Monthly Archives: October 2012

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad E-Book?


“I’m sure there’s a bookshop here somewhere”

It’s scary out there. The apocalypse is upon us, and I’m not talking about Superstorm Sandy. The existence of the human race hangs by a thread of organic matter because the e-book is no longer a dystopian vision of the future. It’s HERE! It’s REAL! It will devour you from the inside out and transform you into… into… someone dependent on yet another gadget! The days of paper and print are over, dead, finished, kaput, erased! Excuse me for a moment while I shriek in ghastly terror.


OK, now I’ve got the terror thing off my chest, let’s get sensible.

Books are stories, and stories are about as far from physical as you can get. If you want to commit stories to something more solid than the air from which you have pulled them, then words are still black things on a white background, whether electronic or the pulp from a dead tree. E-jokes or inky ones have an equal power to make you laugh, or perhaps just wonder how that author ever got a deal creating jokes as bad as the one you’ve just read. Self-publishing has got easier, fulfilling long-held dreams and occasionally making money. Why the fear?

All-round gorgeous readability

I went to a lovely party at the local Waterstones last Friday, celebrating a recent deal with Amazon whereby they can sell Kindles alongside what might be coyly termed ‘real’ books. The shop looked great. Inviting, varied, exciting. Rainbows of titles on the shelves, canapes from Waitrose, Rosamund Lupton to talk to, a quietly investigative Kindle corner. The only thing missing was a large sofa into which one might sink while perusing Nigellissima in hardback form. What is there to be scared of, apart from a hole in your purse from spending too much on words in their endless lovely forms? Better that than an ill-advised pair of shoes at ten times the price. (Ehem.)

There is still plenty of room in the world for the physicality of books. Their smell, weightiness and colour; their paper silky or textured; the delicious crunch as you open up the spine for the first time. (I believe orthopaedic surgeons feel much the same about that last one.) So stop screaming, people. Make room for books on your shelves and an e-reader in your pocket. Buy two editions of the stuff that you like: the e-version and the paperback. That’s TWICE as many stories out there as before. And that’s not scary at all.


Man v Snail



“Mummy, in a race between a snail and Usain Bolt, who do you think would win?”

“The snail.”


“Usain Bolt would be rubbish at sliming along really slowly. The snail would win for sure.”

Perplexed silence follows this. I take pity.

“This is a sliming-slowly-up-the-doorframe race, right?”

“NO! A RUNNING race.”

“Oh! Well of COURSE Usain Bolt would win a running race. It’s just, he’d be rubbish at sliming up a doorframe. He wouldn’t be able to hold on.”

I *was* going to blog about Older and Younger Sons’ amazing experience of singing with the Winchester Cathedral choristers at the weekend. But then Younger Son asked this question, and I felt that it had to be addressed.


His question was based on the unthinking assumption of Usain Bolt’s uber-menschness. He’s only six, so fair enough. But we’re grown-ups, and we should be able to consider it quite differently. Why not assume that the SNAIL was the uber-mensch (uber-shneck, whatever) here? Snails are geniuses. These blobby little squidgers with their pulsing horns and hard curly houses do the most staggering things with the slimy smallness that they possess. They have evolved and thrived magnificently: just ask all the hostas and sedums down the millennia that they have dispatched. And they can hang upside down on ceilings. AND they’ve bothered to design stupendously pretty shells. In the event of global disaster, I’d back the snail’s chances over Lightning and his gold Nikes every time. Slugs not so much, but that’s personal. (It is just me, or have slugs got very expensive on Amazon recently?)

Now, that question you’ve been asking yourself. What was it again? Try it from a different angle. You may reach a surprising answer, though not necessarily encompassing molluscs.

Booby Prize


What a day! The sun is so bright it’s clearly struck up a sponsorship deal with that dishwasher product, Finish. Or maybe De Beers. Anyway, someone big and shiny enough to sponsor the sun. AND it’s National Poetry Day. So that means basically that you’re in for a poem with sunny bits.

This is a poem I wrote around fifteen years ago, on a pleasant summer’s day. I need to warn you that it makes uncomfortable reading because EVERY WORD is true.

Oh Eva. You have no idea.

The sky was blue, the sun was hot,
She felt her Wonderbra would not
Be comfy in the heat,
So breezy cool in buttoned frock
She stuffed her sunbag chock-a-block
And headed for the street.


The frock was a navy blue stretchy sundress with buttons from neck to navel. This is an important detail.

This is what I looked like as I jumped on the bus. Minus the hat. And whip. And horse.

The bus went by with speedy roar,
She upped her gears from one to four
To catch that bus, oh glory!
Adrenalin in heart and head,
She galloped like a thoroughbred
When ridden by Dettori.


I like to imagine at this point that I looked marvellously lithe and lissome, charging down the pavement. In my buttoned frock sans Wonderbra. Can you see where this is going?

The bus disgorged its sweaty horde –
She leaped upon the running board
With antelope finesse,
All peered above their magazines
With eyes as big as tangerines
And focused on her dress.


“Read on, Lizzie,” as Mr Bennet would say in a heavy voice.

The passengers appeared to freeze –
She sensed a rather pleasant breeze
About her upper body,
Then saw with dreadful clarity
Her bosoms waving loose and free
Enthralling everybody.

Ealing. That is all.


Damn buttons.

She steeled her very British nerve
And swivelled slowly to observe
The driver dazed and reeling,
She tucked herself in decently,
Then said with awful dignity:
“A day return to Ealing.”

(OK, not every word is true. I bought a ticket to Putney.)