Thirty Thousand Streets

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beauty and The Beat

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday

Hola.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Facebook






















Consider the following face related phrases:

"Cutting off your nose to spite your face"

"saving face"

"cliff face"

"Face from The A-Team"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday. Kennedy's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wednesday

And today we have naming of parts..

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Silver Lake






















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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tales From Earthsea


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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