Category Archives: General

Why Libraries Are Anything But A Luxury by Toby Litt

this article was written by Toby Litt on his blog.

It is too easy to forget what a genius-level idea libraries are. But if, for a moment, you de-invent and then re-invent them, it’s not hard to imagine some slick young thinker getting up on his TED…

Source: Why Libraries Are Anything But A Luxury


David Bowie (1947 –

More than two weeks after the shock announcement on David Bowie  and I still can’t bring myself to write ‘2016’ as the year of his death. Don’t get me wrong, I was never the world’s biggest Bowie fan. I never rushed out to buy any of his records on the first day of release, I’ve rarely delved eagerly into his back catalogue when remasters came out. Before last year I had never bought any of his records on vinyl (I bought two second hand, and one new), and I had only been the most casual of listeners of the key installments of his life’s work. Apart from the recent Nothing Has Changed compilation, David Bowie took up very little space on my CD shelves: another “Greatest Hits”  album, which I bought because it had the DVD with the videos, plus the Low and “Heroes” 1999 remasters which I seem to remember picking up cheaply from a closing down store. That’s about it. I recently bought his next-to-last album The Next Day partly out a ‘guilty’ feeling that i didn’t have that much Bowie in my personal collection, partly because the price dropped sharply after a few months of its release. It was played once then shelved. I bought 1997’s Earthling online a couple of years ago because I needed to make up a ‘3 for the price of 1’ CD purchase, and I asked a friend for advice. I don’t think I ever played it.


Yet I was always well aware of his presence, his influence and his importance in the British music industry and indeed in popular culture since the early 1970s. Saying “David Bowie” was like saying “The Beatles”: it was British pop and rock, it was British culture however much ‘American’ or ‘European’ he had wanted to make it at times. Neither David Robert Jones or David Bowie could have been born anywhere else, and as such he is as much a part of me as the Union Jack, the BBC and beans on toast. As I stated in my ‘gut reaction’ post on my fb profile page, Bowie wasn’t always present but he was always there, he wasn’t always good but he was always great.

So perhaps now, I really can start to appreciate his music and the great body of work he left behind. Don’t get me wrong: in the seventies I knew the words and sang along to Starman, Space Oddity and “Heroes”. After more than a passing interest in Boys Keep Swinging in ’79, I caught up with him proper from 1980 onwards – I was thrilled when Ashes to Ashes got to no. 1, I heard the other singles but never got round to hearing the Scary Monsters album. As the eighties continued, how we danced to China Girl, Blue Jean and (appropriately) Let’s Dance, and how we sneered at his demise mid-eighties onwards (although I must say that Loving the Alien is always a song and a perfomance I’ve always held in high esteem). My interest was somewhat re-kindled with the surprise The Next Day album and even more so by the 2014 ‘single’ Sue (Or In A Season of Crime) a ‘kitchen-sink’ drama set to music which saw Bowie pushing forward barriers once more with atonal almost avant-garde jazz arrangements

Sue David-Bowie-Sue-Or-In-a-Season-of-Crime-New-Single-acid-stag

Sadly, much of the press and therefore public attention after his death has focused on his work in the 70s and 80s, and it would seem that he never produced anything of worth between the Let’s Dance album (1983) and the latest album Blackstar, released days before his death. Not so: Bowie ‘came back’ as a solo artist in 1993 after getting married, ‘settling down’ and generally getting back on track. It is precisely the ensuing albums (from 1993 to 2003) which interest me the most, and now finding out about what he was getting up to, how he was making and presenting his music, his art, and his persona during that period has become my latest curiosity (nay, obsession). My ‘gut reaction’ to Bowie’s death was to buy as many of these albums as I could: I quickly and cheaply sourced 1.Outside, Hours…, and Reality to add to the special 2xCD edition I had of Heathen bought second-hand form an Italian last year, again on a recommendation. ‘Classic’ albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Pin-Ups have little appeal to me. There’s no doubting the quality and breadth of any of these or indeed his work from Station to Station (first released forty years ago) and throughout “the Berlin trilogy” (’77-’79), but I feel these works have been discussed and analysed enough. My tendency is often to go for the ‘underdogs’, the lesser known, the minorities, so I’d like to go through those 93-03 albums as best I can in whatever time it takes. (Who knows, I might later want to do a total rewind…)


In my upcoming venture I am grateful to the friends who have helped me source the necessary audio and visual material and of course to the internet sites such as Discogs, Musicbrainz for their meticulous cataloging of his work. Gratitude and esteem also goes to the mighty Pushing Ahead of the Dame aka for links to songs, resources and general background information and trivia associated with each and every track. Don’t worry: i won’t even attempt to come near to that kind of writing, either in terms of quality or quantity.

Finally, thank you David Bowie, and I really am very sorry I missed you first time round, but perhaps I was too busy paying attention to music by so many other artists, the majority of which you yourself no doubt inspired and influenced through your own art. We were always all just loving the alien.

Bowie salute



The cruellest month?

Chaucer and his Tales (

Thus T. S. Eliot in the opening to his seminal poem The Waste Land. I’ve just realised that sadly I didn’t manage to get an entry to this blog in during April, the object of T. S. Eliot’s totally modernist foray into Chaucerian tradition, possibly because I’ve been so busy with other things, not least in gaining my laurea magistrale from university in Rome, which I am very pleased about and for which I shall proceed to blow my own trumpet!

It’s been the result of over two years of study in various subjects pertaining to English and German language (translation and literature), linguistics and language theory as well as the workings and history of international organisations such as the UN, the EU and so on. It hasn’t been easy ride, given my no longer tender age and other life commitments such as work, family and even moving house! To be honest the studying has been on the whole enjoyable, although I have found the exam situation to be rather stressful and extremely taxing on the nerves. Education is wasted on the young, they say and to some extent that may be true, but while memory cells are still very much alive in the young, in older folk (read over-40s) they are not. But no matter, I got through it all with generally satisfactory results, and my final dissertation in contemporary utopian/dystopian literature gave me a good sprint finish and I came out with a more than pleasing result.

At least for this year, after my own personal pilgrimage in education, appropriately ending up in Rome, I prefer Chaucer’s view of the month of April, and its lusty, fertile rebirth. In 2015 the month also appropriately began with Easter, or rather the pagan festival of fertility and abundancy, and of all things which will eventually bear fruit! Here’s hoping…

What that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed ever viene in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendered is the flowr;
What Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
the tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath the Ram his halve cour yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open ye-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgramages…

Geoffrey Chaucer, General prologue to The Canterbury Tales 

9 Things You Need To Write A Novel

My thanks to Mr Toby Litt for his feedback on his JGB interview, and for this piece on writing a novel…altough having read it, not sure if I should give up. Right now.


The first thing you need to write a novel is… Time.

The second thing you need to write a novel is… More Time.

And the third thing you need to write a novel is… Even More Time.

This perhaps seems a bit obvious. But let me explain.

Time, More Time and Even More Time are all necessary.

I’ve divided Time up into three because you need Time for different things.

The first lot of Time is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, Time to write. Time to sit at the desk with words coming out of you.

The second lot of time, More Time, is… Time not to write. Time to do stuff which doesn’t seem to be writing but which, in the end, turns out to have been writing all along. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be window shopping or people-watching, taking a nice long…

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Big Brother is following you


Hurt / Smith, 1984.

Spent the evening listening to Anthony Burgess podcasts, writing ’til late on Orwell, checking on end of year tax payments etc. and then to bed in a bit of a turmoil. Should’ve had more cheese… woke up about 3 a.m. felt like I was Winston Smith .. cold, scared and even hungry .. wanted to get up for a quick shot of gin and a dry biscuit perhaps but was afraid the telescreen might bark at me, and get me to do my morning jerks (sic.) or even order me back to bed…

Somehow got back to sleep..dreaming of electric sheep in a desolate Airstrip One landscape .. woke again before the alarm call . .kept the lights and the telescreen off..but I knew Big Brother was still watching me. Crawled out for a pee .. thought of the day’s cold outside. The Ministry awaits.
Never felt more grateful for running hot water, although razor blade a little blunt, Ingsoc style. Shavespeak. Tuned into the wireless. Radio App.. “Here is the BBC“, Listen, they said: some woman was talking about birds, then a man talked about doubleplusbad schools in Airstrip One and torturecrime in other parts of Oceania. Needed cornflakes and warm milk: easy on the Victory gin, don’t spare the coffee.
In other news….. I don’t remember. Change channels. Classical music…no! Too Clockwork Orangey!
Out into the cold morning air. Morning sun on thin veil of frost. Automobile. My turn to drive, Clemmy-cast to hand.
Reached my destination .. had to get something off my chest and out of my head. The thing I’d been gestating all night while Big Brother wasn’t watching. Scribbled in my secret notebook. Here it is.
I’m going to need a bigger piece of paper.

Brave New Worlds

reminder to self….

Brave New Worlds: The Dystopia in Modern and Contemporary Fiction

Welcome to the official site for ‘Brave New Worlds: The Dystopia in Modern and Contemporary Literature’, an interdisciplinary conference which will take place at Newcastle University on Wednesday 29th April 2015. Please keep checking the site regularly for further updates and information including the Call for Papers which will be published this weekend.

We look forward to seeing you all at the conference!

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Coffee café

When I’m in the UK I prefer going to a Caffé Nero for a coffee, rather those other ones, so I was pleased to read this in’t Guardian.

Caffe Nero hits the spot in Which? taste test


These “Italian” coffee shops are nothing like real Italian coffee bars or whatever. I know. I’ve lived in Italy for over 25 years and I’ve seen a few in my time. Oddly though what’s happening now is that Italians are copying the faux-Italian coffee shops and a few of them are springing up in the major cities. But sitting and sipping on your espresso or cappuccino or whatever while reading a book/paper/laptop is just not done in Italy.

Which is perhaps why i love Caffè Nero!