Category Archives: thoughtcat

RIP Tom Hibbert

I had the rare opportunity last Sunday to read the whole of the newspaper (it wasn’t even the Sunday newspaper, but the Guardian from the previous day). As happens 99% of the time, hardly anything in the paper was much of a surprise. And then I got to the back and there was a large photo of Margaret Thatcher in all her regalness sitting on a posh Number 10 sofa next to someone who looked like he really didn’t belong on a posh sofa next to the prime minister. It took me several moments to realise who he was: thin, bespectacled, dark suit with white socks. Surely not… blimey, yes, it’s him, I realised at the same time as reading his name printed alone at the top of the article, and then to my genuine surprise and sadness the word “Obituary”.

Tom Hibbert (for it was he) was one of my favourite journalists back in the eighties. He first came to my attention at Smash Hits, a now-defunct weekly pop magazine (almost a comic, really) which had interviews with pop acts of the day, posters, quizzes, news/gossip and song lyrics. Hibbert’s contributions were mainly ridiculous questions posed to pop stars, such as “Have you ever swallowed a golf tee?” or “Have you ever been sick in your shoe?” I also remember laughing hysterically (well, I was only 13) at a photo of Max Headroom‘s Matt Frewer wearing a fez (long before they were cool) with a Hibbert caption referring to him as a “buffoon”. I laughed at that particular item so much in fact one night while lying in bed that my mum later said she initially thought I was in pain. I probably was, actually, albeit only with sore ribs from reading all these brilliant Hibbertisms.

Elsewhere in “ver Hits” you’d find interjections ranging from the onomatopoeic (“Spleeeee!!!”) to the sarcastic, such as this in the lyrics of a new Paul McCartney single called Press:

Baby, we could hit upon a word,
Something that the others haven’t heard,
When you want me to love you,
Just tell me to press.
Right there, that’s it, yes, [are you absolutely sure about this? – Ed]
Ah, when you feel the stress don’t just stand there,
Tell me to press...

The best thing about Hibbert was that he wasn’t afraid of poking fun at the great and good, and certainly not at the truly crap. He moved on from Smash Hits to Q Magazine, which I started reading from its second or third issue. Q became a monthly ritual for me back in the 80s and 90s, i.e. when it was actually any good. Hibbert was given a monthly interview slot called “Who the hell does X think he is?” in which he’d talk to X, who was invariably some pompous, arrogant celebrity or media character – or rather, he’d turn on the tape recorder, say hardly anything at all and let them hang themselves. People cite the usual subjects like Bernard Manning, Albert Goldman and Jonathan Ross, but the one I remember most was Dennis Potter, who was a tad on the arrogant side even if he wasn’t in the same (low) league as most of the other targets. I was a great Potter fan at the time, as The Singing Detective had just been on TV, so I was delighted to see two of my favourite writers in the same room. Potter though was terribly rude to Hibbert, saying “Oh, why don’t you just die” when the journalist couldn’t light his cigarette properly or something. Hibbert responded by saying “Sorry, I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say.” I doubt very many people who encountered Potter had the confidence to respond like that, even though it’s perfectly reasonable, but the funniest thing is that at the end of the interview, during which Potter had continued to be rude and also advised “Never apologise”, the playwright got up from his seat, apologised heartily to Hibbert and broke into peals of laughter.

Q Magazine in later years also had a section called Where are they now? in which they’d analyse what happened to a particular group or artist. One time they had some kind of special article on The Love Trousers, which turned out to be a band comprising veteran rock journalist Mark Ellen and Hibbert. The latter, I recall, was pictured splayed on the floor with a guitar, and the photo caption had the credit “Tom Hibbert (Flying on the ground is wrong)”, referencing a Neil Young song. Even more years later I was queuing up in a chaotic Albert Hall foyer for the Concert for George when I found myself standing next to Mark Ellen, who seemed to be having as much hassle getting into the gig as everyone else. There was ample time to chat and I really wanted to say “When are The Love Trousers going to reform?” but all I said was something about the Albert Hall disorganisation. I bumped into Ellen again about five years after that at a showcase gig for Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend Anjani that I’d managed to blag my way into, but again failed to speak to him. I really wish I had, as by then I’d not heard anything of Hibbert for years and was keen to know what he was up to.

Sadly, according to the obituary, it seems that what Hibbert was up to was being seriously ill at home and unable to work – for years. I long ago got shot of all my back issues of Q – I gave them to a local hospital, I think, as they were becoming a major feature in my tiny flat at that time (this was before eBay was invented, so I could probably have made a few quid from them if I’d waited, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t). Just a few weeks ago I’d Googled for a Hibbert Q magazine article and found no examples of his journalism online at all beyond what was behind an expensive paywall site. I didn’t stump up, because all I was actually after was a silly short interview with Ginger Baker, mainly so I could read a typical exchange between Hibbert and the drummer about heroin use, in which Hibbert had said he could understand how one could “toot” a trumpet while stoned, but not play a highly physical instrument like the drums. It sounds very silly indeed but it was just Hibbert’s choice of verb “toot” that I remembered and wanted to see again in print. I don’t think there was anyone else like him in journalism and I’d like to take this opportunity of thanking him for all the hours of fun he gave me.

  • There are also nice articles about Hibbert here and here

My memories of reading and books as a child

I recently befriended a lovely woman who tweets under the name of @AliB68, following an event we both attended in London a few months ago involving Russell Hoban, of whom we’ve both long been big fans. Ali runs a blog about children’s books called Fantastic Reads on which she’d written about Hoban’s classic The Mouse and his Child, while I’ve been webmaster-in-chief of the SA4QE website for many years. It was great meeting her, as it always is other Hoban fans (I’m something of a veteran in these quarters), and Ali went on to help “Russ” celebrate his 86th birthday this year by delivering his annual “birthday bottle” gift donated by his fan club The Kraken.

Anyway, a few months passed and, inspired by Ali’s excellent blog, I had the idea of writing about the books I myself had read as a child. I remembered quite a lot of the titles and luckily still have many of the original books (I read some now to my own children). I asked Ali if she’d be interested in a guest post for her site, and very generously she said yes, so I set to work. When my first draft turned out to be over 5,000 words long, I fully anticipated her changing her mind, but she adapted effortlessly and broke my epic down into a series of posts. So here, for the hopeful entertainment of Thoughtcat readers, are the links to said posts:

Part 1 – on James by Kathryn, The Great Pie Robbery by Richard Scarry, and Little Richard by Patricia M. Scarry

James was the first book I remember reading and still one of the most original books I’ve ever seen. The Scarrys’ books had pies and biscuits in them – nuff said.

Part 2 – on Mr Tickle by Roger Hargreaves, Aesop’s Fables, and a Ladybird I won for singing

Mr Tickle’s own deft way with a biscuit made him my favourite Mr Man. Plus: the mystery of Aesop’s missing limbs.

Part 3 – on The Adventures of Uncle Lubin by W. Heath Robinson, Paddington by Michael Bond and Rabbiting On by Kit Wright

Uncle Lubin was a brilliant book, even if it will psychologically damage you for life. And Paddington had marmalade sandwiches (you may detect a certain sweet-tooth theme by now).

Part 4 – on Grimble by Clement Freud, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans & Ronald Searle, and meeting Bobby Brewster author H.E. Todd

My schoolboy role models! (Together with the Uncle Lubin influence it’s a wonder I managed to become a fully-functioning adult at all.)

Part 5 – on Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, A New House for Mouse by Petr Horáček, Mr Big by Ed Vere, This Is London by Miroslav Sasek, Yellow Submarine “by” The Beatles, Miss Renee’s Mice by Elizabeth Stokes Hoffman and The Animal Train by Christopher Wormell

A round-up of modern books (and recent discoveries of classics) that I read to my own children.

Having written all of this (especially at such length), I then realised I’d still left out a few titles. One was Elmer by David McKee, the classic story of the patchwork elephant who just wants to be like all the other elephants: the jungle illustrations are fabulous and I especially love the message that ultimately you can never hide your true colours. Another was Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola phenomenon – to be fair, I came to that through the TV series, not the books, but both are wonderful, hugely imaginative and beautifully observed stories about a young brother and sister. Lola’s unique way of expressing herself has meant that phrases such as “I haven’t got time to do stopping” (instead of “I haven’t got time to stop”) have entered my own vocabulary, while strawberry milkshake is no longer strawberry milkshake in our family but will forever be “pink milk”.

Some journalists “a bit thick”, according to reports

A quick study by Thoughtcat over a cup of tea and a biscuit has found that some journalists and news organisations are “a bit stupid”.

The BBC was forced into a humiliating climbdown today after finding that “a study” by some dodgy psychometric testing firm called AptiQuant, which found users of Internet Explorer were by definition borderline retarded, was a hoax.

The BBC report followed a report saying the same thing on the Daily Mail website, amongst others.

“I didn’t realise that some stories might not necessarily be based on facts,” said Dan Pratt, a technology reporter for the BBC.

“I thought I just had to read the Daily Mail and do a cut-and-paste job to generate content for the site.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Thick, the reporter responsible for the Daily Mail story, said: “I didn’t realise there had to be proper science behind these sorts of stories. I just found this study online and thought, Wow, this is interesting.

“The only problem with the story was that we couldn’t get in any immigrant-bashing, but we thought Hey, why not bash thick people instead for a change?”

The BBC has now replaced its original story with a story reporting that the original story was a hoax, while the Daily Mail has removed its story altogether.

Rumours that users of Internet Explorer are in fact a bit thick have yet to be confirmed, but another Thoughtcat study, this time over a cup of coffee and a doughnut, have found it to be “probably true”. – new Drupal site

The original Thoughtcat site at has been dormant for quite a while (even more so than this blog in fact). I’ve started the process of resurrecting it today, as I’ve lately got into Drupal for various reasons and it feels appropriate to use that platform for my stuff rather than this one now. To be fair the main reasons I moved to WordPress in the first place were (a) it had, at that time, more “website”-type features than Blogger, such as standalone pages, and (b) it was free. I had envisaged saving myself a few pounds on hosting fees by eventually migrating all the original content from to this blog, but it never really happened and anyway in the meantime I’ve quite happily started developing on Drupal with a slightly cheaper (and certainly much better value) hosting than I had previously. When I first started blogging and “developing” websites (for want of a better word) I actually never imagined I’d be able to have a proper database-driven site on my own hosting, so I’m quite amazed this has finally happened 🙂

So anyway, it’s likely that future updates and blog posts will be made on

EDIT 3/8/11: Actually I’ve decided to keep just for Drupal stuff, and the WordPress blog for everything else, especially as I can’t be arsed to do yet another big content migration from here to Drupal (even if it would be an interesting exercise). So do please keep reading the WordPress blog.

Kitchen gig update update

I’m well chuffed to see that one of the guitar solo videos I recorded last summer – Me playing along to Portishead’s It Could Be Sweet – has now had over 500 views. Sure, I mean this isn’t exactly up there with other YouTube hits we have known, but better/slap/face/fish etc. Above is a reprise for those who missed it first time around.

Update 2/2/11: finally edited to link to the correct video on YT. (The Portishead one has now had over 600 views btw :))

The Thoughtcat blog – 2010 in review

The following arrived in my inbox this morning from WordPress, with an option to post the report to the blog. My comments are inline in italics 🙂

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!. [thank god!]

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 27 new posts [I think that must include some archive stuff?], growing the total archive of this blog to 202 posts. There were 18 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was February 28th with 42 views [bigtime, boys, bigtime!]. The most popular post that day was Riddley Walker DVDs are no moar!. [was that really 2010? seems so long ago…]

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for pluto, evil cat, riddley walker, evil cats, and coffee jokes. [lol!]

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Riddley Walker DVDs are no moar! May 2009


Links June 2009


No wonder my son is confused about Pluto April 2010


Cats in the news April 2006


Spreading the word of Russell Hoban again on 4th February January 2010


[Interesting that the numbering style didn’t make the transition very well, but I was impressed by the email and the fact that the email text addressed me as “you” whereas the blog post is in the third person – nicely thought-out by WordPress I think.]

Doublespeak, or “you can’t choose who quotes you”

As a moderator of the The Kraken, the original fan forum for brilliant author Russell Hoban, and the webmaster for the SA4QE Hoban fan event site, I get quite a lot of alerts to mentions of Hoban and his works on the web. The latest looked promising – an article mentioning one of my own favourite quotes: “After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?”

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I went on to read the article and found it’s on the website for Ohioans for Concealed Carry, a pro-gun pressure group (“We are about freedom. We are an advocate for all firearms related rights”). The context for the Hoban quote is as follows:

“…Without even realizing it, you’re probably using terms that actually help the people who want to disarm you,” says Alan Korwin, author of Gun Laws of America. He has written a brilliant article on the vocabulary of gun conversations, which includes some tactical advice. For example, Korwin suggests replacing the conversational phrases on the left with those on the right:

pro-gun —–> pro-rights
anti-gun —–> anti-self-defense
Second Amendment —–> Bill of Rights
concealed carry —–> discreet carry
gun lobby —–> civil rights organizations
gun rights —–> civil rights, human rights
handgun —–> sidearm
gun-control laws —–> illegal infringements
anti-gun —–> anti-rights, anti-gun bigotry

… and so it goes on. I get the feeling Orwell is turning in his grave.

Current mood: depressed

Kitchen gig update

Thank you to everyone who came to my kitchen concert a couple of weekends back. It turned out to be a lot more of a challenge than I’d anticipated, but was great fun.

It was actually part social media experiment: I put out notices on Facebook, Twitter and the blog that I was going to do this “concert”, in which I would improvise guitar solos to songs nominated by anyone who was interested, uploading them to YouTube throughout the evening. I got a fantastic response from my friends on Facebook, who requested songs by Lady Gaga, Patrick Wolf and Duran Duran among others – although no response from anywhere else. (I suppose Facebook is what you might call the definition of a captive audience, more so than Twitter, probably, while the blog is not something that really gets followed in the same way, so I was neither surprised nor particularly bothered by this.)

I listened to each of the songs at least once before recording myself playing along, to get the key right and get a feel for the song, but apart from that wasn’t familiar with any of the songs, with only one exception (For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, by Simon & Garfunkel). The process was: practice a bit offline; record a clip of myself playing along and play it back to check the volume levels; record the actual solo; listen to the whole thing to make sure it wasn’t awful; upload to YouTube; post to Facebook and Twitter. Then do it again with another song until I’d done as many as I could from those requested. I think I only re-recorded one or two solos; everything else was the first and only take, which is not showing off, just trying to be true to the idea of improvisation.

What I didn’t bank on, because I am stupid, was how long it would all take. As explained in my earlier post I recorded each performance on my iPhone, and as quick as that had seemed a few weeks back when I wasn’t doing a “live concert”, for my loyal friends on Facebook sitting there waiting for the next number it was probably like attending one of those dodgy early Dylan gigs where he’d spend 20 minutes just tuning up. The whole evening went on a lot later than I’d planned and by the last couple of songs at getting on for midnight I was really flagging. The energy levels weren’t helped by the fact that I’d done a full day’s housework before the gig in anticipation of the return the next day of my wife and kids, who had gone off on holiday in July. (I only mention this because I quite like the idea of having performed a whole evening’s music after doing somewhat more household chores that day than the average rock star.)

The biggest pleasure apart from getting so many requests in the first place was seeing that friends from all around the world were indeed “tuning in” and listening to what I was doing. I had first alerted my Facebook friends with a simple status update, and only the day before set the gig up as an event on Facebook and invited people because I wasn’t confident anyone would “come” (I usually find invitations to events on Facebook quite irritating), but in the end was delighted that over a dozen people sat through at least part of it. From my own (musical) perspective it was an extremely interesting exercise because it pushed me – the range of requests was very varied (I had made it clear that no style or genre was off-limits), and there were songs requested that normally I would barely have considered listening to, let alone play along to. All I can say is I am now much humbled by, and have much greater respect for, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

All the videos from my kitchen gig can be found on my YouTube channel

Come on in my kitchen

From around 5pm UK time tomorrow, I’ll be in my kitchen playing guitar solos along to a range of songs and tunes selected by YOU. Request a track using the comment form below (preferably include a link to a good version on YouTube) and I’ll play along to it and post a video of the resulting mash-up. ANY song, ANY tune, ANY genre. I can’t promise I’ll do all requests but I’ll do as many as I can.

This is an “as live”, virtual event – the performances won’t be streamed live but will be recorded and then posted up on the web right afterward, so you can “attend” without actually going anywhere and if you can’t make it tomorrow evening you can watch the videos afterward.

For a reminder of my first “bachelor kitchen guitar improvisations” from a few weeks back go to the blog home page and scroll down to the videos, or go to my YouTube channel and browse there.