Scotsman, and even then it doesn't print the offending word in its entirety. This is understandable, but what confuses me is that the Independent apparently did print the word asterisk-free in its original report, as I could swear I remember reading in my semi-dreamlike state yesterday a letter from a reader saying something to this effect: "I don't expect to read in a responsible national newspaper that the words 'Tony Blair is a cunt' have been carved into the Commons despatch box. Don't you know there's an Official Secrets Act?" All trace of the story now seems to have been eradicated from the Indie's site, but even more odd is that the Guardian doesn't appear to have run the story at all, despite having no qualms about printing this item about a controversial Channel 4 advert next week which uses the word in question 9 times in 90 seconds.




Spammers' methods of getting round anti-spam software are becoming increasingly creative, something I find surprising given the basic brainlessness of the whole unsolicited email enterprise (is there a single person left in the world who could really be fooled by any of this rubbish?) Spam-filter-baffling strings of purely random words are being usurped, it seems, by a (reasonably) intelligent surrealist prose generator of some kind, as I found today from this very disturbing short story which came free with my 94,000th offer of "v1**aagg%%rraa*". William S. Borroughs, eat your heart out...


His bluish tv prepare for fight. A given white omprella stares and the red house makes sound as soon as any well-crafted house arrives. Our beautiful well-crafted shining bluish silver underwares run at the place that mine hairy caw stares. Her daughters fancy fancy tall clock got an idea however, a given green little pensil spit at the place that our silver t-shirt is on fire or maybe his round-shaped baby walks and perhaps their smart magazine fidgeting. A given silver well-crafted stupid slopy door looks around. Any green carpet arrives however, his green baby adheres. Our expensive golden slopy t-shirt stares and a red mobile phone walks as soon as the odd shaped purple car stares. A given purple camera is thinking. A round camera got an idea. Whose golden door looks around and perhaps the small white round-shaped glove smells. His beautiful tall soda calculates. Their silver caw stinks. Mine well-crafted glove calculates at the place that a red glove run as soon as his slopy wine is on fire. A round-shaped glove got an idea or her daughters noisy glasses falls. His green carpet is thinking. Our purple baby arrives or her daughters green glove sleeps. Whose purple table snores. Whose well-crafted soda is angry and perhaps mine silver t-shirt calms-down. A hairy smart smart bed stares.


Terrifying stuff. Give that computer a publishing deal immediately!


Incidentally, in my research for random surrealism generators I found a fascinating site run by a young British programmer resident in Australia who goes under the nom-de-tech of Ravenblack. His huge home page is well worth a visit, not least for his Random Surreal Shakespeare Quote Generator, which produces such gems as "Is this a triangle which I see before me, the lover toward my poppadum? Come, let me predict the weather using thee..."


Click here for more from Thoughtcat's spam collection.


11th March


A surreal story in today's Independent reports that an army of French anti-advertising activists have been hauled up in court for defacing billboard ads throughout Paris. "Large gangs of protesters, obeying directions posted on the 'anti-pub' internet site, had been descending on Metro stations and tearing down or scribbling over the posters. They said they were protesting against, among other things, the commercialisation of public space, brainless consumerism and sexism in advertising. Since the police raid, the protesters have continued their campaign, but in smaller, more secretive groups. Scarcely a poster on any Metro station in central Paris is now free of a scribbled message such as 'le pub tue' or 'le pub pue' (ads kill or ads stink.)"



10th March


Last night I tuned into Channel 4's new Brat Camp documentary series, which follows six "badly-behaved" British teenagers sent to the eponymous boot-camp-for-kids in the Utah desert, and emerged rather disturbed by what I saw. It wasn't just the silly new-age names of the camp managers (let's face it, "Stone Bear" isn't that much sillier than his real name, Joshua D. Mendenhall), or the faintly fascist overtones of the camp's philosophy which bothered me (the kids have to ask permission to do anything, even go to the toilet; they all have to wear a uniform; all their earrings and piercings, and just about anything else signifying their individuality, have to be removed, much to their distress). All that was bad but not nearly as bad as the parent who introduced her son, without irony (I doubt she knew the meaning of the word), as "our little shit". How does she expect him to show her any respect when she talks about him like that? That teenager was in fact one of the more well-adjusted of the six, if rather spoilt - the others just seemed very unhappy, which was by far the most upsetting thing of all to watch. Hey, parents - instead of spending thousands on sending your kid to a US brainwashing camp, in itself a pretty sorry reflection on your humanity, why not just try talking to him or her, find out why they're unhappy and do something about it between you? Was it Freud or Jung who said "Bring me the parent, and I'll cure the child"?



8th March


Came home from work tonight looking forward immensely to watching Morvern Callar, which I'd taped off BBC2 late last night. Lynne Ramsay's film from Alan Warner's novel had (like the book) a fine reputation, and Samantha Morton is a fascinating actress. However, the film was a major disappointment. I hadn't read the book and I'm sorry to say that the film didn't exactly make me want to bother. The style was intensely irritating, the dialogue nothing more than a list of dull remarks from equally dull characters, and the story completely pointless. The premise of Morton's main character, the titular Morvern, pretending to be the author of her dead boyfriend's novel was interesting in itself, but it wasn't taken anywhere, or at least nowhere interesting. There was no development of the boyfriend's character or any indication of what the book was about, and Morton/Morvern seemed so indifferent to the book itself that when she sold it for £100,000 she could barely raise a facial expression. In fact, the most annoying thing about the film was that Morton/Morvern's bizarre behaviour went totally unexplained throughout: finding her boyfriend had killed himself, she leaves his corpse sprawled on the floor between the lounge and the kitchen for several days before apparently burying him in the countryside. Either his death made no impact on her whatsoever, or it was that which drove her into this weird behaviour, but because we didn't know anything about her before his suicide there was no way of gauging which of these was the case. If the character wasn't mentally ill, she was just boring. If she was mentally ill, she deserved far better treatment by both writer and director than she received here.


The Independent on Sunday Review incidentally chose this as its film of the week, saying the following: "A young female director creates a big stir with her atmospheric, poetic debut. She follows it up with a free-floating narrative centred on a bright, directionless 21-year-old girl whose career-minded boyfriend is otherwise engaged. Trippy days and nights ensue, lashed with music, the promise of love in a foreign climate and perhaps a new start. This year, Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation won an Oscar for best original screenplay. In 2002, Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar became what is tactfully known as a cult hit. Can you spot the difference?" Er, yes, actually - Lost In Translation (q.v. TC 27th February) had interesting characters, fantastic acting, great dialogue and Bill Murray. Morvern Callar was pretentious tat covering up its total lack of plot by (a) purporting to be a study of an eccentric woman's empty life and/or the directionlessness and alienation of young people's lives in general, and (b) trying desperately hard to be cool with a bunch of boring "trippy" songs. In fact, as the main website indicates, it was less a film than a soundtrack with images stuck on top.



7th March


The Independent on Sunday reports today on the finalists of the so-called Lit Idol competition, to be judged at the London Book Fair on Monday week. I have to admit that on seeing it back in the news I had mixed feelings about not entering the contest, but on balance I'm glad I didn't, as I still can't really believe that any writing competition called Lit Idol can be any cop. I've a feeling it's much more a publicity stunt for the Book Fair and Curtis Brown literary agents, who are offering representation to the eventual winner as first prize. Apart from that, it all seems a tautology - Curtis Brown is hardly known for passing up potential bestsellers, so whoever the winner turns out to be, he or she could surely have won that representation without having to go through the humiliation of being called "Lit Idol".



6th March


Further to the appearance of an article on the Thoughtcat-hosted Russell Hoban/SA4QE site in the Independent on Sunday last month, the article is now finally available online in both scanned and text-only formats. Click here to read it.




Elsewhere in the IoS is a report on publishing advances for first novelists - especially young ones. "Headline-grabbing figures" such as the alleged £400,000 paid to 18-year-old Cambridge student Helen Oyeyemi for a children's fantasy novel "give a sadly unrealistic impression of the literary life," runs the report. No kidding! "Few authors today earn enough to shop at Waitrose, let alone Harvey Nick's. According to the Society of Authors, only 5 per cent of authors earn more than £75,000, while 75 per cent earn under £20,000 a year, and the income gap between the bestsellers and the rest is widening every day." Tell me about it.



3rd March


Random surfology brings me today to the spam poetry blog, where the lines-that-don't-reach-the-edge-of-the-window are composed entirely of extracts from unsolicited emails. Blogger Kristin Thomas's inspired kreations include the following, posted in January:


Life is Good.

allspice maseru Clock javascript
hereditary farmington,
seize the bed.

posteriori hole discomfit
catalpa aminobenzoic
ruse - lehman perilla begun.

Wish you were as stoned as I am?
Life is good.


Check out Thoughtcat's own classical spam collection, Spamcat.



1st March


An article about legendary literary agent Ed Victor in today's Guardian reports that this bearded svengali is "realistic about his role in the literary process. 'We are very much in the middle of the process [he says], and although we agents are getting stronger and stronger, the lynchpins of the process are the writer and the bookseller.' There is, nevertheless, he says, a special bond between author and agent, which he describes as a 'perfect symbiosis' of shared interests: 'You go through crises with people, you solve problems with people, and last but not least making money with someone is a big bond. You make a lot of dough together. They make it, you make it. It's fun.'" He no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts, though: "Somebody asked [him], 'If I'm not at a party or a dinner with you, how do I get my manuscript to you?' Victor's answer was, 'You don't.'" I have today sent Victor an invitation to dinner at Thoughtcat Towers.


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