Thirty Thousand Streets

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


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'.