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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Pole vault

I hope you appreciate the title to this week's (very brief) post. A little topical Olympic reference for all you sports fans out there like me (okay, so I'm shallow!) Not that this post has anything to do with pole vaulting as such. At least not pole vaulting of the long bendy stick variety. Or of the straight stick variety (which would probably be a lot more interesting). In fact there are no sticks involved at all. Or vaults, for that matter. In fact, if I'm honest, it's all a bit tenuous.

But the point is (yes there is a point) that earlier this week I got an email from a (non-vaulting) Pole and I thought I would share it with you:

"Hello. I've recently read your book, The Black Sun. And I wanted to share one thought with you. It's about the Amber Room.

I'm a franciscan friar, a Pole. I live now in X, in a Polish friary, in the northern Poland. In our friary 25 years ago lived a famous friar, Andrzej Klimuszko, a clairvoyant. He was able to locate people (or their bodies) from the photographs, could name the desease of the people looking at them, was famous for his knowledge of the herbs of which was preparing the infusions and so on.

And once he was asked about the Amber Room. What he said was a surprise for many - he said that it didn't exist. It was buried totally. So this is what I wanted to tell you. Of course he never saw any documents nor heard about the "russian mistake".

Pax et Bonum
fr. Matt"

I have to say, it's not often that I question the wisdom of
Trekkie Monster, but in this case I think he had it wrong. The internet wasn't made for porn. It was made for random emails from remote Polish friaries peopled by clairvoyants with a knowledge of "the herbs" and the likely last resting place of the Amber Room! A resting place that, in the best mythical tradition, was taken with the unfortunate friar to his grave.


Friday, 8 August 2008

Question Marks

Maybe I'm spoilt? Maybe the fact that I didn't grow up counting myself lucky to get a lump of coal and an orange for Christmas has made me soft? Maybe I'm just too old to rough it, like I used to when I was a student? Or maybe, just maybe, there's something about finding a pubic hair on your pillow that makes your stomach turn, however old or hard you are.

Not one of my pubic hair's you understand.
Someone else's. On my pillow. In my bed. At the hotel I was staying at in Harrogate at the recent Crime Writing Festival. A big fat hairy question mark, staring me right in the face from the moment I first let myself in the room.

was actually planning to use this post to write up this year's festival (belatedly I have to admit, but then I am in a frantic race to finish Book IV). But then I thought, screw that. Why bother, when Jake Kerridge has done it already far better than I ever could (see Day 1 and Day 2)? And I didn't get to beat anyone up this year (See Harrogate A-Z), which all in all made for a rather quieter few days. So instead, I thought I'd dedicate this entry to naming and shaming the worst hotel in Britain.

tep forward, The White Hart. (I wish I could do one of those music effects here where the trumpet fanfare falls flat and fades away into a raspberry)

n't be fooled by its appearance. I fell into the same trap when I was turned away from the Crown and told that I'd been booked in here instead. "Nice from far but far from nice", as my ever sensitive friend James Johnstone used to say of women who had revealed themselves to be, on closer inspection, not quite as attractive as they had first seemed from the other side of the bar. I'm actually struggling to put into words quite how bad this place was once I got up to my room (anyone know a writer?) but if I tell you that it was a cross between a student bedsit (anywhere in Cardiff), the Linton Travel Tavern , and a hospital waiting room, I think you'll get my drift.

The carpet, a swirling mass of brown and orange whorls that I doubt was fashionable in the seventies which is when I'm guessing it was put down, felt sticky underfoot. The chintz-tastic curtain was little more than a thin sheet. There were stains on the sheets. The TV screen looked like something from the Fifties. The furniture was that horrible Hansel and Gretel pine stuff, all knobs and twirly bits and varnished a treacly yellow colour that made it look even dirtier than I suspect it was. And of course, in the corner, the pi├Ęce de resistance - the plastic tray loaded with mini-kettle / tea-bag / condensed milk / instant coffee / hot chocolate / cellophane wrapped shortbread. White Hart? More like Black Death.

And you know the best thing of all? The room rates were the same as at the Crown. I felt like I'd been mugged. Mugged and then made to pay for my assailant's taxi home.

Not that I blame the festival organisers. Far from it. Sharon and her team did a great job as always and I think they were as shocked as anyone. But the lesson is clear. If you go to Harrogate, don't stay at the White Hart. It's dirty, ugly and leaves question marks on your pillow rather than chocolates.


Okay, so I will say a few words about Harrogate. Generally excellent fun - Simon K had done a masterful job at assembling a good line-up (and me!). Kevin "only gay men wear hair gel" Wignall was on top form as usual and Mark Billingham bought me a drink - see, miracles can happen. (Only joshing Mark old bean). And there were the other usual suspects - too many to list here - although
Nick Stone, Alex Barclay and Fiona Cane were missed, except in the quiz where they are all notoriously rubbish. Those lovely boys from Crimesquad were there too and together with Dreda Say Mitchell gave me right tongue lashing - no, not that sort - for being too down about things. I'm a sensitive soul, what can I say? And I overheard someone mumbling something about ghosts and writing and Andy McNab. Don't know what they were saying - maybe he's into fortune telling or weird voodoo shit?

And then of course there was my Bond panel. No panic this time round since I came well prepared - I spent two hours before the panel on Wikipedia reading through the plot summaries. As it turned out, this made me something of an expert compared to the others who had "depth" having read a few actual novels (hey, I've seen the movies. They're basically the same aren't they?) but not my "breadth". Or did we all come across as knowing as little as we did? Either way it was fun, although it was only later that I realised that really I should have done the whole gig in a tux. Last week I said that the best Bond moments happen when no-one's around to see you. Well I was wrong. The best Bond moments happen in your head, long after the moment itself has passed ...