"This soothing and spiritual music - once the exclusive preserve of monks and religious orders - is enjoying a wonderful revival," the ad gushes on. But they are, amazingly, right. Ever since some freak appearance of monkish chanting in the hit parade a couple of years ago, it's been selling to bourgeois oddballs from Croydon to Cleckheaton. Down at my local Sainsbury's, I see the store has struck a deal with Classic FM and is flogging the spiritual wailey-woo like it was fromage frais.
Can they all - the digest, the supermarket and the radio station - have failed to notice that Gregorian chant isn't actually music at all, but a kind of deliberately tuneless mnemonic to help medieval divines remember their prayers? And that it was considered so boring in the 15th century that they interspersed the chanting with bits of improvised organ solo, to wake the brothers up?
But hang on. Perhaps this is just what Reader's Digest has in mind. Maybe that's what all the stuff about "timeless therapy" and "ultimate musical relaxation" is all about: they're saying to their readers, "Buy this CD and fall asleep instantly". Maybe that's why they're kindly supplying a "Superb carriage clock" as a free gift with every order. Presumably with a raucous alarm...
Hollywood to the left of them, Europe to the right of them, British novelists are being monstered by the movie world as never before. It's now impossible to conduct a conversation with even a fledgling literary talent at a tafelwein 'n' tortillas publishing party without, at some point, having to say, "And the, er, the film rights?...".
It used to be only once every couple of years that a modern British novel would attract the attention of the major studios: Waterland, The Comfort of Strangers, The Dressmaker, Rose Tremain's Restoration. Now, film deals arrive in batches like the number 159 bus in Brixton High Street: Nick Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity (set in a frowsty north London record shop) was optioned to Hollywood for pounds 200,000; Sebastian Faulks's howlingly moving Birdsong will shortly hit the celluloid; and we all ground our teeth last week when we heard of another million-dollar deal that Philip (Gridiron) Kerr landed by selling a 10-page thriller plot to Tom Cruise.
The newest beneficiary of Hollywood schmoozery is James Hawes, whose debut novel, A White Merc with Fins, is published this week. Given the hard-boiled, blank-generation nature of Mr Hawes's effing-and-blinding dramatis personae, it was surprising to find the author is a frightfully well-spoken Shropshire-haunting lecturer at Evelyn Waugh's old Oxford college, Hertford.
The film rights have gone to a French operation called Chargeurs (they made Jean de Florette and had a hand, as it were, in Showgirls) but the publishers have endured worrying times lately. Why? Because the novel concerns a projected heist by young London hard-men on an institution archly referred to as "Michael Winner's Private Bank", and the publishers, Cape, fearful of Winner's litigious nature, sent the great man an early copy of the book.
Luckily, he loved it. Faxes and appreciative phone calls flew between his office and Random House. Inevitably, it wasn't long before Winner began to wonder: why shouldn't I do a movie version?... Imagine, if you will, the look on the faces at Cape as they watched their sparkling new talent's precious first baby being turned into Dirty Weekend II. But the French made their offer (whew) and Winner contented himself with accepting a walk-on part in their movie. So when you see a portly, terracotta-tanned, medallioned and bouffanted grandee, Hitchcock-like, puffing an important cigar in the corner of a frame, you'll know why.
Stop Press: And Haroun and the Sea of Stories, too. Against all filmic likelihood, the rights to Salman Rushdie's sweet fairytale have just been bought by Robin Williams, the hyperactive star whose roles as Peter Pan and the Genie in Aladdin count, I suppose, as a kind of apprenticeship for Indian folklore. If this means a walk-on part for the Garfield-eyelidded Rushdie...
I'm something of a rap fan. Listening to inner-city desperadoes complaining about their social conditions is very much my kinda thing. So when I spotted a sign, on the bar of my local pub, saying "Rap down ... the tallest building in Putney", I jumped at it. I took it to be some milder version of a bungee jump, but with an insistent 2/4 beat attached. I imagined a basket being slowly lowered, like a window-cleaner's cradle, as its occupant (ie myself) performed a karaoke "Gangsta's Paradise", to the accompaniment of tears and ecstatic applause from the grateful multitude below.
So I rang the number to offer my services. It was, a brisk young woman pointed out, nothing to do with homeboys and in-yo'-face mutha's. It's a kind of abseiling exercise which involves walking down the side of a building, facing the ground. It's called rappelling and is, she explained crushingly, all the rage among young people. We're the Rainer Foundation, she said, a yoof charity, and you've just booked yourself into the Rap Jump Challenge at ICL House on 24 February. My attempts to excuse myself on the usual grounds (cowardice, sciatica, acrophobia, bit of shrapnel lodged in spine, Seventh Day Adventism) fell on deaf ears. See you (briefly) as I plunge earthwards in a month or so...Reuse content