Thirty Thousand Streets

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Back in SE5

Well it was a good break. Nice to see Manchester and catch up with a bunch of people I've not seen in a hot minute,

Having got into town on Friday, I went to get my hair cut by the legend that is Jimmy at City Barbers on Newton Street. He's trying to kick the cigarettes, though twice nipped out for a couple of cheeky drags. After that, I went for a wander and bumped into Vina on Tib Street, on her way home from work. After that I went to meet Peed at the Picadilly, which is much less grimey than it was as 'The Goose'. Vic popped in too, briefly, before we left and I went to meet Simon in Trof bar (terrible name).

I crashed at Peed's that night, and on Saturday did the usual sweep of Charity shops and Mr Sifter's place in Burnage. From here I roamed down to Zero records in on Barlowmore road, which I used to go to a fair bit when I lived up there.

It was usually fairly rubbish to be honest, usually because they had 'zero' records worth buying, and I'd usually come away empty handed, having browsed racks of cheap bottom-of-the-barrel secondhand vinyl that wasn't going anywhere fast. Now however, it has a really decent selection of CDs, along with some vintage Avant Garde Polish film posters, which aremuch better than I'm probably making them sound.

The bookshop out the back seemed to have a lot more stock. Ever since I saw the Alan Fletcher exhibition at the Design Museum in Shad Thames, I'm always on the lookout for a copy of their book 'Graphic Design: Visual Comparisons' which dates from 1962 and was something of a classic, though I'm not holding out too much hope of actually finding a decent copy.

I asked the old boy who ran it if there was a graphic design section, and he pointed me toward a shelf stocked with general books on art, before remembering a box of books on print someone had brought in a couple of weeks previously, and guiding me to them.

There was some good stuff, some of it from the sixties, and all in good nick at bargain prices. I got two books on the typographer Jan Tsichold, a couple on the history of type, and other assorted odds and ends, amongst them a Mouldtype specimen book, which is a handsome thing in itself, being deep and narrow in format and backed in blue linen. It's got quite a few classic faces in there at different point sizes, which might be quite useful as a reference tool. I pretty much cleared them out of that particular seam of gold – though they were a bugger to carry.

That afternoon I walked past my old flat, and saw that someone had hung an 'England' flag in one of the bedroom windows. It was one of those cretinous flags where the name of the country is actually emblazoned across it as an aide memoire, and I have to say: anyone who needs to be reminded what their national flag looks like can't love it that much.
I suppose I'm all far a bit of national pride, but broadcasting it like this is pretty unimaginative. I remember being on holiday in Corfu the other year and groaning inwardly at the sight of grade one tonsured lads draping similar banners everywhere like a conquering sunburnt army. Fe why lads? Why the need to demarcate territory when you're a guest in someone elses country? That said, I don't think the Greeks cared that much. As long as everyone paid up they were all smiles.

Anyway. Saturday evening I went to Chorlton and caught up with Gabriel, Fran, Ben, Dan, Emma, Crenan and Jo whose birthday it was on the Saturday. I also popped into Bar 480, where Ben DJs on the Saturday to say Hi, before heading to town to The Attic where Vic was DJing (I know quite a few DJs). Returned home to the welcome embrace of my brother's couch at around three, after scarfing a toasted bagel with vegemite.

I returned home today on the train. I was in first class too, which was nice. It's back to the grind tomorrow, in Soho. I must say, in terms of location, I'm happiest there. It's got everything: vice and a Marks and Spencers. What more could an Englishman want?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fairy Cow

Drove up into the hills near where my mum and dad live today, to look at the Stone Circle of Mitchell's Fold. Bronze Age in origin, it has a more recent legend that a good fairy once grazed her cow here, which doled out milk to the hungry in (adopts movie trailer guy's voice) "a time of great famine". This was strictly rationed out however at the rate of one bucket o' fairy milk per person (the period is unclear but given that that'd last me a month it seems like quite a lot).

This arrangement was working out fine, but someone's always got to fucking ruin it for everyone else, and the evil witch Mitchell snuck up and started milking the cow into a sieve. The fairy cow clocked what was going on, shimmered out of existence and turned the witch into a lump of stone, which the villagers – presumably quite miffed about the loss of their free milk ticket – surrounded with a circle of other rocks, to ensure she never again escaped (she's a rock now guys, relax).

It was nice. The surrounding hills were shrouded in mist, it was wet and slightly windy. The ground underfoot was spongey with moss. Other than than my mum and dads' car and our respective mobile phones, the most technologically advanced artefact in the immediate vicinity was a cattle grid, steeped in muddy water. It was a landscape weirdly unpunctuated by technology.

Living in London is something of a full frontal sensory assault from the minute you step out of your front door, and I suspect a good part of my waking mind is occupied screening and filtering this barrage of media into some kind of rational order.

No such problem here, in a landscape almost completely devoid of branding apart from a lonely National Trust logo on a bit of rock. Everything seemed wierdly undifferentiated and peaceful. I kept looking around for 'cool stuff', perhaps expecting to see a critically acclaimed new rave compilation leaning against an enterprising bit of rock, but no, nothing.

After that, we drove down into Welshpool. I wandered up the high street and looked in a couple of charity shops. The records therein were the usual suspects, of the order of James Last LPs and the popular 'Mrs Mills' compilations of the seventies. I didn't buy anything.

This evening went for a bite to eat at the local, The Sun, which is two miles up the road. It was very nice. I had a Wild Boar Steak. There was a three legged dog running round, though I don't think this was in any way linked with the food.

Getting the train to Manchester tomorrow, at mid-dayish. Yawn. Off to bed now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wales, Henz uv Deth

I'm at my mum and dad's in Wales. It's very rural.

There's fields nearby, full of lambs gamboling around, a dirty dozen or so cows in a corrugated tin shed, the ususal array of evolution-defyingly unintelligent pheasants (strutting calmly into the road like targets in a practise range) plus a new addition to the local agricultural portfolio: a large hen house out the back.

Ah hens. Even allowing for Colonel Saunders and Chicken Cottage, the image that usually springs to mind when I think of hens in the countryside is of plump satisfied chooks ambling round pecking at seed in an arcadian utopia: a benign avian sisterhood if you will.

But after an inspection today I can report.. it's nothing like that at all, in fact: it's like Prisoner Cell Block H up in there.

Which is not to say they're not well looked after. My mum isn't Bernard Matthews (obviously) and it's quite a nice hen house (I guess) but these sisters are doing it to themselves, with various of the inmates sporting a variety of nasty-looking peckwounds, and I can tell you with some certainty having viewed the injured: "These beaks weren't made for walking".

I suppose this is the origing of the phrase 'pecking order', and 'Top Dog' of this cell block when the lights go out is the slightly sinister Mrs Black, a terrifying matronly bird with dark plumage, who metes out her own violent form of authority as savagely as the bosun of a 17th century naval frigate might, if they were a hen.

As the other hens sport ever more painful looking beak marks and diminish in stature, the maniacal Mrs Black prospers inversely, and walks with an ever more pronounced swagger. In ten years she'll probably be ripping up flagstones and holding tanks at bay in Parliament Square. You watch and see.

Anyway. There isn't much to do here apart from walk around, breathe in the air, and blog about hens. I'm in the final stretch of an Ian M Banks novel which I just want to finish now. I sometimes find myself really craving a dirty fix of science fiction, only to be distinctly underwhelmed when I actually set about reading it. This is no exception. It's got some neat ideas in there, but the characterisation is a bit bland and for a thriller, it's actually quite unexciting. That said, I've enjoyed others of his books much more.

Not sure what I'm up to tomorrow, though the weather here is much warmer than I expected, so perhaps a walk, followed by some crate digging in the charity shops of Welshpool.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday, Pens, Black Narcissus.

I've just got back in from Ed's, having watched Black Narcissus: a 1947 film shot in glorious super-saturated technicolour, about a convent of nuns in the Himalayas (though do bear with me on this one). Watching things like this always gives me a warm nostalgic thrill, despite it actually being quite dark in places. It was all filmed on set at Pinewood (Ed tells me) though it is very well done, and some of the painted backdrops are stunningly effective – one trompe-l'œil in particular creating the illusion of an incredibly vertiginous drop down a mountainside. The lighting is incredibly atmospheric too, making it suitably dramatic and theatrical, wheras it might overwise have felt flat and stagey.

I went and talked pens with a guy in the graphics shop on Camberwell New Road today. I got a couple of Pentel 'Fountains', as I like the variance in stroke you can achieve by applying different pressure. He was right in pointing out however, that the nibs do blunt somewhat quickly, so I may invest in a more traditional dip pen with a stylus and seperate nib. At one point he whipped forth a calligraphic number from his pocket to demonstrate its stroke, and I observed a large ink stain blossoming on the left hand side of his shirt – the sign of a true pen fanatic.

I'm off to Wales tomorrow, and thence to Manchester on Friday. Annoyingly, the two connecting trains heading north cost less than my returning one on Sunday. Logic dictates that this is the busier line, so I assume it's a moneyspinner on Virgin's part.

Really looking forward to a change of scene for the rest of the week, though doubtless it'll be colder—and wetter—than Camberwell could ever hope to be (in both Wales and Manchester).

Rang Vic yesterday, but couldn't get through. Peed informs me however that she was at a Northern Soul weekender in Prestatyn, so doubtless the two are connected. In any event, I hope to catch up with her and various other people.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I went and saw a couple more flats yesterday. The second one was quite nice.

After that I went for a walk up the Walworth Road. About half way along it I spied a ten pound note skittering along the road. Without breaking my stride I stooped and scooped it up. Seconds later I was joined by a slightly lupine rudeboy wheeling alondside me on his bmx.

"E ya blud you not gonna give man is money back?"

He said, his voice a cocktail of indignation and threat.


I queried.

"Man up dere just dropped it innit"

He said gestuing at a old man up ahead. *fine* I thought, though I could already see where this was going. I quickened my pace and walked abreast of the man in question; a black gentleman in his sixties.

"Sorry mate, this guy says you dropped this" I said showing him the tenner.

"No it's not mine" he said, in a soft West Indian accent.

"Yeah it is you dropped it innit"

Said the lost property homeboy staring over at me accusatively.

"You lads are very honest I must say" Said the man (no, I'm honest I thought, this hoodrat is just pissed I got to the Ayrton Senna before him).

"Let me have a look" he said, taking the then pound note from my hand and turning it ruminatively. "No, it's not mine" he eventually concluded, making to hand it back.

"Safe, yeah" hissed the rudeboy, before sharply slapping it out of his hand and peddling furiously furiously pff in the direction of The Elephant (the tube, not an actual elephant).

I sighed, and patted the old man on the shoulder, which was a sort of gesture of mutual commiseration. "Take it easy mate" I said, before turning into a shop, though I might as well have said "We both lost out there", and honestly, I would have far preferred he got it. Rudeboys eh? Still, can't knock the hustle I suppose.

I went out last night with Sam. Had a pizza at the "Mozzarella Y Pomodoro" by the green, which was passable, but not as good as those of the late BRB, which in its new incarnation as The Grove resembles an unpopular stand at the Ideal Homes exhibition, with lots of shiney slightly naff furniture.

After that went to The Montague Arms in New Cross which is also full of tat, though more in the order of stuffed zebra head peering from the walls. There was a cabaret act on playing covers on synths. It was alright. After that went back to Penny's flat and drank red wine. Stumbled home two-ish? not sure.

Awoke today in the clammy grip of the hangover from hell, paralysed with self loathing. Didn't really feel like going out last night and I wish I'd trusted my insticts on that. Why do I put myself through the mill like this. Slouched around drinking coffee and staring out the window at plastic bags gusting past in the wind. I looked in the mirror before and Marilyn Manson stared back: my hair looks like someone has poured a crow's wing over my head, and I have bags under my eyes you could comfortably park a Renault Espapce in.

Right at the minute I feel like a sort of giant perambulating sigh. To use a flimsy analogy I sometimes wish my life was like an Etch a Sketch I could give a brisk shake and rack the balls back up on the life I've been scribbling over.

So here I find myself, suspended in self pity writing a blog post so emo it'll hopefully make Coldplay put down their instruments. I'm listening to a playlist of grey New York rain-raps and contemplating what to do with myself. I really feel like getting out of London so might do that later this week. In the meantime, who knows. Something productive hopefully.

Friday, March 16, 2007


It was Allez Allez's final Shindig at Catch last night, so after meeting up with Ade at the Grafton Arms near Goodge Street, we headed up there. The Grafton Arms is apparently something of an 'advertising pub' (much like the Old Coffee House on Beak Street) and this was bourne out by a conversation I overheard on the stairs to the roof terrace, where a girl was saying "...see myself more as an ideas person than a designer".

I'm very happy for you, I thought as I continued roofwards. Ade was already there with one of his old colleagues – the near legendary 'Techno Phil' who likes (wait for it) techno. One of his co-workers was there, Allie, who seemed really nice, and actually used to work at the place I've been at this week. Afterwards me and Ade trekked to Euston, and caught the tube to Old Street. We spotted a poster within our carriage that seemed to suggest that Teletext had a website. Huh? et tu Teletext? I suppose it was inevitable really.

We met up with Rachel near the 333, and went for a swift bite to eat at Miso, which was perfectly decent if not mindblowing, before heading over to Catch.

The night was busy, which was good, as it moved out on a high note. There were Allez Allez badges eveywhere, and I pinched a couple – one for my hoody and one for my Rizla packet it now adorns.

The music was of the usual high standard, though it did get a bit, dare I say it, Nu-Rave in bits* or at least what I suspect the term refers to.. lots of motifs cribbed from older dance records and spliced together with wide-eyed indie abandon. It seemed all quite giddy and unrelenting, with lots of build-ups and hoover sounds. There were some interesting ideas in there, but it seemed to lack drama to me. Everone else seemed to love it though, so I'll get my pipe and slippers.

My housemate Cecila actually accused me of 'being Nu Rave' the other week, because I was wearing a Modular records t-shirt. Nay love, I'm old rave me (though not that old rave; not grooverider tape packs old).

Felt hungover today. Skulked into work slurping a huge coffee and leaving flakes of breakfast pastry in my wake. Was clicking around in Photoshop all morning. I'm not such a fan of doing fiddly layout jobs in Photoshop but there you are. Wandered round Soho in the sun at lunch, and went and got some Sushi from Itsu, so as to feel a bit more virtuous about the things I'm currently ingesting. Bumped into Kay wandering down Wardour street, skiving off work apparently and who can blame her.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty straightforward and I was out of there for quarter to seven. Jumped on the 12 back to the Well and got myself some duck and pancakes from Silver Lake. The lovely lady who cooks there, Sue chucked in some banana fritters for dessert, which were delicious: crunchy golden and caramelised on the outside, soft and fluffy on the interior.

Haven't done much this evening. Watched a programme which featured newsreader Moira Stuart in locations as varied as Africa, the West Indies and Hull in a programme about the slave trade, which was largely an attempt to asess the impact had by celebrated abolitionist William Wilberforce ("The Liberator") on its demise. That was quite interesting. Then watched some of comic relief, which was actually pretty funny.

I'm looking at some flats tomorrow. Other than that, not sure.

*not in Steve ot Deven Mile's sets, mind.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Glorious Day

And it was a glorious day. Woke up, opened my window, stared out across London. A crisp blue sky; the London Eye glinting in the distance. Bliss.

That said, it is all slightly unseasonal. The first properly sunny day in 2005 I remember being before the Good Friday in April, when I skipped out of work at M&C Saatchi to be confronted by a strangely Arcadian Soho, shining in the sun like childhood. They say Christmas comes earlier every year and I guess that's true of Spring now, too. Shame. There are some good things to be said about winter, mind: Coats and fires.. yeah, that's about it. Oh and snow. Though it was only one day this year, and pretty thin on the ground it was too. Part of me tells me this can't be good; the other half really wants to wear sunglasses.

Went and met Will on the embankment outside the NFT and talked for a while, while the world went by and bought overpriced paperbacks from the trestle tables under the bridge. Headed off at half six home to meet Sam, on a mission down from the East End. We went for food at The refurbished Sun and Doves. We were in the mood for some stodge, so initially we both ordered the Steak and Ale pie, but there were no chips! so I got the fishcakes instead, which it must be said, were excellent. After that we jumped on the 345 to Brixton, and thence to the Ritzy, where under Sam's auspices, I snuck in on guestlist.

I've never been to the 'Carling' Brixton Academy, though it reminds me a little of the Apollo in Manchester. Which used to be the 'Labatts' Apollo, and then (whoa) was the 'Carling' Apollo for a while, apparently. A quick Google for "Manchester Apollo" actually yielded the Carling website as its top hit, though I did find this hilarious quote on the page itself:

"Carling are no longer title sponsors of the Manchester Apollo - but you can still enjoy an Ice cold Carling - however if you have any queries with this venue please contact them direct."

What, let me get this straight, I can still buy a Carling at the Manchester Apollo, despite it no longer being the 'Carling' Manchester Apollo? Well that's a relief. I might still go again, sometime, safe in the knowledge I can 'Belong'. Twats.


The Academy is an amazing building. Huge and cavernous with a fancy castle bit around the stage, you could have filmed Lord of The Rings in there, or at least the Mines of Moria segment anyway (and probably got some of the crowd as extras, now I come to think about it). Ladytron were on first, who I've seen before at the Futuresonic Festival in Manchester in 2002 alongside Bent and some ebay friendly electronic acts from the Skam label. Ladytron are a kind of foxy Kraftwerk, fronted* as they are by three girls with crisp black skirt/shirt combos, and hair so sharp it probably cuts scissors. And they play keyboards and guitars and sing in an intonal 'We Are The Machiiines' style. Fuck. It's like a Robert Palmer video gone right.

After that, we trotted up to the 'VIP' area where Sam had some business to take care of (which isn't a euphemism for a gangland hit should you be wondering). The view from up there was pretty impressive, commanding as it did a panoramic view of the gig. Nine Inch Nails were on next, so while Sam talked shop I looked out over the proceedings through one of a set of Archways enclosed by plexiglass. This made the sound oddly muted.. and staring out across the crowds below and the incandescent light show it felt like I was witnessing a distant nuclear war from the safety of a bunker (and I guess a bunker would be the ultimate 'VIP' area, in the event on an actual nuclear war ocurring).

After Sam had finished up we headed down again to the gig proper to check it out. It has to be said, I know very little of Nine Inch Nails apart from 'The Downward Spiral', but they were really impressive. A really heavy percussive sound, underpinned with satisfyingly crunchy industrial effects and overlaid with screeching guitars. And that Reznor bloke singing. Hung around for the faintly blasphemous electronic squawk of 'Closer to God' and then headed on out. Hopped on the 345 to Camberwell while Sam caught the tube to Liverpool Street (I'm guessing).

It's now Monday morning. My booking for this week collapsed late Friday afternoon like climate talks in 2000, leaving me free to read Ian M Banks before bed. It's a hard knock life. Ho hum.

*I say fronted, because it It must be noted, 50% of Ladytron are male. And a fine job they did too.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Inland Empire

I just went and saw Inland Empire by David Lynch, which was weird with a capital Y. I won't try to synopsise it fully, (practically impossible, really) though it starts off quite odd, before moving into a vaguely comprehensible narrative with Laura Dern playing an actress returning to the screen, as filming starts on a project overseen by a director acted by Jeremy Irons. This lasts for about half an hour. Then it gets really bizarre. And stays that way. For the next two and a half hours.

Overall the film is mesmerising: by turns both terrifying and hilarious, though at the two and a half hour mark I was flagging somewhat. I (and I suspect not a few of the audience) kept trying to make some sense of what was going on, as there are the outlines of several linked storylines, to be glimpsed dimly through the doors of Lynch's stream of conciousness. Doors feature heavily in the film as a kind of figurative shorthand for the films dense intertextuality, which is at the same time very obtuse. I could never quite work out who the all the people were in the adjacent plotlines, and though more viewings might be edifying, I'm not sure it really matters.

Its texture is fascinating too, as it all seems to have been shot on digital, complete with all the format's coarseness. Without the sumptuos gloss of film, it seems curiosly predestined for somewhere else other than a cinema, and quite aside from its tropes of perspective looks oddly reminiscent of a video installation in bits.

In fact, one thing it really reminded me of in bits was Chris Cunningham's work - especially in one scene where a character's face morphs into a nightmare composite of Laura Dern's, replete with trails of blood/smoke oozing from its lips. The oppressive heavily ambient soundtrack seems to further qualify this, as it was very reminiscent I thought of Ambient Works 2 era Aphex Twin (and I did check to see if it wasn't on the end credits).

In fact, the only fault I could really find with the soundtrack was at the end where he used that Nina Simone tune that's been ransacked recently for that annoying Renault Clio ad, featuring the 'Nicole and Papa' of the naughties: "Fwance" girl and "Britain" lad (himself number seven in Charlie Brooker's Ten Biggest Cocks in Advertising).

When it had finally finished, we trooped out the Ritzy in Brixton where we'd gone to see it, feeling somewhat dazed by the ordeal. We set off our seperate ways. Brixton was being as weird and on-top as it usually is at that time of night: a couple of skunk dealers getting busted outside McDonalds, a couple of guys rolling round in the street half fighting half not. I caught the first 35 I could home.

While walking along Camberwell Church Street I passed three 'Street Pastors', who go around talking to the wayward youth in an attempt in 'increase the peace'. Apparently a lot of West Indian and African kids have a 'cultural respect' for religious leaders, so are less likely to go busting off shots while they're around. I probably read that in the Guardian though so it's anyone's guess really.

It did remind me however of a film we were ocassionally plonked in front on the last day of term at school, called "The Cross and the Switchblade" which is basically about the church attempting to reach disaffected youth on the mean streets of 1970s New York. It got mocked mercilessly by all and sundry, but in later years I encountered a copy of the soundtrack in Manchester's Vinyl Exchange, which had it labelled as a rare obscurity and priced accordingly. Apparently it's a bit of a crate diggers trophy piece, featuring rare funk breaks. Fancy that.

Not sure what I'm up to tomorrow. Was umming and ahing about a walk in the countryside with Ed and Vic, but I'm going to try and get some other bits done.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Drinking and thinking

Last night I went round Vicki's house, and she cooked tea for me and Ed - a pumpkin risotto. A brave choice I thought, though it was delicious: sweet, sticky, moreish winter stodge (though of course March seems to have got bored of Winter and advanced straight to Spring).

Her housemate Claire was seeking some help touching up a headshot of her in Photoshop, but as her iBook only had a trackpad and no mouse, it was something of a challenge to finesse anything... I touched out some blemishes and showed her how curves and levels could achieve a more dramatic contrast in tone - I wasn't sure what else I could demonstrate in a five minute crash course.

After that we trundled down to The Hermits Cave (there's no apostrophe in the sign, by the way) where we had one of those rambling, slightly drunken debates about life in general I sometimes find myself locked into on a week night.

I don't think we really set the world to rights, though as a result, something did occur to me during one exchange about cohabiting with other people. As I've said before, living with others can be hard work and I've always considered myself a fairly easy going person, but henceforth I think when deciding whether to live with someone, I'm going to make damn sure I really want to live with them.

If you actually enjoy someone's company, flatsharing is a relative breeze, and you don't really sweat the small stuff so much. I moan about cleanliness and noise, but really, I'll forgive a multitude of sins if I have affection for someone..

Wheras if you don't.. if there's even the slightest hint of doubt about sharing your personal space, you tend to chalk up even the most minor transgressions ("You didn't do the recycling!") on a mental score card, which will, if you're uncareful, ultimately feed resentment. Which is sort of unfair, I suppose (In any event, all my housemates are great, by and large – end caveat).

Anyway.. not exactly a moment of blinding insight, but an interesting reflection I thought. I'm like a modern day Plato or something, and he liked his caves too.

We were a bit drunk though.. the barometer of my inebriation being when I wobbled the table mid gesture and an empty Leffe glass danced off the edge and smashed to bits on the ground. All eyes on us. Oh dear.

I woke up today feeling tired and fuzzy. It took ages to get to where I was working on Hanway Street, possibly because I caught a 42 (which never seems that fleet of foot at rush hour). It was a quietish day and the work was straitforward enough, though my keyboard seemed to lack half the keystrokes necessary to create things like brackets, dashes and question marks, and had a button which said 'help' in Italian. This was in itself a replacement for a previous device which had a non-functioning hyphen/underscore key, letter 'P', and space bar. All fairly essential when working with type I'd say, though I got around it by copying and pasting those elements.

As I guessed it might do, this week's booking wound up early. I left early at around half four, which I didn't mind really as it was such an unseasonably lovely day. Walked up past Spitalfields and cut across the road near Liverpool Street Station, then up through Shoreditch to the roundabout at Old Street, where I caught the 55 up through Clerkenwell to Oxford Street.

Went for a nose round the Cosh gallery on Wardour Street looking in vain for a print I saw there a month or two ago by Fred Deakin, which now adorns his new mix cd. Gone gone gone, alas. After that I headed north of Oxford Street to meet Ade outside his work, before adjourning for a pint at some generic Noho rentapub. I had left my Golden Virginia at home, so underwent the slightly humbling ritual of offering to 'buy' a rollup off someone, whereupon I was surrounded by a host of eager hands proffering tobacco products, for no fee.

I headed back home after that, stopping for some food at the consistently excellent Silver Lake, which I sat and ate in front of the telly. Hotel Babylon was on, which is one of those ultra Beeb-by-numbers programmes which is presumably by now generated by a proprietory algorythm somewhere in the heart of Television Centre. Fairly uninteresting, in spite of its arsenal of sub-Lock-Stock editing.

Anyway I'm sleepy now. Some work of my own to get on with tomorrow, then in the evening, to the Ritzy in Brixton to see the new David Lynch film. Might eat in the cafe there beforehand, though hopefully it won't take as long as last time when I waited an hour for a pizza. Cheerio.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Car Alarms

"There's gonna be a lot of slow singin' and flower bringin', if my burglar alarm starts ringin'"

Oomphed the Notorious Big in 1994 on Warning off Ready to Die. I kind of know how he felt.

After working until late the other night, I arrived home, and after performing my usual nightime rituals fell into my usual restless sleep at around half two, to be awoken at around five by the most insanely irritating car alarm I think I've ever heard, reverberating from the depths of the estate behind my flat. As winter in Enland begins to feel ever more like Spring, I still sleep with my window very slightly open, which might have had something to do with it rousing me, but it was still both extremely loud and unsettling.

There are various sorts or car alarms I commonly hear at night from my digs in South London. Some meep plaintively in the middle distance like folorn metal dinosaurs (and are almost charming for about twenty seconds), while some seem to cycle Jive-Bunny style through a whole collection of sonic effects, like a kind of Stars on 45 mastermix of alarm tones. These last ones at least manage to inject some brief novelty to the programme with their cacophonous battery of electronic beeps and whistles, and listening to them you could at least perhaps pretend you were on the final approach to an orbital rave just off the M25. Not so this one, which was low, deliriously insistent, and oscillated almost imperceptibly. It was menacing for being utterly unremarkable yet extremely loud; and seemed to penetrate my walls as effortlessly as gamma rays.

It also went on for fucking ages, and having made the above comparison with radiation, I began to wonder how long it would take for the sound of the alarm alone to kill me if we were the only things in the universe, and I was otherwise immortal and impervious to the effects of denourishment and old age. Quite a while, I thought, or even worse: never.

Eventually, after what seemed like around fifty years it stopped, though whether this was because the proud owners came out and switched off the wretched thing, or the thieves returned to steal that as well I will never know.

But one thing I do know is that these devices are useless. Some alarms people take heed of—fire alarms in offices for instance—as even though it's most probably a test, it is unanimously observed and in any event gets you away from Microsoft Outlook for twenty minutes. Burglar alarms too make people sit up, especially if it's in your own house, and if I were on a spaceship and the klaxons started blaring (along with the ubiquitous female voice intoning "warning, warning") then I'd really get worried. Or in a lift. Could be a lift.

But car alarms? Who gives a crap. Everyone's instinctive response to a car alarm is to simply think "I really hope someone switches that car alarm off soon" rather than feeling obliged to go and investigate whether a crime is in progress. Firstly because you rather think that anyone with such a ghastly device attached to their car sort of deserves to have it stolen, but mostly secondly, because there is no felony ocurring, and the banshee-like shriek reverberating and clanging off the houses around it is simply broadcasting to the surrounding neighbourhood that a cat just jumped onto a bonnet.

Car alarms evoke a similar philosophical paradox to the old "tree falling with no-one to hear it" paradigm, only this urban koan might be expressed thus:

"If a car alarm goes off and everyone can hear it, but no-one can even be bothered even going to the window to look, is it worth buying the fucking thing in the first place?"

Which it might not be. Getting an alarm strikes me as being a bit (but not a great deal) like getting an extended warranty for the new widescreen TV you're so proud of: probably not much use, but it makes you feel more secure about the entire thing. No, probably the best way to deter car thieves is simply not to leave your gleaming Powerbook on one of the seats, unless of course you're planning an elaborate 'MacIntyre Investigates' type sting, and what's he been up to recently, I ask you (probably exactly this).

Of course some cars do have gleaming security systems that would give the Death Star a run for it's money, with immobilisers and whatnot should you be worried about them actually being driven off by your as-yet unmet foes, though in this case the thieves will probably just cut out the middleman and try getting the keys instead, by hook or by crook – and a Shepherd's crook might just do for fishing them off the hall table.

And I've no doubt that in the annals of history there are a multitude of instances in which the not-so-humble car alarm has proven it's worth ("my car alarm saved me from a fishing accident in Val D'isere etc.") but their dreary lowing in the wee hours is a high price to pay. The geese that saved Rome probably had quite a few false alarms but at least they laid eggs, and proabably regretted it come Christmas.

Ultimately, I think no-one is as thankful for a car alarm as when they finally stop after a an extended session—though be aware, some do have a propensity to return like hiccups you thought you'd beaten—and the sense of relief that immediately descends on a neighbourhood in the aftermath is all but palpable, as a host of bodies wearily roll over and grunt in satisfaction (that might just be post coital though). This is the zenith of the peace of mind that a car alarm affords: the silence sculpted by their own absence, and for that they should be rightfully consigned to some rogues gallery of slightly crap artifacts people use habitually aren't much good (see Washing Up Bowls).

All this said I don't own a car, and were I became a card carrying car owner and buy into all this jive, I might swiftly revise my opinion. If in 10 years time you bump into me on the mean streets of Dulwich with a stroller and a chocolate labrador in tow, I'll maybe also have the Chealsea tractor parked back at the ranch fortified with a sonic defense system capable of melting ears. This is conditional on both London still being above water by then and me ever earning some money however, so I wouldn't count on it.