Monday, 31 March 2008

Jonathan Williams

I first met Jonathan Williams when he came to Cambridge to read for Blue Room, a poetry society founded by John Wilkinson and run by John, his old school-friend Charlie Bulbeck and the more recently co-opted me. I had the grand title of Blue Room Secretary and was responsible for, among other things, booking rooms in my college for the reading and the guest poet. On this occasion we had two guest poets because Jonathan came with his partner, Tom Meyer. I don’t remember if we were unaware of this and booked, as usual, a single room, or were aware of it but thought, as young people tend to do, that one small bed would be enough for the two of them. It may even have been the case that the college didn’t offer a double room on the grounds that women weren’t allowed to sleep within its walls. Jonathan took one look at the bed and said to Tom: ‘Well, you’ll have to find somewhere else to sleep tonight,’ in a tone that struck me as playful but, thrillingly for me, not ironic. Tom was no taller than I was, bottle-blond (though I didn’t know this then), finely built and featured, a fragile adjunct to the solider, bearded, avuncular figure of Jonathan. They’d arrived the morning before the reading and had offered to drive us to a restaurant outside Cambridge for an early dinner that evening. I don’t know whose idea it was to take them to eat kebabs for lunch at the Gardenia, a basement café just off Trinity Lane that’s recently been saved from closure by, among others, Stephen Fry, but it wasn’t a success. I remember Jonathan peering into his pita with a forlorn expression and muttering, ‘Hmm, street food.’

Later that day, Jonathan and Tom drove John and me – Charlie having bunked off by this point – out of Cambridge to a pub that was famous at the time for its irascible owner, his taste for Wagner played loud, and his accommodating, brow-beaten German boyfriend. We drank Adnam’s ale – we had no choice. This was followed by a hotel restaurant that Jonathan had heard, or read, about and wanted to try. Jonathan cared about food in a way that’s utterly normal now but, in late 1973, seemed both luxuriously decadent and pedantic, an attractive though somewhat forbidding mix. I have no memory of what we ate. What I remember is the rather meandering ride home and the way I managed to slump against Tom in the back of the car, my thigh idly – would-be indifferently – pushed against his.

The reading was attended by the usual small group of enthusiasts, but I was too taken by the physical memory of Tom’s leg against mine to be more than summarily aware of what was read; I was also drunk. At the interval, it being my job to make coffee, I darted from the room to fill my kettle and bumped into a friend – Paul Johnstone, now dead – who asked me how the event was going. I think I’m sleeping with Tom tonight, I told him, unaware that every word was heard in the room behind me, where the poets and their audience were seated. John told me later, the following day, that Jonathan had raised an eyebrow but was otherwise pokerfaced. I have no idea how Tom reacted.

The post-reading party was in my room. By this time, I’d been told about my gaffe but, stubborn and optimistic with alcohol, remained undeterred. Half an hour into the party, when Jonathan left, I was sitting in my armchair, with Tom on the floor in front of me, his shoulders between my knees. ‘I’ll see you boys tomorrow,’ Jonathan said, and I imagine Tom nodded and smiled, perhaps wryly, as I did not, not believing my luck. To understand how much in love I was with the man whose head was almost, almost against my groin, you would have to factor in so much that isn’t needed here, where what I want to do above all is to talk about Jonathan’s generosity. The rest of the party faded away quite rapidly after Jonathan’s departure and suddenly Tom and I were alone. ‘Shall I make some coffee?’ I said, and Tom said: ‘Coffee?’ in a way that made me feel both foolish and desired. Five minutes later, he was twisting peach-coloured toilet paper around his contact lenses while I, like a bride, prepared for bed.

They left the next day. We walked with them to the brand-new multi-storey car-park where they’d left the car, talking about Joseph Needham and China, or Ronald Johnson, or Thomas A. Clark, a friend of John’s who’d recently been published by Jargon. Jonathan gave us their address, invited us to visit them in their cottage in Cumbria. As the car pulled off I felt that the end of some essential organ in my body had been attached to their bumper and was slowly, smoothly unspooling. I didn’t know who I was, nor where; with what was left to wave goodbye or with what had been drawn out, away, and gathered up, like wool, by what had happened. Thirty-six hours later, having made up my mind that I could never just go on with my life as it was, which now seemed as false and hollow as I’d become, I was on the road for Dentdale.

There was snow, and the last lift dropped me some way from the house. I must have called from a rural phone-box because Jonathan came in his car to collect me. I can’t remember now if I’d let them know that I was coming or, fearful of rejection, had simply presented myself as near as damn-it to the house, giving them no choice other than to take me in.

Tom had a cold. He didn’t seem pleased to see me, or not pleased; I wasn’t certain he knew who I was, although that, surely, was impossible after only two days. More than anything, I imagine now, he must have been uncomfortable, perhaps even peeved. He’d had no idea what he’d mean to me when he chose the easy option of my room, more for Jonathan’s comfort than for his own, as if I were the by-product of his own generosity towards his partner. He’d never considered that I might think I’d fallen in love with him, his New York past, his neck. He cooked for us while Jonathan showed me round, my head a whirl of names: Kitaj, Ginsberg, Hockney, Bunting, but soon after eating he went to bed. Alone with Jonathan, in the part of the house they worked in, filled with books and records, each desk with its own electric typewriter, I wondered what would happen. Jonathan asked if I’d ever had a sauna. I hadn’t.

In the sauna, outside the house, we talked about my life, my future. It hadn’t occurred to me until we were both naked and aching with the heat that I might want to have sex with Jonathan – I was, after all, in love with Tom! – but it seemed entirely natural, and right, that after the sauna and a glass or two of single malt we should go to my bedroom, a small room with walls painted burnt orange next to the room in which Jonathan and Tom normally slept. It hadn’t occurred to me, either, how scared I was of what I’d done, and was about to do, until I was lying on top of Jonathan and snivelling into the hairs of his chest. Jonathan stroked my back, then scratched it gently. ‘You like that, don’t you?’ he whispered. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You’re a brave boy,’ he said. ‘Am I?’ I said.

The next day Jonathan called the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and arranged a job for me. I can’t afford the fare, I told him, but Jonathan smiled and said that didn’t matter; he’d pay for my ticket. That evening, Tom still in bed with flu, he drove me down to the local pub. Jonathan was a local celebrity – I imagine he was always that – and the people he introduced me to, bank managers, store owners, family doctors, treated me with a mixture of respect and contempt I’d never experienced before; respect for Jonathan tinged with contempt for me. It was understood that I’d become a protégé. Someone, cattily, wanted to know where Tom was. By the time we were back at the cottage and it was clear that, this evening, I’d sleep alone, I knew that I didn’t want to go to San Francisco at all. I wanted to pick up my own life once again and make it fit. Jonathan, to his credit, understood.


We wrote to each other a number of times afterwards and only lost touch when I really did leave Cambridge, at the appropriate time, with a degree, but I never saw Jonathan – or Tom – again. In his letters, Jonathan gently upbraided me for what he must have seen as a failure of will, hoping that I’d found my ‘Firbankian’ pleasures on the banks of the Cam. I’ve never felt Firbankian in my life, but I was certainly as ill-equipped for life as Firbank had been, and it’s to Jonathan’s credit that he gave me the chance to risk a little and then retreat. He was generous with his time, and his body, a difficult man, superb in the Italian sense of not brooking mediocrity, with that pinch of arrogance that all snobs need to survive. I’ve never regretted my weekend at Dentdale. My only regret is that it was never repeated, and now, that it never will be.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Go, little monster

Well, it’s launched. In Rome, at least. My dear friend, Paola, lent me her studio, Dermot from the Almost Corner Bookshop arrived with two large boxes of copies, the fridge was filled with wine, the pizza bianca was hot from the baker’s oven down the road and cut into palm-sized squares, the local olives were gleaming in their little bowls. The weather was, after a week of almost constant rain, mild and dry. It was just after six. The (my) mood was tense but optimistic. At first, there was nobody and then there were a few close friends and then, almost too suddenly to grasp, the room was packed with people. Dermot had the large square table, stacked with virgin copies of Little Monsters, looking splendid though worryingly many (to start with). I had a small round table for signing at, and felt more like a card-less medium –Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante – than a novelist (also to start with). At this point, I hadn’t had a single drink. I’d spent most of the afternoon running pointless little errands, or useful errands that should have been run days before, ideally by someone else, while I practised my signing technique. Well, you learn by doing. By seven, an awful lot of copies had been signed and it was for time for the little presentation that Clarissa and I had organised. That was when I realised I couldn’t find my copy.

What makes my copy special is that a) two of the pages are ripped, so it’s defective; b) it has pencilled scribbles all over the extract I intended to read; and c) it has MY COPY written in felt tip on its cover. I’d left it somewhere during the first quiet moments, and hadn’t seen it since. This gave me the chance to behave like a teacher, which was just what I needed to calm my nerves. ‘Has anyone seen my copy?’ I bellowed from the staircase we’d decided to use as a slightly vertiginous podium (see photo). ‘One of you must have bought it!’ I cried. Pamela, with great generosity and briskness of spirit, offered me hers. Then: ‘Eccolo!’ said Renata, waving my copy in the air. ‘Eccolo!’ And there it was. MY COPY. Clarissa read two extracts, and I read one. It was wonderful to hear what I’d written being read with Clarissa’s habitual passion and intelligence; it was even wonderful to hear Jozef talking, through me, and to hear people laugh at exactly the moment I’d hoped they would. I can’t wait to do it again.

At this point I decided I could have a drink or two, and my later signatures are distinguished by a dramatic falling off in penmanship, made up for by LARGER LETTERS. Towards the end of the evening, I left the studio to stand in Vicolo dell’Atleta for a little fresh air and my mobile started beeping frantically as messages came in. One of them was from Isobel Dixon, my friend and agent. She said I should get someone to read it out, but hardly anyone, alas!, was left, so I’ll post it here instead. It’s very touching. Charles! Wonderful author, I am so proud of you, honoured to be your agent, and gutted not to be there. Much love, Isobel. Thank you! In fact, my thanks to everyone who made it and my thanks to all those who would have liked to be there, and couldn’t make it. I know you were with me in spirit. I raised my glass to you all.

PS To end on a venal note, we sold around 70 copies, and still have some wine left. I don’t know which of these two facts is the more extraordinary.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Rome launch. Today.

Charles Lambert

and the Almost Corner Bookshop
would be delighted if you could
attend the launch of

Little Monsters

in Vicolo dell’Atleta 5,
Trastevere, Rome
on Friday, 28 March 2008,
6.30 – 8.30 pm

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A democratic hiccup

People being stripped and lined up for hours on end, on their knees or standing, their hands and heads against the wall. People insulted, derided, beaten with truncheons, bathed in their own urine and blood, forced to sing fascist hymns and praise the Duce, the Fuhrer. Genitals exposed and abused, ribs broken, fingers forced apart until the whole hand splits, spleens smashed with rifle butts and boots; doctors and nurses standing to one side, refusing assistance. Women threatened with rape or fingered or forced to dance for their captors, men's balls kicked until they bled. Faces sprayed with tear gas, spat on, slapped.

The allied prisons in Abu Ghraib? The stadium in Santiago that other 9/11?

No. Genoa. G8. July 2001. Two months after Berlusconi came to power. When, as we now say, 'democracy was suspended'. On the basis of what we know, because there is no lack of evidence, the people - men and women, guards and medical staff - directly responsible for what happened in the Bolzaneto barracks a few kilometres outside Genoa should be charged with, and imprisoned for, acts of torture. But the Italian penal code, based as it is on the notion that Italy is a democracy, doesn't envisage the crime of torture. Their crimes are considered 'minor'; what's more, unless the courts get a move on, the criminals will all be released under the statute of limitations.

Polls, polls, polls

If you'd like what looks to me to be an extremely well-informed and regular update on the run-up to the Italian elections, and don't read Italian, and are tired of the desultory way I address the subject, you could do a lot worse than read Chris Hanretty's blog. He not only knows a lot about Italian politics; he's got very good taste in music (though you have to pay for anything after the first 30 seconds).

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Jippy x 2

I was reminded of Victoria Wood and Julie Walters by Whitless (see post below), who was actually talking about French and Saunders. They're good too, or can be, but these two videos from the Victoria Wood show are simply marvellous.


Ever wondered what the baby would look like if you had one with your partner? Your gay partner? Or, indeed, any one else's partner? Well, apparently there's a machine that can tell you. It's called The Gene Machine and it lives in Manhattan. You can find out more by clicking here. And when you've finished I recommend you click on "Return to Whitless" at the bottom of the page for more of this very funny site.

More about me

If you go to East of the Web, you'll not only have a chance to read some wonderful stories by such fine writers as Kay Sexton, David Gaffney, Charlie Fish, Tim MacLean and, er, me. You'll also be able to click on a banner ad for Little Monsters that will give you the chance to read the first chapter. Free! Take advantage!

Monday, 24 March 2008

REM Shock Announcement

I just saw this on Joe My God. Nice one, Michael.

Gay Bulgaria

David Giltinan, on Goodreads, has reviewed a book called Bizarre Books: A Compendium of Classic Oddities. It sounds fabulous. Here are some of the titles, with excerpts and/or comments, that David particularly enjoyed:

How to Draw a Straight Line, by Sir Alfred Bray Kempe
'The Unexplored Fields are still vast.'

The Art of Faking Exhibition Poultry (1934), by George Ryley Scott.
The author treads an indistinct line between condemning this widespread and despicable practice, and telling the reader exactly how to do it.

Correctly English in Hundred Days (Shanghai Correctly English Society, 1934)
This book is prepared for the Chinese young man who wishes to served for the foreign firms. It divided nealy hundred and ninety pages. It contains full of ordinary speak and write language.....

Drummer Dick's Discharge, by Beatrix M. DeBurgh (1902)

Penetrating Wagner's Ring, by John DiGaetani (1978)

Handbook for the Limbless

Gay Bulgaria ('once noted in a survey as the least borrowed book in British libraries')

Was Oderic of Pordenone Ever in Tibet?

The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum, by Wallace Irwin (1901)
'Am I a turnip? On the strict Q.T.,
When do my Trilbys get so ossified?
Why am I minus when it's up to me
To brace my Paris pansy for a glide?'

Truncheons: Their Romance and Reality, by Erland Fenn Clark (1935)
with over 100 plates illustrating more than 500 truncheons.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Disturbing stock

Leonie Jackson, of Waterstones Walsall, has this to say about Little Monsters:
I really enjoyed this book although it is slightly disturbing, particularly the relationship between the protagonist and her ‘uncle Joey’. The main story is set during the Second World War and the present day runs alongside this narrative. It explores issues of abandonment and the feeling of not belonging through the main character, Carol’s, own past as well as her work with refugees in present day Italy.
What you would expect to be the main thrust of the novel, the fact that Carol’s father killed her mother, is only lightly touched upon, which is a shame as I was hoping for this to be explored in more detail. Still, if you loved Atonement this is of similar stock.

Similar stock to Atonement? Hmm.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


This is one of a collection of doctored electoral posters that you can find at the la Repubblica site. A lot of them are funny in a fairly heavy-handed way, though you'll need Italian to appreciate them, but this one takes the piss out of Daniela Santanchè with a lighter touch, and nicely reflects not only the tendency of most politicians to behave in a schoolmarmish fashion, but also the sheer vacuity of political slogans.

Santanchè's the improbable candidate for premier of the latest far right party, La Destra, though whether it's farther right than Berlusconi's PdL is a moot point. The dwarfish buffoon's latest move is to select a newspaper tycoon, convicted fraud and unrepentant fascist called Giuseppe Ciarrapico as a candidate for the Senate. Why? Simple. Because he owns newspapers and that makes him valuable. Well, no one can accuse Berlusconi of trying to hide the shameful truth from us. It's a miracle he doesn't simply offer people brand new mobile phones if they vote for him, so long as they take a photo of the ballot paper with the X in the right box. Hang on a minute...

Monkey business

The logo of the brand (sic) new Democratic Party here in Italy has been reminding me of something for some time. I realised what it was today. As if that wasn't enough, the woolly monkey now used to advertise PG Tips looks vaguely like the leader of the PD, Walter Veltroni. You don't believe me? Take a look...

On the left, we have the lovable knitted monkey. On the right, we have the
only man capable of saving us, maybe, from the fifth Berlusconi government. And it'll take more than a nice hot cuppa to digest that. But both of them have that anxious, yearning look as though about to be deprived of something they deserve...

(And while I'm here, I suppose we now have the woolly chimp rather than the family of real ones that used to do the PG Tips ads when I was young to avoid accusations of cruelty to animals or, even worse, anthropomorphic exploitation of animals for advertising purposes. Or maybe we're simply seen as more infantile than in the past, and being pandered to. Still, the PG Tips monkey is pretty sophisticated when compared with those other knitted things, practically limbless rectangles with crudely human features, that jump in and out of cars, dance, bounce up and down, have sex and keep shouting C'mon. And no, I don't mean the Backstreet Boys.)

Little Monsters - review

My first customer review on Amazon, and it's a good one. It begins:
Little Monsters starts off with a tremendous bang, grabbing the reader's attention with its first sentence, and then manages somehow to maintain that effect on pretty much every page thereafter.
Thank you, NN Foster of Manchester!


John Self, the man behind the wonderful and highly regarded literary blog Asylum, recently interviewed me about Little Monsters and writing in general, which was both an honour and great fun. You can see what he asked, and how I replied, here.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Gloss on previous posts

The last three posts are fairly cryptic, I admit, and require some knowledge not only of Italian but also of the retailing practices of UK barbers in the 60s. The photographs were taken in the delightful town of Priverno, within yards of one another. And that's all the help you're getting. I'm very tired and I'm going to bed.

No rubbish

Bill Stickers banned, even for death

Something for the weekend, sir?

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Monday, 17 March 2008

Update to last post, plus NY writers' reading

Alternatively you can click here. You get all the text but, alas, no author photograph...

Just back from a very interesting evening listening to four New York writers from the New School MFA programme in Fiction Writing at Rome's John Cabot University. I'll have more to say about this when I find a moment, but it's unusual, for me at least, to find listening to prose being read aloud so enjoyable. I love to hear poetry, but there's something about fiction that I think needs the silent page, and the innumerable nuances of attention the reader brings to it. Anyway, I was proved wrong tonight. More about this in the next day or so.

My kind of, er, promotion

Before you throw out yesterday's Sunday Telegraph (and I haven't said that very often recently, if ever), take a look at the Travel section, under My Kind of Town. You'll find a photograph of me, yawn, and an article about Fondi, where I live, with lots of useful tips about where to eat, what to do, and so on. And of course, at the bottom (I imagine - I still haven't seen it), a shameless plug for Little Monsters.

And I get fifty quid!

Arsehole strikes again

Anne Berkeley's alerted me to an excellent blog dealing with Nigeria and, in particular, to a post about the hideously repressive legislation being introduced there against homosexuality. Not yet passed, it's already being applied with typically religious zeal. Even worse, if that's the appropriate word, the term is used so loosely that a yearning glance across a crowded room is practically as culpable as full-on sodomy. I've spoken about the situation of gay people in Nigeria before, and wondered about the faith system of all those middle American Anglicans who prefer to be under the episcopal wing of the spittle-frothing homophobe Bishop Arsehole, rather than our own sweetly well-meaning beardie, the A of C. Still cool about it? Hmm. It will also be interesting to see how Europe reacts when gay Nigerians begin to seek asylum on our own more liberal shores.

The blog is called Naijablog and you can find it
here. It's well worth a read, and not only for this post, entitled God also loves gay people. Scroll down until you find it.

Thank you, Anne.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Me, me, me, face out, piled high

Jane's been scouting for copies of Little Monsters in a few central London bookshops. Here's what she found (from Borders and Waterstones). Now don't say you don't know where to buy a copy!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Little Monsters - Good Housekeeping (April 2008) review

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Little Monsters - Daily Mail review

Hot sex in San Francisco

David Isaak has recently said that the mere mention of sex in a title can increase the number of hits a blog gets exponentially. The title to this post is thus intended to lure unwitting sex fiends, particularly those based in San Francisco, to my blog and to the neat little Amazon widget to the right of this post, which magically makes it possible to order my book. Subtle? Of course it is. It's all anyone deserves who has nothing else to do with his time than type hot sex into a search engine.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A great place to enjoy the sunset from (updated)

Sedona is extraordinary. We arrived mid-afternoon, driving up from Phoenix, and saw the light play with form and volume and colour, with the road some way below us and the rocks, that hopeless, inadequate word, above. Down to our left, roadworks were in progress, and other kinds of building, which will almost certainly transform the place for the worse, but it will take an awful lot of spiritual merchandising and motels and whatever else takes place here to destroy the absolute indifference of the geography. Photographs don't do it justice, and neither do words.

Between one butte and the next, we stopped at a place that sold all kinds of local, and not so local, artefacts: skulls, native American jewellery, odd cast iron sculptures, cowboy hats, signs like the ones in the photograph, postcards, roughly made vases from China. While I was looking for a present for my sister, Tyla asked if there was some place we could go to enjoy the sunset. The colours of Sedona - ochre, orange, red - are sunset colours. What we wanted was a place above the valley, with Margaritas and Corona beer and silence. The woman who ran the shop knew exactly where to send us.

Maybe it was because I hadn't bought anything and her retailer's instinct told her I w
asn't going to. Maybe she didn't like us, or was innately wicked, or didn't understand what two foreign men were doing with one American woman and thought we needed some mild sort of punishment, nothing too taxing or permanent, a warning for future memory. Maybe she had a dark, sardonic sense of humour. Maybe she had no taste, or aesthetic sense, at all.

We followed her directions and ended up at Sedona airport. We ordered our drinks and waited, staring across the car park, and the wire fence, and the air field, with its clutter of tiny private planes. What we'd imagined was the whole inhuman splendour of the landscape in the dying light of day. What we got was the homely squalor of a small commercial airport, appalling service, the smell of fuel.

PS Tyla has posted this message below: "
Oh the memories....Cold coffee, warm beer, weak margarita. But it was all worth the sexy image of Giuseppe silhouetted against the chain link fence, dressed in black, deep drag on his cigarette. The barbed wire coil on the top of the fence only added to the James Dean renegade-like feel of the moment."

I thought you'd like to see the image she mentions, so here it is.

Tengo famiglia

Three short updates on Italy. (Spot the link.)
  1. Salvatore Ferranti, jailed for presumed association with the Mafia, has been granted house arrest because he's just too fat for his cell. The bed won't take his weight, the door's too narrow for his 210 kilos (that's 452 lbs), he's had to be helped, day and night, by a guard assigned to assist with his physiological needs (don't even think about it). According to the judges who made this decision, none of the local jails was able to guarantee the prisoner a level of treatment that would protect and respect his human dignity. It isn't clear how much human dignity a grossly obese Mafioso actually has, but, as the Pope would say, these things aren't quantifiable. The divine flame burns in everyone, including Ferranti, though clearly not regularly enough to consume a few thousand calories.
  2. Eight years after being sentenced to spells of 24 years in jail, two Mafia bosses have been released. Why? Because the judge presiding at the trial hasn't found time to write the motivation of the sentences, without which they become invalid. Edi Pinatto, the judge responsible, says he's been very busy. In the meantime, the Mafiosi walk the streets of Gela, Sicily, where it's business as usual.
  3. Clemente Mastella, the man who shopped the Prodi government for a promised role in the new government, has been dumped by pretty much everyone. Berlusconi isn't answering his calls, his party 'colleagues' are scattering like hungry rats from the wreck of the UDEUR to seek refuge with anyone who'll offer them a place in the next parliament, his brother-in-law is calling him names. Basically, the trough in which he's been happily guzzling for the past few decades has blown up in his face. All is not lost, of course; he'll still get millions of euros simply for participating in the elections. Plus, if he's lucky, one of those cushy EU jobs too often used to reward the faithful and console the faithless. Still, in a country and political culture in which impunity is the general rule, it's nice to see someone suffer as a direct result of his acts.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


This is one of those photographs that tourists in the States can't help but take, a glut of colours and brash cultural references that flatter the observer's eye while confirming distance, as though we lived in some other universe. The reason I took it though, honestly, is that I was intrigued by the yellow sign at the centre: the one labelled Canyon portraying a champagne glass with a stem like Japanese love beads. What caught my eye wasn't so much the glass as the writing beneath. PACKAGE GOODS and DANCING. Does the place double as a freighting agency of some kind? Or is the link more organic? I'm thinking white slave trade here; I'm imagining innocent jivers suddenly encased in bubble wrap and destined to foreign parts. The Turquoise Tepee may be involved. I'm anxious. Can anyone help?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Slot machine

Is this really that famous - indeed, iconic - portrait by Margaret Cameron of Virginia Woolf? (Click on the photo for a closer look.) If it is, and I'm pretty sure it is, what on earth is she doing on a risqué slot machine in the Museé Mechanique on Fisherman's Wharf?

I put in a quarter and saw what every married woman must not avoid. I wasn't impressed. Neither would Virginia have been. She may even, though I can't be sure, have avoided it.

Steve Jobby

I would love to be able to credit the creators of this romper suit (if that's what they're called; I suspect it isn't), but all I can say is that it was seen in the window of a shop in North Beach, San Francisco, at an ungodly hour of the morning. The shop was closed.

(Just in case you can't read the writing on the bit below - it says CHANGE ME.)

And no, I have nothing against Apple. Honestly. I was actually thrilled to be able to email from their store in Market St, SF. I had that frisson of belonging, without it costing me a cent.

Village police

This photograph doesn't even begin to capture the extent to which these two policemen, photographed in Sausalito, looked like refugees from one of those films with titles like Cop Shack or Hole Patrol.

Maybe they were between shots.

Big Daddy

It's a truism that everything in America is larger than anywhere else, even though, in two cases at least - pigeons and stock cubes - it's clearly false. Still, anyone who's familiar only with the modestly sized deodorants in European urinals will certainly be impressed by this sweetly-scented monster, occupying most of the porcelain bowl in the lavatory of the San Xavier mission outside Tucson and bearing its name with pride. Big Daddy.

Hmm. A reference to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? (Why Brick...!) A gesture of affection towards the manufacturer's father? A less than subtle reminder that, however much worldly power we may possess, at the moment of urination, heads bowed, exposed, we are children of that great Big Daddy in the sky? A joke?

Who knows.

Monday, 10 March 2008

More holiday snaps

As welcome relief from the excitement of publication, let's get back to our US trip. Here's where we stayed in Williams, Arizona. It's the oldest motel in Williams, dating back to 1936, and possibly the cheapest. We paid $32 plus tax for a double room. Bob, a civil and widely-travelled man, was our host. Below is the view from outside, complete with snow. (Hours earlier, at Pane Bianco in Phoenix, it was too hot to eat in the sun.)

Oh yes, the motel wasn't just in Williams. It was on Route 66. Route 66. You may need to be me to understand how potent this is. You may need to have been a pre-adolescent in a farmhouse in middle England in the 1960s to understand exactly what Route 66, where you get your kicks, might represent. You may need to have imitated Mick Jagger to the anxious approval of adults, who aren't quite sure if approval is the appropriate response as you pout and preen and wave an imaginary maraca at the sofa and would rather be anywhere than where you are. I have a photograph to prove that I was actually there, all these years - and kicks - later. Here it is. Once again, in an entirely different context - Wow.

Fame - elixir of youth

As you can see from this photograph, being published has had an oddly rejuvenating effect on me.

Courtesy of Mistress Montagiste (you know who you are!)

Saturday, 8 March 2008

P Day

Well, P Day came and went without fanfare. (P, in case you haven’t guessed, stands for publication. And if you don’t know of what you simply haven’t been following.) I had a heartening text from Jutta, who was just out to search for a copy in London – I hope she found one. I dropped into my mother’s local Waterstone’s and didn’t find a copy, nor even a copy on order, which gave me a chance to launch into my new self-promotional mode, a mixture of aggression and cheesiness that, worryingly, no longer makes my innards cringe. I pointed out that I was a local author, which is partly true (i.e. one weekend a month and whole years of my childhood). I reminded her of the Lichfield Prize and the fact that I was short-listed a few years ago. I mentioned that I was about to be recommended by Good Housekeeping, which impressed her. She promised me she’d look into it. So if you live in or near Wolverhampton, or indeed within reasonable distance of any branch of Waterstone’s in the Midlands – or anywhere else – you know what to do. Regard it as creative harassment. Pester for art. For the word. For me.

I then popped into the offices of the Express and Star, where I said much the same as I had in Waterstone’s, to greater immediate effect. I’m now waiting for a press photographer to capture me with a copy of the book in hand. He’s due in half an hour. I’m also going to be interviewed. The last time anyone in the family made the pages of the E&S was when my father celebrated his 100th birthday, when the article contained three factual errors, so I’d better be careful what I say…

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Little Monsters - review

The April issue of Good Housekeeping (UK), curiously due to appear in early March, has included Little Monsters among its Seven Great Reads. The other six include the latest by La Petite Anglaise, Anne Fine and Hanif Kureishi. It calls the novel 'haunting'.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Life saver

This lifebelt was spotted in a shop window in Sausalito. It's hard to imagine a ship called Nellie, though less hard to imagine those who sail on her referring to one another with the term, which I'd previously assumed was only British. It's heart-warming to find it a spit from San Francisco, less Querelle of Brest than Poofter of Portsmouth, and all the better for it.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Travelling (from Tucson)

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Travelling (to Tucson)

Ethnic rugs

Coming into Rome from the south, trains often used to have to wait a little outside the station for an available platform. The view from the windows on the right side of the train (looking towards Termini) was enlivened by the shop front of a place selling toupees. The shop, alas now gone, was called Sexy Wigs. This wig outlet, in Scottsdale, reminded me of it.

I particularly like the imperative: Step up.
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Monday, 3 March 2008

The minute and the immense

There's an expression for someone who has to travel a long way to discover something he could have found more easily on his doorstep. Whatever that expression is, it could certainly be applied to me as far as the work of the architect Paolo Soleri is concerned. Born and trained in Turin, where I once lived, it took a trip to Phoenix for me to come across the man's work. The title to this post comes from his book Arcosanti: an urban laboratory? - a collection of thoughts and their applicability to his experimental town in the Arizona desert: Arcosanti. I only got to see the town from a distance, but we visited his workshop, where I photographed this chime.

This post isn't finished, merely interrupted. By dinner.

Dinner over. In this book Soleri comments:

The value, indeed the imperative of crowding, is documented by 3.5 eons of life. Organisms are by definition crowded, self-contained miniaturized realities. Organisms, societies, and cultures that turn away from such an imperative would be strange, paradoxical and ineffective exceptions. One such exception is the sprawl resulting from the age of the automobile [...] Sprawl is a pathological event. It suffers from gigantism with all the derivative handicaps and shortcomings: environmental disruption, waste, pollution, energy and time depletion, expensive logistics, segregation, and urban decay.

What's interesting is that Soleri should have chosen to build his experimental crowded city within spitting distance of Phoenix, a city that extends in what feels like an almost infinite grid across the skin of the desert. It's too ordered to be considered sprawl, but the overall effect, amplified by the general absence of high-rise building, is of a vast city clinging by its fingernails to the land beneath it, as though the land were about to tilt and throw it off. It's a city of space and distance, and is certainly unmanageable without a car. But do people spend more time travelling in Phoenix than they do in other large cities, where the work place and the home are separated for a host of socio-economic reasons? And would the traffic-free crowded urban environment of Arcosanti leave room for those people who don't - or don't want to - fit? Sometimes segregation is less imposition than a sort of freedom.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Little Monsters - a second review

Another review of Little Monsters, this time by literary blogger dovegreyreader. She asks some interesting questions about the construction of novels with more than one time thread in the narrative. If I hadn't been awake for just under 30 hours (leaving Phoenix yesterday morning at 8.10 local time), I'd be in a better position to answer them. I'll get back to this before too long.

Smalltown baroque

This wonderfully bold decoration comes from the Mission San Xavier del Bac, just outside Tucson, rising from a patch of desert as though it had once expected a community to form around it, as I imagine it did, although what kind of community it might have wanted is hard to envisage with charity. The interior is probably typical of churches of this type, relying heavily on paint and plaster and memories of the old world to make up for the lack of more precious materials and models closer to hand. It reminds me very much of the chunky flamboyant provincial baroque of a couple of churches I saw some years ago in the small Sardinian town of Tempio Pausania, which also sticks in my memory for having as one of its local delicacies the nearest thing I've ever seen outside Britain to a Melton Mowbray pork pie.

The world the missionaries found here doesn't get much of a look in, which isn't surprising. Tyla pointed out the sad juxtaposition in the right transept (see below) of an admonishing saint, maybe Xavier himself, and the devout, rather cowed figure of a native American, hands clasped before him in a posture that might be called the missionaried position. The sculpted and painted column that separates them has more life than either figure and I can't help wondering whether local help might not have been called in to do some of the purely decorative stuff. I'd like to think so.

And talking of cultural contamination, what about this curious little artefact, spotted in a gift store in the historic section of Tucson, squeezed in between feathered headdresses, tomahawks and gilded shells for holy water. It combines the Renaissance trope of the winged head of a putto with some distinctly native American features. As if that weren't enough, it also manages to look remarkably like John Travolta in Hairspray, another challenging example of aesthetic syncretism (or maybe not).