Sunday, January 31, 2010

Think of the people we'll be seen dead with

Just finished Walter Lord's A Night to Remember, picked up from Oxfam for no reason other than it's quite slim and is (or was) one of the definitive accounts of the Titanic sinking. I know that some of it became contradicted after the wreck was discovered (like, we now know the ship broke in two on the surface before sinking) but by and large it holds true to all the basic facts: Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats (but still more than legally required); the Californian was hove to 10 miles away and meekly let the world's worst shipwreck happen right in front of it without lifting a finger to intervene; and the survivors were picked up and shipped to New York by the Carpathia, which answered the distress calls immediately but still couldn't get there until two hours after the ship went down.

There are stories of heroism and cowardice and great initiative and utter stupidity. Someone really should make a movie about it. It's the class consciousness that puts it into a different world, though. Looking at the figures, it's impossible not to deduce that priority was given to the first class passengers, even though this was always officially denied: women and children first, yes, but first class women and children first of all. (Every surviving woman who was asked what lifeboat she was on, replied, "the last one.") Third class passengers, even the ones who weren't locked below decks awaiting the convenience of their betters, had to find their own way through second and first class territory just to make it to the boat deck. Most didn't.

And then there is this little gem:
"Even the Social Register was shaken. In those days the ship that people travelled on was an important yardstick in measuring their standing, and the Register dutifully kept track. The tragedy posed an unexpected problem. To say that listed families crossed on the Titanic gave them their social due, but it wasn't true. To say they arrived on the plodding Carpathia was true, but socially misleading. How to handle this dilemma? In the case of those lost, the Register didged the problem - after their names it simply noted the words, 'died at sea, 15 April 1912'. In the case of those living, the Register carefully ran the phrase, 'Arrived Titan-Carpath (sic), 18 April 1912'. The hyphen represented history's greatest sea disaster."

Monday, January 25, 2010

None so blind as those who will not see

Interesting how things can come together ...

For instance, I was delighted to read last week that "The boss of a British company that has sold million of dollars worth of "bomb detectors" to Iraq's security forces has been arrested on suspicion of fraud." The "bomb detectors" in question are hi-tech looking gadgets based on water dowsing principles and are, if I may slip into complex scientific terminology for a moment, a scam – a very lucrative scam, retailing at $8000 per unit. Unfortunately they are also a scam that actively costs lives due to their total inability to detect explosives. Not only do they not work, they cannot work, anymore than you could make a car engine with a couple of unrelated pipes and bits of metal and a can of petrol.

And they still have their supporters, not that they would have a vested interest in not looking stupid or anything.

I first heard about these things when Ben Goldacre mentioned them on back in November. It takes until now to arrest the creep on the direct orders of the Chief Constable of Somerset & Avon, the Serious Fraud Office having apparently been using a similar sort of detector to smell rats until now.

How was it possible for someone to get away so long with selling this extra virgin snake oil? It can't all have been vested interests and too many people making too much money to rock the boat. Was it because the "detectors" look exciting hi-tech? Or that they have a convincingly scientific-sounding name, the ADE-651? Or was it the sheer Goebbels-like level of bullshit, no one quite daring to question that maybe they don't actually work because, well, they're based on water dowsing principles and that works, doesn't it, I mean, there must be something in it?

Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, Radio 4's Sunday morning Point of View was from Lisa Jardine, eloquently advocating a decent scientific education for all: not to turn everyone into scientists, note, but to make everyone capable of understanding science. A handy spin-off of a good scientific education would be the ability to spot bullshit generally. Well, I'm all for that. She would like to start at the very top: she laments the fact that "fewer than one in five sitting MPs has a higher education qualification in science or medicine."

It would be lovely, so lovely to think that everyone (especially politicians) was able to detect fake science, pseudo theories, unsupported dogma and general BS at fifty paces. The ADE-651, the front page of the Daily Mail, the theological insights of Abu Hamza could all be consigned to the dustbin of history by sheer common sense and humanity. And there's certainly no reason why it couldn't start in Parliament.

But here I would sound a cautionary note and draw attention to my current reading, Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. I'm currently on the chapter where he gleefully skewers post-structuralism, which got a stranglehold on intellectual thought in the 70s and 80s and meant that people could criticise the E=MC2 equation for being sexist and still be taken seriously. Earlier he has laid into Thatcher and Reagan's cheerfully fact-free fantasies about making the rich even richer so that their wealth can trickle down to the rest of us (hence the plethora of Fred Goodwin Memorial Hospitals everywhere) and letting the market solve everything (hence our thriving, dynamic railway system, the envy of the world).

The relevance of this to Lisa Jardine? Well, unfortunately Wheen does make the point that the first British Prime Minister to hold a science degree was M.H. Thatcher, BSc(Oxon). The lady, indeed, whose coat of arms includes an image of Sir Isaac Newton. No slave to blind dogma she, eh? Right. True, she went all the way to Oxford to get that degree and all around the world as PM, but she never really travelled much further than the borders of 1930s Grantham. I have the horrible feeling that, to her, the viability or otherwise of the electronic bomb dowsers would be of secondary importance. What would matter would be if there was a market for that sort of thing.

Granted this is a sample of one, but we may sadly have to conclude that a good scientific education isn't necessarily going to solve everything.

But it couldn't hurt.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This is not Bonusbarn

It is of course Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, c. 1981. But since Bonusbarn's new haircut, there is a distinct similarity, and I have had "Just can't get enough" going round in my head for the last couple of hours. Drat the child.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Van man

Take the biggest van you can find, try to make it turn round in a narrow parking space with lots of ups and down with quite sharp gradients in between, put a great big bar on the back of the van for no apparent reason, and ... this is what happens. He tried to reverse and the bar was driven into the ground. He tried to drive forward and the bar anchored him where he was. The poor guy didn't even want to be in our parking space. He was looking for the house 2 doors up the road, but his satnav - in fact, two separate satnavs - sent him up our drive. And there he stayed for the next half hour ...

For once it was actually quite useful that there is a large skip outside the house full of junk, because it could be ransacked for stuff to put under the wheels. When the picture here was taken, the right side rear wheel was actually off the ground - the van was perched between two high bits of ground with the dip in between, with the rear solidly wedged in. We got him off, eventually, though it meant substantial excavation to free the bar (which he put back again before driving off).

We got chatting and I could relish the change of talking to a tradesman who speaks English rather than something more Slavic. He didn't even want to be a van delivery man. He wanted to be a lumberjack tree surgeon, and indeed he was until being made redundant six months ago. Makes him handy with a shovel. Now he drives a van, with a very friendly young Staffordshire terrier for company. There are worse ways to make a living.

I hope the folk 2 doors down really appreciated their delivery.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A mostly mainstream year

The figures are in. Actually they've been in since January 1 but I’ve only just got round to processing them. Of the books read in 2009, with 2008's figures in brackets:
  • Total: 54 (53)
  • Science fiction /fantasy: 19 (30)
  • Translated from Swedish: 1 (4)
  • (Auto)biography/fact: 9 (5)
  • Crime: 3 (3)
  • Gave up: 1 (2)
A mere 19 science fiction or fantasy! That’s even counting ones like Boom! by Mark Haddon which is technically of that genre but not entirely serious – but not, though, counting No Highway by Nevil Shute, which for the most part is an enjoyable and prescient progenitor of the techno-thriller genre punctured at the end by a séance providing the denouement. I got the feeling Shute ran out of ideas: "The vital clue is lying in the middle of the Canadian wilderness and our hero needs to find it – how I can get it to him?"

But anyway. 19 out of 53. 36%! That must be the lowest quite literally for decades. A marked increase in factual reading, though. Other people’s lives can be interesting. I also note that I managed an entire year without reading a single thing by Terry Pratchett, which has been unheard of since I first discovered the man. That would have changed if anyone had got the hint and given me Unseen Academicals for Christmas. (Gosh, I have a birthday in February, what could people possibly give me? [Bonusbarn muses: "You probably don't want anything pirated, do you?"]).

And because I know you’re dying to ask, the 54 are:
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Resurrection Men, Ian Rankin
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Strange Itineraries, Tim Powers
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  • Blind Faith, Colin Harvey
  • The Business, Iain Banks
  • Nice Work, David Lodge
  • Varjak Paw, S.F. Said
  • The Bookseller of Kabul, Åsne Seierstad
  • Stealing Water - A Secret Life in an African City, Tim Ecott
  • The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, on Tour: Aged Far Too Much to Be Put on the Front Cover of a Book, Adrian Plass
  • Changeling, Mike Oldfield
  • The Oz Suite, Gerard Houarner
  • The Stress of her Regard, Tim Powers
  • The Second Rumpole Omnibus, John Mortimer
  • The Odessa File, Frederick Forsyth
  • The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
  • The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross
  • Principles of Angels, Jaine Fenn
  • The Prefect, Alastair Reynolds
  • Where Eagles Dare, Alistair Maclean
  • Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • Dead and Alive, Hammond Innes
  • The Inferior, Peadar Ó Guilín
  • The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
  • Future Bristol, Colin Harvey
  • Icehenge, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Endymion Spring, Matthew Skelton
  • Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
  • The Ghost, Robert Harris
  • Boom!, Mark Haddon
  • The Owl Service, Alan Garner
  • Jason, J. M. Marks
  • Elidor, Alan Garner
  • Sirius, Olaf Stapledon
  • Odd John, Olaf Stapledon
  • The Last Templar, Michael Jecks
  • Miracles of Life, J.G. Ballard
  • No Highway, Nevil Shute
  • deadkidsongs, Toby Litt
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • A Parliamentary Affair, Edwina Currie
  • Fighter Boys, Patrick Bishop
  • The Storm Prophet, Hector Macdonald
  • Pompeii, Robert Harris
  • John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken
  • Christianity Explored, Rico Tice & Barry Cooper
  • The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England, Alec Ryrie
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
  • A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
  • William Wilberforce, William Hague
  • Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
And life was too short to read Master of Hawks by Linda E. Bushyager.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Quite right too

Haven't done one of these for ages ... probably because none of my friends has either.

Your result for The Improved Book Character-Savvy Test...


You scored 95% Best Seller, 93% Classic and 96% Fantasy/Sci-Fi!

You are my type of person. (Can you see the little hearts shooting from my eyes?) Absolutely smashing. Keep on reading!

Your rank: Ruler of the Universe

Take The Improved Book Character-Savvy Test at OkCupid

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Never mind the ballcocks

How nice to be typing this with hands that aren't chilled to the bone. How lovely to come through the front door this evening and feel warm air against my face. Yes, the central heating is back. Not that it ever really went away ...

It happened last year too. When we put the heating on after the summer break, the pump made a worrying weebling sound and nothing else happened. The engineer was called. He stuck his hand into the inaccessible cupboard space above the boiler, fiddled with something, and was rewarded with the sound of water gushing into a container. The tank that feeds the boiler had slowly drained over the summer and the ballcock that regulates flow had got stuck in the up position. Easy to fix.

So, this time, when the heating stopped working and the worrying weebling began, the tank was the first thing I checked. I got up on the ladder and checked the inaccessible cupboard space above the boiler. I peered in. There was the tank. There was the ballcock. There was water in it. I checked with my fingers. I jiggled the ballcock a little. No problem with the water supply, but no heating either. So we called the engineer. He stuck his hand in, fiddled with something, and was rewarded with the sound of water gushing into a container ...

Well, baptise me Morman and call me Stephanie - there's two tanks up there? I never knew. You have to get up a very wobbly ladder and really crane your neck to see either of them, but the main one is big enough that it stands out. The other is much smaller and you really have to crane to see it. Live and learn, people, live and learn. Or in this case, live somewhere for 18 years and then learn.

At least this now means two of the three reported Christmas malfunctions have been fixed: we have a working shaver light too. Just the leaky roof to go ...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Bens 2010

I freely admit to nicking this idea from my friend Bob, who has to have regular dialysis and so gets through a lot of films and awards his own annual Bobs to them. So, here are the 2010 Ben Awards, for movies seen during 2009.

The guiding criterion of the Bens is the principle oft-stated by Roger Ebert and repeated by me so often that Bonusbarn now likes to get in there first: it's not what it's about, it's how it's about it. Also (like the Bobs), as any movie seen is eligible the winner in any category doesn't have to be new.

Best movie shortlist

Bubbling under: Layer Cake, Valkyrie

The winner: Inglourious Basterds

The judges note: for its sheer panache, exuberance, total in-your-face disregard of history and recycling of Ennio Morricone, it can only be this one.

Best performance shortlist

Bubbling under: Sacha Baron Cohen (Brüno, Brüno), John Malkovitch (Buck Howard, The Great Buck Howard); Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada). All very good, all cursed by the fact that they are in fact so good they could do it in their sleep.

The winner: Christoph Waltz

The judges note: rare as it is for Tom Cruise to get any kind of acting award, he is certainly worthy of consideration for so completely burying his film star persona in his portrayal of the noble but ultimately doomed von Stauffenberg. Quentin Tarantino is good at getting actors you wouldn't normally associate with the part to turn in a master performance (cf. Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill pt 2) and in 2009 he triumphed with Christoph Waltz, whose name may be on everyone's lips in his native Germany but is barely heard of outside it; the creator of the charming, slimy, ruthless, highly intelligent, mesmerising Col. Hans Landa – one of the few baddies you actually want to win and then kick yourself for realising that he's sucked you in too.

Best SF or Fantasy shortlist

The winner: Let the Right One In

The judges note: the only vampire movie it has been worth watching the past decade.

Best animated movie shortlist

The winner: WALL·E.

The judges note: while the other movies on this list successfully used animation to portray real people, WALL·E used animation to ascribe emotions and feelings to a mechanical device that are more realistic than many actors can manage.

Best comedy shortlist

The winner: Brüno

The judges note: awarded even though, or perhaps because, the judges spent half the movie with their eyes shut; and even though he's done it all before.

Best quirky / indy movie shortlist

The winner: Telstar

The judges note: comedy, tragedy, good acting, excellent music and a faithful recreation of period. The same could almost be said of The Boat that Rocked and Stone of Destiny but in the former (fictitious recreation of the Radio Caroline heyday) the tragedy is just a bit too fluffy and nice and in the latter (slightly fictioned-up account of how some genuine Scottish students stole the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland) you only really care about the outcome if you're Scottish.

Best crime movie shortlist

The winner: Layer Cake

The judges note: this is probably the role that got Daniel Craig the Bond gig, but here he shows he is so much better than that. This is the movie Guy Ritchie would make if Guy Ritchie could actually make movies.

Best movie featuring Bill Nighy shortlist

The winner: Valkyrie

The judges note: not only does Nighy actually resemble the historical character he plays, but apart from the only occasional trademark Nighy grimace he actually acts the part.

Best previously seen and worth rewatching shortlist

Bubbling under: The Whole Nine Yards

The winner: Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World.

The judges note: one of the very few cases where Hollywood takes rights to a book and improves on the original. They also note that while Paul Bettany is far too young to be Dr Stephen Maturin, this is made up for by the flawless casting of Jack Aubrey, Killick, HMS Surprise and other roles.

Best overcoming of the plot's sheer predictability shortlist

The winner: The Commitments

The judges note: you have to be brain dead and/or historically illiterate not to work out how any of these are going to pan out, but The Commitments does it with Irish humour and great music.

Best phoned-in performance shortlist

The winner: Clint Eastwood

The judges note: for most of the movie he is, while still very good, undeniably Clint Eastwood doing a post-retirement pensionable Dirty Harry. Then suddenly we get taken by surprise.

Finally, for the record, here is the full list of all contenders for 2009.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Narnian Tourist Board advises: lay off the Turkish Delight

There's a school of thought that quite understandably sees snow as nasty slushy cold wet stuff, good only for closing schools, cutting power lines and blocking roads. But there is still a certain something to it: the blurring of all lines, natural and artificial, to smooth white; the token resistance and then yielding crunch of it underfoot. If Lucy had stumbled through the wardrobe into a desert land locked in a permanent drought, the Narnia series would never have got off the ground.

Best Beloved made it to work safely by bus and reports "10 perfectly formed snowmen symmetrically placed on the steps of the Martyrs' Memorial, wearing sunglasses." Sadly I have no picture of this. The two men in her life are at home due to closure of school and workplace so at least I've been able to take other pics to chronicle the event.

Albert muses that it's better than pigeon poo, anyway.

Abingdon School manages to look even more like Hogwarts than usual.

Some of the inmates pupils have applied their privately-educated braincells to building an igloo.

I walked into town for the sake of it and bought a paper at West End Newsagents. The manager couldn't contain his delight that the new under-cutting, business-stealing, utterly unnecessary WH Smith was closed, unable to hack it in a mere 12 inches of snow. That's why Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers rather than a nation of chain store staff. He was correctly identifying our strength.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Medical mirth

To make the long winter evenings at InsanelyRun fly by, I very unprofessionally started to keep a file that I called Cheap Giggles: turns of phrase from our books that got passed around the office to crack the occasional smile on the face of the hard worked, badly managed staff. Here are some of them ...

  • "Difficulty in extracting prostatic fluid experienced by practitioners as well as the undesired infelicitous mode of the massage also led to its ill-starred fate."
    - an author laments the sad decline of the science of prostate massage
  • "I made an effort, when not taking Nystatin, to correlate my balanitis outbreaks with sexual contacts and my wife’s vaginal yeast infections."
    - from a book on prostatitis. Everyone should have a hobby, eh?
  • "I have been on medical leave of absence and was unable to obtain another good set of stained prostatic fluid."
    - ibid. What a disappointing break it must have been.
  • "Does your bladder problem make you feel depressed?"
    - from a questionnaire in a book on urogynaecology. (our Production Manager's answer: "no, I’m pissing myself")
  • "Urine loss during provocation can be significantly decreased by crossing the legs."
    - ibid.
  • "The loss of anal contents during intimate times can adversely affect a woman’s quality of life."
    - ibid, chapter on faecal incontinence. I feel an expression featuring negative faecal content and Mr Holmes would be very appropriate at this point.
  • "In geographical terms, Australia is the driest continent on Earth. Regrettably the same cannot be said for the state of its inhabitants."
    - ibid, chapter on the prevalence of urinary incontinence in Australia
  • "The appearances of internal sphincter can be described as being analogous to the white meat of chicken breast as opposed to the red meat appearance of the external sphincter."
    - ibid. Never let this man carve your chicken.
  • "Stripping of veins is very stimulating"
    - book on anaesthesia.
  • "... patients who do not like to sit on public toilets and hover instead ..."
    - yet another book on incontinence
  • "Antigen-pulsed DCs are capable of stimulating a response simply by injection into naive mice."
    - book on prostate cancer. Presumably clued-up mice refuse to be injected.
  • "I would suggest that Figure 2 was seen as an alternative to Figure 3, although Figure 5 could perhaps appear in addition to Table 4 which contains additional data not reproduced in that table."
    - covering letter for a submitted chapter on prostate cancer, just making everything clear.
  • "... the higher incidence of prostate cancer in blacks may partly be due to the lower age of first sexual intercourse and the higher number of sexual partners, both of which are thought to be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer."
    - our contribution to racial awareness, from the first edition of a book on prostatic diseases that predated me. We cut it from the second edition.
  • "Many of the authors in this book were pioneers in endoscopic techniques and had to boldly go where no endoscopist had gone before"
    - introduction to book on endoscopy.
  • "Art illustration of best positions for colonic examination"
    - legend for figure in ibid.
  • "Vaginal hysterectomy was successfully performed — it provided relief to the patient and was an exhilarating experience for the operator."
    - book on hysterectomy
  • "Vaginal hysterectomy is the least invasive route after all, one is using the portal designed by God."
    - ibid.

Another cheap, easy target form of humour was devising insults based on actual medical terms:

  • You imperforate anus!
  • You capacious vagina!
  • You pancreatic pseudocyst!
  • You incompetent cervix!
  • You pathologic clot!

And finally, some interesting organisations that really do exist (or did, 10 years ago):

  • Erectile Dysfunction Alliance
  • Serious Hazards In Transfusions
  • Superficial Bladder Cancer Working Party
  • The Hospital Infection Society

Monday, January 04, 2010

Medical memories

Ten years - where does it go?

In March 1998 I started work at a medical publishing firm that I shall for the sake of legal liability call InsanelyRun. I returned to work after my second Christmas there on Tuesday 4th January 2000 and by the end of Wednesday 5th January I had been given notice. My boss, who shall be called J, had obviously decided on this course of action before Christmas; he didn't have to let me enjoy the break with a clear mind, but he did and it was kind of him.

I had a long rant prepared to mark the anniversary: then I realised I had already delivered a mini-rant, tantalising long-term readers with a few succinct details, to mark the tenth anniversary of the interviews that got me the job in the first place. So here's some extra detail that I didn't say first time round.

InsanelyRun published high quality, highly illustrated full colour medical textbooks, with a bent towards urology. Runaway success in building up a list had led to the reason they wanted me – they had a large backlog of manuscripts that they just didn't have the resources to deal with and the whole publishing programme was behind.

Jerome was a very good commissioning editor. Unfortunately he had the mad compulsion to keep on signing up the same deadweight, non-producing editors and authors over and over again. One reason he had wanted me was because in an earlier existence I had got a list of academic journals back on schedule. However, that was with the full support of a boss who knew exactly what was what, and measures included sacking the dead weights and only using writers who actually wrote. It was only a last chance sanction; we gave the dead weights every chance and every warning, and many of them responded favourably and worked harder for us, or gratefully accepted the chance to step down gracefully. But some were straightforwardly fired.

At InsanelyRun, the dead weights were rewarded for their efforts by being given yet another book to do. They were authorities in their field. Their names on the book covers sold copies. Or would have, if we had copies to sell.

Time and time again, we came back to the dichotomy between Jonquil's expectations and how the world actually works. A signature on a contract was, to Jolyon, just as good as an actual manuscript in hand. (And to be fair, it should be; a professional author doesn't miss deadlines without a very good reason, and plenty of warning if it becomes unavoidable. But these weren't professional authors, they were doctors.) I suspect that a lot of his signing up was in fact a friendly chat over a drink in a hotel bar, which elicited a vague promise to write something for us, which turned into a contract without too much further thought. He never looked them in the eye and spelled out how it was going to be: "you will provide x, in y format, by z deadline." And he enjoyed the commissioning process too much to let me sit by his side and do the dirty work for him. Thus these busy professionals found they had signed a contract to do a lot of work for so little money that they were pretty well doing us a favour, and meanwhile the job they were actually paid to do involved saving lives and making people better. It's not that surprising that the priority slipped down their timetable.

One book, a multi-author textbook on benign prostatic hyperplasia, did so well that a second edition was decreed, with updated chapters. The only problem here was that none of the authors especially wanted to update their chapters as it had only been a year or so since the first edition and the field hadn't progressed that much. No one was actually ready for a second edition, except Justinian. Guess whose fault it was decreed to be that none of the chapters were coming in?

Or there was the time I failed to get hold of an author for whom I only had a phone number. No address, no email, no web presence, just a phone number, with not even a voicemail at the other end. The phone would ring and ring and ring until eventually it cut out.

Juvenal casually mentioned the author's campaign. What campaign?

"Oh, he's standing for the Scottish Parliament ..."

The twit actually thought that a man in the middle of an election campaign would take time out to write for us.

The final nail in my coffin was a website for urologists which I shall call The idea was good: it would be a regularly updated, dynamic repository of all thing urological – news, articles, abstracts, happenings – with core material was to be submitted by an unpaid editorial board, who like most of InsanelyRun's authors had signed up on a wave of goodwill and then suddenly found reality getting in the way. The editorial board almost universally failed to come up with anything. I phoned them and phoned them and phoned them, leaving message after message after message on their voicemails. I wrote letters and bombarded them with emails. Short of going round and holding them at gunpoint while they wrote, there was not much more I could have done to wring their words out of them. Then one day Jamal sent me an email. "I've just left messages with all the board members. What exactly is the problem?"

I went to see him and demanded to know what the hell he meant.

"I've left messages with each of them," he said patiently, as if explaining to an idiot. "They will get their messages and send their work."

As if. Needless to say, they didn't. Unfortunately Jordan got it into his head that they did and that he had achieved, with a single phone call, what I had failed to achieve with many. And despite my efforts to point out the reality of the situation, he never failed to drag it out on future occasions when my failings needed to be highlighted. The last time I heard this repeated was the final meeting where he finally, mercifully fired me.

But for all that, InsanelyRun was not an unhappy experience. As individuals, Jeremiah and his business partner treated their staff well. Jedekiah let me use the office printers to run off my manuscripts, in those days before electronic submissions. On one occasion he decided the entire company should decamp for lunch to the Head of the River and we stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. (Which didn't help the pressure on anyone's work, but he was the boss ...) The week always ended with wine tasting in the office from about 4pm onwards on a Friday. And the staff were lovely people, all with a considerably better idea of how one actually publishes books than our leaders had.

But, at some point over the last summer, work relations with Jasper reached a new low (once again he dragged out the story of how he had phoned round the editorial board with allegedly more success than me) and I was actually given written notice that I should show signs of improvement. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October I specifically asked: "are you happy with my work?" His answer wasn't quite so specifically "yes"; he talked about how he had had concerns, and those concerns seemed to have been addressed, so yes, he probably was happy.

The year rolled on and into 2000 ...

It would have come as less of a surprise if, at Frankfurt, he had just said "no". Out came the litany of my alleged failings (including, yes, the time he called all the members of the editorial board) augmented by some brand new ones: complaints apparently received from the production manager and the senior editor, neither of whom had at that point come back from their Christmas break. Their version, when I heard from them, was a little different: he had come to them and made them wrack their brains for something, anything in my work that hadn't been quite up to scratch. They obligingly came up with a few instances all of which (they hastened to add, to me) came well within the remit of usual glitches – no production process is ever perfect. But it was enough for Jestocost. I was given written notice and two months pay.

I was a sacrificial lamb. InsanelyRun was strapped for cash. It was eating up money, it badly needed to be getting its books out for its special sales and I was perceived as an obstacle in the flow. Jedekiah didn't even appoint a replacement. The senior editor was given my job on top of her own, which took all her time anyway, with no commensurate increase in salary. She later confessed to me that she had never even looked at the pile of manuscripts I left behind.

Unpleasant though it was, I still maintain getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me for its knock-on effects that last to this day. I may or may not mark more tenth anniversaries over the next few years. Depends how bored I get. I will however share one more memory of InsanelyRun: in tomorrow's post. It will make you smile ...