Thirty Thousand Streets

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


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 .


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


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.