Wednesday, 25 April, 2012

With the Olympics drawing nearer by the day, interest in the host city is at a new high, which means that John Lanchester has picked the perfect time to issue his latest novel, Capital. When we first meet Usman Kamal in the book, he’s assisting his brother, Ahmed, who runs a shop at the end […]

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Saint Brigid’s Day

Wednesday, 1 February, 2012

Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dúl chun shíneadh, Is tar eis na féil Bríde ardóigh mé mo sheol. So wrote Raftery (1779-1835), the last of the Gaelic-order poets. His beautiful verse here says that spring is coming and the days will begin to lengthen, so he’s going to move out in the world […]

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Dickensian London and the author’s inner child

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012

Dickens’s Victorian London is a collection of 19th-century photographs that has been published by the Museum of London to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. This picture shows London Bridge, teeming with vehicles and pedestrians in 1875.

The London of Dickens

The book accompanies the Museum’s current exhibition on the writer’s life. One remarkable image, a Fox Talbot picture from 1841, is thought to be the earliest existing photograph of the Thames. It provides a view of Westminster, with no Houses of Parliament and no Big Ben. When we do see the river, it appears with not a single duck, cormorant or coot in sight because the water was simply too filthy. Dickens’s Victorian London was an industrious, dynamic place, but it was also a dirty, dangerous city, where children were as likely to die as survive. It was the city of Oliver Twist. But it was not all grim as the late, great Christopher Hitchens explained in his final essay, “Charles Dickens’s Inner Child“. Snippet:

“It is all there to emphasize the one central and polar and critical point that Dickens wishes to enjoin on us all: WHATEVER YOU DO — HANG ON TO YOUR CHILDHOOD! He was true to this in his fashion, both in ways that delight me and in ways that do not. He loved the idea of a birthday celebration, being lavish about it, reminding people that they were once unborn and are now launched.”


Thursday, 5 January, 2012

The bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens falls on 7 February. No other author had such a gift for literary entertainment on so vast a human scale. The Rainy Day favourite Dickens novel is David Copperfield and among the quotable gems is this observation by Wilkins Micawber, which is so apt for 21st-century leaders of debt-laden countries: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Welch & Rawlings

Saturday, 3 December, 2011 0 Comments

With the light, dry wit that marks his superb musical criticism, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times recently wrote, “Gillian Welch’s European tour, which ended in London this week, will not have been a bonanza for local haulage firms and roadies.” Hunter-Tilney was watching Welch and David Rawlings in action at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the “show” consisted of two performers, two acoustic guitars and two pairs of microphone stands. “As stage shows go, it is austere in the extreme,” he noted. And the music? “To become disenchanted you must once have been enchanted,” he observed. “That was precisely the state of mind that Welch’s and Rawlings’s masterly performance provoked.” This is great music making.


Thursday, 1 December, 2011 0 Comments

“Please could you get me a quote responding to this specifically and a more general one saying what you think it will achieve. As I said we will be publishing the piece at 14.30 GMT so a quick response would be appreciated.”

That’s how “doorstepping” (cornering somebody for an unexpected interview) is done by e-mail. Even though the sender is a journalist with a “quality” newspaper and although he uses the word “please”, the naked threat is conveyed by the formulation “we will be publishing the piece at 14.30 GMT so a quick response would be appreciated”. In other words, we’re going to press with this regardless of what you say.

In its “Editorial Guidelines“, the BBC elaborates upon doorstepping thus: “Any proposal to doorstep, whether in person or on the phone, where we have tried to make an appointment for an interview with the individual or organisation concerned must be approved by a senior editorial figure or, for independents, by the commissioning editor.”

How does approval by “a senior editorial figure” or by “the commissioning editor” turn an invasion of privacy in something beneficial for the public? What extraordinary moral standing do these people possess that renders a questionable practice acceptable? If “a senior editorial figure” called Jack tells a reporter called Jill to doorstep a person called Di, is that OK then?

In the relatively courteous 1960s, an inexperienced John Simpson attempted to doorstep Harold Wilson at a railway station. The pipe-smoking British Prime Minister rewarded him with a sharp punch to the stomach.

The biter got bitten in the early 1990s when Lorraine Heggessey of the BBC doorstepped the doorstepping reporter Roger Cook over allegedly dodgy reporting tactics he had used during a show on Arthur Scargill. She then chased him down the road shouting, legend has it, “Answer the question, you fat bastard!”

But in Ireland, where different standards apply, some of the doorstepped were willing to go beyond epithets and punches. In “Veronica Guerin: The Life and Death of a Crime Reporter“, Emily O’Reilly recounts that, “Throughout her time in journalism, she doorstepped politicians, the child of a politician, crime victims, armed robbers, murderers, suspected murderers…” On 26 June 1996, when Veronica Guerin stopped at a red traffic light on the outskirts of Dublin, she was shot dead by an armed man on a motorcycle.

Tomorrow, here, victim impact statements.