September 2012
30 September 2012 ~ Ephemera
   
I have saved a great deal of paper by printing drafts of my writing on sheets that have already been used on one side. Fortunately I have a printer  that copes well with this recycling; many other models get constant jams. (It's a Kyocera Mita FS1010 bought over ten years ago because it was reported to be designed to last.)

Every so often I trawl through old files looking for more paper. Today I found a number of pages that I will post  here under the new Ephemera heading. I  have long liked that word, both the way it sounds and the idea of it  being adopted by librarians from the study of insects, where ephemera refers to species  in which the adult forms have very brief lives.

I have added the first two items, a spoof list of adult education classes and a Form Response Form, with which to critique an official document. More will follow and I will also list some of the items already posted , that would otherwise only be found by trawling through the archives.




25 September 2012 ~ It Pays to Challenge Energy Bill Direct Debit Increases

    I posted this today on  Money Saving Expert.

An EDF meter reader came last week. A few days later I got an email to say our combined bill for gas and electricity was on line. The bill included an announcement that the direct debit was going up from £41 to £46 per month, a 14% increase despite the account being £48 in credit. I did the maths. Based on last year’s use of energy and current unit prices, the projected total was £409. EDF’s increased direct debits meant an annual total of £564, or just over £612 when the existing credit is added.

I rang and challenged the increased monthly payments and was told 
immediately they would remain at £41. Why the increase in the first place? Because so many customers let energy companies take them for a ride. If my rise is typical, that means millions of times £200 of cash for the major suppliers to play with.

One other point, the bill covers five A4 pages and still lacks the kind of clarity that would make it easier to see that the increase is rapacious. The bill needed no more than three pages to make quite plain what the position was, had that been the intention of the company.




22 September 2012 ~ Erythrotrichophilia

You won’t have seen erythrotrichophilia before because I just made it up by adding a Greek word for red, erythro, to trichophilia, a recognised term for a hair fetish. I thought the red hair fetish might already have a fancy name, but  if so my Googling has not found it.

What prompted the search was the visit yesterday to the Tate to see the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition. I was already aware that several
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings featured women with red hair. A number of their models including Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Alexa Wilding had red hair and perhaps others achieved redness with Henna.

What surprised me at the exhibition was to find that three members of the PRB had portrayed Christ as a carrot top – Millais in Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop, Holman Hunt’s Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, and Ford Maddox Brown’s Jesus Washing Peter's Feet.
 
I am not aware of any tradition for gingering up Jesus or other characters from the New Testament other than Mary Magdalene and Judas. Mary M’s locks represented wantonness and Judas’s red was meant to suggest he was evil.

At least Holman Hunt, who had traveled in the Holy Land, must have been aware that most of the inhabitants had dark hair and were olive skinned if not darker. So what was going on?

It might have been a homo-erotic extension of a fetish for red hair. More likely I think is the desire to make Jesus more British. Some evidence for this comes  from a critic at the time the carpenter shop painting was first exhibited. “But this painful display of anatomical knowledge, and studious vulgarity of portraying the youthful Saviour as a red-headed Jew boy...”

While the accuracy of the hair is questionable, why complain about Jesus looking Jewish?

The remark reminds of where I saw my most Aryan depiction of Jesus – pure blond locks and beard and blue eyes. It was  thirty-four years ago
in a Mississippi diner staffed by and, at least while I was there, patronised only by white people.



18 September 2012 ~ The Innocence of Muslims


It would be an odd trailer for a movie that did not exclude the crappiest scenes and acting. Assuming this principle holds true for The Innocence of Muslims, I am baffled as to how the rest of the film could be worse than the bottom of the barrel from which the excerpts were scraped. Sometimes films, such as the work of Ed Wood, are funny because they are so bad. TIOM does not even have this redeeming merit because it is so obviously made for propaganda purposes. Where the Life of Brian danced the light fandango, TIOM  moves like an obese man with arthritis and wearing diving boots. Witty, thought provoking and hilarious it is not.


But for the uproar, I wouldn’t have skimmed through the 
TIOM  trailer. I suspect almost all of the viewers apart from the racists and Islamophobes who promote it have watched because the protests have made them curious. Had TIOM been ignored or challenged in more subtle ways, it would have been lost among all the other crud on the Internet.


Now it is likely to spawn spin-offs that are equally dire. if only from those who lack an advertising budget; offend Islam and get lots of free publicity.


Crudely offending people by attacking with all guns blazing what they believe is counter-productive in terms of opening up their minds. Angry people listen less and are more likely to seek solace for their hurt in deeper shades of fundamentalism. And a production like TIOM  is hardly going to help beleaguered Christian communities  in countries dominated by Islam.


Having said that, I note that the trailer suggests that the film is in part a response to the repression and killings of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Reports by Amnesty International have documented this persecution and it remains to be seen whether the new Egyptian president will reverse the unfortunate history. And there are other parts of the Muslim world  where religious intolerance and violence  exists for non-Muslim religions and for sects that interpret Islam differently from the rulers or majority.


A group asking for respect for what it holds dear is more likely to be taken seriously if it shows respect and tolerance for others. A major failing in this respect within the Islamic world is the promotion of libels against Judaism. The claims are preposterous and all too familiar to those who know the history of anti-Semitism. The same history also teaches that the gullible are provoked by such stories to terrible acts of violence.


For the record, I strongly condemn Israel's human rights abuses (along with abuses by other parties)  and call for the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.




16 September 2012  ~  Hillsborough Independent Report

The publication  last week of the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel stirs many thoughts and feelings. I begin with homage to the families and their supporters who persevered in their protests at the cover up, and the work of the Independent Panel. What should follow with minimal delay is justice for perjurers and those who otherwise abused public office, accountability that I hope will help bring closure to grieving  protracted and barbed by so many lies.

Given the success of the independent inquiry and the degree of corruption exposed, the government must give serious consideration to further investigations led by people trusted by the members of the public most concerned and with  briefs to heed the questions raised by those who have lost loved ones. A consultative approach has been one of the strengths of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Families of those who died at the stadium  have spoken about the Panel making them feel that  the issues and questions relatives raised were taken seriously for the first time.

Two further independent inquires I would like to see  relate to  the deaths of Army personnel at Deepcut Barracks and what happened during  the investigations that followed  the Lockerbie Bombing, including what led to the pinning of the blame on the Libyans and events surrounding the release of Megrahi. Both Deepcut and Lockerbie have been contentious and have the whiff of cover-up about them. There are also grieving families with deep concerns about what has and has not been revealed.

I am not a fad of conspiracy theories and have often wondered about the mental health of some who peddle them. However, history teaches us that  powerful people can be mendacious and prone to use scapegoats when it suits their interests.  In both of the cases put forward for a public inquiry, families and journalists have expressed concerns over time about the perversion of justice.

The Independent on 13.9.12 has an excellent article by John Cooper QC under the headline The outcry over Hillsborough won't stop this happening again. Among other things, Professor Copper says:

"Governments and politicians, departments of state, army generals and other impressive offices automatically receive respect. Yet each will protect its own, each is capable of whitewashes often performed as an excuse for maintaining public confidence and trust."



13 September 2012  ~  Novellas, Novels and Word Counts

I finished my first novella today, A Life Reviewed. It started out as a short story of 8500 words, which is far too long for most short story competitions. One option that occurred to me was expanding it into a novel. The idea of a novella only arose after finding a competition run by Shakespeare & Company and the De Groot Foundation for novellas. Entries had to have more than 17,000 words and less than 35,000. The entry I posted had over 23,000.

The numbers might not mean much to some so here are some examples of well known shorter "novels" with their word counts.
49,459 – Slaughterhouse-Five
54,243 – The Hours
58,428 – The Wind in the Willows
59,635 – Black Beauty 
59,900 – Lord of the Flies 

Towards the upper end are:
455,125 – The Lord of the Rings
587,287 – War and Peace  

However, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is not much short of a million words and there are longer novels.

Having finished the novella, I was curious about what other than word count defined the form. I found there is not lot of agreement even on length, with the range starting as low 10,000 words and going up to 70,000, an upper that would include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s not much of an over-simplification of the theorizing to say that a novella is longer than a  short story and tends to have less detail that a novel. The problem for those who seek to define the novella is that every generalisation has its exceptions. A brief review of modern literary theories concerning the novella can be found in an on line pdf journal  article by Elizabeth Langemak.

Joe Fassler claimed the novella  “has been the ugly stepchild of the literary world”  because “Publishers like short stories, and they love novels. But when a writer submits a mid-length work that falls somewhere between two genres, booksellers balk and editors narrow their eyes.”

I agree in part. Many novellas would be too long for a magazine that is happy to include short stories. But why would a publisher not want to print a smaller book? They already often do this poetry. Many novellas have sold well and not simply because the people buying them thought they were novels. E.g.

Of Mice and Men
The Heart of Darkness
Animal Farm
One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The Call of the Wild
A Clockwork Orange
The Old Man and the Sea
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
A Christmas Carol
Siddharta
Metamorphosis.




11 September 2012 ~ Threats vs. Reasoned Argument

Tom Holland’s Islam: The Untold  Story was on Channel 4 two weeks ago. I found it an intelligent and sensitive exploration of the largely undocumented period between the death of Mohammed and the emergence of an Arab empire. It raises questions about when Islam arose and at what point Mecca became central to Muslims.


Today comes news of threats  against Tom Holland.


I am sure many  Muslims responded calmly to the programme. Some, like certain Christian fundamentalists, will let nothing dent their faith. And perhaps more intellectual Muslims understand that scholarship doesn’t turn away its light because some people don’t like the basis of their beliefs to face scrutiny.


What worries me are further threats of violence from rabid Muslims. I did not find their threats against Salman Rushdie acceptable, nor do I find them acceptable in the case of Tom Holland.  I value free speech and it is not free if one constantly has to worry about offending religious believers.


Tonight comes news of a near riot in Cairo over a film that offends Islam, except no one seems to know the name of the film. This is even more stupid that protesting against The Satanic Verses without reading it.


Islam: The Untold  Story can be viewed at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/islam-the-untold-story/4od



9 September 2012 ~ Short Stories as Cats

Granta published an anthology of Irish short stories in 2010 edited and introduced by Anne Enright, whose novel “The Gathering” is one of the finest I have read. I very much enjoyed her introduction to the anthology. She says thoughtful things about short stories as art, has a number of apt quotes on the topic and something to say about why Ireland punches well above its weight in terms of producing those who excel at the art.

She has a line of her own about short stories that tickled my fancy. “They are the cats of literary form; beautiful, but a little too self-contained for some readers' taste.”

Putting this into Google just now confirmed it is well on its way to becoming a widely used quote.



5 September 2012 ~  Goodbye to  Paid Work

The main reason for not writing this month until now is work that I will finish tomorrow. The assignment has been interesting. I have been interviewing people in the NHS, local government and the voluntary sector about what is working and what is needed in a range of services for people with HIV as part of a major regional review.

One impetus for the review is the way HIV treatment and sound self-management  by those with the virus means that providers are having to think about the growing numbers of people living with HIV who are and will be elderly.

Despite the topic being interesting and the people interviewed  having a level of expertise that is educational, the time  the work takes from  writing and reading is frustrating. Among other things, I have a stack of short story anthologies to read.

For some time, rather than seeking assignments I have merely accepted ones offered to me with a reasonable rate for intellectual day labour. Today I decided to take the next step, and decline work.  I am fortunate to have a pension that most young people these days can only dream of.  Which is just as well as I don't  expect to  make money from my writing.