What is it like for people not to have the same sense of humor? Awkward and dull is the answer.

Sharing a sense of humor is like playing catch: in throwing a ball one person tosses it and the other is ‘supposed’ to throw it back, but some people don’t throw it back, they pocket the ball.

As a simile of transmission and connection it applies in other spheres too: business, music, drama, research, sciences and politics too, when, in the political case, an idea has to be shared between people.

In the last three days Theresa May, and her erstwhile advisers, might reflect on rules and connections, and the way her prospects are evolving, she is going to have plenty of time to contemplate what those links mean.

But in all likelihood, it will be the last thing on her mind although in the campaign propaganda it was revealed that she was very funny, not just moderately amusing, but very funny; this quality was relayed to tell people she was able to make connections, to throw the ball back.

The failure to follow the rules of humor is deeper than someone pocketing a ball: it is a deficit which the beholder does not recognize because they do not see such things. It’s akin to a gap, a complete absence, in some way. It is true of political parties, in their inability to understand their own types of deficiencies.

The analogy of throwing a ball game comes from Wittgenstein. He liked to interpret things, or illustrate arguments and questions, in the form of games and rules: the ‘supposed’ is critical, and like meaning generally, if another person doesn’t follow, or know the rules, it’s impossible to connect.

His own sense of humor, in English at least, was peculiar. He fixed on certain words and repeated them frequently, which gave him a release from logic and order, and a lot of laughter. He liked the adjective ‘bloody’ and would use it whenever he could and in every possible variant. A good thing he never tried to make a living as a gag writer.

Perhaps Theresa May will repeat ‘strong and stable’ and fall about laughing, if not now, then in a week or two.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.



Evelyn Waugh was proud that his 1930 novel Vile Bodies had the longest telephone conversations in an English (country, not language) novel to date. It may be that American novels did it first, in hardboiled fiction, but I haven’t found a reference. 1920s Hammett has telegrams sent between offices but no telephone calls.

Through A la recherche du temps perdu Marcel Proust has many telephones and telephone conversations, though they are reported, not reproduced. Starting from the second book, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, he says he had one installed so he and Bloch could chat; he talks about the technology and even something like video calls in the future. There is a section called Albertine au telephone. His telephone conversations with the Verdurins’ telephonage (like ‘telephoning’) a word that has died since his period and use.

In the 1930s Italian cinema made the telefoni bianchi films: sophisticate comedies, the white phone represented style and status. For most viewers at the time these were aspirational and completely unrealistic.

These cases indicate the network effects. Phone penetration was slower in England than in America. Proust’s characters were rich and acquired phones early, Proust was listened to operas on his; Waugh’s characters are mostly middle-class and the phone entered their experiences later.

The short story Corporate is conveyed in emails, complete with email headers, addressee email, CC and subject lines and also the typical misspellings. While this presentation appears new it is closer to the epistolary novel, of a Pamela (1740) or Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782).   I carried this story for a while before I had the idea of writing it as an email thread, the corporate communications of our era.

In The Hidden Bend technology establishes dividing lines between characters: the Ukrainian character, Yeva, is studying advanced computing; another character, Piers, use of technology may seem primitive until it is understood that the narrative is set forty years before. By contrast the Asian soldier is almost defined by machines; he is an able mechanic: radio-tape players and cassette tapes are the mobile music systems in his time period.

None of these books are really about technology, not in the way science fiction treats technology, that is central to the work and determining the plot.

It may be that in future, just as the telephone became universal, the technologies of the future which people will use are advances in communication and transport: driver-less cars which find a parking space every time.

New technology fascinate and in the last 20 years the use and access of technology has made the novel seem a tad dowdy, less exciting, than competitive formats.  Book design acknowledged web design layouts and principles and movies have incorporated in-screen email and texts to display the technologies viewers know. It remains for readers to choose.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Imagine hearing the same words and phrases over and over again. These words are not the everyday phrases that grease social interaction, but claims, sanctions, or rebukes: liar, not legal, politicians’ abuse, another cover-up, not the principle on which this country was founded, and so much more, and worse, of that kind. Hearing these phrases again and again would engrave them on the mind.

These phrases are angry and defiant; verbal assertions of power, or rather the lack of power, which can only be corrected by calling out the political and legal and components of the corporate structure for their apparent malfeasance.

That is what listening to years of (virulent) talk back radio would be like. Uncontested opinions, assertions, the marginal and substituted instead of the verified, form a parallel but almost barely recognizable world.

Suggestion becomes reality, and over long periods, attitudes are molded and modified to the frequency of the message. It’s the essence of propaganda and PR and marketing.

In opposition to that language is a progressive group steeped in the merits of education, which sees itself as a bulwark to antediluvian opinions. Moreover it strives for change, in the ways language is used, and to that aim it compiles lists of books and phrases which are codified in terms of their potential harm.

Some of the books and authors on these lists form peculiar companions. Virginia Woolf was on one danger list and initially I couldn’t see why she had been thrown in with such an infamous crowd.

The reason she’d been listed is her novel, Mrs Dalloway, has a psychologically distressed veteran as a character.

Putting this book on a list is a prophylactic measure, yet that the event in the book which may cause anguish is fiction; in reality Woolf actually committed suicide. Reading her work will involve reading about her life, and her development as a writer, which is often the way books are taught, and that would make her biography a cause for harm.

When books like this are considered harmful, for whatever intention, there are hundreds of others which could also be added. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum is potentially huge.

When two diametrically opposed groups use language to make the world match their ideal it’s almost a secular reformation – counter-reformation struggle. Language folded, mashed, wrapped, rumpled, and enveloped like an infant’s comfort blanket.

Such distortions are thought to be historical, like the internecine battles of the Thirty Years War (without the defenestrations of Prague), not the present social reality. But it is now. Faulkner was right, the past is not even the past.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.



Mention the year 1976 to a British person and they will drift to fond memories of summer days filled with blazing sunshine and heat. For anyone who actually lived through those glorious weeks, it is spoken of in a different tone of voice, somehow younger and more vital.

Psychologists have other interpretations as to why that summer – apart from being statistically above the national average temperature – is so well remembered. Among several memory biases, fading affect bias may be one reason. Positivity effect too, occurs in older adults when they look back on their experience.

America was experiencing another type of euphoria in 1976, celebrating 200 years since the Declaration of Independence. Not being subject to aristocrats can lead to happiness in the sense of not being oppressed and Americans had a good time.

In France too, 1976 is a significant, though generally, overlooked year. It isn’t of the same order as 1870, when an army and emperor were defeated at Sedan. That downfall was later inscribed in the phrase, ‘N’en parlez jamais; pensez-y toujours!” a motto of pledged vengeance.

The 1976 event I am talking about is known, ominously, as The Judgement of Paris. Not quite like the Treaty of Westphalia, this judgement was a unanimous decision by eminent French wine critics that the American wines in their review were undrinkable, but they had, in fact, given the highest awards to those American wines and given the French wines the lowest scores. National honor bruised. Expertise tarnished.

This story is not about new world wine winning or so much winning, it expresses, rather, our fallibility, that our judgements are not entirely reliable. We live in an era, we are told, where no one trusts experts anymore, the so-called technocracy. The loss of trust is over several dimensions: the data itself, the statistical evaluations, the media and organizations which convey it, and, ultimately the potential benefits for special interests.

When well trained palates and brains cannot tell the difference between types and styles of wines from other parts of the world it suggests we may have a higher than realistic view of our own abilities. Maybe the Judgement of Paris was a 21-sigma event; maybe it occurs more often, but is not reported, in which case, it is not rare.

Fortunately French wine making did not cease, no vines were uprooted in panic and despair, wine critics learnt some humility, and the knowledge that American wine was very pleasant meant everyone adjusted their world view accordingly.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.



A few days after Aprils Fool’s day is probably a good time to talk about facts. At least one British performer has learnt that David Attenborough isn’t doing a series on Grime. What a pity: Attenborough’s pre-war accent speaking the jargon of that genre would be a linguist delight.

There was a time when April Fools was a big event, it still gets some attention, but it hardly raises the same level of interest or sense of specialness; more of obligation for an organization to be appear amusing and then measure it as retweets through social analytics. Since online video sharing made visual tricks fast, and mash-ups easy, it’s April Fools any day.

But the April Fools type of fact-bending hardly vexes anyone. It shouldn’t. And gullible embarrassment doesn’t last forever.

No, this is about important things like real facts, the things we learnt in school: whether a thing is or is not; if it is invented, fabricated, distorted, or interpreted in such way as to be wrong.

The intensity over this subject has passed in the last few months, but it won’t disappear, not if some people can still use it, and it generates lots of invective; outrage being the default behavior of this era.

The ire is rarely based on a dissection, of an analysis, which digs deeply, it invariably flames on a few words or usage. The anger may not be over disputed interpretations, let alone facts at all, but rather, the speaker, or the writer.

A basic dichotomy, such as right/wrong, good/bad, honest/dishonest for intricate arguments, often with complex data, is not feasible or applicable. Yet, it is.

The world is the totality of facts, not of things. That comes from Wittgenstein, who then says, The facts in logical space are the world. The world divides into facts. Even from such a basis the arguments progresses to greater complexity much later in the book he states, The law of causality is not a law, but the form of a law. Abstruse indeed, and sufficient to confound the fundamental objections of anyone who adheres to statements being either right or wrong.

What is perceived and understood, even imagined in the context of someone’s experience by and interpreter is more important. To a degree, solipsism seems almost unavoidable, something Ayn Rand thought highly appealing. Not that it should be.

Nearly 60 years ago, a Times’ headline declared that fog had cut the continent off. It neatly encapsulates the relative perspective of interpretation. Perhaps David Attenborough can do a series on it.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.




One word exemplifies the current state of the news media: Revealed. It is the subhead used as a lede, as a hook. Revealed can tell someone how to make a billion dollars by 30; the tax affairs of the top 0.1%; the winning habits of entrepreneurs; the 5 steps to a perfect marriage, and, naturally enough, even happiness itself.

Revealed conveys an answer is available, which makes the article worth reading. Many Revealed articles are about improvement, or guidance, in some area of career or personal life. Revealed also retains its older usage: an event or thing that someone would prefer concealed.  In the prurient sense it has never gone out of use.

Revealed is a symptom of the universal reach of information. Relevance, determined by what interests the browsing reader, not what is relevant, is proclaimed in bold letters to assert its value, its significance.

It has come to this stage; it is not a genuine development, through economic and technological forces. The last decade has not been relaxed for news businesses. Declining value in the product, and in the journalist profession that makes it, which must now compete against software and people gossiping in forums, has eroded its self-esteem. Raiding social media to editorialize content, presented as a street poll of social attitudes, or another list of success/failure is well-known. Revealed is a declaration that all is not completely lost.

The news media business needed its own Revealed list in order to comprehend the political currents in the conniption of 2016 which blew up the political equilibrium of the last 30 years. Such a Revealed list would provide columnists with evidence which they were not accustomed to using.

While this phenomenon appears to be the product of recent technological and political forces it is not new. Nearly 80 years ago George Orwell identified examples of behavior and style in sections of the English media which are similar to anything seen in the last couple of years. The cause, the background, to what Orwell observed was the conflict between opposing ideologies: between fascism and democracy, between tradition, the church, and communism, which at the time forced people to choose sides. Today, its manifest in populism and the various forms of globalized incumbency, each with their own types of ethical accessories to distinguish their particular views.

In the closing paragraph of Homage to Catalonia, Orwell created a sweeping and vivid series of images, a montage of insular, contented, England, unaware of the Spanish war, which, through the book, he had revealed in all its gruesome and political horror.

The contrast he struck between his Revealed, in the carnage, manipulation and betrayal in Spain and the Revealed consumed in sleek, comfortable suburbs, of homely advice and salacious stories, is sure and definite. It is the difference between self-centered distraction and information.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.


The political leverage over the subject of immigration, and the question of the authenticity and status of displaced people has risen sharply in the last year. The problem of who such people are, across varying degrees of definition, and whether they have rights, or deserve access to sanctuary, is no longer a recognizable debate, it is really an open sore.

The current status of this dispute bears on the character and story of the ‘soldier’ in The Hidden Bend. Links to the soldier are here and here.

I heard an echo of the bait and switch political rhetoric, which we now hear constantly, while writing the soldier’s tale. I deflected that language and used it to a countervailing purpose. It was also an indirect response to the opportunism, to the conflation of identities and the cant from those vociferous protagonists who sought adherence to their objectives.

Originally, the character had never been conceived in such an environment, but in the writing it took on those layers because of the growing and wider antipathy, which has more recently, released a valve of the worst and darkest motives.

The soldier’s experience is carved out of war and victory, and then, almost imperceptibly, political forces react again and break the unquiet peace which leads to more chaos and violence.  In that situation the soldier, who acquires new attributes after the war, is driven into an untenable situation. As others have said, the soldier’s personal qualities and his unstinting enterprise is extraordinary; he continues to strive and resume the struggle.

In literature and in politics, exile is almost a requirement to attain the greater goal. For the writer, or artist, it represents a rejection of the status quo and the need to live elsewhere and reform. For some: Nabokov and Joyce, it was a permanent state. Nabokov said his life was determined by displacement and consequently he had none of the links and networks that settled people take for granted.

Political exile is even more imbued with meaning being the period when a leader collects their ideas into a form that eventually delivers them power and triumph over their opponents: Lenin at the Finland station, Mao after the Long March, Churchill’s so-called return from exile in Chartwell after the 1930s. Rare cases, where for most people exile is endless deprivation and defeat in every conceivable way.

A book is a small thing and The Hidden Bend, just a single voice. Although the expression of a fictional character’s experience lacks real effect and power, its meaning, and the reason novels are written and read after all, is to understand and reflect on another’s experience.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.


A long time ago I read some letters, and other documents, written in the 1920s by Sudeten Germans. Sudetenland is the German name for a region in the modern Czech Republic, comprising, Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia. After the First World War the Germans there were in a minority. Politically they were part of what was then Czechoslovakia. But they resented their status; it was not what they wanted because it reminded them of what they had lost: being part of Germany, with all the tangible and other emotive links that old bond represented.

I read one of those documents again last week but this time it was by a man in Oklahoma. It wasn’t identical, but it carried enough of the same tone, pleas and ideas, as to suggest a connection. In the essay the man outlines the views, the blunted aspirations and the resentments of people who have been ignored for a long time.  Behind his text was an imperative as to how things ought to be, none of it unreasonable, and all it impossible to realize which made it more desperate.

The connection between Sudetenland and Oklahoma is implied; there are, of course, many details and conditions that are not alike in anyway at all, but nevertheless, the shared sense of experience, of being discarded, rendered irrelevant, is clearly drawn between the two eras.

It is not very surprising that experiences should share commonalities and be articulated in the same way. There must be thousands and thousands of such links between different people over different time periods. That is the essence of The Hidden Bend.

It is the political dimension that makes such a comparison intriguing. Such thoughts are being uttered, besides Oklahoma, in Leeds, Marseille, Lecce, and elsewhere. Through his experiences the Oklahoma essayist makes it clear why political change was obligatory. To the best of my memory, the Sudeten Germans agitated for a border that suited their interests which led to political affiliations necessary to their aims.

It’s not a great leap of the imagination to draw parallels between these two cases into some form of portentous determinism. But no; Kierkegaard firmly shut the possibility of such an idea, and that type of facile inference has exclusive cogency on talk-back radio.

History doesn’t repeat but in nearly similar circumstances, people use familiar refrains to express grievance and self-pity, to claim righteous indignation and rebuke their enemies, to strain for what has gone, but which, in a phrase, can still be held, even in the mouth, and shared between people. It is self-fulfilling and justifies itself through its rancor. Reaction and retribution repeat.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.