Wednesday, May 28, 2008

barnbrook is a nutter

It's hardly surprising that, in allowing a BNP councillor - Richard Barnbrook - to write a comment piece for their website, The Daily Telegraph has invited upon itself a storm of criticism. There are plenty who can and will make a good case for allowing this odious man to express his views and be judged openly on them, but none of that stops the piece itself being a hateful and rather shocking article to be published in a mainstream news outlet. What's frustrating is that looking at it now I'm fairly certain it's been significantly edited since I read it this morning; so it's not quite as offensive now. But only just. Anyone else able to confirm this?

Either way, the article is also ridiculously - hilariously - badly written. Here's a sample.

"Even SAS men get affected by Post Traumatic Stress. But our British young people are a resilient lot. They will get over it and the best thing they can do is supress it and move on. The last thing they should do is start going to those disgusting lefty therapists for counselling to relive the trauma. Look at that word "therapist" the rapist....and that is what they do....the rape of the mind."
I suppose I'm a bit more shocked at the reactions of the commenters, and by the decision to let so much of what they say stand. On the other hand, as readers of Comment is Free will know, these online debates invariably draw the participation of cranks. Nevertheless, the quality of debate is staggeringly low. I shan't be switching papers any time soon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Weird how things come back around; five years ago you'd have been laughed out of town for liking The Boss. So I kept my mouth shut. Now Springsteen is back in fashion, and I confess all. Nice Drowned in Sound feature here.

As ever, I defer to Laura Barton, who can explain better. She says:

"One of the things I love about Springsteen is his ability to build a song out of such simple, small-town materials. His words are the linguistic equivalent of mere bricks and mortar, sand and cement - cars and girls, highways and factories. So by rights his songs should be plain, four-square houses with neat lawns and jolly red chimney pots. But instead he manages to construct extraordinary towers".

Which is true.

a green 2008?

There's an interesting piece on the Hii Dunia blog this week about John McCain and the possibility that the next US President will be an active defender of the environment. It's a thoughtful, optimistic piece, and worth a read. The author, Daniel Furr, concludes:

"It is difficult to predict who will win the general election in November and how their administration will benefit the people of America. However; the environment is now a significant issue in American politics and all candidates have promised to defend the green agenda on the international stage. Both parties now understand the importance of the American role towards the climate of the planet. Regardless of the result: the future of America will be bright, prosperous and green".
Do take a look and see what you think. I have to admit that, at a time when I dread picking up the paper every day, fearing more news of the Tory revival, I don't share Daniel's good opinion of either McCain or the ghastly David Cameron. But in a funny sort of way, I hope he's right.

Lots more thoughts on this from me in the comments box on Daniel's post, so probably best to tell me I'm wrong there, rather than here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

seven go mad by the sea

I suppose the lesson learned from this weekend is that - despite the lingering feeling that one can always expect them to be wrong - it's worth taking heed of weather forecasts. Just back from a bank holiday camping holiday in Somerset with Anne-Sophie, Rich, Siobhan, Vic, Andrew and Morgan, and feeling bruised and battered by the wind and rain, my joints aching and my head a fog; part hangover, part fatigue. There were moments - sat in my tent while it was buffeted from all sides by a crashing gale, or packing up in the rain - when I really felt that it wasn't worth it, but the overall feeling is: that it was a terrific idea, weather and all. Very nice to get away from Brighton and to see another part of the country, and particularly lovely to do so surrounded by some of my best friends. We timed the trip really fucking badly; heavy traffic, heavy weather, but lots of moments redeemed the negatives. Here are three, with more, and some photos, to follow in due course:

1. Tasting the produce in a lovely cider farm just outside Weston Super-Mare , and coming away with a 2 litre jerry can of dry cider.
2. Having a forward-roll competition on Brean Sands (I managed nine consecutively, a triumph of momentum, and a record at the time).
3. All seven of us sat in my tent last night, swapping stories, songs and cans of beer, and enjoying what proved to be a temporary lull in the weather.

Tired now. But feeling all the better for it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

cascais, portugal

Before my two days of indulgence in Lisbon last weekend, I actually spent several days working in Cascais, an enormously picturesque coastal town just outside Portugal's capital. It's a lovely place, a small settlement which arches around a plush marina, a picturesque seafront and some charming cobbled streets in the town centre. It's an ideal work conference venue, somewhere lovely, cosmopolitan and temperate, just diverting enough to provide a much needed counter-balance to work duties, but not so fascinating as to be actually distracting. Except...

Except it rained all week. Still, here are a couple of nice pictures, taken in moments of calm.

abortion debate

This bears quoting verbatim; sorry it's not much fun:

Proof that Tories never change their spots
Kira Cochrane

Thursday May 22, 2008


Under David Cameron the Conservatives have been trying to shake off their reputation as "the nasty party". Now that Dave and his recycled trainers are pounding along out front, the thinking goes that the old-fashioned, puritanical, often bigoted party of yore has been replaced by progressive, caring, sharing people who can guide us safely through the maelstrom of modernity.

Anyone sucked in by this guff should take a closer look at the votes cast by Tory MPs in the past few days with regard to the human fertilisation and embryology bill. Having criticised the repeal of Section 28 in 2000, Dave has more recently changed tack, and gone to some pains to present himself as a protector of gay rights - supporting gay marriage, for instance. Yet this week, he voted in favour of Iain Duncan Smith's amendment to the bill, which would have compelled IVF clinics to consider the "need for a father" before allowing lesbian women to start fertility treatment.

Then there's the stance taken by the Conservatives in their votes on abortion. Only two shadow cabinet ministers voted to keep the current 24-week time limit - despite the fact that this was backed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, not to mention all those who believe that women have a right to choose. Eighteen shadow cabinet ministers voted to reduce the limit to 22 weeks. Cameron actually voted to bring the limit down to 20 weeks, and while an amendment to reduce it to 16 weeks was trounced - rejected by 303 votes - of the 84 MPs who voted for it, 61% were Tories. The mood was summed up in a comment by Tory MP Edward Leigh, who proposed a 12-week limit, that "in modern Britain the most dangerous place to be is in your mother's womb". The majority of Conservative MPs voted for a reduction in the time limit and the majority of Labour MPs voted against, which means that, if the Tories get in at the next election, women's rights will face a battering. A progressive, modern party, fit for the 21st century? On this evidence, most definitely not.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

alfama, lisbon

Like San Francisco, the city it very much reminds me of, Lisbon is built on a series of hills and its geography contributes much to the feeling of the city; it's many wonderful views need to be earned through punishing climbs, but are worth the effort many times over. The houses are built in a jumbled, haphazard fashion, their positions dictated by the contours of the hills.

Perhaps the most beautiful district I encounter during my few days in Lisbon is the Alfama, a dense labyrinth of buildings on the steep slope between the mediaeval Castle of São Jorge and the river, which consists of narrow streets of terraced homes, baroque churches and the remnants of the city walls which, during the city's Moorish past, constituted the boundaries of this now hugely grown capital.

Historically the part of the city where the poorest are most densely populated, Alfama remains a beguiling combination of picturesque and down-at-heel. Unlike the Bairro Alto, it is free of grafitti and its colour palatte is restricted to whitewash and terracotta, which - lit up by the sun - creates an impression of a Mediterranean paradise. Step a little closer and the buildings are worn and crumbling, yet this part of the city is actually evidence of an incredible sturdiness; this 12th century district easily survived the great Earthquake of 1755. Goodness knows how.

I walk through its streets, sweltering as I clamber uphill, noticing the crowds growing with every step. Before long, police are stood managing the traffic, and I realise that even by the district's normal standards it is unusually busy today.

Then I'm astonished to see a bicycle race past me at an angle not far from vertical. The sound of whistling and cheering surrounds me. So as I climb higher, past iron fences, I discover that I have timed my visit to Alfama to co-incide with the much celebrated - and ludicrously dangerous - downhill, which consists of cyclists racing at full pelt downhill through the narrow cobbled streets. To make matters worse, they do so navigating not just eager locals and tourists, but a series of jumps and steep stairs, too. It's an incredible sight - of which more later.

One thing I like about Portugal is the ease with which people move from bar to bar; there are no cover charges, so it's perfectly okay to buy a beer in one place and wander to another without having to down it or leave it behind. In Alfama, everyone - perhaps because of the climb or the now sweltering heat - has a plastic glass of beer and the atmosphere is celebratory. I sit in a crowded square watching the cyclists clatter past and drink in the good mood. What wonderful timing.

mr harvey lights a candle

I just watched a rather charming BBC telly movie in my hotel room, entitled 'Mr Harvey Lights A Candle' - anyone seen it? I think it was produced for Easter a few years ago, and features a wonderful controlled Timothy Spall as a pent-up teacher, for whom a school trip to Salisbury Cathedral proves a catalyst to a reawakening of sorts. Also on outstanding form was the brilliant Natalie Press, whose troubled teenager indirectly leads him to his revelation. A really nice film, which touches on closed secrets, reserve, religion and release; all ever so gently evoked, and nothing Oscar-worthy, but nevertheless moving. The sheer quality of the BBC's back-catalogue is exactly the kind of thing the BBC should be opening up on their iPlayer, and I hope this gets a deserved repeat one forthcoming Easter.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

lisbon walls

When I first visited Lisbon, aged about fifteen, I traipsed around the city for several hours taking photographs of every single piece of graffiti I could find; I loved the way the bright, severe colours of the paint interacted with the subtle colours of the city, and I also loved the huge collages of peeling posters found all over the walls. In that respect, Lisbon has hardly changed - there are wonderful, vivid textures everywhere. I could probably find things to photograph all day here.

thoughts on travelling

Of course, if I was a genuine traveller, rather than a tourist-fraud, I'd immerse myself completely in the culture I encounter when I'm abroad. Here's an example: one thing I've noticed since I've been in Lisbon is the extent of the Brazilian influence in the city - and several times while I've been out I've noted a band playing the country's music in the street. And each time I've walked by all but oblivious, hearing not their undoubtedly beautiful music but rather the bass pounding in my headphones. Equally, I've sat outside cafes with a stunning view before me, basking in the Portugese sun, but at least half my consciousness has been wrapped up in thoughts of post-war Tokyo, because I've perpetually got my head in a book about the city at the moment.

Obviously this isn't constant - so I have spent hours admiring the city for what it is, enjoying the local food and beer, listening to the fado players in the Bairro Alto. But equally, when I look back on Lisbon, I suspect mixed in with the genuine observations will be flashes of Tokyo, played out on a soundtrack of the three records I've had on constant rotation: Supa D's joyful Rinse mix of house and garage, Uusitalo's Karhunainen LP, and the more-stunning-with-every-listen Think Tank, Blur's last album.

My memories of other places work in the same way - in fact in many ways the sounds I remember become a distinctive feature of the city, even if their relationship to the city is entirely imposed. I remember listening to The Wave Pictures in Florence, Prodigy of Mobb Deep in Croatia, and The Silver Jews in San Francisco.

Am I in some way polluting the purity of my experiences? Or doesn't it matter at all?

Friday, May 16, 2008

gobsmacked... how lovely Lisbon is today. I should be having a beer in this picture.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

defying expectations

There's a good interview with John Galliano in this month's Harper.

Galliano is fabled for his research trips, and his clothes tell the story of his muses and adventures. "For me, travel is the most powerful source of ideas." He goes to all corners of the globe to mine the cultures for inspiration and then transforms his findings into designs that defy expectations. "I'm like a pirate. I love to travel; it's what inspires me," he says. "Creativity has no nationality, so I don't want to leave any stone unturned. I love understanding and seeing different cultures. At Christmas, I hung out with a Maasai tribe, and I sang, danced, and drank with them. It was the most amazing experience. I wasn't 'John Galliano the fashion designer.' I was just their new friend. There were lions, tigers, and giraffes. We held hands, we danced, and I didn't know what the real world was anymore. It was very humbling, honest, and pure."
Click here to read it.

wonderful photograph

In retrospect, I want this sort of football back.

thought #1

In the absense of anything poetic to say, please can I try out a few thoughts on you?

- Portugese readers. Help me here, because I fear I am about to say something horribly insensitive. I've had a lovely few days in Cascais and am enjoying myself enormously, in between long, hypnotic lectures on agent technology, but I've noticed something I feel quite sure is an abherration, but noticeable nonetheless.

I've now counted three people - lovely, all - who have looked askance at me in conversation. What I mean is emphatically not that they have been judgemental or suspicious, but literally that they have failed to make eye contact with me while talking. Am I that freakishly odd-looking? So handsome they can't bring themselves to look? (Shut up).

There's one chap at the desk of my hotel who keeps throwing me off by looking directly over my right shoulder while he talks to me. Does he have a glass eye? Is this a recognised phenonemon? Some kind of Portugese tic? I don't believe for a moment that it is, but I like recording these oddities, so thought it worth mentioning.

Portugese readers who have taken offence: I'm sorry. I'd like to make it clear that I like you very much, much more than the awful Italians, let alone the French.

Monday, May 12, 2008

more updates

A quick thought prompted by Facebook, and those interminable ' in a relationship', ' single' messages, which continue to wash up in the tide with increasingly regularity. Perhaps it's because many of my friends are churning around in their late twenties and early thirties, but we all seem to be falling in and out of love at an amazing rate these days. I think this is rather wonderful, but others might see it as cause for concern.

jonathan is...

I arrived in Lisbon today for another work conference, faintly piqued to be leaving behind a somewhat warmer Britain, which seems profoundly counter-intuitive. But it's lovely here, the sky pastel blue and the countryside peppered with terracotta and army green. Portugese driving, meanwhile, is as colourful as ever - my taxi driver at the airport (having informed me that my journey would cost 50,000 Euros!) veered off into busy traffic and left me sweating and swearing as we rushed West past kilometres of fading high rises, building sites and narrow, beautiful crevices of exposed rock, which intersect stunning villages as incongrously as a railway line in an English town.

My hotel is almost exactly like every hotel I've ever stayed around the Meditteranean, which is exactly as it should be, for I feel instantly relaxed and at home - although of course work starts tomorrow morning, bah. I've just thrown myself into the heated indoor pool and lurched from shelf to shelf, hanging my arms over the divide which separates the warmed water from the cold pool outside. And now I'm sitting in the hotel bar drinking a beer and wondering what to do for dinner. So that's where we are.

Apologies if this post has read like a long facebook status update.


Around the pool the white hotel
looks like a series of shoe boxes lined up
in a Habitat shop window.
It is so staggeringly uniform
that the hanging of towels from balcony rails
is strictly prohibited. Anyone who breaks the rule
is forced to wear water wings and is
banished to the children's pool
for the rest of the holiday.

Monday, May 05, 2008

something good that grows

Okay, time for another song; I wrote and recorded this using my first - and at that point only - four ukulele chords in a hotel room in Leicester last week, a couple of hours after I bought the new instrument. The whole thing took me about an hour, so it's a bit rough and ready, but it sounds good to me. When I got back to Brighton I added a bassline and a (sort of) electric guitar solo, but everything else in the mix is uke, including the distorted guitar sounds.

Assistant - Something Good That Grows [2.13 mins, 3.1mb]

Sunday, May 04, 2008

non-impulse purchase

I'm massively taken with the Wave Pictures at the moment, as a forthcoming post will attest, and my obsession with their incredible 'Instant Coffee Baby' LP has reminded me that when I saw them play last year at the End of The Road I was much taken with the idea of picking up a ukulele. At that point the only purpose was to sit and play it by the tent and try to look cool (like them), but in the intervening months I've realised that having one would actually serve a more useful purpose, which can best be explained thus: I'm sick of looking around Leicester, Coventry and Hull.

Well, not really - it's always nice visiting new places, and I usually take the courtesy to look around, but the fact remains that I travel a lot for work these days, and spend a lot of time in hotel rooms. So having an easily transportable musical instrument to take with me is a real boon. Accordingly, I picked one up this week and took it to Leicester with me. Only had a couple of hours with it, but really enjoyed playing it - and wrote and recorded a song that evening. Will post it here later.

Photo below. In the meantime, only one observation: not actually making me look cool at all, then, unfortunately. Ah well.

Friday, May 02, 2008

fuck boris

London, I love you,
but you're bringing me down.