Michael Bywater

Michael Bywater is a writer and broadcaster. He was a long-running columnist for the Independent on Sunday and his books include Lost Worlds (2004) and Big Babies (2006).

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Wish we were here

NOW BEGINS the season of lists and bellowed ruefulness as, back from their holidays, the English unpack their souvenirs and wonder what the hell to do with them. Not old-fashioned souvenirs, of course; nobody buys old-fashioned souvenirs any more: pig-iron models of the Eiffel Tower with a thermometer up the side (whole generations of people were bemused to find that the real thing didn't have a thermometer); stuffed donkeys in sombreros; plastic strings of onions made in Fukushima; cuckoo clocks, Big Bens, Mannekins Pis, Chianti-bottle lamps ... the entire reliquary of foreign travel when it was still a sacrament which left an indelible mark upon soul as well as sideboard; when going across the Channel was booked six months in advance (leading to innumerable car crashes as harassed families dashed for the pre-ordained ferry), when Daddy had a special briefcase for the Travel Documents, when we didn't have much truck with foreigners and their nasty mucked-about food.

The hard cell

IT'S HELL up here, in the monastic cell, trying to turn syllables into school fees. What on earth makes columnists want to write books? Sure, sure, it's all words, but so is politics and at least if you're a politician you get to bluster and tell lies and travel Club Class in a smart grey suit with all the other catastrophic losers, sitting there on their worthless arses trying to pretend that being offered Champagne and pillows by hard-faced young women in on-the-knee skirts is an everyday occurrence. Club Class will be the first thing to go when I am Supreme Ruler. My Honesty in Advertising Act will deal with it instantly, by making it compulsory for all advertisers to say what's really in their mind.

Columns: Burning down the house

THIS WEEK I have one word to say to you: arson.

Michael Bywater's column: Tomorrow is another lovely day

HE MUST have been mad. He must have been mad, or on something; they were all on something in those days but we can't talk; the Elizabethan age was entirely run by drunks. Didn't trust the water, you see. ("'Sblood, what time'st thou call this? Tha'st been a-Borough, not trusting the water with thy whoremonger cozens again.") As for the British Empire ... all drunk. All of them. Drunk and stoned. Opium, hashish, cocaine, booze ... the White Man's Burden was having to get the cork out of the bottle 15 times a day; if you didn't succumb to malaria or sprue, Frozen Shoulder would get you in the end. Who knows - we might have hung on to India if they'd invented the Screwpull in time.

columns: Come fly with me...

IDIOT. Schmuck. What a prat, taking off in those conditions, with limited experience, in a high-performance aircraft he'd hardly any time in ... flying into a darkening haze and the black hole when you turn away from the coastal lights towards a sudden nothingness ... couldn't fly on instruments, how could he have been such a fool ... his wife and sister- in-law murdered by arrogance, I'd say, wouldn't you?

The best little library in Mayfair

HAVE YOU been in a library recently? If you can find one, that is, because New Britain doesn't seem to like libraries and is closing them down whenever it can. Fair enough, I suppose; the middle class can afford to pay, and if the working class got its hands on, you know, books, well, next thing you know, they might decide Little Mister Blair was an abominable phony who ought to be gently, but firmly, removed from office and pushed into the Channel (shortly to be sold, under the Private Finance Initiative, to an off-shore company, so there will be an administrative charge for all drownings therein).

They prosecute nuns, don't they?

SECOND-HAND bookshops? We got 'em. Hundreds, round here. They won't be here much longer, because the British Library has moved to the gritty, dust-blown scum territory of Kings Cross, and now Bloomsbury rents will be going up, but that's all right: we won't have bookshops but we'll by God have Starbucks and Pret-A-pigging Manger and ditsy clothes shops and tourist tatterias, probably a few robot-service sushi bars and lots of high-impact opticians selling ironical spectacles for the terribly exciting young New Media specialists and title-sequence background animators who'll be moving in, any day now.

It's started closing in

PAST Midsummer's Day, it starts closing in. Well, there you are, then: Nature's a bugger, really. Physicists will tell you (whether you want to know or not) that beneath the gross, coarse, macroscopic surface of things, it's all excitement, glittering unpredictability, the world like a cat and nobody knows which way it will jump. Molecules swirl and jostle, electrons change orbit with a quantum click, quarks dance and sparkle, winking into existence like glow-worms or snowflakes in the headlights, then vanishing again. Why do they vanish? Because they couldn't have been there in the first place. There's physics for you, and no wonder they won't stop talking.

You need never be guilty again

TOO LATE for me, of course; and before you start gloating and saying we don't like to say we told you so, but we told you so, it's bad living that's done it, you can't say you weren't warned, we bet you're sorry now ... well, it's too late for you, too.

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