Sunday, 9 May 2010

Still going...

Hello all,

Another one of those huge gaps, I'm afraid; I've simply been too busy with the old lecturing to put something up of late, even with the goading of the general election to tempt me. Of which, a pick'n'mix of observations:

1) Cameron's closing statement at that first televised debate - manifesto in a nutshell, or 80s power ballad in rough draft?
2) Surely the issue with Gillian Duffy was not the subject she raised, but how she raised it; that is, the rather loaded term 'flocking.' The first casualty of electoral war, it seems, is close reading.
3) Proofreading, too, took a bit of a pounding. D J Taylor wrote a nice piece in the Independent on inept political language, mostly pointing out the errors of the Liberal Democrats (my local council candidate actually managed to sneak a superfluous apostrophe into the name of my ward); the BBC was unusually dreadful, averaging one obvious mistake a day. The best one occurred minutes before the beginning of the final debate, with a spectacularly incoherent headline featuring 'Barak Obama'.
4) Once again, 'Victorian' gets wheeled out pejoratively, this time to describe the UK's electoral system. Excuse me, but something the Victorians were very good at was organising stuff. Electoral reform, too, was something of a recurrent Victorian theme, though no doubt we'll all be told that, like sex, it was invented in the 1960s.

More to follow, no doubt. For the moment, an admin note; comments are now subject to moderation, since about 50% of the comments being left seem to be Chinese proverbs that conveniently link to sites selling bargain trainers ("Wow! These are genuine Niks!") or crushed tiger essence that offers terrifying powers of potency ("Erectile dysfunction? Hip trouble? With just one pill, you too can become a peripatetic priapic!"). Ah, to think that by calling it "Plato's Pharmacy" they could attract a whole new poststructuralist market.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Doughnuts 2009: End of Year Literary Awards

As always, not what's been published this year, just what I got around to reading. You think I'm made of money?

Best New Author: Don Delillo, Underworld

This was close - it was almost Salman Rushdie with The Satanic Verses. Both novels have their faults, although I suspect that with Rushdie I was at a disadvantage thanks to my frankly shaky grasp on Islamic theology. But Delillo edges it on the basis of some superb writing, not least the sixty page prologue to Underworld, describing a single baseball match. Of course, it helps that this particular baseball match is the final of the 1951 World Series, and that Delillo's cast here includes Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover.

Oddly enough, it's easier to point out Underworld's flaws than its strengths (or maybe that's just me). The most obvious is the fact that Delillo is a better literary stylist than a convincing delineator of character; the central pair of Nick Shay and Klara Sax are, well, just a little bit dull. Having now read White Noise as well, it's clear that Delillo's characters are really just mouthpieces for versions of Delillo (I'll probably have more to say on White Noise later in the year, but for now, I'll just note that he writes some of the most staggeringly perspicacious children in literary history). In terms of plot, since Delillo's somewhat expansive theme is the last 50 or so years of American history, it isn't the kind of novel that depends on the forward movement of narrative; in fact, the predominant movement of Underworld is backwards, opening (after the prologue) in the 1990s and ending (before a postmodern epilogue, of course) in the 1950s, the prose becoming increasingly fragmented as memory fades. This isn't a fault, of course, but those looking for a narrative hook to pull them through 827 pages will be disappointed. So, you're saying, if the characterisation of the main players is suspect, and the narrative diffuse, why does it scoop the big prize? Underworld is by no means perfect; it sometimes meanders and perhaps too obviously has its eye on 'greatness' (or possibly GREATNESS). But when it works - and that's most of the time - it's outstanding. Ironically, given the historical scope of the thing (and its physical presence as a book very definitely makes it a 'thing' - the physical mass of it is thematically appropriate), the best sections are those in which tiny moments of time come under extended narrative inspection. The aforementioned baseball game and immediate aftermath, about four actual hours, takes sixty pages; the thoughts of a street punk immediately after shooting a man, a second or two, take up a compelling page; and, in perhaps the best section, a couple of minutes of home video, potential evidence in a murder case and obsessively replayed on the news, is dissected with a detail that makes Barthes look like Littlejohn. Put another way, Delillo's theme is 'real time'; distorting it on the page, but also wondering about the 'real' time of history. Ultimately, Underworld is not consistent, but it can be awesome.

Best novel: John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

A crowded field this year, thanks to some excellent novels around March; Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, and Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea. Nausea is the runner-up here, a brilliant evocation of alienation (which also includes a hilarious moment about ordering cheese heroically). Objectively, it might even be better than Toole, but my instinct is to go with A Confederacy of Dunces, not least because whereas Nausea's origins are clearly in the intention to fictionalise existential philosophy, Dunces is less easily characterised. Put another way, whereas Sartre wrote a manifesto, Toole wrote a novel (I suppose I'm just suspicious of blatantly philosophical fiction, which is after all why Milan Kundera lost to Jonathan Franzen last year). Toole also has the edge inasmuch as while I don't remember Sartre's characters in any detail (although this is perhaps the point), Ignatius Reilly is still in here. I'm not as convinced as others are that the plot comes together that neatly (Burma Jones never seems that integrated into the whole, but then perhaps that's the point), but it's damn funny, not least Ignatius' sabotage of Levy Pants and his habit of shouting at the screen in cinemas. Baton Rouge will never sound the same again.

Biggest disappointment: Jonathan Franzen, The Twenty-Seventh City

A clear win for Franzen here, partially because of the ease with which The Corrections took the top prizes last year. The weak part of The Corrections was the Lithuanian sub-plot, the events of which seemed cartoonish and unconvincing; in The Twenty-Seventh City, the bad news is that it's all Lithuania. The plot is that the St. Louis of the mid-1980s appoints a female Indian chief of police, Jammu, who then gains increasing control of the city through a complex conspiracy of psychological terrorism, murder, local politics and the like. Sounds like a brilliant black comedy of city politics at the height of American conservatism, right? Sadly, no. It's scuppered by murky plotting and characters who can't bear the weight of the psychological scrutiny Franzen would perfect in The Corrections. It's never quite clear why Jammu acts in the way she does, or precisely how she manages to gain influence over city politics (I know little of how American cities are run, but I imagine that the chief of police has little to do with taxation decisions). Sequences of events are weirdly compressed; one character thinks he might apply to the police academy and a few months later, he's typing reports in the precinct. It's not quite clear if Franzen is trying to represent the actual St. Louis here, or some alternative world where things work slightly differently (not in the science fiction sense; rather, in the way that Iain Sinclair's Radon Daughters takes places in an 'alternative' London), but either way, it's unconvincing. Throw in a couple of sentences that shouldn't have escaped an MA seminar in Creative Writing, and you've got a bunch of perfectly good reasons why this went unpublished in the UK until after The Corrections.

(The closest competitor, incidentally, was Pat Barker's Regeneration. I understand that this is some kind of heresy, but I couldn't help but feel that it reduced the horror of the First World War to the status of truism (he had his head in a cow! Yuk!), while the final chapters crassly spell out the subtext for the hard of reading).

Coming up...

Last year, I predicted that 2009 would be when I finally got around to Delillo, and I was right; before I start congratulating myself for predicting my own choices, let's remember that I was wrong about Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Quantum Physics and Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which are still both waiting patiently. At the moment, 2010 most obviously looks set to be a revisiting of much of Dickens, with a bit more Delillo thrown in (White Noise, Mao II and Cosmopolis in particular). I'll probably also get around to Christopher Priest's The Dream Archipelago in the next twelve months, although the snippet I read immediately before Christmas didn't promise great things. But hey, perhaps I'll be wrong again.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Limited Edition

Last week in Waterstone's in Portsmouth, I saw one of the most forlorn sights the literary world has to offer - the book signing by an author of whom nobody's heard. A couple of years ago, it would seem that one only got a book signing in Waterstone's, Ottakars (remember them?), Dillons (remember them?) or W. H. Smith (remember them? They used to be a bookshop?) through a certain level of fame and wrangling by publishers. Nowadays, when the internet offers anyone a potential audience of millions and notoreity, you can turn up with a table in the middle of Waterstone's, no matter how small your readership, how large the type, or how hideously photoshopped the cover. Unfortunately, embarrassment tends to ensue. It's difficult not to feel sorry for the guy sitting alone at the table, tapping his pen absently to pass the time, but nor do you want to make eye contact. Earlier this year, in Newcastle, a similar thing happened, except that this time the author seemed to have brought his family with him, and by the time I popped in in the afternoon, he was sending his wife out into the shop to try and cajole punters into showing some interest. I doubt, somehow, that Ian McEwan does this.

My point here is not that such events should be the reserve of the super-popular: after all, J. K. Rowling sells far more than Iain Sinclair; sales alone are no indicator of literary worth. But what is of some concern is the focus on fame rather than achievement, of wanting the book signing event before putting in the work that will make it worthwhile. While living in West Jesmond in Newcastle, I had the misfortune to live above a guy who believed himself to be some sort of musician - that is to say, he was a competent guitarist, a weak vocalist, and with just enough artistic ambition that his output made James Blunt look like Marilyn Manson. He had, of course, a website, which consisted of a brief list of performances and a significantly larger merchandise section, which offered a range of t-shirts, badges, and mugs bearing his name (the funniest was the 'limited edition' lyric sheet, of which only 100 had been made, apparently. I imagine 98 of them are still in his flat, or have yet to be photocopied). It made me wonder what was more important - whether the publicity facilitated his music, or whether (more likely) the music was a means of getting his name on a t-shirt.

Finally, and on a related matter, I've found myself drawn into this year's X Factor and in particular the debate on John and Edward, who seem to be hated by the studio audience (possibly because of the startling resemblance to the double take brothers from Harry Enfield's TV series in the early 1990s). Unfortunately, the audience don't seem to understand that they created John and Edward; they may be awful, but that's what you get when any vestige of criticism is shouted down. You couldn't do better! He deserves to have his name on a t-shirt! Where's your name on a t-shirt? Every time Simon Cowell is booed for pointing out something ws rubbish, John and Edward grow larger and stronger. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your masters.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Burning Pandas for Fuel

Sorry about that - another long pause, as quite a bit's happened in the interim. The main news is a move to Portsmouth (home of the country's angriest market florist, it seems) to start a full time post at the university. That's taking up quite a bit of time at the moment, so there's not been much opportunity to keep up with things here. I'll try and be a bit more productive in the future, honest.

To business. In early 2006, I saw George Galloway give a talk at the University of Exeter. I was by no means a Galloway fan, but thought that it would at the very least be interesting (at least, as interesting as the fact that Respect, who had organised the event, wanted the names of everyone who attended. Had anyone at the front desk read G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday my pseudonym wouldn't have lasted long). George actually turned up half an hour late, and when he inevitably ran out of time the meeting moved from the lecture theatre onto the lawn outside the Northcott Theatre, standing on a bench while surrounded by listeners. How radical, we thought. How kinda Pankhurst. Towards the end of the question and answer session, a friend of mine came up to me and asked "Is it still propaganda if you agree with it?"

An interesting question. While largely agreeing with the perspectives under discussion, I was slightly concerned with Galloway's tendency to respond to difficult questions (why don't the projections of the Iraq election support that thesis, George? What's with the Portugese villas, George?) by implying that the matter was irrelevant or the questioner was ignorant of some other crucial factor and manipulating the crowd against him or her (that said, no effort was required with the guy who asked if the BNP cared more about the British people than Respect did, since this drew an almost comedically exaggerated gasp from the rest of the audience; Galloway's response on the uselessness of nationalism was superfluous). I could appreciate much of Galloway's position; it was the means of getting there that was problematic. A year later, I'd encounter the same problem reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but this time in starker terms. Dawkins' conclusions were easy to agree with, but not the sometimes shallow rhetorical moves; I was still an atheist, but not because of these arguments. I agreed with it - but did this absolve it of propaganda?

I ask this because I've just seen the latest "Act on CO2" advert, and despite agreeing with its broader argument, my immediate response was to want to burn a panda for fuel (incidentally, did you notice the sad panda toy beside the bed? I didn't until the second viewing). At whom is this advert aimed? Those already aware of climate change don't need convincing; those who see it as a leftist fantasy will read it as literally confirming their belief that it's all a fairy story. Most of those inbetween will be put off by how wretchedly manipulative it is, from the music to the weeping cartoon animals to the big CO2 monster to the blaming of 'the grown ups' (children, of course, have nothing to do with carbon dioxide, as they subsist entirely on the ambient radiation of cuteness until the age of 12 years and ten months). A hugely complex debate becomes reduced to "Turn on a light = drown a dog." Perhaps it needs to be like this - simplistic in order to get through. But if so, show us consequences with some actual referent - news footage of real flooding, examples of declining species - not something mediated through the subjectivity of children and unambiguously meant to induce guilt. I fear that the government have wasted their money on something so unsophisticated as to convince nobody and annoy the rest of us.

My other fear is that, in writing this, I'm shoring up a conservative scepticism of climate change - certainly, many of the criticisms I've found online have come from those who believe it's all a big conspiracy (raising tax money for the government usually seems to be the justification here - not sure how my taking the bus or not leaving lights on raises tax revenue, guys, or the implication that anything cooked up by the powers-that-be would win out over any alternative put by the energy companies). But, as I've argued elsewhere, the ends of the environmental argument are so compelling that the means - any means, like those ludicrous EDF adverts made out of 'recycled film' footage (I'd like to think they're joking here, but I suspect they take the green validity of this claim absolutely seriously) or this new advert - seem to be beyond criticism. So yes, it's still propaganda even if you agree with it. And if you don't agree with me, I'll drown five dogs.

Monday, 25 May 2009

May of the Penguins

A bank holiday weekend of museums, this time. First of all, the opening day of the Great North Museum on Saturday. We had to go for two reasons: firstly, they're been working on it around the corner from my office ever since, well, ever since it was my office; and secondly, the winsome young girl on the posters all over the Metro threatens to scream and scream until she's sick if you don't. A more considered write up will have to wait until the place isn't so incredibly busy; walking into Newcastle at lunchtime, it was encouraging to see that the queue reached all the way out of the museum grounds and round into the university (the one place you're usually guaranteed to see a queue reaching out of a door in town is the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Northumberland Street; I'm not being facetious, it's actually true). The exhibitions on Hadrian's Wall and ancient Egypt aside (well, not aside, they're very good), the main focus is on natural history and taxidermy in particular; owls seem to be the favourite, which is fine by me (to anyone reading in Norman, Oklahoma - pop into The Library pub and say hello to the stuffed owl who lives there). Admittedly, the prevalence of stuffed animals makes the occasional appearance of a living reptile in a box somewhat surprising, as if they weren't sure whether to go for the full reptile house display or not, but it's all very well laid out. There's also a replica dinosaur skeleton and a planetarium, which we had no hope of getting into on Saturday, but which we'll be going back for. I haven't been in a planetarium since Jodrell Bank c. 1990, me.

Then on Sunday, to Gateshead for the "70 Years of Penguin Design" exhibition at the Shipley Gallery. Firstly, though, a comment on the interior of Gateshead Metro Station before someone decides to rip the whole thing out, because they really shouldn't. Yes, it's dated, but there's a period charm to it, rather like the Piccadilly Line at Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3, of which Gateshead is weirdly reminiscent. If you ever have a dream in which you're at the Heathrow tube station and it looks familiar yet unfamiliar, as if all the elements have been somehow shaken up into some kind of architectural anagram, then you're probably at Gateshead Metro. In fact, it's intriguing how the different parts of the Metro are shaping up as various tribute acts for sections of the London Underground. Gateshead is the Piccadilly line, with hints of the Victoria; the all new Haymarket is clearly going for the Jubilee look, albeit without the platform doors (which I never liked anyway - I like a bit of edge on my tube); Jesmond is the Circle/District, whereas West Jesmond is clearly some prosperous Metropolitan line suburb. Monument (Newcastle), ironically, bears little resemblance to Monument (London).

Well, it's intriguing to me.

Anyway, the Penguin exhibit. The title of "70 Years of Penguin Design" was somewhat baffling at first, until I realised that this exhibition has been touring for the last four years and should therefore be called "70+4 Years of Penguin Design," catchy as that isn't. Some very nice material on the development of the logo (from its dancing days to a more sedate, regal stature) and striking mounted displays of orange, blue and green Penguins (this last turning into some kind of private Panini sticker transaction for me: "Got... got... need... got... need"). A particularly nice exhibit showed the various incarnations of The Great Gatsby over the years, and made the curious point, seemingly obvious but which had never occured to me before, that whereas music (at least, popular music) is pretty much inextricably linked to a certain cover image for the rest of its cultural life, the marketing identity of the written word is much more changeable, and even where book covers become iconic (the Penguin Lady Chatterley's Lover, for instance), there's a sense that eventually a new cover has to be designed precisely in order to overthrow such visual dominance. More theoretical discussion of why this might be the case was passed over, but I'm sure I'll come back to this in the near future.

Comprehensive as the exhibition was in some areas (gratifyingly, green Penguins and the development of the Marber grid), there were some curious omissions. There was a big display of the Penguin 70 range to celebrate the 70th anniversary, but barely a mention of the Penguin 60s from 1995, which were surely much more influential in popularising the pamphlet style publishing which Penguin have capitalised on so much in recent years. Most strikingly, the Classics range wasn't even acknowledged as existing beyond the 1960s; lots of material on the roundel design of the original version from the 1950s, including the strangely humorous error on the cover of E.V. Rieu's translation of The Odyssey, which shows a boat with both oars and full sails, but not a single black spine of a later publication in sight. Since the recent redesign of the classics range in the last five or so years has been the most striking innovation to folks like me - and, let's be honest, to most of the people who go to this exhibition - this seems a little odd, not least because it's in changes like this that Penguin lead the market (or did you think Oxford's rebranding of the World's Classics series shortly afterwards was coincidence?). However, there was a nice display of some splendidly 1970s covers for J.G. Ballard, all looking like stills from a Terry Gilliam animation (and one including the image of Mickey Mouse on a television screen - I imagine that was a copyright nightmare) and an interesting survey of how far the orange/green bars look of the original paperbacks has infiltrated publishing and popular culture more widely. Oh, and we got lovely free bookmarks as well. If you're at all interested in publishing or just want to see some occasionally freaky covers from the 1970s (especially on the Pelicans), go and see it if it pops up near you. Go on, pick up a - no, I'm not going to do that.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Conference Pairs

Time to roll out what I only half-jokingly refer to as the tour dates for the summer. Only two, really, so less of a tour and more of a line between two points:

May 15th sees all the fun of a conference without the bother of a hotel for the seemingly obligatory hometown paper (cf. Exeter, July 2008) for the Crime Studies Network in the North symposium, Crime Studies: Facts and Fictions. It's free, so if you want a good seat, I would e-mail Malcah Effron at Newcastle University to book your place.

Then, July 20-22 sees me in London for the University of Reading's Narrative Dominions, a conference based around the forthcoming volume four of the Oxford History of the Novel in English. I hear that the chapter on the detective story is the most awesome six thousand words ever published.

Talking of publishing, it's been a good year for reading fiction so far. I don't mean all those shiny new novels in Waterstone's, the darkly comic portraits of modern life and the like, but somehow finding time to get through the 280-odd novels that comprise the fiction waiting list on my shelves. Highlights so far have included Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man, Paul Auster's Mr Vertigo, Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea (honestly, the heroic cheese sentence made me laugh out loud. You'll have to go and read it now, won't you?), Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, Alasdair Gray's Poor Things (not quite as out there as it thinks it is, though), and in particular John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, which so far looks pretty secure as this year's best novel. The middle ground includes Patrick Suskind's Perfume (nice, but with the weirdly inescapable flavour of the middlebrow bookclub about it - mmm, the taste of condescension there), Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (an excellent and convincing discussion of socialism and often quite moving, but a little on the flabby and repetitive side as a novel), and Paul Auster's latest variation on a theme of metanarrativity, Man in the Dark. And then the badlands; Ian Rankin's The Flood is a little too obviously the frst novel he had published, and the slightly too self-congratulatory foreword to the new edition proudly notes how expensive those 1980s first editions now are; Malcolm Pryce's Last Tango in Aberystwyth is the same joke as his first novel - now with half the characterisation, but the same great fractured paragraph taste! Then there's James Wilson's The Dark Clue, a turgid attempt to write a sequel to Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, notable solely for the front cover recommendation of "Read 50 pages and you'll be gripped," surely the most backhanded literary compliment ever paid (I made it to about 90 pages, before the utter lack of forward movement and the ridiculous caricatures of historical figures such as John Ruskin put paid to any idea of actual literary fun). And, dare I say it, Pat Barker's Regeneration. You heard me. Pat Barker's Regeneration. That'd be Booker Prize winning Pat Barker, y'know, but I'm afraid I found Regeneration a bit too diffuse - expecting a closer focus on the encounter between W. H. Rivers and Siegfried Sassoon, Barker throws in a bunch of other weirdly diffuse characters (Prior, who I hear takes over in the rest of the trilogy, seemed particularly incoherent) and a habit of explaining her metaphors in case you wus too dumb to get it (the subtext of Rivers' self-examination towards the end is practically nailed to the reader's forehead). Oh, and the horrors of war. Except that we all know that war has horrors, so you've got to make your horrors really horrific to escape the kind of cliche inherent in the very idea of 'the horrors of war'... which Barker doesn't. What? You loved it? Perhaps it's just me.

And finally... did anyone else hear Christopher Caldwell on Start the Week this week? Did anyone hear his question to Monica Ali about the problems of writing a novel that addressed an atomised society, such as today's modern world apparently is? (We're so cool today, see. So atomised, modern, liberated. We done liberated us from the Victorians). Did anyone else goggle when he used Dickens as an example of an author concerned with the local? Did anyone else shout "So what the hell was Bleak House* about then?" at the radio? What? You loved it? Perhaps it's just me.

* Or Our Mutual Friend. Or Little Dorrit. Or - hell, any of them.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A Disembodied Eye

Despite my stunning analysis last month, Britain continues to fear Google Maps Street View. The most astute criticism came from a poster on the Independent message board who thought it an invasion of privacy because "you can see if my car is outside or not." Indeed, we're all sitting ducks for burglars once they've set their time machines to eight months ago. The craziness continues apace:

I was fortunate enough to be in Broughton at the time, as it so fortunately happens, and the scene was something like this:

10.00 am. The Google Car passes through Broughton. Some villagers cower in fear of the petroleum beast, before seeing the logo on the side ("Go Ogle") and realise there is pseudosurveillance afoot. A mob forms with rapid speed.

10.15 am. Torches are distributed and the villagers circle the car, hoping to regain their souls from the black box on top. The driver tries to explain the purpose of the cameras but is mauled with copies of the Daily Mail.

10.20 am. The police arrive to mediate, but now the mob is shouting about how their rights not to be photographed are being violated, and in broad daylight, too. One woman screams "I am being raped by the gaze!" Several villagers mishear "gaze" and a homophobic faction splinters off to beat up anyone holding a copy of the Guardian or who owns a musical CD which is neither a) by Andrew Lloyd Webber or b) loosely based on the oeuvre of a classic rock band. A march appears around the corner, led by a group of six year olds being pushed forward by their mothers, bearing a banner that says "Children should be heard and not seen."

10.45 am. Village leader Paul Jacobs gives a statement "I don't have a problem with Google wanting to promote villages... I don't mind them taking pictures of the street, but that shouldn't include my house. I mean, you can clearly see that I have a dreamcatcher in my window." A journalist turns to look and is promptly shrieked at for daring to point his eyes in that direction. Then he realises that the journalist is from the BBC, which is much more respectable than a grubby internet compay, so allows them to film the house for millions to see. After all, there's images of your house and images of your house.

12.00 pm. A wicker effigy of the Google logo has been constructed and one of the drivers hauled inside. At noon exactly, the Wicker Google is set alight.

12.34 pm. Noel Edmonds descends in his helicopter, having sensed that a civic outrage is in progress. "Britain has gone bonkers!" he proclaims from his ready made orating stage "If we join our minds to defeat this intrusion and order it cosmically, so it will be! We will also bring Noel's House Party back for another series." Noel loses the sympathy of the crowd here, and his helicopter is attacked as ungodly. Edmonds escapes only thanks to the quick thinking of his batman, Keith Chegwin, who scoops up Edmonds and shoulders his way though the melee.

1.36 pm. With their torches, the villagers pursue the Google car to the edge of a Romanticist cliff, while some early afternoon low cloud gives the village a strangely German Expressionist cast. The mob eventually force the car off the cliff, unaware that the car will actually return in The Bride of Google Maps Street View.

2.17 pm. The villagers return to their homes, glad that they have beaten off the spectre of people seeing them. But for how long?

That's how it happened.