The Who Should You Vote For? quiz for the UK 2015 General Election


Now www.whoshouldyouvotefor.com is back for the 2015 UK General Election. If you're wondering who to vote for, this will help you to be informed about how the parties' policies match with your personal views. Try it now!

Who Should You Vote For? was the biggest political website in the UK in the run-up to the 2005 General Election, and has since run for the 2010 election, US Presidential elections and other major political events.


Apols for spamming people across multiple social platforms (I imagine someone flinging tins of spam across the tracks at Oxford station), but...

Please take my survey about how familiar you are with certain companies www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22ES7F3XPME (will share results in due course) pls pass on!

Though no one reads LJ any more anyway, do they?


Shaking spears at each other

To question, or not to question. That is to be…

A recent conversation at LiveJournal prompted me to revisit the whole ‘authorship of Shakespeare’s works’ malarkey. As I commented there, I had always been firmly convinced that the Man from Stratford wrote the plays, and found things such as Baconian ciphers preposterous (in fact, I even found one of the typical ones worked just as well with bits of Waiting for Godot...) – but seeing Mark Rylance’s play ‘The BIG Secret Live—I am Shakespeare’ made me much more doubtful. Such is the power of drama, eh?

Anyway, I’ve spent some time reading the (often venemous) claims of the Stratfordians vs the Anti-Stratfordians, if only to get my head round the actual evidence and what seems to make most sense. I find it hard to find unbiased summaries of the arguments, so I’ll at least attempt something like that here, albeit very briefly. I recommend this page at shakespeareauthorship.com for the Stratfordian arguments (HT to Colonel Maxim) and this free, new PDF ebook from bloggingshakespeare.com (despite it’s occasionally ad hominem approach – “Anti-Shakespearians … hardly smile, perhaps a characteristic of an obsessive mind.”). For the other camp, the only major work that isn’t trying to advocate for a specific alternative author is Diane Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthox Biography – a useful page listing her 10 key criteria for what makes Shakespeare a biographical oddity also contains responses and counter-responses, which begin to sound like Woody Allen’s Gossage and Vardebedian. Another Anti-Stratfordian has posted a very useful chronology listing documents which reference ‘both’ the Man from Stratford and the Writer of the Works.

Aaaanyway. As far as I can see the main anti-Stratfordian points are:

  1. There is no  evidence of WS’s education (but of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and at most one can simply say this supports neither camp’s argument)
  2. There is no direct literary correspondence with WS during his lifetime
  3. There is no direct evidence that WS was ever paid to write or that he received patronage (despite his requests of the Earl of Southampton)
  4. There are no extant manuscripts in WS’s hand (other than six shakey – hurr – instances of his signature, three on his will; and a much-argued-about Thomas More manuscript)
  5. There is no direct proof of his authorship during his lifetime.

The Anti-Stratfordians also like making a big deal over most legal (non-literary) documents spelling his name Shaxper, or Shackspeare, or various others without the middle ‘e’, while almost all of his works are attributed to ‘Shakespeare’ or ‘Shake-speare’ and similar variants. I don’t find this compelling either way as there are always counter-examples. I’m also ignoring the fact that WS’s will makes no mention of books or other literary matters, as this doesn’t prove anything one way or the other.

Back in the folds of academe, the Stratfordian case is supported thus:

  1. There was an actor called WS in the company that also performed the plays of ‘William Shakespeare’.
  2. The actor was also the WS from Stratford-upon-Avon. The chap from Stratford also had shares in the Globe Theatre.
  3. There is an abundance of evidence in the First Folio (from 1623, seven years after the death of the Stratford chap) that the playwright was the same man as the chap from the Midlands.

These three points are problems if you hold that:

  1. There could have been a conspiracy by actors and writers in the company to pretend the Stratford actor was also a gifted writer
  2. An interlineation in the Stratford man’s will giving money to two fellow actors was added later by someone else
  3. The only evidence during WS’s actual lifetime is circumstantial (true enough) and that a conspiracy (see 1) saw to it that the First Folio was a cover-up.

Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi and others are behind a ‘Declaration of Reasonable Doubt’ about the author’s identity. I think in a very pedantic sense it is possible to say that it is possible to doubt that the man from Stratford wrote the plays, based on the admittedly unusually patchy documentary record. So they’re right there is ‘room for doubt’. But ‘how much room?’ is maybe the real issue.

Ultimately it all seems to boil down to two alternatives, and which one you find more palatable or least strange:

  1. A lack of direct evidence during the Stratford man’s lifetime for his authorship of the works
  2. A conspiracy of numerous writers and actors to maintain the cipher of ‘William Shakespeare’ as a cover for a person or persons unknown.

But as Charlie Brooker brilliantly expounded, all conspiracy theories rely on a triumph of paperwork over human reliability.

I’ve tried to be fair to both sides here, but I have to say I’m now back in the Midlands, as although (1) is at times troubling, and makes Shakespeare forever a man of mystery to some degree at least, (2) is just silly. I think. Probably.

Originally published at hatmandu.net. You can comment here or there.


In search of Colin’s Barn (aka The Hobbit House)

Colin's Barn

Some blundering around on the internet recently led me to read about an extraordinary place known as Colin’s Barn, or The Hobbit House (not to be confused with a self-consciously titled eco-home of the latter name built in Wales). I had to find it, so a small but intrepid band of us sallied forth to track it down. Briefly, it was built between 1989 and 1999 by a stained glass artist called Colin Stokes, on land he owned near his house in Chedglow, Wiltshire. He built it for his sheep. Apparently the council were not best pleased that neither Stokes nor his flock had been through the due planning process, and the stress of the bureaucracy may have contributed to him moving to Scotland. The ‘barn’ remains quietly dilapidating in a field.

There’s plenty more at Derelict Places but with care to keep its location secret. I’m not going to blab either, but suffice it to say (a) that it’s on private land, so tread warily and respectfully (b) despite what commenters at that site and others say, it can be found on Google maps, rather easily if you use your brain and (c) all of the stuff on these forums about rottweilers and security heavies appears to be twaddle. Or perhaps they are otherwise occupied on sunny afternoons. My only hint is to follow the horses and not the cars. (More photos at Flickr.)

Anyway, it’s a beautiful and amazing thing – and maybe the world is a better place for things like this being left dotted around in quiet corners.

Originally published at hatmandu.net. You can comment here or there.


Re-reverb, not fade away

Morning. Remember how young sillage and I started a little publishing company waaay back in 2005? Well, yeah, it was never exactly a roaring success, despite some nice publicity.

Anyway, one of our authors and now a prized friend, Craig (now 'CM Taylor', to distinguish from the Guardian writer with the same name) has done good - he's had an agent for a while now, and his first blockbuster hit (we hope) is out today: Premiership Psycho. Buy it! Ah, gwan.

Needless to say we're hoping for some reflected glory and should be re-releasing the backlist soon, along with ebook versions, so Reverb may yet live again. Or die again. But anyway. Nice one, Taylor.

A standing renovation

Hello world. I haven't written here since April, apart from a one-liner on my birthday to announce the death of our cat. It's been that sort of a summer. I can't remember a tougher, more challenging year, with a crazy mixture of masses of work, and often nowhere to do it from: after leaving Kidlington in June, we lived in a mobile home park for four months, in an obscure location with no mobile signal. Why would we do that? To renovate a home in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. H has worked there for six years, L goes to nursery there already, and why we didn't do it sooner, I don't know. Or maybe I do: the only place we could find back in Jan/Feb was a 1970s bungalow (not quite the ancient cottage of our desires) which had been dwelt in by an elderly bachelor who had done nothing at all to it since, and was probably living in some squalor given how much of the place his family had ripped out. So we've spent those four months torching our savings and inviting all ilks of stress and workmen to help us sort it out. I did as much as I could myself - notably laying the wood flooring in the living room, fitting some of the kitchen and laying all of the underfloor heating, and ripping out the old 1970s storage heaters - but lack of experience and time prevented me from doing more. We've opened various bits of it up, and split one bedroom into two, and so on. New flooring, plasterwork, decoration etc throughout, plus rewiring and new plumbing, and new double-glazed doors and windows.

We wanted the renovation to have some decent green credentials if possible. The property is not on gas, and we (well, I) spent ages and ages agonising about what sort of heating/hot water system to have. We came wafer-thin close to getting an air source heat pump, but I've heard so many accounts of them not working very well that in the end we didn't - and we now have a fantastic (but veeery expensive) wood pellet stove with back boiler. Bertha, as she is named, looks like this, sitting on her trendy glass hearth:

She works in conjunction with her partner, Cyril, who dominates the airing cupboard (he's about 2m tall) and looks like this:

Cyril is not a normal hot water cylinder, but in fact a thermal store, which gives us mains pressure hot water among other things. Bertha and Cyril don't quite talk to each other properly yet (she ignores his commands) and a marriage guidance counsellor from Oxford Renewables, who installed them, is coming tomorrow. But it all works, and all we need to do now is insulate the loft properly. We'd hoped to convert the loft but alas have no money left - ditto solar thermal for hot water, can't afford it and the 10-year-plus payback time makes it a dubious investment. Anyway, if you ever want someone to bore you about eco-renovation, heating systems etc, I'm your man now.

A small example of before and after in the house is exemplified by the kitchen. Before: just a scabby sink, with a concrete floor with tiles containing asbestos on it. After: Ikea's finest (and some homely mess):

Plenty more to do - in the long run, we want to do something with the loft still, plus convert a 19th century (or older) outbuilding into my office - but we now have a nice home to live in which is effectively brand new.

Sorry, long ramble, but needed to purge a very very hard and stressful summer and look forward to new adventures. We've just had a fantastic holiday in north Wales, which marked a turning point, I think. And I can finally see the end of a really tough work period.

How are you?


Alas, as some of you know via Twitter, our dear furry chum milocat no longer has an account, as it were. He had aggressive spondylosis, and latterly was unable to walk properly.