Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Why we do what we do

I spent most of this evening at a book-launch, drinking with a bunch of ex-IRA types in a room that also contained Peter Mandelson, David Trimble and Henry Kelly.

Journalistic result? One music story, about a Jewish USArmy tutor who married an SS POW.

"The post-photographic age"

Apparently, it's what we're livin' in.

Suits me, I think. Especially on this form:

Surely, everything about this is funny

London shows may be Jackson tribute

Michael Jackson's tour promoter has said the dead star's ill-fated London show could be turned into a tribute gig featuring his family.
But most of all, I love the use of "ill-fated". Understatement is the height of comedy. Or something like that.

David Hockney, on the TV just now

"We paint from memory, even when we're here. Nothing is objective. We see from memory. We are all alone."

The big questions

Why Men Watch Porn
Jim Davidson's So You Think I'm An Arsehole?

Just two of the mind-expanding programmes included in Virgin 1's relaunch package, according to Richard Brooks.

As Sir Humphrey would have said, "Always dispose of the difficult bit in the title. It does less harm there than in the text." Sort of.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Question for my fellow amnesiac

Are you by any chance Alice Hoffman?

Glory Days

"I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it/but I probably will."

Thought for the day

"It stuck in my mind that he was Woody, and everybody else I could see around me was just everybody else."
- Bob Dylan, on seeing Woody Guthrie for the first time as a ten-year-old.

Out of the public toilet

and into the Fire.

InDefinition - 5

afrodisiac, n. - Viagra for bruthaz.


'Publishers of Art, Anthropology and Aphrodesia since 1980'


A little night reading

In case your July/August copy of Music Teacher is lost in the post:

Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Kazuo Ishiguro
faber and faber
£14.99, 221p
ISBN 978-0-571-24498-0

“Their talk was no longer just about music – though everything always seemed to come back to it.”

Whether as opening subject or illustrative decoration, music seems to be a recurring theme for Kazuo Ishiguro. The Unconsoled told of a pianist with memory loss; his Merchant-Ivory script, The White Countess, of a man who wanted nothing more than to run a jazz club.

And now Nocturnes, a “quintet” or “story cycle”, the first of which tales concerns a session player on the Venice café circuit – one of the many “scattered across Europe, playing the Godfather theme or ‘Autumn Leaves’ in squares and cafés you'll never visit” – who can't secure regular work because his cliché-savvy employers don’t like the cut of his guitar (how’s that for an argument in favour of period instruments?!).

Then there's the layman asked by an old friend – horror of horrors! shame upon shame! – to dumb down his encyclopaedic love of classic American jazz in front of his wife; the music-college drop-out, frustrated by the “shallow and inauthentic” London gigging scene, who escapes to the Malvern Hills to help out in his sister’s café, and there meets two Swiss Elgar-pilgrims; an Eastern Bloc escapee whose cello was purchased with bartered American jeans, and who runs into the world’s first self-proclaimed “virtuoso” listener.

The longest, ‘Nocturne’ (s.), concerns Steve, a tenor-sax player whose manager talks him into having cosmetic surgery because he’s “the wrong kind of ugly” for the big league. (There’s lots about saxophones, actually: anyone know if Ishiguro is a saxpert?)

The stories aren’t really about music (or nightfall). Music is the paint, not the picture: a binding agent rather than a narrative focus. And 'stories', anyway, is too grand a term. These are scenes, some with beginnings, few with ends, all exhibiting Ishiguro's gift for depicting a situation in a few words; but none narrative-driven. Likewise, though the five stories [sic.] nod to one another, there is not much cyclical interweaving.

Ishiguro's writing, especially in ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, demonstrates a preoccupation with jazz, and a deep knowledge of the canon, from Cole Porter to Ray Charles ('Come Rain or Come Shine' is a Ray Charles number) as well as an understanding of its often-dark undertones. Jazz, of course, is a good complement to literary riffing – the medium is the message, and all that (a central character in ‘Come Rain...’ is actually called Ray).

And Ishiguro knows his stuff not just technically – “we come out of the middle eight, when the band go III-5 to VIx-9…” – but also on a more philosophical level. Occasionally, he pauses to reflect on how one might play a piece in a manner evoking its origins; how one’s choice of music influences how you are perceived; what causes cellists to play the same piece so differently; the impact of coffee-prices on the necessary length of a café band's repertoire.

Nothing revelatory, in the musical sense; but some fine vignettes from a master of scene-setting and emotive detail.

Early headlines

Investigative journalism

At its finest 1

At its finest 2

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Thought for the day

I get up in the evening
and I ain't got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothing but tired
Man I'm just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

You can't start a fire
You can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
even if we're just dancing in the dark

Message keeps getting clearer
radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain't getting nowhere
I'm just living in a dump like this
There's something happening somewhere
baby I just know that there is

You can't start a fire
you can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
even if we're just dancing in the dark

You sit around getting older
there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me
I'll shake this world off my shoulders
come on baby this laugh's on me

Stay on the streets of this town
and they'll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I'm just about starving tonight
I'm dying for some action
I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
come on now baby gimme just one look

You can't start a fire sitting 'round crying over a broken heart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
- Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark

Meanwhile, my Glasto week so far: Had ticket, didn't go. Fell to my knees watching the Dead Weather's secret gig on my girlfriend's TV. Sprung to my feet again when I saw the crowds and remembered my enochlophobia [fear of racist politicians]. Caught the Fleet Foxes in Hyde Park yesterday, one hundred yards from the comfort of my girlfriend's bathroom. Heard Neil Young from her front room. Had a Glasto sympathy-in-exile party (in W1) last night. Got slammed and almost licked the big screen watching the Boss. Endless breathless texts from my sister. Going to see Springsteen in the park today. Got ants in my pants.

P.S. Good man.

Saturday, 27 June 2009


On closer observation, I see that one of the aforementioned 'writer-and-journalist's has also contrived, on the page actually featuring his article, to use a variant formulation - 'a freelance writer and editor'.

An incompetent writer, or an incompetent editor? Discuss.

[NB My gratitude to Miss Mille Gillard for the titular onomatopoeia.]

Friday, 26 June 2009

Er, yeah, he sure did...

Jackson Shattered Racial Barriers

"I've never heard it called that before."

In the 1970s, Robinson published his autobiography entitled "Third Base is My Home." The book is notorious for the story about how he met his future wife. She was a flight attendant on an Orioles team flight, and he was so smitten with her, he kept ordering iced teas from her until he eventually ended up helping her in the galley.
From the Wiki entry on Brooks Robinson.

Stupidest headline yet

If Michael Jackson really did want to be cryogenically frozen, it's too late now...

By Daily Mail Reporter


Two late submissions (tsk!) from Mr Christopher Gray:

Asked the Dowager Duchess of Melcombe:
"Egads! Whence does that terrible smell come?"
I replied: "At a guess
It's from under your dress" -
A remark which she found most unwelcome.


An emphatic young fellow from Speen
Said: "I am NOT going; I've been."
I replied: "That is clear
From the state of your rear
And the smell, which is something obscene."

Will (to) power

Observant readers will notice that only yesterday I was thinking about Michael Jackson, and now he is dead.

Today I have been thinking a lot about Piers Morgan.

Best of Prospect

For those who don't run to a subscription, here are some (other) highlights from Prospect's July print edition:

  • "Douglas Adams was once locked in a hotel room for a couple of weeks by and with his editor and commanded to write. Adams, when asked how it had worked out said only, 'I sat at the desk and typed and he sat in the armchair and glowered.'" - Monica Ali
  • "bed-blockers" - After a month or so of wondering what this means, I've looked it up. In layman's terms it means an MP whom a party (the MP's own party, that is) would like out of the way, but can't get rid of. It comes, grimly, from NHS jargon, referring to patients who don't look like getting better but seem intent on hanging around and occupying beds (which could more usefully be filled by those likely to get better fast and improve the hospital's stats).
  • The Estonian Baltic Business News recently asked, "Is Borat smarter than Latvians?" It was something to do with Latvia having the shittest economy in the EU - almost as bad as Kazakhstan's (yes, thank you, the Amnesiacs are aware that Kazakhstan is not, itself, in the EU). The Latvians, needless to say, were none too impressed by the analogy.
  • "nonage" - Means "period of immaturity". Under 21, to be precise. Literally, not of age. Though not, in any way, the opposite of "dotage", curiously enough.
  • "Out of 850 Oxford students, 41 per cent of homosexuals achieved a First in exams, compared to a third of heterosexuals." Clever buggers.
  • "The English Collective of Prostitutes"... is a real organisation. And, according to Elizabeth Pisani, hookers get to share "a receptionist and a maid with other prostitutes." Your present correspondent is wondering where he went wrong.
  • Comedy and brain damage have a lot in common, according to Tom Stafford. Which tells you everything you need to know about Saturday night prime-time.
  • Sarajevo-born Aleksandar Hemon became a permanent American resident and successful novelist "after being stranded during a visit that coincided with a particularly violent episode in the recent Balkan wars" [Kamran Nazeer]. When the outbreak of Balkan hostilies scuppered the travel plans of my Australian cousin, he came to Kent and worked in a salad factory.

Good Prospects

Getting it on with Dambisa Moyo, in the African economics stylee.

Spoonerism (the other kind)

"The greatest musician the planet has ever seen."
- Uri Geller, on Michael Jackson.

For the record, I too like his early stuff: I Want You Back, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', etc. Still, even when I was a white glove wearing, moonwalking ten year-old The Girl is Mine made me want to vom (though, to be fair, so does most of Paul McCartney's output, and that line Michael breathily delivers about how he's "a lover, not a fighter" is flat out hilarious). What's more, I've just been reminded by Joseph Barker on Facebook that MJ also once screeched out:
Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race.
So, as my cousin Dan says about Uri Geller's hysterical tribute, "I think Beethoven might be a bit miffed!"

Michael Jackson LATEST



Asked, recently (like, eight hours ago) to give a "description" of myself to accompany a forthcoming (like, eight hours hence) magazine article, I found myself churning out the weary "ASH Smyth is a freelance writer and journalist" line.

I felt a bit stupid when I saw that at least two other contributors to the same edition have used exactly the same formulation.

Still, at least none of us referred to himself as "a writer and novelist". Nice one, Julian Gough.

JD Wetherspoon's - 2

Change of plan. Leaving now.

JD Wetherspoon's - 1

Right. That does it. I'm leaving the country at the end of the summer.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Editorialising (at the offices of a prominent national magazine)

"He doesn't really work from the office."- the deputy editor, on the editor

"You have to understand, these people aren't writers."- the editor, on his deputy

Two things I didn't know until I made the mistake of reading the front page of today's Daily Mail

1. There's a bandage-dress bandwagon.

2. There's a torn denim brigade.

The terrible truth about women's tennis (as described by Dame/Lady/Sir Virginia Wade)

"She's under so much pressure that she's struggling to get some ideas into her head."
- Wade, summing it all up during today's encounter between Chokerlenko and Hissyfitakova on Court 1.


Orwell and me, at the Trafalgar Studios.

In conversation with myself

Q. Do you really think you're the first person to get dicked about by editors?

A. No. But I think if the writers who went before me had stood up and fought their corner I probably wouldn't be in this situation.

Atlas shrugged (in that typically Gallic fashion)

Interviewer: "How long did it take you to get over losing Wimbledon [to Rafa Nadal] last year?"

Federer: "... 2 hours."

Tough love

"Remember, if I'm being harsh with you it's only because you're doing it wrong."
- Monica Geller, Friends


Until I was about 10 the family TV lived in the coat cupboard.

The first movie I ever saw was at the cinema - it was Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

I have had an odd relationship with film ever since.

Best of Wimbledon commentary

"People that are averagely taller than most are often quite shy."
- Chris Bailey

"There's been some interesting American pronounciations."
- Tim Henman

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Worst concert ever

(Thanks to Whop Corn)

Advice to American girls, by way of Paul Simon

Just lie back and think of New England, sweet New England.

Thought for the day

"In the land of the blind, can't everyone hear the one-eyed man coming a mile off?"
- ASH Smyth

Quote of the week so far

"There isn't enough skull-fucking in literature these days."
- Mrs. Dee Dee Cusack (an otherwise innocent-looking cutie)

For the record, this shortcoming will soon be remedied. More on which soon. Rest assured, your summer reading will not be dull.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Journalism 101

"A tabloid version of a fact isn't exactly a lie," is how one editor at a prominent celebrity weekly puts it. "But it isn't the truth. You know what I mean?"
From here.

Getting Disk'ed by da kids

Hard to know whose side to take in this little farago.


A young woman I know had a novel turned down by a publisher before they had read it because they sent it first to WH Smith who said it wouldn't sell.

[Thanks to Helen DeWitt for the tip-off]

If I had a Rand for every time I heard this...

Only those whose motive is not moneymaking should be allowed to write.
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged


A friend, on "The Waltz" by Dorothy Parker

"It's the kind of writing I'd like to eventually maybe possibly come close to sort of imitating."

The Amnesiac Texts VII

Dom: Success in life is about getting rid of self-doubt.

ASH: And the opposition.

Amnesiac Texts VI

ASH: 'A writer shouldn't write for money; but there's no reason anyone else should expect him to work for nothing.' Have I nailed it?

Dom: Sweet. Blogit.

ASH: Will do. (Even better, it's my retort - somewhat overdue, admittedly - to a remark by Ayn Rand.)

Monday, 22 June 2009

(Il)literati of the day

"Relative unknown Mia Wasikowska, 19, from Australia, will be playing Alice, who is much older in the film than in CS Carroll's classic."
Yup, it actually says this in the Daily Mail.

Thought for the day

"You go into the kitchen and try to write a song, and you can't write a song."
- Bob Dylan

The Amnesiac Texts V

ASH: I am in Essex, wearing tights, some sort of S&M harness, and a t-shirt that says 'Vote For Pedro'. A career boosting move, d'you think?

Sartorial summery

'Let me tell you about linen,' she said. 'After a certain age it makes a man look ten years younger. Up until that age, it makes him look ten years older.'
- Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The longest day

Strolling home this evening, at about 10, I was struck by the fact that it was still light.

I realised that, as adults, we just don't get to enjoy the long summer evenings the way we did as kids - ironically, because we're never in bed while the sun's up (or not at the end of the day, anyway).

All downhill from here, of course.

Father's Day

Seen in TESCOs: one book on Josef Fritzl, in the Father's Day display.

[Thanks to KJW]

Saddam's loo

Discovered in W1.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Sound sex advice

"Read most contemporary literary sex scenes and you'll soon be cured of all sexual inhibitions - mainly because you'll be celibate for the rest of your life."
- Kathy Lette in today's Times.

I should add that it's hard not to admire any piece of front page journalism in a nation's paper of record that includes the phrases "luncheon truncheon", "chucking the spam javelin" and "plugging your live seed feed into the love socket."

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Celebrity culture skewered

Here's what I don't understand about Susan Boyle being in rehab: Surely you can't be crap and in rehab.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Myths & Legends

My girlfriend and I are going to a 'Myths & Legends' fancy dress party on Saturday night.

I'm going as the female orgasm.

She's going as a 12" schlong.

Nixon in Egypt

Is it just me, or has Tricky Dick made a posthumous appearance on the front pages?

The answer

"Good writers borrow from other authors.

Great writers steal from them outright."
- Samuel Norman Seaborn, The West Wing

The question

How ironic is it that Don Quixote rode a horse?

(Or does that gag not work in Spanish?)

Thought for the day

To the victor, the smugness.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Our North Africa correspondent checks in.


Yesterday's Metro reports that exposure to bright light can "improve men's sexual performance".

Of course, few scientific announcements are as revelatory as they like to claim, and least of all in the field of sex.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Raul Ibanez, on bloggers

(For those of you who don't know, Raul Ibanez is the Left Fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. He's good. Check his stats.)
"You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool -- anything you can test. I'll give you back every dime I've ever made [if a drugs test is positive].

"I'll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff. Make them accountable. There should be more credibility than some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother's basement. It demeans everything you've done with one stroke of the pen."
Damn, why does everything think all bloggers live with their mums? Also, why does everyone think we want samples of their stool? My co-blogger and I are forever receiving anonymous stool samples in the mail. We understand people's frustrations at the things we write about them but our mums insist the poos in the post really must stop.

Dylan, on politics

What's your take on politics?
Politics is entertainment. It's a sport. It's for the well groomed and well heeled. The impeccably dressed. Party animals. Politicians are interchangeable.

Don't you believe in the democratic process?
Yeah, but what's that got to do with politics? Politics creates more problems than it solves. It can be counter-productive. The real power is in the hands of small groups of people and I don't think they have titles.

Dylan, on women

If a young man considering a career in the arts wanted to meet a lot of women, would he be better off learning to paint or to play guitar?
Probably neither. If he had women on his mind, he might think about becoming a lawyer or a doctor.
(Same source)

Dylan, on writing

Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.

In what way?
Well for instance, if there are shadows and flowers and swampy ledges in a composition, that’s what they are in their essence. There’s no mystification. That’s one way I can explain it.

Like a locomotive, a pair of boots, a kiss or the rain?
Right. All those things are what they are. Or pieces of what they are. It’s the way you move them around that makes it work.
- Taken from Bill Flanagan's interview with The Great One.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Re: The consolations of matrimony

The latest response to my anonymous friend's thoughts on marriage comes from another friend who may or may not be called Dee Dee and may or may not be of the female persuasion:
"A wife's not a sidekick! Wives have to do regular wife stuff, whereas sidekicks can have fun: adventures, mishaps, wacky inexplicable scrapes that only a rubber band and a working knowledge of vernacular Swahili can get you out of...that's the stuff I crave! I bet [INITIALS OF FAMOUS MOVIE STAR WHO DEE DEE PLANS TO SNAG WHEN WE'RE IN CHICAGO NEXT SEASON] won't let me do any of that! I'll have to just stay at home in his mansion, cooking and coming up with as-yet-undiscovered sexual positions (that's what wives do, yes?)."
This is getting interesting.

Greatest love song ever

Re: The consolations of matrimony

My inbox bulges with this response to my earlier post from another friend who may or may not be called Frank (just as he may or may not be called Englebert):

This could only be written by a newlywed or someone contemplating marriage from a theoretical vantage point. Such convictions will never out last the honeymoon as the object of his touchingly naïve but misplaced affections makes it clear to him how it’s going to be from now on, starting with no more BJs and deteriorating from there.

I prefer Dr. Johnson Advice to a Young Man Contemplating Marriage: “Don’t”

Been there
For the record, I have no immediate plans for marriage. This is less to do with my fear of commitment than the fact that I don't have $260 for the "Hound Dog Special" wedding package. As soon as I do, I'm tying a knot in my knob (a traditional Native American custom practiced by the Semen'ole tribe).

Monday, 8 June 2009

The consolations of matrimony

This pearl of wisdom may or may not have come from a friend of mine who may or may not have tied the knot just last week:
"I'd recommend marriage. The wife's family pays for it all, and loads of people give big cash donations. My (/our) bank balance is looking very healthy now. Then you get a wife to look after you while you write whatever books you want. It's excellent value for money."
(Congratulations Bjorn. Sounds like you done good, old bean.)

Sunday, 7 June 2009

With the sympathies of this blog

"Music was the driving force of my life, but I was scared. When I was young, the line in my house was that you do something sensible - it doesn't matter whether you like it or not. You only do music as a hobby."
- From an interview with Bryce Morrison in this month's Marylebone Journal.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


You must make an enemy of time in prison. You must not wait for time to pass, instead resent its passing as you fill your days with worthwhile tasks, inner tasks.
- Giordano Bruno

The same could be said of African bus journeys.

[Thanks to Robert Twigger, Dr Ragab's Universal Language]

Friday, 5 June 2009

More on Citizen Kane

"It's no great trick to make a lot of money... if all you want to do is make a lot of money."

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Thought for the day

If a manuscript is covered with writing which masks previous writing about having sex with relatives, does that make it palimpsestuous?

(Thanks to Dee Dee - I was incapable of any decent thoughts today)

It is written

Empires are won by polymaths and lost by specialists.
- Robert Twigger

Parenting: the basics

Mickey Mantle was so hyped that it about broke him: He made the New York Yankees club when he was 19 years old. Then, after a rough spell, he was sent back to Kansas City, where he was so depressed he talked about quitting the game. That's when his father famously drove up to Kansas City and started packing his clothes and (in Mickey's memory) said, "I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work the mines with me."

Mantle, you might remember, decided to stick it out with baseball.
Reminds me of a heated 'discussion' I had with my parents in Pizza Express in Barnet last night.

Spam of the day

Dites dsetroy oour helath. Laern ho
Oh, sure, I'm so clickin' that.


Splendor in the Grass

is not a movie about lacing pot with low calorie sweetener.

Imagine my disappointment.



(Answer: Not even the good folks at World Wide Words, as it happens, but at least they gave it a shot.)

(Thanks to JR and her companion)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Titles gone begging - 6

Death on the Patio: mother's trouble with plants

Is it just me

or is it kind of freaky listening to Christian Bale speak with a British accent?

Ghosts in the infield

Look closely at this shot of a nightgame between the Bucks and the Dodgeroos at the beautiful PNC Park (click the image for full size). I know I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to baseball and everything, but I can definitely spot at least four ghosts haunting the infield. Two on first base. One on second. And one on the pitcher's mound.

(Il)literati of the day

Matt Wieters Is The Reason I Comes Before E, Except After C.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Thought for the day

The rolling stone gathers no moss.

But it does start avalanches.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Titles gone begging - 5

No Countryside for Old Men
(the CPRE in the 21st-century)