And The Winner Is…

…Rene, who wrote a really sweet sincere email about what this blog has given her over the years. I loved all the jokes everyone contributed, really I did, but in the end, being told that my blog actually meant something to somebody, and had done for several years, was what gave me the biggest and happiest smile. Sappy but true.

[Original post and competition rules]

So congratulations Rene, and thank you so much to everyone else who gave it a shot. I’m pretty happy with how this competition turned out, so I might try it again in the future if an appropriate giveaway object presents itself.

Till next time, let me leave you with a story:

This guy walks into a pub and half his head is a big orange. He asks for a pint of lager. The bartender says “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing, but half your head appears to be a big orange.”

“Yeah, had that for a while now,” the guy says.

So the bartender says “How did that happen, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I was in this old junk shop,” the guy explains, “and I found a lamp. I gave it a rub, and this genie appeared! He offered me the standard three wishes, so for my first wish, I asked for every woman I’d ever meet to fall madly in love with me. The genie waved his genie hands around and suddenly every woman was looking at me with sparkling eyes. For my second wish, I asked for a wallet with a million quid in it, which would never be lost or destroyed, and which would replenish itself whenever I spent any money. And my wish was granted.”

“And the third?” the bartender prompted, leaning forward eagerly.

“And for my third wish,” the guy said, “I said I wanted half my head to be a big orange.”

Inaugural Syntaxfree Book Giveaway!

“At work Veronique made a point of not mentioning that she had killed Princess Diana at the weekend. She had practised not mentioning it as she took César for his morning walk, and all the way to the office – on the street and in the Métro. She decided that the best strategy would be to not say anything at all, in a case a confession were to slip out by mistake, like the time she had meant to discreetly clear her throat in a restaurant and ended up coughing an oyster into the middle of the cheese board.”
The Little White Car, Danuta de Rhodes

After his third book Timoleon Vieta Come Home a few years ago, one of my favourite authors declared that he would never write another. I was unsurprisingly rather dismayed, but hoped that some miraculous change of heart might come some day.

As things turned out, I ended up getting a rather more miraculous change than I had hoped for. For even though Dan Rhodes has not published anything since Timoleon Vieta Come Home, a few months ago I came to hear about a new literary voice fast gaining attention for her debut work, The Little White Car. Her name was Danuta de Rhodes. She was apparently 24, French and female.

Highly amused, I emailed Dan to assure him that despite my conservative Catholic upbringing I would not be renouncing my fanhood, and would gladly support the creative efforts of himself and indeed all other transgendered individuals. I also mentioned, in passing, that I hadn’t actually read the new book yet as it was only available in hardcover in Singapore, and as a poor student I would have to wait for the paperback.

A few weeks ago, a package arrived. The Little White Car was in it. Inside was written:
“Pour Michelle,
Avec beaucoup d’amour,

I devoured it over that weekend. I loved it as much as I’ve loved all Dan’s other books, and at least this one didn’t make me feel like bursting into tears in the middle of a crowded train carriage. Also, there is really nothing cooler than reading a book containing an extended passage where the protagonist confesses her secret shameful love for The Roxette Collection: Don’t Bore Us – Get To The Chorus!, where the author of said book has previously made your mutual secret shameful love for said band public by blasting Fading Like A Flower at his book launch party in order to find you, because you’ve never met in real life before.

And so I decided that the time had come for the INAUGURAL SYNTAXFREE BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Here’s how it works:

  • Me, a grateful recipient of a gift from an author I love.
  • You, a resident of a country with a reliable online bookstore presence (Singapore, UK, US are all fine, but you’ll have to suggest a store to me if you live somewhere else), so that I don’t have to pay Amazon an obscene amount to ship the book to Easter Island.
  • Most of my friends no doubt already have a long list of reasons they wish they’d never met me, but here’s another: to participate in this giveaway, you have to be someone I’ve never met. Simply because I like the idea of buying a book for someone I don’t know in real life. Also, it’s pretty easy to buy books for my friends if I want to, but if I shove books into the hands of random strangers on the MRT they will probably think I’m an opposition politician and call the police. You don’t have to be a total stranger to me – if we’ve emailed before, or exchanged comments on a blog, that’s still fine. As long as we’ve never met in real life.
  • So if you qualify, post a comment (or email syntaxfree dot gmail dot com if you’d prefer) and make me smile. It’s pretty easy to make me smile, especially during the work week. Two of the best ways are to either kiss my ass or tell me an excruciatingly bad joke, but I’ll be happy with any effort which goes beyond “Pls give me the bk, k thx bye.”
  • If you elicit the toothiest smile from me, I’ll write back to you and ask where to send your book.
  • Deadline: Monday 7 February 2005.

I Hate You, Dan Rhodes (A Timoleon Vieta Come Home Review)

I read Timoleon Vieta Come Home (Dan Rhodes) in the train on the way to Newcastle, also listening to Roxette’s greatest hits album (laugh all you like, I’m secure in my music obsessiveness. For the record, the other albums I listened to on the way were Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights and Extra Yard: The Bouncement Revolution, a Big Dada compilation) at the same time.

I really, really liked the book. It was extremely funny, written in the sort of effortlessly readable prose that I tend to be too indisciplined in my writing to manage, and packed a hell of an emotional wallop while actively resisting cliché. But it left me in bits, and I need someone to blame. Read on.

Timoleon Vieta (a mongrel with beautiful eyes) was trying to find his way home after being abandoned in Rome by his owner (Cockroft, a former pops orchestra conductor, now a sad has-been living in Tuscany), under the influence of a manipulative object of infatuation (a mysterious figure known as the Bosnian). Timoleon Vieta was living on rats and bin scavengings, slinking along barely noticed, his skinny belly close to the ground, tired and hungry and sad, and then Roxette sang “I guess loneliness found a new friend”, and my heart almost broke.

I went on through the book, through instance after instance of how our imaginations eagerly build up hopes for happy and meaningful futures, through the slow agonizing creep of disbelief when those hopes start to be eroded or are destroyed in one fell swoop, through Cockroft’s desperation for some company, any company, that won’t eventually leave him without a backward glance, through Timoleon Vieta’s aching paw pads on his long journey home, and then I came to the ending, where my imagination’s hope for a heartwarming resolution to all this pain was cruelly dashed in exactly the same way it had happened to almost everyone else in the book.

I closed the book and sat back destroyed, watching the countryside race heartlessly past, and then I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt started up.

I hate you, Dan Rhodes. I hate you, Roxette. And I’m not even a dog person.

Gym/Tate Britain/Timoleon Vieta Book Launch

[We are at war. Two of my friends in Singapore have SARS. A dear friend here has suddenly lost his mother. It would be flippant if not downright disrespectful if I started writing about my week without clarifying that behind the breeziness I am actually trying to take all this in my stride.]

Here’s what went into Thursday:

Continuing gym membership saga

My relationship with my gym membership got even more complicated on Thursday morning. I arrived at the gym too late to go into the Pilates class I’d been aiming for. This was far from devastating, and I was all ready to go cheerily and sweatlessly back to my comfy flat and sprawl on the couch with English Passengers (so good) and tea, but then the girl at reception suggested I use the gym instead. I laughed this off, explaining I’d never used one before. “Oh, but we can book you in for a free induction!” she trilled brightly, and unable to think up another excuse fast enough, I had to reluctantly agree. Friends, I feel myself slowly losing the battle against fitness. What is to be done?

Conversation, culture and closeness

The afternoon was a lesson in how to have a wonderful time in London with very little money. All you need is a beautiful day, a Marks & Spencer’s pasta lunch, a bench outside the Tate Britain, and a best friend you haven’t seen in a long time. At about 3 we decided we should probably fulfil the original purpose of the outing and actually enter the museum, which was a good call given that without some discipline we would have been entirely capable of obliviously talking the afternoon away till the museum closed at 6.

The quantity and range of art you can see for free in London museums never fails to overwhelm me, and this museum is no exception. We’d had a vague plan of seeing some Turner, Days Like These (a triennial exhibition of contemporary British art), and Constable to Delacroix: British Art And The French Romantics, but could only manage the first two in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed Days Like These – I found almost every exhibit visually and conceptually interesting (which doesn’t always happen for me and modern art) and came out with an impressively low number of I-don’t-get-its. The latter comment would perhaps attract sneers from some arty types, but getting it, or at least having some vague sort of clue, is what makes modern art worthwhile for me.

Book launch, dah-ling

It was for a new book by Dan Rhodes, writer of Anthropology (one of my favourite books), and pleasant email surprise every now and then ever since he found this site one day.

Dinner beforehand was the terrible mistake of Ken Hom’s Yellow River Cafe, where I had some of the worst Oriental food I’ve had in this country since I once tried a Budgens chicken in black bean sauce ready meal, but execrable food was soon forgotten when we got to the venue for the book launch and found there was a free bar. I was, however, hoping not to meet Dan in person for the first time by telling him how fanchashtic it wash to vinally meech him, and so I was only delicately sipping at my Smirnoff Ice when Roxette’s Fading Like A Flower filled the room. (At this point I should probably explain that apart from the fact that he wrote a book I like very much, the other connection revealed by our email exchanges was a common love for Roxette and other very uncool pop music.) So I was hopping around telling Alec how much I loved the song, and Alec was trying to look as if he wasn’t with me, and then Dan came over and said hello, he’d seen my face light up at the Roxette, and was I Michelle?

I managed to avoid any embarrassing conversational gaffes, the reading was hilarious and ended with Dan sucking on some helium and leading us all in a rousing nasal sing-a-long to I Want To Know What Love Is, so an evening well spent, I think. Of course, I left with a signed copy of his new book, Timeleon Vieta Come Home, which you must all go and buy too.