Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Literary Big Brother

Big Brother, the reality show to end them all, starts in a few hours, and continues for over three months (I'll be blogging it here).

I can already envisage the process I'll go through as I watch it, from the initial excitement to despair and pain, climaxing in passive acceptance. But I am just one of many; the great writers have all written about their experiences of watching Big Brother - in fact, it's one of The Big Themes of All Literature.

Anyway, here's how the next 13 weeks will run, according to the masters.

Week 1: fascination as new housemates arrive, socialise
"The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same beat; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour under the constantly changing light."
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

Week 2: heated discussion about new contestants
"…he spent sleepless nights trying to understand them and extract their meaning, which Aristotle himself, if he came back to life for only that purpose, would not have been able to decipher or understand."
Don Quixote, Cervantes

Week 3: schadenfreude as they fight about shopping budget
"Some moralists reasoned that the possession of money does not always determine happiness and that other forms of happiness are perhaps more direct... Incredibly, there were complaints. The company, with its usual discretion, did not answer directly."
The Lottery in Babylon, Borges

Week 4: curiousity piqued by potential romance
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Week 5: total addiction to programme

"…and yes I said yes I will Yes."
Ulysses, James Joyce

Week 6: intense irritation at foolishness of housemates
“Out, damned spot! Out I say!”
Macbeth, Shakespeare

Week 7: annoyance as rules are broken, shopping budget lost
"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe,
With loss of Eden…"
Paradise Lost, Milton

Week 8: loss of interest
"…we both noticed what an endless length of time went by before another minute had passed, and how alarming seemed the movement of that hand, which resembled a sword of justice, even though we were expecting it every time it jerked forward, slicing off the next one-sixtieth of an hour from the future and coming to a halt with such a menacing quiver that one's heart almost stopped."
Austerlitz, WG Sebald

Week 9: desertion of programme prevented by introduction of new housemates
"I felt that I tottered upon the brink – I averted my eyes –
There was the discordant hum of human voices! There was the loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back!"
The Pit and the Pendulum, Edgar Allan Poe

Week 10: brief re-ignition of excitement as fights are picked
"You must have noticed how young men, after their first taste of argument, are always contradicting people just for the fun of it; they imitate those whom they hear cross-examining each other, and themselves cross-examine other people, like puppies who love to pull and tear at anyone within reach."
The Republic, Plato

Week 11: desperate wish for show to be over / impossibility of switching off
"Would you insist that some wretch whose life is slowly but surely being drained away by lingering disease put an end to his miseries with one sharp thrust of his dagger? Does not the malady that consumes his strength also rob him of the courage to seek his deliverance?"
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe

Week 12: desire for return of old life / impossibility of switching off
"…as if there were any need of help to go on with a thing that can't stop, and yet it will, it will stop, do you hear, the voice says it will stop, some day, it says it will stop and it says it will never stop… you must go on, that's all I know, they're going to stop, I know that well, I can feel it, they're going to abandon me… you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."
The Unnameable, Samuel Beckett

Week 13: acceptance of fate
"The clocks were striking thirteen… Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."
1984, George Orwell

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Editors edit

Interviewed gloom rockers Editors the other week for Total Spec. Obviously I don't want to scoop myself by publishing it here, so here are a few outtakes that I couldn't fit in the proper article...

…Sweden wasn't the most productive time they've spent this year, as singer Tom Smith and bassist Russell Leetch explain back in their hotel room. "The actual translation of press we did over there into record sales seemed to work out about one record sale per interview," says Smith. "We did some great shows there, I liked it."

"I didn't," says Leetch. Sweden, it seems, wasn't everyone's favourite place. "It's just too clinical. I prefer a bit of dirt and grime, a bit of soul, it lacks anything like that."

"You could say the same about Japan – it's very clean and efficient." Smith is playing devil's advocate, we think.

"Yeah, but I liked the Japanese people more…"

"Stop! Stop, now!" interrupts Smith, perhaps concerned that Editors will become known as "Editors: The Band Who Hate Sweden".

***

"I couldn't talk to a Joy Division fan about Joy Division music very well," says Smith. Despite music journos' almost daily comparisons between Editors and the big JD, the band have always claimed Curtis and co aren't an influence. "I could talk to them about Love Will Tear Us Apart because it's on at every indie club night ever. I could talk about early REM stuff, like Murmur, Reckoning and all those records, for hours."

"I heard a busker playing Don't Go Back To Rockville on the way here," I tell him.

"Oh wow, that's amazing!" Smith is genuinely excited.

"I gave him 50p," I say. This was a kind of offering to the God of Journalism to make the interview would go well.

"Yeah, that's good," he muses. "I would raise my eyebrows after hearing that."

***

If the band all fell apart – I don't know why it would, but let's pretend – what would you go back to?

Smith: "There's no way I'd go back to music technology."

Leetch: "You'd be a farmer, I'd be a surfer."

Smith: "Maybe I'd go home, earn a bit of money, go travelling, try and see stuff. But no, farmer's a good one too."

I wonder about the shoe shop, where two of the band worked for a while before they sold half a million albums. At this moment, guitarist Chris Urbanowicz and drummer Ed Lay – the shoe shop boys themselves – arrive back at the hotel room.

"At the shoe shop? Definitely," says Lay.

"I'm going to be a Formula 1 driver," says Urbanowicz. "We were discussing this earlier, actually."

"I want to be a carpenter," says Lay. "And run a sandwich shop."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Faysburke: know the dangers

There's new drug Sweeping The Nation – and it seems everyone's on it, except me.

In recent months, I have heard the drug mentioned more and more frequently. Generally it happens like this: I'll be chatting to someone in an interactive social space like a bar, pavement or foyer, thinking I'm being charming with my off-the-wall banter, but possibly sounding like an off-the-ball wanker.

But then, despite the ostensibly civilised conversation going on, the person I'm talking to will break off to ask me if I'm high on said drug, usually asking, "Are you on Faysburke?"

Typically, I reply along the lines of, "Look, it's quite rude to ask whether someone's stoned in polite conversation – and no, I have not been smoking Faysburke, or however the hell you're supposed to take it."

At this stage, the person will look at me askance. They clearly think I am on Faysburke, but just in denial. Either that, or they'll try to persuade me how good Faysburke really is, and how it's helped them make loads of friends. Many of them talk about how they're "totally addicted to it".

A quick scan of the news shows that 23m people around the world are ruining their lives by taking this vile substance, or "signing up to Faysburke", as the youth lingo goes. Last year, drug charities managed to reduce worldwide intake of the equally dangerous Miaspays. Let's hope they can do the same with Faysburke.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Design of the times

Read Phil Baines's Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 on Saturday. It's a fascinating look at the cover designs of Penguin books over the last seventy years and the personalities behind them, including latter-day typography heroes Jan Tschichold, Hans Schmoller and Germano Facetti.

Obviously, it's mainly a visual read, but there are some top anecdotes in there too. And you know I love anecdotes...

The 1947 company-wide design reforms
It was a design based on sound principles and well-tried practices, although [text designer] Hans Schmoller, like Jan Tschichold before him, had to repeat the same insistent instructions about 'optically even letterspacing' time after time. Schmoller gained a reputation for his fastidiousness and ability to notice minute variation of detail. He earned the nickname Half-Point Schmoller, 'The only man who could distinguish between a Bembo full point and a Garamond full point at 200 paces.' (p52)

Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage
"…the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter, it had on the cover 'Massage' as it still does. The titled should have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error. When Marshall McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!" Now there are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: 'Message' and 'Mess Age', 'Massage' and 'Mass Age'." (Eric McLuhan) (p144)

John Berger's Ways of Seeing
The book's design was particularly disliked by Hans Schmoller. "Is this meant to be centred?" was written angrily across cover proofs returned to the designer, and when the printed book was placed on his desk, he promptly hurled it across the room in disgust. (p176)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Star pupil

Good to see lovely people rising above their differences and getting along like adults.

On 4 May, model and former Celebrity Big Brother bully Danielle Lloyd successfully sued the Daily Star newspaper after they falsely claimed she had “a marathon sex session” in a club with a DJ she had just met. You might have thought this would’ve damaged their working relationship, but a look at the paper’s recent front pages (all accompanied by necessarily gratuitous pictures) suggest this is far from the case...

Wednesday 9 May 2007
Dani: My big reunion with BB Shilpa


Thursday 10 May
Dani’s new boobs: first pics

Monday 14 May
Dani’s terror as she’s mugged by gang

Wednesday 16 May
Dani’s new X rated telly show

Thursday 17 May
Dani: see my first topless pics inside

Friday 18 May
First topless Dani poster inside

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quote of the day

"I once got into trouble at a Fabian Society function when I said, perhaps a little tactlessly, that I thought [Liberal Democrat MP] Sarah Teather looked like a Pokemon, upsetting a nearby Lib Dem grandee. But they didn't understand that I was going through a real Pikachu phase at the time and was relating everyone and everything to a Pokemon."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hello Mum

A blooper of the highest order from yours truly, as Tadich (using the screenname "Manage My Democracy") appears to sign into Instant Messenger:

Will says:
Vadich!

Manage My Democracy says:
Hi

Manage My Democracy says:
Hi

Will says:
Hungover?

Manage My Democracy says:
This is Paul's mother. He used my computer while he was here.

Oops. Sorry Paul.

Lessons learned from... This is England

Braces are racist.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The prophecy

As my boss put it: "If you believe the Star, it all kicks off on 30th May. The Sun thinks it's 1st June and most people think it's 25th May. Whatever way you look at it, it's soon."

But what? Why, the return of Big Brother, of course!

Quote below is from Big Brother 5 (2004), spoken by contestant
Emma in a fit of rage following an argument with fellow housemate Victor. It shows that beneath his cocky exterior, Victor was perhaps endowed with an eerie gift for prophecy.

"He’s called me... he’s fucking called me... he’s called me... a fucking racist. He’s called me fucking racist. He’s called me… that I’m an image of Jade Goodya? Now, I like Jade fucking Goodya but... I’m like Jade fucking Goodya? Now there’s nothing fucking wrong with Jade Goodya."

Friday, May 11, 2007

What's in a name, part 5

After my visit to Fantasy Cleaners (yes, it really is called that) to hand over my suit, I wander up to Tesco to buy some ham. I end up buying other stuff too, as is inevitable, and join a checkout queue.

After I've been standing in line for long enough for it to be too late to switch to a new queue, it becomes apparent that there's something wrong with the card machine. As there's nothing else to do, I add up the prices of the purchases in my head and take out my wallet. I notice the receipt in my wallet from the dry cleaners.

They've spelt my name "Parkhausa".

What's in a name, part 4

On the tube journey home from work, I consider strange names I've come across in my time.

The first that springs to mind is that of a one-time friend of my sister. She was called "Jenny Taylor". When you first hear it, nothing registers, until you put yourself into a schoolboy's state of mind and realise it sounds a bit like "genitalia". Even then, it's not exactly hilarious.

Better is the (presumably fictional) extraordinary name that one of the regulars who enters our caption competition over on Orange goes by: Horatio Monkeychops.

For this type of observational blog post, three examples must be cited, otherwise it must be discarded and stamped on viciously. But as I sit on the tube, I cannot think of a third. My mind is blank. I get home; I do my chores. The final of these is to take my suit – which I rarely wear – to the dry cleaners round the corner. I check the pockets and come across two cards: one, an invitation to an awards ceremony I attended about a year back. The other is a business card, which I was given at the shindig in question. I stare at the name of the man who presented it to me, which is emblazoned across the front of the card.

Beckett Fish.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What's in a name, part 3

The protagonist in Paul Auster's novel Timbuktu is a dog called Mr Bones.

Anthropomorphising an animal by giving it a Christian name and a surname is a near-unbeatable comic device. Mr Bones, who describes events in a perceptive and detailed way, comes across as discerning and wise, and it's in no small part due to his name.

Some other examples of animals named in this way from contemporary literature: the Bengal tiger in Yann Martel's Life of Pi, which goes by the name Richard Parker, the eponymous baboon in Cornelius Medvei's Mr Thundermug, and the guide dog in Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, which is called Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Names, part 2

I'm pretty sure Paul Auster's most famous moment comes in the first story (City of Glass) of his first novel, The New York Trilogy, five pages in.

He climbed out of bed, walked naked to the telephone, and picked up the receiver on the second ring.
"Yes?"
There was a long pause on the other end, and for a moment Quinn thought the caller had hung up. Then, as if from a great distance, there came the sound of a voice unlike any he had ever heard. It was at once mechanical and filled with feeling, hardly more than a whisper and yet perfectly audible, and so even in tone that he was unable to tell if it belonged to a man or a woman.
"Hello?" said the voice.
"Who is this?" asked Quinn.
"Hello?" said the voice again.
"I'm listening," said Quinn. "Who is this?"
"Is this Paul Auster?" asked the voice. "I would like to speak to Mr Paul Auster."

Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy (London: Faber, 1992), p7

If there's one thing Auster (the writer) loves more than weird coincidences (we should probably call it "The Music of Chance"), it's weird coincidences involving names and identity mix-ups, and this sort of stuff crops up throughout his work. Though it's a theme that's intermittent, it somehow seems to be an aspect of his writing that gives it its unique, er, identity.

Some characters from the novels, all writers: Peter Aaron (initials), John Trause (anagram), Daniel Quinn (Auster's son's name is Daniel) and Benjamin Sachs (more about Benjamins in a minute). You see what I mean.

Auster has even plunged himself into this echoing world of identities in "real life". Take the film Smoke, which he wrote the screenplay for and which was released in 1995. The main character is a writer called Paul Benjamin. In the film, Benjamin is nearly knocked over by a car, but is saved by a teenager called Rashid. The writer takes the kid in and looks after him for a bit. Except it soon emerges that his name isn't Rashid, it's Thomas. Thomas Cole. The boy was raised by his aunt, and is on a quest to find his father Cyrus, who walked out before Thomas was born, and who he has never met. He manages to get a job working for his long-lost father at Cyrus's run-down gas station, but is too scared to let his father know who he really is, and so gives his name as… Paul Benjamin.

Anyway, to the point: before he'd written all this, back in 1984, Auster published a pulpy but rather good detective novel, Squeeze Play. Except you won't find it in the bookshops under "A"; he used the pseudonym "Paul Benjamin". Benjamin, it turns out, is his middle name. Ha. Even more intriguing is the following. In Smoke, a whole chain of events is set off after wandering son Rashid steals $6,000 from two small-time gangsters. In real life, Auster's son Daniel went to prison after he was found guilty of stealing $3,000 from a dead drug dealer. What's the big deal, you might think, the writer's just taken some stuff from his life, tweaked it and stuck it in the film. Er, except Auster Jr's crime took place after Smoke had been released - he was sentenced in 1998. The young Daniel Auster actually makes a cameo appearance in the film by the way, playing a kid who steals a couple of magazines from a cigar shop.

It really pays to plough through all Auster's work – easy, as he's very readable – because these kind of echoes multiply and multiply the more you read. It's fun. In The Invention of Solitude, a non-fiction memoir type work, he quotes Pascal: "Two faces are alike. Neither is funny by itself, but side by side their likeness makes us laugh." Auster, or "A." as he refers to himself for the whole second half of the book, goes on:

"A young man rents a room in Paris and then discovers that his father had hid out in this same room during the war. If these two events were to be considered separately, there would be little to say about either one of them. The rhyme they create when looked at together alters the reality of each."

Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude (Kent: Faber, 1982), p161

This is why chance, coincidence, is surprising, and, I guess how repetition and echoes give rise to meaning. Life's happenings, rhyming – why is that such a comforting, cosy way of putting it? Probably because it leans away from meaninglessness.

I experienced one of these strange "rhymes" while reading The Invention of Solitude. Quoting Pascal for the first time earlier in the book (ibid. p76), Auster writes: "All the unhappiness of man stems from one thing only: that he is incapable of staying quietly in his room." Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, the book I finished just before embarking on Solitude, quotes the same lines. Spooky.*

Smoke is well worth watching, particularly for William Hurt's immaculate and endearing performance as Paul Benjamin. It's so convincing that I can't imagine the character not living out his life somewhere in New York as I sit writing this. And since I saw the film, whenever I try to picture Paul Auster, he eludes me; instead, I always think of William Hurt playing Paul Benjamin. I think Auster would like that.



-----------
* Third echo: on Saturday I had two glasses of champagne, two glasses of white wine, two shots of vodka and two pints of beer in succession; after consuming these dyadic drinks I quoted those lines of Pascal at someone. I think that's probably the most sensible pissed thing I've ever done. Yay me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's in a name, part 1

Following the house move, I find myself suddenly in need of a new aerial lead for the TV, as the one I have is too short to reach the wall socket. So I go to the wires shop and buy the wrong one.

After cursing my foolishness, I manage to stitch the packet up so it is presentable enough to return.

I return to the wire shop and the nervous young girl behind the counter explains that she'll need to take my name and address. After I tell her my name, she asks me to spell it. I do so as she types it into the machine. When I leave, with my new aerial lead and printed-out receipt, I find she has spelt my name "Prakhsue".

My mangled name looks funny. I start to say my intact, real, name in my head. I soon begin to wonder if I'm pronouncing it correctly – after all, I've never actually practised saying my name before. Why would I?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Granny's loyalty points

I'm going through change-of-address hell at the moment, having to contact all sorts of people to tell them to send their post to new-me, not old-me.

But it could be worse. Whilst trying to discover how to tell Tesco supermarket where I live now, so they keep sending me Clubcard loyalty discount vouchers, I stumbled across this rather bleak FAQ:

One of my relatives has died - Can I change the card to my name so that the points are not lost?
No. The Data Protection Act prevents us from changing any details on a card without the owners consent. You can have the points transferred to your existing card or we can send you a new card - but the request for this must be in writing

So not only do you have a dead relative on your hands, but you have to cut through a load of red tape to get your hands on their points. That's not going to help you get through this difficult time, is it?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tone down

As Tony Blair celebrates 10 years of being Prime Minister, not everyone is rejoicing like an idiot. Some of us are busy writing very important pieces of investigative news journalism. Get informed.

The Kennington flats

The Kennington flats
"The Stockwell flats? Nah, sorry mate, never heard of 'em."