Sunday, December 31, 2006

Nicky Haslam & his "luxury stalker" Fish

Copyright 2007 by Madame Arcati

Nicky Haslam’s life appears to have been one long Belle Epoque. Go back to 1963 and there he is at a Park Avenue dinner party introducing Warhol to “Baby” Jane Holzer in the company of Mick Jagger (pre-global fame) and photographer David Bailey. Fast forward to 2006 and there he is dining with Paris Hilton and Rupert Everett at London’s Ivy. Sometime in the decades between these two events, was that him lunching with the Queen Mother at the Castle of Mey?

Profiles invariably describe this A-list party Zelig as an “interior decorator” (clients: the Queen, Prince Charles, Bryan Ferry, et al) and “international socialite” (see above; check Google). Rarely noted are his sharply observed style, society and literary reports and reviews – full of Old Testament certainty and New Testament subtlety – that are plainly the work of a gifted comic writer with a ruthless eye for detail and a long memory: this will doubtless be confirmed when his name-dropping and disclosing memoirs are published later in 2007 – more about which below.

Then there’s the Haslam Exterior. A few years ago he dumped the Savile Row suits and started to model his look on Liam Gallagher before adopting other styles - gangsta rap, mod, bondage, commando, hippie, punk - and more complex creations which he describes as "Brazilian rough trade", "ironic Byronic", "Pirate gypsy" and "Cossack meets Red Indian". This self-described link with “pre-War faggotry” is now, aged 67, a photo op guide to the latest image tropes for the hyper-fashionable (and tragic?).

In a recent Londoner’s Diary for ES Magazine Haslam boasted of his latest style acquisition – a stalker. “The ultimate luxury is a stalker,” he decreed. The “stalker” is a 17-year-old called Fish “because she hates being called Natalie”. They have become great friends.

So, I became a fisher of Haslam details and caught up with Fish herself …

Hi, Fish. Nicky Haslam mentioned you a few weeks ago in his ES diary - tell us again what he wrote about you for the benefit of those who missed it.

[He wrote] "The ultimate luxury is a stalker. I've had one for about two years, and seen him once or twice lurking round my house, or walking by the office. He's about 17, spiky haired, T-shirt and boxer-short-showing loose jeans.

"The other day he met my friend Andrew Merron in a Soho bar, and recognised Andy from pap pics with me. Well, it turns out he's a she, a brilliant artist and cartoonist, calls herself Fish because she hates Natalie, and is one of the sweetest, most giving people I've ever met.

"My music education grows daily as Fish compiles CDs of the latest tunes, and her cartoon strip of me, called King Nicky, is on her website. If only I had the intellectual luxury of being able to access it."

He mentioned a website you'd dedicated to him ...? Did I get this wrong?

It's not a website for him as such. The site that hosts the cartoons he mentioned is DeviantArt - it's a great place for artists of any ability to post their work and receive both praise and constructive criticism - I've been registered there since January 2004.

However, there are two online groups for him - The Nicholas Haslam Google Group and The Nicholas Haslam Myspace Group.

Fish, tell us a bit about yourself, you're sweet 17 ... a student? An artist?

Both, at the moment. I returned to college last September after having dropped out of my last sixth form. I'm studying Fine Art at South East Essex College - fantastic place, jam-packed with fantastic people; it's so refreshing to be in a room full of artists all day, rather than in an over-academic and under-resourced grammar school workroom for an hour or so every other day.

What exactly is your interest in Nicky - why does he fascinate you?

That is a question I've been asking myself for the last two and a half years, and whatever answers I have are difficult to put words to. He is an astoundingly intriguing man in print, and in person, as I've found. Since I've met him, the interest hasn't waned either - he's such an individual, truly one of a kind.

Some think Nicky faintly absurd, what with his preoccupation with youthfulness and parties. Is this fair?

To this, Nicky himself says that "youthfulness and parties have more of a preoccupation with me." He didn't elaborate any further.

If certain people think that he spends all day thinking of ways to 'de-age' himself and then goes out on the party circuit all night, then I find myself wondering exactly what occupies the space between their ears.

He's an incredibly busy man - when I see him, he and everyone else in the office seem to be working their socks off non-stop; yet he still finds time to do everything else on his busy schedule, and then some. It really is quite amazing. I think it's because he's always active, always working at something or other, that he's done so much in his life, and will undoubtedly do so much more in the future.

As for a preoccupation with youthfulness, in an article entitled 'How do I look? Nicky Haslam: Stitch in time' (Peter Stanford, The Independent, April 29th, 2000) "I had a face-lift... not because I was chasing youth, but because I couldn't bear the jowliness. I wanted to look well-er rather than younger. Tighter, tauter."

To me he seems more ageless than anything else... he doesn't strike me as young/old. Listening to him reveals his age a little - both the sound of his voice and the fact that he's so knowledgeable... he's like a walking encyclopedia in a way.

As for the aforementioned 'thickies', I'd suggest looking up as much Nicky-related material as possible - see what other people say about him and what else he gets upto. Maybe dismissing him as some sad "Peter Pan" figure saves them from admitting that they're not getting as much from life as they could do if they strived for it... maybe they're just jealous?

Tell us how you met him.

While the article says I met Andrew Merron (who just rocks my socks, quite frankly) in a Soho bar, it was a bit different. Andy e-mailed me about Nicky after finding out about my interest in the man through my DeviantArt blog; over time we got into e-mailing each other a lot and eventually I met him when I was in London for a gig. He told Nicky about me, which freaked me out at first, but apparently Nicky loved the idea of me and wanted to meet me. We did go to the bars in Soho, and I got stuck in London all night - I admit to being sorely tempted to camp out on Nicky's doorstep all night (it's the warmest one along the road, coincidentally) but didn't.

There's the backstory, I suppose. Meeting him was quite surreal. I was wandering around Sloane Square and happened to be at the top of the road the NH Design office is on and I spotted Nicky locking up his office. I found my feet moving towards him almost instantly, it was one of those "oh, sod it!" moments. As I got nearer him, a car door opened in front of me and blocked my path, and a large van was coming around the bend in the road so I was stuck about fifteen feet away from him. I called out "Nicky!" and waved, he saw me and gave me one of those 'should I know you?' looks - this was when the nervousness started to set in, but I couldn't exactly run away.

"Hi," I said, once I was able to get past the car and over to him, "I'm Fish."

The blank expression on his face completely changed to one of... mild shock, I suppose. "You're Fish?" he questioned, enthusiastically shaking my hand before pulling me in for one of his fantastic hugs, "I've heard so much about you!"

A conversation spanning all sorts of topics from computer systems to TopMan to a Bryan Ferry gig ensued, and before I knew it he had my number and I was walking away... in a state of shock.

What does he think of you?

I don't tend to think about what other people think about me... if I did, I'd probably have some sort of paranoia complex.

Do you see him regularly, talk on the phone, email him ...? Do you gossip together?

Since I'm skint and I live in Southend (about an hour and a half from London), it's difficult to get to the city to see both Nicky and Andy. I ring him for a chat sometimes; it'd be easier to e-mail him, but although he's got an e-mail address he hardly uses it (or so I'm told) and I'd feel guilty if I spammed up Flora's inbox (his lovely PA).

He evidently likes you. Why, do you think?

I have no idea, but I'm glad that he does and that I haven't ended up with a restraining order or anything - I was not a scary stalker! I was just overly curious about him... I never chased him down the street, begging for his autograph or anything.

Tell us one thing about Nicky the world doesn't know.

He doesn't like seaweed. I have no idea why.

You know about his memoirs ... tell us more.

I don't know a great deal... just that Amazon has the titles wrong... to my knowledge, the titles stand as "There and Then" and "Here and Now".

The books look to be amazing and controversial reads. He's had an amazingly interesting life so far and he's put so much work into writing them - he's been away lately and informed me that, at one point, he'd been writing so much that he'd inflamed his wrist... but although he was in agony, he was "soldiering on" - so I urge everyone to get them when they're out, they're going to be great! (I think the release dates may be March and September 2007, but again Amazon may have it wrong).

Have you partied with Nicky, been to his home?

I've been to a Rolling Stones gig with him, which was a right laugh. I seem to remember Nicky going for the food as soon as we got there: "That woman's just had the last sausage... I'm so jealous!" About twenty seconds later, he was off in the other direction: "Ooh! Chocolate cake!" It was a great gig... and the cakes did look fantastic.

There was also the Donna Ida store launch party in South Ken - I helped Nicky to customise a pair of jeans with the King Nicky cartoon, in aid of Jeans for Genes. Cath and I arrived after it had started, and he was just leaving for Tom Parker-Bowles' book launch party. So we got the hellos and the hugs in before he had to head off.

I've not been to his home, no... though I've got pictures of the exterior (and the interior shots from Sheer Opulence). I've sat outside the flat many a time, and reminded him of a day just over a year ago that he walked past two teenagers who yelled "HELLO!" up at him (we'd been on the San Miguel) and he said "Hello" back and then went into the flat. And Cath and I ended up camping out on the doorstep one rainy night of October 2005, after having missed the last train home. That was a great night... although running to a hotel all the way down the road to use a toilet and running out of cigarettes by three in the morning were notable downsides. To top it all off, we didn't see him in the morning... though we did get pictures of his car.

You describe yourself as a tomboy. What does that mean exactly? Is this a psychological state, a sexual one, a sartorial one?

It's most obviously a sartorial one. I haven't been willingly put into anything I'd deem 'girly' since the age of about four. I shop mostly in TopMan (man-boxers are actually fantastic) and the men's sections of other stores like H&M and Debenhams. It's awkward in some places because I'm particular about size, but I manage and I'm comfortable.

I think it's psychological to quite an extent also since I have a great many manly characteristics that I just can't shake. I won't go into everything, but I am certain I have an unhealthy amount of testosterone in my body.

From a very young age I was hanging out with boys instead of girls, my two best friends from the age of about one to seven were guys and at the moment some of my greatest friends are fantastic young men who I love to pieces! If you ask most of them, genders count for nothing in our friendships... which I think makes them that much stronger in a way. Mind you, it has to be said that being stuck at Westcliff High School for Girls for five and a half years evened the balance a fraction (the boys' school is right next door and there's another boys' school across the road, so it seems a bit pointless).

The only downside is on the pulling front. I've got about five women after me at the moment, who just can't seem to accept that I'm straight; but the men who do come along seem to stick around for a long time - I think when they get past the blokey walk and the... well, the general manliness really, they do see that underneath it all is a somewhat erratic and eccentric young woman. I'm all over the place most of the time - head stuck in the clouds and feet desperately battling to stay on the ground.

If you were a magician what would you wish for Nicky and yourself?

Can magicians grant wishes? Perhaps I'll have to conjure a magic lamp first, and then see what sort of mood the genie inside is in before thinking of what to wish for.

What is your main ambition in life?

To live, at the moment. I take each day as it comes... any solid ambitions haven't made themselves known to me just yet. I don't particularly mind where I end up in life, as long as I'm happy and I've got my friends around me... and maybe a little bit of cash, since that always helps.

And finally (for now), what would your friends say of your interest in Nicky if you weren't in the room?

Most likely that it is completely insane, and that they will never get their heads around what I see in the man. And the line "just goes to show, stalking certainly pays off!" would probably figure in there somewhere.

Many thanks Fish. A Happy New Year to you and Nicky.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Under Mars: Run by a pierced tit

My thanks to Flagrante for furnishing info on the weirdo who runs the Under Mars war photo album site (see posting below) that includes images of killed Iraqis and disrespectful captions.

He's a Canadian called Shannon Larratt, editor and publisher of, "the largest and oldest full-spectrum body modification publication on the planet." Now, why didn't I know that?

His Wikipedia vanity entry includes this: "At about age sixteen, Shannon started tattooing himself, performing DIY scarification on himself and partners, as well as piercing himself (intially nipples and genitals) and beginning to stretch his ears.

"Shannon believes that these interests are as in-grained and as unchangeable as sexual orientation."

His own current body modifications include: Partial genital bisection (self-done); a
magnetic implant in his right hand; earlobes stretched to approximately 2" (no jewelry worn in them) and an 8mm outer conch dermal punch; ink rubbing on his right ankle; scripture tattoos of ROMANS 3:28 and 1 CORINTHIANS 13; the words "STAY CALM" across his inner fingers.

What he does to his body I couldn't care less - though I promise him an interesting re-modification of his body on my mediaeval rack. What I do care about is the implicit celebration of murdered people on Under Mars.

Larratt's email address:

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows out July 7 2007

Bloomsbury's not saying when precisely Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is out - but its last business statement holds a strong clue. In the first six months of '06 it generated almost no income at all. Bloomsbury promised however that it remained "confident of a satisfactory outcome” in 2007 when the City expects that earnings will be about £21 million. Only a new Potter book could deliver such a result.

In all probability it will be released on July 7, 2007 - a date with significance to numerologists. Deathly Hallows is the seventh and last book in the series and its release on 7.7.07 is a marketing dream. Potter fans also know that seven is a significant number to JK Rowling.

At this link there's more on the number and includes this: "In Half-Blood Prince, it was revealed that Lord Voldemort had made seven horcruxes (himself included). Quidditch teams have seven players each. Gryffindor Tower's entrance is on the seventh floor at Hogwarts."

Bear in mind that there are currently three more Harry Potter films yet to be released. On April 5, 2006, Warner Brothers announced that the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will be released in cinemas on July 13, 2007. It would make absolute sense to release Deathly Hallows at about the same time for maximum synergy.

Deathly Hallows is already No 1 on thanks to pre-ordering.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gilbert & George in censorship row

Tate Etc – the Tate Modern magazine – has had to dump sixteen pages of editorial on Gilbert & George after the double-act made known their objections to some or all of the commissioned articles – threatening even to refuse picture rights if the project went ahead as conceived by editor Simon Grant.

All 16 pages - to be published in the next issue to coincide with Tate Modern's G&G show in February - were replaced by copy approved by the artists. One of the writers whose copy hit the shredder, Duncan Fallowell, thunders to Grant in a letter: “Artists have no more right to censor writing than writers do art. It is especially disgraceful in connection with an institution such as Tate Modern which is supposed to be a temple of free expression.”

He adds: "So instead of participating in a major cultural event, your magazine has been reduced to a brochure for a brand. It's so cheap and second-rate."

In his regular The First Post column Fallowell wonders rightly aloud: “Why do freedom fighters turn into Stalin?”

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Saddam: Regan misses bio

Saddam Hussein's death is now due. And no sign of OJ Simpson's old publisher Judith Regan to snap up his memoirs before he dangles. What a missed opportunity.

Yoko Ono's New Age Today

Guest editors don't always work out well. Remember Giorgio Armani's disastrous stint on the Independent a few months back with his blacked-up Kate Moss cover? It astonished me that other newspapers chose not to publicise the race row this provoked - further evidence of the need for the "media" to find a new locus, a new place with different news values, away from the so-called professionals and their set-template thinking and corrupt inter-linkage with Westminster, multi-nationals and other plutocrat media proprietors.

So Yoko Ono's guest editorship of Radio 4's flagship news show Today this morning was a welcome fantasy. I can't imagine that the pompous grouch John Humphrys would have countenanced the item on the Findhorn New Age community - fortunately he must have been still in bed with his child wife. We learned more of Findhorn's late founder Eileen Caddy and of its spiritual work. I also liked the American legal activists' fight against the erosion of habeas corpus - one of the lawyers quoted said that even Osama bin Laden ought to be preserved the right to question his detention should he ever be caught. Not all is lost in neo-conned America.

Admittedly Ono's feature on a conceptual "light house" in Iceland slightly passed me by - amazing how a septuagenarian can sound like a 13-year-old as she talks of filling the world with love. But for once I didn't find myself yawning through yet another ritualistic, automated, dead, debate between Mr Careerist Left and Mrs Careerist Right with John or Jim or Sarah pretending to be Careerist Neutral.

Do they all know how tired and useless they sound? How bored?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Blithe Spirit - a "Fantastic Thing"

A family loved one gives me a DVD copy of David Lean's movie of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit as a Christmas present. It is in this that Madame Arcati (pronounced ar-car-tee) makes her prominent appearance.

Many reviews of the original play over the decades describe Arcati as a "fake medium" - wishful thinking plainly. In fact (theatrically) it is only because of Arcati's clairvoyance that the spirit of Elvira (Charles' first wife) is able to appear to mortals (or at least to Charles). Arcati is also sharp to sceptics' irony (Dr George Bradman's in particular). Coward shrewdly played up the "fake mediumship" aspect, through comic mannerisms, so as not to alienate Christian sensibility, while nonetheless depicting her as entirely authentic as a Spiritualist medium.

In Lean's movie (produced by Coward) the preamble speaks of the "Fantastic Things" that kids believe in but about which adults know better. In a voiceover Coward adds "But they [the adults] are quite, quite wrong." Blithe Spirit is a marvellous piece of mischief on dull materialists and mere hymn-singers.

And Margaret Rutherford, in this production, is perfect as the crazy Arcati (as she was the perfect Miss Marple): an innocent invert, all but in name, playing the timeless part of witch. A better Christmas present to Madame Arcati no one could have imagined.

So a Merry Christmas from me to you. And a curse on the bitches and bastards who will tremble at my name in 2007.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Under Mars - porn pics from Our Boys and Girls

On my blogroll (down, left-hand menu) is a site called Baghdad Chronicles - it's the diary of a woman surviving in Iraq. She has posted a short item about another site called Under Mars: an online photo album by Western soldiers and military contractors there. Many of the pictures feature incinerated homes and tanks. Some feature bloody human body parts, pulped heads, faces with gouged out eyes - those of Iraqis, not of American or British soldiers. These pictures carry obscene captions such as:

"They blow my eye ball too"
"They put hole in my face mistah"
"Was dis my head"
"ok ok i got it, you a dead iraqi, i love shardes"
"new meaning to giving head" (of a decapitated head)

Bear in mind that many Iraqi people are reading these comments, witnessing an ugliness that I suspect most British and American people would abhor if they knew of this.

In her speech to the nation on Christmas Day, the Queen will express her pride in the British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the most part I'm sure she is right to be proud. But maybe she should visit Under Mars to learn of other realities.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas fiction: A Séance with Queen Elizabeth I

The Prime Minister cheered at the sight of snow. Beyond the glass it danced and spun on unseen eddies before descent on hats and coats and cosy shop canopies. “This is how Christmas should be,” he thought (as a proper sentence). “White”. He shook the Little Nell Snow Globe Storm Ball once more and the blizzard started afresh. Such a contrast to the mid-December dank, grey, snowless scene outside Number 10, forecast to remain up to and through the festivities. “I blame global warming,” he thought (again as words, not as a sensation). “Christmas simply doesn’t look right anymore.”

That same cold day, at 15.03 GMT, the Xyt launched their attack on Earth and by 15.29 had vanquished the globe. None of the planet's native species was any the wiser, though an audit of unexplained happenings might have noted a momentary teasing of three, maybe four, billion-odd pairs of human nostrils (more about that presently) and a brief, fluttery excitement in a billion-odd caged budgies, canaries, cockatoos – and not forgetting the festive fattening turkeys in their batteries. Feathers flew, pet (and turkey) owners scarcely wondered why, as the TV soaps reclaimed viewer apprehension. Earth was now a colony of the Xyt and none of the subjects had a clue. None, that is, but Mrs Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick, London.

"Dear Prime Minister", began her letter, "It is my duty to inform you that it is my conviction that Earth has been invaded by an alien race. At about three o' clock last Tuesday, in the afternoon, my eyes were filled with strange bubbles, in fact everywhere became a vast ocean of bubbles - bubbles passing through people, walls, dumb animals - even now I see them though my sight has grown used to them. I began to sneeze a lot as did my neighbours (they later told me), the bubbles were going up our noses - did you sneeze a lot last Tuesday? Ask your colleagues - anyway, I had a presentiment that these bubbles were in fact some sort of alien ejaculation all over the world, not just in Chiswick …" and on the letter went in this vein.

"I sometimes wonder why I bother," said the PM to his press secretary who had on a whim selected the letter for the leader's amusement - inflation was on the up again, the Daily Mail ever more hostile. The occupant of Number 10 needed a cheering interlude. "Here I am with a ten billion trade deficit and a deranged foreign secretary and this woman is seeing ejaculated bubbles. Still, I did think I was coming down with a cold last week, I recollect …"

"You sneezed you mean?" asked the incredulous press secretary, his famous lip curl primed for scorn.

"I had quite a spasm. Put my neck out."

"Dust mites? Snow? It’s the time of year …"

"Cleaners just redistribute dust, don't they? Surely we should get the Department of Health to publish guidelines on healthy, static dusting …"

"Now might not be a good time. Perhaps Mrs Hardcastle's bubbles are nothing more than dust motes."

The PM threw a glance at his media guru for signs of satire and then returned to the revision of the Queen's Speech.

Mrs Hardcastle gave Number 10 three days to reply. A woman of clear-headed fortitude she had anticipated a degree of scepticism and was decided not to be put off by the self-editing certainties of "literal people". She had a Plan B in case of official silence. What she didn't know was that the PM, a man with a surprising faith in the serendipity of lateral approaches, had ordered one of his Oxbridge researchers to check her out.

Uncertain where to start, Tim, 24, keyed "Jessica Hardcastle" into the internet search box, magicking up a forbiddingly long list of Jessicas and Hardcastles here and abroad. He refined the search by adding "Chiswick, UK" and voila! He opted for a plausible Jessica Hardcastle of that town. It must be her, he thought nervously.

"She's a practising clairvoyant," wrote Tim to the PM in an email. "Just the sort of person who would believe in aliens."

The PM found himself intrigued and asked for more information.

Tim's next email, which he nosegayed with embarrassed quote marks, read: "Mrs Hardcastle offers 'sittings' in which she purports to communicate with discarnate people. These 'sittings' can take place in her home or your home provided you cover her petrol. She can also commune via email or phone, provided you have a credit card. She has a small website that promises you contact with 'loved ones' who've 'passed over' in a 'comfortable atmosphere'. Best bit though is that her 'spirit guide' is no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth I - says on the site that Her Maj has a message for Britain and Europe. Oddly no mention of alien bubbles. Should we check out Mrs Hardcastle's tax returns?"

"Certainly not," wrote the PM, irritated by the junior's assumption of a shared contempt, though he had been quite prepared to tolerate such impertinence until Gloriana made her entrance.

Later, at a pre-Christmas drinks do hosted by the PM's wife at Number 10, Tim's line manager was ordered to tell the young man to resume his digging up of more dirt on the foreign secretary's student days - and no slacking.

Meanwhile, Mrs Hardcastle launched Plan B: she posted a letter to her local newspaper, The Chiswick Argus, and attached a copy of her letter to the PM.

"A nutter here says we've been invaded by bubbles," said Ben, a twenty-three-year old reporter, to his news editor, Chris Absalom.

"What's been invaded by what?"

"Earth, by bubbles?"


"Says the bubbles are all around us, though only she can see them. Ejaculated from space or something. She's even written to the Prime Minister - got the letter here."

At this the forty-eight-year old news editor postponed a decision to cancel half his direct debits, lately grown onerous by unsolicited magazine subscriptions induced by free gifts.

"Has Downing Street replied?" he asked in his deep sing-song.

"No, she's moaning about his dereliction of duty …"

"Mmmm, bubbles …" Chris' voice trailed away in reverie. Scenes of froth were filling his imagination, a bubble mountain cascading over the hapless head of the embattled PM. A Vesuvian lather enveloping the Pompeiian premier. A fantasy born in hope. Gassy beer, fizzy champagne - he saw bubbles everywhere, and he marvelled at the prismatic colours in their skin and …

"Dewdrops," he said.

"Dewdrops, Chris?"

"Dewdrops are like bubbles aren't they?"

Ben was adamant: "No."

"I mean, you can sometimes see the colours of the rainbow in a dewdrop like the colours in a soap bubble - how come the ancients didn't notice rainbows in dewdrops, didn't they wonder at the link between dewdrops and rainbows? Someone must have thought …"

He noted Ben's countenance and paused, then reminded himself of a senior's licence to think aloud.

"I'm talking about information, child. There in front of the ancients was some sort of answer - in the dewdrops!"

"So what's that got to do with Mrs Hardcastle's bubbles?"

"Everything, sort of. I mean, if I'd said to you in 400 BC that sunlight in a dewdrop is made up of the colours of the rainbow you'd be looking at me as you are now, like the sodding know-all with his BA honours that you are. So when this fruitcake comes along with her story about invading bubbles - well, what are we to believe? Can you believe anything anyone ever says, eh? What are we to disbelieve? Dare we disbelieve?"

"Cup of strong coffee, Chris?"

"Get out of here and learn about bubbles, you cheeky sod. Go talk to the silly cow. Go and find something and surprise me, something's that not from the frickin county court."

"I'm gone!"

Chris fell back into his swivel chair with a sigh. Wonderment, that's what was missing in youth today, he concluded. He blamed university education and its empirical certainties. He remembered he hadn’t sent a Christmas card to his girlfriend’s mother.

Back at Number 10, chastened, Tim emailed Mrs Hardcastle's website link and her postal address (as published on the site) to one of the PM's aides (at the PM's secret and circuitous request). The site published a local rate telephone number for interested seekers.


"Oh, hello. Is this Mrs Jessica Hardcastle?"


"Mrs Hardcastle, my name is Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith, I'm calling from the office of the Prime Minister and I am following up on your recent communication to him. Is this a good time to talk?"

Mrs Hardcastle held her tongue for a second, then: "Communication?"

"Yes, you are Mrs Hardcastle?"

"Yes, but who are you? Is this some silly joke? Have you nothing better to do with your time?

"I am phoning from the Prime Minister's office."

Mrs Hardcastle hung up.

Gabrielle thought this behaviour very peculiar - after all, the woman had solicited the PM's interest. The thought flashed that she had contacted the wrong person, but Mrs Hardcastle had confirmed her identity. On the other hand, one had to remember whom one was dealing with here. "Yes, that must be it," she rationalised to herself. "An eccentric."

Mrs Hardcastle herself had grown used to ridicule. Ignorant scorn was the price she paid as the Virgin Queen's incarnate voice. Sometime in the past she had resolved to record every call to her client local rate number, but then thought better of it: she didn't want to think of herself as paranoid or neurotic. But this latest antic was the last straw. There were more loonies out there now, probably due to hyper-energising high-sugar diets and the dread, brain cell-killing aspartame found in sugar-free mouth candy. She attached the phone tap's rubber sucker to the back of her receiver and plugged the other end of the flex into her tape recorder.

So it was with a degree of surprise when, approximately three hours later, she took delivery at her front door of an envelope from a polite yet menacing courier in Darth Vader-style black helmet (with scarlet lightning streaks on the sides) and black, crumpled leather.

"Dear Mrs Hardcastle," the note began. She stopped to look up at the blue, embossed Number 10 letterhead - it could be forged, she considered. "Dear Mrs Hardcastle, I phoned you earlier today and I apologise for inconveniencing you. To come straight to the point, the Prime Minister was interested in your recent communication, and while he makes no comment on the nature of your experience(s), he would be most interested in your speaking to one of his representatives about them (solely in the interests of religious tolerance and ecumenism), and about your work generally. I should be grateful if in all our dealings total confidence was respected." It was signed Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith.

She put down the letter, mouthing "communication?" "experiences?" "ecumenism?" It's true she had sent the PM one of her astral-glittery Christmas cards, as she did every year, whatever the political weather in Downing Street; as she did every year to the principal members of the Royal Family - but not to the peripheral riff-raff, the "hangers-on". At least the Windsors sent an acknowledgement. She always had her address and phone number printed on her festive cards along with the logo and details of her Spiritualist organisation and website - that must be it, she concluded. At long last the PM had got round to reading her Christmas card and evidently been attracted to her subtle psychic advertisement. She grew excited at the prospect of a high profile conversion.

And Elizabeth Tudor, after 400 years of slumming it with commoner clairvoyants (Mrs Hardcastle had her predecessors), in her classless afterlife purgatory, might at long last now be afforded the opportunity to pick up where she'd left off in 1603 (aged sixty-nine) with this most enlightened of Prime Ministers.

Heart thumping with anticipation, she phoned the Number 10 contact number and was put through, having switched on her tape recorder.

"Miss Whitefield-Smith?"

"Yes, hello."

"This is Mrs Hardcastle …"

"Oh yes, I'm so glad you called."

"I'm so sorry I put the phone down on you - please accept my apologies."

"I quite understand. You can never be too careful. Now, when can we talk?"

A few hours later Ben, of The Chiswick Argus, pressed the bell push: he noted the white, sun-baked husks of woodlice in its plastic oblong case and wondered how they'd got in. The double-glazed door opened a little too promptly, as if the occupant of this tidy semi had lain in wait behind the bow window's silky veil.

"Mrs Hardcastle?"



Goodness, he's young, thought Mrs Hardcastle. Looks about eighteen.

Her Persian cat on the rose print sofa looked up, stared at Ben's flickering notebook, perhaps thinking it some sort of bird, then went back to sleep.

"So, these bubbles," said Ben, gilt-edged teacup steaming on the glass table, "they're all around us?"

"Well, I said bubbles, but now I know better. Since I wrote to you I have had a communication from the Xyt?"

"The Exit?"

"That's how it's pronounced, but they spelt it out - X-y-t - for me. They're the Xyts, a vast alien race from light years away."

"They spoke to you?"

"As clearly as you. And they explained that what I was seeing were not bubbles but microscopic cameras - they look like bubbles! - trillions and trillions, squillions - I don't think there's a number for them - all around us. How many air molecules are there in the world? Or grains of sand? Think about it. And these cameras, which are organic, see and hear everything, and can feel things too - yes cameras! Of a sort - and these cameras are all linked up, spying on us, not just looking at us like CCTV cameras but are inside us too, monitoring our health and emotions; and these cameras are all linked to powerful computers on the planet Xyt which are like film directors, able to cut our lives into stories - these computer film directors edit what the cameras have sent back and turn our every moment into movies for the Xyts! The Xyts can feel what we feel thanks to an empathy permutation function in the cameras, that's what they said. They know what undetected illnesses people have; a young man may propose to his beloved yet be suffering from terminal cancer and not know it - the dramatic irony for the Xyt! They know how long the lovers have got. The tragedy. On Xyt we're all film stars!"

Ben was pushing out his wet-peachy bottom lip and nodding gently as he recorded her testimony in shorthand.

"Earth was invaded at three minutes past three on December 14, and we were completely taken over by twenty-nine minutes past. GMT. That's what they said - that's when I had my sneezing fit, ask the neighbours. Imagine it! Our entire world conquered in just twenty-six minutes! Such is the scale of their superiority. Caesar had his armies, Jesus his disciples. The Xyt have their bubbles."

"Who talked to you?" asked Ben.

"I have no idea. I just heard this voice. These cameras, these miracles of micro-technology, can transmit both ways. I couldn't make this up. Ben, how can I make people believe me? And as for that worthless Prime Minister of ours …"

Back at the office Ben briefed his news editor Chris on the Xyt.

"Have we checked her out?" asked the older man of Mrs Hardcastle, after mention of the cameras. "I mean, does she have a history of mental illness? A criminal record? How did she strike you - would she look flaky on TV?"

"Nothing in the records, she seemed perfectly normal, except for what she said."

"And these alien cameras - they look like bubbles?"

"They resemble bubbles. She could see them in her sitting room. She sees them on Oprah on TV. She saw a load shoot into the Queen's ear on TV. And in nature documentaries. Wherever she looked she said she saw these bubble things."

"And did she say how these camera bubbles got into the air?"

"She was vague on that, said they were pumped in from space ships, but I couldn't tell if she imagined that or was told it."

"I love these details. In fact, I just love details. And did she say why only she can see these things, they being microscopic?"

"The Xyt told her, she says, that she's not the only one who can see the bubbles, but many are in denial. She was thinking of trying to get together a Xyt support group. She said there was a slight design flaw in the cameras that made them show up to people with over-active pineal glands."

"A support group! Pineal glands! Sexy details! And what did she expect Downing Street to do about it?"

Chris seemed unusually animated thought Ben. A bad sign. His heart sank a bit.

"She wanted the PM to investigate," he replied. "She's convinced that if scientists were alerted to the cameras, they'd detect them and prove her right about aliens. I asked her to ask her aliens to give us some vital secret information which could be verified - I said that would be regarded as evidence."

"Yes, well," drawled Chris with sarcasm, changing gear, "this is not an investigation, this is pure showbiz. Casualty division."

"I thought you were interested in her bubbles," the young man said with some indignation.

"Was I? You sure about that? What I said was go and talk to the loony and surprise me. Well, you have surprised me. You've made my day. You've done something you didn't want to do, you have broken out of your silly little know-all shell and done something imaginative. That approach could be useful when you're on the Sunday Times one day and in receipt of a MI6 leak. You'll thank me. What to believe? What not to believe? You could miss a great story if you start pre-judging matters. Keep that mind open. Now get me a coffee and find me a real story, Mr BA!"

The PM's press secretary kicked off his loafers and rested his red-socked feet (with the green ivy leaf detail) on his desk. A rare thick fog, such as Jack the Ripper had made the most of, curtained his view of London, lending to a fancy that time had stood still, that the day's business was suspended. Perhaps the afterlife is like this, he thought, a grey nothing-in-particular - an idea that coincided with his perusal of a printout of Mrs Hardcastle's website. His eye lingered on the porcelain white face of Elizabeth I and her bizarre ruffed and corseted get-up that made her resemble an anaemic, transvestite moth.

Word had reached him of the PM's errancy. He knew of the planned séance and was utterly appalled - so appalled that he had already written down his thoughts in his daily diary. That entry alone would raise the value of his memoirs in a newspaper serial rights bidding war. The chateau he coveted in Bergerac would then be affordable.

For years he had tried to keep the PM on the straight and narrow, to protect him from an unhealthy bent for the irrational view of life as expressed in superstition, intuition and the inexplicable. He'd documented it all. Oh yes.

In his hand he had a copy of Mrs Hardcastle's letter about the invasion of the bubbles. That, too, was in his diary.

Quite soon, as he reluctantly admired Mrs Hardcastle's fluent use of English ("such a waste"), it was his subconscious that first registered an inconsistency; what was it now? Something not right here, he mumbled. He looked at the address in the letter and the address on the website: they were different though both in Chiswick. What's going on here then?

"Tim!" he barked.

"Can you hear me, Prime Minister?"

"Yes Gabrielle."

The phone was in conference mode (and recording).

"The thing is - I can hear you breathing, Prime Minister, you must hold the receiver away from your mouth, or else Mrs Hardcastle, or whoever, will hear you. If you need to say anything to me please use the other phone."

The other phone sat on the far side of his desk with receiver off its cradle, resting but expectant, linked to Gabrielle's earphone.

"Oh yes," said the PM.

She dialled Mrs Hardcastle who switched on her tape before picking up the receiver.

"Mrs Hardcastle, it's Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith. Is it OK to do what we discussed?"

"Yes dear. Just give me a moment. Remember, no clever questions! And don't refer to the telephone. Her Majesty will get confused."

Gabrielle and PM lay quiet as their respective receivers were filled with whistly breathing and groans, sounds that might have been misinterpreted for that of a bordello were it not for the context. Mrs Hardcastle was going into a trance, she was ceding control of her vocal cords to a greater power. The PM thought of Tudor history, his heritage, his posterity, and the present absurdity, or what seemed to be. But he just couldn't resist this opportunity, this remote, peculiar chance to talk with …

"How I have been deceived!"

The PM froze. Was this the voice of Elizabeth I?

"Never in my life have I heard such audacity!"

A grand, low voice, peculiar in its intonation, not of the 21st century to be sure. Nothing like Cate Blanchett's.

"Your Majesty?" said Gabrielle, quivery, nonplussed.

"I care not for death," cried the voice. "I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything."

"Do you think it's her? She sounds crazed. Tell her we are her subjects," whispered the nervous PM to Gabrielle on the other line.

"We are your subjects, Your Majesty."

"I give you my hearty thanks for the good zeal and loving care you seem to have."

"Good," said the PM to Gabrielle. "She's calming down. Ask her how she is."

"Your Majesty, how are you keeping?"

"Keeping? I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, not a fastholding prince, nor yet a waster. Nothing hath changed."

"Ask her what she thinks of England."

"Your Majesty …"

"Silence! I see many overbold with Parliament Almighty making too many subtle scanning's of your Prime Minister's will, as lawyers do with human testaments. The presumption is so great, as I may not suffer it. And I sayeth this - don't trust those varlets, the Spaniards!"

"Good heavens," whispered the PM, nervous of European sensibilities. "Better change the subject".

In a fluster, unable to think, Gabrielle asked: "How's your mother?"

"Oh God Gabrielle, no!"

A terrible silence. Followed by terrible words: "What the fucking hell is going on with these bloody Hardcastle women?"

The last voice was not the PM's, Gabrielle's or Elizabeth Tudor's. The PM's press secretary had just stormed into the PM's office.

"Who speaketh? I marvel at so great and such unprecedented impertinence!" shouted the voice purporting to be that of the Queen.

"Quiet!" whispered the PM to the press secretary, hand over receiver, she'll hear you.

"Who?" asked the media guru.

"Who is that?" asked Mrs Hardcastle, audible to all. "Is that the Prime Minister I heard then? Were you eavesdropping? You've broken the trance with Queen Elizabeth the First, this is disgraceful."

"Queen Elizabeth the First?" repeated the press secretary.

"Oh God," cried the PM.

"Don't you ever learn?" screamed the man who claimed to have guided the PM to power, amongst others.

Two days later the national newspapers led with what would become the story of the year. The Telegraph's splash was the more restrained but most accurate of the lot: '"PM Talked To Elizabeth I Through Me," claims Psychic. The lengthy report named a Jessica Hardcastle (of Chiswick) as the medium at the centre of this maelstrom and their source. Someone at Number 10 denied everything flatly.

One Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick read her Telegraph and, as she did so, imagined her gut crashing through to her pelvic floor, such was her outrage. After a third reading she shouted in the direction of her Persian cat: "I'll sue!"

Meanwhile, newspaper sales shot up.

"So, Mrs Hardcastle had a séance with the national prints," said the press secretary, in an uncharacteristic failure of wit. "It was to be expected."

The PM sat disconsolate, speechless.

"You deserve the kicking of your life. That's what you're going to get."

The press stories told the underlying story: enraged by the PM's conduct, Mrs Hardcastle had contacted the Telegraph and reported her tale, playing her tapes and claiming that the PM was so desperate to find a New Way out of his predicaments that he had sought advice from the dead Queen. It was a scoop up there with the Nancy Reagan astrologer classic.

"To add insult, you consulted the wrong Mrs Hardcastle. Only you could have."

The PM was now familiar with what his press secretary was about to repeat to Gabrielle, forlorn by a window:

"Tim didn't do his homework, did he? No one thought there might be two Jessica Hardcastles in Chiswick. Tim failed to check old Bubble Hardcastle's address in her letter against Elizabeth Tudor Hardcastle's address on her website, didn't he? Tut-tut. He'll have to go. Amateurs! Tudor Hardcastle must have thought it was Christmas when she heard from Number 10 - hah! The odds against this happening must be incalculable. One for the statisticians. But this is what happens when you let school kids run the government."

Gabrielle said nothing (thinking she should have acted on her warning intuition when she first made contact with the other, uncomprehending Mrs H) but glanced at the PM for support. He looked away.

The press secretary leaned back triumphant. The Hardcastles had served some strange purpose, he rationalised in the silence. The PM might yet be his disciple again for fear of another debacle. Leaders must be led to be leaders. For too long the PM had sought to resist his brand of commonsense.

Life could be quite kinky, the press guru knew that, but never that kinky.

The press secretary's unsought victory was complete when a day later The Chiswick Argus published its own crazy PM story. Spurred on by nothing more than the PM's link to one Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick, it told the story of the other Hardcastle of Chiswick, her Xyt, the invading bubbles and their tenuous link with Downing Street.

It was left to the nationals to conclude (wrongly) that the PM might well have tried to make contact with the Xyt had he not first got through to Elizabeth Tudor, but for a confusion of Hardcastles. The media read a troubled soul into the PM. And many psychologists were paid well to reflect on clairvoyance and its fascination to the jittery. Mature film directors emailed each other on who should play whom in the dramatisation - Dame Judi Dench as Mrs "Tudor" Hardcastle?

The Argus' news editor Chris took Ben out for a celebratory drink - "See what I said?"

Mrs "bubbles" Hardcastle decided not to sue. "It'll just make things worse," advised her daughter. Instead she said a prayer before bedtime one night: "Please, please, take away the bubbles. I don't want to see them anymore." And in the next few days the bubbles did decline in volume before her eyes, no longer stacked as tightly as caviar all about, just clustered. And soon they were gone. She had an intuition that the Xyt had tired of Earth after a faddish interest in this part of the Milky Way. Exposure to billions of human and non-human dramas all at once had given them a sufficient supply of stories for the duration of any ET species.

She later founded a Xyt support group for Those Who Had Known and wrote an international best-selling book called Soap From The Stars: My Encounters With The Bubbles People.

Mrs "Tudor" Hardcastle never heard from the Queen again so she grew rich after embarking on a series of lucrative, international lecture tours on the subject of the "real" QE1, sometimes aboard the QM2, and befriended the other Mrs Hardcastle.

From the back of his Daimler the PM gazed up at an early evening Mars twinkling in the southern sky. At least he assumed it was Mars; perhaps it was Venus. He didn't think his driver would know. He'd read his horoscope that morning in one of the tabloids. Apparently Mars was "strong" in his chart right now. It said that Mars makes people under its astrological influence short-tempered … it is the celestial body of energy, drive, aggression, leadership and of independent spirit. "The personified god of war." And it was true, he did feel a lot more with-it today, ready for a fight. After he'd read his horoscope. The media insults had left welts on his ego yet his approval ratings were up one percentage point. Columnists despaired. The PM sensed some lesson to be learned, perhaps to be divined.

He was not one to waste an experience.

He cringed at the thought of his séance. The shame! But when Buckingham Palace came into view as his car turned into The Mall from Trafalgar Square, his mood altered abruptly. He began to ponder whether his spectral Tudor encounter, or even the existence of the absurd Xyt, was anymore ludicrous than the supposed mystical union said to exist between Queen and Commonwealth. Did mystical mean unintelligible? Or did it denote some spiritual reality, even some divine communication? How could you prove it? Where was the science?

He gazed at the faded façade of the palace. Momentarily he saw it as a temple with its crowned high priestess within ready to receive him, as she always did, early Tuesday evenings, just before her customary hot bath. Trying to explain this mystical union to a Martian would be to court ridicule from the Red Planet denizen, he thought. But then again, the monarchy had survived for millennia on its divine connections: the irrational, the illogical - these were powerful, enduring forces. Look at astrology - seemingly nonsensical yet still big, big business.

These thoughts comforted the PM in a warm rush, they made him feel at one again with his people - a nation exhausted with what it knew. Unicorns, angels, aliens, gods, discarnate babblers, prophetic seers, messiahs, avatars, crystals, amulets and esoteric conspiracies galore - in these, and more, lay the limitless possibilities of a dream. Of a sudden he almost felt grateful to the Xyt and the ghost of Elizabeth I for their painful intrusion. They had reminded him of something.

He didn't know what precisely. He didn't want to know precisely. That, he concluded, was the point precisely.

As the Daimler swept passed the high black railings of the palace, the PM was suddenly elated - "Yes!" he cried.

He had made a decision. It had come in a flash. Mars was shouting it from the darkening sky.

His press secretary must be sacked – but after Christmas.

Copyright by Madame Arcati 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Star-Fuckers' Book Guide '07 Part 2

Diana’s ghost cannot rest in July as Sunday Times fashion writer Colin McDowell publishes Diana Style, full of the pics we have seen all these years but freshly burnished by Colin’s brittly prose.

August shakes with the arrival of Genesis: Revelations and Marianne Faithfull updates her memoirs, probably freshened with tales of her scary encounter with cancer this year.

Shakespeare’s missus Anne Hathaway may yet turn in her grave as Germaine Greer is expected to give her the unsynthesised manifold treatment. I do hope that the good doctor will manage to produce at least one readable sentence and not subject her fans to highly allusive academese: we know you’re clever ducky.

Top Gear's Richard Hammond will bore us to death with his autobiography in September – I thought his memory had gone since the smash up. Funny how it’s come back at the sight of a publisher’s advance.

Possibly in October the Queen Mother gets written up by William Shawcross, though I’ve heard he’s finding it hard going. Quite what more there is to say about this dull woman with bad teeth I haven’t a clue.

And sometime before Christmas ’07 we have Sophie Dahl’s warts ‘n’ all account of her mother Tessa – drinks, drugs, sad fucks – delightful.

Books you won’t see next year include Woody Allen’s bio – still holding out for millions, the creep. But I do hope Alec Baldwin’s life story comes out: he’s threatening to reveal all about his bitter divorce from Kim Basinger.

Books I’d vote not to be written include Calum Best's bio – though a TV doc about his sex life would be most interesting. All they’d have to do is put an endoscopic camera on his cock for some interesting internal shots of Z-list tarts. Macauley Culkin also can put away his pen. A 23-year-old has no life to recollect aside from masturbation and depression.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Star-Fuckers' Book Guide '07 Part 1

Jan- June
One of the big star autobiographies due this year is Julie Andrews' - the current expected date of publication is Sept 13 in the UK. Rupert Everett thinks she's a "hard nut" and I know she's one of the more difficult A-listers (veteran division) to tackle in interviews.

Mid-Jan sees the release of J Randy Taraborrelli's Diana Ross: An Unauthorised Biography. This promises to be a readable haul of her various busts and bust-ups.

In February bisexual drug addict and occasional Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty publishes his Journals, scattergun diaries from 1999 to the present - perhaps similar in form to Courtney Love's recent collage of bits and pieces (which she admits she's not even read). Expect a re-ignition of his Kate Moss fandango for useful tabloid marketing purposes.

BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker publishes The Autobiography in February (I'll be surprised), relating the drug tales that are compulsory for bookshop window space. The same month Adolf Hitler is re-visited by (of all people) Norman Mailer in The Castle In The Forest -a factional narrative that seeks to illuminate the Fuhrer's evil from a heritage perspective.

Brits will appreciate respite from Hilter with Princess of the Wags Coleen McLoughlin's Welcome To My World - a guide to her garish world of unearned riches and all because she fucks footballer Wayne Rooney.

Singer and dodgy US Pop Idol judge Paul Abdul publishes her autobiography in March as does Fidel Castro - the latter likely to be as fanciful a life story as George Galloway's recent stodgy and humourless homage to the Cuban leader.

In April David Soul, Brian Eno and The Fall's Mark E Smith cash in on their karmic voyages on this planet. In May Patti Smith tells us all about her relationship with the late outrageous artist Robert Mapplethorpe while Helen Mirren (by then Oscar-laden one hopes from the triumph of The Queen) tells all in Picture My Life.

In June Alex James of Blur fame is expected to publish Bit Of A Blur. Followers of The Independent Catherine Townsend's sex column will doubtless relish her Sleeping Around, chronicling her exploits as a cool tart.

But of course the star autobiography of mid-year is likely to be Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles, expected June 5 from Random House. Why did the Princess of Wales think Charles was out to kill her? The former Tatler/Vanity Fair/The New Yorker editor is surely delving into the dark forces that Mohamed Al-Fayed and the Daily Express would have us think dispatched Diana and Dodi. The book is nicely timed for the 10th anniversary of Diana's death - what with the Princes' Wembley Diana rock concert planned for July 1.

Yes, another lively year in the life of publishing as books and slebrity converge ever more intimately.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Daily Mail Christmas party

Budgets maybe tight at the Daily Mail but the Richard Kay, Ephraim Hardcastle and Books teams managed a festive get-together last night for staff, contributors and various hangers-on of dubious value – yes, Sir Dai Llewellyn, you have charmed us long enough.

As my companion said to me as we got ourselves trapped in Northcliffe House’s new revolving door, just behind Piers Morgan and his statuesque female companion: “There’s nothing like a Mail party to make you feel younger.”

She was alluding to the reassuring faith the paper places in staff maturity: the contrast between picture bylines and actuality is most pronounced and could conceivably be the basis of an interesting board game: Guess Who. High salaries ensure these talented veterans are kept in good nick (Glenys Roberts is a perambulatory advert for the joys of Park Lane gyms); and simply being employed (ie desired, valued, needed, etc) beyond normal retirement age adds lustre to the otherwise sad weathering process, though Peter Mackay (Ephraim himself) always looked that way.

The Mail home in London's Derry Street may prompt déjà vu in shopping mall habitues. A shiny central atrium from the steep escalators herds you to glass lifts. Up you shoot in post-vertigo jadedness to a higher level wreathed in office flora – probably authentic. But instead of the ringing of tills there was the welcome clink-clinking of wine glasses.

A famous publisher and a very famous agent were having the following conversation (names altered to protect them from their authors):

Edna: “Darling, what’s the name of that author of yours. Up something."
Wilma: “Up? Up what? Up – oh!”
Edna: “Uppity, up up, oh what is it?”
Wilma “Oh I know who you mean. Up up – oh I can’t remember!”
Edna: “But she’s your author!”
Wilma: “It’s on the tip of my tongue.”

I engage in conversation with Wilma who knows Robert Harris very well. “Publishing is not right,” she pronounces. “It’s Chantelle this, Chantelle that – all these books about these TV nothings. If you keep publishing this stuff you create no backlist which is where the money comes from, you just pursue the next Chantelle and the next. It’s like a drug, chasing the dragon – it’s most worrying.”

Journalist and gentleman Tim Satchell sidles up for a chat. We gaze at the Evening Standard property gossip Compton Miller (“Daisy” of old Private Eye fame). Tim says: “I divide people between polite and impolite and impolite people are a waste of space. I can’t bring myself to talk to Miller.” We discuss the dumping of Sheridan Morley at the Express: "A minute's silence for dear Sherry," I suggest. "A minute's silence for the Express would be more apt," concludes Tim.

Bon voyage to Sherry by the way: I hear he's emigrating to New York. No doubt his pushy wife Ruth - who writes a lot of theatre reviews under his byline - had something to do with that decision.

The crime writer Simon Brett gives me party face time. “And who are you?” he asks, a little sexily. I am mysterious. I say I am an astrologer for Paul Dacre. “I thought that was Jonathan Cainer,” he replies. “Ah,” I say, improvising, “I am his personal astrologer.” His female companion, who I think writes for the Mail, asks: “How long’s he going to last?” “A year,” I say promptly. High octane bullshit must always be delivered without hesitation. My answer lights up a few faces about.

Then Simon gets serious. “Astrology is rubbish,” he says. “But I’ll tell you something. I have noticed that most good crime writers are Scorpios. I am a Scorpio. Strange isn’t it?” He lists a load of names by way of example that I now forget. I concur. Scorpios in my experience are deft at the sneakiness, the vindictiveness and sour scepticism essential to excellent ‘tec stuff. I tell him so.

Novelist Claire Colvin – now the opera critic of the Daily Express - presents herself for inspection. She is cling-filmed in kinky black satin, crystal stones hanging loose like testicles on a tropic day from her neck. She is a lovely soul, I adore her fictive depictions of Venice. She tells me she attended the recent Arcadia Books party hosted by its proprietor Gary Pulsifer – and Duncan Fallowell was there! “No!” I say. The two had not seen eye to eye about the marketing of Duncan’s novel A History of Facelifting. But they’re talking again. Christmas’ healing balm.

I burrow deep into the corpus of the party. Peter Mackay is talking, bellowing, but no one can make out much of what he says. His accent of origin makes no concession to southerners. I spot pompous Michael Cole (Mohamed al-Fayed’s former adviser on such matters as stylish cuff-links) pressing his business cards into open hands. I recall someone telling me that Cole is not unfamiliar with the interiors of Spearmint Rhino establishments where I understand beaver is not an endangered species.

He once advised a friend of mine: "You can do just about anything in this city, the trick is not to get found out."

Media pundit Stephen Glover makes an approach, hangdog countenance his trademark. Former Independent on Sunday Editor and Telegraph emigre Kim Fletcher is schmoozing expertly: his likeness to the delinquent property magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten is most striking.

So many other names here, but my interest is starting to wane ….

Budgets maybe tight but the French wine flowed copiously and the canapés tantalised citric tums, served by charming persons in uniform. From the balcony I peered into lit abandoned offices where Dacre’s famous creative tension rules. I gazed down into the dizzying atrium maw – “It’s funny how no one has jumped to their death yet,” I said to a man in a good suit.

He gave me a strange look and walked off.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Kitty Kelley and self-publishing

Delightful news that Kitty Kelley is now turning her popular iconoclasm on Oprah Winfrey. As a dear pal of Kitty - who like any true gossip knows when to keep her trap shut - I can vouch for the fact that she does not announce these ventures until she's done a fair proportion of the research already.

Grumpyoldbookman picks up on a very interesting angle. Kitty had tremendous problems finding a publisher: doubtless the prospect of tackling America's most beloved daughter didn't appeal - especially as she runs one of the US' most influential book clubs. Grumpy predicts that one day a major "brand" like Kitty will simply publish herself: once you've established your name on the public fame-map all you need is a packager, distributor and PRs to flog the product. Who needs Random House or HarperCollins to decide how to fuck up your book?

A good example of this in the UK is the prolific Dr Vernon Coleman. He publishes his own stuff through his Publishing House in Devon. He's written 114 books and sold 2 million copies. His company's mission statement includes this:

Despite their huge marketing departments [large publishing houses] are often out of touch with people's needs. If we published as many `turkeys' as they do we'd be out of business. The big [publishing] conglomerates need to cooperate with the establishment because they are part of the establishment. We stand outside the establishment. They don't like us much at all. They often do their best to shut us down.

So don't knock the Lulus and iUniverses. These are the future of publishing: enablers of self-publishing. When even the likes of Kitty Kelley find it hard to find a publisher, Dr Coleman's point is proven.

Matt Lucas gets inverted-commaed

Little Britain star Matt Lucas and partner Kevin McGee were inverted-commaed today following their civil partnership service in London yesterday.

Their inverted-commaing took place in just about every newspaper that covered the event. Examples of inverted commas' use included ‘wed’, ‘wedding’, ‘marriage’. The Guardian however managed to print the word “wed” without inverted commas and the Independent simply referred to their “civil partnership ceremony”. The Mirror avoided the use of inverted commas by the ingenious use of the word “hitched”.

A national newspaper spokesperson for the inverted-commaing of homosexual unions, Mr Ephraim Tufty-Nose, told Arcati: “Yes but no but, the use of inverted commas enables responsible, law-abiding publications to hold the offending article at some distance from readers’ noses so, yeah, and like Matt Lucas is really huge so we wouldn’t wanna appear old-fashioned but y’know it’s not a proper marriage….”

Celebs beat God for the kids

Children under 10 think being a celebrity is the "very best thing in the world" but do not think quite as much of God, a survey reveals today. As I said in the Spacey debate, celebrity is the religion of our time (so obvious I blush) - I may launch a literary competition all about slebs. I shall seek a prize worthy of such an occasion. So that list in full.

The best thing:
1. Being a Celebrity
2. Good Looks
3. Being Rich
4. Being Healthy
5. Pop Music
6. Families
7. Friends
8. Nice Food
9. Watching Films
10. Heaven/God

And who is the most famous person in all the world?
1. God
2. President Bush
3. Madonna
4. Jesus
5. Father Christmas
6. The Queen
7. Tony Blair
8. Simon Cowell
9. Sharon Osbourne
10. Britney Spears

National Kids' Day poll

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Leona rises as The Sun sets

Leona wins The X Factor! Tremendous result and the start of what will be a great international career. Eight million people voted, she gets a £1m recording contract. One million copies of her single A Moment Like This already pre-bought. So the Christmas No 1 must be hers.

But think of poor old Victoria Newton on The Sun. In yet another misjudged attempt to surf the public wave she backed darling Ray - a likeable teen crooner destined for the West End stage - perhaps in a Sinatra tribute show or something. Tone-deaf Victoria simply doesn't get it. How the once mighty Sun is fallen.

Murdoch gives Regan the boot

"Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately," HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman tersely announced yesterday.

At last Murdoch does something useful in his long, culturally useless life. Regan's days were always numbered the moment she dragged the Ancient Scrotal Sac into one of the worst publishing scandals in recent times. Regan, you will recall, had dreamt up the OJ Simpson "confessional" book in which he hypothesised how he would have killed his wife and friend were he guilty (the title Total Recall comes to mind): a fantastically cynical project symptomatic of psychosis both in Simpson himself and in the bullying, hysterical, hubristic and lying Regan. The world of publishing should ask itself how this low-life ever got so high in its world and why such a premium is placed on corporate miscreants.

Had the Simpson book continued to enjoy distribution, a whole new genre in the world of tabloid publishing would have opened up:

Henry Kissinger: "How I would have razed Cambodia to the ground had I not been busy picking up the Nobel Peace Prize"

Augusto Pinochet: "How aliens abducted 3,000 political opponents while I took tea with Mrs Thatcher - oops, I've just died"

Imelda Marcos: "My guide to New York shopping while one's husband does all the dirty work back home"

Any more?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Diana, al-Fayed and the EIR loonies

Francis Wheen in the London Standard this week draws attention to one of the supporters of Mohamed al-Fayed and his fantasies about Diana's "assassination". This is the peculiar publication Executive Intelligence Review run by occasional US presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche. Among EIR's many conspiracy theories is this delicious nugget: that Queen Elizabeth II runs a global cocaine-smuggling cartel. This reminds me of the the ex-TV sports journalist David Icke and his belief that world notables such as the British Royal family are alien reptiles.

EIR's classic loopy conspiracy concoction though - and not mentioned by Wheen - was hallucinated back in 1999 when it launched a war against ... Take A Break magazine. Those unacquainted with this publication should know that it's a mass circulation women's weekly noted for its true-life tales.

Its editor John Dale - still there - had run a piece on LaRouche's attacks on the Windsors under the headline "Shut this man's mouth". EIR speculated: "Best estimates are that the article, which appeared in the tabloid women's magazine Take A Break was planted by Britain's MI6 secret service and/or senior advisers to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace."

EIR then attempted to rubbish the establishment stooge Dale: "[He] has, in his career, run special operations on behalf of the royal family, and, obviously, has served as a mouthpiece for a segment of the royals' apparatus. In 1986, he authored a book, The Prince and the Paranormal: The Psychic Bloodline of the Royal Family. At the time of its publication, it was billed as an attack on Prince Charles, because he engages in odd beliefs and practices that are inappropriate to a future monarch and future head of the Church of England. But, in truth, the book was a promotional for the occult traditions and practices of the British royal family over the past century and a half."

My tits are hard with the excitement of it all.

Stephen King: Rare signed copies for charity

As penance (ha ha) for my Stephen King party report which upset so many believers in Santa, allow me to enter the spirit of Christmas (or "Winter" for the know-all fundamentalist secularists) and help promote a Stephen King charity for freelance artists who lose their livelihood through sudden catastrophic accident.

The Haven Foundation is offering from today in VERY limited quantities signed copies of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (by Stephen King) and John Irving's Until I Find You. Place your order beginning December 14th.

"The majority of mid-list writers, audio readers, and freelancers in the book and publishing industry have little or no financial cushion in the event of a sudden catastrophic accident," writes King. "In the summer of 1999, I was struck by a careless driver and nearly killed while taking my daily walk. It was ten months before I was able to work productively again."

King was lucky. He recovered and can still work. And incidentally, King rarely signs his books so get buying.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"End body art, bring back pubes"

by Duncan Fallowell
Why this, written for my weekly column in trendy online magazine The First Post, should have been censored by their editor I’ll never understand. All I said, perfectly innocuously, was ‘Can we have an end to body art?’ and wrote as follows:-

I’m not talking about making yourself look nice, nor about plastic surgery, nor girls waxing their legs, but messing up the appearance with piercing, tattooes and intimate shaving. It started among urban gays of course. Most things do. Hoodie-wearing was a gay fashion 20 years ago – now look at it. The same with body art. A few pioneers in Heaven nightclub. But before long you’d pick up someone sweet and fresh and one’s heart would sink as the clothes came off: first tacky tattooes would appear, then pierced nipples, then shaved pubes. Soon after, it was complete depilation. That ghastly plucked chicken look!

It got so bad that I started picking up straight men. Then they got in on the act. I blame Beckham and his waxed balls. In frustration I took to ordering up rent-boys, specifying beautiful non-art bodies. But they can be deceitful. When they turn up you discover them to be covered in special effects. One of them whined ‘But it’s only a bolt through my eyebrow’. Yuk, the worst! There are only seven natural rent-boys left in London and I’ve had them all.

When will people understand that being natural is the sexiest thing? Laurence Olivier was directing Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl and he said to her ‘Now, in this scene, Marilyn, I want you to be really sexy.’ She was completely thrown, didn’t understand what he was after, and fluffed take after take, until he said ‘OK, just be yourself.’

The moral is – bring back pubes.

Duncan Fallowell is the author of a number of novels, the most recent A History of Facelifting. He also writes travel books, perhaps his best To Noto. For further information on his work check out

Monday, December 11, 2006

Celebrity book laughs for 2007

Some upcoming books in 2007 - the ones that will be a laugh a minute:

- Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is talking to Simon & Schuster about a new autobiography in which she will write about her relationship with Diana. I wonder how her "adult novel" is coming along, titled Hartmoor - all about a racy titled person.

- Gloria Estefan is said to be writing a book based on the adventures of her dog Noelle. I'd pay her not to. And I didn't think much of her performance on The X Factor on Saturday. It was clearly pre-recorded and hopelessly mimed. She looked like she'd walked into a sauna.

- John Cleese is working on a history of comedy. From the master.

- Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese are said to be working on a book about their working relationship. No sex then.

- Mel B will dish the dirt on Posh and others in a memoir. I wonder if she will add Eddie Murphy to the list.

- Jennifer Lopez is writing a guide for fellow stars on how to deal with the paparazzi. Pose on sight, I guess.

- Louis Walsh is working on an autobiography. I wonder whether he will title it My Boyzone?

And that's enough preview stuff for now.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What Diana said to James Herbert

Lord Stevens' leaked conclusion that Diana died unaided by assassins (his report's out next Thursday) coincides with a TV show tonight, How Diana Died: The Conspiracy Files - this purports to prove that Dodi's driver was drunk all along. And synchronicity being what it is, I have just caught up with Craig Cabell's biography of the British horror fiction writer James Herbert, Devil In The Dark.

In the book Herbert - currently riding high with his new spooky novel The Secret of Crickley Hall - recounts meeting the princess in 1995 at the royal premiere of the effective chiller movie of his novel, Haunted - it stars Anthony Andrews, Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale. Herbert recalls: "I was introduced to the princess, I said to her: 'You don't mind some horror?' And she replied: 'No, I'm used to it.' And we laughed ...". Two years later she was dead.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Anna Raeburn's flying bottle

How fitting that LBC's agony aunt Anna Raeburn has become the first female commercial radio presenter to be inducted into the Radio Academy's Hall of Fame. She is indeed a splendid fast-talker, and her advice to her many problem-laden callers (termed by the production team "sad fucks") usually spot on.

It is a tribute to her charisma that even those who have fallen foul of her temper continue to hold her in high regard. Some recall the occasion at Talk Radio some years ago when a full bottle of mineral water managed to levitate into the air and fly at some considerable speed before crashing into a wall, missing certain individuals by a good few feet. Quite how this object became airborne remains a mystery but this miraculous event coincided with a tantrum by Ms Raeburn.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dr Raj Persaud talks cock

TV rent-a-quote psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud is back with a new book out in January titled Simply Irresistible: The Psychology of Seduction. A better title might be “Simply Gullible: How To Give Yourself a Complex”.

Like the good ideas and words lifter he is – just do the Google search box check “raj persaud plagiarism” – he has drawn his dragnet for a multitude of other people’s work on finding and keeping the perfect partner. Sadly, the market in people who imagine that perfection is to be found through scientific strategy is still a lucrative one, and Our Raj is up there with Cosmopolitan in peddling any current researched superstition backed by stats.

And then there are the items of info that are perfectly useless. Take the one starting on p170. Tape measure in hand, he reports the findings of the “largest scientific survey of penis size ever conducted in the world” by what he calls “the Kinsey Institute of Sex Research” (he means the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender & Reproduction). “Their finding is that homosexual men have larger penises … than heterosexual men … by one cubic inch in volume.”

Now, there's a good conversational gambit! Female size queens will just love that - your well endowed perfect partner is a man who doesn't want to sleep with you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Prescott: White teeth question

A glamorous correspondent emails me: "Did you know that John Prescott has had his teeth whitened?"

Can this be true? Prescott is not one for opening his mouth much; or rather, he opens his mouth in a manner that conceals his teeth (as a rule). Perhaps someone could advise.

Just 160 Cartland virgins to go

Gore Vidal’s improbable acquaintanceship with the late Barbara Cartland – comically recounted in his latest memoirs Point To Point Navigation – takes me to

It’s astonishing enough that she rattled out 723 books and sold a billion copies in her long life. But I hadn’t realised that she left behind 160 unpublished novels – surely a world record? Comprising The Barbara Cartland Pink Collection these are now being published at a rate of one a month to celebrants of pre-copulatory love.

Vidal writes of the riddling purity she expected in her protagonists: A Cartland law of matrimony insisted that the bride be totally virginal and inexperienced on her wedding night while, simultaneously, her groom must be equally virginal but experienced. Millions of Cartland fans were known to debate this contradiction with Talmudic zeal. Later, at lunch, the author herself joined in the debate. "After all, an experienced older lady could have contributed, in the purest way, to the hero's education." This was cryptic, to say the least.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Conrad Black writes Nixon bio

Tragically true. Out March.

Cliff's iffy sniffs for stiffies

Darling Cliff Richard pops me a note about his new fragrances, and what a tart he is.

"Discover warm, floriental Miss You Nights, with its heady notes of ylang-ylang, rose and jasmine (which remind Cliff of his home in Barbados ),” he writes (in the third person). “Dream Maker opens with a zing of citrus notes, which give way to a floral heart – inspired by the sweet-smelling flowers Cliff grows in his own garden, and with spicy, woody undertones.” Yum yum.

Then he gets dirrrrrty … “And Devil Woman – Cliff’s latest creation – evokes a heady sensuality, with a fruity note of cassis, and exotic ingredients from faraway lands: musk, precious woods, Madagascan vanilla and benzoin resin, from Indonesia.”

Mmm, a "heady sensuality" - is Cliff encouraging women to embrace shameless hussydom with his fruity pheromone, I mean his phwoar-oh!-oh!-oh!-moan?

Even better than the scents are the testimonials. "Miss You Nights is a wonderful romantic scent and if you can't get close to Cliff, this is the next best thing!" says ... Eamonn Holmes. Well, I never guessed. Suddenly Eamonn's looking interesting.

And here's another one: "I bought it especially for my Mother, and I can't wait for the Scented Candle for me". Guess who? Yes, Christopher Biggins! Don't all rush to Boots at once. I hadn't realised that Cliff brings out the camp old queen in, er, whatever they are.

Anyhow, if you fancy some heady sensuality with the bachelor boy, starscents is the place to go.

PS Can you imagine Cliff with an erection? No, nor can I.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Paul Dacre (not unplugged)

My story on Mail editor Paul Dacre unplugging one of his serf's computers (see below) is shot down in flames by someone I sense knows what he or she is talking about. They write:

"Sadly not true - and I doubt he'd know where to find the 'off' switch/plug on the Daily Mail's ancient Macs anyway."

Greer's 'unsynthesised manifold'

On my list of The Civilised is Dr Germaine Greer: I shall entertain criticism of her but only to appear tolerant. She excelled herself on Celebrity Big Brother by storming off it on the grounds of bullying: this was her tour de force as a human being. She’d even tried to lead an in-house revolt against the Geordie-voice of TV fascism with Jacqui Stallone in the rear. Stallone, Greer, fascism - all in one sentence: who’d have thunk it?

So how appalling that Dr Greer (the honorific is crucial if you’re not to offend her) has just picked up the Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award for failing to be crystal clear in one of her innumerable newspaper essays. Her crime was the following sentence in The Guardian last October: “The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold.”

In The Guardian today she advises the PEC people to “stuff” their award. Quite right: this message at least has the virtue of clarity. But she does herself no favours by presuming that “most reasonably educated Guardian readers” would be familiar with the provenance of the “unsynthesised manifold” – from Kant’s Critique of Judgement, she explains. I fear not, and why should they be?

Her explanation today of the unsynthesised manifold falls between the painfully obvious and incomprehensible – in other words she shares a problem of communication with writers of flatpack instructions. The poor love can’t win (except in a tutorial).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Manilow and the menstrual cycle

Barry Manilow on The X Factor last night, or The Max Factor judging by the Baby Jane accumulations of slap on his face.

He told the young contestants to feel his songs, to sing from the heart, to visualise their inamorata(o) in the audience. He delved for their hormones, he sniffed at their blood like Count Alucard, imploring their primal force to bring life to the likes of … Mandy … yes, his mannequin Mandy, who (I think) never did sex or tampax, just romance in listening mode. Manilow's Mandy was always a stranger to the menstrual cycle.

(Message to assholes: No, Mandy was not a dog. That's an urban myth. And Mandy might have been Brandy were it not for someone's commonsense)

None of the sexy-leaky-tingly X Factor gladiators could quite grapple with Manilow's strange sealed inventions because they sought in vain the trail of organic secretion that might lead them to an identifiable experience: you have to imagine that your lyrical desired one may actually be a plausible human being before the highs of pillow (or even stage) fantasy and the lows of sheet stain. Manilow love is a sweet-stale pot-pourri of sensation for the mentally crotch-free.

Having advised his X Factor tyros to surface their humours, he then performed himself to a crowd of swayers and screamers and delivered a shameless, breathless mime - a dry come in sexual terms. He emoted not from his heart but from his mouth. Rollers of dazzling whitened teeth crashed on dead, silent lines, and he took the piss in a very sincere sort of way – and he smiled. How kitsch adores a vacuum.

An A-list zombie he maybe but only a true star like Manilow could get away with it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ashley: 'Thompson to blame'

April Ashley holds her "ghost" Douglas Thompson solely responsible for the plagiarism of Duncan Fallowell's 1982 book on her, April Ashley's Odyssey. In her latest message to me she writes:

"I just cannot believe the stupidity of Douglas Thompson. I had pleaded with him hundreds of times to forward me a manuscript so that I could check it to make sure it did not sound like "The Odyssey" to no avail. I would not like his life at the moment as he does have a formidible wife Lesley, so I think he will be banished to the cottage."