Tag Archives: Wikipedia

I wanna tell you a meandering story which ends with a large sexual organ

No truth in obituaries

When the late comedian Malcolm Hardee died, the surprisingly voluminous obituaries quoted some of the many bizarre stories linked to him. But, often, the stories were slightly wrong. It was fairly obvious the obituarists had read Malcolm’s autobiography (which I wrote with him) but were slightly mis-remembering and mis-quoting the anecdotes.

One story involved his genitals getting painted in day-glo paint. It happened at the Glastonbury Festival but at least one obituary claimed he regularly did this at comedy clubs.

Now, because the mis-quoted and mis-remembered stories were printed, the myth will become fact.

Malcolm would have liked that.

Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into top rock fiddler Bobby Valentino in a street in Greenwich.

Somehow, the subject of calling people ‘Wally’ came up – as in “He’s a Wally,” meaning “He’s an idiot.”

I said: “I think that started at some rock festival in the West Country, didn’t it?”

Was it originally Wally from Essex or Wally from Wessex?

“No, Essex,” said Bobby Valentino. “There was a Weeley rock festival in Essex in 1971. I was still at school and a mate of mine, Barry Bartlett or Spot Hughes, came back from the Festival and said, Oh, I’m Wally from Weeley, and, from then on, everyone was called Wallies.”

“The story I heard,” I said, “was that an announcement kept being made Could Wally please contact the organisers about something and eventually people started to yell out Wally! as a term of derision and, when they left the festival and spread out to their homes across the country, the name spread all over the country too. That’s the story, isn’t it?”

“As far as I know,” said Bobby Valentino. (Update for regular readers of this blog: his dispute with PRS over royalties for past work continues.)

When I got home, I looked up Wikipedia, which currently reckons a Wally chant did develop over the course of the Weeley Festival weekend in 1971, but that it had been a continuation of the same behaviour at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.

I had heard the term ‘Wally’ had started in the West Country. This seems to have been because (again according to Wikipedia) in 1974, a group of New Age travellers encamped near Stonehenge were being evicted and, to hinder the eviction, they all gave their name as Wally of Wessex.

Stories take on their own life. And, you may have noticed, I have been quoting what is in Wikipedia as fact. Always a dubious thing to do. But people do.

Later yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bobby Valentino:

“After I saw you today,” it said, “I remembered an Edinburgh Festival story which I hope is true.

“Some years ago one of Kirk Douglas’s sons – the one who had the drink and drug problems – fancied himself as a comedian and booked himself a slot at the Festival. At one of his shows, he wasn’t going down at all well, brick-like in fact. He then said completely the wrong thing – Do you know who I am?… I’m Kirk Douglas’s son.

“A quick witted member of the audience immediately piped up: No, I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!  to be followed by another audience member… and another… and another.”

(For extraordinary people who have never seen the movie, this is a reference to the scene in Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus where, at the end, everyone in the hero’s army stands up and says I am Spartacus.)

“As far as I know,” I told Bobby Valentino, “the story is totally true, but it happened at the Comedy Store in London.”

I said this with some authority, having heard the story several times. But who knows if it is actually true?

“I think I might blog about stories tomorrow,” I told Bobby Valentino.

“If you do,” he said, “you should point out that there are two sorts of people who tell stories more than they actually do what they’re supposed to do – musicians and fishermen.

“John Sebastian wrote a song about it called Stories We Can TellThe Everly Brothers covered it and I played it with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.”

After all this, last night, I went to Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Herne Hill, South London.

In May 2011, I posted a blog about a very weird night there which included, in the audience, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.

He was there again last night and sat right by the stage.

Michael Smiley and audience member last night

About a third of the way through the wonderful Northern Ireland comedian Michael Smiley’s act, which involved tales of coming to Great Britain 30 years ago, the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard asked in a conversational tone:

“Are you Scottish?”

“No,” replied Michael Smiley to loud laughter. “Are you Pakistani?” he added to louder laughter (including very loud laughter from the black gent).

When the laughter subsided, Michael asked: “Do you love people from Scotland?”

“I am the last king from Scotland,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard told Michael Smiley.

“You’re the last king of Scotland?” Michael Smiley said. “You’re not mate. Let me spread a few more rumours for you. What else have the voices been telling you?”

“You can get on with the show now,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard, said languidly.

“Well,” said Michael Smiley amiably, amid laughter, “if you’ll shut up, I will.”

“Alright,” said the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.

“Thankyou,” said Michael Smiley.

The audience laughed and then added in a few ironic Owwwws of sympathy.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Michael Smiley, joining in, “He comes in, sits at the front, shouts out mad shit all the time, I try to get on with my shit, I try to get him to shut his shit up and I’m the feckin’ bad guy!”

The audience roared with laughter.

“I might have to stand up here and wank off a pig for you by the end of the show, just to weird the whole thing up just a little bit more. White middle class Herne Hill come out for a bit of weirdness!

“Just so you can say to your friends tomorrow: You shouldn’t have bothered your arsehole with that new restaurant down in Brixton Village. We were up in Herne Hill last night in the dark like a firecracker and there was a mad black bloke at the front and a really angry Northern Irish guy on stage. That was two stereotypes for the price of one! I couldn’t believe it! All we needed was a fuckin’ midget on a unicycle… There’s an angry lesbian poet on at the end. This is like shit time travelling. All you people who bought your squats in the 1980s are just flipping out now. When you get back to your house, there’ll be a re-run of Boys From The Black Stuff on TV and you’ll come in your pants!…”

The audience roared with laughter.

It was a very weird night

And that is without even mentioning the very attractive young girl Mina The Horse prancing around the stage with a tail sticking out of her bottom or Richard Vranch and Pippa The Ripper giving a chemistry lesson with hula hoops or George Egg producing a large bowling ball from a small suitcase and sharing with the audience the fact that, to encourage their greyhounds to win races, owners smear mustard on the dogs’ arseholes when they put them in the starting traps.

After the show, my eternally-un-named friend who used to work for the late comedian Malcolm Hardee told me: “He once asked me to get a large penis for him.”

This was at his Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich.

“I think he was being a bit… well, he might have actually wanted it but there was one somewhere – was it in the dressing room upstairs?” she asked me.

“Search me,” I said.

“Or maybe it was behind the upstairs bar,” she continued. “I think it was a prop.”

“You think it was a prop?” I asked. “But it might not have been?”

“You always ask me these things when I’m very tired,” my eternally-un-named friend complained. “It’s not fair. It was a prop. I don’t know what he was actually using it for at that point, because I hadn’t seen it in anything, but then I didn’t see the shows, did I, because I was in the box…”

“So did he…” I started to interrupt.

“…office,” she completed.

“So,” I continued, “did he suddenly just say Get me the giant penis?”

“It was after a show and everything was winding up,” my eternally-un-named friend explained, “and there was a large penis upstairs and I can’t remember now because I’m very tired, but I think it was a papier-mache one. Whether it was worn on the head or on another part of the body I don’t know. Maybe an act had had it and left it behind or whether Malcolm actually wanted it…”

“But you found it?” I asked.

“Well, he told me where it was,” she replied. “I think it was in the dressing room and there was a muddle of stuff up there, but it was obvious which one it was.”

“How giant was it?” I asked.

My eternally-un-named friend held her hands apart.

“That’s about 18 inches,” I said. “What colour?”

“I don’t remember,” she said. “It was the early 1990s and I’m very tired, but I think it was a life-likey thing. I can’t help thinking it might have been some sort of headgear…”

“For a dickhead?” I asked.

“…or a prop,” she continued. “To be honest, I don’t even remember if it was papier-mache. You know who might know? Martin Soan. He might say, Oh yes, there was a giant penis we used.”

“Were there a lot of dickheads around Up The Creek?” I prompted.

“You know what Malcolm was like,” said my eternally-un-named friend, ignoring me. “There was a point where he has this stuffed cat, which you could easily get from the Nautical Shop.”

“That’s where he got it,” I said. “I was there when he bought it.”

But that’s another story.

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The tsunami of anarchy which will be released by the death of newspapers

Last night, I went to the Fulbright Lecture at the British Library, given by the Financial Times’ editor Lionel Barber.

The subject was “Adapt or Die: The Future of News and Newspapers in the Digital Revolution”.

In 2009, more than one hundred US newspapers closed down and, in 2007-2009, newspaper advertising revenue fell by 10% in Germany, 21% in the UK and 30% in the US. Circulations for printed newspapers are falling like lemmings as readers and advertisers move online.

One saving thought seems to be that people may be prepared to pay for comment and analysis, though probably not for general news. The Financial Times is in the fortunate position of being a niche newspaper. It mostly reports on a specific subject area where people are prepared to pay for analysis, comment and specialised reports.

But newspapers in general have not been delivering news for the last 50 years.

I am ancient enough to have been at college doing Communication Studies (radio, TV, journalism, advertising) when the first issue of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun was published.

The guy who supervised the journalism part of our course was the Production Editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. On the morning the first edition of the new Sun was published, he went through it page-by-page with us, pointing out that all the main stories were not News as such: they had all been reported in the previous evening’s TV news or were, in some way re-heated old news.

After that, I paid closer attention to what was actually printed in newspapers and developed my taste for the Daily Telegraph. If you look at most newspapers, you can actually visually see that they are magazines. The Guardian is a prime example. Look at its news pages and you see big rectangular blocks of text which analyse and/or give insight into news stories. But they are almost never reporting new News.

The Daily Telegraph has lots of columns with different little inches of different stories, most of which have not been included in the always superficial TV and radio news. I blogged a couple of months ago about how I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

And, except at election times, the Daily Telegraph tends to keep the old-fashioned division between news and comment (which most US newspapers also maintain).

Newspaper and TV News editors used to be – and still are – gatekeepers to what is considered news. But, with the internet, power has in theory moved from publisher to reader.

In fact, forget gatekeepers. Forget gates. Think dams. One gigantic dam behind which is all the water in the world.

In the past, newspaper and TV News editors were in charge of dams which kept most of the water behind their dams and let a few selected trickles through. Now the mother of all dams is opening and uncontrolled, uncontrollable amounts of information are going to be unleashed not just day-by-day but second-by-second.

In my erstwhile youth, if you wanted to find out facts, you had to go to a library. Librarians and the publishers of encyclopaedias were the damkeepers of knowledge. Now Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and their ilk are opening the dams which should result in almost all (and, in theory all) current and past knowledge being available instantly anywhere in the world.

If you are sitting on a camel in the middle of the Australian desert outside Alice Springs then, on a 3G device, you are now able to instantly find out which films are being screened at all the cinemas in Glasgow tonight or which dates the Emperor Caligula ruled Rome – and you can download and read a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield or Homer’s Iliad.

In future, it seems, all news will be available to everyone pretty-much instantly via Twitter, Facebook and every other social network known and as yet unknown to man and woman. The first news of the US attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May came on Twitter.

What will be needed is what, last night, Lionel Barber was understandably most scathing about – so-called news aggregators like The Huffington Post (which sometimes carries my blogs), The Drudge ReportThe Daily Beast and even Gawker, whose slogan is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”. At the moment, these (depending on your viewpoint) could be said to pirate other news sources and regurgitate the selected news.

The Financial Times currently employs 130 foreign correspondents to collect and interpret news abroad. What will be needed in future, I presume, is some way of analysing, interpreting and compacting news from several hundred million correspondents including the blogosphere.

Newspapers may become aggregators.

No, I have no idea how or if that will happen.

And I have no idea what will happen.

But traditional newspapers were dead 50 years ago; they just did not know it.

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How can you describe the indescribable in an Edinburgh Fringe press release?

The evil deadline is upon me of getting a press release together for August’s Edinburgh Fringe.

As well as a general press release about five days of shows celebrating the late Malcolm Hardee, I have cobbled together an A4 sheet giving background information on Malcolm. But how on earth do you describe the indescribable? Well, all I’ve done is try to Edinburgh Fringe-ise the start of his Wikipedia entry which, as it happens, I mostly wrote anyway:

MALCOLM HARDEE

1950-2005

Malcolm Hardee was a South London comedian, author, comedy club proprietor, compere, agent, manager and “amateur sensationalist”.

His high reputation among his peers rests on his outrageous publicity stunts – often at the Edinburgh Fringe – and on the help and advice he gave to successful British alternative comedians early in their careers as “godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s”. Fellow comic Rob Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic, living legend; a millennial Falstaff”, while Stewart Lee wrote that “Malcolm Hardee is a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution” and Arthur Smith described him as “a South London Rabelais” and claimed with some justification at Malcolm’s famous funeral that “everything about Malcolm, apart from his stand-up act, was original”.

Though an accomplished comic, Malcolm was arguably more highly regarded as a ‘character’, a compere and talent-spotting booker at his own clubs, particularly his Tunnel and Up The Creek clubs in Greenwich which gave vital, early and (in the case of the infamous Tunnel) sometimes physically-dangerous exposure to up-and-coming comedians. One journalist claimed: “To say that he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame that he has” and, in its obituary, The Times wrote that “throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences”.

Malcolm regularly appeared in his own shows and promoted others at the Edinburgh Fringe and arguably his most infamous stunt was in 1983 when, performing at The Circuit venue – a series of three adjoining tents in a construction site with a different show in each tent – he became annoyed by what he regarded as excessive noise emanating nightly from American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s neighbouring tent. Malcolm ‘borrowed’ a nearby tractor and, entirely naked, drove it across Bogosian’s stage during his performance.

Rivalling this stunt in Fringe infamy, in 1989, Malcolm and Arthur Smith wrote a rave 5-star review of Malcolm’s own Fringe show and successfully managed to get it printed in The Scotsman under the byline of that influential paper’s own comedy critic. At the Fringe in 1996, he attempted to sabotage American ventriloquist David Strassman’s Edinburgh show by kidnapping the act’s hi-tech dummy, holding it to ransom and sending it back to Strassman piece by piece in return for hard cash. The plan failed.

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The unnecessarily old Lewis Schaffer, his secret sex scandal and his apparently never-ending comedy show

American comedian Lewis Schaffer, trapped in London because he has two children here, has let his hair go boldly grey. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I think I prefer the previous black. People have been telling him it looks distinguished. I think it just makes him look unnecessarily old. Perhaps he should alternate it – one week grey, the next week dyed black – then it would be as varied as his ever-changing show.

Last night I went to see his apparently never-ending and constantly changing Free Until Famous show at The Source Below in Soho and, afterwards, we had a frustrating chat while eating falafels.

The second reason it was frustrating was he kept talking for so long that the ice-cream shop next door had closed by the time we left.

The primary reason for my frustration, though, was because he told me an absolute humdinger of an unpublished true sexual scandal about another comedian… but (given what the story is) I can’t print it.

Deep frustration.

For you and me both.

But no falafel with Lewis is ever a wasted falafel and there was a moment when I was reminded of writing Malcolm Hardee’s constantly-promoted* autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (* constantly-promoted by me, here)

It is still available at surprisingly outrageous prices on Amazon

Anyway… Malcolm’s book is full of incredible stories – literally incredible because, although I think only two small details of two stories in the book are untrue (for comic effect), the main stories themselves are so extraordinary that people assume they must have been made up. It’s a bit like comedians’ stage acts: the likely-sounding true stories are usually made up and the more ludicrous unlikely stories are very often true.

The frustrating thing with Malcolm Hardee writing his autobiography was that he could seldom remember in which order the bizarre facts of his life happened and, in some cases, he could not even remember which decade they happened in; I had to work out the timeline by talking to other people or linking the stories to other dated events.

Lewis, it transpired last night, couldn’t remember whether he started performing his Free Until Famous show in London in October 2009 or in 2008.

He has recently taken to saying in his publicity that Free Until Famous is the longest-running solo comedy show ever performed in London. I took this as hyperbole until we started talking. Then I thought about it and I reckon it might actually (almost accidentally) be true.

The show has been running every Tuesday and Wednesday since at least October 2009 (or maybe 2008) with gaps for the Edinburgh Fringe and, in its early days, Lewis was sometimes performing Free Until Famous twice on Tuesday nights and twice on Wednesday nights. From this week, for at least three weeks, he is also performing it on Mondays.

This is quite a run and, as anyone who has ever seen a Lewis Schaffer show knows, it is either:

a) constantly evolving or

b) just never the same twice

…depending on your viewpoint.

I reckon he must have about four or five hours of good material and, with each individual show, he simply plucks out and rearranges the material according to the audience and his whim on the night. So, if you have seen Free Until Famous once and go back, it is the same show but totally different. Few shows are so real-character-based.

He deserves credit for bringing the Free Fringe concept wholesale (he is, after all, Jewish) from Edinburgh to London, with free entry to his shows and a metal bucket at the end for contributions. The bucket is metal, as he points out to audience members, because notes make no sound but he is able to tell if people only put coins in.

With a Wikipedian knowledge of trivial facts retrieved from his brain at the drop of a punter’s birthplace or biographical detail, why Lewis has not been picked up by TV or radio as a comic social commentator on Britain in the Bill Bryson style, I don’t know.

He is Bill Bryson with attitude.

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Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

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The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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The World Trade Center terrorist attack and the 9/11 compensation scam

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about urban myths surrounding the Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, particularly the story that, under the rubble of the second tower to fall, a crushed fire engine was found containing hundreds of neatly-stacked Gap or Structure brand jeans apparently looted from a shop in the first tower to fall. There is an interesting site debunking 9/11 myths, which does not include that story.

But there is another story not on that site which I understand is true…

I am told there was extensive building work going on at the Twin Towers before the attack and this involved some Irish-origined workers.

As soon as possible after the attack happened, some of the workers flew to Ireland. Their wives claimed they were missing and waited around until they eventually got compensation for their husbands’ deaths. According to Wikipedia (never necessarily accurate) the average individual payout to 9/11 relatives was $1.8 million. After receiving the money, the wives rejoined their husbands in Ireland. Some, I’m told, even stayed in the US where their ‘dead’ husbands rejoined them after a respectable time had elapsed.

If true (and I understand it is), as scams go, this was a very clever one and required quick thinking at the time.

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