Nina Stibbe (2014) Love, Nina Dispatches from Family Life.

The first letter dated September 1982 is addressed to Dear Vic (that’s Nina’s sister) and she gives her address as 53 Gloucester Crescent London NW1. If you’ve got an NW1 address the Mosaic algorithm which credit companies favour and sorts postcodes into easy to read bundles, which brackets what kind of person you are, by where you live, and determines how much credit you can be pushed, would use terms for NW1ers as Cultural Leaders (or Global Connectors). N1 postcode suggests affluence.

Nina is from the North. And, aged 20, she’s young. The Mosaic algorithm brackets such people as thickos who they can bung lots of credit cards which they’ll max out on (after all this was 1982). (Em 2014 and the Mosaic algorithm still seems to be doing it! Perhaps us up North are thickos.)

Nina asks in her first pen letter to her sister ‘PS Who’s George Melly? I’m in his room.’

‘Moving, In 1982-84,’ ‘Dear Vic, Being a nanny is great. Not a job really, just like living in someone else’s life. Today before breakfast Sam had to empty the dishwasher and Will had to feed the cat.’

Sam and Will are Mary Kay Wilmers’ sons. Mary Kay is deputy editor of London Review of Books and Gordon Bennett  she knows everybody. AB (Alan Bennett) lives across the road and is forever popping in. Once he came to investigate a possible burglar. There wasn’t one but I’m sure it’ll turn up in a scene somewhere. He also remarked dryly that one of his well known nob pals was shagging the cleaner and had crabs. Nina didn’t know what crabs where.

Nina seems likeable enough, but if there weren’t so many references to ‘cultural leaders’ it’s doubtful this book would have been published. Noseyness only goes so far, page 40, in fact. You might get further with this book.

Val McDermid (2014) Northanger Abbey.


Northanger Abbey isn’t so much a place as a time. In the introduction to Jane Austen’s (2000) Northanger Abbey the reader is informed it was written in 1897-8, but not in publication until 1803. So it’s a relatively old book, written in English, in a style of indirect free discourse (whatever that means) which Austen patented. It is also steeped in the sensibilities and, in particular, the Gothic literature of the time. The reader is addressed directly and enters into a conspiracy with the writer as she maps out, in a knowingly ironic tone, Catherine Morland’s episodic  journey into society; a journey from innocence to experience – or something like that.

Look at the opening of both books and guess the modern reading. ‘No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her to be born a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition were all equally against her.’

‘It was a source of constant disappointment to Catherine Morland that her life did not resemble her books. Or rather, the books in which she found its likeness were so unexciting. Plenty of novels were set in small country villages and towns like the Dorset hamlet where she lived…Piddle Valley…Cat as she preferred to be known.’

Cat, in Jane Austen’s time, was of course, something you skinned or kicked on the way to the barn. Moore’s law has led to many innovations. I hope that one day we can sic one book, like fighting dogs, against the other and watch them battle it out. My money would be firmly on Jane Austen.

The plot demands that Cat is mistaken for sole heiress to Mr Allen’s fortune. Write what you know is a literary convention. The spa town of Bath were socialites gathered like pigeon shit around an open loft is updated to contemporary Edinburgh with its theatre and book festivals.  General Tilney when he finds this not to be the case flouts social convention and sends Catherine home -ALONE- from Northanger Abbey, unescorted by a gentleman relative or lady friend. Shock, horror, gasp. It doesn’t really translate nowadays. The right of primogeniture is a more nuanced foreign concept to a contemporary audience, but perhaps the rights of a married lady as a chattel to be herded like sheep is more easily understood. Henry Tilney’s impotence can only be understood in reference to the former and Eleanor Tilney’s quite courage in terms of the former.

Similarly, the boorish and ill-bred John Thorpe is a stock character. His ability to see shortcomings in all but himself translates into logorrhea about his two-seater red sports car, how fast it goes, and how much he paid for it – and how he always duped the other fellow – to Austen’s John Thorpe, who purchased a two-seater gig and how his horse is a marvel. Simply a marvel.

But when John Thorpe interrogates Catherine about her relationship to Mr Allen and he tries to wheedle from her how much her benefactor is worth he refers to him as an ‘old Jew’. This is a term McDermid’s Thorpe also uses. The structure in the book is broadly identical, but the meaning is lost in translation. McDermid, as an ex-reporter, adopts punchy sentences and a Bridget Jones- type approach which lacks the subtlety and melodic variation of Austen’s prose. There’s no sin in that.

I’d sic, Grace, a character from Alice Munro’s story, ‘Passion’, on both of them: ‘she hated spoiled rich girls of whom nothing was ever asked but they wheedle and demand’.

Curtis Sittenfeld (2009) American Wife.

The New York Times Bestseller runs to 637 pages, begins with melodrama, and ends with the tragedy that is George W Bush and the war in Iraq. Only, of course, this isn’t President Bush. This is fiction. President Blackwell is in the White House. It’s June 2007. His wife Alice Blackwell nee Lindgren narrates how he got there, traveling back through time and place to four different addresses — 1272 Amity Lane, 3859 Sproule Street, 402 Maronee Drive and finally, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Alice Blackwell Lindgren tells the reader ‘I didn’t vote for Charlie for president. I did vote for him both times for governor.’ Alice is not a Yes man. In fact she’s a very attractive woman. The paperback cover shows her sitting on an old-fashioned  bicycle, dressed modestly in a dark skirt and blouse, but with a bit of leg showing on the up step of the pedal, with what looks like a farmhouse in the background and acres of sky. I was thinking of Jackie Kennedy (although she did look like a fish) – and certainly the Blackwell’s families antics when they met up each year had me thinking of the Kennedy rather than the Bush clan, but I can’t claim to know much about either. Certainly as the book progresses it becomes obvious it’s George.

Alice loves her husband, but she doesn’t believe he can quit drinking. His family and friends think Charlie is a bit of a joke. And Dr Wycomb, Gladys Wycombe, Alice’s grannies secret love, who was in her mind ‘less a person than a destination, far away, yet not entirely familiar,’ tells her ‘those elections were fixed…and you’re a puppet’.

What makes the book shine is the author’s love of books. The fictional Alice is a school librarian.   She was not born to be a First Lady. ‘In 1954,’ Alice the narrator tells the reader, ‘the summer before I entered third grade, my grandmother mistook Andrew Imhof for a girl.’ Alice loves Andrew and Andrew loves Alice. Knowing the nature of the book the reader is lulled into thinking this is a poor man works his way up to greatness and gains the most powerful position in the world, but Sittenfeld knows how stories work and not an image or word is wasted.

I vote for Sittenfeld for President. She’s a great man and a fantastic writer.



When Yes Means No (and the 50-50 split).

I’d this great idea for a film. Get Sir Sean Connery to play a hard-nosed cop, training an elite group to take down Al Capone. They’re set to get him on a technicality. Al Capone fails to pay his taxes.

Prime Minister David Cameron phones Sir Sean. ‘We’re ready to cut a deal. We’ve put the frighteners on Al. He’s ready to play ball and cut a deal.’

‘What’s he offering?’ asks Sir Sean.

‘A quarter bottle of Glenfiddich,’ says our Prime Minister. ‘Go easy on him. He provides lots of jobs and it’s all he can afford and he said he resides in the Channel Islands, which technically he does as he’s got a rowing boat with his name, ‘Fuck-Al’, on it parked on a faraway beach.’

‘But who will we blame the Valentine Day’s Massacre on?’ asks Sir Sean.

‘Accidental Suicide. Poor folk that don’t have enough money for bullets or fast getaway cars deserve all they get.’

*Notes for script.

2012 study almost 50% of the top 50 publicly traded companies in the United Kingdom have a British parliamentarian representing them as a director or shareholder.

Former top tax official in the UK David Hartnett who presided over a period of sweetheart deal after sweetheart deal with multinationals and, after a golden handshake,  joined the accountancy firm Deloitte, one of the big four accountancy firms that helps its multinational clients pay a minimal amount of tax.

Currently, eighteen ex-ministers and top civil servants work for the big four accountancy firms.

Go on Sean. Go get those tax thieves with all guns blazing.


Pakistan’s Street of Shame Channel 4, 11pm, written and presented by Jamie Doran.


What if your child came home from school and told you that he didn’t want to go to that cinema because they showed porn movies and adults took young boy there to rape whilst watching?

What if I told you 9 out of 10 street children were sexually abused? A man that works for a bus company where many of these children congregate openly admits that he’s raped 12 or 13 (he wasn’t sure of the number) of these young boys, the youngest about six-years old. He’d no plans to stop.

Why should he? He wasn’t married and these were worthless street boys.

What if I told you it was in the north-west city of Peshwar in Pakistan, would you sigh with relief? (with the subtext, it couldn’t happen here?)

The camera follows Naeem aged twelve. He said he ran away because his parents died and his elder brother kept beating him. Later in the documentary Naeem’s brother freely admits this. When told Naeem had been raped on his first night of ‘freedom’ he says it would have been better if he’d set Naeem on fire.

Naeem takes the camera to a well known meeting point where men buy young boys for sex. We hear him being propositioned. One man offer 1000 rupees (I don’t know how much that is, but I’d guess that it isn’t very much) and complains when rejected because he would be taking him back to a hotel and wouldn’t be having sex with Naeem all night.

Policemen on the ground that are interviewed admit they’re not that interested, or rather with suicide bombers and jihad, it’s not a priority. Politician Imran Khan admits to being ‘totally embarrassed by this’. He promises action. But it’s a cultural thing. Poor people have no political or economic power and  are expendable. Poor children have least power of all. Pakistan’s Street of Shame. Yes, we’ve all got one of those.

Wuthering Heights

With the rise and rise of Kate Bush it’s time to look at Bronte’s classic once more.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847 because women don’t write books, only they do. Heathcliffe is the hero, or should I say anti-hero. He’s got a hint of gypsy in him, a man’s man that marries Isabella Linton to spite his childhood sweetheart Catherine Earnshaw (hints of incest here) hangs Isabella’s dog from a gatepost to show what kind of man she’s marrying and beats his head against the branch of a tree when Catherine dies. Catherine’s death occurs almost exactly half way through the book. The Grange is four miles from Wuthering Heights but it might as well be the moon. Edgar Linton is bloodless and bland. His sister Isabella’s son Linton, Heathcliffe’s neglected son, is described as a pretty boy but is so insipid and weak he makes Lemsip seem like a cure for cancer. Heathcliffe however contrives that Linton will marry Catherine and Edgar’s daughter, Cathy,  and he will inherit the Grange. Cathy is sixteen, but to today’s reader seems more like a wilful nine-year old. and Linton acts like a four-year-old brat. Women are objects to be married, locked up beaten and scorned. Heathcliffe’s great love for Catherine is to be mirrored in Cathy’s sick love for Linton. All of this is told in flashback by Nelly a housekeeper in both households to a guest at the Grange, Mr Lockwood. Heathcliffe for all his dastardly deeds and plotting, of course, never did more than snatch a kiss from his beloved Catherine Earnshaw. He might be a bit of rough, but sex with a Moor on the moors would have been a bit too much for a Victorian audience. He wants Catherine to haunt him. Ho-hum.

selling myself: