Fancy Words & Plain English

Reading & Writing

This is the latest in an occasional round-up on readers and writers, books and their readability or unreadability, general discussion points for us all. First up;

Are you a book snob?

Recent reports suggest that one reason for not buying e-books is that others don’t know what you’re reading. Women find men who carry books less threatening. The young are keen to appear well-read. Bookcases in photographic backgrounds are being examined for clues to personality. Cover design is a major contributing factor in hardback sales.

I usually read the Booker and Pulitzer shortlists because these authors guarantee a degree of erudition even if the books themselves are flawed. It sometimes seems that the more eloquent a writer becomes, the weaker their narratives grow. Over the years I’ve followed writers like Don DeLillo and James Ellroy while reading page-turning crime and fantasy novels, but have fallen out with the former as they hone their language at the expense of what they have to say.

As a result, I find myself not reading the book club books and exploring the byways of lost or unfashionable writing. I was shocked to discover that Magnus Mills, the bus driver turned Booker shortlisted author, is now self-publishing his books. Thank heaven he is, though, otherwise we’d be without his latest, ‘The Muffle of Oars’. How do you go from being a major voice to self-publishing?

The problem is that he has ceased to be a fashionable name that spikes sales and is just a career writer. Forget the fact that he has an extraordinary worldview, or that he didn’t keep his early vaguely sinister style and moved to offbeat fairytales – his recent book ‘The Forensic Record Society’ is one of his most accessible titles (although my favourite is ‘All Quiet on the Orient Express’).

When it comes to finding interesting writers, it pays not to care if they’re being talked about. People talked about ‘The Girl on the Train’, a book so appalling I read it twice and saw the film and still couldn’t separate the characters from each other.

What is Unputdownability?

Not enough books have it. The power to drive you from the first paragraph through the first page and overleaf, then on to the next chapter. There comes a point when you decide whether you’re enjoying the book you’re reading, and whether you’ll stay with it through to the end. In the cinema, this point is theoretically reached 6-7 minutes in. With a book it’s perhaps somewhere around the third chapter. Here’s Miles Jupp’s Radio 4 show I contributed to last week on the subject.

The Guardian newspaper recently ran an unusual article that highlighted this readability. The op-ed piece was written entirely by AI and challenged readers to try and spot the difference. True, the piece is lucid and perfectly written, even if all the sentences seem the same length. Where it fails to be human is in replicating the rises and falls, acceleration and deceleration of written language, so that it’s like driving over a flat featureless surface rather than one with hills and trees. As a consequence it’s boring and very putdownable. The Guardian points out that generating whole paragraphs of text is a powerful tool, but it’s not authorship, not by a long shot.

Above, Jonathan Coe, who for me defines, as William Boyd, Beryl Bainbridge and Evelyn Waugh do, the very essence of readability. Weirdly, I find some Thomas Pynchon unputdownable, but only if consumed in small amounts frequently, like pudding.

What Are You Reading?

This week it’s been ‘Dictatorland’ by Paul Kenyon. The tragedy of Africa has always been placed at the feet of those who imposed colonial rule, then deserted its countries, leaving tribal factions to fill the void with kleptocratic thuggery. But nothing can prepare you for Kenyon’s lucid and frightening analysis of a phenomenon repeated throughout the continent.

Taking six nations and looking at them from their commodities, gold and diamonds, oil and cocoa, he shows how the fickleness and greed of the controlling colonists opened the way for horrific dictatorships. Even when Cadbury’s, founded by Quakers, set out to expose the horrors of slavery they were prevented from doing so by the government. The pattern for each country is the same. A young idealistic student leaves a European (usually British) university and returns to Africa promising democratic free elections, shared wealth and land rights. America and Europe panic about the possibility of communist infiltration, and fear a loss of profits from mined wealth.

Soon the idealists realise their hands are tied by local parties and international corporations, leaving them no room to manoeuvre. They fall prey to corruption, stealing from their treasuries to build mausoleum-style houses and churches while their people sift dirt for food. Some brave souls manage to negotiate these political minefields, but in Equatorial Guinea they have to deal with a ruler who is clinically insane. By the time you read about a dictator who murdered impoverished children for failing to buy school blazers with his face on them, you feel like giving up on humanity.
It’s a humane, urgent and heartbreaking book – timely too, as China looks to repeat past history in Africa.

The Face Behind The Page

JK Rowling has fallen foul of her trans social media stalkers again, as her latest Robert Galbraith novel coincidentally baits them with a bloke in a frock. I don’t care about JK Rowling’s views on trans people but I’ll defend her right to hold them. Before social media turned itself over to hysterically entitled agenda-thumping solipsists and their perceived slights, authors’ political and social views were barely visible behind their words.

But in times of stress people seek out enemies, so that during the war even genial PG Wodehouse became a pariah because of his German broadcasts. How much do we need to know about our authors? Despite revealing more than I’d ever really intended, I don’t go into areas I consider unnecessary and/or boring to readers. The one time I welcomed the confluence of public and private was in my memoir ‘Paperboy’, and there I was rather defeated because ‘me’ was played by an actor on the audiobook.

Many Golden Age writers were organically right wing, being born of landed gentry, some racists and homophobes who reflected their times. How do Ms Rowling’s trans attackers feel about writers who hold more extreme viewpoints? Chances are they don’t read them because they’re mostly former Harry Potter fans now suffering the more complex disenchantments of adult life. When it comes to public exposure, sometimes less is more.

 

50 comments on “Fancy Words & Plain English”

  1. John Griffin says:

    I still have not had a cogent explanation as to why having a knicker stealing, female attire wearing, killer is transphobic when a) there are plenty of examples in real crime and b) why should a trans character be immune from being a murderous bastard? Being a true egalitarian, I think trans people should have saints and serial killers amongst their ranks. Now a trans person stealing clothes belonging to those of their biological sex while murdering those of the opposite gender……. Oh the fun you could have in plotting……

  2. Daren Murray says:

    The lowpoint for me with the JK Rowling social media backlash was when Jedward (n.b. Chris – If you have not heard of them, consider yourself lucky to be far busier with intellectual pursuits than mindless pop culture and don’t google them) suggested we all burn the book. What a great piece of wisdom that is (from two imbeciles who probably struggled getting to the end of the hungry caterpillar) to buy her book (therefore supporting her) and then burning it (therefore becoming a nazi). As a gay man I also would defend her right to her own views and will make my own mind up whether I enjoy the book or not. Possibly not as it is nearly 1,000 pages long and her editor probably just took a quick look at the first draft and said, that will do, when can we have the next one.

  3. snowy says:

    Nobody mention ‘Dressed to Kill’ [1980], because somebody somewhere will have a fit of the retrospective ‘vapours’ and start a ‘Twitch-hunt’ about something made 40 years ago.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Well that was an interesting trip. I looked up the book to see what the excitement was about. (Cross dressing isn’t trans gender, but I say that subject to correction) That took me to the Guardian and that took me to subscriptions and headlines and two articles and a Canadian survey on current events and finally here I am back.

  5. Roger says:

    Surely publishers would be all for burning books, Daren Murray – just keep issuing more copies and make a fortune out of the bigots who buy and burn. Authors would be in two minds, no doubt, but they can comfort themselves by looking at their royalties while they are denounced.
    I’ll look for the new Magnus Mills now I know about, and others I missed. All the ones I’ve read have been similar enough to appeal to my taste and different enough to keep me alert for new things in them..

  6. Jill Q. says:

    It’s interesting you talk about book snobbery and then end by looking down your nose at Harry Potter readers. Great literature they are not, but not everything has to be.

    J.K. Rowling is certainly entitled to her opinion. But other people are also entitled to theirs. No one has arrested her. She hasn’t lost a substantial money (I don’t see how she could at this point!). Her life is not in grave danger (anymore than it already was b/c I’m sure she attracts all sorts of attention.)

    Book burning is wrong, but I don’t really feel any urgent need to come to the defense of the richest women in the world. She’s a big girl. She knows what she says will have consequences. I’m sure she’ll be fine no matter what the mere mortals think of her.

  7. Lyn Jackson says:

    The Guardian article reminded me of a Roald Dahl short story I read many years ago. In the climax it was revealed that
    all of the popular fiction was already being written by a computer.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    Mills is also a working class writer and they have been very thin on the ground, but then he may have gone the Prince root, so he would have more control and make greater profit. Prince’s mail order long players made him more money even though they sold less. Just a thought.

    Does anyone know any books on African history pre-European Empires but post Roman. I know the odd bit of history from then. I know part of the time period in Manchester there is little or know history known.

    Wayne.

  9. kevin says:

    Wayne: Basil Davidson has a whole series of books on Africa. I read Lost Cities of Africa and The African Slave Trade. I remember enjoying them very much but wasn’t the enlightened, sophisticated person that I am now.

  10. John Howard says:

    Thank you for the information on Magnus Mills. I wasn’t aware of that so will now go and search them out. Talking of unfashionable writing, one of my favourites is Malcolm Pryce and his Aberystwyth crime noir series. Another favourite who is slightly more known is Jasper Fforde but he isn’t exactly being lauded by the book shows either.

  11. admin says:

    Malcolm Pryce, Jasper Fforde, Kate Atkinson and Lissa Evans are the kind of long-term career writers who deliver again and again to satisfied readers over the years. Once the initial publicity shine wears off you have to decide whether you’ll still put in the same amount of hard work for lower wages and less acclaim. I think if you’re prepared for that, you have a future.

  12. Peter Dixon says:

    Don’t burn books, just give them to a charity shop.

    If you really don’t like the book you can sneakily change some of the pages by deleting words or, with a good choice of fonts on your computer, replace or glue in completely filthy or outrageous paragraphs to subvert the text entirely.

    Oh, what a giveaway.

  13. Dawn Andrews says:

    As Kingsley Amis said, ‘if you can’t annoy somebody there’s little point in writing.’

  14. Martin Tolley says:

    Malcolm Pryce – very funny man, but not so original – when Mrs T and I had a holiday in Aberystwyth it seemed as though his books were much more travalogue than fiction!

  15. Brooke says:

    What Jill Q said re: that Harry Potter woman. She’s a global marketing entreprise (see also Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, etc.) First, consider if the “opinion” piece was a well-timed pre-publication pr gimmick–probably.

    But more importantly, JK is pulling an old propaganda trick, namely disguising prejudice and bigotry as rational argument. E.g. her point about “it harms our children.” Remember that old anti-gay, anti-integration trope? She asserts positions with nary a piece of data. Indeed if you take the “harm our children,” psychological association studies have pointed out that it’s the adult bigotry against transgender children and adults that causes harm.

    Free speech is the domain of the priviledged. Defend the Rowling empire if you so choose but please, not under the banner of free speech.

  16. Liz Thompson says:

    Peter Dixon, that is a brilliant suggestion! Now where did I put my letraset….

  17. snowy says:

    Peter, you are the reincarnated shade of Joe Orton and I claim my £262 and six months in jug.

    Wayne, one that might just match your parameters is ‘Travels Into the Interior Parts of Africa’ by Francis Moore [1738].

    It is written from a European perspective in the period that the indigenous African slave trade is pivoting away from sending captured people North to slave markets in the Ottoman Empire towards a new market in the West. [The rulers of African kingdoms didn’t care who they sold their countrymen and women to as long as it increased their wealth, status or ability to wage war on their neighbours.]

  18. admin says:

    Snowy beat me to it. Peter, you are Joe Orton and I claim Snowy’s obscure reference to Lobby Lud.

    JK Rowling is still entitled to hold her own opinions, but developed the habit of oversharing them since being hounded into providing too much information by generations of Potterites. And her Galbraith book is almost a thousand pages, which is 500 too long for a crime novel. At least.

  19. Brooke says:

    @ Wayne. Africa is a big, big continent; its various regions have distinct and separate histories. Don’t follow Mr. Fowler’s example and lump everything into “Africa.”

    As Kevin suggests, Basil Davidson is a start. I suggest reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Steel and Germs, the last chapter on Africa. It helps to understand the continent’s geographical regions so you can get a handle on its history. Pick a region/kingdom that appeals to you and follow your interests. Don’t forget the art and culture side. You’re fortunate–the British Library is a great resource, as is the Bristish Museum. Have fun!

  20. snowy says:

    Forgive me if I don’t don the full Pimp outfit, [that much purple nylon has no place outside a cagoule factory, and leopard skin hatbands are bad for conservation reasons obv.]

    But the radio programme about ‘Unputdownable Books’ mentioned in the original post and featuring you-know-who is being repeated this evening at 7:15 PM on Radio 4. [And will be streamable thereafter.]

    “When was the last time you read a story which kept you up at night or made you miss your stop on the train? Miles Jupp goes on the trail of literally unputdownable stories in the company of “The Day of the Jackal” author Frederick Forsyth, “Line of Duty” creator Jed Mercurio, “The Girl on the Train” author Paula Hawkins, critic DJ Taylor”.

    [No credit line? Tsk-tsk … Somebodies’ agent needs poking with a stick!]

  21. Peter Dixon says:

    An artist called Tom Phillips took a Victorian novel called ‘A Human Document’ and re-worked every page with paint and ink to make an artwork/book called ‘A Humument. Its fascinating but unreadable.
    I also seem to remember one of the Surrealists (or was it a Dadaist) producing a book bound in sandpaper so it would damage other books as it was taken on and off the shelf.

  22. Andrew Holme says:

    My partner was a childrens’ librarian in Oxford when Harry Potter was first published and read by no-one. Therefore I read ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ early doors ( wish I’d kept the hardback and paid the fine!). I thought Joanne had written a young James Bond. Brilliant. Before Steve Cole and Charlie Higson got hold of the idea and beat it to death. A couple of thoughts. She still is JK Rowling because boys won’t read a book written by a woman. The publication day of the last HP book, I saw children in Tesco’s reading it whilst their parents shopped. This is what we want. Children reading HP and moving onto Patrick Ness then Shirley Jackson. Isn’t it? When she published the first ‘Strike’, novel she cheekily decided to ‘be’ a Robert. Can JK Rowling reveal, finally, is she m/f/cis/trans/duck?

  23. Helen Martin says:

    What Andrew says. There is an old argument about whether you need to know anything about the author before you decide you like their writing. (You don’t want to praise a book by an author of whom you don’t approve.)
    I have just finished Lethal White which I enjoyed but am unsure as to whether it is a mystery or a relationship novel. It is over 600 pages and I feel it could have benefited from a good edit. Still, events are what they are, even in fiction. The question is not how many pages it is but whether the complexity of the events justifies the length. Very few standard mysteries do.

  24. Dawn Andrews says:

    Wayne ‘pre-colonial Black Africa’ is good, it’s a bit academic but full of interest, currently available on kindle too. I love Ben Okri’s Starbook, it’s like a history of emotions.

  25. admin says:

    Brooke, I discussed ‘Africa’ because the book ‘Dictatorland’ concerns the kleptocracies in many different African nations and is subtitled ‘The men who stole Africa.’ I’ve been to enough of them to know the difference.

    Andrew, the ‘JK’ instead of ‘Joanne’ has been directly brought about by the problem of the sexes not wanting to read each other. I’ve been at events where female readers have literally said they won’t read male authors. I adopted the ‘LK Fox’ pseudonym for ‘Litlle Boy Found’ to get away from this baggage, but that was just as problematic.

  26. Roger says:

    I know nothing of most of JK Rowling’s books or her opinions, but it looks as if much of what we’re told about them is false: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/j-k-rowling-s-latest-novel-isn-t-transphobic-.

  27. Peter T says:

    I’ve known several Africans. From Gaza to Cape Town, almost all of them are decent people that have born far more than their share of suffering. I cannot say how much is due to colonialism. Should I blame the wrongs of modern Europe on the world wars or…?

  28. snowy says:

    Another firsthand account [avoiding most of the 19C: littered with strange ‘ethnographic studies’ and dry accounts by administrators in European cantons, and trying to keep clear of the worst 20C post colonial Marxist revisionism], there is Mungo Park – [the most ‘Prog’ of all explorers].

    On his first journey he: caught malaria, learned Mandinka, was robbed and imprisoned by a Moorish warlord, thrust out penniless and without food into the height of the ‘rainy-season’, robbed again, caught fever, taken in by a Muslim slave trader, joined a slave caravan, [the only way to get back to the coast], where everyone thought he was dead, went to America and the West Indies before finally getting home after 2 and a half years.

    His second trip [Why..?…!] went even worse.

  29. Ian Luck says:

    A friend of mine, back in the 1980’s, took tremendous pleasure in altering, or excising the last chapters of audio books (on cassette, of course) from the library. He also would re-edit them so that the chapters were not in order. It took him ages, but the results were always funny. He never put obscenities on them, but was fond of using BBC sound effects records to often ludicrous, and hilarious effect. He’d dub the cassette onto a reel to reel machine, and play with it from there. The simplest one he did, was on a copy of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, where there was a gap before the actual reading started. In a very serious voice, he recorded:
    “Everyone was in on it.”

    This was several years before I knew of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s ‘improving’ of library books, and how a dicky typewriter got them a stay in prison. You couldn’t make it up.

  30. Roger says:

    I always liked Mungo Park’s remark on one of his journeys: “Here we came across a gallows and were heartened to see this sign of civlisation.”, Snowy.

  31. Helen Martin says:

    As a library person I am not happy about people who damage library books or recordings. Not just put them in jail or gaol but throw away the key.
    Our library has Mungo Park’s Travels in the Interior Regions of Africa – presumably in an unaltered condition – so I have put a hold on it. Apparently we can now go in in person and take books from the shelves on our own!

  32. Dawn Andrews says:

    It amazes me how many well meaning, eager round eyes were ready to take off to the ends of the earth to die of malaria, dysentery, or get chased around by the pissed off ‘natives’ they had gone to patronise the crap out of.

  33. Paul C says:

    Talking of readability, I’ve a soft spot for Leslie Thomas who was a straightforward unpretentious storyteller whose pages whizz by very pleasurably : recommend the 4 novels about Dangerous Davies – The Last Detective which are on Amazon for pennies.

    His autobiography ‘In My Wildest Dreams’ is great fun too. Much more enjoyable than writers in the ‘Look at me – I’m writing’ camp.

  34. Brooke says:

    @WAYNE–still interested in pre-European African history? While re-reading Fistful of Shells (good but not your period) I came across books (paperback and/or kindle) that may interest you:

    1) Medieval Africa: 1200-100 (R. Oliver)
    2) African Dominion: Early and Medieval West Africa (M. Gomez)
    3) History of West Central Africa (J.K. Thornton)

    I’m also dipping into The Golden Rhinocerus–African middle ages. Will let you know if worth it.

    Still looking for other solid works on eastern kingdoms and the great southern empires.

  35. Peter Dixon says:

    Ian, your pal sounds lots of fun.

    Before they started putting those electronic thingies in you could while away your lunchtime swapping the jackets on hardbacks – replacing a Catherine Cookson with a book on applied physics etc.

    The chaps at Viz comic managed some superb Catherine Cookson or Barbara Cartland ‘quotes’ in Roger’s Profanisaurus (apologies to American folks who probably don’t have a clue what I’m talking about).

  36. Helen Martin says:

    Dawn, they didn’t realise they would patronise them,. They went to see what was there. Their backgrounds gave them measures against which to judge the people they met. The English in particular are famously judgemental of anyone or anything just across the channel. I expect that in English writing of earlier periods and automatically discount any value judgements. I realize that the British have never done anything helpful anywhere in the world outside of their own islands and they haven’t even done particularly well there. I know I should pack up the almost 300 year old baggage I have here and crawl back to any one of a number of British holes from which I emerged and cower there for the rest of the world’s existence but I wont. I will stay here and do the best I can to improve life for all those around me. At least give me some credit for trying.

  37. snowy says:

    *Sharpens crayon*

    If we take the dissecting hammer of maths to the butterfly of history for a moment.

    If the ‘Colonialisation’ of Africa spans: the Berlin Conference of 1884, when the European powers stopped just nibbling at the very edges of the continent. To the Independence of Zimbabwe [1980) that’s only 96 years, [to establish: outer brackets].

    But if we posit that it took until 1910-ish for Europeans to establish full control and they were being kicked out from 1960-ish, [to exclude: ramp-up & ramp-down].

    Then the ‘colonised’ period, from which all Africa’s ills apparently stem, lasted somewhere between 50-75 years. In historical terms, that’s a blip.

    A counter narrative, would be that ‘colonisation’ had little effect beyond introducing some technology from Europe and many African nations have since simply reverted back to the traditional norms they had before.

    [There are large geological, geographical, religious, cultural and many other factors in play, so this is something of a simplification, but is it any less valid than the position that ‘Colonisation is to blame for everything?’]

  38. Ian Luck says:

    Peter – Yes indeed. “His eyes glittered like (insert gemstone here), as he…” What usually followed was some utterly disgusting, or plain weird act, that would have you crying with laughter. Sometimes, the Viz build up to it would be a couple of paragraphs of beautifully written preamble, culminating in a regional term for an act of Caligulan excess and obscenity. And you’d be crying with laughter. If you weren’t, then you obviously didn’t read Viz.

  39. Peter T says:

    Our interpretation of history is always coloured by our psychology and prejudice. At least half of us are inclined to blame our problems on any group other than ourselves, preferably ‘bloody foreigners’. Many of us feel responsible for everything that ever happened. While history should be a source of lessons on how to do better, it rarely is.

    As to why Mungo et al went on their travels, I’d guess it was to escape from either boredom or responsibility. It was a choice of Africa or opium.

  40. Paul C says:

    A great book on slavery in Africa is ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ by Adam Hochshild with excellent chapters on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Roger Casement (what a fascinating character) and H M Stanley. Highly recommended.

  41. Helen Martin says:

    I apologise to everyone within hearing of that outburst above, to Dawn, especially. I usually have better control than that.

  42. Dawn Andrews says:

    Helen, no problem I was a bit unleashed there too! I’d just been reading some of the comments and exploits of various victorian explorers in Africa and it got my dander up!

  43. Dawn Andrews says:

    Peter, Mungo was intent on escape from Pebbles, the second trip, definitely. And it’s odd Helen that I wouldn’t even think of Canada in terms of colonial issues, which just goes to show how ignorant I am! It’s such a vast subject, daunting really. Nice crayoning Snowy. Well pointed.

  44. Michael Pitcher says:

    Always thought J K Rowlings books needed editing more after the 3rd one but she has a right to her opinion, just finished Richard Osmans new book – good but Bryant and May have the edge in the geriatric detective genre

  45. Ian Luck says:

    Am I a book snob? No. I recently found several of Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington’ books, and was as enchanted with them as I had been when I first read them, aged seven or eight. Likewise, a ‘Professor Branestawm’ book, by Norman Hunter came to light recently, and it made me laugh as it had done years ago. I have also been buying my young nephew some classic ‘Ladybird’ books – reading them again, I’m astonished at how well-written and beautifully illustrated they were for something that was so cheap to buy. My nephew had been asking about the weather, and so, I got him the ‘Ladybird Book Of The Weather’, which I remembered as being very clear on the subject. I also recently re-read ‘Blott On The Landscape’, and ‘The Throwback’, by Tom Sharpe. Definitely un-PC, to the ‘n’th degree, but my goodness they are funny. Night-black humour at it’s best – and you’ll never look at a cheesegrater in the same way again.

  46. Dawn Andrews says:

    You had to mention the cheesegrater didn’t you? Laughed so much when I first read Blott I thought I’d done myself a mischief. How can black humour ever be correct, politically or otherwise.

  47. Ian Luck says:

    The TV series of ‘Blott On The Landscape’ starred a pre-Poirot David Suchet as Blott, who did impressions of brass bands (which was used for the theme tune, if I remember rightly), although I’m not sure if it was Suchet who actually did the impressions. It was adapted by Malcolm Bradbury, and was nicely dark in tone.

  48. Dawn Andrews says:

    One of my fondly remembered scenes from that series Ian was the one of his Lordship locked in the S+M wardrobe all night while his dippy dominatrix (a brilliant Julia Mcenzie I think? ) swanned off to the opera.

  49. Ian Luck says:

    I’m very fond of where Blott gets the road workers (led by a pre-fame Jimmy Nail), hammered on the vicious local brew, and then persuades them to start to demolish the town. At night. Whilst ‘heavily refreshed’. It’s superb.

  50. Ian Luck says:

    I’m just re-reading Headly and Meulenkamp’s epic tome, ‘Follies – A Guide To Rogue Architecture In England, Scotland, and Wales. A wonderful book, which, as you read it, makes you realise just what vast sums of cash people accrued in the 18th and 19th centuries, some of which was used to create something interesting for the garden – or to win a bet. Drunkenly betting guests at a party that the steeple of a neighbouring church could be seen from your bedroom window, when you were damn sure, until you sobered up the next day, and saw full well that you couldn’t, well, that’s no problem – you get a gang of ‘little men from the village’ to knock you up a simalcrum of the spire which can be seen from your window. That’s exactly what ‘Mad’ Jack Fuller, of Sussex did. People with more money than sense isn’t a new thing, obviously.

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