Tuesday 15 June 2010

The horror! The horror!

Writing a book is an undertaking far more horrific than I’d ever imagined. Not only must the writer come up with several tens of thousands of words, not all of them the same, but he or she must arrange them in an order that makes some kind of sense to the first-time reader.
—Armando Iannucci, “On writing a book”, Facts and Fancies

Friday 11 June 2010

M and S pants

Radio 4 is, for many of us deskbound homeworkers, not so much something you listen to as something you hear: a human voice in the background to stave off cabin fever. The guest on today’s (repeated) Desert Island Discs is Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks and Spencer and, so he claims, the only white elder of the Wagogo “tribe” of central Tanzania. He’s a little hazy on the details of that country’s birth, however. “My family and I left Africa in ’60, ’61 when Tanganyika, as it was, became independent Tanzania.”

Not quite. As those who love to flatter TV adverts with parody might say (cue soothing music and sumptuous visuals), “This is not just fact...” — or rather, this is just not fact. For the record, Tanganyika became independent in 1961 as Tanganyika. The island off its eastern seaboard, Zanzibar, gained independence two years later, and only in April 1964 did the two form a brand-new nation, the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, shortly afterwards renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

So he plays a recording of some Wagogo traditional music and, without a hint of embarrassment or a flicker of irony, follows it up with a piece of hokum performed by a Lithuanian-born American Jew with burnt cork on his face. Yes, pop-pickers, it’s Al Jolson with “Mammy”. Rose remembers his parents “literally falling about laughing” when he would sing them this song as a young child in 1950s Africa.

What’s the one record he’ll cherish above all others? It’s a pop-style rendition by “crossover singer” Phillippa Giordana of “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma. Or as Kirsty Young calls it, “Costa Diva”. Plenty of them hanging around the high-street coffee shops and the Spanish seaside resorts, I expect.

Breakfast was not the best time to hear Kirsty Young flirt and slobber nauseatingly over this tedious plutocrat — “you’re very dashing, and you’re very urbane ... you’d be a bloody good catch for someone, Stuart!” Yes, the underwear rail at Marky’s will never be the same again for Kirsty.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Campbell’s Weather Compendium

Marge Simpson: If I write a book, will they tell me when it comes out?
Author: Well, they should.
Marge Simpson: Then I’ll do it!
Apologies for my truly lamentable neglect of this so-called blog recently. Part of the reason is that, after a delayed start, everyone here at the Campbell Fun Fact-ory has been working flat out to bring you the next fact-packed non-fiction page-turner, yes indeed. Both discretion and superstition have sealed my lips hitherto, but given that it has now appeared on Amazon and whatnot, it seems in order to fess up. Slightly embarrassingly, and I swear this wasn’t my idea, it’s called Campbell’s Weather Compendium.

And now I really must get on.