Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reportage: From Girona to Gatwick

He looked even worse than I felt: apprehensive, a bit unsure about the wisdom of this flight. He had been carrying an anonymous violin case (and when did they become anonymous? They're no longer shaped like the instrument they purport to protect; instead they're as institutionally corporate and dull as any other piece of luggage. It was only because I could see a spare string peeking out that I divined what was inside), but stowed it with a graceful ease, indicative of his profession.

The pony tail was held on top of his head by an aquamarine elastic band. His beard was worth at least three weeks' worth of effort. On his left wrist, her pink hairband, sitting snugly just above the narrowing where the hand is joined. On his right wrist, a string of pearls which kept falling towards his forearm. Now and again he would push it back up, only for it to slide back. In his hands were a purple paper bag, and an A5 notebook, spiral bound, red covered and with squared notepaper.

Looking over his shoulder, expecting the chastisement from the air stewardess for even thinking about committing the offence, he pulled down the tray table then emptied the paper bag on to it. Two sets of photographs, six by four. One had holes punched in the top-left hand corner, and were connected together by a binding of some sort, what I assumed to be a treasury tag; certainly something loose enough to allow him to flick through them, rapidly, then slowly, then rapidly again, like he was drying the drain the images of the pain, while leaving the potency behind, the same way you might hammer a shot in order to feel the buzz, but not the aftermath.

Both sets of photos were of her, mostly, nearly all of them her. In close up, in sepia, in black and white, in a bleached out daylight tone. Often he had tightly cropped on just her smile, or her eyes. These slices of her seemed even more pungent to him, and he would bring these up to his nose and then his eyes, as though the closer sight and faintest smell of her would do something good to him and his memories of what he was leaving behind.

Sometimes she was wearing something. Often she wasn't, and she was unembarrassed by her nakedness around him. He gave her the comfort and the confidence that she could do that, probably for the first time. Her eyes suggested she hadn't done it much.

There were lots of embraces on various beaches, and hence adroit use of what must have been a robust timer: the ability to find a flat surface, allow enough lead time, set it, sprint round, lift her up and hold it until - click. He must have been good at it. At first I thought there must have been a third person there, so skillful were they.

But then, would you allow another person to share those moments?

There was family there too: her mother, a younger sister. Beaming pride on the face of one, suspicion on the other. Or maybe it was jealousy.

On the back of every single photo was a note, written in caps in a thin black felt tip pen. I couldn't read them ('Moby Dick' is a very useful book to disguise your intentions with if and when you are grubbily trying to peruse someone's life story from snatched and discreet glances). The words didn't seem to be about the place and time the shot had been taken; instead the feelings they evoked. I guessed that she'd written them, so that he'd have another hit of nostalgia to inhale. I imagined that they'd be both banal and poetic, as the codes of other lovers are - whereas yours are cryptic and profound, theirs are always baffling and banal. Presumably they were erotic, and erotic enough to keep him in the reverie that she wanted him in: there will be no other like me, who will do to you what I have done to you, who will make you feel how I have made you feel, in one place, in all places, all over.

He put the photos back in the bag, then turned to the notebook. In-between the cover and the first page was a single US dollar bill. He'd been doodling on it. In careful black ink, he'd drawn hearts around the Federal Reserve seal, and sketched some of them in. On the back, above the words 'In God We Trust', he'd written 'I love you'.


Google's views on the future of journalism

Via BuzzMachine, well worth a read, if you haven't already. Particularly stinging is the reminder that newspapers have been facing declining circulation since the 1920s, and didn't ask for special privileges then.

Also might be worth adding the big G's public policy blog to your various feeders.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

26 recommendations

A bit late, but 26's recommendations for July can be found verily so.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Commercial: 66,000 miles per hour

I am somewhat ashamed not to have brought you news of this sooner; but two of my confreres at 26, Tim and Tom, have started a blog.

As you might expec,t it is excellent.

You must subscribe. Immediately.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm Mandy, come fly me

And I'm only being slightly less tongue in cheek than Lord Mandelson was last night, at the Peacock Theatre, in conversation with editor of The Times James Harding (who alarmingly, is the vocal spit of satirist John Oliver), as part of his - what feels like - never-ending publicity drive for The Third Man.

For what was most obvious is that it is only now that politics for him has become fun, rather than a duty or a chore or a set of tasks designed to burnish those greater than him and diminish him in the process. And because he is liberated from any threat of being called treacherous or a splitter, he can revel in his notoriety for expertise in the black arts, rather than shrinking from it.

It was, to all intents, like finding out that The Price of Darkness is actually Russell Harty, an impression he then proceeded to play up to, confirming that he'd 'smacked the bottoms' of three out of the five candidates for Labour leader for having spoken about the book without having read it.

His sinuousness in real life was something of a surprise. His voice flutters and his hands flute, expressively; and he often amuses himself more than he does anyone else - and this then amuses him even more. Combined with the very deliberate precision of his speech - but note that it is never lawyerly or policy wonky - he cannot be surprised that 'feline' was used as an adjective about him so often in his career.

The only time he was significantly discomfited was when he was asked which of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne he'd shoot, shag or marry. He demurred from answering. It was the only time his homosexuality was even glanced upon (his Jewishness, or lack thereof, brought a thoughtful if unrevealing answer).

He still is as quotable as he ever was - "People who want to lead the Labour Party should not diss their government or dump on their pasts" - but there is the slight sense that, just perhaps, he isn't as newsworthy as he once was, and that he knows it; and so, like a rock star with one last album to sell, he is enjoying this final time on the road.

And one final thought: the long-form political interview (a form Mandelson helped to pioneer when he worked on Weekend World) hasn't, contrary to reports, died. Instead, now, the interviewee gets paid a hell of a lot more for taking part than they ever did for appearing on TV.

It's an irony that, presumably, Mandelson revels in.


Commercial: Social media success

Starter for ten. Anything I've missed out? Inspired by a talk we had from Jon Morter of Cake, or the man that beat Simon Cowell to last year's Christmas number 1.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Wedding lean-to

Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
from Avening 2010.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Commercial: Passages for the Word Theatre

Just a heads up if you're lacking something to do tonight: get thee down to the Tabernacle in West London, for Word Theatre's glittering array of short stories (including some winners of The Sunday Times Short Story competition) read by a glittering array of actors (including Brian Cox, blimey guvnor).

And it's all for Macmillan Cancer Support too. Get there early, often etc etc.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reminder: Poetry: 7 or a Kumquat - an evening of poetry

A reminder that I'm reading this Thursday night at The Lamb, with my fellow students from Katy Evans-Bush's poetry class.

Please come. Please. Please. Please please please please. Etc.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The new Pop Justice

The legend is, of course, that when confronted with popular culture, certain members of the English judiciary affect a haughty disdain that they should even concern themselves with such things. 'Who are The Beatles?' is, of course, the sine qua non of this, with technology causing bafflement too.

Well, as from today, no longer do judges have ignorance as an excuse to hide behind, when one of their brethren can write the following in a judgment:

In short, what is protected is the applicant’s right to live freely and openly as a gay man. That involves a wide spectrum of conduct, going well beyond conduct designed to attract sexual partners and maintain relationships with them. To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates. Mutatis mutandis – and in many cases the adaptations would obviously be great – the same must apply to other societies. In other words, gay men are to be as free as their straight equivalents in the society concerned to live their lives in the way that is natural to them as gay men, without the fear of persecution.

This, my non-English friends, is what we call progress. I put it down to the fact that we have a Supreme Court now as well.

Less trivially, you can read about the judgment, which is important, here.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On stories that should not be told

I'm starting to think that it should be compulsory to learn how to tell an anecdote, or at least develop some basic raconteuring skills. Thus armed, people will not only be able to know how to tell their tales and stories, and dress them so they have some interest for the wider world, but perhaps also learn when they should not tell them.

This thought flitted across my mind as I read AN Wilson's tribute to Beryl Bainbridge, who died last week. In particular, this anecdote jumped out:

Some years ago, I was sitting in a pub with Beryl Bainbridge and Peter Ackroyd. No one was drunk, exactly speaking, but an atmosphere of Gin Lane hung about our table. At this point, a beautiful, pure young woman, who, as Beryl shouted, was "a mere child", came into the bar. She approached our table with a collecting-tin, which she rattled. "Cancer Research". Beryl said that she had no widow's mite to contribute. Ackroyd shouted smut. The pure one looked a bit wounded, perhaps because her Cancer Research tin was scarcely visible through the haze of tobacco smoke being created by Beryl's and Ackroyd's fags. To console her, Beryl called her back.

"I'm sorry we've no small change, pet," she said. "But if it helps…" she waved the ignited cigarette melodramatically in the air, "I have got cancer."

When I said I felt sorry for the charity collector, Beryl coquettishly pretended I had designs on the girl. "You're very rude," she said in her ickle-girlie voice.

And my first thought on reading that was: why? Why have you put that it in? What was the need to share that?

I suspect that Wilson thought that he was showing something that was unique to her, comic timing, perhaps, or a grand guignol-ish sense of humour, which reinforced the darkness that is to be found amongst her comedy.

Instead, what there was was the sight of three of Britain's most eminent writers deliberately taking the piss out of someone who was trying to do something about the disease that ultimately killed one of them.

Charming, no?

What it does, contrary to what Wilson thinks, is not show three wits at the height of their powers. It instead demonstrates 1) that north London can make wankers of us all b) that pub conversations should stay exactly as that and c) writers are generally mean, cruel and indifferent to feelings.

And I doubt that she'd had her sentimental streak eradicated to the extent that she'd want people reading that and thinking, 'what a cow'.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Poetry: 7 or a Kumquat - an evening of poetry

Following on from yesterday, more poetry.

I'm part of a reading on 15 July, launching the pamphlet by members of the Artillery Arms Group, the advanced class lead by Katy Evans-Bush. It's at The Lamb, 92 Lambs Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3LZ. More details here or on facebook.

Entry £3, and you get a free pamphlet too. A bargain, even if I do say so.

Hope to see you there.