Friday, 27 November 2009

A High Class Call Girl Is Announced

This week I have decided to become a 'high class call girl' since it seems to be all the rage and the only way to get a book deal these days. I shall be high class and I shall receive calls. Where I will deviate is on my USP (unique selling point). Namely, I shall be far too high class to remove any clothing.

However if my client wants some expert ego stroking, a cheap life coach, an interior designer (with qualification) and an ideas person who will help him get ahead at work or even a mannerly, glory-reflecting escort to high society events, preferably of the literary persuasion, who won't undermine him by not laughing at his jokes or finding all he says scintillating, then he will find me well worth my £450 per hour. And with that sort of hourly rate this 'Belle de Bore' could afford to devote her time to looking good for him/the rest of her exclusive client base in stunning bespoke 30's art deco-inspired outfits made to her own designs.

So how about it chaps? I shall make being a Soiree Mistress the new British equivalent of the Geisha Girl. Heavens, if you ask nicely I might even make you a cup of Darjeeling in a proper English bone china tea set and toast you some muffins on a proper silver toasting fork. Now there's a personal service you won't see advertised in a telephone booth, never mind taking your library books back when they're overdue.

Incidentally I am reliably informed that there is no such thing as a 'high class call girl' in real life, merely an overpriced one.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Equality All Areas?

This morning on Radio 4's Today programme, it was reported on the News that new classes were to be drafted into the school curriculum to educate boys from the age of 5 that it is wrong to commit domestic violence against women.

The following news item was the recapture of the former Duchess of York's dresser Jane Andrews who had been on the run from an open prison where she was serving a life sentence for bludgeoning her boyfriend with a cricket bat and then stabbing him to death in 2000 for refusing to marry her. Ironically she had then lied that she had slain him in self-defence after he had attacked her; if the forensic evidence was anything to go by; in his sleep!

Does anyone else feel that both genders might benefit from such classes in increasingly compulsive, vicious and immature times of growing gender equality?

Though personally I would much rather both boys and girls were taught HOW to have a functional, loving relationship in the first place - if they have no example to learn from in their home lives - and that they should either seek professional help or call it a day (like civilised human beings) if they can't.

By the way, to avert confusion (and libel risk), I ought to point out that the murderer is the one standing on the left in the picture above.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Some of My Best Friends Are Books

I have just attended an interesting Mostly Books talk by well known author and publisher Susan Hill at the Abingdon Guildhall.

Ms Hill has recently published 'Howard's End is on the Landing', an odyssey which began when she started noticing all the books in her house she had never read or hadn't read for years and determined to take a year out to rediscover them all.

In the course of so doing, she came to reflect on how much books meant to her and what would happen if books disappeared from our lives and shelves completely in years to come - namely if the e-Book came to replace the physical book and designers, printers, binders and bookshops all closed down with the consequent loss of many thousands of jobs. Worse still, whole generations to come would be denied the joy of reading, thumbing through, scribbling their name on and owning physical books. And there would be no repositories for lost love letters and forgotten fivers to drop out of either!

A gloomy thought, but Ms Hill believes the threat is very real if we don't wake up to it fast and support our local bookshops and Libraries in addition to rediscovering our book collections, large and small.

Personally I agree up to a point. I think books and publishing will take a nosedive like cinemas did when video came along, but ultimately I believe those that survive will eventually enjoy a resurgence as we all realise that however high screen resolution becomes, even the most ardent IT lover needs a screen break every so often and does not burn to look at screens of one kind or another 24/7, and even if they did, would their own system take it? Electronic fog is already a recognised syndrome, linked to headaches, eye strain, shoulder strain (through hours of hunching), lack of concentration and therefore productivity when attention is scattered, and depression when one reduces and possibly even withdraws one's engagement with the outside sensual world to become isolated. As a hospice nurse friend also testifies, brain tumours are on the rise in increasingly young patients whatever the experts may say about minimal microwaves being emitted from all these screens, phones and devices to interfere with the body's natural electro-magnetic field.

Furthermore I believe the human need for tactility is not about to go away. A book has three dimensions, is compact, doesn't rely on batteries or electricity, can be read at one's own pace in almost any setting, won't crash, doesn't carry the risk of electronic fog or undue eye strain and it is nice to hold, to own and to cherish, not least with the ever-increasing range of innovative jacket textures and designs available today. More to the point though, a house is just not a home if not adorned with books and the majority of my friends are equally bibliophilic - one to the point of layering a wooden plank between each row of books up to the ceiling on all four sides of his living room with what can only be described as a scant regard for Health & Safety! Plus why would pubs buy secondhand books by the yard to decorate their interiors if they held no appeal? It is also satisfying to momentarily gloat over a book you have just finished, mentally congratulating yourself for getting through it, particularly if thick, its physicality an instant visual gauge. Conversely I remember being disgusted by a former housemate who seemed to own only two books about how to keep tropical fish - and even those had been given to him!

I really do not fathom how the gift of a book with a beautifully-designed and tactile jacket, its own distinct personality and physicality could ever be replaced by someone saying 'Happy Christmas darling - I've got you that download you wanted for your e-Book thingummy' and the reply 'Thank you darling - what a GORGEOUS download, I shall cherish it always!', never mind the challenge of obtaining an author-signed copy! There would be nothing special about it in the slightest, even if accompanied by somersaulting screen graphics.

Rather embarrassingly, I also happen to completely lack the ability to read long documents on screen without an insatiable desire to 'print them out to read and digest properly', despite my conflicting green proclivities which should preclude such behaviour! Perhaps this also reflects a subconscious desire to make the words real and capture them somehow as I don't quite trust things not to evaporate back into the ether - as happened to a cherished exchange of romantic e-mails many moons ago following a system upgrade! As for those PDF forms you're meant to fill in online, but never can....

To get back to books though, while the sexy print-on-demand machine still hasn't materialised in most bookshops ready to print a single copy of any book requested of it for no more than the cover price, whether-in-or-out-of-print at the touch of a button, and despite being well under £20k now (will the technology become the fax machine of the book world I wonder, to be swiftly gazumped by the e-Book?), there are some encouraging signs that the 3D book is making a renaissance already with the rise of the Literary Festival and the bookshop event, whether as one-off or part of an author tour. Then there are all the tie-ins that are possible with some books on the merchandise or related product front and the rise of the book blog, promoting and sharing books. This blog is only an occasional book blog, but I can go on at length about books as you can see. Let us also not forget the tandem springing up of all the Book Clubs and Bookcrossers networks all over the place. Cause to believe that the patient still breathes, surely?

On a more serious note the book trade could help itself by

1. Shooting anyone still responsible for naff jacket design/denying the author a say as to whether the cover complements the book, no matter how severely the wrong cover can impact on sales.
2. Making all booksellers undertake an NVQ in Customer Service or be counselled as to an alternative career if they cannot be friendly, efficient, SMILE and look as if they enjoy selling books.
3. Publishers could refrain from giving the lion's share of their advance and publicity budgets to the likes of Dawn French or Jeremy Clarkson at the expense of all their non-celebrity (some might say 'proper') authors, who are increasingly starving in their garrets and facing threats of eviction, even if outwardly successful published authors.

Finally parents could help ensure the future of the book trade by raising their children to love books and visit libraries from the time they are old enough to toddle. (tip, it's also a cheap way of keeping them out of your hair if you can absorb them in a book while you enjoy some peace and quiet), backed up by their children's schools making the 3 R's a priority once more.

But enough such rumination, I fear the electronic fog is fast descending...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Harry Brown - vigilante

Today I enjoyed a highly gratifying afternoon watching Michael Caine blowing away hoodie pondlife in his latest film outing Harry Brown, not least of interest since I had had a similar idea for a pensioner vigilante film myself some while ago. This film seemed considerably more violent than my own film script might have been, but as with all the best film heroes, had the decency to make Harry a reluctant assassin, doing his best to put his Marine days behind him and live a quiet, law-abiding old age until simultaneously provoked beyond endurance and left with nothing to lose by the druggie scum making his estate a living hell, he rediscovers his latent military skills.

Despite his 76 years, Michael Caine continues to cut an imposing figure on screen with an even more imposing presence as the decent man trying to do the right thing, but just capable of overstepping the boundary when the boundary doesn't seem to know its own position any more and he finds the long arm of the law lacks meaningful reach.

Very much a cut above the usual British gangster fodder and not just owing to Mr Caine's presence, but a damn fine screenplay too, even if it must invariably share a few formulaic elements of the genre.

Entertainment-value aside, the film is a disturbing and damning endictment of both the state of 'broken Britain' and the uselessness of our Police force, who seem by turns frustrated by their own lack of powers and quite happy to afford said hoodie pondlife more human rights than the taxpayers who actually foot their wages bill.

Time was when the police were 'servants of the people' and widely-acknowledged as such - aka there to serve the public. Now they appear to be a free security force for big business (particularly when protecting its interests against any detractors) and enforcers of human rights for those whose actions in infringing upon and denying others their human rights should have led to forfeiture of their own some time ago.

The only ray of light is that as we tax payers are effectively the 'employers' of the Police, perhaps we should have the power to sack the lot of them if their service to us is unacceptable and demand a new Police force actually on the side of the decent and the law-abiding, who also happen to be their ultimate bosses to whom they are answerable.

We can't have all these tooled up 76 year old vigilantes running around on account of a film neglecting to display a 95 certificate, after all!

Top tip of the week: If you need the Police round in a hurry; to deal with a gang of yobs smashing your windows for example; rather than in a week's time, just phone up and lie that a gang of Animal Rights protesters are breaking into your shed to liberate your rabbits and request urgent assistance. Apparently they send the whole caboodle straight round, whirlycopters too, if you're lucky.

Monday, 2 November 2009

You Might As Well Live!

Today I have been on a Suicide and Self-Harming Course called Razor's Edge.

Not so much a 'How To' but more a 'What To Do When You Encounter It' crash course in delivering a mental Heimlich manoeuvre to distressed students. The course was presented by an energetic and erudite glinty-eyed psychiatrist who dressed like an undertaker and evidently regarded the outer extremes of human behaviour with something akin to the relish of a dangerous sports enthusiast, seeming a little disappointed not to have come across a patient with multiple personality disorder in his wide experience yet!

But for all that and a healthy dollop of black humour, Dr Bourne proved practical, compassionate and endlessly imaginative in the means he devised to postpone would-be suicidal practitioners until they'd had time to think it over and consider other solutions to their problems, and convince self-harmers there were safer means of obtaining that endorphin high or psychological relief achieved by cutting themselves.

During the course of the day he came through the door dressed in several guises, adopting the narrative, mannerisms and accents of several 'patients' for us to offer assistance to in the course of our day jobs. He then changed and came back to dissect each case, the advice we had given and the advice we might like to consider giving if it were to happen in real life. All the cases were based on real life cases so he was also able to tell us the real life outcome of each one.
We also learned some fascinating facts such as;
  • Vets are the profession of highest suicide risk. Social isolation posted in small towns and villages where they might take a long time to be accepted into the community plus they have the means and they are trained to kill (ie put animals down)
  • Hose pipe through the car window suicides have radically dropped in popularity in the last ten years owing to catalytic converters. Most modern cars would require you to sit in them for hours or even days to die, by which time you would have been discovered by interfering dog walkers many times over!
  • The majority of suicides do it on impulse and are more likely to do it if they have the means to hand - therefore pharmacists and hospital doctors have a high suicide rate as they know exactly what to do for a quick, painless and certain end and have easy access to the means. GPs less so as few surgeries keep their own drugs on the premises and most must write out prescriptions for their patients to pick up at the pharmacy (providing the pharmacist is still alive!)
  • When talking someone suicidal out of it, or at least into postponing it, do not underestimate their embarrassment. If they feel too foolish for backing down, particularly in a public place where crowds may have gathered and the emergency services may have arrived they may suddenly pluck up the resolve to kill themselves purely because they feel they could not live with the embarrassment of climbing down, literally, and this has become as pertinent to them as the original problem or set of problems which sent them to the top of the high building in the first place.
  • Many suicides are still not recorded as such for various reasons but labelled 'misadventure' or 'accident' to spare family feelings. In addition it is impossible to be sure re many drug overdoses so it is likely that actual rates of suicide may be several times higher than officially recorded.
He also taught us how to protect ourselves both mentally and physically and how imperative it is to do this first in order to be of best use to the person at risk. But that if the worst still went ahead, it would not be a failure on our part, more our misfortune to encounter a particularly determined individual bent on killing themselves no matter what.

You could tell Dr Bourne was an enthusiast about his work as in an unwitting moment of humour and without a hint of irony he recommended 'Night Falls Fast:Understanding Suicide' by Kay Redfield Jamison as a good holiday read.

It may sound strange but I would recommend the Suicide and Self-Harming Course to anyone who deals with people in their day job. It is a kind of equivalent to First Aid but for the mind and was surprisingly uplifting in many ways taking the fear out of being confronted by such a situation, despite some of the exercises being pretty scary and a certain amount of stepping out of comfort zones required.

And it was of course impossible not to recall Dorothy Parker's famous verse on the subject.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

I've often thought that if I'm ever famous enough to pen an autobiography it might be called 'If Things Don't Get Any Better In Six Months, THEN I'll Kill Myself', the joke of it being it would be a rolling six months which would eventually take me up to the end of my natural span by default!