Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Bob Dylan, Michael Palin, the auto-pen and me

What most intrigues me about the Bob Dylan’s automated signature story is the implication that resorting to the auto-pen is standard practice. 

I don’t have any doubt that a machine signs the American President’s name for them but I was taken aback by the idea that it was widely used by famous musicians, authors and the like. My modest adventures in book signing obviously have never taken into that region where the air is presumably very rare indeed.

However, in 2016 when my 1971 book came out, my publisher did a deal with Waterstones, as a consequence of which I was called upon to sign 500 copies. To do this, I had to travel out to the printers, which was in Suffolk. 

I was collected from the train by a local cab driver, who asked me why I was going to the printer. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I said “I’ve been asked to  sign 500 copies of my book.” Then I preeningly added “I’m going to be here all morning."

The driver left what he considered a decent pause and then said “I had Michael Palin in this car the other day. He was here for two days.”

You could hear the air going out of my self-regard as far away as Ipswich.

Now obviously the sainted Palin would never resort to the auto-pen, no matter how great the demand, no matter what a clearly embarrassed Bob Dylan might say.

While I’m here, if anybody wants to buy a copy of my Abbey Road book and get it authentically signed by the author I’ll be in
Foyle’s in Charing Cross Road tomorrow night, December 1st, and would appreciate the company.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Never in the field of personal finance has so much been owed to so many by one man

Finally got round to reading "No More Champagne", David Lough's book about Churchill and his money. This confirmed me in my view that we are mistaken when we assume that the wealthy aren't bothered about money because they've got enough. He was obsessed.

Churchill was born with all the expectations of a 19th century aristocrat without any of the funds. Everything he bought was charged and paid for later. Much later. He smoked a dozen cigars a day and at one stage didn't pay his cigar bill for five years. In 1932 he earned £15,000, which made him one of the best-paid people in the country. The problem was that in the same year he spent £30,000.

Unlike most of his peers Churchill didn't own any land, politics was a precarious business and the only way he could really make money was by his pen. Since he dictated most of it would be more accurate to say that he earned it with his voice. In the 30s he was constantly cranking out some piece for an American magazine or a British newspaper in order to pay the tax bill of the year before last. He had to be so productive that he sometimes engaged young historians who were paid a pittance to write stuff that would appear under his own name. 

The thing that changed everything was the war. When it began he owed money all over town. When it finished his bank account was groaning with funds. That money had been placed there by publishers keen to profit from the celebrity that war had brought him. For the rest of his life he was box office.