Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

Truth has a new editor – Cameron Slater. Watch that space. It won’t be boring.

Lemony Snicket returns.

Home Paddock reminds us that on this day in 1985, Keri Hulme’s The Bone People won the Booker Prize.

A novelist friend emails that the New York agent he met in Frankfurt likes the new novel and will shop it around.

So here are the Captain and Tennille with Smokey Robinson’s imperishable “Shop Around”. Never mind the costumes – Toni Tennille made a few albums of jazz standards that are well worth hunting out. She’s a fine singer and the arrangements and players are amazing.

Cover story of the month

The current issue of Private Eye reports that the October issue of Eureka, the Times’s science magazine, was billed as the Disaster issue and had the coverline “APOCALYPSE”:
Alas, this was true in more senses than one as, in classy News International fasion, staff were told just an hour after they had put the magazine to bed that it was being closed down and this was the last issue.
The main book review in the Eye, whose books pages are consistently excellent, is of Pete Townshend’s memoir Who I Am. Broadly sympathetic to the “self-lacerater”, the reviewer suggests that:
20th century pop reached its apogee in around 1965-1967, when the original beat groups morphed into travelling psychedelic circuses, and began its downward spiral when much less subtle and spontaneous (and much more commercially focused) heavy rock kicked in at the decade’s end. And who were the principal impresarios of this relentless aural assault, in which the song became secondary to the thrash that surrounded it, and rhythm-based melodies (see The Beatles, The Kinks, The Small Faces, etc) gave way to guitar-hero screech? Well, step forward Mr T and convives. No wonder the general impression of life in the rawk fast lane filed by Who I Am is so downbeat. Without ever quite knowing what he was doing, Pete killed the thing he loved, you see, and its ghost haunts him still.
Francis Wheen is 55.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Listener makes me feel special

Guy Somerset, the Listener’s arts/books editor, emailed today to invite me to contribute nominations for the 100 Best Books of 2012 feature. How flattering. I felt special.

On Facebook this afternoon there was a post from whoever used to do the satirical blog The Pigeon, which I loved but which stopped ages ago, saying that the Pigeon would fly again on Twitter. I have resisted Twitter, never seen the point of it and do not need more distractions, but I had to sign up for the Pigeon.

Within 30 seconds I had a follower, one of my publishers. Within 30 minutes I had another, a complete stranger in the US who is evidently an attractive woman. I felt special.

Then Guy tweeted the invitation to contribute to the Listener’s 100 Best Books of 2012 feature to all his 1142 followers. Suddenly I didn’t feel special.

So here are Radiohead, helpfully subtitled in Spanish:


Sunday, October 28, 2012

I go to a school concert

For once, not unwillingly – this evening’s performance at St Peter’s School in Cambridge featured my nephew Angus Fraser with his friend Charlie Verberne, both of whom are musically talented. School concerts are usually painful apart from the brief moments when one’s own children are on stage but this was fine – especially Charlie’s band Sunday Best, who were outstanding, as was the ukulele orchestra who played a mash-up of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with Flight of the Conchords’ “Hiphopopotamus”. 

One band played a sad Billy Joel song I’d never heard before – because it was by Billy Joel – which was introduced as being “about a doomed relationship with Elle Macpherson”. I lost all sympathy with Mr Joel at this point. Many if not most heterosexual men would consider a doomed relationship with Elle Macpherson to be better than a good relationship with a woman who was not Elle Macpherson. That is exactly how shallow we are.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

In praise of: Gabrielle Drake

Men of a certain age go all funny about this English actress. A commenter on a David Thompson blogpost about sci-fi fashion reminds us that Ms Drake played Gay Ellis in the 1970 sci-fi TV series UFO and dressed like this:

She was famous enough then to come out to New Zealand to do a Telethon. I can’t remember or find out when, but I do remember her sitting between Hudson and Halls, wearing a low-cut top, and either Hudson or Halls – Halls, I think – leaning over and leering, “Nice tits.” Live TV, what can you do? Does anyone have a clearer memory?

What men of a certain age forget is that she is Nick Drake’s sister and has been the custodian of his work since he died in 1974 aged 26. She has done an exemplary job. So here is Nick Drake with “Cello Song” from his 1969 album Five Leaves Left:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What I’m reading #84

An interview with the violinist Alina Ibragimova, with a clip of her performing Biber – current composer of the week on Concert FM – and another of the entire Mendelssohn concerto, with Philippe Herreweghe conducting the Concertgebouw. It is fantastic. I recommend full-screen mode.

Penguin is suing some of its authors. It’s a wonder this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

Chad Taylor on high and low technology, and the barbarism of European hotels. 

Stats Chat fillets a Stuff story about the benefits of ginger. The verdict: “not completely misrepresented”. Quote unquote:
So, we have one passing grade on nausea, and a partial pass on aiding digestion.  Two of the links provided absolutely no support for the claims, and the rest were mostly test-tube or rat research that might in the future lead to human research that might support the claims.
Nicholas Reid at Reid’s Reader reviews a new debut novel from VUP – no wait, come back! It is The Invisible Rider by Kirsten McDougall. Nicholas is not a raver, but this is a rave.  

Book sales in New Zealand are respectable by world standards, says Lincoln Gould of Booksellers NZ. That is, they are declining less than elsewhere. Quote unquote:
The Nielsen figures also showed some interesting breakdowns across different genres.  Fiction sales in New Zealand had increased by 11 percent with Australia, the only other country across the positive side of the line, with 3 percent growth. […]
However, it would seem New Zealand loses out to Australia in terms of purchase of erotica as indicated by sales of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  In New Zealand 182,000 copies have been sold or one for every 23 people while in Australia the ratio is one book for each 8.5 persons.
Finally, Ian Rankin. He’s back – and so is Rebus. Ian will talk about his new novel Standing in Another Man’s Grave with Craig Sisterson at the Spencer on Byron, 12 November, 7pm. If you get the chance, don’t miss it – he’s great value. I did one of these events with him about 10 years ago for Whitcoulls: just me interviewing him for a bit, Ian reading from the new novel and then we went out for dinner with about a dozen book-trade babes – booksellers, publishers, PR operatives, the lot. He really is a rock star in this world. We had a great time – he’s terrific company, funny and smart and interested in everything – until I had to go home to my wife and three-month-old. Ian disappeared into the night with the book-trade babes, heading for a bar.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rhetorical eruptions

A guest post by Steve Whitehouse, a founding friend – a funding friend, in fact – of Quote Unquote the magazine, and occasional satirist.

Rhetorical eruptions set to continue, say geologists
Emergency supplies of opinions are being rushed to New Zealand’s main centres following the violent eruption of Mount McLauchlan in the Hauraki Gulf.

An eyewitness on the RNZN survey ship Hooton reports that “giant flashes of viewpoints are illuminating the night sky on matters ranging from quantum physics to early childhood education and the Arab Spring. We’ve also detected traces of Ryanite in the atmosphere, a sure sign that the event is far from over.”

GNS geologist Gordon McCabe said, “Normally the mountain emits about 10 opinions a month, but in the last 24 hours alone it has issued more than 100 points of view. Some of the recent outbursts have registered as high as 5.2 on the Hickey scale. We’ve seen nothing like this since the Muldoonocene extinction nearly 40 years ago”.

The phenomenon appears to have been triggered by a lahar from Lake Boag which caused clouds of sulphuric steam to rise from fissures along the Edwards fault. This in turn seems to have set off Mount McLauchlan. The resulting swarms of outrage have been detected as far away as the Odger Observatory in Hong Kong.

Plumes of belief have risen into the Mora-sphere and are being carried South, blotting out alternative points of view.

In the Wairarapa, the Perigo River has burst its banks. Residents of the hamlet of Coddington have retreated to higher ground and taken shelter in the picturesque Church of St Ayn where they are refusing any government assistance.

In Wellington, frustrated bloggers and commentators have been aimlessly roaming the streets in a desperate attempt to express themselves. A Kedgley-Farrar two-stage rocket has been fired into the upper atmosphere but with no discernible effect.

Meanwhile, the relief comments being issued by the government to fill the vacuum have come under criticism. “They’re just tired, out-of-date, failed ideas from the neo-liberal 1980s which have been stored in a warehouse in Remuera,” said Josie Trotter of the Aro Street Innumeracy Foundation. “What we need is new, evidence-based policies from the 1930s.”

The only part of the country not to have been closed down by the pall of smug is Dunedin where the Auckland eruption has activated an experimental opinion machine designed by Otago University.

“The Flynn-a-tron, which we have installed on the slopes of Dougal Heights, has turned itself on and we don’t know how to turn it off,” said a university spokesman. “It is apparently working its way through the alphabet. It has so far emitted definitive interpretations of subjects starting with Aristotle and, as of yesterday, it had reached Libyan politics and even the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

Attempts to inject irony into the system by Sir Winston Jones have so far failed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cover of the month

An oldie but a goodie, via Hollyhocks and Tulips. This is the cover of a booklet titled Opportunities in Gas Processing and the illustration is by Jerome Gould. He was an Australian, or at least worked in Oz, but that’s all I know about him. Apart from his Farmer’s Union milk and dairy packaging from the 1980s, via Nightjar:

For anyone interested in Australian graphic design, there’s a good archive at Re:collection, a visual blog by Dominic Hofstede. It’s wide-ranging – as far back as the 1940s – and just one person’s selection but very much worth a browse. It even includes Noel Crombie’s cover of the Split Enz album True Colours. Australian-ish, that one.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What I’m reading #83

The New Statesman on Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, how the protagonist of Lucky Jim is a mash-up of both, and why their friendship petered out for a bit. Quote unquote:
Larkin may have had less noble reasons, too: Having published two novels of his own without anything like this kind of response, he may have found his friend’s sudden success a little hard to take.
Regular readers will remember Brian Pigeon, last seen – sorry, referenced – here in March. It is the funniest blog by a pigeon I have ever seen. Here he is on possible hobbies for bored pigeons. The comments are outstanding. Quote unquote:
Dove bombing – dropping substances of your choice on the flouncy bastards from the air. More points for hitting them from height, or if they’re also moving.
Paragliding. Ok, it may not sound like an obvious hobby for pigeons but Sid from Richmond is passionate about it. I am not sure I approve as it is, well, a little violent. Sid says there are far too many parakeets around plus he hates them. He says you find a dozy ‘para’, fly up behind it and then land as heavy as you like on its back and hope to glide somewhere rough, like a tree or a fence, or even better a compost bin. The parakeet takes all the strain and you can hop off any time you like.
Via Chris Bourke, Rolling Stone’s 500 Worst Reviews of All Time (work in progress), a withering appraisal, snarky and funny, of the magazine’s ever-changing appraisals. It’s great: the writer quotes the original review, then how the album was rated later in the now-defunct book series of Rolling Stone Record Guides, and adds his own review. Executive summary: everything by Bruce Springsteen is a return to form. See also: Neil Young,  the Rolling Stones. Too many gems to quote, but #403 gives the flavour:
To be honest, the whole time I was listening to Me and Mr Johnson I kept thinking how awesome it would have been if, instead of the Robert Johnson tribute everyone was expecting, Clapton had blown everyone’s mind with a song cycle about his penis.
Stats Chat dishes it out to the Herald for its story headlined “Skipping breakfast makes you gain weight: study”.

Could the universe be a simulation? Let’s ask Keanu Reeves. No, let’s ask some scientists:
To find evidence that we exist in a simulated world would mean discovering the existence of an underlying lattice construct by finding its end points or edges. In a simulated universe a lattice would, by its nature, impose a limit on the amount of energy that could be represented by energy particles. This means that if our universe is indeed simulated, there ought to be a means of finding that limit. In the observable universe there is a way to measure the energy of quantum particles and to calculate their cutoff point as energy is dispersed due to interactions with microwaves and it could be calculated using current technology. Calculating the cutoff, the researchers suggest, could give credence to the idea that the universe is actually a simulation.
The question arises: a simulation of what?

Along similar lines, why does the universe exist? Stupid question, if you ask me, but Jim Holt has a go at answering it in Why Does the World Exist?: an existential detective story by asking a bunch of philosophers, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Freeman Dyson is caustic in the New York Review of Books. Quote unquote:
Holt’s philosophers belong to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Compared with the giants of the past, they are a sorry bunch of dwarfs. They are thinking deep thoughts and giving scholarly lectures to academic audiences, but hardly anybody in the world outside is listening.
They don’t make philosophers like they used to: and they don’t write crime novels like they used to. Who is the Sydney A. Porcelain de nos jours?

Oh, to be in England now that the BBC Symphony Orchestra is performing all four of Michael Tippett’s symphonies.

Finally, Ben Stiller before he was a famous actor, just a humble shearer in Iran.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unfair competition

Actress Patricia Hodge (66) can’t get starring roles any more and blames the Dames. She told the Cheltenham Literary Festival:
“It is very difficult for us who are in this age group to talk about it because it makes you sound like an embittered old woman,” she said.
“Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith are on a level where they will always get work because whatever is on offer will go to them first.”
Which reminds me: nearly 30 years ago I was accosted one evening in Victoria Street West, Auckland outside RKS gallery – it must have been a Tuesday for that is when the art galleries had their openings with free wine – by the writer Michael Morrissey. He was aggrieved that I had a column in the Listener and he didn’t. He felt this was unfair: people like me and Tom Scott who had columns in the Listener were blocking people like him who deserved to have columns in the Listener, and we should get out of the way. Good luck with telling Tom that, I thought.

Many years later, when I was a magazine editor, I realised that the two essential skills of the job are knowing when to reject a story or a writer, and spotting the real talent among possible replacements. As in real life, one has to know whom to court, when to say yes, and when to say no. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In praise of: Clarissa Dickson Wright

Wright was half of the Two Fat Ladies with the late Jennifer Paterson. From a recent profile in the Sunday Telegraph, promoting her new book, Clarissa’s England:
She was born into wealth and privilege as the daughter of a surgeon to the Royal Family, but her father was a drunk who beat her up. Clarissa became the youngest woman ever called to the Bar. But she hit the bottle herself on the day her mother died, and the despair she felt led to alcoholism.
She spent all her £2.8 million inheritance in 12 years of heavy drinking. She has been declared bankrupt twice.
And how are her finances now?:
Fine, thanks. I turned down an awful lot of money from a supermarket chain years back. I don’t regret it. I used to say that all I had left in life was my integrity and my cleavage. Now it’s just my integrity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Paul Holmes on broad beans

In the Herald on Saturday Paul Holmes told us about his vegetable patch and how broad beans are a metaphor for life. Or possibly how life is a metaphor for broad beans – sometimes with Paul’s columns it can be hard to tell which way is up.

Anyway, a week or so ago he planted some broad beans because he loves them. He also planted some good old-fashioned, sturdy, honest, plain-speaking lettuce:
Yes, the hell with all those flash lettuces. We’ve gone back to iceberg. And Mum’s condensed milk dressing. Nothing like it.
The reason there is nothing like it is that it is disgusting. English food at its worst.

I worry about Paul’s garden. From my office I can see about two dozen broad bean plants standing tall and proud because I planted them months ago. We’ll be harvesting soon. Julian Matthews, one’s guide in these matters, advises that seed should be sown:
Early autumn to late winter. Broad beans are best suited to cooler-climate districts rather than mild northern climates.
Paul lives near Hastings, in Hawkes Bay, a warmish region. I fear that he has left his run too late, broad-bean-wise.

Next week Paul may move on from his garden to reveal his laundry secrets. Is he a Persil man or a Surfer? I think we should be told.

On the correct use of band names

In the comments threat at David Thompson’s blog on “Culture, Ideas, Politics”, after mention was made of a couple of academics who write their names all lower case:
WTP: I blame e.e. cummings, though according to Wiki (wiki?) he wasn’t very consistent in this matter. FWIU, there is a raging debate going on in the Wiki/wiki world over The Beatles vs. the Beatles, or maybe even just Beatles... or beatles... for this I blame The Talking Heads.
Sam Duncan responds:
I blame The The myself.
WTP again:
But Sam, the capitals, the capitals!!
I once had an argutorment with a frenimy about whether it was pronounced THE-THEE or THEE-THE. I settled on THEE-THEE. He went on to work in the tax collections office and we haven’t spoken since.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On editing a book

Or not, as the case may be. Having read reviews in Metro (May, Paul Litterick: “It reads more like a blog than a book”, which is a bit rich coming from a blogger) and New Zealand Books (Spring, Louise O’Brien: “The overall effect is of being ranted at, very loudly, at close proximity, for a very long time”) of my old friend Gordon McLauchlan’s recent book The Passionless People Revisited, I thought I’d have a look at it. On page 17 this unfortunate sentence leapt out:
In her last term Clark and her ministers kept rushing around pushing their fingers into dykes to stop the administration from drowning.
This is why God gave us editors – to save writers from themselves. We all have our off days, but that is a face-palm epic fail. 

The sentence comes at the end of a paragraph about Helen Clark’s three-term government that mentions leaky homes but implies they were the fault of previous governments – and doesn’t mention that Clark long denied there was a problem and claimed it was all a beat-up by the Herald. Odd for a former Herald writer not to provide this context and remind us that the Herald is capable of superb investigative journalism.  

Incidentally, the Spring issue of NZ Books is outstanding. Other reasons for buying it include: Chris Else on Russell Haley, Julian Novitz and Gigi Fenster; Nicholas Reid on Lawrence Patchett; Martin Edmond on James McNeish; Penelope Todd on Stephanie Johnson; Iain Sharp on Laurence Simmons; Elizabeth Smither on Robin Hyde; Peter Calder on journalism; and Rebecca Priestley on Michael Corballis.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stormy weather

Stuff reports:
Storm batters country
Would you like fries with that?

It has been hosing down most of the day in Cambridge, fallen branches everywhere. We haven’t had it as bad as elsewhere, but it has been an indoorsy day with a lot of Brahms, the rainy-day composer of choice. 

So here, because I can’t find a Mingus version of “Stormy Weather”, is Lena Horne:

Yes I can. No visuals, but this is Mingus with Eric Dolphy in 1960 performing “Stormy Weather”. Ted Curson on trumpet and Dannie Richmond on drums. Mingus often quoted this song, especially when he and Dolphy were duetting. One of the great jazz partnerships.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Zealand at Frankfurt

Emails from publishing/author/industry friends there say it’s all good, Facebook messages from authors not so much, but you know how authors are. 

Catriona Ferguson from the Book Council blogs here. Publishers Association is on Facebook here. Guy Somerset blogs here, Philip Temple here. There are PANZ newsletters but I can’t see how to link to them – anyone interested, just ask and I’ll forward.   

The return of rockin’ Damien Wilkins

Yes, IIML’s Damien Wilkins has written a bunch of new songs, strapped on his Strat and recorded a new album with the Close Readers. The first, Group Hug, came out in March last year and received rave reviews. Here’s one.

The new album is called New Spirit. This is the title track and it’s a cracker:

More info hereAlso you can download it for free. Go on, you know you want to.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In France they kiss on Main Street

—They order, said I, this matter better in France.—
That is the famous opening paragraph of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, published in 1768. As Virginia Woolf said of its great predecessor Tristram Shandy, it takes “liberties with grammar and syntax and sense and propriety”. She might have added, “and punctuation”. Here are the last two paragraphs (I have proofread this twice: it is what he wrote and what OUP published in 1965):
—But the fille de chamber hearing there were words between us, and fearing that hostilities would ensue in course, had crept silently out of her closet, and it being totally dark, had stolen so close to our beds, that she had got herself into the narrow passage which separated them, and had advanc’d so far up as to be in a line betwixt her mistress and me—
So that when I stretch’d out my hand, I caught hold of the fille de chambre’s
Wonderful. The book starts in the middle of a scene and ends in the middle of another one, with no full stop. As Woolf said, in it “We are as close to life as we can be.” This was first published 244 years ago, and still reads as modern and funny.

I once worked with a writer friend on his new comic novel which had an unreliable narrator, and for the voice to ring true it was important that the grammar and syntax be loose. Took us a couple of months. The publisher sent it to an old-school editor who missed the point by a country mile so strapped the manuscript into the Procrustean bed of conventional usage and “corrected” every flaw we had deliberately inserted. And thereby killed the narrator’s voice, the comedy and the novel. Sometimes being right is wrong.

Where was I, as Sterne might say? Ah yes, how they order matters better in France. Farming, not so much, but most other things – especially politicians’ private lives. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Francois Hollande “shared” his mistress Valerie Trierweiler with a minister from Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in a Jules et Jim-style relationship, a new biography on France’s first lady claims.
La Frondeuse (The Troublemaker), says Ms Trierweiler, 47, had an affair with Patrick Devedjian, 68, a former economics minister, in the early 2000s, but that the Socialist Mr Hollande, 58, muscled in when the right-winger failed to commit himself further to the relationship.
There followed a period “a bit like Jules et Jim”, said the co-author Christophe Jakubyszyn, a close friend of the first lady, referring to the 1962 Francois Truffaut film in which Jeanne Moreau is in a love triangle with two men and all three live in the same house.
“Patrick Devedjian hesitated so much that Valerie Trierweiler allowed herself to be courted by a second man of another political persuasion: Francois Hollande,” he said.
“Little by little, the relationship with Hollande took precedence over the other, notably after an ultimatum in 2003 which Devedjian failed to respect. But he suffered a lot from the break-up. It was a bit like Jules et Jim. Both men still have a lot of respect for each other,” he said.
It gets better:
All three had other partners at the time.
Formidable! But wait, there’s more:
In another extract of La Frondeuse, out today, Ms Trierweiler is cited as claiming she was “chatted up” by Mr Sarkozy “while he was holding his ex-wife’s Cecila’s hand” at an Elysee garden party in the same period.
“You are so beautiful,” he is said to have whispered to Ms Trierweiler, then a political journalist. She responded with a “withering look”.
Clearly annoyed at the rebuff, he is said to have told other journalists: “Who does she think she is? Am I not good enough for her?”
Come on, Wellington and Canberra – lift your game.

And here is Doris Day – still with us at 88 – with “Sentimental Journey”:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What we are reading

On my wife’s bedside table:
A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks
Ancient Light by John Banville
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.
On my bedside table:
a bunch of magazines
The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming.
I’m glad there is one literary person in the house.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In praise of: Frank Auerbach

Via Paul Litterick, this terrific interview in the FT with my favourite living English painter. He is 81 and has a show of new work on next week in London. Quote unquote:
“I’ve never been moved by a real landscape as I have by paintings of landscape. It’s because every moment is transmitted by human will that we identify ourselves with it. In a painting you re-experience what the painter experienced, one brushstroke over another, it’s like a perpetuum mobile. A photograph is just pixels.”
I have three late-1970s paintings by James Ross that look a bit like Auerbachs: a small self-portrait; a small portrait of his wife, Gretchen Albrecht; and a massive landscape 1.2m square that weighs a ton. The paint in all three is up to a centimetre thick in places. I love them to bits, and remember clearly the impact the portraits had on me when I saw them in a show at Peter McLeavey’s in 1979 – they had the same impact on me as the first McCahon, Hotere and Hanly shows I saw when I discovered NZ art as a student. I have never dared ask James if Auerbach was an influence. Wystan Curnow writes well about some later work here; the most recent work I can find online is here, from a show in Wellington in July this year.

The best source of information on Auerbach is – quelle surprise – Robert Hughes. His monograph Frank Auerbach (Thames & Hudson, 1990) is brilliant, one of the great art books, up there with Richardson on Picasso and Spurling on Matisse. The paperback is now $US280 on Amazon and the hardback is $US345. I’m glad I bought it when I did. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do not try this at home

Photo by  Michael Rougier for Life magazine in the 1970s. Many more here at Retronaut.

If the woman in the photos looks familiar that’s because she is. It’s Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie. The photo above shows her daughter Melanie Griffith (yes, that Melanie Griffith), her house and her lion. The writer of the Life article recalls the occasion here (scroll down to near the bottom of the page to the section headed “A lion comes calling”). There is a good recent, i.e. last month, interview with Hedren here talking about what a monster Hitchcock could be.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Daisy the cow

For readers interested in the case of the young cow mentioned here the other day, the original PhD thesis is online. It is titled RNAi-mediated Reduction of a Major Ruminant Specific Milk Allergen Using a Transgenic Mouse Model and is by Md Anower Jabed (about whom I know nothing other than that he is married with a child and is a Muslim).

It’s not about Daisy but about the research that led to her creation, and it’s really interesting: there’s a lot about milking mice, which is not something I had given much thought to before. There’s also a lot about why making milk with less BLG protein is worth a try. The tables and appendices are hard-core science that is way beyond me (“Appendix 7:  Restriction digestion of pGL 164 and TOPO-oBLG constructs”, anyone?) but the main text is admirably clear. I wonder if Claire Bleakley will find time to read it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Some questions for CK Stead

An email arrives from the BBC. Distance looks our way! It reads:
C.K. Stead is on the BBC World Book Club on Friday 19th October, and will be talking about his novel My Name was Judas. We need questions to be emailed from outside Britain and if you’re in the UK we need guests to be part of the audience at 11:30am at Broadcasting House, London W1 – please find the invitation attached.
New Zealand’s greatest living writer CK Stead gives a clever, teasing, revisionist account of the life and death of Jesus.
If you would like to come along and put a question to CK Stead about My Name was Judas or to send in your question for him please email us at
The BBC World Book Club is a unique radio programme that brings readers from around the world together with their favourite writers.
If you’d prefer not to receive these alerts, please reply with ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject box.
With thanks,
BBC World Book Club
What a great promotional opportunity. Fantastic for any writer. But I can’t contribute to it – if I have any questions for CK, I just ask him. But others might like to send suggestions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What I’m reading #82

Karl du Fresne talks sense about Twitter and politics.

Masha Gessen gets a phone call from Vladimir Putin and then an invitation to meet him in the Kremlin. It doesn’t go well.

Ron Brownson of the Auckland City Art Gallery on Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent four days in Auckland in 1893. Ron thinks RLS looked like “a Scots dandy”. He has two portraits by John Singer Sargent to make his case, and refers approvingly to this Quote Unquote article on RLS by Graeme Lay. 

David Hepworth, formerly of the Word, on what it’s like to close a magazine. I’ve been involved in three similar deaths – Cue, Quote Unquote and IT Brief – and it’s pretty shitty, frankly. But Hepworth tells it well and is worth reading on the future of both print and e-media. Quote unquote:
We had to close the Word in July. It had run for nine years. We liked to say this was as long as the Beatles. We'd told the team that they would look back on their time on the magazine with affection and pride, not least because there probably weren’t going to be any other magazines like it. The day of the brave independent company backing its hunch and asking the public to pay on the newsstand seems to be gone.
All that remained was to announce it to the readers, advertisers and other interested parties. That process told me more about why we had to close it than anything else could have done, underlining what a porous world this has become and how magazines can no longer operate as they once did.
On the other hand, the Oldie is still with us.

Sam Leith reviews Peter Ackroyd’s The History of England, volume 2: The Tudors in the Spectator. Quote unquote:
Ackroyd’s eye for detail, and relish for the sanguinary excesses of the age (he never stints to let you know how many strokes of the axe it took to lop off a given head) fills even the most familiar stories with interest. When heretics were burned, for instance, kindly friends would tie little bags of gunpowder round their necks, “but on occasions they made too small an explosion and only increased the suffering”. Each faggot of wood you contributed to the fire got you 40 days off purgatory, so responsible parents would get their children to bring along kindling.
Finally, Daisy the cow is in the news: “The country’s largest crown research institute AgResearch said it had bred the first cow in the world to produce high-protein milk with greatly reduced amounts of a protein believed to be the leading cause of milk allergies in children.” The abstract of the paper published this morning in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is here. The Q&A factsheet from AgResearch is here. The possibility – and that’s all it is at this stage – that one day children allergic to normal milk may be able to drink it in this form is good news, you may think. Not so fast: 
GE Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley said cows without the protein BLG was a “frightening development not a breakthrough”.
“This is a depraved macabre experiment that is the worst type of animal cruelty.”
Bafflingly, TVNZ reports that:
Researchers now want to breed Daisy with a normal cow to see what sort of cow and milk results.
Good luck with that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Richard Ingrams’ commonplace book

Richard Ingrams, editor of the Oldie, former editor of Private Eye and so a hero to journalists everywhere of a certain age, has published Quips & Quotes: a journalist’s commonplace book. In its 22 September issue, the Spectator has some samples.

Madmen are always serious – they go mad from lack of humour.
Alice Thomas Ellis. I met her – she was and is one of my favourite writers– and then Michael Gifkins swept her off to dinner. I was so jealous:
There is no reciprocity. Men love women – women love children – children love hamsters.
Northern people in every country like to think of themselves as more honest and straightforward than those further south.
Sounds a northern hemisphere thing. Try arguing that in the South Island: light Brian Turner and stand well back.