Extract from letter to Nigel Adams MP, Foreign Office Minister of State with responsibility for Afghanistan and British “soft power”. And cricket-lover.
I am writing to urge you to take an interest in the future of Afghan cricket and cricketers if and when the Taliban reassume control of the country.
One might be optimistic about men’s cricket there, which the Taliban authorized in the past. Afghanistan’s astonishing rise in the international rankings over the past twenty years and the consequent popularity of men’s cricket all over the country might induce a new Taliban régime to leave the sport alone.
But that will not be true of women’s cricket, which has already been stifled by the Taliban. The women and girls who have managed to play cricket in the country will face real danger.
Moreover, there are strong grounds to fear for the future of male cricketers too. The Taliban may turn on everyone in the country who is seen as a collaborator with the central government and the Western world. In case you have not seen it, I draw your attention to the feature “Taliban Watch” by “Dr Grim” in the current edition of Private Eye, which carries that message in stark terms. Male cricketers could well be seen as agents of Western influence and values and be persecuted on that basis. Those who have played internationally or overseas at any level may fall under special suspicion. If allowed to play on, they may face very restrictive conditions and be compelled to adopt and expound the ideology and values of the Taliban. That will be especially true for boys and students if they are allowed to go on playing cricket at all.
As you will know, the Taliban is not a unified movement but a network with many strands. Local cricketers could easily fall under the control of an extremist faction and subjected to vicious discipline and punishments. There may well be protracted local power struggles and civil wars. The collapse of central government and such public services as exist in Afghanistan may make local life unbearable, and not only for cricketers. The Taliban has also provided a haven for racketeers, traffickers and criminals of all kinds. Cricketers who are better-off than the general population may become targets for extortion. This could happen to Afghanistan’s top international cricketers, through their families.
I write with no first-hand knowledge of Afghan cricket or the Taliban, only from what I have read and a few personal contacts with Afghans and others who know about both. However, I am certain that you could find quick confirmation of all of these points.
I therefore ask you first to keep a close eye on conditions for Afghan cricket and cricketers and to make these a factor in framing future British policy on Afghanistan.
If things go as badly as I think they might, I hope you will urge on Priti Patel (like yourself a cricket-lover) that our country should become a haven for Afghan cricketers of all ages and genders – and that pending determination of their claims to remain they should be allowed to play or coach cricket here for money or accept payment as umpires and scorers or any other cricket-related function. They could do a great deal for cricket at many levels in our country. They could especially help to promote cricket in hard-to-reach communities, not just the existing Afghan community. They might help also to introduce cricket to other countries, as an extension of British soft power. Again, you will know how much Afghans have contributed to German cricket in recent years.
Finally, a Taliban régime will undoubtedly assert its control over the Afghanistan Cricket Board. Of course this will not be a direct problem for the government: the International Cricket Council will have to respond to it and the England and Wales Cricket Board might also have to take a stand. But it throws light on an issue which has recurred in international sport for nearly a hundred years: what should happen when a country subjects its own sportspeople collectively, or significant populations of them, to discrimination and oppression? Should other countries allow them to continue in international sport and export their systems and values within it? In my view, international sports administrators have had a very poor record of dealing with these questions, and they are in any case too important to be left to them alone.
An animation project turned here into an illustrated story for people of 7+
Meet the Light Fantastics.
This is Lady in Red. This is Green Go-to Guy. They live in two little spaces in a traffic light in the Big City, on a busy corner of Main Street and Crosstown Avenue.
Lady in Red tells people to stop and wait before they cross Main Street.
Green Go-to Guy tells them when to cross Main Street.
They have to wake up early in the morning when they hear the first lorries rumbling down Main Street and be ready for work. Their first walker is always Dust Cart Man. Lady in Red makes him wait. Green Go-to Guy tells him when to cross and sweep the other side of Main Street.
Then come the early workers.
Then come the regular workers.
Then come the schoolchildren. Lady in Red makes them all stop. Green Go-to Guy tells them to cross.
Then it’s the late workers. Some of them want to cross in a hurry, but Lady in Red makes them wait like anyone else, before Green Go-to Guy lets them go.
Then it’s the shoppers. Then the people taking early lunch. Then the people taking regular lunch. Then the people taking late lunch. Lady in Red and Green Go-to Guy tell them all what to do.
Then it’s the schoolchildren and the workers crossing the other way.
Then it’s the people going out for dinner, or to see a play or a movie or a concert.
Then it’s the clubbers. Lady in Red stops them all, Green Go-to Guy lets them cross.
But when the last clubber crosses Main Street to go home, the Big City belongs to the Light Fantastics. They watch the last clubber let himself into his house. They look at each other and slide down the traffic light into Main Street. They stretch… and stretch… and stretch a bit more. And when they are tall enough, they dance… and dance… and dance…
They dance down Main Street. Past all the places where the people work or shop or go to school. But nobody can see them. Through the Big Square with the Victory Arch and the statue of Marshal Law. Past the Town Hall with the statue of Mayor Culpa. Into the park with the bandstand – where they can tap dance. They finish the routine with a big kiss. Then they take a drink at the fountain. And since nobody’s looking they bathe their feet.
Then they walk together, hand in hand, under the stars. They leave the park and walk back to Main Street. This time they reach the part with lots of advertising boards.
Lady in Red stops Green Go-to Guy. She looks at one of the big boards and says “We’ve never seen this one,” and he says “Do you want to try it?” It has a picture of a flashy fast car. An Alfa Pseud. And the two of them jump right into the car – because they own everything in the Big City at night, including the advertising boards and everything inside them.
The picture in the board has the Alfa Pseud all on its own on a long desert highway. Green Go-to Guy opens the door for Lady in Red and lets her drive first. All the way to the end of the highway in the picture. Then they change places and Green Go-to Guy drives it all the way back. Who do you think drives faster? Wrong. It’s Lady in Red. After stopping people all day, at night time she likes to put on a little speed.
Green Go-to Guy parks the car in the same spot in the picture. They get out and jump out of the board back onto Main Street.
“What did you think?” asks Green Go-to Guy. Lady in Red shakes her head and says “It went pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-qweep in sixth gear.”
They walk a bit longer along Main Street and stop in front of another advertising board. This one’s for a big blockbuster movie with the world’s biggest stars – Luke Upward and Stella Cast. But since they own everything in the Big City they jump right into the movie set and Green Go-to Guy says “Luke, my man, do you want to take five?” and Lady in Red says “Stella, honey, would you like to powder your nose?” And the stars leave, so that Green Go-to Guy and Lady in Red can play the big scene themselves. They look at the scripts the stars leave behind.
“You don’t love me any more.”
“But I do.”
“Your lips are moving but your eyes are lying.”
They give it all they can and then they look at each other and say the same thing. “This stinks.” They call back Luke and Stella and jump out of the board back into Main Street.
They walk a bit further and stop at another advertising board. This one has a tropical beach with nobody on it. They stare and stare at it. They have never seen anything so beautiful in the Big City. Finally Lady in Red says “We deserve a vacation.”
Green Go-To Guy says “We haven’t got much time. You know what happens if we’re missing…”
Lady in Red says “Just a quick swim?” And she takes his hand.
So they jump onto the beach. They kick up a little sand. They look at the clear blue water and run towards it, still hand in hand. But before they can jump in, the whole beach starts to shake. Not just the sand. Not just the sea. But the sky and the sun. It can only mean one thing. They run back along the beach and look out of the board. It’s the first lorry rumbling along Main Street. The Big City will not belong to them much longer. They will not be allowed in the advertising boards – or anywhere else. If they don’t get back to their traffic light in time they could be locked up as deserters.
So they jump back onto Main Street. No more dancing, they just run, and run, and run. Hand in hand. When one gets tired, the other pulls. Run, Lady in Red! Run, Green Go-to Guy! Back into the park… past the fountain… past the bandstand… Past Marshal Law and Mayor Culpa. Past the workplaces and the shops and the schools. They see more and more lorries. Faster, Lady in Red! Faster, Green Go-to Guy! The dawn is breaking over the Big City. At last they reach their section of Main Street.
They can hear the Dust Cart. One final sprint… They reach their traffic light just in time. They help each other up, and shrink again to fit into their little spaces. They are ready for Dust Cart Man. Lady in Red stops him in the usual way. Green Go-to Guy lets him cross in the usual way. He notices nothing different about them and heads down Main Street to sweep the other side.
Lady in Red and Green Go-to Guy watch him disappear. They look round the street. No lorries. No people. They slip out of their little spaces and have one final kiss.
Published in Good Housekeeping ca 1984
I live in Bonar Law Mansions: the street is called Nash Terrace and that’s a false trade description if ever there was. Nash Terrace runs off Coldview Lane and so do I if I’m coming home late at night.
Like so much British housing of its kind, Bonar Law Mansions was started in a boom and finished hurriedly in a bust. There are six nominal flats. I’ve got the one on the ground floor. There’s one front door and then there’s me on the right, then you can go up the stairs to Miss Gliddon, who is 86 and has lived there since the beginning because she Knew Her Rights. Opposite Miss Gliddon are the McCarneys, who are arty and crafty. They do rush matting, although that too is a false trade description since mine took eight months to arrive. They have a new breed of dog, a Yorkshire Yapper, whose name I have given to the Soviet Embassy in case the Red Army moves in. Then there’s Miss Hornman. She works for the Ministry of Agriculture, making sure that my breakfast sausage contains its subparticle of meat. The Webbs, appropriately, are both swimming instructors. They shout a great deal.
A new man moved into the top flat recently. I did not see him when he arrived but I did notice a new badly-parked Alfa Pseud outside and a new badly-parked briefcase on the hall table: this was an opulent number which had used enough skin to make the pig an endangered species. It was embossed with gold initials which coincided with mine.
As for me, I’ve lived in Bonar Law for six years. I’m looking backwards to being 35 next birthday. I’m single. By choice. Of every woman I ever met.
I work as a poet. Really. My latest work has been read by millions and translated into over twenty languages. It goes: “Your birthday comes but once a year A fact that’s sad but true Here’s wishing you a birthday As wonderful as you.” I work for the Pica Card Company. Inside Page Department. I share versification duty with my friend Gorman. I do happy events such as birthdays and he does sad ones such as weddings. I’m doing the job only as a fill-in until my screenplay is taken up.
One day last year I got home from work. As always, the first thing I did was to reach in the communal letter box for the late mail.
You see, I am obsessive about the mail. I always have been and all the others in Bonar Law know it. The mail is what my life is about. I make my living from it: my poetry is pushed through millions of letterboxes every day. It’s me saying happy birthday, congratulations, good luck – and perhaps changing someone’s life as a result. One day I am due for payback. Something in the mail is going to change my life.
I sorted all of Bonar Law’s mail and laid it on the hall table. Nothing unusual that day. Miss Gliddon’s copy of Health And Efficiency, a publication called British Raffia for the McCarneys. The Webbs had a special offer from a rubber duck company. Miss Hornman was invited to sample The Best Of Sid Vicious. There was nothing for the new man – and nothing for me.
I spent the evening quietly at home. I worked flat out for five hours and came up with “A special birthday robin Perches on your plate To help you blow your candles out Now that you are Eight.”
I could not sleep that night. I was obsessed by a premonition about the next day’s mail because I was certain that my new life would come to me very soon. At last I heard the postman. Before he could ring twice I rushed out and grabbed the mail from him. Items for Gliddon, McCarneys, Webbs, Hornman. Nothing for the new man but three letters for me, each First Class and marked Urgent.
I opened each with exceptional care. I knew that this lot contained my new life. I also knew that if I read them too quickly it would disappear and they would turn into bills and special offers. So I did not hurry. I memorized the back of a packet of breakfast cereal. Only then did I allow myself to open the envelopes.
The first letter was from Messrs Tort and Feasor, solicitors. It read: “Dear Mr Heller, Our inquiries have established that you are the sole legal heir to Miss Hopper who died intestate five years ago. The exact size of the estate cannot be ascertained. However, it would be in order to inform you that Miss Hopper herself inherited four million dollars in 1938 and that she was a lady of frugal habits who believed in the reinvestment of accrued interest.”
The second was from Special Projects, Paraversal Pictures. It read: “Dear Mr Heller, I beg you to excuse our delay in replying to your letter and submission.” (I paused here briefly, having no recollection of writing to them.) “Your screenplay has excited us all enormously. Story, characters, dialogue, all superb. I have to go to the West Coast next week – do say you’ll join me, all expenses paid.”
I paused again, trying to recall the day I finished my screenplay. The orgy of illicit photocopying, the racking of Yellow Pages for film company addresses, the midnight ride in Wardour Street… So the letterbox where I stuffed the spare copy had been Paraversal’s.
The third letter was handwritten. It read: “Dear Richard, You don’t know me and you can’t have noticed me but I stood behind you borrowing books in the public library and bribed the attendant into giving me your name and address. Now you’re showing this to your girlfriend – or wife – and you’re both having a good laugh but I don’t care. I’m crazy about you, the sexiest most magnetic man I’ve ever seen and I’ve got to meet you. Please please come to the library next Wednesday at 7pm. This is what I look like…”
At this point I extracted a snapshot, head and shoulders. She had not known that the picture was being taken. Her head was thrown back to laugh. Medium length blonde hair, high forehead, strong cheekbones, wide mouth with perfect teeth, slim shoulders. None of the features was out of this world but together they were haunting. She had signed the letter “Laura Cassiday.”
Then I read on and a terrible chill passed through me. There was a PS. “I hope you enjoy Watership Down as much as I did.”
I detested Watership Down. I did not borrow it from the library. I would never borrow Watership Down from the library or anything that looked like it. The only books I borrow from the library are about cricket.
I re-read the other two letters. I thought back to a briefcase with gold initials coincident with mine.
I rang the bell of the top flat of Bonar Law. It was opened by a very good-looking man a few years younger than me.
“Hello, Richard,” I said. “I live downstairs. I’m Richard Heller too. There are not many Hellers. I wonder if we’re related. You have relations called Hopper, don’t you?”
“My grandmother’s maiden name,” he stammered.
“I can’t think of any relatives of mine called Hopper. You write in your spare time – a screenplay?”
“And you’re enjoying Watership Down?”
“Can’t put it down.”
“Do forgive me, but I opened some of your mail.”
The other Richard Heller now lives in Malibu with his wife, Laura. I still live in Bonar Law. I still watch for the mail. I know there’s a new life coming to me, and this time there will be no mistake. Please address it to me under my full name of His Serene Highness Prince Harley Davidson The Fourth (by deed poll.)
Mortimer Mouse comes from a distinguished family of literary rodents which includes Terence Ratagain and Mousehole Proust. He lives in South-East London with Richard Heller, the distinguished man of letters, and kafkaa, the poetic cockroach, cousin of the famous archy.
Mortimer Mouse has gained a global public for his uplifting homilies and has supplied them to distinguished clients under his business name of Don O’Vanewera. His personal favourites were collected in his book Keep Squeaking Through. But from now on he is writing only for [the Daily Planet.]
Richard Heller writes: In a long literary career, nothing has given me more pride than being the landlord of Mortimer Mouse. We were both at a low ebb when I first saw him in my front room three years ago. He was actually selling The Big Issue. It made me realize how shabby my flat had become that not even a mouse would choose to live there. But inspired by Mortimer’s daily thoughts, we both rose from our respective ebbs and started to go with the flow. We have transformed our home: once bleak and lonely, it is now filled with London’s most fashionable rodents at Mortimer’s regular salons.
The elegant simplicity of Mortimer’s work leads many to assume that it is effortless. But I have been privileged to see the Master – or rather, the Mouseter – at work day after day, night after night. The frenzied creativity followed by the hours of toilsome cutting and polishing of each gem often leave him limper than a politician’s excuses.
Shirley Temple was rightly fêted by Franklin Roosevelt at the White House for her role in lifting the American economy during the Great Depression. If Britain bounces back from Covid, Boris Johnson will give a similar invitation to Mortimer Mouse for restoring optimism to the business cycle.
Motivational Maxims by Mortimer Mouse
Life is just the bread in your sandwich of dreams.
Lies are like lilies. The sweeter they smell, the faster they wither. But the truth is a cactus.
When the milk of life goes sour, be patient. Before you know, it will be cheese.
Your life is a long flowing river. Don’t let it be dammed, or be damned.
When life becomes a joke, try to beat it to the punchline.
A thing worth doing is worth failing at.
To you it’s a bog but to a bug it’s an infinity pool.
Might is not always right, but might have been is always wrong.
When you can’t see the wood for the trees, would you rather be in a desert?
Without rain there would be no rainbows.
Without the blues there would be no bluebirds.
Happy places need no visas. Your mind can just walk right in.
Your past is nothing more than the first rushes of an unfinished movie. Edit it and insist on director’s cut.
Somewhere in this world, a nightingale is singing to an elephant in a moonlit stream and a child is reunited with a lost puppy.
Why expect the worst and get bad news twice over?
There is no lockdown tougher than a mind’s.
Have you taken your vitamins today?
Vitamin A-ce it!
Vitamin B1 with the universe.
Vitamin B2 others as you wish them to you.
Vitamin B12 noon not 12 midnight.
Berri’s carriage approaches. Scenes from Louvel’s past flash before him. The image of his wife and child give way to that of Napoleon with him at Borodino. Louvel rushes forward with his saddler’s awl…
Back in the prison cell Louvel completes the last page of his autobiography with a matter-of-fact sentence: “In the evening I mortally wounded the Duc de Berri. I thus ended the Bourbon dynasty and was therefore able to be of service to His Majesty the Emperor.”
In his quarters, the governor of the prison is discussing Louvel with the priest assigned to him. The priest tells him he is certain that Louvel acted alone, not as part of a conspiracy. He shows no remorse nor willingness to make confession and asks only for writing materials. He is proud of killing the Duc de Berri and has no fear of his impending execution. The priest repeats Louvel’s motive for his crime.
The governor continues his questions. “Does the prisoner Louvel still maintain the illusion that he served in the infantry under Bonaparte?”
“You have shown him the papers showing that he was repeatedly rejected for military service for weak eyesight? You have shown him his receipts from his trade as a saddle-maker?”
“Indeed, but he talks only of his military career. Inquiries have been made of all the details he has given me and in his papers. They are completely accurate, even to the names of sergeants and corporals, except that he himself was present at none of the engagements.”
“Does he still refuse to see his wife and son?”
“He insists that they are dead, victims of privation.”
“He has seen the petitions from his wife against his desertion?”
“He still insists that she and his son are dead.”
In the prison cell Louvel stands at attention before his image of Napoleon. He murmurs over and over “I did serve you.”
He is still murmuring this as the guillotine descends.
Some months later, in autumn, the bells are ringing. The widowed Duchesse de Berri, already pregnant again when Louvel killed her husband, has given birth to a boy.
Paris 1820. Five years after Waterloo. Napoleon is dying on St Helena. The Bourbon dynasty is restored to the French throne, reactionaries determined to obliterate Napoleon’s memory. Officially he is referred to as Bonaparte, sometimes as the Monster.
A prison cell. A male prisoner in solitary confinement, under heavy guard, obviously guilty of a serious crime. He is thin and fevered and has recent bruises and scars on his face. He wears the shabby remains of a military uniform. He paces his cell constantly. He has a military bearing and his pacing has the stamp of the drill square.
Two guards discuss the prisoner. They reveal that he is indifferent to his approaching execution. He shows no sign of remorse or wish to confess and insists that he committed his crime for Napoleon. The guard instantly corrects himself: “for Bonaparte, the Monster.” The prisoner’s only constant demand is for paper and ink.
Alone, the prisoner is writing in his cell. He already has a big stack of papers. The top sheet reads “For my son, Napoleon Louvel. In memory.” The manuscript continues “Although my son will never read these words, for his sake I have decided to set down some account of my life. This was worthless and insignificant in every respect until at the last I was able to execute an action for His Majesty the Emperor.”
The prisoner Louvel’s story is told in retrospect, through his written autobiography. It begins with him as a teenage boy in the provinces. He is an apprentice saddle-maker. He detests this occupation and longs for a better life. One day his drudgery is interrupted by bugles, drums and fifes. It is a detachment of the French Revolutionary Army of Italy, commanded by the young General Buonaparte (still with his Corsican-Italian spelling.) The boy Louvel is entranced. He runs after the detachment, keeping pace with it for many miles. Eventually he enlists in the infantry.
Louvel’s military career takes him through every major campaign of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic army. His own record is unspectacular: it takes him until 1812 before he is at last commissioned as a lieutenant, during the retreat from Moscow. But the diary reveals his intense commitment to the army and to Napoleon in particular. The army gives him comradeship, purpose, total fulfilment. He carries with him everywhere an icon of Napoleon leading the Army of Italy, on a cheap mass-produced image of Epinal. He has managed to smuggle the image into his prison cell and gazes at it in the thin moonlight which penetrates his window.
Louvel’s army career is narrated in a curious style. He gives a very accurate and detailed account of each campaign, with the units, commanders and manœuvres involved. There is a minute account of Napoleon’s movements and appearance in each battle. However, Louvel’s own movements are somewhat sketchy: he makes himself an anonymous member of his unit. However, his comrades are described most carefully. A few episodes in battle are told in detail, but even in these Louvel almost seems to suggest that he was an observer not a participant: Pierre Bezukhov at Borodino, Fabrizio at Waterloo… However, one constant theme is his pride at being part of the Napoleonic army. His characteristic phrase is “I had the honour on that day to be serving in the 10th regiment… I was fortunate enough to be close to the Hussars…”
From time to time Louvel goes back to his home village. He records its prosperity, thanks to Napoleon. The saddle-maker in particular has an enormous order book. He offers Louvel a job in his former trade, but Louvel scornfully refuses. There can be no peace for him until Napoleon’s enemies are destroyed.
Louvel meets a vivacious cantinière. She takes a liking to this dark, intense soldier. They settle in Louvel’s home village. His army pay and the small property which comes to him through the Napoleonic Code enable them to live cheerfully, if modestly. Their son is born within a week of Napoleon’s, the King of Rome. Of course Louvel’s son is named Napoleon in honour of the architect of his life and happiness.
1812. Louvel has hardly got to know his son when he is recalled to the Grande Armée. At the battle of Borodino occurs the greatest event of his life. His company is paraded for inspection by a dumpy colonel of hussars, at least so it appears from his uniform. However, an electric current runs through the company: it is Napoleon. Amazingly, the Emperor reaches out and tweaks Louvel’s ear. Louvel describes the incident in minute detail, but is tormented by doubt: was it the right ear or the left? He paces his cell, trying to remember his position relative to Napoleon…
Louvel survives the retreat from Moscow, although his fingers suffer permanently from frostbite. He is stoic in the face of incredible hardship. His faith in Napoleon never wavers. As the remains of the army re-cross the Niemen he is made a lieutenant.
1814. Napoleon’s first abdication. Louvel learns the news while serving with his regiment. His world falls apart. A fellow officer looks forward to peace. Louvel strikes him.
The new Bourbon régime halves the pay of the army. Louvel’s family is destitute. They spend a bitter winter and spring. Then Napoleon returns from Elba. Louvel serves at Waterloo, only to taste the bitterness of final defeat and Napoleon’s exile to St Helena.
The second Bourbon restoration is even worse for Louvel than the first. While he is still with his regiment, trudging slowly back from Waterloo an outbreak of reactionary White terror breaks out in his home village. His family are driven from their home. He returns to a looted empty house. From friends he learns that his wife and son have made for a nearby town. Desperately, he marches there at the double and inquires after a woman and a little boy. No news of them, and the same at the next town. Finally, he discovers them – dead. The official cause he ignores. He blames the Bourbon terror for their deaths by starvation.
Louvel walks to Paris in search of justice and work. There he catches a glimpse of the Royal family. He is filled with loathing for the replacements for Napoleon and the destroyers of his life and family. He resolves at once to annihilate the Bourbon dynasty. The task is easier than it might appear, for the dynasty is unlikely to reproduce itself. We see its members through Louvel’s eyes. The King, a grotesquely obese widower. His brother and heir, the Comte d’Artois, another elderly widower. His two sons are the Duc d’Angouleme, highly religious, long-married to his embittered cousin, childless and rumoured impotent, and his younger brother, the Duc de Berri.
Louvel’s hatred focuses on this Bourbon. About the same age as himself, the Duc de Berri swaggers and affects a military bearing, and tries to fraternize with soldiers and veterans. Louvel despises him all the more, since Berri has never been a soldier and returned to France only with the armies of its enemies. Although unmarried, Berri is the only Bourbon likely to father an heir and continue the dynasty.
Louvel finds employment in Paris in his old trade of saddlery. He lives in poverty. He spends any spare time and money in cafés and taverns frequented by veterans of the Grande Armée, reliving old battles and campaigns. From time to time he hears rumours of a Bonapartist conspiracy but nothing is ever done. He decides that he himself must accomplish some individual act for Napoleon. His thoughts turn to wiping out the Royal family, source and symbol of France’s misfortune and his own. He studies bombs and infernal machines and poisons but despairs at his chance of using them.
One day he goes to a familiar tavern. A noisy celebration is in progress. A rich man in an elaborate uniform is standing round after round of drinks to soldiers and veterans. It is the Duc de Berri. Louvel refuses to accept a drink from him. An acquaintance remarks that Berri is about to be married and continues casually “I suppose that will mean an heir to the throne, after all none of the others can.” At this, Louvel stands up, tense and shaking. He stares at Berri for a long time before striding out of the tavern.
Over the next few days Louvel devours every newspaper story about Berri and his marriage and tries to follow Berri’s public appearances. He has a great stroke of fortune: he obtains a job, still as a saddle-maker, in the Royal Household. Of course he sees almost nothing of the Royal family but he picks up gossip and learns more about Berri’s habits and personality.
One morning Louvel is working alone at his job. He is interrupted by a man staggering into the stables dead drunk. It is the Duc de Berri after an all-night party. They are alone. Louvel has his saddler’s awl in his hand, sharp and deadly. He raises his hand
Peter Mandelson planned Labour’s masterly election campaign of 2010. Here is an excerpt from a long email to party supporters explaining its central message. (My comments as recipient at the time).
‘In all this we should remember the power of a clear, consistent, disciplined message from being on your side, whose side? standing up for hardworking families and the public’s deep fear of cuts in vital public services. Of course they hate the idea of waste and inefficiency. This is not a clear message at all but deeply confused. Are “you” and “hardworking families” and “the public” three different sets of people? And who are “they?” And we should not shy away from explaining what we are doing to make savings.’
In same email, he praised Gordon Brown’s granite-like resilience, although the one thing granite cannot do is to bounce back into shape. He said that the Tories had underlined Labour’s central plank, a difficult subterranean task. He also claimed in the same sentence that the economy was on the road to recovery but that the Tories would pull the rug from under it.
Letter to Four Communications, organizers of the Bollinger Everyman PG Wodehouse Award
Thank you for informing me that this year’s P G Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction is not open to self-published books.
This letter is a plea for this policy to be reconsidered. I would be most grateful if you could share it with any relevant colleagues. I am not making the plea on my own account. Whatever its result, I shall not submit my novel The Prisoner Of Rubato Towers. I make it for writers of comic fiction in general, especially those as yet unknown.
The present policy makes an unwarranted assumption that a self-published book is incapable of inspiring the same spontaneous laughter as P G Wodehouse. There are many reasons today why fine comic writers may feel compelled to bear the costs and risks of publishing their own work. The most obvious is lack of opportunity. The young P G W was able to flex his comic muscles in many different outlets, not only in books and magazines but also in the theatre. Nothing like them is available to his modern counterparts, in terms of number or variety. For any unknown writer, it has grown harder and harder to find publishers (or agents) who are even willing to look at unsolicited submissions.
I had a special motive for self-publishing my novel. Apart from raising English comic prose to heights not attempted, let alone achieved, since the Master, I wanted it to play a role in the overthrow of Donald Trump. It had to be published on my timetable not another publisher’s schedule, while it still might influence the American election. I have been gratified to hear from American readers that some of its material did indeed help Joe Biden to gain small majorities in key states.
Even without the special Trump factor, impatience might have driven me to publish it myself. Compared to the Master’s heyday, it now takes an interminable time to get rejected. The planet Neptune completes a good section of its orbit in the time between submission of one’s manuscript and response. As a writer of advancing years, with no guarantee of the Master’s productive longevity, I wanted to get my book out while I still had the health and strength to meet the anticipated global demand for sequels.
The present prize policy is inevitably biased towards established writers. That is not to say that they are undeserving. But it would mean much more to an unknown one. The discovery of a new P G Wodehouse would make the prize far more valuable to literature. It would also generate a much bigger media story for the benefit of its sponsor, Bollinger, to whom I am copying this letter.
I therefore urge you again to give some sort of a chance for a self-published comic novel to win this award. If the judges fear being swamped with self-published tomes, you might invite such authors to submit a short synopsis of their work and an extract or extracts of maximum length, and see if the judges want to call in any of them for a full reading.
I hope it would not be too late to do this in the current year. If not, perhaps it could be considered for the next one. I intend to write a tragic novel this year, so would not expect to submit anything myself in 2022, unless, like the death of Little Nell, it should prove irresistibly comic on completion.
The speech I offered Joe Biden.
“My fellow Americans. I am now your President. I thank all those who voted for me or against me. I thank the officials and volunteers who in conditions of unprecedented difficulty gave them the means to do so. They are truly the army of American democracy. They allowed us again to shine our values to the world. It is my solemn duty to govern for all Americans, and this I will fulfil. To those who voted for me I will keep my promises, to those who voted against me I will try to give you also a better life. I will respect your right to disagree with me, asking only that you do this with respect for truth and the law and the rights of others. That is the American way. We now have huge tasks to achieve in a short space. Let us all get to work. God bless America, God protect our troops.”
That would have been 112 words shorter than the Gettysburg address and set up nicely his blizzard of executive orders. Within those and the associated briefing he might have included one cute American wildlife species whose habitat would be saved.
Richard Heller is an author, journalist, screenwriter and book editor. He has published fiction and non-fiction, journalism, drama and poetry ever since.
He worked for many years for senior figures in British politics. He also reported and analysed six American Presidential elections.
From 1987 to 1993 he was on the political and feature staff of The Mail On Sunday newspaper: his roles included responsibility for its political diary and for its use of opinion polls. He was also its main non-fiction book reviewer. He was regularly called on to write “explainer” pieces on complex subjects. Turning freelance in 1993, he continued to serve the newspaper as a humorous and satirical columnist, a role he also fulfilled at The Times.
For over twenty years he was associated with various senior Labour Members of Parliament. From 1981 to 1983 he was chief of staff for Rt Hon Rt Hon Denis Healey MP and helped him to retain the Deputy Leadership of the Labour party in 1981 – an event which saved it from extinction. He also assisted him to create and present Labour’s international policies. From 1985 to 1987 he was chief of staff for Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP, then Shadow Home Secretary, helping him to create and present radical Labour policies on crime and law and order.
He also worked in the movie business, in England as a story analyst for Sir Richard Attenborough, and in Hollywood in a wide variety of projects including writing dialogue for a forthcoming motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls.
In 1996 he was the runner-up in BBC Television’s Mastermind, an erudite quiz show, answering questions on President Harry Truman, British Politics Between The Wars, and Sir Gary Sobers. He was again a finalist in the 2008 series, answering questions on WC Fields, The Bonaparte dynasty and the Rodgers and Hart Songbook.
From 1971 to 1981 he had a successful career in the UK home civil service.
Born in New York, he spent his early life in the United States and then Mexico, before moving as a six-year-old with his family to London. He was educated in England at Repton School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained a second-class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He also wrote a great deal of comic drama and revue and composed many song lyrics.
He has played cricket for many different teams in over twenty countries for over sixty years, and continues to do so, although now in the twilight of a career which never really had a dawn, as a slow-medium bowler who moves the ball both ways off the bat. He also enjoys playing the piano badly.
By Richard Heller
High Impact Speeches 2002 – still in use worldwide as a manual for writing and delivering speeches
White On Green 2016 (with Peter Oborne) – a celebration of the drama of Pakistan cricket. Runner-up MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year. Contributor and editor for Peter Oborne on Wounded Tiger 2014, a full history of Pakistan cricket: Wisden Book of the Year 2015.
A Tale Of Ten Wickets 1995, republished 2007 and 2014 – series of stories about members of a weekend team playing a cricket match. Sequel The Network published in 2008, initially as online serial. The same characters recur over a decade later, but this is principally a coming-of-age novel about a young cricketer. He is having a bleak life at the start, but he keeps true to his faith in cricket and it makes all his dreams come true.
The Prisoner Of Rubato Towers 2020 – an increasingly crazed account of a writer’s life in lockdown London, shared with a literary mouse, a poetic cockroach and a bridge-playing goldfish, with surprising intimate glimpses of famous people.
The Importance Of Not Being Earnest 2014 – comic fantasy about the literary genius Luke Upward. Forgotten today, but his belles-lettres were once the dernier cri of the avant-garde of the nouvelle vague.
Membear Of Parliament 2007 – story of the first teddy bear to become a British MP
The Speculator: romantic comedy, set in London in the 1980s, based on his own novel. Optioned.
Love In A Spin: short comedy, about a man who falls in love at first sight with a launderette lady, and whose life becomes an obsessive quest for laundry. Filmed by young director, shown at festival at Exeter University,
Your Very Own Ricky Rubato: romantic comedy, set in present-day USA. Optioned.
Second Innings drama set in Pakistan, combining stories of movie-making and cricket, due to be made in Pakistan in 2019/2020 before Covid.
Slackerzzz (in progress). Two young slackers are tired of the constant nagging by their families to get off their couches and find a job or an education. They decide to set up a business hiring out slackers for jobs for which they are ideal (such as, obviously, testing couches.) It thrives, and they end up working far harder than if they had taken a conventional job. But in the happy ending: as joint CEOs of the giant Slackerzz Corporation they run the business strategically from their original couches, while hiring others to deal with the “numbers and all that boring stuff.”
Waiting For Gordo – bleak existential drama of backbench life in the Labour Party, commissioned by BBC Radio Four, performed at Labour Party Conference 2005.
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