"For reading in trains and buses", or, one of the most notable projects of modern times

'The paper is rubbish,' remarked Jasper, 'and the kind of rubbish—oddly enough—which doesn't attract people.'

'Precisely, but the rubbish is capable of being made a very valuable article, if it were only handled properly. I have talked to the people about it again and again, but I can't get them to believe what I say. Now just listen to my notion. In the first place, I should slightly alter the name; only slightly, but that little alteration would in itself have an enormous effect. Instead of Chat I should call it Chit-Chat!'

Jasper exploded with mirth.

'That's brilliant!' he cried. 'A stroke of genius!'

'Are you serious? Or are you making fun of me? I believe it is a stroke of genius. Chat doesn't attract anyone, but Chit-Chat would sell like hot cakes, as they say in America. I know I am right; laugh as you will.'

'On the same principle,' cried Jasper, 'if The Tatler were changed to Tittle-Tattle, its circulation would be trebled.'

Whelpdale smote his knee in delight.

'An admirable idea! Many a true word uttered in joke, and this is an instance! Tittle-Tattle—a magnificent title; the very thing to catch the multitude.'

Dora was joining in the merriment, and for a minute or two nothing but bursts of laughter could be heard.

'Now do let me go on,' implored the man of projects, when the noise subsided. 'That's only one change, though a most important one. What I next propose is this:—I know you will laugh again, but I will demonstrate to you that I am right. No article in the paper is to measure more than two inches in length, and every inch must be broken into at least two paragraphs.'


'But you are joking, Mr Whelpdale!' exclaimed Dora.

'No, I am perfectly serious. Let me explain my principle. I would have the paper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to say, the great new generation that is being turned out by the Board schools, the young men and women who can just read, but are incapable of sustained attention. People of this kind want something to occupy them in trains and on 'buses and trams. As a rule they care for no newspapers except the Sunday ones; what they want is the lightest and frothiest of chit-chatty information—bits of stories, bits of description, bits of scandal, bits of jokes, bits of statistics, bits of foolery. Am I not right? Everything must be very short, two inches at the utmost; their attention can't sustain itself beyond two inches. Even chat is too solid for them: they want chit-chat.'

Jasper had begun to listen seriously.

'There's something in this, Whelpdale,' he remarked.

'Ha! I have caught you?' cried the other delightedly. 'Of course there's something in it?'

'But—' began Dora, and checked herself.

'You were going to say—' Whelpdale bent towards her with deference.

'Surely these poor, silly people oughtn't to be encouraged in their weakness.'

Whelpdale’s countenance fell. He looked ashamed of himself. But Jasper came speedily to the rescue.

'That's twaddle, Dora. Fools will be fools to the world's end. Answer a fool according to his folly; supply a simpleton with the reading he craves, if it will put money in your pocket. You have discouraged poor Whelpdale in one of the most notable projects of modern times.'

'I shall think no more of it,' said Whelpdale, gravely. 'You are right, Miss Dora.'

Again Jasper burst into merriment. His sister reddened, and looked uncomfortable. She began to speak timidly:

'You said this was for reading in trains and 'buses?'

Whelpdale caught at hope.

'Yes. And really, you know, it may be better at such times to read chit-chat than to be altogether vacant, or to talk unprofitably. I am not sure; I bow to your opinion unreservedly.'

'So long as they only read the paper at such times,' said Dora, still hesitating. 'One knows by experience that one really can't fix one's attention in travelling; even an article in a newspaper is often too long.'

'Exactly! And if you find it so, what must be the case with the mass of untaught people, the quarter-educated? It might encourage in some of them a taste for reading—don't you think?'

'It might,' assented Dora, musingly. 'And in that case you would be doing good!'

'Distinct good!'

They smiled joyfully at each other. Then Whelpdale turned to Jasper:

'You are convinced that there is something in this?'

'Seriously, I think there is. It would all depend on the skill of the fellows who put the thing together every week. There ought always to be one strongly sensational item—we won't call it article. For instance, you might display on a placard: “What the Queen eats!” or “How Gladstone's collars are made!”—things of that kind.'

George Gissing, New Grubb Street (1891)

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford, 1830
What is a “traditional British value”? Torture? Maypole dancing? Worrying about house prices? Drinking too much and then vomiting carpets of bland foodstuffs over the pavement? Knock-knock jokes? Beating up suspects? Shopping at chain stores? Eating from a plastic carton? Sending Johnny Foreigner back so we can bomb him in the scenic environs of his own country? Or is it just being surrounded overwhelmingly by white people who speak English as a first language? What exactly is it that you are championing here?

Here’s a kindred soul: 

I calculated the scale of the problem. Those prolific genius artists were just the start of it – I had 6ft of Fall CDs, 5ft 8in of Miles Davis, 5ft 6in of Sonic Youth and its solo spin-offs, 5ft 2in of John Coltrane, 4ft 11in of the free improviser Derek Bailey, 4ft 4in of Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices, 3ft of Bob Dylan, 2ft 8in of the Byrds and various tributaries, 2ft 6in of the Texan outsider artist Jandek and 2ft 4in of the saxophonist Evan Parker; I had 20ft of European improvised music, 20ft of jazz, 14ft apiece of British folk music, reggae, and blues, 7ft of Japanese psychedelia, and 6ft each of music from Tucson, New Zealand and 1970s Germany. Even after a massive cull, I reckon I still had 350ft of recorded sound which I imagined I needed to keep. And don’t talk to me about iPods. They haven’t built the iPod that can cope with that. And I want inlay cards, and accompanying essays and the physical contact with the physical objects and the memories they evoke.

On the print media front I had about 100ft of fiction, much of it unread; 18ft of poetry, which improves my soul; 6ft of books about stone circles; 12ft of folklore, religion and the occult, and 3ft of the forgotten Welsh mystic Arthur Machen. I’ve got 10ft of inky specialist music fanzines from the 80s and 90s Bucketful of Brains and No Depression that I needed for journalistic fact checking before Wikipedia. And I’m dragging probably 70ft of comics, which I am now saving for my son, who will come to despise them, and me for loving them.

And all this stuff, in the digital age, is literally worthless financially, and losing any value it had daily. There’s nothing here a burglar would even bother with. I’m aware I’m a social relic from an age when you walked through the shopping centre with an unbagged album under your arm to show like-minded souls who you were, and when the book as an object was quietly fetishised. Now kids stake out their personal space with knives and guns and gadgets, and working stiffs flip falsified pages of virtual books on Kindles. I’m like a character in a dystopian science-fiction novel, holed up in a cave full of cultural artefacts, waiting for the young Jenny Agutter to arrive in a tinfoil miniskirt, fleeing a poisonous cloud on the surface, to check out my stash and ask me: “Who exactly was the Quicksilver Messenger Service? Who was this Virginia Woolf? What kind of man was Jonah Hex?” 

Read this article on the paper version, but it’s great it’s one available online for free as well. That way I can share it with you. I thought it was very good.