A strange ostrich-like relationship

A couple of years ago, my dear friends Phil and Del introduced me to their game ‘World Cup’ in which you play off 16 (or, if you have a lot of time on your hands, 32) things in a single category against each other in a series of heats, the winner of each round being the one that is ‘best’.

The joy of the game is that the randomness of the order of play, the vagueness of the question ‘which is best?’ and the fact that a single category (especially one along the lines of ‘things you can do on a Saturday’) can yield completely different types of ‘team’, makes for a bonkers series of heats in which you might end up fiercely debating whether the Bishop of Hereford is better than Elgar’s house.

I mention it because the BBC Religion and Ethics team played the same game at their hideously named BBC RE:THINK 2012 Religion and Ethics Festival, in which they asked some young people ‘which is the most important moral issue?’ out of the following choices:

– Paying taxes
– Having religious faith or beliefs
– Caring for the environment
– Buying ethical products
– Being faithful to a partner
– Looking after family
– Playing a part in your community
– Putting others before yourself

To point out, as did the person who drew my attention to this, that having religious faith is not a moral choice, is almost to take the ‘poll’ too seriously (though if we’re going to question the category itself, I had never previously considered ‘paying taxes’ a moral question, or even really a choice…). The point is that to pull eight Cub Scout Guide Book chapter titles out of a hat and ask young people to choose between them is as pointless as debating ‘what is the best thing you can keep in a hat’.

Apart from anything else, it’s not even like they’re exclusive and distinct categories. Some people play a part in their community because they have religious beliefs, without first stopping to ponder which is more important to them, or whether what they’re doing is actually more in the line of putting others before themselves. In a game of ‘World Cup’ at my school last summer, Covent Garden was being hotly contested against the Build-a-Bear shop (the category being ‘places in London’): eventually, the boys gleefully decided that Covent Garden was better because it actually includes a Build-a-Bear shop. They, at least, realised that it was ridiculous, showing more wit than the BBC Religion and Ethics team. (The fact that it is a prominent Anglican choir school does not excuse this.)

Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion and Ethics at the Beeb, considers the results ‘startling’. I challenge you to find a single startling thing in the results. I challenge you even to be interested enough to look up what they were. The only startling thing is that anyone thought it was worth taking part in such a vacuous survey.

As for using the results to show that their shows need to have ‘impact and relevance’ – and then desperately citing a documentary I’ve never heard of and Thought For the bloody Day… A department which made a documentary about the burial business in 21st century Britain ought to know when they’re digging their own grave.

I leave you with a simple question. Which of these things could you most live without in 21st Century Britain?

– Festivals
– Surveys
– Television
– Cycle lanes
– The BBC Religion and Ethics department
– The Build-a-Bear shop

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Getting it Published #4: 2 Chronicles

The title More Tea, Jesus has already attracted a fair amount of comment. I rarely venture near the Authonomy forums (for reasons which will become apparent) but on one of my infrequent visits I noticed that the title has come up for quite a bit of discussion, with many people voicing the opinion that it is a brilliant, eye-catching title which they wish they’d thought of, whilst others state rather bluntly that they are of the opinion that it is a stupid title, one American lady going so far as to repeatedly describe it as a ‘stoopid’ title and, at points of especial agitation, a ‘stooopid’ title. Part of the problem for many people would appear to be that Americans are unfamiliar with the phrase ‘More tea, Vicar?’ and for one person the problem is specifically with the comma. And one man vehemently declares that, however good the book is, he will never read a book with a title like that.

What I’m about to say may surprise all of the above, but I’m going to say it most particularly for the benefit of the man who says he will never read my book because of the title: I don’t much like it either.

Indeed, I actively disliked it initially: it wasn’t my original title, it doesn’t adequately sum up the scale of the issues in the book or the style of the humour it contains, it is not clever and subversive like my original title and it is, let’s face it, a bit twee. It calls to mind village fêtes when the book delves into areas of sexual politics, social inequality, religious fanaticism and, lest we forget, the apocalypse. Albeit in the context of a village which has fêtes.

And there’s the point: a book title, these days at least, is not about summing up the complexity and subtlety of what follows, it is about getting people to look at it in the first place. Whether I like it or not, the superficially cosy setting (and perhaps the witty juxtaposition of the Christ with it) is the ‘hook’ for what I have written.

If you find the title offends you to the extent that you can not read the book, you could always skip the front cover and pretend that it is still going by its original title, which was Mere Anarchy.

It was Scott Pack who said that this was a problem. He said it made the book sound like science fiction. Think of another one, he said. I acknowledged the thought then ignored it, hoping that he might just forget he’d ever had it himself – because I loved the title I had. Mere Anarchy, as well as summing up the conflict between the commonplace and the apocalyptic which is so central to the novel, is a wonderful expression taken from W. B. Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ – you see, it references the second coming, in a subtle and everso clever way! Clever Lark, clever clever title, and (beating mental fists against an imaginary wall) no I won’t let go of it!

Then I got an email from the Friday Books administrator which said, rather bluntly, ‘what’s the title?’.

Realising that the best way to demonstrate the brilliance of Mere Anarchy was to show how truly terrible the alternatives were, so I hastily bashed out some possibilities. University was good – or rather, bad – training for this: if you were doing a comedy show you would sit in a room brainstorming possible names for two hours and then, having reached a point where all discernment had long since departed the room and settled down for a long snooze, you would plump for one of the ones that seemed either least offensive or most witty. The next day you’d wake up and realise you were doing a show called ‘The Rotation of Horatio Sparkins’ or ‘Now That’s What I Call Prozac’. My God, I was even in a company called Pilgrims Who Jump.

The alternatives to Mere Anarchy that I came up with were indeed, for the most part, truly terrible. I’ve just discovered the very email I sent to Friday Books and can’t quite believe how terrible some of them are. But as it’s a useful exercise in self-humiliation, I shall reproduce the list (which I noted displayed ‘an unhealthy obsession with caffeinated beverages’) here. This is it:

The inconvenient apocalypse
More tea, Jesus?
Sex, tea and judgement day
The day the church noticed God
There’s still time for tea on judgement day
Just a second coming
Jesus doesn’t drink instant coffee
The reluctant bride

At the end of the list I noted: ‘I have my favourites, though none of them are quite doing it for me.’

No kidding?! What baffles me now is which of them could possibly have been my favourites. As lists go, it’s bloody horrible.

The funny thing is, I had incorrectly remembered More Tea, Jesus? as being at the bottom of the list – the final, hastily typed option, the joker in the pack, the worst of the lot (which it demonstrably isn’t). I certainly remember disliking it fairly intensely.

So imagine my surprise when Scott didn’t send back an email which said ‘I realise from your list that Mere Anarchy really is the best title for your book, being as I now see a clever, witty and entirely appropriate summation of its contents. I was wrong, you were right – sorry!’ but instead sent and email which simply said: ‘I like More Tea, Jesus?

I sent a panicky email back pointing out to Scott that he had gone and chosen the worst title of the lot and it didn’t do what the title needed to and really really More Tea, Jesus? was a terrible title. To which Scott responded with a kind but straightforward email explaining that I had written a lovely book but now I needed to just shut up and let them sell it to people.

The important difference between Scott Pack and me in this scenario is that he knows how to sell books and I don’t. And I sort of got it when I saw the cover design – I recognised how it might leap out at people, in a way that Mere Anarchy probably wouldn’t. It’s also fair to say that, during the post-Friday Books trials that were shortly to follow, the manuscript certainly attracted more interest from publishers than it had under the previous title.

In any case, the title Mere Anarchy has now been taken – by Woody Allen, of all people. It’s not a science fiction book and I’m pretty darn sure his book doesn’t contrast the commonplace with the apocalyptic in a way that justifies the appropriation. On the other hand, he gets to write ‘Woody Allen’ on the cover of his book, which probably means a lot more in terms of sales.

Next episode: Lamentations – back to square one.

Getting it Published #3: 1 Chronicles

First things first: IT IS NOW ON SALE!!! And for one month only, it is going for a mere 99p. It will get more expensive after that, so even if you don’t yet own a Kindle, I suggest you snap it up all the same……

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty: how do you go about getting published?

I had no idea. I still don’t, really, but I had even less of an idea back when I finished More Tea, Jesus?. I did at least have no idea from a standpoint of experience: a juvenile comic rewrite of The Canterbury Tales (all in Middle English and rhyming couplets replete with witty footnotes, months of work which I have a gut-wrenching feeling is now Lost For Ever) and a slightly less juvenile (but actually very juvenile) attempt at a novella, plus subsequent juvenile attempts to get them published, had left some things clear:

1. Nobody wants to publish something written entirely in Middle English.

2. Nobody wants to publish a single novella.

3. The only publishers who actually want you to approach them are the ones who are going to charge you for the privilege of being published.

Eight months after my first lightning strike of inspiration for More Tea, Jesus?, I had a complete novel not written in Middle English. But I still had no idea about how to get it published without paying someone to do it, something which I simply Would Not Do (not out of any great principle so much as a lack of money, though there are also excellent reasons not to go down that route if you’re contemplating it).

Fortunately, I’d made a few friends who I thought might have a better idea. The journalist who had written nice things about my improv show in Edinburgh 2003 had turned out to be the endlessly interesting1 Paul Carr, who had continued our acquaintance by using me as a writer for The Friday Thing and then gone and announced the launch of a new publishing company. Could this be the foot in the door I needed to see my novel on the shelves of Waterstones?

Not really. The Friday Project were exclusively concerned with turning web material into books, so More Tea, Jesus? wasn’t for them. I made co-founder Clare Christian read it anyway. I also plied her for information and did some ostentatious networking at a few launch parties, thus managing to gather a small list of publishers I thought might be interested in my novel, but who turned out not to be.

In the meantime, I pitched The Friday Project an idea based on a series of articles I had written about my experiences at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe, which they thought was a jolly good idea, and co-authored a self-indulgent and ultimately uncommercial book called Fringe2.

It’s pretty easy to forget about your unpublished novel when you’re working on an actual real commission, and in any case, More Tea, Jesus? was probably sitting on somebody’s desk at the time. That’s the great thing about leaving your manuscript on somebody’s desk – you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere and you don’t have to do anything! My word, the months and years that More Tea, Jesus? sat on desks while nothing at all happened… In my defence, agents and publishers were less keen on email submissions then than they seem to be now and I didn’t own a printer, so every time I sent out the manuscript I needed to wait for its return before I could get it to the next person on the list.

But The Friday Project were growing: first they announced that they had hired Scott Pack as Commercial Director, then they launched Friday Fiction, and suddenly More Tea, Jesus? WAS the kind of thing they might print. But before I could find a tactful way of asking Clare if she remembered reading that novel I’d written all those years ago, she got in touch with me: she had shown More Tea, Jesus? to Scott and he liked it, and if the man once described as ‘the most powerful man in the books trade’ liked it she couldn’t see any reason not to publish it. So please could they publish it?

I told her I’d think about it.

So I found myself (metaphorically) dusting off the old novel and (literally) giving it a good going over. Here’s a rare good piece of advice if you have a novel you want published: revisit it every few years. I can’t understate the value of going back to your work when enough time has passed for you to be able to look at it dispassionately; bits I had loved before made me cringe with embarrassment and were hurriedly cut or rewritten. My habit of overwriting everything and using four long words when one short one would suffice was horribly apparent and led to a healthy shortening of the word count – which I managed to bump up again by developing some scenarios which hadn’t fully reached their comic potential.

There was also the all-important editorial input – little details mostly, amongst them Scott’s comment that some of the characters had rather silly names, which I have blogged about elsewhere. For the most part, the rewrite was a simple one – details rather than structure. Not so with the ending, though.

In its original form the plot threads in More Tea, Jesus? were all resolved three chapters before the end but the story kept on going. There was an excellent reason for this: the plot threads in the book are about the characters in the parish, whose stories just happen to have been complicated by the arrival of Jesus; tying off these plot threads didn’t, therefore, deal with the small matter of the Second Coming itself. In sorting this out, the final chapters also became the kind of satirical heart of the novel, though it’s dangerous making statements like that because it sounds a) desperate and b) wanky.

Structurally, certainly, it was messy. I resolved the issue by splitting the book into three sections (rather than the two it was already in – B.C. and A.D., essentially) and dealing with those last few chapters in the passage of Holy Week. Although this actually lengthened the section it made it feel quicker, and although the structure was still weird at least I was embracing it rather than trying to squirrel it away in a few extraneous chapters.

Perhaps inevitably, it came in for questioning, and rightly so. Also rightly, when I argued that the section was ‘the satirical heart of the novel’, I was told to see if it worked any other way all the same.

I can’t remember how many versions I wrote of that final section – one solution was to turn the section into a single chapter, which was overlong and messy again, and the most extreme version squeezed the whole lot into a short epilogue, which felt tidy but, on analysis, left the novel unfinished. The point is, I tried the alternatives – and yes, it was very satisfying when the publishers agreed with me that the original solution had been the best.

The copy edit was also fun, given my propensity for breaking (or at least bending) certain established conventions in the use of the English language, particularly in dialogue. Always useful to be challenged on such incorrectness, because it separates the bits that really need to be like that from the bits that are just lazy.

But finally it was ‘locked off’: manuscript at the ready, blurb written for the back, heartfelt dedication laboured over and a cover designed, the book looked ready to go in a month or so and it was all frankly jolly exciting.

Then Friday Books went into liquidation.

Next episode: 2 Chronicles – the issue of the title…

1Not always for the right reasons.
2Curiously, Fringe now seems to have been turned into a successful American science fiction series, but since they’ve ditched the Edinburgh setting and all of the stories I wrote – even the one about Paul Daniels – we don’t get any royalties from it.

Getting it Published #2: Job

So I was sitting in chapel, my mind working furiously to counteract the tedium being forced upon us by the preacher who seemed determined to outstay his rather limited welcome, and as I scanned the rows of parishioners in the pews, assigning to them a completely unfair set of character flaws based only on what they looked like, anecdotal evidence and my own experience of Anglican congregations, what I thought was ‘I wonder what their reaction would be if Jesus made a reappearance now?’ And the answer which came immediately to mind was, ‘they probably wouldn’t even notice.’

On this conceit was the whole idea for the novel built. There were other things heaped on top of it, naturally; the stories I had come into contact with by spending too much time with trainee priests were enough to flesh out many a scenario and character, and the faces in the congregation were an additional inspiration. I had been particularly tickled by one ordinand’s anecdote involving an omelette and it gave me the structure for an opening chapter which I had virtually sketched it out word for word in my head, along with the basic content of the three chapters which would follow, by the time the old duffer standing at the front of the chapel finished talking.

It says something about the length of the sermon that I had such a strong conviction by the end of it that I had four chapters of a novel ready to go. This was something which I knew was going to work – forget the faltering, patchy first novel, here was an idea with structure, direction and four chapters that simply needed to be written down – this was it!

What I was lacking was time to write it all down. I don’t recall what my evenings were filled with at the time, but there were various music rehearsals and meetings to go to and I do recall that a furtive glance at my diary during the final hymn was not promising. And I knew that I really had to write my ideas down because they were really going to work – and so fully fleshed out were the ideas by then that if I didn’t get them down it fully fleshed out prose in the next 24 hours or so I felt that something important would be forgotten and lost forever.

I didn’t rush home and start writing as soon as the service finished, however, the reason being that the college chaplain, something of a legend in Cambridge circles for his ability to combine high-end literary and theological ramblings with thrashing out blues on the pub circuit, had organised one of his regular ‘blues, booze and chocolate’ evenings in college. Yes, I had a novel to write, but first things first: I had to guzzle wine and listen to some of the best harmonica playing I’ve ever heard1. In fact I vaguely remember playing the harmonica with the band myself at one point.

What I remember with much more clarity is having a sudden drunken epiphany: if I didn’t have sufficient evening time to bash out my four chapters, why not take a day off work?

To this day I’m not really sure why this idea resulted in such a violent interal struggle with my conscience – I was an office temp, I had no long term commitment to the civil service office in which I’d been billeted and no importance in its day-to-day running: I could take a day off work and would not get paid for it, so I could use the time for my own work with complete impunity. I suppose the main objection my conscience was raising was that I didn’t feel those who ran the office would see writing a novel as a valid reason for excusing myself of a day’s work, so if I were to take a day off I would almost certainly have to tell a lie.

So conflicted was I that I drunkenly phoned one of the trainee priests around whom my social life revolved to ask for advice. Showing how well his training was going, he suggested in measured, priestly tones that I should ‘go to bed and see how I felt in the morning’.

How I felt in the morning was that the ideas in my head were still quite a pressing issue, and probably more pressing than whatever data entry the civil service required of me. However, because I remained convinced that they wouldn’t see it that way, I put on my best croaky voice and called in with the news that I was not feeling very well at all. The lovely lady in the office who took the call made little cooing noises of sympathy and instructed to get straight back into bed and sleep it off. I compounded my first falsehood by promising her that I would do just that. So convincing was my performance, in fact, that when I turned up back at work the next day, several people looked at me with great concern and told me I was still looking a bit peaky and oughtn’t I to have stayed at home for another day?

The only way I felt I could morally justify the web of lies I had constructed was if I got out of bed at the usual time and spent at the very least the seven and a half hours I would have been in the office working on my novel. I stuck to my guns and in the end I did the best day’s writing I have ever done – some eleven hours and (I kid you not) 11,000 words later, my four chapters were down and I was still writing.

In other words, skiving worked out very well for me in the end.

Next episode: 1 Chronicles – how to get your novel nearly published but not quite.

1This is not, in fact, an exaggeration; the harmonica player that evening was Steve Lockwood, whose work has to be heard to be believed.

Getting it Published #1: Revelation

First, a disclaimer: for all that my long-awaited novel More Tea, Jesus? is to be published as an e-book next week, I can’t claim that it is at all the result of Knowing What The Hell I’m Doing. If I had known what I was doing, I wouldn’t have done it the way I did it. Various people have asked me to explain how said publication came about, and since it is an interesting story and explains why, on a personal level at least, said novel is long-awaited, I will attempt to do so – but whatever else this story is, it almost certainly is Not The Way To Go About Getting Published Yourself.

That said, I think I can promise to give you a fair number of Things Not To Do If You Want To Get Published Yourself, having done so many of them.

Some eight or nine years ago I was fresh out of college and cheerfully failing to get anywhere in terms of career. I was cheerful because I was young and therefore irrationally optimistic but also because I was being fervently creative in the few hours I had available to me each evening by writing music and collaborating on scripts and producing soundtracks for short films which I would spent the occasional weekend making and occasionally disappearing off to Edinburgh to perform with a narrative improve group which some Guardian reviewer had described as ‘actually, properly, non-ironically great’1.

Where I was failing was in turning this frenetic creative activity into any kind of paid career, something I was painfully conscious of in the hours I spent sitting in offices as a temp doing variations on data entry, which paid the rent but didn’t seem a great outlet for my creative urges.

Because it’s thematically relevant I should also note that my novel was also failing, or had at the very least stalled – that is, my first attempt at a novel, which I had ceremoniously started by hand in a big, beautiful, blue notebook at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2003 and which I had continued to add to on park benches or trains or in pubs for many months until I had accumulated a wealth of character studies, irrelevant scenes, funny vignettes, witty observations and angsty self-reflection, loosely connected by at least two stories which I knew were linked but which needed to join up in a way that was far too complicated for a writer of my limited experience to manage. Not least because I had approached the novel in such a haphazard way, what I ended up with was two big blue notebooks crammed full of ideas and making no sense at all. (Anyone reading who wishes to get published themselves may take note that this was Not A Very Good Way To Approach Writing A Novel)2.

If I was succeeding in one area it was in perpetuating the approximation of a student lifestyle, even if a perpetual studenthood had been denied me by the foibles of government funding. This was partly the result of living in a student town where many of my friends were still students. Some of those friends were students at Westcott House, a church of England theological college rooted firmly in the liberal Anglo-Catholic tradition, so I was spending quite a bit of my time sitting in pubs with trainee priests3. I was also still regularly singing with the chapel choir at my former college, where I would head each Sunday evening for a service of hearty Anglican music with a sermon by a visiting preacher – these visiting preachers came from all walks of life and all branches and denominations of the church, such was the spirit of ecumenicalism in the chapel, a spirit which was ironically embraced by hardly any non-Anglicans in the college but which had to be endured by the small congregation and choir, who were subjected to a very mixed quality of sermon because of it.

Not that I’m suggesting Anglican clergy are necessarily good preachers, but what they do have in their favour – on the whole, at any rate – is an understanding of the importance of brevity. I put this down to a strong choral tradition; no preacher with any sense wants a choir to start to very publically fidget and complain, so will time their sermons accordingly.

I had the idea for More Tea, Jesus? during a sermon from the mouth of somebody who evidently hadn’t benefitted from such a background. Nor did the content of his sermon or the quality of its delivery match the length which he seemed to think it justified. In fact, far more interesting than the preacher was the congregation, who that week had been considerably fleshed out by a visit from the local parish church, with row after row of the varied characters you would expect in such a body, not to mention a young and characterful vicar who, superficially at any rate, could have stepped out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel.

What you have, then, is something approaching a perfect storm: a social life filled with trainee priests, regular involvement with a broadly ecumenical chapel, said chapel full of characters whose very appearance seemed designed to fuel the imagination and an overlong sermon giving said imagination plenty of time to get working.

It other words, the content virtually wrote itself.

If only the rest of the process had turned out to be so effortless.

Next episode: Job – a man being tested or a thing that gets in the way of writing?

1I mention it here partly because it’s a good quote and partly because the journalist who wrote it features in this story later on.
2I came back to this novel five years later, took the few good bits and (I think fairly successfully) pulled together into what became my second novel, is now partly up on Authonomy and awaiting criticism. It is due another draft and if it appears slightly unwieldy and structurally bizarre, the way in which I started to write it ought to explain why.
3Correctly known as ordinands.

And more drummers. Haven't we seen enough drummers?

So the Olympic closing ceremony is set to be, we are told by its artistic director, an elegant mash-up of British music. ‘A Symphony of British Music’ is the bold title it has been given; call me a cynic, but I’m about to get cynical.

My cynicism stems not least from the celebrated opening ceremony. Yes, yes, I know everyone loved the opening ceremony – I have no desire to be the only commentator apart from the Daily Mail to take against it and even if I had I certainly wouldn’t take against it for those reasons – I thought the whole thing was very impressive and very jolly and I shared the slightly socialist, multicultural, patriotic glow very gladly without actually staying up for long enough to be disappointed by Sir Paul.

But just to be a little objective about the music (and the incoherent musical montage segment through five decades of pop was the weakest section by a long way), for all that we were promised that the ceremony would reflect Danny Boyle’s great love of music, it was surely the work of somebody with a rather limited frame of reference?

Indeed, I’m not even sure it represented the best of British pop so much as the best of what was on Danny Boyle’s iPod. It was a show which made a centrepiece of the unbelievably mediocre and unimportant Mike Oldfield (I’m sorry, but his seminal work sounds like a poor demo album and his most substantial contribution to British heritage was an arrangement of the Blue Peter theme) and which climaxed (if the word can even be contemplated) with a horribly predictable and predictably horrible performance of an embarrassing wrinkled museum piece of a former Beatle singing one of his most overrated and annoying songs for what feels like the millionth time since he stopped being good at anything else. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of superior living British pop musicians who have contributed so much more and can still rock a stadium that big, even if we assume that Bowie isn’t coming out of retirement – how about Peter Gabriel in the Mike Oldfield slot, what could be a more British finalé than Kate Bush doing ‘Wuthering Heights’?

But that’s a niggle, a mere niggle. My main point, of course, is: what about all the other decades, centuries, genres?!! Where was a single representation of the great British contribution to the development of jazz, from the Dankworth/Scott/Shearing generation through to any number of incredible living jazz artists or fusion groups – how about a slot for Courtney Pine? What about the great British musical?! What about Noël Coward, or indeed Noel Gay? Antony Newley or Lionel Bart? And much as I loathe both the man and his music, what about Andrew Lloyd Webber, saviour of the West End that he once was?

And that’s just scratching the surface of the 20th century – the vital heritage of British music stretches back far further, and whilst Boyle’s presentation rightly acknowledged some of the richness of our hymnody there was no room for folksong. Most obvious of all, the entire canon of British classical music was represented by a couple of tracks from a Classic FM ‘greatest relaxing classics’ album and Simon Rattle conducting a comedy sketch with Rowan Atkinson. Even a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan would have been more sophisticated.

The Guardian‘s snide conclusion was that it was an eloquent enough remark on how marginal classical music really is in Britain today, so they presumably haven’t noticed that in spite of the Olympics, one substantial London arena is still playing host to the world’s largest classical music festival and crowds are flocking to hear a superb range of music new and old performed by some of the finest ensembles in the business. Marginal? Piss off, Guardian.

Just as the success of the Olympics has provoked the Prime Minister into at least pretending that he supports sport in education (ignoring the fact that his government sold off the playing fields in which it could be taught), events like the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies ought to be an opportunity to put the country’s arts in the limelight. Unfortunately, music runs the risk of looking marginal if it represented entirely by the kind of tracks you get on a DJ’s playlist for a 40th birthday party; Britain is, in fact, a hotbed of emerging musical talent in all genres, but if Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten are left forgotten in a lengthy, music-heavy spectacular which is meant to sum up what’s great about the country, young musicians are surely going to be wondering what hope there is of any kind of recognition.

I’m longing to be proved wrong by tomorrow night’s ceremony, but talk of a surprise appearance by the Spice Girls and the phrase ‘anything from Adele to Elgar’ suggests that the field will be as narrow as we’ve come to expect. The idea that this represents ‘the nation as a whole’ is as terrifying as it is insulting, in that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes self-fulfilling.

Advomiteration

So, shall we see if we can guess what annoyed me most about this advert?

Could it possibly be the use of the word “innovalue”, being as it is a completely made-up word???

I now know, having googled it, that it is the name of a management partner, at least three consultancy firms, an electronic technology company, and a company offering ‘strategic innovation’ whose website is so funny I don’t know if it’s actually a big piss-take. Evidently those clever guys at Taiwan Excellence aren’t the first to come up with the idea of combining the words ‘innovation’ and ‘value’.

Nevertheless, it is still a completely made-up word.

But no, that isn’t the thing that annoyed me the most. Nor are the self-defeating quotation marks around the word in which the advertisers acknowledge the made-upness of their made-up word in a way that is presumably meant to look knowing but actually makes them look clueless, like they were searching for a better word but had to settle for a crap one that isn’t really a word at all.

No, the thing that annoys me the most (and if you can’t tell I’m already pretty darn annoyed by the above, so I must find this other thing extraordinarily annoying) is that, having used this made-up word and openly acknowledged it as just that, they then condescendingly explain what the made-up word means, thus showing how utterly useless their made-up word is.

If they ever thought that this might turn out to be a useful word, a time-saving truncation that one day Taiwan Excellence might take the credit for – and goodness knows, I can work out which words the term ‘innovalue’ takes its inspiration from – why the hell didn’t they just leave it without the explanation?!!

As it is, I feel like I’m simultaneously being treated like a thicky and having my mother tongue shat all over by some advertisers. Not to mention the fact that my lasting impression of Taiwan Excellence is of a company who will use thirteen clunky syllables when four made-up ones will suffice – which is the very opposite of innovalue.

“Notinnovalue”, as I like to call it.