Thursday, March 31, 2005

Early Whitsun Photo Quiz - Results!

A couple of months ago I ran a second exciting photo-quiz, in which you were asked to guess the function or purpose of the strange building pictured above.

In an unprecedented wave of interest, I had two entrants (a massive 100% increase on the number of entrants for my previous Christmas Quiz). The two guesses were: 1. 'A garage for the Rainbow Alliance. No, an abbatoir run by Mpntessori schoolteachers. No a.. fuck knows. Who cares?' and 2. 'A chicken factory. Run by acidheads.' Both entrants were posted by people called Anonymous.

And the results? Sad to say, neither Anonymous nor Anonymous were anywhere near correct, so neither of them have won the marvellous prize, which was a flippant and dismissive namecheck in my blog.

In fact, the above picture shows an unusual kind of garage in a commercial sex 'tolerance zone'. The zone is called Geestmundestrasse, and it was specially built near Cologne, Germany, a few years ago. The zone consists of a single lonely cul de sac. Along this circular roadside can be found prostitutes of all shapes and sizes, sitting on metal chairs under bus-stops. A few toilets, a sitting room for the prostitutes, some CCTV cameras, and the garage above, complete the bizarre scene.

The design of this 'garage' is curious. The idea is that punters who come by car pull up in each garage bay. Then the whores climb in through the car passenger door, so as to have sex in the car. Why do the whores use the passenger door? Because the garage bays are specifically designed to be too small - so the driverside door cannot actually be opened. This hopefully prevents the drivers from getting out and raping or brutalising the whores. Moreover, at the back of each bay is a kind of prostitutes' catflap - where the girls can run away if they are being menaced.

I have to say, this tolerance zone, surrounded by green nylon fencing, littered with blooded tissues and syringes, stuck out in the post-industrial wastes, staffed by drunken angry trollops, and patrolled by furtive Turkish lorry drivers looking for a 5 euro shag, was one of the most depressing places I have ever been in my life. And that's saying something, as I've been to Legoland in Denmark, out of season.

Another photo quiz soon.  Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Lord Byron, a Tribute

Lord Byron, the club-footed genius of English Romantic poetry. Here he is on one of his dressing up days. See below for more exciting photos.

As regular readers will be very well aware, I am writing a book about my lovelife at the moment - called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You. This morning I heard that my esteemed and marvellous agent, Eugenie Furniss of William Morris, has just sold this book proposal to an Italian publisher, for a five figure euro sum. I am therefore feeling rather cocky and upbeat right now, and also very Italophile.

To celebrate my sudden love of all things Italian, here's a little essay I wrote a few months back, about the Venetian years of Lord Byron (a hero of mine). Ciaobella!

Byron’s Venice

Pursuing an historic literary figure around their ancient haunts can be frustrating: the tides of time erase the famous footprints, the fin de siecle cafe too often turns out to be a multi-storey carpark. But because Venice has changed so little over the centuries, conserved as it is in the aspic of its fame and topography, it is possible to track its legendary habitues in a way unfeasible anywhere else. Lord Byron’s Venice for instance, exists now: right underneath the tourist gimcrackery, just behind the crowds of daytripping Slovenes. All it takes is a good map, a good biography, and a good mental picture of the club-footed Regency poet: ‘tooling in a Gondola, against a wall, in a court carriage, in a vis a vis, on a table, and under it’.

It was mid-November 1816, when Lord Byron, accompanied by his friend John Hobhouse, first stepped off a gondola onto the damp and fogbound flagstones of the Grand Canal. The twenty-eight year old poet was theoretically en route from Milan; in reality he was in flight from an England which was still agog at rumours of his lunatic behaviour. In the months before he fled England, Byron had attempted rape on his wife, had threatened her with murder, had spent days in drunken fits firing pistols at the furniture, had been stripped of his possessions by the bailiffs, had committed incest with his half-sister, and had tried to molest the infant children of his lover Lady Oxford. He’d also taken opium, which he found disagreeable.

But if Byron was celebrated for his amorality and loucheness, so was the city he surveyed that drizzly November afternoon. Post-Napoleonic Venice, with its twenty thousand whores, its platoons of castrati, its cardinals, fishwives, blackamoors and raddled aristocrats, was strangely akin to the poet: both were notorious, irreligious, decadent, living off inherited money, and enormous fun.

Lord Byron was to spend three long years in Venice, this ‘Sodom by the sea’, this ‘watery Gomorrah’. But he wasted no time in getting in the Venetian swing: within four days of his arrival he had moved out of his hotel, stabled his horses, rented a flat, and fallen ‘fathomlessly in love’. The lady of his attentions, Marianna Segati, was twenty-two, and the wife of his landlord. The flat was at 1673 Calle della Piscina, behind the Frezarria, a shopping street near St Mark’s Square. The shops are still there - selling carnival masks and overpriced sandwiches - and so is the apartment: unplaqued, uncelebrated, but very much the place where Byron stared into the ‘large black oriental eyes’ of his amoroso. As well as hundreds of other lovers.

Rampant promiscuity did not hinder Byron’s writing. Perhaps it fuelled it. Between bouts of Venetian libertinism, he managed to write the final cantos of Childe Harold, the poem Beppo, large parts of his memoirs, sundry other lyrics, some verse drama, dozens and dozens of letters, and the first sections of his masterpiece, Don Juan. Regarding his use and abuse of Venetian women, and its relation to his work, Byron wrote to his publisher John Murray: ‘There’s a whore on my right, For I rhyme best at night, when a cunt is tied close to my inkstand’.

Byron’s enthusiastic exploration of the Venetian fleshpots eventually scuppered his relationship with Marianna Segati and her husband. After about a year he upped and moved to much grander accommodation: the noble Palazzo Mocenigo, on the southern curve of the Grand Canal. He also moved on to another regular squeeze: Margarita Cogni, ‘La Fornarina‘, the amazonian wife of a local baker.

The Palazzo Mocenigo is privately owned, but it’s still possible to press your face to the iron gates and look at the dank cloistered garden, and the chambers beyond. This is where Byron installed his carriages, his manservant, his mistress, as well as several cats, a mastiff, a pair of cranes, a fox, a wolf, at least two monkeys and a sickly crow.

Equally evocative is the canal-front of the palazzo, viewable from the vaporetto, where Byron and friend Shelley would alight after their nocturnal ramblings; where La Fornarina once stood, in a storm, anxiously awaiting his return ‘with her great black eyes flashing through her tears’; and where Byron once paused, alone, clutching his cane, pondering whether to return to England and his foes. He never did go back.

When Byron wasn’t drinking, writing, or tooling, he liked to take vigorous exercise. Sometimes he would swim: once he swam across the lagoon and all the way up the Grand Canal. It took him four hours. Other times he went to the Lido, where he galloped his horses along the then-deserted strand to the pines of the old Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is still there, crumbling, overgrown, atmospheric. Apparently Byron wanted to be buried on this spot, on the lonely beach, looking across the lagoon to the campaniled Venetian skyline. Whether he’d still want to be buried on the Lido, amidst its suburban housing, nose-to-tail Fiats, and soccer-playing kids, is moot.

Another favourite haunt of the poet was the Armenian monastery on the lagoon island of San Lazzaro. Finding himself bored one day Byron decided to ‘break his mind on something craggy’, so he spent a winter being rowed to and from the monastery, intent on learning Armenian. Today’s monks are deeply proud of the poet’s patronage: take a vaporetto from St Mark’s Square to San Lazzaro and they will show you the room where he studied. They don’t show you where he did his trysting.

The ‘last attachment’ of Byron’s Venetian sojourn, and of his life, was a short, red-blonde, blue-eyed, curvaceous and very married teenage countess: Teresa Guiccioli. The poet first met her in 1816, but failed to be impressed. Their next meeting, at a conversazione, in April 1817, was much more the thing: within two days they had consummated their love in one of Byron’s ‘casinos’.

A Venetian invention, a casino was a kind of bijou summerhouse specifically designed for illicit sex: the food was delivered by dumb waiter so no shenanigans could be observed. Nearly all the casinos have gone (though a haunted one, Casino degli Spiriti, can be seen on the north side of the city, opposite the cemetery-isle of San Michele). But we know Byron rented a casino in the square opposite the Gritti Palace Hotel, so it’s probably here that he first lifted the skirts of the woman who was, eventually, to lure him out of Venice, lodge him in Ravenna, travel with him to Pisa, where Shelley drowned, and finally see him off to his death in Greece.

At times in those later years Byron was to revile Teresa, and the city where they met; but he surely didn’t mean it. To Teresa he professed he was ‘tua amica e amante in eterno’ - ‘your friend and lover for eternity.’ And as for Venice, it’s likely the lame, limping, aquatic, melodramatic aristocrat never felt more at home than in the ‘greenest isle’ of his imagination, the Queen of the Adriatic, that stage-set built on water, La Serenissima.

Some Other Byronic Places You Might Want To Know About

Ten year old George Gordon became the sixth Lord Byron in 1798. As such he inherited the rambling pile that is Newstead Abbey, about twelve miles from Nottingham. This is the house Byron staffed entirely with pretty young women - ’all the makers and unmakers of beds in the household’ as he called them. Newstead Abbey is also where Byron lived, flagrantly, with his half sister Augusta, in 1814. The grounds of the Abbey are open year round, should you fancy visiting. Near Newstead is the church of Hucknall Torkard, where the poet is buried.

Harrow & Cambridge
Harrow School, Harrow on the Hill, vaunts its association with the notorious poet. Visitors are shown the ‘Byron’ graffito the schoolboy lord carved in the Jacobean pews; in Harrow churchyard one can see Peachey’s Tomb, on which Byron liked to lie and gaze out over the beautiful Middlesex hinterland - now not so beautiful. Trinity College Cambridge, by contrast, makes less of its Byronic association, perhaps because he spent most of his time there ridiculing the staff, being leeched for the clap, trying to get his pet bear elected a Fellow, and seducing the Chapel choirboys.

Byron spent several years in London; as a boy, a teenager, a married man. Byron’s London is around St James and Mayfair, the fashionable West End then as now; his London is still discoverable. The bachelor ‘sets’ of the Albany, on Piccadilly, where he enjoyed his years of fame, are a going concern, though off-limits to casual visitors. Perhaps more poignant are the Georgian offices of the publishers, John Murray & Sons, in Albemarle Street, where on May 17, 1824, a group of Byron’s friends sanctimoniously burned the dead poet’s ‘scandalous’ memoirs, one of the greatest crimes in the history of English letters.

The wet and stormy summer of 1816 saw Byron in Switzerland. His principal residence was the pretty eighteenth-century Villa Diodati, overlooking Lake Geneva; the Shelleys were his neighbours. One opiated evening of revelry on June 18, when the two poets, their women, and their friends, told each other ghost stories to the sound of thunderclaps, resulted in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Byron’s poem Mazeppa, and Doctor Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first vampire story in English fiction. The Villa Diodati is not open to the public, but can be viewed from the lake where Byron swam and sailed.

 Posted by Hello

The Palazzo Mocenigo, where Byron lived for many months alongside dogs, cats, monkeys and a poorly crow. This is also where he wrote the immortal words: 'There's a whore on my right, for I rhyme best at night, when a cunt is tied close to my inkstand'. Posted by Hello

The monastic islet of San Lazzaro, where Byron learned Armenian - 'so he could break his mind on something craggy'. Posted by Hello

And here is Teresa Guiccioli, his last love. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Lands That Feminism Forgot

Happy Easter everyone.

Appropriately, I am going to post a piece about a weird Easter festival. It's called 'pomlazka' and it happens in the forgotten lands of central Europe, every Easter Monday. Above is a picture of some pomlazka-type actitivies.

The piece was written, in house style, for the lad magazine Maxim - i.e. that was the magazine that sent me to the Czech republic to look at pomlazka last year. However, they never ran the article, possibly because it is crap, but also because it might be construed as misogynist. Actually, I just think it's crap. You decide.

The Lands that Feminism Forgot

Sean Thomas

Her name is Petra. She is seventeen and squatting in a shower stall as a bunch of guys in white shirts fiercely squirt her biggish young breasts with cold water. Behind the guys are more lads holding two-metre-long willow sticks with which they intend to ritually cane the semi-naked girl. From outside the house comes various screams of delight - and terror - as hundreds of wives, sisters, nieces, daughters and girlfriends are variously thumped, punched, biffed, pummelled, spanked and enthusiastically bludgeoned.

Welcome - if that is the word - to pomlazka. It’s a curious word for a curious tradition: and it happens only on Easter Monday. On this one day of the year, every last man and boy in this remote part of western Slovakia, and the eastern Czech Republic, has the right to go and cut a big wooden willow stick, which he can then use to hit his womenfolk. The local men are also allowed to drench naggy or annoying women with cold water - ‘to chase the evil spirits away’.

It’s quite a sight when you track it down - but you wouldn’t know how to track it down, if you relied on the authorities. The Czech government seems pretty keen to obscure the whereabouts, even the existence of the pomlazka custom.

Before Maxim sets off, the Czech Embassy tells us this: ‘Pomlazka? Oh, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s just a playful thing these days. The men simply wave a few twigs at the women, and the women give them ribbons and.. little painted eggs.’ The same evasive response comes from the authorities nearer the ground. When we arrive in Prague, the PR people say: ‘No. We don’t beat women here. Of course not. Pomlazka has virtually died out. Have you tried our famous apple dumplings?’

Obviously they are trying to fob us off. And perhaps a less determined journalistic team would be put off. But this is Maxim! On Easter Sunday Maxim hires a car in Prague, and drives across country to Vlcnov. A local has told us that this is the most traditional village in this traditional part of the Czech Republic - so this is where we are most likely to see pomlazka in all its old-fashioned glory.

So we drive there... and they’re having a wine-tasting. The whole village is gathered in a noisy sports hall, sipping local wines, while listening to a morbid folk song played on a second-hand zither. There’s no hint of any traditional bitchslaps, no evidence that tomorrow the place is going to explode in an orgy of old-fangled wife-beating. OK, quite a few of the peasant women have got faces like spanked arses, but that’s not quite the same, is it?

Maxim approaches some locals for interviews. At the first mention of pomlazka most turn away. Only one girl will talk to us: Claudia, a cute twenty-something business consultant from Prague. ‘I’m just here for the traditional Easter Sunday wine-tasting,’ she says. ‘Tomorrow I’m leaving. And that’s because I’m scared! Really! Back in Prague, pomlazka is a joke, a laugh. Here the local men get really drunk on slivovitz, that’s plum brandy - and then they get... carried away.’

Bingo. This sounds a lot more promising. But then we talk to Tomas, a local brain surgeon. He is more downbeat. ‘It was a fertility rite. It started centuries ago. You were meant to beat the women to make them fertile, to make them breed well.’ Why the past tense? ‘It’s pretty much died out now. The young women didn’t like it... If you do see it, chances are it will only be a little ritual tapping on the bottom...’

Confusing. At this point we do start to wonder: is it all a bit of a wind-up? Has the old fashioned springtime Sovakian spanking festival tragically died out? Only time - and a traditional twatting - will tell.

Easter Monday, ‘pomlazka day’, dawns bright and fine. All is set fair for a spot of misogynistic chastisement. But outside the best hotel in town, the scene is disappointingly dull. There’s not a single woman cowering under pointless blows, not a single housewife, waitress, charlady or nun being needlessly punched or nutted. People are just wandering to church in their purple nylon jackets, or pottering along in rackety Skodas. It could be a poorish part of Britain about thirty years ago, only with extra Catholicism.

But wait. A loud raucous song can be heard from a street corner. Round it comes a troop of teenage boys wearing strange white blouses, blue and black trousers, brocaded belts, and sinister felt boots. They look, to be honest, like a bunch of puffballs on stilts, but this is still a stimulating encounter.

Why? Because the boys are all carrying long intertwined sticks: willow twigs that have been cleverly plaited together to make wobbly canes. These must be the notorious ‘pomlazka sticks’ - the Easter wife-beating implements. The boys are certainly waving their carefully hand-made sticks in an excited fashion - as perhaps you would, if you were about to spend the day thwacking young Slavic blondes on the buttcheeks...

But are they? As Maxim goes to question the lads, they sing a quick folk song - and disappear down a side street.

Maxim tries to follow the lads, but loses them. All is silent. Then a different troop of lads dressed in a vaguely Tarantino-ish way (Reservoir Flogs?) come rollicking down the hill. At 10am they are visibly drunk; they are carrying even bigger sticks. Excellent. When the boys see the Maxim photographer they laugh, and beckon everyone into the nearest house.

Inside, it’s a suburban living room. The tables are laid with beer bottles and sandwiches. At the drinks cabinet a beaming middle aged man and his wife are handing out viciously strong plum brandy. When everyone has drunk about six glasses each, Maxim included, a young teenage girl steps tentatively into the room. The girl’s name is Angelika, when she sees the boys she obediently bends over, and the boys cheerily cane her on her bejeaned arse; as young Angelika is ritually caned, her father looks on, proudly beaming.

It’s not a massive caning, but it’s something. In the next house, the same thing happens. The parents stand around happily chatting while the teenage daughter is whupped on the backside by the now-whooping boys. Everyone is now pretty sloshed, including Maxim. Especially Maxim. Perhaps as a result, things start to hot up. In the third or fourth house the teenage daughter is called Monika and she looks visibly nervous. It soons become apparent why.

Once the boys have vigorously beaten Monika’s taut young bottom, they grab her and carry her upstairs and stick her in the shower where they exuberantly hose her down, leaving her tight white blouse clinging to her heaving damp bosom. Then two more boys rip off Monika’s damp slacks - and one of them throws her over a knee and starts spanking her vanilla-cream buttocks through her wet little pants. Monika whoops in pain - but when she tries to run away more boys run across and pour more water all over her. Eventually she flees half-dressed into her bedroom.

On reflection, this seems an excellent tradition. In the next house, or maybe it’s the ninth, Maxim drinks another half pint of cherry brandy, and things get even more colourful. One twenty-something girl is stripped almost naked and dumped in a bath, then buckets of cold water are thrown over her. Another wriggling girl in tights and no tee-shirt is carried into the shower and soaked; when she tries to escape the boys sing a Moravian folk song and smack her with badminton racquets. At this point Maxim feels a bit hot under the collar and goes downstairs - where a beaming old Czech woman hands over another tumbler of grog. The old dear smiles indulgently as her wet and terrified grand-daughter comes running down the stairs, pursued by seven men with tree branches.

At this point the granny gestures in concern at the Maxim photographer, who, having downed maybe a pint of pure spirits, is swaying a bit. We step outside for a breather. Out here in the sunny streets it’s a surreal sight. Old women in red folk costume and black tights are bending over to be spanked by middle aged farmers. Mothers are happily watching as their lissom daughters are chased by drunken football hooligans armed with more canes.

Then in the distance comes a troop of older lads in more iffy folk costumes; these dudes are carrying two pomlazka sticks on their shoulders - sticks the length of goal-posts. As a weird ritual chant goes up, the boys step back and use the enormous cane to thrash a smiling and very pretty young woman in another special red folk-costume skirt. The girl is willingly lifting up her skirt so the boys can land the European Union’s biggest cane on her pert little Slovakian arse.

At this point things go seriously awry - because Maxim decides to join in the fun. For the next two hours various young Czech women are cuffed, whopped, cudgeled and lambasted by Maxim’s not-entirely-sober representatives. Then your journalist sprains an ankle as he runs across a road while trying to spank a particularly attractive young bargirl; almost immediately afterwards the Maxim photographer falls down some stairs and drops his camera.

Seven hours later your correspondents wake up, by a twilit canal, covered in vomit, bruises, bits of camera and various empty Budvar bottles. And they said the glory days of lad mag journalism were over.

 Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

My ex, Mariella Frostrup, with whom I enjoyed a six month dalliance in the early 90s. The weird thing about this affair was that I was so strung out on drugs at the time, I convinced myself she wasn't cute and sexy enough for me. Duhh!!?? Please read below for a description of one weekend in our life together. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

And another shot of Mariella. Sigh. Just looking at this photo takes me back... I mean, what happened to us? Where did it all go? What happened to all that youth and beauty, all that dewy promise? Was Shakespeare right when he said: all 'golden lads and lasses must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust'?

I fear so. But at least I GOT LAID by some extremely HOT CHICKS on the way.

 Posted by Hello

A Sample Chapter, Possibly Crap

As regular readers might be aware, I have recently sold my memoirs (in proposal form) to Bloomsbury Books. The projected volume will lovingly detail all my sexual and emotional fuck-ups over the years, and will be called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You.

If this book is a success, and even if it isn't, I'm aiming to write another volume after that, all about my drug taking exploits. I haven't got a title yet. Suggestions welcome!

Actually, this idea - an autobiography, based on my druggie disasters - has been kicking around my head for at least half a decade. But for some reason I haven't quite found the right way to bring it off. The whole thing either comes out wanky, or delirious, or plodding. Weird. So today I thought I'd try a little experiment, and post a sample chapter I wrote some time ago. To test the water, as it were.

To truly grasp the piece you should remember that the following scenes of immature foolishness happened in the early 90s; i.e. when Mariella and I were in our late 20s.

Anyway. Here goes. Tell me what you think. I shan't be miffed if you think it's crap. Better to be crap in a blog than crap in a book.

Sample Chapter from my 'Drug Autobiography'.


Trevor and I were officially invited by my sweet, clever, ambitious TV-celebrity girlfriend Mariella to spend the weekend at her Cotswold cottage. The only problem with this was that Mariella specifically stipulated we weren't allowed to take any heroin with us. I thought this rather unfair: she knew we were heroin addicts, as I knew she was a foodie fashion victim. Her asking me not to take any smack along was like my demanding she go a whole week without Waitrose cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

My protests did not avail. Mariella shook her pretty Scando-Irish head, wrinkled her Icelandic-elf nose, said No. No Smack. One of the main reasons we weren't allowed to take heroin - she informed - was that a close friend of hers was going to be accompanying us. Clarissa Stafford. The last thing she wanted was her uppercrust Notting Hillbilly friend Clarissa knowing that she was dating a junkie, a dope-fiend, a loser, a smack-head, me.

The Friday afternoon before departure Trevor and I went to meet Clarissa in some Westbourne Grove drinking hole near Mariella's flat. Only Mariella was there. As usual. That was the thing with Mariella. Mariella was always on time; everybody else in London was late. Eyeing my tiny pupils Mariella said, flat:

'You're stoned, aren't you?'


'Hand it over'

'Oh cmon....'

'Hand it over.'

'Mariella. Look. Please.'

'I warned you. Give it here.'

'But.' I was stammering. 'But... it takes the edge off life.. some of us need that, some of us need... you know..'

'Hand it over or you're not coming. What if Clarissa finds out?'

'She won't. You can't. I nee. Have a h'


Like an obedient spaniel forced to drop the stick, I handed across the wrap of heroin. Mariella gave me a final sharp glance, and took. Cursing my incorrigibility, she put my precious slip of smack in her leather and gold handbag, snapping it firmly shut. Then she half relented:

'You can have it back at the end of the weekend. OK?' Her sweet blue Connemara loch eyes suddenly went softer, almost loving. 'Please... I work hard all week - I just want to relax and have a nice time without you... doing drugs and being boring and Clarissa discovering... you know...... Please?'

Seemed reasonable. I explained the situation to Trevor as we pulled up two bar stools beneath. He groaned and ordered a Mexican beer. We were still waiting for Clarissa.

'You gave her the whole whack?'

'Didn't have much choice -'

'That's all the gear for the weekend!'

'Had to. Otherwise she'd have said we couldn't come. Weekend cancelled.'

My old friend necked his lager in his special, silent, contemptuous, Christ-you're-an-idiot way. Then, wristing the tache of white beer froth from his lips, he said:

'So who's this bird?'

'Clarissa.. Friend of Mariella's. Some pukka bint from’

'Boys, this is Clarissa.'

The Hon. Clarissa Stafford turned out to be sharp, funny, blonde, and quite attractive. She also turned out to be a bit of a pistol. As Trevor and Clarissa and I traipsed down Ledbury Road, following Mariella to the car, Clarissa turned and hissed quietly to me:

'Guys. You got any smack?


Gazing meaningfully at my tiny pupils, she whispered:

'You're pinned. S’obvious. Got any more for a starving girl?'

Trevor, overhearing, put in:

'Idiot handed it all over to Mariella. It's in her handbag.'

Clarissa swore, somehow aristocratically.

'Oh fuck. Could really use a bit of H...'

A pause. We fell silent. As one we sat in the car and brooded. Mariella had driven us a hundred yards when she suddenly parked up again. Clarissa:

‘Maz? What the?’

Mariella, getting out:

‘Tarragon vinegar.’

Camilla giggled. From the car we watched Mariella disappearing into Tom Conran's deli to buy Tarragon vinegar. ‘Well..' Trevor eventually said, watching me watching Mariella buy Tarragon vinegar. 'Well..' In the shop, Mariella was reaching in her handbag.

'Well what?'

'Gotta get hold of the handbag.’

It was the classic late 20th century yuppie weekend in the English countryside. Swimming in the river. Aussie Chardonnay on the lawn. Two hour long trips to the nearest Sainsbury’s to stock up on rocket. Drunken games of darts in the local watched by taciturn natives seething with resentment about property prices. And plenty of staring mournfully at Mariella's Gucci handbag as she bustled about the place.

Languid, Clarissa glanced from the chaise longue to her workaholic friend:

'Mariella, calm down, we're only here for a weekend...'

'Just making some tiramisu.'

We three skagheads oriented inwards on each other as Mariella did her foodie thing. What were we to do? The handbag was never out of Mariella's sight. The smack was in the handbag. Then Clarissa turned to me and said:

'Shag her.'


'Fuck her brains out.’


Besides Clarissa, Trevor was rubbing his hands together with glee. He joined in:

'Yeah, totally, go on, then when you're giving her one we can swap the gear.. for brickdust or something. She'll never know. Go on.... Now. Before she starts making another fucking Tuscan bean salad.'

Suitably commanded, I sidled into the kitchen. Debonair, suave, fairly drunk, I suggested to Mariella we retire. She agreed; we were agreed. I took her hand and we ducked under a blackened roofbeam and stepped into Mariella's nooked, alcoved, flounced, stippled, brass bedsteaded English Country Bedroom. And when I came out thirty minutes later, feeling flushed and ready, Clarissa was semi-comatose and Trevor was lying on the floor, sort of dribbling.

Together we all sat down and watched a video and ate Mariella's home-made tiramisu with shared spoons. And so and thereafter Clarissa and Trevor and I spent the next thirty-six hours taking it in turns to clandestinely nip downstairs to the tiny bathroom to do our thing.

At the end of the weekend as we stood in the piny kitchen of her country cottage Mariella turned and said to me:

'I'm really really proud of you.'

'You are?'

'For not pestering me. For the drugs.'


'Yes. I thought you'd be... hassling me all weekend for this...' Mariella looked down at her handbag. Ceremoniously she unclasped the gilded clasp, and took out the wrap of heroin that now contained a gram of South Gloucestershire brickdust.

'Here.' Mariella said, handing over the wrap of dust-which-she-thought-was-drugs. 'Take it. You've done really well. Resisting all weekend. Take it, I know how much it means to you.'

The window of opportunity had opened wide. Wider. What could I do? I just..

'No,' I said, firmly. 'No. I don't want it.. Throw it away.'

Looking up at me:

'You're sure?'

'I'm sure.' I was jutting a manly jaw. 'Throw that... crap in the sink. I'm never going to touch it again.'

'You.. really mean this?'

'I really mean this. Go on.'

With a happy, and frankly admiring expression, Mariella took out the wrap of brickdust and emptied it into the big ceramic sink. Turning on the tap she watched the swirl of useless powder disappear and then she turned to me and gave me a soppy kiss on the cheek and said.

'Well done. My hero!'

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Jesus, why is Denmark so Fucking Boring??!!

As regular blog-readers will know, last weekend I was in Legoland, in Denmark, interviewing the 'children of the SS'. This was a fascinating and absorbing project, with intriguing historical ramifications, and it's something I want to explore in a forthcoming blogpost. Until then I have just one pertinent question: Jesus, how fucking boring is Denmark!??

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. Denmark is arse-numbingly dull. It makes Belgium look like Brazil. Denmark is just flat, dull, flat, and dull, with little twee houses and stupid farms and boring windmills and freezing dull towns and tiny cars and bus stops everywhere and more fields and flat heaths and windmills and houses. Oh yes, they have open sandwiches, too. And 17,000 recipes for herring. But that really is it. Fuck me. I thought my elbows were going to drop off with the monotony.

This is a shame, as I rather wanted to like Denmark. A eurosceptic country with cute blonde girls - it sounds funky before you get there. But even the cute blonde girls are a little repetitive.

In fact, Denmark wasn't even excitingly dull. You know when you go to a fairly boring, efficient country like Germany or Switzerland you can have a laugh at how punctual the trains are - those clockwork Swiss! those efficient Teutons! - well in Denmark the trains are only QUITE punctual: there isn't even a risible and amusing sense of the whole country being anally retentive to make up for the eye-watering dullness of everything else.

This is a shame, as the Danes themselves are a laugh. Friendly and slightly madcap. If a bit repressed at times. They come across as the people at a party who are standing in the corner and are just dying to have a dance, only they need one or two more drinks to get the courage.

Anyway. Rant over. Having said all the above, there were TWO interesting things in Denmark. One was the unexpected sense of racial tension in Copenhagen (whites against Muslims); the other was this Lego pirate, herein captured in a poor cellphone photo.


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Monday, March 21, 2005

The New Anti-Semitism..

A Jew, yesterday. Read on for an unusually serious posting..

The New Anti-Semitism

Just recently, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused Europeans of harbouring a latent, even resurgent anti-Semitism. The argument as to whether Sharon was right, whether Europe is suffering from a fresh outbreak of this moral virus, has raged away ever since. Interestingly enough, however, there is evidence that Sharon was barking up the wrong tree: the place Sharon should be looking for the root cause of any ‘new anti-Semitism’ is, quite possibly, in the laboratories and seminar-halls of America, rather than the salons and pubs of Europe.

For the evidence of this, we have to go back a year or two, to ex-Malaysian PM Mahathir Muhammad’s now notorious speech to the Organisation of Islamic Countries on October 16, 2003. In this valedictory address, Dr Mahathir made, as is now well known, several extraordinary remarks about ‘the Jews’. Some of these remarks were plainly absurd: ‘the Jews invented democracy’; others were downright repellent: ‘the Jews rule the world by proxy’, ‘Jews need to be fought with brain and brawn’, Jews are ‘arrogant’, etc.

However, some of the less-noted remarks - ‘Jews invented socialism, communism and human rights as a means to get themselves accepted’ - merit further scrutiny. This is because, unlikely as it may seem, they indicate that Mahathir Muhammad has been keeping up with the latest American thinking on Jewish history from the controversial field of evolutionary psychology.

Dr Mahathir’s offensive remarks are, in particular, spookily echoic of the ideas of the US academic Kevin MacDonald. Just one indication of the central importance of MacDonald’s theories to the thinking of ‘new anti-Semites’ like Dr Mahathir came with an article by one Shahanaaz Habib in Malaysia’s pro-government newspaper The Star, on October 21st 2003. It aggressively cited Kevin MacDonald in support of the Malaysian PM’s anti-Jewish tirade.

So who is Kevin MacDonald, and what does he believe? A fifty-something Psychology professor at California State University (Long Beach), over the past ten years MacDonald has published a trilogy of works dedicated to proving that over the centuries Jews have, deliberately or no, utilised a potent ‘group evolutionary strategy’ to preserve and promote the Jewish people.

According to MacDonald and his neo-Darwinian followers, this strategy is enacted in two ways. Firstly, and principally, there is eugenics (i.e. the breeding of bright Jewish kids). Secondly, and more controversially, there is politics. In the eyes of MacDonald, Jews throughout history have tried to alter or undermine potentially hostile societies through political agitation - that is to say, by devising and/or evangelising revolutionary political philosophies. These philosophies include socialism, communism, and multiculturalism; as well as, very recently, neo-conservatism.

The first book in MacDonald’s trilogy, A People That Shall Dwell Alone, published obscurely in 1994, concentrated mainly on the eugenics. It sought to prove that Jewish laws were designed from the beginning to preserve the Jewish gene pool from the ‘pollution’ of gentile blood, and to enrich the intellectual potential of that same Jewish gene pool. In the book, MacDonald adduced a wealth of evidence to support his thoughts. He noted the rabbinical disapproval of Solomon’s foreign wives to show how Jewish authorities have always abjured outbreeding. He quoted the Talmud to prove the positive Jewish attitude to learning: ‘a man should sell all he possesses in order to marry the daughter of a scholar’.

In conclusion, MacDonald asserted the outcome of these propensities: he gave bald and unabashed figures for the predominance of Jews in American politics, media and academe; he reiterated the well-known fact that Jewish IQs are now, on average, 15 points higher than average white IQs - and 20 to 30 points higher than the average IQs of other races.

Controversial stuff. Yet the book was in some places quite politely received: famed psychologist Hans Eysenck, for one, gave the book a warm review. Perhaps encouraged by this, MacDonald then went on to publish Separation and its Discontents (1998). In this book, MacDonald broadened his theory by analysing the entire history of anti-Semitism - from an evolutionary perspective. MacDonald’s most controversial thesis here was that some anti-Semitism can be seen as a vile yet understandable reaction by host societies to the Darwinian competition afforded by clever, unassimilated Jews - Jews who are not averse to racialist practises of their own. Most notoriously, MacDonald argued that Nazi eugenic laws actually mirrored Jewish marriage laws in their regard for the ‘purity of the race’.

By this time MacDonald was at last starting to get some attention - often hostile. This attention continues today. In particular, some scientists have taken issue with the idea of the ‘group evolutionary strategy’, the idea that a group - a family, a race, the Jews - can act with the same Darwinian motivations for reproductive fitness as a single organism. Timothy Crippen, a rival US professor, thinks the idea is ‘without analytical utility’. Others have asserted that MacDonald’s supposedly
scientific books are ‘largely devoid of hard science’.

But it was MacDonald’s third book, The Culture of Critique (latest edition: 2002), that was to become the most celebrated and demonised; this is the book that appears to have been recently sitting on the Malaysian ex-Premier’s bedside table, this is the book that should be giving Ariel Sharon real concern. The idea in this simultaneously energetic and objectionable book was to deconstruct the major trends of 20th Century thought (socialism, communism, Freudian psychology, multiculturalism, inter alia) by seeing them as a product of a conscious or subconscious Jewish strategy to alter or destroy intrinsically anti-Semitic societies. MacDonald revealed how a strikingly large proportion of early communists, in the West as well as Russia, were Jewish. He showed how much early social anthropology - which MacDonald sees as culturally relativist, and therefore inimical to the self-respect of Western cultures - was propounded by Jewish thinkers: like Claude Levi-Strauss and Frank Boas.

Breathlessly, MacDonald even showed how many of the fiercest proponents of ‘multiculturalism’ were and are Jewish - MacDonald’s thesis is that post-Holocaust Jews felt the need to dilute the whiteness and Christian-ness of America so US Jews would never again face a large and potentially hostile single-race majority. Hence Lyndon Johnson’s landmark Immigration Act of 1965, sponsored by Jewish congressman Emmanuel Cellar. It ended ‘discrimination’ against Eastern European Jewish immigration, and for the first time allowed mass non-white immigration into the US.

Finally, and to cap it all off, Macdonald has turned his attention to Jewish ‘neo-conservatism’. In one essay last month he pointed out the predominance of Jews like Perle and Wolfowitz in America’s post-9/11, overtly pro-Israel weltanschauung. Of course he is not alone in noting this Jewish element: a British MP got severely criticised for doing the same a few months ago; there have been others. But the difference with MacDonald was that, where the others have seen a deliberate ‘Jewish conspiracy’ to take over America’s foreign policy, MacDonald and his followers see that same ‘group evolutionary strategy’. And, crucially, this strategy can often be subconscious: i.e. people like Wolfowitz may well think they are acting in the best interests of America, however, according to MacDonald, they are ‘self-deceived’: without realising it they are pursuing the Darwinian self-interest of the Jewish people.

The possible objections to these books - to this whole line of thinking - are, naturally, huge and multiple. Why shouldn’t Jews strive for social equality through Leftist philosophy, or indeed global democracy via neo-conservatism? Just because such proselytising may benefit them in eradicating anti-Semitism is logically irrelevant (and anyway it doesn’t always work: Soviet Russia, for instance, turned out as anti-Semitic as its Tsarist precursor).

Another objection is that the scientific analyses of MacDonald and his followers appear to wilfully ignore the Jewish contributions to Western society. Einstein, Mahler, Disraeli: are these guys part of a ‘group evolutionary strategy’ to do down their host societies? Most stark of all is the fact that nearly fifty percent of Jews in the West now out-marry: so much for those ‘rigorous’ Jewish laws on outbreeding, a vital part of MacDonald’s argument.

In this light, it would be easy to dismiss MacDonald’s theories as being merely another example of the age-old anti-Semitism Kevin MacDonald himself purports to dissect. But that might just be a bit too glib. The fact is a lot of evolutionary psychologists are respectful of MacDonald’s science, even if they find the man naive, or his motivations distasteful. David Sloan Wilson, evolutionary biologist at Binghampton New York University, considers MacDonald to be ‘right but injudicious’; Herb Gintis, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts (and himself Jewish) said last month: ‘Kevin MacDonald’s views are easy to hate... but I’m not sure they are wrong’.

And then of course there’s Doctor Mahathir Muhammad. If views like MacDonald’s are starting to gain credence with the intellectual elites of places like Malaysia - as it seems they are - for that reason alone they merit a serious and objective response by all of us. Not just Ariel Sharon.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Twat, Yesterday

You know those mini-bikes in the BBC sitcom Nathan Barley? I used to think they were clever fiction, a satire on trendiness, a ludicrous but effective barb. Then I saw this twat, round the corner from my flat. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A racist, yesterday.... Posted by Hello

And me. Same difference...? Read on to find out.... Posted by Hello


I am being accused of racism, by someone called Alex Harrowell at the "Euroblog Review". Check out his comments here

If you can't be bothered to read his drear and humourless remarks (and I don't blame you) the gist of his accusations rest on my outrageous Holocaust riff of last month, and my calling an anonymous blog-commenter a 'snaggle-toothed, football-faced, Metallica-guitarist-haired kike scriptwriter'.

I can defend myself on both counts. For a specific defense of the Holocaust riff see the post that followed the Holocaust thing. As for the kike remark, Alex Harrowell has obviously failed to see the personal venom in my words. They are aimed at one of my best friends, Sacha Gervasi, as it was he (as I well knew) who left the derisively sarcastic comments on my blog. The whole point of my remarks is their truth. Sacha Gervasi IS a snaggle-toothed, football-faced, Metallica-guitarist-haired kike scriptwriter, and a very successful one at that (he wrote The Terminal). And as a close friend of his I feel free to point this out. Just as he feels free to call me 'a cunt with a hat' and 'a little known Cornish novelist with a nodule'. In other words, this is how Sacha and I talk to each other, we roundly abuse each other and it means nothing. That's how mates talk. It's not racism, it's mutually amusing badinage.

So Alex Harrowell is wrong, as well as being a leftie nerd. Nonetheless his remarks have got me thinking about myself, and my attitudes. And I have come to the conclusion that I am indeed a racist. And so are you.

Before you all ask for my blog to be closed down, let me explain.

I hate racism. I abhor it. Whenever I hear someone being openly racist in the street (usually to a black traffic warden) I feel nauseous, almost dizzy. The social ugliness of racism, the sheer bad manners, is enough for me to abjure it. But I also hate the injustice and unfairness of racism, just as I shudder and get angry at open snobbery. Racism and snobbery are both ways of treating people badly simply because of their birth circumstances. Racism and snobbery are grotesque and illogical and they suck.

Yet years of maundering self analysis (I have a lot of spare time) have also taught me the melancholy truth - that I am racist, too.

This comes in two forms. First, I am intellectually intrigued by scientific ideas about race. Over the past decade I have written a number of articles about ethnicity, genetics, IQ (and all that). My motives in writing these pieces might be suspect in themselves (actually I think I write them just to annoy my Left wing friends. And enemies), nonetheless they did oblige me to read dozens of thick text books on these subjects, written by scientists of all political persuasions, and this research in turn has led me to certain conclusions.

Here's a few. I believe races do exist - that there are measurable genetic differences that allow us talk of 'extended families', of 'peoples' (however blurred at the edges). Recent advances in medicine (hypertension drugs aimed at black people, for example) are proving this.

More concretely, and much more contentiously, I believe there are PROBABLY differences in AVERAGE IQ between the races. Though I know many scientists also reject this. Another thing I have come to believe is that things like personality and criminality MIGHT be complexly linked to race. Chinese people are relatively passive, scrupulous at parenting and commit little crime, black people tend to be more extrovert, more impulsive, and less attentive as parents; there is a theory that explains all this. It's called the r/K evolutionary theory, and it's very controversial and it's all to do with hormones and reproductive strategies etc - but to me it makes some sense.

Here is where my scientific interest in 'race' shades into something approaching real 'racism'.

I am happy to defend my scientific beliefs. I don't think humanity is going to get very far if we all go around lying to each other about something as fundamental as genetics. I am confident that science will prove my intimations right in the next few decades; I am also relaxed about being proved wrong - that's science. I also strongly divide my ethical and moral beliefs from this scientific stuff - i.e. I believe that human beings are valuable because they are human, not because of the particular position of genetic code in their DNA. I firmly and totally believe we should treat each other with equal respect, as brothers. This is partly because I believe in God - and God won't let you do anything else. He's funny like that.

Yet there are moments when my scientific opinions lead me into something much uglier. I now have a theory that, to me at least, explains some troubling sociological truths (like black criminality. I mean I just don't buy the idea that black people commit more crime solely because of white racism. Nor do I believe that blacks are inherently more wicked. Do you?). But sometimes I find these theories reinforcing an underlying prejudice.

The other day my fiancee was mugged (not badly). I asked her the colour of her assailant. Black, she said. I nodded quietly, but inside me there was a small nasty voice saying - 'there, I told you so, blacks are genetically more impulsive- more criminal!' It was pure prejudice, nothing to do with sociological insight.

And this is where we come to the real racism that seems to inhabit my overstuffed head. Somewhere deep down in me lurks a bigot, a skinhead, a Klansman. He makes an appearance when I'm stressed or over-excited or, for instance, when I am driving. If someone cuts me up in the street - and that person is black - a stream of unspoken racist abuse can be triggered in my mind ('stupid black bastard why don't you..' etc etc).

I realised this about myself years ago. I also realised, over the years, that I am not alone. Close observation of my friends, of acquaintances, of anyone, has taught me that we are ALL THE SAME. I strongly believe that we are all racist, in some way, that the skinhead lurks in all of us. There is, it seems, a base, subconsious bigotry hard wired into all humans - hard wired into black people, white people, Scottish people, Japanese people, Eskimaux, you name it.

And there is science to back this up. Racism makes sense in evolutionary terms, for a start - wariness of the outgroup, the potentially antagonistic outsider, was probably a beneficial fear in caveman days. And one of the best ways of spotting the outsider must have been skin colour. Similarly, studies have shown that babies react from an early age to differently coloured faces. Hence our instinctive reactions, especially when driving (there have been studies that have shown that driving involves deep, old, reptilian structures in the brain; hence perhaps our atavistic aggression when we climb behind the wheel).

But we don't really need science to tell us that we are all racist. It's blatant, everywhere, albeit in different forms. Many of my leftwing friends are racist about Americans, for instance. They claim their feelings are justifiable because Americans have power (unlike, say, blacks or Muslims), but there's no doubting what is in their minds when you hear them spewing on about 'fat, stupid Yanks'. It's not the American capitalist system they subconsciously loathe, its Americans themselves. Its Jo Dole in Des Moines, it's individuals. Its racism.

Similarly with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, hatred of Germans, etc etc. How many people can you name who don't harbour any of these bigotries in any form whatsoever? Really? Think again. What about people who hate their own country? I think many bien pensant pro-Europeans in the United Kingdom fall into this category. Somewhere deep down they hate themselves, they are ashamed. So they try to change their own identity, by changing the identity of their country. Have a long chat with a British pro-European, get her drunk, then ask her what she really thinks about the working classes of her own country (you can do this by asking them about referendums). Cue: bile. These people are the saddest racists of all.

So we are all racist? I fear it's true. I think it's just part of the human condition, like flatulence. Indeed the analogy with flatulence is quite good. Farting is something we all indulge in when we are alone, or with old friends, but it's simply bad manners to let rip right in someone's face. This is where political correctness has, to my mind, done good (and I usually don't say that). PC has taught us the sheer discourtesy that racism constitutes - the social effrontery, the rudeness. Anyone shouting 'nigger' in the street is now regarded as an oik, a tosser, a lout. And rightly so.

If all this makes me sound like I am treating racism lightly, believe me I'm not. I've been to Auschwitz. I know what racism can do. But it's because I know what racism can do that I believe we have to be honest about it. And part of that honesty might be admitting: Yes, we are all a little racist (some a lot), now let's move on, now let's deal with it.

Because I don't think this is a hopeless situation. I think we are put on this earth to try and rise above our instinctive ways. And we can; and we are. As Martin Amis put it: 'I am less racist than my father, and my children will be less racist than me.'

One final thought. I have come to the conclusion that I am probably less racist than most people. This may seem paradoxical when I have just admitted to being a stupid racist, but, the thing is - at least I HAVE thought about it. At least I have fessed up (if only to myself, and now to you). Put it another way: I have drained the gastank of my mind and looked at the silt at the bottom. OK, it's not pretty, but neither is it Nazi. And I'm working on myself. Can you say the same? Have you ever truly analysed your real feelings? Eh, Mr Alex 'Euroblog' Harrowell? Fucking Welsh git.*

*Only joking. I have no idea if he's Welsh.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


A man with an appalling haircut, yesterday. Read on for relevance.


Belfast, March 16th, 2005

It seemed a clever move at the time. Following the high-profile grass roots campaign of the five McCartney sisters, who wanted justice for their brother Robert McCartney (slain by IRA members in a Belfast bar), the IRA made a secret offer to the sisters - that it would 'shoot those IRA members responsible'.
At the time the sisters said no: they wanted justice, not vengeance. But that didn't stop the Provisional IRA, who went ahead and shot dead the three IRA members deemed responsible for the stabbing of McCartney.

Case closed? Not in this increasingly curious chain of events. Following the murder of the three IRA members responsible for the murder of McCartney, a high profile grass roots campaign immediately began, led by the thirty-six brothers and sisters of the three IRA murderers murdered by the IRA. This grass-roots campaign, conducted in a high profile media blitz, put still more pressure on republican politicians. Two days ago this led an increasingly desperate Sinn Fein leadership to an even more unprecedented offer: to kill the twelve IRA members deemed responsible for killing the three IRA members deemed responsible for killing Robert McCartney.

For a day or two things went quiet. The 'Ra, politically adrift, must have hoped that the end was in sight. But then the three dozen brothers and sisters of the three murdered murderers said in public that they wanted 'justice not vengeance' - and so the Police Service of Northern Ireland began an investigation of the brutal murders of the McCartney murderers.

Sadly, despite the fact that the three murders took place in the centre of the pitch at a packed all-Ireland Gaelic football final, none of the 72,000 people present saw anything of the slayings. Indeed 61,000 of them were in the toilets at the time, according to reports, and the other 11,000 blinked at the wrong moment.

Result: impasse. And so came last night's bizarre events, when the twelve IRA murderers responsible for the brutal murder of the three IRA murderers responsible for the brutal murder of Robert McCartney, were brutally murdered by the IRA. Then this morning we heard from Belfast the almost predictable result - seven hundred and thirteen close relatives of the murdered twelve IRA murderers have just started a high profile grass roots campaign, to get the seventy two murderers of the murdered twelve murderers of the three IRA murderers arrested.

At this moment in time, the beleaguered IRA has yet to make a response. However a Sinn Fein councillor, when asked this morning on RTE 'how long this could go on', first evaded the question, but then said: 'Well, obviously there is a limit: once we've brutally murdered everyone in Ireland, then that will be the end of it. Unless their relatives abroad start a high-profile media campaign'.
 Posted by Hello

Last week I visited the Scilly Isles, in the far southwest of England, for the Sunday Times. My particular goal was St Agnes, a remote, wild, funky little island, the least visited in the archipelago. I went with Claire and we got drunk a lot in the only pub on the island. We also met many of the locals, who were sweet, kind, hospitable, funny and furiously inbred. A lot of them had this weird facial look - sort of buck teeth and boss eyes. I saw one person like this and thought 'hmm, that's a strange face, you don't see many like that', then I saw about two dozen more. Later in the weekend we visited another island in the chain, Tresco, and we saw, yes, lots of people with boss eyes and buck teeth. I suspect the Scilly Isles may have rather a small gene pool, in fact it's probably more of a gene puddle. But hey, that doesn't stop the people being fun, and the island superlatively beautiful. It's a lovely spot, clean, serene, winsome, flowery, and bathed in an almost suptropical warmth. When the sun's out. You can see why the Celts thought these islands were the 'Isles of the Blest', the valhalla of fallen heroes, the resting place of the most noble souls. But if you go there try not to be surprised that everyone you meet has the surname Hicks.  Posted by Hello

A grave to one of the ubiquitous Hicks, on the little island of St Agnes. Note the springtime daffodils - and the middle name 'Moyle'. My grandmum's maiden name was Moyle. So this buried person is, weirdly enough, a relative. Posted by Hello

The church on St Agnes. It sits right on the harbour, where the lobster fishermen work. If you think this photo is boring, check the next one. Posted by Hello

A cat. On the Scillies. I did warn you. Posted by Hello

A moody shot of the Turk's Head pubsign. The only pub on St Agnes. It's also the only restaurant, and only hotel. Fortunately it is also one of the most adorable pubs in the British Isles. We spent quite a lot of time there. Posted by Hello

My beloved fiancee Claire, jumping up and down in the middle of a 17th century stone maze, on St Agnes island. She is wearing a very attractive anorak, as you can see.  Posted by Hello

A photo taken by me of me, on the Scillies. I am trying to see how crap my hair is, after wearing a beanie for two and a half hours (i.e. as long as it takes to circumnavigate St Agnes island). Posted by Hello

A prize winning photo of gorse flowers and a Scillonian beach, last week. Gorse is a funny thing. Never seems to stop blooming. In fact there is a saying about this: 'as long as gorse in in flower, England shall never be beaten'. Obviously that doesn't refer to the England rugby team. Posted by Hello

Two boats in St Agnes harbour... must be the rush hour... Posted by Hello

And finally, a cellphone snap of some luvly daffodils on Tresco Island, in the Scillies, last week. Altogether now: aaaahhhh... Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

When My Best Mate Became A Woman

I have just returned from the Scillies (more on this later); I am still in Cornwall; tomorrow I go to Legoland in Denmark to visit the 'children of the SS' (more on this, later, too). As such there isn't much time to blog anything revolutionary. So I thought I'd tell you a snippet of good news instead.

I have just sold my memoirs of my lovelife, in proposal form, to Bloomsbury Books in London (cue mass applause). The book is called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You. The title is ironic.

The money they are paying me is not bad, but I shan't be buying a yacht just yet. Nor a car.

I'm glad I'm with Bloomsbury Books, they are a great publisher - and of course they do Harry Potter, which makes them high profile. It must be a huge relief for them to have me on board, a guaranteed seller, someone able to make up for all their JKRowling losses.

Anyway, yes. Today I thought I'd blog, on top of this good news, a related bit of writing. It's a sample chapter from the book. Well, actually, it's a Guardian piece I wrote sometime back, about my close friend who announced he was a transsexual. The article will be updated a little to slot into the book, but it won't change that much. Why stress myself?

When My Best Mate Became A Woman

I am sitting in a riverside pub in west London when my old friend Joe turns to me and says: "I want to be a woman." I have been expecting this. A mutual friend has forewarned me that Joe has very recently come out as a transvestite, indeed a transsexual. But it is still a shock to hear it from Joe himself. This is because he is one of the blokeiest blokes imaginable.

If five phrases could be said to sum up my college mate, they would be: Stella Artois, snooker, test cricket, Star Wars and Nottingham Forest FC. The word "transsexual" would not, hitherto, have figured in that list. And now here's my old chum Joe, old sports-mad Joe, telling me about his rather petite dress size (10).

"It's very expensive being a transvestite," he tells me. "You have to maintain two wardrobes."

"Er, right."

"And wigs are really expensive. And bras don't come ch -"

"Fancy a drink?"

My head is spinning; I retreat to the bar and order a beer. Then I order a gin and tonic for Joe: he has switched from pints of lager to "girlier" drinks. This is one of the things I am going to have to get used to. There are other things I am going to have to get used to. One day in the future Joe will start coming to the pub in skirts and blouses. That will be a big change. At some other point in the future (once his hormone pills have kicked in), he will start to grow breasts. This seems to me an interesting scenario. It throws up the possibility that Joe might become the most ideal of girlfriends: someone able to talk knowledgeably and amusingly about
soccer and cricket and old Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, but with breasts and hips to boot.

But then I wonder if Joe will remain able to think like a man. Will his sex-change also feminize his personality, his attitudes, his spirit, and thus endanger my male friendship with him? To put it more bluntly, will he stop wanting to talk about football, and start wanting to chat about star signs?

Back to the here and now. I have more pressing questions. When I take our drinks back to the pub table, I ask Joe to spell out when and where he first became a transsexual.

It turns out that he has been aware he was different from a remarkably early age. When he was five or so, he heard a news story about a famous transsexual called April Ashley, and despite Joe's tender years he was immediately aware that something in April's experience chimed with his own outlook. This feeling grew stronger through infancy and adolescence: Joe remembers, as a boy, looking at girls with a yearning that wasn't sexual. He had an ache to be like girls, rather than with girls.

"I didn't really have a puberty," says Joe. "I don't think I went through what most boys go through. I never had a desire for... penetration."

Growing up as he did in a mainstream Midlands environment, he found it difficult to confess his secret to "normal" people around him, even - or perhaps especially - riends and family. But the necessity for subterfuge didn't put Joe off his quest for the accoutrements of girlhood. At the vulnerable age of 14, he used to go into women's clothes shops and ask to try on dresses.

To me this seems incredible, and also incredibly brave. As Joe goes on I start to feel the first inklings of real admiration for what he is doing, and respect for what he has been through. What can it have been like, to be a 14-year-old boy trying on ra-ra skirts in the Nottingham branch of Top Shop?

For a long time the salesgirls of the east Midlands were the only people who knew his secret. Even when he came south, to the alleged sophistication of London, and London University, he felt unable to reveal his true self. Even to close male pals like me.

"I was scared you would all reject me," he tells me. "You were all so laddish. But now..." He pauses and looks me in the eye. "Now I believe I was wrong to doubt my mates. You wouldn't have rejected me... right?" I concur, vigorously. Our group of friends wouldn't have rejected Joe, mainly because most of us were semi-feral lay abouts ourselves. How could we have rejected him for simply being as oddball as the rest of us?

I put this point to Joe. He looks wistful. "You know," he remarks, "I could have come out long before."

But he didn't. For years he maintained a double life. "You have to be a good liar to be a secret transvestite," as he puts it. That said, there were moments when the facade of normality nearly slipped. He took risks. One time, when he was living with a couple we both know, he experimented with wearing the girlfriend's ball-gowns whenever the couple were out. That could have been a bit peculiar if they had come back early. Another time when we were all sharing a flat, by absurd coincidence an old school friend of mine, who was staying over, rang a transsexual chat line out of curiosity. Then the phone bill arrived and we all saw the chat line number itemized, and we all rounded on Joe and, jokingly, accused him of being the phonier, and therefore a transsexual. This was a big joke precisely because he was so obviously not a transsexual. Or so we believed.

"I was trembling inside," Joe recalls. "I thought you'd all rumbled me. It was awful."

No one did rumble him. Though, looking back, I do wonder whether we should have suspected something, given his lack of obvious girlfriends. But he used to convince us that he had had romantic flings, even though he hadn't, so he successfully maintained the facade of laddish normality in that respect as well.

Now we are on this subject of sex, I am keen to resolve a puzzling aspect of all this. I'm curious to know if Joe is actually homosexual. He says not. He informs me he is, rather, a "lesbian trapped in a man's body". Apparently Joe's tastes run more to a kind of sisterly intimacy.

The end of Joe's story, as he relates it, is poignant. A few years back he revealed his secret to a close female friend, whose warm understanding persuaded him to extend his psychosexual horizons. He moved up north for a couple of years and started to visit transvestite clubs in Manchester. At this point things were going well, he was taking things at his own pace; then came the sudden blow that forced him to open up to everyone.

Joe was living in a shared flat in Liverpool. The flat was burgled by some local tearaways and his wardrobe was rifled, spilling dresses, skirts and "special interest" mags all over the floor. This meant the local kids knew his secret, and they weren't about to let him get away with it. "My life wouldn't have been worth living in that street," he says. "I had to get out that same night, move back to London. But I had to tell my flat mates why I was fleeing. And once I'd told them I thought I might as well tell you all.And so here we are."

Indeed, here we are. I feel like giving Joe a hug, but I am not sure what that would say about our relationship. So instead I slap him on the back. Then I say my goodbyes, and step out into the riverine air of Putney. I take deep breaths. I'm a little stunned.

That remarkable pub meeting was in the autumn of 1999. It is now high summer, nearly three years later, and it is the Covent Garden launch of my second novel. A lot of significant stuff has happened in that time, to me as much as Joe, but this night is particularly special for the both of us. He is going to be coming to the party as a woman. It will be the first time I've seen him in his full kit, in the outside world.

That's not to say Joe hasn't become more womanly (quite apart from his clothing) in the intervening years. He has. In the past 30 months of hormone pills and elocution lessons, as he slowly builds up to possible sex-swap surgery, he has physically and mentally changed. He has longer fingernails. Less stubble. A different, less assertive walk. He has also changed somewhat in sensibility. In these years he has become a little gentler, more sensitive; in turn I am less abrasive with him, more solicitous of his feminine feelings.

ut it another way: although our conversations are no deeper - or more candid - than they used to be, they do have a different dynamic. Within our relationship, we have slightly different personae. For example, Joe feels more able to be vulnerable: the other day he wept when talking about his dying mother. I am not sure he'd have felt the freedom to do that before. Equally, when he cried, I was able to be more understanding of him, in a mildly tender way.

And yes, Joe is also developing breasts. Just recently I went out drinking with him and a friend, Pete. Pete took one look at the budding A-cups under Joe's unisex jumper, and reported that his own 15-year-old daughter's breasts weren't growing as fast as Joe's.

Yet for all these changes, I haven't seen Joe as a proper woman in the real world. Until now.

Feeling the tension, I pace the floor. Then eventually the door opens and Joe comes in. He is wearing a blue dress and a blonde wig. It is a sight I am conditioned to find comical, and so I do.

But after a while I stop giggling, and I look at Joe more studiedly, and I begin to find the sight of him as a woman rather inspiring. Almost noble. What he is doing really takes guts. And heart. And courage. Good for him.

Taking up my wine glass I go up to him. He stands there, with an unsure expression. "You know," I say. "You look OK... not bad at all."

In his blue dress, Joe smiles, and sighs with relief. Then we start talking
about football.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Now I'm REALLY Famous

This article appeared on page 35 of today's Times.

March 07, 2005

The face that launched 1,000 Eurosceptic quips
By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

IT WAS meant to bring the European Union closer to its citizens, putting an appealing face on what often appears to be a distant bureaucracy. But the personal blog, or internet diary, of a European Commissioner has been hijacked by British eurosceptics.

They are using it, instead, to attack the EU and to pour scorn on those who lead it.

Margot Wallström, the Vice- President of the European Commission, was handed the job of boosting support before the wave of referendums on the EU constitution and she started her blog on the Commission website after the new year, mixing the personal and political to emphasise the benefits of Europe.

Her efforts have been engulfed in a cyber-war, however, with British Eurosceptics leaving hundreds of messages attacking the Commission for destroying British industry and Britain’s democratic traditions.

The row has got so bitter that Ms Wallström replied recently: “The EU-negative crowd in the UK or elsewhere seem very happy to have found in me another object of hatred — help yourselves!” In the very first entry in her blog, Ms Wallström emphasises her concern about the Asian tsunami, before turning to the problem of the long lunches that she has to have for her job. Worrying about the weight that she has put on over Christmas, the Swedish commissioner wrote: “The official meetings don’t last that long, but the lunches are three or four or even more hours from now on.”

A man named Sean replied: “At least you are making an attempt to communicate with the great European public. But I’m afraid there is no getting around the fact that you represent an elitist, corrupt, and unelected politburo, which for some reason exercises enormous power over the lives of millions. Why? Why do you have this power? Who voted for you?”

An entry on the benefits of recycling, in which the commissioner mentioned that she had been sent a bag from India made from used newspapers, prompted a round of derisive comments. She replied: “The one I liked the most was the guy who wanted my recycled bag to throw up in! Funny!”

Detailing the benefits of new EU legislation on hazardous chemicals, she recounted that a doctor once found 28 “chemicals” in her blood and said that she was worried about passing them on to her children through breastfeeding. “This is not the stuff that I want my boys to inherit first thing!” she wrote.

Richard North, a prominent Eurosceptic, replied: “That, I am afraid, is the classic cry of the charlatan and the snake oil salesman throughout the ages. Tugging on the heartstrings may be all right for the tabloid newspapers, but it is not something that politicians should indulge in.”

A reader called John Coles suggested: “She should be locked in a room and told to read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations before being allowed out.”

The arguments are so onesided that one reader asked for someone to agree with Ms Wallström to add balance. “It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel otherwise.”

Sometimes the comments descend into English nationalism. A contributor called Kissingengland listed triumphs from the Magna Carta to the defeat of Fascism, adding: “This free, unconquered nation of mine, which has nourished, defended and preserved its institutions and liberties through eight centuries of continental despotism and warmongering, has nothing to gain from suborning itself to the inferior political structures of the EU.”

The 10 Downing Street website quickly closed down its public message board because it was exploited as a platform to attack government policy, but Ms Wallström’s spokesman said that she had no plans to follow suit. He added: “It’s true a lot of it comes from the UK. It’s a pity we get so many comments from people who seem to be very eurosceptic. It proves those in favour are the silent majority .”


Why am I posting this slightly ponderous if important chunk of British journalism? Take another look at those quotes. The first one, from a 'man called Sean', was made by - yes - me.

Impressed? You should be. Now scroll down. See that later quote, from someone called 'kissingengland'? Well, that's also me. Yes, me. Me. Me me me. ME!!! ME I TELL YOU! ME!! BWAHAHAHAHA!


For those that don't read great literature, Kissing England was my second novel.

And what does this prove? Not much I suppose. Apart from the fact that it pays, when blogging obsessively, to use pseudonyms. And that I am quite extraordinarily articulate. And that the Times is hard up for stories. And that the EU Commission, like the EU itself, sucks the Devil's semen. But you knew that last bit already.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Here is a picture of a dwarf. On an escalator. It was taken by my good friend and colleague, Peter Dench, an award winning lensman. Peter and I often work together, on various insane, sleazy or dubious assignments... Posted by Hello