Mitchell lived in Japan for several years and so may be familiar with the Judo throw Tomoe Nage, in which the aggressor sacrifices his upright position in order to throw the defender spectacularly off balance. From personal experience it is a difficult throw to pull off, but very effective in competition.
One of several instances in which Mitchell makes fun of his own postmodern consciousness. Mitchell himself studied on just such a course at Kent University, the kind of plate glass institution that would have embraced postmodernism in all its awkward, mind boggling, enjoyment-sapping forms. Strands in postmodernism are now par the course in university English departments. Postmodernism is rather too complicated to explain here, but in its various literary manifestations the following devices may be exhibited: metafiction (stories within stories), self-referentialism (the bookmark in question is a perfect example), intertextuality (reference to other works within the same genre), intratextuality (the text refers to itself i.e. Cavendish talking about Half-Lives), the appearance of the author within his own work (e.g. Martin Amis writing himself into his own novel Money) or the text drawing attention to its own artifice. Mitchell's MA required him to examine the levels of reality in the postmodernist novel, a fact which seems to cause him some embarrassment. 'How pretentious is that?' he asked one interviewer. Best not ask Cavendish the same question...
Wormwood Scrubs is an area near Hammersmith in West London. Wormwood Scrubs (or simply The Scrubs) is also the name given to the prison located here. This category B prison was built by convicts in the late nineteenth-century and can boast Charles Bronson, Pete Doherty and Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde's boyfriend) among its former inmates.
According to the British Advertising Standards Authority, a vanity publisher is 'any company which charges a client to publish a book; or offers to include short stories, poems or other literary or artistic material in an anthology and then invites those included in it to buy a copy of that anthology.' Johnathon Clifford, who has campaigned long and hard against exploitative publishers (visit his website) claims to have coined the term vanity publisher himself. There is a fine line between self publishing and vanity publishing - the latter generally charges a high premium to publish work of poor quality and offers little or no marketing help. Less mercenary publishers offer self-publishing packages which offer editorial and marketing services. Alternatively the author may choose to manage the entire process himself. Walt Whitman, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Alan Edgar Poe and Rudyard Kipling all self-published at some point in their lives.
Mitchell's 'Worcestershire housewife' is a softened version of the Worcester Woman, regarded as representative of quintessential middle England: wealthy, white, materialist, conservative, Conservative, provincial and politically shallow. She is a hypothetical construction usually referred to in a political context. The term arose as a consequence of voting polls conducted in the UK in 1997.
Frances Bacon (1909-1992) was an Irish born British painter whose figurative work is known for its abstract, nightmarish and violent qualities. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once referred to him as 'the man who paints those dreadful pictures'.
Refers to Edward Gibbon's six volume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). It has been observed by contemporary scholar Glen W. Bowersock that 'From the eighteenth century onward we have been obsessed with the fall: it has been valued as an archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears.' This is especially true for Cavendish who rues the fact that 'England has gone to the dogs, oh, the dogs, the ruddy dogs.' Gibbon's theory that the Roman Empire fell victim to barbarians also echoes Cavendish' circumstances, whose physical decline is attributable to the barbaric figures found in Dermot, his brothers and the staff of the nursing home.
A fairly severe sound to me making love to! Sergei Rachmaninov (1973-1943) was a Russian composer and one of the most accomplished pianists of his day. The image of a young and earnest Cavendish attempting desperately to lose his virginity to this music is an irresistibly comic one...
A reference to Philip Larkin (1922-1985), who managed the University of Hull's library for thirty years. A detailed account of Larkin's influence on the library's development and reputation is provided in Andrew Motion's excellent Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life. Andrew Motion, former poet laureate (a position the lugubrious Larkin characteristically turned down) met Larkin when he too worked for the university. As Motion confirms in his biography, Hull was a suitably bleak setting for a notoriously glum poet.
An allusion to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who is more widely known under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll. At the opening of the book Alice nibbles on a cake, causing her to grow into a giantess. Believe it or not this literary adventure has given rise to the term Alice in Wonderland syndrome, or AIWS, a disorientating neorological condition in which sufferers experience a sense of having grown or shrunk relative to the objects around them. This can be triggered by migraines, brain tumours or, as in Cavendish's case, the ingestion of a psychoactive drug. The clip below is taken from the 1999 film, the 14th to be based on Carroll's Alice adventures. The new one (March 2010) starring Johnny Depp brings the number to 15.