The beauty of booty, especially when it's legal
Gary is a former punk and veteran of the Blair Peach protests. He's now a first-rate community bobby
This time last week Branscombe Beach was the place I took summer visitors line fishing for mackerel. Now it's the location of my infamy, where I was blooded in the ancient Devon line of shipwreck scavengers. You may have seen me on the front page, 14th container from the left, a blot on society. Too slow to salvage one of those BMW motorbikes from the MSC Napoli, my haul was a set of dice and an empty wine cask, one of hundreds en route from France to the vineyards of South Africa. Rolling the cask up the hill to do duty as a water butt - on the orders of my wife - I felt like an old smuggler robbing the excise man of duty on French brandy, and with the 31 January tax deadline looming, there was some pleasure in this.
More thrilling was that it was legal, astonishing my friend Gary, a senior policeman in these parts, who could scarcely believe what he was told by a lady called the Receiver of Wrecks as the BMWs were wheeled away under his nose by tattooed men. So long as they did a bit of paperwork, he told me, the bikes were theirs. Gary is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper - former punk anarchist and Blair Peach protestor, now first-rate community bobby - but even he didn't realise how wonderfully lawless the law can be. When he's off duty, he's coming back for a cask himself.
TV as sport
With the wind still fresh in what's left of my hair, I sat down to watch the edit of an arts documentary I've been producing for RTE in Ireland and America's PBS on the great Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie, whose most famous public works are the "Famine" figures on Dublin Quay. We've been following him as he makes a new set for Toronto, figures he imagines might have arrived there 160 years ago. We filmed from first drawing to final casting one sculpture that was inspired by the character of Pius Mulvey in Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea.
The moment Joe saw Pius brought to bronze life in the pissing Irish rain was magnificent, and yet the chances of this being commissioned by a UK broadcaster are zero. I am only an occasional in production these days, and say this with no side, but the genius of the Indian backlash against Big Brother was that the effigies they burned were not of Jade but of the producers. A depressed BBC commissioning editor said to me recently: "My job now is to make clever people richer." This is the way it has gone with companies such as Endemol or RDF Media, run by those who boast on their CVs of early jobs on Panorama but now operate at the intellectual level of the Daily Sport. Their consciences are assuaged by the millions they make in rights issues every few years. Maybe we should all know a bit more about that.
I last went to a publishing party in 1992, but given that Sceptre has just published my latest book and commissioned the next, it was unthinkable not to go to the imprint's 21st birthday party.
It's very different for me these days. I set off from east Devon mid-afternoon and slipped through Livingstone's congestion cordon at precisely 6.31pm. Unable to tell international mega-agent from canapé-serving waiter, I blundered about genially, but was seriously impressed to meet Jake Arnott, who was unheard of when my oldest son was born. The problem is that my son is also called Jake, and though he forgot to turn up for his mock GCSE English this week, he is determined to be a writer. The famous Jake suggested that in say 20 years he could simply hand over the baton to my son, thus yielding an output over more decades than Sir Cliff, though we've yet to put the idea to his agent.
Driving home after the party, I was so tired that I pulled over in a lay-by near Stonehenge at three in the morning, and snuggled between two juggernauts. I must have twitched in my sleep because I set off the car alarm, waking the jovial lorry drivers who yelled at me to eff off and such while reaching for iron bars at the back of their cabs. I scooted, but if I hadn't been quick with the ignition I might have inspired another novel by one of the Two Jakes. This, I thought, keeping awake down the A303 with a can of Red Bull, is more fun than a cab back to Islington.
"Let Me Eat Cake" by Paul Arnott is published by Sceptre (£12.99)