Tuesday, 30 July 2013


I read a lot of books and reviews. I’m not saying that I read books constantly but I seem to get through a good few each year.

One of my mistakes recently has been buying hard back books from the Guardian Review magazine. This I suppose is the high end of the market, the so call posh books. My recent acquisitions have been Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (477 pages) and Michelle de Kretser’s Questions Of Travel (515 pages). These are very large books. The sort of books, I always read at night and if I fall asleep these tomes inevitably close up and because of the bewildering complication of the so called plots, it’s almost impossible to find my place. So I have to start again. Large books. Bruised knees.

Other books reviewed in that paper are Kafka: The Years of Insight and Kafka: The Decisive Years, Isaiah Berlin-Building: Letters 1960-75, Isaac and Isaiah, The Men Who Lost America, All The Birds, Singing, The Crumb Road, Ocean At The End of The Lane, The Times of Fading Light. All I’m sure (the titles might give you a hint) as unintelligible as Kate’s or Michelle’s. But the reviewer’s pick these incomprehensible books because it makes them look clever and write about the ‘structure.’, the ‘delicate creation of character.‘ etc, so us poor saps buy the books struggle through them, not understanding a word, end up with headaches and bruised knees.

They never review books written by Peter James. A good marketing ploy by him is always have the word Dead in the title. Why no reviews you might wonder? They are long, the last being 407 pages. Not quite as many as Atkinson’s or Kretser’s but quite close. So why don’t they review it?

The answer maybe that they’re are not obscure or obtuse, in fact they are very straightforward. But there is one inclusion that is irritating. The copper hero named Grace, has a wife who left him about ten years before. He’s looked for her, doesn’t know wether she’s dead or alive. But she’s popped up in all the books, lingering in the background but why?  His books sell, according to the blurb on the cover 11,0000,000 copies. So what do I know? 

In an independent  bookshop, a lady said to me ‘You should read this book, if it’s made into a TV series the main character would be perfect for you.’ It was the first Dead book by James. Within a few pages I discover the hero is thirty seven years old, goes jogging, ex rugby player, tough and has the occasional fag. Me, book lady?  Don’t be silly. Good way to shift a book or two. So, I kept buying them just in case the hero got older and if he did, then a great TV mogul might want to film them and I might have a chance. But like Peter Pan he never seems to grow up.

Why have I been writing about the Guardian? Well, there is one review in it that caught my eye (another lumpy title, I’m afraid) called Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business and by Lynda Obst. She’s 63 and her career in films seems to be over. In the past she helped to produce Taxi Driver and then among others she produced Sleepless in Seattle. In 1996, down in the dumps, she wrote a book called Hello, He Lied. The tenure of this book is ‘you never trust anyone about anything’.

That hits the spot. Trust....what a word. I’ve trusted publishers, P.R companies, plumbers, gardeners, accountants, actuaries, lawyers. Yes, I’ve been a fool. I never learn.

In about 1987 I got a chance to do a sit-com. The producer was called Marcus Plantin. After the recording of the first episode, we repair to the bar. Plantin come up to me, puts his hands on my shoulders, he was wearing Buddy Holly glasses with tape wrapped around one of the arms, then he says. ‘Ray, you’re a star. Every time we cut to you it’s money in the bank.’  That man, a few years later, wouldn’t even pick up the phone when I called him. 

But however I try to avoid it, the G. R. draws me to it like a magnet. And there are some glorious nuggets to be found there. For instance one is The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink. As I’m sure you’re aware that your dear blogger has a penchant for the occasional small glass of sweet sherry, so he was delighted with a quote by Dorothy Parker who said “ I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

Ah, I’ll drink to that.

Chris Sullivan(Wednesday, August 07 13 08:50 pm BST)
Hi Ray,
Remember me? Back in London now so if you're around let's meet up for a Starbucks one of the days.
Here's my blog by the way http://storytelleronamazon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/baseball-and-cricket-difference.html

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


I loathe that phrase ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’. It has been used in that pop world, I believe even in the well respected and revered corridors of the BBC, the much lauded Melvyn Bragg even called one of his Thursday morning forty five minute yawn shows, by the same name.

I’ve never stood on anyone’s shoulders. I’ve stood in dole queues, at bars, at football matches, bus stops, school gates, yes, I’m sure we’ve all done a lot of standing. 

But being in this ‘glitzy’ world of show biz, all wonderful and frothy, I’ve stood in rooms and ‘breathed the same air‘ as a lot of legends (not stood on them).

In the ’60’s the streets of London seemed to be teeming with potential ‘legends’. Everyone was as thin as a pencil and girls wore skirts so short that imagination went up in smoke. Once Biba and the like opened, childhood went down the drain. And it’s continued at a pace ever since. In 1962, travelling by tube to rehearsals of a telly series called Taxi, starring Sid James and Bill Owen, I was accosted by a strange looking young man called Andrew Loog Oldham, who gave me his card, and said if I wanted to make a record to contact him. 

I went to see see him, his office was crowded, I waited got bored and left. It reminded me of when Toni Meehan, the Shadow’s drummer, took me into the the Savile Row headquarters of the Beatles. It was teeming with people, all using the phones, smoking and generally pretending that they were a part of the great groups emporium. No doubt that these days they are very likely to be shuffling around on Zimmer frames or are six feet under.

But. I often think, if I’d put pen to paper on a contract in Oldham’s office and if I’d have known that a few months later that he’d been sharing a cab with John Lennon and asking him if he and Paul had got a song for a group that he wanted to promote. The song was I Wanne be Your Man which turned out to be the hit song that got the Stones Rolling. Missed out there.

If  I had signed a contract with Oldham I could have been a pop star, had to have grown my hair very long and snarled my way through songs. In the Oldham style I would have to become a Mick Jagger clone. Would this moody me have ever been allowed to do Jackanory? Would Liam Gallagher have wanted my autograph if I hadn’t done Mr Benn?

The Stones got rid of Andrew Loog Oldham very early, I didn’t sign with him, they haven’t done too badly and nor have I. 

But Mick’s still got his hair and I haven’t. Yes, I’d certainly swop my barren patch with his voluminous thatch. 

Ann Wilson(Saturday, July 27 13 05:41 pm BST)
One consolation Ray is that you don't look as wrinkled as Mick!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Who's Ed Milliband?

My mate Dave and me were in the pub discussing Ed Balls’ gobbledegook chat on Radio 4’s Today radio programme. The lady working behind the bar said. ‘Who’s Ed Balls?’

‘The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer’........‘Who?’

‘Have you heard of Ed Miliband?’.......‘Who?’

She has got two children (‘Ten minutes of fun.’), a car, which keeps breaking down and, because she’s pretty, plenty of the lads in the pub fix it for free, when it’s completely knackered her dad buys her another one. But it seems that she has no idea of what happens in the world around her.

My mother was born in 1914 and would be about the same age as the lady behind the bar by 1946. The big difference was that in my mother’s day people talked about politics. They had opinions. 

Churchill (‘War Monger.’). Attlee (‘ Bloody Labour party. What can he do?’) Nye Bevan ( ‘National Health Service?’) Frank Cousins, President of the Transport Workers Union. (‘He’s back from Moscow. Got his orders.’ ‘He’s selling busts of himself at the Conference!’) 

Yes, there were strikes back then but in a way that showed political thrust. But with no televisions, no computers, mobiles, washing machines, dish washers, central heating with nothing interesting on the radio and after a meagre meal of boiled potatoes and fritters (I’m laying it a bit thick here but there were food shortages.), adults would sit round the fire and talk. And politics would be one of the topics.

But do people talk these days? Even if they wanted to, social spaces are pervaded with musac. They, of course, grunt and mutter, play games on their smart phones, ‘converse’ on Twitter or Facebook.  

Their world is full of noise and nobody can hear anything. There’s an opinionated, social network that wraps it’s tentacles around the globe but no one’s taking any notice.

There’s so much going on, that maybe nobody noticed that Ed Miliband (?) had fallen through the cracks.   


Anne Wilson(Thursday, July 04 13 10:18 am BST)
Think people are more interested in talking about TV talent shows, soaps and banal reality TV than discussing politics nowadays. Maybe why Nadine Dorries opted to appear in the latter; she certainly did get noticed and caused much discussion! I think Ed's brother would have made a better leader and he probably thought so too!
Mark(Saturday, July 06 13 01:05 am BST)
Completely agree Ray, but take comfort that I'm in my early 30s, probably about the same age as that barmaid and I'd rather discuss politics than reality TV or use Twitter and Facebook. They're just momentary pleasures and devices to take our mind off the fact we're all going to hell in a handcart! And then MP's wonder why we have 'voter apathy' ??