Askimet Spam

Woke up early today and got the hammock out, slung between two apple trees in my sunny part of Suffolk while the hens pretended they weren’t interested in what I was doing. They’re wild, living in a tree and while you can’t touch them or pick them up without a net and preferably a supply of hard-to-come-by tranquiliser darts, they want to know what’s going on. Thinking about it, that’s probably how all wild animals survive.

I came back inside for a cup of tea at ten o’clock because I’m English and my tea levels were dropping perilously low. As any anthropologist knows, if an Englishman doesn’t maintain his tea balance then he’s in grave danger of becoming European, or worse. It isn’t a risk I can face lightly. Certainly not without tea.

Naturally, depressingly obviously, I checked my email and Facebook and this weeny website to see who thought my life would be better if I carried their advertising for red shoes and fake handbags free of charge. The good news – no comments to ‘moderate.’ The bad – the biggest haul of spam ever. 57 fake messages after installing Askimet compared to about sic per day beforehand. It can’t be anything to do with Askimet and I haven’t installed anything else, so obviously I’ve got onto some spam list somewhere.

But where? And still, as always, why? Does anyone ever respond to this badly spelled Russian translated through the Senegalese into school English? Ever?

Still, at least I don’t have to look at it. I’m reading a book John Fowles compared to HG Wells’s writing, A Dream Of Wessex. The first couple of pages didn’t engage me at all but I carried on because, well because that’s where I almost grew up and its a special place. John Fowles wrote The Collector, his breakthrough book about a man too sanctimoniously horrible to even think about. He’d probably be a UKIP candidate today. It’s about a government research facility where scientists dream themselves into a parallel West Country, a little like the way Claire tried to chant herself into a better place by reciting AE Houseman in Not Your Heart Away. It didn’t work for her, or only for a little while. I’ve yet to see whether the scientists are going to have better luck.

So I think I’ll go back to reading my book now. With tea.

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Awe, surely

Aw, this was a nice post it began. More spam, obviously, but it made me think of the really funny John Wayne thing that may or may not have happened.

Apparently John Wayne was on the set of some Biblical epic film. He had to shamble up to the Cross and say: ‘Surely this was the son of God.’ So he did, in his normal John Wayne way.

The director wasn’t happy. Not very moving, much too John Wayne. ‘Could you put a bit more awe into it, John? It’s supposed to be the Son of God up here, nailed to the Cross for all our sins. Let’s do it again.’

So they did. John Wayne shambles up to the Cross again, takes his Roman soldier’s helmet off, wipes his brow and says: ‘Awe, surely this was the son of Gahd.’

I know. Sorry.

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No Batteries Required

It all started in a pub. You know that thing when you have that one drink too many to stop talking and everything you say is brilliant and witty and just so incredibly fascinating you can’t help wondering why anyone bothers saying anything else ever again?

That’s what happened to me in a pub in Framlingham in about November, I think. That’s how I ended-up writing a radio play. Wouldn’t it be funny, no, wouldn’t it be just so incredibly amusingly funny, no listen, if a bankrupt chicken farmer tried to kidnap Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because he blames him for the battery chicken ban? Yes, thank-you, I will. Not driving, after all. It’s because of the you know, the battery chicken cage ban in January 2012. And DEFRA having to set-up a special squad because lots of farmers couldn’t be bothered to obey the law and the police didn’t think they ought to upset farmers who don’t reckon laws apply to them anyway, if the way farm vehicles are driven around here is anything to go by.

So maybe also the Prime Minister is visiting Hugh to make him Minister of Food, just the way he was supposed to be thinking of making the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp a Minister a few years back. Jolly fine gal. Right sort of background to run a democracy. The idea about the Prime Ministerial tattoo that shows up on thermal imaging rifle sights was mine though.

I got stuck with it while I was finishing Not Your Heart Away and got back to it yesterday. It’s odd. I’ve had problems writing things for years, never able to quite get down to it. That’s still a problem but when I do it just flows nowadays. It’s the sitting down to it that’s the issue. I had to change HF-W’s name, obviously, but that was pretty much the hardest part.

So it’s done, edited, a friend who is firm but fair is checking it to see if it makes her laugh (first bit has so far, only problem being that wasn’t the funny bit) and then it’s being broadcast in Suffolk and it’s also going off to the BBC.

Let’s see what happens.


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spotify logo


I just discovered Spotify. OK, maybe I’m not the first to discover it but I thought I’d like to share, because that’s what I’m like.

I put together a playlist, just in case Not Your Heart Away gets on screen, or if you’d just like to listen to the music in the book while you read it. There’s some later stuff too, Kate Bush’s “And So Is Love” and some new David Bowie tracks which just seemed to fit the mood. Click on the link, kick back and enjoy. And remember, if you’re singing along with headphones on it sounds absolutely awful, whoever you are.

Click here.

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More spam!?!?!

I wasted some time putting a little note up yesterday, saying that hey spammers, I check the comments before they’re posted up. Did it make any difference? No.

More spam today. How many cheap bags from China can there be? Or Michael Kors stuff. Whoever he is, he’s got a lot of it.

Some of the spam is pathetic, badly spelled, bad English, bad everything about it. The ones that intrigue me most almost but not quite look like they were written by a human.

“Could you improve your writing?”

Well yes, in theory, with time and practice. But should I, when you just want to put red bottom shoes on my website?

“On a clear day you can smell forever.” I liked that one. Still spam though, when I looked at the address. But who sends this stuff out? Most of the addresses are obvious fakes, spoofed computers enslaved by remote bots or whatever theft enabled by IT is called now. It was all made illegal, at least in the US, years and years ago. Ever hear of anyone going to jail? Being prosecuted, even? I never have. And it’s not that it can’t be done. When someone threatened the US President via email his door was hoofed off its hinges within 48 hours. Like anything governments say can’t be done, it can be and is done whenever they feel like it.

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Spammers. What is WRONG with these people?

Does this ever work?

Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this ahead of. So nice to obtain somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this site is something that is required on the internet, somebody with a small originality. beneficial job for bringing some thing new to the world wide web!


Youre is not a word in English. Neither is Ive. It might be in Russian or wherever Spam City is these days, but not here.

Is it a translation of something, via Hungarian from the original Spack, presumably?

And more to the point,does anyone, ANYONE ever get one of these and think yeah, that’s me alright, I’ll post that up on my website, with the link to the knock-off shoes or bags. Why is it always shoes or bags? Does this look like the kind of website people who want cheap shoes or bags would do to. Well does it? Do you feel lucky, punk?

Spammers obviously do.


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Meaning and memory

The curse of Not Your Heart Away has claimed another victim. So far I’ve had three ‘but that was my life’ comments,  one utterly heart-broken female version of Ben mourning a 30-year spiritual tryst, two people in tears, one who won’t talk to me at all, four ‘I know who this is’ comments and one some of the above so won’t review it publicly.

I wrote the book to begin with as something of an orgy of nostalgia. I’d gone down to Dorset to see my oldest friend and we sat up until silly o’clock drinking and talking until eventually, as these things do, the talk got around to whatever happened to whoever.

We ran through the catalogue of shipping container entrepreneurs, fatal motorcycle and combine harvester crash victims (we’re both from the West Country and it is not funny), eye-wateringly successful lawyers, the happy, the sad and the dead. On the way home, just like Ben I stopped the car and got out to have a look at a huge house where someone I used to know lived. When I got back all the stories from those times poured out. I’d tried to write something for decades but it just didn’t come out right. Not this time. This time it was like a dam breaking.

But I do need to clarify some things, I think. Ben and Poppy and Liz and Claire are all fictional characters. They were based on real people. The way Liz speaks is exactly the way my friend in Dorset speaks, but Liz is a made-up character. I’ve never pressed knees with my friend on a sofa in Finsbury Park and I doubt she’d want to, apart from anything else.

Poppy was based on a happy, lovely, artistic girl I knew when I was 18 and 19, who was hugely, madly, deeply into Art and Drama and Life. Just thinking about all of her hope still makes me smile. We went to the cinema together but that was as close to real life as Poppy got. The rest of her was totally made-up. She smiled a lot as I remember and although when Poppy spoke I remembered someone else’s voice I thought of that smile and Poppy’s words came out slightly differently.

Claire, ah. Well, Claire. There was this girl I couldn’t talk to. We actually did go to the theatre once, and a picnic, but she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend and there were exams and and and. Never happened. But all I had to do to write Claire was think of the memory of a voice and the character was there, complete, right down to the skin-tight Levi’s.

Am I Ben? No. I heard Ben’s voice when I was writing him. Like any first-person narrator he was a version of me, but a fictional version. I was just as stumbling and idiotic and unable to listen to what people told me. I thought I was just as poetic as Ben and probably more so.

Just for the record, to clarify, all of the things that happened in the book happened to someone, at some time. They aren’t very extraordinary things, after all. But all of those things did not happen to the four people those characters were based on, or within that time-span. Some of the things in the book happened to totally different people. Some happened years later. Some of the incidents in the story I most enjoyed writing never happened at all.

So apologies, everyone who’s said ‘I know who this is about.’ You don’t. It’s about a ghost, many ghosts in fact. The ghosts of youth and hope, the ghost of tomorrow, a ghost that like Joseph of Aramathea’s staff in Ben’s hands, never quite flourished and grew. Because it couldn’t. Because as Ben said, they’re denied the wholeness of the living. Because we all grow up. The lucky ones, anyway. And maybe Ben was right after all. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true, so long as you believe it is.


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A lot of people are moaning about literary agents, their attitude, their fixed idea that they’re essential,  the apparent lack of much to justify this view and the seeming rise of self-publishing. But it’s nothing new at all. I just found the most delicious thing I’ve seen for a long time.

Lots of people have heard of AE Housman. If you haven’t you probably know the phrase ‘blue remembered hills,’ taken from his epic poem A Shropshire Lad, even if that’s all of the poem you know. Dennis Potter wrote a play about it. It’s epic in the sense that it’s passed into the emotional landscape.

And every publisher turned it down.

Housman had to self-publish it, way back in 1896. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) even Housman was surprised how big it got with its deep pessimism and obsession, proving that there are more people in England about like that than was ever officially acknowledged, although as a national characteristic it seems to fit quite well.

So the good news is you don’t need an agent, or nowadays, even a publisher. The bad news seems to be for the established book trade. When you think you’re a gatekeeper it helps if you can keep the gate closed or if you can’t do that you need to be doing something positive. Otherwise there’s not much point to you at all.

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Blue remembered hills

I wasn’t going to call it Not Your Heart Away. It started out being called No Returns but that looked much too much like something Bruce Willis would be happy to get his vest on for, one more time. Claire’s mum would have been impeccably icily polite, I think.

But then I remembered Housman’s poem, the same way Claire did. Unhappily I wasn’t sitting at a sunny dream-filled evening table outside the Red Lion, with the oak trees throwing their shadows over an Aston-Martin, but it doesn’t happen a lot, as Ben was to find out. I’d always wondered where the lines about blue remembered hills came from:

Into my heart an air that chills from yon far country blows

What are those blue remembered hill?

What spires? What farms are those?

That is the land of lost content. I see it shining plain.

The happy highways where I went 

And cannot come again.

It’s one of those comforting, unsettling lines that keeps on rattling around my head, filling it with the longing, the discontent and the flat, dead sense of loss. It was from A Shropshire Lad, which much as I’d hate to contradict the heroine of the book wasn’t written in Shropshire at all. Earlier in the poem the narrator gives advice to a young man, urging him not to give his heart away too soon, nor to fall in love at twenty, marry and find yourself out of love and in those days pretty much irrevocably married at twenty-one.

So really the title should have been But Not Your Heart Away. But that would have looked artificial, too long, nonsensical as a title and much too late for Ben anyway. Someone should have told him. Except Liz did.

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I only recently discovered Spotify. I used to use Napster, until the music industry wanted to pretend it was Napster killing music sales, not Simon Cowell and totally manufactured bands whose careers are micro-managed to the extent they have their favourite colours chosen for them when they’re interviewed in Jackie magazine. Assuming there still is a Jackie magazine, obviously.

So I put together a Not Your Heart Away playlist. It’s all the songs mentioned in the book plus a couple more that just fit. If it ever gets made into a film this will be the the soundtrack. Until then, just enjoy it while you read.


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