Damn you all to hell

This story also comes from the excellent Letters of Note website,

In July of 2012, in an admirable attempt to secure him as a guest on his Nerdist Podcast, Chris Hardwick sent a beautiful 1934 Smith Corona to noted typewriter collector Tom Hanks and popped the question. Within days, Hanks responded with the charming letter seen below, typed on the Corona.

27 Tom Hanks Smith Corona 27 Tom Hanks letter

Unsurprisingly, the anecdote-filled podcast that resulted is wonderful. It can be heard here. And here’s the text of that splendid letter.

Dear Chris, Ashley, and all the diabolical genuies at Nerdist Industries.

Just who do you think you are to try to bribe me into an appearance on your ‘thing’ with this gift of the most fantastic Corona Silent typewriter made in 1934?

You are out of your minds if you think… that I… wow, this thing has great action… and this deep crimson color… Wait! I’m not so shallow as to… and it types nearly silently…


I will have my people contact yours and work out some kind of interview process…

Damn you all to hell,

(Signed, ‘Tom Hanks’)


‘Oh me? I eat anything!’

This story illustrates the smug self-satisfaction of the seasoned traveler. I’ve included it because it has the power to make people squirm, simply because of its subject matter. When I’ve told this tale in public, grown adults have begged me to stop.

By Ken Burnett

It’s a great thing to visit the work and see for yourself. Stories just leap out at you, particularly in Africa, or anywhere in the developing world.

I was in Cambodia, with the charity ActionAid, on a private though semi-official visit as former chairman of the board. I was given some time off to see the country and, as I always do wherever I go, I was telling my hostess, a delightful young Cambodian woman called Boromey, that, of course, I have no dietary restrictions. Boromey was charged to take Marie and me out to lunch, and had asked out of simple politeness.

‘Oh me, I eat anything,’ I replied, with the smug self-assurance of someone who when in Rome, habitually does what the Romans do.

‘Would you like to try a Cambodian delicacy?’ she asked.

‘Of course’, I replied.

‘Ok she said. And I swear she smiled, sweetly but just a bit slyly.

The appetizers were brought, a rare Cambodian delicacy indeed. Three large, hairy tarantula spiders, deep fried but cold, accompanied by a small amount of bitter, quite revolting pepper sauce. I nearly fell off my chair. Boromey fixed me with a gimlet eye.

‘You did say…’
The beer can is strategically placed to give you an idea of the scale of this brute. Marie declined. I was firmly hoisted on my own wretched petard.

I thought the legs might be least revolting, because they looked crisp and not too hard to digest. This was a mistake. They were soft and chewy, pliable but covered in hairs and quite stringy. Not at all nice. And there were eight of them!

Then came the head. The abdomen had looked so bad I decided to leave it till last. But the head was about as revolting as I could take. Its soft skin was filled with a kind of puree, a pungent, sticky blackish-red paste. But it wasn’t some confectionary put in there by some chef with a twisted sense of macabre humour. It was whatever tarantula spider’s heads are habitually filled with, rendered into a horrid paste. It was execrable.

Then came the abdomen, the big body of the beast.

I was now sweating profusely and feeling squeamish indeed. But I gamely struggled on and ate the thing, to its last, obnoxious drop. The body was full of a greenish, more liquid fluid of very uncertain origins. Boromey was by now rolling between the tables with laughter.

Boromey and Keshav
Boromey and Keshav back at the office, looking very pleased with themselves.

OK, so I deserved it. But however long it takes, I will get even with Boromey, one of these days.

I’ll invite her to Scotland and offer her haggis. Only I’m sure she’ll like it.

Tripe and dripping, perhaps? Any ideas welcome.

Jaded at the Odeon

by George Smith, an extract from his 2003 book Tiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising.

George and I worked together for 20 years and we were close pals for even more. I’ve never stopped loving the way he writes. I’ve included this snippet from an anthology of his press articles because I treasure this image of him sitting in solitude in the darkened cinema, railing at the screen and life’s little injustices, just as he did his whole life through. KB.


And another thing …
This is therefore the age of prolixity – of excess words filling the space afforded by the means of expressing those words – the media again. Hundreds of radio and television channels have to be filled with something and are filled with dross – the ramblings of the presenter, the opinions of the phone-in callers and latterly the recitations of the e-mailers. You would not want to be stuck in a lift with any of these people but there they are in your house day or night.

And what are people communicating over mobile phones that could not have been thus communicated 15 years ago? Gibberish usually. How much content is there in the average office e-mail? Bugger all. It’s words filling space again, I fear.

Everyone feels the need to say more than is necessary. A cornflake packet now carries enough words for a short story. A weather forecast can fill its five minutes by telling you about today’s weather as well as tomorrow’s. Three commentators will discuss an endlessly replayed goal. So many words, so little meaning, so little attention!

And it’s irritating too. My favourite current example is the cinema, now subject to the new demands of branding.

I enter the Odeon while strobe lights scan the corridors telling me that I am in the Odeon. I am subjected to ads by Kodak and Dolby who want me to know that they played a part in proceedings. And, yes, I am subjected to a clip from the Odeon chain telling me that they show films.

I knew this already. But you want to scream at the screen. ‘I know you show films. It’s why I’m sitting here. Sod you, Odeon.’

All these new and malign things define the world in which the storyteller tries to do his or her job. Let me repeat the sixth word I used: jaded. That’s how people are these days. They’ve heard everything several times over and you are going to have to express yourself remarkably well to catch their attention and persuade them to give you money.

We should try harder with words in the belief that raising money to do good is still an honourable occupation, no matter how shabby and weary its tradecraft has become.

© George Smith 2011