Bloodied, Broken And Everything Else

Added on 09 October 2008
There’s a scene in The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson where there is a large queue of customers, none of whom wish Barney to cut their hair, and they all sit and shake their heads as he desperately tries to get one of them to acquiesce. It’s a slight exaggeration of a scene I witnessed in my local barberhsop a long time ago.

In the middle of scene there is the following line: Beaten, but not yet bloodied, Barney nodded.

I noticed this yesterday whilst proof-reading. Beaten but not yet bloodied? What does that mean? That he’d had a heart attack but at least there was no blood? Obviously I’d meant to write bloodied but not yet beaten.

At first I presumed I’d copied it wrongly when I’d been transcribing the book into its current form. However, a quick check of the Piatkus edition showed that it’s been there all along. So I originally wrote the line in the summer of 1995, tucked away from the African heat in the air conditioned Arctic circle of our apartment on Boulevard de la Republique in Dakar. I read the book who knows how many times back then and never noticed. I re-wrote it a year later and never noticed. It was picked up for publication. The editor never noticed. The copy editor never noticed. The proof reader(s) never noticed. Maybe some readers noticed and thought, this guy’s an idiot... And then I converted the book back to its original state and didn’t notice. And now, on my fifth, and last, proof read, I finally noticed it.

In itself, it’s a point of little significance. The worrying thing is how many more there are out there. The Long Thomson of Barney Midnight, coming to a shop near you.

There was an item on the Yahoo news page the other day headlined, Man Reads All 59million Words Of Oxford English Dictionary. I stopped myself clicking on it. It’s the kind of story that you start reading, then halfway through you stop and think, I’m reading this... Without reading it I thought - because I was still thinking about it - that maybe there was some other remarkable feat attached to it, such as he did it underwater holding his breath the entire time, or he did it while sailing solo across the Atlantic in a sink. As headlines go it seems to be on a par with those little personal headlines that make up everyone’s life on a daily basis. Man Burns Toast. Man Goes Two Days Without Shouting At Kids. Man Falls Asleep Watching TV.

I finally cracked and read the story. It was a story about a guy who’d read the whole of the OED. The nub came at the end. He’d written a book about it... Man, 38, Reads Long Non-Narrative Book, Writes Own Book.

There’s the thing. It wasn’t actual news. It wasn’t a story about a guy who’d read the whole of the OED, had just finished it that day and wanted everyone to know. It was a story about a guy who’d written a book. Another ten seconds’ research revealed that the book had in fact first been published in July this year.

So why is it being presented as news in the second week in October? Why were some of the news stories - I ended up reading more than one - saying that he'd spent the last year reading it? The guy hadn’t just read the OED, he’d obviously read it long enough ago to write a book about it, get the book edited, copy edited, proof-read etc. (hopefully better than The Midnight of Long Barney Thomson), placed into the schedules, printed, distributed to bookbuyers and reviewers, published. The dude didn’t finish reading the OED this week.

The only answer is that this is how news works. Publicists write copy, they send it to news organisations, the news people pick stuff up and put it out as news because they’re so strapped for time that they can’t check for any actual stories, and before you know it, Bob’s your Builder.

Man Writes Blog About Man Writing Book About Reading The Whole of The OED.