As 2008 looms large on the horizon, the national media occasionally tears itself away from its London-centric concerns (exhortations by art critics to visit the Hogarth exhibition at the Tate on Millbank are welcome to those of us who would have a 400 mile round trip, plus at least a night's stay at one of the capital's overpriced B&Bs) to warily survey what's taking shape up here.
The Guardian ran a piece recently which contained a nice anecdote about a visit to Liverpool in May 1965 by the American beat poet, Allan Ginsberg (http://arts.guardian.co.uk/cityofculture2008/story/0,,2017940.html ).
Particularly amusing, apart from the description of a barefoot Ginsberg traipsing wide-eyed around the "home of the Beatles", was his observation in a letter to a friend back in the U.S. that "it's like San Francisco with greyer weather".
As they would have commented back then, groovy!
Something which caught my eye was a Guardian piece last week on the question of who is the greatest British writer. Normally, I avoid reading such articles. After all, how can you arrive at an answer? Do you mean fiction or non-fiction? Or both? Do you include poetry as well as prose, or is it strictly confined to novelists? How about essayists (Orwell)?
See what I mean?
There was, however, a wonderfully telling quotation from Amanda Ross, who, according to the piece, was "Creator of the Richard & Judy bookclub, known as 'the most powerful woman in publishing'".
Ross opined, "We don't like to label anything 'literary'. In fact, I really hate that word. For our readers, if we said a book was literary, it might put them off. To the public, literary means inaccessible, or full of classical references, or with long passages in French. So we just say they are fantastic books."
Leaving aside Ms Ross' alarming syntax, which veers into the inarticulate realm, two points emerge from her gibberish. First, it says everything about the sort of undemanding, bland & unchallenging programme that is "Richard & Judy" & its perceived target audience. Secondly, I'm intrigued by her use of the word "fantastic". Does she mean fantastic as in "that was a fantastic pub crawl" or "this is a fantastic action movie"? Or does she mean the word in its original sense, ie., hard to believe? If so, it's not much of a recommendation.
Prior to this bon mot, Ross is asked to comment on the merits of Martin Amis' work over the years. The "most powerful woman in publishing" replies, "I can't say whether Amis is a great writer because I have never read one of his books. I don't think his publisher has ever submitted one [for dissection on the programme]."
You don't say!
Further discussions on the question of the best British writer (yes, ridiculous, I know) can be found at BLOG@guardian.co.uk/books.
I'd been feeling a little guilty about not posting anything recently. That mild guilt became something else when I came across the story of the Egyptian blogger who has been imprisoned for four years by the Mubarak regime (http://media.guardian.co.uk/newmedia/story/0,,2019746,00.html ).
There's also a website to highlight the blogger's plight, his sham of a trial & the campaign for his release. Here's hoping, although I'm not holding my breadth, given the nature of the Cairo regime & its support from Bush & Blair.
Now we return to that feature of this blog which has been getting a little dusty of late: Kelvinwatch.
According to Roy Greenslade in his media blog on Guardian Unlimited (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2007/02/vote_vote_vote_for_kelvin_mack.html ), listeners are being asked to vote on who will be the guest male presenter of BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour" programme for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. The nominations are Kelvin MacKenzie; "Top Gear" presenter, Richard Hammond; & comedy writer Andy Hamilton.
Greenslade relates that each of the nominees makes a pitch on the "Woman's Hour" website for the prize. MacKenzie, Greenslade notes, "urges women to 'get back to the sink' and calls for more Woman's Hour features on the lines of 'How to make the dinner for your man when he comes home'. He wishes to confront the 'propaganda machine' which convinces women they are no longer slaves."
Hilarious, isn't it?
Greenslade also refers to MacKenzie's Hillsborough comments: "As Matthew Norman reminded us the other day, Kelvin 'is still unsure' whether he should apologise for his Hillsborough coverage. He remains, I suspect, as anti-Scouse as ever and cannot bring himself to say sorry to the city's people."
[Matthew Norman's diary piece can be found at: http://news.independent.co.uk/media/article2303477.ece .]
I've already left a comment to Greenslades posting, repeating the points I've made here previously about the sort of creature MacKenzie is as well as the BBC's decision to employ MacKenzie for a 5Live news review programme last Christmas.