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Short sharp shocks….

Texas Hold ‘em – just for fun.

We sat down at midnight after a feed of beer and curry. And there was banter and fun. But something’s changed. We aren’t playing anymore. This game’s a proxy. It’s distilled itself down to something desperate and single-minded.

I didn’t sign up for this. It’s a load of crap. But they truly believe their own hype. Four of them, and me. 2 am, near as damned. And this whiskey’s making me blind and sleepy.

Sly, sideways and no quarter yeah, they all seem to hate each other. Gripped by shots, humiliation, and the laughing. Constant laughing about nothing. They were pretending earlier all talk like kids, but now, with midnight a memory, I’m not so sure and neither it seems are they.

I hate it all.

They think this is how to be a man. And maybe it is. Maybe there’s so many now who think like this and act like this and are like this, that maybe this is just how we are.

Where’s that drink? Here’s my flush. I’ll show them how to play. I’ll beat you all. Yes, you’re all going down tonight. I’ll beat you, cause I know how to play, but I damn well won’t join you. Bring it children. Bring it.




We, the mighty 1%.

We’re the quiet army. Waiting for the call.

Ready to go. Anywhere, any time – day or night – and yes, we’ll do just about anything.

We’ll scratch an itch, clean your nails, maybe your teeth. Hopefully not in that order. We’ll pick a lock, or get some old zip drive open for you. Anything. Dammit I heard a guy once fixed one of us up as an earring. And don’t you ever underestimate how necessary we are in a budgetary meeting on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Slough. Bend and snap!

We are unchanged in 116 years. Someone even told me we’re a design classic. But we ain’t proud. We just sit and wait and then we get it on.

And they say 99 percent of us will never be used. Well maybe. But we are all volunteers and we are all ready. We stand prepared for anything…. Hell, sometimes we even bring two pieces of paper together.

We, the mighty 1%, are at your service.





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On civilisation….

There is nothing on this earth like being civilised. Nothing like knowing when to speak, and what to say, and what to do in any given situation. At any given moment.

To remain in control and in the present. That’s cool.

But what I am talking about is really a step beyond manners, although they are important too. Politeness, particularly in London, make you a kind of King. (And I never know whether I made that line up or read it somewhere.) Manners though are easy and should never intrude – be wary of those who take them too far. I really couldn’t give a fig for the settee and the sofa, the napkin and the serviette, and yes, those who do are the desperate and the deadly. Be wary of them. They seek to diminish you. But I have always been drawn to form. Dressing correctly becomes one, and increasingly as one goes older, no? It’s much the same as using the appropriate language. Good grammar. The correct spelling. Is it not wonderful when people make an effort?

To punctuate is to elevate.

But when you do all these little things and you are confident and mannerly and cool you allow yourself to shine really. Nothing intrudes apart from your intellect, your self, and your well-formed patient, generous character.

These people (those who can do this) are rare. And it is a sound society that recognises them and gives them space. Listens to them and not to the shouty, prescriptive, brash, to the awful….. We should accommodate the clever, the civilised and the educated. Strive to make this the ideal.

Because when they are shouted down, or worse when they no longer step forward at all. Then we are in trouble. When these people wander about, baffled, ignored or derided or set apart as eccentric then we are moving in the wrong direction.

Then there is something rotten. Something missing. And yes, perhaps this is about getting older. But might there be something in it despite of that fact.

Manners, being civilised, is really a rather wonderful thing, and more that that, it’s all we have.

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The barroom or the drawing room….

You see, there is a way of talking that is low, slow and takes its own good time to draw up to its conclusion. This is a way of speaking, and of writing, that needs the semi and the full colon. It is structured. Precise; yet thoughtful, emerging. It persuades through the weight of the thought preceding. Its slow meter speaks of its own authority. It is Father speaking. Or the Colonel, or some man of letters. He is in his club, leather and thick pile carpet, liveried attendant in silence waiting on him. Or it’s the drawing room after dinner with port and cheese. That sort of thing. This is the world of the classic English novelist. Waugh, I’m thinking.  Well mannered. Well meaning. Well Educated. Precise, if at times a little laboured. Who knows at times maybe even a bit turgid. The classic American novel, on the other hand, is all fast talk and back chat. Some guy, cool as summer breeze, letting it go with some banter, spinning a tale of intrigue and mystery and a love that was lost on a night just like this…. Some guy, breaking through the bar room babble with wit and a steady patter. Faster, snappier, maybe a little brash. and oh so confident. Maybe a charlatan, certainly a charmer with an eye for the ladies and a well turned phrase or two. But whatever, you give him some space and some time, cause boy can that fella talk. John Updike and William Burroughs and Chandler, they are all holding court in some stream of American discourse over a beer or a cocktail or something in between. Maybe Fitzgerald is the bridge between these two. But essentially he is spinning tales at the bar too. With grandiose and beautiful prose, there in his suit in some upmarket joint, with a screwdriver and a tale to spin…. Do you know……. I’ve time for both.


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The true meaning of Xmas….

My Christmas Story recommendation is The Ghost ships by Angela Carter.

Why? Because it contains the true meaning of Christmas. What do I mean? Or what does she mean. Is it the crinkle of Christmas paper, ripped open for presents to glow upon rosy cheeked cherubs who dance by the yule logs a-crackling in the fireplace, as Mum and Dad look on in soft focus.

Most assuredly not.

Is it then because it exults that Christmas is a time of reflection and rest, of peace and goodwill to all men. Perhaps a trip to the church and a sip of sherry.

Again, no.

It is because she recalls that Christmas was for-run by something darker. Something more authentic. More real. Something that we all need, and claim probably too often and too meekly as we plod through the year and rush from September into this dulled down festival of consumerism and garish nonsense.

Because it’s not really about crap CDs and socks and X Factor…. Xmas is a thing enduring and in all of us.

Look, read Carter, I won’t spoil it but she talks about how it is a festival of light. Of Saturnia of excess. Of mistletoe, that like the Maypole, is a symbol of something altogether more energetic and…. Well, moving.

It’s about feasting and drunkenness and lewd displays – and how in the new world they weren’t going to be at home to any of that. In fact they prohibited it, by law…. Yes the path was set firmly in place some time ago in America, bless ‘em.

Misrule – that is the message of this festival. It’s the big long weekend of the year.

And what else? It’s Angela Carter! Mad, Bad Angela Carter, who takes us by the hand deep into the forests of her imagination, to places that we’ve all been before as children and in the deep dark parts of the night that we don’t talk about, even to our nearest. She talks us back to the dense imaginariums of our shared past, through pallid calm streams and then on through a darkening glade that is quickening into night til we stand amongst a place that teems with life and the other thing just there in the corner of our eye.

Angela Carter reminds us in this story of the original meaning of the festival of the end of the year. That it is a time to dance and rage at the dying of the light. To feast and play and finally lie spent. And maybe light a candle and hope that tomorrow they’ll be a chance to do it all again.

So don’t have those two or three Quality Street washed down with two or three beers and fall asleep in front of Alan Carr. No. Read Carter, whilst munching on a whole box of the very best Belgian chocs you can steal and drink the best wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion – this is it! – and then grab someone (the more distantly related to you the better) and dance til you can’t see ‘em.

For that is the True Meaning of Christmas.

Do enjoy your Xmas irresponsibly…..


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Her Majesty’s Servant….

…I’ve always thought that a decent Bond title….

So the Bond Estate has let someone else write a Bond book….

You really think they should just leave it, and they should. But who can’t resist another Bond tale? Not the writers when offered I’m sure, and not the readers.

Nobody does it better than Fleming. But Boyd could be a good choice.

What was with Deavers and his Carte Blanche? It’s all a bit Action Book! And who wants Bond to go reaching for his mobile phone?

Sebastian Faulks was a bit too literary possibly. Too effete? Bit too, croissants for brunch and see you later for a shandy before supper. And that monkey hand….shudder.

Bond likes to eat well too of course. And he likes ladies and fast, fast cars.

This guy Boyd. He may well be just the ticket. Down the middle – he writes good rattling yarns…..
You soooo want it to be good. And sensibly its back to his original era (just about). And he’s aging…. Well ok. Ok, can just about take that….

Aren’t we all.

No wait, dammit, that’s the point of Bond…. He is a cipher. Which brings me back to my original comment (like a good columnist)….. perhaps Bond should be left well alone… but who can resist….

And on and on and on Mr Bond….



(……..James Bond will return.)


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Something fundamentally wrong here….

Why was Romley not asked about his Moronism? Isn’t that his name? Remember that bloke who had a go, and was beaten despite the economy and unemployment and billions of dollars of funding and all the hate and fear mongering. Yeah. Ronmey. Him. Well now. The near total collusion of silence on his absurd fundamentalism. In the media. What was all that about?

I think the reason may be somewhat complex. Layered and faintly sinister. (but I am not mad.) Unlike him.

Oh all right. He’s not mad either. I mean no more than anyone else. I reckon that what happened to Rommey could have happened to many of us. You get introduced to something, all your friends are doing it, all your family’s doing it. You don’t actually think that much about it, and then before you know it your professional, cultural and social life is built around it and you just silence those wee whispered voices of dissent at the back of your cave and you just carry on from day to day. Which is easy when you are Mitten Rommily the Third and a Grand Bisphop-prick. After you Bishop R etc etc….

Anyway. That’s a digression.

The thing about Mitto is not only is he a Moron. He is a fundamentalist Moron. What he ‘believes’ in draws too much attention to a rather thorny subject and one that I think most journos would rather steer clear of.

That believing in god is a sham belief. Everyone with half a brain knows it’s a throw-back, a nonsense and all a bit embarrassing. But to have to drag out all this really nutty stuff up is just to underline that further, and to even sully people who pretend to believe (like most politicians) by a kind of association.

And we don’t want to do that. So we keep it out at arm’s length. We pretend it’s a mild idiosyncrasy (instead of a BARKING MAD HANGOVER from America’s founding era) and we look the other way. The dinner party goes on, we raise our voices as the mad son, his voice and opinions too loud too tart too krazy, as he is bundled upstairs by the burly footman. And we all pretend that what we have is a reasonable race between two well matched, ideologically opposed, intelligent Good Men and True.

But we don’t. We have one, and the Republican’s candidate. Romilly.

Because their party is in thrall to a hoard of fear mongering, xenophobic, small-minded Morons who pitched up with a worse version of GWB. We had an election where $4.5 billion was spent on ads. Most of which by the way won’t have had that much effect. But that’ s not even the point. Someone needs to stand up and say. This is madness. We had an election in a country where 30,000 people die (not counting the  injuries and trauma) from gun related deaths every year. And there was even a massacre in a cinema during the latter stages of the race. And no one talked about it. Not really.

A political culture that is able to avoid talking about this issue is broken and a social culture that tolerates its media dodging the question of how a man running for the highest political office in the world can follow a BARKING mad millenarianist cult, is just not working. It’s so sad.

Most American’s I meet are verbose, thoughtful, educated, but there’s clearly a whole load of bad brewing over there. America is hanging on by its fingertips. Four more years. Phew, that was close. Too close.


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Book Review: The Revelations by Alex Preston

The Revelations by Alex Preston.

This is the story of four friends fresh out of university who become involved with an evangelical cult-like Christian religious movement.

Marcus, Mouse, Lee and Abby have all attended an unnamed university; a good institution probably collegiate, somewhere old. They have had a good time there but you get the feeling its been a somewhat cosseted experience.

When we meet them they are all struggling with the demands of life, and of London – this sprawling soulless city – and with the fact that they are slowly moving into that part of life where responsibility is burgeoning.

They are out of their comfort zone and so are drawn into religion (or this particular brand of it) to help cope with the pressures of their changing lives. The Course, the movement that has inspired them, pulls them in with its promise of meaning, spirituality and a community. All of the things that vibrant, decadent London seems to lack.

And yet despite their belief and their dedication – they are all Course Leaders – they continue with a parallel life of drinking and sex and partying. I have noticed some reviewers find that odd. I would have thought that contradictory behaviour is the very essence of being human.

Preston captures their struggles and this conflicting behaviour and the resulting angst very well. Each character is well drawn and believable. And the relationships within this foursome are compelling and complex. You get the feeling that this is a writer who is hitting his metre. His first book, This Bleeding City, I enjoyed, but this feels different. More ambition has been set out and achieved.

He treads the difficult fine line between commercial and literary fiction rather well – this is a hard thing to pull off. And the plot rattles long as the four friends move towards The Retreat – a time for reflection and commitment to their religious beliefs. Once there they are faced with the challenge of the commitment being asked of them. They react with varying degrees of calamity.

The other characters are effective too. David, the charismatic Course founder is a complex man. Clearly ambitious and calculating, but you feel he too is caught between that ambition and his own private fears about his veracity and motivation. This is achieved subtly – and this shows the skill of the writing. David is not a Bad Guy, he is nuanced and so an effective device as we can’t sit back and throw fruit at him. Clever.

This is similar to the approach taken to the Church and the Course. Preston does not tell us about how awful the Course is. He just presents it. He lets the plot do its own talking. He shows what they do and how the characters – major and minor – feel about that. He exposes the practices of the church and the inner lives of these fearful, and at times doubting protagonists. Again this takes skill. And he does it very well. There is no authorial whispering in the readers ear. The Church stands or falls on its own merits or otherwise….

It would have been nice if he has teased a bit more of the financial side of the Course out. This is represented by the enigmatic Earl figure. A man who has found another way of making money and we suspect mouths the words and speaks in the tongues as a matter of form to keep this his latest network of contacts and capital open. But I think that’s a personal thing – it’s something I’d like to know about.

Preston seems to be carving a niche for himself as a commentator on London and on the challenges of modern life. I can think of few better goals for the modern writer. Specifically with this novel he has successfully put his finger upon firstly, the religious impetus and secondly, on the mechanisms and techniques – both psychological and more, technical, of a crusading religion.

This is fascinating stuff, with the debate about the place and role of the church in our society we need books like this to shine a light on those charlatans – who are praying on peoples ennui and fear rather than providing a useful place for reflection and growth – what I’d like to think religion ought to be about. (although there are better ways to go about that….)

This is an important book and I would like to see more books with these themes in print.

In summary, Preston captures big themes of belief, faith and doubt in the intimate moments of his well drawn and complex characters. It’s a compelling read, heartrending at times, and thoroughly recommended.

The Revelations is Alex Preston’s second novel. It is published by Faber and Faber.



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