Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, March 31, 2008

Bus Route Review: the 148

Buses are manky. Filthy. I actually quite like the things, but even I'm prepared to come clean and acknowledge that. The 'free' buses (the hated on bendys) are the worst, no question, and they always seem to posess a faint but cloying stink – a rank cocktail of chicken bones and sweat.

So it was with some surprise that I discovered the gem that is the 148, which sallies forth from Camberwell Green to the far flung reaches of Shepherd's Bush, because it's like, the Orient Express of London buses or summat.

Everything's just so CLEAN.. the seats crisp and brand new. At least one of the times I've caught it these were clad in some kind of faux leather polymer, butter-soft and shiney. They're widely spaced as well – like riding in some kind of business class suite with extra legroom.

We've got Britain's premier HGV construction firm Scania to thank for all this (their logo is proudly embossed on all the headrests) and they've done a bang up job, too fo' sheezy. If there was a spin off series of Pimp My Car entitled Pimp My Bus, presented by Tim Westwood, and the 148 was selected for a makeover, I think the big guy would be left, for once, speechless, having witnessed the majesty that is the 148. He might even cry, before going home.

"But why is this?" I hear you cry, dear reader. "Why is this bus so damn fly, when I wouldn't deign to keep chickens on most of them?"

Well – sigh – there is a downside to this bus. A reason for its pristine glory. For each of these buses has a pre-recorded voice that speaks the bus number, destination, and current location at every stop.


An anodyne female voice intones flatly, when you first board. At first it isn't so bad. Something of a novelty in fact. But like many 'novelty items' (novelty erasers for example) the sheen of the new is quick to tarnish, and it rapidly becomes deleriously irritating.

I'm guessing Scania thought they'd really push the boat out on this one, and create 'The Bus of The Future – a sort of robo-bus if you like. Well if this is the future of buses I've just seen, it's a dark one, if they're all to sound like The Bride of KITT strung out on valium.

I'd heard that one of the practices in those lovely American prisons for 'unlawful combatants', alongside water-boarding and the like, was to play music at unholy volume at the detainees – such as Barney the Purple disosaur, or even worse, Eminem. And this, after a while, is a bit like that: torture.

But on the plus side, even 'da yoof' who are partial to serenading buses with the skittish strains of Nelly and SoulJah all their mobile phones are utterly antagonised by robo-bus, and so the people who would likely be scrawling 'Murda Zone' onto a seat, or spitting on the floor aren't much in evidence.

But neither is anyone really, which is why they're so crisp and new feeling, for to tarry too long on the 148 is to court gibbering insanity as effectively as summoning Azathoth. Which is sort of fine actually, as I never usually wish to ride it all the grim environs of Shepherd's Bush, and I'd rather get the tube up to Notting Hill.

Camberwellians in a hurry take note though: As a shuttle bus up to Elephant and Castle tube however, it really is, just the ticket.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

War Paint

I love working in Soho. It's all there basically. A heady stew of media bitches, okey-cokey tv celebs, record shops, clothes shops, vice, and decent food.

There's also a smattering of hip galleries and print-shops thereabouts, such as Cosh on Berwick street, and now the Lazarides print shop on the Charing Cross road – a sort of sister venture to their longer established space on Greek Street, that regularly had peeps snaking round the block to purchase an Anthony Micallef print.

It's split between an exhibition space on street level, and a print shop above – and accessed via – Soho Books. The exhibition on right now is entitled War Paint and features paintings by Massive Attack's 3D, and some photos (or 'light-paintings') by Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones.

I quite like 3D's stuff, which graced some of Massive Attack's releases, along with the MoWax 'Headz' compilations, and he was a grafitti artist in Bristol before being a musical artist. Like many 'street' artists, the same figurative motifs recur in his paintings, populated as they are by raw Francis Bacon-esque viscera and homunculi. All the images are rendered in a strident red, and are available as prints (the companion blue edition sold out on Pictures On Walls practically instantly).

The accompanying photo portraits by Warren Du Preez and Thornton Jones also take a deconstructivist approach of the personalities involved, and are arresting, but I've gotta say, I wasn't in the market for a photo of James Lavelle's mug even in the heady, stoned days of the mid nineties, so god knows what I'd want with one now.

In fact, I read that the exhibition was inspired in part by the Unkle album, War Stories, which I'm slightly bemused about, having always viewed everything beyond The Time Has Come remix ep as a yawnsome product of Mr Lavelle's ego, and hence not that cool or indeed interesting. Oh well.

The actual print shop has the prints from the exhibition on display, along with other bits from the Lazarides gallery archives. Now, it must be said, Steve Lazarides and co. are reet canny fuckers. The blue edition, vended through Pictures on Walls which sold out like that (snaps fingers) had five editions of 50, on at £275, wheras here, the red (and more limited) versions are on at exactly twice that, and presumably before VAT. These cats have basically got a license to print money. I was going to try and blag one of the show posters, but looking at the price list, I see that even that, an unlimited edition, costs £20. Oh well, can't front I suppose. Artists getting payed is a good thing.

I was also looking to see if there was anything by MoWax/Dizee Rascal's designer Ben Drury, who is also on the roster, but there didn't seem to be anything in evidence. Amongst the other stuff there were prints by Antony Micallef, Faille, Space Invader and others.

On an aside, I have to say, there are some tropes particular to this kind of supposedly 'subversive' street art that are getting a little tired, such as the juxtaposition of militaristic motifs with icons of popular, consumerist (read: bad) culture. A US marine with Mickey Mouse's head superimposed over his would be a perfectly acceptable example of this. What is slightly irksome is that, wandering round Lazaride's super cool (won't say Über, oh, damn) Soho print shop, is of course that their operation covets this very same consumerism, under the guise of some supposedly ironic, knowing, distance.

But of course, there is an immense appetite for all this, which at the minute, much like war, doesn't seem to be abating. People just can't get enough, me included, apparently, as I've bought a couple of prints from the over the years. Guess I'll shut up. And actually, on that that front, one of the prints has more than doubled in value, so not a bad little purchase, if the market doesn't suddenly get bored of guns, skulls and halftoned dots.

Anyway, worth a goosey if you're in the area, or want to splash out on something for the wall of your trendy hackney studio flat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Frankie Fraser

I've seen Frankie Fraser twice. Once on the Number 12 on the way to Elephant and Castle, and once stood at the top of Walworth road outside the library, looking absently around like any lonely pensioner might.

The first time I spotted him, a much younger man randomly came up to him and greeted him with enthusiasm like an old friend (I suppose he might even have been an old friend) but then, he is like London royalty, I suppose.

To look at him now in his 80s, you'd hardly suspect he was once as 'ard as nails, and accused of pulling someone's teeth out with pliers, but then, he was shot in the head as recently as 1991 outside the now defunct Turnmills, so he is clearly made of sterner stuff than most.

Monday, March 24, 2008


This Easter just gone has been sort of strange. Mainly just quiet though. Time was, I used to spend pretty much all of it from Thursday evening through to Monday evening, drunk or otherwise out of it. This time? I drank a bit but mainly chilled out and ate. I was also at something of a loose end for stretches of it as many of the people I know had left London to go and see family, though, for this very reason I had the flat to myself for a lot of it. Which was ace.

The weather was freaky too.. Easter usually seems to fall just beyond that unspecified tipping point of Spring when the sun first starts putting his hat on. This, in mid-march, was bitterly cold and largely grey, punctuated by bouts of intense hail ('hail texts') and surreally isolated sunny spells.

On Friday I went to meet Will up in Mayfair, to see The Orphanage at the Mayfair Curzon, which in screen one at least, had quite a fetching seventies-looking Auditorium. It's a good film. Very atmospheric and chilling, though, as with much horror, there are some things which don't quite add up (suspension of disbelief is critical). I couldn't help thinking about events in Jersey at the minute though.

After that we mooched round in quest of a post film pint. Mayfair is wierd. Walking round it on Friday evening is disconcertingly quiet, and many of the side streets are pretty much empty of life save for the odd liveried doorman. Will speculated that for all it's bland wealth, any of those grand facades might be playing host to all manner of Brett Easton Ellis style depravity, and ironically of course, just last week, a European flapper was done for by an untouchable arab prince, who has since absconded in daddy's jet.. 2008 so far really does seem mainly to be about people murdering other people.

We eventually found a boozer, where we seemed to be the only non-tourists in there, and ordered a pint each and a packet of nuts. After a bit, the landlord – an African chap – picked a microphone up at the bar, and proceeded to welcome everyone to England, wish them a happy holiday, and apologise for the slowness of the kitchen; which pretty much confirmed our unique status amongst the clientelle. After that we both caught tht tube to West Hampstead, where Will headed home, and I trotted off to a party at the bitter end of the Kilburn High Road.

Saturday was cold. Bitterly so. I awoke late and tired after a night on beer and mojitos, and vague memories of seranading a room in Peckham with an out of tune banjo and improvisational singing. I headed off into town and met Will, again, at the Courthauld gallery on the Strand, which I'd never experienced before, but is something of a gem.

There was an exhibition of Renoir paintings, themed around La Loge (or Theatre Box) which is where people went in nineteenth century Paris to wear their best clobber and gawp at what everyone else was wearing. An interesting snapshot into another age, placed in some sort of context alongside random ephemera such as sophisticated fashion magazine illustrations, and gently satirical cartoons.

The main collection was pretty excellent too, with some pretty jaw-droppingly famous works on display.. such as Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and that self portrait Van Gogh did after he got all Alan Davies on his own ear.

After that we wandered up Fleet Street to see if Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was open, and thankfully, it was.

I love the Old Cheshire Cheese. It's kinda touristy, kinda London, Olde Worlde as fucke, yet while other boozers sharing these traits make me cross myself then cross the road, the Cheshire Cheese makes me want to curl up, dormouse like in a cosy corner and get slowly blitzed with friends over tall glasses of ale. It's got a fire, it's got a chop room, it's moderately labyrinthian, and it's cheap – though it is a Samuel Smiths pub, and hence not that great the morning after. Someone was saying there's a bit of ancient tree in there, though I've yet to stumble across that.

After that, we parted ways, again, and I went home to sit on my couch, for most of the rest of the weekend actually.. watching crap films aand reading the papers.

I'm now back for a third week at a design group in Soho, wrassling with a print job that has been refusing to give up the ghost, but might just go away tomorrow if I hit it hard enough. A short week, which is good, for in spite of me being a workshy freelancer, this Easter did what all good bank holidays does: made me forget to some extent what work is like (though I do often enjoy it). Cheerio.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bloomsbury Bowl

So last night I went to Bloomsbury Bowl in, er, Bloomsbury.

It was fun. It kind of reminded me of a smaller, less arty Shunt Bar, insofar as it was subterranean, oddly laid out, and groaning with hipsters, in this case a notable proportion of which were dressed in Rockabilly gear, because this is a bowling venue, and of course, bowling is inexorably linked with the 50s, which is to Rockabilly types as the 60s are to mods. Personally I associate it more with teenage birthday parties, which aren't maybe so cool.

They're doing a brisk trade by the look of things, and it was six bones on the door, and 36 odd to hire a lane. We got there before eight and were just able to book a lane for eleven. Apparently this could only be done in person as the limited amount they'll book out over the phone had been booked up months back. Anyway, you get an hour, which sounds like a lot, but actually is about enough for one game. If you're really into the bowling then you're probably better off going to the one at Elephant and Castle shopping centre, which is cheaper and they'll let you wear your own trainers, which I wouldn't have minded as my bowling shoes were awful sweaty things with velcro flaps on them. I didn't come last, at least.

After that we danced around a bit to some rock and roll, though the sound system didn't have much oomph. Some brylcreamed weirdo with turn-ups kept taking mobile phone pictures of one of the girls I was with, which was a bit disturbing.

We left around two-ish and headed out, wandering down towards Holborn to catch a bus back South of the river, and managed to lose two of our companions when we did get on one. We got off at Waterloo to wait for them to catch up. Julia, whose birthday it was proceeded to drunkenly arrange Sainsburys shopping baskets up the pavement around the bus-stop (she's an artist, bless her). We left shortly after.

Got into Peckam another bus ride and a taxi cab later. Piled back to a friends for vodka and Orangina, which was dandy, until a huge oestrogen fuelled argument broke out and people started screaming at each other and slamming doors and crying. I took this as my cue to leave, grabbing a bag of vinyl I'd left leaning against a wall at a party three months ago.

Woke up this afternoon to hear the wind buffeting the house like a plaintive ghost. Found this oddly pleasing. Fixed a huge breakfast and read the papers, sipping coffee. Got the internet back at our flat, so wasted some time there. Also did some work.

Working up in Soho tomorrow, and for the rest of the week. Some other bits to sort out too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why Royal Mail is like Christmas

On my way back from my regular haunt the Royal Mail parcel depot yesterday, whilst wielding a giant cardboard tube I'd had to wait a week to pick up in person, I got to thinking how Royal Mail is a bit like Christmas. I can already sense eyebrows raising, Spock-like at this theory, but let me drop todays mathematics and break it down for you one time.

1. Abundant use of the colour red (albeit more of a weedy scarlet than a bold crimson).

2. Complete lack of snow.

3. Like Father Christmas, Royal Mail decides if you've been a good boy or girl, and whether you deserve to get what you want. If you've been bad, those parcels, cards (especially the plastic kind) might just not show up! The Royal Mail elves will see to that.

4. It's largely mythical. Royal Mail? yeah right.. How about doing everyone a favour and rebranding as 'Shabby Mail'.

5. Like Christmas, the post happens about once a year, but it doesn't usually bring good cheer.

6. Lots of queues.

7. Everyone's pissed.

8. It's a complete bloody shambles and nothing works and nobody does any work. It's cheerfully witless and indolent. Everyone knows it's a load of bollocks, but as this is England and, we get to stand in the aforementioned queues and gripe about it quietly afterwards, everyone's actually secretly rather pleased.

That's about it. Any questions?

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Day Nothing Worked..

Nothing has worked today (including me).

The internet at our flat, which was supposed to get cut off at the weekend and get re-connected on Thursday, instead worked all week, then cut out last night.

A package I ordered on Monday hadn't turned up so I went to the 'Banjonet' internet 'cafe' opposite the chameleon-like Redstar on Camberwell road to leave an email for the Ebay vendor who sent it.

Banjonet, once my favourite internet cafe, seems to be mutating into a nail bar. There was a lady getting her nails done in the window by a chinese chap wearing a face mask, and the place stank of amyl-nitrate. I felt dizzy just breathing in there.

The two dudes who run it, after selling me a ticket, couldn't actually get an internet connection, so I offered that I go to the Post Office while they sorted it out.

"You'll be alright in ten minutes yeah?"

I enquired.

"Yeah boss, sure"

Trotted down to the Post Office parcel depot to see if there was anything for my name and address. Nada.

Interestingly enough, the guy 'serving' me at the counter was engaged in a phone conversation with someone at Royal Mail about two bank cards of his that hadn't shown up. The irony.

I returned to Banjonet. No internet still at the internet cafe, so I got quid refunded and moved to the next one up the street, where I could get on the internet, but it wouldn't let me download PDFs, so some documents I needed to print were unobtainable.

So I moved to the next internet cafe and bought another half hour on the web, plus two A4 printouts.

I went home, consulted my account, filled them in and went to post them. On route to the post box I found that the gum on the envelope was unsticking, so went back home, and sellotaped it shut.

Cleaned the flat. Whilst cleaning assorted mirrors and windows, noted that 'glass cleaner' actually does a better job of smearing than cleaning. Maybe that's me though.

Rang BT, and established that even though the phone line was re-established three days after changing the name of the account holder, it'll take a week as of today to get t'internet back.

Back to the Latin American internet cafe over the road to check my mail again. The space bar isn't working very well. They seem to have a hairdressing salon incumbent, and from the stairwell to it downstairs by which I'm sat, wafts the aroma of burning hair.

I'm going out now. To watch a film. Hope that works.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Paul's Olive Shop

One of the things I've heard from older Camberwell residents I've fallen into conversation with is that SE5 used to be the province of Cypriots and ex police – a little like a retired version of Cop Land only minus Sly Stallone and I'm sure they weren't corrupt. Well, the police seem to have gone (even the ones who haven't retired), but there is still a Greek presence – even if it is on the wane – mostly in evidence in the handfull or so of Greek run businesses scattered about.

Today I went to Paul's Olive Shop just opposite the Castle on Camberwell Church Street. A funny little shop this, it's sort of a deli, selling mainly Greek produce and run by a friendly Greek lady who vaguely reminds me of a matriachal character from a Miyazake film. It's a half decent greengrocers but what it does really well – perhaps unsurprisingly given the name – are olives. This time I bought some garlic stuffed ones, but there are actually quite a few varieties to be had.. my personal faves being chilli marinated.

What I like about this place I suppose is that it just sells quite a nice selection of little things to eat.. the aforementioned olives, olive bread (very nice), olive oil (seeing a theme here?) and assorted sundry dips such as, you guessed it, hoummous, taramasalata, guacamole and so on. Its fairly narrow remit means that while it probably can't supply everything for your weekely grocery shop, it's great if you just want some bowls of food for a party, or can't be arsed cooking and just want something appealing to suggest itself to you. In addition to my olives I also bought some lovely mozarella, which was so nice I had it with tomatoes for lunch and tea (it was like tearing up and devouring a milky, fluffy cloud).

It all feels pretty healthy too. Indeed, whoever designed the tarpaulin engineered the 'S' on Shop to resemble a snake, and I wonder if this wasn't something to do with the serpent on the Asclepian staff adopted by the medical profession as one of their icons (when they're not, more mistakenly, using the Hermetic symbol the Caduceus.) I could just be talking bollocks there though.

If none of this strikes your fancy then they seem to have branched out with a small section devoted to selling bric-a-brac just to the left of the shop such as old pine furniture, but really, it's pretty dire, and I'd suggest sticking to the olives (they taste nicer, arf arf).

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Fog

So the weekend was pretty good. Went to Clapham for Liam's 30th on Saturday, where he'd hired out a place called Gigalum (previously Oblivion) by the green. Whilst in the area, I nipped next door with Siobhahn and Kerryn to Pizza on the Green, which is kind of like the DFS of pizza, in that over the five or six years I've been going there, it's constantly had a 50% off 'special deal' on. Works for me anyhow. The bar was actually pretty bad though.

Last night I watched John Carpenter's The Fog, which I stayed up quite late to catch. There are some programmes or films you seem fated to only ever see certain episodes of. For instance: If I should happen to turn on 'Only Fools and Horses' of an evening, there's a 90% chance it'll be the episode where Del and Rodney dress up as Batman and Robin and go to the wake, or if I happen to flick channels to be confronted with the original 70s version of Battlestar Galactica, it'll always be the episode where they go down to the gambling planet, where there's an alien version of The Three Degrees (with double the usual amount of features) performing in the casino, and the bug-like proprietors who run the show are conniving with the Cylons. Always.

Similarly, up to now I'd witnessed The Fog on around three separate ocassions, but only ever seen the last ten minutes or so, which really, is probably the worst bit of a horror film to catch in isolation isn't it? Unless it's the film version of I Am Legend, when you're just actually saving around an hour and a half of your life which would be better served cleaning the oven, or something equally less pointless.

It was alright actually, though pretty understated all in all. Things I admired were: the lovely seventies titles, the Tangerine Dream-esque throbbing synthesized score, the glowing fog (which, coupled with the aforementioned music gave some scenes the feel of a nightclub frequented by dead sailors) and the alcoholic priest. It's not as good as The Thing, but then what is? Apparently there are intertextual Lovecraftian references to Arkham in there (which I missed) and one of the characters is called Dan O'Bannon, and I wondered if that was a nod to the actor/screenwriter of Alien/Dark Star fame.. I certainly hope so.

Anyway. Sorry to get all IMDB on your asses, but I might go and see a new film this week, in which case I might tell you about that. Or not.