Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Strolling up Brushfield Street this morning I encountered a figure synonymous with the festive season. Somewhat overweight, ruddy of complexion, dressed in a brightly-coloured, hooded ensemble and replete with a bulging sack, he was a sign, along with the advent of colder weather and the promise of snow, that Christmas was upon us. Darren, temporary postal worker, and patron saint of misdelivered cheques, was here! As I approached he was folding Christmas cards and complimentary calendars in order to stuff them unceremoniously through the wrong letterbox.

"Anything there for Handles with Care?" I asked him. After sifting through his hefty bundle he handed me a wad of envelopes none of which were addressed to me. My heart thus warmed like a Yule log I waited until he was out of sight - not wanting to imply that he was in any way incompetent - before redistributing the letters correctly.

* * *

Work on "The Recognitions" continues. The section I've just completed had more than a whiff of Grace Metalious melodrama about it, with nary a diversion from the thrust of the story. I am pleased that Recktall Brown, whose name is presumably a disgusting pun, has reappeared. He's a corpulent, Truman Capote-style Mephistopheles, and as compellingly black-hearted a villain as I've encountered in fiction. There's still a long way to go.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Enjoy The Silence

It's 1989, late summer. Ben and I are driving too fast along the B158 . It's one in the morning. I'm a little intoxicated and we're listening to "Violator". Childhood is receding. College, and all of its complications lie ahead, just around the next sharp bend. In the small red vehicle, hurtling across country, we are young and invincible.

Then it's spring in Prague, a couple of years later. Unexpectedly homeless I pretend to sleep in the waiting room of the Old Town railway station, sunglasses on, guitar held close like a tearful girlfriend, twitching at every shriek from every passing lunatic, vagrant and drunk. The cleaning staff ignore me. Perched on their carts are transistor radios, ancient clunky looking things which only seem to play the early hits of Depeche Mode.

Sorry Nancy, that's all I've got.

Lessons From Antiquity

"Happiness writes white." So said Henri de Montherlant . De Montherlant was a pederast with Nazi sympathies who killed himself in his seventies, so presumably the words flowed pretty freely. People tend only to remember him for this nifty little maxim, however, which will outlast the rest of his oeuvre and also perhaps the millions of words committed to paper by his more respectable contemporaries.

I'm in a good mood. Because it isn't yesterday; a day which was punctuated by disappointments, setbacks, reversals, third-party moaning and stress headaches. No-one wants to hear about that of course. Nothing's guaranteed to make you switch off quicker than someone else's tale of woe. Except perhaps someone giving you directions. Unless you can infuse your story with a heap of comic irony.

So yesterday a heavily pregnant woman 'phoned me every ten minutes for several hours to find out when her delivery would arrive. The delivery turned up while she was on the 'phone. She was not appeased.

"I've had to call twenty-five or thirty times to sort this out."

In truth that first 'phone call, the one where she found out that the goods were going to be with her on time and as promised would probably have satisfied most people.

No comic irony there, then.

I booked a courier at quarter-to-four to collect by five o' clock. I had decorating to finish at home so I was keen to get out on time. At quarter-past six, having been on hold for twenty minutes I'm told that my collection isn't going to happen because of an account query that has mysteriously arisen in the last two-and-a-half hours.

See? Not funny.

And in between I drifted from disaster to disaster like Candide, but without a friendly mentor to remind me that it was all for the best.

Today everything's copacetic¹, and even if it weren't I'd scarcely notice, because it's not yesterday.

I intend to spend this afternoon antiquing. It's soothing and makes me feels like a proper artisan. For the uninitiated the process consists of taking this:-

staining it with a tourmaline solution until it looks like this:-

Before relieving the surface back using a household cleaner (I prefer the lemon-scented variety) until you get this:-

Don't listen to dead French dudes. Happiness is an artfully antiqued doorknob.

¹In addition to the acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Boston Red Sox reasons to be cheerful include the arrival of my T.M.... sorry, my daughter's T.M.X. Tickle Me Elmo in the post, Monty Panesar's Ashes debut and an invitation to free drinks at the Spitalfields Christmas do next Thursday. Hoorah for me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why I Don't Write About Sports

At about a quarter to five, one Saturday afternoon in May, things started to go wrong. Lionel Scaloni didn't kick the ball into row Z, Steven Gerrard scored a thoroughly predictable wondergoal; extra time, penalties, and the end of West Ham's FA Cup dream.

Up until that point things were looking good. There was the World Cup to look forward to, and an England team never better placed to win it all again. Our incumbent champions at fifteen-a-side were rebuilding, Jonny Wilkinson was uninjured. The Ashes rested safe in NW8.

It's all turned to shit now, of course. West Ham are sure to be relegated, John Terry's boys will fail to qualify for Euro 2008, we won't make the semis in France next year, and the Ashes are as good as lost.

Sport is depressing, and writing about it doesn't help. If it's a kind of proxy war then it's one where you're always, eventually, on the losing side. Unless you're Brazilian, or Australian. We're tribal creatures, I suppose, and we attach part of ourselves, the part that's intricately interwoven with our self-esteem, to these players and these teams. And most of the time they lose.

It struck me as curious that although sport is a big part of my life, as a spectator, and only occasionally a participant nowadays, I never feel driven to express what I feel about it. And now I know why. It's depressing, and it's incredibly difficult not to talk in clich├ęs, because that's how we tend to process sporting information. And I read a lot of websites that are written about sport, and most of them do it better than I could.

My name is Tom Miles. I am not a sportswriter.