15 April 2013
I once did a bookshop event with Michael Burleigh. He was ‘in conversation’ with me about The Brain is Wider than the Sky. He opened by saying he had noticed that, at such events, non-fiction writers were always asked about the content of their books whereas fiction writers – and, I assume, poets, but there are so few of them – are always asked variations of ‘How do you write?’ So he asked me how I wrote and … More
28 February 2013
At least three (possibly more, one tries to forget) of my worst nights in the theatre have involved musicals. The absolute worst was Starlight Express followed, not far behind, by Phantom of the Opera and then there was a show of Sondheim songs, full of arch over-acting and glutinous attempts at ‘sophistication’, which I left at the interval. I did see half of Cats but the second half never happened because of a bomb scare – it wasn’t me, honest, … More
23 February 2013
I am listening to a radio discussion of the movie American Beauty (1999). The general tone is that this was a masterpiece. I see why they are saying this, it was very accomplished but I disliked it, not intensely but with a bored so whattish feeling. It is, in short, an example of bad-good art.
Two other examples have been in my life recently – the block of flats known as One Hyde Park and Harold Pinter’s Old Times. I used … More
04 February 2013
I commented on Twitter ‘What’s wrong with politics is not the sins of Chris Huhne, it’s the gloating and sneering that will ensue.’ The gloating and sneering ensued and I was criticised for suggesting Huhne did not deserve this treatment. That’s not quite what I said, but we’ll let that pass. Either way, what I meant was not that Huhne was not culpable but that the g & s had certain effects which I shall come … More
24 December 2012
Jim Al-Khalili in the Guardian explains why, as an atheist, he celebrates Christmas. Fair enough, except he is celebrating no such thing. Like many atheists – especially when they are scientists – he treats religion as a simple entity, an atomic unit of human experience. Religion, in this view, performs certain obvious functions – consoles with thoughts of an afterlife, sustains social homogeneity and so on – and, therefore, it is a resilient ‘meme’, a cultural version of … More
14 December 2012
After the school slaughter in Connecticut I saw on Twitter the usual argument, in various forms, that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Notably one @Old_Holborn remarked ‘I own a spoon. I am to blame for obesity’.
This argument is a)obvious and b)irrelevant. Guns, of course, do not kill people. They are not possessed of what philosophers would call ‘agency’. All one need say about guns is that they make it very easy to kill people, much easier than, for … More
09 December 2012
Some years ago while promoting my book Aliens I appeared on a TV morning show ‘hosted’ by Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield. On the sofa with me was a woman who claimed she had been abducted by aliens. She was pleasant, nervous and obviously disturbed. (I should say I don’t for a moment believe she had been abducted.) Schofield gave her a hard time, playing bad cop while Fern, the good cop, smiled sweetly. The woman was suffering and confused. … More
23 October 2012
Why didn’t George Entwistle say ‘I made a mistake in not monitoring the Savile story more closely. I apologise and I will clear up this mess’? He would have been in a far stronger position and is now bound to face severe criticism later; indeed, his job is risk.
Part of the problem here is to do with BBC culture. It is a special organisation, but, fatally, it has turned this specialness into a permanent protective posture. All the statements about … More
19 October 2012
Joe, a salesman at a respectable car dealership, is selling you a car. You drive away happy, kicking yourself gently for falling for the finance deal. But the car’s good and, for a few months, you are happy. Then, one day, Joe knocks at the door.
“Mind if I have the keys, guv?”
“Have to take back the sound system and the sun roof.”
“Because we can. It’s in the small print.”
It could never happen, could it? Yes, it happens every day … More
18 October 2012
Priggishness, wrote Marilynne Robinson “is highly predictable because it is nothing else than a consuming loyalty to ideals and beliefs which are in general so widely shared that the spectacle of zealous adherence to them is reassuring.”
“Reassuring” is not quite strong enough. Prigs use conventional beliefs as a weapon – defensive and offensive – of self-justification. You come across it all the time on the behaviour of certain types of people. Implicitly they say: ‘I am anti-racist/anti- carbon emissions/pro-organic/anti-child abuse/anti-war, … More