I was in the bath at the time, and I thrashed the floating duck with a loofah in a fury. Has this moronic phrase become mandatory among politicians? There, for example, was little William Hague in the Sunday papers, sounding a teeny-weeny bit out of touch with recent events as he warned Tony Blair: "Within a few days you will begin to face the full fire of a united Conservative voice. You will not be able to hide from this voice. You will no longer be able to run away from this voice. It will be shouted loud and clear from every rooftop in the land." I thought the only thing being shouted lately from every rooftop in the land is that the Conservative voice, unified or not, should eff off for the time being. But that running/hiding interface - it turns up everywhere now, as the cliche du choix of the pompous, the bullying and the self-righteous. And it never works.
News came in yesterday that US police had tracked down a Pakistani gunman who killed two people at the CIA's Virginia HQ in 1993. What did the State Department have to say about the arrest? It was "an important victory for US efforts to combat terrorism, and a message to the world that terrorists have no place to run and no place to hide" - except, obviously, Asia Minor for four years. Lawrence Eagleburger, US Secretary of State in 1992, announced thus his intention of getting tough with Serbian war criminals: "They can run but they cannot hide." There followed a period of diplomatic silence in which nobody ran, nobody hid and nobody got accused of anything. Both American threats harked back to Ronald Reagan's warning to international terrorists in 1985, after a TWA jet was hijacked, that the US "had sent a message to terrorists everywhere: `You can run but you can't hide'". Where did he get it from? According to my sources, it started with Joe Louis, the boxer, who said it about an opponent, Billy Conn, in a heavyweight championship fight in 1946, shortly before knocking him senseless.
My theory is that this tedious and obviously false phrase derives from Francis Thompson's gorgeous poem "The Hound of Heaven", about the all- seeing eye of God, published in the early 1890s ("I fled him down the nights and down the days/... and in the mist of tears/I hid from Him and under running laughter") but whatever its provenance, I simply can't stand to hear it any more. Anyone using it henceforth will be hunted down by police with tracker dogs. You can hide but... Oh shut up.
Andrew Billen, the Observer's star interviewer for the past seven years, who has departed for the Evening Standard, wrote a reflective piece in last Sunday's paper about the perils of letting your interviewee get under your skin. Nothing is to be gained, says the coldly professional Billen, from having the relationship between interrogator and victim compromised by any degree of, er, closeness. He then tells the frankly sweat-inducing story of the afternoon he spent with what he coyly describes as "one of the most beautiful actresses in the world" - how she took him up to her bedroom, discussed screen nudity, explained (with, as it were, colour slides) the sexual positions she was persuaded to adopt by nasty directors, took him downstairs, cooked him pasta and indicated that he should, how shall I put this, stick around...
Billen does not give the lady's name away. But his fans will recall with clarity his interview in May 1995 with Greta Scacchi, the far-from-plain actress famous for preferring to act without the encumbrance of clothing. Looking at Billen's interview now, one sees it as a masterful bit of editing, in which Ms Scacchi's writhings are interpreted as a personal frenzy of irritation with directors. Two years on, we get the real details: how she explained the angles at which her breasts fell in a scene, the "bat's squeak of flirtation" he felt coming from her, her invitation to stay, his making an excuse and leaving. Taken separately, the two pieces are cool, analytical, objective. Put together, they amount to a seduction scene that has had the rest of the Male Interviewers' XI groaning: "Andrew - how could you?"
The Birmingham novelist Jim Crace has been picking up rave reviews for his new novel, Quarantine, an extraordinary re-imagining of the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil (or, in Crace's re-telling, tempted by a satanic fellow pilgrim). Reviewers have dwelt especially on the minute detail with which Crace describes the bleak terrain of Judea in AD20 or so, and his love of obscure words. Some even suspect that he may have had the nerve to make up some - and quite right, too. He invented lots of them, like "tarbony" and "swagfly" and "heddles" and "aggry" ... So it is with relief that reviewers have fallen upon the epigraph at the start of the book, a solid-sounding quotation from The Limits of Mortality by Ellis Winward and Professor Michael Soule (Ecco Press, New Jersey, 1993): "An ordinary man of average weight and fitness embarking on a total fast - that is, a fast during which he refuses both his food and drink - could not expect to live for more than 30 days."
Many critics seemed familiar with the work. The Times referred to "the scientific evidence" of "a 1993 medical study on mortality". The Times Literary Supplement likewise homed in on the epigraph "from a physiological treatise". Sorry chaps, it's neither. It's a complete fiction. All of Crace's four previous novels have carried epigraphs and they've all been fake as well. As novelists sometimes do, he's made it all up. Continent featured a helpfully apposite quote from the Histories of Pycletius ("There and beyond is the seventh continent - seven peoples, seven masters, seven seas. And its business is trade and superstition") about whose works critics nodded familiarly. Arcadia starts with a quote from the Truismes of one Emile Dell'Ova, whom one American critic described as "this sadly neglected aphorist". The Gift of Stones opens with a whiskery rumination from Digs and Dimensions: Memoirs of an Excavationist (1927) by Sir Harry Penn-Butler. Reviewing The Gift of Stones, Sir Frank Kermode mentioned the epigraph in passing, and its author, old "Harry Penn-Butler" - casually dropping the "Sir", as knights do when addressing each other.
"Every time, four or five critics fall for it and pretend intimacy with the work," confesses a not-very-shamefaced Crace. "They embroider and invent, they know more about the books than I do, and I made them up..."Reuse content