Thursday, May 26, 2011

canberra late may

I am writing this in the nearly empty restaurant of a high-class hotel having eaten a lot of stuff none of which I really enjoyed. Particularly as in this vast expanse of empty tables they decided to plop me between two other occupied tables, one with the saddest public servant in the world, and the other with two middle-aged lovers who continually made loud kissing noises in the way of kids sucking chupa chups. The public servant got a case of the sneezes, too, which was also bad.
Later: the next day I went to a choice cafe in Manuka which is one of the places I always like to go when in the Can, along with Academic Remainders and Gus'. Here I tuned in on a classic case of punny-style misunderstanding, the owner of the cafe was giving some kind of 2011 'women, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em' spiel with overtones of 'I have some kind of ill-defined NESB background to me, so I can say what I like about particular ethnic groups', and it went like this:

'She's hispanic.'
'She's his what?'

I guess you had to be there, to wish you hadn't been (at least as far as that conversation was concerned). The mushrooms on toast were exo.

The book industry in England

My guest blogger today is my late grandmother Marion Miller nee Hartfree who published the following in the Sydney Morning Herald 75 years ago today on the 26 May 1936 under the heading(s) 'The book industry in England: 17,000 published each year/ Impressions of Some Authors'.

The age of Bohemianism in London is dead, according to Miss Marion Hartfree, who is visiting Sydney after having been associated with a large publishing house in London for some years.

In the following article, Miss Hartfree says she was disappointed when she went into a publisher's office expecting to find that literary men had manes and roars like the literary men in novels.

She found that, with few exceptions, successful authors looked like successful business men. Authors were no longer expected to manifest eccentricities, and few of them did.

Unfortunately, one cannot repeat the best literary gossip of London. It concerns jealous authoresses who tear out each other's hair and novelists who spend their days evading bailiffs. But do not let me be misleading; it is generally just too dull to repeat.

The dullness of authors was my first great disillusion when I went from the country to work in the office of one of London's biggest publishers and found that the authors no longer had overgrown hair or drank their cheques away in brilliant orgies at the Cafe Royal. Neither were there, as a rule, wits like the Oscar Wilde of legends, enchanting old adventurers like Conrad, or booming wiseacres like Ruskin and Carlyle and other giants of the past.

Successful authors looked like successful business men (which they generally are), in bowler hats, hog skin gloves, and spats, and unsuccessful authors looked like - well, now I come to think of it, they looked like what I had always expected successful authors to be. As a rule, unsuccessful authors are the most pleasant kind of authors and very often the best.

The age of Bohemianism is dead in London. The writing and production of books are standardised like all other productions, and the most successful authors are those who, like Trollope, work at their job with a kind of office routine and produce their two books a year, one for each season, with the regularity of a nut puncher in a car factory.


Authors are no longer expected to manifest eccentric personalities, and few of them do. Of course, there are exceptions. One famous lady novelist was found sitting outside our office one day on the edge of the gutter eating sandwiches. When we invited her to come inside she said that she did not want to bother anybody. She had thought of eating her lunch in the church opposite, but, unfortunately, she had found that her uncle was preaching a sermon there. "It doesn't seem fair to him," she said.

Literary parties in London are the dullest and most un-Bohemian affairs imaginable - at least to anybody who does not know all the little jealousies, vanities, scandals, love affairs etc., simmering below the surface. This might be said of a bankers' party, too, for the bankers also have little jealousies, vanities, scandals, love affairs, etc.

After six months in this disappointing atmosphere it was with relief that I idled through the office one day to see a cadaverous gentleman with longish hair and flowing bow tie and a Harris tweed coat - the paraphernalia of the real old timer of literature. Accustomed to seeing only gentlemen like stockbrokers around the office, it took me some time to realise that he was not a gas mechanic but an author. He was, in fact, Mr. Humbert Wolf, England's most successful poet, whose book "This Blind Rose" sold as well as a modest best seller in fiction.

Humbert Wolf is probably the only poet living, except in some remote backblocks town in America, who looks like a poet but his general air of careless untidiness has probably nothing to do with his poetry at all.

The only other author I ever met who looked the part was Naomi Mitchison, the late Professor Haldane's daughter, whose bright eccentric clothes and more or less eccentric ways are in the true style of romantic literary behaviour.


The apotheosis of the unliterary looking literary person is Dorothy L. Sayers, who is perhaps the most successful literary person in London to-day. She is as smart and brisk and bouncing and efficient as a business executive. She worked in an advertising office and there began writing detective stories which were so much out of the ordinary detective stories, so well written, so full of interesting information, that they made the detective story fashionable even for Bloomsbury intellectuals. Everybody who has read "Murder Must Advertise", or "The Nine Tailors", or "The Five Red Herrings", must have been impressed by the minutely careful background of her tales. Her scholarship is simply immense. Every detail about bell-ringing, or the internal economy of a West End Club, or the business methods of an advertising office, or the mechanism of publishing, is as precise as a life-time expert could make it.

Her specialty is poisons. She is sufficient of an expert on them to write a standard work if she ever wanted to. Miss Sayers was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford. She went to Somerville College, which has produced a large crop of writing women, including Vera Brittain, the late Winifred Holtby, and Sylvia Thompson who wrote the best seller, "Hounds of Spring".

The largest seller in the autumn season of last year was Dorothy Sayers' "Gaudy Night", of which 30 000 copies went before publication. That represents several thousand pounds in royalties. With all her books selling like hot cakes and motion picture producers pursuing her from two continents, her income must be very close to five figures. With "Gaudy Night", she was officially accepted into serious literature by the Book Society, which gave her the choice for the month. Like many emancipated women she has a home, a house, and a husband.


Almost as successful as Miss Sayers, very pleasant, unspoiled by success, is R. C. Sherriff, author of "Journey's End", who was a comparatively poor man when his play began to break records. He had always nurtured a longing to go to Oxford and when he found that he could afford to go to Monte Carlo or anywhere else in the world he did not change his ambition. He spent three years as a humble undergraduate at Oxford where he achieved a new and, apparently to him much more precious, fame int he rowing club, where he became a coach. He does not seem to be nearly so interested in writing as rowing, but his plays continue to be big draws, and just before I left London, "St. Helena", which he wrote with Jeanne de Casalis, was booked out in its first weeks in the West End, after a triumphant season at the Old Vic. He is a charming man, unspoiled by his enormous success.

it is a pity one cannot say this about more authors, but perhaps they earn the right to be a little severe after the hard struggle for success which all authors have on the crowded literary market to-day. Every year the publishers of England send forth 17,000 books to try their luck. In the days of Dickens and Thackeray, Shelley, Byron and Keats, who were young men when they enjoyed fame, less than a tenth of that number of books appeared each year. Besides, there were no circulating libraries. The author sold more books, if he sold at all. To-day there are few authors in England who make more than a bare living wage out of their novels alone. Three to five thousand copies is considered a good sale and five thousand copies means about £300 in royalties. Hence the rush to turn out a novel a year and the decline in the number of authors who are authors only.

Many authors have some other job, in the professions or as journalists, school-teachers, bank clerks, etc. A. J. Cronin, the author of "Hatter's Castle," is a doctor, for example; Bernard Newman, author of "Spy", is in the Office of Works; J. L. Hodson is a newspaperman. Which explains why the picturesqueness of London literary life has waned and why I was disappointed when I went into a publisher's office expecting to find that literary men had manes and roars like the literary men in novels.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

my stories

I can’t remember quite when it started but my week sometime in the last couple of years has become structured around weekly podcasts. Most of them are actually just podded radio shows from the BBC and NPR, though a couple are pod-only. Through the week I listen to The News Quiz (or the Now Show), In Our Time and Thinking Allowed (all BBC Radio 4), Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and This American Life (both NPR), and Boxcutters and The /filmcast (which is released in two separate programs, both created at the same time – the main one and the ‘after dark’). I am well aware that there are many others I could be listening to and that in the pod world this is a pretty conservative collection, though it certainly strikes a good balance between the trivial and the groundbreaking.

The News Quiz is a long-running Radio 4 panel game (apparently this is a genre) which in its present incarnation is hosted by Sandi Toksvig. It is presumably fairly tightly scripted although some guests might need that more than others. I am not entirely sure when it’s on in the UK but the podcast is almost always available on Saturday morning which is great if one is going to make pancakes or something similar (and also I generally find Radio National on a Saturday morning is patchy). They say young Americans these days learn all about the news from Jon Stewart, well, I learn about the news from the newspaper and the radio, but I learn about the English news/ the way the English understand the news, from the News Quiz. It also has very funny people on it, like Jeremy Hardy (today’s one has Armando Ianucci on it, who is one of my favourite comedic performers-writers, but he’s not very funny in it, indeed the whole of today’s program is a bit of a dud). The News Quiz rotates with the Now Show, which is a more outright satirical (but still topical) show with comedy songs, impressions etc. I suppose on a general basis I enjoy the News Quiz more because it allows for flights of fancy and is arguably less conservative in the way satire is often, unfortunately, quite conservative. But good Now Show is better than mediocre News Quiz. I do enjoy the ebb and flow of both shows: each always starts strongly, and peters out over its run, so that by the last one you are hanging out for the next one to start because they dry up.

In Our Time is Melvyn Bragg’s panel discussion on diverse topics. Each show is dedicated to one subject and he has three experts to explain it. You can hear the sound of their teaspoons in china cups as they talk – it’s true. Some topics grab me more than others, and being one who feels there is too much science science in the world and not enough social science, I find the shows on ‘imaginary numbers’ etc a bit grueling, though I can usually get through (how much I retain is another matter, but it’s ok, there’s no test). The historical ones are often scintillating. Bragg has a very abrupt approach, gets straight into things and doesn’t mess around with summing-up, praise of guests, he just wants to get to the heart of shit. I like that.

Thinking Allowed is hosted by sociologist Laurie Taylor, of whom I know little. Well, that’s not true. I know a massive amount about him because he introduces every show with a bit of reminiscence from his professional or personal life. Taylor likes to joke around at the beginning, middle and end of TA, and he comes off jolly uncle more than anything, but the topics chosen for each show (there are usually two) jam together two phenomena that otherwise don’t belong together. Taylor draws his guests from people who have recently given conference papers or written books on, for instance, Russian juvenile detention or the stigma of death. It’s great stuff.

I occasionally listen to things on BBC iPlayer too, shows you’re not allowed to download but have to listen to straight from the computer. But the above are my essentials (also the BBC Film Program, I forgot about that, once again, some good interviews and historical material, not always overall so relevant to me).

From the US, I do enjoy the /filmcast. This is an hour-plus-long discussion by three youngish men (some might say, film geeks) living in three different parts of the US, talking about new films and film news, and then discussing a film. These guys are presumably half my age and I have to say there are times when their ignorance of things I think of as important films stuns me (similarly when they talk about mainstream films I think of as tossed-off trash as significant cinema seemingly often because they saw it at the age of 12) but by the same token, most of the time they are streets ahead of me in what they know which is great. Although a lot of it, particularly recently, is junk about superhero films which is less great. But the interplay between them is really good (if occasionally, to use a term they themselves often use, sophomoric) and while I probably only end up seeing about 10% of the films they review, there’s still a huge amount to enjoy about this show.

NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is a much more structured, longer version of the News Quiz (in fact they subtitle it, ‘the NPR News Quiz’). It’s a lot more showbiz and listeners call in. The panelists are drawn from a small pool of writers and performers who I have otherwise never heard of, except P J O’Rourke, but who in the main are very amusing people with sharp wits. What always surprises me about WWDTM is that all the segments are quite easy but one, where a caller has to guess which of three bizarre stories is true. I always get this wrong and I can’t imagine how anyone could consider this a fair fight, particularly considering most of the others – such as the limerick where you have to guess the last word of the last line – are piss easy. Never mind. Always a funny and enjoyable show and, like the News Quiz, you learn a little fact, and a lot more about how Americans get their news.

This American Life is a gem, of course, though I will say this about it: it is a good example of Americans’ bad habit of assuming that America is the world, because the stories in This American Life can come from anywhere in the world, mind you, they almost always come from the USA. The show is divided up into ‘acts’ that relate to a central theme, and can go from outright radio journalism of the highest calibre, to stand up comedy bits, or personal stories/interviews. It’s always very well done, and fascinating.

Boxcutters is the only regular podcast in my regimen which is Australian. That’s because I augment all of the above with Radio National programs at regular times, or even sometimes podcasted too. Boxcutters is much more ramshackle and off the cuff; at its weakest, it’s the weakest of all of these shows (I’m thinking particularly of the rather lazy humour) but it’s also pertinent to me as a consumer and gives me a lot of great information about the media. It has two permanent hosts – Josh Kinnal and Brett Cropley – and at present is rotating part-time permanent hosts on a confusing occasional basis, but they are all very fine (that said, I feel particularly pleased when Courtney Hocking is guest host; I know nothing about her except that she is funny). Josh Kinnal has the peculiar (but spreading?) habit of pronouncing his ‘r’s American style, even though he is not American. Is this the Australian International accent?

It’s hard to get into the habit of podcasts, particularly as they don’t just show up on your ipod with a little icon of toast popping out of a toaster or the sun coming up or a butler bringing them to you on a tray, to say, your new podcasts have arrived: you have to refresh your iTunes and make them happen, then administer to cleaning out your old podcasts and putting in new ones, it’s a hassle and as arduous as working on a farm milking cows and mucking out stables. I suppose it would be fatuous to say the above (as part of a proper diet including healthy slabs of Radio National) keep me informed and in touch, because I’m really not, particularly. But I do feel I am more informed than I would otherwise be. Well done PC Pod.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

dragon, dentist, rain

I am not kidding I have been in situations in the last 3 days where each day I have heard commercial radio playing a classic 70s Dragon song - April Sun, Still in Love with You, Get that Jive if I remember rightly. Strange. I love Dragon as you may know.

I went to the dentist on Thursday am and had three fillings. It was entirely painless and barely uncomfortable, except for the itchiness. They put something on my face which got itchy underneath, and then later in probably unrelated news, when my face was still numb it got very itchy but I was unable to scratch it because it was numb.

It is raining I want to walk the dogs but I don't want to get wet. Aside from anything else I still have 5% of the cold I had a week ago.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

go team

We saw the Go-Team last night at the Corner and they were exceptional.
The months leading up to last night, as far as a G-T show was concerned, was like an angsty dream, as I kept forgetting to buy tickets and then, once I had bought tickets, I kept forgetting the show was on and didn’t remember until midway through the day yesterday. Tuesday night is actually a better night for me than most – I am generally a spent force by Friday, even Thursday – but for some reason it just never stuck in my mind or I couldn’t take it seriously. Then I remembered properly and factored it in.

Once it was factored, I realized I was actually really looking forward to seeing something different from the usual kind of thing I saw when it came to bands, which is almost always friends’ bands, friends of friends’ bands, or ‘who they fuck do they think they are’. I don’t know anyone aside from me who likes the Go Team (Mia would concede the songs were catchy, so she is more in that ballpark than anyone else I know, but she was not really a fan). I had no idea who would be there. That was fine, I was relishing the unknownness.

It comes in the context which I probably spend too much time railing against, most recent manifestation of which was a work drinks where talk unfortunately turned to music, at which I had a little rant re: the recent Gang of Four tour and the more recent use, which I had only just seen a day or so before, of a Gang of Four tune in a TV ad, from an album which I had bought 30 years ago along with, I guess, about 3 or 400 other Australians. It’s a great album and everyone should hear it who likes that kind of thing, but the time, as far as I’m concerned, to revel in that stuff and the people who recorded that album is not now. Musical sentimentality is a crock. No two ways about it. The thing that made bands of 30 years ago good is now gone.

On the way to the Corner we had dinner at Raffles (note to self and you: don’t get the vegetable curry if you are hoping to experiment away from the usual laksa, because it’s just the laksa without noodles) and then a beer at the Great Britain. At that point I said to Mia I thought there was every chance the night could even be inspiring (I was really jinxing everything let’s face it). I was about as pumped as I could be, though fortunately no-one noticed (and that is not very pumped).

Once there waiting for the G-T to come on, I asked Mia what the best show she ever saw at the Corner was. She mentioned Bailter Space, Pere Ubu and Palace. I don’t think I was there for the first of these (but I think I saw BS at the Punters - ?) and I agree PU were brilliant and Palace was just an incredible show. I also mentioned Love (which was sadly a reunion show, and I despise those, but still pretty fine), Sleater Kinney, Low, and Operator Please. I mentioned Low but in truth I don’t rate them at all – I never understood the appeal, sorry Low, why should you care. I am sure we’ve seen a hundred other acts at the Corner but that was what we could remember off the cuff. Also, I saw Ian Moss at the Corner once and that was an amazing show, it has to be said.

Anyway with the G-T I was really uncertain of what to expect. I knew that their records were kind of made to the auteur model, a la Tame Impala or… Pet Sounds Beach Boys? I also ‘knew’ because I read it online that their live shows were kind of like a separate strand to what they did, not an attempt to replicate the records. I was very fine with that. But while I had long enjoyed those records, whatever else I’d read about them online or wherever it had been very difficult to make that information stick. So I was contentedly in the dark.

The curtains parted and there were six people onstage, two drummers, two guitars-bass and keyboards no-one was playing, and it just went into an onslaught. The whole thing was a barrage. (I didn’t realise how loud it was, at all, until it was over, and all I could hear sounded like it was being transmitted on a dodgy shortwave radio inside a copper box. I think it’s getting better…). The instant they started playing, I realized, I love this band – they have amazing songs and now I appreciate they are really stylish and great fun! They swapped instruments constantly – I don’t think they played one song in the same configuration, certainly not consecutively. Three of them (only the women) sang. There was clearly something (mainly keyboard lines I guess) being triggered, probably by a drum machine/click track, but everyone was totally in synch and tight in the messiest way imaginable.

I don’t know. Maybe there are a lot of bands like this, and I’m just stuck in the ghetto of the kind of worthy dross I mentioned above. I never really expect a band to put on a visual show, and in fact barring the jumping around of Ninja, who sang most of the G-T’s songs (she was the only one not on stage all the time, though, oddly) the G-T were concentrating on playing like a rock band, but it gelled extremely well, it sounded amazing, and it was that rare, rare occasion where a show ended and I was like, already? Because most of the time, shows end and I’m like, at last!!! Recently I was at a show where the band, who I will not name but they had one, ended their set with a monotonous dirge wherein I am sure they took pleasure in the unrelenting appalling extreme attenuatedness of the song, that always seemed about to stop and then went into another cycle of torpor. It was the musical equivalent of a taunt: you have to endure this not because it’s our art or we like it either but just because you know us or know people who know us and you’re stuck here out of obligation and there’s nothing you can do about it, you have to hear this ghastly racket specifically calculated to distress you.

So after the G-T I said to Mia, that was actually probably quite inspiring. If nothing else, it inspired me to walk out on the next glum, dull, ponderous piece of crap indie nonsense I am exposed to, and the rest thereafter if I have any gumption. That’s a revelation.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

and here was me thinking google maps had no sense of humour

empire state numan

Once again facebook has to work harder to capture my essence,* as I would not cross the road to see Gary Numan, a performer who I have precisely no time for. I like the Human League (inc their fab new album) and electronic music of the late 70s-early 80s like John Foxx and the M2 bands, but GN always - even in 1980 - struck me as a tryhard cardboard cut out.
I am reminded of a discussion we had on Sunday about how kids today are adopting 80s fashions (and probably have been for some time) and once again I was compelled to remind myself that stuff looked ridiculous then - we (the people I then thought as 'we') all thought it was ridiculous, the haircuts and the overblown alienation guff which GN so excelled at. All I'm saying is, there was a lot of crap around in the 80s and many of us knew it. GN was farcical and ridiculous then, he was if not a one-hit wonder a very brief flash in the pan, and that video of his (was it for Cars?) where a long line of GNs parade down a keyboard seemed immensely, powerfully pathetic and weak in 1980, and now just looks preposterous.
And so I'm not going to go to his show, no.
* I'm pretty sure I've already given them a hand with this, by trying to eliminate this ad from my page and then answering the kwik kwiz about why I didn't want to know about Gary Numan recreating his 30 year old bad album, just like I did when that ludicrous Peter Hook show was in town and f-b kept bombarding me with guff about it.
(A few days later: although I don't want to see him trash whatever legacy he has in person for money - at least not in that sense - I did pick up his book about the Hacienda at Broady Plaza for five bucks, which seemed like a score. I'm looking forward to reading it).