Monday, 22 November 2010


I may have spelled his name wrong, but I caught a radio item stating that Julian Fellow(e)s, writer of pap film and TV drama scripts, had received a peerage. Michael Winner, one of the studio guests, was offended by getting 'only the second step down' - an OBE.

These 'honours', doled out by the artistically conservative British Establishment, have long ceased to mean anything; still I wonder if Fellow(e)s's ennoblement is a worrying sign of the times. In the Philistine 1980s (which this present coalition seems to be rehabilitating) we had Jeffrey (later Lord) Archer peddling his appalling fiction, and now here's the Fellow(e)s fellow receiving Oscars and God knows what other plaudits for his snobbish and cliche-ridden writings. His Oscar for Gosford Park came from the American academy, of course, who seem eager to buy into 'historical' narratives about British toffs, although the US has more than its fair share of home-grown talented screenwriters to fall back on. It was Britain, however, who gave peerages to Archer and Fellow(e), and that has no excuse. Also aired with the radio programme was some military top brass rant about the excellent Jimmy McGovern's new TV series, The Accused. Tonight's episode apparently concerns an army corporal accused of bullying young soldiers, something which the general felt would cause offence to the relatives of those serving in Afghanistan, already worried by media hysteria over pictures of wounded soldiers and funerary scenes at Wooton Bassett. Military jingoism and misplaced sentiment are perhaps predictable consequences of these hard times, but, as with the Falklands furore, the wicked witch is kept at bay by the myth of our boys' offering themselves as a sacrifice to a notion called Hearts and Minds, never mind the collateral damage. These are not wars like the Second World War, where the issues were clear, and the enemy still clearer, and the draft of young men to kill other young men a necessary evil. Leaving all that aside, the general missed the simple point that Jimmy McGovern is a serious and gifted TV dramatist working in a contemporary-realist genre in which bullying in the army seems to me to be an entirely suitable theme.

Fellow(e)s's well-thumbed subject is the good old escapist mystery of social class, dressed up in the (often inaccurate) historical flummery of The Good Old Days. Even his 'contemporary' novel, Snobs, is a pointless, inconsequential narrative of social climbers and flunkeys toadying around the titled folk in the big house. Are we meant to look to these people for some sort of moral and social model? Know your place, and stay in it. Is that a way for a little country to get ahead in a globalised world order?

After Downton Abbey, watchable only because of the sterling attempts of the cast to inject some life into a silly story with a banal script, we will no doubt be treated to another fairytale, the wedding of royal William and Kate, presented as a tonic for the masses in troubled times but intercut with historical footage from that other fairtytale wedding of recession-hit 1981 which unfortunately failed to stick to the story. Now that was drama with an original twist.


A concerned comment to this blog about the floods in Cornwall last week alerted me to the fact that I haven't posted anything since March this year. Where did the spring go and the summer, and the autumn which is nearly over? I swept away the last leaves this morning, getting cat shit on my clogs for all my pains, but now I have permission from the owner (Pussy Woman) to throw water over the offending fluffy ginger creature after it terrorised a heron in my garden back in July. In fact (a fact which I owned up to her), I have been throwing water and other missiles at her revolting pet since she moved it in a couple of years ago, but I have only got as far as scaring it out of the garden by my mere presence; the fouling and the wildlife mauling just goes on and on. I know that life is far too short to care about a cat, but in this neighbourhood it feels as though the utterly pointless animals have inherited the earth. I wouldn't want to eat any planted vegetable from a cat-infested garden or allotment, organic or not. Some creatures, including humans, are quite demonic, and if you're not careful, the whole of existence can be reduced to a a constant battle against the fiends.

But last week, before the floods, I was sitting in The Blue Bar at Porthtowan drinking well-kept Guinness and looking at the all-powerful ocean that washes sins away. I go to Porthtowan to remind myself why I live in Cornwall, and it always works. All my ghosts are on that beach: my gentle black labrador bitch, long dead, and the spirit of my daughter's childhood that haunts the sea caves where we used leave pebbles and shells for the mermaids on the tide. In summer, we'd go down to the shore with a breakfast sandwich and a flask of tea and wait for the sun to warm the sands - a cat-free zone.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Pay what you like (or nothing at all) for twenty-five selected BeWrite Books ebooks in all formats during Read an Ebook Week from March 7-13. All income will go to the Red Cross effort in Haiti. Simply visit the BeWrite Books page and scroll down through the catalogue:

Saturday, 6 March 2010


I found out yesterday that St Piran was the patron saint of tin miners. I knew he was patron saint of Cornwall because his flag (a monochrome version of the Swiss flag, though rectangular, not square) flies everywhere these days. It felt like the first day of spring because the sun was shining and there were schoolgirls dancing in the streets of Truro behind a band of accordions, bhodrans and the odd piece of brass. The Cornish politicos were there, dressed in black overcoats and selling co-ordinating flags for a pound a time. It wasn't a large procession, and I don't think they sold many flags, though the police had stopped the traffic to encourage shoppers to stop. The whole thing was a metaphor for hope over experience, a bit like the CND Marches and rallies of the Old Left that I watched on TV in the 'Seventies.

Michael Foot, long time CND marcher and Leftist, died yesterday, aged ninety years. There is not one single politician living today in this country who has a smidgen of Foot's integrity, sincerity, and belief in a fairer world based on social(ist) principles, with the exception of Tony Benn, who has now retired from Parliament and, like Foot, is fading into late old age. Foot wore his donkey jacket to Remembrance Sunday parade when he was Leader of the Opposition and was, apparently, complemented on it by the queen or by her mother while the press had a feeding frenzy at his 'lack of respect' and sartorial savoir faire. In the dawning age of media politicians, Foot, like Gordon Brown, was a disaster for his Party, once he became leader, but only because people had stopped listening to what he said. The tragedy for us all now is that there is no one left to say it for him.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Stanley's Final Ashes Tour

Stanley (see previous post) is celebrating his death with a final progress round the world's test cricket grounds. Henceforth, some far flung corner of those foreign fields will be forever Stanley...

The full story is at

God Bless Him.

Friday, 8 January 2010


Listening to yet another anodyne serial on Radio 4, I started thinking about the worst books I have ever read. This is tough to do because I rarely finish a book I don't engage with, apart from the required academic reading (could come up with quite a few there), or out of some horrible or prurient fascination with the subject (Miss Whiplash's 'autobiography' comes to mind). But suddenly, it came to me. The worst book I have ever read was Jeffrey Archer's 'First Among Equals'.

I found it amongst the board games in the day room of the neurology ward, where I spent a good six weeks last summer. A torn paperback edition, it was the only book there; maybe someone had hidden it there, in shame. Anyway, we were right in the middle of the MP expenses scandal and, bearing in mind Lord Archer's past convictions for shady dealings, I thought his book might shed some light on the workings of the House of Commons, particularly since one enthusiastic critique trumpeted it as the most important political novel of the century. It opened with a series of potted characterisations of the four main players. Two thirds through the book itself, I was still having to turn back to these character profiles to work out who was who and doing what to whom. In other words, all of the usual, even painstaking means of building characters through narrative and dialogue, were subject to gaps and omissions. The prose was dire; short declarative sentences, unrelieved by the slightest reflection, like some processing plant. The plot revolved around which of the four 'new' MPs would become Prime Minister. I didn't stick around long enough to find out, the library trolley having ridden to my rescue with a copy of Michael Palin's excellent 'Hemingway's Chair'; but I suspect it wasn't any of them. It must have been the wild card (Margaret Thatcher character). Now there's a twist in the tale.

More recent nominations, which I haven't actually read, might be:

Wayne Rooney's (auto)biography

Anything by Jordan (Katie Price).