Friday, 23 September 2011

Ten ways of saying it

 On the off chance that readers, of these sometimes visited pages, should wish to express their opinions more widely, I’m pleased to share a few tips; for gaining column inches, within the national press. Before I do, though, I’d like to, by relating my own experience, explode the myth that getting a short letter published is particularly difficult. I began submitting, to the UK’s Metro newspaper, nigh on four years ago and in the space of three years, my words appeared within its pages, on more than forty occasions. It could, then, reasonably be assumed that I’d bombarded the editor with emails, at an alarming rate; but not so. My rate of submission had, actually, been in the region of two or three per week, combined with long periods of inactivity, and the average would probably be one letter every two weeks. It is, perhaps, not a bad strike rate, but that may have a great deal to do with my having cottoned on to a formula. Learn how to submit, I suggest, and you’re more than half way there.

 Anyway, at risk of being seen to 'blow my own trumpet' (which is, of course, the case, but, I hope  this article helps others get themselves‘heard’), here’s some advice and a few examples:


1) Be outspoken….Twelve months on, I’m less certain, but, this was my view at the time; so I felt compelled to make the point explicitly and challenge a long held convention. I may have been right, or quite possibly wrong, but, either way, I questioned established thinking and that, I imagine, was the editor’s reason for publication.


2) Use wordplay…I was keen to have a dig at Top Gear, largely because of my unswerving belief that the programme trivialises the issue of road safety. Merely stating this, however, would, I suspect, not have been enough; so humour and wordplay are well deployed in such situations. It may also be beneficial when we call to account public figures who are, themselves, notoriously outspoken!


3) Sarcasm....Everyone loves a bit of it, don’t they, as long as it’s well directed?.. and of course, America’s least admired president has long been a sitting duck! Go for it, I say, when it’s deserved, because there are few better ways to deride an unworthy leader. Clearly, the editor agreed, judging by the accompanying photograph!



4) Innuendo and double entendre...There’s a reason the Carry On films remain popular and that’s presumably because most people like something a bit saucy. If you can extend it, to make an additional assertion (in this case, the suggestion that such scenarios are frankly ludicrous), then the chance of publication may be further increased.


5) Expose a contradiction….When the words of government ministers are contrary to their activities, it needs, in the public interest, to be highlighted. Be vigilant and you may even glean an opportunity to support one of the world’s great campaigners.



6) Dreadful jokes….Real groan-along humour is clearly a precious commodity, at least, to the folk at Metro and if you can come up with something not fit even for a Christmas cracker, then all the better!



7) Have a go at the Pope....You know you want to!...and with apologies to any Catholic readers, it's all fair comment


8) Don’t be afraid of the dark….There are, of course, issues that no one could enjoy thinking about; yet, addressing them is vital, if we are to live in a better world. Spare a moment to think about matters, literally, of life and death and send in your thoughts. To quote Kitchener “your country needs you”, as, I suggest, does the world!



9) Challenge the overly faithful

Opinions based on anything other than reason are easily challenged. Use your rationality to get into print. It’s one of the easiest ways.



10) Be downright infantile!

Need I say more?

....although, of course, I will! Further to this, keep it succinct and write much as it would trip from the tongue. That way, you, too, can make your, perhaps unexceptional, yet valuable thoughts known, to millions!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Do the honourable members wish to comment?

Disappointed to hear Owen Paterson, on last night’s ‘Question Time’, adopt the most common stance, of MPs, when Iraq is mentioned. How often is it said that time will tell?... the proof-of-the-pudding argument, that seeks to brush a concern, in the minds of many, under the carpet, faster than one can say carnage. It’s a well devised response; there to divert our attention, from the true injustice of war, by proffering only two avenues, of thought; that if Iraq thrives, the intervention should be considered admirable and if it does not, foolish. Devised, I suggest, to preclude concern, for the unwarring victim. Estimates, of civilian casualties, in the Iraq conflict, vary; most being between 100,000 and 600,000. But time is the politician’s friend. Images tend to fade. Newspapers are recycled, to save the world, and economic concerns pushed, to the fore. Then, hey presto!...a shiny new democracy, where once was repression; yet, let the stories, of collateral families, be told and their demise subvert the politician’s crown, of success.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pop goes the poetic!

During a trip down music’s memory lane; calling at all stations, including Billy Joel; Elton John and Blondie (well, mixed metaphors are in keeping with this, so please stick with it!), the following lyrical incongruities emerged…

Billy Joel (Just the Way You Are)..... ‘I don’t want clever conversation, I never want to work that hard, I just want someone that I can talk to, I want you just the way you are’….surely, this fairly translates as ‘I’ll stick with you because you’re too thick to answer back’ (great tune though Billy!)

Blondie (Picture This)...... ‘I will give  you my finest hour, the one I spent watching you shower’...…..flaming peroxide!...their water bill must be astronomical and then there's the electricity to consider!

The Real Thing (You to me are Everything)  ‘So now you’ve got the best of me, come on and take the rest of me'...  clearly a thrilling voyage of discovery ahead, for the object of someone's affection

Further to this, Elton may guess that’s why they call it the blues, but I wish he’d let us in on the secret, ’cause  I must have heard it a hundred times and I’m none the wiser. 

As for 'More than Words' by Extreme... ‘Saying I love you is not the words I want to hear from you’… and further on….'More than words is all you have to do…’...well, I don't mean to be pedantic, but that’s just bad grammar, isn’t it?

Anyway, for lyrics that actually mean something, I refer readers to John Lennon's Imagine and Spandau Ballet's Through the Barricades.

Ten years on

Unsurprising that there should be so much media focus upon 9/11, although, somehow, the images still seem, to me, unreal; but was that the day when we finally woke up? Certainly, startled eyes gave rise to questioning minds; at least, on this side of the pond; and that trend has continued, buoyed by the unremitting reason of scientists.
I recall, shortly after the second plane struck, a young woman, on London's busiest trading floor, turn to me; her eyes lacking their usual softness; “It’s all about religion”, she exclaimed. “It’s all about Islam” I swiftly replied.
Ten years on, I sense that she was the wiser. The problem, to my mind, is certainty; they all deal in it; stories and images of heaven; each of them proffering a single way to get there; a way that declares opposing ‘truths’ to be born of fools and liars. So, perhaps, it was the logical outcome, that malleable young men would fly aeroplanes, into buildings, in their attempt to reach a fabricated ‘paradise’, at the tragic cost of so many.
Yet, resistance endures. “There’s nothing in the Koran that permits this”, we hear and “it’s not what Islam’s supposed to be about!”
The precise content of the Koran I can’t comment on. Like most people, I’ve read only snippets, but what’s surely beyond reasonable doubt is that suicide killers are empowered by contrived visions, which purport to call them home.
It is, then, a conclusion, born of evidence, that this world would be nigh on three thousand lives richer, if only the deliverers of 9/11 had been left with a healthy sense of the unknown; and acknowledging an inconvenient truth may, fittingly, ensure that the victims in the towers did not, after all, die in vain.

Friday, 2 September 2011

A much needed dressing down at the airport

Despite the mildly disparaging title of this blog (no, it's not my real name), it was never intended to contain a series of rants. Even so, I'll make no apology for this one.

That a substantial number of Sikhs gathered, today, outside Parliament, to protest about being asked to remove their turbans, at airports, is lamentable. Peaceful and pleasant people they may be, but, for anyone’s sake, have those who took part in the demonstration learned nothing from 9/11?!.. and am I alone in being staggered that, arguably the most graphic example of faith overriding reason, in history has left minds unchanged? How many towers, I ask , will it take?!
The turban is, to Sikhs, much more than a mere piece of cloth; yet, it can, undeniably, be used to conceal explosives (something which, in fact, happened just a few days ago, with tragic consequences) so, clearly, those concerned (or should that be unconcerned?) place their proclaimed right not to remove it before the safety of fellow travellers.
How many innocent lives have been sacrificed, already, to theistic faith? Perhaps someone can tell me, because I couldn’t begin to work it out. Yet, they would, it seems, let the horror of that September day happen all over again, in order to keep themselves observant!
Airline security is a serious matter and those who seek special privilege should keep their feet firmly on the ground.
Noble Sikhs, please make my day and leave a comment. Assure me that there are those of you who refuse to run with the pack!

p.s  The Mail on Sunday readers may be interested to know that this blog post was written in the modern era, despite the sensibilities of their paper's editor.....

Autographs & Ebay...cut and paste but it's a sticky wicket!

With half an eye on the roof, over my head, I decided to sell my autographs;; a varied collection,  held captive, in a small, leather, book; on Ebay. There  were, though, obstacles, for, in those eager days, I would attempt to lend the assemblage my own curious brand, of artistry; garishly inserting the signer’s name, beneath each (with  a purple, felt-tipped, pen!) and worse still, my writing was stylised, to the point of being almost illegible. In addition, with several signatures squeezed onto each page, my own hand would sometimes overlap that of a celebrity. What had I been thinking of?! It was an unacceptable sight and so, with nail-scissors in one hand and ‘Pritt’ stick in the other, I sat and surgically removed the more promising signatures; transferring them to blank sheets. That required, of course, some deliberation. Was, for example, that great shot-putter Geoff Capes,on one side of the page worth more than guitarist, John Williams, on the other, or Sir Vivian Richards, more than Sir Trevor MacDonald? They were close calls, which had to be made and after much hesitation, were. Arranging them, to form relevant groups, also seemed necessary and the combinations proved pleasing, to my eyes. Among the many former-cricketers were the father and son, Colin and Chris Cowdrey (noticeably similar, in style); cousins, John and Bill Edrich (so dissimilar they may well have been raised on different planets) and the Bedser Twins (as indistinguishable, save for the first couple of letters, as their bodily appearances). Fortunately, despite the numerous hours spent collecting them and memories they evoked, parting with the signatures would be no wrench. With the, possible exception of one. I remember his cheerful disposition, as he headed toward the Grace Gates, at Lords’; besieged by the mob, of  fellow youngsters I, of course, would join. The quips, about his feet, have, alas, faded in my mind. One thing I am sure of, though, is that Morecambe could be funny, without Wise and was, so far as I could tell, just the same off the telly as he was on. Later, that evening, I found myself standing near him, on the pavement, after the masses had departed. He glanced, toward me and though I secretly wished to exchanged a joke, the moment passed, in silence. With hindsight, though, I might, at least, have coughed and said ‘Arsenal!’
Eric’s signature was, in fact, illegible and tangled, anyway, with that of record breaking fast-bowler, Jim Laker (whose was, additionally, upside down!) Still, it remained my favoured choice and so I set about a delicate task. The trick (no more demanding than the separation of Siamese twins) was to scratch away Laker’s handiwork, with a small blade, but stop short of piercing through the page. Mission accomplished, I teamed Eric with Sir Tim Rice and the late Alan Coren, to increase saleability (the theory being that the others were clearly genuine, so Eric’s would be viewed in similar terms) then, finally, listed the lot. 
Results, for the collection,varied. The Morecambe, Rice and Coren combination sold, quickly, for twenty pounds. Others, though, barely left the starting-gate. Sir Harry Secombe's went, for just one-pound-twenty, while the great Dame Maggie Smith, raised even less.
It was the cricketers, though, who brought home the bacon. The late Colin Milburn (an avuncular figure, I recall) was worth a tenner, alone and a signed photo of former Australian captain, Graham Yallop, fetched a full forty pounds, when sold, to a collector, in France.
What surprised me most, however, was the extraordinary way Ebay casts its spell. That I might end up buying, as well as selling, I had not anticipated, but some items seemed too precious to miss. Sir Peter O’Sullivan’s hand-written and coloured race notes, for example, or a selection of first world war postcards, telling of holidays in summers long passed. Others, I noticed, were remarkable for other reasons, such as a poorly forged Michael Jackson signature which, actually, went for a hundred and fifty pounds. Although I had no intention of purchasing, I took some time to compare it on my laptop, with classic examples of 'Jacko', available from established dealers and was left in no doubt. It wasn’t just that the signature differed, but the obvious hesitation and lack of confidence; in its complexity, it was easy to see where the forger had paused, to check where he needed to go next and I felt staggered to think someone had spent more on it than they might a day trip to Paris. Still, it probably has pride of place in the buyer’s home and  who would seek to diminish their pleasure?
 It is a funny business though, this autograph stuff. Attempts to deceive are everywhere. ‘DIANA ROSS – HAND SIGNED PHOTOGRAPH’ reads the caption ‘STARTING PRICE 99P’; pretty unambiguous, you’d think but, rather than place an eager bid, scroll  down. Somewhere, within a section of text longer than that famous soliloquy in Hamlet, you’ll find mention that it is, in fact, a re-print. It’s as if it were too trivial to mention in the header and that sort of thing is all over the place.. You see it again and again.  Yet the autograph market flourishes and some signatures, other than Jacko’s, really can be very valuable. How about Elvis, on an album page (sold for three hundred and fifty pounds),  or a signed Sinatra photo, which fetched a hundred and sixty-seven pounds?All the same, Churchill owners may have fresh concerns, following TV revelations that others, including his son-in-law, Christopher Soames, signed, convincingly, for him, when he'd, secretly, suffered a stroke.
‘Certificates of authenticity’ are often issued and indeed, I supplied a signed statement with each of mine, but, when push comes to shove, do they really mean anything? After all, can’t they can easily be transferred, from one item, to another and so, arguably, offer no assurance, at all?
The trick, then, with autographs, is, surely, to search for bold, classic examples and ones that would be extremely difficult to replicate (this excludes numerous current ‘A- listers’ who, for reasons of time, ego, or laziness, offer no more than a seemingly random squiggle) and always make sure the listing states that it’s original. 
Buyers may then find that they have paid either for the mark of the artist, or the skilled craftsmanship of a successful forger and clearly, in this mildly eccentric game, circumstance ascribes considerable value to both.