Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Mystery of the Disappearing Quote

I know we've stopped watching Nick, but this is a personal appeal for information. I've just finished Speak for England by James Hawes (whom I've mentioned before). V short review: disappointing satire without clear targets and too many poorly drawn characters. That link goes to the publisher's site which shows the hardback cover - or does it? The copy I read was the first printing and from the library and it looks a little different: like this (you have to search for 'Hawes' I'm afraid; alternatively, it's about one 'page up' from the end of the page). The difference is a yellow box under England on the left, which looks a little like a post-it note. Though it's gone from the current printing (or the images of the book on the Random House site and on Amazon), the quote can still be found on Random House:

A ripping satire of England's yearning for lost certainty and power. As well as being hilarious and ingenious, Hawes mocks New Labour, the Daily Mail, platitudinous liberals and cocaine-raddled media grandees. If there were any justice, a grateful nation would give him a peerage. Nick Cohen

Though the book cover omits 'As well as being' and 'Hawes mocks New Labour, the Daily Mail, platitudinous liberals and cocaine-raddled media grandees' and reads 'Nick Cohen, Observer columnist' (note: not 'Nick Cohen, Observer' which would be a different thing). I can't find this anywhere on the net (and the Observer/Guardian archives go back much further than its publication date (January 2005 according to Amazon). This may have been just a few words for the blurb. But why remove them?
I can see the satire aims at New Labour (though despite his name and his bagpipe playing, Alastair Campbell is from Yorkshire), the Daily Mail (though I thought the Telegraph was the target) and 'cocaine-raddled media' types, but not 'platitudinous liberals' because there aren't any. There is one passage where the anti-hero tries to explain British history since 1958 to the the one remaing survivor and children of other survivors of an air crash that year.

--Mr Marley sir, asked the older boy who had briefly stood up to the Headmaster, -- a lot of us chaps want to join the Army when we get back. I fancy the Hussars. But I mean if the Reds are beaten hands down who are we going to fight?
--Good question, Marlborough senior. Well, Marley, old boy?
--Ah, well, yes, you see, after the Russians stopped being Reds, people started saying that History had ended because we had won, so we didn't really need much of an army any more. But then a few years ago everything changed because some terrorists from Saudi Arabia flew some planes full of passengers into two skyscrapers in New York and killed thousands of people.
--Good God, why did they do that?
--I don't know. No one really does. Because of America supporting Israel all the time I suppose.
--Ah, Israel still hanging in there, then?
--Very much so.
--Tough buggers. So what did the Yanks do? Bomb Saudi Arabia?
--No Saudi Arabia is on their side. Ours, I mean.
--But you said these mad bombers came from Saudi Arabia.
--Ues. I don't really understand that bit either, sorry.
--I see. So the Yanks did nothing?
--Oh no, they invaded Iraq.
--Iraq? What the devil dor?
--I don't really know. The President and our Prime Minister said it was because they were a danger to us. I met a drunken American colonel and he said it was because the House of Saud was a busted flush and they needed a safe client state in the Middle East because of all the oil there and they were sick of having to support Israel all the time, even when a few thousand religious maniacs in hats and beards held the balance of power there. And then he said it was because the President thought his dad should have done it. And then he fell over, so I don't really know. But anyway, they did it and we helped them and the President of Iraq was a bastard who dropped poison gas on his own towns, so actually I don't really care why.

I laughed out loud at "Oh no, they invaded Iraq." But who, if anyone, is being satirised? Liberals? Hawks? "I don't really care why" is just about the lamest support for the war I've ever encountered (though it's not a million miles from the Decents' position). It's not worth a peerage.

Post-modern coda. As commenter Redpesto pointed out here, the movie of Rancid Aluminium sucked.

The critics looked on and wondered if the English language contained condemnations strong enough to give what they were seeing the pasting it deserved. Jacques Peretti of the Guardian did his best when he wrote: 'By universal consent, it is the worst film ever made in the UK. People who have seen it belong to an exclusive club. They cannot speak about the film - they simply shudder at its mention.'
Harsh words, but true in all respects except one. Rancid Aluminium has a telling quote which encapsulates what happened to the British film industry in the New Labour years. ...
...Between 1997 and 2005, the government piled the plate of the British film industry with billions of pounds of public funds. It was money which came from working-and middle-class taxpayers who didn't hire accountants but paid as they earned. It was money which might have been spent on schools, hospitals, the army or other fripperies.

This led Hawes to write White Powder, Green Light which makes pretty much that point: there's a line about 'hospitals and schools' being more deserving of the EU money spent by the Welsh film industry which I can't find just now. To secure 'soft money' (an EU grant), his heroine who is English but teaching in a new university in Pontypool (clearly the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd) claims to be Welsh and the lead actor 'discovers' a Welsh grandmother. Hawes finds this disreputeable and phoney.

Curiously, Speak for England may be filmed by BBC Wales.

"Andrew [Davies] is a fan of the book. He and James are Welsh and BBC Wales has commissioned it - so it all makes sense.["]

Andrew Davies is Welsh (born Rhiwbina, Cardiff, Wales, UK), but James Hawes isn't.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the "evening standard" diary

"HOW cheeky of New Statesman editor John Kampfner to show his face at the launch of Nick Cohen's much-praised What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way at the Old Crown on New Oxford Street last night.
Kampfner slates the book in today's NS saying it "does not provide a coherent or credible critique of the Left. But it does provide a telling lament from those who - with the best intentions found themselves supporting the worst foreign policy decision in decades, and perhaps still struggle to come to terms with it. Always blame someone else. It may help you sleep better at night." When the Londoner asked Cohen about the review last night he replied: "If he's said that, he's misread and misunderstood the meaning of the book like everyone else.

The reason he said that is because this book describes exactly the person he is.

"He is a rich, slightly fat man who lives in an amazing house in north London, who calls himself Left, yet he now embodies the far-Right of years ago.

They endorsed and apologised to people like Saddam, there was no action.

Now it seems the Left is adopting the sit-back attitude we strived to shy away from."

February 8, 2007

2/14/2007 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stumbled on this site almost inadvertently, but now I'm here I just wanted to ask something. If Alistair Campbell is from Yorkshire, why does he support Burnley FC, a football club in Lancashire?

2/16/2007 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Because they used to be good.

2/16/2007 05:21:00 PM  

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