Monday, 29 June 2009


I found this on Facebook. It comes from today's edition of The Sun. I'm assuming that anyone who follows this blog probably won't have seen the original. It's not subtle, but why waste subtlety on Silvio Berlusconi? It serves its purpose admirably.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Shorter and sweeter'n'sourer

According to popbitch (I know, I know), Michael Jackson referred to semen as 'duck butter'.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Short and sweet

A nice piece about rewriting the classics on Twitter by Michelle Pauli here. Made even nicer by her quoting John Crace's Digested Read of the New Testament. Here it is:

"Angel gets Mary up duff. Jesus chills for 30 years, gets Messiah complex and is topped. Comes back. Then I saw his face. Now I'm a believer."

Sunday, 21 June 2009


Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I met up with a reading group, the Roosters Book Club, based in Rome. The intention was that I should talk about Little Monsters, which the group had all, with great generosity, not only bought but read. The meeting had been organised by Carolyn, a friend and the driving force behind the group (according to its members!). I'd remarked that it might be fun to meet up, months ago, and was delighted, and mildly disquieted, when Carolyn took me up on this rash offer. When she phoned and suggested a date, I thought, well, yes, what could be more fun? It wasn't until I was walking from my house to hers, a matter of a hundred yards, that it struck me I had no idea what I'd actually do. I'd been assured by Carolyn that all that was required of me was that I talk about myself and my book and this had seemed so self-indulgent a pleasure up to that point that I hadn't really considered what it might involve. Because, walking along Via Manzoni, from my house to Carolyn's, with a copy of Little Monsters in my hand, it struck me that, to my (dis)credit, I'm the least introspective of men and that I also have a rather non-analytical approach to the business of writing - I'm endlessly quoting Frank O'Hara's essay on Personism:
I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, "Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep."
Of course, I know it's not that simple, and that it wasn't for O'Hara either. But I felt exposed, and unprepared, and slightly fraudulent. Which, when I think about it, is how I feel on most occasions of a social, or professional, nature.

Well, I had a wonderful time, and if the group enjoyed themselves half as much as I did, they must have had quite a lot of fun as well. The joy about lacking the capacity - or desire - for introspection is that you treat yourself as the subject for gossip, the more scurrilous the better. You become, alas, indiscreet. And not only about your private life. Because one of the interesting aspects of being a published writer is that you know something - not necessarily a lot, but something - about the way the whole business works. The writing schedule, revision, where the characters come from, all that was important. But equally interesting, it seemed to me, were the contract, the advance, the title, the cover. This is how it should be. Good books, like hand-thrown vases and the perfect Victoria sponge, should justify themselves. What's fascinating, because it's technical. is what lies behind them; it's the invisible speed of the wheel and the coolness of the hands that finally count. Which reminds me, I must ask Carolyn for the recipe of the excellent salad we all enjoyed as soon as I'd left the hot seat and we'd moved to the dining table for lunch.

If you read this, Roosters, thnak you for breaking me in so gently. And if you're a book club and would like me to be equally indiscreet with you, just let me know. I'm surprisingly available.

Khaki shorts are an optional.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Organic crackers

Faced with the prospect of Berlusconi becoming president of all he purveys, I suppose I ought to be feeling more generous towards the idea of a non-elected royal family. They aren't all bad, after all, unless useless is necessarily a component of bad, and the Windsors, as my mother always reminds me, work very hard (although the index against which their workload is measured isn't that clear - work hard compared to what? A junior doctor? A rickshaw driver? A crack whore?). Even the House of Lords is beginning to look like a valuable corrective to an elected house of mediocrities with their fingers in the till. But Prince Charles's latest foray into throwing his weight around has really got my goat. He's used his royal connections to pull the plug on a new development designed by Richard Rodgers for an area opposite the home of the Chelsea pensioners in London. The area's owned by the Qatar royal family, which has bowed to pressure from Charlie, presumably under the impression that his opinion has some weight beyond the tea rooms of middle England, the ones that serve Duchy Original muffins. As long as he's selling biscuits, the man's just about bearable, and the shortbread really is rather good. But his views on organic farming are widely regarded as crackpot Little Englandism in a world in which the majority of people now live in cities, etc. His woolly ecumenicalism is irritating tosh, but that's matter for another post. And he's bad at architecture as well. Prince Charles' notion of what constitutes an attractive building is, bluntly, philistine. He's had it in for Richard Rogers since the National Gallery fiasco, where he muscled in to stop London acquiring an interesting new building and had it replaced by something that looks like the warehouse bit of a provincial Sainsbury's. Now he's used his royal clout to block a development that would have provided work for over 10,000 people and over two hundred affordable homes in an area of London that doesn't exactly sing affordability. You can see what Rodgers has to say about this here. The point, as Rodgers says, is not whether his plans are good or not. The point is that procedures already exist for blocking a building that shouldn't be built, and that these weren't followed. What happened was that a non-elected architectural luddite muscled in and made a couple of phone calls to a non-elected dictator who owns a large slab of central London. This shouldn't happen. I hope that Rodgers can get his show back on the road, though it's unlikely. In the meantime, Prince Charles should get back to doing what he - or his employees are - good at: baking a genteelly mean organic cracker.

Monday, 15 June 2009


You may be wondering why I haven't posted photographs of Saturday's Pride in Rome. Well, it's simple. I was visiting my mother in England and had muddled up the dates. (How gay is that?) But I have it on good authority (Peter's) that it went off well, despite the shameful 'confusion' about route, only sorted out four days before the event. The photograph in the national section of Repubblica shows a rather fetching young man in loincloth and stigmata and presumably refers to some archaic gay ritual I haven't come across in my extensive reading. Others, better informed, are shocked. There's the usual confusion about numbers: 300,000 according to the organisers, two old queens and a poodle according to the police. Whether it served its purpose, assuming one knew what that was, I don't know, but I'm sorry I missed it. Still, I've been through the snaps I posted from last year's event and that of 2007 and thought I'd revive a few favourites. Here they are.

RIP Harold Norse


I'm not a man, I can't earn a living, buy new things for my family.

I have acne and a small peter.

I'm not a man. I don't like football, boxing and cars.

I like to express my feeling. I even like to put an arm around my friend's shoulder.

I'm not a man. I won't play the role assigned to me- the role created

by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell,

Television does not dictate my behavior.

I'm not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would

never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick.

I like flowers.

I'm not a man. I went to prison resisting the draft. I do not fight

when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence.

I'm not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don't hate blacks.

I do not get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should

love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I'm not a man. I have never had the clap.

I'm not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I'm not a man. I cry when I'm unhappy.

I'm not a man. I do not feel superior to women

I'm not a man. I don't wear a jockstrap.

I'm not a man. I write poetry.

I'm not a man. I meditate on peace and love.

I'm not a man. I don't want to destroy you.

Harold Norse

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Dressing up

A new 'security' law, which only looks like a knee-jerk reaction, is about to be passed here in Italy. Like most laws of this type, it protects - or is intended to appear to protect - the law-abiding citizen from the other, almost certainly not a citizen, who presumably ought to be abiding elsewhere, obedient to some other less-civilised legislation. One of the nastiest of the many nasty provisions in the new decree is that it allows citizens to gang up, don uniforms and strut around the place enforcing, you guessed, the law. This doesn't mean they'll be muscling their way into boardrooms or bank headquarters or mafia hideouts, after the real criminals. They just won't have time. They'll be too busy hanging round parks and council estates, patrolling the odd bus station in their fabulous outfits, a pot pourri of home-tailored Nazi fantasy gear (cue Prince Henry) with a touch of Tom of Finland for good measure. The cute little symbol at the top of the post is some nonsense that means a great deal to shaven-headed thugs who think they're the master race and absolutely nothing to the rest of us. But it might be worth memorising it. Because if the person who's kicking your head in has got one on his bicep, either tattooed or sewn on by his granny, you haven't got a leg to stand on (ouch!). He'll be legal.


A footnote to my last post. Googling for images of house sparrows I found myself with an infinite selection of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow but surprisingly few pictures of the actual bird (in the first three pages, 3 birds to 51 Depps; it gets better later on). And it reminded me of a small boy I know who thought mice were named after the computer thingymabob.

The fall of the sparrow

I was in my local post office here in Fondi a few days ago, waiting to pay an overdue bill. In the past this would have meant trying to guess which queue contained the fewest problem cases, ususally pensioners or people trying to send sums of money to places the PO clerk can't spell, or has never heard of, and has to check with a colleague, who's similarly challenged. But they've introduced a number system now and installed some rows of wooden chairs with a rather Scandinavian feel to them, strung along a blue metal bar like Alvar Aalto-designed birds, though the older women are wary of sitting on them and still regard the notion of respecting numerical order as a fundamentally flawed way of doing things. So there's always a free seat, hwoever busy the place is. I usually take a book and try to get some reading done. This time I had a water bill to pay and a novel by Nigel Balchin called The Fall of the Sparrow, in the 1957 Companion Book Club edition, still with a leaflet inside describing the next books to be published - Hammond Innes and Nancy Spain. I bought it because I'd read - and enjoyed - the same author's The Small Back Room a couple of years ago and because I'd opened the book on a scene with an evidently gay character, and wanted to see how the book dealt with the issue. I was four when it was published, fourteen when homosexuality was made, restrictively, legal. the title refers to the verse from Mathew: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

But none of this is what I want to talk about, except in the oblique sense, I suppose, of how people are treated, how we're organised and accept infringements of our liberty for some presumed greater good. It would be more to the point to say that this was the day after the European elections, in which the Northern League dramatically increased its vote here in Italy and the BNP won two seats for Shit (see below) and his shifty chum. A day in which the idea that empathy and awareness of the other's needs might play a useful role in the way we conceive society and politics was rejected by a sizeable number of voters; in which civil society was more of a chimera than it had been the week before in whole swathes of united Europe. Because while I was sitting on my plywood chair, not actually reading my book but with it open in my hand, distracted by the blip that indicated the number had changed and my turn was approaching, with my imagination half absorbed by a genteeler world in which I would have been illegal, with a TV screen advertising post office products and reporting the results, an old man went up to the counter. Small, neatly dressed, someone who'd spent much of his life outside and was now retired. I didn't hear the initial exchange. The first thing I heard was the old man say, 'Thirteen euros.' He'd come for his weekly, or monthly, pension, more probably the latter. The woman behind the counter said, 'Thirteen euros,' impatient for him to go. He paused, then asked her, 'Why? Why only thirteen euros?' She shrugged, tapped at her keyboard. 'Conguaglio,' she said. A conguaglio is the term used to describe what happens when the final reckoning shows that something has been over- or underpaid and is adjusted accordingly. In this case, his pension. He repeated the word. She counted the money out, pushed it across to him, then spread her hands. 'Un conguaglio,' she said again, as though he hadn't heard, or understood. He picked up the thirteen euros and looked at them for a moment before folding them carefully and sliding them into a small purse he'd taken from his breast pocket. 'What shall I do now?' he said, to no one, to everyone. And he didn't expect an answer because he'd already turned and was walking away from the counter towards the door as the woman pressed her little button, and a blip summoned the number after his.

Numbers are wonderful things.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Bible-based marriage

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, but I don't want anyone to miss it, so I decided to put it here too. 

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A question of style

The very day Barack Obama was in Cairo, addressing the Islamic world in an attempt to heal wounds and, against all odds, build new bridges, Silvio Berlusconi was addressing a considerably smaller audience in Milan, complaining that there were too many immigrants in Italy. Milan, he said, looked like a town in Africa. Too much Sardinian sun, Silvio? 

Big Mike

Sandro Bondi is a professional politician with a degree in philosophy. He started out in the Italian Communist Party (PCI), working as an insurance agent, then became mayor of Fivizzano and swiftly transformed the town council, and himself, into Christian Democrat lackeys. He left the PCI soon after. In 1994 Bondi met Berlusconi and was hired to deal with the great buffoon's personal correspondence, a task he no doubt performed with dedication and alacrity, although it's hard to imagine SB committing anything of importance to a medium as potentially damaging as paper. In 2001 he was the man behind the hagiographical Una Storia Italiana, a pack of half- and downright lies designed to hoodwink the Italian electorate into voting for the lecherous old crook. Unfortunately, it worked. 

Despite having no apparent aptitude for cultural matters - although he does write excruciatingly banal verse - Bondi is now minister of fine arts in a country that possesses two-thirds of the world's art treasures. But don't worry, he isn't alone. One of the first things he did as minister was hire a certain Mario Resca, initially as consultant and then as director general of the country's museums. Before taking on this important role, Resca was CEO of McDonald's Italia. So that'll be two McBacon Menus and a Michelangelo to go. 

And talking of Michelangelo, Bondi and Resca seem to have got themselves into a bit of a mess with the recent purchase of the dead Christ above. Sixteen inches tall, it cost over three million euros, which is too little for a genuine work by Michelangelo and too much for something by a less famous contemporary. Some art historians defend it, others don't. The artist rarely worked in wood and almost never worked at such a small scale, which doesn't rule out the attribution but does invite caution. What's indisputable is the lack of caution in the way the statue has been put to use. It's become part of the Berlusconi circus, travelling up and down the country in much the same way as Noemi, delighting the President here and wowing the plebiscite there. The pope loves it, which isn't surprising. What's even less surprising is that the Corte dei Conti - responsible for auditing state spending - sniffs a rat. As the New York Times said, back in April:

Prosecutors for Italy’s National Audit Office are now looking into the purchase to determine whether the state overpaid for the object, and Renaissance art experts will be asked whether it should be credited to Michelangelo.

Many have spoken out already.

“The attribution wrongs Michelangelo, as well as the history of 15th-century Florence,” where there were at least a dozen skilled artisans capable of making crucifixes like the one in question, said Francesco Caglioti, a specialist in Renaissance sculpture, who believes that the crucifix is typical of those made in such workshops, and is worth about 100,000 euros, or about $129,700.

“Unfortunately, my colleagues have forgotten that, and every time something beautiful emerges, they attribute it to a famous name,” Mr. Caglioti said. “It would seem like everything done in Renaissance Florence can be attributed to 10 people with a thousand hands.”

Back to the Big Macs for Resca? Somehow, I doubt it.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


Italian state television has room for just one programme of investigative journalism. It's called, all'inglese, Report, and it's presented by Milena Gabanelli on the minority channel, traditionally controlled by the left in the political carve-up that characterises all aspects of Italian life, RAI Tre. Each week, the programme examines some area of glaring injustice in Italian life, usually establishing that responsibility lies with an unholy alliance of politics in the widest sense and organised crime. Not that it's always unholy; if there's a third element with its nose in the trough it tends to be the Vatican. During the last series, Gabanelli and her team investigated the 'social card', the Anglicism invented by Berlusconi and his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, to describe a sort of pre-charged credit card to be issued to the poorest Italian citizens. It's not exactly money because it can't be used where the cardholder chooses, but only where it's accepted. It's also an extremely good way of keeping tabs on people's spending, which can't be a bad thing for the man who not only controls the government and much of the media but also has a large slice of the country's advertising under his sticky little belt. 

But the thrust of Report wasn't so much the essentially undemocratic nature of the card, or the fact that so few people were entitled to it and that, of these, even fewer had received it. It was that the creation and distribution of the card generates a substantial amount of more or less invisible earnings, and costs, for a variety of bodies, state and not, involved in the process. It's a bad, incompetent and possibly corrupt use of public money and whoever stands to gain won't be one of the nation's poor. This hasn't stopped Berlusconi patting himself on the back about it these past few weeks. It's just one of the ways in which, according to SB, Italians are rendered immune from the international economic crisis as a result of his quick thinking and Tremonti's even quicker fingerwork on the accounts. OK, there are the usual nay-sayers. But who, after all,watches Report? Certainly not PDL voters.

In the finance ministry, however, the programme has touched a more delicate nerve. Tremonti (ex-tax lawyer, specialised in fiscal evasion and with an office in Switzerland) has made an official complaint to the parliamentary commission responsible for keeping an eye on the doings of the RAI. He hasn't complained about the facts presented in the programme - he can't, because they're all true and supported by documentation. What's irritated him is the programme's 'philosophy'. Apparently the information presented is 'partial'. The interviews have been 'edited'. The aim of the programme is to discredit the economic policy of the government. This is unacceptable, given that the RAI exists to provide a 'public service'.Two thoughts come to mind. The first is that, while self-deluding politicians all over the world probably identify government policy with public service, few would express quite so clearly the notion that public service broadcasting should exist purely and simply as a medium for defending - indeed, extolling - the activities of the government in power. Try telling that to the BBC. The second is that one of the right-hand men of Berlusconi, a man who has made a gross and vulgar art out of lying to the public by providing 'partial' information and 'edited' versions of the truth with an almost Stalinesque panache, is in no position to accuse Gabanelli - or anyone else - of being biased. 

Yes, my neighbour...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Last word? I don't think so


To my surprise and pleasure, I've been quoted by la Repubblica today. You can read the article, about the way Berlusconi is being represented by the foreign press, here. The reference is to the comment I left on Geoff Andrews' ten questions for the corrupt buffoon at Open Democracy, which continues to attract commenters, almost exclusively Italian , in their hundreds.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Democracy at work

Children and religion. Following on from the post below, it seems that not only the Dalai Lama doesn't get it. A scientific high school in Cesena, in Emilia Romagna, has suspended one of its maths teachers for two months without pay. Why? Because he distributed a questionnaire to 70 of his students asking them which they'd prefer to study: catholicism, the history of religions, or human rights. Most of the kids chose human rights (65%), followed by history of religions (24%). That left a mere 11% into catholicism. This didn't go down at all well with the local scholastic authorities, who demanded a six-month suspension of the offending teacher, Alberto Marani, a period that was subsequently reduced to two. The full story, for Italian readers, can be found here. Among the readers' comments is one from an ex-student who claims that the school is effectively run by Opus Dei, which makes Marani's act not just culturally relevant but also a gesture of reckless, exemplary folly. All power to him.


Looks like the Dalai Lama got his kids mixed up. The reincarnation of Lama Yeshe has decided he'd rather study film and behave like, well, a normal twenty-four-year-old. You can hardly blame him. According to this article in today's Guardian, he had a horribly deprived childhood. The last detail is particularly blood-chilling:

According to the foundation biography, another leader suspected Torres was the reincarnation of the recently deceased Lama Yeshe when he was only five months old. In 1986, at 14 months, his parents took him to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. The toddler was chosen out of nine other candidates and eventually "enthroned".

At six, he was allowed to socialise only with other reincarnated souls – though for a time he said he lived next to the actor Richard Gere's cabin.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

More questions for SB...

...can be found in this excellent piece by Geoff Andrews. 

Here we go again

Last year, for the most absurd reasons (a choral recital in a nearby building, if I remember rightly), under evident pressure from the Vatican and the post-fascist mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, Rome Gay Pride was denied the use of Piazza San Giovanni. The mean-spirited sods are trying it on again this year, eleven days before the march is due to take place, in an attempt to effectively cancel the event. I've been asked to pass this message on to you by the SUPPORT ROMA PRIDE 2009, and that's what I'm doing. If you don't want Rome to look like Moscow or Tehran, you know what to do. And if you're on Facebook, you can join up here

Dear friends,

As some of you already know the 13th of June is the date of Roma Pride 2009, but at the moment, only ten days before the event, we still have no authorized route for the final parade and march. Yesterday the police autorities again denied authorization, for the third time, with reasons that are no more than absurd excuses.

As well as the usual Pride issues, such as visibility, rights, non discrimination and equality for LGBT people and communities, we face a conservative attack on basic democratic and civil rights, as guaranteed by the Italian Constitution and the international conventions. Again Piazza San Giovanni has been denied because of the veto of the Vatican and clerical authorities. However, last year's route from Piazza della Repubblica to Piazza Navona has also been denied this year, making it almost impossible the march to take place, and damaging the democratic and civil rights of all Italian citizens, not just GLBT people.

We really need moral support from all of you, and from abroad.
You can support Roma Pride 2009 by writing your personal or associative support to (you can send a copy also to me at, by spreading and forwarding this message to other people, above all other groups or associations, GLBT groups, Pride organisers, activists for civil and human rights, politicians, journalists that may be interested in this topic, and by creating mobilization or any other kind of useful iniative at any level.
If you are a journalist or have web sites, blogs, newsletters or acces to any other media, please help us byspreading this information.

Thank you for your support and help,

Andrea Maccarrone

A message from Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones says:

“Support the good work here. Don’t let Salt fall. If the recession is going to take things down, let it be motor manufacturers, let it be bad banks, let it be chains of fast food restaurants. We can lose a few of them, but we don't have enough small independent and daring publishers like Salt. I think I can be a little more forthright than Chris and say ‘Just six books’. Buy dozens why don’t you? It’s a great list. And apparently you will help the economy in many subtle ways too complicated for studious folk like us.”

Monday, 1 June 2009

Dylan: Mr Tambourine Man (1964)

Forty-five years ago. I was ten years old when this took place. Had I even heard of Bob Dylan? My first Dylan album was The Times They Are A'Changin', the title song of which I would sing at the top of my still unbroken voice until my parents lost their temper with me and told me to shut up or they'd leave me wherever the car happened to be. This was a Byrds song though, and I didn't hear Dylan do it until years later. It's wonderful. I'm awed. Again.

Answers in Genesis?

What on earth did Sweden do to deserve this? Presumably we could find out by visiting the site responsible for this hoarding, placed in a rather colourless corner of, I imagine, the United States. But I don't think we'll bother, do you?

BGT, last word

Salt news

I'm sure you've been following the Salt Just One Book campaign, and I hope you've supported it. If you haven't, and need a final incentive, other than a visit from some rather shady friends of mine early one morning, this might just do the trick. It's the latest offer from Salt, and it's a winner:


We're now giving you a huge 33% off ALL books till the end of June. Use the coupon code G3SRT453 when in the checkout to benefit. Don't forget if you spend £30 or $30 you get free shipping too.

Please continue to spread the word, and spread news of this offer. Please don't let up. It's been extraordinary, but we're not out of danger yet. Every penny goes into developing Salt's books and services. We want to start a new children's list, and offer more resources to teachers and schools. We want to extend our publishing in new areas including our translations programme, we want to offer you more free magazines online. We want to help develop more support for debuts with the enhancement of our Crashaw and Scott prizes. We're planning audio books, ebooks and new videos for you. We only want to move forward, to develop and expand what we do and deliver great books in new ways to you and yours.

We need your support throughout June. We'll try and organise more readings and promotions with our authors. Virtual book tours. More launches. We'll work with bookstores to bring you short story and poety evenings. Stick with us throughout June and we can do something astonishing. That's the power of Just One Book — we want you to be a part of it. Follow us on
Twitter look for #SaltBooks and #JustOneBook. Join our Facebook Group

And have a giggle at the vid, too.

Oh, and one last special offer — Catherine Eisner’s magnificent crime novel, 
Sister Morphinefor £7.50 plus P&P, simply enter coupon code EISNER in the UK checkout

Watch out for more special offers throughout June.