Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Artist to set fire to self outside Palace of Westminster

In an extraordinary art performance anti-war protestor and artist Mark McGowan is to set fire to himself in Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament on Bonfire Night, November 5th, 2007. The event will take place at 6pm in a protest against the war in Iraq. The event is part of an exhibition curated by Andy Hunt at the Chelsea Space which is part of Chelsea College of Art and opens on Tuesday, November 6th. McGowan says he's "scared but I have been training with a stunt man for several weeks and everything should be OK." Andrew Hunt says, "We have just commissioned the documentation of the event and have worries about the health and safety aspect of the performance but Mark assures us that everything will be OK."

Madame Arcati commented: "Rumours that I shall be making a much-desired guest appearance in the self-immolation are wide of the mark (and Mark), but it's possible I shall spectate at a safe distance in morbid curiosity just to see whether anything goes wrong - as people do. I feel sure a fire engine will be in attendance."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Royal blackmail sex scandal! And it's ...

... No, silly, it's not him. All will be revealed shortly. Any minute now. How redundant the local national courts are when you can just tap into the internet and sail on an ocean of rumour forbidden within one's sovereign nation. Something will have to be done to protect the high and mighty from this lawless muckraking - though where this would leave the newspapers is another matter. Recent experience has shifted Madame Arcati towards a sympathy with those maligned and whispered about in the media and beyond, particularly in the matter of celebrity cock-cocking. I weep for the royal personage whose sphincter muscle quivers at the prospect of the pillory dressed up as responsible reportage. Oh woe, woe, teeth gnashing - darling, please re-adjust the mirror, thank you.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Susan Hill's 'Picture' reprinted

I am delighted to learn that Susan Hill's The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story is being reprinted - I would be flattering myself to suggest that this might have anything to do with my modest review, little shy and retiring Clover Vitriol* moi. On Amazon, Susan's book is at around 90 in the sales hit parade which is good indeed. To read the Arcati review click here.

To buy a copy (a perfect Christmas read), click here

*See the new blog, do you like the colour scheme? Click here

Madame Arcati, Pupbitch and some idlers

How Madame Arcati adores attention: it is the bright sunshine, the hot affirmation without the melanoma risk. Yesterday, Arcati enjoyed an unprecedented audience lift such as to encourage me in my plans to turn Arcati into a fully-functioning entertainment news website with me as the USP - due to happen in spring 2008 or sooner. And when I say an "entertainment" site I mean one that gives intelligent coverage to celebs and the arts - does the world really need another site just to tell us of Lindsay Lohan's next rehab appointment (Oh, hi, Perez, TMZ and the scores of mini-me showbiz sites on the blogroll)?

The attention arrives courtesy of the treacherous and unprofessional Popbitch site, which should be renamed Pupbitch, given its anthropomorphic fantasies about furry animals, and otters. Long past its glory days - it once broke some great stuff - Pupbitch is now mainly a dumping ground for unusable tabloid tales about celebrity cock, cunt and coke, supplied by some feral talent on the tabloids (music writers mainly). The Pupbitch crew don't work very hard - feet up at weekends with their Oxbridge pals; uncovered holidays galore. Most of their stories are just teasers to navigate around the libel laws, and most people I know just say of Pupbitch: "Whatever happened to it? It's crap." It is outshone week after week by the superior Jason at Holy Moly - I hate to say this, but Jason far out-bitches Madame Arcati and he runs stories I wouldn't touch with a bargepole. All power to him.

Pupbitch purports to have outed Madame Arcati, as do a few drama queens, Spacey fan neurotics, one idle Frenchman and one idle Italian, who've been emailing loads of people with my "true" identity. I guess these are the kind of people who think Elvira eats bats for breakfast and Dame Edna applies Nivea night cream to her facial nooks and nodules at bedtime. If there's anyone out there who imagines Madame Arcati grew in anyone's womb, allow me to disillusion you. Madame Arcati arrived fully formed, a vision in tweed, with a crystal ball or two dangling someplace and a vast bank of knowledge between her ears. Madame Arcati never played rounders in any playground. I hope that this is not too shocking a revelation.

And that's that for now. I shall be dealing with certain individuals in my own way, at a time of my choosing, and with the relevant facts to hand. Otherwise it's business as usual.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Arcati's mind turns to a certain masquerade ...

"The tastes of the duke were peculiar .... His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not."
The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe

Rhydian - Madame Arcati adores you!

Did you see Rhydian Roberts on The X Factor last night? - he sang a special solo version of the duet Phantom of the Opera by kind permission of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Quite the most astonishing song performance I have seen on mainstream TV in a very long time - and in a talent show! Was it a freak one-off or the start of something very special? Rhydian is straight-camp-baroque, a popera baritone who sweeps into the near-falsetto (I exaggerate slightly) when drama requires. A highly stylised performer, a highly dramatic divo. Love him. Celine Dion was right - Broadway here he comes, though I think he will flog records too. This guy plainly has ideas.

Bullying: Jungle laws re-invoked by a fool

Interesting piece in the Observer (for a change), about bullying. Someone called Tim Gill, a former government adviser who led a major review into children's play, has written a book, No Fear: Growing up in a Risk-Averse Society, in which he argues that playground bullying is exaggerated and that kids should be encouraged to sort out conflict with their peers and not be mollycoddled by teachers and parents.

But Liz Carnell, director of the charity Bullying UK, counters: "What may seem like minor name-calling to an adult could be devastating to the child. Bullying can start with one incident, and if you nip it in the bud straight away, it will not grow into a problem."

Carnell's view strikes me as the more sensible. At core, bullying - which can be verbal harassment or physical assault with always an intimidatory intent and usually a sustained element - is an unsocial behaviour. The failure of schools and parents to deal appropriately with bullies may account for the high incidence of workplace bullying: to many it is a behaviour that appears to be countenanced or excused and ultimately rewarded in adulthood. Successful bullies in high status jobs are even granted a certain cachet because of their "toughness" or "ruthlessness". Teachers maybe reluctant to tackle bullying because they themselves were indoctrinated as kids to tacitly side with the bully, not the victim, for fear of seeming weak. The source problem lies not in the victim but in the bully: the Gills and his ilk fail to recognise this simple truth.

Ultimately this is a question about the kind of world we wish to live in. It certainly won't be altered by invoking the old brutalising law of the jungle crap - which is just another excuse to leave things as they are.

Tim Gill - "government adviser". How depressing.

Observer: Bullying is Exaggerated
Bullying UK

Ten VERY SUCCESSFUL and FAMOUS glamour role model bullies (from UK perspective):

Rupert Murdoch
Anna Wintour
David Montgomery
Kelvin MacKenzie
Jeremy Kyle
Anne Robinson
Alastair Campbell
Naomi Campbell
Sharon Osbourne
Gordon Ramsay

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Henry VIII, dry humping and Phil Collins

I was thinking this morning of what to say about TV’s The Tudors. The phrase “dry humping” recurred, as in, ‘The Tudors is punctuated by gratuitous bouts of dry humping’. But then I thought, ‘Actually, the dry humping - prime-time’s version of actual sex - is probably the one thing we can be certain is spot on.’ We know the Tudors had sex (except Elizabeth; but do we believe that?) so it is the sex that provides the visceral bridge between now and then. We know the pious Henry VIII was a philandering cock-cunter - he perfectly illustrates the failure of religious faith to rein in primal urges or impious expedient duplicities - and so The Tudors is to be congratulated on getting that more-or-less right. Henry even cheated on beloved third wife, Jane Seymour, though you wouldn’t have guessed it when Keith Mitchell donned the royal codpiece back in the early 1970s.

Some critics say Jonathan Rhys Meyers is too pretty as Henry. But this is to forget that the young king was a bit of a Dorian by all accounts. The Venetian ambassador Piero Pasqualigo describes Henry in his mid-20s as having a “round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman”. Rhys Meyers is certainly a beautiful man, a great loss to cock-cockers to be sure, but lacking Henry’s bloat: let’s forgive that. A period dramatisation tells us more of our own times than other times, so a slimline Henry will inform the future of the Noughties’ concern with obesity and the need for un-fat role models; just as the rampant dry humping will tell the future of the creeping pornographisation of entertainment. A Tudor interracial bukkake - sandwiched beween family TV ads for fish fingers and the Halifax - cannot be far off now.

Thinking of Henry VIII reminded me of an esoteric book I read once called Tudor Story: The Return of Anne Boleyn by WS Pakenham-Walsh (first published in 1963). The elderly clergyman author established contact with the spirit of Queen Anne and learnt that she was in fine humour, had regained her head; and he reported via séances that Henry VIII was begging for forgiveness, still. The king, alas, in other respects was still in a terrible temper and insisting that his royal supremacy be accepted by all about. This failure to accept his lot had delayed his spiritual progress, at least as of 1963, but who knows what might have happened since? The book was reissued in paperback last year, by the way.

So, my mind was full of the Tudors this morning, as I cycled to my seaside news agents to settle a bill. As I entered the shop, the radio (as if on cue) started playing Phil Collins. The shop owner brightened. “I did a lot of work for Phil Whatsit,” he said.

“Really? What?” I asked, thinking of goss.

“I worked on that barn of his, when he had that big house in Loxwood near Billingshurst" [in West Sussex, England].

Turns out Phil Collins wanted to convert his giant “barn” into a Tudor hall - “He must have spent a fortune on it,” said Mr News Agent, who is a period carpenter, too. “For over a year I carved woods for window frames and the gallery and lots of other things. Phil would say: ‘Buy all the oak you need. The wood merchant’s just down the road, mention my name and they’ll give you what you want. The nicest bloke he was, no airs. Course, he lost the house when he divorced his wife. Shame.”

So this morning I couldn’t get away from the Tudors or The Tudors. Sam Neill is fabulous as Wolsey, a fine study in avaricious solicitude - though I think the cardinal’s own cock-cunting side is being somewhat underplayed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Observer: A reader offers a critique

One of Arcati's new best friends, David, writes wonderfully on why the Observer has become such a terrible newspaper; one so untrue to itself. The staff and new editor of the paper should read David's comments and remember that without readers' trust you may as well start thinking of working for Richard Desmond:

Alton may have been an All-Round-Nice-Guy, but my response is as a reader. He has ushered in some of the most facile journalism the paper's ever seen. Sense of humour? Don't make me (not) laugh. Ever laughed at Barbara Ellen? Lucy Siegle raises a cackle, does she? Jasper has you rolling in the aisles? Nick Cohen creases you up, does he? Do you howl with joy at a women's magazine that has rolled by the notion of feminism by 30 years? Really?

Such a dreary, grinding lack of ambition and scope. Such a tiny demographic it purports to speak on behalf. Somewhere along the way it forgot to be honest and just became aspirational. And what pathetic aspirations ('10 Things to Look for in a Nanny' '20 reasons to be seen at the Ivy'. 'How you can save the planet AND wear a mini skirt in this not at all fatuous guide' 'Is plastic surgery the new football?'). It is a DIRE newspaper and as the standard bearer for liberal journalism on a Sunday, it is a perennial crushing disappointment.

Alton might have been nice to his staff but he was clearly intellectually barren.

Roger Alton and Kamal Ahmed - government stooges

The person who first told Arcatiland that Roger Alton could be in trouble at the Observer writes again ...

Your Gorgeousness,

You know I have form on this, having first tipped you off. So here goes.

Re. Alton going/Ahmed etc.

Kamal loved all the fuss the last few weeks, much as he loved trying to be Alastair’s friend – he seemed to care little for how much he was being used, little for any journalistic pride in doing a good, independent job. (And re. his new job, he also loved banging on about waste of public money on quangos and the like – er, hello. ) ...

Forget the sexing up chatter – that'll be more a question of Kamal inflating own importance. But Davies is missing the larger point: The Observer, for several years, barely qualified as an independent voice, so slavishly did it follow whatever Blair/Campbell dictated.

This was the truly sad thing for an otherwise v. good newspaper. The slavishness
to the Campbell/Blair line was often embarrassing. Forget Ahmed. He's just an arse, who was doing Campbell’s bidding.

The most depressing thing, ultimately, is that as Observer editor Alton often thought it more important to keep the government happy than to offer a proud, independent voice.

To read our source's original tip-off, click here

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Closetville - a unique star-studded soap of secrets

I recently asked my rag-tag army of cultists to think up a title for my unique and ongoing post-mod Kevin Spacey/Randy Fowler/Stephanie Mastini soap opera. And I have now made a decision - it will be called Closetville.

The word closet was suggested to me by one of Randy's titles for his unpublished book (Out Of The Closet - an obvious piece of innuendo directed at Kevin). So my thanks to Randy. A labelling repackaging will take place over the next few days so that Closetville may find a wider internet audience. And who knows, maybe a TV audience in time.

Sex (cock-cocking, cock-cunting, cock-cock-cunting and other variants), glamour, beautiful artists, celebrity chauffeurs, Bill Clinton (as extra), the best European rich-bitch salons, Boise, Hollywood, glam revengers, moustachioed former porno scribe Jack Ewing (good soap name that) - and Madame Arcati! Yes, Closetville has it all.

Is Kamal Ahmed off the hook now?

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, has commented on Roy Greenslade's Guardian blog, attempting to set the record straight on the Observer/Guardian "feud" business.

The first thing to be noted is this: "The hacks who have said that the book accuses Kamal Ahmed of helping to write or edit the dodgy dossier are simply wrong. The book doesn't say that." He also writes: "I went back and told him [Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor] I'd done a chapter on the Observer's coverage of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, which is a fascinating and worrying story."

Davies' book is not out until February so we'll have to take him at his word for now. However, I note that Ahmed himself has said that Davies asked him about his contribution to the Iraq dossier - and he denied any. It shouldn't surprise us then that the book does not accuse Ahmed in the purported absence of any counter-evidence. It could simply be the case that Davies was unable to pursue this line. Surely the accusation wasn't just dreamt up? Why do so many Observer news hacks think Ahmed did have something to do with the dossier? I am intrigued by Davies' assertion that the Observer's Iraq coverage is a "fascinating and worrying story." Why worrying? Did the Observer get too close to the government over Iraq? What delights await? I think this is known in the trade as a teaser. And teased I am.

Davies adds: "I don't know exactly why Kamal and Roger have resigned. The book may have been a factor ..." Why should it be if Alton and Ahmed have nothing to worry about?

Roger Alton quits Observer editorship

Roger Alton has resigned the Observer editorship - click here for details. My thanks to contributors who brought this to my attention this morning.

No crocodile tears from me - regular Arcati readers will know I campaigned for his removal because of his support for the Iraq War: the Observer was not the right paper to be backing the government on this issue. We can now look forward to the dismissal of columnist Jasper Gerard and other right-wing cuckoos who can be gainfully employed elsewhere - perhaps the Sunday Express will help out. Left to me and I would call the Observer the Guardian on Sunday - that way, it might be freed from its curse of morally dubious editors and might develop a coherent politics true to its left-of-centre nature.

On the matter of Observer news editor Kamal Ahmed and his alleged role in sexing up the Iraq dossier with Alastair Campbell - I shall be reading Flat Earth News with great interest, particularly in the light of Roy Greenslade's ridiculous piece in the Standard yesterday in which he disingenuously claimed there was no feud between the Guardian and Observer and that the the allegation against Ahmed was just inaccurate spin from a single paragraph in the book. We shall see. But why does the Standard employ a mouthpiece for the Guardian in Greenslade? Put another way, how likely was it that Greenslade would admit there was a feud between the Scott Trust sister papers? Not likely.

An Arcati source hinted at Alton's likely demise a little while ago - click here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kamal Ahmed: 'Shit treatment of a freelance'

Kamal Ahmed, the outgoing pompously titled Observer's Executive editor, News, is fast turning into an Arcati suspect figure. Over the years he rocketed up the Scott Trust career ladder from the Guardian’s media editorship, having first arrived at the paper as its general reporter and royal correspondent. He now leaves under a cloud – slow coaches will have to follow labels to catch up – accused of helping to sex up the government’s dodgy Iraq dossier with the notorious bully, alcoholic hysteric and potential suicide case (I would recommend therapy NOW), Alastair Campbell.

A female freelance writer (name withheld by request) undertook commissioned work for Ahmed years ago and sheds further unfavourable light on him.

She tells me: “Kamal was not the most straightforward of editors. He published a few of my pieces but on a number of occasions he commissioned 800 words, didn't run them and then never offered me a kill fee. Because I needed to maintain good relations with the paper I never pushed it - but he showed how ruthless and illiberal he was.

"On three occasions he worked me for a day and a half on the off-chance that he had an extra option for his paper and then just let me stew - he didn’t even have the decency to give me advance warning so that I could have placed time-sensitive stories in other papers. This happens on some other papers but you don’t expect it on a paper owned by the fine upstanding Scott Trust.

"Basically he's a shit and he deserves to suffer, but probably not for treating freelancers like pond life. More for helping hundreds of thousands of people die in Iraq – I truly believe he helped Alastair Campbell write that dossier. A lot of hacks on the Observer believe this too. He was so close to the Blair government – no wonder [Observer editor] Roger Alton praises Ahmed for strengthening its political coverage.”

Amanda Platell and her poodle Andrew Pierce

It's rare that Madame Arcati has a belly laugh - she cackles certainly, usually at so many of her many dimwit commenters - but a legs-in-the-air belly laugh is a rare thing. What prompted this unlikely convulsion was Andrew Pierce's tribute yesterday to his "career muse" Amanda Platell, the moon-faced fascist and backstabber who earns a pretty penny as a columnist on the Mail. Pierce, a gossipy assistant editor on the Telegraph, told the Indy of his first encounter with Platell when she edited the Sunday Express for five minutes: "I met this charming, clever, funny, feisty woman who was completely gay-friendly". He had expected her to be Cruella de Vill, as so caricatured by Private Eye.

Her gay-friendliness to the openly gay Pierce will have been most welcome I'm sure, but I wonder what he thinks of her comment that gay men who seek each other out on the internet are "animals"? She's also an admirer of the hideous homophobe Richard Littlejohn. Alas, I think Pierce confuses gay-friendliness with poodle-loving. He is a very talented reporter with a gift for befriending all sorts of waifs and strays, and judging by his Indy piece, he has a great need to be loved and accepted by his bosses - to an unusual extent. Platell, who is no one's fool but her own, won't have allowed the little matter of where he puts his cock to frustrate the employment of talent. Talent forgives all. Show what you can do and bigotry melts away for professional purposes. Platell saw in Andrew a delightful and talented poodle, anxious to please and to be petted. In such circumstances, who can seriously say they would not have placed a bejewelled collar on the yappy little poppet?

Of course this particular poodle proved to have teeth - his naming of Peter Mandelson's Brazilian boyfriend led to her dismissal.

Monday, October 22, 2007

True romance: 'My doggy-style sex with TV broadcaster'

Elsa tells me she had a brief liaison with a certain UK TV broadcaster who I shall call Thomas John. I interviewed her by email ...

Elsa! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. You say you know Thomas John - that you had a brief sexual relationship with him. First tell us a bit about yourself, as much as you wish - your age, ethnicity, profession/job, marital status etc ... whatever you're comfortable with .... what do you look like?

I’m 29. I write poetry and short stories but I pay the bills temping as a PA (Personal Assistant). I type at 125 words per minute. I’m single. My parents are both black West African. I’m 5’10, a size 10 to 12 with big boobs. I wear my hair in shoulder length twists (looks like dreadlocks or braids). I have skin about the colour of milk chocolate.

How did you meet Thomas John? - set the scene ... where, when ...?

It was nearly [deleted for legal reasons] years ago, at an African Visions event at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden. I'm a frequent visitor there - I especially love their bookshop because they stock all sorts of often obscure African literature. I was wearing a head-wrap made of Kente cloth and he asked me a lot of questions about it and about where I had bought the material and whether I knew its history (the royal history of that particular pattern). He also said "You're wearing no makeup are you?" and "You're stunning."

I thought "Here’s a guy who thinks he knows a thing or two about African culture."
He name-dropped a lot when I said I loved African and Black American writers. He talked of Beverly Naidoo, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and claimed to be friends with all three.

Did you find him attractive? Did you know who he was? Did he chat you up? You him?

I thought he looked way better than he looks on the telly. He has very interesting almost exotic features. From some angles he looks almost like an alien but very attractive. I’m used to men always being my height or shorter so it was an unusual feeling to be literally looking up to somebody I was talking to.

His first comment to me was something like "hello". Then he looked at me and said, “Where in Africa are you from?" This surprised me because people normally assume I’m a Jamaican or a black American. Then he said, "So, what’s your background?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Your roots?” That’s how the conversation began. When I told him my mum’s from [deleted} he seemed very interested and asked me a lot of questions like had I ever been there etc.

I became a little annoyed because I’m sick of white people asking blacks in this really condescending way “Have you ever been?” [to the country you’re folks were born in]. I turned my back on him to get a glass of wine. A few minutes later he tapped me on the shoulder. We continued talking. After about 10 minutes, I was thinking to myself, OH MY GOD, THOMAS JOHN IS TRYING TO PICK ME UP!! I actually texted a friend to say, “You would not believe who is chatting me up right now.” He saw me fiddling with my mobile and asked me for my phone number. I said “No, give me yours.” He laughed for some reason and said “No, give me yours.” I gave him my phone number and email address as well.

How quickly did the liaison progress to sex? Where did sex first take place?

It took him a month to call me or maybe even 6 weeks. He asked me to meet him for “tea” at the Covent Garden hotel, which I did. He was drinking tomato juice but I downed two glasses of wine. I told him I had a bottle of palm wine at my flat in Finchley. He said he hadn’t drunk palm wine in years. We went back to my place. I was a bit ashamed of him coming to my place because it’s really small. But he said it was “charming”. We went back their by black cab. I remember feeling really self- conscious being in the cab because I thought the cabbie would recognize Thomas John and be all up in our business. As it was the cabbie gave me dirty looks. The cabbie was black and a lot of black men hate seeing black women with white men.

At my place I shoved the palm wine bottle into the freezer to chill it. John and I started fooling around in the kitchen. I was quite tipsy. Things progressed quickly. I was keen to have sex there in the kitchen, against the sink because I’m kinky like that. John insisted on leading me into my bedroom where he laid me down on my bed. We were about to have sex but then I realized I had no condoms and he didn’t have any on him. He asked me whether I was “using contraception.” I was actually on the pill but I lied and said I wasn’t. ...[Deleted for legal reasons].

Gentleman that he is he went out and bought a 3 pack of Durex. We had sex. The earth didn’t move because I was so nervous to be shagging Thomas John. It felt somehow wrong and almost but not quite funny. I was keen to talk and share the palm wine after the sex, but suddenly he said he had to go. And he went. I asked him if he wanted me to call him a mini cab but he said no. I watched him from the window as he left. I wondered what my neighbours might think.

Is there something about Thomas John's body, some skin mark or other characteristic, that would not be immediately obvious? Anything?

I didn’t ever see him naked in daylight but I did notice his arms were very toned but he had a fairly serious beer belly. The hair on his head is [deleted] but the hair on his chest was still dark. His legs, especially his thighs, are very very thin. Of course all of this is from when I knew him, he may have put on weight since then.

Did he talk about his life or other relationship(s), his work ...

He talked about his love of writing and how if he could live his life again he would focus more on writing. He read some of my poetry and critiqued it. He said I seemed a true free spirit and that he really admired that. He said he admired the fact I hadn’t “sold out”.

He told me that he was very attracted to “African ladies” and that he’d recognized me as African from the moment he saw me. He also said he’d been watching me from the moment I entered the room. I found that very flattering.

Can you say something about the sex and how many times you had sex?

We had sex on three occasions. On the first occasion, just once. On the second and third occasion we had sex two times each. He has a very very high sex drive and he was open to hearing from me precisely what I wanted and then doing it. I’m not big on hours of foreplay, I like doggy-style hot heavy sex and he was willing to oblige. He had a remarkable amount of stamina for his age, I thought. The second time we had sex, I had three orgasms.

How did the liaison end? Were you hurt?

He told me on the first date that I must be discreet. He said that if I told anybody about the nature of our relationship he’d end things straightaway. He wouldn’t even let me have his phone number and when he called his number came up as NUMBER WITHHELD. Finally, during sex I managed to get him to give me his home phone number hahahaha. Then he made me swear never to use the number. It was right after that that I never heard from him again. He just never called me again. After four weeks I used the phone number he’d given me and an upper class sounding woman answered so I just hung up. I never heard from him again. I think he wrongly thought I was going to be indiscreet or sell my story to the papers or something.

You think he's a "blackophile" - can you explain that?

He is just crazy about African culture. It was almost all he talked about to me. He asked me LOADS of questions about hip hop and who the coolest rappers were and who I thought originated hip-hop. I truly think he is a black man trapped in a white man’s body. Sort of like Ali G but in a tailored suit instead of a track suit. He also thinks black women are beyond beautiful. He was especially hung up on the texture of afro hair. He found it a real turn-on that I wore my hair un-straightened and natural. He couldn’t keep his hands out of it.

Have you been in touch with Thomas John since?

No. I think about him a lot though.

Do you think Thomas John would deny knowing you?

I really don’t know.

... [Further cuts for legal reasons] ...

Some may accuse you of making up your story - do you have something to say to them?

If this gets out certain people will probably never speak to me again; because a lot of my circle don’t believe in black women dating white men. I’ve nothing to gain in making it up but I’ve every right to tell the truth.

Elsa, thank you for writing to Madame Arcati.

It should be noted that there are many tall male TV broadcasters - tallness in men is de rigueur in the world of TV journalism, after all.

The Observer - news editor helped sex up Iraq dossier?

My thanks to Liz for drawing my attention to a new book coming out which claims that the outgoing Observer news editor Kamal Ahmed helped Alistair Campbell "sex up" the dodgy dossier on Iraq. The book is Flat Earth News written by Nick Davies - a Guardian writer who is said to be close to the editor Alan Rusbridger. This may explain the tensions between the sister papers in recent weeks: Ahmed is known to be very close to Alton and the Observer took a pro-Iraq War line while the Guardian was and is hostile.

The Mail reports: "According to publishing sources, the book will claim that Mr Ahmed and Mr Campbell worked on the dossier in February 2003 – a critical point in the diplomatic build-up to war – when Mr Ahmed was The Observer's political editor and Mr Campbell was Mr Blair's director of communications.

"It alleges that Mr Campbell asked Mr Ahmed to help write the anti-Saddam presentation when they were flying to a Blair-Bush summit.

"The dossier, which was later pushed under the hotel doors of journalists covering the trip, made a number of claims about Iraq's evasion of weapons inspections."

Ahmed denies these allegations, as does Alton - but I don't believe them. Click here for full story. And follow Arcati labels for the story on Ahmed's resignation from the Observer to take up a six-figure salaried job on a government quango - a timely appointment.

For some time now I have said that Alton is the wrong editor for the Observer - he is a right-winger with no real sympathy for the paper's natural leftish-liberal tendency. Why the Scott Trust appointed him in the first place is a complete mystery to me.

Why comments don't go up immediately

Some of you are complaining that comments are not going up as soon as posted. This is because I have had to enable moderation so I can approve comments. I have had to do this because someone is littering the site with Nazi masturbation spam - they tried it again last night but were thwarted - plainly the person responsible is mentally unstable with a lot of time on his hands (most probably a male judging by the loser site he's trying to promote). And because I don't spend all my time at a computer, comments sometimes go up much later than posted. Sorry.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thomas Bartram - oldest mag editor in world?

I think I may have found the oldest magazine editor in the world: aficionados of The Guinness Book of Records may want to correct me. The person in question is Thomas Bartram who turned 95 this July, editor of a quarterly publication called Grace which he founded in 1960. It's a Christian/natural health periodical, based in Dorset, England, is glossily produced, and well-written, even if what is written varies from kindly-cranky to Reader's Digest-style homily. In the Autumn 2007 issue Mr Bartram tells us that the world of quantum physics "is the world of spiritualism" - attempts to harness the "secret force" of nature to solve global energy problems are on a collision course with the "area of extra-sensory perception". He then goes onto to damn all sorts of "pagan" practices - from reflexology to channelling. If you want to know what does meet with his approval then dip in to the back of the mag for lists of publications he's written: his Bartram's Encylopedia of Herbal Medicine looks most interesting and retails at £13.50. Too see Mr B for yourself click here - a sprightly advert for his health philosophy. Alas, I fear that if he visits Madame Arcati he may keel over and cease to be the world's oldest magazine editor.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ms Baroque on Arcati, Amis and his pomposity

Ms Baroque has taken Madame Arcati to task over the Amis/Eagleton row ...

I thought Amis' riposte to Eagleton seemed strangely wheedling, ending with that weird rhetorical "collegiate" "Shall we?" - It even came out supplicating. I'm sure that's not what he intended but I find it very interesting. What Alibhai-Brown calls "part affectionate" is just archness, I think; "somewhat patronising" is really very patronising. But MA was also disingenuous taking Eagleton to task for quoting remarks "that aren't in the essay" - when in fact those are remarks by Amis, so it's not exactly as if TE had made them up!

It's interesting how all through this he has lost control of his material - his tone - which is why he's now having to backpedal. I remember his reams of writings in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 - it was astonishing, how he managed to churn out so many thousands of words seemingly immediately! Of course it was mostly hysteria and hyperbole. Everyone was hysterical. I would certainly never go back to anything written in that time. But then, the racist impulse still sees to me an inappropriate response.

And that's the thing. Amis really hasn't got his finger on the pulse. Okay, he hit something with "Money" etc, but he has never been a populist - always a snobbish man - and I think the "isn't everyone a bit like this really" line is disingenuous at best. Would everyone, if they could, simply send all their bank statements unopened to their accountant because it is really "too boring" to have to read them - as Amis once said he did?

Dear Ms Baroque

Thank you ... you don't like Amis fils, do you?

Amis' response to Eagleton was unambiguously hostile; there's nothing supplicating in it so far as I can see. Amis was plainly rattled. I agree that Amis' letter to Alibhai-Brown was faintly patronising; but then that is one strategy in a war of words, a not very effective strategy.

It was Amis himself who pointed out that Eagleton was wrong to say that Amis' remarks on Islam in 2006 were made in an essay when in fact they were reported words from an interview. He then went onto to draw a distinction between airing passing thoughts (or racist "urges") in an interview and calling for discrete action in the written word. I think to Amis there is a big difference (one is a confession to racist thoughts, the other a call to racist action), but as I wrote in a later post, in the broad-brush world of public perception such a subtle distinction is going to be lost. All people will hear is Islamophobic sentiment and judge accordingly.

I would agree - and Amis has admitted as much in literary terms - that he does not have his finger directly on the pulse anymore. Money wonderfully captured the greed and the soulless brutality or vulgarity of the '80s in a literary demotic that sounded of the times, too. But I'm not sure any literary writer can capture the moment all his or her life. He produced brilliant work, he does so no longer, but who is to say what may come yet?

On a broader canvas, I think Amis - like his godawful pal Christopher Hitchens - may be using the debate on Islam and its "quietism" on Islamicist terrorism to push an atheist agenda: in his letter to Alibhai-Brown, Amis makes it clear that he thinks not believing in a god is superior to believing in a god. It is plainly crass to imagine, let alone say, that a religious faith must mean that one necessarily buys into its moral proscriptions or punishments.

Eagleton's harsh criticism of Amis has had the refreshing effect of a correction and limited retraction or clarification from Amis. But in the process we have been forced to ask ourselves whether so many more of us privately yield to occasional racist thoughts or urges - particularly in the wake of atrocity. That Amis admits to such thoughts or feelings - while calling for bridge-building with Muslim moderates - is better than spouting what we think others want to hear.

Nazi masturbators won't beat Madame Arcati

As some of you will have noticed, Arcati has been blitzed again by a company that specialises in Nazi masturbation - a complaint has been made to its ISP; but in the OK Corral world of the internet this kind of winner-phobia must be expected. Every item of spam has been removed from the site, it was soooooooooo easy to delete and it didn't take me long. Some lank-haired, scrofula'd, skid-marked piece of shit with long dirty finger nails, bad breath and a tumour lurking in his lower intestine actually went to the trouble of manually planting his spam spore on over 70 postings - how sad is that? Never mind, death will release this pile of reincarnated waste soon enough. Meantime, the moderator is back indefinitely.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Peter York - Londoner's Diary makes a story up

A Madame Arcati spy writes...

Londoner's Diary said yesterday: "Sloane watcher Peter York is so furious with The Londoner for having exposed his little secret of not having written the books himself he left the room on seeing me at the opening of Andrew Barrow's exhibition..."

I was at the Peter York launch party and that was the central theme of his speech, lovingly transcribed by one of the Londoner's younger footmen, in front of
about 200 other guests. I'd imagine the tremulous one was delighted at the coverage.

There must have been another reason he left the room, if it wasn't mere coincidence.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Picture editor 'keeps HR busy'

Is it true that a certain broadsheet picture editor - who I am given to understand resembles Alice Cooper in a mini-skirt - once called freelance photographer Kalpesh Lathigra a "Paki"?

I also understand - though I am subject to any offered correction - that she keeps the human resources dept busy with bullying complaints made against her, all happily dismissed to date. That at least must be a reassurance to her admiring editor.

Martin Amis: His eyeballs and Yasmin's reply

Did you see Martin Amis on Jon Snow’s C4 news show last night? The voice has been smoke-cured into a wonderful, neutral rumble, decidedly unfruity in all weathers. His eyeballs said more, shooting this side and that like tennis balls in a bad-tempered knock-up at each lacerating question: if he had shot them heavenwards we might have thought him camp, but Amis is a rapid sideways glancer and is one of the uncampest men of his generation. He was in Snow’s dock over his recent remarks on Islam – see another posting here for the catch-up: he had admitted to momentary racist urges in the wake of 9/11 and other outrages by al Qaeda types: the admission was the salve, that alone would undo the damage of his foolhardy confession, he’d hoped. I suspect Amis has misjudged the broad-sweep nature of public perception. As I write it’s not possible to be a bit racist but not seriously (even though that probably sums up about 80% of us).

In any case his subtleties are lost on columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to whom he wrote the letter condemning his critic Prof. Terry Eagleton. She replies to him in today’s Standard, calling the letter “part affectionate” but “somewhat patronising”. She takes the simpler view that “racism is not an involuntary seizure”. And even if there is the odd urge to racism, “you can train yourself out of it.” She then foolishly cites Boris Johnson as an example – she bets he won’t be using the word “piccaninny” during the London mayoral campaign. “He will become a better man for that restraint.” The difference here is that while Johnson is a racist but is just keeping his public trap shut for PR purposes, Amis is just a bit of a racist who is uncommonly open about it. The hypocritical racist versus the slightly-racist blabbermouth: Whom to prefer? What a choice!

On another matter I learn Deborah Kerr has just died. She had a lovely speaking voice and she ruined many of my Sunday afternoons with re-runs of her fucking The King and I. Still, I blame the feet-up and tea-drinking schedulers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

David Gest in naughty gay bar

Mmm, what was David Gest doing in a certain London gay bar at 4 this morning, with Alan Carr and others? Just you wait till I tell Liza.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Robert Harris trashes new PFD boss Michel

Robert Harris is about with his new novel The Ghost, and in the Evening Standard today he addresses the topic of Caroline Michel, a friend of the former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine and new embattled boss of literary agency PFD. With spectacular froideur he reminds amnesiacs or the plain ignorant (eg gossip writers aged 24 working on the Standard’s Londoner’s Diary) that Michel “did not reinvent the wheel” at PFD. She and her bosses CSS Stellar are trying to make out that their multi-media plan for PFD is a commercial innovation, but as Harris says: “It’s hardly as if she has discovered something that has never been thought of before.

“I wrote Enigma and Pat Kavanagh is my agent and then Anthony Jones managed the film rights and the film was directed by Michael Apted and starred Kate Winslet and the screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard and we are all from PFD. This whole idea [of a multi-media agency] has been around for the past decade or so. It’s just a sop really. It is treating writers as commodities and you can’t just do that.”

Kavanagh has resigned and not been sacked from PFD – please note Londoner’s Diary! – and Harris will stay loyal to her when she moves on and sets up her own agency. The last I heard, Michel wanted to digest David Godwin’s agency in the PFD maw. What’s happening there, please?

Max Beesley to sue Popbitch

I am distressed to learn that sexy actor Max Beesley is planning to sue Popbitch for libel over its latest story suggesting that he might have expressed an interest in a heterosexual threesome - in some quarters this would be regarded as perfectly uplifting of image, but still. After some legal to-ing and fro-ing – in which m'learned friends will be metering away at an hourly rate of about £400 for some formula letter writing and phone orders for pizza delivery ("That'll be a Sloppy Giuseppe three times") – I am quite confident all will be resolved with a retraction and apology, along with a generous donation to an otter sanctuary.

Wikipedia: Vanity publishing for minor slebs

I see that Wikipedia has put up a health warning on Nicholas Coleridge's self-authored vanity entry. And now a learned reader writes ...

Hello Madame,

I enjoyed your piece on Nicholas Coleridge writing his own Wikipedia entry but actually it's hard to find a minor celeb, or a person who's so determined to become a minor celeb, who hasn't.

Have you seen: click here
...whereby you can look to see who at the Daily Mail, Telegraph, etc is writing their own entries.

Check out Christopher Hitchens' version of himself here: click here

I checked them out a few weeks ago so can't quite remember now, but Tristram Hunt's and Andrew Rawnsley's profiles had been boosted by someone on the Guardian's server, Daniel Hannan by someone on the Telegraph's server etc etc.

And, here rather sweetly, you can see how James Purnell's girlfriend, Lucy Walker, not only wrote her own entry but amended his to take the nasty bits out... click here

Keep up the good work.

Miss Elvira

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nicholas Coleridge enhances his Wikipedia entry

Such is my omniscience as a supernatural cyclops that I had great pleasure observing Condé Nast's Managing Director Nicholas Coleridge spend an hour-and-a-quarter of company time on Wikipedia this morning, enhancing his own entry. Amendments included removing the fact that his father ran Lloyds of London during its most troubled period, but inserting the names of all of his children!

That's one of the reasons why I adore the world's worst novelist. Despite the vast salary, the acclaim, the sycophancy of his underlings and of young journalists on the broadsheets desperately seeking his career good offices, the big house in the country with its new swimming pool (I have the dimensions), despite all this, he still cares that much about what people think of him.

Do read his self-authored hagiography and marvel at a grinning ego. Click here

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Martin Amis shows his ... teeth

Devotees of the Cult of Arcati will know that the Madame is an ardent fan of Martin Amis and his work. No matter how many awards Ian McEwan picks up, it is Amis' Money and perhaps London Fields that will serve as school texts on late 20th Century Britain in the years to come: the kids will be baffled by the Amyl Nitrate prose, and annoying elliptical plotting (a substitute mysticism), but bafflement can be the first step to appreciation in the hands of the right teachers. You have to work on Amis' novels.

His recent war of words with Manchester Uni colleague, the Marxist Professor Terry Eagleton has much amused me. Eagleton, you may recall, was enraged by Amis' reported harsh views on Muslims in 2006 - like his friend Christopher Hitchens, Amis is perceived as having migrated from the liberal consensus on multi-cultural tolerance and arrived at a bad case of Islamophobia in response to 9/11 and other Islamist atrocities. In the course of his assault, Eagleton described Amis' father Kingsley as a "racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, a self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals." He added: "Amis fils has clearly learnt more from him than how to turn a shapely phrase."

Amis counter-attacked this week in a letter to the Indy columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - it was published in that paper on Oct 12. Taking up Eagleton's polemical baton, she had written that Amis was "with the beasts" on Islamic questions. Unusually for Amis - who normally affects an amused and elegant disappointment with his critics (think of his response to his falling-out with old pal Julian Barnes) - he returned fire on Eagleton in similar vitriolic terms. He described Eagleton as an "ideological relict" who "combines a cruising hostility with an almost neurotic indifference to truth." Most damning: "[Eagleton] wants attention to be paid to his self-righteousness - righteousness being his particular brand of vanity." Eagleton was in effect an "iron mullah".

Amis went on to deny the Islamophobia accusation and called for bridge-building with "moderate Muslims" - he might have done himself some favours by saying all this a lot sooner, perhaps in a public recantation at a time of his own choosing. He can't expect telepathy in his public. What interested me most was his remarks to Alibhai-Brown on his atheism which he holds as superior to her Shia (or any other religious) faith. While religion advocates the punishment of heretics, "nothing follows from atheism."

It is just as well that Amis shall be remembered as a novelist, not a philosopher. We have only to think of at least two recent prophets of godlessness - Stalin and Hitler - to see what can flow from atheism. Amis would have been on firmer ground had he said religion or lack of it makes little difference to human conduct. Belief in a god or the belief in no god is a matter mainly of temperament and experience.

I do hope Yasmin replies, if not already.

See the Guardian for more on Eagleton Vs Amis click here. The Indy link doesn't work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Madame Arcati: Shock sex poll result!

In a shock poll result, 100% of voters came to the wrong conclusion about Madame Arcati's sexual orientative classification.

Seventy percent thought she was a cock-cocker, 16% a cunt-cunter, 8% a cunt-cocker and 4% a cock-cunter.

Madame Arcati comments: "It is truly appalling that an entire international electorate can get it wrong. It doesn't say much for democracy. The clue to the right answer lies in the fact that no one can demonstrate who or what I am (or, we are) - but this did not stop people jumping to foolish conclusions based on school playground a priori assumptions or prejudices. No wonder Kevin Spacey refuses to discuss his preference for hunky twinks."

Nonetheless, Madame Arcati finished on a positive note: "Those who elected not to vote got it right."

Anna Wintour: The glamour of bullying

Just read Jerry Oppenheimer's breathless Front Row: Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor in Chief - published two years ago. I found a US edition of the book (was there ever a British?) in a remainder shop in Brighton Marina Village for £5 (original price US$24.95).

The real theme of the book is workplace bullying, though Oppenheimer scarcely realises it. All sorts of amazing details blitz the pages but her behavioural patterns are not analysed psychologically, beyond Wintour's Wayfarers prescription shades - a chic Trojan to disguise her poor eyesight - and her many curious habits: she laps up the cream on coffee but doesn't touch the drink; same with melted butter on her soups; she picks out pennies from her purse and tosses them in the wastebasket.

One quote in particular interests me, from an unnamed former British Vogue staffer who "quit in disgust" at Wintour's office conduct in the mid-'80s:

"[Anna Wintour] is the first female bully I ever met. She treated everyone, except for her own little coterie, like trash. You could tell she got off on it. A real little bully of a woman, and for what? Power for her was what it all was about. Power's Anna's aphrodisiac. I mean, Vogue's just a fashion magazine, a catalogue to sell clothes, for God's sake. And people had to be tormented so she could get a pat on the bum [from her Condé Nast bosses]."

Her material rewards for bullying have been immense as editor in chief of American Vogue. And I have no doubt a whole new generation of people will have been inspired by her example - untroubled by legislative attempts to rein in the abuse of staff. The trick of the bully is to force people to think that they're on the losing team as a prelude to office guerrilla warfare and dismissal (constructive or actual). Behind the chic, mute cool of Wintour is just another primitive vulgarian once desperate to make it at the expense of others. Now she's made it, she's applauded by idiots who think success is all. The Devil Wears Prada merely celebrated this syndrome as dressed-up "satire".

Perhaps it's time to found an international organisation that targets the glamour of workplace bullying, or workplace intimidatory behaviours that are sold through the media as examples of winning, succeeding, rationalising, reinventing or re-freshing. It could be called the Anna Wintour Foundation - to remind the future of who required its creation.

For information on bullying see Bullying UK

Friday, October 12, 2007

Jonathan King writes ....

Dear Madame Arcati
Just wondered how you were. I'm OK except sad as my beloved Mum died 6 weeks ago aged 91 - she wanted to go but it was still sad.

Bizarre magazine have called Earth To King "the album of the year" I gather!

Hope all is well

Your fave Vile Pervert

Dear Fave Vile Pervert
I'm so sorry to hear of your mother's death - I shall think of you in your bereavement - I know she was a tremendous support.

Love and kisses, Madame Arcati xx

PS Let us pray that Than Shwe dies soon - a bottle of champagne to his assassin.

Please kill this bitch. Gaze upon that ugly face and wish him dead, think of the monks in Burma as he sits on his toilet and shits. I wish him nothing but ill.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Marianne Faithful has Hep C

Marianne Faithful on This Morning: “I don’t miss the drugs. I suppose it would be nice to have a glass of wine or something. But it really wouldn’t be good for my health. You know I do have Hep C. And the worst this for that is alcohol.

"They only discovered it very recently. I found out about 12 years ago when I had the treatment. So I’m very, very lucky too there. Life has become much more precious to me and my health has become much more precious to me”.

Doris Lessing wins Nobel

My congratulations to Doris Lessing for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature 2007 - the Committee describes her as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". Nicely abstract and meaningless, and I can't think why she had to reach the age of 87 to be so honoured. Also, she's only the 11th woman to get the prize in this category. More on Lessing in the next few days.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nicky Haslam: 'Book saved by editor's surgery'

Dear Madame
I do so hope you will be interviewing Nicky Haslam on your blog. As I'm sure you're already aware, the first volume of his memoirs are being published at the beginning of November. He's such a talented journalist and I'm sure his memoirs will make fascinating reading. I understand the manuscript was unpublishable but his editor has knocked the book into shape.

Best wishes,

J [name withheld]

Dear J
Alas, I fear not. I don't think Mr Haslam likes Madame Arcati - not since darling Susan Hill said something rude about him on this site. I thought he had a sense of humour but perhaps all that partying with people I call the bold types since the '50s (20th Century, that is) has turned his pickled head. I suppose when he passes to the afterlife, the first thing he'll be offered is a marinated chicken wing and drumstick platter. His eternal options won't be heaven or hell but "red or white, sir?"

Your news about the drastic editorial surgery is alarming. Haslam is a very good writer ordinarily, witty and precise, so I can only imagine that he rushed the work - indeed I believe he developed Repetitive Strain Injury in the process, or wanker's wrist as it's known in the trade (or to the trade). I should think, too, that he will have been be anxious to avoid Truman Capote's fate post-Answered Prayers and not alienate the titled and monied swells upon whom he relies for their interior decoration custom - as well as party invitations. Such a concern may account for any presumed jarring lacunae in his narrative where things might have got too juicy.

However Arcati shall be reviewing the work in the style to which her global fan base has become accustomed.

Love & Light & Other Meaningless Expressions of Cosmic Goodwill

Madame Arcati XX

The Observer's woes - Arcati was right

An Arcati source recently gave very accurate information about the various problems at the rightward-drifting Observer, one or two relating to its troubled news editor Kamal Ahmed. Press Gazette now reports that he "has left the paper to work for the Equality and Human Rights Commission." Foul-mouthed editor Roger Alton put out a bye bye email in which he wrote - "A sad moment for me personally, and I am sure for everyone." Er, no. Not at all, you arrogant, deluded sod. You'll be out soon yourself with your other pet, the awful Jasper Gerard who's better suited to the Sunday Express. To read the full report, click here. My thanks to to the correspondent who drew my attention to this.

To read the original Arcati report, click here

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill. Review

Quite why the Literary Review permitted critic Amanda Craig to reveal the twist in Susan Hill’s new novella The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story must remain a mystery. Spite? Clumsiness? Too much weed? Whatever, we must console ourselves that the publication hardly figures on anyone’s radar except as a poor-paying finishing school for bright trustafarians all called Pandora – quite why it retains its amateurish, throwaway tone is another question I can’t quite summon up the enthusiasm to address. I leave to others to ponder.

And so to the work-in-hand. Hill launches light-handed raids on a wide variety of literary genres and ideas – from Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dickens-style Gothicness to Victorian/Edwardian Yuletide spookmeister MR James and touches of Poe and Faust (and many more) – to confect an atmospheric ghost story all her own. If there is subtle mischief in some of the references – in a post-Scream world, horror must be knowing – then it remains an unassuming guest as Hill artfully builds up an affective sense of foreboding. No wonder BBC Radio 4 recently selected it as its Book of the Week: it’s the perfect read for horror fetishists who like to sip port as they shiver, alone.

So slight is the tale – by which I mean, so dependent is it on a series of simple but unexpected mechanics for build-up – that the most basic précis will have to do. Before a crackling fire in the grate – crucially it’s a cold and frosty night - ancient Cambridge don Theo tells his former student Oliver the strange history of an 18th Century painting hanging on the wall. It depicts masked revellers at the Venice carnival. One debauched figure in particular seems to possess a sulphuric, independent life: this is a painting that only appears to imitate life. In reality it has the power to take life, entrapping the souls of those who enrage whatever dark force controls it and imprinting their image upon the canvas forever. Revenge (a ghost story necessity) is the dark catalyst – whose revenge, or why the revenge, is best discovered in the narrative, not here.

The widowed countess, who appears a little later in the story, conjures up a passing Miss Havisham – and yet was that the shadow of the vengeful Mrs Danvers flitting by, too? I even found my mind wandering over the masterpiece horror movie Don’t Look Now (in which Venetian necromantic forces prove lethal) as Hill drives her unfortunate characters to smelly La Serenissima – the beguiling, the misleading “the most serene”, in this fiction.

Told in recollection (except for one part) by different, inter-related people, The Man in the Picture is both a classically constructed ghost story and a homage to the classic ghost story genre. What could have been mere comic pastiche, even a straight and obvious send-up, works as invented horror in its own right, in the hands of a great story-teller - remember Hill's The Woman in Black? A perfect Christmas read, in other words.

To buy a copy, go to Amazon

Keith Allen - he likes snow where sun don't shine

Lily Allen's reprobate actor daddy Keith has a book out - An Autobiography: Grow Up ("He zips through his life like a speeding bullet with an erection," wrote India Knight in the Sunday Times) - which got the dps treatment in the News of the World this weekend: somewhat late; the book has been out quite a few weeks now. It chronicles his various fucks with various household names but fails to mention one of his favourite sexual treats - having charlie blown up his arse via a straw. A number of famous female writers (not India I hasten to add) and actors have had the pleasure of a blow - at the Groucho especially - and I hear of more exotic activities in the Groucho loo with a male friend.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Gordon 'Pringles' Brown - just obeying his stars

Gordon Brown's decision not to call a general election will have come as no surprise to the wise. As I pointed out in July, there is nothing in Old Moore's Almanack (follow labels to the piece) to suggest that the PM would go to the country for a top up in 2007. It foresaw a happy August for the government, as old values were re-asserted (ie messages of same, not actually) - and certainly Brown had a splendid micro-honeymoon - but that by November, Labour would be in trouble: the present trend appears to confirm this. Next year will be fairly miserable for Brown - with four of his planets in secretive Pisces he was never going to be a happy PM - so he would be well advised to hang on in there till 2010. I shall await Old Moore's 2009 predictions with interest.

On another matter, I understand from Holy Moly that Brown's cock is a Pringles-sized tube crowned with a bull's heart - or something like that. Someone in Brown's gym has reported this news. Perhaps then the PM should spend more time in bed putting his assets to good use instead of control-freaking all over the place in remorseless obedience to the vain, godless work ethic. It's just another form of hubris.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Toyah Willcox - the woman with rainbow pubes

For my sins I get sent tons of TV preview tapes - they make lovely Christmas and birthday presents (does wonders for my carbon footprint) - and I can tell you I was not looking forward having to sit through "former punk singer" Toyah Willcox's revelatory interview on the contents of her crotch for Five's My Body Hell (Brits can see it on October 10).

How wrong I was - Toyah has turned into a one-woman Rainbow Alliance. She tells her public that she likes nothing more than to experiment with pube colours to please her rather pretentious '70s rock star husband Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame.

She explains: "I like to dye my pubes - occasionally I dye them blonde and they've also been pink. You can surprise your man in lots of ways. I often play around with the shape and the colour!"

I'm not quite sure how I would react to the sight of Toyah awaiting my presence in bed as her dayglo amber snatch glowed up like the flashlight of the emergency services.

She does seem rather preoccupied with her pelvic region. She recalls her shame when she flashed her pubic hair at the audience while performing in panto years ago.

She says: "I was playing a principal boy and was on stage in a very short tunic. The front row was laughing as there must have been some pubic hair showing! The women in the front row were having a great time. I shaved it all off as soon as I got home that night."

I think this woman has issues.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ms Baroque - 'Sloanes, Liberty, no fraternité'

The entrancing Ms Baroque - do visit her literary site - is provoked into a reminiscence by my item on Olivia Stewart-Liberty, Peter York's "co-writer" on the Sloane Ranger sequel book. And below I have added a couple of links one of which takes you to a report about Richard Stewart-Liberty (or should that be "Mr Richard"?) and his unfair dismissal case against his old family company ...

I wonder how Olivia is related to Richard Stewart-Liberty? Untold aeons ago I worked for a year, as a young gel, in the china section in the basement there. Richard S-L was the vice-something or other in charge of something or other, and used to go walkabouts to see how we were all doing. Once in the summer, when it was about 90 degrees out and therefore stifling in the un-air-conditioned basement, he came down and saw me - in a fit of feeling faint - collapsed momentarily on a chair. With all the benignity of a kindly esquire, he leant over and suggested that my colleague, busy dusting, was working very hard...

Anyway, it still had the feel of a family firm then, and there was a desire expressed to be a little (within the confines of our uniforms, etc) less formal... To this end, we were told it we should adress him as "Mr Richard." Almost egalitarian! The dress code, in the name of this informality, deliberately omitted any caps to doff.

USDAW, the shopwkorkers' union, tried and failed to unionise Liberty during this time, and one morning when they leafleted outside the staff entrance, there inside the staff entrance we saw - on one side, Mr Richard, with a bin bag for throwing your leaflets into; on the other side, the scary-haired head fashion buyer with another bin bag; and behind her another lackey, taking names of people who didn't throw their leaflets. I didn't throw my leaflet.

Shortly thereafter, I was called into a meeting and given my "final written warning" - when I reasonably pointed out that I had been given no previous warning either oral of written, I was told not to be ridiculous, I had been told off so many times for my "attitude" I should have seen it coming.

Ah, those were the days! I'm SO glad Sloane Rangers are making a comeback.

Ms Baroque

Some olde Liberty history ...

Richard S-L wins his unfair dismissal case against Liberty

Liberty rejects call to sack chairman

Ned Sherrin: Virgins on the casting couch

Dear Madame

Contrary to what was written in the Daily Telegraph obit posted on your blog, a late friend of mine told me they spent so long casting The Virgin Soldiers because they were obviously having such fun.

An author friend of his, Peter M., was asked by Sherrin to come round and fix his television set only to find he was trying to set up an orgy.

Best wishes,

J [name withheld]

Peter York - gimme information

Don't just sit there responding, be proactive and tell me something about Peter York. Give me goss. I never much liked Ann "we're completely chocka" Barr, in fact the whole Yorkie-Barr act irritated me, but I can be talked out of prejudices if approached correctly. Willie Landels was the best editor of Harpers & Queen, he presided over the whole Sloane rubbish as York "observed" and Barr wrote, then the magazine began its sad road to homogeniety under the grinning Nicholas Coleridge - and now it's just another boring woman's fashion mag in Harper's Bazzar. So I can see York's worth - but who does he go to bed with and which brand of mouthwash does he use? Someone out there must know.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Duncan Fallowell: 'I offered to do Ned Sherrin ... '

Dear Madame Arcati - Your piece on Ned Sherrin reminded that in the Seventies I offered to do him for free but that he said he preferred to pay. I said I never did it for money because it put too much pressure on me, and he said he never did it without money for the same reason. So I went off in a twirl and did Russell Harty (before he became famous on TV). The strange thing is that I didn't recall any of this until Russell Harty reminded me many years later, both of my sexual event with him and of my badinage with Ned. I'd been so drunk that I recalled none of it directly. Nor did I fancy either of them - it was just the happy frivolity of youth.

With best wishes, Duncan Fallowell

Ned Sherrin is no longer for rent

Two early obits of Ned Sherrin who has unloosened his ends at 76:

"He confessed rather engagingly that he used rent boys for sex because he didn't want to exploit young actors who might sleep with him in the hope of getting a part."

"But even his best friends were surprised when, just after he received his CBE in 1997, he published a diary in which he confessed that he used rent boys for sex contacted through gay magazine ads."

He confessed to his rent boy usage in Sherrin's Year (1996 - the Mail has got a bit confused date-wise) because he had received blackmail letters - hopefully not from the News of the World or any of those other disgusting tabloid newspapers which are edited by Christians and thrive on blackmail or illegal surveillance. That aside, I found Sherrin socially to be rather a miserable old bitch – like most satirists it must be said. Ever tried a conversation with Richard Ingrams? Serenading a steaming camel's turd in the middle of the Sahara would be more stimulating. One hopes, that unshackled from his dull earthly world and throat cancer, Sherrin can enjoy good long fucks in heaven as the gods congratulate themselves on the ingenuity of their sexual inventions.

Read Duncan Fallowell's attempted seduction of Sherrin click here

Mandrake wrongly bashes the bishop

Dear Madame Arcati

Long time lurker on your site here and I love it. Could you, if you choose to write about this, possibly not mention my name?

On Sunday, in the accident prone and hyperbole loving Sunday Telegraph Mandrake column, Tim Walker and Richard Eden get all hot under the collar about the Bishop of Liverpool claiming on his website to be a fellow of the Royal Society (for Scientists). They seem to imply, by saying a spokesman insists 'there is nothing sinister' going on, that there is something sinister afoot. False credentials and so on. (Something, incidentally, the Mandrake editor knows all about).

If only they'd read the Guardian diary earlier in the week, they'd have known that the Bishop's website people made a typing mistake and meant the Royal Society of Arts.

Another of this week's Mandrake stories is quotations from someone who didn't get onto The X Factor. Impressive stuff all round.

Keep up the excellent work,

[Name withheld]

Monday, October 01, 2007

Anne Robinson and her weakest link - boastfulness

I long ago lost count of the number of times Anne Robinson and husband John Penrose split up over affairs (hers and his) and god-knows-what-else. When I interviewed her about 12 years ago she told me the marriage was over because he couldn't deal with her success. This was before The Weakest Link here and in the US rocketed her into the showbiz stratosphere. Men, she claimed, cannot cope with highly successful wives -it undermines their machismo. Probably some truth there, but Anne is - like most successful journalists or journalists made good - boastful and self-regarding, always calibrating others against her own achievements and pushiness (Andrew Neil is another good example of this syndrome). I sometimes wondered whether Anne never let Penrose forget who was the great success and who not in their union. Now they are to divorce: the newspapers have made up the £30m he is due from her "£60m" fortune - he will get nothing like. Anne's great virtue is public frankness so I look forward to the tell-all book or magazine interview in which Penrose will be reminded whom he can thank for his good fortune.