Thirty Thousand Streets

Friday, December 22, 2006

Shunt, Allez Allez, Banking, Santa's Ghetto


It was Allez Allez last night, so I headed out at about eight o' clock with Jess, to rendevouz with Ade, Robin and Hannah at London Bridge.

I don't go out in London Bridge much, the only other times I can remember of note being my ex-housemates Christmas bash at The Hop Cellar last week and drinking in some cheesey hostel bar (Belushi's) with Lucy last September.

The venue this time was somewhat mysterious, and the directions could have only been marginally more obscure if tatooed on a dwarf and then sent to me through the post, but nonetheless after some ambling around in the frigid cold, me and Jess eventually found the place in question, Shunt Bar, which is located under the arches adjacent to London Bridge Station.

After entering a tiny unmarked doorway, you are directed down a long corridor, through a succession of arches, housing chairs, benches, and in one case, a small cinema auditorium, screening some arty flick to an audience of one. All of this works as a dramatic prelude to the bar itself, the sound of whose revelry floats up as you traipse uncertainly down, and basically it's like rocking up on the outskirts of a very tame, somewhat underpopulated suburb of hell (perhaps at some kind of judgement day wrap party).

The bar when you actually arrive is a cavernous, post-industrial affair, with bare brick floors, bare brick walls, decks on trestle tables, and a shed. I bought a bottle of Magners and a Baileys for Jess, who had the luck of getting the end of the bottle, as the girl behind the bar gave her a dose of Nesquik-esque proportions. After this we found Ade et-al and sat down.

This venue seems like something of an anomaly for touristy London bridge, and seems to have attracted the kind of hip crowd you'd usually catch wearing drainpipes and pointy shoes in a watering hole in Hoxton. It is a truly remarkable space however, and exactly the kind of 'cool' thing I came to London to participate in. Jess liked it so much she didn't want to leave.

But leave we did, wherupon one of the venue's institutions kicked in – an artistic 'happening' where a naked man smeared in axle grease capered round to the strains of some suitably manic music, and had plum tomatoes and dust upended on him in different corners of the room. It was like a version of that children's TV mainstay 'the gunk tank', for the inebriated chattering classes, and the highlight (no pun intended) was when someone trained a lazer pointer on the chap's todger as he prepared to shower in passata while standing on a chair. Apparently this always takes place at 10.30pm, though I'm not sure whether this is just on Thursdays.

Then off to the bijou Allez Allez, which got really busy this week, as anyone not nursing a hangover on the last work day of December can probably expect a written warning from Ken Livingstone himself. Katie and Penny were there, neither of whom I'd seen in ages, along with Kaye and various It's Bigger Than affiliates (I spotted Cutmaster Max and Leo The Amateur reppin' at the other end of the bar).

Caught a taxi home at about half three, and sat up for a while wolfing down cold Chinese food from the fridge and hiccuping at Jess, before swaying to bed at around five.


I full intended to leap out of bed this morning, but only just managed to blearily field a phone call from a recruitment consultant in the entire AM (does anyone else sleep with their mobile under their pillow, or is it just me?). Eventually got up at around half one, and consumed my own body mass in strong coffee and white toast with vegemite.

After this, the day's business began in earnest, as I had to both go to the bank to transfer funds from my business account and do my Christmas shopping, which in a break from tradition I opted not to leave until Christmas Eve.

I first went to the HSBC—they're the world's local bank, don't you know?—in Camberwell, and was immediately reminded why I usually go the branch on Baker street when I want anything doing. The customer service stand had simply vanished, to be replaced by a sheepish looking conglomeration of chairs, which were arranged in a formation reminiscent of the aftermath of a creche at a church hall somewhere. There were a few people sitting uneasily around, not really sure what was going on, or how to behave without a qeueue.

"Oh, for fucks sake"

I thought, while at the same time being vaguely amused that any institution with the chutzpah to brand themselves 'the world's local bank' could so shamelessly do away with the symbolic apparatus of customer service in a local branch.

"Sorry, no, if you want customer service the nearest branch is on Oxford Street"

I could imagine being told, but actually got seen to after about twenty minutes, after which I hopped on the twelve into town, for the aforementioned Christmas shop.

It was all relatively painless, though Oxford Street was rammed, but I braved it for one last nose round 'Santa's Ghetto', the temporary shop Pictures On Walls have put on in an empty store for the last few Christmases I've been here. All the Banksy stuff had sold out in about an hour on the first day, apparently, as everybody is Banksy crazy these days. I'm undecided about Banksy.. some of his stuff is very witty and some of it.. less so; but one thing's for sure, the guy is a very smart cookie. I was in Bristol just when he was starting to make a name for himself there, and even at the time he was really pushing the faceless artist bit (he didn't bother turning up to the opening night of an exhibition of his paintings at the Riverstation) and there seemd to be a little bit of low key 'hating' going on too (some fellow graffiteur took Banksy's trademark stencil logo and reworked it into 'Wanksy'). Either way, I'm kicking myself that I didn't buy one (or eight) of his prints in the 2004/5 sale, which cost about fifty quid then, and I've recently seen being bid for on ebay up to the tune of about £800. Ouch. Anyway, some other good stuff, including some prints by a guy called Sickboy, who I think went to the University of the West of England and was in the year below me at the Bower Ashton campus. A lot of the stuff had been sold, but I bought a screenprint by Insect, whose style I like (though it's not the Warhol influenced DJ Shadow album art one, which was influenced by Andy Warhol both in terms of style and the ambitious scale of the edition).

After that I had a look in the Hideout, and the Maharishi shop, where the back wall was dominated by custom painted variants of Marc Gonzalez's priest toy. They're selling an amazing Fedora hat in there by Kangol and New York shop Alife, which is great, but a little out of my price bracket at £700.

Then I jumped on that most heinous of bendy buses, the 12, to get back to Camberwell. It was predictably rammed to the gills with festive folk, and when we got to Elephant, a troupe of African street preachers boarded and proceeded to belt out an impromptu sermon, interspersed with bouts of song. Initially entertaining, it got slightly annoying after a while so I put on some earphones to drown it out. I was moaning about this to some friends later until Vicky pointed out that if you can't expect this sort of thing at Christmas, when can you expect it, and it is the true meaning of Christmas after all. So there.

Went round to Vicky's house in the evening where she cooked up some lovely pizzas, and I had a couple of glasses of wine. Ed really wanted to go and meet up with some of his Foyles homies in town, and I begrudgingly agreed to tag along, before having a last minute change of heart at the bus-stop. It was just too cold, I was too tired, and the thought of standing shoulder to shoulder in a Charing Cross Road bar at someone elses works do was too much for me to face right then.

Off to Mancunia tomorrow, and following my last farcical misadventure 'on the buses' I opted for the train this time, which should be significantly quicker than a coach. Honestly, people point to the fact that a lot of pensioners use National Express but I suspect they just got a few stops earlier and were my age when they boarded.

In any event, it looks like I got my ticket just in time too, what with most of the papers prophesying festive transport doom: 'Travel Chaos' screeched the London Evening Standard the other day, whilst pointing a shaking finger at the James Herbert-esque fog bank rolling across London, and they seem to be intent on manufacturing a scenario of Die Hard 2 proportions round the grounding of flights at Heathrow, with the villain of the piece being the aforementioned low-lying cloud, rather than a renegade Army Officer.

Anyway. Merry Christmas one and all, and I might write again from Stockport or Wales if Santa tells me you've all been good.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Walworth Road Army Surplus

I love army surplus shops and have consequently whittled away many hours of my life thumbing through piles of threadbare tat in pursuit of some elusive rare camo that doen't exist. At my behest a couple of friends also recently trawled some shops in Sweden in a fruitless attempt to locate some rare Swedish splinter camo. No luck (it all gets burnt after service, apparently).

Unfortunately surplus stores, like charity shops, are mostly rubbish these days. Instead of some weird one-of-a-kind zebra-print camo suit worn by an African dictator's imperial guard you're probably just going to find racks of brand new Alpha M65 USMC jackets priced at 70 quid each. Yawn.

At first glance the surplus store half way down the Walworth road looks like a veritable elixir to any camo-hound's jaded palette. "Levi's (sic), Wranglers, Dr Martens" announces the signage proudly, with rows of khaki wares dangling from the rafters in the entrance like a unit from some long forgotten army. Pavlovian response well and truly excited, I bounded over, saliva already pooling on the lapels of my button-down shirt.

Unfortunately, like so many things in life, up close it's a different story, and this shop rewards scrutiny in much the same way a web-exported jpeg doesn't. Upon approaching the windows one suddenly becomes aware that all the articles in the window are not only shrouded in dust-bunnies, but have been long bleached and faded by the sun's daily intrusion as it steals across the sky. Suddenly the articles suspended from the ceiling attain a faintly gibbet-like air, swaying uncertainly in the impartial winds that gust down the Walworth road.

"What.. happened here?"

You wonder to yourself.

Nonetheless, fortune favours the brave, so the more courageous amongst you might venture within, where it all just gets weirder. Upon stepping foot inside, one is immediately greeted with a loud, slightly accusative

"Can I help you sir?"

Uttered by the shop's proprietor, who emerges, stoop-backed from the gloom like a shop bound troll. And this nasal catchphrase is essentially where where pleasantries begin and end: any response in the negative – even a "Sorry thanks, I'm just browsing" is not advisable, as it will usually be met with an unflinchingly brusque: "Come on you must want something" or even better yet "Well get out then and stop wasting my time, I've got a business to run here".

Even in this day and age, let's not pretend anyone really gives that much of a shit about customer service, otherwise customer enquiries wouldn't be routinely directed to a call centre in Mumbai to be dealt with by someone reading the same ten answers of a prompt card. Nonetheless, everyone likes to pretend they're the customers best friend, so it's actually quite refreshing to encounter someone prepared to dispense with all formal niceties, because this man is plain rude. The last time I went (and I do, strangely, return) a West Indian family were exiting, having just been driven from within.

"Not gonna buy anything in there anyway" huffed the mother, irritably "Man's got no manners innit".

"Ah" I thought. "You've met him"

Basically the Walworth Surplus store is like a sketch from a comedy that never made it past the cutting room floor, and entering into any kind of dialogue with its bizarre owner will have you craning to see the hidden cameras, so utterly surreal is the setup.

His is the pinnacle of some Olde Worlde Institutionally bad service, where the customer is not only 'not right' but 'always wrong', and a necessary evil that must occasionally be tolerated (much like foreigners and women). This is the only store I have ever seen with a sign at the door that reads 'Only one customer in the shop at any one time'.

It's all a bit of a shame really, as the shop actually looks like the Alladins cave it should be, piled high with all manner of esoteric merchandise. But, browsing is simply not tolerated, and if you don't know exactly what you want, when you walk in, then get the hell out. I think the guy must own the place outright, as driving your customers away is hardly what I'd call a robust business model, and the only way that this guy could possibly be more offensive is if he implemented small arms fire as part of one of his customary exchanges.

To be fair, I think he is actually more mad than bad, and only slightly more surly than some of the bores who work in comic shops. He's something like a character you might encounter in Monkey Island 2 who resets every time you meet him, the limits of his slightly wonky AI being demonstrated by his stock of five or so witheringly curt phrases which he wheels out like siege engines. This guy doen't mince words, he just lobs them across the counter like grenades.

And in spite of all this, I have actually spent money there (a pair of gym-style pumps I wear round the flat and to go to the shops in). I'm just frustrated that he might have all this amazing stuff sequestered away, which is unobtainable soley because I don't know to ask for it. Much like a text-based game on my Spectrum 48k, visual clues are in short supply, and progress usually relies upon inputting exactly the right phrase ("What is "FUCK OFF" etc.) and maybe, just maybe, if I uttered the magic words "ripstop pants in experimental T-pattern camo, 32" waist" such an item might be plucked unceremoniously from a high shelf.

In my heart I doubt it though, and you have been warned "Abandon all hope ye who enter here".

Next time: Somewhere with good service.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Xmas Card

I think I need a new mac. Working on this kept crashing my grumpy old powerbook, annoyingly when just nudging layers. It was quite a large image to begin with, but nonetheless I'm beginning to think I need to put the old fella out to pasture as an MP3 jukebox or something.

Anyway, this is my Christmas card for 2006, which in order to cement my starving artist credentials is only getting sent digitally. Then again, this is 2006 and nearly 2007, so I'm surprised that (A) paper still exists and (B) we all don't live on the moon, so just think of it as moving with the times.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sharon Osbourne Disguise Kit™

Man, the animal posters were a pretty good freebie, but for those who missed it, Saturday's Guardian came with this free mask which allows you to 'become' X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne.

Way to go Guardian.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Allez Allez

Still working the same place in Soho I have been at for the last few weeks, and not really enjoying it very much to be honest. It's pretty manic with stuff being churned out for Christmas, and if I have to look at another mobile phone direct response ad I think I'm going to cry blood. I've felt shattered all week. No respite next week either, though I'll try and think of what I might plough the money into next year.

A lot of people there are using Adobe Indesign to exploit layer effects in Photoshop within a page layout program, and the jury is still out on whether this is good practice for when it actually goes to print. I'm not actually sure I care that much, but on a momentary aside I've got to say: Quark Express are screwed.

There are still sume clunky things about Indesign—it's sometimes really irritatingly fiddly to select type boxes for example—but it is so much more powerful than Quark it beggars belief. The fact that it integrates better with Illustrator and Photoshop and you can get all three packaged for less than the price of Quark's crappy software suggests to me that the latter's days are truly numbered.

Quark rested on their laurels for too long, lazily assuming their staus as the industry standard desktop publishing package was assured, and didn't really bother to try and develop the software or patch up the multitude of problems that pepper it like moth-holes in a deeply unfashionable sweater from the late eighties.

They do seem to have suddenly woken up to the fact that Adobe are probably going to take a huge slice of their business away from them, but their sudden frantic attempts to shore up their archaic enterprise frankly reek of desperation. The debacle surrounding their laughable attempts to rebrand being an own goal they could probably have done without as well.

Having said that, if I never had to use a page layout application again it wouldn't bother me hugely.

Went to my friend Sam's night Allez Allez on Thursday, which was great. I warmed up with some music for them but it was Weekend Steve and the man like Deven Miles who turned the party out, and you can hear the guys enthusiasm for what they're playing booming out of the speakers. The music is pretty eclectic (though that's an annoyingly broad term) but generally on quite a clubby, housey tip if that helps. I had a really good time, though I sure felt it the next day. It's early days yet, but I really hope it grows to be the success it deserves to be. Check out their blog here. They got podcasts and everything.

Saturday now. The landlord had arranged for an electrician to come round this morning, and he was banging round at about nine thirty. I got up and went to the post office to get a package, a belt from Oi Polloi in Manchester from their own line they did with the Japanese Paul Smith subsiduary, R Newbold. The buckle's based on their logo, which was designed by Rick Myers. I kind of wanted the Magpies one but that sold out in a hot second. They also sent a few pin badges too, which was nice.

Meeting up with ade in a bit, as he's just got back from Barcelona where he was visiting his brother. Maybe catch up with Marvyn and Ed too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Hey, what happened to all the chargers, anyway? I'm talking about battery chargers in general but special mention must be made of phone chargers.

Time was that the earth used to groan beneath the collective weight of phone chargers, that dominated the horizon like menacing sillouettes in a Max Ernst frottage.

They were prime examples of the kibble that Phillip K Dick prophesised, technological by-product slowly swelling in mass to produce mountains of black plastic worms, intertwined like slumbering rattlesnakes in kitchen drawers throughout the land.

But now, they all seem to have vanished.. Something has decimated the charger population, and I want answers. Was there a charger amnesty I missed? or a cull on power sources in general? I used to have al least four—three Nokia, one Sony Ericsson with a really self consciously 'technological' attachment doohicky—and truly, they were times of charger excess. No place of residence was complete without about half a dozen of those things (each, per person), which would nestle like plastic umbelici in the corners of every room, warm to the touch. In much the same way a bedouin tribesman might offer you some weird tea or something whilst guesting in his caravan, a prerequisite of hospitality in Chorlton circa 2003 was unlimited acesss to a home's collective battery replenishment wealth.

"Does anyone have a Nokia charger..?" you'd ask, gazing at the mournful one-bar on your phone's screen, despite already knowing the answer.

Not so anymore.. It's like Mad Max round here when it comes to phone chargers, a trusty Nokia Type ACP–7X having suddenly having attained the same status as 'the last of the V8 interceptors' in these lean, mean times. I asked my housemate if I could use hers the other day and she actually had to think about it.. "Erm, yeah alright, I might have to use it in a bit" she said uncertainly.

Now I've got one, and I keep misplacing it.. I think it's making a quiet desperate bid for freedom, to follow it's compatriots to whatever alternate dimension all the odd socks and biros holidayed in in the eighties, and one day will simply ping out of existence when I turn my back on it, without so much as a "So long and thanks for all the DC power supply".

Perhaps they'll all return, someday, but like the entwives. I doubt it.

Because friends, I think we were destroying them, not so much through technological euthanasia as simply feeding them too much: leaving them plugged in for extended periods when not even charging, which eventually burnt them out. Our kindness killed, and they simply had to escape.

In fact.. all this would make for a 'great' Disney Pixar 3D animation! 'Pull the Plug' (working title) would follow the adventures of a rag-tag group of DC power transforming appliances as they seek to escape a student flat in a suburb of Stockport for the shargri-lah of (uncertain about this bit). Along they way they would befriend a gruff car battery with a heart of gold they meet in a shed, and seek to evade the local bully whose hobby is throwing mobile phone chargers on to fires. Comic hi-jinx would ensue, and along the way there'd be lots of room for post-modern adult humour, aimed at the grown ups sleeping in the audience eg: '"I'm getting turned on here!" "Well you are a charger!"' Hah Hah Hah etc. Vocal acting talent would be provided by Nadia Sawahla and Joey out of friends.

Any Disney execs reading this can get in touch through the usual channels, but I warn you, genius like this doesn't come cheap. And I'm clearly a busy man, as my writing of this blog post proves.