Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, February 26, 2007


I'm working in Bayswater. Not been here before.

I'm in a medium sized design group who seem to specialise in quite sobre corporate communications. I'm in a little room connected to the basement studio. It has padded walls.. not sure what to make of that.

Working on yet another weary sounding G4, the sound of whose hard drive spinning is a bit like washing machine dancing toward a cliff edge.

Didn't sleep much Sunday night and ended up reading Notes On A Scandal in pretty much one sitting. Quite enjoyable, really, though I felt a bit like a wrung out dishtowel on Monday.

The weekend:
On Friday night I went up East to see Sam and Kay. We went for a curry near Broadway Market that was perfectly decent. I always suspect that unless curries were outrageously bad I wouldn't be much aware of it mind – it strikes me that Hot food could probably mask a multitude of lesser evils. But it was nice, and they gave us a free drink and an After 8 mint each.

After that we went to a party in their old block of flats, held by Kays friend Lucy. Nice place.. she'd papered the toilet walls with (I think) Tim Burton Illustrations. Nice sink in the bathroom too.

We left about midnight and parted ways. Bit of a mission getting home, but home I wanted to go. I Caught a bus to London Bridge having narrowly missed the social experiment that is the 35 at that time of night, whereupon the heavens opened. Luckily I had a crappy umbrella bought from a tourist shop near Bond Street, which deflected some of the downpour, before starting to unravel under the rain's onslaught.

I'm thinking about buying a place – or at least borrowing an obscene amount of money to buy a place. I want a nice sink, and to have all my pictures where I want them on the walls. Living with less people might be a plus too, though I doubt I'll be able to become a complete hermit just yet.

Accordingly I went and looked at a flat just off Dog Kennel Hill on Saturday. Nice-ish area (between Camberwell and Dull-wich) opposite a Sainsburys. It was in a block of flats, which from a distance looked ok, but up close wasn't so pretty. The flat was a decent-ish price for its size, but this was reflected in its state of repair as it needed quite a lot doing to it. It was also quite hard to see beyond the family of ten or so people currently living there (I'm afraid my precious sensibilities where slightly taken aback by that). I remember as a kid being much more aware of the smell of other peoples houses, and its seeming strangeness.. these days most places just seem to have a neutral aroma, or maybe I'm just desensitised to new environments. This place however had quite a pungent smell, a heady fug of people and kids, with a rich undertow of nappies. All of which is not to paint it as some Road-To=Wigan-Pier-esque portrait of squallor, but it was pretty hard to pierce the veil of humanity to scry what the flat beneath might one day look.

This entire lark seems slightly daunting actually, and having got a few friends who've been through the mill and back on this jape, I don't anticipate it getting any easier. My old mate Ade has just had pretty much the definitive nightmare experience in trying to buy a place, where the current owner defaulted on her mortgage repayments and the bank has retaken posession.. none of which would have ocurred had she actually removed her head from her anus and completed her end of the transaction four or so months ago.

She's been utterly opaque and duplicitous in her dealings, remote and impossible to contact in France somewhere. From the sounds of it, she's either bankrupt, dodgy, very stupid, or all three, but in any event her refusal to take responsibility for her actions is so utterly selfish it defies belief. Ade, I'm feeling for you mate.

But I digress.

Saturday night I went to my friend Lucy's party in Balham, after a few crafty beers in The Hermits, and Sunday didn't do a hell of a lot other than not sleep. Last night I watched The 7 Samurai round at Ed's place, though I kept drifting off. My favourite character is Kikuchiyo, the bearded wildcard with the huge sword. If the seven Samurai were the Wu Tang Clan he'd be ODB no question.

Anyway. Back to work, which just at the minute is setting up ad templates for, wait for it... An estate agents! Good god.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Competition ripper ever since 13..

A short youtube video of Biggie freestyling, sometime in 89 I guess..

Proof positive if needed that even at the 'tender' age of 17 the big guy could rap. I kind of wish you got to see the guy he's battling's attempt though..

Friday, February 16, 2007


It's been a pretty barren week really. A featureless desert of mediocrity punctuated by the odd spike of misadventure.

On Valentine's day I stayed at work 'til eight, photo-shopping visuals of sub-menus on mobile phone screens. That was my hot date. As I left the building I smashed my knee against the plate glass door in the lobby with a crack like a rifle's retort. A couple (it would be a couple) passing by whirled round in surprise, and determined not to add insult to injury, I feigned insouciance, strolling up the street until I'd turned the corner, whereupon I collapsed double, clutching at my knee in agony.

The rest of the night was redeemed somewhat by the presence of a couple of bottles of Czech beer, and 'Preston' storming off Never Mind The Buzzcocks because Simon Amstell was taking the piss out of 'Chantel'.

Thursday night I went to Allez Allez, which was good, but I was fairly pissed before I even went there as I quaffed about four pints in the Bath House on Dean Street with my production homies. I wobbled out around eight, and purchased some food from the Japanese place on Oxford Street. Two triangular rice briquettes with teriyaki chicken hearts.

The night was good, anyway. The journey home wasn't. I caught the 35, and promptly fell asleep, waking up just as it was passing through Elephant.. on its way back into town. The bus had gone all the way to Clapham, and I'd awoken on its return orbit. It was ten past three.

I walked, tired and confused, from London Bridge to Elephant, where I bought a Columbian pattie.. which was like a fluorescent yellow deep fried samosa. Caught the bus home and got to sleep sometime after four.

I was tired on Friday. Fucking tired. Work was dull, as it has been, but then ended suddenly, as these bookings do. I retreat a point of sale hero. Freelance bookings, when they finish after an extended stint, are always a bit like a mini redundancy, announced with minimal fanfare: "Tom, it's quietened down now, so we won't be needing you next week". Which is fine, but after three months, I have to undergo a desk clearing ritual – weeding sign-off sheets from the miscellaneous bale of paper chaff perched on the end of the desk, doing some cursory filing and sweeping flakes of breakfast pastry into the cold five milimetres or so of Starbucks Venti Americano in the paper cup abandoned left of the blurry monitor. Even though I was pretty content to be going, there was something slightly sombre about the affair.

Three months working somewhere also seems just enough time to get a broad understanding of a particular workplace's politics. Who's shagging who, who's good at their job, who's crap at their job (by general concensus or otherwise) what drugs such and such did at the last Christmas bash etc. etc. Kind of interesting in a gossipy kind of way, though I'm glad I don't have to get too embroiled in it all. Nice bunch of people there, generally, though it was all quite quiet and intense. A real heads-down graft type of place, or as one of the artowkers was saying " a bit like a library".

Desk cleared I hiked up to The Angel after work, to meet Fran in a pub on Liverpool Road with her friend Kev. It was really good to see Fran, who was over from Jersey for an audition. The part sounded really interesting, too.

I left around eleven to get the tube as I didn't want to sleep on anyone's floor. A huge poster for Orange Mobile opposite the platform was really getting on my tits. The current campaign's strapline is: "People are good together" and the poster depicted two girls lying in a park in the sun looking at something out of shot.. only, by some trick of perspective they appear to share a single head. Like most of Orange's advertising I found it to be annoyingly obtuse, but more than that — misguided. I think Orange are attempting to give themselves a kooky offbeat appeal by the slightly whimsical tone of their imagery, but this was just slightly creepy; hallucinatory, David Lynch-esque. I moved up the platform to get away from it.

On the tube I read Friday's copy of the Metro, which had a really depressing spread on the Peckham shootings. One quote in really managed to wind me up a bit, where Charles Bailey of anti-gun group Don't Shoot said (amongst other things):

"Guns aren't coming from black people but they are being sold to black people. We need help from the Government to stop this happening"

Huh? Meaning what? Shouldn't sale of guns be stopped full-stop? Is this some kind of conspiracy then? Surely of more paramount importance is demarginalising whole swathes of angry south London kids, and teaching people not to fetishise violence. A proliferation of firearms is no good thing, but more worrying still is that people—kids—actually want to buy them and use them so wantonly.

Anyway. A hairy topic that I'm not going to attempt to grapple with right now.

I arrived back in Camberwell around 12. There's an Eastern European alcoholic guy I see a round quite a lot. Mid-thirties. Stubbly. Generally wears a baseball cap and shades. He quite often sidles up to people and starts holding forth in a rambling pissed diatribe he finds hilarious. The other day I saw him outside a liquor store with a laundry bag stuffed with nine two-litre bottles of rotgut cider. He had a can in his hand. Last night he was involved in some kind of argument with a group of rudegirls who were aiming high kicks at his chest, and yelling things like "Fack off dirty tramp man". Oh dear.

I got in and retired to bed feeling slightly troubled by it all.

Saturday today, and on a more positive note.. Tlon books has had a stay of execution. Yes, rumours of its demise were greatly exagerated by yours truly, though things aren't looking too sunny. According to the guy at the counter the landlords (Southwark council no less) have been upping the rent, and seem to want to evict them so they can effect the much lauded renewal of Elephant with no strings attached. I signed a petition about it, and he's going to email me some info, which I'll post here when I get it.

I might go to Old Street tonight.. might not though. Not sure if I can be bothered. I'm also pretty skint until I can transfer some money on monday. We'll see.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tlon books RIP

I made a fairly typical foray down the Walworth Road at the weekend, to nose round some charity shops, with my ultimate destination being the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. Hardly the most auspicious of locations, and I'll freely admit the only reason I ever ventured into the big concrete and plastic cube at all was to visit the slightly creased second hand bookshop therein: Tlon Books.

The last time I went up I picked up a couple of half decent crime novels—Dog Eat Dog by Edward Bunker and Blood in Brooklyn by Gary Loveski—for a very reasonable price, and was returning to see if I could repeat the trick.

Imagine my dismay then, when I rocked up to discover that it was shut. Dismay that only deepened when I read the cursory typed letter affixed to the door, which stated effectively that the proprerty had been seized by the landlord, and anyone attempting to gain entry to reclaim stock would be subject to legal proceedings, or perhaps more likely in Southwark, visited by a man and his dog for a 'chat'.

So another one bites the dust.

With Wordsworth and now Tlon gone, the only Bookshop nearby is the one in Brixton (as far as I know) and it really is something of a loss for me. I do a lot of reading both in the small hours and and on the bus and tube, and probably get through two books a week, so being able to buy cheaper second-hand is a boon.

Tlon books wasn't the cheapest, but it was fairly priced, and I enjoyed going there for an hour or two just to browse the shelves. Being able to buy cheaper also means that I felt able to take a risk on something I might not otherwise have bothered with, and investigate other genres or writers I'd never come across before. It was fairly compendious too, stocking everything from fiction to reference books on everything from art and design to history.

The note on the door seemed to suggest the shop's seizure was due to unpaid rent, and I've got to admit, if there's precious little money in books, there's even less in second hand ones, and hardly enough to satisfy the ambitious, or ultimately the landlords. I always suspect that independent ventures like this, and record shops of course, are often run and worked in by fanatical hobbyists who do it for the love rather than cutting a healthy profit, but if you can't even pay the rent.. well. Game over. Sad really. I really have something of an affection for institutions of great merit but with little financial acumen which soldier on anyway. A bit like Hugh Grant's bookshop in Notting Hill (joke: I haven't actually seen it. The film that is, not the place, obviously).

It got me thinking about London, and how, while I love the city, one of the things I really dislike about it is the price of rent. Not so much personally as that's pretty reasonable, but in terms of the ludicrous value of property in general, which motivates the landed to some fairly greedy profiteering.

The business of buying and renting property these days often strikes me as a fairly sordid area of business, what with everyone being either obsessed with pursuing property or thrashing round in the ensuing money-pit, and this extends from the guy you rent your bedsit from to the corporate behemoth that leases office space in Canary Wharf. Let's face it. No-one's a landlord out of charity, and even the good ones generally have something of a shall we say, laissez faire attitude toward upkeep.

Astronomical rent ultimately ultimately prices out the small guy or the independent trader, as it eats into their modest income. There used to be a pretty good comic shop on the Charing Cross Road, which shut down last year. On the day of its closing, I overheard the owner talking to a customer and telling him (almost inevitably a him in a comic shop) that the landord had suddenly hiked the yearly rent from a pretty damn expensive £60K to a jaw-dropping £100,000 per annum. A sum that seems not so much astronomical to me as interstellar.

As his customer observed "how many comic books would you have to sell to pay that?" and the proprietor stated that he was reluctantly migrating his business online. It sounds to me like the landlord heard somewhere of a similar property going for as much, and appetite well and truly whetted endevoured to stoke the fires of their greed with bales of the crisp folding stuff.

I quite often walk past that same shop, and it seems now to be full of crappy plastic umbrellas. I can only assume that they're the landord's own, as I can't see how they're going to pay the rent. So.. a tenant gone, a property vacant, and London slightly less interesting for it. I've seen it happen to a few places over the last year or so, and I can't really see the situation improving.

I also noted with dismay that both the Astoria and Hammersmith Palais are closing shortly, and while I must admit I've only ever been to one of those venues, I'm aggrieved in principle to venues such as this shutting down in the name of some bland homogenous progress. These are outlets for the music that gives London such a vibrant night-life, and once they're gone, they're gone.

There was quite an interesting piece in the Guardian last year—penned by Banksy—which cited the negative effects of the Melbourne games on the thriving street art scene there, before in turn positing that much the same might happen in East London when the Olympics arrive in 2012. Pessimistic or not (and I'm only so bothered about 'street' art), I agreed with some of its points. Too often these days the landscape of our cities is dictated by corporations which flatten all before them in their quest for monopoly, by buying up space to hedge out the competition.

Ultimately this would leave us with the same lineup of poe-faced brands—whose hegemony is already apparent crowding our public space in ever more intrusive ways. I don't necessarily mind places like Starbucks (they have their place) but when their nitrous runoff stagnates and chokes the city of its diversity, then I'm pissed. Yeah, let's have your shop with its extravagantly priced infusions derived from beans you paid someone in the third world fuck all for, but let's have some greasy spoons too, some Italian caffs, some local flavour.

Ultimately of course, oversaturation could be their downfall. Globalisation makes for a handy catch all term here, though I personally find the slow annexing of britain by supermarkets the most obviously irritating thing (sometimes it feels like I'm being slowly surrounded by Tesco Metros). People are already somewhat desensitized to the hi-gloss of advertising, which is why all too often these days, big business strives for ever more resourceful means to displace its mass, through viral incursions schemed to slip beneath the radar of credibility. As consumers become ever sophisticated, the more advertising strives to camouflage itself as 'street-buzz' or word of mouth, using the slang and tropes of oral and visual youth culture. This can pay dividends but also backfire disasterously, as was evidenced by the 'blog' Sony set up to promote the new PSP last year. As fast moving consumer groups mover ever faster, the tone of such campaigns must become ever more nuanced if it is to keep up without being outed, though it is highly, highly amusing to see them cock up, poor dears.

It is quite ironic that big business appropriates the cultural capital of subcultures, while at the same time marginalising them, but nothing new. I just hope that after the Olympics come and go, there is still affordable rent for the starving artists to keep on starving up east, and more generally, bits of London are allowed to persist as areas fertile for interaction, excitement and creativity, regardless of whether they are covered in spray paint or you can purchase a skinny venti latte there..

Anyway. I've ranted about this before and I am positive, but in the short term, where can I buy a cheap book? Tlon, I'm gonna miss ya.

Friday, February 02, 2007


I'm tired. And a bit drunk.

Work's been a grind this week. No successes, no victories. Just trying to get stuff out the door. Quietly fielding phone calls off the tired account manager, from the phone on Lydia's desk, while Mac OSX's eye/beachball of death whirls at me from the screen of the slightly flustered G4 I'm working with.

Drunk, tired, yadda yadda whatever.