Category Archives: Telly

World Book Night needs a fringe

The World Book Night project is getting some hefty plugging from the BBC and the broadsheets, after an initial push on the Culture Show at the end of last year. It was conceived in 2009 by James Byng of Canongate at a talking shop to find new ideas for publishers. It is supported by the BBC along with a range of leading lights in publishing and run (intriguingly) as a ‘charitable company’.

The project asks people to apply to become ‘book givers’, picking a book that they wish to give out to lots of people. Recruits will each get 48 free copies of their chosen book and on one night – Sat 5th March 2011 – amid a co-ordinated wave of excitement and media interest, distribute them to the masses. On the same night, the organisation itself will give away books to places where they’re hard to get (they mention prisons and hospitals). Sounds ace.

I went to apply. I knew immediately what book I’d like to give out: Geoff Dyer‘s Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It. Not because it’s brilliant (though it is) but because of its lost potential as a popular classic. I know Dyer does OK but this book should’ve been huge, should’ve lined the supermarkets. I cannot imagine anyone not loving its heady brew of travel, drug-taking and intellectual detachment. In a post-Seinfeld Bruce Chatwin kind of way, it does precisely what World Book Night says on the tin.

But here’s the rub: there is (of course, how could I not have guessed?) a shortlist of 25 books from which you make your pick. Each of the 20,000 ‘book givers’ is actually giving out copies of one of these books. Now this is all thoroughly above board – the list of 25 was chosen by an esteemed panel, led by Radio 4’s Jim Naughtie. However they are all – without exception – already successful books from the major publishing houses (and written by authors who are already a high priority for those publishing houses). They are a mix of modern classics, recent bestsellers and prizewinners. Not trash by any means; it is a list of real quality, yet they are the big names.

On a personal level, I simply can’t find one I yearn to share. No, not even the Carol Ann Duffy. I’d pick Pullman’s beautiful Northern Lights but it’s the first of a trilogy, which is an appalling thing to give out free, like a first hit of smack. Suddenly World Book Night bothers me. Yet again, someone has a idea about sharing, then proceeds to lock out anyone not within a specific clique or mindset. It looks reductive instead of open-armed. Sharing a book isn’t simply a one-way patronising thing about encouraging people to read more, it’s an inspiration spreading process. Why, damn it, can’t I get 48 free copies of Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It and throw them around instead of the Heaney poetry collection I studied at Sixth Form? All the prizes and marketing games work this way: the ‘threefer’ discount arrangements work this way. The post-Richard and Judy Book Club things work this way.

Nevertheless I propose not an alternative but a complement:

Let’s have a World Book Night Fringe. Let’s not start from a top-down ‘selection’ but start from a bottom-up process where ‘book giver’ applicants pick a book they’d truly love to share. Then the author/publisher is approached with the request; decides how many ‘book givers’ they can afford to supply. Doesn’t need to be 48 copies each time, why not just 10 copies for each ‘book giver’ of the World Book Night Fringe books? Your core 25 authors and their publishers still get the lion’s share of PR, still get lauded on telly for giving some free books out and “promoting literacy” but at least some of those around the edges get to join in and taste a piece of the action. More importantly, the whole shebang becomes a two-way game, genuinely edifying for authors, publishers, ‘book givers’ and recipients alike – instead of just the illusion of a blanket (‘charitable’) initiative disguising simple commercial intention.

Perhaps I’m naive about how many books can be spared for free distribution but I suspect not. And as usual, I propose something I don’t have the wherewithal to put into action. But it would be simple to arrange if someone did – and it would make my own experience of World Book Night vastly better.

Screw the admin, next week I’m writing to Geoff Dyer to ask if he’s got any free copies lying around of that wonderful old book he wrote.


Unexpectedly, I’ve written to the PM. Ah well.

Mr Cameron,

Where do you get off lecturing people about feelings of sympathy, towards a murderer or not? Poorly expressed or not? Where on earth did you dig up the moral right as Prime Minister to condemn instinctive human kindness towards anyone? Worse, what gives you the right to use a human tragedy, such as these brutal shootings and then the suicide of Raoul Moat, to further your own political leanings by attacking a social networking site while ignoring the far greater sins of the mainstream press reporting of the same incident? You perpetuate a moral myth that is in fact itself deeply immoral?

Party politics aside, this outburst is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard from someone in a position of responsibility in our country. Now you are ‘contacting Facebook’ because you’re ‘concerned’ about online groups people have set up. Yet you have made absolutely no parallel comment on the way the mainstream media handled the coverage of Moat, when those few corporations were in a position of hugely greater privilege and power when commenting on events. Those few corporations whose owners you consort with, giving preferential treatment and access that no normal people could ever hope for.

The media both aggrandised and mythologised Moat to the public, while at the same time aggravating him personally behind the scenes and contributing to his state of mind at the point where he decided to kill himself. The same British press gave almost no comparable space or human dimension in their coverage to the victims.

No, none of that – especially none of the appalling voyeuristic, bullying, community invading coverage from Sky or The Sun, for example, owned by a man you’re still desperate to keep on-side – was worthy of a word of criticism. If any body encouraged normal British people to feel empathy for Moat and disdain for the Police, or the victims, or the local community who bore the brunt of this tragedy, it was that very media.

Nor was it worth your opprobrium when one paper decided to use an image of Moat in drag after his death, to make him seem more ‘alien’ or ‘twisted’. The homophobic undertones were clear; despite many thuggish or bullish looking photos of him available, the one chosen for the front cover involved eye-shadow.

While I don’t condone for a second those who’ve overlooked the tragedy of the victims in their expressions of sympathy for Moat, you know full well that in fact they were a tiny minority compared to millions of good people who expressed sympathy and empathy for everyone involved. You also know full well that people joining those groups were only responding to the story as it had been presented to them.

Of course the victims deserve attention and sympathy first and foremost. But I repeat, it was your chums in the mainstream media who locked them out of the public’s mind, who created the sense of empathy with Moat himself. Facebook did not do this. And even those online groups you’re pretending to be so offended by would never have gone beyond the social networking site without the intervention of the mainstream media: by its very nature a Facebook group only spreads by word-of-mouth organically and will only be joined by people who want to – nobody is paying for advertising.

Mr Cameron, your comments in the House of Commons (our House of Commons) this week were reprehensible for two reasons:

First, you used this tragedy to perpetuate an agenda, with a pretense of outrage.

Secondly, you made an argument against human sympathy that nobody should ever make. And this is the most important point of all. Because yes Mr Cameron, Raoul Moat DOES deserve sympathy, from all with spare to give. Sympathy is not only for the innocent, you fool. Sympathy is for all. You claim him to be entirely callous, yet he took his own life at the end. Nobody commits suicide from a position of cold callousness. Further, audio recordings from when he was in prison make it clear that Moat himself was concerned while in prison about how he might behave when released and requested professional counselling.

To make such an appalling, regressive statement in the House of Commons was utterly shameful. It was an shoddy way to treat all the people involved.


Chris T-T, Brighton

missing Morning Star piece: my Hitchens hell

I can’t find last week’s Morning Star column online, so maybe they didn’t run it, or maybe it was in the paper but not uploaded. Anyway, I liked it, so here it is:

I do wish someone would give the Hitchens brothers blunt weapons – Phillips screwdrivers perhaps – and lock them in a small room together until they’re both dead, Battle Royale-style. I don’t want to actually watch them stab each-other up, that would be disturbing. I just want it to happen quietly in the dark, so we can get on with our lives.

Like a veruca on each foot, Hitchens Mjr (social conservative god botherer) and Mnr (contrary ex-left pro-war piss artist) both popped up in unwelcome fashion last week and left me grinding my gears when they really didn’t warrant the attention.

First, Peter was inexplicably booked to appear on the BBC’s new Review Show. He’s long been a reserve team right-wing stalwart for Any Questions, wheeled out if Norman Tebbitt misses the bus. In fact I can even quite enjoy him in that context, since his every bluff horror about woman’s place or immigration is counter-balanced by an epic rageful put-down of Cameron’s new Tory softness.

But what on earth qualifies him to discuss the arts of any kind? Hitchens is so socially regressive he loathes it all, creativity itself is probably anathema and he has the artistic vibrancy of a dead cat on an ant’s nest. This was made abundantly clear in his lack of any coherent engagement with the work he was asked to review. At least, if you’re challenged by secular – pagan – art when you’re a Christian, have the stones to take it on its merits, like the sweetly stalwart Rev. Richard Coles does, without ever compromising his quietly determined faith-based perspective.

Once Peter is out in the open, yappy deep-fried brother Christopher has to emerge blinking from the hole too. Not to be outdone, suddenly Crispy was shouting to anyone who’d listen about how he and his mate Richard Dawkins were going to arrest the pope.

Well fucking done fella, great idea. Honestly, I know he hates God and his own clunky version of Dawkins’ book about how terrible religion is has made a decent splash. But if there’s one person we don’t need as a national humanist flagbearer of righteous anger towards Christian bigotry, it’s Inconsistent Hitchens.

I foresee a heavily PR’d deathbed conversion undermining all the good work, just to be annoying and catch some last hours’ attention. In fact, for the first time ever, I actually feel a modicum of sympathy for Ratzinger, as Hitchens puffs and preens, prior to embarking on his great pontiff-bait.

At least when Peter Tatchell tries to arrest people, he does it with class. Like with Mugabe, it’s the real deal, he gives it a proper go: rolls up his sleeves, a stealthy wriggle under the barriers, dives in head-first shouting about homophobia and then gets beaten shitless for his efforts. That’s commitment. Even Jack Straw managed a decent pop when he put the wind up Augusto Pinochet and made that old mass murderer’s final days satisfyingly itchier.

Feisty as Dawkins is, can you honestly imagine him taking on the bulletproof Vatican security mob? They’re Paul Bettany in the Da Vinci Code movie for god’s sake, all sharp angles, hidden weapons and self-harm. And I know Crispy has a masochist’s love for getting punched out by fascists (or at least, telling everyone he was) but the dude can barely walk up stairs, let alone jump in front of the popemobile.

Basically, Tatchell’s political citizens’ arrests were rock’n’roll, Dawkins and Hitchens will be Laurel and Hardy.

What they’re really into is phoning up some lawyer friends and then instigating yet another media discussion. At least it is – credit where it’s due – a chance to flag up the topic’s overlooked ambivalent legal issues.

But, well, yawn.

Give us Sinead O’Connor in 1992, tearing up a photo of the previous pope on American TV, then getting booed offstage at Madison Square Garden at a tribute gig for – if you can believe it – Bob Dylan. She hushed her band, then took the crowd on face-to-face with an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ that remains to this day one of history’s most singularly powerful moments of protest art.

Give us real action, not an ageing contrarian publicity stunt. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to take this line: Not defending Rome for a second. The gradual mainstream realisation of what most right-thinking people have known for several hundred years – that the Catholic priesthood is on a moral par with the black hole of Calcutta – has been a phenomenally positive development and may even change things permanently. However, in self-absorption, Hitchens distracts from any real use: to properly challenge the fetid old Nazi and child abuse cover upper masquerading as the leader of the car crash that is that Church.

If any tag team should arrest the pope, it should be Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox, at least then it will be amusing and a bit cute. Alternatively, let the Vatican’s London office hire brother of faith Peter Hitchens as a bodyguard and then mayhap we’ll get to see the bloodshed I wanted in the first place.

Can you help make my ‘book burning’ video?

I need your help to make my new video for ‘Words Fail Me’, which comes out as a single in September. The video is about book burning, so we’re organising a few book burnings across the world and we’ll be filming them for the vid. I’m really looking forward to it and I’ve got my books to burn in a pile already.

But what we need from you is your own bit of book burning footage to drop in. So, would you be up for filming yourself setting fire to a book (presumably one you hate) to be included in the video? You can be alone or do it with friends, drunk, sober, in a forest, by the sea, on the estate or in your house. What you need to do is pick one – or some – books you’d really love to burn. Then we need three key shots to drop into the video – but anything you film will be fantastic. These shots are:

1. you walking along, all dressed up for the book burning party, carrying the book – or books – you’re going to burn. You ignore the camera and just walk along, a group or solo, whatever.

2. a portrait shot of you just looking at the camera, being still, just looking at the camera. If there’s lots of you, can we have a portrait of each of you and maybe a team shot?

3. the money shot – burn those books. as much footage as possible of you, in whatever way you’ve decided to do it. saucepans are fine. barbecues are fine. a massive fire in a wood is fine. industrial furnaces, however you like.

The deadline is June 10 end of June (we’re editing first week of July) and if you set fire to a book and send me footage, I guarantee you’ll be included in the final video with your name in the end credits (if you want): so get burning, then email and we’ll sort out how to get the footage to us.

Thank you so much, I can’t wait, it’s going to be my best video ever. xxx

Will Self on Question Time

I know I should be shouting about the album (omfg CDs arrived today, look sweeet) but I had to digress because I can’t get this moment of moral clarity out of my head, from last night’s Question Time: it needs transcribing. They were debating one of the killers of Jamie Bulger. Amid a hawkish, invasive majority view (particularly depraved from Carol Vordermort, who has revealed herself to be an angry, ill-informed sponge for sub-Melanie Phillips Daily Mail fear-isms)…

…amid all that, Will Self said this:

“But there’s something weird, isn’t there, in the kind of British collective imagination about child killers, because there’s a presumption that these boys, who were 10 years old at the time of the crime, must be more evil than an adult killer. Is that what people are thinking? Are they all thinking: “Wow, they must be super evil?” You know, let’s turn it round the other way and just float the weird, strange idea that they maybe didn’t really know what they were doing. People who read the transcriptions of the case at the time and heard these boys’ testimonies heard very, very confused 10-year-old children talking about something.

So people talk in terms of the killers of Jamie Bulger as if they were some kind of Mengele figures, some kind of incredibly evil people: what a frightening thought that they might not have been evil at all.

And even to talk about as you do and as people here – and even I caught Shirley [Williams] saying it in terms of ‘murder’; ‘murder’ is ‘malice of forethought’, I read the transcriptions of the Bulger trial and there was no real evidence of malice of forethought in their crime.”

the right kind of tired.

It’s left me queasy in the stomach and cut-up and physically very knackered but I had a brilliant, totally different day today: up on the steep-sloped Sussex downs, clearing back brush and cutting it down to the roots for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The company for whom I write charidee fundraising guff organises a staff volunteer day and invited me to get in on some rural hard labour action. Couldn’t resist. The SWT also has more seasoned volunteers who work every week on clearing miles of the valley. So far it’s taken four years. But they regularly chuck groups of slack-handed city corporate types and students up there as well for much needed fresh air. Voluntary? If Michael Caine is going to bang on about national service (pay your taxes mate, contribute properly yourself before you start barking opinions on sorting the kids out) then what about making this kind of environmentally sound contribution a compulsory part of the curriculum? Or the whole curriculum? But, in the words of Ronnie Corbett, I digress. Apparently the staff at Brighton Amex went along with a huge Waitrose picnic hamper, packed beer instead of water, were totally fucked up by lunchtime.

Anyway, the work involved chopping and sawing brush away from its roots, creating huge thorny balls of unhooked plant, roughly the size of a small cottage, then rolling them down to the bottom of the slope like a giant snowball, where they were chucked onto a big bonfire. Basically, since the war and mixymatosis in the 50s, no animals have grazed the southern downs properly. Now the whole thing is becoming a National Park, they’re trying to recapture what downland should be like. First get rid of the overgrown nonsense, then bring the animals back to graze. SWT have their own sheep and cattle already on the job – however apparently regular farmers can get paid to allow their livestock to graze on the downs.

If you know Sussex, we were up behind the white cliffs of Lewes.

While I was there, sawing away, the details of next year’s single, album and tour all got remarkably smoothly ironed out and fell into place during an email conversation between the guys at ITB and Xtra Mile. It was weird because the normal music industry organisational discussions all took place with me joining in on email while actually rolling around in sheep shit and getting thorns in places thorns should never ever go. I even got the iPhone covered in rabbit droppings at one point. Although it was tempting just to stop and concentrate on music things, I would’ve looked a right dick sitting on this gorgeous piece of empty downland tapping away at my phone.

Now, I’m the right kind of tired. Don’t get it very much, certainly not at home. 95% of my life, my brain gets tired by the end of the day but I haven’t really exerted myself. Even on tour, when we’re carrying gear around or performing or what not, it’s not truly heavy exercise – and comes in small doses. But spend a day doing reasonable (not even particularly extreme if I’m honest) physical labour and the kind of tired I feel at the end is so much better, so much healthier and more balanced, it’s a stark reminder the depth of the koyaanisqatsi we find ourselves in most of our days. I don’t watch Hugh Fearnley-Wotsit very often because of how much he loves to eat everything alive. But I hadn’t realised he was behind the land-share project, where people who have spare land let other people make positive use of it. Genius. Let’s connect younger, hipper companies and collectives either to the kind of volunteer projects I sweated on today or, even better, get them involved in sharing land and putting it to good use.

A campfire micro-tour circuit. Create a series of spaces across the country where small gatherings take place through summer to share unamplified music, like tiny miniature folk festivals. Keep them responsible, fewer than 50 people, nothing like an actual festival, and base the whole thing around a campfire. Make it a “between ‘proper’ festival” tour circuit. Include stand-up and storytelling and non-stage theatre… but make it tread lightly, take its litter home and don’t fuck up the land. Could be epic.

So anyway, I got home as inspired as I was cream crackered.

Like Question Time but with Nazis in

At first I wasn’t too bothered by the idea that Nick Griffin was going on Question Time. I definitely subscribe to the view that shining a light on the BNP is a better way of showing them to be the plonkers they are, than forcing them into dark corners where it’s easier for them to mislead and shit stir. That they are inveterate liars and myth-makers as a ‘political force’ is without question – even this week the Dick Barnbrook their London Assembly member was discredited in court for lying through his teeth.

But as the furore has unfolded, I’ve realised I made my usual error of drastically over-estimating the forces of reason ranged against the twats. Jack Straw is the big gun rolled out by Labour to face Griffin on QT and this instantly flashed warning lights: Straw is a hesitant, thoughtful speaker (to put it kindly) and – more importantly – he is massively hamstrung by his senior position at the heart of the Labour Party establishment. There will be so much he simply can’t argue with, from that standpoint, while maintaining the balancing act of being their ‘corporate voice’. Anybody who’s watched Question Time recently will know, regardless of how individually gifted or honest the Labour panellist might be, saddled with being that struggling party’s spokesperson, they’re about 85% fucked before opening their mouths. It’s only on the rare issue where the party line isn’t clear or important, that they get a chance to shine a bit and briefly occupy their own ideological space.

So the last thing we need is a Big Gun in that sense: we need a proper hard hitter, one of the brilliant mavericks who can destroy the Griffin but previously wouldn’t’ve gone near him. Of course I’d love to be proved wrong and watch Straw flatten the holocaust-denying Hitler mini-me scumbag. But it’s going to be a rum do. My friend Steve just pointed out we need Galloway, or Dennis Skinner when he wasn’t so frail – though the razor is still sharp, or maybe Jeremy Corbyn, if they’d ever let him remotely near anything media-shaped.

Livingstone would be another choice, possibly the closest remaining to the Labour establishment who could make a real dent. Though I spose Prescott could just twat him. That might win Labour the election in a single punch.

The worst thing – that now feels oddly inevitable to me – will be if the Tories pile in with a useful fighter to show utter derision for Griffin (even smug old Hague could do that) and then they come out as the party that properly challenged the far-right. It would be another swift nail in the coffin and I started to think this afternoon: maybe it’s a put-up job and the Tories jumped onboard with the BBC first, leaving Labour playing catch-up once the gig was booked.

Another warning bell: why didn’t the BBC put the nazis on Any Questions first? Why have they been able to leap straight up to the high-profile TV version, rather than having to prove their mettle on the slightly more highbrow (and less consumed) radio version first? If the BBC was playing straight their newfound ‘involving’ strategy for the BNP, surely they should have had a BNP panellist on Any Questions long before the much higher-risk idea of sticking one of the cunts on the telly?

Anyway, it’s going to be fascinating and possibly horrific. I think still, deep down, I prefer that we give him the rope to hang himself, rather than silencing him to the extent that he can play martyr. But it’s risky.