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 Bells, the Bells

    A cute little word, "tinnitus", masking a jangling, buzzing, screeching horror which can distort and obliterate the aural world and drive sufferers to the brink of suicide and beyond. If it's bad for everyone, it's even more dreadful for musicians. Composer Michael Berkeley writes movingly in The Guardian of Beethoven's deafness and tinnitus, and of his own, hopefully transient.

    What he doesn't mention is that his other great skill is also modulated through hearing. Berkeley is a remarkable interviewer, as anyone who has heard his Private Passions programme on BBC Radio 3 will know. I had the good luck to be one of his guests on the programme and it was in some ways a chastening experience. Most writers, of any sort, are pretty well-guarded people. That's why we chuck our rocks from behind the parapet and avoid direct confrontation with the world. But Berkeley managed to make me cast aside my shell for a bit. To my surprise, my main emotion was relief that I'd been able to drop the act and speak honestly.

    How does he do it? I'm not sure -- but I think the trick isn't a trick at all. I think he just listens, and is interested in what he hears. Simple. But not many people can do it. May he return to whatever the aural equivalent of 20/20 vision is, and soon.


    Mists, Season Of: See under Frutifulness, Mellow

    Incidentally, the article Askwith was after was in praise of September. It came off the pen with remarkable ease and speed, I made my flight with time to spare, and I liked the result.
    And then the world turns. On the 23rd of September, the Equinox. Day and night in perfect balance, then toppling irrevocably towards winter. But for the moment, we are suspended in light and abundance: the locus refrigerii, lucis et pacis of the Lapidary prayers, the place of refreshment, of light and peace.

    It's here.


    Spooks, not

    On the subject of spies, for very secret reasons I find myself needing to prove that I am not one. I cannot disclose why this should be, because it's secret, but listen up:

    I have a secret life. I am a spy. I work, secretly of course, for MI6, or the British Secret Intelligence Service -- SIS, as we secretly call it in the spying business of which, being a spy, I am secretly a part. Spy? Me? Hell, yes.

    There. That should prove I'm not one. I mean, would SIS really let me admit in in public if I were a spook?

    Of course not.

    Although that might be just what I want you to think. Or what they want me to want you to think I want you to think. This being-a-spy lark is not as straightforward, accountable and transparent as you'd imagine.

    And I should know, being a spy and all.


    The Editor and the Backbeat

    Back home, out the the butcher's, against the clock, early flight, lots to do, phone rings, it's The Independent, am I busy at the moment? Sort of. Oh; but did I feel like doing, er, something? Like what? "Like writing an article for the newspaper," says the voice patiently. The voice belongs to Richard Askwith, fell-runner, man of steel, author of Feet in the Clouds. And editor.

    Editors don't get the props but they make all the difference. With a good editor, it's a dialogue. May be short ("The second bit is lousy") or long-winded, but, as the guy on the keyboard end of the process, working with a good editor is like working with a really good drummer. The tempo is right, the backbeat is there, the timbre is spot on, and you can wander off-line secure in the knowledge that you'll be pulled back if it goes too far.

    Like a good drummer, too, they're unobtrusive in the finished product. Think of Phil Collins. Not like that. Now think of Russ Kunkel or (never mind Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover) Steve Gadd, or Jeff Porcaro. You don't quite notice they're there but you'd by God notice if they weren't.

    Askwith is one of the very best editors I've ever worked with. He has the manner of a scholarly 18th-century clergyman (the sort who'd turned down a Fellowship at All Soul's to marry his childhood sweetheart) but stick a blue pencil in his hand and he turns into Robert Liston, the surgeon renowned for precision and swiftness who managed to achieve a mortality rate of 300% in one operation. (Killed his assistant on the backstroke, his patient on the foreswing, and an observer so horrified that he dropped dead of a heart attack. As is my understanding.)

    Askwith will be dismayed that I've mentioned him. There are others I could mention, but he was the one who just brought it to mind. Tough. Being an editor is supposed to be a backroom job. Celebrating them is like outing spies. But, like spies, they do make the difference. In newspapers, in magazines, in books, in film and television, the person who ensures that the stuff the customer gets is, at least, okay is the editor. Getting rid of them, or thinking that a smart kid with a copy of InDesign or Final Cut Pro is the same thing, is a big category mistake. And one we seem to be getting rather fond of.

    Here's an idea, though, for laid-off editors. Band together and set up a business. Editing blogger. God knows, they need it. (I include, of course, myself.)


    Life after death

    The Poet Ian Patterson tells me that when Peter Ackroyd was writing The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, he said he'd been taken over by the ghost of Oscar and started writing like him. I have been having the same experience.  Does that mean (a) Wilde is a genius who infects us by a kind of spooky metempsychosis, (b) we have exquisite sensibilities and can don Oscar like a frill-collared too too utterly velvet doublet, or (c) Oscar was really a one-trick pony -- a single rhetorical schema and a master of just one trope of paradox -- who's so easy to pastiche it's impossible not to do it?