Thirty Thousand Streets

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Moving on

Sup peeps?

Posts have been somewhat thin on the ground from this lapsed blogger, but to briefly summarise recent events in my life, I have upped sticks, and decamped from Camberwell to Hoxton, after (almost) five years of living in the same flat. I'm now living in what I hope to be fairly short-term accomodation, for the purposes of scoping out the East, in a small, pretty functional bedroom that consists of bed, table, wardrobe and not a right lot else. It's a flatshare, and I'm hoping this is the last roll of the dice for me in terms of this kind of cohabiting – there's a warning light somewhere on my mental dashboard above the message "need own space" that is throbbing with greater insistency, these days.

So why Hoxton? dunno really. As wearisome a hipster cliche as it might be, I do spend a fair old bit of time here in the evenings, and the 35 bus home at two in the morning was just getting too much. Beyond all this though, I was just desirous of ringing the changes. Although I have an odd sort of affection for the environs of SE5, I was starting to feel like part of the street furniture – something like a partially melted plastic bin with a Morley's chip box atop it. This, at least in part, is what I ascribe my somewhat stuck mojo to recently, blogwise and beyond.

The transition has been generally fine, insofar as moving residence ever is, and the weekend I moved, London was basking in the eye of the Indian summer sun, which as ever, gave even the down at heels environs of SE5 a temporary lick of gloss, and lent my departure with a faint sense of poignancy; though as the taxi wheeled away for the final time, bearing me toward Tower Bridge and beyond, the tune on the radio was Odyssey's 'Back to my Roots' which I must congratulate the cosmic DJ on being a nice touch.

The last week has been great fun, out and about here and there. Today I wandered up to the quasi-bohemia of Stoke Newington, and had a poke about the bookshops and record shops on Church Street. Tomorrow I'm going to go and look at some potential studio space. I think I'm going to like it here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Rain...

As the monsoon season kicks off properly in my grimey quarter of the capital, the natural soundtrack would seem to be rain-themed street raps over the pop and hiss of sweet soul licks...



This is something random I stumbled across on Youtube a while back from relative obscurities the East Side Hustlas. Love those strings, which KRS1 also nabbed for his remix of Mad Lion.



I first heard this remix (by Diamond D) on the Stretch Armstrong/DJ Ev mixtape which my good buddy Sam of Allez Allez (formerly DJ Deven Miles) was wont to stick on 'of a sesh' or when we were cruising round the mean streets of the Four Heatons in my beat up Citroen 2CV. Word... Gotta love those strings and echoey seventies "boowe" sounds.



Off the the album Da Storm, this sees the Boot Camp Click's charmingly named offshoot Originoo Gun Clappaz in a video shot on a beach, by a lighthouse wearing full-on yellow fisherman's cagoules with their obligatory nineties Timberlands. Kinda reminds me of the video for Big L's Put it On, where he's walking down the street rocking Helly Hensen dungarees. Fisherman fashion... Who'd a thunk them rappers would have beat the whole current obsession with 'rugged workwear' to the punch by a full decade?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Barbecue Summer'



Has anyone else noticed that the met office is, well, a bit shit? As meteorologists never tire of telling us, theirs is an 'inexact science' which is sort of fair enough, but in which case, can you hold off on the press releases anticipating a 'barbecue' summer, which as I glance out of the window at the default grey, rainy, humid July English weather, patently hasn't manifested.

Googling 'barbecue summer' I get lots of by now rather silly looking news items from around April, like this one from The Torygraph, where we're treated to a picture of some sizzling meat (presumably a visual metaphor for the British Isles) and the sub-head:

"Britain is expected to bask in a hot and dry summer with temperatures regularly reaching 86F (30C), forecasters have predicted."

Along with this statement from an expert, qualifying the whole 'barbecue' bit with the strangely disconcerting delivery of a GCSE science teacher attempting to channel empathy at his bemused charges.

"The thing I remember about last summer was not getting the barbecue out. Not sitting on the terrace with a nice glass of wine or camping. People didn't do that very much last summer. In terms of the misery index it was right down the bottom.

"So we felt this year, especially with all the bad news around, we thought we have a good news story."

Aw, thanks guys. Shame it was bollocks though, eh? I'd have preferred it if you'd told me the events in Babe: Pig in the City were real – finding out that wasn't true would just mean I could start eating bacon again rather than frantically attempting to book last minute flights off this storm lashed rock we call home.

(To be fair, they did also attach a caveat to this press release saying there was only a two in three chance of this actually happening, and there was hence a good chance they were completely incorrect, but isn't this in itself a bit... rubbish?)

Amongst other news articles, there were also typically hysterical cautions about the soaring rates of skin skin cancer we could expect from the anticipated withering heatwave (the chance would be a fine thing) compared to which today's story about exposure to sunbeds posing a similar health risk seems decidedly sheepish.

This fallability would seem to be true of most weather sources though, the weather 'predictions' on my iPhone seeming to perform more in the manner of a live Twitter feed, only delivering live blow-by-blow (literally, given the wind) updates on the weather, as it actually happens, with any accuracy, by which time I generally know already, thanks. At all other times the 5-day forecast seems in a state of constant flux, the meteorological glyphs shifting according to who knows what arcane pattern.

I guess my beef is this: if modern scientific weather forecasts are as subject to chaos as this, then what's the fricken point? we might as well revert to casting the runes or examining the livers of sacrificed animals – at least that way we get something for the fabled barbie if it does turn out alright.

But weathermen (and women) if you are to persist with your modern ways, here is my suggestion: At the end of Spring, when a crowd gathers round your hut in the forest, wondering how the weather will turn out, simply announce:

"honestly? it'll probably be rubbish, and we'll get one really hot Saturday sometime in mid June, then it'll be Autumn"

That way, nobody gets disappointed, and if the sun does decide to put his hat on, it's just a bonus. Everyone's happy! No-one'll take you seriously, but you'll probably be right the majority of the time. Go on. Take one for the team if you're so eager to please.

All this said, the forecasters are now predicting rain in August, so expect a sub-Saharan heatwave any time now...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Psygnosis


An enduring, marginally endearing memory of my secondary-school era was of traipsing to my classmate Chris Pinchbeck's basement in Heaton Norris to play (or mostly watch him play, in all honesty) the new generation of computer games on his then state of the art Amiga 500.

Having not even graduated from the last generation of 8-bit gaming – a realm populated by machines such as C64 and even then venerable Spectrum 48k – I was gobsmacked at the sophistication of the graphics and sound-card, which seemed little different from arcade quality. My awed reaction to this new technology was probably comparable to that of say, the French infantry at the battle of Agincourt, finding themselves outgunned to an absurd degree by the English Longbow, a kind of "OMFG!" moment, followed by: "I gotta gets me one of these..."

One of the games that captivated me the most was 'Shadow of the Beast II' a sideways scrolling platform-cum-roleplaying game, where you controlled a ball and chain wielding beast man, questing through a perilous landscape to wrest your kidnapped sister from the clutches of some generic 'dark lord' type.

Gameplay was short in evidence, in all honesty, and the most expedient way of getting anywhere in it was the cheat where you asked a pygmy for ten pints and were rewarded with invulnerability. But where it did succeed was the gorgeous parallax scrolling graphics, which had a peculiarly lurid flavour – like wandering through a stack of seventies prog-rock LPs.

Indeed, the cover for the game was created by artist Roger Dean, responsible for amongst other things, the original Virgin Records logo and covers of various albums by bands such as Asia – which effectively informed the game's dark, vaguely psychedelic feel.

And having also designed their logo, Dean seems to have set a creative precedent for the label's house style, if not quite formed a creative partnership outright. All their games tended to feature baroque, ornate seventies-style letterforms in their logotypes, and seemed defined by a visual language more redolent of a florid Jack Vance novel, than a supposedly cutting edge games company. Indeed, as with the aforementioned SOTB II, they often seemed to indulge in graphical showboating at the expense of playability, must of the games usually being so-so to play, whilst remaining visually arresting (bar, perhaps Lemmings). And it's a trade-off that worked, really. Their unusual visual identity was immediately recognisable, and the company still has something of a cult following to this day.

Now. I own a much-loved promotional T-shirt for the first Shadow of the Beast game, which is now somewhat cracked and faded, so have set up a Google alert for "shadow of the beast shirt" which yesterday dropped this link into my inbox:

Which is basically a French fan/tribute site to the label, with a pretty comprehensive list of all the games Psygnosis produced, some of which induce some heavy waves of nostalgia in this blogger.

Amongst the oddities on display are Agony, a sideways scrolling shoot-em-up in which, in characteristically odd Psygnosis fashion, you play the chrome owl featured in their logo (rather than say, a spaceship) spitting bolts of energy from its beak. There's actually a video of someone playing it to completion on Youtube, and yes, it looks somewhat tedious after a while, but hey, great visuals! Here's a shorter clip:



Also included on the site are assorted press clippings and reviews from French gaming magazines. One review by 'Dogue de mauve' of War of the Worlds blast-em-up 'Walker' seems to sum up much of Pysgnosis's ouevre when he notes in the bulleted Top/Flop section 'le action est trop repetitive."

Inevitably perhaps, the things that most piqued my interest here were the promotional merchandise, such as various Roger Dean designed T-shirts for both Beast games, along with a Pygnosis logo-shirt. There were also a range of pin-badges (which you can see in the 'Goodies' section) that I'd reet like to get my feelers on (me and the rest of ebay, no doubt).

So there you have it. A blast of shameless nostalgia from my adolescence, which I hope you'll permit me, internets. And it is at the very least interesting to note, that while the playability of these games in question isn't in itself very memorable, the graphic language surrounding it is, as a retro-retro gaming oddity.

I'll leave you with the faintly homoerotic game over sequence from Shadow of the Beast II, which is kind of Dire Straits meets Michael Moorcock. Enjoy.

Racists. Still fucking stupid.

A few months whilst walking through Soho, I chanced upon a trail of unsophisticated graffitti, where someone had crudely sprayed the 'Slayer' logo, alongside that much maligned icon, the swastika, joy of joys. Happily, such scrawlings are few and far between, and I usually just have to contend with the only slightly less mindless piss-smears of territorial gang tags that daub the walls and street signs of South London.

It did get me thinking though, just what kind of dickhead throws up signs on the one hand showing approbation for a Californian thrash metal band, alongside a symbol hijacked by (and ultimately now inseperable from) the kind of fascist pinheads who would surely have denounced the former's music as 'degenerate'.

I hypothesised – a dickhead of supremely limited intelligence.

And my suspicions were confirmed on Friday, for whilst strolling to work in Covent garden I happened again across another packet of sub-political hate sloganeering, the first, a 'C18' or 'Combat 18' tag (the number's are Adolf Hitler's initials or something odious like that).



The second one is pretty hilarious though. Check it.



Now, I've heard of the BNP, but the BMP? what does that stand for? the British Moron Party? Being Major Pricks? Perhaps the writer was simply celebrating that hallowed graphic file format, the bitmap or bmp? It's momentarily amusing that the cretin responsible is dumb enough to incorrectly write the three letter acronym of the party they're invoking, but then, the realisation dawns that ultimately this is the truth of the matter, that such supposedly political constructs as the BNP just validate the xenophobia of angry people, indifferent to political affiliations beyond those which rubber-stamp the stamping on of a few heads, whilst the CCTV cameras are turned to the wall.

For 'charity's sake' you might at least acknowledge that the graffiteur in question had the chutzpah to write on a window with a CCTV sticker behind it. But of course, you could always chalk that one up to stupidity as well, and derive reassurance from the knowledge that these people might constitute some kind of significant menace – if they could spell words of longer than two letters.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hyper Hyper

A few years ago whilst living in Heaton Moor, my good old buddy Will came up to stay, for what turned out to be a long boozy weekend (these being in the days before he hopped on the wagon and left the rest of us rolling pie-eyed in the streets like inhabitants of a Hogarth etching).

On the Sunday, prior to his departure, I took him and our hangovers up to the Holdsworth Mill in Reddish, where on the Fourth Floor, a strange agglomeration of traders had set up shops trading mainly in knick-knacks, gew gaws, and the like. There were shops selling horsey things (bridles and tackle, saddles and such), shops selling pet food, shops selling second hand CDs and records. One enterprise was manned by a a rotund, mustachioed, opera singing eccentric, who claimed to have been firebombed out of Gorton for refusing to pay protection money. He was undertaking the retail of a vast mine of virtually worthless comics and books (though I did find Moebius's take on the Silver Surfer in there). All the shops were housed in fake shop fronts, in a fake self contained 'village' within a floor of the mill. All sold utter tat (by and large second hand), and I, inveterate lover of bric-a-brac as I am, was mesmerised! (Will, less so. He later confessed he hated it). The entire setup had the feeling of some strange post apocalyptic trading outpost, where the denizens of the new world elevate the ephemera of the last to near religious status.

I only mention this because a similarly shabby business model seems to be appearing in London. First it was 'Hyper Hyper', breakfasting in the ruins of Zavvi's – and previous to them of course Virgin's – megastore on Oxford street (I haven't been in, but half the tat flogged in the concessions within looks like it belongs on the market in Eastenders).

And yesterday, whilst on a mission into town, I was surprised when I walked past Burberry's old headquarters on the Strand, to see that someone has rented out the old space to flog racks and racks of old Gola and Lonsdale gear, beneath the antique branded clock that hangs outside

These particular premises were not recently a shop, and the scheme for the retailer to consolidate all its offices into one mega-office at Horseferry House required their abandonment of this location like the Corleone's did their ranch at the beginning of The Godfather Part III – but regardless of what you think of them, and their plaid, it looks pretty folorn and shabby now, like it belongs in The Arndale Centre in Manchester.

After this I went to check out the fire damage from the blaze on Dean Street on Friday. That was pretty surreal for me because at the time, despite being only two streets away, I was completely unaware of it happening, possibly due to being plugged into a Mac frantically retouching, whilst submerged in a Larry Heard mix. I stepped out of work at Seven O'Clock to find vast swathes of Soho cordoned off, and Police and Firefighters everywhere. "Oh no" I thought, "What's happened". Thankfully ('thankfully') it was only a fire, though London's probably had enough of those the last fortnight. Not much to see, though, as the street was still cordoned off in front of Quo Vadis restaurant, and the building clad in plastic sheeting.

I then went and bought a CD (the Martyn album, very nice) and went and looked at some shoes on sale. Predictably, nothing I wanted was in my size.

I'm working with estate agents today. I looked out the window this morning and thought 'shorts'. Having got to town, I'm now thinking 'umbrella'.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hunterian Museum

I went to the Hunterian museum this Saturday gone, which is situated a (sling-shot) stone's throw away from the John Soames house, on the Southern Side of a garden square in Holborn. It was as part of an illustration short course I've been doing, and the purpose of the trip was visual research, sketching and drawing.

It's actually within The Royal College of surgeons, and, in a nutshell, is a collection of surgical artifacts, including paintings, antique instruments from the operating theatre (which looked like they could have doubled as tickle-sticks for the Spanish Inquisition) to the core of the collection – banks of display cases containing a variety of organic specimens, from skeletons to dissected fauna to human anatomy.

No photography was allowed (due to the sanctity of human remains, y'dig?), so unfortunately you'll have to make do with my drawing of a crumbling syphilitic skull. But take my word for it – this is a pretty amazing little museum.

It's centred around the collection of the distinguised surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, which the government purchased in 1799 and presented to the college. Hunter was (to quote Wikipedia) 'an early advocate of careful observation', which is borne out by the miscellany presented here, assembled for reference, which orginally constituted the contents of a museum in Leicester Square. To be blunt though, and scientific merits aside, much of its allure for me did lie in the 'grue' factor inherent in wandering through chambers populated by centuries old limbs and biological oddities suspended in fomaldehyde. In fact, it wouldn't be too hyperbolic to call some of it a bit 'freakshow', if one is assuming the word freak to denote anomalous, as some of the exhibits are indeed mutations – such as the two-tailed lizard and the four-legged chick – only these are very much real, rather than some sideshow bit of fakery (though the skeleton of 'The Irish Giant' Charles Byrne suggests its previous owner wouldn't have looked out of place in Todd Browning's carnie classic, Freaks).

Highlights for me included (in no particular order):

Watching a video where a team or brain surgeons excised a tumour made me all the more admiring of their consummate skill, as well as glad I didn't have the Pret Meatball Ragu sandwich for lunch.

The club owned by one on the 'Beadles' responsible for transporting the remains of executed felons to the college for dissection (perceived as a horrible fate by the underclasses). It's a kind of wooden belaying pin with iron flanges, presumably used to repel irate rellies of the deceased.

Some stereoscopes attached to a wall displaying before and after cases of early 'plastic' surgery to first world war casualties, a reminder if ever one was needed that trench warfare 'ain't great' especially on the frontline, with assorted bits of metal hurtling about at high velocity.

An early device for removal of gall stones. Most of the surgical instruments look like more tarnished versions of things I'd glimpsed in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, but this little bit of steel joy is something else. Supposedly an early example of 'non invasive' surgery, it probably helped gave rise to the surgeon's phrase of the day 'Lord if thou take me, do it not through the bladder". I'm not going to even try and explain it here – pets might be reading.

Charles Babbage's brain. Yep, that's right, a section of brain previously belonging to the man often referred to as a 'father of the computer' can be found bobbing round in an unassuming fashion in a jar in Holborn. Apparently they've got two other bits out back, and his family were quite 'up for it'.

That should hopefully have piqued your 'appetite anyway'. I think there's some other bits in the college to check out, but this section is, in itself, is a fascinating window onto a historical period in medicene, and nascent surgical techniques (as well as lots of things that look like they're out of that film Aliens). It's free, as well, so even if you're feeling 'the pinch of the crunch' you can justify mooching on over for an afternoon. Plus kids will probably love it if it doesn't scare them witless.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Gordon Brown


I got this David Shrigley postcard with a print I bought from POW recently, and it's kept me chuckling ever since. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about David Shrigley I like. I feel I should find his stuff naff – wonky doesn't usually do it for me – but I instead find it intriguing. And hilarious. And sinister.

And G-Unit? I sorta feel sorry for the guy, really. He's in an unenviable position and it looks lonely at the top. He seems tired and out of his depth, which even by the standards of someone whose spent most of their premiership very much on the back foot is saying something. Presumably the only reason his 'Heathcliff-like' presence is still lashed to the wheel of the ship he failed to navigate past so many icebergs is the albatross around his neck, which might yet draw some of the public's venom away from Labour's cankerous body politic. Poor lad. He only wanted his turn.

But I can't take Labour seriously anymore. The government that marched us off to war, wants to retain our DNA on a database, give us all ID cards, and make it illegal to photograph Police (so they can whack us over the head with impunity when we try and protest), yet tries to block details of their expenses coming out in case we find out they've been claiming for their Muller Corners on us? Puh-lease!

Indeed, Labour are so far beyond the point of people being able to take them seriously, that the light from 'people being able to take them seriously' will probably reach them just before the universe ends, or whenever they get back in power – whichever comes first.

In the meanwhile, and in the words of 80s coin-op 'Operation Wolf':

"Sorry, but you are finished here".

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Radio Advertising





























Radio Advertising. Annoying: probably pretty effective.

I'm working at the minute, with all that entails, including listening to an office radio. And this week, the slightly tepid pop selection comes courtesy of Absolute FM who, in their favour, have a policy of not playing the same tune twice in a day*.

The same can't be said of advertising unfortunately, and on commercial radio my experience seems to suggest far fewer subscribers buying slots – compared to the pluralistic frenzy of the internet or TV – with the result that the same five or so radio ads get some seriously heavy caning throughout any random eight-hour sample.

Radio advertising feels odd to me. My initial thoughts upon getting reacquainted were that it represented some kind of extant bunker of purely jingle-led promotion, sticking to its guns on the airwaves like packets of Japanese soldiers hiding out on Pacific islands long after World War 2 ended. But no, generally all the ads are re-purposed versions of TV campaigns – just lacking any visual context (one, a Subway ad, features a Peter Kayesque 'talking pocket' which I'd never have garnered from the radio) Even so, the focus of radio ads does seem to be the twee, catchy little tunes.

On the plus side, this relative lack of sophistication seems quite endearing, hearkening back to days when the marketing mensch weren't preoccupied with trying to enslave the latest bit of social networking apparatus to their own dark ends. But on the downside it does mean you're probably going to be subjected to some of the most insanely irritating tuneage since the last Christina Aguilera single. Irritating, but it must be said, catchy, for these sung refrains are insidiously compelling – like a kind of mnemonic mind-worm that burrows into your brain (think the slug things in the Star Trek film 'Wrath of Khan') – and they stay there!

I can still remember jingles from my childhood, in fact. Who could forget classics such the Kellogs Bran flakes ad, for instance?

"Theeeey're tasty tasty very very tasty." (etc)

Though when my brother bumped it to the forefront of my mental playlist whilst on holiday the other year, we were all at something of a loss to recall the product it originally centred around. Bacon? err, chips? dunno. And even though the accompanying images of the piece in question have largely faded from my memory, I can still vividly recall the song from a Mobil ad of my youth, that set the following lyrics to Gene Pitney's 24 Hours From Tulsa:

"Only 24 toasters from Scunthorpe,
Only 6 double beds from Torquay,
And I can’t decide if I will
Buy a diamond ring or a drill,
And if I want to
I can add to
My Premier Points with cash
If I haven’t driven enough!"

I think the line where the singer sums up the (exciting) quandary that the choice between a tool and a piece of jewellery elicits is pretty much automatic D&AD award-winning genius (well, maybe not). But still somehow captivating in its silliness, hey?. Old advertising is a heady garden of nostalgia though anyway – I recall with affection the ads that punctuated a crackly recording of Star Wars on VHS we watched to abstraction as kids, such as the Heineken one with the road-mender's sign in the rain, where the icon of the man slurps on a crisp lager, then with a flourish, transforms his spade into an umbrella (that was when Heineken was 3%, mind. God knows what he'd do now – probably fall asleep.)

But I digress. The main reason I'm writing all this is that the last few days I've been subjected to a Muller corner ad that uses the tune from Nina Simone's 'I Got Life', only behind some most unfeasibly inane wordplay I've ever heard. It's basically a choir of people, young and old, taking turns to insert their favourite Muller flavour into the "I've got my" format, and the net result is truly distracting in its stupefying idiocy. It starts something like this:

"I got got my cherry, got my berry! got my biscuit, got my crunch!"

then meanders off through some other flavours, (a child cheeps "I got my blueberries!", discordantly) before the cherry girl triumphantly reiterates that she's 'got her cherry', and the whole thing ends.

I've been hearing this about five times a day (at least) the last fortnight, and it has the kind of nauseating, delirium inducing effect otherwise only legally obtainable off herbal-high counters in Camden. Annoyingly, it's habit forming though, constituting an itch my brain seeks to scratch through involuntary repetition: I'll be pootling round my kitchen, say, and suddenly catch myself starting to hum "got my cherr" before I come to with a start and give myself a mental 'dry slap'.

It's brutally effective stuff. And I could envision myself happily pounding my own head to mush in order to escape extended repetition of this particular ditty, but my last word word almost certainly be "M U L L E R", spelled out in morse code and clumps of brain as my head beat a wet, red tattoo against the wall, probably leaving something much like a Muller yoghurt and topping smeared there, more's the irony.

But seriously, who writes these things? I'm trying to imagine, and the only mental picture popping in there is of a cross between Andy Warhol and Nosferatu hunched behind a mixing desk in a post-production house in Soho, giggling maniacally between bites of a Pret butty. I'm evoking an evil genius here, but it actually does sound like quite a laugh (unless you have to take it seriously).

Anyway. That's that off my chest. Any jingles that got you reaching for a rusty nail to scratch out the bit of your brain containing it? c'mon friends, share my pain...



*apart from some competition they're running at the minute

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Uniqlock RULES!

I stumbled on this the other day.

I spend far two much of my time thumbing through the racks of 'the Japanese Gap' in the quest for fresh new t-shirts, or investigating their much touted 'Designer's Invitation' projects (the Guilded Age one, is pretty good, as it happens).

So imaging my joy when I stumbled upon a web-based timekeeping application, soundtracked by mid-90s Nintajune style jazz beats, with a quartet of Japanese girlies in pastel hoodies and jeans cavorting round a corporate looking glass and steel structure. I mean, what's not to like, huh?

Anyway. Uniqlock is pretty mesmeric, and it's busily chattering away in the background as I write this. Basically, Japan, Uniqlo and half-decent sample based music usually cheer me up somewhat, so for these reasons, I'm going to temporarily at least whore my increasingly dormant blog out to a corporation by installing the Uniqlock in the upper right corner, especially as I'm somewhat obsessed by the passage of time these days, weeks months and years.

That's all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday

So, a wet grey Tuesday morning here and I'm sat in a Cafe Nero in
central London, with a load of estate agents. Following a gas leak.
Not only that, I'm drinking Starbuck's coffee. Sounds like a dream
huh? *Arnie voice* "IT ISN'T"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daily Mail


Adoption Nazis? There's a sitcom in there somewhere... I'm thinking something like that late 80s wonder 'My Two Dads' (starring Greg Evigan and the guy who played slimy corporate retainer Burke in Aliens) except in this the two adoptive parents are nazis living with their charge in an ex-local authority maisonette in Dalston. Not only that but they're gay. Comic hi-jinks ensue, etc etc.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Pegasus

I'm having a flutter on the gee gees today, on the Grand National. First time I've I'm ever placed a bet, though I'm not much of a gambler generally, apart from those little insta-rubbish lottery scratchies ("Oh, I've won a quid, I'll buy another one, oh, I've lost")...

Flash forward ten years. Me, in a betting shop in Hull. I've put on some weight – a roll of fat wobbling over my waistband like a sea-lion lurching from a bath. My jeans are shiny. My face graven with worry and excess. If Sherlock Holmes were here now he could point to any one of a dozen things about my demeanour, carriage, attire, that speak of a life on the brink, unpaid bills, bailiffs hammering on the door, kids crying, wife screaming...

As my horse 'Time and Relative Dimensions in Space' rolls in last with all the urgency of the Camberwell Tube extension, I tear asunder the betting slip, I destroy it, this creaky bridge to far off dreams, as I have burnt so many bridges, as the destitute farmer in Colorado sets ablaze his failing ranch.

Simultaneously, I wheel about, head for the door, already parlaying this minor footnote of failure into a grander scheme of entropy, as I head for my local boozer 'The Likely Lad', there to prop up the bar until closing time or forcible ejection (whichever comes first) and dream of the days you could smoke indoors...


Ahem. Hope that doesn't happen.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

MyRail

I just regretfully deleted a nice, free little application from my phone called Myrail Lite. It was really handy. It would locate stations closest to you, and filter the timetable to give you a handy list of destinations, and arrival and departure times. It was very useful, especially when you out and about or on the go. And indeed, even if you did have access to the internet, as I've never found the National Rail Enquiries website that much of a joy to use, much like the trains themselves, to be honest.

Well, when trying use it last night, I discovered that it, like many people these days, had been forced to stop working, when National Rail didn't renew their license to publish a live feed of train times.

And hey, w-what's this, National Rail have just created an application of their own, reportedly inferior, for £4.99. That's £4.99, for information on a public service, who already charge some of the most expensive fares in Europe, for conveyance in their grotty overcrowded carriages. Greedy. Why not make it free, National Rail? or charge 50p, but £5? For shame.

Still, why am I surprised that the rail infrastructure in this country is continuing to pursue their tried and tested policy of making things less efficient and more expensive, even in this minor aspect.

*adjusts monocle, lights pipe, harumphs etc.*

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm getting bored of this poster now.


Thanks to Sigh 9 for kindly pointing me in the direction of this Flickr pool which contains numerous examples of that poster I was whingeing about. I can probably put this sucker to bed now.

This is my favourite, I think.

Grizzly Man

This evening I watched the Werner Herzog documentary 'Grizzly Man' about the reclusive guy who fed himself and his girlfriend to bears in 2003, Timothy Treadwell.

There's something incredibly eerie about it, as it largely mostly consists of footage self-filmed by Treadwell whilst out in the Alaskan wilderness, consisting of him delivering enthusiastic bulletins about his ursine friends, when you in fact know what the grisly outcome of this obsession was

And he was definitely an 'unusual' guy, with something of a chequered past, who discovered bears like other people discover Jesus. In fact, there is an messianic zeal about some of his straight-to-camera monologues, which veer from sweet (if somewhat naive) hymns to the giant beasts he loves so much, to expletive strewn rants against human society, against the bleakly beautiful backdrop of some mountain vista – usually with a skip-sized brown bear swaying in the middle distance.

In contrast to which, Herzog's measured, considered voiceover seems incredibly compelling. He is clearly fascinated by this man and the legacy of his extant footage, though while the I got the impression he views him kindly (and some people interviewed for the programme clearly saw him as a crank who got his comeuppance) he is as at odds with the spiritual significance that Treadwell projected on to the lumbering beasts who were his companions as anyone. One quote which we actually had to rewind and re-listen to it was so solemn and aphoristic was (and I paraphrase) "The common denominator in the universe is chaos, hostility and murder".

Ultimately, this is quite a sad, affecting portrayal of a man who paid the ultimate price for his love of bears (great tagline, huh?). What stays with me as much as anything however is the incredible gravitas that the archived documents that survive Treadwell possess, the breathtakingly stark beauty of an Alaskan wilderness, mostly indifferent to human motives, set against the emotional crusade of a single man, and as well as being a documentary it's a tragedy, if not also a strange sort of love story.

I also enjoyed Little Dieter Wants to fly by Herzog, too. Next time, I think I'll try and catch one of his actual 'movies'.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keep Calm





There's that phonemenon, largely subjective I suspect, but often ascribed to synchronicity, where something you were previously unaware of – such as a word, or phrase – suddenly becomes apparently ubiquitous, and you start hearing it on a near daily basis. (Such a thing happened last year, when everyone started saying "├╝ber" rather too much).

It is possible that this is largely due to the brain's subconscious yearning to identify patterns, but also, on occasion can arise simply from a popular trend, or something that cleaves to the public imagination, at any given moment (Myleene Klasse, for instance).

Into the latter category would I place that poster, the wartime public broadcast "Keep Calm and Carry on" (you must, by now, know the one).

Now, I realise that this is an artifact of some antiquity, dating from the Second World War, but prior to the end of last year, I was cheerfully unaware of its existence. Then, one day I saw it, and suddenly it seemed to be EVERYWHERE. I see it on a near weekly basis now, peering at me from the corner of an interiors photoshoot in the the pages of a broadsheet weekend magazine; gurning at me from a web browser, or acting as a kind of serving suggestion in the window of a local framers.

More disconcerting still is the wacky meme of appropriating said, rather staid wartime propaganda, and 'subverting' its message. In fact, I think I might start a niche museum dedicated to archiving permutations of this specific visual macro-trend.

The theatre of Advertising relies on cliches, which act as a kind of shorthand – effectively conveying a set of associations with relative economy, by setting the context. You want to imply that your brand is 'for the people?' (ie: cheap) simply effect a poster campaign aping those Soviet-era propaganda posters you went and saw at the Tate the other year. Y'know, flip the 'R's around, lots of red, raised fists, that sort of thing. Simple.

Almost too simple. Simple to the point of being hackneyed, in fact. But I suppose it takes time for what are by now slightly weary tropes to worm their way into the visual vernacular. What I do find a fascinating enigma, is the notional tipping point at which something like this attains critical mass, and becomes recognisably iconic – to the extent that it's no longer simply a rather simple bit of typography, than a meme, or trope. What precipitated this little bit of design's inauguration into the national Consciousness's golden hall of design fame, alongside The Routemaster?

God knows. But what I suspect from experience is we're probably going to see a lot more of this rather unassuming poster in the future in some form, be it parody or pastiche. The latest example I've secured for my rogues gallery of such examples I spotted on the Peckham Road the other night, which I present for your appraisal here.



I can't help but think that the designer here has aped the typographical layout of the original to the detriment of the poster's actual message... quite aside from the phrasal emphasis feeling slightly wonky – "ANYTHING YOU SAY MAY (be taken down) AND USED AS EVIDENCE" – the poster felt to me like some kind of wagging finger aimed at prospective criminals, when actually the two little lines of copy at the bottom reveal that the poster's purported message is about a police pledge to use confidential informant's testimony as evidence in court.

Still, I suppose it does at least stylistically fitting in the context of a message originating from the state, even if it does look a bit 'V for Vendetta'. We live in an incredibly pluralistic, visual culture (someone quoted "alter modern" at me the other day) where entire historical visual languages are there to be cherry-picked, just a Google search away. In such an age 'appropriateness' is perhaps the best a designer can aspire to, when there is no single master 'design narrative'.

PS: has anyone else spotted any other hacks of this bit of iconic design? I'd be interested in seeing them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Closer @ Hidden

On Friday night I went to a night called Closer, at a club called Hidden in Vauxhall which was, appropriately, tucked away on a little side street just next to the South Bank.

It's a pretty compact venue, with two shoebox-like dancefloors, one with a kind of mezzanine bar above it. There's also an astro-turfed smokers bit outside. Pretty unpreposessing really, but the music itself – some of the banging-est techno I've heard in a while – was a refreshingly cathartic opportunity to dance like a thing possessed, for most of the wee hours.

In spite of the yellow and black industrial stylings of the flyer, (which owe a rather obvious debt to The Hacienda and Peter Saville) and the fact that legendarily tough-as-titanium-nails producer The Surgeon was headlining, the music was on a surprisingly groovy Detroit flex (still well hard though).

Highlights for me included someone playing Game One by Infiniti (a Juan Atkins pseudonym) and 'The Surge' dropping Didgeridoo by the Aphex Twin at about five in the morning, though by that time I was somewhat weary, and in fact popped out about halfway through the tune to down a shot of vodka and ice at the bar.

Following this, Saturday was almost entirely couch based. I stayed in, ate Chinese and watched Gosford Park. Today I went for a mooch round Hampstead Heath with Will, Sam, their bairn Zac and Helen and Renee. On our way back home we passed George Orwell's old gaff on Parliament Road. Most relaxing.

Here's that Infiniti track. Enjoy. Or don't, if you hate Techno.

Friday, March 20, 2009

That Watchmen review

Who Watches the Watchmen? well me, last Friday at the iMax, and I actually sat down and penned quite a long review about it too, before thinking, hmm, about eight squillion people have already chucked their two penneth in the jar, so you can probably google "Watchmen review" and get an idea whether you think it's going to suck or not without recourse to my ramblings. Here's an extract from my epic:

"It's been said quite often that a serialised TV show would be a far better format for translation of this project, and I have to agree. Watchmen was, as a comic and latterly a graphic novel, intrinsically episodic, and its frequent forays into the medium of other media (e.g. Newspaper clippings and magazine articles) from the alternate late 20th century Moore dreams up for us, are intrinsically problematic to channel onto a cinema screen."

Eh, I do get carried away sometimes (I start going on about Marshall Mcluhan, too). I think that's enough for now. To paraphrase my weighty, considered review:

"Watchmen: It's not as bad as it could have been"



In fact, it's not bad at all. No, it's not the novel, never could be, never was going to be, so get over it. It's pretty (if that's the word) and if you liked Dave Gibbons' artwork, you'll probably just be mesmerised by seeing that translated into moving images for two-and-a-half hours. That's me as a fan speaking though. Lord alone knows what people who hadn't read the comic thought – they were probably utterly bemused by it all.

What I would say is, if you haven't already (and can be bothered) read the book first. It's very good, and doesn't even really bear comparison to the film in terms of its breadth.

Now, for a bit of fun, here's Watchmen author and all-round arch beard Alan Moore commenting on and reading from the book (if you stick around to the end). He fucking hated the film on principle. Fair enough. I like his assertion that Batman, as a archetype is essentially a vigilante psychopath.

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What tickled me more was the similarity between Moore (no pun) and Garth Marenghi in Channel Four's wonderful Horror spoof Darkplayce. It made me chuckle, anyway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just William



















































So, this afternoon Prince William popped into The St Giles' Trust on Camberwell Church Street. Immediately prior, I was scarfing down a bowl of noodles from my flat over the road, gazing absently out of the window and wondering what all the police and – even more rare for Camberwell – photographers were doing there.

Me and my housemate, whom I alerted to all this, assumed it was probably some MP or something, and it was only when the tall grinning one emerged from a silver people carrier with his entourage, that we realised what all the fuss was about.

After that, we pulled up seats, waiting for him to emerge again. It felt a bit like being on a police stakeout (though quite entertaining) as we watched a rogues' gallery of Camberwell's eccentrics tramp past, up and down the street, looking bemused at the gaggle of reporters camped outside of the Castle pub downstairs. I managed to get a cactus needle stuck in my thumb, from the withered specimen on the windowsill, which I spent most of the time trying to tease forth with a fair of tweasers. One of the guys from the trust popped out for a ciggy three times, which suggests he either really likes the coffin nails, or was just quite nervous (or both).

Eventually, a blunt looking 4x4 (containing two slightly twitchy looking bodyguards) and the silver people-carrier reappeared, signaling his reemergence, though it was another twenty minutes or so before he stepped out the door. In the meanwhile, one of the waiters from House gallery next door emptied a bucket of suds into the drain under the SUV of the two secret service types, nearly causing a security incident in the process. Word had got around by now, and the African guys from Merrygold's Barbers were were out on the pavement gawking (along with the girls from Hairshack afro-hair salon next door).

Eventually, Wills stepped smiling out front, to be greeted by flash bulbs and cheers, before stepping into his carriage and being spirited away 'up West'. The Castle Pub was looking especially busy when I walked past just now, presumably full of St Giles' employees, talking excitedly about their day.

Annoyingly, my photos are 'crazy shit'. But there you go.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Moodymann at Need to Soul

So last night I trooped up to Cargo for Need2Soul with Al, where the enigmatic Moodymann was headlining alongside Benji B, who recently interviewed that other Detroit legend Juan Atkins for his BB6 Deviation radio show.

It's hard to know what to expect from such a individual, who is, as a personality, almost as cryptic as his mystically obtuse deep house jams. In an era of vapid celebrity, there does seem something almost heroic about Moodymann's celebrated reclusiveness (he's like an Alan Moore who writes house rather than comics) which falls into the same 'faceless' vein of fellow camera-shy Detroit reclusives Underground Resistance, and whom like the latter is often outspoken in a scene perhaps perceived as apolitical in the supposed inclusiveness of the dancefloor. This is perhaps epitomised best by his infamous 'whiteboy-baiting' liner notes on a Silent Introduction which could perhaps be interpreted as a topical sideswipe at producer Moby's liberal ransacking of the Lomax brother's field recordings of deep south blues singers on the album Play, (tracks from which later on ended up gracing a host of commercials, somewhat tarring the Go producing vegan's credentials in the process).

And Moodyman – or Kenny Dixon Junior's – rants on the proprietary nature of all things black seem to extend to recorded media itself, for he is a champion of the vinyl, as the 2000 release, Forevernevermore testifies - the rambling passages of mumbling, ambient clattering and near silence that interrupt tracks otherwise pristine on the LP release seeming less his evocation of musique concrete than a sly dig at those who chose to fork out for the shiny little coasters (that was my take, anyway).

Which was ultimately borne out last night, when he played a vinyl-only set from the DJ booth at the side of the room. We got in just in time to witness the beginning of his set, and hear him doing his laconic paper-comb-voice-mumble bit, waving a 12 inch aloft and affectionately referring to the crowd as "all y'all motherfuckers out there" (for which they seemed exceptionally delighted). In spite of his unshowiness, the man is clearly a showman of sorts.

As for the music. Well, anyone expecting anything too beardy was probably in for a letdown, as he played a surprisingly accessible two hours. The set opener was The Door's Riders on the Storm, segueing into The Family Stand's Ghetto Heaven, which acted as a bridge to mostly well-loved soul and disco numbers, such as Skyy's First Time Around and the Light of the World's funk-ta-fied cover of I Shot the Sheriff*.

Later on, having popped out for a drink and a roll-up, we retuned to find he'd upped the tempo somewhat, and was playing such proto-house electro-disco numbers as Telex's chugging Moskow Diskow and the prowling electronic whine of the sinister Sharivari by early Eighties Detroit act A Number of Names, followed some more straight-up house numbers.

After that it was up to Benji B to take the reigns, which he did with a Latin-inflected set, detouring into house later on, which I thought was good, if not exceptional. By this stage I was up on the stage for the second time, having been moved off once with everyone else by one of the bouncers.

After that I departed South to Camberwell, though ultimately ended up walking to Elephant and Castle, as all the buses were so stuffed to the gills with merrymakers. Even this though, failed to detract from what was an extremely enjoyable night out, if not quite the array of obscure delights I anticipated.

Based on my two excursions there so far, this is a really good night. Soulful, danceable music over a range of styles, without being particularly faddish. The venue's not bad either – I like the outside smoker's oasis, and the soundsystem bumps. I'll be back, soon enough.

*This track, incidentally, I identified with the Shazam application on my phone, which appears to 'know its shit'. I had rather assumed it would only be able make identifications of the order of whether something was Lily Allen or not, but the music database seems to be surprisingly good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

TDR RIP


I read today, via a link from the man like Ade,(and as reported by Creative Review) that Sheffield based exponents of all things vector The Designer's Republic offically went bump, sometime in mid-January of this year (shows how up-to-date I am).

It sounds like they encountered a 'perfect storm' of mishaps, such as the loss of a couple of accounts and non-payment by another large, as-yet-unnamed company, which combined to render the good ship DR financially non-viable as an ongoing concern.

The web is already seeing an outpouring of dismay from assorted designers across the board, tinted largely with a flush of roseate nostalgia for TDR's heyday of the 90s, which is, I suspect, part of the problem. Sad as it is, I can't say I'm incredibly surprised TDR went under, as though it's maybe heretical to say it, every dog has its day, and theirs was around 10 years ago.

The Designer's republic, to me, always had a fairly strong 'house style'. They were your go-to designers for a certain icon-rich, vector-y cool, that was, to be sure, oft imitated – the most obvious exponents of this type of design that come to mind now, being Japan's Power Graphixx (which is sort of an irony in itself, given how much TDR 'borrowed' Japanese pop iconography, at least in their early days).

It was undeniably, pretty dammned cool. The kind of stuff that launched a thousand design consultancies, and inspired tens of thousands of students to pick up pen and mouse.

Unfortunately, that which is radical today is often the cliche of tomorrow. The last couple of visits I paid to their erstwhile website (admittedly years ago) it was starting to look a little tired and perhaps even slightly irritating in its ADHD flickery-ness. Harsh? I hope not. TDR were the dogs bollocks, for long enough, but their aforementioned trademark style did leave them open to the vagaries of changing trends and fashion. They were very good at what they did, but the world moved on – and for me, The Designer's Republic connoted the 90s stylistic zeitgeist as much as Mo Wax records and combat pants.

For the problem with cool, is that all too often it gets co-opted by large quote-unquote EVIL corporations (eg: the makers of a certain ubiquitous brown, fizzy drink) and broadcasted back to fast moving consumer groups (FMCGs). The problem here being that these people are so fast-moving, that the product (or rather the wrapper itself, in this case) has a shortened shelf life.

Nowadays of course, it's all about artsy Non Format style art direction, all neo-modernist/brutalist typefaces with the kind of florid augmentation last seen on Herb Lubalin's blotter pad in the 70s, in New York, and to be honest, even this is starting to look a little faded. (If I seen another fancy-nancy type treatment with swirly stuff wibbling out of gothic typefaces with all the holes filled in and a ten point stroke on them, so help me god, my brain will probably shut down to save my sanity.) I wonder what's next?

But as Creative review reports, founder Ian Anderson intends to reboot his baby, and take it back-to-basics with the original ethos he set out with in the mid-eighties, as opposed to the more identifiably 'formal' agency it reportedly became. Let's hope that if TDR does return, it'll be with a spirit of reinvention.

For now though, my personal footnote?

TDR: It was fun while it lasted.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pro-Keds!




Been hunting for some of these 'for a minute'... my last pair are wearing through at the heels.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bus route flashback


























Ever wonder what London's bus routes looked like in 1933?

I know I have.

Well wonder no longer, friends.

All is revealed,

here...

LOL

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Square to be hip





























An interesting article on the hipster 'phonemenon' which the author cites as evidence of 'The Dead End of Western Civilisation'.

The guy who wrote it gets lambasted a bit in the comments for being a crusty old timer, deriding the kids for having fun, but I think he's got some valid points – in effect, that 'the cool' comb through subcultures of the past and appropriate cultural signifiers, effectively robbing them of meaning and rendering them as banal, disposable fashion. (though maybe I'm saying that cause I'm a crusty old timer now? entirely possible).

I'm not entirely sure it's not part of a wider malaise though. A lot of design, art and fashion is unbelievably lazy in its gnawing at the bones of the past (here! here's an old image I found on google! I'll distress it and stick it on a t-shirt! yawn, etc. etc), or its sheer incestuous 'me-tooness', in the everlasting quest to remain 'on trend' – the imperative scouting for anything that appears even vaguely new, its appropriation, repackaging, and regurgitation onto the high street, for us to consume at cost.

Still, perhaps it was ever thus? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Deviation

Went to Benji B's Deviation night at Gramophone on Commercial Street in Shoreditch, for my mate Al's birthday last night.

I really like this night. I've been once before, for the birthday shindig, when you couldn't really move, or dance particularly. This time it was a bit less packed, but still fairly lively.

The guest DJ was Kode9, who was dropping dubstep stuff, which I caught a bit of. I like some Dubstep, some tracks I've heard by Martyn especially, but often find it can retard actual dancing somewhat, the music seeming to be lacking a kick drum somewhere, to anchor you in the goove – the Dubstep room at the last night I went to at Corsica studios was a mass of unsyncopated flailing limbs, like octopi drifting in space.

Benji B's sets seem to be reliably good, though I'd be hard pressed to pigeonhole his sound, apart from the fact that it seems to represent the new generation of producers who eschew predominantly sampled motifs in favour of a new, more electronic flavour of beatmaking – more specifically the kind of glitchy laptop aesthetic that dudes such as Flying Lotus create (and some of whose tracks off the excellent Los Angeles got an airing last night).

There was also some heavy rotation of tracks by the late hip hop pioneer Jay Dee, his having passed away almost exactly two years ago on the tenth of February. And in truth, echoes of his warm, slightly off-kilter sound could be heard in a lot of the newer music being played. The bouncy, James Brown sampling I don't Know and lolloping uptempo drums of Fuck the Police eliciting excited whoops from the crowd.

In general, the beats are loose limbed staccato funk. The vibe excited, friendly, warm; the crowd a mix of all shapes, sizes, etc. And though there was the usual contingent of cool kids, looking all nonchalant as they danced, there was a distinct lack of attitude in the sense of moodiness and general sub-gangster (or actual gangster) posturing I recall from jungle nights way back last decade.

Indeed, as the old guard of hip hop and drum and bass producers continue to lick their wounds and dream of those halcyon dog days of the mid-90s, it's heartening to go somewhere like this and bear witness to forward thinking (if not quite avant guard) music of (whispers it) black origin with a left-of-field lean. I'll be going back soon I think – I'm just gutted I missed the lesser-spotted Moodymann, whom the webbernets tells me played there in December last year. Dayum.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Every roleplaying character I've ever played, er, 4?


Part four in this increasingly infrequent series is an elf I played in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game run by Matt Hyde, some of whose online creations for Chaosium's Elric! system – set in Moorcock's Young Kingdoms – can be found here and here, if anyone's interested. But I digress.

WFRP was a pretty interesting gaming system, really. The world, which was developed when Games Workshop weren't soley predicated to the merchandising of tabletop wargames (I said soley) was a gritty one, reminiscent of our own Europe circa the 1700s (The Old World), except with the addition of marauding beastmen, trolls, orcs and the like. Principally set in a Germanic Empire, one of the things which helped set the slightly mordant gothic tone (aside from the political intrigue, and incursions of a mutative sorcerous blight known as Chaos, from the wastelands of the north) was the game system itself – which based character progression around a series of career paths – and the combat rules therein, which were realistically perilous, and came complete with a gruesome 'critical hit table' to determine injuries if a foe landed a particularly telling blow.

So to cut it short (literally), this chap here had his right leg lopped off after being on the receiving end of one such injury, probably at the hand/claw/tentacle of one the ubiquitous beastmen, I think, whilst on a boat. Having sorcerously healed the wound, he set about carving himself a peg leg, scrimshaw style, from some Ivory that happened to be lying about. This was probably highly impractical, given that Ivory is probably softer, more expensive, and more attractive to your average passing vagabond than wood, but what the hell.

He later got a magic sword, and a magical amulet thingy that Matt informed me had been stolen between gaming sessions. Matt! no fair!

His name was Tanis, also the name of the half-elven guy out of Dragonlance, but shucks, I didn't know that then.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hootchie Cootchie


Friday night, at a friend's instigation, I headed up north to Camden. I don't normally get up to Camden much as, A: It always struck me as more of a hangout for rock types (and I'm more of a techno suede-head at heart) and B: I don't really want to buy a t-shirt some chancer's ripped off Threadless to hawk on their stall. Still, Camden's a cool enough place, if you dare to pierce the veil of incense smoke hanging over it.

The night's destination was 'Hootchie Cootchie' night at The Jazz Cafe. Kinda lame name, I think, but actually quite good fun. The Jazz Cafe is actually a venue of some pedigree, I'm aware (like the Band on the Wall in Manchester) and my mate Jules, eyes glowing, later related going to see Pete Rock and CL Smooth there in about 2002 (before they fell out, and started slagging each other off, again) I'd never been though, so was keen to check it out.

The remit of the night was 50s Rockabilly, with a DJ spinning 7 inches and a live band with a luscious singer who looked like she'd just stepped off the set of South Pacific. All of which was fine, but I was mostly absorbed in staring at the sartorial pageant surrounding me.

Whenever I go to nights like this, eg: Northern soul events, I'm always struck by the amount of effort people put into their get-up. And I sometimes wonder, aside from the obvious nostalgia inherent in people affecting modes of fashion from a specific era, whether it represents a certain yearning for a time when people belonged to identifiable tribes, rather than that generic hipster melange of tight jeans, plaid shirts and PE pumps we see strutting round our city centres today.

Here, there were plaid shirts in evidence, but they were mostly tucked into wide legged chinos, or crisp wide-legged selvage jeans with turnups, over oh-so-shiny boots. Leather flight jackets were in attendance, as were immaculately Brylcreamed barnets, a la Mark Lamar (or even Mark Kermode). Chain wallets were in effect, as were Hawaiian shirts, and, I would hazard a guess, polyester.

And the girls... again lots of sculpted hairdos, and the much deprecated high waisted skirt, along with more leopard skin on display than your average safari. Ranking a close second in the swatch stakes were polka dots (followed by stripes), but the big cats stole the show, definitely. Some of the girls were also wearing those glasses you generally only see in Gary Larson cartoons. Awesome.

Of particular note were a triumvirate of angular-looking girls who stood by the bar staring waspishly about and boozing, who sort of resembled 50s Super-villainesses in mega-tight leggings, and beehive hairstyles that probably actually contained bees. One of them even seemed to have sculpted her hair into cat ears. Any single one of looked like they could, and would, have scratched Amy Winehouse to bits for a pair of nylons.

So, all in all, fun anyway, though the three buses home were less so.

Saturday night, after watching an incredibly misconceived Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like it, (whose sole redeeming feature seemed to be squeezing Brian Blessed into Samurai armour) me and a flattie ended up in The Funky Munky in Camberwell (which incidentally has the worst name of anything, ever). We just wanted a beer, basically, and the Hermits was shutting. The guy who's been DJing there for the last four years or so (DJ Dazzle) always plays pretty much the same set every time I see him – ie: tried and tested funk/disco/pop numbers – and he didn't disappoint in this regard. The crowd certainly seemed to be loving it, though I really wonder how he manages to play the same records so often without A: going clinically insane, or B: coming to loathe them utterly. Perhaps he's succumbed to both eventualities.

I watched the last X-Men film tonight, which was OK, I suppose, if a bit of an overblown FX fest. Another week looms, anyway. Bought a load of Tria markers the other day, which I'm going to enjoy some spending time with.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Abney Park



















































































































On Wednesday I went to Abney Park cemetery, on of the 'magnifient seven' of cemeteries built in the first half of the 19th century to accommodate the deceased of the city's burgeoning population.

I'd been once before with my mate Ed, on a hot day in Summer two years back. Then, when we made it to the disused chapel at its centre, there were a couple of groups of distinctly gothic looking individuals, sat around drinking beer in the sun.

Ironically this time around, when the weather was of what I would assume to be a much more gothic nature (cold, wet, sepulchral) there was not a single leather trenchcoat or facial piercing to be seen in the impending twilight. Whaddya know. Roy Ayers was right: EVERYONE loves the sunshine.

After that, me and my travelling companion went to the Lemon Monkey cafe on the high street, where I had a slice of pear tart thing (bit like a bakewell, with pear, obv.) and a peppermint tea. Nice enough place, though the back room where we found a seat was full of people silently communing with powerbooks. It felt wierd talking.

After that, went for a wander round Stoke Newington while we waited for a train. I quite like it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Breakfast!

As episodes of Sesame Street came courtesy of individual letters of the alphabet, breakfast today owed its existence to my mum, or more precisely some hens she's got stuck in a trailer on a hillside in Wales.

Before and after shots.






















Damn those eggs look like huge Cadbury's Mini-Eggs!























I made an omelette with sliced up chunks of chorizo in it and some Worcester sauce. If I'd had some tabasco I'd have probably wanged that in, but I didn't, so I didn't. It tasted better than it looks.

Next time: with some salsa perhaps? like our American cousins. Incidentally, I kind of wish I was in the States right now, positive vibes n' all that.

Listening to Spotify right now (streams albums over t'net for free, basically). I'd forgotten Ade told me that part of the deal was every once in a while it drops in an advertisement, so when a commercial from the Inland Revenue came on, I thought for a moment that Lupe Fiasco had sampled Moira Stuart for the intro on one of his tracks. Most odd.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gerry's Joint 4th Birthday

Last night I took a last minute deviation from the Air night at Matter (attached to the 02 Arena) and instead headed North to highgate, where 'Gerry's Joint' were having their fourth birthday party. I was meeting some friends at Old Street tube where a group of Police Officers, with the help of a couple of enthusiastic golden retrievers, were frisking people for narcotics. Kay didn't seem to think so when I told her later, but it looked like at least one of the 'retriever keepers' was blind – and as I stood at the top of the steps waiting for my clubbing buddies, he entered the ticket hall arm-in-arm with a member of the public (who appeared to be assisting him) and whom a trio of police officers swiftly escorted to one side 'for a chat'. It took me a moment to work out what was going on.

After that jumped on the Northern line to our destination. I sometimes forget, dwelling in the 'Well, that huge swathes of London's assorted boroughs are actually quite easy on the eye, and that area around Muswell Hill is a case in point. It's just... quite nice really.

Anyway we headed to The Boogaloo, where the night was, and were early enough to get in free – and get a table, which was a result, as it rapidly filled up. Basically the remit of the night seems to be 50s and 60s rock n' roll and soul, hosted by the guys who Deejayed at It's Bigger Than at 93 Feet East (along with my buddy Sam, of Allez Allez fame, who I went with). They appeared to have carried over their penchant for 'all things party' and it did have a convivial, swingin' atmosphere, somewhere between a cool pub-disco and club, though not a cat-swingers party, no sir, too busy for that.

The crowd itself was a blend of young to middle aged, though did have a healthy turnout of the usual hipster/prankster types, who were capering drunkenly around in plaid shirts by the decks. In fact, what is it with plaid shirts? specifically those slightly wooly, lumberjack-esque ones Brick Lane seems to have adopted as some kind of informal team kit? Enough already. You should wear skinny jeans, from Uniqlo, like me *trails off, uncomfortably*

Also ran into a friend of a friend who was there with her mate. Was trying to chat, but the music was too loud. Increasingly I find I just can't chat in clubs, perhaps because I can no longer be bothered attempting to lip-read, guess what an appropriate response might be or lean in close enough to get deafened when they bellow in your ear to exceed the music's volume. Not much of any import was communicated.

About twelve we headed off to catch the last tube, as attempting to get back to South London by bus at that time is a fool's errand. Otherwise I might have stayed later. Who knows.

Bitterly cold today. Walked over to Dulwich, and back via Peckham. Just ate a slightly stodgy Thai curry I made. It was OK.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christmas Decorations

Open letter to businesses, re the 'Christmas decorations thing' (especially the Chinese takeaway downstairs).

Dear businesses

Re Christmas decorations. It's now January the 13th. Twelfth night was seven days ago. I believe I stand for everybody when I say: "Probably best to take them down now, hey?"

Yours Faithfully,

Everybody

(Having said that, I note that the pound shop fairy lights cling still to the weary rubber plant in the living room, and though I had prepared myself for it, I nearly physically flinched the other day when my housemate said, in comment on them:

"Hey, they make the room look quite nice don't they? shall we just leave them up?"

I disagreed, albeit tactfully. Christmas decorations – the clue's in the name, innit.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Future Shock





























I was chatting to someone in the kitchen at a party, the other Saturday, when the subject of Woolworths came up, and I wondered out loud, whether there actually will, y'know, be any high street shops, in ten years time.

I said it more for dramatic effect than out of any certainty, as I'm sure there probably will be, but still...

These are, rather obviously, tough times to run a business, and no business more so than one involving an actual, physical venue as a shop-front (as opposed to a virtual one). I've lost count of the number of independently owned, interesting small businesses – such as restaurants and shops – that have fallen victim to spiralling overheads, most notably rent. (From what I have heard, this was also the issue that put pay to all the record shops on that once jewel in Bristol's independent shopping crown, Park Street).

As dust was scattered on Woolworth's coffin, voices could be heard expressing regret at its passing. Some even noting the irony that if Woolworth's had been as busy in the last few years as it was in it's final hours, it may not have had to close. I am simultaneously bemused by the sentimentality expressed here, and the fallaciousness of the statement. They saying goes "they never really miss you till you're dead or you're gone", and I would certainly argue that insofar as buying practices go, people were only nominally aware of Woolworths as a shopping destination whilst it was in supposedly rude health. And of course the liquidation prices that drew the crowds in the end would, presumably, have been unsustainable in the long term.

And while we're on the subject of unsustainable business models, let us not forget that part of Woolies plight originated from the fact that it made 90% of its profits in the six weeks before Christmas (which suggests to me that it would only take one particularly fell Winter to put pay to their uniquely tawdry world of averagely priced gewgaws and niknaks). (Yet another surprising revelation to a layman such as myself is the fact that many of these larger, supposedly profitable retailers, have an inherent reliance on readily available credit to pay suppliers: the minute that stops, the wheels come off.)

We all mourn the passing of institutions such as Post Offices, local cinemas etc. whose presence we tend to take for granted, but ultimately we as the consumers have, however involuntarily, voted with our feet or (by proxy of favouring shopping on the internet) our fingers. It is, presumably free market economics that have allowed business to flourish in this country and make it the global player it is. Government intervention – as some have claimed was a viable solution to Woolies plight – is only another way of paying for something we evidently do not care much for. The question is, I suppose, do we want high street shops, in ten years time? Because it seems to me, perhaps the only retailers equipped to weather the storm might be those with enough financial clout to achieve enonomys of scale, or who own property outright and are hence not beholden to spiraling rent from landlords

Perhaps, in the future (say, 2020?), all we'll do is work, then come home – maybe we'll even all work from home, by then. There won't be anywhere to go in the evening because all the pubs and bars and clubs have been turned into luxury flats or demolished to make room for new train lines. No, instead we'll just get drunk on supermarket-bought, loss-leader Stella, whilst hunched over a flickering screen, ordering DVDs off Amazon. It'll be like 1984 but with Facebook. By then local government will have capitulated to the seemingly inevitable and turned the centres of all our cities into huge coffee shops. There'll be concessions for the high street retailers, all of whom will be Phillip Green.

But it's just progress, I guess.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hammers and walnuts

Mid-to-long term readers of this blog might remember way back in the mists of time (ok, July) I got caught on one of those notorious whipping boys of public transport, the nefarious number 12 bendy bus, without having swiped on with my Oyster.

I have little to say in my defence, really. Save it was the end of a long, hot, fairly crappy day at work in the grey London heat, and I just scrambled for a seat, forgetting to slap my wafer of blue plastic against the reader. It later transpired I also only had £1 on it, as well, to compound my oversight. My bad.

Well, nearly a full 6 months later, I've just received a court summons for it, with the option to not attend court, and simply plead guilty and pay up £100. I'm fairly pissed off about all this, obviously, as I seem to be in a 'Lose/Lose' scenario, i.e.: pay £100, plead guilty and get a record, or attend court, probably lose on the basis of own fairly frank admission to the inspector ("I forgot") and get a criminal record and pay the legal costs.

I think it would be naive of me not to admit culpability for having not swiped or having checked my Oyster was fully topped up, and indeed never intended to deceive. This was a first time offense, and I was fully open about it. I'm frankly exasperated that something that occurred the best part of six months ago, has been hanging over me like some blandly bureaucratic sword of Damocles, until the new year (when incidentally, I don't currently have any work) when they've finally got round to issuing a court summons, and indeed that they would even bother doing such a thing, for a £2 ticket.

I actually suspect that it's largely down to TFL haemorrhaging money out of the backside due to the unpopular, unsuited to London bendy buses, which they presumably introduced to dispense with ticket inspectors – the only problem here being that they have to then hire the surly 'Revenue Protection Inspector droids' (the traffic wardens of the public transport system) to patrol the buses on what seems like a permanent basis to recoup losses, and occasionally, truck loads of our boys (and girls) in blue, who hang around at bus-stops to back them up, when presumably they could be out 'fighting real crime' like, I dunno, terrorism or something. In all honesty, fare dodging is endemic to those buses, which practically invite you to jump on without paying, and I see it every time I get on one. I always pay, apart from this one ocassion, when as luck would, or wouldn't have it, I got caught. I 'fessed up then, but rather than deal with my transgression with what might be seen as an appropriate and commeasurate response to my exceedingly minor transgression (like, a fine), this farcical palaver has been taken to the courts. FFS.

So now, as the the peripheral gears of the British system grind exceedingly slowly up to speed, I potentially face some form of legal footnote to efface 31 years of (mostly) good behaviour. I'm kind of resigned to it now. I suspect my admission of an oversight, rather than being taken in the spirit it was intended, will, in the eyes of the law be tantamount of intention to defraud TFL. Having done a bit of poking around, I've read that a crime of this order might only be a problem if entering a legal/financial career (unlikely) or attempting to emigrate (unfortunately increasingly attractive), but still...

So there you go. I'm seeking advice on this, but who knows, by this time next month I could be a felon, sporting prison tats and dodging the 5-0 (OK, exaggeration). If such is the case – and I warrant it extremely likely – I doubt I will ever have a good word to say about the maladministered public transport infrastructure in London, ever again.

ps: Advice gratefully accepted, though I suspect I know what the outcome of this will be...

UPDATE:

Finally got this settled out of court, after a visit to Peckham CAB Bureau, who were tremendously helpful (in spite of being extremely busy – I got there when they opened at 10am and was still there for two and a half hours). On their advice, I was given a number, and able to settle out of court with TFL, after speaking to someone in their 'Enforcement and Policing Directorate' (who seemed like a reasonable enough chap, to be fair).

Nonetheless this resolution had a faint air of 'beware of the leopard' (see the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) about it, insofar as I had to visit the CAB in the first place to be made aware of this solution. In none of their written communications to me was the option (as a first time offender) of settling out of court made clear – and I know of a few people who have simply pleaded guilty and hence received a criminal record.