Archive for April, 2011
If you’re anything like me, you’re not particularly interested in the royal wedding. Perhaps you have republican leanings, or you can’t bear the mawkishness of it all, or you disapprove of the terrible waste of money. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that this cloud has a silver lining – it has presented the nation with a golden opportunity to have some fun. Let’s face it, an opportunity to have a prank in the glare of the world’s media doesn’t come along very often. And the nation’s satirists and lampooners have been rising to the occasion with gusto.
To begin with, we had the Royal Wedding Sick Bag, available in letterbox scarlet, royal blue and gold (limited edition). This was followed by – to graze just the very tip of the iceberg – a book of irreverent lookalike photographs by Alison Jackson called Kate and Wills up the Aisle, and a report on thespoof.com that the happy couple intend to tie the knot wearing “full nuclear radiation protection” as a gesture of solidarity with the Japanese. And it’s even rumoured that the Little Britain team is planning to stage an alternative ceremony, with Matt Lucas playing Kate Middleton.
But no spoof piqued global interest quite as much as the Jewish Chronicle’s deadpan story which ran on the festival of Purim (where Jews get drunk to commemorate the execution of a malevolent Persian minister, four hundred years before Christ). Kate and Wills, the Chronicle reported, are planning to acknowledge “the multi-cultural nature of modern British society” in their nuptials. While the ceremony will be “completely Anglican in nature,” the happy couple will smear “mehendi” paste on each other in accordance with Muslim tradition, then, following Hindu custom, offer each other a “morsel of food”. Finally, the Chronicle quipped, the prince will “smash a glass with his foot” in a nod to the Jewish tradition.
The response to this nugget of foolishness was extraordinary. News outlets all around the world took it seriously, including Israel’s leading broadsheet, Ha’aretz (who, red-faced, have since removed the report from their website). Meanwhile, the Twitterverse took the ball and ran with it. Wiccans demanded a human sacrifice in Trafalgar Square; Jedis suggested that Charles lop off Wills’ hand with a light sabre; and Pastafarians – devotees of Dawkins’s Flying Spaghetti Monster – began lobbying for a “traditional” pasta-based feast.
All great fun, of course, but for my wife and me the Jewish Chronicle touched a nerve. Read the rest of the article on the New Humanist website
7:45-930pm, entry £5
“You bring a book and we bring the tea and cake, and people pitch for books that they like the sound of. And brilliant authors talk, and also pitch a book that they like but want to swap, etc – and no one goes home empty handed. It’s a literary event but a lot more fun.”
“Jake Wallis Simons – novelist, journalist and broadcaster – saw his latest novel sell out within 4 days of its publication this month, prompting an urgent reprint. He joins us to talk about that, the iPhone’s predictive text functionality and the many uses for a Swiss Army Knife.
What made you realise you were a writer?
About two years ago, everything seemed to be going badly. A chain of unfortunate events meant that I lost my agent, and the novel that I had been working on for years seemed to be falling apart. To add to the pressure, I had an 18-month-old baby and my wife found out she was pregnant with twins. At that point I considered my options, and realised that I was unqualified, both in terms of my experience and my disposition, to be anything other than a writer.
So I gritted my teeth, steeled myself, and slowly but surely waded out of the mire. Two years on, my luck seems to be changing. But it was only when I was forced to consider another vocation that I realised that I was cursed – or blessed – to be a writer, no matter what.”
Here’s a teaser for you. Of the following six countries, which will have the fastest population growth between now and 2050 — China, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Iceland or Norway? I’d be willing to bet that your answer is wrong. But then, I’ve got an unfair advantage. I’ve just had a conversation with Laurence C. Smith, dashing Arctic adventurer and professor of earth and space sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I meet Smith over a coffee in Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell. His new book, The New North: The World in 2050, demonstrates a remarkable knack for divining global megatrends from the stuff of daily life. It seems this is a man to whom the world whispers its secrets. So a simple question first. When he looks around this room — this typical London room — what does it tell him?
Smith weighs his cardboard coffee cup in his hands. “First, I see oil,” he says. “I’m drinking oil as I sip coffee from my cup.” How so? “Oil fuels 99 per cent of our transportation and is an essential ingredient of nearly everything we make. Our food is grown with it, our plastics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals and millions of other products derive from it. Without oil, this coffee wouldn’t exist.”
OK, that’s cute. What else? “I see water,” he says mysteriously. “Or, to put it another way, I see virtual water. Virtual water looks like coffee, or cardboard, or cotton, or cookies. It is embedded in almost everything. Water is in this coffee and this cup. It was vital to produce the floorboards beneath our feet; it made the electricity that powers the lights, and the shirt I am wearing.
“Entire oceans, such as the Aral sea in Central Asia, have been sucked dry to grow our cotton. Water is one of the reasons why the northernmost countries are in the ascendence.”
Thus we have arrived at Smith’s big prophetic idea: the “Northern Rim Countries” or “NORCs” — Canada, the state of Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Russia — will be the dominant powers of tomorrow.
As you read this, far away in the suburbs of Buenos Aries, a writer prepares to mark his 100th birthday. Unable to walk, unable even to speak, he is confined to what will almost certainly become his deathbed. But, still being in possession of a lucid mind, he is aware that this week his first book, which he wrote in 1948, will appear as a Penguin Classic in bookshops across the UK. It is a short, existentialist novel about the confession of a murderer, picked out in stinting prose. When it was first published in English, in 1950, it was entitled The Outsider.
Much to my regret, I am not bringing to you the scoop that Albert Camus is still alive. (The fatal car accident in Burgundy in 1960 was precisely that.) Rather, the writer I am referring to is Ernesto Sábato, one of the grand old men of Argentinian literature. Soon after his publishers realised their woeful oversight, they rechristened his first novel The Tunnel — the name by which it is still known today.
Strangely enough, the bizarre overlap with Camus’ masterpiece turned out to be as appropriate as it was unintended. The Tunnel became widely viewed as the Latin American existentialist novel, and the relationship between Sábato and Camus was one of mutual respect. Indeed, Camus was instrumental in The Tunnel being published in France. In an unpublished letter to Sábato he wrote:
“Dear Sir, I thank you for your letter and your novel … I loved its arid intensity … I hope that The Tunnel will achieve the success in France that it deserves … with my fraternal best wishes, Albert Camus.”
Four days after The English German Girl went on sale, it was announced that the entire first print-run had sold out. Hugh Andrew, Managing Director of Polygon Books, said: “this shows not only that The English German Girl is an excellent and moving read, but also that as we approach a time when there will no longer be any Holocaust survivors living, there is a renewed interest in the Kindertransport.” A second edition is currently being printed.
At the launch party last night, Jake Wallis Simons paid tribute to the Kindertransport survivors who were present before reading a moving extract from the book which described the moment that the protagonist, Rosa Klein, said goodbye to her parents for the last time.
The afterparty took place at Home House in Portman Square, Marylebone.
Last week my daughter, who is three years old, went to play at a friend’s house. When she returned, she was in a mood that can only be described as Satanic. After an hour or so, thankfully, she recovered. The cause? While I thought that she and her friend had been digging for worms in the garden, in actual fact, she told me, they had spent the whole day cooped up in front of the TV.
As it turned out, her friend’s mother had been busy, so she had used the “goggle box” (as my mother calls it) as a mechanical baby-sitter. To some extent, this was understandable. Which parent isn’t familiar with the strategic deployment of CBeebies? But for an entire day? No wonder my daughter was in a monster grump.
“Well-researched and very moving. A fine tribute to the bravery of the Kindertransport.” (the Times)
The Times reviews The English German Girl: “One morning in 1933, Dr Otto Klein is told that he may no longer have contact with patients because he is Jewish. He’s unfazed. “Almost 50 per cent of doctors in Berlin are of Jewish origin. They can’t do without us.” But over the years the family loses more and more.
Fighting to survive, they put 15-year-old Rosa on a Kindertransport train, to begin a new life in England. The distant cousins who are sponsoring her speak no German and were expecting her little sister; “Aunt Mimi” does not want a grown girl near her teenage son.
This well-researched and very moving novel is dedicated to the children of the Kindertransport and is a fine tribute to their bravery.” Visit the website
Review from Love Reading: “I was reminded very much of Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray when following Jake Wallis Simons’ heroine Rosa Klein. The background of Jewish suffering is every bit as compelling as Schindler’s List.
The English German Girl follows Rosa as her despairing parents manage to find her a place on one of the last Kindertransports to leave Berlin. It is a story powerfully told, demanding your complete attention, involving you in a story of heartbreak, love and loss as Rosa attempts to make a life and career for herself alone in this new bewildering country of Britain. It’s a film waiting to happen, although so vivid is Jake Wallis Simons’ description and attention to detail, I feel I’ve seen it already. If you only read one novel this year, make it this one.”
From Love Reading