H A P P Y
C H R I S T M A S
Thursday, December 25, 2008
H A P P Y
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This blog has been stupidly quiet recently, for which apologies; I shall try to remedy the situation over the New Year period. In the meantime I am readying a host of posts about my favourite records, books and TV programmes of the year - but first here is an excellent and intriguing Albums of 2008 list by Dan. Quite a few things to explore if you don't know the records already:
1. Bowerbirds - Hymms for a Dark Horse. This is my favourite album of the year by quite a way actually. Very honest recording, very beautiful songs. Tracks sound like they have been sung and recorded in the open and the instrumentation is basic but used to great effect. Saw this band at End of the Road twice, once on their own and also backing up their pal Bon Iver (more of him later). Watch this video of 'My Oldest Memory' to get a flavour of their rustic charm:
2. Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim. Ah, lovely Laura. She's from the Reading area y'know? This album has been a revelation and I don't know anyone who does'nt like it and who has'nt fallen under its spell. I stalked her this year at End of the Road Festival, this is what I saw.
3. Anni Rossi - Afton EP. Ok this is just an EP but I like her. She sounds a bit like Scout Niblet and quite a lot like Joanna Newsom. However she trumps the two of them - in my opinion. Looking forward to an album next year.
4. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago. Alright, what end of the year list would be complete without this? I like it a lot, though maybe a little tired of it now. Who is Emma? Does she mind? Anyway, as forced as this sounds at times its still really really good. How much we'll want to pick it up next year remains to be seen however.
5. Hauschka - Ferndoff. This is a great comtemporary classical album. I really like it, it self destructs in places but is underpinned by beauty all the way through. A little like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Goldmund which I also really liked this year.
6. Daniel Martin Moore - Stray Age. Superior singer song writer stuff in which you discover more reasons to like with each listen. I think Stray Age was his first album and it sounds a little like Sufjan Stevens circa Seven Swans.
7. Max Richter - 24 Postcards in Full Colour. It's been a busy time for Max Richter. This year he has released this album as well as the soundtrack to the excellent film Waltz With Bashir. Each song here cuts off just as you imagine how they might turn out. It too is soundtrack stuff in a way but you are left to imagine the film for yourself.
8. Krulle Bol - This is the Kit. Second only to Laura Marling this year in my book for solo female song writing prowess. A little known album, but look up the track 'She Does'.
9. Noah and The Whale - Peaceful The World Lays Me Down. Grown a little tired of this now but that is only due to the amount of listens I've given it over the year. The kids are ok - excellent album.
10. Sea Wolf - Leaves In the River. Cheesy in places, not as good as past 'Sea' named bands eg Seabear or Seagull. However there are enough beards in this band to make their sound authentic and there are three or four strong songs here. Their lead singer looks like Michael J Fox I reckon - check them out.
I used Amazon’s MP3 service for the first time last night – to buy this - and am happy to report that it was a very efficient, affordable process; no DRM, no hassle, and best of all a really good price. They clearly will need to sort out the interface if they really want to take on iTunes, but my initial report is good. This is my first stop for MP3s from now on.
In other Amazon related news; if you, like me, are fascinated by the prospect of digital publishing and ebooks, you may like this blog, which is dedicated to the Amazon Kindle and its various competitors. It’s a bit of a Kindle-love-in, but it contains lots of interesting information, and is making me more and more sure that when the Kindle is finally launched here in the UK, I’m going to have to buy one. This is an emotive subject for me, and my attachment to physical books is incredibly strong, but there’s no point in denying its appeal. Still, the Plastic Logic is my tip for the emerging e-book readers, and the one that’s likely to point the way forward in terms of my publishing career.
Lastly, seeing as we’re on technology, it’s good to hear that iPlayer is finally fully Mac-compatible. Yay.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It's very nice to be chaperoned around a foreign city; I'm in Paris this week attending a work conference, and my friends Sam and Laura, who moved here a few months ago, have been keen and dedicated hosts, filling me to the brim with wine and food and ushering me around Montmartre like the seasoned Parisians they are fast becoming. Seeing them settled into the heart of the city provokes a mixture of feelings; mostly real pleasure in seeing them happy, but also everything from non-specific nostalgia for any number of past events that we shared, and envy that their new life has brought them such adventure.
Paris, for its part, is a welcoming set; cold and brisk in the background, scented for Christmas but vivid and warm where my hosts carve me inroads - their family and friends have been around providing good-hearted chat and kindness. The landmarks lose none of their charm with repeat viewings; Gallerie Lafayette is sumptuous (but increasingly expensive!), the Sacre-Coeur magical on its raised perch. Right now, however, I'm sat in a conference centre, a thin head-ache getting slowly cooked by the artificial lights, and I've got toothache, too.
That aside, all is well, and I'm even feeling quite festive.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
According to today's NME, the Blur reunion is now, at last, official - what wonderful news; they've been my favourite band for something like seventeen years now, and that love has never come close to fading. They remain, for me, the best British pop group of the last twenty years, bar none, and what's more they've got better and better rather than worse and worse, a more typical trajectory. Although not all of their fans agree, I'd pinpoint their 'Think Tank' as the best record of this decade so far, and one of their finest - and Damon's work since has not been far behind. So the prospect of them being back together, whether it's just onstage at Glastonbury or possibly even working on new material, fills me with happiness. Hurray.
Here's a lovely, sentimental quote from Graham on the Blur message-board:
"i have plunged headlong into self destruction as reaction to others doing what i have done many times- falling in love.it is a pathetic resentment...and after so many years of what can almost be considered (...having to make a few journies alone...) a coma of sorts all that we thought stuck to us, keeping us apart just fell away in seconds of seeing each other and a lightness replaced it all see...terrific relief....the festering and paranoid conjecture....the inferiority complexes..the double guessing...all seem such a waste of time...what the press called falling out and friction.... there was no friction...we never saw each other for there to be friction....that rubbing together and causing of heat/irritation......there came a time where we had to travel the path without each other's support. if it hadnt happened in 2001/2 it would have happened later. it was painful enough to realise we had forgotten how to look after each other....without those in the media telling us it was actually alot worse than it was!
its heavy....its a life regained...not just 4 friends but all those surrounding the friends..the surrogate family, the real family...the extended family, the tree...its many!!! not just 4."
Here's the cover of today's NME - masthead stripped out:
I managed a momentous, and probably record-breaking shift of around ten hours of midweek sleep last night, which is feeling today rather like a necessary luxury. I arrived home last night pretty much ready for bed already, but managed to get through ‘til about eight o’clock in the usual routine – fiddling with iTunes, making dinner, watching Eastenders, before realising just how tired I was feeling and allowing myself the privilege of an early night. So I took a long bath and planned to retire.
By the time I was out, of course, I’d actually livened up a bit, and settled on the sofa with a book, reasoning that I’d just stay up after all. It was at that point, however, that it occurred to me that I’m locked into a system of staying up ‘til eleven, half-eleven, even when my body is telling me to do something different. There should be some connection in my head between “I’m really tired” and the command “go to bed”, but I think it’s something I have to teach myself. So at around half-nine, or possibly even earlier, I went through to the bedroom, switched on the radio, and fell immediately asleep. I wouldn’t say that I found waking up easy this morning, or getting up any more pleasurable than usual, but there was one glorious moment when I woke in the night, conscious that I’d had about the usual amount of sleep, and felt a wave of grim awareness that I’d have to rise shortly. At which point I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 2am and I had another four or five hours of sleep to indulge in.
For that moment of relief and calm, the early night was worth it’s weight.
Monday, December 08, 2008
This is a bit late, but I've not been to many gigs lately so feel I should blog about the ones I do go to; consequently here's a brief review of a recent outing, albeit one which is probably fuzzy round the edges as a consequence of disintegrating memories...
Jay Reatard has garnered a lot of column inches this year and some pretty decent reviews off the back of his recent singles collection for Matador. Without knowing an awful lot about him, Ant and I headed down to the Engine Rooms in Brighton a couple of weeks ago to watch him play with a couple of British bands, local boys The Pheromoans and Nottingham's Lovvers.
On first, The Pheromoans were terrific. Peddling an artless, lackadaisical and nonchalant take on the Swell Maps / Fall / Pavement sound, their sound was obviously familiar, but none the worse for it; short, daft songs riding four note basslines and enlivened by a droll singer and a guitarist fluffing occasionally melodic surf-riffs. It's possible, perhaps likely, that they are self-conscious art students playing badly on purpose (in which case I withdraw my affection), but I'm happy to play along with the idea that they're stoned chancers, short on ambition and fired with a love for simplicity and fuzz. So I thought they were grand.
Lovvers, on the contrary, were incredibly tight, focused and forceful. Their sound was abrasive, energetic, full - and yet they were painfully awful; a sequence of yawnsome redundant cliches and dead-eyed ambition. Only when their macho, show-offy punk slowed down for some churning, slower numbers did they lift themselves out of the mire, but by that time I'd retreated to the back of the room. Bewilderingly, the crowd responded enthusiastically, so perhaps it's just me that can't bear their masculine, heartless hardcore. Ant was more enthusiastic, but not much.
Wondering if the problem is just that I like quiet music, I headed back towards the front for Jay Reatard, who quickly dispelled that notion by playing a set of fiercely enjoyable, high-octane punk rock, fusing the volume of The Melvins with the hooks of a young Evan Dando. Barely pausing between (cracking) songs, his performance is all about speed and energy, excitement and power. All were much in evidence as Reatard provoked a sea of grins and a wave of slightly apologetic headbanging from a reserved audience, perhaps mindful of Jay's unpredictability. And the good news is that, for all that my record collection is getting folkier and folkier, I still like a bit of furious punk. As long as it has pop choruses.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s excellent animated film, is a cool, deliberate and moving evocation of memory, conscience and war which moves from muted tones of yellow and black through luminous multicolour and back again as the director recounts the nightmarish reality of 1982s Israeli-Lebanon War, and his own efforts to reconstruct his recollection of it. Like thousands of men his age, his formative years were defined by his involvement in war, though both his own country and much of the Middle East which surround it – particularly Lebanon – have found themselves the staging ground for much of the world’s conflict since. At 19, be that as it may, he was sent to fight, and to kill. Yet he remembers little. What took place all those years ago?
Part autobiography, part fantasy, and part documentary, Waltz With Bashir is constructed from a series of flashbacks, hallucinations and interviews, all lovingly illustrated. Unable to piece together the details himself, Folman begins a long, painful search for the truth, finding people he served with, drawing out his own suppressed memories and interweaving them with those of his peers. The results are always beautifully drawn, but invariably upsetting; an officer forced to swim out to sea to escape capture by Palestinian forces; a troop trying in desperation to cross a junction while being fired on from all angles; the memory of six men having to gun down a child armed with a rocket launcher.
Worst is the darkest memory of all; Folman’s involvement in the massacres at Sabra and Chatila, where Phalangist Christians led Israeli forces into refugee camps and enacted a devastating genocide on the Palestinians within – murdering young and old, entire families lined up and shot under the yellow sky. As the film’s most devastating line attests, Folman, whose own parents survived Auschwitz, is made unwittingly to play the role of Nazi, firing flares into the sky so that the light persisted enough for the massacre to continue. At the apex of this savage injustice, the film switches not just from monochrome to full colour, but from animation to live video. The final, dreadful moments of the movie consist solely of archive footage of the terrible aftermath - wailing survivors surveying the destruction, the bodies of children poking horrifically from the rubble.
Despite the painful reality of these closing shots, the movie conjures up several arresting images of its own - an early sequence, which describes a memory experiment at a funfair, is echoed, in a moment of playfulness, through a window; a pack of dogs charge vengefully through the streets; a terrified soldier, cowering on a military boat, is provided with a moment’s respite by an erotic hallucination. The most powerful image is that of the auteur’s face, frozen in the streets of Beirut as he witnesses the carnage around him. It’s repeated several times; a slow pan around a youthful face, and gains in intensity with every viewing, until at last you learn something, something, of the atrocity of war. Waltz With Bashir is both chillingly upsetting and notably beautiful – a superb, troubling, and yet strangely cleansing film. Go see it.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Here at Assistant Blog Towers I'm beginning to think about my records of the year so that I can indulge in a bit of list-making, and it occurred to me - in particular after hearing the Wave Picture's Dave Tattersal talking about his intuition that we wrongly favour what is new over what is special - to look back and see how many records from last year's list I still rate really highly.
And then I discovered that I never posted a 2007 list, despite a clear memory of writing it. So a trawl through my huge drafts folder located this unpublished list, compiled in January of 2008, of my favourite albums of 2007. What's interesting is that firstly I had remembered '07 as a particularly bad year for albums, and yet I was surprised how many great records I singled out. Equally, there are a few there that quickly lost their sheen. So here's the list, as written, with the exception that I've put any records I still listen to frequently in bold. There's nothing on there I'd disown, but the paucity of bolded items indicates that it's interesting what insights a bit of distance and perspective can bring.
1. Field Music - Tones of Town
2. The Good, the Bad and the Queen – s/t
3. Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now
4. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
5. Jeff Lewis – 12 Crass Songs
6. Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls
7. Burial - Untrue
8. Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Me Away
9. Dinosaur Jr - Beyond
10. Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
11. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
12. Thurston Moore – Trees Outside The Academy
13. Von Sudenfed – Tromatic Reflexxxions
14. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
15. Prinzhorn Dance School – s/t
16. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
17. Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree
18. M.I.A – Kala
19. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
20. Horrors – Strange House
21. Prodigy (Mobb Deep) – Return Of The Mac
22. Shocking Pinks – s/t
23. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
24. Twilight Sad – 14 Autumns and 15 Winters
25. Holy Fuck – s/t
2008 list to come quite soon, when I'm finished arguing with myself.
Monday, November 24, 2008
On 6music tonight Steve Lamacq was endorsing the idea of band t-shirt day; a day when all of us who spent our teenage years collecting band t-shirts unite to dig one out and wear it to work. I think the point of this was probably that those of us old enough to remember The Inspiral Carpets would have long grown out of this habit, which isn't strictly true in my case; in recent years I've picked up several band tees, inspired not so much by showing off my allegiances but rather the fact that they seem to be so well designed these days. And I'm afraid I still wear them to work, so band t-shirt day might not be such an event for me. Nevertheless, it did make me think about some of the band t-shirts I've bought over the years.
- Aged about 14 or so I went to see The House of Love at Middlesex University, escorted, I'm afraid to say, by my father. They were wonderful, as you might expect, but my strongest memory of the evening is of leafing through a pile of bootleg tees laid out on the grass outside the venue. The ones I fixed on were two old, faded, but wonderfully exotic and eccentric Cure t-shirts; riotous colours against, of course, black. I remember making my dad buy me them, and the misty, musty smell of them, cold to the touch and still a little damp from the wet grass.
- At Mile End, watching Blur in 1995, I missed the entire Cardiacs set (I know!) so that I could queue up for a pint of beer and a t-shirt; the beer I quickly spilt, weaving my way back through the crowd, and the t-shirt (dark blue with the band logo across the front) I lost long before the end of the gig. Ah well.
- At a different Blur gig someone offered to swap me their Bluetones t-shirt for my vintage Nike t-shirt. Of course I refused, glowing in the knowledge that I possessed an enviable tee. In retrospect, I think it was one of my mum's old t-shirts which I liberated from her drawer.
- Much more recently, I bought a really nice Midlake t-shirt at a gig in Brighton; I was very pleased with it indeed. At the end of the show I handed it to Anne-Sophie for a moment so that I could nip to the loo. When I returned it was covered with marker pen doodles, as AS had thoughtfully asked each member of the band to draw an animal on it for me. This was good. But as a consequence I've never worn the t-shirt. Bah.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Had a very pleasant afternoon trotting around Camden Town yesterday. Although it was the stomping ground of my teenage years, I've not been back much lately and was pleased to discover that the slow spread of big business towards the lock (a Starbucks by the canal!) has not really diminished the singularity of the place; it remains the go-to place for those looking to take part in tribal activity; everybody there is a something. A goth, a hippy, a mod, a rocker.
It's a long way from being an epicentre of hedonism - most people just stand around, inhaling joss stick smoke or squinting through pub windows for empty tables - but everyone there seems to be making a statement, that they are out without purpose, open to opportunity, trying to belong. Had I not been exactly the same in my teens, I might be a bit dismissive, but I remember that peculiar, probably false, feeling that you had to escape everyday life, where you didn't fit at all. And go somewhere where others felt the same. Silly, but rather lovely.
It's all still there. At the same time, just a little bit of the danger seems to have gone - the streets are cleaner, the drug-dealers more cautious. But probably that's better, rather than worse.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
2. Deerhunter - Microcastles/Weird Era Cont... LPs; two blissful albums from one band, released on the same day. You can't argue with that. But which is better? I really can't decide.
3. Brighton MA - Amateur Lovers LP; another massive grower - at first I dismissed this as Dylan-lite, Midwestern indie rock, but I was quite wrong. Beautifully arranged and heavy with feeling, this is a dour cracker.
4. Emmy The Great - We Almost Had a Baby 7"; We're finally at the countdown stage of the long, long, long wait for Emmy's album. Thank goodness. The A-side you should know already. The b-side, 'Short Country Song', is spellbinding.
6. Don Cavalli - Cryland LP; an amazing, technicolour, love-it-or-hate-it effort from this Parisian loner; a twisted combination of delta blues, psychedelic rock, Beefheart and Devo.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Is it alright for me to blog about football if I pretend that I'm blogging about architecture?
Actually, I think I am blogging about architecture. The football back pages are buzzing at the moment with the news that my club, Tottenham Hotspur, have announced plans for a new stadium, which is being built on the existing site at White Hart Lane. What makes that interesting to non-Spurs fans, I think, is that the plans for how they'll do it are really rather interesting. The intention is to start building the new ground directly behind the current stadium, and progress as far as they can with it before demolishing the current ground and moving the pitch up into the new building. At no point during the process will the capacity drop below it's current maximum (36,000) but at the end the club will have a shiny new ground with room for 60,000 people. The pictures below - which are the real reason for the post - demonstrate the process. Kind of fascinating, and oddly pretty too.
Here's an explanation of the process:
PHASE ONE: New stadium build commences to the north of the existing ground. The stadium remains in use at full capacity.Just hope the new stadium doesn't turn into an anonymous, atmosphere-free dome like the Emirates. Unfortunately, looking at the drawings, it looks very similar.
PHASE TWO: Out of season, the North Stand of the existing stadium is demolished and the new pitch is laid.
PHASE THREE: The partially-completed new stadium is in use for one season. The remainder of the existing stadium is demolished.
PHASE FOUR: Out of season, the remainder of the new stadium is completed, ready for the start of the following season.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I feel a bit guilty liking Sweden's charming First Aid Kit so much, as they sound so like Peggy Sue that I feel as if I'm cheating on a cherished girlfriend with her sister. Their mini-album, Drunken Trees, has many fine, spine-tingling moments on it, but the track of theirs that's impressed me the most is their YouTube cover of the Fleet Foxes' Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Here it is:
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Whose idea was it to schedule Bonfire Night the day after the American election? Really bad timing; I think after staying up ‘til five o’clock last night any participation in the festivities tonight would be bordering on suicidal. Ordinarily I watch the fireworks at Hove Cricket Ground, which are always reliably ace, and do so from the considerable comfort of Dave and Eleanor’s balcony, but this year the option is nixed as Dave has rather inconsiderately moved out and I keep meaning and failing to catch up with the elusive Eleanor. I did weigh up the thought of watching it on the cold grass inside the stadium, but after last night’s excess and excitement, that appeals rather less. So tonight the emphasis is on warmth and an early night, possibly with a few fireworks glimpsed through the skylight.
The election, of course, was wonderful. Dan, Sam and myself convened on Ant’s new flat for a delicious Roast dinner and wiled away the pre-election hours by listening to Throbbing Gristle and watching the telly on mute. Adverts, in particular, were a delight; no matter how bucolic or serene it may otherwise be, no advert can survive a soundtrack of the Gristle’s ‘His Arm Was Her Leg’ without being rendered impossibly sinister.
That done, we dashed over to the Shakespeare’s Head for a few drinks before retreating to the flat to watch Obama romp home. Of course, it took a bloody age, and we ran so completely out of alcohol that we were driven to contact Brighton's own Booze Brothers (men who deliver alcohol to drunks in the middle of the night) who, sadly, were otherwise engaged, leading Sam to make the desperate decision to race back to Compton Avenue to get some more wine. By about half four or so it was unarguably clear that Obama had won, and we watched with glee as the last States fell. It was a genuinely amazing, delightful thing to witness and watching I felt privileged, as if I were an actor in the drama unfolding, simply by virtue of being able to look on and cheer. Hurrah for Obama.
Have a lovely Bonfire night.
Just heard that Michael Crichton, the thriller-writer and author of Jurassic Park has died; I take no pleasure in this - indeed I'm a secret fan of his glossy, imaginative, high-concept science novels ('Prey' being my favourite) - and nor do I think that his death is anything to joke about (unlike those bastards Brand and Ross, who are doubtless cracking rude jokes as I type); but I'm deeply impressed with this silly, clever, flippant update to Crichton's Wikipedia page, added today:
DeathBrilliant. But his death is a loss - there are comparitively few thriller writers I rate (and even Crichton's prose is often terrible), but he is one I've always enjoyed reading.
Michael Crichton died November 5, 2008, from a rare Andromeda strain of cancer. After what initially appeared to be a hopeful run at remission as a result of the controversial new Carey Treatment, Crichton’s timeline ran out. The late author, known by some as “The Terminal Man”, opted not to provide the public with full disclosure regarding his illness, but rather to keep it within his personal sphere of close friends and family. He was noted to have kept his zero cool, despite what must have indeed been a state of fear. Crichton was 66 years old. Jurassic Park.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Despite feeling reasonably confident about today's US election, I feel, at the same time, horribly nervous today; or perhaps impatient is a better description. Does anyone know what time the results are expected to come through? There's a part of me that wants to do an all-nighter, but instead I think I'll just go to bed early, so that I wake tomorrow the sooner, and know.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Obviously this whole furore about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross is unbelievably overblown, and the news that the head of Radio 2 has now had to resign is just utterly ridiculous. The comments were in bad taste and an apology should have sufficed, and would have had it not been for the tabloid press and the large percentage of the 30,000 people who complained despite not even listening to the show. The eagerness of public figures to damn the two presenters is yet further evidence of Chris Morris's 'Brass Eye' thesis; that celebrities and politicians are only too happy to speak up over issues of which they have zero knowledge. Gordon Brown's latest comments demonstrate this ably; they are utterly fatuous. He said:
"I simply wanted to express the views of the general public that this was inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour on the part of leading personalities to whom many people look to as role models. I leave it at that."
To whom many people look to as role models!!?! What the fuck is he talking about? Brand and Ross aren't role models, they are comedians. This whole debacle has been massively disappointing.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"I need a personal statement, this is all no good - I can't use any of this"
I pointed out that there was a personal statement at the top of the page, under the title 'personal statement'.
Just spotted this wonderful post from Richard de Pesando over at his busy Grey Area blog: pretty much everyone has a nightmare job interview story, whether they've been in the job market for months, years, or decades, but I'd like to congratulate Richard for handling his nightmare with coolness and aplomb.
I hope if I'm ever in a situation like this, I handle myself as well as he did.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The story of the most recent few years of Edwyn Collins’ life is, despite being fairly traumatic, ultimately a cheering tale – for although his slow recovery from a terribly serious stroke in 2005 has been painful and limited, he has overcome huge odds to regain power over his life and his art, and is as a consequence once more playing live, writing songs, singing and performing. But the process of healing began not with a return to the studio but with the pain-staking process of learning to read again, and learning how to draw with his left hand, having lost the use of his right. Now, a couple of years on, Edwyn is once more full of hope and confident about the future – which is wonderful stuff. In the Guardian today, he writes:
"I drew my first bird, a widgeon. It's quite crude, but I was pleased with the result. Each day I drew at least one bird. I was tired back then, but my stamina has grown. I could see my progress with each bird. Up, up, up. It's encouraging. (…) When I draw there is no interference. Since my stroke, I am interfered with quite a lot. And this is not to my taste, although I have been very cooperative. But when I draw, I am in charge; I don't have a therapist or a wife bossing me about. I'm left to my own devices, in a world of my own. Drawing was the first skill to come back to me, so it meant the world. If I can draw, what else can I do? It gave me back my confidence in myself. And my dignity."Edwyn Collins: British Birdlife, a collection of his bird drawings, is showing at the Smithfield Gallery, London EC1, until Saturday. Some samples below.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Strange goings on in my building today. It started before breakfast, when I was half-woken by a banging sound from downstairs, and developed when, mid-morning, I left my flat and trotted down the stairs to check the post then head into town. In the entrance lobby to my building there's a big shelf where post for the three flats tends to accumulate, but I was surprised to see this morning that the shelf was entirely clear - which was particularly troubling as I noted yesterday that there were a couple of bills there that I'd neglected to pick up.
Surprised, I placed my hand on the latch of the front door, preparing to twist it and pull, when the door swung back freely towards me. Moving through it I glanced down and watched the lock casing in the door frame fall away. Squinting closer I realised that the door had been crowbarred open; the wood in the frame splintered and broken. I frowned. Someone had broken in to steal the post?
I wondered what to do. And then turned and noted with surprise that the front door wasn't the only door that was open. So was that of the ground floor flat, which was an inch or two ajar. I hesitated then rapped on it. A moment or two later a guy arrived, looking incredibly dishevelled, and explained in broken English that he didn't understand me, as I stood pointing at the front door and the missing post. Eventually he understood that I was telling him his door was open, thanked me, and shut it.
I trudged upstairs to ring the freeholder and inform him of the broken door. And then I noticed that the door of the middle floor flat was open too. Extremely odd. I moved into my own flat and, by now feeling a bit nervous that something was up, locked it behind me. Of course, my darker suspicions were unfounded, and the guy who owns the building, once I'd phoned him, explained that he already knew about the door, had been round to see it and had taken away the post (which he took to be belonging to previous tenants) with him. Apparently one of my other neighbours had reported the door broken earlier, but his suspicion, he told me, was that they had broken it themselves having forgotten their keys, and had to break their own door too. The banging I'd heard had been a locksmith fixing their internal entrance, he'd surmised.
So really nothing to worry about, but the strange concatenation of events left me feeling quite edgy and bothered for a while afterwards. Since I returned to the flat after my afternoon in town, the house still doesn't seem to have quite quieted down. There's an argument going on somewhere in the building, much slamming of doors and a troop of noisy Poles standing in the garden out the back. Every time the house lapses into silence there's another odd noise, a bang or a whoop or a yell, which disturbs the peace again. It leaves me tense, always waiting for another small disturbance. In the meantime, the landlord never did send someone round to fix the front door, so doubtless we shall all be murdered in our sleep by opportunistic intruders...
Brighton's Resident Records is easily one of the best and friendliest shops I've been too, and it often hosts mini-gigs on a weekday earl-evening - the most recent I attended was a set by the folkster Jeremy Warmsley, who only played four or five rather slight songs but charmed everyone in the shop in the process. I wasn't totally sold; his songs need to take the odd unexpected diversion every now and again to stop them being a touch safe; but generally speaking he's certainly talented and likeable, and he's got a great record in him somewhere, I think. He's a particularly interesting lyricist, combining a deft sense of humour, a knack for storytelling and a smatter of self-deprecation.
Here's a quick video, taken by Dan, of the last song he played; a cover of New Order's marvellous 'Temptation'.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Surely making a play for being Britain's hardest working bands, or just intent on wringing every last royalty out of their record deal (I'm sure it's the former), the marvellous Wave Pictures have yet another new record out this week - the Pigeon EP. This would ordinarily be interesting in itself, for their ramshackle, naive and yearning songs have shone very brightly this year, but it's particularly interesting in that the band are promoting the single as the 'greenest single ever'.
In order to make what they hoped would be the world's first carbon neutral EP, the band (and their engineer) walked to the solar powered studio where they recorded the four songs (actually made in tandem with fellow Moshi Moshi labelmates Slow Club), then uploaded the results directly to the internet afterwards. There's no art work, no physical product, and no press-release to accompany it. Unfortunately they didn't quite manage their aim of going fully carbon-neutral, as they needed to fire up their servers to deliver the songs to iTunes - but that aside it's pretty impressive stuff.
What you really want to know, of course, is whether the songs are as good as those on the band's wonderful Instant Coffee Baby LP, or the even better Just Like A Drummer single which followed it. No fear of disappointment here - on a couple of listens every song is a winner, but the best is Long Island, a live-favourite of such wondrous beauty that is was almost inexplicable that it wasn't recorded for the album.
It's been worth the wait though. The Wave Pictures are not just busy and environmentally aware, then, but also bloody brilliant.
A couple of years ago I picked up Amadou & Mariam's stunning 'Dimanche à Bamako' album and was blown away not just by the wonderful songs but by the fact that on several occasions the vocal melodies the husband and wife duo struck up seemed like exact echoes of the melodies that Damon Albarn has been using - not just in the last few years, when his interest in African music has been well known, but right through his career. It seemed like an incongruous but strangely apt comparison, and one of those happy accidents of art which sometimes magically occur.
Their new single, the gorgeous 'Samali' contains yet more of these hypnotic melodies, but if the rest of the song also rings bells it's because it's been produced (and, one suspects, co-written) by Albarn himself, who spins a spellbinding concoction of echoey keyboards, beats and atmospherics around the vocal, producing along the way a song that sounds utterly modern without ever sounding contrived. It's a magnificent single, and deserves to be a hit. You can stream it here.
Monday, October 13, 2008
This is from Tim Parks' lovely, teasing new novel, 'Dreams of Rivers And Seas':
Elaine was kind to him, but busy. In the past, she had been the vulnerable one. Now she had her rehearsals, she had a place in the world. Practising her mime in the sitting room, she swayed round the sofa with staring eyes, arms waving languidly. 'After the explosion,' she said. 'I'm supposed to be looking for my baby. But how can I really know what it would be like after an explosion?'
John watched her, her arms and wrists in particular. They were the movements of a plant underwater, he thought.
This is rather marvellous; Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a German literary critic - who has been made the recipient of a lifetime achievement award in the country's annual TV backslapping ceremony - has reacted in the customarily curmudgeonly way which we have come to expect from eminent literary types; he's handed it back and had a jolly good moan, too - wonderful.
From The Guardian:
"I don't belong here among all this rubbish," the 88-year-old critic and author said from the stage of the annual German Television Awards gala in Cologne. "I have been given many literature prizes in my life, but I don't belong in this line-up. If the prize was linked with money, I would have given the cash back too."But not just declined to attend, obviously.
Monday, October 06, 2008
- It's two o'clock in the morning the day after my birthday, and I am standing in Dan's bedroom with my arms flailing around. To my right, Dan is doing the same. Victoria stands opposite, and she is bent double with laughter. Eva is shouting "Now!" at me. At that moment an inflatable globe hits from me, as if from nowhere, square in the face. The room flashes repeatedly from dark to light.
- My birthday is passed now, and my hangover fully faded, so I can look back objectively on another really pleasant anniversary spent in the company of my friends. On Friday I went for a quick drink with AS and Rich, which was ace, and met up with Dan, Morgan and Ant too before I dashed out for dinner with Siobhan, and then on Saturday night pretty much my whole group of friends accompanied me out to the Crescent for a night of drinking and cheering - and lots of lovely and extremely well-chosen present-giving, too.
- Lots of bird-related presents this year, which is wonderful. I appear to be fast developing a reputation as the bird-man of Brighton, although I think it vital that I point out that my love of my feathered friends is primarily aesthetic and cultural rather than ornithological; but Ant hit the nail on the head exactly with his present, Graeme Gibson's 'The Bedside Book Of Birds', which is the most beautiful anthology of poems, stories and illustrations pertaining to the amazing little animals. That may sound boring to some, but it's not, so anyone with an interest should scurry to the bookshop in search of a copy immediately. Elsewhere, I got a host of amazing pressies, including wonderful books from AS, Vic and Andrew and a CD from Dan which I've been listening to all evening; 'Nigeria Rock Special', which is a bewildering and brilliant compilation of psychedelic afro-rock and jazz-funk from 1970s Nigeria. Ace.
- At the end of the night we raided the late-night shops for cheap beer and repaired to Dan's; from which point on I only remember so much - fetching Ant a glass of water when he'd drunk too much, Ant throwing a tube of pringles at me, dancing to Blur with Ant in Dan's room. And lots of other cool things which didn't involve being drunk with Ant.
- And now we discover the strobe lights. Dan bought them for a party, so we position one at either end of the room, turn the effect to slow and switch off the lights. What remains is just a series of stills; four or five of us throwing a ball around and watching it shudder across the room, one moment visible and the next obscured. Perhaps three times out of ten someone will catch it. We holler and whoop and laugh, and miss again. I don't mind getting older one bit.
A few years ago - as alert readers will remember - this blog was a (semi) focused thing, dedicated to blogging about, and publicising the scrappy, half-rehearsed antics of my band Assistant; which still sort of exists in our imagination and in hazy plans to get together and rehearse again, but which has a long-time since been publicly dormant: no gigs for quite a while, although never say never.
Back when we were young, we looked and sounded a bit like this.
Monday, September 29, 2008
1. Stricken City - Tak O Tak (buzzy, energetic indie pop from this new London group - recommended)
2. Neil Halstead - Witless Or Wise (Neil's Oh! Mighty Engine LP has been the slowest burning record of 2008 for me, but I think it's probably my very favourite)
3. The Wave Pictures - Our Perfect Lovers (quite amazing that the Just Like A Drummer mini-LP contains so many brilliant, brilliant songs. This is the best).
4. Dinosaur Pile-Up - Love Is A Boat And We're Sinking (loving the simplicity of this one; looped, wonky guitar riffs always work a treat; and some great harmonies, too)
5. Peggy Sue - All In My Grill (I challenge you listen to Rosa and Katy's take on the Missy Elliot track without bursting into laughter. As they do).
6. Frokost - Hanging Out With The In-Crowd (from their really good The Sound Of My Wooden Chest LP, which I picked up in NY)
7. Underground Railroad - Sticks And Stones LP (grunge is back. Again?)
8. The Vivian Girls - LP (only just heard this, so will hold back on the enthusiasm for a bit, but I think this'll be on my record player a lot this autumn)
9. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue LP (Still struggling with Rilo Kiley, despite Dan's promptings, but I like this new album a lot)
10. Aaron Neville - Hercules (old New Orleans funk from a Soul Jazz comp; came across it on shuffle and addicted now...)
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
This won't look very good in the narrow confines of my blog template, but below is a set of photographs I've stitched together; the subject is a long wall in Manhattan's East Village, culminating in a little pub (shown above) called The Mars Bar. Click on the long image and it should show you a close up.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I check out of my apartment today, so I should really be jumping up and packing so that I can get out early and spend as much time in NY as possible, but actually I'm lying in bed watching Fox News; a channel which has provoked much horror and fury over the week, but right now just laughter, as they had some idiot on just now promoting his new book, called 'How To Raise a Happy Child'.
Here's the first question he was asked. "So, how would you react if you're child came to you and said, Daddy, I'm bored?"
I take a look at the guy. He looks like a lawyer, not a father. He thinks about it for a moment. I look in vain for a glimpse of human kindness in his eyes. He replies.
"I'd say, son, it's time to take responsibility for your life".
Thanks, Dad, that'll work.
Of course everyone has a story about a New York cab driver, so I'm offering nothing new here; but my journey from Newark Liberty into Manhattan earlier this week was a journey which lived up to the billing. The stereotype of NYC cabbies – or hacks – is that they talk fast and furious, negotiate the roads with psychotic abandon, and are, basically, nuts. The other stereotype, probably the truer one, is that in the yellow cabs of New York City you see immigration in action; wave after wave of economic migrants working the roads, united by their ambition for something better on the one hand and the depth of the story which led them there on the other. Somewhere between the two stereotypes is the fact, probably, and my hack was located exactly there. He was friendly, jovial, welcoming, and also hard to follow, disconcerting, intimidating – each in turn and all at once.
I climbed in the cab at the end of the afternoon, but having flown across the Atlantic I was shattered and at the tail end of a long day, my body telling me it was coming up to midnight. But when the driver – a tall, lean guy with a five o’clock shadow - welcomed me warmly I tried to engage him in conversation, and when I explained my job was treated to a loud and familiar story; that one day he would write a book and everyone would read it. It would be a life-changing book. We talked about the importance of reading, the importance of stories, and I believed him when he said that his life would be a story worth reading of – colourful because of where he came from and where he ended up, and important because it was true. At the same time, of course, I shrank back a bit – when I tell people I’m a publisher they often tell me that one day they'll write a book. I live in fear of them asking for a business card. And I spotted quickly that residing amongst the good humour there was a good deal of frustration. The book would tell it how it is, he told me, would talk of mis-justice and poverty, and the moral worth of the city he worked.
Where do you come from originally, I ask him, because he’s telling me about coming to the US. He tells me he is from Morocco, and so I tell him of the time, just the other week, when I ate at a restaurant in Southern Spain, and could see the North African coast on the horizon. As I say it, I speculate that I may be making a mistake. I’m right.
"What did you see between Spain and Morocco", he asks, and my heart sinks.
"Gibraltar", I tell him.
"And do you think that it is fair", he asks me, "that Gibraltar is considered the property of Britain".
I tell him that I don't know a lot about it, but that it doesn't seem fair to me, no – a response he scarcely notices as he launches into a long, protracted and hard-to-follow rant about imperialism, about the way the rich always fuck over the poor. Because I suspect I'm broadly in agreement with this, feeling that there’s a terrific unevenness in the world, I nod and provide the odd uncertain endorsement, which he occasionally acknowledges, but not always warmly – often I find I've either misunderstood a poorly explained point, or he suspects me of being a hypocrite or a rich-boy, and glances back sternly, repeating, "you understand what I’m saying?", again and again, to which I can only answer, falsely, "yes".
In Morocco, he tells me, everyone is happy. "But in Manhattan everyone goes to a psychiatrist. Why is that?"
He expects me to answer, but I'm growing weary and irritated now, refusing to provide him with responses. "There is no morality here", he says. He waves across the Hudson, which I'm getting an especially good look at, as he has completely missed a turning and is now having to take me in over the George Washington Bridge, doubling the length of the journey.
He's wistful for a moment. "It's beautiful. Do you have a camera?".
I shake my head.
"Over there, it is fun, yes?" He asks. I say yes. "Drink. Eat nice food. Go shopping. Nice girls?".
I realise that he's not talking up Manhattan at all, he's talking it down. Drink, food, girls – these things are not enough. I don’t tell him that they sound exactly like enough to me.
"And they all end up in psychiatrist!", he shouts. "Normal man, comes to New York, drinks, eats, fucks girls, gets to sixty and now he sees the psychiatrist. And then – pffft – all of a sudden, shits himself. And he is dressed in diapers. Diapers!".
I'm frankly a bit surprised that the conversation has taken this turn, so elect to stay quiet for a bit.
"In Morocco, no-one sees psychiatrist. No one wears diapers, shits himself. So what is it about this place that makes people like that?".
I don't answer so he repeats the question. I have a half-hearted go at trying to answer – mumbling something about economics and leisure time, but he cuts me off with another question. "Who decides that it costs sixty dollars to take this cab into Manhattan?", he demands. "Do I decide?". Before I can answer, he tells me no, he doesn't decide, someone else does. And he hammers the steering wheel with his fist – not angry, but vexed. "And it’s fucked up, man", he tells me. "Fu-ucked up".
After a bit more of this, his mood turns a bit sunnier. "This is what my book will be like!", he tells me. "You see, it will deal with big subjects! New York Taxi Driver, oh yes. I have lived in Spain. I have lived in Africa. Now. America. Is this not a good story?".
I tell him he should write his book, wishing I could append write it and shut the fuck up, to the suggestion.
"This is a good conversation", he declares, all smiles. He turns round – without slowing down – and shouts "high five".
In the most embarrassing, British way, I flap my palm against his. Despite everything, I'm sort of enjoying myself – it's impossible not to enjoy being driven across the Hudson, watching New York shimmering in the sun ahead of me. And this is, I keep reasoning to myself, an experience.
We've crossed into Harlem now, and I'm pleased for a moment that the journey has taken this wayward route, for it's a part of the city that I mightn't otherwise had time to see. It's amazingly vibrant, full of people, kids, old men sat in the sun. Everyone looks happy, I think.
"Here", the hack tells me, "everyone is happy. No psychiatrist. Because family is strong, you see – parents know where there children are, what they doing. Good place. I lived in Harlem. And where I lived in Morocco was like this too. Good community. No diapers".
Before long, however, we're heading downtown and the change of scenery effects another change in his temperament. He's back to cursing Manhattan morality, cross because he saw two kids skateboarding through lower Harlem, one Hispanic and one African-American. "What do you think happens when these different cultures mix?", he asks me. It's the latest in a series of questions I don’t want to answer, so I decide to stay silent, and let him rant while I sink into the back seat. By the time we finally reach the Upper West Side, where I'm staying, I shake myself awake to find him calm again, describing the contents of his book once more. "All the psychiatrists", he says, "they will be out of business when this book arrives. Do you know what it will be called?".
I can see my apartment block now, and the cab is stationary. I fumble for my money and pass him a wad of notes. I suddenly want to hear the answer.
"What will you call it?", I ask.
He makes me give him one last high five.
"No More Diapers", he tells me.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Really enjoying Tibor Fischer's excellent 'Good To Be God' at the moment which, apart from having a great plot, is full of wonderful, bleak one-liners and moments of throwaway, on-point philosophy. "This might be extremely superficial", his protagonist speculates at one point, "But the extremely superficial, like a tissue, can often get the job done."
The book is dark, funny and a bible for the ill-of-luck; brilliant stuff. When I've finished it I may come back to it here, so apologies if you read all of this again in days to come.
Here's the last paragraph I read before I wrote this; which I love.
"The rich who've made themselves rich I dislike because they,typically, think it's something to do with them. It's like the guy with the winning lottery ticket thinking he controls the lottery".
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
One thing I have noticed about New York is the way in which the city, by which I mean both the local government and the populace, confers an image upon public servants (policemen, firefighters, even roadworkers) which really emphasisies physical strength. In everything from information signs to commercial toys, NYC workers are physically brawny, tight-clothed, bursting with testosterone.
How different this is from the police officer or roadworker who inhabits the popular imagination of the Brit, who seems to see them primarily as irritants or beurocrats. If I had to imagine a young police officer back in the UK I'd probably picture an officious youth, a touch on the scrawny side, with a wispy upper lip.
But it's certainly hard to spot a cop over here who isn't barrel chested, muscles climbing up from his shoulder blades into his neck. Obviously, particularly since 9/11, it's been natural for firefighters to be - deservedly - stereotyped as heroes; but it's interesting how physical strength, toughness, manliness clearly permeates through NYC society. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this image resonates with the mythology of the American Dream; the American, after all, started with nothing and pulled himself up; he aquired not only a nation, but serious muscle definition, along the way.
Travellers, I am about to dispense to you - for absolutely no charge at all - the two most useful tips you will ever be given about the art of exploring cities anew. They won't let you down. By all means do your other research first - I spent an eight hour flight over the Atlantic learning about New York City's boutiques, record shops and drinking dens - but attend to these basic, essential tasks, too.
When you look up places to go, look up some really dull things too. Look up supermarkets.
In my first four hours in NY I had a really, genuinely wonderful time drifting through Greenwich Village - of which more later - and quite marvelled at the fact that I was walking through an area which has captured my imagination for most of my life; even if my mental image of the area was utterly misleading. Once there, of course, I simply couldn't tear myself away from the area until I reached absolute dropping point, at which point only two clear priorities for the evening remained: getting to the subway, and picking up a bottle of beer and some groceries to see me through the evening. So I boarded the subway - a deliciously exciting experience, sorry - and travelled up to 73rd and Broadway, where my apartment is, and, drawing on the last remnants of my energy, strolled around looking for a supermarket where I could grab some food.
Cue an hour of directionless, listless, indecisive walking. Conclusion one: there are no supermarkets in the Upper West Side. Conclusion two: there almost certainly are, but I walked down all the wrong streets. After a while, a kind of grim, determined pessimism set in and I started actively walking past potential vendors simply because I had kind of accepted the idea that I was destined to spend the night walking and yearning. And the sad truth is that this happens to me every time I stay somewhere new.
Lesson two is related to lesson one. It is that early on, inevitably, during your search for a supermarket, you will pass a burrito house and briefly consider going in. No matter what happens that evening, no matter how long it takes, you will - equally inevitably, with absolute certainty - end up going back an hour later and ordering the meal you earlier rejected.
So just get it the first time, seriously.
Here, after all that, is my first meal in New York. It may not look like much, but it tasted fucking unbelievable.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I can scarcely describe how lovely it was this weekend to walk around Brighton in the sun; after weeks of rain and a depressing absence of summer, at last we have blue skies and a warm breeze. Hurrah. Of course, everything looks wonderful in the sun, so a walk through the lanes and the farmers' market proved ludicrously expensive, as books, beers, food and fanciful objects were swiftly and ill-advisedly acquired. By the time I'd reached the market on Upper Gardner Street, thankfully, I was spent up - so the following toys escaped my sun-stroke afflicted impulse purchasing. Definitely a good thing.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I stop being impressed by temperature once it goes above 100 degrees centigrade. Any hotter is just boastful, don't you think? It's like when footballers get paid £150,000 a week; I just blink, uncomprehending. The train which caught fire in the Channel Tunnel apparently reached temperatures as high as a thousand centigrade, I just read. But I can't imagine there could be anything hotter than, say, 500 hundred centigrade. It's surely just showboating. You can tell I didn't excel at science at school.
My friends Sam and Laura moved to Paris on Wednesday. I thought something was up with Sam when we said goodbye, and he was shouting "come and stay anytime, whenever you like, tell your friends!". That's funny, I thought - he really does want us all to come and stay with him. Weird.
I didn't know then, of course, that he was planning on shutting the tunnel behind him, so now there's no way through.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Got a bit excited at lunchtime reading this in the paper, thinking that it looked really good, if a bit outside of my normal interests. Spore is, apparently, the computer game of the moment - the new creation by the chap who designed the Sims series, and a complex and rather fascinating idea. Handing you over to Naomi Alderman:
It's easy to get started: simply pick a name for your tide-pool-dwelling amoeba, decide whether it's carnivorous or herbivorous, and start zooming around the water, finding food and gathering enough points for a DNA mutation. Like other simulation games, Spore rewards thought and effort, but it's also simple enough for anyone to enjoy passing half an hour growing a tiny creature into a larger one. Eventually your species will develop enough to form rudimentary legs and crawl to ground. Then it's time to mutate some more, develop intelligence, form tribes, civilizations and eventually travel off into space.All of which had me thinking, hmmm, that does sound interesting, and wondering if I should get a copy and try it out. With a few honourable exceptions (Frogger, Matchday II, Prince of Persia, Championship Manager) I've pretty much proved impervious to computer games, but this does sound fascinating. So just spent five minutes looking up the game and reading reviews and, guess what? More detail just provokes the same feeling that most games do; disinterest. It's not that I don't have interest in the technology, the narrative or the societal implications of gaming; I just don't want to play them. And yet I've spent the afternoon working on the computer game based books I am shortly to publish. Hmm.
With its educational subject matter, Spore is the kind of game any parent should be pleased to find their child absorbed in, and although it wears its learning lightly, the brutal truth of evolution is hard to miss. How do you succeed as a carnivorous creature? By hunting other smaller creatures, of course; even if they're squeaking pitifully as you devour them. And if you focus your creature's development on features that will help you hunt, you might find that you, in turn, are unable to escape becoming prey. In Spore, nature is red in tooth and pixel.
Still, I bet some of you are interested in Spore, hence the post. Dave? Sam?
Thursday, September 04, 2008
I'm just about to leave Spain and return home, and I'm just sat contemplating whether there's a word for the strange mixture of shock, elation and hysteria one feels when waking at a work conference, knowing that there are tasks to complete despite the fact that one was up drinking 'til half past four.
I've decided the word is something like 'still drunk'.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Work trip or not, it would be pretty hard not to enjoy the food here in Southern Spain, where I'm spending a few days for a work conference. Last night we ate in a beach-fronted restaurant just outside Marbella, which offered a curious, delicately spiced combination of Spanish fish dishes and, oddly, Japanese cuisine. Most important of all - apart from the fact that the Rioja was excellent - we had a panoramic view of the Mediterranean, with Gibraltar clearly visible before us, a long, high rock like a stepping stone. Some way behind it was a faint but mysterious coastline, sat further back, nestling in the mist; the North Coast of Africa. And propped delicately above it was a pencil thin sliver of moon, dyed orange from the reflection of coastal lights. It was, as I hope the above implies, very beautiful indeed. The urge to escape the confines of work and take a boat to Morocco is impossibly strong.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I thought I might take a few minutes to collect together a few rather unoriginal thoughts about Barack Obama, now that the race for the White House really does seem to be hotting up. At least half of these thoughts are really just echoes of things I've read recently - but I've tried hard to filter out the stuff that doesn't chime.
- McCain is much stronger than we're inclined to give him credit for. His debate with Obama at Saddleback Church demonstrated two things very clearly. Firstly, we must not be conned by his poor relationship with Bush/Cheney. In order to win the nomination - and the presidency - he has lurched comprehensively to the right. A win for McCain would be an absolute disaster. Secondly, at the moment he is better at this than Obama. His answers, particularly on abortion, were wrong, but they were calibrated precisely for his audience, were concise, and were straightforward. Obama, by contrast, waffled. McCain looked better on the night - even though Obama's responses were intelligent, thoughtful and measured.
- Having had such good luck for so long, Obama's good fortune looks a little less dependable. That holiday in Hawaii was timed very badly; McCain relished the chance to talk about Russia and Georgia, and Obama was nowhere to be seen. Now the Democrats have given too much time to Hillary and Bill at the Democratic contest, and it's doing him no good.
- Talking of Hillary; her speech was good, solid, dependable stuff. She went a long way to demonstrating that past wounds are healed. However, this is Hillary; a consummate, brilliant politician. That her speech was good, not great, was surprising. A great speech was well within her powers, so why hold back? It wasn't quite enough.
- Confession: I still wish that Hillary had won the nomination.
- Obama played the Michelle card well, though. It pains me to say that, because I hate to see a bright, intelligent feminist reduced to playing the support role. But it's imperative that the Democrats don't allow her to become a divisive Hillary figure. If she has to play a role to stop this happening, she has to do it. I thought she came across very well indeed, considering.
- Why is Obama not lights ahead in the polls? Why is he not storming this? Why did he appoint Biden as his running mate? There are lots of questions to be answered - we're a long way from knowing the answers at the moment.
- Lastly, how does Obama overcome America's innate anti-intellectualism? Right now he is too cerebral, too smooth. He's got an awful lot of work to do if he wants to win. At the moment, I'm feeling pessimistic.
- But... I like him a lot. It would be a great thing if he wins.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Just saw Steve Malkmus at the Komedia. Wow.
Amazing gig, as expected. His playing is electrifying, and his band terrific; Janet Weiss drums about as well as Steve plays guitar, and the interplay between them was a joy. The music was astounding, obviously - ridiculously complex and ever changing, a big, sprawling combination of stoner rock, prog, indie-pop and English psychedelia. He played some super, silly new stuff, some stone-cold classics, and about 8,000 guitar solos. Then trashed his guitar. My ears are ringing. Yes.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I don't normally blog about food, much less home-cooked fare, but tonight's dinner - compensation for last night's neighbour fiasco - was genuinely lovely; so here's a photo.
It consisted of portabello mushrooms stuffed with pesto, olives, parmesan, onion and garlic, cumberland sausage chipolatas, pink fir apple potatoes with a mint and parsley salsa, and green beans with basil butter. And best of all, there's enough left over for lunch tomorrow.
I don’t think the music wakes me, I think I just naturally wake for a moment, and at first I’m not even aware that I can hear a noise. But my girlfriend is sitting up so I crane my neck and am about to ask what is wrong when I detect the murmur of voices from behind the wall.
"What time is it?", I ask.
At three o’clock in the morning my neighbours, who I’ve not properly met so far but have passed a few times and with whom I’ve exchanged friendly greetings, have arrived home with friends and turned on their stereo. It’s pretty loud – the constant, mournful wail of Arabic-sounding pop music. But worse is the hubbub of their voices, which comes and goes and rises and falls, but is always audible through the thin wall. I lay there for a while, conscious that I’ve got work in the morning and my girlfriend has a job interview to wake for. I sit back up and watch her draw her hand back to beat the wall, and instinctively catch her arm to stop her. We sit and think for a moment, and then she carefully thumps it, thwack, thwack, thwack, three times. It’s a hard, dead sound, not loud.
We lean in to the wall, wondering if the noise will abate. There is no corresponding reduction of volume.
"Should we go and sleep in the living room?", I ask, where we have a futon.
Why should we? We switch ends in the bed and my girlfriend stretches out a leg and kicks the wall, harder this time, four or five times. Whump, whump, whump, whump.
Again there is no reaction, and we conclude that the music is too loud for them to hear us.
It’s been perhaps forty five minutes now, and they’re getting, if anything, louder. We open the window and peer round, noting that their window is open and the volume rises further. I slam the window shut. “That is it”, says my girlfriend – who is braver than me. She pulls on her clothes and marches down the steps. I lean in to the wall and wait for the sound of their doorbell, but I hear nothing. Eventually I hear her thumping at their door. Again, the music does not lower in volume, and I hear no sign of their answering. If I’m honest, in retrospect I think I heard what I didn’t want to hear, which is a slight ripple of mocking laughter in the room.
My girlfriend returns. They didn’t answer. Shall we go and sleep in the living room?
Why should we? I fucking hate them, being so incredibly, stupidly inconsiderate, making this much noise at what is now half past four in the morning. We hammer on the wall again, harder, for longer. This time there is a reply.
A sequence of knocks.
Then the music , which has until now been a constant murmur behind their conversation, shifts up in volume. Deliberately. Provocatively. Mockingly. I am utterly furious and practically sobbing with frustration. Shall we sleep in the living room?
Why should we?
Should we call the police?
We traipse through and upheave the futon, folding it out across the floor. I walk back to get the bedsheets. The music is now so loud that surely everyone in the building has woken up. By five – less than two hours before I have to get up again - I have, mercifully, fallen asleep. My girlfriend later tells me that the music finally stopped at around the same time.
This morning I felt murderous, angry and tired – but also eager to forgive, to write it off; meek. I hate confrontation. I will give them another chance, I tell myself. But next time - if it happens again – I will call the police.
I love getting nice things through the post. This bundle just arrived from Debbie, who writes the lovely Kept In A Jar blog, and of whose artistic talents I am most envious.
Wonderful! You can buy your own pigeon in Debbie's shop on Etsy.
Apart from offering a good opportunity to waste a bit of time, blog memes are usually pretty tiresome and once I've completed them I usually decide against posting them. But in this instance this one, nicked from Anna Pickard's blog, is pretty interesting, I think, so here it is:
1. My uncle once: raised his voice at me, perhaps, but certainly not more than once. He is incredibly dry and soft-spoken. I remember the first time I felt confident to make a joke about it, in his car being driven home after visiting my cousin Will. He laughed in just the way you would expect him too; imperceptibly, gently – a taciturn laugh.
2. Never in my life: have I been totally out of control. I’ve never wanted to lose myself with drugs, or by drinking too much. I always veer on the side of self-control. This means I find it very funny when friends dramatically over-indulge.
3. When I was five: I decided to colonise part of the schoolyard and make it my own. There was a popular game at lunchtimes where the biggest kids would fight for control of a large, egg shaped mound of grass in the field. I settled for a small slab of concrete, perhaps ten feet by six feet, and declared it my own. Occasionally someone would come and perch on it, and I would make as if to fend them off, before allowing them to stay, like a benevolent land-owner.
4. High school was: secondary school. Each year there’d be a new intake of kids who had been kicked out of the local grammar school. One or two were quite disruptive, but most were just a bit quiet, or dysfunctional, or were just outsiders. I made lots of new friends that way – I think even then I couldn’t stand the idea of a system that excluded kids that didn’t fit.
5. I will never forget: the paintings in my parents’ house.
6. Once I met: my friend Victoria and between us we conjured up an entire social circle for ourselves out of thin air; we’d just moved to Brighton and knew no-one. I’ve always thought it miraculous that between us we met so many people, befriended them, introduced them to each other, and helped to thread together a few people’s lives, who likewise did the same for us. Faced with this fact, it’s impossible to think that our lives are without meaning or consequence.
7. There’s this girl I know: who has no interest in being my friend. It really bugs me.
8. Once, at a bar: I’d had a drink too many trying to impress a girl, and turned and tripped. I somehow completed a full somersault down some steps and landed on my bum. Everyone laughed. I didn’t get the girl, oddly enough.
9. By noon, I’m usually: starving, but somehow I always put lunch off so long that I lose my appetite.
10. Last night: I spent the first truly relaxing evening in my new flat since I moved in. All the (worst) unpacking was done, I’d eaten early, and I was able to just sit down and have a quiet hour or two before bed. It was wonderful.
11. If only I had: the ability to persuade Blur to reform.
12. Next time I go to church: I will, as usual, worry that I will undergo a sudden conversion. I didn’t have anything approaching a religious upbringing, so hardly set foot in a church ‘til I was an adult. Somehow my distance from them just made them more strange and powerful. So when I go in them now I feel quite affected. No sign of any encroaching belief thus far, however.
13. What worries me most: is that I don’t organise my time properly, so I don’t get everything I want done, done.
14. When I turn my head left I see: houses, running along past the train track.
15. When I turn my head right I see: a blur of fences.
16. You know I’m lying when: the story is too artful. I can’t tell a simple lie, only create a fake anecdote.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: the feeling that I grew up in one of the last decades in Britain where children didn’t perpetually, constantly feel under pressure about their appearance.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: It would be good to say Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, who says: “I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly. And nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more." Except of course I cannot kill a fly, or any insect except by accident, so that rather limits my potential for villainy.
19. By this time next year: I’ll be happy to be roughly where I am now.
20. A better name for me would be: impossible to find. I think people should hang on to their names, not take other people’s as their own. I like my own name.
21. I have a hard time understanding: people who don’t engage with politics at all. I can see why they’re discouraged, or apathetic, but I don’t understand why they stay out of it and don’t express an interest – even if only outrage or despair. I think it’s because I associate a lack of interest in politics (or world affairs) with a general lack of curiosity.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: not know what to study. I intended to do an MA at some point but I’ve not done one yet. I truly don’t know what I’d study if I did – I’m interested in too many things.
23. You know I like you if: I get a bit animated when we talk. I can’t really disguise my enthusiasm for other people. Although I’m not as bad as Sam, who is a lovely gesticulating idiot when enthused, positively vibrating with excitement.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: the corporate sponsor.
25. Take my advice, never: turn down the offer of a pint.
26. My ideal breakfast is: an early lunch.
27. A song I love but do not have is: anything that Peggy Sue have not yet got round to recording. At the moment I’m obsessing over a patchwork of demos, streamed songs and their meagre recorded output. But I want more, damn it. That said, their new ‘June’ CD arrived in the post this morning, so I can’t really complain.
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: turn left coming out of the station and go for a drink at the Battle of Trafalgar. (NB:  of course, I mean right coming out of the station, as the ever factual Andrew has just reminded me)
29. Why won’t people: stop laughing at my ukulele.
30. If you spend a night at my house: then you can have anything you like from the fridge, except the chorizo.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: a six figure sum from Hello Magazine.
32. The world could do without: the Olympic Games.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: vote for the Conservative Party.
34. My favourite blonde is: my friend Anne-Sophie. She lives in London now and I feel bad about not seeing her more often.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: bulldog clips. Except I can’t resist unfolding them, rendering them utterly useless, except for jabbing at people with. Which actually I enjoy.
36. If I do anything well it’s: talk.
37. I can’t help but: talk.
38. I usually cry: when I’m hungover. Anything can start me off; a scene from Hollyoaks, a newspaper story. On Sunday I was reduced to tears by the happy face of the bloke who scored Hull City’s winner against Fulham.
39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: “Have a paternity test”.
40. And by the way: I think people, generally, are super.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Just watched a terrific set of high-octane but careful pop courtesy of the brilliant The Week That Was, an offshoot of Field Music, in Resident Records in Brighton. Their debut album is out this week and I highly recommend it; beautifully constructed, exact pop music with pretty but progressive hooks. Great stuff. And where the record is incredibly tight, live there's a welcome looseness and loudness. Brilliant stuff.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The process of moving flat uncovers a multitude of sins, and in my case the paramount sin appears to be a lustful, insatiable desire to collect small objects; by which I mean anything smaller than a hardback book; incorporating buttons, seven-inch singles, paperclips, cables, bits of driftwood, hand-written notes, out of print penguin paperbacks with colourful covers, tiny musical instruments, travelcards, kinder egg toys, pebbles, bird-badges and bouncing balls.
Just about the only small item I'm always in need of, and never able to locate, is plectrums, and no matter how many I buy I swiftly lose them. I had anticipated that in cleaning out my old flat I would find lots of them under the bed or resting on skirting boards, but alas I didn't. The only plectrum I can always rely on finding is one that Pete gave me many years ago, transcribed with his name. Subsequently about 80% of the songs I've written in the last five years have been composed with his pick. Thanks mate.