The end of the typewriter

“It saddens me that Brother has packed up shop, but the last typewriter to roll off its very truncated production line was an electric model. I did enjoy the strange ultrasonic hum of my mother’s Brother electric in the 1970s, but while I may have begun typing at around this time, when I first began to seriously produce fiction on a typewriter it was on a manual — my by then late mother’s own Olivetti Lettera 22, which she brought with her from the US when she emigrated in the late 1950s.

In defence of the Shard

A peek with our digital stepladder over the Times paywall to see some of what Will Self wrote about Renzo Piano’s Shard in London:

“At dinner with a table of design professionals, including Terence Conran, I found myself defending the Shard, the 1,000ft incisor of a building currently being implanted in the rotten old gums of the Thames’s banks to the immediate south of London Bridge. Not just defending the Shard but positively eulogising it, while my companions appeared suitably bemused. They – and you – might well have suspected that I’d be agin’ the thing, as an example of all that’s fatuously overblown in the modern urban environment.

A mountain of Montaigne

There’s a short, edited version of Will Self’s recent talk on Montaigne at the Institut français that can be seen here. There’s also a write-up of the event at the Literateur here.

Self recently wrote about a trip to the remote Orkney island of Rousay “fleeing a broken marriage and the physical objects of my addiction – if not the psychic furies that screamed attendance on them” and how he ended up reading Montaigne’s Essays for the first time. Here’s a little peak over the Times paywall:

Rap decoded

A few peeks over Murdoch’s paywall to see what Will Self made of Decoded by Jay-Z and The Anthology of Rap edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois:

“I well remember hearing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message for the first time released in the United States and the UK in 1982, it charted here in August and got some airplay for a while before dropping out of earshot (although Stateside it went platinum in a month). At the time I had an early-adopting friend who earnestly assured me, while wearing a capsleeve T-shirt, that this was the shape of things to come. I didn’t think his taste in singles quite as laughable as his singlet, but nevertheless disputed it. However, nigh on 30 years later he’s been more than vindicated, for if any genre of popular music can claim to be a global soundtrack it’s rap, and if any popular art form can be said to have been genuinely influential on mainstream culture then it’s hip-hop.”

Memories of Beryl Bainbridge

In the 1970s my mother did book production at Duckworth’s, the publishers in Camden Town where Beryl Bainbridge had once worked and which had published her first novels.

Colin Haycraft, the Duckworth’s supremo, was an emollient, cigar-smoking figure in a tweed jacket his wife Anna (the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis) was stylishly Gothic in dark, stretchy clothing. I did part-time work packing books at the octagonal Old Piano Factory in Gloucester Crescent where Duckworth’s had its premises.

Teach us to Sit Still – it’s the real thing

Teach us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing by Tim Parks, Harvill Secker, £12.99

Do I have to say this? Yes, I suppose I ought: Tim Parks‘s digressive memoir of his debilitating but ultimately life-affirming struggle with pelvic pain made me leak a few tears, guffaw a lot, and besides quietly instructing me in some fresh perspectives – on such matters as Samuel Beckett and Buddhism (and that’s only the Bs) – ultimately taught me an eminently practical lesson about coping with age and mortality. Must I utter the blurbish cliché? Why the hell not: Teach us to Sit Still made me laugh it made me cry and it made me seriously think about taking up Vipassana meditation.

On Evil by Terry Eagleton

In March I was on the panel for an edition of Question Time filmed in Canary Wharf. The big news that week — I say “big” but “awful” might be more accurate — was that Jon Venables, one of the ten-year-old boys convicted in 1993 for the murder of the toddler James Bulger, had broken the terms under which he had been released on licence and was being returned to jail. Now we have the further atrocity exhibition of two boys — aged 10 and 11 — convicted of an attempted rape on an eight-year-old girl. With such crimes as these, surely — we must collectively ask ourselves — it becomes possible to explain them only by positing the existence of some exceptional depths of inner darkness?

The planet after humans

It’s a measure of how our conceptions of Eden have done an abrupt 180-degree handbrake turn that Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us should have become a bestseller. This thought experiment, imagining what a post-human world might be like — and how quickly Mummy Gaia would recover from the depredations of her wayward sons and daughters — ended up being advertised on the Tube. As you descended the escalator into the frowsty netherworld, you could feast your eyes on the book’s cover image: Nelson’s Column entwined in a bushy convolvulus while the admiral’s stony gaze surveyed a tree canopy undulating towards the horizon.

A review of the Ivy

A review from the Times from December 2007, in its way the opposite of the Real Meals concept from the New Statesman:

There are London restaurants where having a well-known name secures you a table at short notice – and then there’s the Ivy. The Ivy plights its troth on being wedded to notoriety. It’s the kind of restaurant that, if it could, would tear itself from its foundations and heave across town to squeeze into the Big Brother house, before happily having sex on camera with the Wolseley or Scott’s. If you’re bridge-and-tunnel folk – snob Manhattan-speak for suburbanites – then you haven’t a hope in hell of reserving a table at the Ivy unless you call weeks, if not months, in advance. But if they know who you are, you can be magically seated.

Bergson grants

The Times recently asked Will Self “What would you do if you were Culture Secretary?”, and this is what he said:

“There’s too much substandard art, and while not going to the lengths of Goering and reaching for my gun at the sound of the word ‘culture’, it’s difficult not to want to shoot the numskulls, hacks, wannabes and no-hopers responsible for it. Henri Bergson thought that aspiring writers should be offered grants to persuade them not to write. A discriminating culture secretary should offer a whole range of Bergson grants to artists, writers, film-makers and theatrical impresarios to encourage them not to produce. True, it would cost a lot of money to get Andrew Lloyd Webber to not open a new musical, but it would be money well spent.”