Alexi Sayle: At least your fax machine can't get a virus

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I'm on a nationwide publicity tour at the moment promoting my new novel Overtaken; however, looking round bookshops I've visited and talking to the staff who work in them you get the feeling fiction isn't really where it's at any more. Mind, body, spirit, that's the new thing: nonsense to fill the void left by religion, books about angels, crap about learning to be your own psychic, mystical guff about releasing the telepathic potential of your goldfish, drivel about strange happenings signifying big mysterious things.

In keeping with the current enigmatic spirit here's a really weird thing I've noticed: did you know that almost unbelievably there are four footballers by the name of Cole playing in the FA Premiership? There's Ashley Cole who plays for Arsenal, Andy Cole at Blackburn, Joe Cole of Chelsea and Carlton Cole of Charlton Athletic.

Moreover, stunningly, there are also four highly successful comedians with the surname Kay or Kaye. There's Paul Kaye creator of Dennis Pennis and co-star of BBC1's Thousand Acres of Sky with Michelle Collins and the new film Blackball; the Perrier award-winning improvisational comic Phil Kay; Phoenix Nights' Peter Kay and Channel4's T4 and Girls and Boys presenter Vernon Kay (or make that five I suppose if you include the bemused central character of Kafka's novel The Trial - Joseph K).

So what does it all mean? Are spacemen trying to send us a message that reads "Cole Kay" or possibly "Kay Cole", in which case what does the message of the message mean?

I'll tell you what this means, like all such rubbish it means absolutely nothing at all! It's a complete coincidence, at least I think it is, surely it can't be that there is any connection between these people's names and their enormous success, after all none are related except strangely Peter Kay and Andy Cole. Or does it mean that there is some power in the name Cole that confers sporting prowess or in the name Kay that makes you intrinsically funny. Another theory might be that there is something in these names that makes people take you seriously.

Take the early days of the internet - did you know that the first time computers were linked together to share information was actually in Britain where various colleges and universities joined their systems together? However, rather than giving it a thrusting, technocratic name such as "Cyberhookzone" or "Compuramesh", these academics called their computer web "Janet". Bloody Janet! It's actually an acronym for Joint Academic UNet but you can see why nobody outside the scholastic world would really want to use it ... Could you say: "Oh I'm really tired, I've been on Janet for nearly five hours looking up stuff about marmosets and chatting with friends in Seattle ..."

So it was left to the US military a few years later to call their linked computer system "the internet" and thus take control of a miraculous creation that would in a few brief years come to power business in a million original and exciting ways, a network that would permit unparalleled access to information from your home in a fashion no library could ever match and a system that would allow idiots to talk shit to each other in inconceivable numbers all over the planet.

Nevertheless, one sad effect for me of the rise of the internet and specifically of e-mail has led to the rapid decline of a mode of communication I was very fond of - the fax. I've never met anyone who didn't like faxes. Faxes were easy to set up and use unlike e- mail. I used to love sending and getting faxes, the bulky beige machine that sat in the corner seemed both old-fashioned and wildly technological at the same time, the messages you got slowly grinding and beeping out of the slot seemed still very human, typed or written on shiny paper, rather than the purely electronic squiggles of an e-mail.

But these days nobody sends faxes, my machine lies silent for days on end, and even the Nigerian Ministry of Mines has stopped faxing to ask me if I'd be so kind as to take a couple of million quid off them. The only ones I still get sent are those that say "Get beer for free from the Customs and Excise'' and "learn the secrets the tea companies don't want you to know - make your own Lapsang Souchong out of seaweed.'' Then they give you a premium price fax number to call back on.

Mark Lamarr remarked that he once got a fax offering to tell him how to get free tickets for the television show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, which he hosts. Yet I sense that maybe it's time for a fax revival, after all these devices do have their virtues - I mean it would be very difficult for a fax machine to get a virus wouldn't it? A fax virus would just be a piece of paper with mad writing on it saying: "Hey owner of this fax machine go crazy, dial up fax machines all over the world, fax them lots of obscene, pornographic ranting and insane drawings and write telling all the other fax owners to do the same.'' I only fell for that the twice.

Already individualistic people at the cutting edge of the arts are returning to the fax, apparently for example it is the only way that the perennially cool singer Morrissey will communicate with anybody and where he leads can the rest of us be far behind?

So that's my next move: to ensure my continued success as a writer I'm going to reinvent myself as Alexei Kay. He'll be a wildly eccentric figure, I'll dust off my Brother E2000 fax machine and fax over this column to The Independent as soon as I can find its fax number.

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