The Consumer | Anorak - Part 39

The Consumer Category

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The Six Best Books of the Year 2013

Madame Arcati’s Six Best Books of the Year 2013

Who isn’t trying to flog a book these days? Independent publishing is fracking vast quantities of creative gas long ignored under our nose. Kindles everywhere are growing slow on free and cheap literary downloads, perhaps one day to be read when the kids or pets have flown and the only alternative to a heart-warming phone chat with one of Esther Rantzen’s Silver Line Friends is that book you meant to read 20 years ago.Excellent books are there to be found, and here’s Madame Arcati’s brief guide to the six best this festive season (all titles hyper-linked to Amazon):


Madame Arcati’s Most Excellent Book of the Year 

A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof by Roger Clarke

A-Natural-History-of-GhostsDivine, darling. Or, as Craig Revel Horwood might say if not too busy eyeing up male dancer buttock curvature, ‘fab-u-larse!’ Published last year, the paperback released a few weeks ago, this is by far the most fascinating survey of paranormal sightings and encounters I have ever read.

Ingenuity starts at concept stage. Clarke sets out not to debate whether ghosts exist. He is much more interested in the anthropology of spectral experiences and research – or put another way, in relating true-life ghost tales, the ‘scientific’ attempts to understand them and in classifying the different types of spook: elementals, poltergeists, etc.

This is clever and fortuitous because Clarke knows he’d lose most of his mainstream critical audience if he entertained the notion, even for a moment, that ghosts exist as sentient post-mortem entities. One feature of secularism and atheism is the absolute conviction that life starts and ends with synaptic crackle ‘n’ pop. But there’s no question people have ghostly liaisons. I have seen a ghost. You probably have. Pliny wrote of a haunted house in 100 AD. The materialist will flesh out any unscientific explanation-away provided no concession is made to afterlife drivel. The winner is not rationalism but a replacement irrationalism.

Clarke knows all this as a veteran Poirot of psychical inquiry. So instead he sits us down by a log fire, creeps us out with weird tales, documents the countless vain attempts to solve the mystery of hauntings and treats the topic (of ghosts) as an aspect of immemorial human experience.

Clarke writes tremendously well – an essential component of any effects-driven tale both to satisfy the Bunsen burner know-all and trembly Susan Hill addict. The slightest hint of irony here and there gives sceptics their calorific fill while oo-ee-oo narrative pleases the rest of us. He is unafraid of the plodding nature of prose, the focus on patient set-ups – Gore Vidal called this vital writerly process ‘grazing’. The cow’s temperament is vital to story-telling.

I also commend Clarke’s end notes which combine scholarly learning with a sly sense of humour. At the very least you end up sceptically well-informed and enthralled.



Madame Arcati’s Most Promising Foreplay Read of 2014

The View from the Tower by Charles Lambert

TowerOne of the joys of reading is the foreplay. Before immersion I like to examine covers, read blurbs, savour hints in reviews or previews, gaze at the author pic (if any), perhaps tantalise myself with a glimpse of the first and last pages (I am intolerant of sequence and secrets – no author will control moi). Charles Lambert is new to me, I have not read his fiction yet; but we are engaged in foreplay (one-sidedly I hasten to add). I am sampling his work at present. I intend to go all the way with his novelThe View from the Tower, published on 2 January 2014.

This is the second in a Rome-set trilogy, so really I ought to consummate with the first in the series,Any Human Face (published in 2011). ‘A dark and fast-paced literary thriller about love, sex, art and death,’ is the terse description. I have the book in front of me. On the cover, a slim man in a black suit gazes warily up an ancient alleyway. An old-style pale blue motor scooter before him startles the period monochrome. Is the man hunting or being hunted? I don’t know.

I may read Any Human Face first. It has Malaysian nuns killing time at a second-hand bookstall – a sufficiently kinky observation to grab my attention. I suspect Lambert notices much that is surprising. I can smell his curiosity and his taste for the perverse.The View from the Tower is  ‘a psychological thriller about love and betrayal, and the damage done when ideals and human lives come into conflict.’ But I suspect it’s rich in peculiar detail, too. That’s what I want. Isn’t foreplay fun?



Madame Arcati’s Best Poppet Book of the Year 2013

Sleeping With Dogs: A Peripheral Autobiography by Brian Sewell

dogsI just know I would hate art critic Brian Sewell in person. That face, fixed in a state of appalled shock. That voice, strangled to last-breath whine by an odd form of hostile genteelness – the sharp chip in the Whittard of Chelsea teacup rim. In death his visage will slowly, ineluctably draw into one final pull of grotesque disapproval, perhaps impossible in life, now achievable by the new physics of rot. Not even Tracey Emin’s art could trigger such a look.

Yet even a glorious c**t has his good side. Should you have a tail, a long tongue and a readiness to shit in public – Brian’s all yours. Preferably, you will not bore him with actual speech but simply advertise your wants with a growl and a howl. Brian has loved 17 doggies and there’s little they can do to sour his canine fetish. One bark and I’m already thinking of RSPCA extermination. But Brian loves the constant music of dog – and the relentless me-ism, the diva presumptions, the bad breath and foul turds. Why, he has four dogs at a time in his bed.

Brian is probably correct in thinking that dogs share with us the same range of emotions, hence the peculiar show that is Crufts. What perhaps he adores about them is their immediacy and lack of guile, that unmediated need for a cuddle and a scoff and walkies that requires nothing more from us than basic delivery followed by unconditional gratitude (the dog’s).

How can one fail to be ensorcelled by evidence of the total collapse of Brian’s default snobbery and disdain in the presence of his best friends? Meanwhile, dog walkers should continue to place street dog turd in plastic bags. Such sights please me no end.



Madame Arcati’s Most Wondair Book of the Year 2013

The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life by Lyndsy Spence

Mitford Girls CoverI reviewed this delightful book back in August (clickhere) and am not in the least surprised at its success. It’s quirky, quintessentially English (which is odd because Lyndsy is Irish – I think), a guide and etiquette book of sorts but also a wallow in 20th Century interwar eccentricity. Daffy is another word that comes to mind.

Lyndsy has gutted the lives of the Mitford girls and turned them into parables, bullet point social codes and how-to guidance to live this life successfully. From Unity’s fixation on and pursuit of Hitler we learn:  ‘Don’t rush head first into an encounter with your idol as this will label you as another fan. Edge your way in slowly and discreetly.’ This example does raise a question over the precise location of Lyndsy’s tongue at times (in cheek, perhaps?) but there is sufficient quantity of information on the Mitford lives to reassure on overall deadpan purpose. Certainly I learnt a great deal more about the Mitties.

Lyndsy Spence is an author to watch. She is very young – and driven by a passion for old school glamour and style. Not only has she founded The Mitford Society with a large following but she has found time to release the first of the The Mitford Societyannuals which comprises many features and essays on the aristocratic clan. One piece is authored by me – I take you to the Arcati Horoscope Revue Bar where we learn more about the astrology of the gels as stripper potential is appraised. It’s all done in the best possible taste.



Madame Arcati’s Most Peculiar Novel Award 2013Death Flies, Missing Girls and Brigitte Bardot by Kenneth George King

death fliesQuite the oddest book I ever did read is this outré and outrageous nugget which bears the name Kenneth George King. Call me a spoilsport but one may as well know that the author is Eurovision’s very own bastard son and general vile perv, Jonathan King – the man who gave us Everyone’s Gone To The Moon. This fact alone will cause certain flowers to wilt. But hardier annuals and the odd cactus or two will be rewarded in their staying power. By the end of this book you will be dreaming about flies, naked boys and sex stars and other causes of ruin. JK has well and truly gone over to the surreal side – and the result is something most interesting.

Now that we live in a world of Twitter and gnomic ejaculation, King has produced what seems like a cut-up novel thrown together kaleidoscopically for attention deficit consumption. This is not quite Burroughs cut-up style but the many autobiographical bits strewn through the narrative have a snip-snip-paste quality. We learn quite a lot about prisons, Arab straight boys who like homosex, Barbara Windsor, a bit about Bardot of course and her right-wing husband, and, oh, glam hot places where JK goes for his hols. And about police procedure.

But what’s it all abaht? Well, yes. Good question. There is indeed a car accident in Morocco. And girls go missing in England, as the blurb promises. A killer lurks and plots and an old ‘superb’ detective sniffs. Flies offer clues of sorts. Different voices tell us what they see and do, not all of their perspectives entirely relevant; but always fascinating. That’s what it’s all abaht.

We are told on the cover that the novel has been submitted for the Man Booker Prize 2014. If an astrology novel can win, so can this.



Madame Arcati’s Novella of the Year 2013You’re Never Too Old by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

too oldThe world could do with a few more Fiona Pitt-Kethleys. Here’s a woman who could give Boudicca a run for her money. I love her poetry. I adore the stories about her. Non-payers will soon discover what I mean. You cross Fiona at your peril. She lives in Spain with her chess champion husband and family and cats. She cooks.

Here’s the thing about her very short novel, available only on Kindle at 77p. It’s not about James Bond – it can’t be because the Ian Fleming estate wouldn’t permit it. No siree. No, let’s get this straight. It’s not about Bond, James Bond. It’s about James Round – a retired spy. The sort of ‘feisty oldie’ Fiona worships. Perhaps Round sees himself as a latter-day Bond. We all have our dreams. In another universe I’m a pop star. Friends with Michael.

Anyway, Round is ancient. He’s stuck in some cold hovel in Scotland. He longs to get back to his old life of action, double agenting and leg-overing nubile pin-ups. A chance meeting re-opens up his life and before you know it he’s on a spying mission to a spa in Israel with senile drunken secretary Penny. Oh the fun we have. Round ain’t passed it. It’s treble dry Martinis all round.

I love Pitt-Kethley’s droll, throw-away humour, the teasing satire and the hopeful moral for the silver surfers. Saga magazine should serialise this tale. You’ll smile and you’ll laugh.


You can get your hands on the Madame’s book her – please do.

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Posted: 19th, December 2013 | In: Books, Key Posts | Comment

Original Art From ‘Your Friend’ George Zimmerman

THE current top bid for a George Zimmerman original painting is US $97,700.00. That’s the same Zimmerman who shot dead Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager. And walked free from court. A jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges.

Now he’s famous.

george simmerman art 1


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Posted: 19th, December 2013 | In: Key Posts, Reviews, The Consumer | Comments (10)

A Tour of Groovy 1970s Sofas

groovy sofas

WHAT’S THE POINT  in taking a look at 1970s sofas? Sure, it sounds like an antiquated and mundane topic on the surface, but sofas are a reflection of the culture.  You can learn more about the 1970s by looking at its sofas than you can from a history textbook.  Simply put, sofas are where humanity gathers. It’s where families spend most of their time together, where man and woman interface, where much of daily life takes place.

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Posted: 18th, December 2013 | In: Flashback, The Consumer | Comment

Drinkers Outlive Non-Drinkers, Says Study


Of the 1,824 study participants, only 41 percent of the moderate drinkers died prematurely compared to a whopping 69 percent of the nondrinkers. Meanwhile, the heavy drinkers fared better than those who abstained, with a 60 percent mortality rate. Despite the increased risks for cirrhosis and several types of cancer, not to mention dependency, accidents, and poor judgment associated with heavy drinking, those who imbibe are less likely to die than people who stay dry.

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Posted: 18th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment

Gender Neutral Marks And Spencer Introduces The Most Sexist Children’s Toys

MARKS & Spencer will not longer wrap girls’ toys in pink and boys’ toys in black and blue. By spring 2014, packaging on toys will be gender neutral.

The pop-up fire station will no longer advertised as: “This pop up fire station is perfect for little fire men everywhere.” The joke book will not vow to “keep you ahead of the girls”. “Little Miss Arty” will become the more neutral “Poppy and Blue”.

One day things like this will be cultural curiosities:



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Posted: 17th, December 2013 | In: Reviews, The Consumer | Comment

Boring Board Games: Canberra Visitor

BORING Christmas Games brings you 1979’s Canberra Visitor:

canberra visitor

Original 1979 Australian board game about the nation’s capital. Very quaint and earnest game about Canberra’s landmarks with comically pedestrian “event” cards such as “Most unusually, it starts to rain. Shelter for awhile. Miss one turn” or “Your transport breaks down but a friendly Canberran gives you a lift”. Possibly, the most boring game ever. Great collector’s item or to play at an election party.

Condition: box has a stain on the left corner but the inside contents are as new. I suspect this was never/rarely played.


canberra visitor 1

canberra visitor 2

canberra visitor 3

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Posted: 17th, December 2013 | In: Flashback, The Consumer | Comment

The Beerger: A Burger Wrapped In A Fried Beer Bun

FANTASTIC food: the beer burger, aka The Beerger.

Philadelphia’s PYT burgers brought you the spaghetti burger.

spaghetti burger



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Posted: 16th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment

Sacked Oxford Chef Uses Pub’s Twitter To Claim All Food Comes From Asda

Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 17.19.19


CHEF Jim Knight, allegedly sacked from The Plough in Oxford after, as he claims, he asked to spend the holiday with his baby daughter, has been using the restaurant’s Twitter feed to tell all. 


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Posted: 16th, December 2013 | In: Money, Reviews, The Consumer | Comment (1)

The Milton Keynes Winter Wonderland: Tun In To Hear About Kids Not Believing In Santa

winter wonderland milton keynes

WHAT went wrong with the Milton Keynes Winter Wonderland? Lorenzo Franco explains what went wrong with his event.

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Posted: 16th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment

Well Of Course No One’s Paying For Streaming Music Services


THERE’S a bit of a logical disconnect in this idea that we’re all going to sign up for streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and so on. The problem being that the more free services there are competing for our custom then the fewer of us are going to bother to pay for it. This is indeed how it normally works you know, more suppliers thus lower prices to consumers:

Yet even as they have grown, streaming companies have encountered a stubborn problem: Music lovers will consume large amounts of music as long as it is free, but getting them to pay a monthly subscription has proved much more difficult.

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Posted: 16th, December 2013 | In: Money, Music, Technology, The Consumer | Comments (2)

Dictionary Update Says Geeks Are Cool And Not In the Least Bit Socially Awkward


SO the language changes once again. Collins, the dictionary people, has just released its list of words of the year. They always do this just before Christmas in order to remind middle aged men that dictionaries make very good presents from Santa for their children. Just like their own fathers told them 35 years ago.

In the list change this year we’ve a change in the definition of “geek”. From one who is socially awkward, near incompetent, to one who is now at the blazing, leading, edge of contemporary culture.

“Often we find that they achieve better longevity too. Just compare previous generations’ use of words like ‘cloud’, ‘tweet’ and ‘tablet’ to ours.

“‘Geek’ is a great example of a word that has evolved from having a negative meaning to having a positive one.

“Its origins are in the 19th century, but it has most recently changed from describing someone preoccupied with computing to someone who is passionate about any field of expertise.

“This change in meaning represents a positive change in perceptions about specialist expertise, and is a result of the influence of technology on people’s lives in 2013.

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Posted: 16th, December 2013 | In: Books, Reviews, Technology | Comment

1944 In Photos: Making Cheese With The Trappist Monks Of Rochefort, Belgium

BLESSED are the cheese makers:

On November 3, 1944, the Associated Press’s Bert Brand recorded life inside the XIII century trappist monastery at Rochefort in Belgium, where the famous Rochefort cheese is made. The story goes that the place was so secluded that monks knew nothing of the progress of the war when they were visited by the first Americans they had ever seen. One of the trappist fathers received special permission to speak to the visitors, as the monks’’ means of communicating is sign language. Here a lay brother looks on while a white-robed father talks with stars and stripes war reporter Bud Kane.



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Posted: 15th, December 2013 | In: Flashback, The Consumer | Comment (1)

What Is An Alien Chest Buster Soft Toy?

TESCO are selling an Alien Chest Buster Soft Toy. Who came up with the name?

Alien Chest Buster Soft Toy


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Posted: 15th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment

Who Damaged The Scrabble Artwork?

“IT’S become quite a feature in the area and it’s disappointing to see some low-life cretin come along and do something like that to it,” says former Labor MP Bob Kucera. Emma Anna’s artwork at Ellesmere Reserve, Perth, Australia.  “You couldn’t even call them a halfwit. It’d take two of them to make a halfwit.”

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Posted: 14th, December 2013 | In: Reviews, The Consumer | Comment

Bob Carey Travels The World In His Pink Tutu To Make His Cancer-Suffering Wife Laugh

BOB Carey made his cancer-suffering wife laugh by dressing up in a pink tutu. When in 2003 Bob heard that his beloved Linda has breast cancer, he wanted to help. So. During the ordeal of chemotherapy, he set out to brighten her day.

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Posted: 14th, December 2013 | In: Books | Comment

Buy An Angel And Keep A Cartoonist In His London Home This Christmas



BRIAN Davis has been handing out free drawings in London. The cartoonist currently faces eviction from his London flat due to rent arrears and is hoping to raise funds to help through his book Angel Delights for him to stay in his Finchley home.

You can find out more about Brian on his website, and buy his book here.


Posted: 13th, December 2013 | In: Books | Comment

Spotify Launch Free Music Service For Mobiles

download (8)

SPOTIFY are going allow users to pick specific songs for streaming on their mobiles as of next week in a new free service.

The Wall Street Journal have reported rumours of the new service and it is suggested that it will give you music based on your input, with users picking tracks and putting them in a playlist where you’ll be able to listen to them, on shuffle, for a limited number of listens. If your playlist isn’t long enough, Spotify will fill in the blanks with random tracks.

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Posted: 13th, December 2013 | In: Music, Reviews, The Consumer | Comment (1)

Games Publishers Stick Up For Fans Against The Internet


THERE are a lot of companies who still don’t understand the value of fan-made tributes to their products. Prince takes all his stuff off YouTube as soon as he can and some movie studios get riled at clips of films been shown. However, one industry that really understands it is the world of gaming.

YouTube is awash with walkthroughs, compilation videos, nostalgia clips and more, all made by fans for fans. The gaming community understands that it is all free publicity and enables gamers to feel at one with the games they enjoy.

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Posted: 13th, December 2013 | In: Reviews, Technology, The Consumer | Comment

The Golden Age of Meat

meat golden age


UP UNTIL the health craze of the 1980s, your average meal consisted of meat, more meat, an additional piece of meat, and one more piece of meat for good measure garnished with a tiny fleck of vegetable matter.

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Posted: 13th, December 2013 | In: Flashback, Key Posts, The Consumer | Comment

Britain’s Loudest Christmas Lights

LORDY Lights: A look at the kind of Christmas display that a Jumbo Jet, let alone Santa, can use to land by. It’s hard to believe these displays are legal, given the number of bylaws that exist. It;s also a surpsie not to see crowds of OPS stood about the light,warming their hands on Santa’s hat and Rudolph’s shiny red nose.



The Brailsford family’s Christmas lights display in Okebourne Road, Brentry.


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Posted: 12th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment

Man Banned From Every Supermarket In Britain


EUGENIO Freitas, 49, has been banned from every supermarket in Britain unless supervised by an adult. Even Asda. The Sun says he earned this award by “performing a solo sex act” in the meat aisle of Sainsbury’s, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

Mr Freitas was taken to court. He was found guilty of outraging public decency. He was handed a six month suspended prison sentence.

Prosecutor Marcus Harry told the court: “At first a member of staff gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was adjusting himself. But she was then called to the CCTV area after a shopper complained to a security officer. The staff member and security officer viewed CCTV of the defendant. He was seen for about 10 minutes with his hands down his trousers and in his pocket with his hands moving around.”

What an odd thing to be aroused by a Sainsbury’s, an anaemic, soulless, white-lit world of packaged goods. Unless it’s an elaborate plot to get of doing the shopping? If it is, we have news for Mr Freitas: his wife wants to go to the dress shops. As you were…

Posted: 12th, December 2013 | In: Strange But True, The Consumer | Comment

Wonderful Romania: The Salina Turda Salt Mines

salina turda


THE Salina Turda might sound like a poo in a the sea but is in fact a centuries-old salt mine in Romania. You can visit it. Even the Beitish are welcome. The Romanians are worried about mobs of British immigrants “flooding” their beautiful country but the thing is underground, so out of sight, out of mind, and all that.

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Posted: 12th, December 2013 | In: The Consumer | Comment