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Saturday, January 28, 2012

I prefer my sentiment in the past tense

I was dimly aware of London Belongs to Me through the 1948 film it inspired. The film sells it way short, largely by concentrating on just one strand of the story. The book, written by Norman Collins, who went on to be a senior figure in the BBC and ITV, is about the inhabitants of a boarding house in south London in the two years either side of the outbreak of the second world war. The characters are all familiar "types": elderly showgirl, sham medium, thrill-seeking teenager, stolid father figure, frustrated widow, long suffering mother, puffed-up barrister and adenoidal night watchman. It's funny and also moving, particularly in its depiction of the terrors of the Blitz and the hovering fear of poverty.

What the book isn't is any way literary. It has no pretensions of any kind. It's clearly aimed at the broadest readership possible. Does anybody write this kind of thing anymore? Does anybody make heroes out of middle-aged people of modest means? I don't think so. Maybe this strand of writing just disappeared into EastEnders and I've no intention of following it there.

Funny how I can delight in the sentiment in a book like this and yet feel so resentful of the similarly manipulative, similarly middlebrow One Day. I suppose I've met people like the characters in the latter and I found them just as tiresome in real life as I found them in the book. Whereas I've never lived in a south London boarding house on the eve of war. Distance lends enchantment to everything, but particularly sentiment.



Friday, January 27, 2012

When Camilla went to court

Ten years ago I was working closely with a very bright young guy called Neil. He and his equally bright girlfriend Camilla had started a weekly gossip newsletter called Popbitch which they used to do evenings and weekends. Its subscriber numbers grew very quickly. Very occasionally it got into trouble with lawyers but since they weren't making any money from it I wasn't aware of anyone taking them to court. A few years later they split up. Neil moved to the USA and started a family, leaving Camilla to carry on with Popbitch.

Yesterday she appeared in front of the Leveson Inquiry to answer questions about where the internet fits into this whole privacy/decency/shemozzle. If, ten years ago, you'd have suggested to either of them that:
1. Popbitch would still be going in 2012
2. The News Of The World wouldn't.
3. Camilla would be called upon to explain to a judge how the media worked.
Well, it would be understating the case to say they would have laughed, that's all.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Plus one minus one

Watching Annie Hall again I found myself wondering about the girl who plays Tony Lacey's (Paul Simon) impossibly gamine girlfriend. Looked her up. Her name was Laurie Bird. She also played The Girl in Monte Hellman's "Two Lane Blacktop", opposite James Taylor and Dennis Wilson.

Clearly in the eye of a film director Laurie was what a rich rock star's girlfriend looked like. Two years after Annie Hall she committed suicide in the apartment she shared with Art Garfunkel. She's the girl on his left on the sleeve of "Breakaway". Makes you think.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The real reason there's no such thing as a retired rock star

Dean Windass is the latest former footballer to talk about suffering from depression. It’s not surprising that people whose whole life has been built around a weekly jolt of excitement that the rest of us can’t begin to imagine find it hard to settle for a Saturday afternoon spent at Homebase.


Footballers have always known their time is limited. Over the last twenty years rock stars have begun to realise that theirs isn’t. It shouldn’t really be that way. If there ever was a profession for kids it’s rock star. It’s turned out to be the only glamour profession that you can still pursue in the buspass years. That’s one of the main reasons that people keep doing it. Most of them have tried retirement and discovered that they need that feeling when eight o’clock comes around. If footballers could carry on playing the way that rock stars do, they would as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Before London went Gap

Simon Hendy has posted some more of his dad's pictures taken in the King's Road at the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s. In the latest issue of The Word we've got Derek Ridgers looking back at the days when he used to take his camera to The Roxy or Billy's or The Blitz.

Derek and Simon's dad went to those places to take pictures because they knew that they could line up people there who didn't look like people anywhere else in the country at the time. In both cases a handful of people were trying out looks in those places which within a year would be in the windows of everyone's high street.

It doesn't seem to happen anymore. I can't remember when I last came upon a group of outrageously dressed people. If The Face was still publishing today it's difficult to imagine who they would be pointing their cameras at. It's all gone Gap and Facebook.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Two really good, very different podcast hosts

I spend almost as much time listening to football podcasts as I do listening to proper radio. There are two I never miss. Football Weekly from The Guardian and The Game from The Times. Essentially they both cover the same things: what just happened at the weekend and what might happen over the next weekend. Football has the ideal rhythm for podcasting.

I'm interested in the contrasting styles of the two hosts. Football Weekly is anchored by James Richardson. He supplies geniality and warmth, qualities which might otherwise be in short supply. With the honourable exception of Barry Glendenning, the Guardian's pundits are a bit short on common man breeziness, as you'd expect from people who spend so much time working out the number of "assists" players have provided and give the impression that since England is, when all's said and done, a bit of a disappointment they would really rather be watching football in Italy.

The Game, on the other hand, is anchored by Gabriele Marcotti, who is anything but genial. In fact he might well be the most argumentative man in audio. Presumably the producers had to give him the presenter's job because otherwise he would overwhelm the others by dint of his great erudition and deep-seated desire to have the last word. So determined is he to prevail that in each podcast he lapses into a voice which is supposed to represent the man on the Clapham omnibus. He does this purely so that he can dismantle the man's arguments with a few savage strokes of his football intellect. It's like something out of Samuel Beckett.

They both work really well in their different ways because they both understand that the thing that matters most in podcasting, as in radio, is energy. If these presenters weren't there in their playmaking role the rest of the contributors would probably just sit there looking at each other.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

There's a big difference between manuscript and proof

One of the best pieces of radio I heard over Christmas was The Tale of A Tale of Two Cities, in which Frances Fyfield looked at Dickens' original manuscript of the story. As she pointed out, there's something uniquely moving about reading Sydney Carton's words directly from the strokes of the pen which first brought them into the world, particularly when you know that Dickens would speak the words into the mirror before committing them to paper. As one of the commentators said, there's something immediate and intimate about a manuscript which is gone by the time the words are rendered on a proof. Once you read them on a proof they're public property.

I've blogged in the past about how Dickens reacted to first seeing his work "in print". Published writing is traditionally a series of stages, each of which sees the personality diminished as the seriousness grows. The editing, composing and proofreading stages that Dickens' works went through weren't valuable merely because they prevented him from making errors. They also gave him time to decide whether he really meant what he had written. I wonder how he would have got on in the world of blogs, where you simply have to hit "return" to send your most recent thought forth into the world.