Thursday, 30 April 2009

Snapshot: The Magic of Christmas Eve

We all have early childhood memories and mine was when my younger brother arrived home from the maternity ward wrapped in a shawl concealing a toy train for me. My brother, three years my junior, and my younger sister, will have their own special moments, but for all three of us, the most magical of times was Christmas Eve.
For us, the festive season began after my birthday on 10 December. I was fortunate to be born just far enough away from Christmas Day to warrant separate presents. My father, always acutely aware of the importance of not letting any of us ‘miss out’, would always buy ‘a little toy’ for the two children not celebrating a birthday. One notable ‘little toy’ was a battery-powered Dalek from the days when Doctor Who had long white hair and was played by William Hartnell and then Patrick Troughton.
Most of the festive build-up in our house revolved around mum putting up the decorations and icing the Christmas cake. We were not allowed paper chains, like those decorating our classrooms, because Mum thought them to be ‘common’. Real Christmas trees were far too messy. Instead it was small tinsel trees, scented candles and collections of baubles (or ‘bobbles’ as we called them) surrounded by holly on a plate. The rich smell of fruit cake from the kitchen invaded our nostrils at this time of year and there was always a warm red glow courtesy of two radiant gas fires, many a red light bulb and the reflective nature of the horse brasses dotted around our ‘through-lounge’ recently knocked through by Mr Pratt, the local builder.
We were an average family. Dad was a civil servant working in Whitehall, mum a housewife at home. We lived in a semi-detached house in Carshalton that backed on to the railway line. Mum and Dad still live there today. It was the late sixties/early seventies. The Morecambe & Wise Show graced our Rediffusion television, Benny Hill was deemed politically correct and either Ted Heath or Harold Wilson was Prime Minister.
We still believed in Santa Claus and on Christmas Eve, wary that he was on his way – and a little scared of his imminent arrival – we would all sleep in one room with empty stockings neatly arranged at the end of the bed, having spent the evening watching Disney Time or Tom Thumb on television.
Mum and Dad kissed us goodnight and then the sound of bells outside the window. If we made to get out of bed, Dad would advise us to stay put. “He won’t stop if he sees you,” he would say. The ringing continued for five or six minutes and we were enthralled by the magic, safe in the knowledge that Santa really did exist.
In the morning, our stockings full, we crept downstairs to see what Santa had left us. New toys glinted in the dark, the full spectacle of which would be revealed when a light was switched on.
Dad displayed our toys in separate corners. Train sets would be laid out and ready to use simply by turning a red dial on a grey transformer. Books (a hard-backed Rupert or Beano annual) would be standing up on end with, perhaps, a small teddy bear reclining against the cover. Unfortunately, it was 4am and soon Dad would herd us back to bed until 7am when Mum would put the turkey in the oven and Christmas proper would begin.
The bells would ring outside our bedroom window for years to come and I recall dismissing the idea that ‘Father Christmas is yer Dad’ when the subject raised its ugly head in the playground. “It has to be true, I’ve heard the bells outside my window and my Dad was in the room at the time,” I would counter any disbelievers.
One year, sometime in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve when I was 10 or 11, I peered out of the bedroom window for no other reason than to look out into the garden and there it was: one of Mum’s brass bells fitted outside the house and almost touchable through the louvre windows. It was a sad moment as I had discovered the awful truth: Dad and Santa Claus were one and the same.
As we all lay in bed that night, Dad warned us to remain there if we heard the bells. This time I noticed him tugging at something behind his back as the bells rang out. He later told me how he had tied the bell to a ball of string and had thrown the ball through the bathroom window from the garden, some feat as the house was peppered with the aforementioned louvre windows, which was a seventies thing along with ‘Spanish gold’ walls and mum’s Ercol furniture which is still there today.
Fortunately, so is Christmas at Mum and Dad’s. We all have kids of our own now and through the years since their birth, they have been entertained by Dad’s treasure hunts and his homemade puppet theatre. We still enjoy Mum’s legendary cake at what has become known as the Boxing Day bash.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A novel idea...

If you have difficulty deciding what book to read when you next wander around a bookshop, worry no more as I might have the solution. For years, the thought processes behind my choice of novel were based on the recommendation of others, a book review in the Sunday papers or simply an impulse purchase based, perhaps, on the dodgy practice of judging a book by its cover.

I was getting frustrated. I needed some kind of structure to my reading life. I wanted a goal, something I could achieve. I was having problems knowing what to read next. Chick lit was always a no-go zone and so were bestsellers. I have always been a bit leftfield where literature is concerned. I don't want to follow the pack. I veer towards the sort of books you tend not to see people reading on the tube: Patrick Hamilton, Philip K Dick, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow to name but four authors whose work I have enjoyed.

A novel idea sprung to mind. What if I read an author for every letter of the alphabet starting with A and finishing with Z? I set about working out the ground rules, the main one being that I could not read any author whose work I had read before. The idea was to find new authors and tread new ground.

This would be an exercise in purity, so translations were out of the question. I had to follow the alphabet and I couldn't stray from A to T to Y to F. The challenge lay ahead and there was nothing else to do other than get started. What I didn't realise until I reached the letter F was that I needed a guide, something to keep me on the right path and provide scope, depth and enlightenment. I wanted to remain outside of the mainstream, but not having a guide meant that I fell at the first fence.

I chose Jake Arnott's The Long Firm, a bestseller recommended to me some time ago. Crime fiction is not my bag. Another rule sprung to mind: I would only read books that I bought personally. No outside influences. Everything had to be my decision. Next up was David Baldacci's The Christmas Train, a rather schmaltzy tale of a journalist who meets his ex-girlfriend on a train from Chicago to LA. It was like reading the screenplay of an American 'rom-com' – the sort of thing you might expect to watch in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.

JJ Connolly's Layer Cake followed. This and Arnott's The Long Firm were what I call 'shut it you muppet' books, the sort of novels Guy Ritchie might adapt into feature films with Vinny Jones and Bill Nighy in leading roles. Not my cup of tea, but the gauntlet had been thrown down and another rule too: I had to finish every book as, to the best of my knowledge, the police had no intention of announcing an amnesty on unread novels.

A lot of people find it hard to believe that I have never read any Roald Dahl. Even I wondered whether or not I had broken my golden rule unknowingly as I sat down to read Kiss Kiss, a collection of Dahl's excellent short stories, especially Parson's Pleasure. Dahl proved to be the best so far and in many ways acted as a kind of bridge to better things ahead, starting with the letter E.

Dave Eggers' first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, drew me into the realm of 'cult' fiction. It is the story of Will and Hand and their decision to journey around the world in a random fashion giving away inherited money in obscure countries. "Everything within takes place after Jack died and before my mom and I drowned in a burning ferry in the cool tannin-tinted Guaviare River, in East Central Columbia, with forty-two locals we hadn't yet met." That is the novel's opening sentence. I expected great things and found them.

My guardian angel appeared in the shape of the Rough Guide to Cult Fiction, an excellent directory of cult novelists billed as 'genre benders, beats, gurus, drunks, junkies, sinners and surrealists'. I didn't have to follow the guide, but it steered me away from the junk and into the path of some interesting writers like John Fante whose Ask the Dust, one of four novels collectively known as the 'Bandini Quartet' was next on my list.

Fante, an American born in 1909 went largely unnoticed as a writer until novelist Charles Bukowski, who listed Fante as a key influence, mentioned him in one of his novels. Both men were key exponents of what became known as the hard-boiled style of writing: unpretentious and to the point. I stuck with the hard-boiled style for my letter G and a novel by another American writer, David Goodis, billed as 'the dark prince of paperback pulp'. I chose The Moon in the Gutter, the story of docker William Kerrigan looking for a way out of his sorry existence in scrag-end Philadelphia. Not bad, but I needed something a little heavier and found it when I chose my next book, Michel Houellebecq's Atomised.

I had to break one of my rules. My copy of Atomised was translated by Frank Wynne which meant that I was not reading the original text. I decided to go ahead based on the theory that rules were there to be broken. Atomised proved to be emotionally moving for me and I can't figure out why. It is the story of two brothers who share the same mother but live completely different lives. One is a libertine, the other a thinker and idealist. The book was tinged with sadness and tragedy which, I admit, brought a tear to my eye.

The letter i proved problematical as I had decided, thanks to the Rough Guide to Cult Fiction, to read something by the American author Gary Indiana. I considered and rejected Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the only other author listed under i, because I had already broken my rule on translations with Atomised. The bookshops had proved uninspiring where the letter i was concerned and this sorry state of affairs meant breaking another rule – that I should not jump out of alphabetical sequence – as I had to move on to the letter L and my first non-fiction title, Richard Lomax's The Railway Man which I picked up in a charity shop for 99p. Lomax was one of many prisoners of war tortured by the Japanese while constructing the Burma Siam Railway.

Getting hold of a copy of anything by Gary Indiana in the UK was proving a big problem so I had to abandon my quest and carry on with the task in hand. I chose BS Johnson's Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry as my letter J. Johnson, much to his own dislike, was billed as an experimental novelist. He didn't believe in beginnings, middles and ends and produced one of his novels in 27 different pamphlets so that readers could shuffle and read it in any order. Christie Malry is the story of a man who gets even with society using the principles of double-entry bookkeeping.

Johnson was one of two novelists on my list who committed suicide, the other being another so-called experimental novelist, Ann Quin, who walked into the sea at Brighton and drowned. Like Gary Indiana, however, I never found copies of her work in any bookshop in the UK. It took a trip to Portland, Oregon, and a visit to the world famous Powell's Books to finally pick up Horse Crazy by Gary Indiana; Ann Quin's Three; and Will Self's How the Dead Live. By this stage in my challenge I had moved along to the letter R and was reading Derek Raymond's How the Dead Live. The reason I bought Self's novel was because I was intrigued to read two completely different books sharing the same title. Self openly admits in the foreword to Raymond's book that he blatantly ripped off the title, quoting Auden who said 'Bad writers borrow. Good ones steal.'

Raymond, born Robert Cook in 1931, died in 1994. According to the Rough Guide to Cult Fiction, drink had taken its toll. He was billed as the 'Godfather of English noir fiction' and used the pseudonym of Derek Raymond in homage to detective novelist Raymond Chandler. Raymond's How the Dead Live concerns the investigation of a previously unexplained death. The novel's central character – a nameless detective – features in Raymond's so-called Factory novels of which this is one.

Self's novel is all about Lily Bloom, a former PR executive who dies of cancer and moves to Dulston, a part of London where the dead live alongside their spiritual guides. Bloom spends her dead life watching over the calamitous lives of her two daughters and is eventually 'reborn' as her own granddaughter. It is a good novel and while there are those who criticise Self for his use of 'big words', Self, like Henry Miller and JG Ballard, is a technically brilliant writer in my opinion.

But what about the letters J through to P? Jim Giraffe by Daren King was the ludicrous story of Scott Spectrum, a man haunted by a ghost giraffe. Perhaps I missed the point, but I found King's book too silly for words and a little bit tiresome as a result. I chose Patrick McGrath's Asylum for my letter M. The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction had good things to say about McGrath, the son of a medical superintendent at Broadmoor. Asylum is the story of a doctor's wife who falls in love with a violent mental patient at an institution not dissimilar to Broadmoor. The letter N gave me the chance to read Nabokov's controversial Lolita, the story of Humbert Humbert and his obession with a 12-year-old girl. Looking back through my copy, I note that I have underlined interesting words throughout the text such as 'favonian' , 'acrosonic' and 'phocine', none of which can be found in my Concise Oxford Dictionary.

For the letter O I had plenty to choose from: Patrick O'Brian and Edna O'Brien being two novelists I could have chosen. Instead, I opted for somebody less well known and with a less conventional O' name. Stewart O'Nan's Night Country was the story of the aftermath of a car crash and the story of the victims' ghosts who come back from the dead to visit those they believe are responsible for their deaths. O'Nan, an American writer, has seven other novels to his name.

There were so many Ps I could have chosen, but I foolishly started judging books by covers and opted for Chuck Palanuik's Haunted, a novel of different stories told by people imprisoned in an artists' retreat. It was alright in parts but it dragged and I was glad when I finished it.

Ann Quin's Three was another book I was unable to find in the UK and bought at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. I was hesitant about Quin because I was uncomfortable with 'experimental' novelists. I didn't want to read a book written, say, with no consonants, or a novel that could be read backwards. Quin's novel, I am pleased to say, was not that experimental. In Three, she experiments with different kinds of narrative. The book centres on the lives of three people living together in a house on the south coast (Quin lived and died in Brighton). Ruth and Leonard are middle-aged and married and S is a young woman who comes to live with them. The novel starts with the girl's suicide and then becomes a haunting snapshot of their lives together, their suspicions of one another, told through the different narratives. The thoughts of S are expressed through a diary she kept while living at the house. I approached Three with trepidation and under the impression it would be a hard slog, but I was pleasantly surprised and like all good novels, it haunts me now.

Derek Raymond's and Will Self's How the Dead Live were next and then another non-fiction book, this time Mark Thomas' Belching Out the Devil, the story of how Coca Cola has exploited work forces and ruined water systems in Turkey, Mexico and El Salvador. Thomas' book was good but it was ruined by a staggering number of literals. Here's just one, "They did not asked us to come."

The letter U was absent from the Rough Guide to Cult Fiction and nothing really inspired me in the bookshops. Fortunately, I owned a dog-eared copy of John Updike's Rabbit, Run, the first in a series of stories about Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, his doomed marriage to Janice and his pointless affair with Ruth.

I checked out my Rough Guide for the letter V and found only Kurt Vonnegut and Jules Verne, two authors I had read before so they were out of bounds. At the bookshop I found Willy Vlautin's Northline, the story of Allison, a young woman who escapes an abusive boyfriend and moves to Reno where she meets a succession of people who renew her faith in human nature. I loved this book for its clarity and atmosphere, its vivid characters and, ultimately, its hope. Vlautin has been labelled the 'Dylan of the dislocated' and I look forward to reading his other novel, This Motel Life. Vlautin also fronts the band Richmond Fontaine who will be playing in London in the autumn.

The letter W offered plenty of authors including Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse, novelists I haven't read, but again I wanted something more leftfield and opted for Christopher Wilson's The Ballad of Lee Cotton, the story of a 'white' 'black' man with psyhic powers who wakes up after an accident to discover he's a white black man that has changed sex. For some reason, I read this book with a Chris Rock accent.

I thought the letter X would prove problematical but it was no problem at all. I found a copy of Village of Stone by Xiaolu Guo, which I bought, but then I found myself breaking out into a cold sweat. Guo, that's G, not X, so I rushed back to Waterstones and opened up another book by another Chinese author beginning with an X. I forget the name of the author, but in the preface it is pointed out that Chinese people put their surnames first, hence Xiaolu Guo. Guo is her first name.

I am half way through Village of Stone, the story of a young Chinese girl living in Beijing remembering her life in the Village of Stone, a coastal fishing village seemingly miles from anywhere.

The end of the project is nigh and I can already see the light at the end of the tunnel, which says I can read something else soon. And I really do want to read something else. There are other novels by the authors I have been reading for this task that I want to read, like Michel Houellebecq's Platform, like the rest of John Updike's Rabbit novels and, of course, This Motel Life by Willy Vlautin – and not forgetting Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, which I started reading a hotel in Italy.

There are also novels that I simply have to read, like Joseph Heller's Catch 22, the red spine of which has been staring me out for years as I sit at my desk, mildy fretting that I have yet to read it.

I know what comes next. Metaphorically, I have skipped a few chapters of my task and checked out the ending. For my letter Y it will definitely be something by Richard Yates, probably Revolutionary Road, but I'm not sure yet; and then, with Z, I'm not sure – possibly Richard Zimler – but I'm going to scour the bookshop shelves before I reach for his The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon.

Has all this been worth it? Yes it has. I have introduced myself to novelists I would never have read, I have brought structure into my reading life and an element of randomness that has been exciting. Twenty six books – well, almost – and I will continue to the end, in true and then, in true John Fowles fashion, come back and write another ending for this mammoth article.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Internet Revolution

Don't get me wrong. I am not a technophobe. Never have been. In fact, I love computers. I use them daily in my job. I'm always on the internet. I use it to check train times, book flights and buy odds and ends, even car insurance! It's a useful tool, make no mistake, but, being a magazine journalist, I have to admit that I'm, well, a little scared – okay, not scared, but concerned – about the general vibe that 'journalism as we know it' is all but over. It is a view put across by those who, like born again Christians, suddenly decide that the internet is the big cure-all for everything and they feel they have to then 'spread the word' to the uninitiated.

The trouble is, while there is more than just an element of truth about what they are saying, I cannot believe that writers like myself who, over the years, have penned various articles on different subjects are, for want of a better expression, ready for the scrapheap and a job, perhaps, as a driving instructor or minicab driver. The worst thing is, I can hear myself talking to a bored passenger, "Yeah, mate, I used to be a journalist, innit, but the world wide web put paid to that," I might say as I drive an affluent baker-turned-webmaster to Gatwick Airport.

The sad irony there, of course, is that it is best, these days, to look for a profession that cannot be harmed by the internet. Sadder still is that the professions in question are, among others, minicab driver and driving instructor as you cannot learn to drive 'virtually' – yet. Who knows, the future might involve doing most of the test virtually using on-line simulators and then hopping in to a real car for 10 minutes to prove you have the hang of it in the real world – which means less in the way of driving lessons and yet another profession going to the wall. With minicab drivers it all rests on whether the technology behind the phrase 'beam me up, Scotty' will ever become reality. Either way, I am amazed at how many times I hear the phrase 'but sadly the industry is in long-term decline'. What, I wonder, will everybody be doing in this brave new world? Don't tell me, blogging for a tiny bit of on-line fame or wasting their time telling those on Twitter that they are eating a Twix for breakfast before doing the evening shift for a local minicab firm.

The web is a new force to be reckoned with and it might do for traditional journalism what Quark Express did for typesetters. Some magazines are folding but retaining 'an online presence' and now it is being suggested that journalists themselves are no longer what matters and how the general public have, so to speak, taken over the asylum. By general public I mean the 'readers' and they could be farmers or doctors, publicans or hoteliers, people who traditionally make up the circulation lists for many a 'business-to-business' publication.

This has always been the great paradox of trade publishing: that the readers of the magazines know more about the subject than the journalists – the difference being that the journalists can write. It is true, of course, in all aspects of journalism. Political correspondents on national newspapers are undoubtedly not as clued up as the politicians themselves, they don't have all the answers, nobody does. However, it is argued that the days when journalists simply applied 'their craft' to a subject are gone. Nowadays, it is all about information in its purest form: a comment on a blog, a thread on a forum site, a throwaway sentence on Twitter. Journalists are becoming facilitators overseeing, perhaps, a forum site or they might resort to 'blogging', which is basically writing their own thoughts and comments on their own or somebody else's weblog. Somebody once told me that blogging was an electronic form of vanity publishing. Maybe, but I think it has a lot more to offer.

Business-to-business magazines, as opposed to consumer titles, will be one of the most affected area of publishing in the face of the internet revolution. Mainstream consumer publications, like GQ and the recently launched UK edition of Wired, don't appear to be suffering commercially as a result of the internet. My copies of both magazines were choc-a-bloc with advertising and something tells me that readers of GQ, Wired and other quality consumer titles probably enjoy their magazines, printed as they are on high quality glossy paper and jam-packed full of decent photography and interesting, informative and entertaining features. There is something tactile about a quality magazine which beats sitting in front of a computer screen any day.

In trade publishing, however, quality has suffered as saving money has become the buzz phrase and, for some, the only way forward in the light of falling advertising revenue. Declining ad revenues are a concern for all forms of print-based publishing these days, but the business-to-business sector is suffering more for many reasons surrounding existing quality and circulation issues. Many trade magazines are printed on low quality paper stock because the publishers believe that a nice glossy, appealing magazine full of decent photography is not what their readers want, begging the question, have they asked them? Probably not. There is a view that trade publishing is inferior to newstand publications, that quality is not as important, perhaps, and that investment (in contributors and photography) is not such a pressing issue.

With a lot of 'CC' or controlled circulation titles, it has been argued, a little jokingly perhaps, that the readers receive the magazine whether they like it or not as, in commercial terms, trade journalism is all about proving to advertisers – or convincing them – that the magazine 'reaches' a certain audience. Some observers argue that the notion of doing anything to make the reading experience pleasurable for the 'reader' is often not even considered because it doesn't have to be; it is, after all, only trade publishing.

To get an idea of the way the mass media views trade publishing you just have to watch an edition of the BBC's topical news quiz, Have I Got News For You. Every week there is a 'guest publication', mainly from the trade sector, and its title always gets a laugh from the audience. In short, a lot of trade publishing is not taken very seriously and while, of course, there are many titles that are worthy of a titter or two – I've worked on one or two – there are some excellent publications which can get tarred with the same brush.

With some controlled circulation titles, phrases like 'captive audience' and 'hospital food' often spring to mind where the readers are concerned. Ironically, in a lot of cases, unscrupulous and often fly-by-night trade publishers cheat their advertisers by not sending the magazine out to those they claim to reach on their media packs. This, I would guess, is a widespread practice. More often than not the discrepancy can involve thousands of 'readers'. Secretly reducing the circulation is, of course, another way of saving money on print bills, especially in an economic downturn, but it amounts to fraud and advertisers are only protected by checking if the magazine's circulation is ABC certified – even then there are probably loopholes. Journalists beware if you hear a reader say, "I haven't seen a copy for some time".

Fortunately, this sorry state of affairs has been turned on its face by the internet, and while the future role of the business-to-business journalist is changing, the world wide web has certainly tipped the scales back in favour of editorial. Countless ad teams on trade magazines over the years have often remarked that they pay the wages of the journalists, a comment normally reserved for when the journalist questions a request to mention an advertiser editorially. While there was a time when the ad men ruled the universe in the eyes of some publishers, the onus has now switched and that well-worn phrase, 'content is king' rules supreme. The web, quite simply, has and will continue to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Logistically, the web means a move away from the aforementioned captive audience scenario of some controlled circulation titles to access for all – meaning that a quality editorial product is the only real driver of traffic. Business-to-business journalists, therefore, have a real opportunity to make their mark and possibly turn the tables and start to 'pay the wages' of the ad sales team.

The problem with the worldwide web and the digital age, of course, is that revenue streams have to be 're-calibrated'. With print costs eliminated, there is little to hide behind in terms of bumping up costs. I have noticed that photographers, no longer able to charge for laboratory processing, have started to charge for 'burning to CD', a phrase which conjures up images of the photographer donning a welding mask and asbestos suit and retreating to a garden shed but is, in reality, simply a case of dragging images from their computer's hard drive or USB stick to the CD icon on their 'desktops'.

Photographers are already feeling the pinch of the digital age. For some years now journalists have been turning up at press conferences clasping small, brushed aluminium cameras. Digital technology has almost made professional photographers obselete in the rush to save money. Editors, deputy editors, staff writers and editorial assistants are now 'photographers' as well as journalists, thanks to the digital age.

Journalists are 'doing it for themselves' clearly under the illusion that they can do it just as well as a professional photographer, thanks to digital technology. The truth is they can't and the result is that quality goes down another notch. Overnight, a trade magazine already printed on a low quality paper stock, now has below average, poorly composed, low resolution photography too. A vicious circle develops. The advertisers don't like what they see and reduce (or eliminate) their advertising. The downwards spiral continues.

Gone – or soon to be obselete, it is argued – is the traditional feature article. In its place we will have an interactive series of comments and pointers from a mix of individuals which, collectively, give others, including journalists, leads or an idea about what might be going on in a particular industry sector. All very interesting, but nobody seems to be getting paid for their efforts. Good news for publishers, perhaps, but not for the journalist.

Where or how does a journalist make money in the brave new world of the internet if his or her magazine closes and an uncertain freelance career full of 'bad payers' beckons? It's all very well setting up a blog, like I have, and writing little pieces like this, but how does one survive and pay a mortgage and school fees? A friend suggested to me recently that I need to have a 'web presence'. I need to put myself about electronically and 'have my say' on whatever it might be and then, just maybe, I might get picked up, noticed even, by somebody, and given a proper writing assignment. It's a big 'maybe', though, considering all the geeks and anoraks who tend to rule the internet and are prepared to work for nothing.

When do the bloggers get time to blog? If they blog all day, how do they earn a living? If they blog at night, for how long? Do they come home, gulp down their dinner and then spend until gone midnight in front of a computer screen blogging away? Do they have any kind of human interaction of a face-to-face nature or are they, like many teenagers, who spend from 4pm until gone 11pm 'chatting' on social networking sites, doing nothing but sitting at a screen 'blogging'. I write for a living during the day and while I enjoy what I do, I need some down time watching the television or reading a book. Why the hell would I want to 'blog' just for the hell of it? Although that is exactly what I am doing now.

When CDs took the place of vinyl, I managed to resist change for a while, preferring the record deck and the album cover. It used to be pleasurable buying a vinyl album not only because of the music but also the packaging. Albums that folded out and offered decent artwork and text were all part of the experience which, like a quality magazine, was tactile in nature. Eventually I succumbed to the CD revolution and now all my vinyl has either been sold off to secondhand record stores or is in the attic in boxes.

I have steered clear of music downloads and MP3 players because they offer nothing but the music, arguably leaving the artist exposed and no longer able to hide behind the work of commercial artists and photographers, but I sincerely hope that the digital revolution does not mark the end of books. Recently I saw somebody reading a digital book using some kind of hand-held electronic gadget. I began to wonder how many books she had stored on the device and whether she had taken the step of removing any books and bookcases from her house or apartment. Why would she need them, I figured. Again, it's that tactile quality of books that appeals.

Which brings us back to the internet and publishing. Ultimately, it is all about information. Trade magazines are supposed to be there to help people run their businesses more effectively, so perhaps that whole tactile thing is irrelevant. Fine in the consumer press, but not in the trade. Knowledge, after all, is power and the power base has shifted. It has moved away from the publishers and into the hands of the people. But a lot depends on the people too. Not everybody is 'web savvy' and not everybody enjoys sitting in front of a computer screen. They want to be relaxing in an armchair, on a plane or train, reading, say, their copy of Farmer's Weekly. So perhaps, for a while at least, magazines will co-exist with the on-line world.

There is, of course, no room for complacency. Journalists in all sectors cannot sit still. They should be familiarising themselves with the web and taking whatever courses they feel necessary in order to be on top of the situation. That, at any rate, is what I intend to do.