A few weeks ago I had an email from a journalist on a weekly free local newspaper called the Informer, asking permission to include Thoughtcat in “London Blog”, a regular feature profiling bloggers from the area and printing typical extracts from their blogs. I’d never seen the article before (I think the paper gets delivered to my address, but so do a couple of others, and in honesty they generally all end up being recycled before I even register what they’re called) and I was initially suspicious, doubting that a local free paper would really be interested in blogs and thinking one of my mates was winding me up. However, the journalist’s email address was kosher and he said he’d found the blog from a credible source (London Bloggers, a stylish directory I’d joined some time ago), so without further delay I wrote back to say I’d be delighted. He asked for a bit of background, including my age and location, and a photo. I provided him with some info on Thoughtcat and, not knowing the layout, asked if he just wanted a small close-up of my whiskers or a full length shot of me (which, thinking about it, wouldn’t actually be much different in size, but there you go). I also offered him a few suggestions for “typical extracts” from Thoughtcat, since I modestly assumed finding such a thing amid three years’ and 50,000 words of blog posts might be difficult. However, said journo then vanished for several days, leaving me unsure whether he’d actually written the article or had gone off the idea, or still needed the photo, so – now paranoid once again that this was in fact an elaborate practical joke – I gave him a nudge. A few days later he reappeared and said the feature was out, illustrated with a photo he’d found on the site, and if I gave him my address he’d send me a copy. I did, and waited.
I was still nervous about the result: would it be a hatchet job? A tabloid stitch-up? A honey-trap preying on my vanity? I imagined myself imagining a glorious write-up, newspapers banging on the Thoughtcat-flap begging me to write for them for real money, little suspecting the reality – a huge photo of me looking ridiculous, a picture I’d put on the site years before and forgotten about, with a quote twisting my carefully-chosen words to paint me as a bizarre nimbyist eccentric, a closet nazi living with 17 cats, spending his days self-publishing insane pamphlets calling on McVities to bring back Dad’s Cookies and the local council to bomb McDonald’s – or worse, claiming I was a Tory voter.
Thankfully, having now received the paper containing the feature (it’s the 31st March issue, local folks!) none of that is the case, and although the majority of the article is composed of my own words I hope I’m allowed to say I think the results are excellent. It is still a little eccentric, but that’s probably appropriate, and in any case it’s fascinating to see how you come across to people: From his small flat, cat-obsessed [am I??] Richard Cooper (pee-Cooper to his friends) [what this must sound like with no Thai context God only knows] muses on everything from sausages [where?!] to political scandals. The novelist-cum-biscuit taster [apart from sounding faintly disgusting this omits to mention I have never been either, at least on a professional basis] flirted with fame after becoming embroiled in a row over authorship of a book called All My Own Work [this will come back to haunt me!], after he based his title on a poem by Ted Hughes [surreally, this makes Hughes sound as if he was the aggrieved party in the AMOW debacle]. Click and you arrive at: Lord Profumo, Albrecht Durer, Mince Pies, Mobile Phones, Blues, Leonard Cohen [yay!], Basil Fawlty [true, but only I think in the context of 'Don't mention the war' from last summer's election], InterRail [hmm, I'm impressed - the journo's had a look around the main site and found my account of our French InterRailing trip!], Buena Vista Social Club [it gets better], Randy Newman [again a one-off, but can't be bad] and Russell Hoban [double yay! - whether Russ will appreciate it in this dubious context I don't know, but I'm honoured to be responsible for even the smallest press mention of his hallowed name].
So far, so weird – but it gets weirder. The blog feature itself is right at the back of the paper, sandwiched between adverts for a plumbing and heating company and the Modhubon Tandoori (“Eat as much as you like for £4.95!”), and just overleaf from a double-page of classified ads divided equally between man & vans and escort agencies (“Za Za… Irish fire cracker… Japanese goddess”). The rarefied company I find myself in is infinitely enhanced by a huge picture of Bob Dylan c.1966, as I realise with delight (and some relief, when I think of some of the possible alternatives) that the blog post the journalist has chosen to represent Thoughtcat is the recent one about Dylan snubbing the UK Music Hall of Fame awards. DYLAN DISHES IT, runs the headline. Richard says Bob Dylan has the right idea about music award shows, says a caption beside my photo, which turns out to be the one of me from my about page wearing a THAILAND t-shirt and eating a bowl of my wife’s best green curry. “What’s the point in giving an award to an artist who’s been around for decades?” bewails a quote splashed in white letters across Dylan’s black jacket, while the main image is captioned BOB’S YOUR UNCLE: Dylan the legend (obviously just in case anyone’s unsure of who it is, or that it may be me).
The rest of the page is composed of the blog entry, reproduced fairly faithfully, albeit with the original Blair-unfriendly ending excised in favour of a cynical comment on the Eurythmics’ Christmas greatest hits cash-in. In fact it’s interesting that, although Blair does get a mention elsewhere, it’s not a critical one, and you wouldn’t guess from reading the feature that I can’t stand the man; did the Informer get cold political feet, despite it being quite clear that the article represents the personal opinion of one slightly bonkers local blogger? Whatever the truth, just to put the record straight, I CAN’T STAND TONY BLAIR. (In seriousness I must curtail this habit of beating Blair with any stick I can find. I mean, for God’s sake – when you’re writing about Bob Dylan and the ludicrosity of music award shows, to still manage to squeeze in a Tone-moan just looks facile and opportunistic – not unlike Blair, in fact, the bastard!!!)
Blair or no Blair, if I say so myself, the profile of Thoughtcat appears to represent a cultural high for at least this edition of the paper. Headlines on other pages include:
LICENCE TO KILL: Is our under-fire prison system putting killers on YOUR street?
Leak hotel fined
Anger over repair demands
IT HAPPENED TO ME: I built a Viking ship in my garden shed
Hotel in riverside clean-up
and, best of all:
NOT EVEN A ‘DENT’: Gordon’s car tax rise is a joke say Chelsea tractor haters.
I should mention at this juncture that this edition of the paper is technically the London Informer, covering the areas
of Hammersmith, Kensington and Westminster; there seem to be scores of local variations on the Informer title, and I know of at least one edition, the Richmond & Twickenham Informer, which also carried the Thoughtcat piece, albeit in a black & white and slightly reduced-size version which ends in mid-sentence, not even getting in the bitter remark about the Eurythmics, let alone Tone.
But I digress. I must admit when I read the piece again I was surprised at the (unintentionally) catty comment about Aretha Franklin, and that the paper deemed a remark about the size of the soul diva’s breasts to be acceptable where one about Tony Blair’s musical preferences wasn’t. They say you should never apologise but I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Aretha – not, probably, that she’s a reader, but all the same.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this whole episode is that it has taken some extracts from Thoughtcat to be reproduced in a “real” printed medium to make me see what the blog is really like – and, by extension, what I’m really like. The blog has been around, as I say, for over three years now, but this is the first time it’s seemed “real” to me – and I’m not sure I like all I see. Maybe I’m just overreacting to the observation about Aretha Franklin’s melons, but perhaps I saw myself as a bit more serious than that casual remark might suggest. Then again, you can’t take blogging too seriously, can you?
There is, fairly obviously, no online version of the article, but clicking on the image above will open a JPEG which is more or less readable, while clicking here instead opens a better-quality PDF version. And if you can get your hands on a copy of the actual paper, hold on to this unique Thoughtcat collector’s item! It surely can’t be long before they start appearing on eBay.
Oh yes, before I forget – to clarify, “pee-Cooper” (with the emphasis on the -per) is what my wife’s friends affectionately call me. “Pee-” is a Thai honorific, placed in front of the family name of someone who is older than you to signify respect. I’ve been saying to them all for years to just call me Richard, but will they ever?? Anyway, the appearance of this article can only make things worse: soon this is what everyone will be calling me.