Thirty Thousand Streets

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.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

And the weather here is..

Scorchio. Blazio, whatever. In fact, I went out and bought some factor 30 yesterday to stop my skin's four colour breakdown including 100% magenta.

The tops of my forearms are now a nice brown colour.. still a little white below. I remember as a kid on holiday holding my arms up parallel with my eyes and imagining they were small sharks, with a dark topside and pale underbelly.

There are clouds around mind. This place is temperate by Spanish standards. I saw a weather forecast the other day, and literally everywhere in Spain had a blazing sun icon, apart from here near the Pyrennese, where it was mixed up with the odd cloud.

Been seeing the sights. Barcelona is one charming city; beautiful in bits though it does smell. The standard of design in branding and advertising lags quite significantly behind that of the UK, but if people here are too busy worrying about wholesome things like food, family, and not having to work in the afternoon, who am I to point out that an 80% distort on some headline type is ugly as sin.

They're a proud old bunch round here though.. don't actually like speaking Spanish that much at all. When I lamely said "no hablo Espanol" to a guy in a shop the other day, he responded rather forcefully with "you mean you don't speak Catalan!". Oops.

Went and tried to catch sunset over the city last night and missed it, though did get to walk past the old Olympic stadium, where they were holding some 15th anniversary type event. My personnal memories extend to sitting watching it in Matt's room with Matt and Jim the cat in the summer of 1992 while the sun shone outside. That and the Freddy Mercury tune of course.

On the way back down dropped in to a gallery sponsered by a Spanish bank (Caixa Catalunya?)It was open late and completely free, and they had an exhibition of paintings and engravings by Hogarth.. most of which I've seen in textbooks and slideshows, but never up close. Excellent stuff. 'Gin Lane' and 'Beer Street' (the first public health information posters?) were there in print form, along with a series called 'The Four Stages of Cruelty', and 'Marriage a la Mode' as etchings and paintings. 'The Rake's Progress' also featured, though not the paintings, which I presume are still under lock, key, and panel in the John Soames house in Holborn.

Off to the beach later. After cofee and a croissant somewhere.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I'm in Barcelona.

I got here around half nine yesterday, after a three o'clock start (I had to catch a train from Liverpool Street at half four).

Jamie Oliver was mooching round the departure lounge at Stanstead Airport, with posse in tow. No idea where he was going, but it looked family orientated.

Spain seemed depressingly overcast when I touched down,and at first I feared I'd brought the weather with me, but today it's blue skies with the odd cloud in the distance.

I'm typing this on Dunc's laptop, having just sat out on his balcony reading a couple of Michael Moorcock articles in a battered paperback for an hour or so. I might go to the beach shortly. I could really go for a coffee as well.

Still feeling puffy-eyed and generally quite sleepy. Don't intend to do a
huge deal this holiday other than read, lie about, eat, drink, and swim. And take some photographs.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Smell is the most evocative of all the senses, I think. The one most likely to conure up a particular memory, a sensation of time, of place.

The place I used to work in Manchester was on Richmond Street, parallel to Canal Street. A few doors up from us there was the back of a restaurant called Velvet, and from a fan here issued cooking fumes from the kitchen. It always smelt like barbecued meat, and it was odd how when walking past, even in the depths of winter, I'd be transported, momentarily, to my mum and dad's patio in some unspecified summer.

A similar thing happened today. As I walked up Camberwell Church Street, the sun peeked fleetingly from between the clouds, and just then, I caught a whiff of chips cooking from the open doors of The Hermits Cave. For a moment, I was walking down the street in Kavos with Ade and Dunc in 2005, where the aroma of fried breakfast vied for your attention with the roar of mopeds, piloted by lobster-red lads with buzz-cuts.

It's been happening quite a lot recently. The merest thing sets it off. The faint pong of seafood at the Chinese Supermarket, the smell of cigarette smoke chiming with a spoon's clink on a cup, and I'm elsewhere – usually it must be said, somewhere sunnier and drier. Recently I've been feeling very nostalgic for other times and places, and feeling pretty restless in general of late. Another week in work, then I have a weeks holiday in Barcelona. I can't wait. After that? who knows. I think I need to shake up my life. Do some different things. Change is important I feel.

It's been a quiet weekend. Went for a meeting on Saturday morning about some design work for a charity festival. Unpaid gig, though I'll probably get tickets for the events, and fingers crossed, some creative fulfillment. I wandered across town afterwards, over to the city, where a road was closed to film a car chase sequence for National Treasure 2.

Last night was pretty quiet. Went for a few drinks with Ade at the Sun and Doves, to be joined later by Rachael. The Sun and Doves is one of the few bars I've ever been to that manage to curate art exhibitions effectively (most places don't seem to have a clue) and they've had some excellent paintings by an artist Called Jo Lewis for the last month (though I see the exhibition ends today).

They're watercolours, washed by the ebb and flow of the Thames to introduce an element of chaos: spinning drips of paint into bruise-like nebulae of colour. The combination of errant stuttery line and soft clouds of colour reminded me of Gerald Scarfe and Futura 2000 in equal measure. Excellent.

Work tomorrow. Yawn. I know I'm going on about it a bit but this weather sucks hard.. right now if feels like all of London is trapped beneath a wet duvet.. all warm and stale.

Here's hoping Barcelona keeps warm and dry for me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Card Art

Hey, does anyone like my installation?

It's called 'Fucking Waste of Cardboard' (2007) and it's currently on show in my living room for the next twenty minutes or so, until I chuck the lot in some black bin liners and leave it by the front door. The swirly blue 70s carpet is a comment on the vagaries of hyper-accelerative consumer culture. And rented accomodation.

It actually doesn't look as bad as it did, now I've spent the duration of The Love Movement ripping it up into manageable bits then rolling them up. Before it was several acres of cardboard – the flat-plan of two tardis-like boxes containing picture frames I ordered a while back.

This wasn't the worst of it either, as both came wadded with a duvet sized bolt of supersized bubble wrap straight off the set of Land of The Giants. Each was the size of a pastie (or pattie, whichever your preference) and rather than proving vaguely soothing, when popped, sounded like a gun shot. I spent one saturday morning slicing them open, so as not to get the police round.

The irony is, the glass in both frames turned up hopelessly shattered anyway, making the whole shebang an even more ludicrous waste of packaging. Ordering A1 sheets of glass in the post (even by special delivery) is not something I'm going to be doing in the future.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I sometimes notice homeless people on the streets seem to have their individual outfits which (for quite obvious reasons) they wear again and again. There's the grizzled old red faced man, who sits swilling super strength cider from a can, on the steps of the solicitors opposit Camberwell Green. He's always wearing his trademark filthy Bench beanie hat.

By bringing this up I'm not trying to pen a Vice fashion article. I just think there's something quite poignant about this, these clothes that the homeless quite literally live in. Sometimes I'll see an old gent, wearing a suit shiney with filth, augmented with a palimpsest of burns, tears and stains, and wonder: Is that the last thing you put on before things fell, utterly, apart? The last suit in your wardrobe you put on the day your landord changed the locks on you; the suit you were wearing the day you parked your car up by the sea and kept on walking. Perhaps not. But it sometimes seems to me that as a second skin, each rip is a scar that marks successive bumps down the crooked staircase to hell.

Last weekend I went out in the morning to buy some bread from Sophocles Bakers. On my way back I spied two girls and a man outside Paul's Olive Shop. I say girls – they were in their late 20s or early 30s. They were gobbling water melon and spraying pips at the ground, alternately swigging at glasses of rose wine. At first I took them for people wallowing in the aftermath of a nights clubbing, but there was something really odd about the tableaux.. as I turned to watch them stumble across the road in the direction of The Flying Fish I realised that they were obscenely drunk, completely shitfaced, slurring, bumping into one another in a kind of spastic dance. In terms of dress they were quite presentable however, and I couldn't quite work out whether they were just hardcore boozers, or people toasting a deeper troth with alcohol, taking the first tentative steps on a path infinitely longer and more folorn than that to the off-license.

I found this thought unsettling. You see the same faces on the streets drinking away the pain, but once they've slipped off the bottom rung it seems hard to track orders of magnitude in the arc of their terminal decline, as all niceties, nuances and graces are ground away by the bitter friction of the street, to be discarded like old cans. As someone moderately obsessed with appearances, this reflexive slump seems like the ultimate gesture of despair, and to see someone swaying at the crossroads leading there is not a happy sight.

Alcoholism seems like a ruinous disease, which is hard to pick out in the fuzzy penumbra of our boozy national culture, but then many addictions, left unchecked, are witheringly degrading. Yesterday a smack-head (I suppose) came into the carriage I was in on a train begging. She was truly a pitiful sight: face a map of scabs, arms visible beneath tracksuit sleeves garlanded with trackmarks. She looked somewhere between 18 and 40. She came as a supplicant, tremulous voice wavering for cash. "sorry love" I said, uncomfortably. The business-man opposite me sat watching, blanky. She swiftly moved to repeat her pitch in the next carriage, but after a short pursuit was apprehended by the ticket inspector, and bounced off at the next stop into the not-so-welcoming arms of the British Transport Police.

I read on t'internet the other day that Heroin is, in itself, not that harmful to the human body. Far more damaging is the shit it's cut with, or sharing needles, or simply the fact that when you're into Heroin, you're not into very much else.. such as eating, washing yourself etc. There's a bit I remember from The Naked Luch, where William Burroughs talks about being off his face on smack, content to stare in rapture at the end of his foot for hours. Heroin it would seem, is not a thing to do if you want to do things; lest they be things related to the feverish topping up of your pay as you go contract with the brown stuff.

Against this yardstick many addictions seem relatively benign. My personal fetish for 12 inch circles of black plastic has waned somewhat recently, but even so only caused mild structural damage to the floors of my parents house in its sheer vinyl tonnage. Having said that I read that the hip hop producer Marco Polo goes digging for records wearing a surgical mask, in case a crate should be booby-trapped with asbestos, but that seems more an occupational hazard than anything else.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


So, nice June we had there eh? Quite often I've awoken recently, and peeked out the window to see a crystal clear blue sky, only for it vanish a couple of hours later, obsucred behind uniform shapeless grey clouds, clogging the horizon like discarded carrier bags.

I hate this weather. Coming from Manchester I'm used to most things wet and inclement, but I think I'd choose just about anything over grey and muggy: rain, wind, cold, storms, snow, hail, giant radioactive crayfish strafing London with lazers from their eyes..

It feels like such 'pregnant' weather to me; an anticipation of something else. Everything feels so close and tense. I find myself itching for something to happen that might dissipate the charge in the air, even if it's just some rain. There is the odd window in the clouds, reminding you there's a sun up there, and when its rays get through, everything seems glorious for about five minutes, until the next bank of cloud shuffles along to park up the space.

I read in the paper yesterday that this is the weather predicted for most of summer as well, so better get used to it I suppose. How dismal.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


I went to West Hampstead last night, to Will and Sam's, along with Ade and Rachael, where we ate Jewish food (chicken, bagels, chicken liver pate, pickled cucumbers) drank (red wine, beer) and stood smoking on Will's Balcony staring at the rainswept glory of London at night below us; the London Eye in the distance picked out in the red and blue colourways of BA, trains shunting through Kilburn aglow.

Crossing the river to north London was a quest of epic proportions however.. a bit like Escape From New York minus eyepatches. Having encountered complete gridlock, we eventually gave up trying to drive at Victoria and ditched the car, plumping instead for the tube, which was itself fit to bursting. Perhaps inevitably, the Victoria Line was down, which entailed jumping on the District Line to Sloane Square, thence north on the Picadilly to the Jubilee at Green Park. All in all a journey that should have taken forty-five minutes probably took the best part of two hours.

The journey back was much less frought however, and we managed it in something around an hour. Disembarking the tube at Green Park, and walking past Buckingham Palace to the car. I got in, read, and went to sleep.

Today I went to consumer paradise.

Today I went to Sainsburys in Dulwich. More out of curiosity than anything else.. I was walking past and thought I'd have a look in.

It was a revelation. Wheras the Somerfield(s) of Camberwell are some of the bleakest places in the UK outside Hull, the Dulwich Somerfield is almost utopian in its allure. Vast and suffused with light, it resembles how I imagine the hangar of an Ian M Banks starship might look, and I could, upon entry, all but pick out angels with strollers cavorting at the extent of my vision, in the aisles untold miles away.

Taking a walk round Dulwich feels a bit like walking round the interior of an 80gb iPod, everything is so pristine and aspirational. Sometimes in the Somerfield in Camberwell in the evenings, you're lucky if you can locate a single potato and some cheap, bloodshot chicken goujons to fight over with knives. Here all matter of wonders were on display. Want Oak Veneer CD cases?: Check. Want glass and chrome finish soap dispensers?: you got it.

I wandered agog, not knowing where to look, in the midst of this grocery porn. The meat counter was futuristic, a fog bank of super chilled air rolling across the morsels on display like dry ice. Further along, I paused in front of a rack of Jamie Oliver's own brand merchandise, noting the sparing design, left aligned sans-serif typeface* and bright optimistic pantone swatches that denote a socially ambitious brand.

Across the way: A wall of Pasta, imported from Italy. But no ordinary pasta, for it was so hugely outsized each individual pasta shell resembled a Claes Oldenburg sculpture.. they were like giant clams, and probably cost enough to warrant the inclusion of individual pearls, but no matter, the spectacle itself sated certain appetites I had long forgotten.

I bought relatively little.. some yoghurt, fruit juice, corn-fed chicken and some Laksa Paste by Ruben Solomon, which I never see anywhere, and consequently revere. The checkouts were like runways, moving walkways for food.. the transaction itself painless. I stumbled out onto Dog Kennel hill feeling like I'd participated in a promotional tour of a shopping centre in Rivendell. It even has a Starbucks ferchrissakes.

I'll be going back at some point, I should think. For all its self-conciously dowdy personna, Somerfield is brutally expensive, so there's little to choose between them there. It's a little further away, true, but then so is heaven, and here Sainsburys has the advantage of actually existing. The gates of this consumer paradise are open to all who can afford it, and it looks reassuringly expensive.

*Lubalin Graph, I think.