Members of staff at the Raccoon Arms are not solely engaged in serving the customers, pulling pints, changing barrels, preventing patrons from buying too many packets of peanuts merely to see if the model on the board they’re pinned to is wearing a bra, breaking-up fights, spitting in the sawdust and ensuring ‘er upstairs has a ready supply of Guinness under her mattress to keep her quiet. We also have a behind-closed-doors life that the tap-room plebs have little or no knowledge of. With this in mind, let me invite you backstage and enlighten you as to a particular irritant we deal with on a daily basis – no, not barred ex-patrons sneaking-in wearing Groucho Marx masks, not even the sound of the Dwarf singing ‘Das Lied der Deutschen’ after one too many Doppelbocks, but spam.
If you have an email account or a blog of your own, you’ll be familiar enough with spam. It’s the cyber equivalent of the crap that comes through the letter-box advertising two-for-one deals at your local pizza venue or promoting your Green candidate at the next council elections. Imagine about 200 of those landing in your lobby or hallway every day and then you’d have an inkling of the avalanche of spam this site is inundated with during an average 24-hour cycle. Every time the landlady and I check the comments, we ritually delete the spam. If either of us haven’t been online for a couple of hours, there’ll usually be about 20-odd already in the spam sin-bin. Overnight, you can be talking between fifty and a hundred. Occasionally, some spam inadvertently finds itself on the comments page and is hurriedly removed. It took a week or two of my stint as barman to instantly recognise spam as soon as I saw it, but now it’s second nature. Often, the name gives the game away. A random selection of user names taken from this week’s spam box includes the following…
Steroids Muscle Gain, Atomic Email Studio Discount, Pizza Ok Gorzow, Hair loss remedies at home, Get rid of acne…and so on.
They usually appear attached to a post from upwards of two or three years back, which is another giveaway, as is the comment itself. They tend to sound like someone speaking in broken English, who hasn’t quite got the hang of the grammar – something like ‘Hey, you is great site!’ Others pose as a genuine compliment, along the lines of ‘Just found this site. You write really well and I’ll be coming back here again.’ Then there’s the technical question one – ‘I couldn’t help but notice you use xyz formatting. Could you tell me how to access this programme, as I really love your site and would like to use it on my own?’ Some don’t even bother going that far and simply advise the reader to try a particular product in one sentence or contain half-a-dozen dodgy links to other websites, some of which are – yes, you guessed it – of a pornographic nature; and quite a few of the Ladyboy variety, oddly enough. I’ve no doubt the majority are composed by a computer or perhaps a bunch of chimps who’ve yet to get round to writing one Shakespeare play, automatically and simultaneously dispatched to a thousand websites across the globe. An example of the kind of nonsensical comment that constitutes the average spam post is…
‘Joe Buck’s garment was actually a horrible peach coloured cowboy shirt but it ha. It is also a good idea if you have to do chores outside to try to avoid the peak heating hours of andidates, bashing Tebow, election year and Legoland accounts P…’
We might naturally assume this is a phenomenon of the age in which we live, but spam has been a side-effect of cyberspace ever since the big bang of computing. The first spam email is believed to have been sent in 1978, at a time when spam to me was the type of fritter we seemed to be served at the school dinner table every bloody day. As far as computers go, I’m akin to a competent driver who opens his car bonnet and is confronted by a baffling array of machinery; and the same applies with my limited knowledge of web systems and the like. As long as I can get from A to B, I’m happy. A more detailed account of spamming and where it emanates from is out there, but I can only get so far before I feel like I’m watching an old ‘Open University’ programme on geometric mathematics (or whatever), too mesmerised by the shirt of the hirsute presenter to digest what he’s saying…
BRIAN SEWELL (1931-2015)
Harold Hobson, Milton Shulman, Kenneth Tynan, Alexander Walker – heavyweight critics specialising in specific strands of the arts from an era when the press possessed the kind of clout unimaginable today, when a play or film or exhibition could close prematurely on the strength of a bad review, when Fleet Street was an actual geographical location rather than a generic term for the manufacturers of Wapping-based dailies that no one buys anymore, when a newspaper summarised the previous day’s events with a poetic clarity that today’s 24-hour media interns fishing the web for stories could have no concept of.
Added to that pantheon of opinionated and impassioned inky-fingered scribes should be the name of Brian Sewell, who died yesterday aged 84. Sewell probably was the last of a dying breed that has now ceased to be. The illegitimate son of the notorious early twentieth century composer, Peter Warlock (who died before Sewell was born), Sewell spent many years as an art dealer as well as an expert in old masters at Christie’s before becoming a critic; he was mentored by the former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Anthony Blunt, and was first exposed to the public glare during Blunt’s 1979 exposure as the fourth man in the Cambridge Spy Ring.
Five years later, Sewell became art critic for the London Evening Standard, following a stint on Tatler magazine. He had an immediate impact, not mincing his words when he took a dislike to something, but how those words flowed with a florid eloquence reflected in his lyrically lucid and deliciously archaic version of the Queen’s English, of which Sewell himself said, ‘People always say I sound like a 1930s lesbian’. By the late 1990s, this speaking voice was being aired on television and radio, bringing Sewell’s uncompromising views on art to an audience whose own viewpoint had been blunted and stilted by political correctness.
Sewell’s admirable refusal to curb his acerbic tongue to suit contemporary mores made him a figure of hate for many. Accused of both misogyny and homophobia (quite ironic), Sewell was once the recipient of an unbelievably pompous letter signed by thirty-five right-on artists attacking him for daring to speak his mind. Sewell lapped-up the assault with characteristic mischievousness. He was a man who basically didn’t give a f**k, and in the era he expressed this, he was on his own. And now he’s gone. He should be mourned.