Friday, December 22, 2006

Seasonal Felicitations


Hello Everyone!

The Toffeewomble is off to spend more time with his turkey sandwiches. Until I return, sometime in the New Year, my daughter, little Lucy May Lamorna, would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas.

That's her, pictured above, enjoying some downtime in Wood Green shopping centre car park.

Have a good one.

PS


And a Happy New Year from Lucy's dad, too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who Won The Fucking War, Anyway?


The most fashionable people in Bavaria, yesterday.


Pesky Boche.

I know I have sometimes gloated on here about my book, with its healthy royalties and widespread foreign sales. But hey - why not? It's my blog and you don't have to read it, you tossers. Nonetheless, in the interest of balance I feel I should confess that the German edition of my book has, just yesterday, received what is arguably the worst review in the history of Krautish journalism. The scathing critique was published in the august pages of Suddeutsche Zeitung, Bavaria's foremost newspaper.

Here it is, in its spleandour.


"Ich finde, du solltest es mal mit Internet-Dating probieren." Entrüstet schaut Sean Thomas seinen Chef Simon Geller an. Geller ist Redakteur der Zeitschrift Men"s Health in London, 37 Jahre alt wie Thomas, jedoch glücklich verheiratet.

Den Tipp empfindet Thomas als Affront, er meint zu wissen, was ihm sein Boss eigentlich sagen will: Er sei ein trauriger Fall.

Ein riesengroßer aussichtsloser Versager in Sachen Liebe. In seinem Men"s Health-Ego schwer beschädigt, tritt er die Flucht nach vorn an: ". . .das sind doch Freaks."

Das Argument lässt Geller kalt. Im Gegenteil, er setzt seinem Schützling die Pistole auf die Brust: "Du bist freier Journalist. Du arbeitest für uns. Und das ist ein Auftrag . . . Unsere Leser wollen Frauen kennenlernen, und du findest heraus, ob sie das online machen können!"

Das Ergebnis von Thomas" gründlicher Recherche - ein Jahr lang gönnt er sich für die Feldarbeit - kann man jetzt auf gut 300 Seiten nachlesen.

Funkelnd und erkenntnisgesättigt

Wer gemeint hat, nach der Lektüre besser zu verstehen, was die ungeschriebenen Regeln des Online-Datings sind, warum es sich so großer Beliebtheit erfreut und was es über die amouröse Befindlichkeit nicht nur der britischen Gesellschaft, sondern unserer globalisierten Welt aussagt - der Titel des Buches lautet "Millionen Frauen warten auf Dich" - sieht sich getäuscht.

Denn Thomas nutzt sein Buch in erster Linie nicht dazu, uns etwas über die Liebe in Zeiten des Internets zu erzählen, sondern über sein eigenes Liebesleben von der Pubertät bis in die Gegenwart.

Während wir über die virtuelle Beziehungsanbahnung bereits nach der Hälfte des Buches so funkelnd erkenntnisgesättigte Sätze lesen dürfen wie "War ich anfangs, vor drei Monaten, von der reinen Anzahl der Singlebörsen im Web überrascht, so bin ich jetzt völlig perplex angesichts der enormen Menge und Größe dieser Kontaktsites mit sexueller Ausrichtung", sind wir über die diesbezüglichen Präferenzen des Autors bestens informiert.

Das Problem ist nur: Wen interessieren 300 Seiten Liebeslust und Liebesfrust eines Men"s Health-Journalisten? Genau, niemanden. Sein Magazin-Artikel hätte ausgereicht.

Das eigene Ego streicheln

Und so hat man den Eindruck, Sean Thomas hat dieses Buch nur geschrieben, um sein Ego zu streicheln. Die Tatsache, dass er sich zu Beginn als "aussichtslosen Versager" hinstellt, entpuppt sich als plumpe Rhetorik, die ihn vor den überwiegend männlichen Lesern als unwiderstehliches Prachtexemplar seiner Spezies erscheinen lassen soll.

Denn mit stolzgeschwellter Brust erwähnt er am Ende seiner Intimgeständnisse die Gesamtzahl seiner weiblichen Eroberungen: "Sechzig, vielleicht siebzig, zählt man die Prostituierten mit".

Anschließend fragt er scheinheilig: "Wo lande ich da auf der Tabelle der Schlüpfrigkeit?" Natürlich landen Sie da weit vorne, Herr Thomas, so weit vorne, wie es Ihr Buch auf keiner Verkaufsliste schaffen sollte."


I trust no one can speak German. Take it from me - having done a Google translation - it's bad.

Funny thing is, though, there may be some truth in the adage All Publicity Is Good Publicity. This review was the lead review in one of Germany's biggest papers. OK it says I am an egotistical monster and my book is totally worthless and boring - but I've just noticed my German amazon rankings have shot up, albeit from a very low base - and right in the middle of the Christmas gift-buying season, too.

Frohliche Weinachten, Florian Welle!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Found Poem


Cornwall. Where I come from.



A Poem Found on the Website of the English Electoral Commission Report for 2006



CAMBORNE AND REDRUTH COUNTY CONSTITUENCY (64,810). Three wards of the District of Carrick:- Mount Hawke, Perranporth, St Agnes; and sixteen wards of the District of Kerrier:- Camborne North, Camborne South, Camborne West, Constantine, Gweek and Mawnan, Grade-Ruan and Landewednack, Illogan North, Illogan South, Mabe and Budock, Meneage, Mullion, Redruth North, Redruth South, St Day, Lanner and Carharrack, St Keverne, Stithians, Wendron.

ST AUSTELL AND NEWQUAY COUNTY CONSTITUENCY (65,052). Seventeen wards of the Borough of Restormel:- Bethel, Crinnis, Edgcumbe North, Edgcumbe South, Fowey and Tywardreath, Gannel, Gover, Lostwithiel, Mount Charles, Poltair, Rialton, Rock, St Blaise, St Columb, St Enoder, St Stephen, Treverbyn.

TRURO AND FALMOUTH COUNTY CONSTITUENCY (64,785). Sixteen wards of the District of Carrick:- Arwenack, Boscawen, Boslowick, Carland, Feock and Kea, Kenwyn and Chacewater, Moresk, Mylor, Newlyn and Goonhavern, Penryn, Penwerris, Probus, Roseland, Tregolls, Trehaverne and Gloweth, Trescobeas; and two wards of the Borough of Restormel:- Mevagissey, St Ewe.

Monday, December 11, 2006

There's Plagiarism, and there's PLAGIARISM


I found this photo on the Net, and borrowed it. Does that count as PLAGIARISM?



Relax, Ian, They've Seen Worse

Right now Ian McEwan, with the help of literary luminaries like Zadie Smith, John Updike, even the ultra-reclusive Thomas Pynchon, is fending off accusations of plagiarism. In McEwan's case, the controversy surrounds a handful of sentences and some vivid terms which McEwan "borrowed" from a wartime diarist, for his own wartime novel Atonement. A strong element in McEwan's defence is that he openly acknowledged the borrowings from the start.

But even if McEwan hadn't behaved so correctly, he shouldn't be worried. Because the literary world can, it seems, forgive much more outrageous literary thefts.

Take the case of Alan Kent.

Kent is a Cornish writer, born in St Austell, who has long published poetry and criticism from a Cornish perspective, along with novels tinged with a distinctly Celtic melancholy. As such he has become a key figure in he Cornish literary scene.

Or so he was until 1995, when it was discovered that Kent had lifted, bodily, poems by two Scottish Gaelic writers and published them as his own in a collection of Cornish verse. The only changes Kent had made to the poems were to 'modify them and place them in a Cornish context'. Oh, yes, and to add his own name to them.

When the copying was uncovered there was a minor scandal, and Kent was reprimanded.

You'd think that would be enough, but then he came back for more. In 1997 it was discovered that Kent had stolen entire passages from the Booker short listed novel of Orkney writer George MacKay Brown, merely changing a few place-names to make them sound Cornish: then he'd cut and pasted them into his own novel published two years later.

Kent's wife said at the time that her husband was suffering from type 1 diabetes, hence the confusion. Kent duly fled the scene.

And now? The other day Professor Alan Kent was on local BBC radio, chirping away about Cornish literature and his own latest volumes. Yes, the literary world can forgive a lot worse than Ian McEwan's "crimes".

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Harry Potter: Explained


The kids from Harry Potter? No - the Kids from Fame!!


JK Rowling and the Allegory of Artistry

When I was about eleven my English class at school were all asked to read George Orwell's Animal Farm, with its pigs, horses and nasty farmer. At the end of our designated reading time, the teacher stood up and asked the class what we thought the book was "really" about.

Cue: total silence.

Except in my head. Sitting as usual at the back of the class, so I could chuck paper at my friend Neil, I had a sudden thought. From nowhere, it occurred to me - probably because I am super-clever - that the book was about Soviet Russia. It just kinda clicked in my mind - Yes, it was about communism. A fairly impressive insight for someone aged 11. I didn't even know the meaning of the word "allegory" at the time.

But did I put my hand up, give my answer, and get tons of deserved praise for my precocious brilliance?

Did I hell.

As I sat there, another voice in my eleven-year-old head said: What if you're wrong? What if this answer is total bollocks? Do you honestly believe this book about pigs and horses and donkeys is really about communism? You're going to look totally stupid - and also like a clever dick who isn't that clever - if you say this answer and you are incorrect. People will laugh at you and you might get your head shoved down the toilet by those kids in 2C.

So I stayed quiet. And then the smugly sighing teacher told us what the book was about: it was all about Soviet Communism.

I sat there, seething at my own cowardice. Imagine the glory I could have had!

So anyway, all this is a long-winded way of saying - ever since that episode, I've thought it best to just come out with opinions, even at the risk of being laughed at. Who Dares Wins. Who Dares Also Gets Laid More. Etc.

In which light, I thought I'd tell you my little theory about Harry Potter, just in case I'm right and future generations want to thank me. Or even pay me.

The way I see it, Harry Potter is a rather clever allegory of what it's like to be an artistic child born into a resolutely non-artistic family, maybe even a very straight, petit bourgeois family. Seen this way, Harry Potter is a child born with great artistic talent, he has the "magic" - with all that entails in terms of weirdness and eccentricity and the rest.

His parents, who are not artistic, who maybe even despise artistic girlie shit, find him and his desires completely alien, almost like a stepkid, a changeling.

Harry Potter in turn finds his parents and family - and by extension all small-minded, ordinary people without artistic talent - boring and restricted. To Harry, the non-arty people are the straight men of life: they have no magic, they are people to be pitied, they are Muggles.

But the mismatch remains. The only option, the burning desire, of Harry is to get away to a place where like-minded arty people understand each other. A university, or a drama school, an art college: Hogwarts, with its endearingly weird teachers and its magically understanding ethos.

So that's my theory. Harry Potter is all about the battle between a creatively talented child and petit bourgeois values that surround her. I'm guessing that the writer JK Rowling had such a bourgeois and frustrating upbringing herself, and the whole thing is, in a peculiar way, her own story.


And now I'm going back to flicking bits of paper at my mate Neil.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How I Found The World's Oldest Statue


And here it is. By the fire extinguisher.



Is This the World's Oldest Statue?


I can't quite work out what I'm seeing. This thing before me looks like a fossilised snowman. Or maybe a mock-up of a Doctor Who monster. Yet, if scholars are right, this is the oldest statue in the world.

The cream-coloured effigy was found in the ancient Kurdish city of Sanliurfa, in the hot plains of central southern Turkey. This is not far from the extraordinary archaelogical dig of Gobekli Tepe [see below].

The statue's modern story begins a few years ago, when foundations were being laid for a local bank. The excavations took place right next to an historic city attraction - the Bolikli Gol. This is a beautiful fishpond surrounded by mosques and gardens.

As the workmen dug away in the Turkish sunshine, they realised that they were exhuming history. Odd chunks of limestone were emerging from the earth.

Archaeologists were summoned. The chunks were taken to the local museum, and pieced together. They turned out to form a peculiar and hefty sculpture: of a man, or a manlike God. The head of the statue had piercing coal-black eyes. The hands were placed in front of the genitals, like a soccer player protecting himself.

This was interesting enough, but things got more amazing. Back at the dig, scientists were examining more debris. The statue turned out to be part of a larger discovery: of a Neolithic temple. This temple, and therefore the statue, has now been dated to 10,000 BC. This makes the Snowman possibly the "oldest statue in the world".

Of course the veracity of this claim depends on semantics. i.e. What's a "statue"? The famous Venus of Willendorf dates back to 20,000BC. But the Venus is just 11cm long: surely not a statue. The same problem applies to the diminutive Neanderthal "Lion Man" from Germany.

Seen in one sense, the Bolikli Gol Snowman is therefore the first sizeable sculpture of a man: the world's first statue. It is also, arguably, the oldest sculptural representation of humanity, the oldest self-portrait in stone.

Given these remarkable claims, you'd think the Bolikli Gol statue would be famous. Yet it isn't. The statue is scarcely known. It stands in the tiny local museum, forlorn and forgotten, next to the fire extinguisher. Why?

One reason is the venom of local politics: the ongoing tussle between the Turks and Kurds prevents good publicity of archaeological treasures, in which the area of Sanliurfa abounds.

But maybe the ancient Snowman lacks friends for another reason: because he is such an unsettling presence. His lonely obsidian eyes dominate the gallery where he stands, his wistful gaze speaks of a weird and agonising regret. After a few minutes with the statue I make quickly for the exit; and when I reach the sunny street outside, I find I am sighing with relief.

That weird staring expression.

"Bolikli Gol" - the sacred fishpond of Abraham, in the centre of Sanliurfa.

Another view of the "world's oldest statue".