A rare paer

A Prickly Paer by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa (1981)
A Prickly Paer by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa (1981)

I recently unearthed a box of old postcards, some of which I’ve had for 30 years. These aren’t postcards sent to me, but rather cards I’d bought, sometimes with the intention of sending short messages to friends (in the days before email), sometimes with the intention of putting them up on my kitchen wall. I lived in a one-bedroom flat in London for about 12 years and in that time covered my kitchen with cards. Anyway, that’s another story.

When I was about 15 I lived in Hampton Court, in a road across the Thames from the palace largely populated by antique shops. It was pretty dull and conservative but at some point a shop opened which upped the cultural profile of the street by several notches. Mainly it was a video rental shop but it also sold art postcards, posters and records. These days of course you can find Van Goghs and Monets on birthday cards in Sainsbury’s, but this was in the late 1980s and I’d rarely seen a shop which sold small versions of classic or arresting images that you could buy for a few pence and take home. The proprietor and I became good friends. He had revolving stands of mid-to-late 20th century black & white photo cards, while on the shop counter was a box of fairly random colour postcards. I was leafing through this one day and uncovered the card shown here. This is a painting by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa called “A Prickly Paer”. That spelling “paer” is as printed on the card and I still don’t know if it’s a misspelling of “pear” or if that’s how she spelt it, for some subversive reason. I was struck by the painting, probably – since I was a 15-year-old boy at the time – for predictable reasons, but beyond its obvious eroticism I was fascinated by it, by the relaxed and unashamed attitude of the subject, and the precision of the style and the colours. I’d never heard of the painter, and in those pre-internet days it was near-impossible to find out anything about artist(e)s who were anything less than massively famous. The image stuck in my imagination long after I forgot the name of the painter and lost the card.

Recently the image came back to me for no obvious reason and being unable to find the card on a cursory look in my flat I searched the web for “A Prickly Paer”. I was surprised to find no results – zero. All I got was a prompt for the “correct” spelling and endless images of cacti. Had I just imagined it? I tried spelling it “pear” instead, but still nothing. Finally I gave in and pulled down boxes from cupboards to see if I still had the original card. After hours of leafing through all sorts of mementos I was thrilled to finally turn up the card. My 30-year-old memory of the title (mis)spelling was correct. I have to admit that what I found just as fascinating as the image itself was the fact that it didn’t seem to exist on the internet: we live now in a time, I think, when it’s felt that our entire culture and history have already been uploaded to a server somewhere, so when something we’re sure exists doesn’t exist online it (ironically) has an unreal quality to it.

Anyway, reminded now of the painter’s name, I searched for her instead. Luciana Martinez de la Rosa was English, born in the New Forest in 1948, and was an artist and “personality” active on the punk scene, known mainly for a “cameo” role in Derek Jarman’s 1977 classic Jubilee (which I knew vaguely from being a one-time huge fan of Adam Ant, who also had a small role in the film). Apart from a very brief entry on the IMDb, the only site I can find with any details about her or her life is a brilliantly old-school site celebrating punk and New Wave music and art in the 70s and 80s called The Blitz Kids. There’s no information on there about the painting in particular, although the original can be seen hanging on the wall of de la Rosa’s home in this slightly NSFW photo. My postcard dates the painting to 1981 and the angular, stark visual pop culture of the eighties seems very clear. Her other work on that website shows a similar style and fondness for nudity both in her work and her life. There feels to me something of the Frida Kahlo about her and some of her imagery. While (or possibly because) I’m about as straight-laced as they come, I would love to have met de la Rosa, who seems to have been something of a character, an English eccentric who spent her life clubbing, painting and generally hanging out with artists and pop stars. Sadly this won’t be possible though, as she very sadly died of meningitis in 1995, as sensitively recorded in this tribute by fellow artist Duggie Fields.

As for the painting’s subject, I admire her confidence, from her relaxed stance, facial expression, direct eye contact, and frankly non-demure pubic hair. I’ve always found it odd that she kept her earrings in despite being naked; I’m not sure if they make her look more naked, or less. There is a prickliness to it, obviously, representative I think of the painter’s outre life and personality. I especially like the shadows of her fingers on her raised hand.

In posting this piece I am aware of two things – one, that a couple of readers will probably think “dirty old sod” (well, sod them) and two, that it appears I am making the image available for the first time on the web. It’s not often you get to do such a thing, and I think it’s deserved, because I think the painting is good and the image memorable and bold. I don’t do this lightly, though, as I can’t help feeling that both de la Rosa and I have lost something as a result of the image now passing from the obscurity of a treasured postcard in a box in someone’s room (and from the imagination of a sensitive 15-year-old) into the immeasurable, impersonal, crude mass of images on the internet. But maybe, given her non-conformist and mischievous nature, de la Rosa might like the idea that people searching for a particular kind of cactus might now also get something they hadn’t quite bargained for in their search results.

The time I was an intern for a famous publisher

More than ten years ago I did a couple of weeks’ work experience for a major London publishing company. Around that time I was temping and trying to get my own writing career off the ground, having written a novel and sent it around without any success, and I figured that if I couldn’t actually be a novelist then maybe I might have more luck behind the scenes. Without even being aware of what an “intern” was, I wrote off to a publisher whose books I admired and asked if I could come in and do a few days’ unpaid work, just for the experience. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to get a reply inviting me along to do just that. I honestly had no idea that, as it turned out, the company (and doubtless most others in the industry) were practically run by people like me.

While I do occasionally have flashbacks to that time, I’ve never written about it, at least in public, and during a dull day off today I came across a few pages of a diary I kept at the time. Here then are some extracts from my first week’s work with the company, with any incriminating details removed.

Monday

Induction meeting with another work experience person who’s also starting today. She and I are called “workies”. Both the other workie and our inductor are in their early 20s; at 33 I feel positively ancient.

I am installed at a desk wedged into a corner of the paperback/editorial department. I am answerable to M, a 20ish editorial assistant with butterscotch hair, a “Bewitched” nose and a fair amount of mascara. She in turn appears to be answerable mainly to B, an editor also in her 20s. The chief editor/director is A, who works in a corner of the open-plan office which with a dressing table to one side looks more like a woman’s bedroom. There are bookshelves of old paperbacks on the walls and a table covered with a stained velvet tablecloth laid with cakes, biscuits and tea and coffee-making equipment. Milk has slopped out and the sugar bowl is encrusted. I am asked at the start of each day to bring up four pints of milk from the fridge on the ground floor and fill the coffee percolator: I mean, I didn’t expect glamour but I’m not sure what this teaches me about publishing.

I offer M a chocolate digestive which I brought to make an “impression”, or rather make friends. She turns me down with a blush and a smoky laugh.

For my first proper task, I am astonished to be asked to read through the unsolicited submissions (aka the slush pile), deciding – on my own and without any training or previous experience – which of the poor sods to reject and which to take further. “We reject about 99% of all slush submissions, so it shouldn’t be too difficult,” says B. Feel uncomfortable with the responsibility but once I start to read I quickly see why they give this job to the workies. The first thing I pick up is a completely incomprehensible letter from an Indian poet, telling his life story and enclosing many poems, all typed on foolscap with a manual typewriter. It’s fascinating but doesn’t seem especially publishable, and we don’t publish poetry anyway. I am using a clunky PC running Windows 95 and on the desktop are template rejection letters, one called “standard.doc” and the other “kind.doc”. The former is not exactly unkind but consists of only two sentences, while the latter adds “I found your MS very engaging” and suggests the author buys a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and/or contacts an independent editorial consultancy for more detailed guidance.

Almost every time I start to read a submission someone gives me something else to do, which is by definition more urgent. Asked to photocopy a MS of a new biography of a famous ceramicist, I head down to the dingy post room in the basement. This is piled high with shelves and books and occupied by an American guy of about my age called L, who is so far the only other man I’ve seen working here. One wall is covered with photos taken by L of previous workies (all girls). Another wall displays many other photos of company parties, one a fancy dress do with L as Jules from Pulp Fiction. The post room has a back door onto an outside stairwell and staff repeatedly troop through for a smoke. A sign on the door says “This area is often used by drug addicts. Please be extremely careful when going outside as the inconsiderate fuckers often leave syringes on the ground.”

The photocopier jams. Having a background in (if nothing else relevant) office work, I make several attempts to fix it but to no avail, not helped by there being no room to fix it with people squeezing behind me for fags the whole time. Eventually give up and ask L for help. “No way, man,” he says, “I ain’t into that.” I am referred to another office across the street with more photocopiers, where I continue with more luck. The stairs down to this room are steep and have no hand rail. Health & safety issues are everywhere, in fact – boxes of books litter the place, cables and wires trail around.

L commandeers me to “help” with the recycling. This amounts to him taking me to a floor and asking me to pull vast sacks of paper into the lift while he holds the doors open. “I can see you’re no stranger to manual work,” he says. Then: “Where you comin’ from?” I say Twickenham. “I know Twickenham,” he says. “Where you go to school?” I say near Twickenham. “Where near Twickenham?” I say Teddington. “I know Teddington,” he says. “Where d’you go to university?” I say I didn’t. “No?” he says, surprised, “why not?” They wouldn’t have me, I explain – I was no good at exams. “Hey, same with me, man!” he says, smiling. “We got something in common.”

Back in editorial, a woman brings a big box of muffins in and sits talking to one of the editors for half an hour. When she leaves, all staff on the floor dive into the muffins. “These aren’t muffins, they’re works of art,” says M. I am invited to partake but they turn out to be all savoury. It turns out the woman who brought them wants to write a book about muffins and this is some sort of bribe to get us to publish it.

At some point the chief editor can be heard to say on the phone, “It’s going to be cream with red spot varnish. I’m going to have to find out whether we can emboss or not. I’ll be having a meeting about it in about half an hour.”

M accepts a chocolate biscuit.

Tuesday

Attempt slush pile again. Almost immediately go off to weekly company meeting in a big posh board room in an office across the road – chandeliers, grandfather clock, cornicing, long shiny table, mantelpiece, incongruous framed modern Rothkoesque paintings. All the “important” people sit around the table, while everyone else sits on benches around the perimeter of the room. Pleasant winter sunlight and trees outside the window. At one end of the table is a posh bloke, one of few men in attendance and the only one in a suit. At the other end is another posh bloke in a fleecy sweatshirt who goes through sales figures for the week, of which we were all given a copy as we were filing in. It’s the first week in several years that the company’s main title hasn’t been on the bestseller lists. A blonde publicity woman with a cultivated smoky voice goes through the weekend press cuttings and reviews. One venerable editor talks about a fat new book coming out by a moderately famous academic.

Back to the slush pile. Get another page read and I’m off again, this time to the weekly editorial meeting. The other workie takes me down to the “library room” and produces two folding chairs for us to sit and observe as the chief editors and their assistants and the sales head talk business. A slightly camp man in a leather jacket talks a lot about books we’re buying, one of which is about an important politician from the JFK administration whom nobody else present has ever heard of. The editor with the smoky voice queries his enthusiasm given that the bloke is not a household name. He says, “Kissinger – does that work?” She nods. “OK,” he says, “this guy was the Kissinger of the Kennedy era.”

Another editor then gushes about a new book, insisting that we all read it over the next week. “And please read it to the end,” she says. “This isn’t one of those books where you read the first 100 pages and say ‘OK, I get this book’ – the way he ends it is just absolutely incredible.”

Sums of money for advances mentioned seem quite modest to me considering how rich the firm is – £3k here, £10k there. An editor talks about a new anthology of bird writings by the husband of a famous novelist; there is much laughter about “twitchers”. She also produces page proofs for a new book about cats; “Face it, cat books sell,” says the fleecy sales head. On the minutes of the previous meeting is a reference to a biography of a famous writer of pornographic Californian potboilers with “sex” in the title. One editor has been trying to email the info about this to the States for three weeks but they’re not getting through because any message with “sex” in it gets blocked. M suggests changing “sex” to “sox”.

Following the meeting, M asks me to do 25 copies of one 280-page MS and 10 copies of another book of 350 pages and distribute them to various recipients throughout the building. Takes me most of the afternoon.

Wednesday

I am given a very dull filing job to share with the other workie. We kneel on the floor by big boxes, taking out suspension files and putting the contents (details of paperbacks by various authors) into slightly smaller files, and putting them back into the big box. It seems an utterly pointless exercise. After a while I go and get my chocolate biscuits and have one. Put them to one side, go off and do something else. Get back and find one of the editors has eaten some. Feel a bit miffed.

Return to the slush pile after my co-workie decides to postpone the filing job. I am constantly interrupted by silly requests: M hands me a water bottle and asks me to go downstairs to fill it for the chief editor. I do it in silence. Are these people so busy they can’t get their own fucking water? Filing is one thing, even making the tea is OK. But filling up someone’s water bottle? Fuck off.

At lunch I turn on my phone to find a voicemail from a writing-related company confirming I’ve not been shortlisted for a job interview. Feel despondent. Also get a text message from a temping agency asking to contact them about availability for work. Go outside and call them. Tempted to say I’m available from next week and cut short the work experience.

Spend afternoon doggedly piling through slush. Couple of interesting things including a chick-lit-type novel called “Violas at Dawn”, the first MS I’ve read from the slush pile which made me laugh out loud. The narrator is a 15-year-old viola player who hates everything and swears a lot – too much really, but still very funny. The chapters are short and there’s a great little story called “And God created the orchestra” ending “and on the seventh day He needed a shit, so He created the violas.” If the author is also 15 she’s pretty good for her age and even if she isn’t it’s still interesting. Write requesting she send us the full MS. [Note April 2016: A quick Google for the title returns zero results, so evidently my instincts were incorrect. I did try though.]

On way to tube home I pass a bloke covered in blood on the pavement surrounded by a little gaggle of onlookers. Someone has helpfully given the bloke dozens of serviettes to mop up the blood.

Thursday

There is a big editorial promotional party planned at a famous London media club next week for a new collection of short stories about, basically, fat people. With infinite subtlety I am sent out to buy Hershey’s Kisses at Selfridges and Whittard’s hot chocolate to give to bookshop sales reps along with a copy of the book. On my way out L says he’ll need me in the post room for “about a half hour” later. Nod and go out. Find Whittards for the hot choc but get lost trying to find Selfridges, which I’ve never been to in my life. Feel stupid and irritated; I’m a Londoner all right but this isn’t a London I either know or care about. Too embarrassed to go back and ask how to get there, I call in to see my dad who works in the West End, who gives me directions. Jump on a Routemaster to Marble Arch without being asked for a ticket. When I finally arrive, I can’t find the food hall.

Get back to the office having spent an hour and a half on my “fat mission”. L sees me and moans about my disappearance. I am also expecting to be torn off a strip by B for being so long but she’s disappeared and M instantly gives me about 10 jobs to do in the space of as many seconds, giving the instructions for each in machine-gun fashion. Usefully one job involves sitting down and typing, so I do that while drinking a cup of coffee with no sugar and chewing a stale Danish. L appears and tries to haul me out to help him. M tries to keep me there as she needs me “desperately”. “I only want him for five minutes,” says L. I go out after him. He takes me upstairs and says something unintelligible while pointing vaguely to piles of boxes. A tall bloke called J appears.
J: “What are you doing, L?”
L: “Nothing, man, don’t worry.”
J: “No, tell me what’s going on.”
I’m thinking J is defending me from being given crap jobs to do by L, but it’s not that at all. The boxes are J’s contracts and he wants to know what L is doing with them. L ignores him. I follow L. L is halfway down stairs. J is behind me shouting after L.
L: “Look, J, it’s nothing to do with you, okay?”
J: “For fuck’s sake!”
L then proceeds to defend himself to me as we walk away. I still have no idea what this is all about. It all seems very superficial and pointless. Get to the reception desk and L asks me to put four big boxes of books onto the trolley. While I do this he stands there and relates the whole “argument” between him and J to the receptionist.

I also help take some freestanding radiators to a couple of floors. There are three men in suits in the sales department. One of them looks at a radiator and says “What’s this – are people cold in here?”

I get back from running around to find M and another assistant editor leafing through Hello! magazine at M’s desk, and a huge MS on my desk requesting two copies. Hmm, so sorry to take up your precious time, girls.

In the afternoon I’m in the post room again. L always has music on down here; today 50 Cent is singing “I smell pussy, I smell pussy” while I photocopy publicity clippings for a famous literary author.

At the end of the day the editor who stole my biscuits says “Thanks for your help today” and I feel much better. Change my mind about quitting work experience early.

Friday

Manage to get into work on time, get the right number of bottles of milk, cups and glasses, fill the coffee percolator without dripping water into the four-way adaptor behind and even voluntarily replenish all the women’s water bottles. Whether it’s because it’s Friday or what I don’t know but everyone is looking and sounding very friendly today.

Read a slush proposal for a book purporting to be a study of the terrorist minds behind atrocities such as 9/11. The writer, a Canadian, has already had a book on management published in the US, which, he mentions in his cover letter, “has been described as a masterpiece”. He claims to have been offered a contract for the “criminal minds” book but adds pretentiously that “I haven’t yet signed it”. He encloses just the preface to the book, which opens with two epigraphs, one from a criminologist and one from “Dahmer”. The criminologist is given his full name but the notorious serial killer seems unworthy of his own first name. Apart from one chapter on Nazis, the book has nothing to do with genocidal maniacs, appearing increasingly to be another tacky volume on hackneyed serial killers like Jack the Ripper and Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, “who committed the notorious ‘Murders on the Moors’ [sic]”. Again he mentions Dahmer, but despite giving every other killer their full name, Dahmer is still Dahmer, and not only that but also, suspiciously, the “homosexual killer” Dahmer. Get a strange feeling that this guy might not be best placed to write this book. As M says when I mention it to her, if he really was a published writer of any merit his agent would have sent the MS, not the author himself.

 

My diary document ends there. My recollection is that I did another week’s work which involved a lot more photocopying and humping boxes of books around. I was placed in the marketing department for a few days and got on well with one of the staff there. For the “fat people” book party I was roped into loading a trolley with the books and promotional materials and was then the only person not invited to the actual party. “It’s just a shame you can’t come,” I remember the other workie saying as they went out the door. I was also given some task which involved copying and pasting some graphics using Photoshop which singularly failed to make any impression whatever, and sent out into the West End again for a sheet of red card for some promotion. I found some card at a Ryman’s but when I brought it back the woman who’d sent me turned her nose up at it. “Oh, no,” she said, and sent me back out to get a refund and get something else. The same day, my fellow workie was offered a job at the company.

A month or two later I was called back to do some paid temping at the company which I think was slightly more interesting, as being paid I couldn’t be roped into post room drudgery with L and had the opportunity to work with a couple of the editors. The atmosphere was regularly tense though: I applied for a permanent job in the department and was invited for interview on a scorching hot summer day yet wasn’t offered so much as a glass of water by the two women interviewing me. So much for filling their water bottles, eh…

If we were having coffee…

I just read about this community blogging exercise in which bloggers post about what they would do or say if they were actually sitting having coffee with their readers. This sounds a bit egotistical in a way, as if “my readers” are this huge audience and I’d be sitting there holding court, when in reality there’d be about three of us around a table. We’re all each other’s readers really so I imagine it’d be a fairly busy and fluid social situation. I don’t actually follow that many blogs as such, I only read individual blog posts that come my way through social media, so I would probably just sit down with whoever seemed interesting, or rather with people who found me interesting enough to sit with.

As for what I’d do… firstly I’d just be grateful to be sitting in a cafe drinking proper coffee, as it’s something I hardly do anymore. I live on the outskirts of quite a small and not very exciting town in the Midlands, and although there is a cafe near my flat I’ve never gone in there. It’s an independent cafe and I’m always slightly scared that the coffee will be bad, and I’ll have to sit there and drink it out of politeness. A couple of miles away in the town centre we have a couple of branches of Costa and a Caffe Nero as well as some more independent places including a street vendor in the marketplace. The street guy looks like his coffee might be excellent but he charges a small fortune, and there’s nowhere to sit unless you want to be intoxicated by cigarettes of the electronic and traditional kind, so I usually end up at Caffe Nero. I like Costa too but Caffe Nero is in a more lively spot than Costa – “lively” around here meaning five or more people might walk by while I drink my latte.

I work from home and have a home-brewed coffee every day. The following is the most pretentious thing I’ve ever written but I’ll write it anyway. Very occasionally I’ll make some proper coffee with a moka pot, usually with 7-8 teaspoons of a medium strength coffee from the Cafe Direct range. Most of the time though I drink instant, albeit decent instant, carefully prepared. First I dissolve two heaped teaspoons of Carte Noire or Douwe Egberts or a new brand I’ve just found called Percol (which sounds like a washing powder, but is very good) in a small amount of off-the-boil water, then microwave a mug two-thirds full with milk for 90 seconds. Then I froth up the milk with a hand-held frother I got for a couple of quid at Range, then pour the coffee into the milk. I take two sugars in coffee and usually I dissolve the sugar with the coffee so that stirring at the end doesn’t dissolve the milk froth, but sometimes it’s good to sprinkle the sugar on top of the froth and watch it melt in and then spoon off the froth-sugar mix and chew it. My recipe is never going to be as flavoursome or luxurious as proper coffee, but for a quick home brew it’s cheap and very cheering.

Thus, a proper coffee in a cafe is a real treat for me. The prices are ridiculous if you consider them in isolation, but as an occasional treat it’s a bargain really when you factor in the pleasure of the coffee and being able to gaze out the window at the world, or even just at the baristas doing their job. I love the smell of coffee and the sound of beans grinding and the knocking of a portafilter being emptied.

So having bored on to you, my audient, about my love of coffee and the different types and techniques, I’d then move onto other topics such as our dreadful government, social media and creative writing. I suspect most of my blog’s audience are people who follow me on Twitter, so we’d already have a lot in common and would chat about the same stuff we do on there. We’d probably end up looking at our phones and swapping silly tweets and YouTube videos or something. Speaking of the latter, here to round off is an appropriate Stewart Lee routine…

A short screenplay for Ian McMillan

If you are old enough you may remember a series of TV adverts for Heineken lager. Generally someone would be depicted either doing something lamely or having a disappointing experience, and then they would drink the lager, whereupon their achievement or experience was instantly improved. A German-accented voice-over intoned, “Only Heineken can do this, because it refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.”

I would say the below is my favourite of the series but in fact I think it’s the only one I can remember. At the time it aired in the late 1980s I was a teenager studying English Literature at school and college, so beer and Wordsworth were much on my mind at the time. Watch the video (it’s only a minute long) and then read on.

Ian McMillan is one of my favourite people on Twitter. (In fact it would be nice to do a series of blog posts focusing on all my favourite Twitter accounts – an idea for another day, perhaps.) He’s a poet, author, BBC Radio broadcaster and general national treasure. Each morning he gets up at (or even before) the crack of dawn and goes for a walk around his native Barnsley. Then he gets back home and tweets these lovely little images and observations which he always prefixes “early stroll”. Do yourself a favour and do an advanced search on Twitter for these tweets and read through them. Here’s an example:


So my mind then put the memory of the Heineken advert and McMillan’s tweets together along with something else of which I am much fond and came up with the following.

EXT. PEAK DISTRICT – DAY

The camera SWEEPS over the majestic countryside.

Orchestral classical music SURGES throughout.

IAN MCMILLAN
(VOICE-OVER)
Early stroll. Right damp and drizzly. There was some rubbish by the bus stop. Ah, no…

EXT. BARNSLEY CITY CENTRE – DAY

The camera SWEEPS through the streets, past the town hall and Victorian shop buildings.

IAN MCMILLAN
(VOICE-OVER)
Early stroll. Some pigeons were eating some chips someone had dropped. Oh, no, this is terrible…

INT. DOMESTIC KITCHEN – EARLY MORNING

Close on electric kettle boiling. A man’s hand takes a teabag from a box of YORKSHIRE TEA, puts it in a mug and pours the boiling water on. Steam BILLOWS.

IAN MCMILLAN approaches the kitchen table holding the steaming mug of tea in one hand and an iPad in the other. He sits down at the table, drinking from the mug. He puts the mug down smiling, and taps on the iPad.

IAN MCMILLAN
(VOICE-OVER)
Early stroll. The bus’s only passenger is light. A man pushes a baby in a pushchair flanked by two whippets. A room flickers underwater blue.

He stops tapping, takes another swig of tea and winks at the camera.

EXT. YORKSHIRE DALES – DAY

Close on a table laden with a Yorkshire Tea caddy, teapot, mugs, a plate of biscuits, an iPad showing Ian McMillan’s Twitter feed and a book of poems.

ALAN BENNETT
(VOICE-OVER)
Only Yorkshire Tea can do this, because it refreshes the tweets other teas can’t reach.

[ends]

I doubt Ian McMillan (or Alan Bennett come to that) would be likely to do an advert for Yorkshire Tea, and if they did they’d probably get a professional script-writer in, and also possibly avoid having to pay Heineken a royalty. But guys, if you like the above then feel free to use it. My fee, you might say poetically, is tea.

The Random Surreal Metaphorical Title Generator

A potato
A potato (image shamelessly stolen from the Guardian because they hate Jeremy Corbyn)

The other day my girlfriend and I went to the local park with my children, and apropos of nothing except his own inner silliness my 10-year-old son referred to something he called “the potato of destiny”. We all found this vastly inspirational and were soon competing with each other for the silliest “concrete noun of abstract noun” expression. The winner was unclear but entries included The Pigeon of Doubt, The Seesaw of Happiness, The Bananas of Benevolence (extra marks for alliteration) and The Trouser of Shame. (I admit the latter may have been unconsciously inspired by this wonderful tweet by the fabulous @TechnicallyRon.)

Upon returning home from the park I had nothing better to do so I tweaked a bit of Javascript I’d used previously for something similar to create random “surreal metaphorical titles” whenever you click a button. I’ve now installed this in the sidebar of the blog (a bit up and to the right of this sentence if you’re on a desktop PC, or scroll down a lot if on mobile). So next time you’re stuck for that perfect title for your surreal poem, story or painting, or your imagination needs a jolt of lobster caffeine, hit “generate” a few times, and Bob’s your gramophone (or perhaps your Gramophone of Decrepitude).

My own favourites generated so far include:

The Mince Pie of Deception
The Trouser of Anxiety
The Cheese Slice of Sadness
The Wheelchair of Deception
The Biscuit of Falsity
The Trouser of Truth
The Potato of Anxiety
The Avocado of Humourlessness
The Satsuma of Delight
The Cheese Slice of Humourlessness
The Cake of Shame
The Nose of Sadness
The Avocado of Philanthropy
The Digital Watch of Deception
The Aubergine of Truth
The Trouser of Deception
The Dessert of Deception
The Satsuma of Pusillanimity
The Sausage of Anxiety
The Nose Hair of Deception
The Squidgy Stuff of Destiny
The Moustache of Philanthropy

The script works off a limited vocabulary but I’ve already added several more since first installing the widget, and plan to keep expanding the word list, so please do return for updates, or post suggestions for new words in the comments below.

“Women don’t understand fracking”

A leading female scientist and chair of UK Onshore Oil and Gas has said women are opposed to fracking because they “don’t understand” the science and “follow their gut instinct” rather than the facts.

When I first read this I actually sympathised for a moment because Averil Macdonald blamed this situation on the lack of women studying and working in STEM, which is a well known problem and a national shame. She also went on to say that “More facts are not going to make any difference… What we have got to do is understand the gut reaction, the feel. The dialogue is more important than the dissemination of facts.” Well, it might be a surprise to find a scientist saying something is more important than the facts, but if she’s saying that women have stopped listening to the evidence because they don’t trust the source, I thought, that does have to be dealt with.

Macdonald’s comments were prompted by the latest Nottingham University survey on public perception of fracking revealing that 31.5 per cent of women believe that shale gas exploration should be allowed in the UK compared with 58 per cent of men. These figures compare with “a plurality of [all] respondents, 46.5%, remain[ing] of the view that shale gas should be extracted in the UK [which] is by far the lowest percentage since the University of Nottingham Shale Gas Survey began.” This last point is of course bad news for UK Onshore Oil & Gas, who are by definition pro-fracking.

It occurred to me that Macdonald could be trying to exploit the hot topic of women in STEM to garner female favour for fracking. I even started thinking that her comments were aimed at trapping liberal men into siding with her so that they can be seen as feminist by supporting women in STEM. But there are plenty of women against fracking who do very well understand the science, obviously, so for her to take this position is patronising of women, and is anyway a distraction from the environmental issues of fracking which are that it causes earthquakes, puts chemicals in the ground, and may even cause children to be born prematurely.

Macdonald was also talking to the Times originally, who are intensely pro-fracking. The original article describes her as “the new champion of the shale gas industry, leading a push to persuade women that the process is safe and will benefit Britain’s economy as well as help to meet climate change targets.”

Well, it doesn’t seem to have worked. There’s a great comment on a Huffington Post article about this: “…what Macdonald really said is men are more gullible, easily persuaded by data they wouldnt never [sic] admit they dont understand, and look at short term gain. She also said women are less gullible, more apt to question the validity of data generated by and for the benefit of a particular industry, and look at long term consequences rather than short term gain.”

I’m not surprised to hear that more men than women support fracking, incidentally. Isn’t it, symbolically, a masculine procedure? Drilling into mother earth (wonder what Freud would say?), thrusting a massive penis substitute deep into the ground and ejaculating polluting substances all to demonstrate your total POWER over the very soil we walk on? Put it away, for God’s sake.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership election

A few days ago I tweeted “Labour bans Jeremy Corbyn from voting for himself”. It seemed only logical they would do so, because after all they’d just banned Mark Steel, the veteran left-wing comedian, for supporting Corbyn (whilst also relentlessly taking the piss out of the Labour establishment’s absurd and totalitarian approach to the contest).

Today the estimable satirical news website Newsthump published an article headlined “Jeremy Corbyn barred from voting for Jeremy Corbyn“. I should add they follow me on Twitter…

But hey, I’m not bitter. It’s all to the good. Like all the best satire, this is truer than real life. By which I mean that by barring people like Mark Steel and Ken Loach for supporting Jeremy Corbyn​’s values, Labour have created a paradox by even allowing Corbyn to run in the first place.

How can Labour ban ANYONE from voting – implicitly for Corbyn – and still allow him to be a candidate? Then again, they banned the Conservative-supporting Toby Young too, and somehow allowed crypto-Tory Liz Kendall to run, so what do I know. It’s a mess.

We should remember, of course, that Corbyn was only nominated to begin with by self-confessed morons not because they wanted him to be leader but because they were “advised we should have a broad debate”.

Even more ironically, there has been no debate, only Corbyn coming up with one popular policy after another and the other three candidates desperately attacking him whilst either not announcing any policies of their own or, er, agreeing with Corbyn’s. Or whilst not voting against the government on issues such as shoving more children into poverty.

Jeremy Corbyn running for Labour leader with a series of sensible, anti-austerity, pro-social justice and – for God’s sake – anti-Tory policies has been the only thing that’s kept me from completely despairing of politics in this nasty little country since the horrendous general election result in May.

Now that voting for the Labour leadership is finally underway I hope Jeremy thunders to victory in the first round and Labour can finally rebuild itself in its own true, original image – that of actually giving a shit about poor and vulnerable people – while we forget how utterly ridiculous this entire contest has otherwise been.

General Election 2015

I was going to blog my sadness and anger about today’s result, but everything I was going to say has already been said, and better, by this guy Plashing Vole who I follow on Twitter.

Read the post and weep.

I will only add that as someone with a disabled partner and mixed-race children living in an area with a high population of immigrants, I am now more scared and concerned and sad for them and for other people like them than I have been at any time over the past five years. I did my best, guys – I voted Green, a party I believe in, and although I didn’t think they would get into power as such I honestly thought common decency and a leftwards coalition would prevail.

I suppose you could say that the people who voted Tory voted for a party they believe in too. But they can all go fuck themselves.

My feedback to Google Chrome this evening

I lost a whole load of bookmarks just now after deleting someone called “person 1” in my settings. I had no idea who this “person” was, so deleting him seemed reasonable. It seems I was not signed in to Chrome (why would I be?), so was using it as some sort of temporary user, which is presumably why the associated bookmarks were deleted along with him. There was no warning of this at the time of removing the “person”. I have now lost hours of work and scores of pages useful to me for reference for both work and pleasure. I then tried using bookmarks manager to sort things out only to find this page was “not available”. How can your own bookmarks manager page return a 404? I’ve now signed in using two Google accounts and am switching between them. I have manually imported an old bookmark set into one, while in the other another old bookmark set has appeared from nowhere. In both cases I will have to get all my bookmarks back manually to how they were at the start of all this. To add to the confusion I am getting a different view of “bookmarks manager” in each of the two Chrome “users” I am switching between – one of them shows a pretty selection of colourful tiles, the other one a dull list of standard yellow folders. You can’t even be consistent with your own features. You basically don’t have a clue how stressful it is using your browser, do you? You’re probably sitting there laughing at these remarks, if indeed they’re being read by anyone at all. I doubt they’ll get to anyone higher up than the bloke who sweeps the floor. In fact I doubt this “feedback” will even be seen by a human at Google. It’ll probably be fed into a database and scanned for key words. Hell, even that probably won’t happen. I can say what I like, can’t I? You don’t give a damn! How dearly I would love to sit down with the person or team who actually came up with all this nonsense and tell them about my actual HUMAN experience and what it really means as a normal “person” to use your browser. Go on, I dare you to rise to the challenge! Sit down with me over a cup of coffee, human to human, and I’ll tell you what a pain it is to use Chrome and you tell me what your thinking was when you developed all these useless features. Will you be human enough to do it? Or is Google the faceless bunch of automatons we’re led to believe? I’m saving this feedback text and will publish it on my blog at http://blog.thoughtcat.com, together with your response, if any. If anyone at Google actually cares about any of this, email me and we’ll see what you’re made of.