Andrew O'Hagan's new novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, will be published in May.
I moved out of London around the time the Clapton Park estate in Hackney got a lick of salmon paint. That was in 2002. I left our dog Megan with my uncle in Marylebone. When she had pups in 2004 he kept one and they called him Asbo. Last week, while my uncle was on a New Labour flickr site, Megan did a runner from the flat and headed out under the Westway. Asbo knew better and sat tight. My uncle tweeted a lost-dog alert. A fish-farmer in the Maldives got back about a different dog. Megan’s missing now, but most of the places she fetched up are on the record. She was first identified on CCTV, hackles up, pacing the north-west corner of Grange Primary School Ealing at 9.45 pm on 21 January: By the morning she was outside Didcot Girls’ School, baying at the new hall, which she may have taken for an abattoir. (frame) The trail went fuzzy after she ducked south to Thanet Campus (frame). By now she was a phantom dog pin-balling round the country with bared teeth, cracked paws and pale green eyes the size of artichokes. She briefly materialised butting the glass panels of the Youth Centre at Thornaby-on-Tees on the 23rd (frame) Hours later, she was filmed behaving in a confused and inappropriate way outside the University Campus, Suffolk. (frame) The story of her round-Britain excursion is told in Change we See, the site my uncle was browsing the night she lit out. You won’t ‘see’ Megan anywhere in shot. She’s already undergone a ‘change’. It looks from the photo-stream like Megan found a two-legged friend out there in the wilderness of brick and PVC. You can see that person in a mauve outfit with a black scarf, directing his mother to the east Building of the Driffield School (frame) And there’s that same person, a day or so later, waving our dog into the Alfred Bean Hospital for a spell in the (experimental) canine unit. (frame) Unlike our dog, the unit’s not yet up and running. It wasn’t ready and she wasn’t either. That’s why we’ve had no news of her. New Labour are the only people with a record of the places our dog visited on her incredible journey around Britain. For instance: The Eaglescliffe Allweather pitch Harris Girls Academy in Dulwich. My uncle says New Labour are probably the only people who can tell us why our dog became the pet from hell in the first place. I moved out of London around the time the Clapton Park estate in Hackney got a lick of salmon paint. That was in 2002. I left our dog Megan with my uncle in Marylebone. When she had pups in 2004 he kept one and they called him Asbo. Last week my uncle was on a Flickr site where citizens upload photos of New Labour's successes: buildings, sports grounds, more buildings. Good, bad, indifferent. As if no other party in history had commissioned so much as a public toilet. My uncle was distressed and so were the dogs. Asbo started to howl and then Megan did a runner. My uncle saw her heading out under the Westway. He tweeted a lost-dog alert. A fish-farmer in the Maldives got back about a different dog.
John Burnside will be at the London Review Bookshop this evening, talking about his new memoir, Waking up in Toytown.
Hugh Pennington · Swine Flu
'H1N1: now entering the recrimination phase,' a recent 'Editor's Choice' in the British Medical Journal was headlined. The piece began: 'If influenza was a rock band how would it rate its latest release, H1N1? Not too well, I suspect, despite the greatest prepublicity since – well, its previous release.' A nice summary. People have died – but in far fewer numbers than even the most optimistic official estimates predicted. Absenteeism has not stopped the trains or planes or threatened food supplies. The second wave came, but the virus had not mutated. We have been lucky, so far. The virus has been no nastier than seasonal flu, and the usual target for lethal infections, the elderly, have been largely spared, probably because of immunity conferred by H1N1 infections suffered by them 60 and more years ago.
R.W. Johnson · South Africa's Soccer Bosses
Just over a week ago the South African Football Association (Safa) –which is shortly to host the World Cup – sacked its chief executive, Raymond Hack, replacing him with the unknown and untried Leslie Sedibe. Sedibe happily announced that 'I can promise you parties, parties, parties all the way.' This week it emerges that Safa is having major cash-flow problems, owes a lot of money to the bank and a whole lot more to suppliers. Safa has to subsidise its 52 regions inside the country to help them pay their administrative costs. Many of these regions are on the point of closure, unable to pay wages, rent or phone bills. Safa itself is said to be 'paralysed'. Safa is the battleground for South Africa's famous soccer bosses, rich men who like cutting a dash and are rough: accusations of attempted or actual murder are not uncommonly flung at them and they are willing to use financial or actual muscle to solve most problems. The authorities are visibly afraid of them. When Irvin Khoza, one of the greatest of all the bosses – 'the Iron Duke', as he is known – was found not to have paid his taxes for some time the tax authorities merely called him in for 'consultations' and reached a quiet arrangement with him. There was no thought of court action. Similarly, a few years ago the police arrested dozens of referees in 'Operation Dribble', having discovered that they had been bribed to fix most of South Africa's Professional Soccer League (PSL) soccer matches. The police were very pleased at having caught the refs red-handed but then it dawned that they could not be sentenced without the naming in open court of the soccer bosses who had bribed them. This was obviously unthinkable so the refs were all released and continue to manage domestic games in time-honoured fashion.
Joshua Cohen · The End of the Phone Book
The days of the phone book – along with print media, phone booths and landline telephones – are numbered. Leland Yee, one of San Francisco’s state senators, is responsible for much worthwhile immigration and domestic violence legislation, as well as mandatory ski helmets for children. This month he’s planning to introduce a bill prohibiting telephone companies from sending customers unsolicited white pages. White pages are residential listings, yellow pages commercial: neither name is protected by copyright so anyone can publish them. When I was a child, James Earl Jones did the TV spots for Bell Atlantic’s yellow pages: ‘No other book can match it,’ announced the voice I recognised as Darth Vader’s. No other book except the California State Law Code.
Joshua Kurlantzick · Malaysia's Burning Churches
The recent spate of attacks on churches in Malaysia, following a court ruling allowing Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ for their god, has surprised many outsiders who thought the country was relatively tolerant. But for decades, even as Malaysia’s government portrayed the country as a racially harmonious society, non-Malays have quietly chafed at discrimination against them. Following race riots in 1969, the government launched an affirmative action initiative known as the New Economic Policy. It was intended to redistribute wealth from ethnic Chinese, who make up about 25 per cent of the population but historically ran much of the country’s business, to ethnic Malays, who comprise about 65 per cent. Most of the rest of the population are ethnic Indians.
Paul Dixon · Blair's Deceptions
The Chilcot Inquiry is providing further evidence that Tony Blair misled the British public in the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003. Five years earlier he less famously deceived the people of Northern Ireland into believing that paramilitary prisoners wouldn’t be released and Sinn Fein wouldn’t be able to enter government until the IRA had decommissioned its arms. On the basis of this deception, Northern Ireland’s Catholics and a bare majority of Protestants ‘consented’ to the Good Friday Agreement.
Here's a nice story about George Plimpton told, for no particular reason, through the medium of Google maps.
Jon Day has his bike clamped
To a cycle courier, the conflict between public and private, between the rules of the road and those of corporate estates, is constantly apparent. The glee with which the police hunt down and fine couriers who jump red lights, while letting off their commuting counterparts, is well known. But the guardians of private land are just as intolerant.
Hugh Miles · Where's Prince Bandar?
Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, has disappeared. In the absence of any official news about his health or whereabouts, the rumour mill has been working overtime. As is often the case with Saudi affairs, the truth is elusive. Those who know won’t talk and those who don’t know talk a lot.
Last August the Iranian media reported that Bandar had been put under house arrest, allegedly for plotting a coup to try and ensure the Kingdom would continue under the rule of the Sudairi branch of the Al Saud family. But Iran isn’t the most reliable source: al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia’s news network, gibes Iran hourly over its ongoing political turmoil; Iran’s al-Alam and Press TV hit back at Saudi Arabia whenever they can.
Around 1985 I found a badly printed little paperback at Grant & Cutler called De viaje por los países socialistas, by Gabriel García Márquez. It was an eye-opener – the first playful, thoughtful, intimate, non-ideological take on the Eastern bloc I’d read. García Márquez has always called himself a journalist. It turns out that his literary-intellectual formation was nurtured not only by the chatty spirits around his grandmother and the depredations of the United Fruit company, but also by the fabulous variations of Communism he observed on a couple of semi-clandestine trips in the late 1950s.
The book was a trove of weird anecdotes and shrewd assessments. Slightly unpolished, perhaps, but still, why hadn’t it been translated?
Thomas Jones · Libel Tourism
Everyone sends out self-congratulatory newsletters these days. Carter-Ruck, the firm of solicitors that 'remains the market leader in defamation and privacy law', calls its newsletter Get Carter-Ruck (geddit?). No prizes for guessing where that quote about being the market leader comes from. It's in many ways a paradoxical document. Since much of what it celebrates is the successful silencing of the press, some of the news is necessarily oblique: The Daily Express has published an apology to Michael Winner. For what? No one can say...
Joshua Kurlantzick · Asia's Refugees
In the 1960s and 1970s many thousands of people fled Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Countries like Thailand may not have welcomed the refugees with open arms, but they did let them stay. In the late 1980s Thailand also allowed tens of thousands of Burmese refugees to set up more or less permanent camps along the border. That relatively humane policy seems to have vanished. The deportation last month of 4000 Hmong refugees from Thailand back to Laos is part of a broader story. Cambodia recently sent a group of Uighurs back to China, where they are almost sure to face trial, torture and long prison terms.
Nick Holdstock · Book 'Trailers'
The idea of film ‘trailers’ for books may look like yet another unpleasant twist in the commodification of literature, or, at the very least, an attempt to convince consumers that books really are just like movies, but all the same there have been some enjoyable results. Most trailers consist of the author reading a short (and usually dramatic) extract from the book over a montage of images. The recent one for Joshua Ferris’s The Unnamed is a pretty representative example:
Tariq Ali · Adam Curtis
With the historical memory of the country virtually non-existent it's good to know there are a few wise heads still around at the BBC who are, at least, aware of what's going on in the world even if they can't share this knowledge with viewers who pay to keep the BBC going as a public service. Adam Curtis's documentaries are usually very good but he makes only one or two a year. Why on earth he isn't given a weekly late-night history slot escapes me. Time surely for BBC viewers to organise a petition or threaten a licence-fee boycott if the Corporation continues to degenerate. In the meantime read Curtis's blog and learn about Yemen.
John Lanchester · Self-Censorship
Google are in the news for saying that they might pull out of China, and/or stop censoring searches on its Chinese search engine – a topic of great sensitivity since they opened for (censored) business in China in 2006. But there's more than one sort of censorship, and those who think that self-censorship is one of the worst types will enjoy this. It compares the suggestions made by the search engine when you type in 'Christianity is' or 'Hinduism is' or 'Judaism is' or 'Buddhism is' with what happens when you type in 'Islam is'. It's more noteworthy given that the search suggestions in general roam wild and free. Type in 'Why is there' into the box and Google leaps to complete the thought with 'a dead Pakistani on my couch'.
Edward Pearce · The Silence of the Foreign Secretary
The enemies of Gordon Brown are a wonderful company as, God knows, were the enemies of John Major. A government suffers bad shocks, its leader stumbles and attracts a bad press. What government and prime minister do next, over time and rather successfully, may well redeem them with mere voters. But party members in internal opposition at Westminster will have none of it. What follows is suicide bombing – of a genteel and wittering sort.
Adam Kuper · BBC Missionaries
Most African herbalists cause no more damage than dispensers of alternative medicines on our high streets. Every now and then, however, a sinister practitioner will advise a very special client that while roots and animal parts are useful, the most potent medicines are made from human blood, liver, spleen and heart. Yes, it is dreadful, he whispers, but there are unscrupulous people about, and I have heard that your rival is in the market for the stuff. What choice do you have? When one big man is persuaded, his peers are immediately alerted. In consequence medicine murders tend to crop up in clusters, the clients typically rich and powerful men. The anti-human sacrifice and trafficking unit of the Uganda police recorded 26 cases in 2008 and 28 in 2009, and a number of suspects were brought to trial. Enter Tim Whewell of the BBC’s Crossing Continents programme.
Whither the sea lions? That’s what’s on the minds of many here in San Francisco these days, no less than the vanished Nigerian head of state has puzzled citizens in that corner of the world. They disappeared a couple of months ago from their gathering place on the now abandoned boat docks at the foot of Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, after the Disney parks the third most visited tourist attraction in the United States. Disgusting and malodorous as they were, lolling about and barking, plastering the docks with guano, occasionally slipping into the Bay for sustenance, these creatures were, apparently, the big draw on the pier, an open-air, rectangular hell of T-shirt, junk food and gee-gaw shops. There is absolutely not one single reason to visit Pier 39 unless you are a conspicuously unimaginative family with small children and a camera from Terre Haute, Indiana on holiday.
I called Poluszny, my friend the retired cabdriver. He knows many things. ‘Paolo,’ I said, ‘where did the sea lions go to?’
Roy Mayall · How the Union Negotiates
I was talking to my union rep about the attendance procedure, the process by which posties are threatened with dismissal for being ill. ‘The union must have negotiated this,’ I said. ‘If the union hadn’t negotiated it, it wouldn’t exist.’ ‘But if the union hadn’t negotiated it,’ my union rep said, ‘it would be worse. Anyway, it’s not the procedure that’s wrong, it’s bad management and the way they use it.’ But as I pointed out to him, if the management can misuse the procedure to the detriment of postal workers, that means there are loopholes in it, which means it’s a bad agreement. This is the problem.
Nick Richardson · The Night Climbers of Cambridge
As an undergraduate at Oxford I came across a gang of mischief-makers who liked nothing better than to climb in and out of places they weren’t welcome. A dangerous activity and not my thing at all. But once, once, they got me drunk enough to join them. Wearing black tie, high on egg-nog and P.G. Wodehouse, we gatecrashed the Corpus Christi College ball by climbing in over a wall that backs onto Christ Church Meadow. I can’t remember quite how we managed it. There was a straining of a groin, a tearing of a tuxedo, a collapsing in a dishevelled heap on the ground. We then spent a paranoid couple of hours running away from bouncers – a terrible evening, all things considered. But for those goatier of foot, and hardier of soul, Oxford is a playground of drainpipes and dormers, chimneys and stanchions. Cambridge too – more famously so,
Tonight at the London Review Bookshop: Jonathan Lethem in conversation with Tom McCarthy.
Tariq Ali · Kabul's Narcotecture
P.J.Tobia’s photographs of these monstrous buildings in Kabul convey only part of the horror. Their location is not too far from the slum dwellings that house the poor of the city, sans water, sans electricity, sans sewage, sans everything. A young photo-journalist from Philadelphia, Tobia supplied the captions and writes on True/Slant:
Greg Grandin · The Latin America Lobby
The honeymoon between Barack Obama and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva didn’t last long. When Obama was elected, the US press imagined a natural alliance between the two men, expecting them to sideline the ideologues and set the Western Hemisphere back in greased grooves. ‘This is my man, right here,’ Obama said at the G20 summit in London in April, grinning and shaking Lula’s hand. ‘I love this guy.’ The first bump in the road was the coup in Honduras in June, which sparked a clash of wills between the US and Brazil over how best to settle it. ‘Our concern,’ said Lula’s foreign-policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, is that Washington’s push to legitimise the Honduran elections ‘will introduce the “theory of the preventive coup”’ – an extension of Bush’s doctrine of preventive war – ‘in Latin America’.
Ross McKibbin · The BNP's Language
The BNP clearly hopes it has the wind in its sails. It has dispatched a newsletter to its supporters which, though it apologises for the lateness of the 2008 accounts (just completed), is intended to sound pretty self-confident. Indeed, one reason the letter gives for lateness is that the party has been overwhelmed by new members. (There is also a coy reference to ‘unresolved internal problems’ as factors which made life difficult, problems which have, we are to understand, now been resolved.) Party membership, it says, is now 13,000 and rising – with 3000 ‘on hold’ as a result (it does not quite say) of a ruling that the BNP was in breach of the law by imposing a racial bar on membership. There are two interesting features to this letter.