Thirty Thousand Streets

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in Manchester

So Christmas over for another year.

This one was pretty good, though my return to Manchester spelled out to me just rainy this place is, with it being not so much a white Christmas as a grey liquid one (It's drizzled incessantly). For that reason alone – though there are others – I don't really see myself living here again anytime soon.

Change seems to be afoot in Manchester, with cranes looming over the skyline everywhere. If the gentrification of the city centre was gaining pace when I left three years ago, it now seems to have gone into overdrive, with warehouses everywhere being converted into ubiquitous trendy loft-style apartments by Urban Splash and the like, and there's even been a development out near Ancoats that's been branded 'New Islington'.

Someone brought up something I'd read about months ago, that the boutique shopping emporium Afflecks Palace is facing an uncertain future, and might well end up being itself converted into flats, which seems to highlight to me a problem with this influx to the city centre: being that the introduction of massive wealth often prices out the businesses that make it an interesting place to be in the first place. So the question is, is everyone suddenly going to rush to the suburbs again in ten years time, when they realise they're actually living in a kind of city centre housing estate punctuated by anodyne bars, and all the interesting-but-skint people upped sticks years ago, to go and live in, I dunno, Levenshulme?

Did I mention the bars? Yeah, there also seem to be loads of new trendy looking bars around the Northern Quarter, but having walked through the valley of the shadow of death which is Manchester at kicking out time, these aren't things Manchester needs particularly (at least in my opinion).

Stockport hasn't changed much, mind, as I can attest having spent a fair part of Christmas Eve seemingly trapped in Whitefield Industrial estate in South Reddish. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the now unfamiliar factory units, but I managed to arrive pretty much exactly back where I started, within an hour of setting off, and I nearly gave up there and then.

Getting a lift back tomorrow with Ade and Rachael, and I can't wait actually. I mostly just want to sleep in my own bed and eat 'normal' food really.

Next up on the agenda: New Years Eve.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seasons greetings..

















Shalom Alecheim and all that good stuff..

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fry's Churlish Delight






















I saw this on the tube last night.. it's from a poster for a DVD game called Strictly Come Duncing, which in light of recent events must have one of the most unfortunate cover photographs ever, as a demonic looking Jonathan Creek, sorry, Alan Davies, is depicted reaching for QI presenter Stephen Fry's ear, looking like a modern day bewigged Nosferatu.

Dude's on some Mike Tyson shit..

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fashion Police


I guess you know you're living in a pretty cool city when police insignia looks like it could be a logo for a Bond villain's private army. Just saying.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kompakt party




Last night I went to the Kompakt night at Plastic People in Shoreditch. I took a circuitous route via a recruitment consultants party in the centre of town, and to this end this took the 176 as far as the end of the Strand, where I walked across Trafalgar Square.

There's now a huge Christmas tree there, which I vaguely remember as being bequeathed us by Sweden for helping out in the Second World War. There was also some carol singers assembled in front singing, erm, Christmas carols. It was all aglow, and I actually felt festive for around five seconds or so.

Then it was off to the recruitment ball, which I went to primarily to see what my recruitment buddies actually look like, as the girl who signed me up left last year. It was alright but slightly awkward. I grabbed a bottle of beer and worried at the trestle table of finger food. A narky South African freelancer I worked with last year was there, looking slightly more cheery. I demurred to chat, and ducked out, to hike up toward Shoreditch via the Clerkenwell Road.

The Kompakt night was somewhat late starting, as there were some technical wrangles to do with an effects unit DJ Koze wanted to use. In the meantime I wandered round taking photos of the nearly empty club, which in case you are misled, are the ones above (it got pretty busy later on). Steve kicked proceedings off DJ wise, opening his set with a tune by Moodog, which Mr Scruff sampled for Get a Move On, on Keep it Unreal.

To start off with, it was freezing cold, and I was wandering round in a scarf and coat swilling on ice cold lager. There were more than a few Germans there, and I couldn't help but wonder that if they'd had a stall selling bratwurst, it would have been a bit like a techno themed version of the German Christmas markets they used to hold in Albert Square in Manchester. Just a thought.

But seriously, it was a killer night. After Steve's suave intro, Koze stepped up to the decks and dropped some throbbing, bassy, Detroit style tracks. The sound system in there is crisper than a tube of Pringles, and I pretty much thought I'd found jacking heaven, swaying up at the front.

Popping out front for a smoke, I got chatting to Christian from Cologne, who was over from the label, and was similarly impressed. According to him, he'd chatted to some other Germans who'd been to the previous night with Thomas Fehlman, and sung its praises back home. He was less impressed with the cost of a single tube fare being four quid, but then who is.

The night wound up at two-ish after whistles, hollers, and me barking like a dog for "one more" which Koze dutifully served up. For me this ranked as one of my favourite nights of the year, and kudos to the Allez Allez boys for setting it up. A little bird tells me it might also be the last, so if you missed it you missed out.

Getting home was as royal a pain in the ass as it ever is from Shoreditch to Camberwell, with a 35 sauntering up around three-ish to spirit me home to bed.

Thursday night now, and the weekend is nearly here. Not sure what I'm doing at the weekend, but there's always the Allez Allez birthday shindig at the Amersham arms on Saturday.

Uploaded now at Thirty Thousand Streets is me and my esteemed colleague Zeno Cossini's ocassional collaboration (him on words, me on pictures). If marauding crustacea are your thing, you just hit paydirt. Drop by and say hello sometime, comments welcome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wenesday

Today's been cold and Wednesday-ish. Indeed, the most exciting thing to happen so far was when a lady rang my flat and asked if we were "the Robbery Squad" which all but made me do a double take at the phone (we're not the Robbery Squad).

Off to town in a couple of hours to schmooze, in my somewhat limited capacity. After that I'm going to swing down to Plastic People in Shoreditch, for the Allez Allez boys' Kompakt night.

Scarves ahoy I think.

Friday, November 30, 2007

'Free' Lance






















I'm a bit weary of work at the minute ("aren't we all? I imagine you're thinking") and getting quite cynical about it all. Three years in the freelance game, and at the minute, I'm often increasingly frustrated – a situation I've got to reverse if I'm going to carry on labouring in this industry.

One of the things I've become accustomed to, yet increasingly irritated by, it must be said, are employers who quibble about paying overtime to freelancers.

Yesterday I was working at a medium sized ad agency, helping on pitch work to retain an existing client. I worked over my eight standard hours, and so by the standard terms set out by the recruitment consultants who arranged the booking, was entitled to pay at the rate of time and a half.

It was only half an hour anyway, but when the time came for me to get my timesheet signed, the studio manager announced that "we don't pay time and a half".

This pissed me off. Firstly because the recruitment consultants who set the gig up should have made these terms clear to me, but primarily because I think it is incredibly remiss of a medium sized ad agency to refuse to pay freelancers their dues once thy've worked over a standard day, because that's the way it works, y'know?.

In general freelancers often have to spend a great deal of time running round tying up loose ends and having to do the dirty work the full-timers don't want to touch. Often, you're stuck on the grouchy G4 in the corner none of the designers will use. Often you're just treated like a human status bar, to be fed a stack of work to drill though gradually, like a rat through concrete.

So whatever. No-one ever said it was going to be easy. But the payoff for all this is (or should definitely be) that you're paid your dues at the end of the day, and your efforts are rewarded with commeasurate amounts of the folding stuff. Because often, you don't know where the next gig is coming from. It's a given that full time employers in the design industry on a salary work long hours overtime, unpaid, and those are the breaks; thats's how the industry functions. But it's different for freelancers and if – as in this case – you're a decent sized advertising agency with an enviable client list, you should honour this difference out of simple professionalism, as much as anything.

And funnily enough actually, it is quite often the large-ish ad agencies who refuse to play the game on this one. And while of course it would be naive to assume the advertising industry is exactly afroth with the milk of human kindness, it rankles that a communications agency with plush West End offices, who are obviously doing very well for themselves thank you very much, gripe when it comes to paying up.

Of course there's always the argument that this is an effort to stop agencies haemmoraging unnecessary funds on contracters, but in this case the onus is on the agency, and its planners, to ensure they are more organised in this respect.

Anyway. If I've got any kind of grit I might endevavour to not work there in future. But who knows, I may have to.

In principle though, my sentiment remains: "pay the hell up, bitch!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Noodle Conspiracy






















Y'know, I like me some noodles. And while I like them as part of a cooked dish with stir fries or as a substitute for pasta, at heart I'm something of a fiend for the cheap packets of instant noodles that seem to be a reliable fixture of mini-markets everywhere.

I was especially fond of the range available at the Chinese Supermarket round the corner, and most weeks would pop in at once to stock up on their three-for-one sardines, and browse the wall of noodles on aisle three. The sesame chicken variety were a particular favourite.

The thing is, I always looked on noodles as a harmless treat: a late night snack I could wolf down, guilt free. After all, they're noodles, right? there's noting in them other than flour, and um.. water? nothing sinister anyway.

So I was quite surprised to discover – while waiting for the water to boil the other day and idly reading the back of the pack – that this particular variety ('satay sauce' I believe) had something like a third (one third!) of the adult male daily fat allowance.. or around 22 grams per pack. At first I thought I'd merely got unlucky in some noodle game of Russian Roulette, so scoured the backs of the other flavours I'd bought, to find that they were all playing noodle-ball in roughly the same noodle-ball-park.

To put this in perspective.. 100 grams of the cereal I'm eating at the minute (Special K since you ask) has 1.5 grams of fat per 100g of cereal, or roughly 5.6 grams in each 375g box. Meaning that the fat content of one packet of these noodles.. is equivalent to four entire boxes of Special K. Khrist.

Ok so I'm probably sounding like a Kellogs advertorial here, and at risk of getting too metrosexual about the whole issue, but that's a lot of fat for a small pack of noodles.. right? I mean, someone actually had to try pretty damned hard to get that much fat in didn't they?

I have to say, I'm slightly peeved about this.. something I viewed as a culinary staple has become.. sullied. I never assumed they had much more nutritional content than cardboard to start with, but by this same token I never assumed I was consuming some covert form of lard.

I dunno, someone'll tell me Father Christmas isn't real next..

Monday, November 26, 2007

Retro Kicks

Todays retro fix is brought to you by Sesame Street, and the 70s. Yes folks, it's the 'Number 12' pinball song.

This is pretty much my childhood right here. Just look at those gorgeous illustrations! but then, I'm a sucker for many things seventies, from graphic art through to vintage tan leather 'funk coats', and the drawing style feels reminiscent of Seymour Chwast and Pushpin to me. Anyway, I think this is sung by the Pointer Sisters, and it's not bad in a kind of disposable disco jingle style. I seem to recall Ninja Tune releasing this on 12 inch as the B-side to a Larry Levan remix of a song by the Cookie Monster. Can't say I've heard that, and I'm not actually sure I'd go as far as playing it out but hey.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Whatever happened to Kinder Eggs

I bought a Kinder Egg yesterday. To me these days, Kinder Eggs are a bit like National Lottery scratchcards.. things I occasionally buy while queueing for milk in the newsagents, in an attempt to numb the general ennui of existence by the frisson of excitement they represent. I could win a million pounds! or I could have a fully functioning scale replica of Robert Stevenson's 'Rocket', in plastic!

Unfortunately, neither are ever true, and with both scratchies and eggs, you're generally left with an instant piece of rubbish, and a faint sense of anticlimax. Kinder Eggs have fallen the fuck off, man.

May I present Exhibit A for the prosecution. Ladies and gentlemen: my prize

















Now, could anyone tell me, WTF this is supposed to be? Obviously it's supposed to be some kind of doll, but what kind of kid would want to have such a thing? I might be getting needlessly nostalgic here, but I used to get loads of these things as a child, and I'm pretty certain they were far superior back in the day. I remember Kinder Egg toys where you'd open it, and it was completely composite – you'd get all these little parts, with a tiny set of instructions on how to assemble your plane/boat/tractor, with fingers still sticky from the ersatz two-tone chocolate. That was half the fun: it invited you to engage in the construction of your toy – to the point of applying decal stickers – and the payoff at the end was you got your little toy, magic trick whatever, to forget about half an hour later when Ulysses 31 came on TV.

The one concession to the construction process in my eye-wateringly ugly plastic homunculus is the fact that it came in two parts. The head is detachable you see, and upon removal of the head you're left with..

















A mini totem devil! Great! What kind of message is that sending out?

"All appearances are false" (booms a hollow voice like Orson Welles as Unicron in Transformers the Movie) "all appearances are false, and at the heart of everything, dwells unreason, which is the very principle of evil"

That's how I interpreted it anyway. No wonder the kids of today are messed up; truly, the devil is in the details.

















It gets worse though. Squinting at the accompanying mini brochure, it becomes clear that this is just one in a family of similar statuettes, all of whom are presumably also demons masquerading as members of some sub-Pokemon cartoon family, all available for you to collect and perform your own mini-inquisition upon. And even worse than this, all of them appear to be piloting small aircraft, which in my case at least, was not included in the original purchase. Great. So I'm to be denied even that catharsis.

This is fairly typical of kinder eggs now.. they do seem to be all based around some dog-ugly set of characters, that require minimal interaction or imagination. Something I find doubly depressing about these toys is that, as non-biodegradeable plastic, if I opted to have them buried them in the ground with me a la the Egyptian pharoahs, there's a good chance these tawdry artefacts would persist long after my remains had long since vanished, for future generations of intelligent insects/rats to ponder over. Kind of a lame legacy to leave, I'm sure you'll agree. Here's some I bought earlier this year.

















In truth this slide isn't restricted to just Kinder Toys though.. as I trawled the aisles of Woolworths the other day in my quest for some 'Henry' vaccuum-cleaner bags, I was arrested mid stride by the selection of lego in the toys aisle. It all seemed more sophisticated, but at least half of it consisted of branded tie-ins to the Star Wars franchise (and presumably George Lucas's latter day revisionist abominations at that). Indeed, even the bits that weren't, while appearing more engineered, were actually constructed of parts that seemed wholly specific to the individual toy – a entire moulded cabin for a flatbed truck for instance.

Part of Lego's charm was its trademark clunkyness.. the fact that all or most of the parts were modular and interchangeable. Something that was a car one minute could easily be a spaceship the next, with a little input and imagination of course. These modern day efforts? well I don't know.. they look kinda cool, but ultimately more limited in scope.. less 'open source' if you like.

Anyway *rant over*. You could probably recreate the sentiment of reading this blog post by simply writing:

"Things aren't as good as they used to be"

And reading and re-reading that for five minutes. In the meanwhile, I'm going to go and shake my fist at the sea. You can discuss how much larger chocolate bars used to be amongst yourselves.

Friday, November 16, 2007

LOLC



Today I went to the Land Of Lost Content, which is a museum of ephemera from the 20th century, situated in Craven Arms in Shropshire, in an old Market Hall.

To put it another way, it's three (draughty) floors of some of the most fascinating tat and bric-a-brac you're ever likely to stumble across in a country village.

It was themed section by section, but part of its charm is that everything is displayed 'Alladin's Cave' style, every corner dripping with the marginalia of popular culture: There's posters, clothes, toys, packaging, records.. the list goes on.

The museum's mission statement is (and I'm going to paraphrase from memory here) to preserve a unique record of how people lived, in times when they endured greater hardship, yet enjoyed an unparalelled contentment, and in this I suppose they are referring principally to the war/post war era of the early to mid twentieth century.

I guess I'm always slightly suspicious of this kind of rose-tinted nostalgia for times past, but it must be said, from the vantage point of our marketing and branding obsessed times, much of the trivia on display manages to evoke a wistful smile, as a lot of it does seem quite sweet and naive, and yes, less sophisticated, than the incredibly nuanced sea of media we inhabit now. To some extent these are kitsch kicks you're getting here (chuckling gently at seventies chocolate wrappers is surely the museum equivalent of those 'I heart the 60s/70s/80s' programmes) but fascinating nonetheless.

Apparently the guy who used to run 'Red or Dead' is a big fan too, and is now involved in trying to market the place a bit more effectively. Good thing, as that day my mum and me were the only two people in there.

I've no pics (at their request) but if you're in the area, take a look.

Afterwards we left, and there was some kind of Children in Need thing going on, with a huge Papier Mache head being wheeled down the street with a guy in Pudsey Bear outfit next to it. I have pictures of that, which I'll stick up shortly.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cold in Wales

I'm in Wales. It's cold and foggy. Sorry, freezing and foggy.

I need a jumper.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Operation

So. Nearly three weeks ago on Wednesday morning, whilst unconcious, I was set about with a knife by an short bearded man, just off Denmark Hill in Camberwell.

Luckily he was a surgeon and I was being operated on (drumroll-cymbal).

Anyway.. that was fine. I've been a bit sore and limping around a little since, but otherwise ok. I've also not been working (largely through choice) though have been reasonably busy doing other stuff.

I've not been updating this much (at all) recently, as I've had some stuff on my mind, and things I want to sort out, and I don't want to fall into the trap of talking about it rather than getting on and doing it. I always intended this blog to be about experiences I'd had that excited me, and I've been feeling a bit introspective recently. I think once you get out of the rhythm of updating these things it's sometimes hard to get back in.

In other news I've trying to avoid the evil that is Facebook as much as possible (it annoys me) and some estate agent from Foxtons keeps ringing me up and badgering me about why I'm not currently hunting a flat (despite me telling him thrice I'm not). I'm tempted to say "none of your business mate, and if you don't stop pestering me, I might start hunting you" but have managed to remain reasonably cordial.

Anyway. Tonight I'm off to meet up with my friend Tim and some old uni buddies for birthday drinks on Kingly Street in Soho, and then might drop in to the Kompakt night at Plastic People, where Thomas Fehlman – ex The Orb – is DJing. Should be good!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Framed


Yesterday, with a day off, I hoofed it off to West Acton to see framing guru and general all round nice guy Ricardo at Pauli Frames.

He's done the honours with a Paul Insect print I'd bought from Lazarides Gallery on Greek Street in Soho, and done a great job, that really shows the image off to its fullest. The painted wooden frame feels incredibly smooth to the touch, and looks soft. It's classy, without distracting from the art itself. When I told my housemate Cecilia how much it cost, she visibly blanched, but really, it was pretty much par for the course, and the craftsmanship is impeccable.

What's more, he even gave me a lift to the station with it. I told you: nice guy.

The image itself is from Insect's 'Bullion' exhibition that Damian Hirst snapped up all the paintings from. It feels like 'dirty pop' to me – something from the sixties or seventies with a nasty noughties twist.

Love it.

It actually has a sister print, on silver, with 'Peace' spelt out in revolvers, which surfaces on Ebay quite regularly. Might have to hope for another tax rebate next year if I'm going to afford that puppy though.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Post Office

There was a piece in the Metro on Wednesday about a bizarre craze in Holland, where people are buying English Royal Mail jackets and wearing them as 'Fashion Wear'.. something to do with the colourways reflecting those of the royal coat of arms and national pride and post modernism blah blah blah..

All I can say is I'm glad something good's come of our postal service as it was in a pretty poor state last time I checked. Today I embarked on a now familiar Saturday institution.. going to pick up a parcel from the depot.. to discover a qeueue of people snaking out onto the street and thirty or so feet up the pavement. When after ten minutes or so I got to front of the qeueue today, there was a missing sign taped in the window, for the lost 'depot puppy' – their version of the 'firehouse dog' I suppose. I felt tempted to suggest they have another look for it out back, as it was probably just stranded somewhere behind the mountains of undelivered parcels, keening pitifully.

The post on my street usually arrives around eleven o'clock, well after everyone's gone to work (so in truth there's unlikely to be anyone in to sign for things) but in any event, the Postmen round here don't tend to bother delivering parcels anymore, preferring instead to just drop those little red cards through the door, summoning you to pick up the package in person (after a period of 48 hours). This is if they even manage to get it through the right door in the first place, of course.

I wouldn't mind this so much, if the hours they opened weren't so inconvenient.. the parcel depot only opening its doors between 8am and 1pm during the week – 8am being timed timed precisely to coincide with when I have to go to work – and 8am and 12.30pm on a Saturday.

Why is this so awkward? Why, given that people increasingly shop more and more and more over the internet, and I at least recieve parcels more frequently than at any time in the past, don't they open earlier and or later, to allow people to pick up the parcels they quite often failed to deliver in the first place? it's wierd.. has this not ocurred to anyone as the obvious conclusion to an apparent problem?

The Post Office these days seems to be one of those anti-success stories, wherein a service that was once supposedly the envy of the world has undergone a process of reverse alchemy, transforming a silk purse into a sow's ear (that probably arrived a week late).

On the strike I can't really comment.. I guess I'm all for the idea of unions, and having read Charles Bukowski, I can't imagine delivering mail is necessarily the nicest job in the world (hence the phrase 'going postal') so why strip the job of any minor perks it might have, but it really is a fairly dismal service that needs something of a cultural overhaul.

Anyway.. it brought to mind this sketch by Spitting Image.. enjoy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Deptford, New Cross, Greenwich, Control













Yesterday I went to Greenwich to catch a film with Ed. We went via New Cross and Deptford. First stop was a Deptford high street, which gets full marks for its eccentric independent retailers, with quirky signage. Some points deducted for the high number of shut boozers, now masquerading as Halal butchers and the like.

From here we wandered over to St. Nicholas's church in whose graveyard Christopher Marlowe is buried. The gateposts are surmounted with carved skull and crossbones, which are reputed to be the inspiration behind the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger. The church itself is ancient, but appears a rather clumsy agglomeration of building styles – the result of indifferent repair work for gale and wartime damage last century.

We took the post-industrial approach to Greenwich, past gently rusting machinery, and new business parks behind anodised aluminium fencing. Further down the road we popped into a crumbling second hand bookshop on the outskirts of Greenwich, whose walls are shored up by wooden butresses. I really wanted to buy a Glenn Baxter original ink cartoon that was hanging on the wall, which was (unsurprisingly perhaps) not for sale. I'll probably go back as it seemed something of a treasure trove of secondhand books, and moreover, the owner is petiioning to keep it open as the developers move in, so its time might soon be up.

After arranging tickets for the film, we stopped for an ice cream, and wandered round the park, which was heaving with tourists taking pictures of the view of Canary Wharf from the hill beneath the observatory, before wandering back to catch the flick.

We saw Control, the new film about Joy Division, which I really enjoyed. I can't pretend I know all that much about the band, or indeed that part of Manchester's history, though a friend recently told me I should milk it for all its worth, so perhaps I should get brushing up. It's certainly cool; pretty beautiful, in a bleak black and white way. I also thought the acting was very good, though afterwards, Ed and Martin (who works at the Picturehouse) agreed that they thought the script pretty flimsy.

Working in Soho this week, and my social calendar seems pretty busy too. A potential last-minute reunion with some friends this evening, a 30th birthday tomorrow, and two club nights at the weekend, including the wrap party for the DLA Film Festival my housemate was involved in, and Allez Allez's night at the Amersham Arms in New Cross, which I passed yesterday, twice.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pro-Keds?

















"I'm everlasting, like the toe on Pro Keds"

Rasped Craig Mack on 1994s infamous posse cut, the Flava In Ya Ear remix, and while the intervening years haven't been so kind to the big guy's rap career, the fact remains that Pro-Keds Court Kings are one durable assed (or toed) sneaker. As much as I like the look of Converse, they have their design flaws: notably that the tongue usually works its way down the side of the shoe, and it's fabric often tears at the heel – a point of stress where it is notably weak. Compared to this, Pro-Keds are incredibly durable and comfortable, as a shoe to walk, dance and lounge in.

Pro-Keds are like the Marmite of the trainer world.. you either love them or think they look like clown's shoes. I regularly used to get cussed at work for sporting them, and a nocturnal walk through the shady environs of Burnage was never complete without a round of jeers from a posse of Rockport-toting ballers hanging round outside some rough-assed pub, if I was flexing 'the Keds'.

That said, a friend who's a fashion designer was feeling them, and some dude on an industrial estate in Acton the other day (don't ask) said "Nice Keds mate!" approvingly, as he walked by.

There's something endearingly ugly/beautiful about them.. if Pro-Keds were a dog I'm 90 percent certain they'd be an English Bull Terrier, in a white colourway with pink nose, and they seem to inspire a certain degree of cultish fandom. Coming from a sneaker dynasty of some vintage, these basketball kicks have been namechecked by Rappers from Blackalicious through to Ghostface (and they even did a Rocafella Records collaboration, though we won't go into that).

Shame that I can't find any in the UK at the minute, then. Ebay (my usual port of call) has a few knocking about, but they're all Converse style hi-tops, where as what I'm after are the lo-cut Court Kings with their mega-durable soles and bumper car-style toe. Indeed the UK website is of some vintage (it urges you to download Flash Player 5) and a trawl of various other UK sites has so far proved fruitless. It looks like if I want to get hold of a pair, I'll have to buy from the States.. which probably means exorbitant shipping fees. Bummer.

So, if anyone knows where I can find Pro-Keds Court Kings in UK 9 (any colourways), please let me know, as my existing pair are starting to look somewhat rough.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beauty and The Beat

I went to one of the 'Beauty and the Beat' parties up in Dalston this weekend, which I've been meaning to catch for a while having checked out one of the DJs, Cedric Woo's mix online.

It was really good fun.. in a back of a pub on Kingsland Road. It was all fairly low rent, but that was part of the charm, and it actually reminded me slightly of the 'Herbal Tea Parties' in the mid 90s in Manchester, which took place in an Irish pub called The New Adri on the outskirts of Hulme. That night was always endearing because in spite of the dreadlocked ravers and slamming techno, it was recognisably 'a pub' complete with banquette seating. Also, the bar was generally staffed by big Irish ladies and the Guinness was very cheap.

Much the same here, and if anything more pared down, with the light show provided by Mathmos and an old school disco ball. Still, the music was really good, on an almost balearic tip, with lots of disco, and house with cool swishy sounds, and the 'Audiophile' sound system was very crisp. There was a really nice atmosphere too, with lots of dressed down raver types dancing away and smiling. Indeed, I didn't spot a single pair of drainpipe jeans or pointy shoes all night, and in fact, there was that rarest of sights (for London) at clubs.. slighly paunchy dudes dancing with their tops off! the last time I saw which was probably at a Megadog rave in 1995, and I was probably doing it myself.

It went on 'til five, but we cleared out four-ish. I'll probably go back at some point.. it was the most fun I've had clubbing for some time.

Today's been pretty damn laid back as a result, consisting in the main of food and films. I just watched House of Flying Daggers for the first time, which is visually arresting, though slightly bleaker than I anticipated.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday

Hola.

I'm having a post drink rollup, and listening to Steve's latest mix off Allez Allez.

On Sunday I went on a date at a French cinema in Kensington, with a girl off t'internet. Meeting up in person with people off the internet is weird.. in general they never quite balance out with the picture you envisage in your head. The girl in question was nice, but there was no real chemistry. The date seemed misconceived too. We went and saw a pretty heavy film called 'Salvador' which told the story of a freedom fighter who became the last person to be executed under Franco's crooked regime in Spain.

It was good, though not first date material at all. It lasted the best part of three hours, and culminated in the agonising execution of the central character by garotte, whereby a bolt was screwed into his neck through a plank of wood, until his spine snapped. The cinema was a converted theatre, and the screen was pretty low, the angle of the seating relatively flat. I was sat directly behind quite a tall person, and had to resort to dodging left to right to read each line of dialogue on either side of his head. Once the film had finished there was a QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION, which I might have forgone for a drink, though my date wanted to stick around.

It was kind of interesting hearing what the director had to say, though much like politics, the people who elected to ask questions weren't necessarily the ones I'd want to hear. At least half of them just congratulated the director on the film, and offered up their opinion on, say, Spain. One Spaniard criticised the director for focussing on this story and not dealing with another execution that took place simultaneously. All in all it wasn't very enlightening at all. We stumbled out of the theatre, three and a half hours later and went our separate ways.

On Monday night I watched the new series of Nigella Lawson.. which was fucking weird, but simultaneously hilarious. Advertising's first lady was on top form, rolling doe eyes coyly at camera, expertly gyrating her hips round a granite topped kitchen island, and caressing ingredients like the unmet flesh of pay-per-view voyeurs.

I'd already read that they'd recreated her and Chazza Saatchi's posho West London kitchen in some Beeb studio somewhere.. And the sense of farce this created was only highlighted by soft-focus footage of her sashaying into a variety of overtly stagey 'food' scenarios (West London back garden cook-out; Yum/mum/Ladies-who-lunch lunch). Only, now the seeds of doubt had been planted, I couldn't quite fathom whether her 'friends' represented some genuine elite coterie of the media rich, or were in fact a rag tag dirty dozen or so of BBC extras. Probably the former but who knows?

Last night trooped off to West Hampstead after lunch, to connect with Will and Sam, and Glenn, who was visiting from Australia (and whom I'd met when I went over for their wedding). We got a curry takeaway, before me and Will headed down to the Czech bar near the tube station.

The Czech bar is one of those places I've been going to almost as long as I've been visiting London, and it remains a satisfying constant. A bar where, when it's busy, they constantly fill foamy steins of beer to dispense to an eager congregation, inscrutable televison whitters in the corner, and the menu seems to consist in the main of dishes structured around pork belly. We got there just in time for last orders, after which I caught the last tube home.

Last night was chilled out, and tonight I met up with Ade and Rach for a drink at The Hermits. I'm glad it's Friday tomorrow. Possibly going clubbing on Saturday.. we'll see.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Facebook






















Consider the following face related phrases:

"Cutting off your nose to spite your face"

"saving face"

"cliff face"

"Face from The A-Team"

Faces are clearly important to us humans.. after all.. we all have them! Some of us have books too. And now, as if this wasn't enough, we have Facebook.

It seems I'd only just rolled the badly designed corpse of Myspace off the end of the metaphorical pier of my life, than Facebook sauntered up, smiling, to replace one piece of social networking apparatus with another.

From having barely heard of it six months ago, it's stock has risen quickly, to the point that it impinges more upon my waking life far more than Myspace ever did. I signed up when an ex-housemate invited me to join and I wanted to see what her hairstyle looked like. And simultaneous to me joining, so seemingly did the rest of the population of the UK.

There have been times recently when, freelancing within a company, I've glanced around to see all the computer screens in my line of sight tuned to channel Facebook, like it was some kind of proprietory desktop software; or the company was under siege from a War Games style viral attack. In at least one instance one of the participants was the studio manager.
I read the other day that certain employers are now making pissing about on Facebook a sackable offence, and to be honest, I'm not entirely surprised. I know with some certainty that Facebook's cost to the UK advertising industry in terms of wasted man hours exceeds the GDP of certain small African countries, and compared to which the less addictive evils of alcohol and cocaine binges are as krill to the sperm whale in terms of orders of magnitude.

Everyone's talking about Facebook (including me, now, obviously). Facebook is the biggest 'water-cooler' topic since the invention of water-coolers. In fact, Facebook is itself a kind of giant digital water cooler, around whom people convene to talk about, well, very little actually. Probably Facebook, oh recursive of recursive ironies.

I'm not quite sure why Facebook has managed to beguile everyone to the degree that it has though. What you've got is basically a far less irritating Myspace that doesn't automatically look like a fridge door, but this is in itself contingent on the account holder not plastering it with all the assorted novelty doohickeys available, as many feel compelled to do. Aquarium? Check. Garden? Check. Novelty lunar vista? Check. In fact, once you burrow beneath the veneer of gimcrack concealing Facebook, there's actually precious little left over, and certainly nothing that didn't exist in some other form previously.

As a means of communication I find it irritatingly circuitous. I'm regularly sent an email telling me I have a Facebook message, when the email itself would have done. Especially when the message is usually along the lines of: "Hi! You alright?!" (yes, I'm bored, I was actually hoping you had something interesting to say). I think the main reason people use it so much is the option to write messages in full view of everyone else, wherein communication becomes conspicuous and ritual, and actual content atrophies. It's the digital equivalent of a mutually congratulatory backslap in the middle of a crowded club. When it comes to chat, Facebook is small-talk embodied.

But, wait a minute, it's a social networking site. I'd forgotten.. The problem here is that at least for me, it's usually confined to the handful of genuine friends I have and a wall of faces from my past I'd already mentally consigned to the out-tray.. which is to say I don't necessarily want them gurning out at me every time I log in. Admittedly I joined to re-establish contact with an old pal, but it's yet to result in anything as radical as actually meeting up in person, perish the thought. At best the rekindling of these kind of acquaintances represents a certain sentimental nostalgia for what might have been; at worst it's delusional. Facebook is like Christmas Eve in the pub back home every night, which is not an institution that merits increased frequency, in spite of what Brummie rockers Slade might have to say.

In one case recently, I got added as a friend by an ex-housemate from uni, who was a bit of a loner. Thing is.. I saw him in a club I was DJing in a few years back, and when I went up to talk to him.. he walked off with a drunken sneer. Possibly he hated my music. But now, he wants to reacquaint.. on Facebook.. like, fuck real life, let's do this through the internet, it's so much more now..

As for it being a personal profile space on the internet? Well fine, I suppose, only as with anything on the web (this blog included) people attempt to massage into life these avatars of themselves that are crazy with a capital K – usually by documenting hedonistic nights out in an unflattering photographic journal. And I am all for partying, but I'm also easily bored by bad flash photography of drunk people (especially when I'm one of them). I've heard various cautionary tales recently of prospective employers rejecting potential employees because of ill-advised Facebook press releases, but really I suppose I find it kind of odd that people are so eager to upload these fairly banal representations of themselves for all and sundry to see. Indeed, what are Facebook photo libraries but the modern equivalent of the fabled holiday slideshow of yesteryear, only with a potentially far vaster audience.

Ok so I'm a miserable git.. and probably not sufficiently 'down wiv the kids' enough to get this crap now I've turned thirty. And of course, blogging is itself probably the most emo thing anyone can do second to wearing eyeliner and self-harming. But really, it's the triviality of it all that gets me. Here they all are, the people from your past and present, friends, family members, colleagues, lovers, spouses, exes, crushes, all assembled in one place like some surreal drowning montage and what do they want to do? They want to 'invite you to be a pirate...' (sigh) And it has to be said, there is something fairly unwholesome about squinting at thumbnail pictures of your sundry acquaintances on a glowing screen, even as a substitute in their absence. As bizarrely compelling as it may seem, I struggle to see what value surveilling in this manner adds to a relationship.

No doubt if Jean Baudrillard was still alive he'd be having a field day with this shit.. The neccessity of 'demonstrating' communication with the reultant degradation in content, the re-forging of counterfeit friendships.. hyper-real mate innit. Unfortunately he's dead and you've got me.

I must concede however, in spite of my gripes, Facebook is probably here to stay in my life, at least until some other emergent web-fad sidles up to elbow it out of the way. Some very good friends seem to use it almost exclusively as a mode of contact, and I'm just about pragmatic enough to accept that. And just today, my cousin, who I've not seen since her wedding, eleven years ago, got in touch.. So it it is good for something, though I don't really, in fairness, anticipate seeing her in person anytime soon.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday. Kennedy's

I woke up today and headed out to buy some breakfast.

The interenet has been abuzz recently with news that Kennedys—our local butcher—is shutting so I set out to see if they had shut yet. Seeing it was still open, I headed over in the hope of a) buying some of their reliably decent bacon and b) saying that I was sorry as a customer to hear they were closing.

The thing about Kennedys mind, is they were never exactly steeped in olde worlde charm, indeed, the woman in there ocasionally posessed a stare that would crack granite.. and it was business as usual today. Walking in I saw one single rasher of unsmoked bacon, quivering by itself on its little plastic tray. "Have you run out of bacon then" I enquired.

"Yeah, 'nfortunately" replied the woman in a bored monotone, studiously examining her fingernails and not even deigning to glance in my direction. Words of commiseration died on my lips, as I realised that quite possibly she didn't care either way. With an inward shrug I rotated 90 degrees and stalked out onto the busy main drag of Denmark Hill, perhaps never to return.

After that I popped into Rat Records (another Saturday haunt) where I bought a D'angelo CD.

They have an incredible poster just over the counter. It's about a metre square, and depicts a woman (I think) lying in a room whose walls are made up all this studio equipment, which on closer inspection are actually words. It looks like something you'd find in a seventies prog rock album, but when I asked was told it was a promotional poster released by Ninjatune for their artist Funki Porcini and apparently, that very poster was in Simon Pegg's character's bedroom in Sean of the Dead. Blimey.

Saturday evening. Just had a meal from Silver Lake. I think I'll stay in tonight, as I've some stuff to do, and places to go tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wednesday

And today we have naming of parts..

Work is toe-curlingly dull at the minute, and I'm having to keep reminding myself it winds up at the end of this week, or I'd probably throw myself out of a window.

I'm working on some internal corporate literature just now.. specifically Christmas recruitment guidelines. I've a fairly strong suspicion nobody reads this kind of crap anyway, and it'll just hang around a staff room somewhere until someone doodles a cock on it mid January and it gets swept into the bin.

I'm not dealing with the lack of daytime internet access any better either. I'm seriously considering taking along an itemised phone bill, to 'liven things up' at lunchtime.

Yesterday there were a phalanx of photographers camped outside Arcadia (Top Shop's headquarters) on Berner Street. I hung around for about five minutes, waiting to see if they were lying in wait to pap' everyone's favourite 'sphinx-like' super model Kate Moss emerging. No dice, and all I witnessed was a particularly tyre-necked paparazzo berating a motorcycle courier for getting in the way.

Today I walked past the Lazarides Gallery on Greek street, and there was a qeueue going round the block in the direction of Foyles. I later found out off the website it was for a run of Anthony Micalleff prints. Pictures On Walls also just sold out out of one print edition of 1000 of his, which were going for £300 a pop. £300,000? Not bad going really, though their website reassures us he was 'doing it for the kids.'

Anyway. The end of this week can't come quickly enough, which is a shame really, as I don't want to wish life away like this. I'd also quite like it if Summer finally vacated the premises and Autumn showed up. Contrary to what some might think, I actually believe we are experiencing an 'Indian Summer'.. it just so happens it's much the same as the rest of this year was.. grey and sweaty.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thirty

Hmm. I turn thirty.. *glances at clock* today. Not that I'm neurotic about it or anything..

I'm working in-house on a major mens' high street clothing brand. It has to be said, I'm not a huge fan of their product. The other day one of the other designers wandered over and told me that they were giving away samples in the other room, so I followed the studio manager through and had a nose around.

There was basically a huge ball of assorted clothes taking up most of a small office, with assorted marketing types picking through them. There were some alright sweaters in there, but all of them, upon closer inspection, had had huge square swatches cut out of them, and looked like they'd been attacked by giant robot moths. Eventually a 'utility style' jacket was pressed into my mitts, which I accepted rather than look like a complete snob. Don't think I'll be wearing it much, all the same.

Work's fairly dull. Point of sale and flyers. Yawn. Can't use the internet, which I find really annoying. In truth there's enough to keep me busy, but not being able to get at my email at lunch is quite frustrating really. There's a single apple mac in the canteen which I could use at lunch, but given that this caters for the entire corporation, I suspect it's probably mobbed.

In other news, a Paul Insect print I bought using a sizeable chunk of a tax rebate from last year arrived this week from the Lazarides gallery on Greek Street. About time.. it only took a month and a half. Still, some gorgeous metallic inks going on there.

I just finished watching the film 'Ghosts' on Channel Four, about the cockle pickers who drowned in Morcombe Bay.. which was brilliant if exceedingly harrowing. I bitch about my work a fair old bit (see above) but I suppose we all should, in the words of William DeVaughn "Be Thankful for What You've Got" – there's inevitably always someone far worse off than you.

Right.. I'm off to bed, to read the last of my Edward Bunker novel.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Silver Lake






















I've always really enjoyed Chinese food. Always seen it as something of a treat, ever since I was a child. But until relatively recently, went on something of a hiatus from eating it regularly. Why? It's can actually be quite hard to find decent Chinese food.

The reason as I see it is that many people in this country simply don't have very high expectations with regard to what we eat (though this trend does seem to be changing) and nowhere is this more evident than in your average high street takeaway, most of which – in fairness – exist to cater for a consensus of what is deemed acceptable. For this reason. there is probably little incentive for a business to strive for excellence, and standards remain consistently low.

This isn't just Chinese food of course. When trying a curry from Camberwell's 'Thai Fusion' (in its second but last incarnation) I got into a conversation with the manageress, who remarked with a shrug that the same menu was 'very popular' at her other restaurant in Surrey. For me, the food was remarkable only in its blandness. Thai food has been in vogue in Britain for a while now of course, but I still find it somewhat odd that there is a supposed national index of taste that exists independent of quality. Odd and slightly insulting, but then I suppose no-one can overestimate the taste of the Great British public.

High street Chinese usually tastes hugely insipid to me – typically appearing as some soggy veg and meat interred in a starchy gravy. It's usually massively over seasoned with salt, and this combined with the monosodium glutamate it's often steeped in can give you a food hangover that feels more like waking from a general anaesthetic. Chinese food doesn't usually benefit from hanging around too long (though leftover Chinese from the fridge is divine) which it often has done for reasons of expediency.

The exception which proves this rule for me is the Silver Lake on Camberwell Curch street, which I think is one of the most consistently excellent takeaways I've ever had the luck to live near. I've eaten there pretty much every week for the last year and a half, and have only felt slightly disappointed on one occasion (and everyone's allowed an off day, right?). I think it would be safe to say, it re-ignited my delight in oriental food, and reaffirmed my faith in Chinese cooking.

Because it is cooking as opposed to pouring ingredients in a pan or work, then heating and reheating. Somehow, the chef Sue and her small cadre of assistants manage, in spite of doing a brisk trade, to cook with a love and attention to detail that is all the more remarkable for its consistency.
What I find most satisfactory is that (as with most good cooking) the food is cooked with exactly the right amount of finesse to let the quality of the ingredients sing through.. and that's what you feel you're getting: Quality. And although a meal from the Silver Lake usually looks more than appetising, as a takeaway, they don't have the option of resorting to presentation to bolster their reputation, as a restaurant might. Nonetheless, I would easily rank their food on par with some of the better Chinese restaurants I've eaten at.
They're pan asian, which is I suppose a base-covering tactic to broaden their appeal, but although most of what they do is very decent, it's the Chinese I always go for.
I must confess, I know very little about authentic 'native' Chinese cooking, but here they represent a topography of flavours that seems worthy of such a large country, with a flavour suited for every taste and season. They do an amazing duck based dish, with plum sauce and soft fluffy chunks of potato that is just the thing on a cold autumn evening; fantastic piquante Szechuan prawns that are almost tempura-like, and their crispy shredded chilli chicken is my idea of what 'fast' food should be like: a tasty uncomplicated joy.
So why am I singing this hymn now? Because I'm getting withdrawal symptoms. They've shut for their annual holiday and like Dusty Springfield, I just don't know what to do with myself. I think they reopen today, thank god, but for the past couple of weeks I've been wandering round Camberwell, bleating piteously in my quest for decent salt and pepper ribs (Lamoon are pretty good, mind).
So if you live in the area, or not, and you haven't tried them – give them a go. Kenneth Branagh was a fan and so should you be. They're friendly and considering what they do, alarmingly good value for money.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tales From Earthsea


I went and saw 'Tales From Earthsea' today at the Peckham Rye multiplex. I'd been meaning to catch it for a bit, but it doesn't seem to have got a very wide release, even by the relatively obscure standards of Japanese anime.

The screening time was slightly misconceived too – eleven in the morning only – from which I infer that the people responsible for programming at this cinema still see animation as the sole province of schoolkids and their bored, honour-bound guardians (which given the film's reasonably violent content, leads me to suspect that someone actually hasn't bothered to watch it).

It was damn cheap though, and at £2.99 (£2.99!) probably represents hands-down the best value I've ever got for my money in London, full stop. This might be the result of lower overheads. Walking through the multiplex felt a bit like going to watch a film on a ferry (in terms of decor at least) or the slightly threadbare local cinema of my childhood – the Savoy – which is probably as I write being panel-beaten into service as a block of 'luxury one and two bedroom flats'.

For those not in the know, this is an adaptation of bits of The Earthsea trilogy written in the late 60s and early 70s by science fiction author Ursula LeGuin. Briefly, it follows the adventures of a young wizard from his childhood as a goat farmer through to his role as Archmage of the school of wizardry, in the world of Earthsea.

I never really 'got' Harry Potter. Read a book and half and then was all like "yeahwhatever". This might be just because it is a franchise that inspires mania, and contrary-type-dude that I am, the minute people start unzipping their flys en-masse, I tend to lose interest. Besides which, it all seemed to be largely about public school life (albeit lightly garnished with the kind of sorcerous hokum The Great Soprendo would have been embarassed to fuck with) and public schools scare me more than nuclear war (what's that? a school, you LIVE in? no thanks). No, when it comes to books about apprentice wizards there's only one for me.

So, on paper an interpretation of her trilogy by Studio Ghibli sounds like just about the best thing ever. Leaving aside for one moment the fact that animation in Japan is not purely relegated to the status of 'kids' stuff', Studio Ghibli's output has in the past managed to encapsulate paradoxes such as being visually stylish without becoming anodyne, and communicating ideas without resorting to oversimplification. Children are more often not the central characters, frequently battling adversity, but the films themselves do not shy away from moral complexity by painting things in black and white.

So anyway.. the film itself? Is (drumroll)... pretty good. I'd already read some fairly mixed reviews of it which gave an indication it wasn't the masterpiece I might have hoped for.

Visually it's predictably gorgeous, with beautifully painted backdrops brilliantly evoking agricultural landscapes and crumbling cityscapes reminiscent of Laputa Castle in the Sky. I could get lost staring at these for hours, google eyed and dribbling. The animation is also up to scratch, if not quite as breathtaking as say, Spirited Away.

What lets it down however is the plot, however, which is loosely based around the last of the Earthsea books, The Farthest Shore, with bits cribbed from the subsequent, fourth book Tehanu, including it's titular character. It also borrows a major idea (the 'gebbeth') from the first book, but clumsily staples it to a different character.*

The problem is that it spends too much time identifying interesting motifs from the books, and too little time organising them into any properly coherent structure: and the result makes little sense either as an homage to the Earthsea story cycle or as a standalone entity. I could sense the confusion of the people I'd gone to see the film with regarding the use of 'true names', and the dragons seem to feature almost as a big scaly afterthought. Moreover, in spite of the wizard Cob looking impressively camp and evil (think Marilyn Manson crossed with Saruman) it never satisfactorily explains just what it is he's doing, and why the world is degenerating in response.

Something else which bothered me was that the creators seemed to have identified characters who'd fit into familiar Studio Ghibli style archetypes and implemented them accordingly, without necessarily paying homage to their true spirit in the stories. In this sense, it was the first time a Ghibli film felt overtly formulaic to me.

This all seems slightly odd, given Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki's eagerness to create a film about the books, but then, he was apparently busy on Howl's Moving Castle at the time approval came through from the initially reluctant Ursula LeGuin, and responsibility for the screenplay ultimately landed at the feet of his inexperienced son Gorō Miyazaki.** One can't help but wonder what it might have resembled had Hayao been in control, though In fairness, he has set the bar pretty high.

So, quite disappointing, but for all that, i'd still far prefer to watch this than any amount of formulaic computer animation about farm/circus/woodland animals on some tedious adventure. There are still some interesting ideas going on in there, and it represents something of a shift in tone for Ghibli in terms of tone, this being noticably darker than previous outings. Indeed, as limbs were severed and sorcerers immolated, I pitied the poor saps who'd brought their little cherubs along for some 'cartoon fun'.

*Which bearing in mind they use another visual cue from the book – Sparrowhawk's scarred face – all but amounts to an error in continuity. Only to geeks like me though, I suspect.

**Which according to Wikipedia, led in turn to a rift between the two.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Badgers and rats

Hmm, I do like a good badge.
































These arrived yesterday. Set of badges by Peter Blake from an edition of 2000, which isn't exactly low, but I like 'em. They look almost too nice to wear, but I think I probably will. They'd look great on the lapels of a drab-olive USMC field jacket.

On a less pleasant note, while I was boiling the kettle in my kitchen at around one o'clock this morning, a rat the size of a plimsoll scampered over my feet and scrabbled into a hole in the corner of the skirting below the sink.

I stood there stunned for thirty seconds breathing the word "fuck" over and over again. In truth this wasn't totally unexpected (the same rodent stuck its head round my bedroom door a few nights before) but it's pretty goddamn unpleasant.

From this you'd maybe surmise we like in some kind of dickensian slum round here, but it's actually just kind of seventies and threadbare. We do seem to have had quite a pest problem this year, and I'm not sure whether it's anything to do with the takeaway downstairs. Previously it was mice. This would seem to suggest they've been the victims of some kind of takeover by their bigger rodent cousins (unless what I saw was in fact a James Herbert-style mutant mouse).

This kind of cements my vague feeling that a move might be no bad thing in the new year. In the interim we need a cat really – a tough-yet-cute feline with a killer instinct. Aside from the fact that cats tend to pretty much wander where they want to anyway, a rent-a-cat style company could (quite literally in some cases) make a killing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bank Holiday

Well we got some sun for the Bank Holiday.

On Friday I went boozing at the Hermits with G-Unit. Saturday, got up and sat in Burgess Park reading. Saturday night was Jess's 30th birthday do, which was at LVPO on dean street. The V in the name is actually a U, as it's meant to be in the same style as Trajan style Roman inscriptions, and means 'wolf'. The bar's sign shows Rome's Founders, Romulus and Remus suckling at the belly of the wolf that raised them (don't know her name).

From this I wasn't sure what to expect. At best I hoped that drinks would actually be dispensed through the teats of a giant she-wolf suspended above the dancefloor; at the very least I expected some vaguely gothic motifs. Actually: none of the above. It was kind of tame, in a nice enough kind of way.

We got in around two and I rabitted on at Jess about 'relationships' while slurping down noodles.

Sunday was much the same as Saturday. Sat in Burgess Park again, and took some pictures of the squirrels and pigeons that gambol across every available surface there. Sunday Evening went to Ed's and sat on his roof for a bit, before retiring to watch the Grand Prix, and the fairly godawful Vinnie Jones remake of Mean Machine in his living room.

Today me and Ed caught the bus up to town. We caught the number 12, and someone with a very close resemblance to 'Mad' Frankie Fraser got on a few stops down on the Walwarth Road. If it was him it was the second celebrity spotting this week after Miquita Oliver off T4 who I saw in Soho during the week, walking through the arcade of smutty theatres by the market.

We disembarked at Parliament Square, before wandering through Hyde Park and up Park Lane, which I always remember represented almost certain bankruptcy on the Monopoly board, should a rival land there if you had hotels down. The Park Lane Hilton didn't disapoint in this respect: there were three Lambourghinis parked out front with Arabic number plates, so maybe a trio of Saudi princes was having their own pared-down version of the Gumball race.

From here we headed up to Notting Hill, so Ed could experience the crush. It was predictably busy. Even by London's standards Notting Hill Carnival is foolishly packed. Maybe it's just my personal standards, but I suspect Notting Hill is easier to tolerate if you have some form of rocket fuel, and as I'd opted not to drink today, my patience for it all was somewhat limited. Once you're in it's much harder to escape of course, as the movement of the floats necessarily inhibits the flow of human traffic. The police were out in force too, and it didn't feel particularly rude, as it has done in the past.

From here we mooched over to Little Venice, then down the canal to Paddington, thence catching the 436 back to Camberwell.

For tea I had a really underwehlming Chinese takeaway, from the place on Denmark Hill which isn't Lamoon or the one nearest the hospital. It was just bland, really. Under-seasoned Salt and Pepper Ribs, and Szechuan king prawns which didn't taste very interesting. Most disappointing.

No work this week. Other stuff to do, including compiling a list my top ten fiction and non-fiction books from the last six months for a website. Should prove interesting..

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Printing

Best thing about this summer? No hosepipe ban.

Worst thing about this summer? I don't own a hosepipe.

I went and did some screenprinting today. It was in West London near Notting Hill (soon to be carnival land) and I noted that anodized aluminium fencing had already been erected around many of the flats – presumably to repel opportunists seeking a crafty corner to skin up or relieve themselves in (or on), mid fiesta. I suppose they're a temporary human equivalent of those spikes placed on the lintels of public buildings and monuments to keep pigeons off. God I'm glad I don't live in Notting Hill during the August bank holiday.

The print studio itself was on the Harrow road, which after the dizzying aura of satisfied wealth projected by Notting Hill's portfolio of cyclopean Georgian mansions, is pretty damn unassuming. Its range of businesses seeming to comprise for the most part of newsagents, halal butchers, solicitors and 'caffs', with nary a yummy-mummy style boutique in sight.

I went and bought a soup bowl of coffee and a salmon and cream cheese baguette in one of the latter, and read The Sun whilst waiting for my appointment. Apparently Sienna Miller might be seeing Rhys Ifans, and some (allegedly) venal referee once laid a patio for a football manager.

As for the printing session? I got an OK image out of it, but it was more of an excercise to reacquaint myself with the process. I've also got ink on my arms like smudgy prison tatts, which I feel pretty good about.

Back on some artworking gig tomorrow, which I'm less excited about, but it's only for three days.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Anthony Wilson, The Dulwich Horror, Flock


While nosing through the Observer on Saturday I read the obituaries section and did a double take when I read that Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson had passed away.

Growing up in Manchester Tony Wilson was someone who always seemed to be lurking in the wings on programmes like Granada Tonight, and even before I properly understood his part in the modern (read the) Mancunian music scene, he was a person who you were inevitably aware of.

My personal experience of the guy ran to when an ex-housemate was running the Manchester chapter of the now defunct NoWax night (a housemate who later, Ironically, turned out to have a very Anthony Wilson-like opacity with regards to all things debt related). The night had taken over a bar in Liverpool for an evening during an electronic music conference, of which Wilson was an attendee. Me and my brother were in the DJ booth dropping 90s boom-bap, when who should appear at our elbows but the man himself, clutching an iPod preloaded with what I can't quite remember, but was probably Factory related.

He was certainly an idiosyncratic character, and coming from a city where any affectations outside of the basic templates of plastic gangster/real gangster/working class hero could catch you lumps upside the head, certainly had his detractors. The casting of a prattish Steve Coogan as him in 24 Hour Party People seemed a masterstroke, but was, for all Wilson's flamboyance not the whole story. Manchester certainly owes him a debt of gratitude for making it a more interesting place, and helping put it on the musical map .

Art

Also in the Guardian in the listings was a paragraph on an exhibition at Space Station Sixty Five Gallery in Dulwich called 'The Dulwich Horror – H.P. Lovecraft and the crisis in British Housing'.

The name of the exhibition is a play on the title of one of Lovecraft's stories – 'The Dunwich Horror' and on paper this sounded almost too good to be true. Ever since my teens I've been mildly obsessed with the writer, so an exhibition welding his bizarre pantheon of alien gods to the current rampant housing market certainly demanded investigation. So I jumped on the 40 and headed off.

Unfortunately, it was all distinctly underwhelming. The gallery itself was shut and the exhibition merely consisted of a few posters tacked in the windows, showing the artwork itself in situ. The art itself consists of a few paintings of Deities from Lovecraft's Cthulu myth cycle (Cthulu himself, Azathoth etc) which had been attached to estate agent's 'For Sale' signs.

The posters and photography were a bit naff, the paintings so-so, but beyond that, for all it's cuteness, I couldn't quite see what the marriage of the current British housing shortage to the writings of a 19th century horror writer was trying to articulate, and nor could I quite kick the suspicion that the starting point for the whole endevour was the wobbly titualar pun.

I actually went and checked out one of the paintings close up, where it is attached to a sign outside a pet shop on Camberwell Road. It's of the cephalopod-visaged lord Cthulu, and it hasn't weathered the elements very well, having warped and cracked. Anyway. Quite charming, hardly essential.

I also went and scoped the new exhibition at Camberwell's Great Expectations gallery. Entitled Flock, it's worth investigating, as it represents something of a departure for the venue.

Great Expectations usually deal in more traditionally representational art and prints, and I have in the past found the portfolio of artists they represent slightly patchy; veering as it seems to between the engaging and/or contemporary, and the chocolate-box-insipid. This is I suppose an inveitable result of the identity crisis between the actual gallery out back, and the one-stop frame-and-card shop up front.

By contrast this show has a decidedly conceptual thrust, with an eclectic profile of young, hip artists. Helene Kazan's almost vorticistic architectural meditations are fascinating, Richard Cramp's hallucinatory vignettes humorous and unsettling, and James Lee's bling black and gold vinyl halftones make for slick eye-candy. There's some other interesting stuff in there too.

I'm working out east this week in Shoreditch. Looks to be quite a patchy one. All quiet today, then potentially stacked out tomorrow. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Somerfield



I hate Somerfield. Somerfield is just wrong. Unholy, even. It shouldn't exist, but it does.

Everything about Somerfield seems calculated to offend, in some measure. To make buying groceries just that little bit more troublesome than it should be. Less choice. Greater expense. More insult. More injury. If shopping is a modern drug, then what the FUCK is Somerfield? Aversion therapy?

Whisper to yourself the words "Somerfield" and the word evokes a bucolic pastoral watercolour: golden fields rippling with corn, sun dappled streams where otters frolic and fat trout dance forever, green rolling fields studded with thatched cottages, the smack of leather on willow etcetera etcetera.

The reality could hardly be more different, as Somerfield represents a uniquely bleak facet of modernity: the high street shop that no-one likes. Wheras the general populace emoted the faintest pang of nostalgia for the passing of C&A, the demise of Somerfield would not cause the merest ripple in the dark waters of its demise, so utterly charmless is the franchise.

Somerfield are so unremarkable, they can't even make a virtue of being unexceptional. Everything about Somerfield is so woefully half-arsed it's a small miracle (or rather more significant curse) that they still exist. Tesco might mercilessly promote its own bleak corporate hegemony, but it does at least exhibit a certain brutal style as it stalks the land, crushing all local shopkeepers before it like the tanks in Terminator 1.

Style of course, is somethething Somerfield just doesn't do, the Somerfield brand being itself ugly enough to give the London 2012 Olympic logo a run for its money. Seriously, they'd have probably got a better job done if they'd handed a paintbrush to an elephant. Picked out in a hideously contrasting aquamarine and custard colour scheme, seeing the Somerfield logo is a bit like someone spashing an eggcup full of sick directly onto the surface of each eye: it stinks and burns simultaneously. In fact, it's a bit like the beginning of the Bunuel/Dali collabo, Un Chien Andalou where the eye gets razored apart, only it actually happening to both your eyes simultaneously.

I suspect the rationale (if indeed there was one) in making the brand look so self-consciously dowdy and unlovely, was to promote the notion of thrift. "Shit logo equals value" runs the reasoning (and sings the sign) though this is a fallacy: Somerfield is about as good value as coke in the West End, and "Shit logo equals shit everything else" might be a more truthful maxim.

For Somerfield aint cheap. About the same as Sainsburys, in fact, only massively less pleasant to frequent. In spite of this however, as someone observed to me, it's all but impossible to spend over fifteen quid in there, as there's absolutely nothing worth buying, whatsoever. Their selection is terrible, and what they do stock they don't carry enough of. Visiting the store some evenings is like wandering through a trading outpost in the grip of a withering nuclear winter. The frightened shoppers outnumber the actual produce, and eye each other fearfully.

Some strange counter-intuition seems to govern the system of buying at Somerfield, wherby they whittle down their lines according to merit and desirability. Simply put, anything you might want to buy, Somerfield probably won't want to sell, and if they do stock it, they'll probably stop quite soon. They seem hell-bent on a mission to vend only the most hum-drum of wares at a fairly substantial markup. England is renowned internationally for having crap food, and though I was kind of hoping this notion had been reversed what with having Fat Tongue and Ramsay as our culinary ambassadors, having the likes of Somerfield on our team is surely the PR equivalent of fatal friendly fire. One can only hope that if a tourist actually wandered into a branch of Somerfield they might mistakenly assume they'd chanced upon a wormhole that had deposited them back in Communist Russia during the cold war.

For whosoever it is that ultimately pilots the good ship Somerfield seems to regard anything above the benchmark of the pre-roasted chicken counter as faintly bourgeoise. If I was to envisage the Somerfield of a bleak, Ballard-esque concrete dystopia years hence, it would contain five things: A skip full of chicken scraps, a hopper full of white onions, an aluminium silo dispensing milk, shelves and shelves of white bread, and enough lager to sink the Bismarck. And everything would cost around fifty quid.

You might have gathered I hate this franchise. True enough. The manifestation of a Somerfield in your vicinity is like the appearance of a cracked paving-stone or some visually cumbersome public art. A canker on the civic backside to be afforded as wide a wide berth as possible. Sometimes that just isn't possible, however. Especially if, like my local branch, they employ the invasive tactic of stuffing flyers daily through your front door at a virtually exponential rate: brutally ugly propoganda extolling the supposed value of their 'megadeals'. I did for a while consider collecting all these leaflets, assembling them into a papier-mache reconstruction of the store, then burning it in protest, but I then thought about my 'carbon footprint', and how a much more expedient solution might be to torch the shop itself (that's a joke, by the way).

I think what bothers me the most is that it is so bad on almost every level, and they make absolutely no effort to sort any of it out. Understaffed, understocked, poor selection, poor quality, poor store layout, overpriced.. I could go on.

Ok so all supermarkets are pretty evil and are all at this moment probably queueing up to whack the devil off, but at least they have the decency to attempt some sleight of hand to convice you otherwise – even if it is just paying Bob Hoskins 50 grand to say "Every little helps" in his warm but gravelly voice whilst they mercilessly crush farmers into the eroding topsoil.

Somerfield can't even be bothered doing this, for apart from their execrable direct mail I have yet to witness any Somerfield advertising. No, Somerfield's gameplan is the tried and tested tactic of bum-rushing an area: plonking a store down and hoping for the best, or, to put it another way 'if it gets enough people's way someone will eventually go inside and spend something'.

This is either brutally honest, really stupid, pretty damn insulting, or the last two. if I was to render Somerfield's hapless doctrine as a tagline, it might run thus.

"We're shit, you're shit, we're all shit, so let's eat shit and pay loads for it"

I'd like to say in light of all this that that I exercised freedom of choice and gave Somerfield a wide berth, but the worst thing about it is that I do still use my local branch, as it's the only supermarket in the vicinity and Sainsburys is a good mile or so away over a hill. I do try to avoid it though.

There is much talk these days of private equity buying out (or attempting to buy out) large firms such as Boots, and bringing all their merciless financial acumen to bear in turning the corporation in question into a cash-cow with distended knockers – milking it for all it's worth for a quick buck. Much that has been said is critical of these corporate reivers, but for the lame duck that is Somerfield their intervention cannot come soon enough. Will someone please tell these idiots how to have a piss up in a brewery, or could they hurry up and go into liquidation.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Journey Home

Back in England then.

I was awoken on Sunday by the insistent shriek of my mobile phone alarm clock. Awoken from a worrying dream where Jimmy Saville – armed with a sub-machine gun, and trademark cigar champed between his teeth - was rounding up the contestants of this years Big Brother in a courtyard for summary execution. I haven't even watched it this year, so I don't know what all that was about.

I'd had about three hours sleep, having been in a poky Barcelona soul bar until half three, dancing cheek to jowel with the beautifull people, drinking Estrella and smoking Spanish bonded Marlborough Lights. I felt shit.

Catching the packed shuttle bus I bought a single to the airport ("Ida, por favor") and stood hunched in the aisle feeling like a crayola sketch. The tune playing as I disembarked at the airport was "who can it be" by Men at Work.

The airport was a pain in the ass. Have you ever hear the philosophical paradox which says:

"A rock is thrown at a tree. If the distance between the thrower can be halved, then halved again, then halved again, and so on and so for infinity, how does the rock ever reach the tree?"

Barcelona's Terminal 1 felt like a lazy experiment to work this out*. Qeueue after qeueue after qeueue, which seemed to diminish in magnitude after the initial check in, but still make boarding the plane seem an ever more remote prospect. When one of the Easyjet check in desks abrubtly closed, there was even a qeueue to join a cue, as people from the now defunct qeueue tried to assimilate themselves into the next qeueue up. I thought there was going to be a riot.

The final qeueue was pehaps the most agonising; standing in line with the other grockles waiting to be spirited across the runway to the plane itself. In front of me a family was having a loud screechy argument in cockney accents, which was at least some consolation for missing the Eastenders omnibus.

The flight was only two hours, though this being Easyjet there wasn't even a free mint when my eardrums felt like they were going to implode on descent. A bacon butty cost 8 Euros, and I only had three left.

Stanstead felt like Barcelona airport in reverse, though this being England, the qeueues were better organised. I caught the shuttle train from Stanstead to Liverpool street. One stop in it halted and the driver announced over the tannoy that the train was terminating because there was no driver. That's when I was really sure I was back in England. The train we switched to was stopping at every station in Essex, so two clicks down everyone swarmed across to the adjacent platform to get back on the Stanstead Express, in the hope of arriving before nightfall.

From Liverpool Street I caught the 35 back to Camberwell, where it disgorged me on the pavement outside MacDonalds where that guy got stabbed the other year. Walking down the Church Street nothing seemed to have changed. Assorted waifs and strays drinking white cider, a guy in a Dolce and Gabbana shirt and Tupac Style bandana asking for change, the Thai Fusion shut for refurbishment again. As I fumbled for a key to my front door, a chinese guy stood there smiled at me. Thinking he knew the people from the takeaway downstairs I bid him hello, wheupon he produced a bag of DVDs for my perusal. Stumbling in I slammed the door after me. Whoever referred to the best bit about travelling being arriving home was surely referring to the relief one feels when it's all over.

No work this week, so I'm busying myself with personal projects. Was due to meet up with some old uni friends, but it didn't actually happen in the end. In a minute I'm going to put my phone on silent and go to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream, though hopefully not about gun wielding ex Top of The Pops presenters.

*It obviously does hit the tree though, as I'm writing this. And the rock always does hit the tree.

Friday, July 27, 2007

?uestlove. Casa Battlo.

I went and saw ?uestlove from The Roots last night, at the Apollo in Barcelona.

It was pretty good. He was certainly the best DJ I've seen whilst abroad, though given that the roll call here only includes him and baseball-cap-toting hard-house-gorgonzola merchant Dave Pearce at Kavos in 2005, it's perhaps not the accolade it might at first seem.

Today I went and saw the Gaudi designed Casa Battló townhouse. If I was to say 'someone had a nice house there, then' that would be something of an understatement, understatement not being something Gaudi excelled at, and nor the people who scripted the audio guide by the sounds of it, where they refer to the house itself as:

"The most emblematic work of the most universal genius of all time"

and a fireplace on floor one as:

"The most original fireplace ever built"

Shortly after which I stopped using the plastic speaking shoehorn given me in the foyer which dispensed these bold claims, and instead explored the house on my own terms.

To be fair, it is pretty damn impressive, and looks kind of like where the Snorks would live if they read Wallpaper and could afford it, with a kind of bio-mechanical marine feel to the fittings throughout. If HR Giger did a loft conversion it might look vaguely similar (albeit kinkier).

Annoyingly, on the main floor they had these huge floor-to-ceiling grey vinyl banners in each room, that succeeded in obscuring about twelve square metres of the actual architecture without actually adding anything to the exhibition. That and the sub-ambient 'muzak of the spheres' being piped from somewhere could quite easily have been dispensed with. Otherwise, it was great. Better than a walk round Ikea anyway.

I might go and watch a film on a hill his evening. It'll be in Catalan though if I drink enough this probably won't matter so much.