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(The Grauniad, 28 November 1954)
Sir Ben Lockspeiser, addressing the Office Appliance and Business Equipment Trades Association in London yesterday, described some of the electronic devices now being used to perform elaborate clerical tasks in some of the larger business organisations. He suggested that the wider use of such devices could reduce the much-criticised disparity between office staffs and producers, and that their social and economic consequences in the business world might be as revolutionary as those which followed the invention of the typewriter and the consequent general employment of women in offices.
As an example, Sir Ben Lockspeiser said that some airlines now dealt with bookings automatically with the help of an electronic device whose “memory” consisted of a rapidly rotating magnetic drum on which all the relevant information was recorded in code. By calling up the computer the booking clerk in any office could tell an intending passenger in a matter of seconds whether or not there was a seat available for him on any particular aeroplane.
Sir Ben emphasised that electronic brains such as these had a doubly important role to play in modern business, but a notable obstacle to their wider use had hitherto been their expense and great size. A fully automatic general purpose electronic computer might contain as many as five thousand valves and require special ventilation to dissipate the heat generated. The germanium transistor, however, which had now emerged from the laboratory as a reliable commercial product, might change all this. It performed many of the functions of the radio valve, but was very much smaller and did away with filament heating.
Speaking of the vexatious problem of whether these elaborate electronic brains could really “think”, Sir Ben said that it was necessary to distinguish between routine thought – which a machine could often perform much more quickly and more reliably than the human brain – and creative thought, which lay outside the province of the machine.
Famous mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins normally fills concert halls. But yesterday her audience was bemused London commuters passing through Leicester Square tube station, as the singer, in a partial disguise, took a turn as a busker.
The 31-one-year-old performed for 45 minutes singing some of her biggest hits including Time To Say Goodbye and a cover of Bring Me To Life by rock band Evanescence.
Jenkins earned about £10 (which she will be donating to a homeless charity) from passers-by. Several people were stopped in their tracks by the quality of the singing – one girl was even reduced to tears.
Many people recognised Jenkins despite attempts to give herself a “make-under” by hiding her trademark blonde locks behind a scruffy brunette wig and wearing casual clothes. The opera singer’s distinctive vocals fooled few.
“I was really really enjoying myself. On the initial first note I thought ‘Oh god, I don’t know how this is going to work out’, it was quite an operatic number and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. But by the second number people were stopping and I really enjoyed it,” the Welsh singer told the Evening Standard.
“The people were really lovely. One guy said I had made him late for work now, but I didn’t know I made people cry, that’s amazing.”
Tickets to see Barbie in concert cost around £100.
(The Observer, 22 November 1964)
Irving Wardle defends William Burroughs’s hallucinatory 1959 novel and his divisive style of writing:
Opinion is already split so many ways over The Naked Lunch that it is worth stating William Burroughs’s claim to attention in fairly uncontroversial terms before reopening the argument.
First, after 15 years of drug addiction, he knows what he’s talking about; on the reporting level, his work has the authority of a war correspondent who has both lived in danger and done his homework.
Second, Burroughs is a real writer, a man with an instinct and respect for language, and whose energy finds a natural outlet in language. He can write good orthodox narrative when he wants to: no charlatan could have turned out the autobiographical Junkie. And even the notorious “cut-up” method that he practises today, shuffling the contents of the book like a pack of cards, leaves his narrative imagination intact. A naked man is trapped in an upstairs room with three murderous Arabs: “Pieces of murder falling slowly as opal chips through glycerine… Slower animal reactions allow him a full second to decide: straight through the window and down into the crowded street like a falling star and his wake of glass glittering in the sun… sustained a broken ankle and a chipped shoulder… clad in a diaphanous pink curtain, with a curtain-rod staff, hobbled away to the Commissariat de Police.”
Here Burroughs is applying the mandarin principle of leaving out whatever he finds boring. With writers such as Kerouac this yields floods of invertebrate telegraphese; but whatever The Naked Lunch may be, it is not spineless. Ugly as they are, its hallucinatory set-pieces are executed with obvious care, and its kaleidoscope fragments are as precise as sick cartoon captions (“With veins like that, Kid, I’d have myself a time,” whispers an old addict, fingering a boy’s arm). The cut-up method itself, with its swerving non sequiturs and incoherent sprays of dots, seems intended as a literary equivalent to those serialist compositions that allow the musicians to start and stop anywhere they like.
The key word in Burroughs’s own discussions of it is “intersection”, a term implying a good deal more than the interlocking of verbal material. Intersection points also represent transitions from one state of consciousness to another – like Pirandello’s changes between illusion and reality. In Burroughs, the change is from “junk time” to normal time, and he is aware that the moment of change is far more exciting than anything that happens once this change is established. But the final justification of the method is the material itself – a sequence of nightmare visions of a world in mutation, where genetic and social laws have broken down, and familiar outlines are melting away or merging together, like the cells of the book, in cancerous proliferation.
“I do not presume to impose ‘story’ ‘plot’ ‘continuity’,” Burroughs has said. “I am not an entertainer.” He is.
Couples attached to Baroque harnesses with artificial wings copulate in the air, screaming like magpies.
Aerialists ejaculate each other in space with one sure touch.
Equilibrists suck each other off deftly, balanced on perilous poles and chairs tilted over the void. A warm wind brings the smell of rivers and jungle from misty depths.
Boys by the hundred plummet through the roof, quivering and kicking at the end of ropes. The boys hang at different levels, some near the ceiling and others a few inches off the floor.
Sharp protein odor of semen fills the air. The guests run hands over twitching boys, suck their cocks, hang on their backs like vampires.
A horde of lust-mad American women rush in. Dripping cunts, from farm and dude ranch, factory, brothel, country club, penthouse and suburb, motel and yacht and cocktail bar, strip off riding clothes, ski togs, evening dresses, levis, tea gowns, print dresses, slacks, bathing suits and kimonos. They scream and yipe and howl, leap on the guests like bitch dogs in heat with rabies. They claw at the hanged boys shrieking: “You fairy! You bastard! Fuck me! Fuck me! Fuck me!”
(William S. Burroughs, The Naked Lunch)
I rather like the Last Supper idea (you choose what meal you would have before your life is cut short), but I have to expand the concept to cover the last day of my life.
For breakfast, I would touch nothing except a couple of young partridges (in season) or a fat capon, washed down with a quart of barley wine. I never eat aubergines, Scotch broth or shellfish at breakfast.
For lunch, I would prefer to sit in a convenient church (or in the churchyard, if the weather is fine) to eat cheese sandwiches with a bottle of whisky to help them down, whilst pondering the eternal verities – love and death, beauty and pain, yin and yang, etc.
In the afternoon, I would read the poetry of Tess Kincaid drinking a bottle of crème de menthe frappé over crushed iced. Tea I have never taken all that seriously (thin cucumber sandwiches, followed by hot chicken or eel pie, even sausage and mash, or toad in the hole, and ice cream).
Dinner being the most important meal of my last day on Earth, I would try to be as varied as possible, starting with broccoli and Stilton soup, Bury black pudding followed by demoiselles of goose, cold lobster or stuffed carp, goujons of sole with dill mayonnaise, smoked sausage with sauerkraut and juniper berries, roast suckling pig in honey, redcurrant sorbet, roast venison with pink gin apple sauce and roast leeks, artichoke souffle, orange or raspberry tart, snipe’s entrails on toast, Eton mess, Marsala honey pears with Gorgonzola, cream and nuts. I would also partake of brown rice to remind me of world problems.
Or I might just settle for the Tess Kincaid poems and some cheese on toast.
I heard this on BBC Radio 3’s Words & Music last night, the theme or title of which was “Nocturne”. The poem struck me as rather beautiful, so I thought I’d post it here. I am pleased to say that this poem does not, and never will, reflect my own feelings. Just in case you were wondering …
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, ‘The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tries to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
(translated by W.S. Merwin)
Asked what would be her last meal on Earth given the choice, the Queen of Gastroporn, who is one year older than me, says: “I don’t think you have enough space for everything I’d eat for my last meal! I’d have spaghetti with clams – no tomatoes, just a white wine sauce with chilli and garlic; roasted chicken with a side of chips and roasted potatoes and mashed potatoes; blue cheese with French bread; blackberries with heavy cream and cookies. Finally, I would have some great coffee with salted caramels.”
She adds: “Now that I think about it, I don’t want to wait until my last meal to eat this. I’ll probably eat it a lot sooner.”
I do hope Nigella has not been pressured by her revolting egg-eating husband Charles Saatchi to go on a diet.