Diary - UK - News - The Independent

Diary

Leafing through my monthly computer-buff magazine (I get it for the gatefold pin-ups) and running an eye down the lists of new CD-Rom software programmes, I stop short by the "Literature" section. For some time it has been possible to call up the Bible on computer screen, and the complete Sherlock Holmes stories and a "Darwin Multimedia" package and so forth; but here's something new. For £38 you can now buy the karaoke Macbeth.

As I understand it (the chap down the phone wasn't entirely on the case), you can screen the whole play on CD, but with one of the parts taken out, so the viewer can "stand in", deploying his or her best Johnny Gielgud/Judi Dench voice. You can bellow abuse at the witches, tell your recalcitrant husband where to screw his courage, even be Banquo's ghost if you like traumatising on-screen dinner parties. A wonderful idea. What next? The interactive Nicholson Baker?

All over town there are sounds of furious, frenzied scribbling. The capital's poets, novelists and dramatists are writing against the clock, as a new, undreamt-of deadline looms: the end of The Late Show. They've got barely eight months in which to finish their current masterpiece and hustle themselves on to the show, there to be surrounded with all the paraphernalia of Cultural Studies TV - the back-projected video of pages turning, the gnomic interventions of sinister-looking literary types filmed through an infra-red filter and at an acute angle to the screen, the thin smile of Michael Ignatieff ...

For six years the show has been the late-night home of so many lost causes: Icelandic yodellers, Mesopotamian brickwork designers, new-wave clavicordists, post-modern Herzigovian chanteuses, Druid shoe fetishists, serial-killer belletrists, no-hoper wattle-and-daub architects, barbershop-quartet nuns - they've all had their solemnly introduced, studio-discussioned 15 minutes of fame. Like a transmedial Statue of Liberty, the show welcomed the poor, the tired, the transparently bogus and the occasionally terrific. It even had a cute, home-grown name for its putative audience: the Zeitgeist Surfers.

Every arty dilettante will mourn its passing and remember its golden moments: the piece on night architecture, about the transformation of ugly buildings by floodlights; Mark Cooper's awesomely creepy profile of Henry Rollins, the belligerent singer; the hilarious book interviews that broke down through mutual incomprehension (Nigel Williams with Ben Okri, Paul Morley with Hanif Kureishi); the round-table discussion on comedy that ended with Keith Allen screaming abuse at the assembled funsters ...

At the launch party for Nick Hornby's novel, High Fidelity, I ran into Tracy McLeod, who has presented umpteen Late Shows over the years. What had been her worst moment? "Interviewing Brenda Ogdon," she said without hesitation. "It was just after the screening of a BBC film on her husband John Ogdon, the pianist, played by Alfred Molina. She'd only just seen the film, and it began to dawn on her during the interview that she'd been portrayed as a monster. By the end she was threatening us with lawyers. It was an ... uncomfortable episode." But such good television. Hats off, zeitgeist surfers.

The groaning shelf of books on public-school homosexuality will groan more than usual this month, with the publication of The Poisoned Bowl: Sex, Repression and the Public School System, by Alisdare Hickson, who wrote to scores of whiskery Etonians and Marlburians asking for their memories of dormitory hanky-panky. Its contributors range from Alan Ayckbourn (who used to "write scurrilous poetry for the object of other people's desires") to the ex-High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago (who remembers "masses of homosexuality" at Rugby in the Forties, though he himself never got beyond the billet-doux stage) with, in between, several senior parliamentarians and rear-admirals contributing their louche memories.

In my proof copy, one entry has been blacked out; but using the techniques of an Old Master restoration agency, I have deciphered it. It relates to Max Hastings, the Daily Telegraph's manly editor (who was at Charterhouse in the late Fifties) and records the information that he did not undergo any Ganymede-like experiences at the hands of other boys in his school career - though he goes on to add that it was perhaps because he wasn't sufficently attractive. Hastings's modest reply to Hickson's letter was not, it seems, intended for publication.

Great Movie Performances That Never Were, No. 25: I promise never to write another word about Martin Amis after this, but I was intrigued to hear, at his platform appearance at the National Theatre on Monday, that Money, his great novel of 1984, was almost filmed. "It was going to star Gary Oldman [as John Self, the book's clapped-out, gluttonous, cash-obsessed semi-literate hero], who understood the character immediately," said Amis. "We went to see him in Yugoslavia, when he was doing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead [the film of the Stoppard play, directed by Stoppard]. He said: `Siddown, I got a great new cough ...' And it really was good. Like when people try to talk through a really terrible cough, and end up weeping ..." Amis shook his head at the memory. "Shame it never happened. As much a tragedy for you as for me ..."

I don't want to sound like a retired brigadier, but have you seen what they charge you for tea and coffee these days? Craving something hot and sweet in the Charing Cross Road the other day, I popped into one of those shiny, fast-food tea shops, and discovered that a Darjeeling tea-bag, a dunk-it-yourself cup of hot water and a dribble of milk now sets you back 85p. Was there really a time when a cup of Rosie Lee, brewed with tea-leaves in vast, judiciously warmed Brown Betty pots, cost quite a lot less than a quid? I was nursing these Old Git woes when I ran into Eric Moonman, the former MP for Basildon, who could go one better. Sitting at the Euston Plaza Hotel last week, appropriately in Eric's Bar, he ordered a cup of coffee. It cost £1.80. He asked the waiter for some milk - and got a second bill, for an extra 10p. Has it happened to you? If you've been charged extra for Use Of Cruets in a bistro, or Spoonful From Chutney Carousel in an Indian restaurant, let me know and we'll get a Private Member's Bill under way.

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