Since this is the last 13th of the year before 2013, how about this piece, which is a foreword I wrote for Threaded, a New Zealand design magazine run by my excellent friend Fiona Grieve? It happened to be their 13th edition, which I believe goes on sale any day now. Besides, there isn’t another Friday 13th until September next year. So I hope you’ll enjoy this little reflection on the power of a particularly loaded number. Where I am, a late Autumn Budapest night, it is strictly speaking still the 12th, but down in the South Pacific with Fiona and the Threaded gang it’s already the day in question. If you have trouble reading the PDF for any reason, then scroll down, because the full text follows. Thank you and good night pilgrims.
Threaded issue number 13! For some people, superstitious folk, afraid of their own shadows, that might sound unlucky…
This has been a fast week for news. The polar ice caps are melting far quicker than scientists had earlier predicted, but all Sky news can talk about is Kate Middleton sunbathing topless. In an only slightly more newsworthy story involving British royalty, the Taliban attacked a British army base in an attempt to capture or kill Prince Harry. He obviously has one hell of a good publicist working under deep, deep cover these days. (People who were surprised or offended by his antics in Vegas should reflect that, whatever else he is, Harry is also an Army officer. Contrary to what some may believe, these chaps don’t all spend their off-duty hours playing billiards in the mess. It all seemed like fairly harmless horseplay to me. And anyway in terms of what used to be known as decorum, I think much worse is yet to come. For example, how many years can it be before we are forced to contemplate the spectacle of those orange skinned, sleeve-tattooed numpties, Lord and Lady Beckham of Essex?)
And now, ladies and gentlemen, enough biographical preamble from me.
Instead, this small taste of Sir Christopher White’s 175000 word manuscript,
A Definitive History of England
(Complete with footnotes)
Charles 1 1625-1649 (The Martyr)
The first Charles should have been a roaring success. He had jolly good taste, dressed as a gent should, looked corking on a horse, and had a suitably grand idea of who he was. He should have been a seriously romantic Monarch, but somehow loused it all up. Unfortunately, he had inherited his Dad’s groggy legs, and sadly also, a degree of that unworthy’s narrow-minded – we are loathe indeed to find ourselves obliged to use that expression for a King, and a King of England, too – almost suburban finickiness and indecisive lack of moral fibre. This last, he disguised with hauteur and considerable stubbornness.
Continuing with my introduction to Sir Christopher White and his works
My conversation with the Baronet rambled all over the map, and I did not see fit to press for a chronological autobiography. His childhood, he writes about eloquently in his memoir-as-novel, Shadows In Between. I know that he has been married three tines and that he once drove an MG from London to Rome and slept under the stars every night on the Spanish Steps, until via a series of scarcely creditable coincidences, he landed his first teaching job.
In December of last year (2011) I travelled to Istanbul where I spent a couple of months working on scripting my television series Max’s Midnight Movies, and befriended a character I had long heard about as ‘The Baronet’. It was Smithy, an Australian friend in Budapest who’d told me stories about this eccentric sounding character and his unconventional establishment. Well, I happen to like eccentric characters, and Sir Christopher has turned out to be a real collector’s item.
On our first meeting, I was probably most struck by the voice of the Baronet himself, waving in out of wreathes of cigarette smoke, chatting away and telling stories in the kind of cut-glass British accent that even so-called posh people don’t use anymore, unless they happen to be the Queen, or Brian Sewell.
As mentioned in my last post, I penned most of the scripts for the Midnight Movies show in an apartment with panoramic views over the Bosphorus. This time, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Hello all my tomorrows… Oh dear. I’ve been posting vacation snaps again on Facebook instead of writing in my blog. Naughty. To make good, my first travel story for a while.
‘The past is a foreign country’, famously observed genteel English author LP Hartley, ‘they do things differently there’. Well, this is a postcard from the so-called ‘city of yesterday’. It’s a town called Oradea, in Transylvania. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t heard of it. (Oradea I mean, not Transylvania.) This small city in North Western Transylvania is a repository of faded grandeur, which just happens to be just my favourite kind – of grandeur that is. Though not as well known as other Transylvanian towns such as Braşov, or Sighişoara, it has a baroque and art nouveau splendour all its own and an historic timeline teeming with incident; from the inspiring to the tragic. For inspiring, look to its role as a centre of humanism and the Renaissance in Central Europe, and the university originally built here in that time; for tragic, try the burning down of Oradea Fortress in the Tartar-Mongolian invasion of 1241 – described in the famous poem Carmen Miserabile. Nine hundred years later and the city’s Jewish population were all but annihilated in WWII. The remaining Jewish population is miniscule; as evident in the decrepit state of the synagogue.
There is however a significant Hungarian population in Oradea, and you can recognise the language being spoken on the streets. You can recognise it that is, if you know what geese choking on foie gras sounds like looped backwards. Romanian of course, is a curious tongue with its own peculiar charm; sounding like Italian spoken with a thick Russian accent. (Is there any other kind?)
Meanwhile back here in Hungary, there are nationalists who believe Oradea should be within Hungarian borders, as it was before WWI, for example. Continue reading
This week the hobo has been somewhat under the cosh. Guidebook deadlines are looming larger because I’ve been, as it turns out, rather wasting my already over-commited time dispensing advice – unpaid for – to would be film and TV producers who think I get paid in drinks, or that they own my ideas. If you any of guys are reading, watch this.
Meanwhile thankfully, Balazs Jekler, a serious professional and the Director of The Medieval Trip, the 3D TV pilot I worked on as a presenter, is in Cannes at MipCom, the TV festival. The hopes of this would-be history series host and hundreds of medieval re-enactors go with him. So come on Balazs!
Anyhoo, like practically any writer working from his home, no matter how pressing the deadlines, one still finds time for digressions and distractions. I can’t quite tell you how I stumbled across this, but courtesy of the Waybackmachine, it shows you what my first ever website looked like. Well, that was 10 years ago, when I was living and working in Florence. My office was in the Palazzo Frescobaldi, where the photo below was taken.
Like the threads? I was fresh from a shopping trip on Via Tornabuoni. “The shoes are Giorgio Armani’s” as I used to joke, “but he said I could borrow them”. And oh, how we all laughed.
Bill Clinton, booze, drugs, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Generation of the Swine, gonzo, Hunter S Thompson, Hunter Thompson, Mel Gibson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, San Francisco Examiner, Songs of the Doomed, United States, William S. Burroughs
“These are bad times for people who like to sit outside the library at dawn on a rainy morning and get ripped to the tits on crank and powerful music.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Songs of the Doomed
Today, July 18th, is Hunter S. Thompson’s 73rd birthday, or at least it would be if he hadn’t shot himself dead 5 years ago while his grandson played in another room of the rambling log cabin that was his home in Woody Creek, Colorado.
Based on those credentials, Hunter S. Thompson might present himself as an unlikely candidate for hero, literary or otherwise. Suffice to say that this lowly hack does have literary heroes, including figures as jumbled and miscellaneous as Lord Byron, Douglas Adams, Evelyn Waugh, William S. Burroughs and Oscar Wilde, and Hunter S. Thompson is one of them. That’s despite the fact I’m a cynical and jaded veteran of the journalistic trade and aware there are a lot of criticisms you can level at Thompson and his legacy. For one thing, he has become the poster boy for an awful lot of readers who cnta evne slpel tiher nwo nasem, let alone tell you for example the name of the current vice president of the United States. Well at least they’re reading something I guess.
Also, a parsing of any of Thompson’s numerous biographies and one quickly becomes aware of just how out-of-control the author of Hells Angels could get. At his worst, he must have been a fucking nightmare. A great screaming and shouting physical brute demanding expenses and room service and bottles of Chivas Regal sent up to his room so that he could finish his goddamn column. But it was even worse than that – it seems he beat his long-suffering first wife Sandy, and made a lot of other people suffer in the shadow of his savage temper. There was if we are honest, a little something of the ‘Mel Gibson in the night’ about the so-called good doctor.
And yet. However enthralling or appalling his antics were, the reason he had stood out in the first place was that at his best he wrote the same way a Cheetah can run. “A man of vast syntactical resources” as William F. Buckley put it. In the 2006 biopic ‘Hunter S. Thompson on Film’, Buckley also reads this piece by Thompson aloud.