Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Beat: Mirror in the Bathroom

My rat friend, Sheila

I'll say it again. If you don't read Jesus' General religiously, you're missing out. His latest piece on McCain is, well, awesome. Read it here. And here's a teaser:

A few years back, I saw a Matlock episode where the origin of the word "crisis" was mentioned. Apparently, if you look at the original Sanskrit character, you'll find that it's composed of two symbols, the Sanskrit characters for "photo" (cri) and "opportunity" (sis).

Monday, 29 September 2008

Lest we forget

Phone rage

I got a phone bill over the weekend. My phone bills are paid through a credit card so I normally just glance at the amount and file (i.e. throw onto the table in my study in the hope that all paper of this kind will eventually become compost and render itself useful). This time, though, I glanced at the amount and didn't file, but went into mild panic, followed by more severe panic. Instead of the usual €100-ish sum the bill was for almost €250. OK, this isn't bank-breakingly large, but it isn't that welcome either, arriving, as it did, on the same day as a final demand for two water bills, a gas bill and a post-final demand for a TV licence we didn't pay some years ago, along with a threat to seize the car. What put me in a particularly bad mood was that it didn't make sense. I pay a fixed charge, which covers pretty much everything I do. My first suspicion was that a smallish boy who'd helped dogsit this summer had made a few naughty phone calls. Well, I've been there too, and changed country rather than settle up, so I was prepared to forgive him. But I had to be sure. 

It took me an age to track down the guilty calls but, finally, after negotiating one of the most appallingly badly designed websites I've ever seen, which is saying something in Italy, I found that the calls (6) weren't to sexy chatlines at all, but to a flat in Paris. And then I remembered a friend of mine calling her daughter, who lives in Paris, on the very days the calls were made. I pay a fixed monthly charge for calls abroad, which means I can natter carelessly to my family and friends in England, or anywhere in Europe, when I should be working. So why should these calls have cost so much? Cue call centre.

Two hours later, I discover that, as a result of a decree issued by the Italian Telecommunications Authority some time ago to protect people from unwittingly making expensive calls via the Antilles or wherever, calls with certain prefixes, including the prefix 00339, are considered 'highly critical' and charged accordingly. I don't know what they mean by 'highly critical', but I do know that, whatever it is, it doesn't apply to Lisa's perfectly harmless home line. Now, I didn't do law at university, but basic logic tells me that a decree designed to protect people from being conned out of large sums of money shouldn't have the side-effect of dramatically increasing the cost of phone calls to private landlines in a neighbouring European country, when those calls are already covered by a fixed charge. Simple, no? Apparently not. 

The helpful (honestly) person at the call centre suggested I contest the charges, and that's what I intend to do. I'll also be putting in a bill for the earnings lost as a result of the hours wasted on a website that ought to be closed down and a helpline designed to reduce even the most patient of men (me) to a state of inchoate rage. And in the meantime my credit card will have paid the bill.

The Dark Ages (cont.)

Remember people saying that the position of women in Afghanistan would be immeasurably improved by invasion? Wasn't that one of the reasons we 'went in'? Well, read this from today's Independent, about the murder of Malalai Kakar. Here's an extract:

Commander Kakar had earned particular enmity from the zealots for leading a female team of 10 officers who would carry out raids to free wives and daughters being held captive by their male relatives. Her office became a refuge for women being threatened and mistreated and she regularly challenged orders from conservative judges to force them to return to their families.


This comes from the Facebook group End Christian Homophobia. If you're on Facebook and would like to join the group click here.

The Dark Ages

The home of Martin Rynja, the director of Gibson Square, which plans to publish The Jewel of the Medina, was attacked by Islamist arsonists yesterday. You can read about it here.

Announcing the publication of The Jewel of the Medina earlier this month, Mr Rynja said he felt such books were important in a liberal democracy. "If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages. The Jewel of the Medina has become an important barometer of our time," he said.

Art craters

Good news from the sales rooms.

Erotic verse

A little bit late, but I wonder if anyone else reading the Guardian's guide to writing poetry last week noticed the wonderful misprint on page 19. It comes in the trickle of text to the left of the main body of text and says (and I'll maintain the line breaks):

feature is
that it has
14 lines"

Gagging order

If you'd like to know more about the absurd case of satirist Sabina Guzzanti being prosecuted for "contempt of the pope" and, more generally, the state of freedom of speech in an increasingly myopic Italy, there's a very useful article in today's Guardian online. You can read it here.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Days in England

What I should be doing now is telling you all about my last week in England, as I promised. And since should is the governess of will, to coin a phrase, that's exactly what I'll do. It all started off with a visit to the very wonderful Jen and Chris Hamilton-Emery, who publish fantastic books in exquisite editions, making their writers happy and the fortunate readers of those writers even happier. They are, of course, Salt Publishing and without them, and it, the world would be a sadder and less literate place. They also make excellent coffee and gave me a couple of freebies. What I was doing there was meeting them for the first time, which was great, and picking up some pre-publication copies of The Scent of Cinnamon, my new short story collection. And a very lovely thing it is. I think we can all be proud of ourselves. 

I then had a walk round Cambridge and discovered that whole tracts of the city are now given over to mobile phone shops. I stumbled into a queue of McFly fans waiting for autographs from two McFlies in HMV. I looked for two books I wanted, neither of them particularly arcane (OK, Edmund White's My Lives and some stories, any stories, by David Foster Wallace... Satisfied?), found neither at Heffer's and both at Borders, which came as a shock. Bowes and Bowes is now the CUP bookshop as, of course, you all knew, but I didn't and was disappointed. I almost had lunch at the Gardenia, in memory of Jonathan Williams ('street food'), but ended up with a rather miserable (in both senses) king prawn salad, sitting outside a place near the market in the unseasonable heat. 

My other reason for being in Cambridge was to go to the annual lecture at my old college, Emmanuel, to give 'moral support' (though what qualifies me for this I'm not sure, other than a willingness to be entertained) to Griff Rhys Jones, who lived on the other side of the roof garden in South Court when I was doing drugs and so on for three utterly delightful years. I used to watch him stride up and down in his room at three a.m in search 
of whatever was needed to complete his history essay, before he wisely switched to English and could enjoy the opportunities offered by constant leisure. Griff was in fine form, as usual, still striding up and down, though with shorter hair. Dinner followed and was really very good, another marked change from the Cambridge I remember. I met David Lowen, who somehow finds time to run the Emmanuel Society, and agreed to take part in a Literary Day at the college. I'll keep you informed.

My other (non-personal) reason for being in England last week was to take part in Ride the Word III. Well, I had a great time, reading the final story from the collection, previosuly available only in Dutch translation (and how often can one say that?). Elizabeth Baines and Vanessa Gebbie have both blogged about the event and impartial judgements on my contribution can be found there, but it was a great pleasure to be on the bill 
with three such interesting and accomplished poets - Simon Barraclough, Vincent De Souza and Isobel Dixon - and, in particular, with short-story writer, Jay Merill, who was an absolute revelation and a delight. Add to that the opportunity it gave me catch up with old friends and meet new ones - you know who you are - and I couldn't have been happier. Which brings us back to Salt, without which most dishes would be very dull indeed.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman set the standard for me, in so many ways. I don't know if it's true that, after Butch Cassidy and The Sting, he wanted to do The Front Runner with Redford, with himself as the coach and Redford as his athlete-lover and that Redford refused, but his wanting to do it (and Redford's refusal) both ring true to me. He was a brave and beautiful, essentially modest, man. In the last photograph I saw of him, a few weeks ago in one of those gloating tabloid exposures of the frail, he looked like my father, which shocked me. In this photograph - and there are a million others - he looks both drop-dead cool and aware of what that costs. I saw a man who looked like him once, many years ago, outside a pub in Notting Hill, so like him I actually thought it was, and still remember my heart missing a beat, my breath failing. I stood and stared at him, utterly without the power to move away. I can still remember how he was dressed. 

I borrowed this photo from jockohomo datapanik. Thanks.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Lies, lies and more lies

And talking of Sarah Palin...
You can see the interview this comes from here. What's hilarious is that McCain implies that it was fine for him to use the lipstick on a pig metaphor, but not fine for Obama to use it, because Obama 'chooses his words very carefully'. Am I hearing this right? McCain says he can say it because he chooses his words as sloppily as he chooses his running mates?

Thanks to Joe My God for the captioned photo.

Very important people

Silvio Berlusconi will be making a state visit to George Bush mid-October to discuss world affairs. I don't know who's most likely to benefit from this, given that one is totally discredited at home and abroad, while the other has reduced his country to a sort of laughing stock and only keeps his head above the domestic waters by making sure that nobody ever, I repeat ever, interviews him in the way that is normal practice in the States. The only good thing that might come from the visit is that Berlusconi is bound to endorse McCain. As though Sarah Palin weren't horror enough.


A couple of nights ago, while reporting in its usual brown-nosing way on Ratzinger’s visit to France, Italy’s TG2, the state-run evening news programme, talked about the 'appearance' of the Madonna at Lourdes. Except that, the way it was said, there weren't any inverted commas around appearance. And I didn’t hear any of those qualifying words like ‘claimed’, or ‘presumed’ or, well, ‘possibly never happened’. Apparently, for Italian state television, she really did appear. The physical presence of a woman who’s been dead for damn near two thousand years in a small French town one and a half centuries ago is a fact. Like Russia invading Georgia, or Berlusconi representing Italy at G8. (Hmm.)   

This was followed by an account of a recent 'miracle'. There was an interview with the head of some preposterous religious organization set up to ensure the validity of religious miracles who said that, yes, this was a miracle. Apparently we’re supposed to believe the man because many so-called religious miracles are shown to be false, which makes this one true. Next thing, we’ll be asking Russell Davies if being on the cusp really makes a difference to the way we relate to Sagittarians. Publish Post

Friday, 12 September 2008


Italian actress, comedian and satirist Sabina Guzzanti's in trouble. The last time old broom (read: Berlusconi) swept clean (read: ensure that all critical voices on state television had their contracts pulled from under them) she must have been on sabbatical somewhere. Since then, though, she's made her film about the state of Italy under the rule of B., entitled Viva Zapatero and has generally mouthed off against the corrupt old charlatan, so it was fairly obvious she'd be next in line for the censor. 

This time, though, Baldy didn't swing his own axe, but persuaded someone in Rome's public prosecutor's office to do it for him (OK, I may be simplifying things here. He might not have fingered collars himself. Hey, it might be a zeitgeist thing. As in, we're all neo-fascists now...). And the person whose dignity is being defended isn't Berlusconi, but Joseph 'Prada' Ratzinger.

After a speech at a public meeting earlier this summer, in which she predicted that within twenty years the Vatican CEO would be getting buggered in hell by some very active faggot-devils, Guzzanti's been accused of something called vilipendio verso il papa. This translates as "contempt towards the pope", and actually appears to be a crime. Guzzanti could be fined or, given the mood of the country at the moment, go to jail. 

Jail for having made the sort of crack satitìrists in Rome and elsewhere have been making against the rich and powerful for millennia. And who's defending her? Apart from Dario Fo? Certainly not the Partito Democratico, one of whose leading mealy-mouthed lick-spittle toe-rags, Dario Franceschini, announced that there was no need to punish Guzzanti in legal terms because she had already been condemned by civil society. Says who?

What Guzzanti said (and, believe me, it works one hell of a lot better in Italian) is no more vulgar than Aristophanes. Or Shakespeare. Or Dante. Good god, it's not as though the man's more worthy of our moral respect than any other un-elected pedagogue with a degree in astrology (sorry, wrong -ology) and a cracker of a private secretary. 

Relax, girl. It'll hurt less.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Moi Soleil

I haven't got a lot of time for Jeff Koons. After all, he ruined the reputation of Cicciolina, a perfectly respectable hard-working pornostar-cum-politician in the pre-Berlusconi days when politics in Italy was a serious matter. But I can't see what's so shocking about the idea that Versailles should hold a show of his work. It's exactly the sort of high-level overpriced trash that places like Versailles, and indeed the whole concept of 'royalty', feed on. At least it's honest OTT vulgarity with no artistic worth or intrinsic value. Not like the dreadful would-be classical pseudo-rusticated tosh our own royal family seems to prefer when it's forced to think about art rather than horses. The Sun King wouldn't have minded, if he'd had an ounce of sense. I like to think he'd have recognised a kindred spirit. So why should anyone else? 

You can find out more about it here. I'm planning to visit Versailles myself in a few weeks' time, so I'll be able to let you know what it's actually like to see Michael Jackson and Bubbles in the great one's bedroom.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

No, you can't

Read this hilarious post from Jesus' General, which would be even funnier if it were satire rather than the simple truth. Here's a taste to get you in the mood:

No, you queers can't have equality at work or in marriages. Being gay is a lifestyle choice, like illegal immigration, and not an immutable characteristic like being saved by Jesus Christ, so it would be wrong to protect it from discrimination. Marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, then between a man and a younger woman, then maybe the man and the younger woman's prettier friend depending on how the implants work out. Two men in a decades-long, committed relationship and raising healthy, well-adjusted children simply can't qualify as a real marriage or family like that enjoyed by those icons of family values John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley, or Larry Craig.

Giuseppe Mallia

If you'd like to see more of Giuseppe's work, and you'd have to be mad not to, click here.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Hang on! The worst is yet to come...

This is just one small frame from an entire comic devoted to the horrors of homosexuality. It was produced in the 1980s by someone called Dick Hafer, who clearly had issues. You can read the whole exhilarating opus here. And don't miss the comments at the end. 

Friday, 5 September 2008


This photograph gives me the creeps. I wanted to share them with you.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


You may have noticed the conspicuous absence of football from this blog. One of the funniest, and most shocking, moments at the start of each new academic year is the one in which I'm outed by students as someone who honestly couldn't give a shit about the sport. Not one shit. Well over 60% of Italians, regardless of age and sex, are overwhelmingly interested, on the other hand, and generally find it far easier to accept me as an atheist (which is actually no worse than being protestant) than as someone whose indifference to calcio is infinite. 

Having said that, I'm very interested indeed in football as a phenomenon (and, I admit, I'm often fairly interested in footballers as, well, fit young men in shorts). And so I've been fascinated by the political hoop-jumping occasioned by last weekend's episodes of violence as Naples fans trashed trains on their way to Rome to 'support' their team. It came as no surprise to discover that among the 'fans' to be arrested for vandalism and worse, far worse, were more than 800 convicted criminals, which, in Naples, means the Camorra. Add to these the numerous apologists of fascism, the most common gesture in the stadium being a raised arm, and it's a wonder Italy hasn't invented its own word for hooligan, instead of using ours.

It's a truism that politics and football are intertwined in Italy. It can't be any other way when the prime minister is also the owner of the country's biggest teams, routinely wheeled out at election times as though the entire team were not only his employees but testimonials to his political wisdom. It would be easier for a politican in Italy to express indifference to football than it would for an American candidate for president to announce that s/he was agnostic, or didn't believe in free trade except when it took American jobs. In fact, the line between religion and football is pretty permeable. Maradona, before becoming a pro-Castro, coke-snorting porkie, was up there with Padre Pio on the wall of every pizzeria between Formia and Salerno.

Why am I writing about this now? In response to the news that ex-Lazio player Paolo Di Canio wants to manage West Ham. Di Canio made a name for himself on the pitch not only as a footballer but as one of the most rabid supporters of Mussolini in a world where fascism is the norm. That's him in the picture, displaying his armpit. Just what West Ham needs.

And yes, I do remember where I was when England won the World Cup in whenever it was.1964?  Bored stupid in the back of the car as we drove home from a family holiday in Ventnor.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

New docs, old tricks

Medical faculties in Italy held their admission exams today, to decide the fortunate few thousand who'll be working in the country's hospitals and surgeries five, ten, fifteen years from now, depending on how long it takes them to butter their way to the top. It's been a fraught few years for would-be doctors, with scandals popping up like mushrooms after rain. Bought exams, entire faculties involved in wholesale corruption, you name it, someone's done it, in Bari and elsewhere. So the mood this year has been one of general alert. And a good thing too, particularly at the Cattolica university in Rome. This private university happened to notice that an awful lot of candidates, in the words of the Medicine Dean, Paolo Magistrelli, "had applied to do the admission test along with their parents or other members of their family, hoping in this way that their relatives (doctors) would be able to help them answer the questions correctly."

The number of relatives (doctors): 140. These shining examples of Italy's professional class were siphoned off to do the entrance test in a separate room. Leaving their unfortunate children to do the test alone.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Family day

Cute, right? She's Bristol, daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and recently outed as seven months pregnant, which means the birth will coincide neatly with the election. He's the prospective father. He's called Levi Johnston, he's also 17, and, according to his MySpace page, he's 'in a relationship', but says 'I don't want kids'. Well, you're clearly not very bright, Levi. People who don't want kids don't fuck the daughter of a gun-totin' pro-lifer running for VP.

Thanks to Joe My God for the photo.

Ride the Word III

I'll be reading something from my new collection of stories, The Scent of Cinnamon, at an event called Ride the Word III in London later this month, along with four other fine Salt writers. I'd love to see you there. (You may even be able to get your hands on a copy of the book!) Here's the information:


Wednesday, September 24, 2008
7:30pm - 9:00pm
Borders Bookshop
203-207 Oxford Street
London, United Kingdom


A mixture of old and new poetry and short stories from 5 Salt authors:

Simon Barraclough (Los Alamos Mon Amour)
Vincent de Souza (Weightless Road)
Isobel Dixon (A Fold in the Map)
Charles Lambert (The Scent of Cinnamon)
Jay Merill (Astral Bodies)

You can see pictures and various other promotional stuff by clicking here.

Orangina? Are they sure?

What were the people who made this on? And when will they be handling the Tizer contract? I'm not sure that this makes me thirsty, but there are certainly moments when it makes me laugh. Which can't be bad.

And listen to the words! Lubricious doesn't even start to describe it.