Sunday, 31 May 2009

Snip snap snip

For someone whose media empire is based on vulgarity, indiscretion and an obsession with what famous people get up to in their spare time, assuming that's still a meaningful concept, Silvio Berlusconi's attempt to block the publication of photographs taken at one of his Tiberian extravaganzas in Sardinia seems a bit mean-spirited. Particularly as, according to SB, the photographs are not damaging, and show people, in the great man's own wonkily grammatical words, "during absolutely private moments which are completely legal." I wonder what he means by damaging. Come to that, I wonder what he means by private and legal. Official photographs of one of his Sardinian knees-ups a couple of years ago saw him surrounded by a bevy, as the cliché has it, of young beauties, draped on and around him like piglets round a sow. They were published, I believe, in one of his house magazines, Panorama if I remember rightly, or possibly Chi. These didn't seem to be a problem. Obviously, the mood has changed since then, as moral clouds gather around the hairpiece of the anointed leader. But the fact that the incriminated photographer, a certain Antonello Zappadu, has handed over the snaps of his own free will after having tried to flog them to, that's right, Panorama suggests that they really are innocent images of the rich and the lovely in moments of legal intimacy. So why all the fuss? Surely it can't be a warning to other photographers that their less innocent work should be discreetly destroyed? Surely not? I mean, that's the way the Mafia behaves.

Teddy Thompson sings Ain't No Sunshine

One of my favourite songs done by one of my favourite singers.

Friday, 29 May 2009


Don't blink or you'll miss it, but The Scent of Cinnamon has made the Amazon top 100 short story list. OK, I'm 93rd, but I'm in very good company, rubbing shoulders with Somerset Maugham, Alice Munro, Henry James et al. I'm delighted!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Some are more equal

Remember the ministries in 1984? The Ministry of Peace, responsible for war; the Ministry of Love, responsible for torture? Most governments are more subtle about this sort of thing, but Italy, a country that enjoys subtlety in so many guises, from moral hypocrisy to Andreottian dissimulation, has taken a cruder leaf out of Orwell's book. The Ministry for Equal Opportunities is now explicitly discriminating against gays. During the last government, minister Barbara Pollastrini instituted a web site listing the various groups that suffered discrimination for reasons of religion, health, nationality, sexual orientation and so on. The new minister, ex-calendar girl Mara Carfagna (seen here on government business), has removed all reference to homophobia from the site, presumably on the grounds that, under the wise and caring governance of such gay-friendly politicians as Berlusconi, Bossi, Calderoli etc. the phenomenon no longer exists in Italy. Like racism and sexism and all those other nasty -isms, it's been smoothed away and replaced by a feeling of general wellbeing and love towards one neighbour, ideally a 17-year-old blonde with acquiescent parents. What other reason could there be? To prove my point, she's also got rid of a commission set up by Pollastrini, for LGBT rights. Clearly there's no more need for it. What a wonderful world we live in. And I've just heard some Northern League apparatchik on television say that the fact that the centre for illegal immigrants on Lampedusa is now empty is a clear indication that government policy on immigration is working. This is like claiming that an empty hospital is working by ignoring the dead and dying refused admittance. 

Maybe the art of subtlety isn't entirely dead.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Holiday advice

Just in case you were wondering where to go this summer...

Family holidays

According to the ex-boyfriend of Noemi Letizia, the 18-year-old knicker model and would-be member of parliament who refers to Silvio Berlusconi as her 'papi', Noemi was invited to one of SB's villas in Sardinia last summer, along with 30 or 40 other teenage girls, to enliven the emperor's evenings. Noemi and her friend, Claudia, were seventeen, which, in legal terms, is old enough to fuck entertain powerful men and be rewarded for it, albeit with the connivance of the girls' parents, but it would be interesting to know a little bit more about the male guests at the villa. It's hard to imagine SB enjoying all those angelic faces without a little masculine solidarity to make him feel like one of the boys. So who kept him company? Politicians? Businessmen? A clutch of accommodating journalists? Cherie Blair says that SB's jaunty bandana ruined her and Tony's photo-opportunity - or should that be holiday? - some years ago in the same villa, or another: he has so many. I wonder if she knew about the joy division in the bungalows round the back.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Why Italy is boring

I admit it. I've been putting this off. Partly because I'm no authority on Italy and don't want to pass myself off as one. I just live here, along with 60 million other people, many of whom have greater claim to be considered Italian experts, if only by blood. Partly because it's so complex and I have only one small, slightly frazzled brain, which just doesn't seem powerful or contorted enough to deal with the full Byzantine horror of it. Partly because no one pays me for my opinions so why should I share them? (OK, this is a sort of joke.) But mostly because the situation in Italy is just so bloody boring I can't be bothered to think about it in any constructive way. It's easier to swear and rant. There's a poster in Fondi at the moment of a man called Something Cardinale (I can't remember his first name; it may even be Something). He's a gloating, pomaded oaf with a big knot in his tie, so he's clearly on the side of SB (Silvio Berlusconi - Slimy Buffoon: take your pick); he's running for the European elections for some made-up party with some cheesy name I also can't remember. His slogan is La Politica del Fare. This means, as you can probably work out, "The Politics of Doing", and is supposed to lend the man some semblance of resolve, the air of someone who gets things done, although it's about as empty as a slogan can be unless the nature of what gets done is made clear elsewhere. It isn't. It can also be flipped on its back to become L'Affare della Politica, which means "The Business of Politics", business in the basic money-making sense. How to make a packet from politics, in other words. His grinning face is staring down from massive mobile hoardings parked all over town, illegally for the most part. He's bound to be elected, which means he'll become one of the most highly paid politicians in Europe. Italian Euro MPs get three times their UK counterparts, even though the average Italian salary has recently slipped behind that in Spain and Greece; it's just over half the UK average although most supermarket prices are higher here than in your local Tesco's. He's bound to be elected because Fondi votes en masse for SB and his cronies and has done for the past ten, fifteen years. The town's part of the feudal fiefdom of a man called Claudio Fazzone, an ex-driver for a Christian Democrat politician, now a senator, under investigation for corruption and association with the Mafia. And all this is boring, because everyone knows it. Everyone knows that Fondi council was supposed to be dissolved because it's been infiltrated by organised crime, and that it won't be until after the elections, if ever, because if something works, why fix it? Everyone knows that the people accused of complicity are up for re-election and that the old idea of politicians being in some way accountable to the electorate or, at least, prepared to defend themselves in public or answer journalists' questions is just so first republic, so last century. Politicians, or politicians like SB, don't answer questions; they insult the questioner. And this is just so boring after a while, because it's actually quite important that certain questions receive some sort of answer. You've heard about SB's latest spot of bother with an under-age girl called Noemi. He refuses to say how and when and in what circumstances he met her and her family. He refuses to explain why he lied about the details of his presence at her 18th birthday party. He refuses to say why she was present at an official dinner last autumn, alongside various luminaries. He refuses to justify his refusal to answer these questions and others, apart from by a vague appeal to his right to privacy. Which is pretty rich from a man who used his own hagiography for electoral purposes a few years ago, sending a copy of his 'life story', at his own expense, to every household in Italy, as glossy a bundle of half-truths and downright lies as anyone could want. And everyone knows this, and no one cares. And this is boring. And it's boring, finally, that the prime minister of a country can be accused of corruption by a public court and not stand down, and not respond to the accusations, and insult the courts and call the judge a radical extremist. And no one cares, except a handful of foolish, snobbish elitists, in the words of SB's lawyers and lackeys, elitists who nonetheless make up a good third of the country, who are currently standing behind a semi-opaque glass wall, screaming and clutching their faces in Munch-like fashion, unable to make themselves heard above the money-rattling, self-congratulatory clatter of the dominant culture. And it's so boring to have to tell them they've lost out, they're old hat, they've missed the boat on 'security' issues and 'what the people want', they've made themselves redundant with their in-fighting and cuddling up to the Vatican and ambiguity. Because this is also true. But I'm no authority on Italy. Italy's bored by politics. The sooner it can all be handed over to the grasp of one strong man the better. SB wants the number of MPs to be reduced to 100, which is a step in the right direction and will no doubt also save him a considerable amount of money, with fewer palms to grease and MPs' wives to find work for in state television until their lovely lingerie-model daughters are old enough to be made into ministers. Which is also boring.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


I chose the potato to portray human faces because of the many striking parallels.  Not only is their skin porous like ours, but their skin texture and color is very similar, and like us, they come in different sizes, shapes and forms.   Potatoes grow, live, and then decay, mirroring the ephemeral existence and fragility of our own human nature.

Chaka Khan Ain't Nobody

The sexiest song ever. The sexiest singer. The sexiest, er, leopard-
skin dress. And boots. Just plain sexy.


Salt Publishing, as you may know by now, has been savagely hit by the credit crunch and is now in officially dire financial straits. All, however, is not lost. If every human being currently alive on the planet orders a copy of The Scent of Cinnamon just one Salt book, Salt will be saved and, indeed, in a position to challenge the media domination of Murdoch, Branson and Berlusconi, not to speak of other more savoury characters. This isn't likely to happen, but it wouldn't hurt to get the ball rolling. You can order direct from Salt or from whichever bookshop you prefer. And if you live outside the UK and are ordering online, Book Depository is almost always cheaper than Amazon, as I never tire of pointing out. Naturally, you won't just be doing Salt a favour; you'll also be doing yourself one. I won't recommend any one in particular, because Salt doesn't do duds.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Just in case

Just in case you weren't quite convinced by the short piece in the Bookseller a couple of weeks ago, here's confirmation from my agent, the wonderful Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedmann, that Picador really have bought my new novel. That's ANY HUMAN FACE. Just in case. I'd love to post a picture of the cover as well, but let's not jump the gun. 

Sunday, 10 May 2009

As someone who has purchased...

Another wacky recommendation from Amazon:

As someone who has purchased or rated Flush: A Biography (Oxford World's Classics) by Virginia Woolf, you might like to know that Letters to a Love Rat is now available.  

The mail continues with snippets from reviews of others book by the author of Letters to a Love Rat:
'You'll laugh your way from cover to cover' RTAe Guide on Confessions of a Demented Housewife 'Side-splitting' Irish Independent on Confessions of a Demented Housewife 'Hilariously written ... will keep you laughing all the way' Woman on Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife 'An accomplished romp through the chaos of family life' Irish Times on Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife

'Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife"? So it's obviously going to appeal to Virginia Woof fans, right?

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Chi mi ama mi segua

I don't want to sound like Berlusconi but I was beginning to develop a bit of a Christ complex. Not because I'm disrespected, as the capo dei capi might say, but because every time I looked to see how many followers this blog had, I saw the number 13. Fortunately, Michael Sean Morris (thank you, Michael!) has come along to make the number slightly less canonical. But don't let this discourage you if you'd also like to follow me. You can never have enough followers. Right, Silvio?

Berlusca at stool

If you'd like to see lots more of these and you're on Facebook, join the group Brinda con Papi. You won't regret it.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


Talking about the kind of odd things logarithms can throw up, the banner ad on my gmail page at the moment offers me a quick link to "Toop Exhumation Services - The most experienced exhumation company in the UK." As in toop-down, bottom-oop?

Now where did I put my grandfather?

Rainforest fever

I've had some pretty weird recommendations from Amazon before but this one takes the biscuit. 'As someone who has purchased or rated Brideshead Revisited', I'm now being offered a discount on the new James Kelman. I'm sorry? What next? As someone who rated or purchased Hotel du Lac, I might enjoy 69 Things To Do with A Dead Princess?

PS The links will take you to the Book Depository. Tié!

Friday, 1 May 2009

All hail, all hail

Two interesting news items in the Italian press today. The first says that Freedom House, which evaluates press freedom throughout the world, has classified Italy as 'partly free'. It's at 71st place, alongside Benin and Israel, a surprisingly high position given the parlously servile state of most Italian journalism. The other item is a no doubt independent poll on how much Italy adores its tinpot duce Berlusconi. His popularity rating is now at 75%, putting him higher than Obama and approaching the dizzy heights of unquestioning adulation enjoyed by, well, Kim Jong-il. Whose country, coincidentally, also does rather badly in the Freedom House charts.

Author is gobsmacked, over the moon, er

Well, it's official. Click here for details.