Writer, opinionista, essayist, perfumista, picker-up of unconsidered trifles, contributor to all sorts and conditions of publication from the Daily Mail to New Humanist, devoté of Pliny Maior, author of The Chronicles of Bargepole, Big Babies and Lost Worlds, currently working with the great Mike Stoller (of Leiber & Stoller) on a musical about Oscar Wilde. Teach the occasional spot of Tragedy to keep my eye in. Pilot, harpsichordist, cook, photographer, red-hot lover  and self-deluding old goat.

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    The Idea of the University

    At one of our major redbrick universities, staff and students have demonstrated against the dismantling of education by the Condem Government. Peacefully. In one building, protesters kept away from one floor on which a seminar was going on as they didn't want to disturb it. They slept outside, in the near-freezing night.

    Students and staff alike have been disciplined. The University, acting as unpaid eager mouthpieces for the Condems, are planning to prosecute staff for trespass on the basis that the buildings are used for "commercial purposes" in the vacations.

    No wonder the word in Cambridge is that by 2020 it will be "an expensive vanity postgraduate school for Far Eastern students, with, possibly, a little liberal-arts academy tacked on the side". Nor that the (in effect) CEO of one of our greatest universities has described his job as "Like being in charge of ITU. You know the patient's had it. Your job is to make its death as painless and peaceful as possible".

    Over the last twenty years we've seen endless assaults on the British capacity for thinking stuff up -- about the only thing we have left. (On that subject, see Matthew Taylor's brilliant RSA animation.) It's been like a horrible gang rape. First Tony Blair slips the Rohypnol in the drink. Then Gordon Brown kicks us to the ground. And now we look up and there's Dave and Nick, glistening and red-faced, egging each other on. "Do it! Yah, just, y'know, DO it! Show the little scrubber who's boss!"

    (And what's little Ed -- v0.9B of an early Pod Person -- doing over in the corner, scrabbling at himself?)


    Security - The Answer

    (1) Sack the lot of them

    (2) Hire Bruce Schneier instead.

    (3) That's it.


    BANG! "Ooh quick - do something"


    Nothing to do with those sanctimonious notices on corporate emails saying "Please consider the environment before printing this email", which raises the question "Why would I want to print this gobbage?" or a brief consideration of the environment followed by a muttered "The environment's fucked already so another email will make no difference".

    Really. Did anyone ever decide, at the last minute, not to print something they really, really wanted to print because they suddenly considered the environment?

    But this is nothing to do with the environment. The reason you MUST NOT HIT PRINT is because there aren't going to be any printer toner cartridges any more because some splenetic bronze age goblin in the Yemen decided to make special exploding cartridges and send them off to his enemies.

    The response was predictable. A ban on airfreight from Sana'a (which the telly reporters couldn't be bothered to learn how to pronounce - that thing that looks like an apostrophe is there for a reason -  even though it's one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities, and one of its most beautiful too) and a ban on shipping toner cartridges by air. Oh, and a call for much more airport security kit by a man from a company which makes airport security kit. Hey-ho for editorial objectivity.


    The ban on airfreighting toner cartridges pushes the idea of security theatre close, surely, to the point where people must see it for what it is. It's hard to believe people will be so thick as to think "Well, that'll put a spoke in al-Qa'eda's wheel".

    As for banning airfreight out of Yemen... Were I a military strategist and I really wanted to go for the Big One I might well want to create a bottleneck.  Close Yemen, close Somalia, close as many places as I could, then concentrate my firepower on the inadequately-defended, over-stretched ones that remain.

    Or does the old joke -- "But zat's exzecktly vot zey EXPECT us to do!" -- no longer apply?

    It's not the particulars. It's the general tenor of our responses to terrorism (NB: not "terror". They're terrorists, yes. But I'm not experiencing terror. Are you experiencing terror? Thought not).  They just seem all too often irrational.

    In the meantime, DON'T HIT PRINT.  Or you'll run out of toner and there'll be no more for weeks.  Or perhaps you've already got a moody one installed.

    Hit Cmd-P

    Click OK



    Work, improved

    The world's best writing software just got better. The remarkable Keith Blount, schoolmaster-turned-novelist-turned-programmer-because-he-couldn't-write-his-novel-because-he-didn't-really-like-any-of-the-existing-software-so-he-had-to-teach-himself-to-program-and-write-his-own-from-scratch (oh, THAT old story) has just released Scrivener 2.0 and you need it.

    But curious: software applications, which engage much of our attention, much of the time, never get reviewed in the mainstream media.  Which is odd. And I wonder why. Is it just that there's no accepted aesthetics (or indeed ethics) of software? Or is it the belief that it would be the thin end of the wedge and, before we knew it, they'd be reviewing architecture and even, god help us, engineering.

    Yet think about (a) how often you buy; (b) how much time you spend engaged with; and (c) how much you spend on:

    (1) Your car

    (2) Your computer.

    So where's the Clarkson of software?


    No Smoking, Or Anything Else Either, Possibly

    An old friend, a Catholic priest, once told me that the trouble with the English in confession is they'd sneak some terrible mortal sin into the middle of an interminable list of peccadilloes in the hope that the chap on the other side of the grille would have nodded off or returned to his novel of suspense.

    How unlike the drug companies.  Last week I decided to stop smoking. It's just become too damned sleazy and downmarket.  Once, every cigarette I lit was the beginning of a new movie, starring me.  The world was softened, and I glamourised, in the blue chiaroscuro. The cigarette was something to offer to start a conversation; something to light to initiate a seduction (what do women wait for now, as they once waited for their Du Maurier to be lit by a competitive rattle of Dunhills and Duponts?); something to share in the desultory paradisial afterglow, the smoke rising like Donne's conjoined hands and spirits:


    Our soules, (which to advance their state,

    Were gone out,) hung 'twixt her, and mee.

    And whil'st our soules negotiate there,

    Wee like sepulchrall statues lay...


    But that was before it gave you cancer.  Now every fag I light irrevocably aligns me with the porkers and the scrawns, the weasel-headed cheap-suit middle-of-the-litter runts, those Steves and Debbies shuddering outside Goods Inward, a thin slick of drizzle-slicked hair gel glistening on their pale sloping foreheads, poor buggers as they are.  Every time I fill my pipe (which once magically turned me into a philosopher, into Douglas Bader, into Bertrand Russell, into The Vicar) I become a stinking bore who knows everything and has done nothing ("No no, I think you'll find if I'm not much mistaken...").  Every time I light a cigar I feel myself turning, not into Fidel Castro nor even Winston Churchill, but, inexplicably, into Alan Sugar.

    The glamour has gone, along with Royal Yacht and Exmoor Hunt and Passing Clouds and Wills' Whiffs and Gold Flake. Fribourg & Treyer is now a tacky tourist shop. A decent meerschaum is not to be had. Smoking now has all the panache of an industrial enema.

    It had to stop.

    So they gave me Champix, which is a very odd name for a drug. Made by Pfizer, who know what they're doing. They patented Calone, that horrid smell of laundry in Cool Water, Erolfa etc: the world's first great anaphrodisiac. Then they invented Viagra, to get round the Calone problem. Now they've leapt on the cigarette, the greatest seduction device in history. Fair enough.

    But then I read their confession. The side effects. Depression, anger, emotional lability, vivid/bizarre dreams, hostility, hermit-like withdrawal, suicidal ideation: so far, so much like everyday life.  But there hidden in the list of mortal dangers is the venial but catastrophic one:


    Everything else I can easily tolerate. But flatulence? We'll have to see.