Corona v. Us… No, you can’t come in here… The madness of King Donald… A cluster of tea leaves… Sordid reality… GW: and the beast goes on.


Priti Patel

“Me, a bully? Say that again and I’ll rip your fuckin’ face off. Now give me all your pocket-money….”

Corona v. Us

Update: 21 Feb., total cases to date, 76,805; deaths 2,249 – including 29-year-old Wuhan doctor, Peng Yinhua, who postponed his wedding to remain at his post.  Of those cases, 18,800 are reported to have already recovered. (

Another update: 22 Feb., cases 77,924; deaths 2,362; recovereds, 21,251. Massive spike overnight in S Korean city of Daegu, linked to churchgoing ‘superspreader’ and local mental hospital: +229, total 433.

Sunday afternoon: 23 Feb., cases 78,966; deaths 2,468; recovereds 28,440. Italy – northern towns in lockdown, 130 cases, 2 dead and no clue as to where it came from as the assumed ‘Index patient’ has tested negative.  S Korea: ‘Over 600’ cases. Iran: admitting to 43.

Monday morning: 24 Feb., cases 79,707; deaths 2,626; recovereds, 25,253. These figures are provisional, as the death toll in the Iran outbreak, currently at 50, is greater than the number of cases the Ayatollahs are admitting to. Shia pilgrims to the city of Qom are at risk. Stockmarkets tumbled this morning on news from Italy.

The BogPo watched with faint horror as about 35 thousand Italian and Scottish rugby fans mixed it up together in Rome on Saturday. Scotland won 10-nil. God knows what they’ve brought home. 10 northern Italian towns are closed as 60 new cases were confirmed yesterday.

Hopes for a slowdown in the spread of the novel coronavirus were dashed Friday as the number of new cases rose in China, and outbreaks worsened in Japan and South Korea.” (CNN) A spike of 36 new cases found in a Beijing hospital looks like an indication that the genie is really out of the bottle now.

100 new cases and a second death (of a mental patient) were confirmed overnight in South Korea, where the number of confirmed cases linked to one “superspreader” within a fringe church congregation that believes in the Rapture has reached 86, with another 400 showing “symptoms”.

500 prisoners in jails across China are said to be infected, one particularly grim institution being Wuhan Women’s Prison, where 230 cases have led to the dismissal of the governor. (Guardian)

The WHO is expressing concern over a woman from Wuhan who travelled with no symptoms and a negative test to another city, where five of her relatives promptly went down with the virus. The woman herself then tested positive but still has no symptoms whatsoever.

Also of great concern: “… a 38-year-old Italian man in Lombardy … in intensive care, may have contracted the disease after meeting a colleague who had recently returned from China, even though the colleague had tested negative for the virus.

This virus seems to have evolved intelligence.

After another delay, UK passengers on board “death cruise” liner Diamond Empress are being evacuated today, to a tired-looking hospital in Cheshire. Unlike the American evacuation last week, about a dozen with the virus will not be flying. Passengers have been offered vouchers by the Empress line toward a future cruise.

Congressmen are criticizing the US government for lack of co-ordination in the response to the threat, saying there is no-one in the White House they can talk to. In addition to defunding the main health agencies, Trump has failed for over two years to nominate a health advisor to the National Security Council; a post he has suggested scrapping altogether.


No, you can’t come in here

“The comparison between Assange and Dreyfus drew criticism, including from the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity working against antisemitism and racism in British society, which tweeted: ‘Disgraceful false equivalence to one of the key learning moments of modern Jewish history.'” (Guardian, 20 Feb.)

I am moved to tell this “charity”, propagandists presumably funded by Tel Aviv and with a clear desire to whip up more self-mortifying antisemitism in Britain, in the nicest possible way, to go fuck itself. I mean, it’s like these people just love poking the anthill with a stick over any little thing, when there are big things going on that they do need to worry about.

Isn’t there enough division and hateful, even violent prejudice out there, not just against Jews but against Muslims, blacks, browns, yellows, Reds, Greens – liberal elites, women, asylum seekers and refugees, experts, poofters and pedos, people on benefits, the disabled, you and me, immigrants, gypsies, tourists and anyone else foreign who is found not speaking the Queen’s English?

What this bunch is virtue-signalling is that it it is verboten to cite the notorious case of Alfred Dreyfus, a victim of 19th century upper-class French prejudice against Jews in the military, to illustrate the kind of prejudice allegedly being shown by the British establishment against Julian Assange. Anti-Jewish prejudice being so vastly more morally worse than anti-anyone else’s prejudice that no-one else can possibly ever get a look-in with prejudice. Because why? Because the Jewish community owns the copyright on prejudice? Some would seemingly like us to think so.

Dear Community Security Trust: the ‘”key learning moment” we should pluck from history teaches us that while we cannot fully eliminate our innate perceptions of Otherness, ALL extreme prejudice is to be discouraged at all times. Including yours.

The comparison being made by the Labour party’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell is, in my view, unwieldy, ahistorical and somewhat hyperbolic. Assange, battling extradition, is no innocent victim. The argument that the crime he’s charged with, of publishing stolen State secrets, ought not to be a crime due to public interest, even though it is a serious offence, is perversely promoted by the same people who argue that Trump should not have been acquitted in the Senate on the bogus grounds that his private act of extortion against a foreign government, although a crime in law, was committed for the greater good of the country, i.e. to secure his own re-election.

Most of us would call that corruption.

Assange’s slender defense now rests on a probably accurate claim that Trump offered him clemency through an intermediary, Senator Dana Rohrbacher, if he would lie about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. That’s a clear contempt of court, not that “America’s Chief Law-Enforcement Officer” cares a whit about witness tampering and perjury.*

The Community Security Trust, whoever they are, could have said something like that, offered some sympathy with Mr Assange in his plight, as he faces 140 years in a Federal penitentiary, but no. Sympathy for others is not in their repertoire. No argument is permissible beyond the confines of the Tel Aviv echo chamber. They had to raise the specter of antisemitism in a context where antisemitism was the least important part of the matter.

They had to find another stick with which to beat the Labour party.

A white one.

Because, as we know, prejudice is blind as justice.

*Rohrbacher, who is well known and joked about in Congress as the most pro-Russian person in America after Trump himself, or maybe actual Russians, confirms the story. Mr Trump, predictably, says he ‘barely knows’ the Senator. Play another record, Your Majesty.


The madness of King Donald

Whipping his dumbfucks into another spittle-flecked frenzy of xenophobic hatred, booing and catcalling, at a Nuremberg rally in Colorado Trump rounded on the Motion Picture Academy for awarding the Best Picture Oscar this year to a foreign film.

Particularly a South Korean foreign film, with subtitles already.

“The winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell was that all about?” Trump demanded to know, riffing insanely on a completely irrelevant, two-weeks-old subject, an arthouse film he has not and will never watch – as neither will his “base”, any of them. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade and on top of it, they give them the best movie of the year.”

Boo! Bad Hollywoods! Lock ’em up, traitors! We likes zombie movies! (etcetera)

So much for America’s staunchest democratic ally in the SE Asia region. Their evil, practically Chinese trade policies, making stuff and selling it, obviously leads to the creation of degenerate artistic products that must be banned as socially harmful, inimical to the supremacy of the master race. Trump’s enemies in Hollywood, Deep Staters – probably The Jew Soros himself – treacherously conspiring against America and thus, by extension, King Donald.

One wonders what would have happened if the moguls had awarded Best Picture to a North Korean movie? Beaming congratulations to Mr Kim, no doubt. Wonderful guy. Love him to bits. Practically the only recipient of an award not to make a speech badmouthing Trump in the past four years was the film’s director, Bong Joon-ho. But politeness doesn’t count with this fascist pig when he’s on a power trip.

Doubling down, both on his red-meat racism and his cultural vacuum, Trump then called for the return of probably the only film he has ever fidgeted through that didn’t have either a cameo of himself or steamin’ Stormy Daniels a humpin’ and a grindin’ in it, the 1939 MGM epic ‘Gone With the Wind’.

Why can’t we have that? he whined, plaintively – disingenuously conscious of its racialist undertones, its grotesque whitewashing of an idyllic lifestyle on a slave plantation, its sideways wink to the KKK and its Southern Confederate sympathies.

The man has absolutely no bearings.

You’re fired

As if to prove he doesn’t, though no further proof is necessary, or indeed bearable, Trump has fired his Acting Director of National Intelligence, Mr Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with the imperious, far-right-wing-sympathising ambassador – described by one Congressman as ‘an internet troll’ – who has spent his time in Berlin upsetting the Germans, Richard “Dick” Grenell – a man with no intelligence community experience or friends.

Mr Grenell has already set about gutting the department and bringing in a Trump loyalty requirement for all staff.

The president is said to have blown his thatch when told that another top security official, Mr Shelby Pearson, had given a briefing to the House Intelligence Committee based on evidence that the Russians were up to the same old tricks, interfering to bring about Trump’s re-election. Claiming it was a Democrat disinformation campaign, a “hoax”, he lashed out because, no, he is not unaware that Putin has given the order to St Petersburg to meddle some more, but because he knows it; is desperate, and will do anything, even sellout his country, to retain the mystic powers of the Constitution that are keeping him out of jail.

Other top officials were also fired last week after coming under suspicion that they had done or said things disloyal to the President, despite their first loyalty being to the country.

Korruption Korner….

The New York Times reports, a glittering fundraiser for Trump was held at the “palatial Palm Beach home” of billionaire, Nelson Peltz. Ticket price: $500 thousand per couple. The gala raised ten million dollars for Trump’s superPAC, America First!

Second, came the presidential pardon, three days later, of Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King, serving ten years for racketeering and fraud.

Mr Peltz’s former business partner.

For the whole appalling but somehow no longer surprising story, and an anguished comment that it’s time to stop pretending this is all not happening, compulsorily flip to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, 22 Feb.

“This is not a warning. The dark days are not coming. The dark days are here.”


A cluster of tea leaves

A ‘superforecaster’ is a person described in a 2015 book by someone called Philip E Tetlock as practising the art and science of prediction.

I’m sure we can find many words for such a person that don’t sound like such pretentious sociologese.

Seer; soothsayer; augur; oracle; diviner; haruspex.

“Bogler”, possibly.

Yes, dear Spammers, Likers, etc., I am considering writing to Sir Dominic Cummings – how the imaginary knighthood trips off the tongue, with which he will one day have earned it – to offer my services as a SPAD, being one of the “true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole”.

For, lo, I have encountered the following “superforecast” I made in an ancient BogPo post from March, 2016 – a full however many months before the EU referendum – while slagging off the Man Who Would Be King, Russia’s own Baris Johnsky:

He only joined the ‘Outers’ because he knows it will gain him many Brownie points with the Eurosceptic tendency of the party, who will welcome him win or lose at September’s party conference with wild approbation and, who knows, a vote for the leadership; especially once Cameron and Osborne have lost the referendum and miserably climbed down in the face of defeat, their fate compounded by disappointing trade and borrowing figures: growth slowing (it already is), and the pound getting rockier, as investors discount the inevitable Brexit.

Spooky, or what? Pretty super, actually.


Sordid reality

Just inadvertently opened Cummings’ opaque blog, where in the Introit he quotes various obscure sources – just as I used to, to try to improve my “Marx” on the college degree course I took in Applied Photography, Film & Television, with Sociology of the Mass Media.

Here’s one:

‘Two hands, it isn’t much considering how the world is infinite. Yet, all the same, two hands, they are a lot.’ Alexander Grothendieck, one of the great mathematicians.”

I think, Dom, most of us can count to two. There’s a danger, too, in imagining the world to be infinite.

And to be honest, reading on a line or two, your naively surprised remarks at finding there is life out there lead me to suspect you of being Nigel Molesworth, age 48 3/4.

Only Molesworth was far more perceptive and brilliant in his aperçus:

“Reality,’ sa molesworth 2, ‘is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder’.”


Speaking of Spammers, I have received praise from a lady who tells me that The Pumpkin – Issue 114 has helped her with her dog training.

Glad to be of service.


GW: and the beast goes on

Australia: Invest 99P is intensifying in the Gulf of Carpentaria and expected to slowly drift ashore on Monday in the Northern Territory as a tropical cyclone carrying up to 600 mm of rain. One model is suggesting maybe 900 mm. could fall over a 10-day period, with severe flooding to the thinly populated area southeast of Darwin. The storm when it develops will be called Esther.

North Atlantic: writes: “While a large, deep extra-tropical cyclone over the North Atlantic is currently occluding, there is already a new, rapidly intensifying cyclone to its west. Its future track will be further south than the first one, likely smashing into the UK with a potentially severe windstorm this weekend. Models are in fairly good agreement it will produce a broad windstorm over the North Atlantic as well as major waves and severe winds towards UK and Ireland on Saturday.”

Storm Ellen will arrive just in time for the crucial 6-Nations Wales v. France rugby fixture in Cardiff. Fortunately the stadium has a roof. Once again the BBC Weather service is downplaying the forecast to windy and – later – rainy. Models are showing at least 3 more cyclonic weather systems queuing up to cross the North Atlantic next week. ( )

Here’s a link to a nice, scary video of last weekend-but-one’s Storm Ciara hitting St Malo in Brittany….

Your old Gran suggests, if you’ve been flooded, don’t bother cleaning up yet – a Caribbean holiday will take your mind off it. Sort it out later.

Arctic: On January 3rd, writes someone at, “a radiosonde … over Reykjavik, Iceland,  recorded the lowest temperature in the stratosphere in the past 40 years, at -96°C (-141°F).” More recent measurements closer to the pole were recorded at the tropospheric boundary, where the weather starts, at -85C. The purport of this dull data is that an extremely cold polar vortex such as this, 20C lower than normal, helps to promote colourful Polar Stratospheric Clouds, that assist the process of destroying the ozone layer. Ozone is currently as low as it’s been only three times in the past 40 years; while the vortex has been spinning so fast that the jetstream is almost perfectly circular, leading to unusual satellite mapping like this:


Weird shit, huh?

Tunnel approaching….

Tiny thumbs: “An analysis of millions of tweets from around the period when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science. … On an average day during the period studied, 25% of all tweets about the climate crisis came from bots.” (Guardian)

California: is back in official drought after a February, normally the wettest month, in which San Francisco and Sacramento have seen zero rainfall. Snowpack in the Sierras is at 56% of normal.

Extinction Rebellion: “The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document. The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.” (Guardian)

Well, maybe not. … “The paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.” Ha ha, bless!

“JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement was signed.”

They should know, then.

So, farewell then

Poor Victoria Wood.

No sooner had Britain’s best-loved and most multi-talented female comedian passed away surprisingly from cancer at the ridiculous age of 62, who knew?, than the artist posthumously known as Prince has popped his platinum discs at the age of 57, during a bout of “‘flu”.

If there is a pandemic of ‘flu lethal enough to carry off a celebrity as wealthy and prominent as the little Prince, who must surely have had the entire global medical community at his behest, we are all in trouble.

As, clearly, most ordinary Americans are; at the mercy of a medical system as archaic and insane as their judiciary.

Fifty-seven, however, is one of those unpropitious, grey ages at which most of us wish we did not have to arrive. It is better to be 60, believe me, than 57. There is nothing youthful, sexy or promising about 57.

While I don’t think I have heard an entire Prince track from opening chord to coda, being just the wrong side of the right age, nevertheless I can see how important he was to the world of popular musicke. And judging by the encomia of his fellow celebs, he was a total groove; once putting on an arena concert with his band in a suburban living-room in the grimy north of the UK.


It seems like celebrities are dropping dead at a rate not seen since the BBC website ran an article by a statistician two days ago, poo-pooing the idea that celebrities were dying in unnatural numbers this year.

Of course, it’s a generational thing. The 1960s and 70s produced an unnaturally large postwar crop of actors, musicians and comedians by the standards of previous generations, whose talents were exposed in greater numbers owing to the geometric expansion in entertainment channels in the West.

Unsurprisingly, many of them are in their 60s, 70s and 80s and are dying off within the statistical norms of people of their age. Celebrities, let us never forget, are normal people, only different. Perpetual, nevertheless they aren’t immortal.

And in some ways I am comforted. I have never understood why my first wife, a TV reporter and presenter, could not have been saved from cancer by virtue of being better connected with the medical establishment than yer ordinary Jane Bloggs. You’d think celebrity would provide some protection, some extra ‘two-year warranty’, some presentiment of immortality, but it doesn’t.

It’s in yer genes.

So there is our dear Queen, being upstaged on her 90th birthday by a mere Prince.

Ironic, or what?



65: Passing the Post

So, thirteen fives make 65.

Not a very interesting number, then. Propitious, only in the sense that reaching the age of 65 has elevated me to a new social status as one of the Oldies, the pensioners, the invisible army of grey nonentities who travel on buses and get mugged by phoney telephone company engineers. No longer able to deal with the energy company, the phone company, the Work and Pensions department – any kind of commercial contract or flatpack self-assembly furniture – without copious swearing and recourse to handy teenagers, I have joined the ranks of the Doomed ones at the top of that final slope, where you realise your brake pipes have been severed and the steering wheel’s come off in your hands.

I was immensely touched therefore by the generosity of so many people I am generally fairly beastly to: members of the choir whose inability to grasp basic chord theory clearly infuriates me, fellow thespians who don’t turn up to rehearsals on the flimsiest of excuses, so it’s the mother-in-law’s 57th birthday, so what? who trooped round to my little house, that I can’t sell, last night, bearing cards and little trinkets and packets of Turron and pots of homemade jam and bottles of wine, and filled my kitchen with excited voices that were not the usual tired and repetitious ones in my head.

I was eventually moved to comment, as my endlessly forgiving friends packed themselves as tightly as anchovies around the groaning table, having arrived in unanticipated numbers (it’s an El Niño year), that I might have bought the smallest house in town but it did have other rooms they could use. I wanted them to go in my little garden, with its pretty lights and things in pots and its burbling water feature (lites up at nite!), my new table and chairs set. But Autumn has been slowly creeping up on us in its allegorical kind of way, and brought with it a little chilly night. We huddled together for warmth.

My son arrived with a many-pocketed backpack, and in each pocket was a gift. He was sorry he couldn’t find birthday wrapping-paper as it’s all Christmas now. It was touching, inasmuch as my present to him on his 21st was £20 worth of download vouchers, so broke have I been lately. (Although I then demonstrated my meanness by using up the last of my credit to make myself a present of a long-planned digital keyboard. And I don’t even play. Not yet, anyway.) But he sweetly put his student loan on the line by buying for me: a coffee-maker that makes more than one cup at a time, packets of interesting single-estate coffee, some decent bottles of wine and a fresh copy of MS Office that I can try and load on his old laptop, that he has also kindly donated to me, with its garishly glowing special red-eyed Dragon gaming mouse and its Kabbalistic inscriptions carved into the lid.

His sister of course completely ignored the whole occasion. Which is fine, she gets it from me. I’ve never been known to remember anything important, or do anything unselfish or say anything tactful or encouraging in my entire life. I get that from my dad. He used to be charm itself for about the first half-hour. But she knows I care, she got some download vouchers too for her 25th just last month. In an Amazon giftbox, naturally.

Not long to go now.


Taking an app: Armageddon in the e-book trade

As it happens, the prognostications of Mr Russell Grant and his syndicated columns of horoscopy have a direct personal relevance to me.

Some years ago, I managed to find a maternity-relief job on my local newspaper as the person who typesets the Classified advertisements. The position was so poorly paid that my children qualified for free school lunches.

After a month of deteriorating relations with the bossy women whose job was to sell the ad space – the principal cause of friction being my insistence on correcting their spelling mistakes – someone higher up actually read my CV and realised that I had been a card-carrying journalist long before the editor was squeezing into a size-16 gym-slip.

Accordingly, I was promoted out of the line of vitriol of the sales harpies, and put instead to sub-editing the safer parts of the paper itself. The showbiz column. The local history page. Urgent news from around the Women’s Institute branches. What’s On? at the local fleapit cinema.

And, the horoscopes. The mighty Universal Grant machine supplied our paper, as many others, with weekly advice for those who half-believe that their destiny lies in the stars. The horoscopes would arrive in monthly batches, and we would quite often print them in the wrong date order, but it didn’t seem to matter.

My problem was that the copy was invariably too long, and I would have to chop bits out of each star sign to get them all to fit the available space. I began to worry. Which bits wouldn’t be important to somebody?

What if the reader was relying on Russell to advise them what to do under certain vital circumstances, the circumstances had arisen, but the advice was not there; important aspects of people’s lives, Sagittarius, Leo, that they would not be forewarned of, digitally binned, as it were, by my uncaring editorial hand? What if they died?

I began to feel as if it was me, rather than the rising and conjoining constellations, Pisces, Aries, that was shaping human destiny.

“If you press yourself too hard, you could get a headache. There’s nothing wrong with taking a nap when you get tired. Career opportunities could be few and far between. Treat yourself to… a new electronic e-reader.”

Now, this is uncanny. In my horoscope for today, carried on the Yahoo! homepage, Russell has put his chubby, beringed finger precisely on the nub of the problem.

I did press myself too hard last night, and this morning I do have a bit of a headache. Sometimes, I find (don’t you?) that I have to force myself to knock-off the last third of the bottle, as I can get tired of drinking cheap supermarket wine and need to take a nap. I often fall asleep in the afternoons too, feeling that there’s nothing wrong with missing out on a few minutes’ worth of career opportunities, given that there don’t seem to be any this week.

But it’s the electronic e-reader bit that’s so fascinating.

Russell obviously was not to know that I don’t have an old e-reader to replace with a new one, or indeed any money to buy one, career opportunities being so thin on the ground, but I have been thinking a lot about e-readers recently.

One of the many forms of suicide I have been practising in recent years is cultural. I did read one book last year, on a personal recommendation, but found it so tiring that I got headaches and had to take several naps.

Because I can’t seem to grasp information and hold on to it right to the end of the paragraph. Consequently I have no idea what the author is on about, and so feel that buying books in the first place, in whatever format, is a waste of money. I prefer reading these, my own Posts, which are fascinating, informative, companionable and well-written – but above all, easy to understand.

A few days ago, the Big Beast of the e-reader jungle, Amazon’s Kindle division, kindly sent me a four-page letter outlining their case in their well-publicised dispute with the French publishing empire, Hachette. (I think that’s French for ‘axe’?)

I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, and have forgotten the rest already, but it seems Amazon was attempting to justify its policy of blacklisting Hachette’s authors in order to persuade the publisher to accept that e-readable versions of their books ought to be a lot cheaper than the cardboard-sandwiches people buy in bookshops, and so Kindle should pay them less for the publication rights. (I’ve just had to read this paragraph again, twice, but I think I now understand it.)

This seems logical, and Amazon’s argument, that if e-books were cheaper more people would buy them and so Hachette would make bigger profits, sounded utterly reasonable. Imagine my distress, therefore, to learn that no fewer than nine hundred authors had signed a letter in the New York Review of Books, telling Amazon to go fuck itself.

But how much good have traditional publishers ever done for the majority of their authors?

Before becoming a lowly typesetter, I had a number of editorial jobs, notably in publishing, where I produced over a hundred and fifty new titles in a career spanning five years.

And, before that, I had had a number of somewhat higher-profile jobs in advertising. So, being the creative, imaginative sort, I tried to apply a little thinking from the latter category to the former. I simply could not understand why my employers in the publishing business were so utterly crap at selling books?

The answer, I believe, is that it is because they sold books; or hoped to, rather than selling what was in the books. They were selling the wrong product: the outer packaging, not the contents.

Their marketing ideas seemed to have ossified early on in the Victorian era, about the time Mr Dickens was cleverly maximising his sales by going out on the stump, giving highly dramatic readings of his lurid serialisations to gasping and fainting audiences of hundreds of adoring fans around the country.

It was a brilliant display of multi-medial marketing, in which the content took pride of place over the outward form. Who cared what the cover looked like, when Little Nell was at stake? It’s a lesson publishers seem never since to have taken on board. Book signings aren’t quite the same thing.

To give just one example of what I mean, behind the foyer of one reputable independent company where I worked, that specialised in History books, was a room lined with shelves, a veritable literary ossuary in which rested the dusty bones of a few samples each of the hundreds of meaty titles previously published by us, long before thought to have reached their expiry dates.

I looked at them in a very different light.

Here were yards and yards of re-usable, marketable content: information, opinion, ideas, painstakingly researched and paid-for, put into comprehensible, entertaining formats for the reading public, now just sitting there, doing nothing, waiting in vain for new media to release them once more into the world and make celebrities of their authors.

While, upstairs, the marketing department struggled to obtain bookshop sales for a never-ending stream of expensive new products, in competition with large publishing groups supplying chains like Borders and Waterstones; who in turn were soliciting higher and higher margins, outright bribes, from ‘favoured’ publishers to display their wares and nobody else’s, in panicky flight from the power of the supermarkets.

My imagination reeled! Just what couldn’t we do with all that scrummy content, re-edited and re-packaged in a variety of ways for new readerships, audiences, user-groups – content we already owned, that we could market outside the increasingly profitless world of conventional book publishing!

Instead, most of those books, having failed to reach their initial sales targets for one reason and another, had been ‘remaindered’; which is to say, the unsold copies had been boxed-up and sold for 10p each to a Nigerian entrepreneur, who shipped them out to Lagos and sold them on in the trade, at a hefty premium.

Several of my own books were hardly off the press before Marketing gave up on them. If they didn’t hit their modest sales targets in three months, they weren’t worth spending any more money on. It was Armaggedon in the book trade; as if, having made a hundred cans of baked beans and sold only eighty, Heinz had abandoned beans as a good idea without any research to understand why, and switched instead to selling pickled pimentos; and when they didn’t sell out, had moved on to boiled beets and curdled cabbage, stabbing blindly in the dark.

Why didn’t we just cut-out the middle-man and create outlets for our own remainders? It was a conundrum. The old Net Book Agreement, that had for decades operated a closed shop containing book prices that could not legally be reduced, had gone under the Heath government. Why did we not just sell books for 10p, if that was what they were fated to be sold for anyway? At least we would keep the money. And I had plenty more ideas where that came from.

I put some of them together on paper, took them to the Marketing Manager. I showed him one: how we could increase the profit-per-publication by 10% by producing accompanying low-cost audiobook versions of the texts; how we would market them in the trade.

I explained that I had spent ten years in the broadcast industries, fifteen in marketing service agencies. I showed him market research, statistics. I offered to set-up and manage an audiobooks production department at no extra cost to my current, dismal salary. His flaccid reply: “But we are not in the business of producing audiobooks.”

Six months after I left the company, it had vanished without a trace.

Who would have predicted that? Or that, within a few years, people would be reading books on their phones, books supplied by Google, and have no more need for Amazon’s frankly nerdy little plasticky one-function Kindle readers – panic being the real reason they sent out that weaselly letter?

Wake up, Russell. I’ve got a Smartphone, I don’t need an electronic e-reader, thanks.

Nice try. But I feel a headache coming on. Think I’ll take an app….



Taking the measure of Christmas

A solitary Christmas card arrives by fourth post, bearing a kind message from one of my ex-sisters-in-law. At last, my mantelpiece breaks its duck: I had been thinking of going out and buying some cards to put up around the room – doing a ‘shelfie’, perhaps?

As the letter-flap flipped, I was coincidentally musing (while bathroom-bound) on a thought concerning the Christian religion. I don’t think people generally notice that, while the majority do not (by definition) believe that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and returned from the dead, although many do, most of the world seems quite happy to operate on a calendrical system that takes as its starting point, the supposed date of this unusual individual’s birth.

Right-on archaeologists have recently adopted the ecumenical euphemism ‘Common Era’ to define the period of, as of next Wednesday, 2013 years that counts as post-Birth and used to be known as AD – ‘Anno Domini’, the Year of the Lord. Time prior to AD was called BC, or ‘Before Christ’, and even people who do not worship Christ as the Son of God (I have never understood quite what that phrase actually means, if anything?) went along with the system for many years.

BC is now called ‘BCE’, or ‘Before Common Era’. What no-one has explained, to me at least, is what is meant by ‘Common Era’? Common to whom, given that the turning-point remains a matter of religious doctrine? Not, surely, to Buddhists, whose non-Christian belief system dates from approximately 500 years BC, or to Muslims, whose religion was dictated to the Prophet by an angel in 625 AD, and who privately amongst themselves deduct the difference when referring to the current year?

And what of the Church of Scientology, now sanctified by order of the UK Supreme Court? Surely they date their puerile Sci-Fichobabble from the night the Blessed L. Ron decided to invent a new religion as a literary joke?

Nor have I quite grasped the necessity for scholars to date all events to times either before or after the miracle birth of the Saviour? What is wrong with dating past events from before lunch today? Or perhaps setting some other arbitrary fulcrum for Time’s lever? Weights, lengths and distances seem to be reified by lumps and rods of metal preserved in various, usually French, institutions; longitude begins at Greenwich, currencies are valued in terms of the US dollar, time by the decay of isotopes, and we happily go along with it, rather than insisting on all measurements being stated in Biblical cubits, talents, candles, the movements of stars or the weights of angels.

Whatever, Christian or n0, the vast majority of people in the world set their watches and depart from airports and agree to meet and marry each other, sit down to feasts, lie down for fasts and hold elections at dates and times that are based on the Gregorian calendar. It says quite a lot about humanity, that we do at least see eye to eye on some issues, even if we differ on the fundamentals.

Perhaps that is the message of Christmas.

Four, the new three

Positive Characteristics: 4s are disciplined, strong, stable, pragmatic, down-to-earth, reliable, dependable, hard-working, extracting, precise, methodical, conscientious, frugal, devoted, patriotic and trustworthy!

Negative Characteristics: 4s pay for their stability and pragmatism by tending toward the boring side. This may express itself with a lack of imagination, emotions, empathy. 4s may not bother to put much care into their appearance, and their social awkwardness can make them seem vulgar, crude or jealous.

I make no apology for Posting this quote on the occasion of my 64th birthday, and I’m happy to attribute it to that invaluable website, (make sure you have the volume down, there’s an annoying soothsayer on a sales video that kicks-in automatically.)

If you have taken the time to read the extract, you will know pretty much all there is to know about me. Even the bit about me being a boring old arse.

I’m not sure about ‘patriotic’, in fact I have no interest whatsoever in nationalism of any sort, being too insular and self-absorbed to care about where I was born. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner? Frugality is only a way of life that has been forced on me from time to time; as now, when I have but 60 pence in my pocket to last until Sunday and I have run out of olive oil.

Not sure I lack imagination, it’s just that my imaginative side is totally devoted to building defensive strategies: I will work through the probable consequences of my and other people’s actions many moves in advance and am very often accused of negativity as a result (although I am invariably proved right!).

Otherwise, it is an astonishing litany of qualities and deficiencies I would ascribe to myself. Certainly, I lack empathy. My usual question on meeting with an injured person, a child perhaps, is not: Poor you, where does it hurt? but: Why have you done this to yourself? And while my dress sense is advanced, I have been wearing the same chinos-and-T-shirt combination for months.

The only question I have then is, why am I a ‘four’? I don’t understand that part.

Whatever the reason, last year was a ‘three’ year, 63 being made up of two-threes-and-a-three, or three times three, times the lucky number seven. And, to be frank, although it has passed quite quickly, it’s been a frustrating year, with nothing achieved or changed for the better. They say that ‘time is money’, and 63 was just running out of both.

I blogged (Posts: 63, October 2012) how, on my 63rd birthday, no-one even remembered it. I spent the entire day delivering my son to a remote provincial airport, four hours away; got completely lost on the way home; then the lights in the house blew, leaving me in the dark without spare fusewire just as the garage closed. (I didn’t mention the urinary problem, that meant I had to keep stopping every twenty minutes to find a tree.)

Well, some people remembered me today, happily, though not my daughter; my mobile phone service provider sweetly sent me a birthday video featuring some minor celebrity I’ve never heard of, but it isn’t shaping up to be nearly such an eventful occasion as 63. Sixty-four is a ‘four’ number, I guess, being the cube of four, or the square of four-times-two. And judging by, ‘four’ sounds pretty uneventful. Dependable. Boring, even. Sigh.

Well, the old bladder (I christened it Blad the Impaler) is behaving itself today; otherwise, it’s predictably pouring down rain outside; no gardening work, there’s nothing in the diary except an all-evening rehearsal of a pantomime I rashly agreed to act in before reading the script. So reliable, conscientious, hardworking, etcetera am I, that I haven’t the heart to back out and let the director down (he’s a bit of a ‘four’ himself).

And still no-one buys my little house; my guitars. It’s incomprehensible.

Four, in short, is already beginning to look a whole lot like just more three.


Oh, goody. The boy thoughtfully arrives through the rain, bearing birthday gifts: butter, for my bread; 750ml of olive oil, for my nightly fry-up of special-offer-priced onions and potatos.


Two days later, the boy’s mother arrives for tea, bearing quite a decent wine, cheese and – oh, joy! – Turron. My 65th year is shaping up nicely.

Post-post-post, etc.

14 April, 2014…

Do you know what 64 is? It’s four-times-sixteen, that’s what. By my calculation, were I to have fathered a child at 16, and a subsequent family habit of feckless abundance had persisted down the generations, so that all my descendants had their first child at 16, then this year I could, both biologically and legally, be  anticipating becoming a great-great-grandfather.

Think about your great-great-grandfather. I bet you don’t even know who he was! I am lost and wandering, a shade flickering dimly in the mists of someone’s future genealogy. I’ll even bet he was a veteran of the Crimean War – the last one, I mean.

Bloody hell.


Numerologists will tell you, 63 is a propitious number.

Three is the Trinity representing Completion (or an old man leaning on a stick?) and six is twice three and so clearly twice as propitious, being the actual number of days on which God laboured to create the Earth. Sixty-three is also three times twenty-one, which in turn is three times seven, which is the most propitious number of all. I feel just incredibly fortunate to be 63, at long last.

A week ago, 63 looked very much like the final curtain, a harbinger of loss, loneliness, despair and decay; the end of all ambition. It didn’t help that I had reached the age of 63 on a dismal, dank and rainy October day at the end of a dismal, dank and rainy summer, whose meagre sprinkling of sunny days had served only to remind us of the better life to be found above the clouds. Or, that I had completely run out of money and ideas, and could see no further prospect of getting any.

Nor did it help that nobody had sent me a present, a card or even an e-mail — except for a computer-dating site I once signed up to and then cancelled in embarrassment when I  sobered up the next day and found that more than twenty women of a certain age had already ‘winked’ at me, an image that brought on one of my panic attacks. ‘Paul, do you know what day this is?’, the algorithm asked, coyly. It’s nice to have software that cares.

Yes, I do. It is the first birthday of my life that absolutely no-one near and even a little bit dear to me has acknowledged* (although my mother later complained that I never answer the phone. Well, neither does she!). I am alone in the Universe.

So what did I do on my birthday? Thank you for asking.

I drove my son to the airport, a four-hour slog away when you know how to find it.

Now, in most third-world countries every big city has a grand avenue leading straight to the airport, proudly named after their beloved Leader. Not so Bristol, whose city fathers have settled for anonymity in a warren of unmarked back-lanes. Peter has one of those talking maps on his phone, that tells you every 150 yards to turn left onto the next rutted track. After we had seen enough of North Somerset, I insisted on reverting to the antiquated system of roadside runes that had for several miles been mutely advising us of the benefits of turning right…. By this means I eventually deposited him and his massive laptop full of games at the Express Pick-up and Drop-off point and, with a curt nod and a manly handshake, dispatched him into adult life.

From the Express Pick-up and Drop-off point there is no escaping, other than via an automated toll-gate. The airport extracts a minimum £1 ‘parking’ fee (No Change Given) for using this facility, even though your wheels may not have stopped turning for even a second while you shoved your passenger brusquely out onto the tarmac, sending their luggage bouncing along after them. I emptied a pound in small change – all I had – into the bin.  With a contemptuous clatter, it spat out all the 5p coins. I tried again. No joy. Next to it, a box displayed fading mugshots of various payment cards you could try instead of money, among them a Visa Debit logo. Ignoring the insistent clamour from my inner pessimist, I thrust my Visa Debit card into the slot. It stuck there, tantalisingly out of reach. The barrier remained shut.

Happily for the travelling public, there is an emergency button connecting the box to a remote control centre, where a tin-man answered promptly. I explained what had happened. ‘That machine doesn’t take 5p coins’, sighed the man, a certain customer-focussed irritation creeping into his tinny voice. ‘Where does it say that?’ I asked. No reply. ‘Or debit cards’, he went on. ‘I’ll send someone to let you out. Stay with the car’.  I looked around at the uninviting vista, the immobile barrier. ‘Okay, I’m not going anywhere’, I said.

Ten minutes later, an elderly moustache pulled up in an airport van. While he set about dismantling the card machine, we discussed how much we both disliked airports. Nevertheless, I felt a tinge of envy: airports had given him a job, a little van and bounteous opportunities to rescue people. I was just another unpaid blogger, 63, forcibly retired and stuck at an immobile barrier.

The ancient town of Nailsea is nowadays a suburb of Bristol, and I spent an hour driving round it, looking for a way through to the motorway, which I knew to be nearby; stopping occasionally to let Hunzi out for a wee. Without my son’s talking map I could navigate only by the sun, and there was 10/10ths cloud cover. All roads seemed to lead to the industrial zone. Occasionally, a fingerpost would point unhelpfully towards Bristol, where I knew I also did not want to go. At last, we arrived back at the airport.


Entering the kitchen,  celebratory bottle of late-night-garage Merlot in hand, I switched on the light. The cheap supermarket bulb, rimed with dried-on cooking aerosols, exploded with a sharp pop, and all the house lights went out. Of the 3A fusewire needed, we had run out. I drank the wine by candlelight, and went to bed in the dark. I was 63.

*To spoil a good story, a week later a book has reached me from the Amazon, which my son seems to have thoughtfully ordered for me as a birthday gift before leaving. ‘The Game’ claims to be a best-selling manual for making oneself irresistible to wealthy and eligible women. I am saying nothing except that, obviously at my age, the type is too small to read with the naked I.